Impact of a Teacher – #112Leads

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
– Benjamin Franklin

With this school year coming to a close on June 4, 2020 I was reflecting on the power of a teacher, and in February 2017 I shared a similar story about one of the most impactful educators in my life. I thought it would be a good time to reflect on Dr. McFarland and share his impact on me again as we prepare to bring the most unprecedented school year to a close! Originally shared in February, 2017 I shared some thoughts about how a college professor from an undergraduate course on the American Presidency from many years ago impacted my life and my professional journey. A journey that currently has some powerful meaning/relevance with our district’s move to remote e-Learning. With this blog post, I’ll draw the connections!

As a former 6th and 8th grade social studies teacher (U.S. history, civics, law, world history, reading, etc.) I have a deep interest in our nation’s culture, history, values, beliefs, celebrations, etc. In addition, I hold a degree in political science, so I have been a “policy wonk” for many years, and to this day I follow the news, politics, etc.

While I was a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, UIC, I had some of the best teachers in my life. The late Dr. Twiley Barker Jr., Dr. Kevin Lyles, and Dr. Andrew McFarland, to name a few. During a course on the American Presidency, POLS 229, an event took place in my life that impacted my philosophies, beliefs, and actions as a teacher and educational leader over the past 30 years. In some ways it likely shaped my philosophies and impact as a teacher and as an educational leader so many years later. Right now there is a current challenging transition from the abrupt changes to remote e-Learning and how teachers have to “report progress” in this unusual time. Looking back at my personal educational history, I’m reminded of why meaningful feedback, teacher /student relationships, and the mastery of content and the flexibility of instruction supersedes any percentage grade or mark in terms of meaningful feedback and communication about learning.

With this blog post, I’m reflecting on the congruity of an impactful event in my life during an undergraduate course, and the realization that this impactful event has impacted my beliefs whether I consciously knew about it or not. This is an “aha” moment for me – this is partially why I so strongly believe the growing pains and transition are worth the time, effort, energy, and extra work involved in pupil progress reporting.

 


Change is hard (I’ve written a lot about the change process) – Unlearning is hard (I have also written about this concept).

My college professor Dr. Andrew McFarland gave me a chance in the “real world” -when I was in college. Because he knew me, he knew what kind of student I was – he knew my passion for political science he treated me like I was more than a percentage or a score. Dr. McFarland also taught so that students would learn. He had high standards for each and every student and he held himself to high standards too.

So what is this all about? What is this big event that caused me an “aha” moment? Dr. McFarland called me one night while I was eating dinner with my parents; it was 5:30pm – I don’t know how I remember this fact, but I do. This event took place in 1988 or 1989 and I still vividly remember our call!

He called me that night because earlier that day when I took the final exam, I inadvertently forgot to answer one or two additional questions. If Dr. McFarland graded or assessed based on the “old” system I would have received an F. Dr. McFarland, though, was using standards based learning and instruction (whether he or I knew it or not). He called me on the phone and asked me to respond to the final exam question prompts – for 30 maybe 60 minutes. Because he cared about learning – not about percentages or “harsh” lessons, I was able to demonstrate mastery and competency of the American Presidency course (in which I did earn an A, not only because of what I learned, but more importantly, because my professor cared about discovering what his students knew).

He assessed my knowledge acquisition in an alternative learning setting because my teacher was more concerned about assessing my learning and mastery than he was about issuing a grade or a percentage. Had this caring professor used traditional methods I would have failed the exam. In my opinion and in my experiences, standards based grading, reporting, learning, and assessment actually prepares people for real life by holding them accountable to learn. Thank you Dr. McFarland!

Our district will transition through this remote e-Learning to next year (whatever that may be … ideally safe, healthy, and in person). Through this transformational experience for our schooling and for our society, we have all shown how quickly we can unlearn when we must, we have shown how we can relearn schooling, and we will show that we can learn how to create a new reality as necessary.

Dr. McFarland unlearned old school and rigid grading and assessment practices and I consider him to be remarkable and gifted, he was a leader who impacted me and my practice. Let’s use modern instructional strategies to maximize the impact and effect of learning whether we’re in person or remote, or in a hybrid combination of both. Let’s help people unlearn practices that make no sense other than to have been used in their past school experiences.

