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11/29/2017

ENCORE: Teaching Students to Think for Themselves, Solve Problems and Think Critically

By: Steve Gratz

Editor's note: This blog was originally published on December 21, 2016, but some things are so good they deserve another look! We are re-running the post so everyone gets a chance to read this staff favorite.

I spent most of my teenage years working on the farm. My experiences there naturally taught me how to solve problems, and we referred to this as “common sense.” We would even use the term to describe our more astute neighbors and friends who used good sense and sound judgment in practical matters.

As I think about my days working on the farm, I realize the agricultural way of life was built on a solid foundation of solving problems. Confronted with a unique problem, I could engineer a solution or temporarily jerry-rig it until I could get back to the shop for a permanent solution. I also remember the time one of my friends made a delivery of construction materials to a client and during the delivery he realized that he forgot a large box of nails. Instead of driving 30-miles back to the company, he simply purchased the large box of nails at a competitor’s store. He used good sense and sound judgment – common sense.

Like many of my friends, I developed my problem-solving skillset through work-based learning experiences throughout high school. In fact, I can’t remember a time during high school where I wasn’t working and serendipitously honing my ability to solve problems in the context of real-world situations.

In my 30+ years of education, I have participated in my fair share of philosophical conversations. Most of these conversations focus on the teaching and learning process, but the conversations often bleed over to a more holistic discussion on education. Some of those conversations focus on how to teach students deeper thinking skills and the ability to solve problems.

One of the most authentic ways to help students develop deeper thinking skills and the ability to solve problems is through work-based learning experiences. Recently, I was meeting with education and business leaders at the North Central Ohio ESC. A local physician shared that one of his recent hires earned her medical assistant credential through her work experience and not through the traditional path of attending medical assistant training program.

Absent of the ability to have work-based learning experiences, educators can help students develop deeper thinking skills and the ability to solve problems by requiring them to solve realistic problems. This can be done easily by using the project-based learning approach promoted by organizations like the Buck Institute. Another example is the Southern Region Education Board’s Advanced Career model. Most project-based learning approaches call for designing and implementing challenging, authentic projects and assignments in the context of realistic problems, ideally with employer and business involvement.

The passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) marked a major step toward ensuring all students are prepared to graduate from high school ready for college and careers. For example, districts may support efforts to integrate academic and technical content in the classroom that lends itself to students developing deeper thinking skills and the ability to solve problems. This can be done simply by developing and implementing coordinated instructional strategies that may include project-based learning and experiential learning opportunities for in-demand careers and occupations.

Here’s an example that provides a real-world application using the Pythagorean theorem. The picture below shows the formula for the Pythagorean theorem. In the picture below, side C is always the hypotenuse. Remember that this formula only applies to right triangles.

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Students may be taught the Pythagorean theorem as illustrated, or the lesson could be enriched by making it a real-world application or, better yet, as part of a project-based lesson.

And here is how the theory is applied to roof framing in the construction industry where the Pythagorean theorem is referred to as the 3-4-5 rule.

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This example is overly simple, but it is used to illustrate how connecting academic content standards to real-world applications can make the teaching and learning process more engaging and relevant for students. By helping students solve more real-world problems, students should begin to think more deeply about the standards they are learning.

One of the tenets of project-based learning is that the teacher helps students navigate through the learning process and assists students in solving problems, allowing them to take more responsibility for their learning – effectively teaching them to think for themselves. Teaching students to think more critically and to solve problems is a life skill that is immeasurably valuable to students.

I’m indifferent if it is called common sense, good sense and sound judgment, or the ability to solve problems; it is a life skill that needs to be integrated into all aspects of student’s education. It can even instill a sense of confidence in students, especially as they learn to apply this life skill to other aspects of their life.

Let’s teach students to think for themselves, solve problems and think critically.

Dr. Steve Gratz is senior executive director of the Center for Student Support and Education Options at the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversees creative ways to help students in Ohio achieve success in school. You can learn more about Steve by clicking here.

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11/21/2017

Personalized Learning… A Framework for a Team Approach

By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks

472072431-1.jpgWhile thinking about celebrating Thanksgiving, it occurred to me that turkey day is a total team sport, filled with pre-game planning in all areas. Besides all the obvious metaphors of cooking and football, I also thought about the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Specifically, I thought about the teamwork it takes to manage the hallmark of the parade...the balloons!

Those balloons are managed by teams of handlers, with the average balloon requiring 90 people and a pilot who walks backward the whole way. There also is a balloon captain who signals to the handlers when they need to change hand positions on the ropes. It is a totally coordinated effort for these balloons to fly straight and not escape into the crowd...or other hazards. Planning and training go on all year — no one just shows up and grabs a rope!

