Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New Songs for the Testivus Season

From my dear friend and colleague Loren Kent, here is a new Testivus song.  And the good news is that we here in NC can demonstrate our Global Awareness and recognition of other cultures with this one.  It will look great on your final eval.  Thanks Loren.

Testing, Testing, Testing! (To the tune of "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel")

Oh testing, testing, testing
My students's throwing up..
Oh testing, testing, testing,
I think she's had enough.

Please take this little MAP,
It shows us strengths and gaps .
It's a very useful tool 
To show you where you're at

Time for a quick quiz check
To see if you're on track,
And now a unit test
More to cover, no time to slack.

Oh testing, testing, testing
This is really important stuff!
Oh testing, testing, testing
Why is he cutting up?

To see how you've progressed
And now another MAP 
Oh no, what's this, can't be!
An even bigger gap!

There's still so much to cover,
The field test stole 3 days.
Good for the Pearson rep,
I heard he got a raise.

Oh testing, testing, testing
No child left behind
Oh testing, testing, testing
If only we had time

The time to teach a child
How to read, write, research too,
Scientific process,
and calculations for a cube

Teach him how to question, 
Create, critique, collaborate
Solve problems on her own
And respectfully debate

Oh testing, testing, testing
When will they see the flaw?
Oh testing, testing, testing
He just walked out the door.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Staying a step ahead of evolution

Lest the title of this post cause the reader to get sidetracked concerning issues of science vs. religion, I assure you these thoughts have nothing to do with either.  These thoughts were prompted by a tweet from someone (whom I cannot remember or locate at the moment) which said something to the effect of we don't know how to plan for innovation, selling televisions, and this article about the abolishment of cursive writing in the state of Indiana.

Planning for innovation - some companies do it well.  Google is probably the flagship organization in this area.  There are others and you can read about them in The Future of Management by Gary Hamel.  It's worth the read if this post stirs you in any way.

Selling televisions - I work part time for a major electronic retailer in the home theater department. I was helping a customer pick out a television the other day when she said, "I want to buy something that will keep up with all the technology and advancements for the next ten years." To which I responded, "That's impossible. Technology and innovation do not work that way." I then explained using concrete examples of what has happened just in the last eighteen months in the home theater industry.

Abolishing cursive - This is one I've almost come full circle on. I'm currently sitting at about 270 degrees. For you trig people that would be three-halfs pi, but I digress. We currently home school both our children. My wife and I spent a lot of time debating whether we should teach cursive to our children. In the interest of marital bliss, I gave her the deciding vote and she voted yes. No biggie. I kept my thoughts to myself about how no one uses it anymore; it's a relic left over from the days of reducing ink smears when writing with a goose feather; in fifteen years nothing will be written by hand, it will only appear in the air as you type on your holographic keyboard, etc.

The article quotes Andee Anderson of the Indiana University Northwest Urban Teacher Education Program as saying teachers haven’t had the time to teach cursive writing for some time because it’s not a top priority. As a result students’ handwriting is atrocious. Man, I can concur with that last one. I teach in North Carolina and I could have sworn that my students were writing in Sanskrit or Hindi this past year. My humanities teammate instituted the Handwriting Rescue program for these students. Part of the motivation was also because some research had shown that because students had not learned the skills of forming letters properly that seemingly unrelated areas of their brains were not properly developed and therefore they were deficient in other areas like critical thinking, problem solving, etc. I was sold because I was witnessing the latter skill deficiencies.

Such interconnectedness fit nicely into what I would tell my students on a frequent basis. We know now that the brain is fairly plastic. During the preschool and adolescent years, neural pathways get created and pruned depending on how the brain itself is used. Research has shown (sorry, didn't have time to look it up) that students in China think differently than students in the US partly because they use a pictographic handwriting system. It creates different pathways in their brains and therefore potentially different skill sets. And let's not forget this iconic article Is Google Making Us Stupid?.

I promise, this is nearing a conclusion. From a pedagogical and curriculum development perspective, how do we factor all this in? "Research-based" is the buzz word. Marzano is the point man here. He has gone as far as to say that use of such methods will cause an increase in student achievement. Justin Baeder has written an excellent critique of those claims here. Let's assume that the claims are true. Living by such methods only makes us guilty of getting what we always got because of doing what we've always done. If our teaching methods and by extension our assessment methods are based in the past, how are we planning for innovation? How are we allowing for the brain to develop new skills? Has the quest for the "science" of teaching really become a religion of devotion to a particular philosophy?

In other words, how do we teach the students of today for the world of tomorrow?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Spending a year offline - part 1

This past school year has been very interesting for me.  I spent most of it offline.  I don't mean just absent from Facebook and Twitter, the latter having been my preferred place of residence.  I mean almost completely offline.  I blogged maybe twice during that time.  I only participated in two or three #edchats.  I rarely even checked my personal email.  I think the bulk of my online activity was Googling for map directions or Christmas gift ideas.

