Evidence-based Reasoning & Betsy Devos

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Since our new Commander-in-Chief took office, there’s been whirlwind of buzz going around about the sweeping changes he’s already been making.  Perhaps, none as heated as his pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos. Mrs. Devos’ advocacy for federally-funded voucher programs is at the center of the maelstrom.  What does this mean for the state of public education?
Many opponents fear that her ideas will divert money away from schools that really need it, and will be detrimental to students.  Consider this viewpoint.  I mean really mull it over before you going on a tirade offering your own thoughts and opinions either way.  Is this woman the best person for the job?
I ask that you make a serious act of discernment.  And if  you consider yourself even remotely learned about the current state of education, then you know the that one of the big themes engaging students and teaching them how to “think critically.”  An art that seems to be lost in this vastly independent and emotionally-charged society.  It’s no wonder students have the hardest time with this concept… they have very few or no examples to model how it looks.  Students need MANY models.
Evidence-based reasoning is a BIG deal right now and is the centerpiece of many, many professional development classes that teachers attend.  So, in line with one of the focii in education today (something DeVos is probably clueless about…), let’s take a look at four hard-to-ignore pieces of evidence to why Betsy Devos is NOT the best person for Secretary of Education.
1. First consider Mrs. Devos’ performance during her confirmation hearing:  Would you actually hire a new employee who performed as poorly in a job interview as she did?
She’s not qualified.  Would YOU hire someone who was ill-qualified, ill-confident, stammering for words, and unable to hold an intelligible conversation regarding the job they were going for.  Her interview clearing demonstrates her inexperience, and is simply not qualified for the job.
2.  Claim:  She has a clear track record of creating schools and improving schools.  
Her track record of school improvement illustrates incompetence.  Evidence in her home state of Michigan would suggest otherwise.  Yes, she has created schools.  However, improvement is not an appropriate adjective to describe those initiatives.  Under the leadership of those schools, student performance has either not gotten better or has fallen.  Read about specific schools under her charge here.  Just because someone is good at securing and allocating funds (or what I refer to as “money shuffling”) does not mean they know how to run a school, let alone increase the desire of us all to increase student performance in an academic setting.
3.  Claim:  Vouchers can save failing schools.
Vouchers are NOT fail-safe.  Tulane University did a study where they found that “High-poverty schools are 22 times less likely to be consistently high-performing as low-poverty schools…”   Well this isn’t exactly new news, but the percentage found here is pretty staggering.  Read the study here.
Keeping that in mind, the notion of providing parents with “free money” and the option of “good schools,” disguised as “school choice, ” to send their children to is a heart-friendly ad populum argument which I caution you to think carefully about.  Please do not fall into the trap that the below Claim #4 offers.
Consider the following.  Money is the silent god that secular society (unwittingly?) worships. It makes the world go ’round.  And having the allotted federal funding that each child possesses and allowing it to follow them to a different school, takes money away from the other school.  Thereby, also punishing the remaining students and without a doubt the biggest issue that teachers have with Devos’ school vouchers.
But money shuffling does nothing to solve the problem of why students are unable to learn.  It only seeks to increase the poverty gap because students naturally gravitate to those “like them.”  The Obama administration invested in a multi-billion dollar school improvement project.  Great.  And yet a study of one of his biggest projects was found to be a massive failure.
Why was this initiative a failure, though?  They don’t really say, but let’s say that the ACCESS to resources wasn’t really a factor in this study.  It’s all about access to resources and the ultimate resource is the teacher.  This Mind/Shift article hits on so many “YASSSSES!” for what really needs to be addressed…give teachers the proper support they need to do their job.  Give them the support they need to provide to each individual student… YOUR student.
The article goes on, “From his work as a teacher and school principal Craig knew that lasting school change comes from teachers, so he focused the regional school improvement work on improving teacher instruction.”  So I urge you to listen.  Please listen.  And support your child’s teacher so that they can support YOUR student!  The teacher is the person who knows your child and their cognitive abilities and what their home-life may/may not be like.  The teacher is the person who knows what needs to be done to reach YOUR student.  And trust me when I say they are have literally gone through or are still going through the #scientificmethod to be able to reach YOUR student.
4.  Claim:  Teachers are against DeVos because the “Union” tells to be.
Ummm… Excu’ me?!!  A claim such as this loaded with fallacy upon fallacy.  By making such a statement, you are assuming that schools (and, by proxy, teachers) don’t care about student achievement.  It can be inferred that you also think that teachers are just chose that profession as one of the “options” to pay their bills.  Now, since I also am not of fan of assumptions, I give people the benefit of the doubt and attribute the lack of knowledge to simply “not being in the know.”  Because, let’s face it, sometimes there are situations where if you are not in the in-crowd, then you just don’t get it.  For a look at what being a teacher really looks like, check out this article on Edutopia.  Teaching has never in its history been one of those fields people choose for the money, but it has changed IMMENSELY in the past 15 or so years, so your experiences with teachers may not (and probably are not) the same as what’s happening currently.  So before you go attacking a teacher, why don’t you try put yourself in their shoes?

