Monday, September 23, 2013

Road Trip

Once of the things that I was trying to accomplish with my last post was to put forth the idea that, often, learning takes place outside the walls of the traditional classroom. In fact, I would argue that in the history of the world a very small percentage of learning has taken place inside a classroom.  Real knowledge comes from real experience and one of the things that we are horrible at manufacturing in schools is reality.  Most of the time, the things that students are supposed to be doing and learning have little obvious connection with the reality of the world outside the confines of the school.  Our reaction to this is the push for PBL.
PBL seeks to make learning relevant.  Projects aren't treated as isolated bits of knowledge for students to learn. The projects should be integrated within the framework of the curriculum and should include as many real world experiences as possible. The audience should be bigger than the teacher and the project should include opportunities for students to engage in practicing 21st century skills.
Today my students began to investigate Lewis and Clark through the PBS website and Ken Burns' documentary. I always talk about Lewis and Clark embarking on the greatest of road trips. We will try to expand this idea tomorrow by launching a project on the Great American Road Trip.  Students will examine why people "take to the road."  What kinds of things push people to move, to explore?
Students will partner up and look at specific instances in US History when Americans moved about and what were the motivations for this movement? The students will then design a museum exhibit based around the idea of a road trip and will seek to display the reasons why Americans have taken to the road in the past. The exhibits will be set up in an area where people from outside the school can see them and give feedback. I look forward to seeing what the students come up with.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Redesign = rethinking

Wow. It's been almost a year since I last posted on this site. Seems like school begins to happen and I lose track of time and space. Every year it happens and then I turn around and I have gone months and months without posting. I won't vow to change that this year. I've been around the block long enough to know all the cliches that go with resolutions and vows. I won't beat a... oh, never mind.

I do have something on my mind though. It's been bugging me for a few days and being that I do have a soap box of sorts, I think I'll stand on it for a minute.

Last Friday, our school took the whole school on a field trip to the park. Yep, the entire school. To the park. And? It was awesome. Easily the best day of the year so far.

Why the park? Why the entire school? What did we hope to accomplish?

Let me try and explain.

Our school is what is known as a redesigned high school in NC. The General Assembly of NC refers to us as a Cooperative and Innovative high school. What that really means is that we are charged with redesigning high school as we know it. We are trying to be innovative. Trying to throw out some of the old that may not work as well as it once did. Questioning why we do things. RETHINKING assumptions.

Our school also pulls students from 3 different school districts across our county.  We serve as a magnet school of sorts. Once students choose to attend here, students from different feeder schools are suddenly thrown into classes with people they have never met; people they may have little in common with. As a school, we hope to take all of these varied personalities and mold them into the best people they can be.

So we took them to the park, for a day of team building, away from the walls that are too small even for a small school.  Away from the rooms that are too small for the amount of students that have to be packed into them. Away from 3 weeks worth of classes, subjects, books, and teachers preaching the gospel of standards and curriculum, and into the great outdoors.

The planning that went into this undertaking was gargantuan. Things like buses, subs, schedules, approvals, permission slips, parent signatures, etc... all had to be worked out. And it was hard. Seemingly there was a never ending litany of hoops to jump through and obstacles to avoid. But in the end, we made it happen. And it was so worth it.

A beautiful day with students outside. They did team building activities, played soccer, went for walks, gave awards to each other, took pictures, recited monologues, played guitar, and blogged about their experiences.  When it was all over they cleaned up after themselves, thanked us for making it happen, and enjoyed the ride back to campus. As we unloaded the buses, I watched students from different grades and different walks of life hug each other. A few gave high fives. All had smiles on their faces.

The smiles and the hugs and the high fives,  they made it all worthwhile. For one day, actually for half a day, we had taken them out of school where the SCHOOLING takes place. We had put them in a different environment and LEARNING took place. And that's why redesign = rethinking. That's why all the trouble was worth it. And why I hope we do it again soon. No matter how hard it was to make it happen.

Monday, October 1, 2012

students grading teachers (man bites dog)

This morning I found this article in my reader:

I agree with the article.  I have publicly espoused this view for many years.  I said as much more than 20 years ago, almost 25 now, when I interviewed for the NC Teaching Fellows Scholarship as a young and naive high school senior.  If you want to know what's happening in a classroom, ask the students.  They know.
Students are captive audiences day in and day out.  They know the inner workings of a school or a classroom intimately.  We should ask for, and value, their feedback.
We haven't quite hit on a good way to evaluate teachers.  States want to use test scores to say how effective teachers are.  This is a cheap way to evaluate teachers which is why state legislatures often like this method.  However, a test score will never show how a teacher changes a student's life.  A test score will never show that a teacher takes a kid home on some days, stays after school to talk to a student about their life, or cares about the student as a human being.  Tests only show a tiny amount about teachers and should only compare student growth across time using data from the same students.
Accountability should be measured in many ways.  All stake-holders should have a say.  I have never believed that standardized tests tell the whole story with regard to teaching.  I do believe that they can be part of the picture.  Peer, parent, student, and supervisory observations and reviews should all be part of an accountability model for educators.  Teachers that perform poorly in this accountability model would receive additional help tailored to improve their performance in areas of concern.  Some would say that this would become merely a popularity contest.  I would counter that the “popularity” effect could be minimized.  At any rate, a certain amount of public perception and satisfaction should be part of our jobs as teachers.  
   Peers should also be used in an accountability model.  Teachers know what is going on in their schools.  Peer reviews and observations should be part of any accountability model with regard to the teaching profession.  Doctors do this when they have rounds.  Doctors observe other doctors and comment on what they observe.  The reasoning behind this is that both parties will become better professionals because of the experience.
    I have always argued that students know better than anyone what is going on in the classroom.  Student reviews should be part of a teacher accountability model.  We do this at a university level but don’t often do this at elementary, middle, and secondary levels.  We should.  Again, statistical corrections could be made so that the effect of outlying data could be minimized.  If we don’t trust the students, how can we expect them to trust us?

