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Experiential Learning through urban farming: An example from New Orleans January 20, 2011

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Sometimes, I feel like I just want to save up a bunch of money, buy an old junkie car, and road-trip through the states with like-minded educators in search of experiential gems such as this one. This project, started by educator Nat Turner, is a hybrid experiential educational venture and commercial urban farm. “With its emphasis on experiential learning, the school is also a clear rejection of the test-heavy emphasis of No Child Left Behind.” Outside of the tangible agricultural and commercial skills gained, students also take part in experiential curriculum outside of classroom walls.

Qasim Davis, who left Harlem to become the school’s dean of students, is shaping a set of courses with the other staff that is Afrocentric and free-form. “Learning doesn’t happen behind walls,” Mr. Davis said. When the students studied the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson segregation case, the class drove to where Homer Plessy was pulled off the whites-only section of a first-class train car in 1892.

I love this model. This is what education should be like. Read the full article, it’s an inspiring venture.

Would Dr. King Approve? January 19, 2011

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This post, Charter Schools, What Would Dr. King Say? (shared via facebook by a wonderful educator that was once my first-grade teacher), talks about the state of the current charter school movement, and it’s evolution from an innovation hot-bed to a movement that’s high-jacked by anti-union, school choice, and privatization movements that undo de-segregation efforts. What do you think? Would Dr. King Approve?

Decidedly a “Hot Mess” January 19, 2011

Posted by sasadek in Uncategorized.
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After discussing the previously post with a lot of people, it’s pretty clear that it is decidedly a hot mess. It is sad that this school is the only mainstream representation of “inquiry-based” learning, if you can even call it that.

Essentially, the article vilifies inquiry-based models by providing a dangerous, poorly-thought out, poorly implemented example as the only example, while endless articles about the successes of charter schools and teacher accountability metrics flood our weekly papers. It certainly creates a mainstream bias against inquiry-based learning, for low-income students anyway.

It’d be nice to counter that trend. If you know of an inquiry-based school, a progressive school, or a traditional school implementing inquiry-based learning approaches, please share them!

Refreshing Idea or a Hot Mess? January 14, 2011

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Hi Katy,

My good friend Jessi sent me this article and I can’t decide if I think the idea is refreshing or a hot mess. Actually, I think it’s both. It’s refreshing that a public school is trying something progressively leaning with low-income schools, and also refreshing (and surprising) to have the support of Joel Klein. Stepping outside of the current suffocating box and taking ideas from high-income elite schools and experimenting with them in low-income classrooms is a refreshing step forward.

But, and that’s a big BUT, I really disagree with the implementation of this program…and would therefore call the implementation a hot mess. From the article, it appears that very little thought was put into HOW to create a progressive, inquiry-based, collaborative environment. Throwing 4 teachers in an auditorium of 60 kindergarten students just seems haphazard and shows an underlying misunderstanding regarding inquiry-based education; there seems to be the perception that inquiry-based learning requires less forethought and intention than traditional learning. This is far from the truth. Inquiry-based education requires the same amount of thought, hard work, planning, etc, but it’s just a different kind of thinking and of teaching and of learning. Not more, not less, but different.

It’d be interesting to hear what a teacher at a Montessori school thinks of this experiment; I have a feeling the way it’s implemented is drastically different than at high-income progressive schools.

Side note: it’s interesting to think about the New York Times writer’s bias in this article. As most NY Times articles tend to exalt the current standardized testing, teacher accountability dogma, the one experiment that doesn’t fit that mold is essentially berated.

Dual Language Literacy Curriculum: A Novel Idea January 8, 2011

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Hi Sara!

As you know, I am a proud bilingual educator. I’m also highly critical of bilingual education and am determined to figure out how to best provide literacy instruction for bilingual students. I’m also scared that I won’t find any answers and that no one really knows the best way.

You can read more about my thoughts regarding bilingual education here. To read more about my classroom: I’ve got that too.