What happened?  The short version is this:
  1. I had to take a part time job to make ends meet.  I made the decision to spend my little free time with my family instead of on a computer because I knew I would never get off otherwise.
  2. My access to technology at school dramatically changed.  
    • I went from having five desktops in my classroom to one, and that one worked REALLY slowly.  
    • The laptop carts were in constant use.  This was in theory a good thing for all the students.
    • My own personal technology died on me - my LCD projector, my netbook, and my homemade IWB.  All purchased with my own money.  If you want to know why I didn't repair it, see #1.
So the past ten months provided an opportunity to gain a new perspective on things.  First, the immediate consequences.  I felt really disconnected.  I am amazed at how strongly I felt about the relationships with my online acquaintances.  Besides all the nuggets of wisdom I used to glean everyday, I enjoyed the social interaction.  I missed the convos that would happen during #edchat or when other hot topics would pop up.  I missed trying to keep up with all the feeds in my Google reader and then sharing all that I had learned.  I missed our own local edcamp and the opportunity for F2F interactions as well.

Second, it totally changed the way I taught.  When my personal equipment failed, gone was the opportunity to stop whatever we were doing as a class and search for an answer or connect with another class for input.  I had to come up with new ways to make sure that I was creating learning opportunities that challenged all my students on all levels of Blooms and did so in meaningful ways, not just for the sake of work completion.  I found myself slipping more and more into not only out of vogue techniques, but less effective ones as well.  It was hard and I felt bad for my students many days.

I don't know if anyone cares about Part 1, much less any future installments I might write about. But I am an extremely introspective individual (some have called me a "frowny faced introvert"), so more will come.  I did learn a lot as a result of this year and some of it is worth sharing.  Thanks for helping me weed through it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Today was great day. . .

Today was a great day in the classroom.  In fact, the last two weeks have just been awesome.  This year I am teaching 7th grade and I have one section each of general math, pre-algebra, and algebra 1.  And for the record, I am at least 1 month behind in getting everything on the standard course of study (SCOS) covered in time for Testivus and its annual celebration of end of grade testing.

Why am I behind?  I'm glad you asked.  I'm behind because we have spend so much time just learning and making connections.  I took more time than was recommended on a few key concepts to ensure that my students really understood what they were doing.  The last two weeks have been so great because we have spent that time going BEYOND the SCOS and exploring other connections.  Today I was just giddy with excitement as I watched all the little light bulbs flicker above everyone's heads.  I then shared why I was so excited.  Do my kids think I'm weird?  Definitely, but that was a foregone conclusion without today's behavior.  Did I demonstrate to them a passion and excitement for learning?  Most definitely/.  Did some of them experience that for themselves?  I gotta say yes.

Today was a great day.

What I learned about grading by working retail


It's been a really long time since I've blogged or tweeted, like almost six months.  Thanks to both of you who missed me.  Part of the reason is I've been working a second part time job for a major electronics retailer.  State budget cuts and frozen salaries combined with a continually rising cost of living have made this a necessity.

Like any retailer, the holidays are a major source of revenue.  In my particular department, we make somewhere in the neighborhood of two-thirds of our annual revenue between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Black Friday is a big deal for us.  I sold a lot of stuff that day.

I am not paid on commission but my personal sales are tracked.  On Black Friday, each person in the department had an assigned goal of approximately $30,000 in sales.  Keep in mind I'm not selling cars but consumer electronics.  That's a pretty high goal.  On the following Monday I checked our tracking system to see my totals.  To be honest I was pretty excited to see just how much I sold.  Due to a glitch in programming, not all the data was properly assigned.  In my own estimation I knew I had exceeded the goals for all three days of Black Friday weekend, but nothing was there to show it.  I was bummed.  Despite knowing I do not receive any commission or special recognition for my individual sales, I wanted to know.  Then I had one of those "oh great wise one share your wisdom with me" moments of clarity - this is how my students feel about grades.

This is my second year using a standards based grading system.  Assignments receive a score between 1 and 4, depending on the level of mastery they have shown.  At the end of the grading period I conference with each student and we assign a similar score for their overall progress.  I then convert this to a typical 100 point based grade to satisfy local requirements.  I tracked with my students from 6th grade to 7th so this system is nothing new.  However, this year I'm teaching math, a tested subject.  The kids don't really care about grades but their parents do.  Every time I send home a progress report with ones, twos, threes, and fours I have to answer the question, "What's my child's grade?"  These numbers are important because so many people measure everything by them.

So, what exactly did I learn about grading from working retail?

  • despite the lofty ideals of working /learning for the sake of simply doing so, we all want to see some fruit for our efforts
  • when you are being assessed on your work/learning, everyone wants it to be a meaningful assessment.  Don't just give me a set of exercises to do, connect them to something.  Do they really assess my learning OR my ability to recreate rote tasks?

