Philosophy Without A Home

Educator on education

August 27, 2015
by dendari

Being a Teacher – That first Monday

I know many people who read this blog are already in education, but for those who aren’t let me give you my first Monday


I woke at 5 so I could do a bit of exercise and breakfast before school. I got to school a bit  past 7 and went to make copies for the day. I did try to make them on Friday, but I couldn’t.


The copy room was like a rugby scrum as teachers jockied for paper and position, then the secretary came in a jumped the line. I gave up and walked away. I only needed a couple of copies for small group instruction.


Later I learned that they put paper in at 7;30 AM so a lot of teachers make copies then before the daily ration of paper is gone. I have a box of paper, I just didn’t expect to have to use it this early in the year.


At 8 the students enter the building for breakfast.  When they are finished they head to their grade level hall and wait until announcements at 8:30. Official duty starts at 8:10. I sometimes feel a bit like a prison guard as the students are asked to sit 2 X 2 in the halls. Girls on one side boys on the other. Students read talk or play video games, teachers talk and keep order. I try to practice rewarding positive behavior by giving away Eagle bucks.


My first class starts right after announcements and I’m teaching from 8:30 to 12ish, back to back to back to back. It’s a tough stretch and that first day my calfs were so sore I could barely sleep. I’ve almost got the hang of it, but this is my major weakness as a teacher. My plan for the day has to be ready, I can’t really make mid-course corrections, or a few extra copies or anything like that (no bathroom breaks). Luckily for me we have a schedule that requires common meetings and plannings.


After that marathon teaching session. I have lunch, plan (I made copies for tomorrow and I didn’t have to use my own paper), and PLC (Professional Learning Community) time. PLC is team time, but the change in name requires actual PLC rules, plus we are a SIG (School Improvement Grant) school, meaning we have to keep records of the everything. Then I teach one final class before the end of the day.


My daily team consists of a first year teacher who spent last year substituting, a SPED resource and an ELL resource. They are great people who are willing and happy to dive in and do what it takes to teach. They help me with my planning difficulties. Each day has a slightly different topic as not all team members can make every meeting and Mondays are spent with Science to help us connect our lessons. I just wish we had common planning time as well, an hour is just not enough time to work together. We at least have time in math to divvy up the lesson planning responsibilities for the week. The common lessons are helpful for me and the students. I feel a bit bad because I haven’t been able to stay late and half the team is at school until 7PM very night.


The Science team is a good match. They are a bunch of overly organized, newish, teachers. Most of the 7th grade is new to the building and most of the teachers are in their first few years of teaching. The first meeting was mostly getting to know each other and the students, but we did look at last year’s MAP scores and get a few thing out of the way. Near the end of the meeting the Math coach visited, she had this 1,000 yard stare as if she was just overworked already and we haven’t even had students for a week yet.


It has been a bit frustrating the first week because we are trying to figure out the thought process behind the curriculum they built last year and no one has been there to help, but after seeing the look of exhaustion on the math coach’s face at 1:00 on a Monday I knew our she has been too busy to work with us yet.


As a math department we are kind of figuring it out and finding more flexibility than we first thought. We can really make this curriculum our own, but getting through the first week is more about survival than planning for the future.


After my respite with adults I teach one last class and the students leave at 3:30. We kind of push them out of the halls and wander outside to make sure everyone leaves in an orderly fashion. New duty schedules were posted on Wednesday.


I’ve been trying to keep on the students during the day to clean up after themselves and the last class has the responsibility of putting chairs on desks. I spend the first 10 minutes after the students leave cleaning my room and writing the objective on the board for tomorrow. Today I graded the AIM test for the EPIC class (Response To Intervention, a state mandated program to give student extra help in their areas of need, but I would prefer a more low key homeroom type program). I packed away the exit slips to grade at home and started to leave, but found my partners at the copy machine trying to get ahead of the game. I gave them my ream of paper. (I expected paper shortages, but not this early in the year).


At home I corrected the exit slips, still not happy with progress, and reviewed the lesson plans for the week. Now I’m writing this. Next I’ll review my classroom student information system to see what medical, psychological, and educational notes there may be on my students.


