Going Back to the Roots of Great Learning #30GoalsEdu

Goal 18: Make a Small Change to Your Curriculum of The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators! Click the link to find out more about the 30 Goals Challenge for Educators!

Have you ever watched toddlers play in a playground? You will notice how the children interact with the objects and nature around them. You will see their eyes question then see the way in which they resolve the problem that has risen in their minds. Kids are naturally curious. They are discovering their world and when something doesn’t fit they will interact with others and figure out a way this works best for them. While training teachers, I often show this video, Nathan Playing at PreSchooland ask teachers to reflect on how Nathan and his friend are learning. Nathan and his friend make muffins out of the leaves and dirt. They then go to bake them but find the muffin tray doesn’t fit. They then figure out a solution together and the way they do this is without any words. Watch the video to discover the imaginative way in which they resolve the issue.

This type of learning encourages play, movement, the exploration of curiosities, problem solving, creativity, collaboration, real world application, personalization, and critical thinking. These are all the characteristics of learning that engages and motivates. Our students crave and need this kind of learning in order to find their paths and discover more about themselves and their interests. They are continually discovering how their talents and skills will be used to mark their place in their world. They want to make sense of it all and schools should have curriculums that motivate learners to uncover their passions or explore their curiosities through experimentation and play.

The Status Quo

We have millions of kids out there who are not focused. They repeat poverty cycles, end up in jail, or become addicts. They are part of an educational system that focuses on test results. They are taught from curriculums that focus on standardized testing results which means a lot of drilling of facts. Students stay in desks for most of the day and recite answers in order to pass or get their teachers and parents off their backs. They don’t want to learn because most learning in schools is tedious, boring, and irrelevant. None of us enjoy answering questions from a textbook or bubbling answers on a worksheet because we don’t really learn much from this process.

Wouldn’t it be better for our students to instead get out of their desks, work with their peers, come up with many solutions for a problem, and test them all until they come up with the solution that works for them?

We will walk into our classes this week and we have a choice. We can decide to lecture, drill, have students answer questions from textbooks, fill in worksheets, and follow our set-out curriculums to a tee. Or we can choose to teach in a way that gets backs to the roots of the learning that inspired and engaged us before we went to school. I hope that many of you will look at your curriculum and see how you can make it support authentic and engaging learning. It is not an easy adjustment but the time investment is worth it because at the end of the year you will actually like being a teacher, your students will have experienced so much growth, and you will have inspired some of your learners to enjoy learning. Try changing one thing a week or month. That’s what helped me. I began with the chapter tests and switched them into projects. Then I tackled bookwork, vocabulary quizzes, and getting rid of multiple choice activities. I took baby steps until eventually I was the kind of educator I enjoyed being.

This post was originally posted on the SmartBlog for Education.

The 30 Goals Challenge

As part of The 30 Goals Challenge I would like to inspire you to accomplish these goals: Short-term- Change, modify, or adapt a test, lesson plan, bookwork, quiz, and/or item in your curriculum in order to make it support authentic and engaging learning. Long-term- Try changing, modifying, or adapting items in your curriculum each month till you feel that your curriculum is the kind that supports engaging and authentic learning. We can always make adjustments and improvements.

Important News

Challenge:

Change one thing in your curriculum to support engaging and authentic learning.

Did you reflect on this goal? Please leave a comment that you accomplished this goal by either posting your own video reflection on Youtube, using the hashtag #30GoalsEdu, posting on the 30 Goals Facebook group, adding a post to the GooglePlus page, or adding a comment below!

Be inspired with these Inspirational songs, videos, quotes, and more on my Pinterest board, Inspiration for World Changers!

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Digitally Immersed in the Challenges of Learning

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” ~ Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne

The type of learning I love is challenging, immersive, self-discovering, and self-empowering. We find ourselves faced with a problem where we must employ our tools to come up with a solution that suits us and the situation. At some point in that journey we will feel frustrated, but eventually we will have that “Aha” moment where we think, “Yes! I accomplished this!” We can feel proud of ourselves for employing our higher order thinking skills and other tools like technology to solve a problem that challenged us and others.

