Greater Greater Washington

Politics


DC mayoral candidates' debate tonight at AU

Tonight at 7 pm, NBC4's Tom Sherwood will moderate the DC mayoral candidates' debate at American University. WAMU's Patrick Madden and Kavitha Cardoza, and the Post's Clinton Yates will join him as panelists.

The debate will be livestreamed tonight; come back to this post to watch the livestream.

Sherwood reached out to Greater Greater Washington for questions. We suggested asking candidates about their position on the MoveDC plan. Who are you supporting, and what do you want to know from the candidates? Tell us in the comments, and tweet it with the hashtag #AUDebate.

Education


No more teaching to the test: Some DC teachers adopt a technique that gets students to think deeply

Has education become too focused on test scores? Do we need an approach aimed at getting students to think analytically rather than memorize facts? A growing number of educators from a variety of DC schools think so, and they're changing the way they teach.


Photo of DCPS students commenting on each other's work from Amanda Siepiola.

For the past two years, a group of DC teachers has been meeting regularly to learn about something called Project Zero, an educational approach research center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The group has grown rapidly, and now includes over 500 teachers from independent, parochial, charter, and traditional public schools.

This summer, over 100 175 DC-area teachers gathered for a Project Zero institute sponsored by the independent Washington International School, which uses the Project Zero approaches school-wide. The teachers learned how to use classroom techniques called thinking routines: sets of questions teachers can pose to get students to think deeply about an image or a text.

The objective of the Project Zero routines is to "make thinking visible." One basic routine, called See-Think-Wonder, has students looking together at an image of a text or work of art. First they spend several minutes simply discussing what they observe. Then the teacher asks what they think is going on in the image.

After that, students talk about what the image makes them wonder about, based on their observations and interpretations. Along the way or at the end, the teacher or students "document" the discussion, writing down ideas. Teachers say routines like this get students to slow down, pay attention to details, and engage in analysis.

Critiques of test-focused teaching

Although Project Zero has been around since the 1960s, its approach fits in with recent critiques of test-based instruction for focusing too much on basic skills and not enough on analytical thinking. Even Arne Duncan, who many see as the architect of a test-focused approach, recently called for de-emphasizing test results. Locally, the Fairfax County school system is formulating a plan that its superintendent says "will lessen the focus on standardized, high-stakes testing."

A new best-selling book, Building a Better Teacher, argues that treating students as passive receptacles for knowledge only gets you so far: for true learning to take place, it argues, students have to take a more active role.

The Common Core standards, adopted by DC and 45 states, also aim to get students thinking analytically, and their emphasis on "close reading" of a text resembles the Project Zero approach.

Some of the thinking routines, like See-Think-Wonder, seem particularly well suited to studying works of art. In fact, the National Gallery of Art has used the routines in many of its education programs for over 10 years, according to Lynn Russell, head of its division of education. But teachers say the techniques can be applied to almost any subject.

Tondra Odom-Owens, a teacher at Savoy Elementary, a DC Public School with a low-income student body, says that when her students "wonder" about a work of art, they ask questions that go beyond the surface: "I wonder why he used that color, I wonder what if this was a portrait of a man." It hasn't been difficult for them to translate those strategies into thinking deeply and analytically about texts, she says.

And Karen Lee, who teaches government at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School, recently used a thinking routine to get her high school students to make connections between the Langston Hughes poem "I Too" and the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The routine, she says, "provided a framework for deep thinking."

Effects on comprehension and test scores

I saw some thinking routines in action recently at Sacred Heart, a bilingual Catholic school in Mt. Pleasant that has a largely low-income, Hispanic student body, and where most teachers have had Project Zero training. The 7th- and 8th-grade classes I observed included sophisticated and thoughtful discussions of concepts like empathy and ambiguity.

"I think kids' comprehension has sky-rocketed," said the Sacred Heart teacher I observed, Kristen Kullberg. "They begin to understand that ambiguity and unanswered questions don't need to be sources of frustration. The reality is a lot of things are ambiguous."

While teachers say it's too soon to know whether the approach has an effect on test scores, Kullberg says her students have developed a "culture of perseverance" that could help on tests. And Odom-Owens said she feels thinking routines will help her students understand test questions and come up with strategies to answer them. Lee says the routines also help her figure out what her students haven't understood, so she knows where to focus.

All the teachers I spoke with say the thinking routines level the playing field, bringing lower-performing students into the discussion. Because there are no wrong answers, kids are more willing to take risks. And the lower-performing students sometimes have the most perceptive observations, winning the respect of their peers.

