Still Fighting Charter Expansion

Last month I wrote about the school board meeting in North Chicago. This month was the fourth and final meeting on the topic.

The local community was there in force. In the end the local board, many of whom were appointed by the state, voted unanimously to deny the 2nd charter school.

North Chicago School

The quandary was and still is that the charter will just go to the state on appeal and the State Charter School Commission will approve the charter, over the objections of the local community.

It is true that for years the district was stuck in the doldrums. Any teacher will tell you it is easier to disrupt than to create unity. It only takes a few bad apples to break things, but takes almost the whole community to build it up. But it was more than that. The history of the district has been in freefall for many years. Read more details on that below.

What we need right now is help. Local, state, and maybe even national help. The state charter commission has a history of ignoring local decisions and allowing charter schools to force themselves into school districts.

During the board meeting many parents, children, and staff members spoke of how the charter schools will financially devastate the district. It is true, a charter is a public school using public tax dollars for the bulk of their financing.

When a charter opens it’s doors to 200 more students, these students don’t just magically appear, they come from the local schools. The tax dollars that are paid to the local schools are then sent to the charter. This sounds fine, let the money follow the students. The problem is buildings cost money, having too many schools in one place makes it difficult to run any one of the buildings.

On the other side the charter supporters often spoke of choice. If another school is opened in the community the hundreds of students on the waiting list will automatically be able to join a better school.

I contend that charter schools don’t actually give students a better choice. Having a different school does not automatically give us a better choice. Schools are more than just the building we inhabit, they are also the curriculum we deliver. Curriculum is more than just the subject, but also the style and pace of the delivery. (Dr. Martindale’s and Mr. Pollack’s presentation to the board explained succinctly how the district and charter are completely equal in terms of academics, how the district is much better in terms of satisfaction for teachers, parents, and students, and how the financial strain the the district will cause hardship)

If a community cannot support 8 big schools it may sound like a good idea to reduce the size of each building to create more choice. The reality is that small schools tend to reduce choice because each school has to offer the same basic curriculum, but the extracurricular choices are limited. There isn’t a diverse enough population to support the less popular activities like chess clubs or makerspaces.

Another premise is that a new school with new staff will be able to create a culture of learning excellence. Oh, if only that were true. Public schools and communities are inexorably connected in the United States of America. To truly tear down the school and start over would require tearing down the entire community and starting over. Schools are a reflection of the community, it is the bedrock that makes a school. We can create a private school divorced of the greater local community, but that isn’t a public school, by definition it is limited to a subset of the community.

The model of a new charter school or a turnaround school is to start over from the beginning and do it right this time. The implication being that it was done wrong the first time. Of course it wasn’t, it deteriorated over time, as I explain further down, but it isn’t wrong. To make a great school requires a great community around it and vice versa. The nice thing about that it striving for excellence in one helps push the other towards excellence.

It isn’t choice that makes for better schools. It’s responsiveness to the needs of the community. The biggest problem with the school district is that the community has lost faith. This isn’t to say that we can restore faith with a magic wand, or even if we could that things would turn around tomorrow. It means that until we do we will never actually turn around the district for the long term.

Too many people in North Chicago, and our neediest communities, gave up on education years ago. It has stopped being a gateway to the middle class, instead it has become a pipeline for prison. Dividing a community won’t fix that. We must come together and create our own pathway to the future.

 

North Chicago History

I’m not a historian, but a quick look at the history of the city tells a pretty grim story. Is it any wonder the school system was a mess.

Fifteen years ago (2000) when I first started teaching the district had already earned a poor reputation. The advice to me, as a new teacher, was to get a year or two of experience and then move to a good district. As Senator Link said when he addressed the board. North Chicago used to be one of the best districts in the county.

Maybe twenty or thirty years ago, when the Navy base was strong and pumped tons of money into the district, before the gangs and drugs (Probably around the 70’s or early 80’s after Chicago started its war on gangs. This is also the same time that many of the manufacturing jobs in the city started disappearing.) had taken a strong foothold, the district was the jewel of the north suburbs.

