Pam Moran, superintendent in Albemarle County in Virginia, shares about some cool virtual reality in Virginia, some challenges with helping new teachers get started, and how she thinks education is entering a new Renaissance of creativity and innovation. Get motivated today listening to Pam. This is part 2 in our series with Pam.
PowerSchool is my SIS and LMS and is the sponsor of today’s show. On January 31, they have a free webinar“Preparing Students for Success: Measuring What Matters.” Jake Cotton, a superintendent from Virginia, will be sharing.
Educating Kids for Life Not for Tests
Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e236
Date: January 22, 2018
Overview of Today’s Show
Vicki Davis: This is part 2 of the conversation I had recently with Pam Moran in Virginia. Now, last time in episode 231, we discussed education reform in Virginia and how they have been moving away from overtesting. But today we have four big and very interesting points:
First of all, the challenge of helping teachers who grew up in the multiple-choice testing environment.
Secondly, four examples of virtual reality programming in the classroom.
Third, why creativity is important and a little bit of an upsetting story from one of her middle school teachers about what testing was actually doing to harm students in his classroom.
And finally, why Pam believes a new Renaissance in education is upon us. Enjoy!
The Challenges of Educating New Teachers Who Grew Up with a Multiple Choice Education
Pam Moran: But I do think that one of the things that we also have that’s a real challenge — as some states are starting to emerge from the “test them until you drop” mentality that we lived in for two decades — that is that we have a whole generation of educators that are now entering our classrooms as first and second year teachers. That’s the world they knew as students.
Vicki: (agrees) Oh yeah.
Pam: And so, for them, the multiple choice test is the “test du jour” because that’s what they were accustomed to in terms of test prep and state testing. One of the things that we really spend a lot of time doing is trying to help people “unlearn” some of what I think that we built into the system over time that people just came to accept. The goal, the end in mind was educate kids for tests.
Pam: My perspective is that we should be educating kids for life — and that’s life in the here and now, and it’s life in the future. You don’t do that by putting all of your time and energy into educating kids for tests.
4 Virtual Reality Examples in Virginia
Recently, Vicki, I watched a young woman in one of our high schools. We’ve been putting some Virtual Reality spaces into a sort of test bed. What does Virtual Reality have to offer to the learning process?
And you know, I’m kind of technology agnostic in some ways. I like technology. I was a science educator, so I’m pretty comfortable and confident using technologies of all kinds, although the kids have really surpassed me when we start to get some of the newer tools that their using, particularly as part of their Maker Work.
But I’m not uncomfortable around it. It doesn’t scare me.
But what I saw recently were three kids that were using VR technology, and the stories are a little different.
- If you want to learn more about Virtual Reality check out
Example #1: An autistic student using VR
One young man who is autistic, is on the spectrum, was taking us for a tour of favorite places in the world that he had visited and telling us why. It’s my understanding that his communicative skills, as a result of immersion in VR really have accelerated.
Pam: So I thought that was pretty interesting. So he was there that day. They were doing kind of an Open House to share how different kids were using technology.
Example #2: VR and Beowulf
Another young woman had actually created inside VR sort of a story around Beowulf. You can’t get much more traditional in terms of English canon than Beowulf in the high school. But she had turned it into something that was pretty fascinating.
Example #3: A student designing fashion in VR
A third kid was using a VR technology that allowed her to design clothes. She has a real interest in fashion, would love to be in the fashion industry. She’s in there. She’s got a mannequin, and she’s doing this amazing almost ballet-like series of motions, and we were able to watch her on a screen where it was being projected. What she was building, the process of building a dress on this mannequin, and I was just like, “Oh, wow. This is just beyond anything I can imagine.”
Example #4: Pam’s experience in VR with Field Trips
Then they put the headset on me, and they sent me into the underworld of the Great Barrier Reef, and I felt like I had left the world and entered this sort of marine space where I was seeing anything and everything that you might find there swimming by.
And I was thinking to myself, “Kids can get an immersive experience that takes them places that you could never envision in a 2-D movie or in images in a slideshow or a PowerPoint or any way shape or form, or book. They truly become a part of the environment.
Where does this technology fit? How they are discussing VR now
So one of the things that we’re trying to figure out is, “Where does that technology fit?” That’s not something that when you’re in a testing world, it’s hard for school districts to really take the risk to say, “We’re going to try out some things. We’re going to prototype.
We’re going to try a test bed, and figure out where this fits, because it’s not something that’s going to be tested. The fact that Virginia’s really backing off of state testing in high school?
I think it’s going to open doors for teachers to explore learning in ways that we haven’t seen since probably the late 70’s or 80’s in the United States, where there was a lot more freedom on the part of teachers to be able to be the creatives that they are.
