Thursday, May 18, 2017

Count On Us: Math Placement Practices Network

I was never that good at math -- but I had a deep desire to not only become proficient, but exemplary.   in mathematics, particularly calculus. As one of a few African-American students at my high school, there were far too few many resources to accelerate my academic growth in such a pursuit. 

In fact, in high school I completed three years of math, but worked tirelessly at solving equations in my trigonometry course only to end up with mediocre grades; despite these and many other challenges, I managed to matriculate onto post-secondary studies eventually earning a graduate degree in Education teaching for five years in inner-city Detroit.

However, unlike my personal challenges in mathematics courses, many youth in California schools are faced with quite the opposite challenge. In a 2010 a Noyce Foundation study, titled, "Pathway Reports" found that approximately sixty-five (65) percent of students who took Algebra I in eighth grade were made to repeat the same course in the ninth grade. Additional research revealed that these disparities were particularly notable for African-American and Latino boys and these misplacement practices posed challenges for students continuing their high school and paving a way for career, college and life.

Fortunately, in 2015 Senator Holly Thompson (D), with support from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, worked to pass what is now known as the California Math Placement Act. Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation in that same year requiring school districts to design equitable policies that "systematically take multiple, current or existing, objective measures" to ensure students are advancing to the next prescribed course in the mathematics progression. 

Since the law was passed, most school districts in California are implementing the new law. The East Side Alliance (ESA), which consists of eight partner districts, seven elementary schools and one high school district that serves nearly 85,000 students. Before the Math Placement Act was passed, ESA had worked collaboratively to ensure equitable outcomes with their work on the Student Algebra Project. As we worked to solicit partnerships, ESA was recommended by our friends at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation as an ideal place to build on the existing work on math placement. 

As is common with state policies, particularly in education, there can be some challenges with implementation at the school level and the California Math Placement Act is no exception. The Math Placement Practices Network, facilitated by Pivot Learning Partners, and funded by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, began working with ESA early this year to design and sustain a network of schools focused on developing a shared problem of practice centered on implementing the states policy more specifically improving existing pathway criteria and protocol districts use to place students in ninth-grade math courses. We are honored to work with our The five ESA school districts that we currently have agreements with are: Alum Rock, Mount Pleasant, Berryessa Union, Franklin-McKinley and Oak Grove. We are

My college Allison Carter and I, began developing the network by building individual relationships and meeting with districts to examine school data in which some observations and inferences could be made. Most recently, we concluded our second network meeting in which teachers, principals, assistant superintendents and educators from ESA worked collectively to identify a common problem of practice in which to focus our work. Three areas appeared to surface from our conversations: 1) students prepared to be successful after placed in their particular course, 2) under-representation of students of color and English Language Learners and students with special needs in the advanced pathways and 3) uncertainty about whether the current set of criteria is working for placement in the advance and/or traditional pathways.

Our partner districts and schools observed the inherent overlap between these challenges and reached consensus by choosing to work with deeply exploring the pathway criteria as a way to also address the under-representation of students of color and other sub-groups. To approach this work, we introduced Design Thinking, a problem-solving, user-centered approach developed by IDEO, a design school at Stanford University. Additionally, as with any good change management approach, each district develop a vision and goal statements that assisted with developing and aligning a backwards design, "begin with the end in mind" strategy. Our next meeting with the network will take place in a few weeks.

As I shared earlier, I eventually went onto a successful career in college and in life. I even took Calculus as an undergraduate with a passing grade and an

 Vertical articulation – Students are placed at least at Integrated Math I at 9th grade. Not all students are prepared and successful in that placement. Important to look back (backwards mapping) for all students through middle school to make sure they are on track to be ready for that placement by 9th grade.
oUnderrepresentation of students of color and English Language Learners and students with special needs in the advanced pathways.
oUncertainty about whether the current set of criteria is working for placement in advanced and/or traditional pathways.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Teaching About Food Justice? Here's Some Videos to Get You Started!

Food Tank has created a great list of Food System TED talks available for your viewing pleasure.

1. Roger Thurow: The Hungry Farmer - My Moment of Great Disruption
Thurow, author of The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change, explains the profound "disease of the soul" that hunger represents, and how empowering smallholder farmers can bring long-term sustainable health and hope to the people of Africa.

2. Mark Bittman: What's Wrong with What We Eat
Bittman, a food writer for The New York Times, examines how individual actions--namely food choices--contribute to both the detriment of the climate and long-term chronic health diseases. He suggests that we eat meat in moderation because agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas pollution than transportation.

3. Anna Lappe: Marketing Food to Children
Lappe, author of Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, questions whether multibillion dollar corporations should be marketing unhealthy foods to impressionable children, especially considering the numerous food-related health issues that are increasingly common among young people.

