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.


Reading the Words

Imagine reading a paper (Culture Shift: Teaching in a Learner-Centered Environment Powered by Digital Learning) that said this:

 Learner-centered education dramatically impacts the work of educators, and education systems and school must empower teachers to apply their pedagogical knowledge, instructional skills, and digital tools and resources to meet the needs of individual students.

So teachers should know about the science of teaching and be given the authority to determine best practices for teaching in their classrooms.

Educators are empowered to use innovative approaches and personalize learning in face-to-face, blended, or virtual environments.

Teachers empowered again to choose different approaches.

…opportunities for teachers to learn from each another and from outside experts, …

Teachers as chief learners, right?

…students who have the knowledge and ability to solve problems, think critically, collaborate with others, and communicate in a variety of media.

More important than content is teaching students to think critically, and problem solve.

Deeper learning skills:

  • Knowledge and mastery of … content

  • Critical thinking and complex problem solving

  • Effective communication

  • Collaborative work, self-direction, and incorporation of feedback

We might be able to measure mastery of content with tests, but the rest of those skills require more of an experts subjective observation.

…meeting students where they are and helping them to develop the knowledge and skills they need.

Getting to know our students and tailoring instruction to them.

For example, a student may have the option to utilize simulations or access content that is in a visual or audio format.

Note it doesn’t say teacher creates content in all possible formats but allows students to access.

…open-ended nature…problem-solving strategies and critical thinking are applied…

More thinking skills

…access to learning anytime and anywhere.

This might just require a touch of Connectivism


Imagine a public school (not just a teacher) that is flexible in terms of meeting a student’s needs.

…extend learning opportunities outside of school…

This is flexible. Will the learning I do on my own time have meaning to a public school?

Learner-centered instruction demands that teachers develop different professional roles and responsibilities.

I am willing is my administration? Is my school board?

…shift the teacher’s role from disseminator of knowledge to a facilitator of learning or “education designer.”

A teachers evaluation should not depend on how well students listen.

Formative assessments…

A formative assessment could be an observation while a student struggles with a problem and a well-timed question or comment.

Providing the student with control of his or her learning

Is this possible in public school? Does this fit with Common Core State Standards?

Eliciting student work to demonstrate understanding of specific language and concepts

This is called measurement of knowledge, or mastery of content, through a means that does not include a test. Sometimes known as allowing teachers to be professionals.

…learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration …

Meaning teachers talk about how effective they are, and what they can do better, not how poorly the students listen.

“When teachers collectively engage in participatory decision-making, designing lessons, using data, and examining student work, they are able to deliver rigorous and relevant learning for all students and personalize learning for individual students”

Teachers are part of the decision making process of education. I wonder why students and parents were left out of this process?

Professional learning communities

Emphasis on professional

These other countries dedicate significant resources to professional learning opportunities that are ongoing and sustainable and emphasize collaboration among educators.  …about 60 percent of their time in classrooms.

Done right the most important part of a teacher’s day is his or her reflection and discussion of teaching practices, not time spent in the classroom. Remember from earlier, teachers’ roles are changing. They don’t need to lecture content as much, rather they are “education designers”. They need to spend a significant amount of time thinking, talking, and designing the educational environment. After that the classroom teaching really just happens.

Professional learning: Informal …Communities of practice

Informal yet still professional.

In some cases, teachers who are early adopters of digital learning or other instructional strategies do not have peers with whom to collaborate in their own school or district, so they seek out others on social networking sites or CoPs.

Like students learning for teachers is not limited to within the school walls or what is provided by the district.

…the education system faces many challenges that can hinder the development of strong cultures in schools.

Culture is empowering teachers to be the decision makers. Allowing them to take chances and innovate. Not everything will be perfect and that is what make each child’s education right for the students.

Classrooms many not be as quiet, ad students should be working on different things at different times.

Learning is often social and noisy.

While instructional practice should be evidence based, educators need to trust that it is acceptable to try a new lesson or strategy and possible fail, and that reflection and learning will be encouraged.

Not everything is perfect. No one person or one observation should make or break a decision about the quality of a teacher. It’s a holistic thing.