The ugly side of North Chicago School District 187 history.

I’m sure the reasons for the decline of North Chicago are many and varied, it did happen. And while a city declines so does it school system. We have had a good twenty to forty years of decline. As it is with many things government it takes a while for change, even negative change. If the city started it’s decline in the 70’s then the school may not have really started to decline for 5 or 10 years. By the late 1980’s though we can see solid evidence of the school district in decline.

Patricia Pickles was superintendent when I started in 2000.
The board hired Pickles as superintendent in 1997 with high hopes of changing what had become a go-it-alone culture in which principals, lacking consistent leadership from above, ran their schools as nominally independent entities. Before Pickles, the district went through nine superintendents in as many years. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2001-06-03/news/0106030293_1_district-s-school-education-meetings-round-lake

We can see as early as 1988 the city knew the district was on the wrong path.

Pickles left in the middle of the year in 2002. The school board hired an interim superintendent to finish the year. If I remember correctly the next guy lasted maybe a year or two. Not just that, though, Pickles had spent millions on upgrades to schools and the new superintendent changed direction, basically wasting most of that money. This is what happens when you have a revolving door at the top. I left soon after that. Having three building principals and 4 superintendents in 5 years was enough for me.

That was 2005, and it seems that Pickles 5 year stint as superintendent, as short as it was, may have been an island of stability in the district.

Mr Thompson, hired in March 2011, was the 14th superintendent to take the reins of the troubled school district since 1991. http://schoolsnapshots.org/blog/2012/09/06/another-superintendent-out-at-north-chicago/

Is it any surprise that the lack of leadership eventually led to corruption? Like these incidents in 2009 and 2014, and those are the two that are easy to find with a ten second google search.

Our current superintendent Ben Martindale took over when the state dissolved the locally elected school board in 2012. Normally, I’m not for state takeover of schools, and this one did have it’s problems, but on the other hand Dr Martindale seems to have been a very steady influence on the district.

The question is are things getting better?

I think North Chicago is on the rise again. Like a decline the process is slow and there are many factors that contribute to the rise. The enforced stabilization at the top of the school district has helped. It has only been four years and that isn’t very long, but there is hope.

Around 2012 Abbot, a 100 year old company in North Chicago, split into two Abbot and Abbvie. I don’t know if that was a catalyst, but they have been strong supporters of North Chicago Community Partners and the school district ever since.

In 2008 North Chicago Community Partners, NCCP was started. A non-profit specifically centered on helping the North Chicago community. I was a bit skeptical at first, but they won me over. Many school districts have PTO’s and educational foundations, NCCP goes one step beyond. They make fundraising and support for the schools and community a full time professional endeavor. I can’t tell you how nice it is when as a teacher you find a grant or something that you would like to work towards, but you don’t know where to start. NCCP is there to help. They help us write grants, they are a 501c3 so we can use them to manage money, they have connections everywhere so if we want to partner with say a theater company they can help facilitate that. It isn’t a blank checkbook to do things, it’s better, it’s a partner that can help us and our students do things for ourselves.

Leadership
North Chicago is lead by Dr. Martindale and Mr. Pollack. Martindale has a track record of successfully helping districts rebound while under state take over. Mr. Pollack is an interesting leader, his resume is the standard charter school reform leader. He worked at the Academy for Urban School Leadership (a charter school) and graduated from New Leaders (A leadership program noted for its support by many of the same groups that support charter schools) program. Judging by his history and education Mr. Pollack is the man you would expect to be leading the drive for a charter school in North Chicago. Instead he has very firmly and logically opposed charter expansion.

But what about test scores

Nope. Those scores are some of the worst in the state. They will continue to be some of the worst in the state for many years. It takes time to make changes.

