Aug 15, 2012

SITE: Twiddla

From the site: Twiddla is a no-setup, web-based meeting playground. Mark up websites, graphics, and photos, or start brainstorming on a blank canvas. Browse the web with your friends or make that conference call more productive than ever. No plug-ins, downloads, or firewall voodoo - it's all here, ready to go when you are. Browser-agnostic, user-friendly. 

I've been wanting a place to meet with students and help with homework. This looks pretty good. I can't want to try it out.

Write it on your communicator: Twiddla.

SITE: TodaysMeet

From the site: TodaysMeet helps you embrace the backchannel and connect with your audience in realtime. Encourage the room to use the live stream to make comments, ask questions, and use that feedback to tailor your presentation, sharpen your points, and address audience needs.

If you're going to take your audience or class on a journey of several websites, this is great for that. Just type in (or copy-paste) the links, and they only have to click the links. Jim, over at ITD, uses it all of the time.

Write it on your communicator: TodaysMeet.

ARTICLE: Not Happy

District to use tool to tailor teaching

"Arlington schools received grim news last week about their federal Adequate Yearly Progress results, as did nearly half the campuses in the state. All six high schools, two alternative high school campuses, nine of 12 junior highs and 31 of 50 elementaries missed AYP, as did the district as a whole."

That's not great. Surely, there's a bright spot.

"'All campuses will be following a process called Datawise to analyze results, examine instructional practices and develop action plans for improvement,' Cavazos said. 'We firmly believe this process will ensure the progress of all campuses, including those that missed AYP.'"

"Datawise helps teachers see which standards are causing their students difficulty so they can target their efforts to the specific learning stumbling blocks."

Read more here:"

Wait, what? All of us? Do we all have to turn to (and spend money on) a computer program to help us focus on the benchmarks and STAAR test? That can't be right.

"The Datawise system will be used at all campuses, Cavazos said, not just those that missed AYP."

Ah, crap!

Read more here:

Aug 13, 2012

VIDEO: Sorry, no video!

Classroom Of The Future? No Chairs!

I would have bet money that I posted this video before today. I went back through my post list and didn't find it. If I blinked, and I'm duplicating a post, please forgive me...

Ah, I figured it out. I wanted to post it, but the embed function is not available. So, I'll have to trust you to click the link and watch the video.

"In the ongoing effort to improve children's health and education in this country, a school in Rochester, Minn., has entered into a brave new world. As part of a unique experiment, the school has removed the chairs from its classrooms."

Spelling tests on iPods. Math on easels. Sitting on fitness balls. Movement. Excitement. Learning. This can't be ignored.

SITE: Donors Choose

Write it on your communicator: Donors Choose.

SITE: Adopt a Classroom

Write it on your communicator: Adopt a Classroom.

SITE: Teachers Union Exposed

Write it on your communicator: Teachers Union Exposed.

Aug 12, 2012

ARTICLE: Coaching Teachers

Personal Best

Aimee found this article, and put forth a request: I'm particularly interested in what my educator friends think of the idea of having a coach. Give this a look & let me know. Thanks!

Although this may be some sort of homework assignment, and she's secretly getting us to do the work, I'll bite. 

Atul Gawande, a surgeon, feels as if he's hit a plateau with his skills, and wonders about the usefulness of a coach. Athletes have them. Some musicians have them. Some writers have them. Should teachers have them? This was an absolutely fascinating article. From the paragraph about the infected appendix to the suggestions from his coach to the case that went poorly, I loved hearing about his experiences as a surgeon. And, it was flattering to know that he actually spent time in a classroom.

"For decades, research has confirmed that the big factor in determining how much students learn is not class size or the extent of standardized testing but the quality of their teachers. Policymakers have pushed mostly carrot-and-stick remedies: firing underperforming teachers, giving merit pay to high performers, penalizing schools with poor student test scores. People like Jim Knight [director of the Kansas Coaching Project] think we should push coaching."

