Monday, June 15, 2015

Reflecting from Finland: Where Liink began

Almost three years later and I'm back in Finland to rejuvenate and explore some more. I have confirmed that Liink has the right purpose and is going in the right direction for children in the U.S. I arrived in Finland five days ago and rented the same apartment I stayed in back in 2012. While here, I have walked the same streets, watched the people, questioned the educators, and reflected on then and now all while having my time for play as well. What I have confirmed again is that physical activity, music, the arts, culinary experiences, the outdoors, leisure time, and especially saunas are still very important to the Finns. I have watched the families gravitate to the outdoors with their children in strollers or playing at a park no matter if it is raining or sunshine, windy and cold, or sunny and warm. The weather doesn't stop the people from enjoying the outdoors. I also passed many individuals and groups playing their music for enjoyment or for performance. People are happy here. They are less stressed, less anxious, smiling more, and walking everywhere. The very aspects I picked up when I was here in 2012 were resonating with me again on this trip.

From an educational perspective, one aspect of Finnish education which is changing is the decision to add 60 minutes of physical education daily to the school schedule. This is great news! Once again Finland is showing that physical movement is at the root of learning. They have continued to require recess (unstructured, outdoor play) to happen for 15 minutes every hour of the school day. Now they are making sure the structured physical movement patterns are taught daily as well.

One aspect of Finnish education which has not changed is the respect the government gives to all content. Each class taught is considered a content specialization. They do not see art, music, and physical education as electives or specials, but instead see them as important as other content such as language arts, math, history, science, geography, foreign language, and so on. Every content has a number of hours it will be taught per week, but it is up to the teacher how that will happen. Many of the teachers have been teaching content as an interdisciplinary approach (i.e., science and math together) for a few years now because it makes so much sense. Other teachers still teach a content at a time. The Finnish government is emphasizing the need to teach more from an interdisciplinary perspective, although in order for this to happen, the university educators need to train teachers from an interdisciplinary approach as well. This concept will take time to change since we have taught in silos for so long.

The U.S. seems to be moving in the same direction as Finland when discussing interdisciplinary approaches. We are changing at the university level when doing projects and teaching classes, but it's changing slowly. This change may take more time to impact the K-12 setting to be more interdisciplinary. I do think it's the right way to go.

So, how is the Liink Project moving in a purposeful direction? We will observe the four recesses embedded in the school day and the character/ethics curriculum embedded three times weekly in four elementary schools this Fall. I visited with Dr. Liisa Hakala from the University of Helsinki today about these two changes taking place in Texas schools. She is the professor I worked with when I was here in 2012. She is very excited to see the results. We hope to see children thriving in the school setting with less anxiety, more confidence, better self-esteem, and better attentional focus as a result of this intervention. Ultimately, students will be able to achieve academically because of better brain function. Only a short time is needed to tell whether the intervention is working or not. Stay tuned.

Have a good summer and play often!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Liink Project: Public schools to launch multiple recesses daily in DFW area

A lot has happened this year. We were able to identify a couple of major Foundations (eg. the Miles Foundation in Fort Worth) to fund the Liink project pilot intervention this spring and on into fall of 2015. We are continuing to seek federal funding, but until we do, it is so helpful to have Foundation support.

Part of the process to move the Liink Project into the schools is to allow school districts to see results and see how the project has faired so far in other schools. So last fall, we had administrators from the two interested public school districts in the Fort Worth area come and observe the Trinity Valley School in action (one of our initial pilot schools). They were so impressed. They noticed things like: children who were relaxed and happy, responsible walking in the halls to and from recess and other classes, short transitions, and attentive children in the classroom. The administrative representation from each school district was different but both teams were comprised of individuals who could make decisions to do or not do the project. Both school districts, by the end of the Fall, decided they wanted to do the project. That was great news! Just because they wanted to do the project didn't mean it was a done deal. At that point, I had to construct an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding)which is a contract between the two parties (school district and TCU) to protect both parties on each of their expected responsibilities. Both districts needed to take this project before their school boards in the spring. Both school boards approved the MOU between their district and the TCU Liink Project for three years with evaluations at the end of each year to make sure everything was going well.

