Last week while dropping off my daughter at her STEM elementary school, I was struck by the sight of about 40 fourth and fifth graders crowded around their teacher on the playground. School hadn’t officially begun for the day. Other younger students were playing boisterously or chatting with friends and yet all of these students were intently focused on their teacher -- both his words and actions as he began to remove a recently emerged Monarch butterfly from his net enclosure. I only caught a few of the teacher’s words as he wasn’t speaking like a presenter, but instead more conversationally as a fellow naturalist alongside the students on their journey to discover the transformation of the Monarch butterfly. Some of the students were asking questions and those who weren’t were listening to the responses.
Intriguingly, the butterfly, like the children, didn’t want to leave the teacher’s side. The teacher provided some hypotheses for why the butterfly was reluctant to depart for his great migration and suggested placing the butterfly on a flower in the nearby garden. So the entire group walked ceremoniously to the garden and the teacher placed the butterfly on a flower. They watched for a moment and then proceeded back into school. The scene prompted discussions among a few parents who were observing the events and again I was struck by the power of this moment, especially for the students.
At Pathways High last week, a similar moment occurred for students in the Urban Landscape seminar. Their teacher, Angelique Byrne, took them to the Guest House, a Pathways High Impact partner, to help harvest vegetables from their garden. For some students, this was the first time they were seeing what vegetables look like before they reach the grocery store. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the students were able to connect with their classmates as they worked alongside one another, immediately seeing the fruit (or in this case, vegetables) of their labor. Please see the photos below. Giving back to one’s community makes a powerful impact on the giver as well as the receiver.
Perhaps it’s more obvious now what Monarch butterflies and digging in dirt have in common. According to Chip and Dan Heath, co-authors of The Power of Moments, they both could be described as positive defining moments or peaks. These peaks influence our perspective and our lives and are what’s remembered for years to come. As described in The Power of Moments, peaks are created from one or more of the following elements:
Chip and Dan Heath state, “We must learn to think in moments, to spot the occasions that are worthy of investment.” I believe students and teachers would benefit greatly from building more peaks into the significant time invested at school. According to the Heath’s, building peaks isn’t costless. Clearly, if it were quick and easy there would be a lot more peaks at school. Thinking in moments and building peaks takes time and effort. The Heath’s share the components of elevating a moment as follows:
I’m certain teachers and students, alike, have many ideas for building peaks at school. In fact, many inspiring projects at Project Based Learning, STEM, Montessori and some traditional schools in Milwaukee and across the country are peak moments for students. However, they are not the norm and some teachers and students may feel they don’t have the time nor permission to execute their ideas for building peak moments. As an educational community, let’s make the conscious effort to invest in these moments so that education isn’t only “occasionally remarkable and mostly forgettable.” Please share the peak moments you and your colleagues are building at your school in the comment section below.
Chip Heath will be a Keynote speaker at the ExcelinEd conference this December in Washington, DC.
Welcome to our new blog! The Tipping Point.
If you haven’t seen the video “What is School For?” that went viral after it was released on Youtube last Monday, please check it out.
My 12-year old son was the first to share it with me and he’s been quoting lines from it ever since. The video resonated with him as it did the many people who have left comments. What struck me after watching the video is not the accuracy and eloquence of the message, but more that so many people believe our current K-12 education system squanders, instead of unleashes, diverse human potential and yet progress towards changing the system seems minimal. Why?
In full disclosure, Ted Dintersmith, the video’s producer, is my hero and his work with the documentary and book, Most Likely to Succeed, was the main reason I co-founded Pathways High. I believe Ted's intent has always been two-fold: 1) beat the drum about the need for change and 2) inspire and mobilize community members to change their schools (or start new ones) in order to create positive momentum and a tipping point. I think the tipping point is possible, but only if the success stories in all communities go viral and put pressure on those reinforcing the status quo to change. Let’s be honest, it’s easy to complain and many of us enjoy complaining. The hard part is doing the work of change and then taking the time when you’re already exhausted to document the successes. But we must. We (everyone at Pathways High, other progressive schools and those in traditional schools who are trying new approaches to benefit students) have to do our part to tell the positive stories and lots of them and help them go viral. As they say, nothing succeeds like success.
Demonstrating success in the new model of education, one that is engaging, relevant, learner-centered and supports students in developing skills for their life now, not just their future requires different metrics than those used in our current system. We know that standardized test scores aren’t accurate predictors of success and, consequently, are no longer required by many colleges and universities for admission. We can look to thought leaders in our past and present for more useful metrics. Today, an organization that is leading the effort to transform how U.S. high schools measure student achievement, is the Mastery Transcript Consortium. Performance as measured by portfolios of work is an essential component of an education model that mirrors the real world. When exhibition of student work is integral to a school, the successes will be evident. In the world outside of school we are judged by the quality and timeliness of our work. Why should school be different? What stories do you have about the real work your students are doing -- work that inspires others, work that benefits their school, neighborhood or global community? Make the effort to share these stories in any format you can so we can reach a tipping point.
Finally, a critical factor in reaching the tipping point more quickly is for the adults in students lives -- their caregivers, teachers and school leadership -- to take an honest look at their own mindsets. The majority of adults are products of a traditional education system and for many of us this system served us well. Change requires a conscious effort to step outside one’s comfort zone to think about how our own experiences create a limited lens through which to view school today. Understanding our own biases and broadening our perspective on school to include a place (both physical and virtual) for students to engage in solving problems that impact them and their community is essential.
I’m excited to share the perspectives of two Pathways High teachers, Angelique Byrne and Megan Goers, who have developed and continue to develop multidisciplinary seminars based on this broader perspective of school. I hope you enjoy the podcast interview of Angelique and Megan by Joe Scanlin, Founder and CEO of Scanalytics, about the teachers experience at MIT’s NuVu Innovation Lab.
Special shoutout to Pathways High student Sophia McLees who edited this podcast.
Where education unleashes students' potential.
Making the transition from a traditional environment to one like Pathways High is a complete shift in how you will view education in this innovation era. We will support you in the process by posting news about school happenings, articles of interest and more!