Sometimes as teachers we forget that great learning is a journey. Like our students we often want to take short paths versus traveling on the journey. Like our students we want simple and quick answers. Often, in our classrooms we use the tools we have to do simple acts like lifting a pencil to fill in a bubble, using the mouse to click an answer, and using our brains to eliminate the other three answers to find the one the system is looking for. This is what learning is like for many of our students most of the time but I believe as teachers our role is to begin to challenge our students to take the journey. In order to do this we must take our own learning journeys, which can be difficult if we are no longer studying for our graduate degrees or immersed in opportunities where we are challenged. We have to continue to challenge ourselves as learners or we become lazy learners. One way is by learning to use technology to teach our students effectively.

Recently, I was training teachers in Nebraska to use iPads to accomplish short-term goals as part of my 30 Goals Challenge for Educators. They all received new iPads during the training. For many of the teachers, the iPad was a difficult challenge. Many had to set-up iTunes accounts, because they had never had one before. Some had never downloaded an app before. Instead of training them to use the iPad, the technology trainers and I decided to help the teachers accomplish some of the 30 goals using their iPads. In a matter of a few days, the teachers had used their iPads to create digital stories, participate in scavenger hunts around the school, blog their reflections, develop multimedia mindmaps, and collaborate on Google Docs.

During one of the days we were observing the frustrated looks of some of our trainees. We sat in awe thinking about how much they had accomplished with their iPads in a few days that most individuals never accomplish in a year. We realized that our teachers hadn’t realized their accomplishments. We paused the training as I highlighted for them the amazing journey they had just been through and delineated the tasks they could accomplish now with their iPads that they would be able to pass onto their students. We talked about how immersing ourselves with our tools and solving problems or accomplishing tasks is a better way to learn even if it means we get frustrated at times. They assumed that most teachers and students knew how to do all these tasks with their iPads. When the teachers discovered all they had accomplished and how in a few days learning these tasks was an incredible feat, they began to smile at their accomplishments.

They hadn’t gone into the training program to learn to use their iPads, they had actually signed up to accomplish The 30 Goals. The iPad training was an extra we threw in, but our decision had yielded incredible results. We had a room full of teachers who had learned to think creatively and critically with a tool they had never used before. They had accomplished this in a few days and were proud of their accomplishments. They felt confident enough to walk into their classrooms and show their students how to do the same.

One day very soon those teachers will stand in front of their students and they will have to teach their students to use their iPads for student centered learning and hands-on projects. These teachers will have to get their students to use technology to solve challenges and accomplish tasks collaboratively. Teaching their students with the technology will not be an easy journey. Some problems will arise with the technology. Some of their students will not get the instructions as easily as others. It will be a frustrating journey just like the one they had been through but I have the confidence that these teachers will not freak out, blame the technology, or quit their journey of teaching their students to think critically while using technology. All of the teachers completed the training feeling like they accomplished something great and are proud of themselves. They deserve to be. They went on the journey and now they have the mindset and the strength to help their students endure their learning journeys. These are the kind of students we should be raising, learners who will endure a journey to solve problems and think creatively as well as critically.

This post was originally posted on the SmartBlog for Education.

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Filling the Gap by Joel Josephson

by Guest Author, Joel Josephson

 

Learning timeAs educators we are more than constantly frustrated by the interference of academics (with little or no experience of the teaching of children), politicians and administrators with little or no direct pedagogic experience in the education process.

Their solution to raising educational standards, almost globally, is to test children as a way to weed out bad teachers, so that children get good teachers. This testing regime flies in the face of all conceived notions of how to teach and motivate children to attain and learn.

But why do the powers that be, completely ignore reality and disrespect educators. It is even worse, they constantly zip of to Finland and other successful educational systems and then find a million reasons, ‘Why it wont work here’.

We know that testing of children produces failure, stress, teaching to the test, not learning or even more importantly today, learning how to learn.

But how did we get to this, why has education slipped out of the grasp of professional educators and in to the hands of amateurs?

