Murder

The other day I saw an ant hill outside my front door, so I made a pot of coffee and poured all over that hill. Today they are all dead.

Mass murder of ants. I have no regrets, I had easy access to a weapon and of course who cares about ants.

Last night a violent man with easy access to a weapon and who was told over and over that gay people are less than human went and murdered a lot of people.

Access to an AR 15 didn’t cause this, it just made it easier. Religion didn’t cause this, it just made it easier. A history of violence didn’t cause this, it just made it easier.

There isn’t one cause for any of this. In the end a complicated juxtaposition of issues that came together in one man who choose murder as an outlet.

If he had a better childhood, or counseling, or restrictions on guns, or a better understanding of God maybe things would have been better. But, he didn’t have those things.

Do you want to prevent this from happening again? Choose one or more of the above and make it better.

Follow Your Passion

This video from Mike Rowe

 

has been going around. It suggests that the advice you may have received to “follow your passion” may be ill advised. I get what they’re saying a passion is not a livelihood. Some people are lucky and maybe they love writing and make a living out of it, or they love acting in to make a living out of it, but for many people their passions are not monetizable or worse they just aren’t good enough at what they are passionate about to be successful. (And by successful he implies great which is a pretty high bar to cross)

For many people following their passion means making sacrifices. If your passion is going to be your full-time job sure you made love going to work every day but you may not make a lot of money. Some people are okay with that, and some people aren’t. If my passion is crocheting socks maybe I shouldn’t think about doing that for a living. Sure or I could probably sell a couple on Etsy. If I get lucky they become some sort of hipster value item, but it’s not very likely.flickr-3824584187-medium

And that’s the same for most people. I don’t think the average person depends on their passion to become their livelihood. I don’t think the average person even has a great passion. Much less a passion that they would consider the defining element of their life.

I mean my wife is passionate about decorating. She even started a business as a decorator, but it didn’t last. That had nothing to do with her skill or passion for the job of decorating. It had everything to do with the other responsibilities of being a small business owner. For a small business to run and make money you have to put as much or more time into the business side of things as you do the passion side of things. 

If you want to start a business in your passion, whether  it be music, decorating, or painting, or whatever what happens is after a full day or working your day job, then you put in a full day on your passion, but not necessarily doing your passion. It might be calling dozens of people asking for a gig, or looking for business, updating the web page, writing a blog post, practicing, making flyers, or a million other things. Most of them boring work. Suddenly, making a living in your passion isn’t fun, it’s work. you might even hate the one thing you used to love.

For many people working a regular job and indulging in passion during free time is a much more sensible way to live life and I haven’t even gotten into those of use who don’t really have a passion.

I didn’t have any passions in high school. I was pretty good at math so when I went to college I started as a high school math teacher. Then I dropped out because I had no passion to get over the obstacles in my way. Eight years and a series of jobs later I finished a liberal arts degree and took stock of my life.

All I really knew was that I wanted to do something that was of service to people. Education was the right answer, just not high school math. Even then it was several years later before I became passionate about education.

Don’t follow your passion is not bad advice, but I think it’s only scratching the surface of the problem. Just like follow your passions and you’ll be happy is kind of good advice that’s that’s only surface level.

The real key is to find that mix of life and passion and work that makes you happy.lego steve

I know plenty of happy people who go to work at a job that is just a job, but it makes money and pays the bills. They come home and have fun and enjoy life. I also know people who are passionate about their jobs and pour all kinds of energy into it their work. They take work home and it defines who they are, and that is ok with them.  Both are happy with their work life balance. (Note this should not be confused with people who pour their whole life into work because they are afraid to lose their jobs. They aren’t happy. It should also not be confused with people whose jobs require them to put all of their waking hours into work. They may or may not be happy)

Passion does not make you happy, neither working in your passion or just working. What really makes you happy is being conscious of the choice we all have to make and then choosing what will be best for us.

Student Review

The school year is over time for me to give my first ever student survey of my teaching. I basically took my questions from http://ukiahcoachbrown.blogspot.com/

Questions Was I well organized? Did you understand what was going on? Did you learn how to learn independently? Do you think I improved since September? Did you feel safe? Were you, as a student, treated with respect?
Average 7 7 7 8 8 8
Overall 8

I think the students were much nicer to me than I would have been, or am I just too critical?

