Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.

BIG Mondrian

What I Learned in my First Week of Running a School

For the first time in my life, I’ve dropped every other project and concentrated 100% on one thing:

BIG Mondrian

BIG is, well, big. Sorry if you’ve emailed me lately.

We’ve been picked up by the second largest school district in Iowa, and we’ll be offering a competency-based education option to +16k students.

Exclamation point. Pause. EXCLAMATIONPOINT!

I don’t have much time to write, but here’s a list if highlights from running a CBE school for a week:

  1. Competency-based education is really attractive to a certain group of parents and students; those that know their kid needs a real CV to compete coming out of the gate.
  2. No one has any idea what a project is.
  3. If you start a project without an external audience in mind, it’s probably going to be sucky.
  4. If you start a project with a genuinely interesting question, it’s probably going to be legit. (How different are the proteins in blue, green, & brown eyes? vs. the much crappier: How does DNA make proteins?)
  5. Middle school students can’t drive.
  6. There’s an astonishingly small number of students who gravitate towards (and are properly served by) book-first learning. BIG is operating at 10% of students really flourishing this way. <implications implied implicitly>
  7. Blurred Lines is a fun tune, but wildly inappropriate.
  8. Ripping off Piet Mondrian for your logo makes you look like a fop, and minimizes time in Illustrator.
  9. Writing competencies should be individualized to the student and needs to map back to at least 3 curriculum standards, or you’re just never going to stay at a good pace (just below Grueling/Meager Rations.)
  10. No one talks about grades at BIG. It just doesn’t come up.
  11. Keep a Google Doc for every student that has all of the crazy good ideas that pop up. You won’t remember everything, and the kids won’t either.
  12. The context upon which you can hang content has a surprisingly wide latitude for most students.
  13. Symposium time is necessary. (When 5-10 students get together to share progress, failures, successes, and ideas with each other)
  14. We really need a mascot and colors. Currently we’re The Fighting Whalephants.
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Shawn Cornally • July 1, 2013

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