Sunday, October 11, 2015

All Are Invited to RISE on November 7th!

I would like to personally invite you to the third annual Iowa Student Learning Institute RISE Conference on November 7th from 10 am- 4 pm at Waukee High School. Formerly the ISLI Fall Conference, RISE will be filled with many opportunities for students to learn and grow.

RISE is unique it that it is organized by students, for students. Our organization firmly believes that students can do much more than sit in a desk and “receive” an education. We are asking students to rise to the challenge of creating change on issues they are truly passionate about.

The conference will kick off with keynotes featuring local students from the Dowling High School walkout that embraced their right to free speech, the inspiring story of Yesenia Ayala who traveled across the country to pursue her dream of a quality education, and Benjamin and Amanda Yao from Kids Change The World who are working to empower students globally.

For the remainder of the day, students will attend breakout sessions led by students and bootcamp workshops led by professionals. These sessions will enable students to collaboratively explore their passions and gain practical skills about how to be agents of change in their schools and communities.

After the conference, we will also host the first screening in Iowa of the debut film Most Likely To Succeed, a documentary about the potential schools hold. These stories will push thinking, tug on heartstrings, and encourage students to take action!

Best of all, the day is free and includes complimentary lunch and giveaways for all attendees. So, what are you waiting for? Register a group of students from your school today, check us out online at, and feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.

Hope to see you on November 7th! Remember, the world needs you!

Ian Coon
Co-Founder & President

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Back At School...

I've been doing a lot of thinking this Summer on how school is setup to serve the majority of students and prepare them to be workers and doers, not thinkers and innovators. There are students that are not being given the attention they need and deserve because of large teacher to student ratios. Nearly all students go to school just to get through it: many of them are successful in that and many are not. Tavion confirmed some of my thoughts in the rap he posted to Facebook I included below.

Back at school I was a fool the loner stoner who just wanted to be cool but then I opened my eyes and realized the true lies that occupies the young minds which reminds me there is no prize at the end of the line see those kids at school weren't actually cool they just over ruled with their pools jewels and ridicules and you're fed up but you gotta keep you're head up cause when we grow up they blow up. To non-existent in an instant this generations flooded with infants young minds who are stuck in the blinds who have the potential to change the world but their too busy chasin girls this says a lot about us no wonder why our parents fuss were not becoming anybody we're just a bunch of living silly putty and it's funny cause we act as if we got it figured out but we don't and we won't. see they say schools supposed to fuel us for tomorrow's life but tomorrow's strife wasn't part of the lesson plan so we began to see it was all a lie so why do we try? So we need to spread our wings and fly become our own kings and strive cause when the time arrives you'll realize to survive you gotta revive your mind, let go and grind...-Tavion Lashley

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Homeless in Des Moines

The flowing riverwalk, scenic skyline views, a cheering crowd after the crack of the bat, and the bustling avenues of bars. What could be wrong here? Life is perfect in Des Moines.

But there is a lurking secret. A hidden layer left unpeeled. The agenda thrown to the back of the pile only to be dealt with later. Every city has it: impoverished people.

“It’s their fault they got there. Maybe they should have worked harder”

It is not though. Many times it is not the direct fault of the person that lands them in a homeless shelter, street corner, or camping in tents by the river.

This fault lives in all of us.
Des Moines homeless resident's last day before their camp
is destroyed by the city. Photo courtesy of WHOTV.

It is our fault for not helping them get better: mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially.

It is our fault for being a country founded with discriminatory and unjust prejudices more than two centuries ago.

It is our fault for starting segregation and purposely impoverishing an entire race, and in turn, portions of our city.

It is our fault for holding prejudice still today against these people we have disregarded as members of our society.

It’s your fault.

The time is now, and we have the power to fix it today. There are many ways to help this issue, but one organization in Des Moines, specifically, has had such an enormous influence in the community that attaching numbers to their work is hard to do.

Central Iowa Shelter and Services (CISS) was founded in 1992 by a group of local churches after five men froze to death one cold, wintery night when they were turned away from another jampacked shelter.

The decision of those churches sparked a revolution locally. CISS is now the state’s largest shelter serving approximately

250 residents an evening
69,322 overnight stays just in 2014
2,385 unique clients
115,355 meals
4,703 people with clothing
2,347 from their food pantry

They are making a difference in the lives of many.

