Getting Funky in Here…

Project Foundry is awesome. I drink their Kool Aid. Although I am a huge proponent of all things #FOSS (Free Open Source Software), Project Foundry makes my school possible. For three days last week, I participanted at Project Foundry’s Unconference (#pfunc). Project Foundry is a student project management system. It guides students through the project-based learning process and does much more. Assessments and proposals are built right into Foundry. Teachers can create assessments (hopefully, students will be able to create their own assessments soon as well). A small group of enthusiasts stay in touch throughout the year on a Ning.

The Unconference was hosted at Northwest Passage High School in Coon Rapids, MN. Similar to other charter schools in Minnesota that have been in existence for over a decade, NWPHS is an outstanding learning community with a clearly defined student-centered pedagogy. It’s too bad the State of Minnesota has decided to halt the creation of new charter schools. In fact, only one charter school opened up in Minnesota last school year. That’s embarrassing. The State that passed the first charter school law in the nation has effectively halted the formation of new innovative learning spaces for students in Minnesota. What’s more, the State has some of the best charter schools in the country and while they are being replicated in Wisconsin under a weaker state charter law, they are not in Minnesota. This was my fourth time at Northwest Passage High School and I always leave with a fond appreciation of how the school lives out its mission.

Tuesday of the Unconference was for newbies. Kornerstone was in full effect. I was joined by my fellow Lead Teachers Jen Melville and Josh Zimmers. Kornerstone School Governance Board Guru, Thomas Steele-Maley also participated with us. He came all the way from the State of Maine. The Guru position is pretty cool. This two-year termed position drives a specific need of professional development and oversees Student Congress at our school; thereby, providing a check in case the teacher (myself included) attempt to high-jack the student’s democratic learning environment. Thomas is focusing on helping us set up our student portfolio network/system and get our Wiki up and running. We crushed Tuesday. The four of us labbed out several big-rock concepts. The biggest was eliminating credits. In most PBL schools, credits are assigned in the following manner:
100 hours of time on task = 1 credit in whatever area students were working on; all projects are tied to state standards. Most diploma’s are around 50 credits.

“This,” my colleague Josh Zimmers pointed out, “doesn’t make any sense.” And, “It’s way too confusing.” Over the next three days, and several hours worth of heated discussion, credits were eliminated and replaced with a portfolio system (similar to what’s currently being practiced in parts of Alaska & Maine). We have more work to do on this and many parent discussions to hold, but it’s a positive step towards dynamic student-centered student-directed learning. If we can pull off our design, the focus of school will be on process and creativity, rather than external carrots & sticks.

I attended sessions on assessment, personalized learning plans, project ideas, and portfolios. I also ended up eating dinner on a riverboat. I Played an incredibly interesting game involving movie titles. I met with learning designers from all around the country. I had a conversation with an expert on using badges as an assessment. I heard Gary Stager give an inspiring talk through Skype or GoToMeeting. As was the case with Project Foundry’s Unconference last year, I got enriched in so many areas other than Project Foundry.

Educating youth is messy. It cannot be broken down to clean units, standardizable and regulated by a monolith. I feel like others at #pfunc ‘get it’. They’re down with what learners need and are fighting the good fight. It was serene being around brethren.

So many other dialogs occurred over the three days. Similarly to Josh Zimmers, my co-worker Jen Melville is brilliant.  She’s been putting in a ton of time unpacking nextgen assessments. Tests that measure areas like collaboration, problem solving & critical thinking, work ethic, leadership, and on and on. Her tenacity and focus to find metrics that adequately measure the type of learning going on in our school is impressive and monumentally important. Further, it is stuff that I have no interest in dealing with. Over the last month, Jen, Josh, and I have been dividing up administrative duties. We are a teacher-led school in start-up. The process has been something I wish I would have chronicled more carefully. Three weeks ago at EdVision’s Summer Institute, we put all of the administrative duties on a Google Doc and on sticky notes. We then had a fantasy football style draft for positions. A position or duty like Webmaster/Tech Director was something I jumped at. Jen and Josh both shrieked away from it. A position like C&I alignment/assessment was something I shrieked out loud at, and Jen jumped at. When the whole thing was done, there were about three duties that nobody really wanted and we divided those up. From that point on, the three of us have been hammering out projects associated with our admin duties. It’s been an awesome process. Getting to hand off areas like the budget and transportation was a relief. “I feel like I’m back to normal,” I told my wife last week. What made all of this possible was Kimberly Area School District allowing the Kornerstone School Governance Board to hire the staff. I got to sort through applications and sit in on interviews. Therefore, I felt confident and comfortable with handing off the myriad duties involved with running a school. I don’t want positional authority. One of my end-goals, passions, and legacy-pieces is to flatten the hegemony in K12 education. This can be done. I hope we are able to do it in Kornerstone School. We launch in 15 days. We implement a 2-year design. It will work because we’ve hired the right people. Jen and Josh are amazing and I can’t wait to see how they rock out with young adults.

My next blog post is already in Beta and it’s going to be a monster. Probably 5000+ word piece. It’s a gratitude statement to all of those that have played a role in launching this new school. But I want to leave you with a conversation/scream-a-thon I had with Jamie Steckart at the end of #pfunc. It went something like this…

Me: My man, let’s rap for a minute, I want to tell you about badges
Jamie: Badges, we don’t need no stinkin’ badges
Me: I know, hear me out here-
Jamie: Dude, their external-
Me: Don’t come at me with that Daniel Pink, hear me out
Jamie: Alright. Alright, use the board, draw it up
Me: I wanna use badges to assess things that students aren’t getting credit for but are learning
Jamie: That’s a waste. That’s already dated. VR (Virtual Reality) is going to be here. By 2043 there’s going to be a super-computer smarter than the entire human race combined.
Me: You mean 2023
Jamie: Whatever
flash forward one minute…47 expletives were already deleted from this dialog, and I’m not saying who said them. Neither person finished a sentence and I pushed him away from me at least twice. It was truly a great dialog. We had both stepped out of the cave only to run directly into each other head on.
Jamie: When you can’t tell the difference between the cup of coffee in my hand and this cup of coffee (holding a make believe or virtual cup), then I am no longer needed
Me: No way. We’ll still facilitate. I know what you’re saying, but we need community.
Jamie: We’ll have community. It just won’t be like what we can imagine. Why would parents send their kids to me when they could have the best VR teach them?

My response to Jamie:

#pfunc After Party from Michael McCabe on Vimeo.

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