"California researchers in the early nineteen-eighties conducted a five-year study of teacher-skill development in eighty schools, and noticed something interesting. Workshops led teachers to use new skills in the classroom only ten per cent of the time. Even when a practice session with demonstrations and personal feedback was added, fewer than twenty per cent made the change. But when coaching was introduced—when a colleague watched them try the new skills in their own classroom and provided suggestions—adoption rates passed ninety per cent. A spate of small randomized trials confirmed the effect. Coached teachers were more effective, and their students did better on tests."

A school district in Virginia decided to create an instructional-coaching program, based on Knight's ideas. Teachers in their first two years of teaching must have a coach and teachers with more experience can request a coach.

"Knight teaches coaches to observe a few specifics: whether the teacher has an effective plan for instruction; how many students are engaged in the material; whether they interact respectfully; whether they engage in high-level conversations; whether they understand how they are progressing, or failing to progress."

After observing an Algebra teacher, along with her coaches, Dr. Gawande writes, "She told me that she had begun to burn out. 'I felt really isolated, too,' she said. Coaching had changed that. 'My stress level is a lot less now.' That might have been the best news for the students. They kept a great teacher, and saw her get better. 'The coaching has definitely changed how satisfying teaching is,' she said."

That's important to note. Many teachers would reject a coach because they are uncomfortable with observations. I think that's short-sighted. If we were observed frequently and had constructive conversations, we would grow used to it. In fact, like Ms. Critzer, it would relieve stress and doubt. We would feel better about our lessons and interactions.

In response to Aimee's prompt, I'll say that I would welcome a coach into my classroom. At first, I thought a coach needed to be a Master Teacher, someone with years of varied experience. I don't know if that's absolutely necessary. Matt doesn't have years and years of experience, but many of us would welcome his observations. He's observant, careful with his words, and good at making you think it was your idea. 

Without a coach, I wouldn't have run those quarters (16x70sec) as fast as I did. I would have slowed up when it hurt, and I might have cut the workout short. As teachers, the race gets long and it's hard to push with the same intensity--a coach would really help.

Aug 11, 2012

ARTICLE: Sick of the Attacks

Teachers Can't Go It Alone

This is one of those readings that fill you with a bit of pride. It's nice to know that there are reasonable folks out there that see the world as it is. I'll copy one paragraph and then I'll copy a comment, which I want to tear apart.

"When our children are not reaching their full academic potential, many assert that it's because their teachers have not truly committed to their success. This focus on teacher commitment or expectations, often in isolation, as the main driver of student failure and success, ignores the larger circumstances in which teachers work with students. As this year's MetLife survey demonstrates, a combination of policy pressures and budget cuts has made teaching harder and less attractive than any time in recent decades. When we blame teachers, we fail to address the roles played by budget cuts and by family and child poverty, and we fail to recognize those who are dedicated to student success in the face of great challenges."

A comment from foresure: What I wish someone could explain to me, if teachers are so intelligent, so skilled, so hard working, and yet so underpaid and underappreciated, why don't they seek employment more commenserate with their true worth. Could it be they would have to work more than 9.5 months a year, and would likely take employment that doesn't provide life time tenure, or which would require some showing of productivity? But think of the advantages, no more undesirable kids, no more undesirable parents, no more undesirable principals, no more undesirable administrators. Oh to be Free at Last. 

This person has done a nice job of summarizing the pointless arguments against teachers. 

1) Some people find it so clever to suggest that teachers abandon the classroom for respect and prosperity. I think most teachers accept their paychecks. The problem is that legislators continue to manipulate the system, adding hoops, threats, tests, cuts, regulations, and teachers are suppose to just grin, take it, and bend to their will. If a person isn't called to this profession, she leaves in two or three years. Those called can't just leave because there are problems with the system. So, foresure, you can quit your job when it gets tough. Teachers are going to make some noise until someone listens. 

2) That's right. We work for 9.5 months. And it's a cakewalk. We show up at 8:05a and leave at 3:20p. During that time, we ask the students to sit in their desks and we talk to them. We even get 30 minutes for lunch and 50 minutes for conferences. See, it's easy to oversimplify things. It just sounds stupid and condescending. 