I’m not surprised the organization is low. I think I am pretty good at setting up a system, but not very good at sticking to it. That and 7th graders tend to pull me off task. It’s something I will always need to work on.

I’m also not surprised students were confused a lot. First that can be related to the organization, but I think more importantly it comes from the way I teach. We tried to do a lot of problem based learning and the students didn’t like that very much, especially at the end. Near the end of the year I had students beg me for worksheets and tests.

Even though the rubric we created was more like step by step guides many students still struggled with what and how to create a project. For example the second page of our last rubric had a list of components. Still students struggled with what to do. My mantra for the last week of the project was, “If you are not figuring out probability you are not doing your project right.” Still I had students spending hours on their game boards that didn’t include any form of probability at all. Sometimes teaching is like banging your head against the wall.

At least we learned something. Next year our projects will start with these very detailed rubrics, but I will actually shorten the work-time. What happens is students still work, work, work up until the final due date then turn in a project that doesn’t meet the criteria for success. No matter what feedback I give to them during the project, they only listen when I put a grade into the grade book.  (Not everyone, but quite a few anyway).

After the grade goes in and they see that low grade about half the students ask how they can make it up. So the plan is to allow everyone who wants to reopen their project and make improvements. It was my experience that after the grade is in and isn’t acceptable to the student that they begin to care.

It is still too focused on grades, but this is the first step. If I can teach students to see the relationship between the rubric and the grade maybe we can start getting students to pay attention to feedback before the grade goes in the book. It’s a thought anyway. My next post will have more detail on the changes we are going to make for next year.

This does lead me to the next rating, “did you learn how to learn”? I’m surprised that rating is so high, but maybe because most of my class time seems to be spent dealing with students who struggle with rubrics and only look at grades.

I’m glad I improved in the eyes of the students, they felt safe, and respected. This is the most important part of course. Students feel safe and respected, but perhaps not safe enough because many still don’t take risks in their work. I’ll try better next year.

Building Robots Underwater

Greeting the base commanderI love teaching on days like this. The culmination of months of hard work. At first the kids were little nervous and asked for help, I gave a suggestion or two, and then they ignored me and went did their own thing. It was amazing to watch.

Problem Solving

They were building underwater submarines. A competition among20160319_122356 schools around the state. It was our first time. We had no idea what we were doing. We even missed a critical aspect of our design and had to scramble to make up for it.

 

Dads Helping

It was a day of adapting and overcoming and I got to watch. After that first freak out in the morning the students just started trying failing, trying again, failing again, and trying again. There were moments of utter dejection as they failed and then there were moments of sheer exhilaration as an attempt succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

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At the end of the day we did not win a single award. That was truly a bummer, especially because the group right in front of us won 7 awards, including best overall. True they were high school students, true they had practiced in a pool, true they probably have attempted this competition more than once before, but it still didn’t take away the sting and hurt of losing.

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Every time a child complained we said the win was just getting here. It sounded a little hollow, but it was true and we know it. On the way there even the lead teacher was ready to give up and said, “I’m not doing this next year”.

On the way home we were planning on how to do it better. Today was a great day to be a teacher.
#nmsafamily not just a hashtag
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Education and Politics

I usually like to stick to education on this blog, but I thought I’d take a little foray into politics. This 2016 election year has been interesting to say the least. I’m generally a Democrat but I have spent a lot of time with Republicans and I believe I understand the lure of the Republican platform. Who would not be excited about lower taxes, a smaller more efficient government, and people with values?

There are of course differences between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans want government to do as little as possible and private enterprise to do as much as possible. This whole social conservative movement that has erupted over the last 20 or 30 years is not part of the original Republican Party. It’s something that I think some politicians have used energize the base, but is not really part of the real conservatism.

Democrats on the other hand see as government as a tool of the people. Democrats don’t necessarily see government is evil, but they know that government can do evil. What they do want government to do, what they believe government does best, are those things that individuals can’t necessarily do. The government should protect people from the powerful, protect people from being exploited, force the powerful to do what’s right, fund and share large project that help the country as a whole, but aren’t necessarily direct money makers

The differences are pretty basic as far as I can see. Republicans see a problem and they try to shine a light on it and create incentives for the free market or private enterprise to fix the problem. Democrats see a problem and they want the best solution to be found and implemented.