4. Ellen Gustafson: Obesity + Hunger = 1 Global Food Issue
According to Food Tank co-founder Gustafson, the American food system has changed dramatically in the past 30 years; agriculture has been consolidated, new and cheap processed food have gained popularity, and U.S. agricultural aid abroad has decreased. These factors are major contributors to the current problem of one billion hungry and one billion overweight people on the planet.

5. Tristram Stuart: The Global Food Waste Scandal
Stuart laments how supermarkets, cafeterias, bakers, farmers, and other food producers are “literally hemorrhaging” food waste--the majority of which is fit for human consumption, but has been discarded because it is not aesthetically pleasing. He offers a radical solution: “freeganism,” a movement in which food that would normally be thrown away is eaten instead.

6. Brian Halweil: From New York to Africa: Why Food Is Saving the World
Halweil, publisher of Edible Manhattan, was on track to become a doctor until he realized that repairing the global food system could help to conserve people’s health and wellbeing more. Halweil believes that the local food movement is a truly powerful medicine.

7. Fred Kaufman The Measure of All Things
Kaufman, from the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism, heralds the rise of a “Great Greenwash.” He further questions whether Wal-Mart and other corporations participating in the Sustainability Index are living up to their claims.

8. LaDonna Redman Food + Justice = Democracy
Redman, founder of the Campaign for Food Justice Now and long-time food activist, examines how the root causes of violence and public health concerns experienced by her community are strongly connected to the local food system, and are best addressed by making changes in that system.

9. Jose Andres: Creativity in Cooking Can Solve Our Biggest Challenges
Chef Andres highlights the power of cooking. He demonstrates how we can tackle obesity and hunger using our inherent creativity. He urges everyone to turn simple ideas into big solutions--something we’ve been doing for centuries. Creativity and cooking are what he claims can give us hope for feeding the world.

10. Jamie Oliver's TED Prize Wish: Teach Every Child About Food
Celebrity chef Oliver has waged a revolution to combat the biggest killer in the U.S., diet-related disease, through food and cooking education. Using stories from his anti-obesity project in Huntington, WV, he shows how the power of information can defeat food ignorance and obesity.

11. Dan Barber: How I Fell in Love with a Fish
Barber tells a humorous love story starting with every chef’s predicament: with the worldwide decline in fish populations, how are we going to keep fish on our menus? He is skeptical of the current trajectory of fish farms, and asks whether they are truly sustainable. But there is a solution – Barber tells of one farm in Spain utilizing a revolutionary, yet basic idea: ecological relationships.

12. Carolyn Steel: How Food Shapes Our Cities
Meat consumption and urbanism are rising hand-in-hand. Steel, an architect, explains how we got here by tracing how human settlements have fed themselves through time and, thus, shaped our cities. But in today’s cities, our relationship with food is misshapen--it is disconnected. Steel suggests an alternative to urban design in which we use food as a tool to reconnect and interconnect.

13. Ann Cooper: Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children
Cooper, the “renegade lunch lady,” wants us to get angry about what kids eat at school. She wants kids to eat healthy, sustainable food; but first, we all need to care why this should happen. In this talk, she tries to rally us around changing the financing, facilities, human resources, marketing, and food in the school lunchroom.

14. Ron Finley: A Guerrilla Gardener in South Central L.A.
Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central Los Angeles -- in abandoned lots, traffic medians, and along the curbs in order to offer an alternative to fast food in a community where "the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys." He explains how his community is desperate for nutritional food, and why he thinks urban gardening is the solution.

15. Tama Matsuoka Wong: How I Did Less and Ate Better, Thanks to Weeds
Wong describes the path she took to discover that weeds are not only nutrient-rich, environmentally sustainable foods, but can also be quite delicious. She abandoned her career as a corporate attorney to become a professional forager, eventually founding MeadowsandMore, an initiative that teaches people to take advantage of the food resources right in their backyards.

16. Stephen Ritz: Green Bronx Machine: Growing Our Way Into a New Economy
Most of Ritz’s students live at or below the poverty line, and/or live with disabilities. But through his Green Bronx Machine project, he has turned their lives around. By teaching them the business of installing edible walls and green roofs, he has empowered his students to make a real difference in their own lives, in their communities, and beyond.

17. Angela Morelli: The Global Water Footprint of Humanity
Morelli, Italian information designer and World Economic Forum’s 2012 Young Global Leader nominee, helps consumers visualize the enormous expenditures of water that occur daily in the food system using graphic design. In this talk, she explains the concept of the “water footprint”--something that is hugely affected by simple diet choices.

18. Birke Baehr: What's Wrong With Our Food System
Baehr, at just 11 years old at the time of this talk, presents the most glaring problems in our food system with the directness that, truly, only a child could do. He gives hope that future generations will really lead the charge in changing the food system: "Now a while back, I wanted to be an NFL football player. I decided that I'd rather be an organic farmer instead."