I’ve been in education for 15 years. When I first started there was none of this required collaboration stuff. We had a tight group in my first building, but for planning and paperwork, I was basically on my own. Over the years I’ve been to a lot of team meetings and for the most part they ignore planning and concentrate on students. In defense most of the meetings tended to be grade level meetings not subject meetings. The problem is when the focus is on students and not teaching the discussion revolves around student behavior and nothing productive gets done.


This sounds odd writing it, but I prefer the focus to stay off of students and stick to classroom teaching. The funny part is for a lot of the last few weeks I have heard the word compliance and flinched almost every time. I don’t want to teach students to be compliant, I want to teach them to learn. In actual practice, though there is a lot of focus on compliant behavior, mornings in the halls and a heavy focus on classroom procedures.


This is one of the weaknesses of the reform movement. The students and teachers are all expected to be compliant. We have a ton of paperwork and required things to be done. Like creating common assessments (9 per quarter), common assessment data discussions, etc… It’s all good stuff that good teachers do, but somehow it doesn’t feel exactly natural. Like we are expected to go through the motions of being a teach in hopes that someday that will be true.


I don’t have a problem with data collection and using it to steer classroom instruction, but right now this isn’t feeling as authentic as it could. On the other hand I also feel like I might be learning a thing or two about formative assessment that I might not have wanted to know. We’ll see. This data collection and use is something I’ll be looking  at during the year, if I can find time to reflect on it.

August 20, 2015
by dendari

The First Day

It seemed like forever, but the day finally arrived. the first day of school. Traffic was crazy around the school as fresh-faced teenagers started showing up.


No uniforms this year, well the teachers all wore the same school t-shirt, but for tomorrow no uniforms for anyone, just a fairly loose dress code. (teachers are more restricted than students).


Not a lot of math on the first day either, mostly rules,, but I did manage to sneak a mention of Fibonacci. I think I’ll show this tree on Thursday.


On the first day Students learned to write on desks with dry erase markers. I promised to talk less. We took tours of the building.


Tomorrow we talk a bit about numbers. The task tomorrow will be to draw a Venn Diagram of all the groups of numbers then know. (Natural Numbers, Whole Numbers, Integers, Rational Numbers, Irrational Numbers, Real Numbers).


Feel free to add a snapshot of your diagram in the comments.



August 14, 2015
by dendari

Weeks One and Two ‘No Math for You’

Week one and two at my new job, though technically I still don’t start until Monday.


The district I’m working for is one of the lowest performing districts in the state. It has been for quite some time. My first job as a teacher was at this district fifteen years ago and the reputation was bad then. Four or five years ago the state removed the elected school board and since then basically it has been run by a charter school company. Though it isn’t a charter district and the local union is still strong.


I can’t really comment on the changes that have been made because I don’t really know, but I can tell most of the administrators at the schools and the district office have changed. Whether they were fired or left on their own I have no idea.


It has been very nice starting two weeks before the students at my new school. We are in the second year of a School Improvement Grant (SIG). This means our school will be leading a lot of programs, but we will also be expected to collect a lot of data.


The first week was just for teachers new to the district. Three half days helping us get comfortable with the district and some of the procedures. Of course it still wasn’t enough and there were a boatload of suggestion at the end of the third day, but the concept is great and the practice was useful, even for an old goal like myself.


Over the weekend the principal invited all staff, old and new to her house for an informal get together. I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet everyone in such a relaxed atmosphere.


This second week was 2 1/2 days of work in our schools. A full day on NWEA reports. Half day of getting to know each other, co-teaching and PLC planning, building substitute folders, and a few other things including an excellent ELL role play. A teacher taught a lesson in German to blank stares and then taught it again with some ELL support. It was probably the biggest eye opener of the week for most of us.


So far, two weeks in, I still haven’t seen the math curriculum or taught a lesson,  but I’m feeling fairly comfortable with my co-workers. I’ve also been trying to decorate my room, but I’m not very good at that. My walls are still mostly blank.


I want to put some inspirational quotes on the walls, but just a few. I would rather the students choose some of those and put them on the walls. I also don’t want to put math posters on the wall, because I would rather my students made those posters and hung them. So for now My walls are blank. It kind of felt wrong at first so I asked on twitter. the response was basically the same.


