K-12 Education

Advocates take on K-12 challenges at Iowa Ideas Symposium

Innovations in teaching, evaluating and technology explored

Participants in the Regionalism and Workforce track compiled notes that would later be used as small-group discussion topics during the Iowa Ideas symposium at Hotel Kirkwood in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Participants in the Regionalism and Workforce track compiled notes that would later be used as small-group discussion topics during the Iowa Ideas symposium at Hotel Kirkwood in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — To be a successful citizen, you need grit, perseverance and curiosity, said educators, community members and students Tuesday at a conversation about the future of K-12 education hosted by The Gazette.

“Schools are designed to do almost none of these things today,” said Iowa BIG Director Trace Pickering, reading through a list compiled by attendees.

About 30 people attended the Iowa Ideas K-12 Symposium at the The Hotel at Kirkwood Center, one of many leading up to the Iowa Ideas conference in September. That event will explore topics related to K-12, higher education, regionalism, agriculture, energy, transportation and health care.

Pickering — who oversees a community-centered, project-based program for high-schoolers that is sponsored by The Gazette’s holding company — said he has asked several groups of people what it takes to be a functional citizen.

Never has someone brought up a high grade-point average or assessment scores, he said.

Conversations throughout Tuesday swung toward discussions about a need to “transform” education.

Pickering’s presentation about Iowa BIG featured two student speakers who told attendees how the non-traditional, learner-centered model has benefitted them.

“I always hated traditional school,” Prairie High student Jemar Lee said before telling of his string of school suspensions before enrolling in BIG. “ ... I never would have been about to do (this) without Iowa BIG.”

Here are rundowns of other presentations:

Laura Wood

Great Prairie and Green Hills education agencies

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After an unconventional introduction to teaching (a stint in Costa Rica before receiving formal teaching training), 21st Century Learning Specialist Wood works with districts in southern Iowa to build engaging, innovative classrooms.

Those spaces can be as simple as pushing desks into pods to facilitate collaboration, she said, or introducing rolling whiteboards to create a malleable space.

Technology also is an important piece of today’s student’s space, she said, noting a project that had older students video conference with younger students to teach them a science lesson.

Much of Wood’s work focuses on driving connections among students and their teachers and their communities.

“Learning is noisy, learning is messy,” she said. “I didn’t want to tell kids to be quiet. That felt like an oxymoron to me with learning.”

Liz Cox

Prevent Child Abuse Iowa

A fourth of Iowa youths report behaviors that indicate high levels of stress growing up, Cox said. That childhood stress can have negative effects on children’s social, behavioral and academic skills.

Adverse childhood experiences that can bring on the stress include instances of abuse and household dysfunction.

When educators understand and engage in trauma-informed care — switching from a ‘What did you do?’ mind-set to asking ‘What happened to you?’ — it can drastically improve student outcomes, Cox said.

Trauma-informed care has been introduced in five Cedar Rapids elementary schools.

Brad Buck

Cedar Rapids Community School District

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Buck, who has been superintendent of the Cedar Rapids district since 2015 and previously led the Iowa Department of Education, gave a presentation about improving teacher evaluations.

The best practices, he said, involve “multiple data from multiple sources” that include parent and student input in addition to measures of student learning.

There also needs to be a shared vision of what high-quality teaching looks like, he said. Working with a common set of those qualities would allow for more productive conversations between principals and teachers during evaluations.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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