The Project Zero approach could help move teaching beyond the rote drilling that too often characterizes education today. But there are some caveats:

It takes training. The teachers I spoke with all said the approach fit in with their natural teaching styles. While most said they thought any teacher could use the thinking routines, it's not just a matter of following a script. Teachers not only have to ask the right questions, they also need to be responsive to students' answers. It helps to observe teachers who are experienced in the approach.

Schools need to be flexible about teaching methods: The routines can be adapted to work with any curriculum, but classrooms can get noisy as students move around or call out their thoughts. Odom-Owens said some DCPS teachers, especially new ones, might shy away from the approach for fear of getting a low score on the system's teacher evaluation system.

It won't provide everything lower-performing students need: Students deficient in vocabulary and background knowledge, as many low-income students are, will need more direct instruction to construct coherent sentences and organize their thoughts logically in writing.

But in the hands of a skilled teacher, the Project Zero thinking routines can play an important role in engaging students in learning, spurring analytical thinking, and giving them the motivation to put their insights into persuasive written form.

Public Spaces


Here's where you can check out a parklet during tomorrow's Park(ing) Day

DDOT has released a list of locations where you can find a temporary parklet for tomorrow's Park(ing) Day.

Park(ing) Day started out in San Francisco as an unapproved, guerrilla performance art project turning a parking space into a temporary park to show how much public value cities could get from the land devoted to storing even one car.

After trying to impose ridiculous requirements the first time someone tried it in DC, DDOT more recently started explicitly condoning and encouraging the idea by writing simpler guidelines and giving out permits.

BIDs in Georgetown, the Golden Triangle, and NoMa are organizing their own, as are agencies like DC Water, DPR, and OSSE, and businesses including Urbanful, Baked & Wired, Zipcar, and BicycleSPACE. There's also going to be one at the Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW) run by councilmembers Tommy Wells and David Gross which got left off the map.

Parklets will be open from 9 am to 3 pm (or for a subset of that time, if the organizers don't want to run it all daymidday is often the best time to head over).

Park(ing) Day festivities won't be confined to the District. Arlington is participating too, with at least one large location in Court House. There could be others throughout the region, too.

If you stop by a parklet, snap a photo and put it in the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool or send it to us at info@ggwash.org. We'll feature images from parklets around the city in a roundup next week.

Fun


"We built this city on: hot hipsters." Cards Against Urbanity wants to make you laugh

Nothing adds to any nerdy party better than the card games "Apples to Apples" or "Cards Against Humanity", but now thanks to a bunch of DC urbanists we may soon have "Cards Against Urbanity" with cards focused on all sorts of aspects of planning and urban living.


Image from the Kickstarter page.

The founders officially launched their Kickstarter drive with an event Tuesday night in Arlington. In order to make this game a reality, the group needs to raise $7,500. As of last night, they were already 43% of the way to the goal with $3,207 raised.

If you've never played Cards Against Humanity, you're missing out. It's a hilarious party game. The way it works is that each player takes turns playing the judge. He or she draws a black card with a question or phrase with blanks. The remaining players then select white "noun" cards from their decks and play the one they think fits best. Whichever card the judge picks determines who won that round.

Cards Against Humanity took its gameplay from the tamer party game Apples To Apples; Cards Against Urbanity is a spinoff and will focus on city life and planning.

You can see some of the examples of the cards on the kickstarter page. I can't wait to see what my friends throw down for "My city's economic plan includes _____________." Perhaps "a pink fixie," "dangerous minorities," "citizens for urban chicken keeping," or "Starbucks proliferation." Whatever the combo is, I'm sure it will make me laugh out loud.

At the launch event one card combo was, "We built this city. We built this city on ________" combined with "Housewife crying at public meeting."

Some of the answer cards that have been produced included "hot hipsters," "nude roof deck," and "rezoning s****storm." But the launch event was interactive. The organizers wanted suggestions from the attendees. If you have a suggestion for a card (either question or answer), make sure to leave it in the comments.

Although the game's language may be too salty for a civic gathering, it could definitely get more people to talk about local issues in a fun and silly way. And if you're already involved in planning, cities, or civic engagement, it can be a great way to poke a little fun at things you may encounter all the time; whether an overactive neighborhood listserv or draconian HOA rules.


The launch party. Photo by Lisa Nisenson.