I know what you want to say, “Tear it all down and start over”. Sounds great on paper, and in some respects that has already been done. Removing a locally elected school board is a pretty drastic step that has been taken. Opening a charter school as an alternative is also a drastic step that has been taken. Firing a principal and half a school staff is also a drastic step that has been taken. If we closed every school, razed the buildings and started over from the beginning with new staff and everything it still wouldn’t fix the schools in North Chicago.

The fix for North Chicago schools, just like every other school district in the country that is failing, is to rebuild the trust and faith in education. When the community believes education is important they will give the schools the support they need to grow. Money, yes, volunteer time, yes, well adjusted students, yes, time, yes and so much more.

Not every student or parent in our school has faith in the district, but that is true for every school district. I have been a part of many school districts in many states and I have never found one that hold unanimous support from the community. What we do have is the beginnings of a culture change. The question is, will this new fire be snuffed out or fanned?

Students for Social jusstice

Charter School Worries

The other night was a special school board meeting for North Chicago School District 187. A charter school wants to open another K-8 school in the neighborhood. When the first charter opened 4 years ago, the school was in bad financial state and was forced to close several schools and lay off over 100 teachers. The district has not had a positive reputation for many years so it wasn’t a surprise.

 

My first job in education was in this district 15 years ago and even then the advice was to look for a job in a better district. (I didn’t quite follow that advice, I had a child and left education for a year. After 10 years, three districts, and one edtech start-up I finally returned.) In 2012 the board was replaced by an appointed financial oversight committee. Which still sits on the board today. After 4 long years the financial situation is finally starting looking up.

 

I, and many teachers in my school, feel this charter school will hurt the students in North Chicago. It will increase choice, but the choice isn’t any better. It will also divide an already too small pool of money between three schools, forcing all of us to spend too much time asking for extra money (three teachers have raised over $8,000 on donors choose so far this year). We banded together and showed up at the meeting and made our voice heard.

 

More importantly, and more powerful, many of our students showed up and made their voice heard. At first I worried because the Charter showed up in force, asking people to sign petitions and giving them t-shirts. They brought students and asked them to speak and they spoke well. However, as soon as our students started to speak, time and time again the story was, I love my school, I feel supported by my teachers, I am learning. It was hard to deny that for many of the students the public school was the better choice.

students

 

Many Navy parents also stood up (children in families living on the Naval Training Center are in the district) telling us of stories they were told about how horrible the schools were in North Chicago, and how they learned the hard way that those stories are not true.

 

One mother cried as she told a story of homeschooling her son for years while he languished on the waiting list. When he was finally accepted into the charter school he changed from happy and outgoing to unhappy and inhibited. She pulled him from the charter and enrolled him into AJ Katzenmaier where he was transformed back into a loving happy child.

 

Nearing the end of the meeting I was feeling pretty good, especially as our deputy superintendent and chief learning officer gave a presentation using hard numbers. They showed clearly that not only has the current charter school not done any better at educating students, they have hurt the district by splitting funds. They explained how we are at a crossroads, if we don’t reach the threshold of 20% naval student enrollment we will lose 3 million dollars in impact aid. This will be devastating for a district already on rocky financial grounds.

 

Then right there at the end they said something very scary. If we don’t approve the charter, as they didn’t approve the first charter, then the charter would appeal the decision to the state, which will almost certainly approve the  charter, just like they did the first time, and this new school would be considered a separate district.

 

What they left unsaid was that the new district would almost certainly siphon off many of the students from navy families making it impossible to earn this impact aid from the federal government.

 

So basically the district is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Approve a charter that will slowly bankrupt the district, or deny a charter and watch as they appeal to the state, get approved, and bankrupt the district in just a couple of years.

 

Doing Less

I’ve been teaching for a while now and I make a lot of mistakes. The mistake I think I make most is trying to do too much.

Dan Meyer says be less helpful. I say don’t try to teach everything at once.

