Prairie Elementary Filmmakers Save a Regional Nature Program

From Gail Desler (aka Blogwalker) in a school district near Sacramento, CA.

Prairie Elementary Filmmakers Save a Regional Nature Program | BlogWalker.

“I was there – at the Sacramento Board of Directors – on Wednesday, joining other concerned educators and citizens in a last minute effort to save one of Sacramento’s primo science programs: Spash.

Thanks to Splash, thousands of elementary, middle, and high school students have explored life in Sacramento’s streams and, in the process, have come to understand why taking care of our water supply is so vital to the community. However, the Board was ready to eliminate the program as part of their latest round of budget cuts.

We had our chance to speak out, each person being allotted 3 minutes to justify continued funding for the program. With Splash director Eva Butler leading the charge, I think the 12 of us who took our turns at the podium helped provide the Board members with an understanding and appreciation that for most kids, “Splash is their first experience with relevant science and things that live beyond the pavement in Sacramento’s streams and vernal pools.”

But it was clearly a team of 5th grade filmmakers from Prairie Elementary School (Lesley McKillop’s former 4th graders) who saved the program. In less than 2 minutes, their Saving Splash video (see snippets in the above TV coverage) provided a compelling argument that led to a unanimous vote to save the program.

A huge victory for students all over the Sacramento region – and a powerful lesson to our young filmmakers on the importance of taking a stand and the power of media to sway an audience.”

If you don’t know, California schools are going through some incredibly tough fiscal times. Yes, I know that’s true all across the US, but California school’s are especially dependent on property taxes, and California real estate was subject to some of the biggest bubble bursting in the country. So the fact that these young filmakers changed a decision in these times especially affirms the power of student voice.

Here’s another reason – the subject of water and the science behind it. The city of Sacramento is at the heart of the California Central Valley Delta. This inland water system is the ecological lifeblood of the state and nourishes one the richest agricultural areas in the U.S. On less than 1 percent of the total farmland in the United States, the Central Valley produces 8 percent of the nation’s agricultural output by value, most of it fed by human engineered water systems (source). Understanding water ecology is vital to Sacramento citizens. So this testimonial about elementary school students saving a science program with their media skills is no joke. This is not just media literacy, it’s science, politics, and ecology! This is certainly the “real world” that we want students to experience.

Thanks, Gail, for sharing Prairie Elementary Filmmakers Save a Regional Nature Program


Unpacking a survey – High School Survey of Student Engagement

This post is by Steven Hicks, who is our project specialist at Generation YES. He writes about a recently released 2009 survey – High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) out of Indiana University. This year, 42,754 high school students participated in the survey. These students where selected from 103 different schools in 27 different states and reflected a cross section of the US population. The study sought to solicit student opinions in three broad areas of engagement: intellectual/academic, social/behavioral, and emotional.

Be sure to watch the video at the end, I found it very interesting that they talked about engagement as a measure of the “relationship” a student has with school, teachers and peers.

Enjoy! – Sylvia

“When we are curious about a child’s words and our responses to those words, the child feels respected. The child IS respected.” – Vivian Gussin Paley

Many schools seek and collect data to help them construct and measure reform efforts in their districts. Typical tools used for education policy analysis are attendance, performance, and achievement data. Data on student perceptions of school — why they go, why they stay (or don’t), and what methods/policies they feel enhance their learning experience are far less common. Unfortunately, student voices are often inferred from quantitative data, which misses the nuances of student motivation and engagement; the omission of student opinion in policy-making results in inadequate, “wishful thinking” policies that inherently prevent students from taking ownership of their learning.

The results for “time on task” questions on the survey may cause concern to those who exclusively view this as a measure of student engagement – 77% of students reported spending five hours or fewer per week on homework. However, when asked about the importance of activities common to adolescents, students overwhelmingly (79%) felt that doing homework was paramount. Students clearly make a distinction between the amount of time spent doing an activity and the importance of the same activities. Combined with the 42% of students who “do not see the value in the work they were being asked to do” and the small percentage (23%) of students who believe that school helps them “solve[ing] real world problems”, it could be inferred that schools should be more concerned with the quality of assigned work and less with traditional “time on task” method of measuring student engagement with the material.