Dying to get your hands on a set? Even if the kickstarter doesn't meet its production goals, the very first prototype set will be raffled off to an attendee at the Coalition for Smarter Growth's Smart Growth Social fundraiser on October 15so purchase a ticket to be one step closer to having your very own set.

Links


Breakfast links: Bowser ahead early


Photo by crystalndavis on Flickr.
Bowser ahead in early poll: With 43% of the vote in a new poll, Muriel Bowser is clearly ahead of David Catania at 26% and Carol Schwartz at 16%. (Post)

Area economy not faring well: The Washington metro area was the only one of the top 15 by employment to see a decline in gross regional product between 2012 and 2013. (City Paper)

Olympics march builds up: Local sports business leaders are increasing their efforts to encourage the US Olympic Committee to choose Washington as the US host candidate for the 2024 games. The other finalists are Boston, LA, and San Francisco. (Post)

Metro to the playoffs: The Nationals still haven't agreed to pay to keep Metro open late for playoff games, but Tommy Wells says elected officials will make sure of it even if they have to twist arms with the owners, the Lerner family, personally. (WTOP)

Art needed for Purple Line: Maryland is looking for artists to design projects for the Purple Line. The winning applicants will be paid a stipend to design work for the 16 stations. (Post)

Arlington streetcar moves forward: Arlington County staff are recommending that the same company that planned and helped build the H Street streetcar line also do the early design work on the Columbia Pike streetcar. (ArlNow)

Redevelopment starts in Glenmont: Plans have called for transit-oriented development in Glenmont since 1998, but none had happened until his week. A 1960s-era apartment complex is being replaced with denser development. (TPSS Voice)

Non-retail retail?: There isn't enough foot traffic on Rhode Island Ave. for most retail businesses, but people want walk-in retail. The solution? Businesses which serve both walk-ins but also a wholesale or manufacturing part of the business. (City Paper)

Where the US is like Scotland: Scotland will vote today on whether to become independent as part of a general trend toward more local control in the UK. The US could use more local control devolved to metro areas and cities, too. (Brookings)

And...: Hyattsville Library's flying saucer will survive planned renovations after all. (Gazette) ... The Mayor of Chevy Chase wrote a vitriolic letter to the editor denouncing the Purple Line. ... The Urban Institue has released a new mapping tool that shows the racial impact of the housing boom and bust.

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Transit


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 23

On Monday, we posted our twenty-third photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

We got 25 guesses this week. Twelvealmost halfof you got all five correct. Great work, Aaron, Mike B, Peter K, iaom, Andy L, MZEBE, Alex B, Eyendis, King Terrapin, Sand Box John, Rob K, and Matt and Sarah!


Image 1: Fort Totten

The first image shows the north end of the Red Line platform at Fort Totten. The primary clue here are the radio towers visible in the distance. The other clue is the single freight rail track on the left side of the fence, narrowing it down to the Red Line shared corridor between Brookland and Silver Spring. Fifteen of you got this one right.


Image 2: NoMa

The second image was taken from the platform at NoMa station. The primary clues here are the canopy ("Gull II"), which is present at only three stations, and the electrified Amtrak corridor just north of Union Station. This could only be NoMa, and 24 of you (all but one) got it right. Great job!


Image 3: Largo

The third image also has the "Gull II" canopy like at NoMa. But this is Largo Town Center. The main clue here is the parking garage at left. NoMa doesn't have any parking and Morgan Boulevard (which also has this canopy type) is below grade, so it has concrete walls on either side. Eighteen of you knew this one.


Image 4: Silver Spring

The fourth image shows Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring through the windows of an arriving train. From the image, you can tell that this is an elevated station over a major arterial, and you may have been able to recognize some of the high-rises visible above the train. As with image two, 24 of you (all but one) also got this one correct. Excellent work!


Image 5: West Falls Church

The final image shows the westbound track at West Falls Church. Only West Falls Church has this diagonal glass canopy over the trackway like this. An additional clue is visible at center left: the distinctive canopy at the north bus loop. Twenty of you got this one right.

Next Monday we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

Public Spaces


Great park, no tables... so bring your own

There are great food trucks around DC's downtown squares, but to eat in the squares you have to sit on the grass or on a bench, which makes socializing difficult. Jacob Mason saw some people at Farragut Square who have an innovative solution: they brought their own table.


Photo by Jacob Mason.