His advice is probably better for most of you.  (Ok that was just name dropping)

 

Seriously though. At the moment we are teaching students to write and solve two-step equations. If I were working on my own I would have basically jumped into the two-step equations and let the kids struggle for a while wondering why they weren’t getting it. Instead my coach has helped me write lesson plans (read that as doing most of the work), while I’ve been teaching. While the lessons are ending up being mostly me talking and guiding students through examples, and I would like to do less of that, they have been more focused.

 

Small steps, first spend a whole lesson just exploring the connections between words and operations. Second, spend a whole lesson with one step word problems, (Use an Andrew Stadel video for fun and excitement [yes it could also have been a two-step equation lesson]). Third, just model two-step equations (I tried to jump ahead and solve, but that didn’t work). Fourth, reboot from yesterday, but now we can solve. Fifth, review of the distributive property and guide students through writing a two-step equation with distributive property.

 

Five days to do something I might have attempted to do in one day.  Are the students better prepared? According to the exit slips everyone is keeping up just fine. What I do notice is in my word problem for the daily warm up, students are still jumping right to the answer.

On Monday, 324 students went on a trip to the zoo. All 8 buses were filled and 4 students had to travel in cars. How many students were in each bus ?

 

Everyone wants to say 40 (or 40 1/2 ). So I go back and ask how did you get that? We write something like (324-4) / 8 = 40. I ask is that what is written on the board or is that how to solve the problem? After some thinking time we discover that what is written on the board is 8s + 4 = 324. The word and is easily seen as a plus not a minus. Finding the multiplication is a bit harder, but, as almost half my students are bilingual, I can point out that translating isn’t always a word for word thing, sometimes you have to get the meaning.  (Would you really like to put were on your word wall and say every time you see this word think multiplication?)

 

I’m really pleased that by teaching slowly, doing less. we not only have a stronger understanding of writing equations, but we are also teaching how to solve equations within the same context. Actually, I can point to the ease with which my students get the right answer and say, the right answer is like a grade of C, getting the right equations is like a B, and then being able to do everything backwards (writing a good word problem) is like an A. This works because some of the word problems we have seen while practicing have been very difficult to understand.

 

Four Legged Guest

The tails of the two four legged guests this week.

(just ignore the grammar)

We have two house guests this week. Gracie and Austin.

20151221_155852

Austin likes to climb

Gracie likes to play.

Let me tell you about Gracie’s day. She goes for a walk at 5:30 AM, but she doesn’t walk she wants to jog. Which is great because I need the exercise, but I’m old and fat and slow. She keeps looking back lie, “Umm, do you think you can pick up the pace old man?”

Whatever, you’ve got four legs, I only have two.

When we get home she goes to sleep on the couch.

At 9 ish my son gets up and takes her for another walk. She comes home and goes back to sleep on the coach.

Later the neighbor comes over with his dog and Gracie goes out again and the boys chase each other around and around the yard. Eventually, rolling around in a big pile in the mud.

Luckily for me he takes her right upstairs to the bath and cleans her up. I can tell because he leaves a bunch of wet towels and dirty water in the tub. The dog is clean though.

Now it’s 6 O’clock and she is back sleeping on the couch. Sometimes it’s good to be a dog.

Data Mining

My excuse for the late blog post this week (and last) http://tech.ed.gov/files/2015/12/NETP16.pdf Not that I’ve gotten past page 25, but so far a good read, espcecially for a government document. It’s been three days since I wrote that last sentence, so I’m going to publish today, finished or not.

 

When I started teaching, 15 years ago, No Child Left Behind, NCLB, was not a thing. Common Core was not a thing, I don’t think most states even had standards. Fifteen years later and NCLB is over, replaced with Every Child Succeeds, but the damage perhaps has been done.

 

Most educators I know have been pretty negative on the whole NLCB thing. As for me, I thought it was a joke from the beginning. Who would ever expect 100% achievement? Haven’t you ever heard of SPED, ELL, ED, children? Not to mention the obvious inequities in buildings or supports not controlled by schools. I mean really 100%, not going to happen, ever! What I did like was the conversation on accountability. I would like to think we could have started that conversation without threatening to destroy public education, but maybe not.

