Monthly Archives: November 2011

12 Affirmations 2.0

One of the experiences from the late 80’s that I wish I could have a “do again” opportunity were the Chicago conferences on Christian education held in 1987, 1988, and 1989 at Trinity Christian College. I was able to attend one of the conferences and it was a time of rich and stimulating discussion about the changes that needed to happen in Christian education to keep pace with a changing world. I say I wish I could do it over because, as I look back at the list of the invitees, the conference organizers were able to bring to the table many of the best thinkers (then and in the future) in Reformed Christian education circles for these discussions and I benefited greatly from that time.

I feel like this time around I might have more to contribute to the greater discussion. I had experienced K-12 education, but had not thought about it from a Christian perspective. The conversations and the work that was produced from these conferences were helpful for not only me but a great number of others through the publication of the book 12 Affirmations: Reformed Christian Schooling for the Twentieth Century, written by Vryhof, Brouwer, VanderArk, and Ulstein and printed by Baker Books (now out of print).  I know that many others used the book like I did – for productive conversations with their own building faculties.

For all who loved and used that book, and those who don’t even know it existed, there is now good news! The 1990’s book has been revised: Twelve Affirmations 2.0. We have one of the key organizers of the original conferences to thank – Dr. Steve Vryhof. Steve has collaborated with Elaine Brouwer, Tim Krell, and others to produce a clearer, more up-to-date, set of affirmations about Christian education.

The revised 12 Affirmations are divided into three groups – foundational, educational, and communal affirmations. Like the original book there is a short, concise statement/affirmation and then explanatory paragraphs unpacking the statement.  There are also discussion questions listed at the end of each affirmation. Vryhof has formatted the book in such a way that it lends itself to communal reading. He suggests several audiences might benefit from a thoughtful discussion of the material:

  • Read and discuss one affirmation per staff/board meeting
  • Read and discuss at a staff/board retreat
  • Read and discuss at a parent book club
  • Read and discuss at a church’s adult education meeting
  • Read and discuss with donors/constituents
  • Read and discuss with 11th and 12th graders

Through his provocative work, Vryhof encourages us to consider:

  • How to better identify and cultivate student gifts
  • How to better increase student motivation and learning power
  • How each person brings much to the table of community
  • How to move toward student flourishing as a chief educational outcome

His ultimate hope is that this book will stimulate others to action in the same ways that the first 12 Affirmations was able to accomplish. We should be grateful as a Christian educational community that this book has been revised and revitalized for the next generation – thanks Steve for your hard work to make this gift available! The book is available for purchase here.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, community, distinctively Christian, mission development, resources, staff development, student outcomes

The Cardus Survey results – part 3

Well, here is the rest of the story: last time we celebrated the positive results that were learned about Protestant schools and kids, and so in part 3 we look at some of the challenges facing Protestant schools in particular. The authors of the study are very clear: while there are many ways that Christian schools are serving a public good, they don’t find Christian schools to be living up to their “world –changing” missions in several ways. Their concern is that graduates are “showing a surprising lack of engagement in areas traditionally thought to influence culture: through the political sphere, relationships with people in positions of power and status or people earning higher university degrees, and intellectual engagement in the arts” (p. 24).

Why is this the case? The study authors wonder if the high level of compliance and respect for authority contributes to a lack of motivation to interface with culture in positive ways. Are our students questioning the status quo? How can students be impacting culture if they don’t have any interest in politics and the contemporary cultural scene? The research reports that Protestant Christian kids are less likely than their other private school peers to engage in political discussions with colleagues, family, and friends. If they are not participating at this level then it is likely that their ideas and opinions are not having much impact on the larger political and cultural dialogue (p. 27).

Schools seem to be reflecting the wishes of their parents in this regard. According to the research done via surveys of administrators, parent support of students being taught to confront culture or change society are among the very “lowest reported goals in current schools” (p. 29). This leads me to wonder, “Do parents really understand the missions of many of our schools? Do they desire to have their students be world transformers?” The overriding concern expressed in the study is this: “Christian schools are not universally preparing their graduates to navigate the traditional paths of power established in today’s culture and thus undermine their potential for robust cultural engagement and contribution through these means.” (p.29) The study authors go on to say: “In this same way, we find involvement in the arts and other intellectual endeavors to be surprisingly low for Christian school graduates. Christian school graduates participate in cultural activities less and donate less of their time and money to the arts. These results may indicate a weak involvement in higher culture that prevents Protestant Christian school graduates from full engagement in their communities and their world” (p. 29).