Preparing students for the future world requires teaching them content that is meaningful in learning environments that are powerfully purposeful and full of clear, regular, meaningful feedback and opportunities to learn and demonstrate learning. As we bring the school year to a close, we are reminded of the impact and power of a teacher and his or her feedback. Thank you to all educators — and thank you again, Dr. McFarland!

D112 Supt Message Regarding IL Stay at Home – #112Leads

“Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”
– Gail Devers

Over the course of just over one week our worlds have changed significantly in Illinois and our nation and our world with the COVID-19 Pandemic. On March 12, 2020, I ordered all schools in our District closed indefinitely with a possible reopening date of April 13. My “logic” was guided by the science of the health professionals and the actions of higher education calling their students home and closing for at least 2 weeks after spring break. In Illinois, the Governor closed the schools from March 17-March 30 and then he ordered a Stay at Home (including school closures) until at least April 7th. “The times, they are a changin’ …” (Bob Dylan 1964) – appropriate today!

Since March 12, 2020, I have sent out at least eight “all” communications (they go to thousands in our community) in an effort to communicate our District’s priorities and plans during this Pandemic closure. In this blog post, I’m sharing a video message as another effort of clarity in this otherwise unclear set of circumstances. The video has edited subtitles in Spanish and English and you may have to click the CC or Gear or three dots to see them.

In District 112, our Four Priorities are:
Priority one – feed our families and children
Priority two – account for the extended safety, health, and welfare of our 4500 students and staff
Priority three – communicate clearly
Priority four – e-Learning

Visit Staying Healthy in District 112 for access to our recent communications.

Insights from Students in a Bio Tech Program- #AASA_DigitalConsortium Summer 2019 visit – Nashville, TN

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
– Nelson Mandela


Listen to a recent episode of my podcast featuring question and answers from Tennessee high school students in Wilson County, just outside of Nashville — they are part of a multi-year pilot of Bio Tech programming. Their insights are outstanding; they highlight the impact of their teacher (and all teachers in general) and they offer ideas and insights for promoting and enhancing science and innovative learning!

One of the professional groups to which I belong and have a leadership role is the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). The AASA offers leadership support to superintendents and school district leaders around the USA and in Canada. One of the leadership development cohorts in which I have participated and for which I serve as the national co-director is the Digital Consortium. The July 2019 visit was to the Nashville, TN area of Wilson County. There we toured a brand new middle school (state of the art), we met with the leaders of the Chamber of Commerce, and we interacted with teachers and students. In this podcast, we’re meeting with high school seniors and we’re discussing their Bio-Tech coursework and pathways and the impact that this innovative programming has had on them and their futures.

The purpose of the AASA Digital Consortium is to support school district administrators as they scale successful models in support of engaging, effective learning experiences using digital media in order to be the leading national voice for digital innovation in our nation’s public schools.

Focus Areas:

Experience innovation in schools, technology, and industry partnerships Engage/observe best practice in digital leadership Reinforce purpose and outcomes for the Digital Consortium Advance AASA’s goal to reinforce equity for all students
Essential Questions:

How do your programs prepare students to be successful in their local and/or global economy? How can technology pair with the concept of personalized learning to change teaching and learning in our schools? How can opportunities to innovate for both children and adults strengthen the local economy?

Renewed focus on Student Learning #112Leads

“Success is not a result of what we do occasionally. Success is a result of the little things we do EVERY SINGLE DAY. Habits are a choice!”
– Alan Stein

This blog post is a reflection post as well as a foreshadowing of my personal professional focus for the coming year. Many of these notes have been jotted down over a period of time and I’m putting them all together while in the air on the way home from San Juan, Puerto Rico where my son accompanied me on a service trip organized by a fellow superintendent Jim McKay. Jim organized a similar trip last year, and based upon momentum and growth, he’ll be organizing more trips in the future. The service is powerful – the lasting legacy of service and respect for fellow educators and fellow students makes a deep mark in my heart and mind. The fact that I had the opportunity to share this with my son makes this year’s journey that much more powerful. In addition to service, my son and I had the good fortune to explore one of the United States’ oldest and longest lasting territories and people. The history of Puerto Rico is inexorably linked to the history of the United States.