What I wouldn’t do for some whiteboard paint everywhere in the room.

August 11, 2015
by dendari

This is the End – On to New Beginnings

A couple of years back I was in a large district with a mentor who was very high up the food chain. If I had been patient I would have earned a vice-principal or director job soon enough. But of course I am me and I’m kind of an idiot. I went on a lark of an interview and was lured away.

In my defense I was frustrated because the job I was doing was being ignored by just about everyone except my mentor. Then in my interview I felt I was going to work with two kindred souls. People who had very similar educational philosophies. I really thought I was going from a place where I was undervalued to a place where I could make a difference.

I’d really like to spend about 1000 words defending myself, but in the end it doesn’t matter. I made a mistake taking the job and three years later the school district decided to move in a new direction. The hardest part was that last month when all the teachers were gone and the tech crew basically took away all of my access (they were afraid I would sabotage something before I left).

Next week I start a new job as 7th grade math teacher.I’ll be back at the school district I started in 15 years ago. I am excited and nervous. It has been a while since I have been in the classroom full-time. I’ve also never felt I was the best teacher. I know how to teach, I’m book smart that way, but in actual practice I’ve never been satisfied.

My goal this year is a lofty one. I don’t just want to be a good teacher, or even a great teacher. My goal this year is to be teacher of the year. I’ll need your help to do it. If anyone still reads this blog. I’ll need you to encourage me to reflect on a regular basis, I’ll need you to comment and push me to do better. I’ll need you to celebrate my successes and yes, even hand out constructive criticism. And for that I thank you in advance.

June 3, 2015
by dendari

My Last Week in Tech – Technology Innovation

This is one of my favorite teachers, and this boat school is an innovative solution to a seasonal problem. One might wonder why we don’t have these innovative schools in America. Probably the same reason we don’t go out back and teach in the dirt with sticks. we just don’t have to. Schools are designed to maximize  the teaching we do. Could there be a better design, possibly, but not for the teaching we do currently.


Technology is thought of as a disrupter in education because it comes into the design we already have and makes it possible to change. Many people see this change as computers teaching students. it isn’t.


For about 100 years there has been a belief among behaviorists that if we could build a smart enough machine, that it could take the place of a teacher. Many believe and have believed that computers will fill that role.


Tools like Plato have been around for about 40 years and they haven’t disrupted schools. Actually, it has been assimilated. Massive online courses were going to disrupt education. The year of the MOOC was 2012. It was the ultimate school choice. It hasn’t disrupted higher education. Instead is seems to be morphing into a college prep for connected students, at least in America. It has been assimilated and is coming to high school.


The reason these tools have not disrupted education is because they don’t actually make any changes in education. When we look at technology in education if we are looking at completely upending our entire system we are looking for too much. The change, the disruption, is more subtle.


The real disruption with technology in education is the ability to transform traditional education. The R in SAMR. The “goal directed transformation” in the Arizona Technology Integration Matrix. Some would go so far as to say it is a transfer of power from teacher to student. I would say it is taking the responsibility of learning off of the shoulders of the teacher and putting it squarely onto the shoulders of the students.

edit –  I realize the title might be a bit misleading as this post was written to be a follow up to a notification to the teachers I work with that my position has been eliminated. Thus my last week in tech with them

May 22, 2015
by dendari

My Week in Technology Integration – Success Story

Good Advice


“Learn a new skill, take a break.” Advice from the longest-serving teacher in her building. “Kids need a bit of down time to process the skill they just learned, don’t force them to practice over and over until they hate it.”


The Freshman English class is almost finished with Romeo and Juliet. From my 30 minutes in the class it seems the students have done:

  • Active reading
  • Guided questions,
  • Discussions (online and offline)
  • A movie,

Can we cover this play from any different angle? Maybe they need a Google survey?   Seriously, they were better at decoding Shakespeare than me.


I created a list of tech tools to use in the classroom, I know it seems long, but it is barely a fraction of the stuff created for teachers. Please, take a look.

Success story


Almost three years ago when I started this job. One of my first mistakes was telling a teacher she was using technology wrong. The next day her principal called and gave me an earful.


Luckily for me, she asked for some help putting spelling words on the web. We talked about options and ended up meeting every week after school talking technology and education.