St. Boniface youth feed & visit with clients at CISS. Photo courtesy of Mike Nass.

The new building that opened recently allows CISS to assist more in the community, and most notably, enabled clients to be able to stay in the building during the day where they would not be exposed to the addictions or conditions of the street that disregarded them. It truly is rehab for the homeless.

Along with their 50 women’s and 100 men’s emergency beds and around 100 people in overflow nightly, the shelter also offers housing solutions for 19 Veterans and 38 clients who are able to pay for a portion of a low income apartment. This is accompanied by access to three meals a day, a computer lab for career readiness, basic hygiene facilities, case workers if wanted, a greenhouse dome and food pantry, clothing closet, and medical observations.
St. Boniface youth feed & visit with clients at CISS.
Photo courtesy of Mike Nass.

Central Iowa Shelter and Services is a helping hand to all, but they are just one. What if we all held out our hands? Lifted one another up during their struggle and tugged, pulled, and dragged them behind us for a little while; just until we left them in a better place than they started.  The shelter can do a lot, but no matter what way you look at it, they are just one. There are people in Des Moines that are being missed and the numbers are only growing. We need to change our perception “that just because I don’t have today, don’t mean I’m not a benefit tomorrow” says resident Elliott.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

#IAStuChat: Why Do Students Have to go to School?

I haven't published anything in nearly an entire year but am excited to be writing (more like ranting) a little to start off the first ever #IAStuChat being hosted all day on Friday, May 1st 2015. Iowa Student Chat will be one of the first of it's kind for students to discuss their passions and vision with other students. Be sure to follow @IaStuChat for news and join in the conversation using #IAStuChat. I attempted to answer the first question, "Why do students have to go to school?", from my perspective below. 

The all encompassing and never easily answered question, “why do we have to go to school?” It seems like it would be a great life without it, and think of all the free time not being stuck in four brick walls covered with a metal roof and internet that blocks all outside exposure from leaking in and contaminating young brains. But seriously, why?

An average adult and any college spokesperson would spit out instantly that it is to “Become a well rounded person”, but I thought Michelle Obama didn’t support obesity. #badumpshh. A kindergarten teacher herself would exclaim that it teaches social skills that all students need for any job. And the history teacher says that it’s so we can learn from other’s past mistakes without repeating them again. All are right, but what is the true reasoning that schools were created? I once heard it was for creating compliant children able to be overtaken by any future dictator in desperate times.

School is for learning. As a student, I see school as being able to be done in a much better way though. In a way that promotes thinking outside of the box, embraces changing the world, and creates problem solvers by putting students in a situation to be solution creators. As students, school today should be designed, and is generally in the right path, to do more than just consumption of information. The missing piece is action and agency, and that is what I believe will tie together the passion gap of the true spirit of learning and the education received from schooling. Though the first step, it is not the final step for students to just talk and be voices of what should happen but to be change-makers of that talk.

I am by no means saying that consuming and learning information is bad, it is definitely essential, but the way about doing this can be changed a lot. We should go to school to learn information, and once an interest in that is sparked, have flexibility to start taking passionate action steps concerning that topic. Even when performing the action oriented component, there is no stop of consuming information because humans are always taking in everything around them and experiences that are had. By molding the system to be flexible and intertwined like so, a fixed mindset is impossible to maintain because students no longer attend school for nearly 20 years of their life to get an education and THEN go into the workforce to utilize it. To make school relevant, that timeline is accelerated and twisted around to include a life of that.

The part that failure plays in all of this: enormous! Learning can fail and failing is learning, and the faster and more often a student fails, the better off they will be in any endeavor as long as a growth mindset is encompassed alongside. Today’s schools are what they used to be, and that is exactly the problem I have. Students, society, and businesses today are demanding more than ever at a faster rate than ever that within the confines of the current system cannot be met. The true solution can be found simply by truly listening to and working hand-in-hand with students, merging business and industry thinking with the school environment, and surrounding everyone with networks that care. When it all comes down to it, “Learning is life. Education is a system.” and students stand at the diverging forefront of these two opposites.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Embracing a Culture of Student Voice

The largest stakeholders of education, students, are the least involved in that very same education. There is a passion gap in students of how exciting learning can be and how exciting reality is. There are decisions being made that affect the lives of students deeply, and they are not consulted at all. And the worst part of this is that adults try to involve students and just miss the target and end up with an arrow through the wall instead. To truly involve student voice, an entire culture must change, responsibilities must be delegated, and voices must not only be heard, but listened to.