The culture shift required to move toward a learner-centered model must respect teaching and what is necessary to meet the individual needs of students on a daily basis. The culture must carefully consider collaboration among teachers and the development of professional learning community among educators in which they are all working together toward the same goal.

We are a long way from this and measuring test scores is counter-productive.

  • …understanding …a learner-centered environment…

  • Empower school and district leaders to develop collaborative working environments for teachers….

  • Integrate technology and digital learning into the strategic planning…

  • Elevate the profession of teaching

Again the power of teaching is not in how much content a student masters, rather it is in setting up the best possible environment to facilitate that learning. Measuring teacher quality through student test scores is counter-productive. Instead we should be measuring teacher quality through their ability to adapt to specific situations in their classrooms. This requires close observation over long periods of time. It requires collaboration among equals. It requires teachers to be allowed to make mistakes and honestly implement reforms that may or may not work the first time. reforms that may have to be reevaluated and changed depending on the circumstances. Basically the best teachers are those who are continually changing practices and implementing new ideas based on individual circumstances.


I just think if a group is going to say what we want to do but then later implement practices contrary to the stated philosophy then perhaps we should point to their words and hold them to it.



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School Quality

Created by Tracy Watanabe – flickr username wwwatanabe

I was listening to a podcast the other day. The woman being interviewed was a Chicago Public School teacher I think.
She mentioned that from about 1970 to 2000 or so teachers were evaluated by an observation by a principal. While most of the teachers did get good evaluations and that may not be 100% accurate she also had a problem with the new system of evaluation. Mainly the idea that a single test should be worth 30% to 50% of a teacher’s evaluation.
I know that statistics says that these value added measures cannot be accurate using the model that has been proposed.

It struck me as I was listening to her that there is a really good question here. For years in just about every public school in the nation teachers have generally received positive evaluations, but at the same time many schools in certain areas have less than stellar reputations.

So the question I have is, “It is possible for a school to have a majority of teachers who are excellent, yet still be a failing school?”

Where the schools would be rated as excellent by any manner you choose and failing would be defined in anyway you please, just explain it if necessary.


Please answer the question either in the comments below on on the Google Doc here.

Open Online Experience Registration Begins

This year has been the year of MOOCs for me, and it seems the rest of the world. I started with DNLE at Stanford, the first MOOC I actually finished. (My first MOOC was edfutures with Dave Cormier in 2010 but I kind of petered out after 6 weeks)

In September I started working with Alec Couros and his many co-conspirator on #etmooc. I learned a lot about designing a connectivist MOOC. I put that learning to work right away in designing the Open Online Experience (#OOE13).

Over the past month or so I and 40 other educators have worked hard to develop OOE13. OOE13 is a 10 month course starting in September 2013 and ending in May 2014. There are two main goals of OOE13. The first is to help educators learn and develop the skills necessary to integrate technology into the classroom. The second is to help educators create and nurture connections that will continue through and beyond the experience.

The experience is specifically designed to parallel the school year. Which at first seems like a very long course, but in reality is a short 9 week course stretched out to allow busy working educators the time necessary to explore each topic without putting undue burden on their lives. We also hope it will become a theme for some groups as they work together during the year. We hope you will join us during the journey.

It isn’t necessary to register for the course, everything should flow through our wiki (, but to get the full effect we ask you to register here, or here.

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Khan on the changing role of teachers.

Watch this video. I hear him saying first off, ‘here, be a facilitator or a coach stop being adversarial.’

When teachers have done this in the past they have had to continually convince parents and administrators that they were actually teaching.


What do students want in math class? They want a teacher who will show them how to do the work. If you don’t they complain that you are not teaching. then parents come in and complain. Then admins ask why you aren’t teaching. Finally, one kids fails a test and it is the teachers fault for not teaching.


Common core and accountability leads to teachers who teach by showing, not those who facilitate or coach.


If you truly want to encourage teachers to facilitate, and I hope you do, then reward teachers who do this. Don’t wait for the end and reward only teachers who have students who score high on a test. Don’t observe teachers and mark them down because students are struggling, (making noise and often moving around and or arguing with each other), a coach doesn’t do work for a player, s/he knows they must be persistent.


If teachers are changing from deliverers of content to facilitator of knowledge then allow them to do that. Stop looking at the end product. and start looking at the process.