It is encouraging that no evidence exists in the study that Christian schools are isolationist – in fact the authors’ perception is that there is significant desire to engage the world, it just seems that schools are much more in the critiquing mode than creating mode of engaging culture. They suggest that the ways students engage culture need to be broadened: “In most schools, we find the lens of cultural engagement to be narrow, promoting what students can do, like service and vocation, rather than a larger view of navigating the spheres, processes, and networks of government, the media, and arts. Likewise, few schools are found to be systematically, through curriculum and pedagogy, integrating academic learning with engaging the world outside of school” (p.30).

I find this research to be a helpful challenge to our schools. We are starting from a good foundation and need to continue to challenge our students to lift their eyes and hearts to the broader challenges that are presented by the world. In the final installment re: The Cardus Study next month, we will look at some other possible reasons for this current state of our schools, examine some possible solutions to move us forward, and conclude with some stimulating questions for further discussion and ferment.

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Filed under distinctively Christian, mission development, mission measurement, resources, student outcomes

Rethinking how we use technology for teaching and learning – part 1

(Thanks to my friend David Mulder, technology director at Sioux Center Christian Schools, for sharing this blog post. Look for part 2 next month.)

Part 1 – What is the problem and how did we get here?

Do you have a computer in your classroom?  (Silly question in 2011?)  I want you to think about how you use the computer in your teaching practice.  Does the computer allow you to do things fundamentally differently?  Are you able to do things in your classroom using technology that you simply could not do otherwise?

Here’s the thing:  I’ve become convinced that the way we use technology in schools has to change.  And I’m further convinced that this change is going to be a big, big shift for most teachers and most schools.

I want to set the stage here by describing what we have going on at Sioux Center Christian School, which will perhaps help frame the conversation.  Beginning in the mid-1990’s we began adding computer technology to our school in a deliberate way.  By the early 2000’s, we had network cables pulled to every room in the school from a central server case, a computer in every classroom, two computer labs with about 25 desktop computers each, and regularly scheduled times for “computer class.”  (Depending how long you’ve been in the profession, I’d guess this sounds familiar to you, either as a teacher, or perhaps as a student.)

Fast forward a decade or so, and several cosmetic changes have happened.  We have largely gone wireless, with a wireless network throughout the building and several mobile computer labs (25 laptops on a cart, so the lab comes to you!)  Teacher laptops have replaced classroom computers and we’ve installed video projectors in most classrooms around school. In the past two years, we’ve also begun to add interactive white boards to some classrooms—the next big thing in technology.  Whatever your school’s level of technology, I’ll bet you can relate to the story so far to some degree.

Here’s the thing: I think these changes (adding laptops and SMARTBoards) are “cosmetic” changes, because while the tools and their availability may have changed, the way we used the tools fundamentally did not change.  We have been implementing what I now call the “Tech-on-the-Side” model.

Here is what the Tech-on-the-Side model looks like in practice:

  • A designated space for using technology, whether that is a separate room (a computer lab) or a part of the classroom (the computer corner).
  • A designated time for using technology, which might be a specific time each week when the class goes to the computer lab, or perhaps “computers” as a separate school subject.
  • A focus on learning how to use specific applications, such as web browsers, word processors, spreadsheets, presentation tools (i.e. – PowerPoint), and media-editing tools such as iMovie or MovieMaker, regardless of how these tools might be used to support classroom activities.
  • Tightly controlled access to technology, because the tools are limited, so we need to share and play well with others.

Does this sound familiar?

Now, I want you to think for a minute about how people use technology outside of school, in “real life.”  In almost every way, Tech-on-the-Side is the opposite of how technology is used life outside of school:

  • Rather than a designated space for technology, we use laptops, smartphones, iPads and the like wherever we go.
  • Rather than a designated time for technology, we use computers and other devices whenever they suit the task at hand—whether work or play.
  • Rather than learning specific applications foisted up on us, we tend to learn how to use the apps, sites, services, and devices that are most useful to us, most productive, or most enjoyable.

Tech-on-the-Side may have made sense a decade ago—even five years ago—but the world is changing.  The problem is that the Tech-on-the-Side model doesn’t really address the changes that have happened (and continue to evolve) in how we use technology in the 21st Century.  The Tech-on-the-Side mode of thinking incorporates technology in ways that simply replace current activities with ones that add a computer-based component, but the task itself remains unchanged.  Next month, I’ll offer some concrete suggestions for how to begin shifting from Tech-on-the-Side toward a more transformative way of thinking about using technology in schools: Tech Integration.

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Filed under change, classroom, staff development