So July 1st marks my 10th year as a public school superintendent, my 27th year as a public school educator, and my 2nd year at the helm in North Shore School District 112. As mentioned, I’ve recently returned from a service trip to a high school outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico with Relief Through Leadership; this was a follow-up to service that started last year in an elementary school outside of San Juan. I often write about “my why” or that which keeps me called to service, leadership, and community. In this blog post, I’ll share some reflections as well as some foreshadowing for the year ahead in my personal, professional, and District leadership roles! My “why” is to facilitate opportunities for leaders to support student voice and engagement.

Mission and service work is not only altruistic and ‘feel good ‘ work, it’s a humbling way to physically give and do for others so that I can show respect and goodwill through actions beyond words. That I can share this passion for service with my son is beyond humbling and honoring as well.

To watch my son sweep, scrape, clean, paint, help, serve, respect, and give simply for the purpose of giving and serving, not for any extrinsic reward, makes me beyond proud as a father and as an educator. Sharing this part of my world with him and further allowing me to explore my inner workings and my “why” and my purpose make me a better father and leader (I hope).


My personal educational philosophy statement is and has been:

Our society is complex enough to present many challenges to people as they pass from childhood to adulthood. It is my firm belief that a strong foundation in educational preparation will support a person’s quest for success and prosperity. My philosophical foundation holds that young people are our windows to the future; working with them has given me a unique vantage point to assess their goals, needs and abilities. I have been, and I remain committed to preparing our young citizens, and those who teach and support them, for their futures – and ours.

This year, like so many of my School Year New Years, will be focused on enhancing student learning and education in general. Since the mid 1990s when I first started teaching middle school social studies at Blackhawk Middle School in Bensenville (IL) Elementary School District #2, the foundation for my view of learning and teaching has been centered around student input, voice, choice, and engagement. In another blog post I have written about my why, what a superintendent actually does, and multiple metrics and measures for success. I firmly believe public schools owe a report on ROI (return on investment) to the public. I also firmly believe that taxes and other public monies that support public schools should be looked at as investments and not as costs.

Back to my “why” … in 1997 the Illinois Council for Social Studies published an article about an instructional model/unit planning guide I wrote for 8th grade U.S. history. In it, I shared the overall student outcomes (listed below):

Student Outcomes

The main outcomes include the following:

Actively engage the students in history.

Allow the students to work on teams and be accountable both individually and collectively.

Teach the students to view social studies critically and maturely (as more than just names and dates).

Permit the students to express themselves and communicate, according to their unique gifts and talents, up to their capabilities.

Apply higher order thinking skills.

Use research skills in a meaningful context.

Leave the unit with intrinsic motivation for the students to continue their inquire into their past.

This U.S. History workshop and those student outcomes (applied to various situations) would find its and their way into my career and various leadership posts over and over again, not just for the purposes for which it was designed (teaching students U.S. history) but for leading other educators and systems of educators to focus on outcomes for students (with students) at every juncture in their education.

In 2018, with fellow authors and superintendents Nick Polyak & PJ Capsey, we wrote Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable (2018 Roman & Littlefield) and this year that book will be published in Mandarin Chinese and sold throughout the Chinese speaking world thanks to a partnership between Rodman & Littlefield and Hohai University in Nanjing. My commitment to student voice is deeply embedded into my why as a leader.

The point here, though, is not to reminisce so much as to forecast and telegraph this year’s focus and energy. Student engagement. My leadership focus on student engagement is not a fad (that’s the main point I aim to share with the detailed background and description of 1990s-2018 examples). This year one of my aims is to facilitate leadership that elevates student voice and amplifies student engagement.

In our School District we are embarking on a much needed and long awaited facilities project to modernize both of the District’s middle schools. The design, the input from staff, community, parents, professional experts, and students is being built with the student in mind first and foremost. The social emotional learning needs and the social engagement and interaction needs drive the design process and decision making as we get closer and closer to construction.

