Originally published December 4, 2017
For those of you who have met with me, thank you. For those of you just tuning in, here’s a link to the first update.
At this point I’m eight weeks into my listening tour and starting to shift from listening to synthesis. The listening tour will never be over, but after 86 interviews with educators, students, parents, city council members, business people, nonprofits, librarians and members of the community, the pieces of the puzzle are becoming clearer.
Puzzle piece 1: Pockets of innovation all over the district.
As I mentioned in the first update, I continue to see learning innovations all over the district. These include:
- Kristin Berbawy’s classroom at Irvington High School. Her official class is Project Lead the Way’s Design and Modeling Course, but her classroom is filled with drones, material sorting machines and other projects that kids create inside and outside of class. We talked about how she might coach other teachers interested in doing similar work.
- Dana Graham’s sixth graders at Warm Springs Elementary do a college fair every year. They write to the colleges for information, do their own research and put together a presentation on what makes each school different. In doing so, they learn about colleges and how college might fit into their own aspirations. It made me wonder about how we could do this for careers as well. Again – 6th grade.
- Charlie Brucker at Mission San Jose High School creates field trips for his AP Computer Science students to technology companies all over Silicon Valley. His students find the experience tremendously rewarding. More and more, he is finding that his contacts at the companies he visits are his old students.
- Jeff Downing at Millard Elementary School is working with other CS teachers to create an elementary computer science curriculum that is slowly being rolled out across the district. His group is also developing a scope and sequence of lessons around digital citizenship for all of the students in FUSD. This didn’t didn’t exist and he was passionate about it.
In fact, in virtually every meeting with educators, I find some innovation that would be valuable if spread across the district. What’s interesting is that these are not equally distributed. It’s not related to the socioeconomic background of the students or the quality of the school. Rather these innovations are the results of irrepressible teachers determined to do what’s best for their students.
Imagine if Charlie were to create a toolkit that made it easy for other teachers, administrators and companies to replicate the format of the field trips he created. Imagine if Kristin were to create a professional development program or PLC for other teachers who want to replicate her program (we are working on it). And imagine if we could find support in the community to help. This leads me to think that we don’t need to create another program or “maker” curriculum to impose. Rather, we need to create a framework so that these organic ideas from the people closest to the children can be nourished, scaled and focused on larger problems.
Puzzle Piece 2: Organizations outside the district.
There are some really amazing programs outside the district that would be thrilled to plug into FUSD. These are a few that seem to fit right into “Create an HR Pipeline for Advanced Manufacturing”.
- http://www.earnlearneastbay.org – This Bay Area organization has a list of 2800 companies eager to help kids learn about the professional world through talks, internships, shadowing and other programs. It’s also free.
- https://www.gladeo.org – Similarly, Gladeo is another nonprofit dedicated to inspiring and helping young people discover, navigate and achieve their dream careers.
- http://www.pilotcity.com – Among other programs, Pilot City is helping companies package real-world business problems in a way that is accessible to students. Students can help solve the the problems, becoming familiar with the business and its career paths in the process.
- https://www.lrng.org – LRNG works with cities and organizations to create “roadmaps of learning” that help students connect learning experiences to career opportunities. You could think of it as a pathway of activities.
These are just a few of the many that I have uncovered. In fact, every time I have a “Wouldn’t it be cool if….?” inspiration with an interviewee, I’ve been able to find a program that already exists.
Similar to my comment about innovation already existing in the district, this makes me think that we don’t need to create another program that will duplicate something that already exists. Rather, we need to make it easier for the district – and teachers and students – to access these programs, experiment and evaluate how they work. I’m not saying that the solution to the Fellowship is simply connecting to outside organizations (it’s more complicated than that), but whatever we do, should not replicate existing and effective programs on the outside.
Puzzle Piece 3: Business Involvement
I’ve been struck by the desire of virtually everybody in the community to support schools and, more broadly, learning. For example, the common narrative is that businesses don’t want to be involved with schools. But I’m finding that not only is the opposite true, but the companies are already involved in creative ways. Pier 1 and now IBM support the cybersecurity program in Hector Albizo’s classroom. It’s not just large companies with enormous resources. Gemmo, a startup with only three people, has created an internship program for five students. Schmartboard, another three-person company in Fremont, donates time and materials to the Ohlone College Stem Day every year (among others). In another example, 15 local companies opened their doors to students on Manufacturing Day.
So this leads me to a hypothesis. When companies are asked to be involved in a time constrained, resource-constrained way that fulfills their business needs, they generally say yes. Companies large and small want to be good corporate citizens and have a hand in shaping their workforce of tomorrow.
Puzzle Piece 4: Parents and the Broader Community
Programs like the FAME program at Warm Springs Elementary and the Science Docent program at Mattos Elementary provide a way for parents to engage with schools in a similarly time constrained, resource constrained way. Those programs are oversubscribed. So the company hypothesis could extend to parents as well.
Finally, in conversations with the Alameda County Library system, Parks and Recreation and other city services, each department expresses an interest in engaging more deeply with schools.
So here’s the puzzle that I see. In Fremont Unified, we have a mostly high-performing district with pockets of innovation from irrepressible teachers all over the place, but not supported or organized in any meaningful way. The fact that teachers are already innovating on their own seems to indicate that the district is primed for new ideas and new ways of learning. Out in the community, we have businesses, parents, community members, city departments and county departments who would love to support schools but don’t know how to.
The challenge seems to be: how can we bring those together? How can we create frameworks so the companies and other outside organizations/resources can engage in a way that meets their needs and the needs of teachers and students? Finally, how can we do this in a way that is sustainable over the long term and truly differentiates Fremont?
What do you think?
Next week: what does it mean to prepare kids for “ advanced manufacturing”?
Originally published in the December 2017