I do not think there is a single answer, but I do think that educators are perceived to have left a vacuum in educational pedagogic theory and a vacuum is always filled, even with toxic ideas. From a scientific standpoint it is obvious that education is a social science without any clear room for a single ‘Law’. The children represent even more parameters than the possible teaching theories, from academic homes, deprived homes, immigrants, gifted, with special needs etc etc etc.

So without a ‘General law’ or even agreement on how to teach, we cannot prove that our ideas and methods are any better than the politicians.

I am going to use the Finnish school system as the nearest thing we have to a ‘General law’ to see the different methods they use to achieve the most successful school system on the planet. Finnish children consistently come top or very close to the top for science, reading and mathematics

Curriculum

  • The national curriculum is only broad guidelines

Teachers

  • All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized.
  • Teachers are selected from the top 10% of graduates. (In 2010, 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots)
  • Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for “professional development”
  • Experienced teachers are paid at similar levels to other graduates
  • Teachers are given the same status as doctors and lawyers

Children

  • Finnish children don’t start school until they are 7
  • They rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens
  • The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education
  • There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16
  • All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms
  • Finland spends around 30 percent less per student than the United States
  • Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day
  • 30 percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school
  • Finally, Finnish children spend less hours in school than most other developed nations

Reference link to the OECD data: http://www.oecd.org/document/52/0,3746,en_2649_39263238_45897844_1_1_1_1,00.html

General Law

So lets try to build a ‘General Law’ or should it be called the Finnish Law. But before we go there we should remember that this huge advance in Finland occurred in the 70s before that they achieved average results and were not a wealthy or innovative country. This was a conscious change.

1. They started to change their system with the teachers and built a ‘Trusting’ regime were teachers are considered, and are, top professionals in their field. They respect the teachers abilities by letting them teach as they see fit, not to a rigorous, test orientated curriculum. The teachers work together and collaborate all day, every day, gaining support, and ideas.

2. Respecting early childhood as the base for all further human and learning development and allowing children to PLAY, learn to learn and discover how to become responsible members of society

3. Taking the stress out of primary and secondary education. There is no testing of the children or the teachers, there is very little homework, there is loads of support to overcome difficulties, loads of time to play, lots of bright committed, well-trained teachers who have the responsibility for their own teaching.

So what is the ‘General Law’ we can arrive at from this brief study?

Good effective education requires: Trust. Respect. Play, Learning to learn, Support.

Teach the teachers, very well. After you train them, trust them, respect them and leave them alone to do the job they are committed to.

Let babies and toddlers have a childhood free from ‘Teaching’. Provide them with opportunities to learn how to learn. Let them arrive hungry at the dinner plate of education with healthy appetites.

Children learn best in a stress free environment, without tests, lots of support (so it is difficult to fail or be a failure), lots of play, lots of great teachers.

Are our societies ready to implement this simple ‘General Law’ can politicians believe their own eyes?

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Joel Josephson is the initiator/partner in 17 innovative European language projects. Joel is well known for his exciting and effective approaches to motivate language learners. Joel runs theEU_Educators Facebook group, that is sharing EU projects globally. He also founded the Kindersite Project early learning website, one of the first effective sites for schools. Formerly involved in high tech at the start of the Internet, he had 2 successful start-ups and consulted to technology companies. He has brought his understanding of technology into education by initiating many interesting projects with innovative uses of ICT. His Twitter handle is @acerview54.

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11 of ’11 Projects Transforming Education

Adam Simpson, an educator in Turkey, recently challenged bloggers to reflect on and post 11 of their best blog posts of 2011 (11 of 11). Reading several of the blogger’s posts and different takes on it has spurred me to reflect on my past year blogging and collaborating with my passionate/personal learning network (PLN) who inspire me and support me daily. I am a better person and educator because they share and believe in me. Daily, I am grateful for being blessed with such an incredible Passionate Learning Network.

My 2011 Journey

I will take a spin and post 11 projects I take part in that I believe are transforming education. These projects are the reason why I haven’t blogged as much as I would like to, because I believe that part of transformation is taking that bold step to act upon what you believe. I believe a quality education improves the world because it opens minds, breaks generational cycles, and perpetuates new positive cycles. Every child to adult I help realize their potential means they are helping the world become a better place. I am helping them stay away from poverty and crime. I take that job very seriously and whenever anyone tells me it can’t be done, I just do it. I don’t worry about the criticisms and I don’t even look at any obstacles. As Henry Ford says, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals.”

