A Story about Risk, Change, and Putting Kids 1st

December 2, 2016

 

I know what you're thinking. There are a million books and articles about change, and risk-taking is becoming a buzzword in education.

 

What if what our students needed most was more responsible risk-taking from us? What if they really do need meaningful change?

 

This year one of our teachers implemented a groundbreaking "KinderCoding" program during the school day. Implementing the new learning experience was not easy and she definitely didn't have a roadmap to follow. 

 

Thanks to her groundbreaking work, all of our kindergarten students have opportunities to practice coding on a weekly basis. We wanted to put kids in a position to thrive today, and excel tomorrow. (I'll share more specifics about KinderCoding later, but bear with me for a minute.) The design and implementation process got me thinking more about what meaningful change looks like, and how to create the conditions where students are best served.

 

Here are two related questions we're continuing to explore:

 

1.) What are some responsible risks our students are counting on us to take today, so they are better equipped tomorrow?

 

2.) How can we better support and empower teachers to lead meaningful change?

 

I don't think anyone will argue that the skills students will need in the not-so-distant future are changing. Systemically speaking, education has not been so nimble. It can seem like the system is very slow to change. 

 

In moments like this, we can't forget that the system is comprised of people. Policy-making people. University-level people. Passionate people in the trenches. Extremely well-intentioned and talented people from all walks of life. The thing that all these people have in common is that they need support in order to do what's best for kids. 

 

We can talk about students' needs all we want, but if we don't attend to the unique strengths and needs of teachers the change process is unlikely to be sustainable. The truth of the matter is that people can change, and their efforts can impact the very trajectory of the entire system. 

 

Now back to that KinderCoding story and how that's being implemented at our school...

 

Last school year we added kindergarten Specialists to our staffing model in all eight of the elementary schools in our school district. This means that kindergarten students are now receiving art instruction from an Art Specialist. The same holds true for PE, Music, and Technology. (In the past, our kindergarten homeroom teachers provided instruction in all these areas.)

 

When we added the Technology Specialist time for students this year, it would have been rather easy to take the existing elementary curriculum and adjust it to be developmentally appropriate for kindergarten students. In other words, we could have just replicated what has been happening in other grade-levels for the past few decades. However, we felt that our kids were counting on us to try something different. After doing lots of research we took a responsible risk...

 

We transformed one of the weekly kindergarten Technology Specialist times into the aforementioned KinderCoding class. In addition to experiencing the district technology standards, our youngest learners are now practicing skills that will transcend time.

 

We based some of our early planning on resources from Sam Patterson (edutopia.com):

 

  • Sequencing

  • Concepts of Code

  • Cause & Effect

  • Counting

  • Planning

  • Left to Right Reading

  • Problem-Solving

  • Risk-Taking and Building Upon Past Mistakes

 

KinderCoding lessons and subsequent learning is spectacularly relevant thanks to the talent and learning mindset of our Kindergarten Tech Specialist (@MrsAnderle284). She's in her first year at Greenwood, and has completely immersed herself into learning how to teach 6-year-olds how to code in a manner that is developmentally appropriate. In fact, many of her lessons involve NO technology whatsoever.

 

She has kids "programming" the teacher using index cards. She also has kids programming one another so they can experience cause and effect directly. They are practicing concepts of code in a very concrete manner before they experiment with any robotics. It's one of the most beautiful things I've seen, and I couldn't be prouder of her effort.

 

 

We meet regularly to discuss the shared vision and assess new/emerging needs. She's currently planning a series of lessons using Bee-Bots. We're able to laugh when a lesson bombs because we know that in many ways that's where real learning occurs. 

 

All of this has me wondering if we need more books about change or debates about buzzwords...or do we simply need to dive in and try something different because it might be even better for kids?

 

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Dr. Brad Gustafson is an elementary principal, author, and speaker. He believes schools can be spaces where creativity and innovation thrive, but only when we prioritize relationships and a relevant, connected pedagogy. 

 

Connect on email at:

AdjustingCourse@gmail.com

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