My sons are Makers. Are You Ready?

Inspired by Scot McLeod and his blog post My son is 8. He’s a maker.

I encourage you to follow up and make your own post.

My son is 7. He is a maker. He spends hours building elaborate worlds in Minecraft knowing they will be destroyed because we don’t  have the full version, tonight he will make another one. 4plus4

My son is 5. He is a maker. He builds cities out of trains and Hot Wheels. They block the halls and cover the furniture.

My son is 7. He is a maker. He draws pictures of children playing, Angry Birds flying, and pigs hiding.

My son is 5. He is a maker. He builds forts out of cushions. He hides under blankets and dares me to find him. He runs around the house with a blanket cape flowing behind. legos

My sons are 5 and 7. They are a makers. Will Their classes enable them or quash them? Will their teachers inspire them or suppress them? Will their schools nurture their brilliant divergence or force them into a convergent, one-size-fits-all model?

My sons are 5 and 7. They are a makers. their world-changing skills and talents never will be reflected in an educational world of worksheets, end-of-chapter review questions, course exams, and bubble tests. How will you accommodate and recognize their gifts?

My sons are 5 and 7. They are a makers. Are you ready?


RESPECT Discussion

I’ve talked to a fellow Northwestern University alum over the past few months about the Department of Education‘s RESPECT vision document.

A construction project to repair and update th...

A construction project to repair and update the building façade at the Department of Education headquarters in 2002 resulted in the installation of structures at all of the entrances to protect employees and visitors from falling debris. ED redesigned these protective structures to promote the “No Child Left Behind Act”. The structures were temporary and were removed in 2008. Source: U.S. Department of Education, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the past year some of the fellows at the Department of Education have been working on a vision for education in this country.

Last May the first draft was released to the public for comment. Over the months the message has been refined. Not as much as I would have liked, but as a vision for the entire country and considering some of the other voices I hear I’m pretty happy with the result

Currently the DoE wants to know what it would look like if this document were implemented as a vision for education. They want your opinion.

During #EdCampChicago I will, if there is enough interest, host a session on what it would like if we did implement this vision in America. If you would like to be a part of that conversation, please download a copy of the RESPECT vision document and read it this week.



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Competing Philosophies of Education

Perhaps this is just my view, but it looks like education is slowly inexorably changing and we have two choices competing for the dominant theory of what constitutes a quality education.

technology becomes the teacher.

This is a nice model for the business community, because, eventually, the costs will drop. The basic premise is that if we design adaptive software students can sit in front of a computer all day and just follow the learning program. Costs will be limited to the hardware (less than $1,000), software, ($5 per student), and a person to monitor students (minimum wage). $45,000 for a class of 30, or $1500 per student, $65,000 for a class of 60 or $1,100 per student. Or about 10% or less of the cost to teach a student now.


Instead of the presenters of knowledge teachers become the facilitators of knowledge. Experts in their craft who guide students through individualized learning experiences.

  • Teachers of young children focus more on learning milestones and owning the skills that are the building blocks of different subjects.
  • Middle school teachers focus more on developing burgeoning critical thinking skills.
  • High school teachers give students a wide latitude in finding, creating, and solving problems that are central to learning standards.

Students use technology to explore, question, collaborate, practice, and create.


Which system of education seems better to you? Why?

If you had the choice which school would you enroll your children?

The Best Teacher

I’ve read a several times in different articles this week the author saying something to the effect of If a student can learn from the best teachers then why shouldn’t they?

This is a great sentiment, but I find the underlying assumption being that the idea of a great teacher is a person who wrote a great book, made a great discovery, presents a great lecture.

I think they are missing the point. Teachers don’t present the material so much as they set up the learning environment. Teachers facilitate learning.

Sure it could be a lecture, or a presentation, or a power point-keynote, whatever. On the other hand it could be a project, or following a misconception all the way to it’s end.

Teaching is more than filling the empty vessels, it is igniting the fire.

“For the mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth.”
Moralia, On Listening to Lectures 48C (LCL 1.256-259)

Teachers respond to students questions, follow tangents, and allow the student to determine the direction of the class.

On the other hand we can just lock children in the classroom turn on the TV and let them be educated.