Students were also asked to rate the degree to which various instructional methods excite/engage them. Overwhelmingly, students chose collaborative activities where they are active participants in the learning process as being “some” or “very much” exciting/engaging: “Discussion and Debate” (61%), “Group Projects” (60%), “Presentations” (46%), “Role-Plays” (43%), “Art and Drama Activities” (49%), and “Projects and Lessons Involving Technology” (55%) were all rated very highly by students. Contrast these activities with more independent/passive ones such as “Teacher Lecture” (26%), “Individual Reading” (30%), and “Writing Projects” (30%); it can be noted that “Teacher Lecture” was the least engaging activity with 45% of students saying that it was not at all exciting/engaging to them.

The conclusion of the 2009 HSSSE Survey revealed the same gaps in engagement as previous years. These “engagement gaps” closely mirror the typical gaps in achievement shown by multiple other studies: girls are more engaged than boys, Caucasian and Asian students are more engaged than black or Latino students, wealthier students are more engaged than those on free lunch, etc. The relationship between the achievement and engagement gaps needs to be further studied, however, the results of this survey suggest that gaps in engagement are potentially more addressable than achievement gaps at the school level — simply modifying the quality of assignments and delivery of knowledge may go a long way to increasing performance.

There is plenty of room to debate about why students feel the way they do, or whether they “know what’s best” for themselves; some may even question to what degree schools should be concerned with making content “interesting”. However, we teach students to consider their audience when conveying information — why should they expect less from us?

The full report, this video and more information about the HSSSE can be found here.

Do you sleep with your cell phone? Pew Study on Millennials

cell phone graphic

Generations, like people, have personalities, and Millennials — the American teens and twenty-somethings who are making the passage into adulthood at the start of a new millennium — have begun to forge theirs: confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.

They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. They’re less religious, less likely to have served in the military, and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history.

Their entry into careers and first jobs has been badly set back by the Great Recession, but they are more upbeat than their elders about their own economic futures as well as about the overall state of the nation.

from The Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change. – Pew Research Center

The latest Pew Study on “Millennials” (people born after 1980) is part of a Pew Research Center series of reports exploring the behaviors, values and opinions of the teens and twenty-somethings that make up the Millennial Generation.

These youth say that “technology” is the defining characteristic of their generation. And it’s not just use of gadgets, it’s the social aspect of how technology shapes their lives.

The obvious question is: How has school responded to this demographic shift?

Take the quiz: How Millennial Are You?


Free technology and education conference – C3 2010

CRSTE logoThe Capitol Region ISTE affiliate (CRSTE) is hosting a free online conference on education and technology called C3 – CRSTE Cyber Conference 2010 every evening from Feb 21 – March 5, 2010 . You don’t have to be from the mid-Atlantic region (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, DC, West Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware) to participate in this conference, and you don’t even have to show up!

The conference is a combination of asynchronous and synchronous events, and everything will be archived so you can check back in at any time. I was honored to be asked to participate and I’ll be presenting a session live.

Student Leadership ‐ Building Authentic 21st Century Skills
Date: February 27, 2010 Saturday
Time: 5:00 PM EST

Session Description:  This session will present 4 models of student leadership focused on improving technology integration in real schools around the world. Having tech-savvy students help solve the authentic problems of 21st century education builds future leaders, learners, and citizens.

You can download the conference schedule here (PDF)

To register for the conference, you simply check off the sessions you are interested in. Online conferences are great ways to participate without a huge committment of time or money! And yes, although the sessions will be permanently archived, it’s more fun to be in the “action” online. You’ll be able to chat and interact as the session goes on.

Hope you’ll stop by!


Students say teachers limit technology use

Last week posts from two popular edubloggers hammered home the same point – that technology is going to make an impact on education whether we are ready or not.

These horses are out of the barn – Doug Johnson, Blue Skunk Blog

There are some educational “truths” that we can’t change, even if we wanted to. These educational technology resources, annoyances, and conditions are here to stay despite some educators denial, resistance and fast grip on the status quo.

I Don’t Need Your Network (or Your Computer, or Your Tech Plan, or Your…) – Will Richardson, Weblogg-ed

When do we stop trying to fight the inevitable and start thinking about how to embrace it?

As usual, the students are way ahead of the curve. They don’t need a blog to tell them that their access to learning technology is being denied, meaning not just Internet access, but access to personal technology.

