Mar 31, 2012

SITE: Helicopter Parents

Easter Egg Hunt Cancelled, Helicopter Parenting Blamed

An Easter egg hunt was canceled because, last year, some parents crossed the rope to "help" their kids. By "help," I mean, they grabbed eggs for their kids. 

“'They couldn’t resist getting over the rope to help their kids,' said Ron Alsop, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up, which examines the 'millennial children' generation... 'That’s the perfect metaphor for millennial children. They (parents) can’t stay out of their children’s lives. They don’t give their children enough chances to learn from hard knocks, mistakes.'”

Granted, having an empty basket isn't necessarily hand knocks, but I get his point. I see it in the classroom. Parents are under the impression that every assignment, every decision, every egg, every consequence, every everything is the deciding factor between success and failure. What's the worst that could happen if a kid didn't get an egg? What's the worst that could happen if a kid fails an assignment? Honestly, in class, when he sat, talking, ignoring his work, he didn't seem traumatized by the possibility that he would fail. 

More and more, kids lack effort and fight. Rather than buckling down, they complain and blame. After reading a problem once, some students throw their hands into the air or start doodling. I'm sick of hearing, "I don't get it."

Parents don't ask, "What should my child do?" They ask, "What can we do?" And they mean we, parent and teacher. Too often, parents take it personally, as a reflection of their parenting. Or their "common sense" tells them that a mistake or failure will cripple them forever.

No, trust me, their unavoidable hardships will not be caused by a lack of eggs. Try again.

Mar 29, 2012

VIDEO: Sweden's Preschool

At first, I thought this video might bore me. But, it illustrates education in another country, so I had to watch. While American decision-makers concern themselves with money, the law, and personal satisfaction, the folks in Sweden love their kids and want the very best for them. They don't talk about the kids as a priority--they make the kids a priority. Playing. Exploring. Making choices. Taking on responsibilities.

Plus, teachers are respected and given the autonomy to do their jobs. It's such a simple, logical approach to education.

Mar 25, 2012

SITE: Online Stopwatch

Explains itself. I've used this many times.

Write it on your communicator: Stopwatch.

SITE: ClassMarker

"ClassMarker's secure, professional web-based testing service is an easy-to-use, customizable online test maker for business, training & educational assessment with tests and quizzes graded instantly - saving hours of paperwork!"

Write it on your communicator: ClassMarker.

SITE: Fold3

"Fold3 provides convenient access to US military records, including the stories, photos, and personal documents of the men and women who served. The Fold3 name comes from a traditional flag folding ceremony in which the third fold is made in honor and remembrance of veterans who served in defense of their country and to maintain peace throughout the world. Original records at Fold3 help you discover and share stories about these everyday heroes, forgotten soldiers, and the families that supported them. On Fold3, you can combine records found on the site with what you have in your own albums and shoeboxes to create an online memorial for someone who served."

Write it on your communicator: Fold3.

SITE: Edmodo

I know, I'm a bit behind the times, but I finally set up an account. For those who don't know, this site is much like facebook for teachers and students. Fortunately, the students are allowed to only post messages; plus, the teacher must approve the post. This is perfect for questions while working on homework... assuming I want to keep checking it.

Write it on your communicator: Edmodo.

VIDEO: In Hungary

I'm a sucker for documentaries and I'm fascinated by education in other countries; therefore, I have no choice but to show this video.

VIDEO: Exit Cards

After a lesson, I used to give the students 2-5 problems to solve before I gave them the assignment. If they missed anything, I would send them back to fix the mistakes. The conversation went something like this...

Me: You missed three problems.
Them: Which ones?
Me: I'm not telling you.
Them: Aaaauaghgh!

Good times.

I really like this idea of exit cards. It's a daily record. An informal assessment. A means for grouping students. A guide to instruction. Darn good stuff.

VIDEO: Students Collaborate

This video follows nicely after the last post. Having students collaborate in meaningful ways is a special interest of mine. Because this is a freebie year, I wanted to use group work and collaboration, as I've mentioned, and I wanted to talk as little as possible. At first, it's frightening to give up the teaching duties to the students and become a facilitator. At first. After a bit of time, I came to quite like it. During class, my job is a cakewalk, involving observation and answering questions with "That's a great question! Ask your table." Please know, though, that the planning and prep for this type of classroom is a ridiculously time-consuming game of chess, moving pieces into place and anticipating every move from every player in the game. Ack!

This is a great lesson. It's an Algebra class, but that's completely irrelevant. It's really a jigsaw lesson that would work in countless classrooms. And, don't miss this--it's eighth graders, working, discussing, and learning. Good stuff.

ARTICLE: Effective Classrooms

What can we do to make classroom education more effective?