Over the past few years, in my District some on the outside, and perhaps, on the inside too, have offered criticism at the administration’s focus on “bricks and mortar”. On the surface my administration’s focus on the bricks and mortar might seem to imply that the bricks and mortar are the focus. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bricks and mortar exemplify the student focused learning environments that react to modern learning environments designed to support modern learning. It’s an exciting time indeed in North Shore School District 112. I’m leading a modernization effort in concert with community input, the Board’s vision, and the needs of the students and staff in the communities we serve.

This year will be off the charts (in terms of success metrics) in our school district – please stay tuned in to our various modes of communication as I continue to share my why as a leader and where we continue to support learning and teaching as the #1 priority for our work on behalf of students, staff, community, and one another.

#112Leads is our hashtag and leading is what we all do regardless of title or role or position.

Spring 2019 Video Update – English audio Spanish Subtitles – #112Leads

“Greatness is not primarily a matter of circumstance; greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”
– Jim Collins, Great by Choice

We are very proud of the past year’s worth of work in North Shore School District 112! Daily, for all, we Inspire…Innovate…Engage; with this post, I’m sharing a 5-minute video message about the state of the District – Spring 2019 – as always, comments and feedback are welcomed and encouraged.

Here is the LINK in case the player does not open in full screen: https://youtu.be/NvztRKNIjzs

What does a superintendent do? What’s my mission?

“There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
– Nelson Mandela

In my adventures in leadership, and in my travels to other school districts, regions, states, and nations, I’m reminded of my “why”. My purpose as a leader is to advocate for school children.

Beyond the articles I publish, books I write, presentations I make, meetings I lead or attend, the bottom line and the “why” for it all is to advocate for and to support students. Many years ago I formed my educational philosophy — over the many years in public education I have refined, reflected, reinforced and remembered my philosophy and my “why”.

The opportunities I have are incredible and I am humbled by the support and guidance from so many mentors, coaches and friends who help me become a more impactful leadership each and every day. My mission and drives and values govern my work. Who I am, from where I come, and why I’m here all meld together to impact and imprint upon those I am called to serve and those I have the privilege to serve.

My school district has a mission, our schools have missions, the partner companies with whom we work have missions. Often I ponder my mission. I work with leaders all over the state, nation, and world to help them form and reform their missions. Mission/Vision/Values/Goals – these are blueprints and components of excellence. School Boards work with superintendents on District and community mission, vision, values and goals as a normal course of governance and leadership. At the end of this blog post I offer an idea of my mission as a leader.

As a public school superintendent I have an unusual job, out of the 300 million Americans, I am one of less than 15,000 public school superintendents of schools, so there are not too many other people who actually do what I do for a living. Many of us in education are called to serve and are called to teach and are called to lead. Like my colleagues and peers, I enjoy my job, work harder to be better every day, and I often find the work/life balance to be an elusive goal. Often people ask what, in fact, do I do every day. Am I a teacher? Am I a principal? Am I a counselor? Am I a mediator? Am I a transportation director? To a certain extent … yes to all of the above. I would like to believe that my role is more like an orchestra or band leader than as a “boss”. When I visit with youngsters they often suggest that I’m the “boss of the principals”; I respond that while I do get to tell the principals what to do, I’m more of their friend and partner in making sure we take care of the teachers, staff, and students every day. My hope, aim, and mission is to support and nurture and sustain environments of excellence. As I have written in other blog posts and publications, I measure excellence with multiple metrics and benchmarks of success. To me, like many others who have led before me, and as Peter Drucker is credited with: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  We leaders will get to implement strategies and tactics and plans and goals but with positive culture we get to lead — with positive culture we get to see success — with positive culture we can accomplish anything we set out to accomplish.

So to the question of what do I do for a living, I guess I would be proud to say that I orchestrate positive cultures in and around schools and communities.

As a public school superintendent in Illinois, I am one of 850 leaders who work every day in a state with a history of supporting public schools since the 1820s and a mindset at times and a structure set at times that appears to be stuck in the 19th Century.

