Beginning two school years concurrently: Koan School and UNT

I’m going to make a better attempt at writing daily posts during the week throughout the next year. I know I said that last year, but I’m going to try much harder to share. I don’t expect a lot of readers, but it will be a helpful exercise for me to capture the history of the second full year of the Koan School, my community service and systemic change project that will likely last the rest of my career.

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This is not to say I will not continue with learning games and associated research, but they will likely look very different and be designed by kids rather than for them. If I were 25 instead of 40, I’d feel more confident about making games for K-12 kids, but I’m trying to have enough humility to know that, at best, I can design with them. A wise person once came up with that distinction and it wasn’t me, but it is something I have fully adopted and better understand now.

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At the end of this school year, we will have been open for 2 1/2 years, all of which have been on a shoestring. To re-cap, we started with four kids in the front room of the associate director, Heather’s little yellow house in Denton. By the end of the spring, we had six kids and a lot of people knew about us through word of mouth and our Facebook page. We also have a web page, but that was the extent of our advertising and online presence that first semester. With that many kids, we were able to go on a lot of field trips around the community and every day was new for all of us. Our teacher facilitator Amanda and math teacher Vanessa did everything they could for us and those kids, while Heather and I planned expansion at her kitchen table. Among many other things, they made amazing art and had a show at a local coffee house, made Valentine’s Day cookies and cards for folks at a local retirement home, and made an augmented reality, story-based game called Villainous about historical and fictional figures in our old Western city. There were a lot of gaps in the kids knowledge and skills, requiring us to think about whether to expand to high school or elementary the following year. These challenges led us to start earlier so that we could developmentally support the kids from K-12 by building core skills through Montessori and direct instruction in K-2 and then transition to project-based learning in 3-6, moving into problem-based learning in 7-12, with a heavy focus on community problem-solving in grades 10-12. In addition, the focus on communicative actions became extremely important to establishing norms and appropriate means of discourse towards knowledge construction.

 In the classroom

Last summer (2013), we looked for a new location to hold both the increased number of middle school students as well as a full new class of around 10 elementary kids, a class helmed by Jeanne, a Montessori teacher who had recently left a local school that was near the end of its existence. Many of her students followed her to the first Koan elementary class.

In September, we moved to the former Groggy Dog print shop on old Dallas Drive in a largely industrial part of town populated by car repair places, gun shops, and pawn shops. There is a Montessori school across the street that goes through first grade and the neighborhood around the school is mainly one bedroom shotgun houses that line the railroad tracks that run nearby. It needed a lot of work and the landlord, a general contractor, worked a deal with us to make repairs and changes we needed for the school by wrapping the costs into our monthly rent for the following three years. There was also an agreement to rent us his house/office next door so we could expand and take the rest of back yard for our smaller kids. The repairs and changes were not done in time for the first month of school (problems with HVAC, new walls, etc.) , so the middle school kids returned to Heather’s house and the elementary moved into mine until October.

We moved everything to the new building over the course of a weekend and started that Monday.

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This is enough for a blog post, so I’ll do another about the first year of Koan and another on this summer’s planning for the high school expansion and hiring of two more full time teacher facilitators and a part time French teacher/librarian. This project is about the largest thing I have ever done. It makes the dissertation that almost killed me seem a bit silly. The second full year of Koan starts two weeks from today. This year, with a bit less movement and change, I’m hoping to be able to further revise and test LTCA theory.

Oh, and UNT starts a week from yesterday, so I have a couple of courses to prep, students to work with, and I’m doing a presentation to a large number of undergraduates tomorrow on transmedia and educational gaming in front of a bunch of high level administrators. It should be fun.

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