Sunday, February 13, 2011

Brainwashed by the MEAP Police

I am in the beginnings of reading a book for my Admin PD, FOCUS: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve the Student Learning by Mike Schmoker and the first chapter has already got me thinking. Schmoker (2011) states there are three elements that are necessary to truly increase student achievement: What we Teach, How we Teach, and Authentic Literacy. I would like to address the first element: What we Teach. The most recent staff meeting that introduced our new lesson plan format was ugly. The staff has a lot on their plate and this just added a bit more to it. We are trying to focus on a few key points necessary for quality lesson planning.

So the first chapter in this book reiterates what we are trying to “convince” our teachers of, I use the word convince, because to “not teach all of the standards” goes against everything we have learned in the past as educators. I consider the “brainwashing” by the “MEAP Police” responsible for the reason teachers like to “cover” material rather than teach for mastery. We still feel we have to teach all of the GLCEs, (standards) which I am quite sure we all know is impossible. Many of us do not have the confidence in ourselves to define essential or power standards. We have spent many hours as a district trying to define what an essential outcome is, but when I hear a teacher say that they reduced the proficiency level of a student because they knew they really weren’t proficient, scares me. Do we not trust ourselves in creating an assessment to determine proficiency? Who should create these assessments?

I know Marzano says that if we were to teach every standard K-12 we would teach our kids through grade 22 or 25, my memory escapes me…anyway, my teachers still feel responsible for teaching every GLCE there is, which leads to “coverage,” a word that I would love to ban in my school. In an era of power standards, essential skills, and common assessments what happens if we don’t feel comfortable determining or designing any of those? With no direction from our district, who guides us? What happens when we are evaluated on teacher-designed student performance assessments when we don’t feel confident in developing those assessments? Will our salary really rely on that?

Our district has engaged in numerous opportunities for teachers to design curriculum, even though the fidelity and follow through is lacking, we continue to put together pacing guides and curriculum documents. Still we have teachers who are unaware of the previous year’s teaching as well as the post, well, check that, what is a pacing guide, the list of chapters in a textbook? Curriculum is not the state standards or the table of contents of a textbook, yet that is all many of us still see.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sit Still and Stop Learning?

I attended a presentation by Dr. Dieter Breithecker at Fanning/Howey Inc. on October 22, 2010. Dr. Breithecker studies the complexity of movement and its relationship to learning. The focus of the presentation was on Ergonomics in the School Environment. I think as educators we are aware of the difficulty students have remaining seated for long periods of time. Specifically, the research states the elementary students can only remain seated for 5-10 minutes, adolescents for 20 minutes and adults for only about 30 minutes. I believed this to be true in the context of attention span. However, the length of time a person sits and the particular way they are sitting, directly impacts the ability to learn and retain knowledge.

When posture is discussed, sitting upright with the knees pointed slightly outward provides the best lower back support and opportunity for the diaphragm to expand easily. The human body cannot remain in that position for long and will eventually slouch, thereby creating discomfort in the lower back and compromise the abdomen and the performance of the internal organs. This same experience can be recreated when students are sitting in static chairs and are asked to work at a table. The optimum seating when at a table would provide for movement in the pelvic area so when you lean forward the angle that is created between the upper body and lower body is the same as when seated upright.

Studies have shown that when the body is receiving messages via multiple sensors (eyes, ears, touch, smell, and sound) the more learning is taking place. Not a new concept. However, Dr. Breithecker stated that there is yet one more sensor that increases the ability to learn more than the others listed above, and that is activating the muscles and joints in the body. It is the body’s natural instinct to move. Our ancestors were always moving. We teach our babies to crawl, walk and then run and then we teach them to “sit still” when they get to school. There are physical and biochemical reasons why people cannot sit still. How can we incorporate movement in the learning process? Can educators be OK with students standing, sitting, lying, and walking around the classroom at various points during a lesson? Can we create lessons that provide for such movement? If we know that movement creates stronger synapses in the brain, why do we want our kids to sit still in class?