 

The core problem, as I see it, is that accountability has never been defined in a way that actually improves education. I think teachers need to be accountable to parents, after all it’s their children we are educating. When asked most parents will usually say something to the effect of, my school is good, it’s those other schools that suck. Those few parents who will look at their own school and say this school sucks will usually say, but here are good teachers in the school. Finally, everyone, even the pope, will agree good schools, and teachers in particular, are underfunded, yet try to get a local school referendum to pass in the US. Why is it we demand accountability without furnishing the tools to succeed?

 

Anyway my point is not to whine about the state of our educational system in the United States it could be better but it will not change because I wrote a blog post. What I would really like to talk about today is data.

What is data?

This whole NCLB thing heralded a new emphasis on data. We can’t trust principals, those experts of teaching so named because they are the principal teacher in a school. We can’t trust parents, because they are intimidated by the degree carrying hooligans. And we certainly can’t trust those unions, they are the cause of all this trouble. We have to use hard fast, data real numbers that don’t lie. (Please don’t quote Mark Twain and statistics right now).

 

I think education can be improved with the use of data but we’re not having a conversation on how to create and mine that data. What we’re trying to do is collect a ton of data on everything without getting too deep into the question of what makes quality data.

 

Evidently, if data is to tell the truth it must be a number and that number must be pulled from so sort of test. If we want to know anything about education, we should ignore quotes attributed to Confucius. In this manner everything that is done in education must be subject to some sort of double blind or A B test. If we are to intervene with students that intervention must have been researched and found acceptable. And when we are not using an approved and researched curriculum (and sometimes when we are), we should be also be performing our own research.

How do we find good data for our classroom?

Teachers are often being asked to write and or use a common formative assessments and then use that data to inform education. We are then to compare our results from a common assessment with the results of the teacher down the hall. If they are doing a better job we should consider teaching in the same manner (because it couldn’t have anything to do with the students or anything like that). Like the PARCC test but on a smaller scale.

 

Some questions I have on this whole thing. Does a multiple choice test with a hundred questions give me good data? Can a three question exit slip give me good data? Can a common formative assessment really lead to quality data? What is authentic assessment? Will authentic data in my classroom be the same as authentic data in the classroom next door? If a student can explain how to solve a problem, but can’t do that on paper, has s/he mastered the standard? If data is so important why isn’t psychometrics a class in teacher education? Why don’t we have a psychometrician in each school or at least each district?

 

Good classroom data won’t come from some administrative committee outside of the classroom creating assessments. Creating formative assessments has to be done by the teachers who are teaching that subject. Not teachers of the subject, but teachers actually teaching right now. Some sort of common summative assessment might be a different beast. Do teachers have discussions on what constitutes a quality question that provides quality data? Do they have that kind of time? How do we standardize the data collection from authentic assessments? If I use problem based learning and she uses direct instruction can we collect the same data? Can we compare data?

Teacher education

Are teachers taught how to create a vehicle for collecting quality data? Why do we always seem to default to a test? Do we know what makes a good question? When learning to teach we study child development. We have an idea of how a students in our age range will generally behave, and act. We learn pretty quick about the neighborhood in which we teach. What resources will a student have at home. How much support they will get when doing homework. That sort of thing, but how does that translate into data? More importantly how does that translate into data we can use in the classroom to inform instruction?

 

I haven’t been in a teacher education program for a long time. When I was there we had a couple of classes on data collection and action research, but I don’t remember a big emphasis on quality data collection methods in the classroom, just action research for our own purposes. It was a graduate program so our data collection methods were concentrated on data we would use for our thesis paper. How similar or different should that be to data collection in our classroom. Right now I have to say the data collection we do for state and federal levels isn’t really all that high quality.

