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.

Monday, July 2, 2012

So, is it wrong that it's summertime and I don't want to post anything about school?  To me, summer is a time to get away from all things school.  It is a time to recharge our batteries, experience life on our own terms.  It is a time to quit thinking about school and start thinking about our friends, and our families.  It's a time to explore, to be the people we dream ourselves to be.
I decided all of this while I was sitting here at my desk in the basement of the house.  The last 3 days have been record setting days of the heat variety.  I have done my best to avoid the hot parts of the day and have embraced water in whatever version it happens to present itself.  Last night we even had some rain and I have to tell you that I danced in it for just a bit.  All the gardens in our neck of the woods needed some rain.  My spirit needed some rain.  Hopefully there will be more rain this afternoon.
But thinking of the rain and the local gardens reminded me that I had a bunch of work to do at the school garden.  I have neglected it for the past week or so.  I've only been over there to pick cucumbers or munch on some cherry tomatoes.  But there is much work.  The weeds have just about taken over.
So I guess in this post I'm asking for your permission.  Permission for another day of avoiding the garden.  Permission for another day of avoiding school. Permission for not looking at all the notes I have written to myself.
It seems I have lots to say and do but very little motivation to do these things.  Sometimes we just need another day to play.  Another day to enjoy summer vacation.

Monday, June 25, 2012

day 1

Today, we had day 1 of our PBL training.  It was the kind of staff development that makes you think. And that's a good thing. 
I won't get into much of it here today because I'm waiting to see what the next two days will bring before I talk too much about it.  I also won't get into much because my colleague @sraspanglish has beaten me to the proverbial punch with her great post on day 1 of our Buck Institute ( @biepbl) training.  You can read her post here:
She did a great job showing the cool kinds of #pbl training that we are receiving and the thinking processes involved.
I won't post my project here because, to be honest with you, it pales in comparison to the exciting project she has described. Also, because I can't seem to wrap my head around what I want the students to do.
I'm going to let this one stew for another night while I collect my thoughts.  But a quick takeaway from today.
#1. The learning must be authentic.  Which means, why do the students WANT to do the project?  Have you hooked them with a great driving question?  Does the driving question lead to more questions?  Are they intrigued by the question?  Are they intrigued by the product?  There must be a real world application somewhere, somehow and the students must see it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Now that summer is here, I've been thinking about this blog more and more. I've been unhappy with it and its scope for quite sometime. So, I've decided to do something about it. The tweaks are in the works. The blog will still be mostly about education, technology, and the happenings around our school. But, I will also post about other things from time to time. All work and no play makes me a dull boy. And might also make for a dull blog. So, I'm going to try and post more often and it might not always be about education or technology. I hope though, that it does make sense and causes people to think. Check back with us when you have the time.

Monday, March 19, 2012

beyond the textbook

My twitter stream has been filled most of the morning with the hashtag #beyondthetextbook and it has been an interesting conversation. I thought while I was thinking about it I would write a couple of short notes about the conversation.

#1. I am all for losing the traditional textbook. As it stands now, most of my classes don't use the textbook very often. I don't think that US History has used their text at all this year. World History has done some work out of their book here and there. AP US has nightly reading assignments from their book but I could just as easily give them readings from somewhere else. But there are problems.
Internet access is absolutely critical to losing the text. In the classes that I teach that use the computer lab, I almost never refer to the book. But in the classes without access, the students use their book more. It would either be a text of some kind or internet access. If I ran off all the things that I wanted my students to read then my school might get angry and the way that I was using up paper resources for readings.

#2. The biggest resistance would come from people who use the book quite a bit. Some of these might be veteran teachers but some might also be new teachers who are still learning content. It's nice when veteran teachers have been teaching the same thing for many years and have lots of resources. Unfortunately, most novice teachers don't have many resources. I wonder if we made veteran teachers teach a new subject if those teachers would so easily be able to get rid of the text.

#3. Parents like to know that the students have textbooks. We would have to change the way that parents view education in order to get rid of all textbooks. Of course, this applies to everyone who has ever gone to school. Part of the problem with any ed reform is the fact that we have to convince stakeholders that the schools do, in fact, know what they are doing.