I believe the best bilingual model is Dual Language: supporting two languages equally in all aspects. In this case it will be Spanish/English. There can be two-way schools, where the population is 50:50 native spanish/native english, or there can be one way, where the population happens to be more lopsided.

My previous school I worked in was Dual Language by name but functioned as a “transitional program” moving kids out of Spanish literacy classes and into English literacy classes when they were “ready.” Once they were transitioned out of spanish, they would never go back. This implantation of Dual Language was almost sacrilegious, as it had NO aspects of a true Dual Language program. Teaching in that environment made me think the ideal literacy situation would be alternating one week Spanish instruction, one week english reading instruction. This would happen once they had a firm base in their native language literacy (2nd/3rd grade).

I was elated when I began teaching at my current Dual Language school in Milwaukee where alternating the language of literacy instruction was by week.

I’m learning now this is not the best way.

What’s the problem?

Let’s assume your school district uses a curriculum such as Harcourt Mifflin in English, and has adopted the same text in Spanish where need be. This is a pretty good situation, there will be some sort of alignment in the spiraling of comprehension skills throughout the curriculum/ through the year. The problem comes in with the other large component of literacy instruction: vocabulary, grammar, and spelling patterns. While you can practice a reading comprehension skill the same in two different languages, your  grammar, spelling pattern, and vocab won’t be the same.

When you alternate weeks, you are missing something every week when you are not in that language because the curriculum was designed for a monolingual classroom. While I’m teaching “ch” words in spanish and conjugated past tense AR/ER/IR verbs in Spanish; Im missing the “ou” spelling pattern in English and the “-ed” suffix in English.

Now, children are smart, and a teacher who sees the big picture and has tons of extra hours on her hand, can figure out how to “squeeze” in material from “missed weeks” and catch the kids up to at least get exposure the that “ou” spelling pattern and the ending -ed. It won’t be the same however as the monolingual class across town that spent all week really practicing the patterns for 5 days, doing it justice.

Now, is there really that many spelling patterns and grammar patterns that one grade level couldn’t be taught in half the amount of time if two languages were being taught? All of the material, if planned for, could be divided up to be taught on every other week. It could also be beautifully aligned with the other language so students could be learning the past tense for example in Spanish one week, and then the past tense in English the next week.

This however is simply not the case, at least in anywhere I’ve seen. We are using an English monolingual curriculum, and its translated Spanish counterpart  alternate weeks and pretend that is a comprehensive literacy instruction. When in reality, the students are getting two halves of 2 curriculum.

This can be solved, why is there not Dual Language curriculum? There is definitely a market for it. How many Dual Language schools in the country struggle with the “right mix” of literacy instruction? Maybe it is happening, and I just don’t know about it. If it is, I’d love to hear about where it is, and what it looks like.

Dual Language Literacy Curriculum that is made FOR Dual Language Schools, what a novel idea.

Bilingually yours,


Introducing iTeachSmarter December 22, 2010

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Hi Katy,

So, after taking a break from being in the classroom, I started thinking about what made the job hard in ways it didn’t have to be. I realized that because teachers were so in the thick of it, always in the trenches of teaching, assessing, analyzing, reflecting, planning, and teaching again, they don’t really have the time or a venue to brainstorm ways to revolutionize the work they do.

As I was thinking through this, I have been simultaneously growing discontent with the stagnation of today’s education system; we’re stuck in an industrialist model that is just no longer applicable to today’s society. While industries all around us are innovating, revolutionizing and incorporating technologies to reinvent the game as they know it, education still feels very stuck.

So I started reading more about education technologies. When the ipad first came out, I was blown away by its potential implications for a classroom… the possibilities are endless. But, as I read more about the products currently out and the ways applications for classrooms are being developed, I realized that there is literally no crossover between the people that know the needs of the education sector and those creating the products. I also realized quickly that even a teacher like myself who taught for two years or more can lose touch quickly of what’s happening within schools. Having teaching experience does not keep you relevant in designing new technologies for classrooms, as classroom demands and needs change quickly.