"We know that most classroom talk looks like it always has done: teachers asking ‘closed’ questions to try to prompt specific ‘right answers’ from children. Yet we also know children get more involved and learn best when teachers do the following:
  • explore students’ ideas through using ‘open’ questions 
  • encourage students to put knowledge into their own words (and offer them new vocabulary to accommodate new ideas) 
  • press the students to elaborate and justify their views, eg ‘How did you know that?’, ‘Why?’ 
  • allow students extended turns to express their thoughts and reveal their misunderstandings 
  • hold back demonstrations or explanations until the ideas of some students have been heard 
  • use whole class discussion to help students see where their study of a topic is coming from and where it is going 
  • at least sometimes, allow students’ comments to shift the direction of a discussion (and even, perhaps, of a lesson!)  
  • ‘model’ ways of using language to present rational arguments, so that students can learn by example."  
I don't spend enough time in other classrooms, so I can't speak to the types of questions that teachers use. In workshops, open-ended questions were pushed for a while, so I would hope that many of us are using them. I do my best to ask open-ended and higher-order questions as often as possible. It's a challenge, though, because those types of questions take time and patience. Many times, students will sit, staring. One could argue that teaching students to think will lead to more time later--the students will synthesize information on their own, but it's definitely a slow process early in the year.

"Collaborative group work can be a powerful aid to learning, in all subjects, and for the development of reasoning and communication skills; but in most classrooms, most of the time, it is quite unproductive, even a waste of time. This goes to show that just giving children the opportunity to collaborate isn’t enough – they need guidance. International research has shown that when children are helped to understand talk as a problem-solving and learning tool, and shown how to develop skills in using it, the quality of their talk and group work improves and so do the individual learning outcomes. For children whose out-of-school lives give them little exposure to reasoned discussion, this can be a life-changing experience."

This year--a freebie year--I made the decision to use as much collaboration as possible. I keep my groups small and I give them time to discuss problems and questions. With groups of 4, though, some of them do their best to slide into the shadows--the Math Ninjas. Through questioning and participation (writing on the board, for example), I incorporate those students, but it's lost time. Last week, I broke the students into pairs (because of numbers and grouping, one or two of the groups included 3 students). It was effective--the pairs worked well together, staying on-task and remaining supportive. However, as far as planning and organization, it was extremely uncomfortable for me. Yeah, yeah, I know--I should just suck it up. I do find that they need a lot of instruction before they start; otherwise, they quickly generate a short, incomplete answer or they give up, and discuss the latest news in the fifth grade. It's necessary to anticipate the actions of the groups and the quality of our questions. Do our questions warrant lengthy discussions? Are our "discussion" questions simply closed-ended questions? Are they answering a knowledge question or an evaluation question? 

Jeez, it's a lot to consider before the lesson even begins.

Mar 24, 2012

VIDEO: Changing Education Paradigms

ARTICLE: Another Win for Teachers

Caring Teachers May Help Keep Kids From Trying Alcohol, Drugs

"The connections youth have with their teachers may help prevent kids from experimenting with alcohol and drugs at an early age, a new study suggests. The researchers found that students in middle school who felt more emotional support from teachers had a lower risk of early alcohol and illicit drug use. The students defined teacher support as feeling close to a teacher or being able to discuss problems with a teacher."

Hang on--don't get crazy, parents...

"Parental ties also mattered, according to the study. The researchers explained that youth who are close to or who have separation anxiety from their parents may be less susceptible to negative peer influences, including experimentation with risky behavior such as alcohol use."

It was a limited study, so...

"Although the study found an association between close relationships with teachers and parents and less risk of drug or alcohol use in middle school students, it did not prove that those relationships are the reason why those children were less likely to use drugs or alcohol."

Mar 23, 2012

ARTICLE: Book Buddies with High-Schoolers

American High School Students Are Reading Books At 5th-Grade-Appropriate Levels

"A compilation of the top 40 books teens in grades 9-12 are reading in school shows that the average reading level of that list is 5.3 -- barely above the fifth grade."

"National 12th-grade reading scores were lower in 2009 than they were in 1992."

Uh-oh, teachers, you know what that means, right? In order to improve 12th-grade reading scores, they'll expect you to do more. Regardless of developmental appropriateness, be ready to teach Faulkner, A Farewell to Arms would be perfect for Monday's read-to-peer time, or that lesson on alliteration.

Mar 21, 2012

SITE: Retesting Teachers

New Ohio Plan Aims to Retest Teachers in Failing Schools

"Ohio is pioneering a plan to force teachers in the bottom of 10% of schools, as ranked by the Performance Index (a measure of student test performance), to retake licensing exams if their subject is included in a list of ‘core subjects’."

Well, sure, that makes sense. Clearly, those teachers have forgotten something and we need to retest them. 

