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.

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.

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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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?

This Week in Tech – Writing and Games

Last Friday I visited a Maine Township High School. I didn’t have time to write about my week. I’ll put a reflection on what I learned there early next week. Today some classroom stuff from last week and this.

Writing

Working with letters and fluency in writing seems to be the theme. Not long drawn out essays, but the very beginning. How do our interactions with letters and numbers influence our learning.

I love how this kindergarten teacher not only organizes her ipads by letter, but she went through the trouble of making individual backgrounds for each ipad.

the letter N

 

Then there is this student working with numbers in three different ways – at the same time.

 

I’ve seen a couple of teachers teaching handwriting. Wouldn’t it be nice to bring it back on a computer? Here’s how  Might be a fun project for extension or fun way to practice handwriting.

If you name everyone’s personal font on a classroom computer they could write reports in their own handwriting.

Finally, of course there is a long essay, but wait it isn’t. These older students were making alphabet books. A letter with a sentence and a picture, researched online and written on a Word document.

 Collaborative working

Stuff from the web:

Game based learning. At first it meant answering questions in some sort of competitive electronic worksheet. We still see it a lot. It isn’t learning, it’s practice. Ask your kids how to cheat, if there is learning going on that’s what they learn.  The nice thing is it is possible to pretest students and track their scores so they are at least working on problems in their wheelhouse.

Next, we had a game reward system. Level up and stuff. Learning is more like a scavenger hunt. Fun, but can easily devolve into just another reward system. With prepackaged tasks and such it still doesn’t have much student input. On the other hand people are taking into account easier entry points and motivation. Think Angry Birds, a game with no instructions but gets harder and adds new challenges along the way. Now if we could harness that process for teaching multiplication or something that would be awesome.

Perhaps, Angry Birds led us to games that are intentionally made to feel more like games and less like academics. Problem based learning for the gamer set.  Included with these games are commercial games that were not created for the education market, but have found a niche, like minecraft. The difficulty here is connecting to formal learning.

Games built for the educational market start with a standard and try to teach. It often makes the learning boring. Consumer games start with a story, they know they have to hook a person and make them want to come back. Their problem is connecting to formal learning usually doesn’t happen, at least without help.

Just like technology in general, it isn’t about what technology you use, but how you use it. There is a place for educational games that teach to standards, or more correctly let students practice. On the other hand there is also a place for games that allow students to explore and play in less formal ways. There is no one right way to use technology or games in the classroom.

 Three great articles on games in the classroom

http://www.eschoolnews.com/2015/04/07/students-choose-learn-063/3/

https://synapse.pub/empowering-high-schoolers-to-build-from-the-perspective-of-a-high-schooler-84ace316e472?section=published

http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/03/30/three-awesome-educational-games-hiding-in-plain-sight/

 

Speaking of projects vs practice

The work for some projects takes less time than the actual creation of the vehicle to present it. This often happens in school. Sometimes by design. The time spent working and the organization helps students understand the connections between the different parts. A visual and tactical clue of how things are connected. So why is it in the technology world we don’t expect students to create. Instead we spoon feed them information and practice. Think of technology as the Swiss Army Knife of classroom tools. You can cut, paste, copy, color, write, share, or just about anything you can do hands on. Stop trying to figure out the tech and start trying to figure out how to make something.

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

…flexible…

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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Flipping the LMS

Flipped LMS

This year the school district I work for implemented a Learning Management System in the high school.

It’s a nice system that allows even the most tech phobic teacher to quickly and easily add content online. It is private allowing teachers to choose to open their class to just students, students and parents, or the general public.

A few months ago I gave a presentation on technology for the younger student. A kindergarten teacher and I discussed homework and connections at home. She doesn’t like to give out homework because it just becomes a task to finish as opposed to her real purpose, reinforcing and extending learning at home.

She wanted to make a few videos so she could share them with parents. This way they would be able to watch them at home, but she worried about showing them online.

There flashed the idea. “Flip the LMS” instead of a teacher creating a class and setting all the content out for the students instead we would have the students create the content in class (with the teacher’s help) and let the parents check the classroom for their “homework”.

Parents would have suggested activities to work on with their children. They could watch videos of students working in the class. Individual parents could have individual eportfolios of their children, especially when they were practicing or showing mastery of a standard. Parents and children can share what they did at home with the teacher. Or parents can just be able to keep up with what is happening in the classroom from home.

I know a lot of teachers use a site such as shutterfly or similar to share pictures and videos from the classroom. This takes this idea one step further. This is actually trying to engage the parents as partners in the classroom, when they can’t actually be in the classroom.

Unfortunately, my kindergarten teacher felt she was too busy to take on a new project this year, but I would really like to see how this works in the classroom. So please someone, try this out in your classroom and tell me how it goes.