How does this metaphor relate to personalized learning? In my last blog, A Year on Pause, I shared my reflections on personalized learning with regard to my recovery from a serious auto accident. One of my major takeaways from my year was how amazing and essential the team approach was to my progress. If the team approach works so well, why don’t we use it more often in education?

To systematically transform schools into true personalized learning environments, a vision and a plan that includes all areas to support education would be a good place to start. One resource to help districts is the Future Ready Framework. Using the Future Ready Framework for visioning and planning is a great way to look at all the different elements that support education in your district. Ohio is supporting this free resource for districts looking for a way to plan and implement personalized learning. This national initiative was designed to have state support and, most importantly, local impact.

When high-quality teaching is infused with the dynamic use of technology, personalized student learning becomes possible. The Future Ready Framework is a road map that districts can use to successfully implement personalized, digital learning. The framework assists districts in planning how to prepare students for success in college, careers and citizenship. Following this road map requires systemic changes. With personalized student learning at its core, the framework helps districts align each of the seven key categories, called Gears, to ensure a successful conversion to digital learning.

Future-Ready-Gear.pngThe seven Gears are:

  • Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment;
  • Use of Space and Time;
  • Robust Infrastructure;
  • Data and Privacy;
  • Community Partnerships;
  • Personalized Professional Learning; and
  • Budget and Resources.

The outside ring of the framework emphasizes the need for collaborative leadership. It also displays a continuous cycle of district visioning, planning, implementation and assessment. Once a district is prepared in each gear, district leaders can be confident they are ready for a highly successful implementation phase that leads to innovation empowered by digital learning. 

Using this resource starts with a district leadership team doing an assessment to find out where the district stands in each gear. After this initial district assessment, leaders can determine the district’s digital readiness in each gear. Then, they can dive deeper into a gear they may want to develop. Ohio will be kicking off its official training for using the framework at the annual Ohio Educational Technology Conference. There will be sessions for district leaders, individual programs and specific school personnel roles. In addition to the district framework, there are frameworks based on roles to help support the work, including frameworks for district leaders, principals, technology leaders, coaches and librarians. You can find more information here.

If you are ready to use this framework or would like more information, you can start on the Department’s Future Ready site.

In future blogs, I will discuss the individual gears and programs. If you already are using this resource for planning, let me know. I will share your achievements to help other Ohio districts build their success. Use #FutureReadyOH to stay up to date with the Future Ready work around Ohio.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving — no matter how you choose to personalize and celebrate it. Since all my family cannot be together on the official day, we have created our own unique celebration the weekend before in a feast we call Molto Grazie. It does take serious planning and a team effort, but it is always worth it.

Stephanie Donofe Meeks is director of integrated technology at the Ohio Department of Education, where she supports technology integration innovations and blended learning initiatives for districts and schools across the state. You can learn more about Stephanie by clicking here.

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11/16/2017

Curiouser and Curiouser: How Well Are You Using Your Data?

By: Jo Hannah Ward

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“Curiouser and curiouser!” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

We should all strive to use curiosity and inquiry to propel our work forward. Imagine for a moment that I shared with you the exact piece of information you need to improve something. Imagine I cup this in my hands, I respectfully bow and gently place the knowledge in your hands.

If I were to do this, when you open your hands, you find this note: 

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
― Leo Tolstoy

To change ourselves in such a way that we, in turn, improve others, most of us would start with some data. We probably would invest the most time looking at four types of data: achievement or student performance, perception, program and demographic.

However, the question remains — are we using that data well?

Many of you may be familiar with the publication Moving Your Numbers. It follows the journey of five districts from around the country. These districts share their stories of using assessment and accountability data to impact a positive change. What did we learn from these examples? Although the districts instituted different organizational structures, each implemented a set of key practices that were essential. These practices include:

  1. Using data well;
  2. Focusing on goals;
  3. Selecting and implementing shared instructional practices;
  4. Implementing deeply;
  5. Monitoring and providing feedback and support;
  6. Inquiring and learning.

Wooster City School District was one of the five districts showcased in Moving your Numbers. One of the areas of advice from Wooster is to “use relevant data to focus critical conversations about need and progress and make sure that team members from across the district are working with district-wide data, not just data from the schools they represent.”

When I talk about data I mean more than just the “big” data, like the report card. Data use has the greatest impact when building and teacher teams use data to look at student performance and adult instructional practices and when data use is ongoing.

In Move Your Numbers, the conversations that teams had about data moved from just looking at the data to deeper discussions. They began to analyze the quality of adult practices and eventually organized data in a more meaningful manner that supported the district. The district became a learning organization with the ability to continuously grow and improve.