Let's not support the teachers with proven, effective staff development. Forget about generating prestige through challenging degrees, competitive salaries and benefits, and autonomy. Don't even think about addressing poverty or the adverse conditions in the communities. Instead, let's hope that a teacher fails his test--we can fire him and get someone who knows how to teach.

From Gov. John Kasich: "'Struggling schools need to be sure teachers are competent and fully capable of teaching their assigned curriculum...'" Successful schools don't need to worry about having competent teachers, trained in the curriculum. Heck, a monkey could teach at those schools.

Just one more threat from those who have no idea what they're doing.

SITE: The AWARE Foundation

At my school, those nominated for Teacher of the Year are asked to enter the AWARE Foundation's Teacher of the Year competition. 

Write it on your communicator: AWARE

"The AWARE Foundation was established in 1989 by a group of private citizens for the purpose of recognizing and rewarding excellence among Arlington Independent School District classroom teachers. The name AWARE stands for 'Arlington Will Award and Recognize (Educational) Excellence.'"

There's a bit of paperwork involved, but nothing unreasonable or difficult. For some, here's the scary part: folks from the foundation make 3-6 observations. Because I'm competitive, I don't mind the hurdles--paperwork, observations, or interviews--I wanted in the game.

Observers for the AWARE Foundation take time to visit classrooms, make observations, ask questions, discuss with other observers, and agree on excellent teaching. On top of the that, private and corporate donations allow for prizes. Community members and businesses are giving away their time and money to honor and award teachers. That's cool. And, as I've heard from my observers, they know that teachers are doing wonderful things in the classroom, and they want to bear witness to them. Great encouragement.

Not to sound cliche... Whether I win or not, I'm happy with the experience. All of my observers have left notes, and they are filled with encouragements and compliments. As a teacher, kind words is all it takes to make my day.

Mar 14, 2012

COMIC: Technology

Write it on your communicator: A Teachable Moment #28.

ARTICLE: Yeah, Good Choice

Charlotte Schools Seeks to Spend Salary Money on iPads

If you've been to my classroom, you know that I love technology. Every teacher and every student should use it. Whether netbooks, iPads, iPods, Smartboards, computers, whatever, technology is a powerful tool for grabbing attention, teaching, learning, presenting, etc. But, it's only a tool. Not a teacher. There's so much more to teaching than presenting information and walking students through problems. I would argue that my best teaching comes through my questions and responses. Therefore, it seems irresponsible and absolutely ignorant to spend money on iPads rather than teachers.

"The $10 million in county money to be spent on the teacher technology grants is in addition to $1.2m already spent on iPads for school administrators. This comes as something of a shock to people doing napkin math and working out that the money could instead have been spent on over 300 full time teachers to reduce class sizes and improve basic fundamental education."

If it takes $1.2m to supply the administration with iPads, I've found an area where they can trim some fat.

Mar 13, 2012

SITE: Zunal

"Zunal WebQuest Maker is a web-based software for creating WebQuests in a short time without writing any HTML codes."

 Write it on your communicator: Zunal.

SITE: Museum Box

Museum Box "allows you to build up an argument or description of an event, person or historical period by placing items in a virtual box. You can display anything from a text file to a movie."

 Write it on your communicator: Museum Box.


Standardized Test Scores Can Improve When Kids Told They Can Fail, Study Finds

The article opens with a video from Teaching Channel...

"As students enter class, they see a math problem on the whiteboard and are instructed to solve it on index cards. After they finish, Alcala immediately sees which answers are right or wrong -- "yes" and "no" -- and chooses her favorite incorrect response, the one most liable to be repeated. She then explains the mistake to the class -- never identifying its culprit -- and demonstrates how it can be avoided."

I don't want to take anything from Ms. Alcala, but Japanese teachers place great value in wrong answers, as seen in The Teaching Gap. After reading the book, I decided to give it a try. For my warm-up, I write six problems on the board. After a certain amount of time, I ask for students to write their solutions on the board. Sometimes, I choose randomly, but, often, I select the best wrong answers. For lessons, I give the class a problem to solve, and ask one, two, or several students to present their solutions. It's the same idea. Wrong answers allow me to discuss what went well, reasonableness, and things to remember. However, I have a class that is petrified--absolutely petrified--of giving wrong answers. Even when they've found the correct answer, they will sit, wide-eyed, staring at me. Ms. Alcala's idea might work for that class.

Illustrating the value of teaching students that failure is natural, the article also speaks to the study of two French researchers...

"The study's findings, publicized by the American Psychological Association, come amid mounting cries against high-stakes standardized tests in the U.S. As more and more states seek to tie students' standardized test scores to teacher evaluations, statisticians often question the validity of those exams. According to Croizet and Autin, high-stakes test trigger a psychological mechanism and lack of confidence that makes it harder to assess aptitude."