Encouraging Risk in our Schools is Important
You know, you are that. You’re a risk taker. But that’s not something that we’ve really reinforced inside the education world. But boy, I tell ya. It’s something that, if we want our kids to be prepared for life in the 21st century after high school, if we don’t help them really maintain that sense of curiosity and flexibility and that sense of, “I can learn anything I need to learn to be successful in life.”
If our kids don’t leave us with that, then we’ve done an incredible disservice. I think that we’ve had really almost two decades in Virginia where our kids have been held in thrall. And our teachers, in terms of being able to exercise that creative juice, that it lets them really explore learning in a way that gets at passions of teachers.
Not every teacher is passionate about every aspect of some of the things that they teach in history, or every book that’s on the list in English. But if teachers can find spaces to be able to bring that passion and that curiosity and that love of learning — that I think most teachers have, deep down — it turns kids on, and then when they can release the kids to be able to explore as well.
A Sad Story from a Middle School Teacher During the Days of “OverTesting”
One of the saddest stories I have from a few years ago was when I had a teacher say to me — that taught middle school — it used to be that our kids took a 6th-grade history test, a 7th-grade history test, an 8th-grade history test. Sixth-grade history was the history of the United States up through the Civil War.
Seventh-grade history was Reconstruction through current times. Eighth-grade history was Civics and Economics.
They took tests every year, multiple choice tests.
This teacher said to me, “You know, Pam, one of the toughest things I had, knowing the pace of coverage that I have to move through to get kids prepared to take a test that gets labeled as either Failed or Proficient, is when I had kids say to me, “Gee, we want to stop. Can we talk more about why people fought the Civil War?”
And he said, “All I could think in my head was, ‘Do I have time to stop and have that conversation?’”
Pam: And now, because the state has gifted the time back to teachers to not have to be responsible for teaching to a test in 6th grade and 7th grade in history? Our kids are getting some time back, as our teachers are, to be able to explore learning and to take a side road, not just stay on the main highway. I kind of like that.
Vicki: So Pam, you actually sound excited.
Pam is Getting Ready to “Retire” but Still Excited about Education
Pam: I do get excited. It’s kind of wild because as you’ve heard, this is going to be my last year in the superintendency. Primarily one of the things that’s a real driver for me is that I have a husband who’s fully handicapped, and I’ve got to kind of re-evaluate priorities in my life in terms of needs in terms of family time.
The superintendent job is a job that’s 24-7. But one of the things that I’ve said to people is that I would love to be able to work in education for another thirty years.
My mom, who is down in South Carolina, is 96 years old and can still touch her toes and carry on a conversation about every golfer that’s in the top ten in the world. She stays up with the news, and we can argue politics and everything else. So I sometimes think, “Well, maybe I’ll gthose kindsind of years, if I got her X chromosome.”
Predicting a new Renaissance in Education
Pam: But the reality is that I think that education is about to hit a new Renaissance. And I’d love to be able to spend another 30 years watching the next phase unfold. I think that technologies are certainly a part of it. But Vicki, I also think that one f the things that’s really critical in my mind is that, if you had talked to me maybe around 2007, 2008,
I can't remember when Clayton Christensen wrote the book (Disrupting Class) about how, you know, we were going to see this flip to kids walking out of schools and becoming virtual learners and staying at home and doing everything kind of virtually in terms of learning… And you know, it looked like, “Oh wow. That could really happen.”
But as I started spending more time talking to high school students about what they really value, what I heard from them is that when high school kids have a teacher or teachers with whom they have really great relationships, who they value, respect, regard, who they engage with, they love that.
How Education Will (And Won’t) Change
Pam: They love time with peers, and I think that despite the fact that technologies are going to change and evolve, and what kids will be using in ten years will work really different than anything we maybe have today, the reality is that humans, at the core of who we are, we are people who are parts of a social community people.
I think we like to learn together. I think we like to socialize together. I like to think that, as teachers evolve practice, and sustain and maybe even enhance and deepen their understanding of how important it is to build relationships with young people that are authentic and real, and kids have experience working on work with peers that’s really important to them, that schools may become even stronger and more powerful as spaces of learning than they ever have been in history.
I’m pretty optimistic about the future of education, and I’m optimistic about the young teachers I see and the young leaders that I see. You know I feel like that, as I’m the expert exiting out, and as other who are kind of in my age span are out, we’re going to be leaving education in really good hands with this younger generation.
The millennials are now — you know, they’re not so young anymore — and they’re not in our schools anymore. I think they’re going to be great leaders. They’re going to be very much focused on social good, on collaboration, on understanding that experience is really, really important for them, and it’s important for kids.