I blogged about this yesterday based on student focus group data, but here’s the qualitative data from over 280,000 K-12 students supporting the same thing. (Data from Speak Up 2008)

Student response to: Besides not having enough time in your school day, what are the major obstacles to using technology in your school? (Check all that apply) Grade 6-8 Grade 9-12
School filters or firewalls block websites I need to use



Teachers limit our technology use



I cannot access my personal email account or send email or IM to classmates



I cannot use my own computer or mobile devices



There are rules against using technology at my school



Internet access is not fast enough



None of the above



My assignments don’t require using technology



Software is not good enough



Computers or other tech equipment are not available



Teachers don’t know how to use the technology



I am unable to access the Internet



I don’t have the skills I need



When 34% of today’s 6-8th graders say their teachers limit them from using technology, what does this mean for the future? I think what children are learning is that teachers are out of touch with the real world, and worse, that school is where you literally power down and wait to be told what to do.

OK, granted — not every student has visions of exemplary learning when we ask them about technology. BUT, we simply can’t ignore this either. Many of these students ARE interested in learning.

It means we are telling them that they must achieve, but preventing it at the same time. And there is no one wiser to hypocrisy than a teenager. We run the risk of losing a generation of young adults who are taking a good hard look at the way the real world works and comparing it against the artificial limits placed on them in school. And when we tell them “it’s for your own good” we simply lose all credibility.

According to the student Speak Up 2008 data, only one-third of high school students who participated in the poll think their school is doing a good job preparing them for the jobs of the future. Think this is just kids whining? Nope – even fewer numbers of their parents think that. Yet, a majority of school principals (56 percent) say their schools are doing a good job. Who is kidding whom?

So this is straight from the horse’s mouth, not edublogger ponderings … what are we gonna do about it?


PS And do you know what YOUR students would say about this? Find out! Sign up for Speak Up 2009 (survey open until Dec 23, 2009.)

Professional development that hurts

Yesterday I wrote about a report on What Works: Effective Technology Professional Development. Today, unfortunately, I have the other side of the story. Yes, it’s possible to do professional development that actually decreases the chance that teachers will integrate technology into the classroom.

This is from the Student Speak Up survey project, where students, parents, teachers, and administrators answer questions about technology in their academic and personal lives.

Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, who runs the Speak Up project sent me this input from a focus group of 40 high school students in California in March 2009 (and gave me permission to publish it.)

Students told me that they had better access to technology at school before we (meaning education agencies and groups) trained all the teachers how to use technology.  The students said that their teachers were very fearful of the dangers of Internet use in particular and concerned about their own liability.  The perception of the students is that their teachers were therefore making conscious, deliberate decisions to use technology and in particular providing Internet access less than what they had done previously.

This is not that teachers don’t have technology skills. This is a deliberate stance taken by teachers who LEARN about technology, but are so confused, scared, or disempowered that their practice retreats to use LESS technology.

Professional development that doesn’t empower teachers is no solution at all.


PS Registration is still open for the 2009 Student Speak Up until Dec 23 – share your voice!

It’s Take Your Students To Conferences Month!

OK, not really. I just made that up.

But this is the time of year that many educational conferences ask for educators to submit ideas and proposals for sessions at state and regional conferences to be held next spring.

Going to conferences is a great professional development experience for educators. But why bring students?

Reason #1 – It’s good for the students. Students presenting and sharing their work is a great learning experience. Expanding the audience beyond their own teacher or parents can spur students to reflect on the needs of their audience, be a little more serious about their role, and put more energy into practicing and performing.

Reason #2 – It’s about walking the talk. If you are considering presenting a session where you talk about what your students do, how empowering that is, and the benefits of this, wouldn’t it be that much better if actual students were there to drive that message home?

Reason #3 – It’s about building your classroom learning community. Working with students on something that’s a stretch for you creates mutual respect, shared commitment, and purpose — all hallmarks of a vibrant learning community. You should see these attributes seep back into the classroom in unexpected ways.

If any of this sounds enticing to you, I hope you will download this PDF called, Sharing Student Voice: Students Presenting at Conferences. It includes:

  • Top Ten Tips for Student Presenters
  • Balancing the needs of the audience with the needs of students
  • Research on student voice, 21st Century skills and student empowerment
  • How to plan and submit sessions with student presenters
  • Maintaining student ownership and authentic student voice
  • Logistics tips for bigger conferences and exhibit halls
  • The crucial role of the teacher as part of the presentation

You’ll notice that this is not all happy talk about how precious the little darlings are and every word out of their mouths is a pearl of wisdom. It’s never fair to inflict amateurish, unfocused presentations on an audience not composed of adoring parents. Honoring student voice is a two-way commitment, and both sides have to contribute their best.