 

I’m not even talking testing scandals in Washington D.C. or Atlanta. I’m just talking about quality data, the basics. Sure we are testing 90+% of the kids, but are the kids actually putting in an effort. Obviously not, because  a lot of schools have these big expensive pep rally, assemblies, reward parties, etc..to motivate students to put effort into the test. Quite honestly, I think, we would be better off using real world modeling to choose a motivated representative sample of the population and use that to determine if education is working. The only problem is that we couldn’t do representative sampling for individual teachers, or even schools. Of course the data we use now is suspect for individual teachers and most schools as well, but it seems we aren’t willing to admit that just yet.

Data and learning

What do we do with the data? Brain based education is popular now. Teachers, at least some, are designing lessons based on engaging the whole child. No more drill and kill until education is beat into a child, instead we create multifaceted lessons designed to create an entry point for each child and all of them lead to the same end. In the classroom teachers should formatively assess students and use that information to change instruction for the better.  Subject teams create common formative assessments to see if one teacher is teaching better than another. Buildings should compare those common formative assessments within a district. So on and so forth until we know how to best educate each and every child in the best way.

 

Well that’s the dream. the reality is depending on the school, or even the classroom, I might spend the majority of my time keeping order, or reteaching, or back filling knowledge, or feeding the hungry, or sharing emotions. Data collection can easily get lost. I forget, I compromise, the well crafted assessment is scrapped for an interesting rabbit hole.

 

My point is this, we don’t talk enough about what it means to collect quality data in the classroom. We don’t talk enough about where and how it informs instruction. It’s there and some teachers are really good at it (not me), but that isn’t what I mean. I mean that is not the central focus of teacher education, but it seems to be the central focus of evaluation. So which one will change?  

 

What is a Teacher Worth

Are we looking for the right people to be teachers?

 

You may have listened to Taylor Mali explain what a teacher makes,

or seen some meme on facebook, as a kid I saw it on bumper stickers.

So, is the idea that a teacher should be altruistic the best quality to look for in a teacher?

 

I’m here primarily because I love kids and want them to have a chance at a better life. Often I find myself getting upset when students don’t put in their best effort. Which is often exactly the wrong response.

 

Middle school students love when they can confound the adults in their lives. They love attention, even negative attention. And they especially don’t want to be known as people who care about anything. That would just be uncool.

Nerd!
Would a bit more emotional distance and focus on action research make me a better teacher?

 

Maybe my mistake is not caring too much, maybe my mistake is not understanding that these adolescent actions that punch (yes, punch) my buttons are really the beginnings of independence. I should be happy and celebrate them. I fail in that respect at least once everyday, with my students and my own kids. Maybe I’ll do better on Monday.

What is formative assessment

You know how it is, you try to blog once a week. You put it off during the week, because it is busy and you just don’t have time. Then Friday comes around and you put it off till Saturday, then Saturday is busy and you put it off till Sunday. The next thing you know it’s two weeks later.

 

I’d like to start a conversation with the 12 people who might read my blog, the 6 who read it through facebook, the random looks from G+, and the two who scan the title on twitter. If you wouldn’t mind chiming in.

 

Here’s my question, “Are multiple choice tests formative?”

 

My team and I, we write these CFA’s (common formative assessments) every week or two. they are the basis of the grades (Which is a question I’d like to ignore for now). The problem is we give them basically at the end of the teaching so they are really summative, though we often find we need to reteach.

 

We are planning a new unit next week and were given the green light to go more standards based grading. I thought it would be a good time to suggest that we move these questions around a bit more. We can ask them to warm ups, one-on-one conversations, exit slips, homework assignments, etc…
Then it occurred to me, are multiple choice tests ever formative? Can I use the right or wrong answers to inform my teaching?

Success

A question to ask. You’re at home, or in the classroom, or at the park, wherever and you are asking this child, or group of children to do a task. Do they stop and stare at the wall? Do they fidget? Do they hem and haw and avoid work? Do they fight? Do they talk back? Do they do anything except attack the work?

 

None of these things has anything to do with being lazy, or entitled, or total jerkfaceness. Generally, people like to do interesting things, they like a bit of a challenge, they just don’t like too much of a challenge.