Over 11 of ’11 Projects

I hope by sharing these projects you will be able to see the potential of what you can do when you collaborate with others to activate your passion. With the support and collaboration of my PLN, I have been able to be a part of projects that have impacted tens of thousands of people worldwide. I have been collaborating with educators online for less than 3 years. Imagine the possibilites of every person activating their passion with the support of their PLN.

  • The 30 Goals Challenge- Over 7000 educators worldwide have participated in accomplishing goals to transform their classrooms and impact their students. Educators who join receive a free ebook and have access to several videos and podcasts to help them achieve their goals. More importantly they get to reflect upon these goals on Twitter (#30Goals), Facebook, or on their blogs and receive the support of 1000s of educators also accomplishing these goals.
  • The Reform Symposium Free E-Conference- This past August we had 80 presenters and 12 keynote speakers that impacted over 4100 educators worldwide in 100 countries! Organised by educators for educators, it was FREE but offered more valuable and inspiring Professional Development than money could buy! If you didn’t manage to attend you can catch up by viewing the Recordings.
  • The Virtual Round Table E-Conference- ELTon nominated free online conference focusing on language and technology. Unique in that participants can attend via a live video conference or in Second Life.
  • #Edchat- Join over 2000 educators on Twitter every Tuesday at 12pm EST/6pm EST to discuss various educational topics you get to vote for and suggest.
  • #ELTChat- Join English language teaching educators worldwide on Twitter every Wednesday at 12:00 pm London time, at 21:00 pm London time to discuss various educational topics you get to vote for and suggest.
  • TESOL’s free Electronic Village Online (EVO) sessions- These are free online 5 week courses that start January 9th and end February 12th. You can choose from several courses including the Digital Storytelling for Young Learners one I am moderating with a dream team (Esra Girgin, Barbara Sakamoto, Özge Karaoglu, Jennifer Verschoor, David Dodgson, Michelle Worgan, and Sabrina De Vita)
  • 140 Character Conferences- Jeff Pulver has been amazing in getting celebrities, educators, and leaders in various fields to speak passionately about how social media is revolutionizing their fields. If you cannot attend physically, then attend virtually. I help organize the educational panels so if you hear of one coming to your city and would like to take part, please let me know. Jeff live streams the talks! Follow the hashtag, #140Conf for continuous updates.
  • Cooperative Catalyst Blog- Read about the projects and ways educators are transforming education daily. Several bloggers challenge readers to rethink traditional education models. I have enjoyed adding a few posts to the mix.
  • Free Friday Webinars- Thanks to the American TESOL Institute, I conduct free 30 minute online webinars on the Adobe Connect platform every Friday at 4pm EST (New York Time), 3pm Austin, TX, 1pm LA, California, 9pm London Time, 10pm Paris Time, 11pm Athens/Istanbul Time, Sat 8am Sydney time, and Sat. 6am Tokyo time. This is the Adobe Room to join! http://americantesol.adobeconnect.com/terrell/,  Check out the Livebinder resources and past recordings-  http://americantesol.com/tesol-lectures.htm
  • Simple K12 webinars- Attend free webinars with experts on various topics. I often present for Simple K12 and they won a 2011 Edublogs Award!
  • The Educators’ PLN Ning- The Educator’s PLN is a great place to interact and learn from other educators. We have hosted free live chats with various educational leaders. In the past we featured Alfie Kohn, Howard Rheingold, Diane Ravitch, Chris Lehmann, Steve Hargadon, Jim Burke, and others.
  • The Horizon Report, K-12- This amazing free e-report was curated by education thought leaders worldwide. We identified 6 technology trends to transform education and show examples of them in schools worldwide.

Challenge:

Try activating your passion project in 2012! Let us know about it so we can help you get the support you need.

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What 2012 passion project will you activate?