Friday, September 17, 2010

What is It about? It is about the CULTURE!

My first exposure to the New Tech Network (NTN) was last year when I took several staff members to learn about Project-Based Learning (PBL)…or at least that is what we thought we were there for. The workshop seemed to be more about implementation of NTNs around the state of Michigan. This was not necessarily what we signed up for, but was interesting information none the less.

Just last week I was asked to visit a NTN High School in Indiana and I agreed, as our district is exploring the implementation beginning with a segment of the ninth grade class in 2011. So I made the three hour trip to Fort Wayne after our Open House, arrived in the hotel and fell into bed at 11:00. I woke up this morning looking forward to seeing this school in action.

We were one of three districts visiting; Willow Run and Niles are also in the same exploring stage as we were. New Tech Academy @ Wayne High is in its second year of implementation, there are 100 freshmen and 100 sophomores at this school within a school. As the philosophy was explained, the key elements of the teaching strategies were shared with us and used to guide us in the inquiry process. What do we know (about NTN)? What do we need to know (about NTN)? were the guiding questions used in all NTN lessons as well as with the visiting groups. PBL in a 1:1 environment is the basis for all instruction in NTNs.

The next session of the day consisted of a panel of students who were open for questions regarding PBL. These students were able to articulate the advantages, challenges and examples of PBL projects in their courses. Most courses were integrated such as BioLit, ICAP: Integrated Chemistry Algebra and Physics, and GeoCad: Geography and Computer Aided Design, to name a few. One particular project consisted of working with Edy’s Ice Cream to help them design a packaging method to ensure the same volume of ice cream with less overhead for how they packaged their product. The final projects were presented to a member of the Edy’s organization…Freshmen, yes freshmen accomplished this task!

The next session involved student led classroom visits—phenomenal! The students in the class clearly articulated what they were doing and why, worked collaboratively and independently on their laptops. The sophomores were clearly able to function in this setting with very little direction from their facilitators (as the teachers are considered more of facilitators of learning rather than the teacher who relays information). On our tour we noticed that there were no locks on lockers, how could that be? Students don’t worry about having their valuables stolen? "No we trust each other" they said…WOW!

Our next session had the same students address CULTURE! The driving beliefs of NTNs are Trust, Respect, and Responsibility. It became very evident that the students in the NTN had a very different culture than those in the “other” school, Wayne High. These schools are in one building, which made me wonder how do they interact? How they treat each other? The students described feeling that New Tech was “their” school. There were signs on doors that did not permit the Wayne High kids to come into the New Tech part of the school. This still makes me uneasy, but most kids seemed ok with it, New Tech kids and Wayne High Kids as I got to talk to both. There seems to be an accepted feeling that kids in New Tech are “better” than the other kids, and New Tech kids believe it. Why wouldn’t we want to offer this experience to all kids? The CULTURE that New Tech has created is we are about learning, not the drama that comes with traditional high school settings. Why can’t all schools have a CULTURE of Trust, Respect and Responsibility? They can…#edreform!

In an effort to shorten this already long post, what New Tech is about is CULTURE! It is not the 1:1 initiative, the focus on 21st century skills, the link to the future workforce environment, or a small house setting. It is the CULTURE. The students are immersed in a respectful environment where they have a voice, they create their own norms, they create solutions to the problems that are developed in their course, and they are in charge of their own learning! I can only hope to take back ideas on how to create the same culture in our traditional setting (I beg to differ that our school is really all that traditional, but we are) and make it work with our kids!

As always I am an optimist and this CULTURE is and what should be in every educational setting—I want it! I want it bad! What is student achievement about? It is about the CULTURE! What are high performing teachers about? It is about their CULTURE! What is a successful school about? It is about the CULTURE! What are supportive building and central office administrators about? It is about their CULTURE! What is an Exemplary District about? It is about the CULTURE! It is about the CULTURE, folks, it is about the CULTURE!