It’s not the resources that make the biggest difference, it’s the relationship. And I really love that.
Stay tuned next week for the next episode with Pam on Motivational Monday!
Contact us about the show: https://www.coolcatteacher.com/contact/
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford [email protected]
Bio as submitted
Dr. Pamela R. Moran has served as the Superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools since January 2006. She oversees a division with an annual operating budget of $180.5 million; a self-sustaining budget of $19.2 million and a five-year capital budget of $86.9 million. The division includes more than 1,200 teachers educating 13,700 students in 25 schools.
During Dr. Moran’s tenure, Albemarle County Public Schools has become one of the top performing school divisions for students in the state with an on-time graduation rate of 95 percent. Two out of every three high school seniors graduate with an Advanced Studies Diploma, 30 percent higher than the state average for all school divisions. In 2014, Albemarle County students had the second highest SAT scores among 133 school divisions in Virginia in critical reading and the third highest SAT scores for writing and math.
In 2015, a national survey organization ranked Albemarle County Public Schools in the top five of all school divisions in Virginia and among the top two percent of all school divisions in the county.
Among the school division’s flagship programs are its Learning Commons, AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) and M-Cubed. Both the Learning Commons and M-Cubed have received the National School Board Association’s Magna Award, given annually to the school division in the nation with the most innovative and effective program. The school division is the only one in the history of the Magna Award to twice receive the association’s highest performance honor. The school’s Learning Commons, which is a multi-disciplined, technology-infused learning center, has attracted visits by MIT, Harvard, the Universities of Virginia and North Carolina and from the Smithsonian Museum and the New York Hall of Science. M-Cubed is a program that supports black middle school males in year-round advanced math studies to improve their high school academic performance. The division’s Jack Jouett Middle School is in the top three percent of all schools in the world for the success of its AVID college and career readiness program.
A key component of the division’s project-based instructional model is its maker curriculum, which has been the subject of presentations by division educators around the country, including at the White House. In 2015, in partnership with two other school divisions and the University of Virginia, Albemarle County Public Schools was one of three public school divisions in the nation to receive an Investing in Innovation demonstration grant. The $3.4 million federal grant is being used to develop advanced manufacturing and engineering programs in division middle schools and is in addition to a $20,000 state planning grant to develop a “school-of-the-future” model.
The division has three centers of excellence. Students in the Math, Engineering and Science Academy earn an average of $24,000 per student in academic scholarships; the Health and Medical Sciences Academy became a Governor’s Regional Health Academy in 2013 and in 2015, a new Environmental Studies Academy began operations.
The division also is home to one of the first CoderDojo Academies in a public school division in the country, teaching computer coding and science skills to students. Other notable new programs include a high school Arts & Letters Pathwayand a summer Fine Arts Academy.
Dr. Moran is a leading advocate of an educational model that prepares students for “success in their century, not mine.” She emphasizes the value of student-led research, project-based learning and contemporary learning spaces that promote collaboration, creativity, analytical problem-solving, critical thinking, and communications competencies among all students.
A past gubernatorial appointee to the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia, Dr. Moran was selected by her peers across the Commonwealth as Virginia’s 2016 Superintendent of the Year. She subsequently was one of four statewide superintendents of the year to be selected as a finalist for 2016 National Superintendent of the Year.
In 2016, Dr. Moran was selected to serve on the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development.
She is a member of the MakerEdorg advisory committee and has delivered several TED Talks on the impact of creating a contemporary learning environment for students, one shaped around a student-centered project-based instructional model. Under her guidance, Albemarle County Public Schools was selected in 2015 for membership in the League of Innovative Schools., a nonprofit organization authorized by the U.S. Congress to accelerate innovation in education.
Dr. Moran has appeared on the cover of Education Week’s Digital Directions magazine as a “National Mover and Shaker” for her advocacy of a curricular digital integration model, which will be featured in an upcoming profile by Edutopia. She also was selected by eSchool Media as one of its national Tech-Savvy Superintendents of the Year and under her leadership, the school division received the Virginia Governor’s Tech Innovation Award.
Dr. Moran is a past President of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, Women Educational Leaders of Virginia and the Virginia Association of Science Supervisors. She holds leadership positions with the regional Chamber of Commerce, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Public Education Fund, and the University of Virginia-Public Schools Educational Partnership.
Dr. Moran’s career in public education began as a high school science teacher. She subsequently served as a central office science coordinator and staff developer, elementary school principal, director of instruction, assistant superintendent for instruction, and adjunct instructor in educational leadership for the University of Virginia’s Curry School and the School of Continuing Education. She holds a B.S. in Biology from Furman University and Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia. Dr. Moran also is an alumnus of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business Executive Educators Leadership Institute.
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