Top 6 Reasons Why It’s Time for EE Literacy & State Standards to Unite

 

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Ah yes! Sitting feels good! I finally get a moment to breath.  I haven’t had time to really sit down until now, but am grateful for the opportunity to FINALLY get to share with you some of the amazing fruits that I was able to harvest from a professional conference I attended not too long ago.

Last October, I had the opportunity to attend the NAAEE conference in Madison, WI and it was an incredibly amazing experience to say the least.  Re-inspiring, reinvigorating, refreshing, informative, educational… the list of adjectives could go on, but I won’t.  Anyway, for those who may not be familiar, NAAEE stands for the North American Association for Environmental Educators and, yes, there IS actually an official group for people to sit around and talk about how to save the environment.  But, more importantly YES… it was filled with amazing, encouraging, and fruitful goodness!  And I am the type of person who likes to share GOOD stuff when I find it, so here I go…

One of the first observations that I remember making when I arrived was how all the various circles were talking about the significance of human relationships.  Not just of a human’s relationship with the environment, but (more importantly) with each other… the human community.  That was the moment I knew I was in the right place.  I fell deeper in love with my vocation and humanity.

I experienced some wonderful opportunities to meet some amazing and dedicated people, and learn about what they, theirs organization, or their businesses were doing to further education and inspire people towards environmental literacy and stewardship.  Whether they traveled from within the U.S. or internationally, these global partners fell into 1 of 2 categories:

  1. They were informal educators seeking relationships with formal schools and an entry into their school curriculum; or
  2. School teachers seeking a way to merge environmental education standards into their school curriculum standards.

Realizing such motives that most of the participants fell into was probably the second time I knew that I was in the right place.  I all of a sudden didn’t feel alone; that everything I’ve been thinking wasn’t so crazy after all.  There is an effective way to leverage the power of children to promote sustainability and it is good… so good.  Combining environmental literacy and state education standards in a true, authentic way “…is like a thick steak, a glass of wine, and a good cigar.”  Any Chestertonian worth his lick would be hard-pressed to disagree.  Here are a few of the reasons why:


6.  David Suzuki.  A Canadian Chemist and leading environmental advocate, Mr. Suzuki was the lead-off keynote speaker for the 2016 conference.  Lying within his humorous wit and inspirational anecdotes, were so many little pearls of wisdom.  One of the things that stood out the most to me was when he started talking about how “we are so ignorant of how the world works, we don’t know how to anticipate the consequences.”  It really stuck with me.  I mean this world is SO massive, it’s nearly impossible to know every. Little. Thing.  People truly have good intentions and are doing their best to live a good, responsible life, but sometimes that which we don’t know gets the better of our intentions.  We want better materials, we want convenience, and we don’t want to spend an arm and a leg for it… Now how can we get that which we want with the fewest number of “consequences”?  Mull that chewy little morsel over with a glass of your choice red as you watch his talk here.

5. Research.  img_20161019_091121768_hdrA big component of the conference is all about research… figuring out the best practices in getting people to act with environmentality.  This includes understanding people and why do do/say what they do/say, understanding how zoos/aquariums/environmental centers can effectively communicate conservation messages to guests, understanding the role of an informal education center and how people (both teachers and day guests) view them, and even how informal centers can work together to influence their community.  The list goes on and on, but here are some gems that I found and adore.

  • Beetles Project: This project is based out of California is a network of organizations and individuals dedicated to building relationships between schools and EE centers, as well as incorporating EE literacy standards into state/national curriculum standards.
  • NC State University:  This was one of the first talks I attended and enjoyed thoroughly.  This doctoral candidate is studying the effectiveness of climate literacy using outdoor/informal facilities and using the power of children to influence positive behavior in their parents.
  • Northland College:  Another fabulous individual dedicate to bridging the gap between informal and formal settings.  His talk was on incorporating EE into teacher pre-service training.
  • Dr. Chris Sperry:  This is an individual who dedicates his livelihood to effective EE practices.  Unfortunately, I was in and out of this talk due to volunteer duties, but still a great resource if you’re interested in learning more about the topic.
  • University of Georgia:  Teachers Communicating with Informal Science Educators:  Community Views on Collaboration.  This is an interesting little study on the effectiveness of school/informal education center relationships and how teachers and EE facilitators view each other’s jobs.