So, who are the two school districts launching this Fall, 2015 with four recesses daily and three character development lessons weekly? Irving ISD and Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD! We are so excited to have them join the Liink Project with grades K and 1. Irving ISD has three schools involved in the project: Brown, Gilbert, & Townsell Elementaries. Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD has identified Eagle Mountain Elementary as their Liink school. We now have completed three full day trainings with the administrators, teachers, intervention specialists, counselors, and physical education teachers from these four schools. The trainings were very successful and created a real excitement to begin the new schedules in the fall. So as of the first day of school in August for these four schools, all grade K and 1 students will be going to recess for 15 minutes two times in the morning and two times in the afternoon. When looking at each of the schedules, the time between recesses in a classroom is never greater than 70 minutes at a time.

Most intervention studies completed in schools take place over a 6-8 week period or maybe a semester. Many studies also try to help 3rd through 5th grade students with interventions such as this. The Liink Project is taking place in the grades K and 1 setting for the first year with a grade level added each year through 8th grade if the data continues to show positive results for the children. What's exciting about this study is that each year we will add a new cohort of schools who are interested in seeing if the Liink Project will help their children be more productive in the classroom and in life. By the end of this next year, the Liink Project will have completed a full year in grades K & 1 in four public schools and grades K-3 in the two private schools. All in all, we will see the impact of this project on 1,280 students and 64 teachers across 6 schools in Liink's 2nd year in the schools. In order to identify whether the effects of the findings are due to the intervention or something else, we will also have four matching control schools for each of the four intervention public schools. We already added control schools this year for the two private schools in Fort Worth. So we will be observing and collecting data this next year in 6 intervention schools and 6 control schools. We're writing up the results now and will be submitting a manuscript in the next month for review. Once the data is published, we will send the link to the data. Just know, that what we are finding right now is off the chart!!! We are so excited with the positive changes that are happening in the children.

It's time to change the environment for learning. The Liink Project is showing to be an awesome platform to create a successful learning environment for teachers to teach and children to learn. If you want to follow us on facebook, please go to  and connect with us.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Liink Project: The first year as a pilot study

We have changed our name to the Liink Project. This stands for Let's inspire innovation 'N kids. For everyone who has been following this project, you know that it wasn't an easy decision to change the name, but it has shown to be a great change in the long run.

We have been very busy since beginning this project as ISIS and now Liink. In Fall, 2013, three of the Deans and the Provost from TCU showed substantial support by giving $125,000 to launch the project. I had talked with several school districts and two private schools back when Dr. Pasi Sahlberg was here in the spring of 2013. By the summer, two superintendents had either been released from the district or walked away. The three school districts that I thought would be involved were no longer going to begin with us that Fall, 2013. So I talked with the Dean's involved in supporting the project and let them know that I could begin with a much smaller cohort and learn more about how to make this work once we went to the public schools, and be ready with some data and hopefully high quality findings by the time we launched in a public school district. They agreed that would be a really good idea. So, two private schools began training in the Fall of 2013 as pilot schools focused on grades K & 1 to implement 3-4 unstructured, outdoor recesses daily and three character development lessons weekly at 15-20 minutes per lesson. Each year, we will add one more year to the project. During the Fall, 2013 semester, we trained the teachers on different aspects of the intervention and collected baseline data on the grades K & 1 children.

In the spring, 2014, we implemented the multiple recesses in the two private schools and the character development curriculum called Positive Action. The teacher adherence to take the students to the multiple recesses daily was very high. The enthusiasm for the character development curriculum was very good from parents, administrators, teachers, and students. The behaviors improved significantly as a result of the intervention as well.

As of this spring, we now have two DFW area public school districts on board to try the Liink Project. We are hosting three full day trainings this spring just like we did with the private schools and then will launch the intervention in the Fall, 2015. We are also collecting baseline data on the children in the schools to make sure that the intervention schools do match the control schools demographically. So when we begin with the public schools in the fall, we will have the original two private schools, two control schools to match them, four public intervention schools, and the four control schools to match each of those intervention schools. All in all, we will be collecting data on over 2000 children across 12 schools in combinations of grade levels: some will be grades K-1 and others will be at grades K-3. We'll keep you posted on how things are going with results. So far, everything is going really well.