From The Atlantic Wire: Among 27 member nations tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, U.S. teachers work the longest hours, the Wall Street Journal reports. This seems particularly impressive as the U.S. has long summer vacations, and primary-school teachers only spent 36 weeks a year in the classroom, among the lowest of the countries tracked. Yet the educators spent 1,097 hours a year teaching, in the most recent numbers from 2008. New Zealand, in second place at 985 hours, had schools open for 39 weeks a year. The OECD average is 786 hours. Moreover, the hours from the OECD survey are only the time spent in the classroom. According to data from the comparable year in a Labor Department survey, U.S. teachers work in total an average of 1,913 in a year -- close to the average American's full-time hours, which are 1,932 hours a year. The blog American Society Today describes: "This statistic refutes the argument that teachers should be paid considerably less than other workers because 'teachers only work 9 months of the year.'"

3) Here, in Texas, we don't have tenure or unions. I have my opinions about both, but I'll let other people argue those issues.

4) Productivity. Year after year, students learn to read and write. They learn how to simplify fractions, describe the three branches of government, and order the planets. They learn teamwork, perspective, and harmony. But, on that side of your keyboard, you don't see it. You're probably waiting for the newspaper or news channel to report the test results. Oh, there's productivity. If you cared enough, you'd find it.

Man, I'm just sick of it. I'm tired of decisions being made by people who don't spend time in the classrooms, and I'm tired of comments from people who don't value education. Need I remind both groups that they couldn't do what they do without the work of teachers. And that's all it should take for them to care.

COMIC: The Return

Write it on your communicator: A Teachable Moment #30.

ARTICLE: Boosting Test Scores

Will Fear Boost Test Scores? An Unnerving New Way to Motivate Teachers
LINK: Take Part

I've posted on this topic before. I just wanted to point out a couple of things.

The subtitle: Study says: Threatening to take teachers' bonuses back may improve student performance.

In regards to discipline, testing, pay raises, and motivation, the idea of threats has really caught on. Come on, who doesn't associate sound educational policies and techniques with threats? Schools should be fearful, miserable places... like prison.

The author's final question: Which do you think works better: taking money away from teachers if students don’t improve, or awarding them bonuses after students get good scores?

Well, neither, really. It was one tiny study. Studies on merit pay haven't proven its value. The idea of paying teachers but threatening to take it away--like an eight year old's allowance--is a bit insulting. (That's not to say that I wouldn't take the money.) I wonder why the researchers didn't include a group that received an $8,000 pay raise and... that's it. Just a raise. 

"Hey, teachers, here's some more money. You said you're worth it. Prove it!"

And we'd be all over that. A respectful challenge.

ARTICLE: Longer Year

Efforts to Lengthen School Year Have Critics, Supporters

With all due respect to the author, I hate that title.

Eating Bananas Has Critics, Supporters
The Ending of Lost Has Critics, Supporters
Parachute Pants Had Critics, Supporters

Okay, I've had my fun. Now, I'm going to start with the last sentence.

"It helps neither side that the research on the effect of the longer school year on student achievement has been largely mixed."

So, the supporters argue that extra time will help bridge the achievement gap, slightly minimizing the time away from school. That seems reasonable. The critics, including teachers' unions, argue that more time will increase academic stress and burden. That seems silly. Come on, it's only a couple of weeks. Don't you think that kids are about ready to come back anyway. 

As a teacher, I'll argue that the summer break is necessary. We have to recharge. I'm not in love with the idea of a longer school year. But, if they tacked on a couple of weeks, I wouldn't throw a fit. I would be more interested in spreading the school year over 365 days, with two-week breaks here and there. I think that would benefit teachers and students.

That's a great idea. Let's go with that.

