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 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.

MOOCs and assessment

I just finished

MOOCs and Open Education: Implications for Higher Education
Authors: Li Yuan (CETIS), Stephen Powell (CETIS)
Date: March 2013

It got me to thinking about assessment in my own MOOC, #OOE13.

We won’t be doing much assessment of course. This is a learning opportunity not a for credit course. On the other hand the the original idea for the course is to find a way to deliver edtech integration content to the teachers in my school.

In that context there is a need for assessment. Not so much that we need to monitor our teachers, but the entire purpose of the professional development is to improve student education. That means improving teacher ability to implement the best tools.

So will we assign work to teachers? Will we collect homework? No, of course not. What we have done is to set up a teacher class in our learning management system. We will have some private discussions on the implications for our school. We also have an entire schedule set up for our teachers to meet as learning groups twice per semester. Finally, we have compensation set aside for teachers who do participate and create work in the OOE class.

What will our assessment be? For those who choose to apply for the compensation we will require something, just to prove that they didn’t log into an online session and then walk away from the computer. In general though the assessment will be the changes in teaching. The in-person discussions with the curriculum director and content teams. The changes noted by the principal during evaluations, (we will soon change the evaluation form to an updated model that reflects current best practices in education)

In general the assessment will not be of individual teachers, but of growth of the school.



Making Decisions

Making Decisions


After doing the readings and listening to the Elluminate session during this week’s edfutures lesson. I just keep going back to how can I use this new-found knowledge of decision-making in the classroom.


Basically, as I understand it decision-making is making educated guesses about what the future is going to hold. We base these decisions on past events and past experiences. We can train for eventualities, but at least for me, that doesn’t really help as much as having the real experiences.


I’ve read before that Captain Sulley was the exact right person to be flying a jet that was going to have to make a crash landing into the Hudson River because he lives and breathes flying. When the birds hit the jet he didn’t panic, rather he fell back onto his training and did what he had to do to land the plane safely. Recently, I’ve heard that other pilots working in simulators have managed to return the jet to the airport.  Whoopie do! First, there is a difference between the real thing and a simulator. Second, I think the first time people in general encounter a situation the likely hood of achieving the best possible result is, I would think, unlikely. Now that a jet has crash landed into a river we can practice for that eventuality. The next time, we hope the pilot will be ready and will return the aircraft to the airport. 


That brings up two points. First, I think most decision-making really comes after the fact. Second, we can and do use that decision-making to improve.  


When something unexpected is happening it seems to be best to have someone with as much experience as possible running things so that he/she can evaluate the situation and unconsciously find a solution that doesn’t exist for a problem that has never been encountered before.


After the unexpected we then can go back examine what happened, good and bad, and reconstruct alternatives to create better solutions. Hence, other pilots use simulators to recreate a jet crash and learn how to turn the airplane around and return safely to the airport. I wonder how many of those simulations ended up in a crash?


In today’s school I don’t understand why more pre-service teachers aren’t asked spend more time in the actual classroom teaching under the guidance of an experienced mentor. I’ve been saying for years, and I think almost every teacher in the world will agree that teaching programs should have a two-year internship. One watching and co-teaching everyday with a master teacher and the second teaching, but planning and being observed with a master teacher on a weekly basis.


What does all this decision-making research have to do with the future of education? That is a good question. I think it means we are taking education in the exact opposite direction of what we should. We should be promoting the most experienced educators to leadership positions and let them guide us in the best direction possible. Evaluate the results and make corrections through decision-making analysis later. Instead we are putting people with experience in management in charge of education and asking them to save education. They may be most likely to save the budget crisis of education in America, but least likely to save education itself.


Edfutures, Reality Games, and Trends

The world is changing that is a fact. Education is changing. We seem to be transitioning from a set quantifiable collection of facts that make up being educated and we are moving towards an idea of lifelong learners or critical thinkers or creative learners. At least educators are doing this, it seems that the politicians are doing the best they can to stop the march of change.

Edfutures started this week talking about creating an artifact. We want to create something so when we come back years later to reference what we learned in this course we would have something to point to. But in reality the creation of an artifact is just the top level of Bloom’s taxonomy. We are creating something new from what we learned. What we are doing this week is discussing creativity and critical thinking.

Then I listen to Jesse Schell and his Designing Outside the Box presentation at DICE. And he talks about games. As he started talking about Facebook and Farmville and how those games caught all game designers by surprise and they seem to be taking over the world I at first stated thinking about sending this to my mom and wife (the two biggest Farmville addicts I know). I had already sent this article explaining how Farmville was basically a waste of time and contributed nothing to the world, whereas games should actually create a higher plain of existence and the inspiration we get from games can be brought back for us to try to implement and start creating Utopia, or so the Greek thinkers postulate. (A really a big paraphrase there) Of course sometimes I disagree with that hypothesis because I think Farmville creates a marketplace of sharing and favors between friends. So when Jesse went on and started talking about how games were starting to leak into reality it really made sense.

The reality is that Farmville and games like it are creating a way for people to socialize, but not just talk, rather they are creating an entire marketplace where I might do favors for you on the game and you might return the favor with babysitting services so my spouse and I can have date night. And who knows what else. Who knows what else because listening to the end of the talk Jesse ends with the idea that if our legacy is being preserved in the game “that maybe I should change my behavior a bit and better than I would have been. They might inspire us to be better people if the games are designed that way.”