The answer: an organization that let those in the trenches of the field, teachers, drive the idea generation of new education technology solutions. Teachers know the real needs of their classrooms, and can brainstorm ideas to fill those needs using new technologies. iTeachSmarter works with teachers to make those ideas a reality so they can be quickly adapted in classrooms. As I thought about this more and more, I became excited about the possibilities for teachers to drive the education technology movement. Teachers owning the revolutionizing of education as we know it is key to formative change.

So, the first product is underway: a running record application using the Teachers College assessment for ipad/iphone users. Every teacher I know, including myself, wants to  cut down the time and energy they put into administration, data input, and analysis of running records, and so this application is a natural first iteration of hopefully many more education technology solutions driven by teachers to come.

Right now, iTeachSmarter is competing in Teach For America’s Social innovation pitch. Ideas with the most votes will get to present their idea at the Teach For America’s 20th Anniversary Summit in DC (we’ll need to blog about this soon Katy!!).

So, if you’re a Teach For America corps member or alumni, or if you know anyone who is, vote here and pass along this blog post to others who might dig a teacher-driven technology solution to revolutionizing education.

DREAM ACT :D December 10, 2010

Posted by dreamschools in Uncategorized.
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Okay, Dream Act! Okay!!

Becoming biliterate when you’re bilingual December 3, 2010

Posted by dreamschools in Uncategorized.
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Is not so easy when you don’t have reading material in Spanish. My kids can speak spanish and english and can read in spanish and english…. They’re brilliant.

Unfortunately many of them don’t like to read in Spanish because our classroom doesn’t have any good spanish books. Help me fix that here and get a brilliant bilingual thank you card in return.


An educational hero: Sir Ken Robinson December 2, 2010

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Hey Katy,

After reading your blog yesterday and thinking about educational heroes, my dad sent me a link to this video. I think you’ll find minute 1:10 particularly relevant to the Teach For America and Uncommon Charter school mentality; the truth is, the story we tell our kids about working hard to go to college to get a good job is just not the real truth…the Dream Act is just one example why that story is not true for all. Our education system needs major reform. It has not moved with the times.

Anyway, I know you were talking about looking for a hero in these trying educational times. I think Sir Ken Robinson is my new hero. He just makes so much sense! I kindled (are people saying that now? Can I?) his book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything a few weeks back and now I can’t wait to read it.

Let me know what you think of the clip? He’s got loads of videos, Ted talks, etc. I’m going to spend some time diving into his work.

Educationally yours my friend,


Confession: I thought the Dream Act was real. December 2, 2010

Posted by dreamschools in Uncategorized.

Dear Sara,

I learned about The Dream Act my last semester in college…I guess when it was first proposed as legislation back in March 2009. I guess it seemed so basic to me that immigrant children who were brought here not of their own volition would be able to go to college and have some sort of path to citizenship.

Thinking the Dream Act was real made it easier for me to say “you can go to college” to my bilingual (many illegal) students the past year and a half. I told myself…yes the odds are against them, but if they truly work hard they can succeed.

Well it turns out the Dream Act is only a dream.

It has never been passed. It is not real. I really don’t think it will ever be passed.

I think 75% of my students in Texas were illegal and while I preached to them “hard work” and “college” to them, one day they will find out even if they work as hard as they possibly can, they will never get there. If the physical wall wasn’t enough to stop them on the border, there will be walls to access a degree and success.

“We’re on the path to college…” Huge ass poster in my room with all my kids names…little do they know that 5 or 6 (I’m guessing…) don’t have chance if the laws don’t change.

Students in the Rio Grade Valley? I’m guessing 15 of my students would be crossed of the “college as an option” list.

No worries though, if their illegal father decides to enlist in the army and dies, then his children get “grandfathered” in to access to citizenship. What is that….The Guilt Clause?

Hopelessly discouraged,