To involve student voice in the classroom, the whole school must change and embrace this ideology that students have valuable opinions and knowledge to share. The simplest, yet most challenging for many teachers, way to start student voice in their classroom is including student voice and student choice. Let them choose what they do, how they do it, and what they do. Students will learn and be engaged much more once they are handed the responsibility to make their own decisions and not get an education, but make their own education. This simple change, if looking at it vertically where the teacher is at the top and students are at the bottom, will equal them both to the middle. Students will be brought up from the bottom of this ladder by being given choices and the right to have opinions. Teachers will step aside and come down from the podium once students are given control. This shift in classroom leadership in an individual classroom is not a revolution of students overturning the entire school, but simply being brought up to a closer level of collaboration with the adults that hold all the power to their future.

Student empowerment cannot stop at the classroom level. To truly create a culture of student voice the school building and even district needs to invest in students by allowing them leadership roles across the schools. When visitors walk into Bettendorf High School, the first person they see is a student working as a liaison in the office. How powerful that message is to have a student be the first person seen in the office. This builds a culture of excellence across all parts of the school. The world has enough average and by putting students in leadership roles across the building they are being brought up and learning to do more and better themselves as individuals. If you look district wide, there is literally nothing that can be lost by giving students representation in a school board, district leadership team, hiring committees, and any other public positions. Students are not asking for the world, but ways to better the world they live in and will adopt. The decisions being made by adults will affect today’s students that will be forced to live with the consequences of them.

As students, we are not trying to start a revolution even though students possess the tools to do so. The Mubarak Regime that reigned in Egypt for 40 years was brought down by people using devices to voice their opinion, gather to represent them, and share the results with those around the world. Even the government with guns, missiles, and nuclear bombs could not make their citizens stand down. Students are not in anyway attempting anything this large, but are simply demanding to have a say in affairs that affect all students. As an adult, realize the power students possess and have to offer, and work to unleash that in all of the students in the class you lead. It all starts with students knowing that they matter, can make a difference, and being empowered to stand up and do so. You Matter, and your students do too!

Friday, May 16, 2014

"How Much More Real Do You Want?!"

Today was a great day. The only class I went to was PE in the morning and then served food at our Student Council Senior Picnic and after that had the pleasure to be able to visit one of our middle schools and one of our elementary schools today in my district. Observing students that were ecstatic to have graduated yesterday all the way to kindergarteners that can't wait to come to school the next morning within such a short time span presented the opportunity for some sociology.

Our last stop of the day was Walnut Hills Elementary to view students Passion Fair Projects. This building has such a close knit family connection between teachers, students, and administrators. Heck, the principal was the one that gave us visitor badges when we walked in instead of being back in her office. We stopped in and talked with Ali Locker who was in a 1st grade room today and upon even the door handle opening they all turned, stared, and waved. The 5th graders eagerly shared with us their philanthropy-based Passion Projects they've been working on. The idea was designed along Angela Maiers' Genius Hour concept. 5th Graders presented to us and never hesitated on any of the questions we threw out at them. When I was in 5th grade I don't even think we knew what trifold stands were!
"I like to go on vacation but I don't like to see the people without homes. It takes a long time for that to get out of my mind and I just want to fix it." -Student
Topics for these ranged from recycling to littering to animal abuse to
homelessness to special needs students and many more! 

Before that we visited the middle school and talked with Mrs. Reinhold, who was helping kids in the library as they came in from study halls and various classes. Mr. Goerend's students were creating business plans of their own choice to argue that one bakery is needed more than a Javascript coding app that all gets trumped by the necessity for a new sports store on the block. And, the best part, they were all able to answer why they were doing this and how it related to English, and that we got different answers from every group. These students were working in their own spaces, corners, desks, groups, and with the technology that they needed to work. There wasn't an "Okay kids, let's all go to the computer lab and sit in rows and work as individuals on this project that you have to present" feel about it at all.