Data helps us ground our strategic processes and plans around a common set of goals. These goals are based on evidence from data rather than a feeling based on a single experience.

The responsibility to use data well applies to the entire education system, including the state, regional support systems, communities, districts and buildings. At the state level, we are thinking about how our individual offices can better share our data and merge our approaches to supporting schools. As a result, the Department is updating several systems and tools. The biggest effort currently underway is the consolidation of a needs assessment tool (the Decision Framework), a district and building planning tool, a budget tool and an implementation tool. This will help districts and buildings accurately track progress as they implement specific plans and strategies.

Additionally, we are intentionally aligning the work of regional support systems. This includes creating shared tools for regional providers and a consistent process to follow. Our consistent process is the Ohio Improvement Process (OIP). The OIP is designed to establish a common, shared leadership system throughout a district and in buildings and teacher-based teams. It involves the use of continuous communication and good decision-making. The OIP supports strategies that improve teacher effectiveness.   

The systems of support that I have been referencing include regional state support teams and educational service centers. Educational service centers provide a combination of services to districts and schools to build skills and empower teachers to use instructional strategies that lead to student growth. This includes systems structure around the OIP process, instructional support and student supports. State support teams provide support to districts and schools to engage in inclusive continuous and sustainable improvement to meet IDEA State Performance Plan performance indicators and the state plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Now that you know that change begins by looking at yourself, you want to get started, right? You want access to a self-assessment tool to determine what you already have in place and what you need improve. The Moving Your Numbers District Self-Assessment Guide is the tool you want to use and can be found here. This is an interactive tool, and you must have JavaScript enabled in your Adobe Reader to take full advantage of the interactive PDF.

This guide was developed at the University of Dayton School of Education and Allied Professions Grant Center by Dr. Deborah Telfer, with support from Allison Glasgow. The Moving Your Numbers Advisory Work Group also provided input on the guide.

Improvement work takes effort and changes in adult perceptions, behavior and beliefs. I believe you have the effort and energy to focus on adult change, as we all move forward to continuously improve.

REFERENCES:

“Moving your Numbers”: Telfer, D.M., & Glasgow, A. (2012). District self-assessment guide for moving our numbers: Using assessment and accountability to increase performance for students with disabilities as part of district-wide improvement. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes

Jo Hannah Ward is director of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps Ohio’s most challenged schools and districts improve outcomes for their students.

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11/8/2017

GUEST BLOG: Investigating Living History—Jodi Singleton, Caldwell High School

By: Guest Blogger

Editor’s note: In honor of Veterans Day and the inaugural Purple Star Awards, we invited Jodi Singleton, a history teacher at Caldwell High School, a Purple Star school, to reflect on the meaning of Veterans Day. Purple Star schools demonstrate a commitment to supporting students and families connected to our nation’s military. On behalf of the Ohio Department of Education, we thank all veterans and current service members who sacrifice so much to protect our freedoms.

471112096-Vet.jpgHow can we best engage students in the history classroom? How can we encourage them with the enthusiasm and intrinsic desire to learn the truth of our past? The answer lies in those around us...the one you might see in the grocery line ahead of you, the one patiently waiting his turn at the doctor, the one who proudly salutes as the flag is presented at the local football game or the one who sits quietly at the Veterans Day assembly with tears in his eyes, pride in his heart and memories that won’t fade. The answer to the original question is simple...teach our students to talk to our veterans. These men and women who have made sacrifices unknown to many of us are the true primary sources that our students need to know.

As educators, we often find ourselves studying new classroom strategies, taking part in workshops and conferences, and continuing our education. While all of this is beneficial, the lessons I have learned from those who have served have proven to completely intrigue and captivate my students. When discussing Vietnam — and when I tell students about the bounty that was offered to the North Vietnamese for my stepfather’s life — you can hear a pin drop in my classroom. As we talk about his bravery and his willingness to serve others on the field with injuries before worrying about himself, the students yearn for more. They realize the sacrifices he made and understand the camaraderie of the military and each service member’s duty to protect one another. He truly deserved his Navy Commendation Medal.

Yet the stories do not stop there. Two years ago, a family member sent recovered letters to my mother that my grandfather wrote during his service in World War II. While he has passed, and I greatly miss him, I hold those letters close, sharing excerpts with the students, yet longing to hear the words from him personally. I embrace his words, study his handwriting and imagine the emotion he felt. I have had others in my family serve as well, and I continue to listen as they find themselves ready and willing to share. These stories are priceless. Someday, when the veterans of past wars are gone, we will find ourselves yearning for deeper understanding. The raw emotion, the stories of heroism, the sacrifices of tours of duty, active service and combat will all be left behind as we rely on textbooks to teach our students.