 

Leo Vygotsky called it the Zone of Proximal Development, that sweet spot where things are just hard enough to be interesting, but not too difficult. They can’t be too easy either, that is boring. Some call it, Flow, others grit, and even others intrinsic motivation. Whatever you call it, try asking a question.

 

Are you asking students to do the work alone, or are you joining them in the learning?

The ZPD, the sweet spot, the Zone, they all shrink when you ask students to go it alone, but they enlarge to monster size when kids know they are supported.

 

Students can’t just be confident that they can fail and not get hurt, they have to know they have the ability to succeed. Do they know that?

Getting My Sea Legs Back

Working on a ProjectComing back to the classroom after almost 7 years has been a rough adjustment. The textbook  we have is, in my opinion, garbage, so I spend a lot of time creating curriculum. Thanks goodness for the Internet and sites like betterlesson.com. Then there is the new evaluation procedures which require a lot more work on the teacher’s part. Finally, we are a SIG school so there is paperwork and data collection everywhere.

This week I finally went full in on the problem based learning (PBL) bandwagon. I’ve talked about it for years, but I’ve always fallen back on the teacher directed lessons. I’ve tried to do the Madeline Hunter formula, Hook, Model, Practice, Evaluate or I DO, WE DO, YOU DO TOGETHER, YOU DO. I see the logic in the formula, but at the end of the day what happens is the students who are good at school get it, the students who are bad at school don’t, and the behavior problems are behavior problems because they get it and are bored or the don’t get it and don’t want to ask.

I didn’t think my kids were ready. I spent a week preparing them and they still think a good student is defined by how well they listen. I emphasized trust.

I thought I had to trust that everyone can and will work without me watching over every movement. They have to trust each other to do the work. Everyone has to trust me that they will be ready for the quiz.

I wasn’t sure if I could trust them. I took the plunge anyway. On Tuesday, I shared the problems and stepped back. I didn’t even assign problems, I gave a choice of four. I didn’t choose groups. I set parameters:

  • Choose someone smarter than you
  • Someone who works harder than you
  • Someone who will keep you out of trouble.

The task Tuesday was to read the problem, decide what it means, and then split up the work. It went pretty well, but a lot of groups didn’t really fill out the work assignment sheet.

For Wednesday I displayed my one slide.

Working on a Project

Before the bell even rang I stepped into the room and said, “You do not need me to tell you what to do, you do not need to wait for the bell, you can start right now”. Then I went back into the hall for duty. When I came back in most students in most classes were working.

On Thursday I said the same thing. I stopped them for 5 minutes so I could show a sample presentation on a project nobody had, then they went back to work. They were supposed to finish the bulk of the work on Wednesday and finish the bulk of the presentation on Thursday for presentations on Friday and Monday, but the word bulk gave them permission to not actually be finished and still feel the pressure to actually put in work. One group finished. One came in for lunch to do bit of extra work.

In my lowest class students worked and asked questions. I taught the one lesson I would have taught at the board 4 times, but this time everyone listened because they wanted to know how to solve the problem.

In my class where I have a lot of strong personalities it was silent. I went from group to group and they were all working and didn’t need or want any help.

It isn’t all roses though. I have two students in one class who have failed to join a group, despite being assigned to two. They now try to wander the room and join random groups. When I ask them to stop they blame me. I have one student who is in a group, but still doesn’t do any work. And of course I have a lot of groups that are busy trying to create a presentation, but  have no idea about the math they are using.

I’m ok with most of this. I wish the two students would join one group and do some work, but there are more issues than just math there. I hope that during the presentation we will have some decent feedback and they can learn from that. If not from students then hopefully from me.

Finally, today was the dreaded question. Will this be graded? Well yes, but it will only be worth up to 2% in the gradebook because we have to use a Common Formative Assessment which will be the quiz. I would much rather grade this project and put that into the gradebook. On the other hand for those students who fail the quiz, and there will be a few, this will be a good lesson on doing the math first and worrying about presentations second. They can always retake the quiz and if last quarter is any indication almost half would have to anyway.

