Saturday, February 5, 2011

Other Big Ideas - Los Angeles Town Hall STEAM Conf.

It wasn't quite the Big Ideas Festival but the Los Townhall Steam Conference was full of interesting people. Los Angeles Townhall put on a STEAM conference, the A wa stuck in to include arts in the science, technology, engineering, math mix.

There were about 30 speakers in about 6 moderated discussions with some audience response over an afternoon/evening and a day. There were none of the collaborative laboratories that we held at Big Ideas Festivals. Not having the COLAB made me see the importance of them. It's not enough just to hear people speak you need to use what you hear to collaborate on problem solving.

We did have the opportunity to talk to people though. The science teacher (from my school) and I met Tara Chklovski, her group is called Iridescent Learning. Their mission is to bring the beautiful side of science to students. They work closely with students and their parents. We hope we can begin working together on a project. They have a group of mentor engineers that are able to communicate to students. One of the things the students can do is design t-shirts that explain scientific concepts with diagrams. In English, we will design the research project, work in science to develop their question and do the reasearch and then we will work with Iridescent to develop their understanding of the scientific question, understand applications and create the t-shirt. And their parents will be there as well. Or somehting like that, it's still early.

I also met a woman who works at the Fashion Design Institute and talked to her about the t-shirt project and she is going to arrange a field trip to a large (hip) apparel manufacturer and the students will see the manufacturing end of the t-shirt production.

The conference gave us lots of ideas. The big bummer (it was so depressing) was the speech from Anthony Wilder Miller, Deputy Secretary of the US Dept. of Education. What a clueless politician! His big idea is that what we need are higher standards and longer days, shorter vacations. Let's do what isn't working for longer!

One woman came up and said, she didn't mind having standards but it wasn't realistic. She used the analogy of going up to a buffet table and putting so many things on the plate that food was falling off. The problem isn't with the height of the standards (make them as high as you want) but with the sheer number.

And what is falling off the plate is science, history, all the arts, and all the language arts strands that aren't reading. With such high stake testing, not everyone feels they can afford to concentrate on oral language skills (very important life skill) because they aren't tested.

Kids come out of school without basic skills because they have just spent years sitting on their bottoms, bored out of their minds, uninterested and unable to see the point. My students go in to large urban high schools with a drop out rate of almost 60%. Teachers go in an at least hour early and we mostly tutor for an hour (at least) after school. We could spend the night and it wouldn't solve the problem.

If you took away the vacations of middle school teachers, I think they would go insane. No one could do the job without a break.