Not for Fall 2014; Perhaps for Fall 2015

<We were unable to submit to OCPS a charter school application with a planned Fall 2014 opening.  The following is an e-mail I shared with parents>

Though we strove mightily, we were unable to muster sufficient support to fund the non-profit incorporation and the printing/binding costs for the 21 copies of the charter school application.  Such is life :).  

Here are the documents I had developed for the charter school application; I will keep these online until Aug 4 (Sun).  

Will there be a renewed effort for a Fall 2015 launch?  It’s too early to tell, and will depend upon whether parents are actively willing to contribute.

In the meantime, OCPS has clearly ruled out constructing a middle school for the Buena Vista Woods community.  

Though OCPS has set aside 25 acres for a middle school right by the Parkside development, the OCPS 2013-2014 budget reveals no MS is actually being planned for the available space – see page 48 of OCPS’s tentative budget summary.

So for the foreseeable future, Southwest middle school remains the next stage of OCPS education for Sand Lake ES students.   

My next steps:

  • Continue learning more about education.  I have registered for online teacher professional development courses:
  • As needed, I’ll post updates on the blog, and you can subscribe to auto-receive e-mails (see box on the upper right-hand corner of the blog) whenever I post updates to the blog.

For example, if OCPS continues to consolidatelementary schools that have fewer than 500 students, then Sand Lake ES might be impacted.  If I learn of any OCPS board moves that might indicate its intention, I’ll post an update on the blog; so if you are interested in updates, please subscribe to the blog for e-mail updates.

And there’s still the opportunity to apply for a planning grant for a Fall 2015 launch; I might consider applying for this grant.

December 2, 2013

Cycle 2                                                           School Openings

Launch                                                           Fall 2014

Planning                                                        Fall 2015 


Preparing Students for Success in the Global Creative Economy

We focus upon students who want to succeed in the Global Creative Economy.  Thus our name Be G.R.E.A.T (Globally Ready to Excel and Achieve Today) reflects our focus upon helping students succeed globally. This presentation was shared in Feb 2013 with SW Orlando parents, and now reflects their feedback.

BTW, if you have any questions about this presentation, please contact Mark Lee (407-512-0635)

Please see our About Be G.R.E.A.T. page for more background about our plan to become a tuition-free charter public school in Southwest Orlando serving Orange County middle/high school students who want to succeed in the Global Creative Economy.  The planned school opening is Fall 2014 with Grades 6, 7 and 9 in SW Orlando. Over time, we will include the other Grades, i.e. Grade 8, 10, 11 and 12.

If you have additional questions, the answers might be available in the FAQ.  An earlier version of this presentation is available HERE.  We will also provide FREE SAT tutoring to our students to help them earn higher SAT scores.  


Next-Gen Learning Challenge: Declined

Despite making it to the finalist stage (see LINK), the grant application did not succeed in securing the US$100,000 planning grant.

Be GREAT.pdf1

Mainland Chinese students in Hernando exchange program

Source: Tampa Bay Times, Mar 2014

the exchange students from the Beijing New Talent Academy in China hopped off the bus and took their first steps in an unprecedented cultural experiment involving the Hernando County School District.

The exchange is being paid for by the Chinese academy. All of the Chinese students will stay with families associated with Challenger or the Hernando school district.

Personalized Account for Learning

Source: Orlando Sentinel, Mar 2014

The Florida House’s choice & innovation subcommittee plan would create a “personalized account for learning” that could be used for students with disabilities and those in gifted programs.

Parents who opted for the program, according to information provided by the panel, would register as a home-schooling family, then could use money in their child’s account to pay for private school tuition, homeschooling materials, tutoring, therapy and other approved services.

Wishlist for a New School

Source: Mindshift, Feb 2014


Creativity as an Academic Discipline

Source: NYTimes, Feb 2014

Once considered the product of genius or divine inspiration, creativity — the ability to spot problems and devise smart solutions — is being recast as a prized and teachable skill. Pin it on pushback against standardized tests and standardized thinking, or on the need for ingenuity in a fluid landscape.

“The reality is that to survive in a fast-changing world you need to be creative,” says Gerard J. Puccio, chairman of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College, which has the nation’s oldest creative studies program, having offered courses in it since 1967.

Critical thinking has long been regarded as the essential skill for success, but it’s not enough, says Dr. Puccio. Creativity moves beyond mere synthesis and evaluation and is, he says, “the higher order skill.” This has not been a sudden development. Nearly 20 years ago “creating” replaced “evaluation” at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning objectives. In 2010 “creativity” was the factor most crucial for success found in an I.B.M. survey of 1,500 chief executives in 33 industries. These days “creative” is the most used buzzword in LinkedIn profiles two years running.