Friday, September 28, 2012

I had this brief moment of reflection just a bit ago.  I was thinking about the things that I had asked my students to do today and I realized that most of the things they were doing couldn't have been done in school even just a few years ago.  Things are changing quickly and I hope I am able to stay on top of the wave of educational technological changes.
As I write this, it's 10:20 in the morning and I'm in the middle of my freshman level World History class.  There are students who are finishing yesterday's assignment: a video from PBS where Bill Moyers interviews Salman Rushdie.  These students are thinking about radical religious views and how fringe elements in religions change the public perception of those religions.  This follows up a #PBL project that we just finished where I asked students how religion causes people to hate.
Other students have finished the video and are working through 2 assignments on the Sas Curriculum Pathways site.  They are analyzing documents, watching and listening to online presentations, and emailing me their results.  I posted the link to the assignments on our class edmodo page and their grades will be posted to our school engrade account in the next few days.
While they were working on those assignments, I was posting grades and typing a test that my US history students will take on Monday.  The test will be on engrade where I can automatically enter the grades with a click of a couple of buttons.
The first period US History class worked through a study guide that I gave them for the test.  They used my notes, which are online in power point form on the school website, and various internet sites to help them work through the study guide.  They will continue to work on the study guide over the weekend and will text me or post to edmodo if they have questions. As the day goes on, I will tweet out several questions and answers for Monday's test as a reward to those students who have followed the class twitter account.
Technology has certainly changed our world and is changing our classrooms.  I'm just hoping my surfing skills will allow me to stay above water.

Monday, September 24, 2012

     Today, my Honors US History students finished their 2nd true #PBL project.  Their task was to design a museum exhibit around the idea of the "Great American Road Trip."  In other words, they were to look at times that Americans had taken to the road.  I gave them 15 topics to choose from and they spent about a week researching these topics, taking notes, writing quiz questions, and putting together museum exhibits about the topics of their choosing.  They set up their exhibits today and I had people from the community, district office, parents, and other students come by and look at the exhibits and rate them with a rubric.  Tomorrow the students will take student generated quizzes on the information that they deemed the most important about their projects.
     My takeaways from my 2nd #PBL project:

  • Involvement of "outsiders" is a must.  Students have to know that it isn't just me looking at their projects.  This makes the project more real.
  • Allowing others a chance to "grade" the project is also important.  Students have to know that there is a level of work that most people expect.  When I bust on them for doing work that isn't their best, they just think it's me giving them a hard time.  When other people point out that the students didn't perform up to the level of their ability, students reconsider.
  • Giving the students voice and choice over their products was a good idea.  They were able to be creative and got to focus on subjects that mattered to them.
  • I needed to give the students more time with the rubric.  They didn't have enough time to adjust their exhibits to the demands of the rubric.
  • I need to communicate my thoughts about the project better.  I realized at some point today that what I think an exhibit should look like is different than what they may think it should look like.  No one was at fault and it didn't harm their grade, but I need to do a better job of having them visualize what the end product looks like.
  • Students really need help to think through the process.  Some of them didn't manage their time very well and so were doing some last minute tweaks.  Projects should be ready to go when the deadline is reached.
  • My students are very creative and did an awesome job!
Pics and other comments to follow as soon as I get them uploaded.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Things I Want to Say to Other Teachers

     I would say to teachers, don’t be afraid.  Don’t be afraid to think differently, don’t be afraid to try new things, don’t be afraid to fail; miserably.  Pick yourself up and go at it again.  It won’t always work the way we believe it will when we are planning it out.  Our students have to know that as well.  We learn from our mistakes.
    I wonder if we interviewed the teachers that taught us, would they say that they were worried about the future?  Would they say that things were changing fast?  That they were worried about the ability of schools to keep up with a changing society?  Would they say that they were worried about us taking care of them in their old age?
    And yet, here we are.  In spite of ourselves.  Giving it a go.  We have become productive citizens.  I believe that our students, today’s students will too.  We have to believe in them.  We have to treat them “as if” they are already the people that we know that they can be.  Maybe, in doing so, we inspire them to be that person that they see inside of themselves.
    So, I would say to teachers, believe in your students.  Believe in their abilities.  Accept these students where they are, and push them to be better.  Challenge them to be become the people we know that they can be.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I've been doing some writing as of late, so I figure I might as well post some of my musings here.  Feel free to agree or disagree.  Comments are always welcome.

I tend to think of teachers in the same way that I think of doctors.  Doctors treat patients who may or may not follow the advice of the doctors.  Teachers are like that, we have very little control over our student’s lives while they are away from us.  
    Most people remember their teachers, both the good and the bad.  We all had good teachers that molded us as human beings and made us want to be better.  We all also had “bad” teachers.  The difference is that we can go to other doctors for second opinions if we do not believe our doctors.  Or we can switch doctors entirely.  Students often do not get a choice as to what teacher they get.  That’s why it’s imperative to have good teachers.  Most people respect teachers, but also recall the bad teachers they had.  To improve the teaching profession we need to have strong teacher support programs to help teachers who are having problems.  The use of rounds and critical friends protocols could help all teachers improve their methods.
    I try to model the use of rounds at my current school.  My colleagues and I have committed ourselves to this.  We observe each other and provide feedback to each other.  I would encourage all teachers to take part in the rounds process.  By observing others we often learn something about ourselves. I would also encourage teachers to share lessons with one another in a critical friends setting.  Through the use of critical friends, educators might find help with the planning of lessons.  This “extra set of eyes” on a lesson in the planning stage might be able to spot problems before they emerge.