As I contemplate and write about my “why” and as I work with the Board of Education that selected me for hire to lead their school system of 4000 students, 500 employees, 10 schools and a legacy of excellence, I’m reminded of my calling to serve and my passion to support educational access for ALL students with supporting ALL staff in their quest to make positive impacts on students. Back to what does a superintendent do … she or he is the communications person, curriculum person, financial person, civic engagement person, chief advocate for children person … the list goes on and on. Ideally the superintendent has a team or staff of outstanding leaders (like I do) who can handle the day to day responsibilities, but, at the end of the day, like Harry Truman is credited with saying “The Buck Stops Here”. It’s the responsibility of the superintendent to maintain and sustain a productive and professional relationship with the Board of Education.

A cornerstone in American democratic tradition is the local government. In Illinois school board members are unpaid elected volunteers who selflessly serve their communities as the stewards of the public schools (assets, liabilities, decisions, taxes, etc.). Their job responsibilities are awesome – the rewards are many yet the time and challenges are many too. In Illinois most Boards have seven members and the Board is supported by the Illinois School Board Association. In addition to the seven member Board that employs the superintendent, other elected officials have major influence on the operations of the school district and the community education. The superintendent, therefore, works with the mayor (and staff), the other local governments (health department, county, park district, police, fire, etc.). The superintendent also works with the state Board of Education and the local senators and representatives.

As I review lists of proposed bills in the Illinois General Assembly I ask the internal question about the impact — will this proposed bill advance the cause for all children? Will this proposed bill advance the ability for school leaders to support education for all children? Will this proposed bill cause happiness and new structures for the students we serve. Sadly, to those questions, lately, most of my internal dialogue reveals that, no, the proposed legislation will not advance productive education … so in my role as “advocate in chief” for the school District, I dutifully reach out to our state representative and state senator in an effort to share the superintendent’s view on proposed bills. All from the lens of my mission – for ALL children to have equitable access to excellent educational opportunities.

Every few years Illinois has municipal elections. This month there were school board and other municipal elections. In my School District, two long time Board members retired from Board service and one of the incumbent members ran for re-election. The incumbent Board member and two of the three non-elected candidates were elected (the results are unofficial until the end of the month, but this is the prediction based upon preliminary results). So with just about one year into my five year employment contract with the Board of Education, it’s likely I will start year two with two new members of the Board.

Board of Education/Superintendent relations are essential for the positive, productive, and professional implementation and sustainment of culture, mission, vision, values, beliefs, and goals for all students and all staff. I’m proud that the Board I serve is committed to professional growth and learning. I’m fortunate that the Board I serve is dedicated to student and staff learning and community engagement and success. I’m happy that I get to serve for and with a Board of dedicated, selfless volunteers who are drawn to serve for the betterment of their community and the children we have the opportunity to teach in our classrooms every day!

Since October 2014 with my good friend and professional leadership partner Nick Polyak, we have been moderating a chat on Twitter called #suptchat. This once a month professional development opportunity addresses topics of interests and concern for superintendents, educators, educational leaders, policymakers, and anyone with an interest in the topic. Twitter is free and public and open to all. This month we focused on Board/Superintendent relations. Part of my mission is to connect leaders with and to one another so that we can enhance and strengthen the work we do on behalf of students, teachers, and community. The archive of the most recent chat is linked:

So, in closing this blog post, I’ll end with a response to the question: “What’s my mission?”

My mission is to create leadership opportunities for others so that our society may be enriched through learning, personal and professional growth, and support and improvement for our free way of life and to support the advancement of a globally connected and mutually respectful world community.


Archive of #suptchat on Board/Superintendent relations:

Measurement of Success – #112Leads

Let’s all strategize how the job can get done, versus informing each other why it can’t be done.”– Melissa Gonzales

So what is success? How do we know we are successful? What are the elements of success? What are the metrics? How do we show a positive return on investment (ROI) or academic return on investment (AROI)? How does the public know that its public school system is successful? How do superintendents show success in leadership? These are some of the questions I’m pondering and writing about today!

Nations measure success through economic measures like jobless rates, gross domestic product, imports/exports, crime, etc. For-profit businesses measure success via profit margins, efficiencies, production, etc. Libraries measure success using measures such as book checkouts and attendance at events. Doctors measure success using diagnosis, recovery, health metrics. Success for someone improving their health can include frequency of exercise, weight loss (or gain) muscle mass. Success for a NASCAR racer can be speed, time in the pit stop area, fuel efficiency. There are many ways we can measure success! According to the dictionary (online via Google), success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

Spring (which is finally here in the Northern Hemisphere of Earth) is the time in Illinois public education for evaluation, annual reviews, testing, essentially the time we measure our success. We measure the accomplishment of our aims and purposes.

