Million Dollar Idea

I was jogging, I know shocking. My music went to commercial and the volume went up, then down. Suddenly I thought, that would be a cool innovation for ear buds. Just let them regulate the sound. These annoying commercials that blast your eardrums can be stopped.

The ear buds don’t just play at a certain level, but the put everything to the right level. They could even reduce the outside noise with ambient sound.

Then I went further and thought, in the classroom this would be awesome. everyone could have ear buds and I could talk in my normal voice and they could regulate the volume, cutting out the outside noise and student would hear me. This would be especially awesome for SPED kids would tend to get excited from too much distraction.

Then I went further and thought, wow I could have these ear buds block outside noise with a white noise, then block phones and music for students unless I let them listen, and I could shut off all noise except me when I wanted to talk to them. The control would be the bomb.

Then I realized where I was going on this. This isn’t about making the classroom better, this is giving me more control. Still a cool idea for jogging though.

 

Writing Curriculum

I’ve been off for two weeks. By off I mean I’ve been at home writing curriculum for third quarter. Except this week I’ve been spending 4-6 hours a day in the classroom.

Man I love these long winter breaks we teachers get. I get so much done.

I’ve come to realize I suck at writing curriculum. I don’t like it, it is no fun and in the end it often looks too much like a textbook.

angle grinder and work glove

I wish my day were this easy

If you read my earlier post this year I had grand plans on going PBL. Then reality hit. I have middle school students, they don’t want to actually work.

Well that is a copout they want to work, they just don’t want to work on the things I want them to work on. I’ve never seen so many kids work so hard to avoid work in my life.

Then there is all the work they put in towards hiding their phones and sneaking in games on the computer when my back is turned. Oh and throwing  pencils. That was a thing this year. 300 golf pencils this year wasted.

students texting

What I’m using the calculator

We’ve had more trouble than you can shake a stick at in the building this year. a new principal, messed up scheduling, toooooo much drama even for middle school, and life in general.

total drama all stars

I’m head the Technology Committee, which has kind of drifted for the past few months so I have to get that back on track. I’m also on the Building Leadership Team, which has been working hard to right the ship which is the school. I’m was also part of the Scheduling Committee.

I never knew you could spend so much time on a schedule, but it was really enlightening. Who knew a scheduling expert was needed, but I’m glad we hired him. Lots of opportunity to make the school equitable for all.

Anyway, long story short we have reset the school. I’m reenergized and ready to teach 3rd quarter. I wasn’t so sure I’d be ready at the beginning of break, I was pretty low, but I’ve got a new plan for engaging students. It may not be PBL, but it will include student choice and hopefully some students will choose the projects.

 

Are you one of the good guys

I’ve been kind of elevated to team leader in 7th grade. I am the teacher with the most experience, though I would argue not the best teacher. However, my experience and my experiences as a connected educator do give me some insights that I think my colleagues appreciate.

The Matrix of Leadership

The Matrix of Leadership

As a consequence of my new power rush, when I’m walking the halls I feel the need to act like what most of us think an administrator should act like. You know what I mean. “Hey you where’s your pass?” “Stop running.” “No, shouting!” (Yes, the last one is usually yelled and I do see the irony).

man shouting I have a problem with authority

Last year these kids were like herding cats. Always going to the bathroom and hanging out during class, sneaking from one bathroom to the other when security came around, then to the nurse’s office, etc…. I didn’t really like subbing for the admin in the 6th grade hall last year. It was exhausting.

I noticed  when accosting these students in the hall that they immediately got defensive and turned away. Then I realized that it was my actions that were causing this behavior.

I was assuming they were not supposed to be in the halls. I was assuming they were in the wrong. But it was my own suggestion that created this.

See, I don’t believe in limiting bathroom passes. I believe in making the classroom a place that students want to be. I believe in reducing the amount of teacher lecture so that if they have to step out for a minute or two they aren’t missing a lesson, they are shortening the amount of time they have to do the work of learning. All of the teachers in my hall treat students the same way.

Right now through the 4 periods I teach I have about 20 kids going to the bathroom and most of those in just two periods. Way too many, but what is the root cause? Is it teenage restlessness or boredom, or taking advantage of me? Could be a combination of all three. The thing is, they aren’t breaking the bathroom and as long as I am not fighting the stream (pun intended) of people going to the bathroom, it will soon stop.

Now as for accosting students in the hall. I’ve stopped. Instead of a curt, “Where is your pass?” I try a more friendly hello. Students respond better, and the couple of extra seconds allows me time to see that most of the time they are actually carrying a pass. Those that aren’t, they usually run and I let security chase them.