4. Human Impact. Sometimes it can be difficult for people, especially children, to really comprehend the impact society has on itself and the Earth.  So here are some organizations that have some great after school and/classroom activities you can utilize to help your students understand.

  • Science Action Club:  A group dedicated to providing schools with quality environmental programs and kits to engage students in inquiry-based, STEM activities.
  • Population Connection:  A resource that contains some great, engaging activities to assist students in visualizing human impact on Earth.
  • ecoRise Youth Innovations:  Offers teachers eco-literacy curriculum to incorporate into the classroom.  It’s all about design/systems-thinking in their programs which prepares them for a life/career in the real world.

3.  Aimee Nezhukumatathil.  This lovely lady is a specialist on environmental literacy and ELA, so pretty much YES english and the outdoors DO have something in common.  She is an English Professor and public educator, as well as a renowned guest speaker.  She talks about the great need for kids to be inspired again.  There is no greater inspiration than the outdoors!  Check out a portion of her talk right here.

“So much of what it means to be a writer [or scientist or design engineer] is just to be curious.  Having a curiosity that demands to be satiated.”

2. Classroom Resources. Classroom resources teachers can use to hone critical skills used in the  process of science (observation, reasoning, and critical thinking).  All of the following resources have specific lessons/curriculum for a variety of topics (or standards, if you will).  Wildcam Gorongoza and Zooniverse are both entities of HHMI

Biointeractive which are SUPERB resources for helping students working on their observation and classification skills as they help real-life scientists to identify species caught on camera traps. iNaturalist is a citizen scientist application in which students can also help to identify plant/animal species, or post their own pictures for identification.  These are great ways to network in real-time with real-scientists.  Teachers can use these tools for a stimulating class discussion, too!

1. Environmental Literacy Models.  And the #1 reason why it’s time to unite EE literacy with state standards?!  Why, of course, it’s already being done!  Not only are there great lessons that school teachers can attach to, but there are also already schools that have caught on to the revolution of changing the ways of formal education!  Check out these awesome models which demonstrate effective incorporation of EE standards in school curriculum standards.  These groups are already working to bridge the gap between the two.

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The Connection to Relevance

The need to make EE (a.k.a. environmental education) relevant is vital.  Relationships are important to accomplish this mission.  And in discerning (for a very long time) how to make it happen and evaluating many different pathways, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s really no better way than to jump directly in the middle of the community where it all happens… in our schools.  In other words, incorporate environmental literacy standards into school curriculum standards.

Students cry for relevance in their learning, and there’s no better relevance than impacts on their way of life.  Environmental literacy through project-based learning is the ultimate interdisciplinary lesson, truly.  In order to solve problems they face in their communities, students must first know the basics (science and math) of how their world operates.  This helps them to articulate and communicate their ideas so that best solutions can be discussed and found.  It should be noted, though, that this notion of environmental literacy as standard school curriculum (what is known to some as a “green school”) is more than a magnet or charter school… it’s just the way it should be.  It’s a way of life.

The Connection to Relevance

Feel a need to make a difference  –>  Civics/Social Studies

In order to do so, you need to gather knowledge of how the world works  –> Science

Finding a solution, you’ll need to engineer a design plan  –> Math & Measurement

Need to articulate/communicate your plan  –>  ELA: Writing & Speaking

Need to be inspired  –> ELA & NATURE

Human Relationship: An Engineering Design Solution

What makes STEM so great is that it really is how science should be taught.  It is the missing relevance that kids are craving when they say that they hate science or that science is boring.  I just really hate the misunderstood buzz word aspect, but it actually is a great concept.  So let’s let “STEM” die a bloody, horrible death.  Make it go away.  I call for a revolution!  A name change.  My suggestion?  Let’s just call it “the correct way to teach science.”

In an earlier post of mine, I proposed the problem with “STEM” as being a mere word/phrase of jargon that has lost its meaning.  But, through the opportunity of leading the national Project Lead the Way program (PLTW) at my current school, I now propose a solution.  Because that’s just what we scientists and engineers do.  We see a problem and we fix it.

Let’s begin by using PLTW’s engineering design process of (out ru1-design-process-27-638ight) stating the problem and proposing a design brief:

Problem:  People are not listening to and/or embodying environmental conservation messages, and don’t seem to care about the Earth on which they live.  I’ve meditated on this thing for quite some time and I’m left begging the question:  How can we REALLY expect people to care for the environment when they don’t even care for each other?  Thus, the root of the problem.