As a system and systems leader, as a school superintendent, as a public school leader, it’s an ongoing effort to implement a multi-faceted measurement of success and to report and share what success actually is with respect to our public school district.  When looking at the success of our school system, we look at multiple measures and metrics.  We look at culture and climate, we look at engagement, we look at satisfaction, we look at creativity, we look at growth and gains and we also look at student achievement. These are many of the metrics and measures we use to measure success. We analyze these measures to determine if we are fulfilling our mission, vision, goals, aims, and purposes.

During the year we take surveys, report the data gleaned from the surveys, make and share action plans related to the surveys, measure again – see where we gained, see where we still need to gain and “rinse and repeat”. Our organization is committed to continuous improvement and the collection, sharing, review, interpretation, and acting on data is a core part of our journey of continuous improvement.

Examples of our success measures include Organizational Culture (as shown in the image, 72.41% of all employees who took the survey (72.41% of 438) report that they are highly engaged and satisfied working in North Shore School District 112. This is a baseline metric since it’s the first report on the 15 dimensions of culture measured. For example, we’ll now measure our success in terms of organizational culture using subsequent administrations of this survey instrument (next will be in April, following in August, etc.). We measure, share data results, plan actions around dimensions of culture, re-measure, re-share and continue the process of improvement. 

Our continuous improvement model does the same for student engagement, implementation of the 4Cs (Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration). Student achievement, student growth, financial projecting, fulfillment of plans, etc.

We look at growth and gain metrics (how well did our students show growth from point a to point b to point c) and how well our students perform on achievement tests. We then measure or compare their success to national, state, local “norms” — what are other students scoring on these tests or assessments as compared to our students similarly situated.

Back to the original questions posed in this blog post … So what is success? How do we know we are successful? What are the elements of success? What are the metrics? How do we show a positive return on investment (ROI) or academic return on investment (AROI)? How does the public know that its public school system is successful? How do superintendents show success in leadership? These are some of the questions I’m pondering and writing about today!

In North Shore School District 112 we measure success through various metrics (many shared in this post). We take the data gathered and make people-centered decisions to Inspire…Innovate…and Engage our students, staff, administrators, Board members, community, and the world!

Please follow along with our journey:

If you have not yet downloaded the District app, please do so. If you have not yet viewed the curriculum department informational video, please do so. If you have not yet listened to the Lighthouse 112 Podcast, please do so too – you can listen on multiple platforms (iOS (Apple), Google, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and more). Be sure to check out #112Leads on Twitter. Our Long Range Planning web pages have been updated as well!

 

What’s so artificial about artificial intelligence (AI)? Do we use it to maximize learning? — #112Leads

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. Some of the activities computers with artificial intelligence are designed for include: Speech recognition. Learning.

What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? – Definition from Techopedia


So today I’m walking my dog Harley around 6:00am; it’s still dark outside where I live at 6:00am (latitude 42.187665, longitude -87.804106).  I started thinking about the relevance of technological tools, learner interest, opportunities to learn and the acquisition of knowledge. In doing all of this I was enlisting the support of Artificial Intelligence to check my thinking — to validate or refute my hypothesis — to think and learn. Are we helping our learners take full advantage of the tools and technology at our fingertips — are we showing the relevance of tools and are we affording our students choice to show what and how they learn??


GPS was made public in about 2000 (it had been around militarily for decades, since the 1960s). I’m using 18 year old technology tools to determine my location writing on a blogging platform that’s about 20 years old, describing some technology that was “discovered” in the late 1940s and early 1950s. So why don’t educational institutions for the masses (public schools) maximize and harness these relatively old technologies to increase student learning? In our District the motto is Inspire…Innovate…Engage. Do we use all that we can to fulfill this motto? Do we rely on old tech, new tech, modern tech, ancient tech — do we integrate the artificial and the natural? Do we do all we can to make our learning environments as relevant and desirable as possible?