Each week she had a list of questions and we usually never got past the third question, getting sidetracked not by the technology, but by how it integrates with teaching. She is now the proud owner of a grade level website designed to enhance learning. More importantly she is more comfortable trying new things in her classroom.


This week she introduced a tech tool to her building staff. She didn’t teach the tool, she taught a lesson using the tool.

Picture of computer, laminated card, and worksheet

I love the combination of tools to meet all needs


Way back when, she was asking the computer to teach, afraid to interact too much with a tool she didn’t understand. Today she teaches using technology. Is she a computer expert and able to fix your computer? No, she is a teacher who uses technology as a tool.


I seem to have a bit of dust in my eye now. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.

May 8, 2015
by dendari

My Week in Tech Integration – Discussion

Classroom Action

The school year is coming quickly to an end. I’m trying to get some summer thoughts moving. One of the things I want to do is get an idea of how comfortable teachers are with the actual tech skills you need as a classroom teacher. I’ll probably send out a survey soon, I’m waiting for the boss to approve it.

The other thing I need to do is get an idea of what sort of PD you might want to come to over the summer and when best to present them. Please let me know in the comments or via email, but I also have this on my survey.

I was watching some students take a practice test earlier this week. They were using technology (phones mostly because they were juniors and seniors and didn’t have Chromebooks).  What if we combined Padlet (Middle school teachers had a lot of fun learning and playing with this tool, 6th grade, 7th grade, Exploratory) with a phone or screen capture tools on a computer, to solve the practice problems and post them to a Padlet for discussion.

The discussion should not be about who is right, but how elegant is the solution? Why would you choose one method of solving the problem over an other? Etc….

A lot of the stuff I saw on the internet this week had this theme of a debate or discussion.

For an example, using math debate in classroom

I remember a blog post years ago about using bell ringers to create a debate. The teacher would collect bell ringers on index cards and grab one that was wrong (not telling who it was of course) and put it on the overhead and discuss why or what thinking could have led to the wrong answer and how to correct it.


Today without an overhead I might ask students to put the answer on a Padlet or document camera anonymously and then pick one to discuss.

I’m seeing more and more centers, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention before. The devices are one of the centers.

See this one girl. She is concentrating intensely.  This activity is writing practice so no you can’t substitute with technology.


These other kids, not so much.


This is a good lesson, that is why I choose to feature it. It is great to bring in leveled work for practice, but we can do intense creation on the computer as well. Yes there is a tech hurdle. We can work through it, we should work through it. If we never ask our students to do intense creative work on the computer we are short-changing our students and ourselves as teachers.

From the Web

We think we know how we learn, but there is a lot of undiscovered territory out there.

One thing we do is attempt to find patterns so we can do things automatically, without thinking. Like riding a bike.

What if you changed what it means to ride a bike?

As I was watching this a 3rd grader says, “I saw you watching Smarter Everyday. …  I’m subscribed” Be warned you’ll have to be smart if she’s in your classroom next year.

It turns out that there is an #etcoaches chat. I’ll have to try to participate next month. here is the storify from last week.

I really wanted to point out a few highlights.

  1. Most coaches estimate that only 5% to 15% of our teachers actually implement what we introduce.
  2. While superficially introducing a lot of apps in a short period of time is popular, no one thinks it is a good strategy. Instead we need to carve out time to let teachers play and practice using apps in actual lessons. Then we need time for the coach to follow-up, and create individual goals for each teacher.
  3. Trudacot is a great way to look at your current lesson and determine how well technology (or learning) is integrated.


Finally, Google Education on Air, two full days of speakers on education. An all-star cast including, Michelle Obama, Michael Fullan, LeVar Burton, and others.

April 25, 2015
by dendari

My Week in Tech Integration – Formative Assessment

Classroom Action

Several teachers have been using during RTI. A great way to get that math practice in while working with a small group.

All of these researched based help usually say something like students who put in 75 minutes a day have shown improvement in math. Well if you practice 75 minutes a day on math of course you are going to get better. That isn’t to say the program is not useful, just that it is not trans-formative. It is a tried and true practice with just a bit of an edge because the work adapts to the level of the student instantaneously.