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It Takes a Village by Alexander Marchuk

by Guest Author, Alexander Marchuk

Picture This! The past decade has brought great changes to the education landscape but the real challenge has yet to be tackled with the energy it deserves. Disruptive changes in technology, politics, and policies have greatly increased the value proposition of the U.S. education system and as a result improvements have been made. While dropout rates have decreased, they still remain high especially with African Americans and Hispanics. Meanwhile, high school graduation rates have remained virtually stagnant with the aforementioned groups trailing the national average by close to 15% according to the U.S. Department of Education. Given the magnitude of the efforts made in the past decade, the returns we are seeing are disappointing. So what are we overlooking or not paying enough attention to?

The answer is simple: parents.

Charter schools, vouchers, iPads, social media, mobile devices, SmartBoards have all been hailed as the solution to the nation’s education woes. While there is no denying their positive impact, without the concerted effort of parents, we will never realize the full potential of our youth. The foundation of a child’s education lies in the hands of the schools AND parents; these are the two pillars upon which a child’s success lies. The nation keeps asking “what is wrong with our schools?”, “why is our education system broken?”, “is it our teachers/administrators/unions/politicians/companies fault?” The better question to ask is “how can we help our parents?” More or less, kids spend half the day at school and the other half at home; unfortunately far too many children receive one message at school – education, values, character development – and a totally different message at home – indifference, pessimism, negativity, and worse. In order for the nation to see a significant impact, the two messages need to become a strong singular voice that reverberates throughout the child’s educational career. We can change our schools/policies/curricula/politicians/teachers/technology all we want, but until the issue of parental involvement is addressed, we will not see the reformations that we all desire.

My adolescent and teenage years were spent living in a housing project in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. I made friends there with another kid that moved in around the same time I did. We made up just a handful of white families living in the housing complex which made it an extremely tough environment for us to grow up in. Drugs, guns, gangs, and blasting Biggie Smalls throughout the summer nights were the norm. My friend and I were very similar; we were both the same age, going to the same school, poor, and living under the same set of hard conditions. We also shared similar traits – we always tried to find odd jobs to make some extra money (a big snow storm was money in the bank), loved playing strategy games, and had a deep interest in science. Fast forward 20 years and my friend is a high school drop out that works in the back office of a real estate management company for a measly salary while I have earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, an M.B.A and started my own tutoring company that employs close to 100 NYS certified teachers that serve over 1,000 students. So what happened? In a nutshell, it was our respective parents’ differing expectations. In my home it wasn’t even a question of whether I will go to college, it was how prestigious the college would be. My mother would always say “only by educating yourself can we leave this place” and boy, did I want to leave. My friend’s mother, on the other hand, would allow him to skip school frequently and constantly tell him “if you’re not going to school then go to work”; ultimately that’s exactly what he did. Two completely different expectations with two completely different results; the message I heard at home was aligned with the one I heard in school, while my friend received mixed signals with the evening message dictating the course of his life – so far. After almost a decade of no contact with him, I ran into my friend about a year ago. He’s still at the same management agency working the same job. What astounded me was when he told me that his company wanted to promote him to manage one of their buildings – and he refused; citing that it would be too much work. His life is now governed by these low expectations that were bore into him at an early age, and unfortunately, I presume, he will pass along these same signals to his children.

One elementary school that my company services is located in a high poverty area in the Bronx. Boarded up houses, pitbull dogs strolling around streets, and characters only seen in movies populate this neighborhood. Generally schools in these types of areas are marked with major discipline issues, are failing, and experience very low teacher morale. The school is struggling academically; however, they have experienced a recent surge in special education and bilingual students entering the building and they are showing academic growth. Otherwise, teacher morale is relatively high and very few incidents involving behavior problems. I was very impressed with the way the Principal had a handle on the school. After working with school leadership and teachers for a full year and enjoying many extensive discussions with the Principal, I came to realize how she was succeeding where many are failing. She demands that parents engage (a lot) with the school for the betterment of the child. When a child misbehaves, she’ll call up the parent and say “Mom, you better come up here and sit with your child in class and keep an eye on him/her”. Teachers are always made available to speak with parents about any issues a child may have, whether is it academic, behavioral, or something else. She holds parents accountable for a child’s performance by frequently asking “have you sat with the child to do their homework?”, “who is helping the child at home?”, “what will you do to better the situation?”. She offers a dose of tough love to her students and her parents and for this she commands a lot of respect from all the stakeholders in the school. She leans on parents for support and makes it clear that they must play a pivotal role, otherwise, “don’t come knockin’ on my door asking why my child failed” as she would say. As a result, the Principal is forcing parents to step up – and they are. By collaborating and holding parents accountable, she is aligning the messages students are receive during the day and evening: high expectations, education, character development, values. Here are a few reviews I found online about the school from some parents:

