TeachIdaho partners with Stokin Joe's coffee to help train teachers in autism
TWIN FALLS • The future founder of a Twin Falls coffee company was struck with an idea 10 years ago.
Jason Bobango, heavily involved in social work, was tired of seeing little money given to worthwhile programs. He jokes that the budget for his program at a low-income housing project consisted of 75 cents that workers found in an office couch.
“We started thinking of different ways to make money for the programs to pay for basic supplies and materials,” he said. Then he came across a fundraising website for coffee.
Bobango now has his own Stokin’ Joe Coffee. He has a vested interest in his “social enterprise.” His 7-year-old son was diagnosed with autism four years ago, and he hopes his company can make a difference.
Stokin’ Joe Coffee and the Idaho nonprofit TeachIdaho have collaborated on a promotion to create The Idaho Autism Education Fund, which Bobango said will help Idaho special education teachers get more training and certification to help the increasing number of children diagnosed with autism.
The company will contribute $3 per bag sold online at www.noavgjoe.com from now to Dec. 5. If 2,000 bags are sold, the contribution will increase to $4 per bag, up to $8,000.
Kali Kurdy, co-director of TeachIdaho, said she’s excited about the agreement.
“Schools have their hands full in dealing with children with autism,” she said.
Kurdy retired after 33 years as a teacher, but her daughter teaches special education.
“I have had a lot of autistic students in my home,” she said.
Early on, Bobango and his wife Cindy suspected their son had developmental difficulties. Having previously worked with clients with autism, “we recognized a few things,” he said. The family was fortunate to have colleagues who helped test and diagnose their son.
“We had a lot of intervention early, and we were blessed with that,” Bobango said. “We know a lot of families don’t.”
Given his situation, Bobango said it makes sense for his company to support the cause. However, he doesn’t want to stop there. One of his company’s mottos is to sell direct-trade coffee to pay for development of sustainable projects and programs that improve, empower and save lives.
The coffee, bought directly from growers or cooperatives in coffee-producing countries, is sold online.
“We want to focus on issues regarding health and other areas that we can have a positive impact on. We don’t want to provide just the same services that everyone else provides,” Bobango said. “I envision four or five different coffee blends, and people can pick the cause they want to support.”
His dreams are big, but proceeds so far are small. Since he began the enterprise in earnest in March, he’s sold about 250 pounds of product.
“We definitely have plans to expand. If it’s slow, so be it. If it’s overnight, great. We would love to have that problem.”
He hopes his java becomes the next big thing, such as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
To fulfill his dream, Bobango knows he needs to sell a lot of coffee. He said 85 percent of adults drink coffee, with most drinking two or three cups daily.
If he can get enough people to replace one of those cups with one of his, he said, he would have enough money to make a difference.
For now, Bobango is doing marketing and substitute teaching while working on his coffee business.
“You get up every morning,” he said. “You take a shower and get dressed and do the best you can.”
Inquiry is the BOMB!
Why Inquiry Learning is Worth the Trouble
Visualization of SLA principal Chris Lehmann's 2011 talk: guiding kids' to thinking about how they think.
Nearly seven years after first opening its doors, the Science Leadership Academy public magnet high school* in Philadelphia and its inquiry-based approach to learning have become a national model for the kinds of reforms educators strive towards.
But in a talk this past weekend at EduCon 2.5, the school’s sixth-annual conference devoted to sharing its story and spreading its techniques, Founding Principal Chris Lehmann insisted that replicating his schools approach required difficult tradeoffs.
“This is not easy. This is not perfect,” Lehmann told a crowd of devotees stuffed inside one of the Center City school’s second-floor science classrooms on Sunday. “There are really challenging pieces of this, and we should be OK with this.”
Lehmann’s 90-minute question-and-answer session tackled coming to terms with the impact of a shift to inquiry-driven learning by defining three steps: the enigmatic meaning of inquiry-based learning; the visible changes that signal a shift to that approach; and the potential drawbacks that shift may surface.
INQUIRING ABOUT INQUIRY
Lehmann said it’s important to question whether alleged “personalized,” “project-based,” or “collaborative” learning efforts are actually helping students and teachers to “hold ourselves in a state of questioning.”
“Inquiry means living in the soup. Inquiry means living in that uncomfortable space where we don’t know the answer.”
For example, adaptive software that leads students through English/language arts or mathematics on a pace set by their own abilities fails to force students to ask questions about that material, contextualize it in real life, or communicate about the concepts with others, Lehmann said. The same is true of collaborative projects where restrictive guidelines result in several, nearly-identical finished products across student groups.
In a true inquiry-based model, how learning happens isn’t as important as whether that learning encourages students to try to learn even more. Lehmann compared the scenario to the plight of a two-year-old child who has graduated from “yes” and “no” and proceeded onto an endless string of “why’s.”
“To me it comes down to process,” Lehmann said. “Inquiry means living in the soup. Inquiry means living in that uncomfortable space where we don’t know the answer.”
SIGNS YOU’RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Although nailing down inquiry-based learning is a bit like trying to define the human soul, there are some indicators Lehmann and his audience both agreed signaled progress down the right path.
To paraphrase one teacher, a classroom where students are empowered to direct and control their own learning is one sign. Feeling tension between the direction of a course and the material covered on a standardized final examination may be another, said a second teacher.
“Oh God, yeah,” Lehmann said in response to the latter teacher. “There’s a reason we don’t offer [Advanced Placement] Classes here. If we are a truly inquiry-based school, why would our highest-level classes end in a test?”
Increased collaboration between students and increasing student scrutiny of educational content were two other signs Lehmann and the group said signaled the right approach, even if they clashed with classroom norms. For example, collaboration can often lead to tricky discussions about what part of a students’ work are his or her own and what part is recycled.
Lastly, good inquiry-based learning should include a means for publication and communication, whether through blogs, printed reports, multimedia packages, etc. But Lehmann also said, in some cases, students should have the right to decide whether to publish their work.
“One of the scariest things about inquiry-based learning is the blank page,” Lehmann said. “When you’re toying with the ideas at first, sometimes your ideas don’t have to be social to the world.”
ACCEPTING THE DRAWBACKS
Inquiry-based education should improve student engagement, critical thinking skills, and cross-disciplinary opportunities, Lehmann said. But it may also hinder lesson planning, covering content benchmarks, and assessing student progress.
In a school that asks students to seize some autonomy over the course of their studies, the teachers most comfortable at the Science Leadership Academy are often the teachers most capable of improvising and deviating from a lesson plan, or even entering a class period without a lesson plan at all.
Further, while Lehmann believes the approach leaves students with the analytical tools they need to succeed on English/language arts standardized tests, he acknowledges that both teaching mathematics in general, and teaching it so students succeed on state and national benchmarks, is harder to do in an inquiry-driven fashion.
Creating teacher-administered assessments that accurately measure progress, in an environment where the path is often long and winding, is also difficult.
“That could probably be 10 sessions of EduCon,” Lehmann quipped. “’What are we authentically assessing when we assess?’”
*[CLARIFICATION: Science Leadership Academy is a public magnet school, not a charter, as previously written.]