There are of course many similar programs out there, depending on what you want at a teacher could determine the tool you use. However, all should have at least some way to sign in and track the students, so that we know if they are actually learning or not.


Put your favorite tool in the comments or go to this survey and put it there. Some of my favorites are:


Presentations to students – getting interactive

Wouldn’t it be nice to integrate formative assessment into your regular teaching? I know it’s easy a quick half sheet of paper and boom an exit slip. But then you have to grade everything and what if they didn’t understand the first thing you said and so were lost for the entire class period.

Some folks will create a quick Google form (like the one above, you can add videos as well) then use something like flubaroo to automatically grade it. The problem is that is still separating the discussion from the assessment.


Enter the web app Blendspace. It is a product one of the elementary teachers showed me Wednesday. It is a very simple way to add content and make quick multiple choice quizzes. Students don’t need an email to sign up so it is appropriate for the elementary crowd.


However, the questions are limited to multiple choice and sometimes you want students to be able to write or draw and answer. So here is a list of a few similar tools. Nearpod, PearDeck, Socrative, SmartBoard clickers, Classflow, and Junoed.


Of course the middle school teachers noticed the educreations app. Similar to the Show Me app and the Doceri app (more of a presentation tool). All of these are iPad apps which require an iPad and a way to get the iPad onto your projector, which can be done with Air Server.


Stuff from the web

Portfolio defense to graduate high school

From Envision academy charter schools.

Cool blog I found two great posts.


Most people will like and probably use the first one right away, but the second one is great for technology. When you start asking “How do I create curriculum with multiple ways to learn the same content?” My mind goes immediately to technology. I might share one way to learn content in class and then offer a couple of youtube videos on my web site for further help. So when students don’t quite get what I explained in class they don’t have to rewatch my same lecture a million times and hope it finally sinks in, they can watch alternative explanations and hopefully one of those sticks.


Cool kindergarten classroom

April 22, 2015
by dendari

Maine Township High School Visit

A visit to Maine Township High Schools. This was an interesting visit with myself and several staff members from Downers Grove. Maine Township has three high schools of over 2,000 students each. Each high school is startlingly different in its mix of students.

We started the morning early in the administration office. Dr. Thiele, the Assistant Superintendent of Technology and Learning, was happy to answer questions. As it turns out their students are required to pay for books. Two years ago when chromebooks really hit the market a lot of textbooks were up for renewal. The choice seems simple in hindsight, though they took their time and made sure to ask all stakeholders what they thought. Instead of buying new expensive physical textbooks they bought cheaper digital versions and chromebooks.

Those first version chromebooks were pretty fragile, but they changed plans right away and dropped the neoprene sleeves to buy durable cases for the devices. As a result their incidents of broken machines stayed low.

I was happy to spend most of my day with the technology manager from Maine West, Neil Charlet.  The structure of the department was very impressive. I won’t explain the entire technology department structure because I didn’t get into that, but the single school structure was strong. The technology manager seemed to be the bridge between technology and education.

Entrance of the Chrome Depot at Maine West

There he is way in the back


Under him were the tech support crew who managed the trouble tickets and the chrome depot (we’ll get into that later). He also worked very closely with the instructional coaches. Instructional coaches aren’t tech people, they are half time teachers and half time coaches. While it wasn’t a requirement to be a tech person, they were all 21st century teachers and were comfortable incorporating technology into their lessons. There was about one coach per 40 teachers, plus one per department who is a full time as a teacher, but worked extra as an instructional coach. Instructional coaches meet with all teachers three times formally and as often as people needed informally.

Chrome Depot 5

Mr. Charlet met with the coaches to plan out the big technology instruction during the year. These would be the monthly in depth trainings on one particular project. These trainings would last half a day and teachers would get subs to free them up for learning. Then on Tuesdays he does a tech lunch n’ learn. Teaching a tool for use in the classroom.

Chrome Depot 2

The Chrome Depot is a cool looking (Thanks Mr. Charlet for the pictures), repair center for the chromebooks. There is one staff member assigned to manage the Depot, but the students do most of the work. If someone is having trouble with their chromebook they can stop in the Depot at anytime. If the problem can’t be fixed in 5 minutes they can check out a loaner chromebook (through the library system so it is as simple as checking out a book). The student crew can then examine and fix the chromebook, this is also the same system they use if the chromebook battery is dead, you get a loaner for a few hours and the staff charges your chromebook. No questions asked, at least most of the time.

