This Year in Teaching

I can stand in front of a classroom all day long and teach. I’m actually pretty good at that. I explain well, I have a deep understanding of my subject so when half formed questions come up I can usually see where they are coming from, but this is not the way I teach. This method of teaching meets the needs of students like me, but I don’t teach students like me. Most people at the age of 13 don’t want to sit and take notes from a teacher. they want to talk, move, text, snap, whatever, anything except sit and take notes.

I won’t try to incorporate all that into my teaching. That would be forced. What I will do is to allow students to take more responsibility for learning. For me this means projects. I’m calling what I am doing this year project based learning, but it isn’t quite fully that. We have one project for each unit, but they are not always natural teachers of the content.

For example the first project will be rewriting a song so that the lyrics teach operations on rational numbers. The project, could be more natural if we asked the student to explore sound frequencies, but I am not going for pure project based learning, I’m going for standards based learning.

I know studying song lyrics won’t teach anything about operations on rational numbers, but writing the lyrics correctly will. Maybe it isn’t project based learning right away, maybe call it project based assessment except that the project will be given first and students can choose to learn from me or through other resources until they feel confident enough to finish the project (or test if they prefer that sort of assessment).

The organization of each unit is pretty simple. (and I use the word unit loosely as we mostly group units by strand of mathematics) Introduce the CCSS standards, walk students through how I make standards into objectives, have students break the objectives into learning targets through the questions they have. (a KWL chart) Next introduce the project and show how it meets the objectives. Show students resources we have that will allow them to learn the target skills  necessary to meet the objectives and allow them to choose how and when to learn those skills. (Still individualized learning and not personalized (or vice versa I always get those confused), but giving a lot of voice to the students).

The important thing is the student choice. They don’t actually have to do the project. They can learn all the skills from me and then take a test, they can learn all the skills, from another resource such as Khan Academy or CK12 and take a test. They can learn on their own and then do the project. They can learn on their own and then do a project of their own choosing. It doesn’t matter as long as they check in with me at least weekly and are working towards the goal as measured by mastering learning targets.

We will see how this shift in learning goes. Oh and did I mention we are also going 1 to 1 and shifting towards Standards Based Grading? I actually don’t think I could do this without those two elements, but first things first changing the culture of the classroom. No more work turned in for a grade, instead steady feedback on a long-term project.

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.

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

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.