Traditional academic disciplines still matter, but as content knowledge evolves at lightning speed, educators are talking more and more about “process skills,” strategies to reframe challenges and extrapolate and transform information, and to accept and deal with ambiguity.

 “The new people who will be creative will sit at the juxtaposition of two or more fields,” she says. When ideas from different fields collide, Dr. Cramond says, fresh ones are generated.

Finalist – Next Gen Learning Challenges Planning Grant

Source: Next Gen Learning Challenges e-mail, Feb 2014

Be Great Finalist Notification

Ted-ED talk

Source: Mindshift, Jan 2014

TED’s educational arm is launching TED-Ed Clubs, an effort to support students who research, write and present and record their own ideas in a TED talk format.

“The goal is to stimulate and celebrate the best ideas of students around the world,” said TED-Ed Director Logan Smalley. TED-Ed piloted the project with 100 schools, focusing mostly on middle and high school aged students. Most of the pilot schools started with TED-Ed clubs held during lunch or after school, but some teachers incorporated materials into the classroom. TED-Ed also offers free guiding materials for 13 club meetings, taking students through the step-by-step process of creating a TED talk.

“It’s about sparking the question of what makes a great presentation, both content and how you present,” Smalley said. The program suggests starting with a meeting to talk about what students are passionate about. Each student pursues one idea over the next 13 weeks. In successive weeks students discuss the qualities of a great idea, research their topics, identify good and bad habits in presentations, give feedback to one another and ultimately give a TED-style talk, captured on video.

“Each meeting has a specific deliverable in terms of acquiring and thinking about a certain presentation skill,” Smalley said. The goal is to help students get comfortable with presenting their own ideas and taking ownership of something they’re passionate about. In the process they are researching, writing, working together and learn presentation literacy skills.

CA Charter Caters to Home-Schooled Students

Source: Education Week, Dec 2013

The partnership between Wiseburn and Da Vinci offers one model for keeping home-schooling families connected to the larger district community and highlights a more holistic approach to getting parents involved in their children’s schooling. While parent cooperatives are becoming more commonplace, the Innovation Academy is unique as a full public school serving only home schoolers.

Students attend in-school class two days a week, either in a Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday cohort, though the school also offers a half day of fee-based elective classes on Wednesdays. For the rest of the week, children work with their parents on projects developed in partnership with the school’s teachers and aligned to the Common Core State Standards that most states have now adopted. Parents fill out a detailed “work journal” linking the activities they do on home days to specific standards, and a panel of teachers audits the journals every 20 days to ensure students are completing at least 20 days’ worth of learning in that time.

Parents attend two days of training at the start of the fall semester, learning how to align what they do at home with what students learn in class. Throughout the year, they continue to attend workshops given by teachers and other home-schooling parents on topics from reading-comprehension strategies to occupational therapy, and teachers provide online videos and other materials to help parents link school content to home lessons.

Connecting Lessons

With parents responsible for covering the bulk of core content, the school also has more time to focus on teaching students to apply what they learn in multiple subjects, as well as cultivate noncognitive skills such as decisionmaking and cooperation.

“Content is about 50 percent of what we do here, and in most schools, content is 95 percent of what they do,” Principal Rainey said.

Big Picture's Competency-Based Education

Source: The Innovative Educator, Dec 2012

Connect school life to real life by doing things differently.