19. Graham Hill: Why I'm a Weekday Vegetarian
Despite his “hippie” upbringing, founder Hill is not a vegetarian. In this short talk, he explains his choice to become a weekday vegetarian, instead, and outlines the many benefits of choosing this lifestyle.

20. Joel Salatin: Thinking About Soil
Salatin, the “lunatic farmer,” decries the modern farming practices that destroy necessary insects, create chemically engineered plants, and breed sick livestock, resulting in a “dead food system” based on a “mechanistic view of life.” He calls for a return to organic, natural farming and processing practices.

21. Roger Doiron: A Subversive Plot
Gardening is a subversive activity. Food is a form of energy, but it’s also a form of power.” This sums up Doiron’s persuasive argument as to why everyone should undertake the project of a home garden, and control their own access to fresh, hyper-locally grown produce.

22. Britta Riley: A Garden in My Apartment
Riley struck out to plant a garden in her tiny New York City apartment, and ended up developing an environmentally sustainable window garden - that yielded delicious results. Riley describes her method as “R&DIY - Research and Develop It Yourself.”

23. Arthur Potts Dawson: A Vision for Sustainable Restaurants
Dawson has designed two environmentally sustainable London restaurants, Acorn House and Water House, that work toward eliminating waste entirely and using only clean energy. He explains how, by pursuing more projects such as these, the restaurant industry, “pretty much the most wasteful industry in the world,” can be reformed.

24. Ken Cook: Turning the Farm Bill into the Food Bill
Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group, explains how farm subsidies are being placed into the very wrong hands; specifically, those of farmers producing corn only for fuel. His talk is a call to change the federal incentive system that is directly threatening the food on our plates.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

American History: Bewilderment and Blackface, Redefining Blackness

I've got some work to do. My niece turned daughter who happens to be black-and-Albanian, told me after I pressured her into defining black culture that it pretty much can be summed up in "corn bread" and "hippty-hop." My heart sank and realized that she really was never exposed to a deeper understanding and realization of what blackness is and can be. So, I'll be posting over the next few weeks about my ideas on how to best help her better understand her culture and most certainly embrace blackness in a way that goes way beyond foodstuff and dance. This of course, prompted me to dive into my personal black history archives only to remember the by-gone era of the Black Minstrel Show. I'll include my thoughts in further posts and how we as educators living in these deadly and tumultuous times of de-valuing of black and brown lives, can help broaden the notions of what we've been taught and how to help students such as my daughter better embrace her own culture and others as well. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Teaching Youth About Food Justice: A Madison Wisconsin Story

I had the fortunate opportunity to design and implement curriculum for the Michael Fields Agriculture Institute; the goal of the program, Growing Urban Leaders in Food Systems, is to engage high school students to be leaders and change agents in transforming the food system, particularly as it relates to public and social policy. In this quest, I was invited to  pilot one of the lessons that I designed with the a summer youth leadership program hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison PEOPLE (Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence). We worked with 
PEOPLE interns and teachers to ensure that the lesson we taught aligned with current programming needs. We learned that the students had a wide-range of experiences from visiting local farms and community centers, to becoming generally more aware of the wide range of agricultural employment opportunities that are available, typically not promoted to low-income students. Here's how the lesson went and how the students responded. 

We began with having students defining food justice in pairs and then as a class. Some individual and group definitions that emerged were: 
  • "Food Justice is ..... something that makes you feel good for eating healthy/good." 
  • "Food Justice is..... when people want to be over weight then they want to blame the law."
  • "Food Justice is..... a variety of choices made by a community to create unity around healthy        food. " 
We then went onto create a classroom definition synthesizing group responses. Our classroom definition of food justice that emerged was: 
  • "The right of everyone to access healthy food through good security and laws that maintain the process of distributing food equally."
Next, we invited students to volunteer to the front of the classroom; we handed students either a water bottle or a plastic container with Driscoll raspberries for students to interact with. Students were presented with a multiple choice question which had to do with either Flint Water Crisis (which had in previous pilots really piqued students interest) and farm worker rights with Driscolls. In order for youth to see the learning target, we modeled a food justice role-play and then had students use a rubric to evaluate our presentation of the Dillema. 

Students could choose from the following food justice issues and topics: 
  • Land Grab: Hantz-Off Our Lands
  • Restaurant and Worker Rights 
  • School Lunch and the Mystery Meat Dilemma 
  • Farm Worker Rights 
After students formed groups and we provided a conflict resolution framework to use (we had students use the acronym S.T.A.T.E. to resolve the dilemmas in each situation) the room was buzzing with students choosing clothes and props in which to use, writing their lines and a script, and deciding who was going to play which role. When it came time for each group to present their dilemma through role-play, the first group to go included a student that was actually sleeping in the class the day before. He was a totally different person completely engaged in the role as a district administrator ensuring that the lunch-lady was serving newly adopted organic and GMO-free lunches. Not only did the group do an outstanding job of building empathy for the character they played, but also began to see that resolving conflict could be achieved through a process of dialogue and understanding. 

