Classroom countdown – interviews and student selection

We had the Info Day for the PreCAL (my class) and VCAL this week. Around 40 people turned up. Parents with their children, youth on their own, teenagers with their mates and some youth with their case workers.

I was quite nervous getting up on stage to present what I had prepared. I had deliberated over the content until the early hours of the morning and even the hour before I was deleting and rearranging the content of my presentation. I did not want to be preachy, but I wanted to give a message that gave them hope. That the PreCAL Big Picture course would be just what they were looking for.

I had about 12 interviews booked after the session and in the few days afterward I have had another 5 inquiries, so it looks like we will have a full class by the time we start on Feb 15th.

Their interests appear to be quite varied at first glance and I don’t know them very well as yet. A few of them appear to have no idea what they’re interested in let alone have a passion. Similar to last year.

I have had an opportunity to talk to a few parents and their children and the need is great for them to find another way to learn. Some have commented that they have been at their wits end to find something else for their kids that will get them re-engaged back into learning.

I am confident in the Big Picture approach but I still have doubts whether I can pull it all together.

Watched an inspiring true story/movie tonight called the Freedom Writers. It was about a young female teacher who works with a class of teenagers who are divided by race and many involved in gangs. She managed to find a way to break down the barriers and they became like family. She took them on trips and bought them inspiring books and helped them to learn about each other. She fought against the system and won to keep the class together for 4 years with her as the teacher. Many Big Picture principles were on show.

Already I am finding that I will need to be strong and prepared to fight for those things that are important for the learning needs of my class.

Be the change you want to see in the world

I found this quote today and thought it worth sharing. It was linked with this amazing video by Randy Pausch – Really achieving your childhood dreams.

The following text inscribed on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abby.

“When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.

But it, too, seemed immovable.

As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.

And now, as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family.

From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and who knows, I may have even changed the world.”

In short, be the change you want to see in the world.
(#deckmix confirmed this last quote was from Ghandi)

Learning out of the classroom/school – most difficult

I am fighting for opportunities for my students to learn OUTSIDE the classroom and away from school. The paperwork and red tape and the attitude that significant learning happens IN the classroom make it very difficult. The importance of learning away from the school with significant adults is explained below.

Elliott Washor (Big Picture USA) says this…
In order to keep students in school, schools must provide experiences where students learn out of school. Students don’t have enough opportunities in the daily school routine to pursue significant and enduring learning where they are treated like adults by the adults they will soon become.

Many students — even those with good grades — are bored and disconnected from what goes on in schools. They do not see schools as the place where they can do the learning they want and need to do when and where it makes sense to them. Robert Epstein, former editor in chief of Psychology Today has observed, “In America, most teens face a level of restriction in their daily lives that would not be tolerated for hardened felons. As a matter of fact, a recent study demonstrated that teens today typically have 10 times as many restrictions as adults, twice as many as active duty Marines, and twice as many as convicted felons.” It is these restrictions placed upon youth while they are in school that prevent them from having the productive learning experiences that past generations have had.

The Hobart Shakespeareans – amazing teacher and students

Here is is an amazing video trailer about a teacher in LA (who I met last year when on the Big Picture Study Tour). He does not teach in a Big Picture school but when you look at what he does he uses many of the principles. I bought a book while over there called, Teach like your hair’s on fire by Rafe Esquith, and after reading a few chapters I thought it would be great to meet him. I checked the website listed in the book and found that he worked in LA and that was where I was staying at the time! So I called in to visit his class after school and spent 2 hours there. He really is an amazing person and doing incredible work. Watch the video and see for yourself.

His books if you are interested:
There are no shortcuts (2003)
Teach like your hair’s on fire (2007)
Lighting their fires (2009)

Kids who play up and misbehave – low tolerance for boredom?

Most of the kids I will be accepting in my new Big Picture PreCAL @ GOTAFE this year will be ones who have played up and misbehave in secondary school. They just did not fit the system for some reason and no matter how good the teachers were or how great the school facilities and resources were…it just did not work for them.