Walking into 7th grade math students recognized me from Instagram and said hi before they went back to their test. Let me remind you that there is a difference in age of 4 years, 3 grade levels, and 2 school buildings between these students and myself. Wouldn't you have cringed if a high schooler walked into your class in middle school?

Throughout the building the Speech and Drama class was writing plays in groups taking over their room and the hallway while 8th graders were practicing their job interview skills with our district Superintendent, the Executive Director of the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners, and the Director of the Department of Education in the lunchroom. It was hard to think that that morning they had a BMX bike show come as a prize from the Fall fundraiser.

Now, we come to the post-seniors, the one that are so thankful that over 12 years of school are over and they get to enter the "real world" now. Even as a sophomore I'm guilty of this as I opened the post with "what a great day of skipping school". :)

But I question...

  • Will these same students in elementary and middle school think the same thing when they become high schoolers?
  • Is all the work I just described not a part of the "real world"?
  • Where does this gap between love and hate of school happen?
  • Where did the fun in learning go?
  • Why did learning become separated from the real world as students got closer to entering into it? 

Education has changed so much in the past four years I've followed it from when I entered middle school to today. Not only has it changed within my district but in the state, country, and world; no matter what people may say. The real world is only a stones throw away and our students are already yearning and reaching for it if we haven't already opened up the classroom door and told them to go find it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

You Matter: Own It, Embrace It, Share It

This past week, being only 2.5 days of school, has been one of the most inspiring of the entire school
year. Not because of the constant snow days or double the amount of sleep, but because of the transformed atmosphere within the building. Created by and for students, over 1,500 inspirational messages were masterminded and plastered onto every locker in the school in one day. I spear headed a similar project last year [video below] done with merely 700 signs and two months of prep work at a junior high
building within the district but putting quantities aside, each project has had the same effect. Each project has brightened someones mood, averted a mind from negative thoughts even if just for a second, and I don't think anyone would argue that they dislike the messages seen across campus. This is the most organic, passionate, and selfless work I have witnessed from high school students. Keep on keeping on because everyone should know and share that they truly matter. Trust me, it's an amazing feeling.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Not In School These Days

I'm not here to bash common core, demand different forms of assessments, redefine the instructional strategies of teachers, or nag about the lack of technology use, or anything else one can find argued about on Twitter. I'm just sharing some food for thought today on how I see students view their own learning everyday.

Teacher: "You need the sheet back in order to get any points back."
Student: "Yeah, the most important part."
Teacher: "No, learning is the most important part."
Student: "Not in school these days."

The real question is, is learning the most important thing happening in your classroom? Your school? Your district?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Blogging Burrito: People Come First

I haven't blogged in over two months but there have been six events in particular this week that all revolve around one theme so I'm throwing them into one post and calling it a blogging burrito, so here goes nothing.

Event #1:
Banner many students signed
Quote that was circulated by students
A Junior at my high school took his own life two weeks ago. It was a very sudden and unexpected thing, even to his closest friends. This was the very same friend who I had driven around the neighborhood in plastic Power Wheels cars, played laser tag with at 9:00 at night thinking we were so cool, and who showed me how to Bluetooth on a flip phone (yes, back when everyone carried a Motorola Razor). It was a serious wake up call to me on how much I share with people that they are important and matter, especially with my sarcastic personality. The school had so much outpouring of support after the incident but I kept thinking that The Band Perry really did sum it up with the line of, "Funny when you're dead how people start listenin'". I have taken a personal oath now to make sure everyone knows they do matter and that someone is always there for you. Angela Maiers is coming to speak to all 1,500 students of within the next month to share the same message with everyone.

Event #2:
A member of our marching band sent me a direct message on Twitter about how they think sports are starting to overpower the school. This is usually the cliche case at many high schools, but Waukee is different. In this case, we decided on a video showcasing the volunteer groups, academic clubs, and extracurricular things besides our sports program.