Posted September 24, 2008
Principal X has obviously worked very hard to get the school back on track. The worst thing for the kids is that MANY of the PARENTS DO NOT GET INVOLVED. I hear parents complain all the time, so you should spend a day inside the school system and see how difficult it is to be responsible for all those children. If the parents don’t like something, maybe they should get off their backsides and participate in the SCHOOL.
—Submitted by a parent

Posted April 16, 2009
We love this school. The Principal and her open door policy make you feel comfortable and you can talk to the teachers about your child’s progress whenever you need to. The gifted program is exceptional they really enrich the learning experience and take away some of those antiquated mundane boundaries that children don’t like. I recommend this school to any parent -to parents who want to become involved and those who if its not broken don’t try to fix it.
—Submitted by a parent

Posted September 17, 2009
The principal and staff at PS 31 really care about the children. The staff and parents at the school are friendly and make you feel welcome. They really stay in touch with the parents about their child’s progress. They have high hopes for all the children and push for respect and academic success.
—Submitted by a parent

The Principal’s strategy is encapsulated fittingly in the school’s slogan: “It Takes a Village To Raise A Child”. Indeed.

I just finished reading a book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (highly recommend it); there was a chapter in the book that spoke about a KIPP Charter School in the Bronx that has shown some really great results. School is in session six days a week; classes start at 7:30 AM and finish at 5:00 PM with an after-school component available until 7:00 PM while Saturday classes begin at 9:00 AM and end at 1:00 PM. The author contends that one of the reasons KIPP is so successful is because of the extra hours students spend in a KIPP school versus a traditional public school. Because of this, KIPP students not only receive extra instruction but, equally important, they are exposed less to conflicting messages that occur outside of school. A KIPP student leaves school at 7:00PM while a traditional public school student leaves at 3:00 PM; the KIPP student receives an extra four hours per day of positive signaling while the other student not only misses out but is at risk of receiving negative signals from his out of school environment. The author writes about a student attending KIPP: “Her community does not give her what she needs. So what does she have to do? Give up her evenings and weekends and friends – all the elements of her old world – and replace them with KIPP.” What KIPP is doing is assuming the role of guardian for several extra hours per day and ensuring that their students are exposed to the right message while mitigating opportunities for the wrong message to creep in. In this case, where the community fails, the school steps in.

We need to exert greater energies on finding ways parents and schools can work together for the child’s educational growth. We have spent immense amounts of resources trying to fix the latter while almost ignoring the former; too much time is spent focusing on the first seven hours of the day and not enough on the last seven hours. There needs to be a greater discussion on how parents may be brought into the process and held accountable – schools and students have report cards, why not parents? We can keep coming up with different ideas on how to reform schools all we want, but until we recognize the magnitude of the role parents play – and create solutions through that lens – we will just keep going in circles. Let’s stop making excuses and start creating innovative ways parents and schools can synergize to engender cultural change in our education system.

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Alexander Marchuk is the Founder and President at Perfect Score Tutoring, an after-school tutoring firm that successfully provides Supplemental Education Services (SES) under the “No Child Left Behind” law to urban NYC public schools. Prior to that, Alexander – who is a NYS certified Math teacher – taught Middle School and High School Math to at-risk students and subsequently went on to mentor incoming teachers as a Math Coach.  He is a founding Board Member and current Vice Chair of the Board at Invictus Preparatory Charter School located in the East New York section of Brooklyn.  Alexander is passionate about education and advocates strongly for the use of pragmatic, common-sense solutions with a twist of disruptive innovation mixed in.

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