I am greatly encouraged by this blog post below and I think all teachers and parents should read it if they have a child who misbehaves:
Low tolerance for boredom by Aaron Iba

Lisa Nielsen stumbled across my psychological testing results from when I was 7 years old and wrote about it.  She is giving a talk about innovation in education and asked me to share my story, so here it is.

I’m 26 years old.  When I was 23 I founded a software company that was recently acquired by Google, and before that I went to MIT where I got a degree in mathematics and nearly perfect grades.  So if you’ll excuse the immodestly, I think based on my recent history most people would consider me pretty successful academically and professionally.

None of my early teachers, however, would have predicted any sort of success for me.  At Estabrook Elementary School, I lit fires and sprayed graffiti in the bathrooms.  At Diamond Middle School, Sopheak Un and I stole all the mouse balls from the computer lab, prompting an all-hands meeting of the students and teachers in the cafeteria.  (I believe Joey Carroll ratted me out).  I was permanently banned from riding the school bus for doing something I am too ashamed of to publish on the web.  In 7th grade, I sold a 3″ Israeli army knife to Matt Fallon, who pulled it out during English class.  These are just some of the things I remember getting caught doing.  Detention, suspension, and attempted expulsion where regular occurrences in my early life.

Everything changed during the summer before high school.  My dad suggested I read the book Hackers, by Steven Levy.  I was already interested in computers because they provided a great source of stimulation at a pace I could control.  But after reading Hackers, I had a new purpose in life.    I wanted to go to MIT and be a hacker myself.  In order to get into MIT, I realized, I needed good grades and a clean academic record, so I made that happen.  I was fanatically motivated to go to MIT, and this created a goal toward which I could leverage my energy and learn to control my impulses.

I’m not saying it was OK that I acted like a hoodlum in middle school.  I feel bad for my teachers and my parents for all the grief I caused them. But I also suffered.  I had a tremendous amount of energy and a craving for challenge and stimulation, yet I was forced to try to sit still in a classroom and passively take in information at a slow pace.  School was a boring prison for me, and I did what I could to bring excitement into my life in an environment that seemed designed to prevent it.

At 26, I still have a low tolerance for boredom and consider this a virtue.  It’s what led me to entrepreneurship and gives me a healthy appetite for risk.

I don’t have all the answers for how to fix the situation for other kids like me, and I don’t know how common my situation is.  My message to educators is simply to keep an open mind when it comes to rambunctious little problem students.  Maybe they just have a low tolerance for boredom.

We educate creativity OUT of our students

I am a great fan of Ken Robinson and his work on creativity.

Here is one of his quotes: ‘If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will not come up with anything original.’

See here the intro to his website.

I think we have a tendency, as educators, to do all we can to prevent the students being wrong or making mistakes. Not only do they not develop their creative side but we miss out on the valuable learning that can occur.

He has written a great book called The Element which I recommend for all educators.

I met a teacher on the Big Picture study tour who encouraged me to hang in there when there was a crisis happening in class or with a student and look for the learning that can occur. I think this is good advice, especially in regard to what Ken is saying.

Student selection process

My Big Picture PreCAL class at GOTAFE Shepparton is now advertising and looking for students.
PreCAL is a term to signify a preliminary course to re-engage students before they attempt VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning).

A flyer has been completed. Letter written. Expression of interest form finalised. All compiled in a pdf document and now sent out to schools, youth organisations and employment agencies. And an article to go into the local newspaper.

I am now inviting interest from youth who have left school or on the verge of leaving. Young people who are 15-20 years of age and still would like to learn or need extra learning to apply for a job or get into a course.

What sorts of young people am I looking for. Here are some considerations:

  • Keen to learn, just did not fit into the education system
  • Have a passion or interests
  • They have been part of clubs or had part time work
  • Willing to have a go and not just there to fulfil Centrelink obligations
  • Balance of boys and girls
  • Range of cultures
  • Range of academic ability