In July of 2015 I found myself presented with a great opportunity; I had the chance to take everything I have learned from non-profits, museums, Mayor’s Offices and mentors and dump it into a small room on the third floor of a school in Los Angeles. The great thing about formal education is that we still have summer break which gave me two months to really think about how to tackle this project. Every activity and choice I made over the summer was with the lens of building and documenting this process for others.
I read a ton of books, blogs and articles. Below is a list of some of the most helpful books:
I have a goal of maintaining a GoodReads account so that you can see the most up to date information I am consuming in printed form: you can find the list HERE.
Where I am today is a direct product of my network. Here are some elements of my network that are greatly influencing my current work. I invite you to learn from them too!
If given the opportunity, one could make a career of attending conferences. This summer I picked a few that directly related to what I was going to do.
DML is my all time favorite because I get to reconnect with my network of inspiration! The focus this year was on equity and all of the speeches are available on the website. If you only have a few minutes please watch Leshell Hatley and Fabian Debora HERE.
I can not thank Enrique Legaspi enough for the opportunity to spend the day with incredible youth from Boyle Heights in the company of the world!
A huge thank you to Jean Kaneko from The Exploratory for the opportunity to put my brain in a blender!
The colloquium was a great opportunity to learn more about the formal ed making community in LA. There is a ton of great stuff going on!
After immersing myself in a proper education (while consulting on two national education projects) I had to communicate my vision for the small room on the third floor to administrators who were really excited and also may or may not have any idea what I was talking about. I started to write and make spreadsheets and I realized that images are worth 1,000 words. I presented a materials list based on the Make Magazine’s Makerspace in a Box and started aPintrest board. This approach worked really well and enabled me to communicate budget as well as vision in, what I hope was received, as one easy to digest package.
When I arrived the room was filled with desks and chairs. My first step was to have all of them removed. (I still owe the maintenance crew lunch for that one!) With a blank slate I was able to begin building my vision. The space has been received very well by the school and the community. There are unique opportunities for investigating and reflecting on how a classroom should look and sound and those reflections will be coming at a later date. For now, enjoy the time lapse of the set up as well as a few images.
I found my culminating assessment for my Masters in my files and it was interesting to read through now. It was drafted five years ago and since that time I have stayed true to the course I prescribed. As I embark on new jorneys I have chosen to focus on documentation and transparency to share what I am learning as I go. Enjoy reading the key lessons I learned from my time as a Teach for America corps member and University of Colorado graduate student.
Two summers ago I was working as a photography teacher at several locations throughout Chicago and one of them happened to be for an after school program on the city’s south west side. The impact I made on my students inspired me to make a larger impact. I walked blindly into the most rigorous journey of my entire life during an interview on the 20th floor of a nondescript building located in the center of the city I called home. Saturday night was the conclusion of my journey. I would argue that it was simply the beginning, but hors d’oeuvres, speeches, and red table wine marked the finish line of the hardest part. Senator Michael Johnston delivered the closing speech with a beer in one hand and two years on the front lines of education inequality in the other. Johnston was a previous corps member and the theme of his speech rang straight through to my heart and brought tears to my tired cheeks. Senator Johnston anointed us all with a degree in truth and hope. Truth and hope are the complexities that transcend all elements of urban education.
In my own encounters with urban education I have witnessed unprecedented truths and I have been called on to hope against all odds. I have listened to truths from my students that haunt the quite moments I encounter in my daily life. The truth that most of my students have been abused, a lot of them do not have a reliable roof over their heads, or an adult they can trust. The truth that many of my 10th grade students came to me reading at a 6th grade level, most of my students could not complete simple arithmetic, and the astonishing truth that many of them have not had exposure to the ways that democracy works let alone their rights as a citizen. There is also the truth that many of them are citizens of another country fighting for rights in this one, a country deemed the melting pot, but only if you have the right visa. In the face of the truths there is also a monumental amount of hope. “I like being human because I am involved with others in making history out of possibility…” (Freire, 1998). I am encompassed by hope in a school that defies the normal curricular theory of most schools. I send students to internships once a week hoping that their lives will change ever so slightly. I meet with each student individually each week for 30 minutes to advise them through projects and encourage them to follow their interests and passions. My school and the last two years have been “… a shriek in the night for the freedom of men who themselves are not yet sure of their right to demand it” (Dubois, 1903). Regardless of the outpouring of hope and the necessary truths I am not constructed to withstand the batter of urban education on the front lines. A quote from a text I read resonated with me: “She gives so much, she gives too much…until her soul is wind-blown top soil, a spent strip mine” (Liston , 2000). Truth and hope have resonated through my being and my own truth and hope has echoed through every gray hair and wrinkle earned in the last
My placement school is built on raw truth and unparalleled hope. The director wasted no time confronting truths present everywhere. She helped me to see the truth I was blind to in the students I cared too much about. I worked with a staff that could find the truth in any situation brought forth from a student, and administrator, or a new policy. I learned to evaluate validity in an entirely new way and I also learned to approach information and judgment cautiously. In a world where “economic resources help create class differences” (Lareau, 2003) hope transcends the truths that surround our work. We work to ensure that our parents do not encounter “…a hard time understanding the teacher’s language” (Lareau, 2003) and strive to present hard to hear truths and foster a sense of hope with parents and guardians in a way that makes the most sense to them by using all of the resources available to us. Our test scores have continually gone through the roof, and test scores are only truth. Our qualitative data is where the true payment of hope lies. “Ser bien educado/a (to be well educated) is to not only posses book knowledge but to also live responsibly as a caring human being, respectful of the individuality and dignity of others” (Valenzuela, 2009). I have worked with immense urgency on an action research project that investigates the impact of culturally representative guest speakers on student investment in STEM careers. I discovered that students are not presented with the ability to see themselves in science careers. I will be working with the University of Northern Colorado to implement my research on a statewide level and I have just been asked to present my research to the board forDenver Water. I am excited to help others see the truths in public education and build a repertoire of hope.
