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.

 

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

Charter School Worries

The other night was a special school board meeting for North Chicago School District 187. A charter school wants to open another K-8 school in the neighborhood. When the first charter opened 4 years ago, the school was in bad financial state and was forced to close several schools and lay off over 100 teachers. The district has not had a positive reputation for many years so it wasn’t a surprise.

 

My first job in education was in this district 15 years ago and even then the advice was to look for a job in a better district. (I didn’t quite follow that advice, I had a child and left education for a year. After 10 years, three districts, and one edtech start-up I finally returned.) In 2012 the board was replaced by an appointed financial oversight committee. Which still sits on the board today. After 4 long years the financial situation is finally starting looking up.

 

I, and many teachers in my school, feel this charter school will hurt the students in North Chicago. It will increase choice, but the choice isn’t any better. It will also divide an already too small pool of money between three schools, forcing all of us to spend too much time asking for extra money (three teachers have raised over $8,000 on donors choose so far this year). We banded together and showed up at the meeting and made our voice heard.

 

More importantly, and more powerful, many of our students showed up and made their voice heard. At first I worried because the Charter showed up in force, asking people to sign petitions and giving them t-shirts. They brought students and asked them to speak and they spoke well. However, as soon as our students started to speak, time and time again the story was, I love my school, I feel supported by my teachers, I am learning. It was hard to deny that for many of the students the public school was the better choice.

students

 

Many Navy parents also stood up (children in families living on the Naval Training Center are in the district) telling us of stories they were told about how horrible the schools were in North Chicago, and how they learned the hard way that those stories are not true.

 

One mother cried as she told a story of homeschooling her son for years while he languished on the waiting list. When he was finally accepted into the charter school he changed from happy and outgoing to unhappy and inhibited. She pulled him from the charter and enrolled him into AJ Katzenmaier where he was transformed back into a loving happy child.

 

Nearing the end of the meeting I was feeling pretty good, especially as our deputy superintendent and chief learning officer gave a presentation using hard numbers. They showed clearly that not only has the current charter school not done any better at educating students, they have hurt the district by splitting funds. They explained how we are at a crossroads, if we don’t reach the threshold of 20% naval student enrollment we will lose 3 million dollars in impact aid. This will be devastating for a district already on rocky financial grounds.

 

Then right there at the end they said something very scary. If we don’t approve the charter, as they didn’t approve the first charter, then the charter would appeal the decision to the state, which will almost certainly approve the  charter, just like they did the first time, and this new school would be considered a separate district.

 

What they left unsaid was that the new district would almost certainly siphon off many of the students from navy families making it impossible to earn this impact aid from the federal government.

 

So basically the district is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Approve a charter that will slowly bankrupt the district, or deny a charter and watch as they appeal to the state, get approved, and bankrupt the district in just a couple of years.