Friday, September 3, 2010

Summer "Should've Been Blogs" Part 1: Enjoy the Cruise

So many moments I thought about blogging this summer, why did I pass them up? Will I ever catch up? Will I simply do one huge blog right now when everything is on my mind? Let’s see?
One conversation happened before the seven teachers retired from our building has been on my mind ever since…She told me not to tell anyone her idea until she was gone because she did not want to be considered “sucking up to the principal or creating one more thing on thing on their plate” Wow, how I have struggled with this conversation, if teachers feel like they should keep great ideas a secret how are we ever to improve our entire school? Anyway, very bothered by this philosophy, how many teachers really feel this way? Are we not in this together? We all go down with the ship or we all enjoy the cruise!


Teacher welcomes texting in class

Teacher welcomes texting in class


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

#ISTE10 TakeAways Part 3: A New Passion Full of Lessons...

Google Forms with @tammyworcester was amazing and gave me a great deal more info than I had already had on this topic. Her tips and tricks are endless and her website is one to share! Numerous templates are available and I will be sure to share the ease with which Forms can be used for data gathering, rubric creators, self-checking quizzes, journal moderating, and class voting. Check out her website for more info Work smarter, not harder with Google Docs…Lesson #6!

The last session I attended was Crap Detection with @hrheingold. The topic was determining what we decide is accurate and reliable content on the web. One piece of advice that was given to the audience was to see what your PLN talks about and regards highly. His handout provides lots of resources to help work with students to evaluate the material they find online. “If it sounds too good to be true, it is probably not true”…Lesson #7!

Needless to say the conference invigorated me, inspired me, and got me thinking about how to integrate this new information into my work, share with colleagues, and use in presentations for my students and parents. The possibilities are endless! I can’t wait to plan for next year’s conference, as I will be sure to attend the leadership boot camps and many of the ticketed sessions so I never have to miss a session due to overcrowding. #ISTE11 Here I come! Encourage more administrators and teachers to attend...Lesson #8!


#ISTE10 TakeAways Part 2: A New Passion Full of Lessons...

The next session was presented by another person I follow on Twitter, @dwarlick on Cracking the Native Information Experience. Several points stuck with when I left this session. He spoke about the fact that our students live in a social networking, gamer, and hyper-connected world. How can we crack the code and teach the way they want to receive information? How can we change the paradigm of kid-think being “how many pages does it have to be?” to “What do I need to show so that it is evident that I have mastered the concept?” How can education encourage kids to ask questions? Blogging and using video games let them be the creators of their knowledge. Video games with no directions interest students so much that they will spend hours trying to figure out the objective. Do we encourage risk-taking in our kids and encourage them to learn through their mistakes? Don’t chop our kids’ tentacles off when they come to school …Lesson #3!

@reneehobbs gave me a great deal to think about at the session on Copyright and Clarity and Fair Use. I created a presentation for my students last year on Digital Citizenship, and was unaware that I had tapped into her resources already, but they provide a wealth of info for all educators. The message I heard loud and clear from this session is know what transformative use is and how it falls under Fair Use! How interesting it was for the US Library of Congress to decide jailbreaking of the iPhone and mixing video as Fair Use! If your information adds value or repurposes old information then it is transformative use…Lesson #4!

The next session I attended was a Panel discussion on 1:1 Learning—an Update on Mobile Learning Programs in K-12 Schools today. Three schools presented on how they implemented a 1:1 environment and the issues they faced. Most people expressed the fear that the mobile learning devices (MLDs) would come up missing, and everyone was pleasantly surprised to see that the students valued the tools so much that they brought them every day—if not they knew they would have to use paper and pencil to complete tasks with which they normally used the MLD. One school in particular had a great story to share. The school was very old and had difficulty even having two overhead projectors on at a time on a given floor. So with the given infrastructure concerns, there was no possibility of charging a mobile laptop lab let alone have a 1:1 environment. The district decided to work with Verizon and each student received a smartphone that they could then take home to charge at night! Kids brought them back every day as these MLDs are a motivating technology tool for the classroom…Lesson #5!