I can write a referral if they are doing anything seriously wrong. It’s a lot easier on me and better in the long run, because there is more of a paper trail, the life’s blood of the school discipline system.

School Funding

Public schools are supposed to provide a free and appropriate public education. (ed.gov, My previous post). I suppose technically this only applies to students with disabilities, but don’t we all expect public school to be free?

It isn’t of course.We pay taxes. I also spend a bit over $100 for each of my kids to go to school and several hundred more so they can participate in the arts, band and choir, etc… I do kind of resent this extra expense, but not too much. As you see if you read my earlier post, the government doesn’t actually believe they have to provide the best education possible, just an appropriate education.

A couple of hundred dollars in fees doesn’t seem too unreasonable, especially when many of these fees are waived if you are eligible for free or reduced lunch programs. What gets me is the other sources of non-governmental funding.

In the district I live in we have a PTO that raised over $50,000 for the district. We also have an educational foundation that raises on average about $10,000 a year. We are smaller and solidly middle class district. I wonder how much the wealthier districts raise for their schools?

I’m not going to do all the research, I’m not a journalist, but a quick google search shows more than one foundation raising money in one of the wealthiest districts in the state. Think about that for a second. If my little district is raising more money than I earn in a year in donations, how much do two foundations and a PTO raise in a larger and wealthier district?

The state of Illinois funds schools through property taxes, which is unequal because the districts with the bigger houses and less dense populations pay more property taxes per student. The state and federal government attempts to even things out a bit by giving more aid to poorer districts. Even then we have some districts spending less than $9,000 per student while others spend upwards of $20,000 per student. But that is just the public money, I don’t think they are counting these private donations.

My question isn’t about the inequity of it all. My question is why? Why are we raising and donating huge sums of money for a public good that should be fully funded by our government? Isn’t it good for the country as a whole to have well educated children, ready to change the world? Why are we leaving it to chance?

We shouldn’t hope to get enough donations to fund our schools properly, we should guarantee it. Or maybe I’m wrong, let me know.

School Supplies

I hate school supplies. What happened to, ‘bring pencils, folders, and notebooks for each class’? Sure a trapper keeper or 5 subject notebooks might be nice for some kids, but is it required? Is it required that every single student in your class get exactly the same thing?

What about student choice?

I get the idea we want all students ready for school with the supplies necessary to succeed. And there are definitely better and worse ways to get organized. Do we have to do it for the kids?

 

There might also be some inequity as Bobby shows off the gold-plated trapper keeper thingie, and Carl has nothing. Do we fix it by making everyone buy the exact same thing?

At the school my sons go to there is an exact list and we definitely felt some pressure to fill it all out before the start of school. With parents encouraged to visit school for the “Drop and Run”. I thought it was a great way to meet teachers informally, but my wife felt the shame of not having bought all the right things as we went from class to class. And why does everyone have to bring in two boxes of plastic bags?

Then at the school I work at, there is a school supply list somewhere, that I had no input on. So far one student brought in three boxes of Kleenex and the nonprofit that works with our school gave me a bag with a scrub brush, a box of Kleenex, some staples, and a roll of paper towels. What message did that send to me?

Setting Goals

One of the big keys to success to this year is to teach students how to set their own goals. If they can set a strong specific daily goal then they should be able to direct their own learning.

Yesterday I did an overview of the class and the student and teacher roles. I tried to emphasize that basically our roles are now reversed. They will set a goal each day and I will conference with students at least once a week. So traditionally the student role (which they wrote down) is to listen and learn from the teacher. while the teacher determine what is being taught. However, in this class the student tell me what they are learning and I listen carefully so that I can give them the support they need to be successful.

Each day my students will have to come in the classroom and write a goal on a post it. then at the end of class what they did to reach that goal.

We practiced today. The goals were very broad. Things like learn something new, or be a better student. Not bad goals in themselves, but the lack of specificity will make the goals meaningless.

We practices by setting a goal for the year. At first it was still, be a better student, listen to the teacher, but as I went around the room and spoke to each student or table we started to get more specific.

Now we have goals like: straight A’s or come to school with a positive attitude. Further we have specific actions we can take to reach those goals. Do homework everyday for 30 minutes. Read one book a week, smile at 10 people.

I think we are almost ready to set daily goals. For now here is my goal.

Personal Education Dedication Statement

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.

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.

20160319_130259

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.

20160319_113931

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
20160319_125125

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.