Mason, who tweets for the new pedestrian advocacy group All Walks DC, said that this group works in a nearby building. One of them decided to buy it after he ruined three pairs of pants from sitting on wet grass. The group collectively carries the table to the park to eat lunch.

Parks that host a lot of office lunch workers in other cities, like Bryant Park in Midtown New York, have more tables and moveable chairs. Even across the Potomac River in Arlington, tables and chairs are common.

But DC's downtown squares, which the National Park Service manages, don't have them. (Update: The Golden Triangle BID does put them in the park on Fridays.) Franklin Square could get a few under proposed redesigns (the "Edge" is the most likely design), but progress is slow.

Meanwhile, the do-it-yourself version works pretty well, if your office is organized enough. Everyone else can sit on the grass.

Transit


This German city's monorail redefines river transportation

A suspended monorail in one German city proves that transportation infrastructure doesn't have to obstruct access to parks and rivers.


Photo by the author.

The Schwebebahn is a suspended monorail that runs 8.3 miles through Wuppertal, a city laid out linearly along the River Wupper in western Germany. Though the monorail may seem futuristic, the first segment opened in 1901 and the full line was finished in 1903.

The western end of the line, about 1.8 miles, is suspended over a few of the main commercial streets in the Vohwinkel neighborhood of the city. The rest of the line, about 6.5 miles, runs high above the Wupper to the center and eastern end of the city.

Some cities are tempted to deck over their rivers since these waterways provide one of the few linear paths unobstructed by private property through existing cities. Covering a river to build a highway or a railroad may eliminate the difficulty of razing neighborhoods, but doing so eliminates public access to the river.

Twenty years ago, Providence removed the world's widest bridge to daylight a river and create Waterplace Park, one of the city's main attractions. A decade ago, Seoul removed an elevated freeway above the Cheonggyecheon and created a popular riverside park.

Since Wuppertal's Schwebebahn is already suspended from a relatively thin monorail superstructure, it is one of the few transportation systems that runs over a river without limiting access to and enjoyment of the natural resource. In fact, a riverside park near the eastern terminal is popular spot for families to play in the river as Schwebebahn trains pass overhead.


Families play in the river as the train passes overhead. Photo by the author.

Government


Two maps that explain what DC might look like as a state

On Monday, Congress considered DC statehood. But what would DC actually look like if it became a state?


Maps by Geoffrey Hatchard for Neighbors United for Statehood.

The most likely path to statehood for the District would shrink the federal city to a tiny section surrounding the National Mall and other federal properties. That section would remain not part of any state. The rest of the city would then become the 51st state, possibly called New Columbia.

Here's a zoom-in to what would become the remaining federal city.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Links


Breakfast links: Metro delays


Photo by Kurt Raschke on Flickr.
Silver Spring money hole: The Silver Spring Transit Center needs more money for ongoing repair work, though it's not clear how much. Montgomery County plans to sue the contractors to recover the funds, and believes repair work will be complete by the end of 2014. (Post)

New Metro cars delayed: Metro's new 7000-series cars won't be ready until early 2015, because the test track is not yet complete. Metro had planned to deploy the cars in the system by the end of this year. (WNYC)

When the levee's built: The flood levee on the National Mall is almost ready for testing. The project is meant to keep flood water out of the Mall and downtown, and has seen a delay of 3 years. (Post)

Steetcars soon: Simulated streetcar service, where streetcars will run routes without passengers, will begin September 29 on H Street. DDOT hopes to open the line to passengers in early November. (WAMU)

Goodbye corner office: Workplaces in DC are focusing on wellness, allowing more natural light into buildings and encouraging employees to collaborate informally. Individual workspaces are also getting smaller. (WBJ)

DC residents come from, go to MD: Between 2010 and 2011, the largest number of new DC residents came from Maryland, with Virginia a distant second. But even more people left DC for Maryland. (WBJ)

Slow down: Most DC moving violations are issued for speeding 11-15 miles-per-hour over the limit, with red light running and speeding 16-20 mph over the limit a distant second and third. (Post)

Smart meter opt out: A Chevy Chase woman refused to let Pepco install a new smart meter in her home, and says she won't pay the utility's opt-out fees. Smart meters automatically track electricity usage and can save customers money. (Gazette)

And...: The House Amtrak bill isn't all bad. (Streetsblog) ... Mourners for the Corcoran Gallery of Art will hold a memorial service. (WBJ) ... Robert Caro's The Power Broker, the seminal work on Robert Moses, turns 40. (The Daily Beast)

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