I hope you get something out of the article, Sharing Student Voice: Students Presenting at Conferences. And if you have some great student presentation advice, add comments below!


Student Voice in Ontario, Canada

In Ontario, Canada, every school board is required to include representatives from the local Student Senate, which is composed of student trustees from each high school in the board. The student trustees represent students and ensure that students’ ideas and opinions are heard at the school board level. These student representatives have joined together to form the Student Trustee Organization which is, according to their website, “the largest student stakeholder in education and the voice for the student vision” and they act as consultants at the provincial Ministry of Education level. This is probably one of the most ambitious efforts in the world to listen to and heed “student voice” in the development of education policy, and over the years, they have impacted some major school reform efforts.

Read the whole blog post from Susan Einhorn, Anywhere, Anytime Learning Foundation (AALF) Executive Director, Student Voice, Democracy and 1-to-1.


President to speak to students

President to Address Students

From the website: President Obama will deliver a national address to students on Tuesday, September 8 at noon ET. He will challenge students to work hard, set education goals, and take responsibility for their learning.

The speech will be broadcast live on the White House Web site ( and on C-SPAN at 12:00 p.m., ET. The Department of Education offers educators a menu of classroom activities—created by its teachers-in-residence, the Teaching Ambassador Fellows—to help engage students in the address and stimulate classroom discussions about the importance of education.

To learn more, please see the following:

To further encourage student engagement, the U.S. Department of Education is launching the “I Am What I Learn” video contest. On September 8, we will invite students to respond to the president’s challenge by creating videos, up to two minutes in length, describing the steps they will take to improve their education and the role education will play in fulfilling their dreams.

We invite all students age 13 and older to create and upload their videos to YouTube by October 8. Submissions can be in the form of video blogs, public service announcements (PSAs), music videos, or documentaries. Students are encouraged to have fun and be creative with this project! The general public will then vote on their favorites to determine the top 20 finalists. These 20 videos will be reviewed by a panel of judges including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The panel will choose three winners, each of whom will receive a $1,000 cash prize.


My comment: While I hope that many students do have a chance to listen to the President, I also wonder about the mixed messages we send to children and teachers. “Take responsibility” …but all we care about are test scores. “Work hard” … but only on what we say is important.

Telling students to take responsibility without the opportunity and support to do so is worthless. It’s like putting a kid on a sailboat and telling him that if he blows hard enough, it will sail. Students must actually be able to take responsibility by being given important things to do, things they care about. They need to be able to contribute to society as individuals–supported by adults who care about them, not test scores.

I love the idea of the President speaking directly to students. But as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. I hope the Department of Education’s actions start matching the President’s words.


PS Isn’t it ironic that the video contest asks students to upload their videos to YouTube, which is blocked in most schools.

Students Reap Academic Gains from Community Service

Rural Students Reap Academic Gains from Community Service | Edutopia.

Yes, I know the title of the Edutopia article says RURAL students reap academic gains from community service, but really, there’s nothing here in this article that wouldn’t apply to any student service, rural, urban, or suburban.

The service learning examples in this article are terrific, and there is a nice video accompanying it. In this district, academic scores are up, attendance up, and all kinds of other good schooly information is connected to the service learning.

But really, it all comes home for me when the students articulate what service and learning mean to them.

James (not his real name), a student who received many Fs his freshman year and who was a chronic truant until he moved to the Fowler district, surveys his shed with pride. “We accomplished something for the little kids,” he says. James, who is graduating from Casa Blanca, attributes much of his success to service learning. “Every day, this is what I love coming to school for — doing projects and building stuff for the community,” he explains.

James also points out that it’s more critical to do work right the first time on a construction project than on a math worksheet, where he can easily rework mistakes. “If you mess up on the real project, you can’t just erase it. You’ve got to buy more wood. It’s not cool.”

James is pointing out something that should be such a obvious principle of education, but often gets lost in the achievement/assessment/accountability shell game: Learning only matters if it matters to the learner. Achievement can be measured in pride, not wasting wood, and helping little kids–not filling out worksheets. The only reason anyone would be surprised that a “chronic truant” cares about his work or about little kids is that we rarely ask students to demonstrate their human capacity for caring for others while in school.

Hope everyone reads this terrific article and congratulations to the profiled school district in Fowler, California!