Design Brief:  In order to get individuals/society to take more pro-active steps in caring for the environment, we must ourselves first take pro-active measures to restore the the bond of human connection by showing true interest in the dignity of each individual human person.  To start off with, in order to build human relationships we can by infiltrate the public education sector.  We must institute a science teaching revolution in order to find the perfect way to teach science, and achieve this much sought out concept of harmony.

Developing a Solution:  As a means to beginning this “science teaching revolution,” I propose we take a look at two main areas:  urban ecology and capacity building.  We must continually seek to find more of the most effective ways to improve human relationships through community partnerships, particularly as it pertains to schools using the land around them to maximum effectiveness in teaching state/national science standards. I’m generating a concept in my head of schools and community partners (both individuals and businesses) that have a truly authentic and fluid relationship with each other, as opposed to a so-called one time field trip.

There are several outstanding models running through my head of in situ work that have such a dynamically fluid, capacity building partnership.  Two of these (Proyecto Titi: Preserving Colombia’s Wildlife and Save the Elephant’s Elephant Beehive Fences) I’ve gotten to know real well during my time as an educator at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and another  (Kibale Wood Fuel Project) I learned about during my time at Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens.  What makes these models so great is the attention to detail in their capacity building efforts within their respective communities.  These programs take a real look at and understand how/why their people live the way they do, and don’t just seek to tell people they have to change their habits (because what they’re currently doing is wrong/bad/immoral).  Instead, they get to know the people, teach them about their local wildlife and their significance/niches, and seek to find real working solutions that seek the needs of their residents.20131025104714-unite-photos

Not too long ago, I stumbled upon another organization who took similar approaches to those mentioned above, except moreso through the viewpoint of formal educational curriculum.  UNITE for the Environment is a program operated by North Carolina Zoo in East Africa that helps local schools form partnerships.  The model for their program isn’t to be a resource that merely “provides” sources for teachers to use, but instead to be a resource that asks what schools need for them to effectively to their job and teach their students what needs to be taught.

UNITE for the Environment is a conservation project of North Carolina Zoo based in Bigodi, Uganda. Bigodi is located adjacent to Kibale National Park, an important site for a number of primate species, including chimpanzees. This program involves working closely with teachers and other community members to enhance knowledge about environmental issues and sustainable practices, improve teaching methods, and encourage adoption of sustainable activities that improve local livelihoods and reduce the impact of the community on the environment and national park. The current program consists of teacher trainings, student field trips, work with teachers on community service projects and with students through wildlife clubs as well as an extensive evaluation protocol.

Watch this video to really see what makes it so great.

All of these models are great and wonderful and encouraging, but there’s just one (semi-) problem… they are all in situ programs in countries that are not the United States.  The problem really being that we cannot neglect such purposeful, meaningful relationships in our own country.  My wish is that these programs continue their work in South America and Africa, and that they inspire other similar programs in other countries… including the U.S.

infiltrationThe solution I propose is an “infiltration” of the public education sector by zoos, aquariums, other conservation organizations, and even local businesses to help build better capacity within our schools and provide teachers the tools they need to do their job.  As it is currently in classrooms around the USA, budgets are tight and teachers are already purchasing classroom supplies with their own money.
As a result, students suffer… they suffer due to lack of supplies, as well potentially not even getting a single field trip.  The current crisis in education is not due to lack of “good” schools or “good” teachers, but moreso a lack of effective teaching supplies/materials.  Through my experience of of #teacherlife, thus far, I can see the improvement that our education system has undergone… teachers and schools are doing their best.  Unfortunately, though, inadequate funding can ruin even the best of plans.  That is where business partners come in; they should be aware of issues like this and help provide the school’s with what is lacking.  The solution I propose calls on conservation organizations to help lead the charge to bring the quality capacity building that is happening overseas to the United States, too.

(Constructing & Testing) Prototypes:  During my interweb musings, I have found of at least two facilities in the U.S. that may be on the road to helping us bring that “quality capacity building” home and begin to heal fractured human relationships and re-connect humans.  The first I know of, though I can not at the moment find anything on the internet to link to) is Jacksonville Zoo in North Florida and the other is Lincoln Park Zoo.

Both have programs (mostly for teens) that are focused on sustainability and urban ecology, however LPZ’s initiative goes into greater detail and forms that relationship between themselves and schools by hosting a yearly science fair at their Zoo.  Further evaluation is required, however their model has the appearance for authentic fluidity as it involves multiple visits of Zoo personnel to the schools as well as multiple visits by students to the Zoo to complete their work.

Either way, the groudwork is already laid, now let’s get to work and start this SCIENCE TEACHING REVOLUTION!