Here’s how

  1. Instead of teachers… There are advisers who work with students making a multi-year commitment to serve as their coach, mentor, teacher, and friend who guide and supports them in managing their personalized learning plan and Learning Through Internship/Interest placement. 
  2. Instead of grades… There are authentic assessments such as public exhibitions of work, check ins, reflective journals, portfolios, and feedback from their real world mentors at work.
  3. Instead of desks in rows in classrooms where the focus is the teacher… There are chairs around a table in what resembles a conference room where the focus is each other.
  4. Instead of bells and classes… There are meetings and appointments.
  5. Instead of relegating all learning to be locked inside the school building… Students spend two days a week pursuing their interests and/or passions with mentors where they are learning through internships(LTIs)  that they seek out in the real world. Additionally, all learning that happens outside of the school day and year is captured and documented for in school credit.  
  6. Instead of banning and blocking… Students are empowered to learn with the tools they own and choose. This means they can borrow or bring their own laptops, cell phones, etc.
  7. Instead of administrative school policies that are handed down… Students are encouraged to take a leadership role in the school and student voice is valued in decision making processes.
  8. Instead of starting the day in class… Students get: an early morning Pick-Me-Up. Blogger Ewan McIntosh explains it this way: Someone shares a story, what they’ve been doing: a student, a teacher, the Principal, an ‘outsider’. They effectively give a face-to-face blog, where the comments come thick and fast and a dialogue begins.
  9. Instead of only focusing on being prepared to work for someone else… Students can participate in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship program where they learn to run businesses, and the best are supported and funded. These students are provided with real offices in which to do run their real businesses.
  10. Instead of standardizing to the system… Learning is customized to each student via their individual learning plans which look like this and this that are developed based on the student’s individual interests, talents, and needs. These are created and updated with the learning team which includes, but is not limited to, the student, parent(s), advisor, and internship mentor. Students share and celebrate their work via exhibitions.
  11. Instead of grades and test scores as the primary measure of student success… The main goals of assessment are to help the student reflect on his or her work, create strategies to improve, and develop his or her own internal standards.  Evaluation processes should be learning experiences within themselves, strengthening the quality of students’ work and their understanding of themselves as learners.  … The whole student must be addressed, looking at each project and activity in light of the student’s personal learning plan. MET students learn to reflect on their work with the question, “Is it good enough?” the work is measured against standards of the real world held by the mentor and internship worksite as well as the exhibition panel.  Everyone involved in the student’s life and learning – including their family, peers and mentors – is asked to participate in the evaluation process.  The MET’s key elements for student assessment include: exhibitions; digital portfolios; narratives; and, transcripts.
  12. Instead of test scores as the primary measure of teacher and school accountability… The schools is held accountable to the students and parents via School Accountability for Learning and Teaching Surveys, which are the culmination of intensive surveys of parents, students, and teachers. 

There is a method to their magic.  Here are some of the components that drive the work at The MET. Many of these practices are incorporated at varying levels at all Big Picture Schools.

Learning goals*
There are five learning goals for students which are guided by four arenas explained below. Learning goals are a framework for looking at real-world concepts and abilities necessary to being a successful, well-rounded person. …  Good project work incorporates many overlapping elements of the learning goals.

  1. Empirical reasoning – How do I prove it?
    This goal is to think like a scientist: to use empirical evidence and a logical process to make decisions and to evaluate hypotheses. … 
  2. Personal qualities – What do I bring to this process?
    This goal is to be the best you can be: to demonstrate respect, responsibility, organization, leadership, and to reflect on your abilities and strive for improvement.
  3. Quantitative reasoning – How do I measure, compare or represent it?
    This goal is to think like a mathematician: to understand numbers, to analyze uncertainty, to comprehend the properties of shapes, and to study how things change over time.
  4. Social reasoning – What are other people’s perspectives on this?
    This goal is to think like an historian or anthropologist: to see diverse perspectives, to understand social issues, to explore ethics, and to look at issues historically.
  5. Communication – How do I take in and express ideas?
    This goal is to be a great communicator: to understand your audience, to write, read, speak and listen well, to use technology and artistic expression to communicate, and to be exposed to another language.

Here is what student learning looks like in these four arenas.

1) Real World Learning*
These are the core elements that make real-world learning work at Big Picture schools.

  • Learning plans for EVERY student – There are neither formal courses nor a standard curricular sequence. Instead, with an advisor, mentor, and family, each student charts quarterly planned activities against the school’s five learning goals and a series of questions.
  • Interest exploration –
    In a school that views students’ passions as the spark to deep learning, an early task facing Met students is to uncover their own interests.
  • Learning through internships (LTI) – The primary vehicle for learning at The Met, LTIs push students to gain knowledge and skills in the context of authentic work and to develop one-on-one relationships with an adult professional—real world learning in name and practice.
  • Making academics come alive – Advisors and LTI mentors work in concert to provide students with the academic content needed to complete project-based work, with advisors and other staff typically providing whatever tutoring or assistance is necessary back at school.
  • Summer learning –
    Pursuing activities like travel, adventure programs, apprenticeships, or college classes is a requirement for every student. These summer experiences should push students into unfamiliar territory—teaching special needs kids in a camp or building a school in the Dominican Republic. Advisors help students find such opportunities as well as the financial aid or funding they may require.

2) Reflection and Accountability*
These are the key structures through which students demonstrate accountability for their learning.

  • Narrative assessment – Narrative assessments take the place of grades and report cards. They document a student’s academic and personal progress, noting specific areas of growth and areas needing attention, and suggest revisions to the subsequent Learning Plan. At the end of each year, students use their narratives to prepare, with help from their advisor, a one-page transcript, an official and public document that records the year’s work and learning.
  • Exhibitions –
    Each quarter students give a roughly 45- minute exhibition presentation of work to a panel comprising the advisor, mentor, family, peers, and other staff. Students present evidence of progress in all aspects of their Learning Plan and respond to questions and critique from panelists.
  • Senior Institute Gateways – Tenth graders apply to the senior institute (11th/12th grade). In addition to a portfolio, they present letters of recommendation (from the advisor, mentor, family, and a peer), plus a written defense that shows they are ready to take increasing responsibility for their own learning and to play an active leadership role in school.
  • Internalizing high standards – Students report that they work harder and learn more than they ever have before. The processes of giving and receiving feedback, collecting a portfolio of work, and making regular public presentations contribute greatly to a school culture that embraces high standards.

3) Voice and agency*
Students are encouraged to speak up, to find and tap their voice, to identify their strengths and pursue their passions.

  • Journals – Journals help students express ideas and concerns that are still rough or not meant to be broadly shared. Students practice putting down on paper what they think, supported by an adult committed to listening.
  • College portfolios – Students apply to college, even if they do not go—right away or ever. (Over three-quarters head straight to college.) The school embraces the college application process as a tool for helping students dream big, set high standards for their work, and hone their presentation of self.
  • Public speaking and writing – Speaking and writing for public audiences are a constant.  Morning “Pick-Me-Ups” (the school-wide gathering that starts each day) provide a ready stage, as do “town meetings” and other school events. Internships offer another forum, as students make presentations to their adult work colleagues. Students are also encouraged to raise their voices as citizens.
  • Success stories – The book-length autobiographies written in junior and senior year stand alongside the unwritten personal stories they weave, day in and out. As seniors receive their diploma, advisors deliver the “short version” of these success stories, an oral tribute to the graduate for all to hear.

4) Sustained relationships*
Relationships under gird all learning. Keeping adults and other students at bay is not an option. Students build close relationships with an advisor, community mentors, and other faculty, if they are to fulfill their personal learning plans. They must also commit to an advisory group made up of peers, plus substantial give-and-take with the larger school community and  students accept their parents as learning partners.

  • Advisors – Teachers are known as advisors and facilitate the learning of the students in their advisory group. They help students create learning plans, identify interests, find internships, develop projects, and manage their time. They also work closely with their advisees’ mentors. Advisors stay with the same students until they graduate resulting advisor-student bond runs deep.
  • Mentors – Mentors guide and coach students in their Learning Through internships (LTI) work. As part of the student’s learning team, the mentor helps students develop projects that have real consequence and value—to the student, mentor, and workplace. Mentors stand as living examples of career possibilities and as role models of contributing community members.
  • Advisories – Advisors and their students—are home base, the close-knit unit where students and faculty gather for an hour each morning to launch their day and where they return every afternoon for a half-hour before the day ends. Advisories give students a place to practice new skills and develop their identities with a safety net.
  • Parents – Families, not just students are enrolled in the school. This means parents are essential “learning partners” who sign a contract agreeing to attend quarterly learning plan meetings and exhibitions.. Parents, teachers, students, and siblings frequently gather on campus for shared activities.
  • The School as Family – Small size, intimate advisory system, and insistence on parent participation go far towards making the school feel like a family and several features extend these connections and family feel even after graduation.  

Hybrid Home-Schooling

Source: Education Week, Jan 2014

Baywood Learning Center in Oakland, Calif., a private school for gifted students, has offered hybrid home-schooling programs for the past three years. The school has a la carte classes on individual subjects once a week, as well as a multiage class that meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays to cover core academics. Director Grace Neufeld said demand for the latter has grown 50 percent in the last year, to about 40 students ages 4 to 17.

The hybrid approach has become “very, very typical, particularly at the middle and high school level,” said Yvonne Bunn, the director of home-school support for the Richmond-based Home Educators Association of Virginia. “It used to be it was very difficult to get materials; now we have people all over the place who want to sell to home-schoolers because they are such a good market.”

About half of state legislatures now require school districts to allow home-schooled students to enroll part time if they want to, and both Mr. Ray and Mr. Murphy noted that the current budget crunch may have given districts more reason to offer programs to home-schooling parents, which can generate additional revenue.

“Public schools have figured out that home-schooling people aren’t the devil, and vice versa,” Mr. Murphy said. Ms. Elkin agreed, noting that Kayla’s 1st grade teacher was the first to recommend that her mother consider removing her from school, because of the district’s limited support for highly gifted students. “A lot of home-schoolers have a really negative feeling toward the public school system, but I don’t feel that way. I feel like I got nothing but positive support and feedback from the local school system,” she said.

On average, Mr. Murphy found students taught at home are engaged in coursework only three to five hours each day, but have more individual instruction than students in school. Time-on-task studies in traditional schools have found students engaged with their studies only about a third of each day, he noted. “If you’ve really got engaged time for 130 minutes, you’ve probably added 30 minutes to what kids get in school.”

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