Sunday, February 28, 2010

Students Pledge to Go Paperless on Earth Day...

Earth Day Pledge...
The Green Team ran across a blog entitled "TeachPaperless: Seeking social solutions for the mysteries of 21st century teaching that has created an interesting challenge--How many teachers could pledge to go "Paperless" on Earth Day? The Green Team at South Middle School has now created the challenge of having our entire school go "Paperless" on Earth Day! The link to the Blog is if you would like to read more about the challenge. Teachers can pledge to go paperless by clicking on the link found in the Teachpaperless blog and students can pledge to go paperless right here!

Monday, February 22, 2010

"Powering Down" in 21st Century Schools

We have finally taken on the challenge of working with our colleagues within the district, across grade levels in core content areas, to define what is essential for our students to learn and to create the common assessments that will be used to assess those skills. I am thrilled that we are finally moving in a direction that begins to create a K-12 curriculum in our district. However, I have begun to grow concerned as I read Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. Are our schools and curricula frozen in time? Do kids "power-down" when they come to school and then return to the 21st Century as they exit the building? I am afraid that at many schools this is the unfortunate reality for students. Does the current middle school that I work in, function and look like the same middle school I went to? Sad, but true.
As we begin the endeavor to define what is essential curriculum, it seems the charge is to use the content we have always used to articulate the minimums for what a student must know. What happens if the minimum eventually turns to into all of what a student must know? Is this the right message? With educators facing a time where everything is being cutback; from instructional time, teaching staff, extra curricular opportunities, collaboration time, and worse, salary and benefits, the message is: do more, with less. Often times staff feel that the state, district, and building initiatives are too much to ask. The fact is we are all going to have to do more with less. If our students' success depends not only on defining essential curriculum, but that the curriculum is relevant and replaces outdated material, activities, skills, and assessments with those that do not require students to power down when they come to school, is this too much to ask?
How is this task accomplished for our students' future success? When the Race to the Top Initiative is no longer an initiative, it will require that all schools have a rigorous and relevant curriculum that embraces technology in every aspect of student life. How do we get there if we are asking too much?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Thoughts on Motivation and Kids...

My last reflection on Pink's book, Drive, is about how can we use more motivational strategies in the classroom or eliminate some of the demotivating behaviors we use in schools as described by the author. The first topic is about the never-ending debate on the purpose of homework. There are three questions teachers can ask themselves regarding the purpose of a particular homework assignment and how it may affect a student's motivation for completing the task:
1. Am I offering students any autonomy over how and when to do this homework?
2. Does this assignment promote mastery by offering a novel, engaging task (as opposed to rote reformulation of something already covered in class)?
3. Do my students understand the purpose of this assignment? That is, can they see how doing this additional activity at home contributes to the larger enterprise in which the class is engaged?

Offer a day that you "turn your class over" to a student or group of students. Could you do it? What planning on the students' part would be necessary? Can you imagine the responsibility you'd be putting on the student and how much they would feel valued and respected in your classroom? How often could you do it? What is the old saying on the percentage of knowledge learned when you teach it? 90%? It is more than worth it.

Have students evaluate themselves every nine weeks when you complete report cards. Have them determine proficiency on the essential skills or "big ideas" that were focused on each quarter. Don't forget those work habit grades as well. Self-reflection is tremendously powerful. Speaking from experience...

Praise--use "now-that" rewards rather than "if-then" rewards. Praise effort and strategy, not intelligence. Be specific. Keep each child's praise their own, it is not necessary for others to hear their private feedback. Only praise a student when there is a reason for it, they know when you are being fake. This information is based on the work of Carol Dweck, psychologist.

Help students answer the question, "Why am I learning this?" Why is the information essential for them to learn at that point in time?

Finally, are these new topics? No. Have I read about them before? Absolutely. So why does current research still focus on these topics? Because education has still not fully embraced what science knows is true, but continues to repeat the past. What can break the cycle?
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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's Not Personal...