So back to education the original point of this whole thing, if the game designers don’t get together and design altruistic games. Or if the games aren’t all created by entities with our best interests in mind, or the best interests of the world in mind, than it is incumbent on the educational system to create educated individuals who can see past the game and not be controlled by the game.

At the moment games are usually designed by corporations whose only intent is to make us consumers. Honestly, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The game makers want us to buy something and we can already see that they are doing a pretty good job. Judging by the number of new toolbars on my wives computer I would say they are getting pretty good at convincing us to buy crap we don’t really need.

It has been pretty big news that Obama used advertisements in games and leveraged social media to help with the 2008 presidential election. While some may point to that as the first of many sucker punches the games industry is aiming towards the general population. The reality seems to be that if our students don’t start learning solid critical thinking skills then we truly are setting them up to be suckers for every Tom, Dick, and Harry with an idea for a game.

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Future Education

It’s been kind of a busy week for reading and all.

A great blog on gearing up to teach Algebra I next year

Summative exam (thoughts on Karl Fish’s transparent assessment)

If I have been proving that I know a concept throughout the year because I am passing formative exams then why should I have to pass a summative exam at the end of the year to prove that I know what I proved that I knew then.

All I’m really proving is that I remembered what I proved that I learned earlier in the year.

Some thoughts on bringing the conversation of change into being

Thoughts on teachers from Rethinking Conversation and Change

Often the problem at home (in the school) is that it (the conversation) quickly turns into a bitch session.

Well if the administration did this…

If the parents did that…

If I were allowed, knew how, had the expertise, had the resources I could do the other…

Most teachers don’t really want to talk theory in the break room. They just want to complain about the students, administration, etc…

True we need a bit of time to vent, but we also need to talk, research, learn, discover what it is we can do better, why it works, what it looks like, where we can practice, and do all this without dropping test scores that might hold sway over whether or not we keep our jobs.

The conversation starts online, because we find like-minded folks who can’t complain about the pitfalls or deficiencies of their school because I’m not in their school. Though I think most of the people in my PLN tend to get past the bitchiness fairly quickly.

I think one great way to start the conversation at school is to create a school or district wide conversation online. Make teachers and administrators start twitter accounts and blogs and ask them to discuss theory. Create message boards and wikis and try to get everyone involved. Get the momentum started, give them a chance to hold conversations when they don’t really have time to meet at school. Get the to start conversations but not attend meetings because the general consensus is meetings are just a waste of time. Ask teachers to do this on their own time, but ask the conversations to stay theoretical. Perhaps it is too Utopian to think that this might work, and some districts have probably tried and already failed, but I think others have also tried and find it is actually working.

Not everyone will be involved or change, but change doesn’t happen all at once. Change starts with small committed groups of individuals. If your lucky one or two people you never thought would be accepting suddenly do, and they motivate dozens of others to do the same. All we need is the one great follower.

Thought after talking to a colleague at school or well maybe a paraphrase or two

“I could list all the training the district has wasted money on all the stuff they have made us go through. This program that was actually good is long gone. “

So perhaps the problem is like the marketing story of store and newspaper delivery. That is they marketing company wanted the newspaper delivery boys to wrap the papers in a plastic sleeve with their name on the outside. The problem was the delivery boys were expected to go through a ton of hassle and extra time, but weren’t being compensated. What did they do? They tossed all the extra bags and it became a huge unsightly litter problem with the companies name all over it. The moral is if you don’t get the buy in from teachers is doesn’t work.

Personall, I also think the majority of these behavioral – classroom management strategies are very similar. There is no “silver bullet” except consistency and time. As the administration changes they change systems and everyone has to start all over. Some of the teachers fall behind because they liked the other system better, they gave up, they forgot, etc… suddenly you have a hodge podge of behavioral systems and it just doesn’t work.

Thought on the future of education

Notes from elluminate session

Norm Garrett: In medieval universities, the students hired the faculty!

Elizabeth Psyck: I believe that students should both be the market and be driving it. But in reality, they’re bodies in seats. The sad realities of the current system. This could change quite a bit in the next couple decades as private educational institutions are expanded (I’m higher ed oriented)

Wouldn’t it be interesting if the students could hire the teachers again? Of course I think I’ve written about some ideas how to do this, or something like that.

In todays day and age it wouldn’t be too difficult to rate teachers and then pay extra money to sit virtually in their classrooms. The real question would be what of the controls. I suppose businesses could form a network and rate professors. You know because many might be rated as great teachers only because they inflate grades, while businesses would want professors who actually taught. That would be a lot more difficult than it is today where higher education is accredited. Of course accrediting institutions might accept grades from any professor who they rate as satisfactory. They could even have high and low accredidations determinined by the quality of the professors overall on your transcripts.

So perhaps the entire higher education world could be upended with students choosing individual professors based on quality and price. Then after finishing a standard course of classes they could submit the grades to the accreditation board (with payment or government funded) and receive a degree. Many student will of course go to a brick and mortar institution, but few will take all of their classes there. Their final degree will be awarded either by the college that is associated with the accreditation board or a simple accreditation board. The degree will be rated for quality as well as classes taken. Yeah, I went to state college for core classes, but six of my twelve major courses were virtual classes taught by top ten professors.

There was more, but I think this is enough for a start. I look forward to thinking about the future of education.

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