Chrome Depot 1 (1)

This process also works well if the student has a broken chromebook, but needs to save up a bit of money to do repairs. Parts are fairly cheap and they don’t charge for labor, but sometimes a student needs to check out a loaner chromebook for a short period of time until they save up enough to pay for necessary repairs. Students do not get to take loaners home so there is an incentive to get their own device repaired.

Chrome Depot 3

I also met with three teachers during the day. I asked again and again how they got their teachers so on board with the program. I guess it really boiled down to support and expectations. They did mention that the many of the biggests resistors before they started the program are now it’s biggest defenders.

According to the site D 207 has created for information about their program teachers had a strong preparation in instruction before going chromebook in their classrooms.

Teacher Readiness:


Overall I was impressed with the structure and support represented by Maine Township’s program. It seems to me the hardware and infrastructure, though complicated, is actually the easy part. The hard part it getting support to the teachers in such a manner that they don’t feel over burdened and are willing to make the necessary changes in their classrooms. Once they start doing that, it seems they become a programs biggest supporters.


April 17, 2015
by dendari

This Week in Tech – Writing and Games

Last Friday I visited a Maine Township High School. I didn’t have time to write about my week. I’ll put a reflection on what I learned there early next week. Today some classroom stuff from last week and this.


Working with letters and fluency in writing seems to be the theme. Not long drawn out essays, but the very beginning. How do our interactions with letters and numbers influence our learning.

I love how this kindergarten teacher not only organizes her ipads by letter, but she went through the trouble of making individual backgrounds for each ipad.

the letter N


Then there is this student working with numbers in three different ways – at the same time.


I’ve seen a couple of teachers teaching handwriting. Wouldn’t it be nice to bring it back on a computer? Here’s how  Might be a fun project for extension or fun way to practice handwriting.

If you name everyone’s personal font on a classroom computer they could write reports in their own handwriting.

Finally, of course there is a long essay, but wait it isn’t. These older students were making alphabet books. A letter with a sentence and a picture, researched online and written on a Word document.

 Collaborative working

Stuff from the web:

Game based learning. At first it meant answering questions in some sort of competitive electronic worksheet. We still see it a lot. It isn’t learning, it’s practice. Ask your kids how to cheat, if there is learning going on that’s what they learn.  The nice thing is it is possible to pretest students and track their scores so they are at least working on problems in their wheelhouse.

Next, we had a game reward system. Level up and stuff. Learning is more like a scavenger hunt. Fun, but can easily devolve into just another reward system. With prepackaged tasks and such it still doesn’t have much student input. On the other hand people are taking into account easier entry points and motivation. Think Angry Birds, a game with no instructions but gets harder and adds new challenges along the way. Now if we could harness that process for teaching multiplication or something that would be awesome.

Perhaps, Angry Birds led us to games that are intentionally made to feel more like games and less like academics. Problem based learning for the gamer set.  Included with these games are commercial games that were not created for the education market, but have found a niche, like minecraft. The difficulty here is connecting to formal learning.

Games built for the educational market start with a standard and try to teach. It often makes the learning boring. Consumer games start with a story, they know they have to hook a person and make them want to come back. Their problem is connecting to formal learning usually doesn’t happen, at least without help.

Just like technology in general, it isn’t about what technology you use, but how you use it. There is a place for educational games that teach to standards, or more correctly let students practice. On the other hand there is also a place for games that allow students to explore and play in less formal ways. There is no one right way to use technology or games in the classroom.

 Three great articles on games in the classroom


Speaking of projects vs practice

The work for some projects takes less time than the actual creation of the vehicle to present it. This often happens in school. Sometimes by design. The time spent working and the organization helps students understand the connections between the different parts. A visual and tactical clue of how things are connected. So why is it in the technology world we don’t expect students to create. Instead we spoon feed them information and practice. Think of technology as the Swiss Army Knife of classroom tools. You can cut, paste, copy, color, write, share, or just about anything you can do hands on. Stop trying to figure out the tech and start trying to figure out how to make something.