As I reflect on the last chapter of Drive, I want to awaken my motivation, professionally and personally. There are several of Pink's nine strategies that interest me. The first strategy I would employ is to give myself the "Flow" test. At forty random times in a week, I would need to set an alarm to go off and record what I am doing, how I am feeling and whether I am in "flow." I need an iPhone app to help me in this could I set a timer to go off randomly forty times in one week? This data would be interesting! What would my trends show? How many times could it catch me not in "flow"? Would there be a time of the day that I am in more "flow" than others? How could I use this information to help me make better "life" decisions?
The next strategy is to define myself in one sentence...The author states that in 1962, Clare Booth Luce gave advice to President Kennedy. That advice was, "A great man is one sentence." Abraham Lincoln's sentence was: "He preserved the union and freed the slaves." Franklin Roosevelt's sentence was : "He lifted us out of a depression and helped us win a world war." What is my sentence? I think this is always hard for educators; to toot our own horn.
This would make a great staff activity. Have people write each other's sentence. This could be an eye opening experience.
To focus on mastery, Pink recommends these five steps:
1. Deliberate practice has one objective: to improve performance.
2. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
3. Seek constant, critical feedback.
4. Focus ruthlessly on where you need help.
5. Prepare for the process to be mentally and physically exhausting.
The most crucial area is probably the most difficult area, seeking constant, critical feedback. Critical feedback requires "thick skin." Many years have gone by and people say, oh you have to get thick skin. Which I think my skin has gotten thicker, but it must have been see-through in the beginning if it is only as thick as it is now. People always say not to take things personally, which seems logical, but not possible. I am on a never-ending journey to mastery that has more than a few potholes, with one being finding ways to accept critical feedback without taking it personal...

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Thoughts on Purpose...

Purpose is the final element of motivation that Pink describes in his book, Drive. Pink shares that a large number of baby boomers are turning 60. When people hit the "Big -0" birthdays, people tend to reflect on their life and think about whether or not they have met the goals they had set for themselves. This is where purpose comes into play. People that are most satisfied and task oriented, are also very motivated people, have usually connected their "purpose" in life to be something bigger than just making themselves happy. As people in education, we have clearly defined our purpose to be something more than just about ourselves. Can adolescents see their purpose as something more than just themselves? I think at times some do, but as Erin stated the last post, many of these skills needed to attain motivation are very adultlike, for people who have the use of a fully developed brain, not our teens who have brains that are unable to reason and make sound decisions.
There has been research done that shows if goals are solely revolving around ideas that do not contribute to the greater good and that have no impact on well-being can actually contribute to ill-being. Scientists that Pink quoted state that "rich, well off, people may reach goals to have a great deal of wealth and spend all of their time figuring out ways to make more money, are not truly content as there has been less room in their lives for love and attention to those that really count." Profit cannot always be the end all, be all. The purpose is what provides the motivation to burn the midnight oil just as much or more that the amount of money you will earn by completing a task.
The "if-then" rewards (carrot and stick rewards) can be ineffective in many situations. These rewards can have a negative effect on creativity the ability to think conceptually which are most important for the progress of our world socially and globally. The author continues to describe the discrepancy between what science knows and what business does. Is there a connection here to education?
The author states that as adults we can look to children when it comes to the elements of autonomy and mastery, but when it comes to purpose, it is harder to see the big picture, and to realize that one day we will no longer be here, and that attaining some of the gaols we think we are supposed to have may not be important after all. I love this last paragraph:
"We know that human beings are not merely smaller, slower, better smelling horses galloping
after the day's carrot. We know--if we've spent time with young children or remember
ourselves at our best--that we're not destined to be passive and compliant. We're designed
to be active and engaged. And we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren't when
we're clamoring for validation from others, but when we're listening our own voice--doing
something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Have we failed them?

Thoughts on Mastery...

The second of the three elements of motivation that Pink talks about is Mastery. There were several points that got me thinking. The first phrase is described as a "Goldilock's Task." A task that is "just right." Pink states that frustration in the workplace (which can also be translated into the classroom) begins with a discrepancy of what people want to do and what they can do. When people encounter a task that is beyond their capabilities, the person will experience a high level of anxiety. If a person encounters a task that is below thier capabilties, the result is bordom. When the task is "just right" the results are stupendous! When the task is just on the fine line of challenge and comfort, a person is reported to be in the "zone" or "flow." Flow is crucial for reaching mastery. However, just because you are in "flow" doesn't ensure mastery. Mastery takes time (a long time) to reach and you may be in "flow" more frequently, we have to use flow on our journey to mastery. 

There are also three laws of Mastery. The first is that Mastery is mind-set. There are two schools of thought on the intelligence needed to reach mastery. One being that a person can increase their intelligence by continuing to learn and grow and challenging themselves. Another thought is that you will either have the intelligence to reach mastery or you won't.  One school of thought is driven toward mastery the other is not.
The second law is Mastery is pain. The road to mastery--"becoming better at something you care about--is not lined with daisies and ends with a rainbow." Mastery can be reached by exerting effort over a LONG period of time. Julius Erving once said "Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don't feel like doing them."
Lastly, Mastery is an Asymptote (what is an asymptote, Mrs. Stamm?) An example of a horizontal asymptote is straight line that a curve approaches but never quite reaches. Mastery is then something we can work towards, get very close to, but never put our hands on it.

So why strive for something we can never reach? Is the journey more fulfilling than the end result? How do we entice kids to strive for mastery when we cannot guarantee an "end" to the process?