Anyway, just a few quick thoughts. Maybe I'll come back to this later after I have more time to think on it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

brief thoughts on ipads

As you may or may not know by now, our district has an ipad pilot program going on and my classroom (as well as several others) is a part of this program. The district began this pilot by asking teachers to apply for a classroom set of ipads. Several teachers at our school decided to apply together and we were chosen as one of three classrooms to receive a set of ipads.
Now, after a few months of using the ipads, I feel like I might have a bit of insight into the nuts and bolts of ipads in the classroom. So here are a quick few thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly of using ipads in a high school social studies classroom.

We'll go in reverse order to end on a high note.

The Ugly:
Ever had one of those days where nothing goes right? If you are planning on using ipads in the classroom then prepare for several of those days early on. There will just be times where the technology doesn't work the way that you think it is going to work.
We had days where only half of the ipads would connect to our school wifi. We had days where the students had entered less than desirable "phrases" into auto-correct. We had days where students had deleted the apps that we were planning on using. We've had days. Boy, have we. But now, we have solved most of those problems and those days happen a lot less often. We still have problems here and there but it isn't as ugly as it once was and we are still learning and tweaking what we are doing. The point is, we're learning along with the students and although we had some ugly days, we worked through them and now things are running much more smoothly.

The Bad:
Ipads require a lot of upfront time and planning. Really, all lessons require planning and thought whether or not you are using ipads or books or paper and pencil. The thing that makes the ipads stand-out as really useful and cool for education is the amount of apps available. Of course, if you are going to use these apps, they have to be loaded on the ipads. Sometimes they have to be PURCHASED. This takes time. The district has done a great job of streamlining this process but it still takes a few days. So, if I want to use a PAID app next week in one of my classes, I've got to know that a week ahead of time and I have to plan accordingly.
If I want to use a free app, I still need to give myself time to load the app on the ipads. This usually takes me a little time and can't be a last minute thing. One of my colleagues just came in here with an idea and looked at the ipads to see if they had an app he could use tomorrow. They didn't. Neither of us has time in our schedule today to spend loading new apps. So he'll have to come up with another idea or wait until tomorrow when I have a planning period or he has lab time to look for an app and to download it and sync it to all the ipads.
Another time suck as far as the ipads go is actually finding and testing the apps. You have to spend some time looking at apps, reviewing apps, and playing around with them to see if they do what you want them to do. Some of this is fun. Some of it is not. It is all time consuming. It helps to find people you trust and ask them what they are using. For instance, there are all kinds of mind-mapping apps. Which one should I use. Which one has the most functionality? Should I pay for one or is there a free one that works? All of these questions have to be answered before you load the app on the ipad.

The Good:
Instant Engagement. As soon as students touch the ipad, they are engaged. We did an oregon trail lesson and students didn't want to leave when the period was over. They begged to keep playing. They have never begged me to keep lecturing.
A variety of tools. This is an instance where the ipad is like a swiss army knife. There are so many different apps that are available. Want to take an easy survey? There's an app for that. Want students to look at maps of the world? There's an app for that. Want students to read a text and make their own flash cards? You guessed it. There's an app for that. There's an app for almost everything and students LIKE using these apps. The ipad is, without a doubt, a game changer.
Couple that with movies, books, presentations, etc... that students can view on the ipad and it quickly becomes apparent that this little tablet device is going to make the classroom of the future the classroom of the present pretty quickly.

Let me know what you think.

links are to our district ipad pilot page and to my colleague geoff crosson's blog where he is also talking about ipad lessons and other related educational type

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Time flies

One of my colleagues asked me about this blog a day or so ago. He wanted to know if I had moved it to another place. My response was "no, I've just been busy and haven't thought about it very much."
Time flies these days. It's hard for me to fathom that three months have passed since I last updated this blog. But I promise, posts are on the way. I've much to talk about but first I have to finish reading senior papers. That should be done soon and then I'll be back. I promise. Until then, keep on rocking in the free world...