Phineas and Ferb Teach “Transfer”

Today I’m welcoming the return of Reuben Duncan, Assistant Superintendent in our own SAU 29 here in Keene. Thanks for sharing, Reuben!

“There’s a hundred and four days of summer vacation, ‘til school comes along just to end it, so the annual problem for our generation, is finding a good way to spend it—Like maybe building a rocket, or fighting a mummy or climbing up the Eifel Tower, discovering something that doesn’t exist, or giving a monkey a shower—surfing tidal waves, creating nanobots, or locating Frankenstein’s brain…”

This past summer, over 50 educators in SAU 29 spent three days learning about Understanding by Design and the concept of “transfer.” The best definition of transfer I have come across is not found in any book or peer reviewed article; rather, a children’s cartoon, full of witty humor, an evil villan, and a secret agent platypus named “Perry” provides the perfect description of what “transfer” actually is.

Phineas and Ferb have mastered collaboration, problem solving, and higher Phineas-and-Ferb-2order thinking strategies that enable them to invent, create, innovate, and discover new approaches to achieving their goals.

Over the last decade in education, schools have moved away from the mindset of transfer. And why wouldn’t they have? After all, the state assessments were com- prised of acquisition and low level meaning making questions. Couple that with punitive actions taken toward schools “not making the grade,” scared school boards, and handcuffed administrations, it is no wonder why schools spent significant amounts of time doing test prep and adopting standards-based programs that, if followed verbatim, would promise a school or district improved test scores.

Inevitably, schools that were successful in raising test scores typically raised them for a specific group of students while not having a great deal of success with others (economically disadvantaged and special education). Then special efforts were made to carry or lift students on the edge of passing over the proficiency threshold. And while schools increased a percentage or two in one subject area, they often went down in the other area. Then the school would focus on the areas in which it decreased and this seesaw activity began— all to avoid becoming a school or district in need of improvement. And even though they were cute little names, no one seemed to want to be labeled a SINI or a DINI.

With an intentional shift to accomplish what the Common Core Stadards call for, our system as a whole can move past the injustice of the past and lift all of our students to greater heights. We will know when we are on the right path, when our students are able to TRANSFER their learning to multiple situations, many of which they have not yet experienced.

And, yes, we still do have state assessments. However, these assessments will honor those students who can think differently and apply their learning to situations with which they may not be completely familiar. These assessments will honor those schools and districts that ensure its students think in manner that promotes TRANSFER. Those students who have been provided a firm foundation from which to build further understanding and application will succeed.

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