Event #3:
On Friday, I donated blood at our bi-annual school drive. The nurse told me I was saving three lives promptly before shoving a needle in my arm almost making me faint. I was not any happier than when they took that needle back out of me after five minutes. Disclaimer: I did black out when they took the needle out. It is pretty funny now but I thought I was dying when it happened. Even after that, I plan on doing it again next Spring because those three people somewhere are counting on me.

Event #4:
My best friend -- an understatement -- is a grade younger than me. One year, six months, and 26 days younger in age. And two inches taller in height -- He likes to remind me about that frequently. For being younger, he has shaped me as a person more than anyone else ever has. This last week he told me I was his "Biggest role model, and it means so much to know you support me. But, when you don't support me, it honestly makes me feel terrible". WOW. If that doesn't show you how much relationships between people truly matter then I don't know what will. 

Event #5:
A teacher told my girlfriend that "Since you and Ian started dating, you've been a lot happier and productive". How much more data do teachers and the world need that people are happier, livelier, more outgoing, and learn easier when they know they matter. Geez! I knew I had people that constantly looked to me as a role model and as a friend, but that I could affect someone and their life so much was outstanding.

Event #6:
My math teacher, out of the blue, asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I told him I wanted to be an english teacher. He asked why instantly, in a negative connotation. I told him that
"I can't think of any other job where I don't have to work in an office, don't officially work during the summer, can share my passion of reading, writing and talking, and inspire so many young lives every day I come to work". His response was something along the lines of "True 'dat" but I have noticed he's been a little nicer ever since. :)

People matter most.
Others come first.
Choose to care.

However you say it, don't forget to share with a coworker that their outlook in a meeting made you think differently, your kids that their text message during work made you laugh, or your neighbor that you appreciate when they pull your garbage cans up from the middle of the street after a snow storm. It doesn't have to be something big, just something authentic. Trust me, it makes a difference. Save a life, brighten a mood, share the kindness. You matter.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

School Shouldn't Suck - Support #SBAR

You learned to read. To write. To speak. To stick up for yourself. But, when you entered high school you had to start waking up at 6:30 five days a week. Going to school after relentless studying, cramming, and assignments from the night before. Having to take standardized tests to prove that you are competent of basic skills.

Where did the learning end up at in this evolving school scene? Where did you end up?

Standards Based Grading is a compilation of “I can…” statements that give students a guide to the expectations of their teachers and their courses. Standards Based Grading should be incorporated throughout all of our education system because students know what they have learned, successful motivation does not come from a grade, and students are prepared for a life full of learning outside of their primary educational institute.

Students know where they stand on what they have learned and what’s ahead of them to learn. Each standard is a different skill that should be understood and, at a point in time, be able to be demonstrated. Students knowing the skills they are being taught by doing work in critical thinking problems, reading, and writing to get rid of the “I don’t do anything in that class” phrase students often use. Oh, and the infamous dinner question when your parents ask “What’d you learn today” and you reply “Nothing…” Standards Based Grading allows you to know exactly what you know, accurately, not just based off of one test score.

Along with enabling students to see their own learning, Standards Based Grading allows for more learning to occur. A teacher giving a student a zero on an assignment is not going to motivate that student to try harder. It’s going to show them that a number matters more than their learning does. It won’t make them try to re-do and relearn the content, it will make them give up. If the teacher doesn’t believe in the student, why should the student believe in themselves? It is not the numbers that matter but the people and ideas that associate them. Therefore, grades being used as an ineffective motivator would be eliminated in a Standards Based environment.

Chiefly, Standards Based Grading is the most opportune system in preparing students for life. A student will very rarely ever be given a grade with an A, B, C, D, F in the working world. They will be given a task, points, or standards, to cover in a project, presentation, or paper. Upon completion, they won’t be given a score. They will get all kinds of feedback: constructive, negative, positive all based upon whether it met the original outlined standards. The performance of that employee is not only clear to the teacher, but the employee and other supervisors.

Because Standards Based Grading enables students to know their position in what they have learned, motivation does not exist in letter grades, and it prepares students for a life enriched with constant learning it should be implemented throughout our entire education system. It is based on people, not in numbers. Don’t become a letter or a number. We are not a world of synonymous robots performing laborious tasks in uniform. Standards Based Grading is the future of our nation and workforce. The numbers don’t matter; it’s you that matters.