Aug 7, 2012

BOOK: Effective Communication

Everyone Communicates Few Connect
John C. Maxwell

Last year, my goal was to design effective, differentiated lessons, bringing endless joy to the hearts of all of my students... I'm still working on that. This year, I'm striving to improve my relationships with the parents and students. As it happens, Aimee asked us to join a group and discuss Maxwell's book. The time was well spent. It's nice to know that, when we begin the year, a group of us, from several grade levels, will have a similar goal--to improve the communication at our campus. Between teacher and teacher, teachers and students, teachers and parents. Although, in retrospect, we should have given our group a name. To build unity.

Aimee's Communication Team!
It's time to ACT up!

There's so much good stuff in this book. I'll leave it to you to read it and use it. I want to point out a couple of lists that spoke to me. Get it? Spoke to me. Score!

In order to connect to a live audience, it's important to have confidence, be authentic, thoroughly prepare, use humor, and focus on the people in the audience.

Mr. Maxwell includes five guidelines (106).
1. Talk to people, not above them
2. Get to the point
3. Say it over and over and over and over again
4. Say it clearly
5. Say less

When capturing the attention of your audience, Mr. Maxwell lists a few of his techniques (179).
1. Start with a Comment About the Situation or Setting.
2. Introduce Yourself.
3. Relax.
4. Begin with Humor.
5. Create a Sense of Anticipation.

When activating your audience, Mr. Maxwell offers three suggestions (182).
1. Ask Questions.
2. Get People Moving.
3. Ask People to Interact.

Mr. Maxwell borrows from Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman: The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. Communication does not depend on syntax, or eloquence, or rhetoric, or articulation but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard. People can only hear you when they are moving toward you, and they are not likely to when your words are pursuing them... (64).

Somehow, someway, we have to get the students moving toward us. I have to figure that out. From G/T to SpEd, the quiet to the loud, the engaged to the apathetic, I must connect to all of them. When I do, I'll let you know. And you'll owe me something fierce.

Aug 4, 2012

VIDEO: Fast Facts

Planning Full Days & Practicing Fast Facts

David and I worked to incorporate multiplication facts into the class--it's important for the students to know them and to recall them quickly. As a fifth grade teacher, it's a hassle. For much of my career, I assume that they know their facts, and, frankly, I don't have time to review and practice. Unfortunately, that leaves behind many students, so I had to change.

Too often, trying to remember or calculate a fact causes problems to veer off course. Now, recently, I'm trying to question everything that we do in the classroom. Are we doing it because it's essential to children learning or are we doing it because we always have? Sure, students can look up everything now, but they can't use a computer on the Test. Plus, knowing facts brings flow and confidence.

Man, I rambled on for a while just to say that I like this video.

VIDEO: Germany's Education Reform

Germany Takes On Education Reform
LINK: edutopia

From the video: ...where officials have decided to grant many schools the freedom to innovate.

Not restrict or punish or dangle money or charterize. The freedom to innovate.

(When the kids are arriving for school, did you notice that the bus is a Mercedes-Benz?)

From the video: These teams have great autonomy and responsibility, and this is where a lot of ideas are initiated. And if a team is satisfied with their work, then they share their ideas with other teams. So that, in time, from a small stone thrown into the water, many ripples are created, and this cooperative structure enables the transfer of innovations to other teams.

Often, when we talk about planning and growing as a team, someone will mention a lack of time. Folks, we have to make this a priority. Not only would it help our lessons, it would improve school climate, student behavior, parent involvement, etc. because we would share ideas about our successes, and, working together, we would solve new challenges.

From the video: This kind of work leads to very high satisfaction. Teachers have the perception that their work is appreciated, their ideas are being implemented. They know that working together is very effective, and they help and support each other. And I think this leads to very high levels of pride and pedagogical development, because they do not work in isolation, but as a team.

If you take a poll of successful countries, you'd find that this is what they have in common. They live and breathe as a team. And it impacts the schools and students in positive ways.

SITE: QR Codes

This blog gives a few examples of using QR codes in the classroom. Honestly, when ordering iPads for next year, QR codes were floating in little dream balloons above my head. Keep reading below the article--someone posted a comment with more uses and a link.

Write it on your communicator: Technology Integration.