Now if the problem is building an infrastructure, such as roads, or water systems, or even delivery of education, I think the government is the right entity to provide that solution. These are huge projects that benefit everyone, even those people who don’t use them on a regular basis (this in my mind makes me a Democrat). So yes, our collective will, the government, should be the person who leads the development and financing of these projects. On the other hand the national government shouldn’t be making small detailed decisions like where should the stop sign go, or how much fluoride should I put in the water, or exactly what should be taught during March of the school year in a local elementary school. These decisions are best left to the local people.

Take for example the Department of Education. It was created by the Carter Administration. only a Democrat would think of elevating the Department of Education to a cabinet level position. On the other hand only a Republican would think of pushing the limits of those powers. In 2000 Bush decided to use the Department of Education to help underprivileged schools. It is no surprise that for many years students in underprivileged neighborhoods had schools that are failing; they often have buildings that are falling down, they have less equipment, many have less effective teachers, and students generally don’t do as well or learn as much as their more privileged peers.

With the Republican mindset of a government that doesn’t do things, but encourages businesses or people to do things it makes sense to Start No Child Left Behind. If you start with just the general idea of schools are bad, let’s tell people and require the people make them better that doesn’t sound like a bad thing does it? And really it isn’t, it’s not bad to shine light on the truth. And the truth is that schools and students in underprivileged neighborhoods get the short end of the shaft.

The problem is the execution of the policy. Politicians are more often than not lawyers, not educators, they don’t understand how education works. Like most people they went through school where the teacher taught, they took the test, if they passed the test then they must have learned something. So NCLB is set up that way, give kids a test and if they pass they learned if they fail they must not have learned. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that the teachers didn’t teach and the schools aren’t working.

After Bush came Obama and Democrats. Democrats see government as needing to fix what is wrong. Since Republicans were so nice to shine a light on the problem Democrats decided to institute a fix.

The Obama administration followed No Child Left Behind with Race To The Top. Race To The Top took the idea that these schools were failing and we need to institute researched based policies to fix them. This sounds good to me except for the part where research says basically anything you want it to say and so politicians / lawyers devised the solutions that would somehow fix education.

There are a lot of problems with schools in our poorest neighborhoods. the best teachers often leave as soon as they can, resources are woefully inadequate, buildings are falling down, often community support is lacking, and the culture can be counterproductive (If you don’t see education as a ticket to a better life you don’t value education). Unfortunately not every school faces the exact same set of problems so a solution has to be created for each school and each district separately. There can’t be one set of instructions for everybody. And the policies that were picked sounded good, but rarely worked.

The real fix for education is a simple compromise between the Republican and Democratic approaches to the problem. There needs to be a light shined on the issues facing schools, but it has to shine on all of these issues, lack of support, lack of money, lack of community, all of that stuff has to be brought to light. We can’t depend on the goodwill of businesses or nonprofits or community volunteers to fix these problems, we have to as a people, as a government entity, decide that we value education and provide the necessary support. Those supports include wraparound services, building the support structure necessary to make education possible.

Then we need to step back and let local districts decide what that means. If this sounds like education in the 1990s before Bush instituted No Child Left Behind, then you’re half right. It is except before No Child Left Behind there was no spot light being shined on these districts. Have you ever been to a school board meeting? Nobody shows up. The school board is there, the principles are there, the superintendent is there, and usually the union president is there. The only time the public shows up to a school board meeting is when somebody is winning an award, or somebody’s in trouble.

Obviously locally elected school boards are not really being monitored. So some sort of monitoring or justification for implementing policies and follow up on whether they’re actually working or not is necessary. And it might actually be good or better if it’s being monitored by somebody higher up, the state or the national level. It could provide more stability, often schools will go in one direction while a superintendent is running the school district and then that person moves on, somebody new is hired and the direction changes. Schools and education don’t work when you change direction every 2 or 3 years.

Schools and the people in our poorest neighborhoods need more than just edicts from a government power. They need the time and support to develop and implement their own solutions to their own problems. The Republican solution which seems to be telling people to doing stuff wrong and either fix it or get in trouble doesn’t work. The Democratic solution of implementing a fix designed in the White House or on Capitol Hill will not work. Each solution needs to be developed and implemented in each neighborhood, custom solutions for each individual problem. The government needs to hire good people and let them do what they are good at doing.

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.

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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?