Stages of Instruction

The Delivery

I’ve always been the type of teacher that likes to design a good lesson plan then forget about the student aspect.

There’s a story of college professor who says, ‘I just delivered the best lecture of my life, it’s too bad no one was there and listen to it’.

That’s the mindset of a person who believes education is delivering information. I don’t. I just find it very easy to fall in that trap. I can spend time developing a wonderful lesson and then deliver it and feels like everything’s going great then I look at the exit slip or the quiz the next day or the next week or whatever and find most of my kids fail.

 

MIley Cirus OMG

My brain is like, ‘what happened?’

I did an awesome job of delivering the lesson. I went through each example slowly and carefully. I scaffolded each step in the problem. It was very clear. I asked for questions and there were a few. When I asked questions about how to do the problem students could easily walk me through it. I was even careful to ask students who I knew would have problems understanding, and I didn’t let them off the hook. I stood and waited until they gave me an answer, then I used the Socratic Method to lead them to the right answer.

Michael Caine "I fialed you"

I was confident everybody knew this, so how did they fail?

 

And that is a very easy trap to fall into. You see it all the time, everybody’s looking for the best curriculum, the best textbook, to teach from. Reformers come in and create scripted lessons, telling teachers exactly what to say, and how to say it. What questions to ask and what answers to expect. Some curricula even talk about common misconceptions and how to use them to enhance the lesson. At the end of the day learning is not about delivering information it’s about the student’s understanding.If they don’t understand it then it doesn’t matter what delivery method you use.

 

Taking it PBL style.

 

I’m trying very hard to break away from the traditional style teaching where I deliver information and students write it down and then regurgitate back to me. It’s hard to get away from it. All of this emphasis on meeting standards, you look at the standard, you find the lesson that meets the standards. Then you teach the lesson and do a quick quiz on it and say ‘oh good 70% of my students understand’. The problem is everything seems to follow the same general format – hook, explanation, and an exit slip. It’s still dependent on delivery.

Go Fish

Next week I start a problem based learning unit. I created my own, I hope they go well. I just have this nagging feeling that I have no idea what the heck I’m doing. Comments and suggestions are welcome Housewarming, Mortgage, Retirement, Reflections.

As I run up to this week I’m trying to prepare my students for working in a problem-based learning environment. This is difficult because I’m not so sure how to do it. I started the year saying the words, “You (students) have to take responsibility for your own learning”.

The problem is that, for the most part they aren’t and I’m not forcing them to. (I have another bad habit of doing things for people when they should be doing it themselves.)

To Do List

I have to teach my students to monitor themselves. It’s going to be a learning experience for my students as well as myself. How do I get them to effectively monitor their own learning? How do I keep them on task without chasing them around the room and saying, “hey get back to work”? During class, I’ve been asking what makes a good team member? What makes a good teacher? What makes a good student? I tried some team building stuff from Kagan. I just hope that I can continue to be consistent on this. I also created some daily reflections sheets.

 

One thing that happens to me as a teacher is I set the kids on a task and then I step aside to do paperwork for 10 seconds, suddenly there’s a line in front of me and the first questions is quick so I answer, the next thing I know there’s 12 people in line and instead of students working intently in the groups students are gathered around socializing about this that the other thing and it’s not an effective learning environment. What I would like to do is to emphasize trust. I will trust that they will do work and they can trust that I will provide the resources necessary to learn.

 

Monday is the first day. We’ll start by writing contracts. What will we do as students, what do we expect from our group? What do we expect from our teacher? What do we expect from ourselves?

Next, the groups will examine the problems and decide what exactly they mean. They will have to determine what a good project should look like. Then determine a checklist of activities they will have to do to complete the project. Finally, assign tasks to each person in the group.

My task the first day it to not spend too much time with one group. Just a few minutes at a time and put them on the right track. Don’t answer questions, just ask.