A Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 2: Beginning the Year

Chapter 2 of A Year at Mission Hill takes us to the start of the year, or as many educators see it, the laying of the foundation. While educators recognize the importance of reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, many see the first days of school as tone setters. In this, the educators at Mission Hill work to build community amongst themselves as learners before the students ever arrive.

By the time the students populate the walls and rooms, teachers are ready to engage the whole child and to work, first and foremost, toward the well-being of each and every student. They talk about providing opportunities for students’ voice to be an authentic and vital piece of the learning experience. They aim for transparency with the kids as an intentional pathway toward helping the students construct understanding.

Take a look at the second chapter below and see how they invest in students early to capture and employ student ownership.

Image: ScreenShot on StartEmpathy’s page from Sam Chaltain’s Prezi

Variability Matters

We design for variability we can see. But what about the variability we can’t?

By default, we tend to design learning environments for efficiency and the average student, but in doing so do we limit the potential inherent in the unseen variability of students’ brains? Are we, by default, failing to capitalize on one our nation’s most underutilized assets: diversity? Todd Rose thinks so.

Here is a short 10-minute lecture by Dr. Rose, whose biography at Harvard’s Mind, Brain and Education website reads:

Todd Rose is a research scientist with CAST and a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he teaches Educational Neuroscience. His work is organized around six themes: human variability; course design and pedagogy in higher education; adaptive learning analytics; interdisciplinary thinking; the synergistic relationship between neuroscience, technology, and design in education; and the application of dynamic systems models to the study of behavior, learning, and development.

He makes a strong case for re-thinking how we go about designing learning environments that “genuinely support the full range of the learners in our classrooms.” He argues for cultivating an ecosystem of “learning opportunities” through “understanding variability and understanding how to design for it” as a method for leveraging the diversity of our student body, and making schools/cyberlearning more relevant, meaningful, and valuable in the process. We could not agree more.

It is a concept whose time has come.


Want to know more about variability and designing for it in the classroom? Check out these resources:

Feel free to share other resources in the comments below.

This post is part of our Transformational Learning series and relates to Culture, Curriculum Goals, Academic Access, and Personalization.  

Photo Credit: ThreeHeadedMonkey via Compfight cc

A Year at Mission Hill Chapter 1

missionhillBelow is the first chapter of a remarkable video series: A Year at Mission Hill. The premise, as described on the project’s site, is simple:

Ten videos. One year. A public school trying to help children learn and grow. The national conversation we need to be having.

What goes into creating a powerful learning environment for children and adults? Meet the teachers, families and children of Mission Hill as they experience the highs and lows of a year of self-discovery, exploration, and frustration. And join us for a national conversation about the state of public education as it is – and as it ought to be.

Every couple of weeks until mid June, a new chapter will be released. The chapters are accompanied by additional resources and invite you to become a part of the story at Faces of Learning. It is our hope that through this sustained, in-depth look at what works in schools, we can have a sustained in-depth discussion, as a nation and as a people, about what we want for our schools, and more importantly, for our students.

Image: Year at Mission Hill and Education Revolution


What We Want To Interrupt

In an excerpt from an interview with a “young adolescent in jail for selling drugs,” author Thomas J. Cottle lays bare the nuanced complexity of educating youth who have a fragile, if any, grip on hope. Two moments pulled from his post illustrate, at a minimum, problems with the lesson our system implicitly teaches students: “Smart” is defined by traditional subject area achievement.

“Truth is I see myself as pretty smart. Had a few teachers, not many, but they thought I was smart. They told me right to my face. I believed ‘em too. Turned out they was just lying. How you tell a kid he is smart when he’s failing every subject? Hey, I was cutting the gym classes there ‘fore I left. I think I can get most of the stuff, but it just comes on too slow. Or maybe my brain can’t slow down for it to come into it. See what I’m saying? But look there. If I can’t explain it to you, and you’re supposed to be smart, why I can’t learn, don’t that tell you all you need to know about just how smart I am. So I’m just lying to myself too. Just like those teachers I used to hope was telling me the truth.”

And then later in the interview, after comparing his life to living inside a body bag, the boy shares,

“Body bag, yeah. I got three things ended up destructing me. I am alone, I feel terrible about myself, that’s for two, and I can’t come up with nothing that’s going to make no difference. That’s for three. I’m helpless most of the time. Only time I’m not is when I sleep. Wind blows this way, that’s the way I stumble. Wind blows that way, I stumble off that way. That make sense? And no matter what way I go, I always end up deciding I’m no good and nothing’s going to make no difference on me.”

It is heartbreaking.

We wonder, “How can we interrupt this vicious cycle? What would it take to engage this student (and millions like him) BEFORE he loses faith in himself? And what sort of educational experiences will lead him to conclude, ‘I am not alone. I have value. And I’m smart and this (cites example) is how I know.’?”

It is stories like this that compel us to challenge how we deliver education and how we define “smart.” When students like this slip through the cracks (and far too many of them do) we see it as evidence that we need to disrupt the traditional model and support both the whole child and learning communities that personalize for each and every student. To do anything less is to systematically leave students behind.

Excerpt quotes pulled from: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 30, 2012
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16954, Date Accessed: 12/13/2012 9:50:16 AM

Hating School, Loving Learning

As we debate the ins and outs of how to improve student “achievement,” let’s remember to pause and hear what students have to say. The sooner we give the growing movement of students advocating for  their vision of transforming education a welcomed and honored place at the table, the sooner we will move closer to equity in our schools.

Below are two powerful videos by students — Tele’jon Quinn, a high schooler reflecting on the 12-step brainwash camp & Suli Breaks, a recent college graduate unpacking the difference between schooling and learning.

Tele’jon Quinn

Suli Breaks

Also, keep your eye on this rising star: Nikhil Goyal, student author of “One Size Does Not Fit All”.

(Thanks to Lisa Nielson for originally posting these videos on her site, The Innovative Educator.)