Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Makers and Dodgers

Maker Movement comes to Kentucky, sorta

I thought yesterday’s Invent to Learn Institute sponsored by the UK College of Education, KDE, and KySTE in Lexington, started off with a bang. But I was wrong.

The morning key note “The Learning Revolution You Can’t Afford to Ignore,” was delivered by a rambling, pacing Dr. Gary Stager who advocated that schools embrace the “maker” movement – a “technological game-changer” that promises to “reanimate active learning.” No doubt, having students create, forces them to operate at the highest levels of cognition, and I believe that’s a good thing any time you can get it. But Stager wants to move “making” out of the after-school realm and into the mainstream of schooling – particularly STEM schooling.

That raises many practical questions related to scalability. So how does one accomplish this? Well according to Stager, you do it by rejecting the past thirty years of Kentucky education policy. Get rid of curriculum. Common core is bad. No tests. Just give students the power tools and stuff to create catapults and robots, encourage them to come up with their own questions, and answer them by “making something.” Now, despite the fact that the maker movement is never going to reshape schooling, there is something to be said for the approach. It frees kids to move beyond what the school typically values and rewards.

While listening to Stager I thought: Who invited this guy? Was it someone familiar with KDE and state education policy? Did they know what he would say? And was that meant, by design, to shake up the crowd?

I finally assumed that he was meant to be provocative and stimulate people’s thinking - and on a basic level he did. But his chat ended with polite applause, and he sold a few books, but no one I talked to expected anything to change as a result. Stager’s provocation ended, not with a bang…    

Next Generation Social Studies Standards Dodges the Content Question
I expected even more fireworks from Dr. Kathy Swan’s presentation on the “College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies Standards" rolled out last month. But again, I might have been wrong.

In the early 1990s, an effort to create voluntary national standards fell apart when history standards, which included social justice issues, were attacked by conservative groups as “the epitome of left-wing political correctness” because it included unpleasant topics some thought best left in the past – and not reintroduced in a history course!? Once burned, Clinton’s Goals 2000 program called for states to write their own standards, pick their own tests, and be accountable for their own achievement. Then there was NCLB. By the mid-90s, a new national movement began when the National Governor’s Association teamed up with states to raise academic standards. Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and now, Next Generation Social Studies Standards in the form of C3.

Twenty three states signed on to develop a structure for students to consider what it means to be human, and to be humane. C3’s Inquiry Arc guides explorations in the political, economic, geographical and historical disciplines. But the design is devoid of specific content knowledge that students must know. All of those choices, are left to the individual states to figure out (fight over). I asked Swan if the national group was OK with Texas throwing Thomas Jefferson out of its history curriculum in favor of John Calvin. Well, not exactly…but such choices are left to the states.

When Checker Finn caught a 6-page draft of C3 last year he outlined the conservative reaction. Without commenting on how some conservatives have pushed against any nationalized curriculum, Finn seems to complain that he won’t have anything to complain about. 

Is C3 a dodge? Or is it the right approach for a national curriculum framework?

This from Checker Finn at Fordham:

Social studies follies

The cumbersome, inscrutable title is the first clue that something is not right: “Vision for the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3): Framework for Inquiry in Social Studies State Standards.”

Welcome to the social studies follies. We might thank the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) for ensuring—so far, anyway—that this jumble is not portrayed as “national standards” for social studies. Instead, it’s the beginning of a “framework” for states intending to re-think their own academic standards in social studies, a hodge-podge part of the K-12 curriculum.

It’s not the actual framework, however. That is promised for sometime next year. What we have today is a six-page “vision” of a “framework for inquiry,” whatever the heck that is supposed to mean. (See also Catherine Gewertz’s perspective in Education Week.)
But this preview document supplies reason to be plenty alarmed about what lies ahead. The second clue is implicit in its opening paragraphs:
The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework, currently under development, will ultimately focus on the disciplinary and multidisciplinary concepts and practices that make up the process of investigation, analysis, and explanation which will be informative to states interested in upgrading their social studies standards. It will include descriptions of the structure and tools of the disciplines (civics, economics, geography, and history) as well as the habits of mind common in those disciplines. The C3 Framework will also include an inquiry arc—a set of interlocking and mutually supportive ideas that frame the ways students learn social studies content. This framing and background for standards development to be covered in C3 all point to the states’ collective interest in students using the disciplines of civics, economics, geography, and history as they develop questions and plan investigations; apply disciplinary concepts and tools; gather, evaluate, and use evidence; and work collaboratively and communicate their conclusions.
The C3 Framework will focus primarily on inquiry and concepts, and will guide — not prescribe — the content necessary for a rigorous social studies program. CCSSO recognizes the critical importance of content to the disciplines within social studies and supports individual state leadership in selecting the appropriate and relevant content.
Did you spot the missing words? I’ll bet you did. They are the verb “know” and the noun “knowledge.” As best one can tell, the present social studies project cares not a whit about whether kids end up with any of the familiar “knowledge” of social studies. “What is the Declaration of Independence?” “What does the Bill of Rights do?” “What is the Emancipation Proclamation?” “When was World War I, why was it fought, who won, and what were the consequences?” “How many senators does your state have and what are their names?” “Where is Taiwan? Why is Burma called Myanmar?” “What was the ‘Cultural Revolution’ and what were its effects on China and its people?” And on and on and on.

We do a lousy job of imparting that kind of information to our students today. If the drafters of this “vision” have their way, we’ll do even worse tomorrow.

Read those two grafs again. Try to find the words “know” or “knowledge.” They’re MIA. Yes, the CCSSO hedges its bets by declaring its own commitment to “content.” Well and good. But what about the “known experts” (sic)—unnamed, albeit “known”—who are drafting this “vision”? What do you suppose is their view of “content,” let alone “knowledge?” Dim, I’m pretty sure.
This could turn out to be simply awful. Somehow, it feels even worse in the week that we observe Thanksgiving.

Even absent specific content, I suspect that the C3 will be viewed suspiciously by some for its encouragement of civic activism (which people believe in when it coincides with their own beliefs, and not so much when it doesn’t), and for setting as a goal the student's ability to describe “democratic principles such as equality and fairness.” OMG! Who’s equal? Fairness!?

Another interesting issue was raised by Truth in American Education:

Where is the CCSSO on Social Studies?
The National Council for Social Studies just released the final draft of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards....but what I find interesting is how the Council of Chief State School Officers backed (a)way from it. They were the ones who facilitated the effort to develop these standards. Without any fanfare or news that I could find this was given to the National Council for Social Studies to complete and CCSSO doesn’t have any fingerprints on the final draft.