So many thanks to George Reistad, PEOPLES teachers, and of course, the brilliant youth who jumped right in.  We've still got plenty of work and revisions to do for our curriculum, however when you set students up for success by providing relevant and engaging experiences such as food justice role plays, students enjoy learning for all the right reasons. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Teaching Tolerance: A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Many of you may already be familiar with the Southern Poverty Law Center ; if you're an educator seeking great resources on equity, diversity, justice, suggestions or conversation please be sure to check out Teaching Tolerance blog post! You will be happy that you did!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Losing Your Student: R.I.P. Eric

My former student, Eric, tragically lost his life on Sunday. I received a message on Facebook from another former student that Eric had died in a car crash. Eric was a student in my advisory as my very first year in teaching in Detroit. He was perhaps one of the most brilliant, yet, challenging students that I ever had the honor of teaching. In many ways, his brilliance and intelligence were a blessing and a curse. Eric was witty and had no shortage of confidence. I never met his father and apparently had not been a part of Eric's life and upbringing. His mother was the one raising Eric and tried her best to raise a young man in the city. I was always impressed at his ability to reason with fervor on a variety of topics and although he often had trouble empathizing for others, he had some semblance of morality. Eric had obtained an internship with Detroit City Council and left a positive impression with the staff but like many of his experiences he never allowed himself to be challenged. His exhibitions were flashy demonstrations of his natural speaking skills not of problems or sincere challenges he wanted to improve on. When asked about his passions, a cornerstone of our curriculum, Eric would simply reply, "my passion is to make money." I often had to work with his math and science teachers as Eric was cited as being consistently disruptive, left obscene messages in classrooms, and about half way into the year I really started to question, as did his mother whether or not our high school was the best fit for him. He believed he was a star basketball player who could go to Renaissance, one of the cities selective high schools in the city. His ego was both intriguing and somewhat incompatible with how I knew him (see attached lyrics he wrote). I often offered Eric alternatives for more positive approaches to his education to no avail. He was a kid for all intents and purposes whom had a great smile with little guidance for how to use his brilliance rather disrupt.  By the time we reached the end of the year, everyone, and many students in the advisory were ready for Eric to go. In many ways, he represented the struggle of so many young brothers in the city, caught between a struggle for identify, stability and pure connection. As evidence on his social media pages, he was sincerely loved by so many and effected so many lives. I just wish that I had seen more of his greatness when I was honored to be his teacher and advisor. I often reflect on what I could have done better and what changes I could have done, however, it was my first year teaching..... 
I did not stay in contact with Eric after he left our school. I may have seen him once or twice at a school event. I hope that in some way I contributed to his life in a positive way and that his soul goodness remains both here on Earth and in the heavens. Rest in peace, Eric. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

In The End It's All About Your Critical Friends

The National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) is an organization that I have been informally involved with since I began teaching. The non profit organization focuses on promoting more equitable practices through the use of engaging protocols and the development of critical friends groups. The idea here is that if we can ensure that everyone, including, parents, students, teachers, school leaders and community folks all have a voice and are able to fully reach his/her potential the school can better position itself for student success. This work is not easy. My first attempt at using the Tuning Protocol in the classroom was met with some what mixed results. Although I was eventually using the protocol in one of my first professional development sessions with our middle school colleagues and then eventually at a national conference (the first time that I presented on such a platform), I was not fully trained in the use of such protocols which sometimes led to people not being protected - a contradiction for why NSRF developed this work. So ever since that revelation, I really felt the need to become a certified facilitator with NSRF and better understand how the protocols were to be used and organized. After a few failed attempts at trying to get my employer to fund the work, I eventually took the deep dive and paid for my very first professional development session. The conference took place in Los Angeles, CA (and didn't get to visit my one of my favorite museums ever)  and required an entire week of working from day until late afternoon learning, building, deconstructing and honing my skills or rather our skills in the use of the protocols. It was a great use of both my time and money. Not only did I come away with new skills and a deeper understanding of how and when to use which protocols and for whom, I also learned about the importance of pre conferencing and carefully preparing everyone for the experiences of the protocols. The way the week was structured was brilliant. We all had to facilitate and then participate in one of the protocols. In this way, we got plenty of practice and also feedback from one another. I'm also thankful that I got a chance to build new friendships with people from all around the country. If you get a chance, please check out all of their free protocols and feel free to give me a shout with any questions on how to best use them and avoid some of the mistakes that I made - all whom you serve will certainly appreciate it.