Where does this leave us? The mission is laid out before us. Seek out veterans, thank them for their service and invite them into your schools. Teach your students to investigate the living history before them. The legacy our veterans leave with us is the reason for our freedoms. It is for those who have served and are currently serving that we continue to work with military families in our schools and to find ways to honor veterans.

It is with great honor that Caldwell High School earned a 2017 Purple Star Award. Through the communications of our guidance counselor, military families can stay connected, have smoother transitions and know that their students have the best care. Even schools such as ours that have very few families from this background can accept the challenge set before them to strive for excellence.

Servicemen, servicewomen and veterans of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Airforce, National Guard and Coast Guard...thank you for your service!

Jodi Singleton has taught for 15 years in the Caldwell Exempted Village School District in southeastern Ohio. She is certified to teach language arts and social studies for grades 4-9 and integrated social studies for grades 7-12. She earned a Master of Arts in Education from Muskingum University. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys spending time with her husband, two children and extended family. You can reach Jodi at jsingleton@caldwell.k12.oh.us.

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11/2/2017

GUEST BLOG: Not Even Once... Addressing the Opioid Epidemic — Christa Hyson, Cincinnati Health Department

By: Guest Blogger

11-2-17.jpgI am not a teacher by profession, but I try my hardest to be a good one. I have great admiration for what classroom teachers do every single day across the world. Whether it was a part of previous positions I’ve had or currently in public health — teaching has always been an integral part of my work. In addition to teaching, I’ve had the opportunity to work with youth on prevention education curriculums ranging from tobacco to communicable disease. None have been as challenging as attempting to address the opioid epidemic.

I don’t claim to have all the answers to solve the opioid epidemic across this country, but I wish I did. It has torn apart families, crumbled portions of our workforce and completely rocked the medical community. This epidemic has no road map. There is no established, evidence-based practice that says if you do “x,” then you will receive “y” as a positive result.

As a public health professional, I try to think of ways to avoid adverse health outcomes. While this sounds oversimplified, prevention is the backbone of public health. Working for the Cincinnati Health Department, I am a witness to the constantly moving pieces of this epidemic — from endless overdose data, to potential policy changes, to Quick Response Teams and resource identification.

Working from different angles on this epidemic, I felt more could be done on the prevention side. I was fortunate to find an organization willing to fund a prevention initiative. My project is entitled Not Even Once. Not Even Once aims to implement the HOPE (Health and Opioid Prevention Education) curriculum at Oyler School. Oyler was strategically selected as a pilot site for HOPE due to the high number of overdoses in the surrounding neighborhood. Prevention curriculums like HOPE are key — key to saving lives, saving resources and most important, preventing youth from ever starting to abuse drugs.

What makes HOPE different is that it is the opposite of most anti-drug programs. It is pro-youth empowerment; pro-good decision-making; pro-self-respect. Kids are told, “No,” enough. This curriculum puts them in the driver’s seat of their own lives. It gives them the tools to use throughout their lives to build resiliency, self-respect and community awareness. It goes beyond basic knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes and turns it into functional health knowledge.

A few learning objectives of HOPE are:

  • Understanding the components of healthy, safe and respectful choices;
  • Identifying trusted adults;
  • Knowing how to ask for help; and
  • Understanding the differences between over-the-counter and prescription medicines.
I started teaching HOPE in June 2017 for ages 9-13 and will continue through December. From the moment the project began, I was astounded by the openness of the kids and their profound awareness of this epidemic right on their doorstep. One night a few weeks into class, my phone rang — it was a parent of a child in class, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Again, I was taken aback by her honesty. She stressed how difficult it is as a parent to talk to her children about what’s going on 15 feet from their doorstep. Instead, she tells her kids to “always stay inside” instead of playing at the park across the street.  

Some people have told me that kids in certain drug-ridden parts of town are “lost causes.” I vehemently disagree with this, especially with my kids. Because they have HOPE. I believe in the village. I believe we will overcome this epidemic one day, with people who have rallied together to empower others to fully utilize talents to create a society of empathy.

This project would not be possible without the generosity of the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, People’s Liberty and especially Dr. Kevin Lorson, Ohio Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance president and professor and Physical Education program director at Wright State University. I am eternally grateful that he was willing to take a chance on me to implement HOPE.

Christa Hyson is the health communication specialist at the Cincinnati Health Department and project grantee for People’s Liberty. She combines her public health skills and youth prevention education to execute, Not Even Once. Click here to learn more about the Hope Curriculum. You can learn more about Christa and her project here.

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