The task for me now is to find a way to address and apply both of these lessons.  What suggestions do you have?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stop the Bus!

After reading Joe Bower's post on covering the curriculum, I find myself conjuring up images of Eddie Murphy and his stand up routine where he talked about chasing the ice cream truck, screaming "ICE CREAM!" at the top of his lungs.  Only I'm yelling "STOP THE BUS!" and I'm the bus driver.  Not quite six weeks into the school year, and I have to figure out what I'm going to do about my route.

You see, clearly, a large portion of my students have failed to learn some key concepts.  With such a large number, the obvious answer is to reteach it.  But how many times?  Do I stop the bus or simply slow it down and leave the door open, hoping the kids will be able to jump on with minimal injury?  How do I use RtI?  Can it be the back up transportation plan or just an excuse I use to not stop the bus?

My heart says stop the bus.  My brain says stop the bus.  At least part of my brain does.  The other part sees the standard course of study mandated by the state.  That same part of my brain sees learning goals like the one prompting this post and thinks they SHOULD HAVE been learned before this year anyway.  Do I keep 80% of the kids from their destination because 20% are too slow?  How do I drive several different busses at once?

It really is a no-brainer - the bus HAS to be stopped.  But it is SOOOOO much easier to say than do.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Embracing Uncertainty, part 1

In The Future of Management, author Gary Hamel argues that one of the reasons leading companies and corporations fall to the back of the pack is not so much the incompetence of its leaders but the "frantically accelerating pace of change" (p42) that is to blame.  They will eventually adapt, but only after it is too late and they have fallen behind.  This idea triggered an "A-HA!" for me regarding our current educational system.  Now I realize this is not a new insight - others have called attention to it before ("Shift Happens" among others).  My a-ha was more in the form of "most of my colleagues are ill equipped to handle the rate of change, regardless of any other philosophical beliefs they may have."  I began to feel a burden that perhaps is now part of my responsibility to assist them in this area.

Since graduating from college twenty years ago, I have worked in what I believe are the two industries that rank first and second on the "resistant to change" scale - the church and education.  I won't deal with church issues here - I have another seriously neglected blog for those matters.  Just because our environments are averse to change does not mean change won't come a knockin'.  In fact, the rapid rate of change hits every year with a new set of directions and I keep hearing, "So much has changed.  Can't we just keep something the same for more than a year?"

I asked for help identifying resources that might help teachers deal with this rapid pace of change.
anyone out there blogged or read anything re: helping tchrs adapt to rapid speed of change in society? looking for thoughts besides my ownWed Aug 04 03:37:46 via TweetDeck
(I'm still looking for input by the way!)  I was eventually directed here, an interview with Alexandra Michel and Stanton Wortham.  The first two clips are the best, though I would recommend them all.  Be sure to check them out.

It's ironic how, according to Michel and Wortham, all the methods we employ to minimize change actually work to minimize our ability to deal with even minor change.  Curriculum is standardardized.  Assessments are standardized.  Lesson plans and PLC's are becoming standardized to the point that you can actually purchase scripted lessons.  This trend weakens our skills as educators.  It causes us to create students who are no longer learners (processors of information) but regurgitators of facts.

So, back to my initial question - how do we help our colleagues deal with this rapid rate of change?  If Michel and Wortham are correct, we need to embrace uncertainty.  We need to remove the routines from our classrooms and our schools.  Am I advocating chaos?  Maybe, but only to a small degree. You should see my sock drawer.  

I think an easy way to begin is really implementing the idea of PLC's and data analysis to their ultimate theoretical ends.  Instead of me teaching EVERY math objective to all my classes and my colleagues doing likewise, let's split up the topics.  I'll teach linear functions to ALL the classes and Mrs. Jones will teach factoring polynomials, etc.  This will require us to alter the sequencing of topics.  In fact, we may need a different sequence every year if we let the data decide.  It becomes "planned" uncertainty, which is a small step.

Can teachers handle this lack of consistency?  Of course they can.  They are professionals who are knowledgeable of the content right?  Does order matter that much?

I have another way to help teachers embrace uncertainty though it would be quite unpopular with many and unenforceable anyway - forbid the recycling of lesson plans.  A better solution would be to report X number of new things you have done during your annual review.  Hamel details how Whirlpool Corporation began a five year quest to create a culture of innovation.  Part of that process was requiring divisions to report the number of innovations and percentage of income derived from them.  Teachers could do this very easily.  Instead of making it a burdensome requirement, it could be touted as, "Share with me the awesome new things you tried that you are proud of.  How did they turn out?"

I have some ideas about how to change the type of student we are creating.  That can be for part 2.  For now, I would like to hear your thoughts on this issue and how you are helping your colleagues embrace uncertainty.