So in thinking about the old and new technology and the technological tools at our fingertips and at the fingertips of our teachers in our schools, I often wonder if we’re doing all we can with what we have to facilitate learning for all students.  As the superintendent of schools I often ask myself “Am I doing all I can to increase student agency, learning, and experience?” — I hope so! Today I was reflecting on the vast and powerful technology at my fingertips as it relates to engaging learners in exploration and growth. I was taking an interest I have (stars and planets) and using my choice and agency (voice) to figure out if I was correct in believing there was a planet in the sky visible to my eyes — and I wonder if this is analogous to students learning in our classrooms today.

The anecdote I’m sharing in this blog post describes my encounter with the planet Venus today using widely available technology tools. Are our classrooms taking advantage of the tools at their fingertips to best engage our students in relevant, meaningful, interesting, and innovative learning?
 I would love your thoughts and comments on this blog post. What is so artificial about artificial intelligence? Does the fact that it’s “machine language” or “computer generated” make the intelligence any less natural? What about the fact that humans designed the structures and systems for this artificial intelligence?
Are we facilitating learning environments that blend the real and the artificial to maximize learning for all of our students?!

So … back to my story … This morning, I’m walking my dog Harley around 6:00am; it’s still dark outside where I live at 6:00am (latitude 42.187665, longitude -87.804106). In the sky, over the horizon to the east, I noticed a really bright and large object in space (in the sky).  I accessed my longitude and latitude at work using my computer’s virtual assistant and global positioning satellite technology. Was this use of artificial intelligence any less accurate or meaningful than if I had found a paper map or used a globe to determine the longitude and latitude? What is artificial about my determining lat/long? Is it less valid since I used “the computer” to get my answer?

Source https://bgr.com/2018/07/16/venus-moon-photos-astronomy-sky-2018/

My schema/prior or background knowledge led me to believe that the object I saw in the sky was a planet. It was really bright and larger than what I have seen in the past as stars.

As a learner, I learned that really bright large stars are often planets that can be seen by the eye without a telescope at certain points in the year due to orbits and the like. I’ll call that knowledge or intelligence “natural intelligence” as opposed to artificial intelligence, or AI.


So, I asked my dog if it was a planet, but my dog Harley wasn’t sure if it was a planet (just joking); I went to my (really) smartphone and opened up the app Star Tracker, one of many apps that turn your phone into a night star landscape astronomically speaking. So, in a matter of seconds, I turned the app on, I pointed my smartphone in the direction of the bright light in the sky, and lo and behold, it, the artificial intelligence via the app Star Tracker, projected the astro map including the location of the planet of Venus on the display of my smartphone.

I was looking at the sky through the screen on my smartphone and I “saw” the planets, constellations, stars, etc., and with my eye and my natural intelligence (or schema) I saw the bright light … matched up or aligned the smartphone with the AI app and my belief that the bright light was a planet was affirmed.


Now, when I was a boy, I learned that there were 9 planets (I know there are 8 now) and I knew this from the mnemonic device my very elegant mother just sat upon nine porcupines (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and what used to be considered a planet, Pluto). This mnemonic device

Credit https://slideplayer.com/slide/8480105/

identified the planets in our solar system in location from the sun to “outer space”. Today when I saw Venus with my eyes and then had this fact validated by an app on my smartphone — with further validation and checking from me “asking” my phone’s virtual assistant if Venus was visible in Deerfield, Illinois today — to which “she” verified this fact.

So I go back to the title of this blog post: What’s so artificial about artificial intelligence (AI)?


The AI from my phone’s operating system and the app on the phone seem to be validating actual intelligence — what’s so artificial about this?  I took my own

Source https://news.stanford.edu/2018/05/15/how-ai-is-changing-science/

natural intelligence; background & prior knowledge, schema activated by my interest (from youth and adulthood) of astronomy & constellations, stars, and planets and then used tools at my fingertips to affirm and enhance the star gazing experience. My choice and voice made my learning experience relevant, meaningful, engaging and memorable.

For modern education and instruction that’s engaging and relevant, I submit we educators and we educational leaders need to integrate and bridge machine learning, so called artificial intelligence, and good old fashioned interest, engagement, relevance, and choice!

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