Unfortunately, truth is not rampant in the systematic end of public education. Urban education is a government institution littered with for-profit interest groups that rarely have the best interest of the student in mind. Standard tests neglect students who are not familiar with certain cultural norms and the truth is ignored because no one knows what the answer would be if it is not the one presented. A working school can be defined as one that “reproduce(es) the social order along race, class, and gender lines” (Valenzuela, 2009). Truth is present in the homogenous grouping of students: “students in classes with kids at academic levels different from their own are mismatched causing boredom or confusion” (Olson & Fagen, 2007). We are preparing students for careers that do not exist yet using an antiquated system design to prepare students for jobs that no longer exist. The hope lies in “make(ing) here in human education that ever necessary combination of the permanent and the contingent-of the ideal and the practical in workable equilibrium- has been there, as it ever must be in every age and place, a matter of infinite experiment and frequent mistakes” (Dubois, 1903). I hope to be the part of a pipeline of students that will make a profound difference in the great experiment that is urban education. I hope that truths are revealed to parents, taxpayers, and students themselves in a way that will allow their hope to overcome the adversity. When truth prevails and hope overpowers despair our country’s education system will rise to a renowned precedence. Until then truth and hope with exist in many facets throughout a multitude of levels in urban education. I will be fighting to share the truth and I will carry the awesome hope that I have experienced in the last two years as I transcend the complexities of urban education.
Dubois, W. E. B. (1903). The souls of black folk. Victoria: Penguin Books.
Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham, MD:
Lareau , A. (2003). Unequal childhoods. Los Angeles, CA : University of California Press.
Liston , D. (2000). Love and despair in teaching. Educational Theory, 50(1), 81-102.
Olson , S., & Fagen , A. (2007). Understanding interventions that encourage minorities to pursue research careers: Summary of a workshop.
Valenzuela, A. (2009). Subtractive schooling, caring relations, and social capital in the schooling of US-Mexican youth. In D. Flinders & S. Thornton (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader (Third ed. pp. 336-347). Routledge.
Learning While Connected
The city of Chicago is fortunate to have an incubator for connections and change. Hive Chicago is a magical place where civic and cultural institutions come together to change they way education happens. When I returned to Chicago in 2013 I was introduced to the Hive and I totally have a crush on the model. In my adventures big and small I have found time and time again that there is no greater currency than learning and connecting the perspectives of others; the Hive is a honey pot of varying perspectives. The trick is to capitalize, listen, and take action.
Fast forward to the Chicago City of Learning (CCOL). CCOL aims to merge student experiences, establish that learning happens everywhere and builds systems to effectively document that learning. I carried lessons from the HIVE to CCOL and someone noticed. I am honored to share with you a small space of the CCOL inaugural e-newsletter dedicated to a story about how I, through my position at Project Exploration, work to learn and connect.
I led public school teachers on an inquiry-based exploration of integrating Project Exploration’s model into their classroom for the Pittcon 2014 Science Week. We started by creating a Code of Conduct to help the teachers experience what it is like to define their leaning space. The code included “don’t be creepy with your phone” and “two then you” to ensure equity of voice.
The class investigated some of the element of Project Exploration’s programming that makes it successful. In lieu of traditional brainstorming, I opted to expose the teachers to metaforming. Metaformng is a technique I learned through The Art of Science Learning and involves creating a 3-D representation of a concept. The products were astonishing! I truly enjoyed listening to the explanations and seeing what the teachers came up with. My favorite metaform focused on the concept of the importance of scientists in the classroom.
We moved to an experiment that helped the teachers learn more about their reaction time. We used meter sticks and compared data to national averages, but my intention was not to evaluate physical reaction time. After the experiment I presented the teachers with a list of the fastest growing jobs in the country; the room fell silent. The list included UX designers, DevOPs engineers and UI developers. The teachers admitted not being incredibly familiar with the jobs and I emphasized the importance of inviting experts into the classroom to augment the learning experience.
It became apparent that the models that work incredibly well for the out of school time environment and may be a little hard to integrate into the formal classroom. Utilizing the amazing talent in the room I added a category to the chalk talk and asked the teachers to provide suggestions to each other.
I investigated the impact of culturally-representative, science-based guest speakers in classrooms on student interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) related career choices. Education
has turned focus away from the sciences and this is beginning to trickle into our workforce, leading to a rapid erosion of the US’s competitiveness in science and technology (Traurig & Feller). Students need to investigate science with someone other than their classroom teacher (Bouvier, 2011). During this study I found that guest speakers had a measurable impact in a short period of time with a small group of students.
You can read the entire paper here: