Reboot is my theme for this coming school year. My school, which is full of great teachers, caring families, and amazing kids needs a reboot. What do I mean? Reboot can have a kinda harsh connotation – you reboot a computer when something has gotten so messed up, or changed so much, that you need to get rid of everything in its volatile memory and start over. No, I’m not feeling that way about Poinciana, there is a lot of wonderful stuff that goes on there that should continue. I mean a more gental reboot, sort of like what JJ Abrams did with Star Trek. Yes, a geeky analogy is approaching…
When Abrams created his new Star Trek movie a few years back, he rebooted the storyline. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty… they were all still there with their personalities intact. Some time travel by the bad (and one good) guys changed the history of the original Star Trek franchise though, and a key part of the show’s history was changed. In the universe Abrams created, nothing after the crew of the Enterprise got together and started their “5 Year Mission” can be the same now. This opens the universe up anew for new adventures, no longer constricted by the “old rules” established in the 60’s series, and built upon though the rest of the movies and later tv shows. Whoever writes the next chapter can start fresh.
In many ways Poinciana needs to start fresh too. As a member of the group of teachers who helped start the magnet program in ’94, I miss some of the spirit of those first years. We were were a staff of active learners – reading, researching, attending workshops and conferences… and the kids noticed. Students can tell when their teacher is learning along with them, and it motivates them in their own learning.
Of course, much has changed in our educational universe since then – most notably the high-stakes test system implemented upon us. No, we cannot ignore it – but we must pretend to. Teaching to the test can, unfortunately, show easy short-term gains in student performance. Long term it hurts kids though, because they miss out on the details higher-level skills. Analysis, debate, creativity, the things that make learning interesting and useful are left out for too many of our students when the focus is on the limited standards that are tested with multiple-choice questions. Teaching this way is like feeding kids sugar, they get a quick burst and may do better for a short time, but then they crash, and are less energetic and productive in the long-term.
When I say we should “pretend” that the FCAT doesn’t exist, I mean that we should use the techniques shown by research and our own experience to be most effective for students to learn at high-levels instead of bowing down to the district and textbook folks who want us to ask every question like an FCAT question. If we really teach kids to read, write, compute, and think they will do just fine on FCAT – better in the long run if we stick to it.
Much of what I think we need to do is shift our priorities, and this process has begun at Poinciana. We are giving more help to primary students who come to us behind in reading and math skills. This alone will reap huge benefits in the coming years. The staff seems ready to jump in and learn new things, focusing on our new name: Poinciana STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Magnet as a place to rally our training around. I’m excited about this next year, and the energy that is coming back to Poinciana. I’m a bit nervous about being able to do my part in helping the staff learn how to do what we need to so that Poinciana becomes a model of effective STEM education, but I usually do my best when I’m a little nervous.