I think elementary students want to give up quickly. To help, two things should happen. Following the advice of this study, tell students that [topic] is difficult, but a solution is possible. And, don't be so quick to help them. Let them talk it out and settle on the solution.

"The researchers also found that test relaxation techniques that seem obvious to most teachers, such as telling students that they can perform well, can actually make kids more anxious -- and thus perform at lower levels."

Wow. This illustrates the need to pay attention to research.

ARTICLE: Student Raters

North Carolina to Let Students Rate Teachers

"A Race to the Top funded pilot program for students to evaluate their teachers will go live this Spring in North Carolina."

Oh, heck, what's one more test?

"North Carolina is spending $600,000 in federal grant money to give students a voice in rating their teachers. The money comes from the Race to the Top program and is being spent on consultants to prepare an effective survey based on Harvard University’s research of effective teaching."

I see no value in this at all. Grade-level children cannot be objective. If they have had a "good" year, they'll give a good report. Don't get me wrong--I think I would get good results. I tend to have great relationships with my students, but I know who would give me positive reviews and who would give me negative ones; therefore, it's meaningless, a waste of money. Likewise, it's also pointless to ask parents to fill out questionnaires. I e-mail my parents regularly. I maintain a webpage with links, a homework list, extra work, important dates, etc. I return phone calls. I have the students maintain a folder with assignments, quizzes, and notes. And, yet, I would have parents argue that I don't communicate enough. 

"Teachers who participate will be able to view their collated results and there is hope that the new surveys will provide guidance as to the areas teachers and school should focus on to improve."

Nonsense. The areas that need improvement have nothing to do with the teachers. Another misguided attempt to improve education. Unfortunately, in this day and age, the only bull's-eye seems permanent.

Mar 12, 2012

BOOK: Tested

I'm reading Tested by Linda Perlstein. Though it's non-fiction, it reads like a novel, telling the story of a principal in Anapolis, MD who deals with NCLB and other challenges.

At this point of the story, the district is dictating a change in the math adoption, and they're doing it mid-year. Already, the district has made changes without consulting principals and teachers, so the connection is made to business practices.

"In 2002, an ice cream company chief named Jamie Robert Vollmer explained how he learned to stop criticizing schools for unbusinesslike behavior. Once he paid attention, he said, he learned that schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenues stream, and they are constantly mauled by howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night'" (104).

Chapter 10 describes the conflict of tested subjects and available time--some subjects are postponed or ignored. To help, the administration encouraged the teachers to teach science and social studies through the reading block--assigning science books or sheets as reading assignments. Of course, that's a ridiculous way to teach science. 

"Child development experts frequently stress that learning to solve problems is the keystone of successful intellectual development. Working in groups, asking questions, and seeking answers is possible for even the youngest students, when given the chance and the guidance. This takes time, this often cannot be scripted, this runs the risk of a classroom that is not quiet. But it is worth it--especially for children who don't learn these kinds of skills outside the classroom" (133).

I finished the book--enjoyed it. Having politicians and the public read this book would open a few eyes, I think. It helps to illustrate the juggling act and non-education issues that plague teachers. I'm going to end this post with a few quotes. 

"The achievement gap is slave to the imagination gap and what author E.D. Hirsch Jr. calls the 'knowledge gap'; the first cannot be closed as long as the other two yawn large. It is not just because knowledge will motivate children, though that is a factor. It is because, as Hirsch points out, reading is meaningless without knowledge beyond the scope of what students might be able to decode in text" (138).

"Observers who aren't conspiracy theorists detect a symbiotic relationship among many of the private-sector beneficiaries of the school accountability movement... As several people involved in the crafting of No Child Left Behind told me, lobbyists for testing and school improvement businesses had a far greater role in the law's creation than did associations representing actual educators" (193).

"[A]ssessment experts emphasize it is merely a snippet of time, a snapshot taken on a yearlong trip, and should be treated as such. America's policymakers, eager to use test results as the basis for reform, either haven't gotten this message or choose not to heed it. They dismiss, too, the concerns of many academics that standardized tests tell you... about other factors such as family income, inherited aptitudes, a child's level of effort, or even, particularly for the emotionally disturbed, mood" (214).

"While there are analysts who so strongly believe that America's test scores predict workforce earnings that they have tied monetary value to each point, others assert that research shows no direct connection between scores and what the country ultimately wants its schoolchildren to become: well-paid, college-educated, responsible, motivated, and productive workers and citizens" (241).

Mar 11, 2012

SITE: Class Dojo

This site offers a classroom management system. Award points to the students in real time. It's simple but fun. After reading Marzano, I started the school year with no reward system. I wanted the students to find their intrinsic motivation. Eventually, though, I missed giving prizes and treats--must be in a teacher's blood. Now, again, I'm convinced that material rewards do not motivate students. I need something new--I'm going to try ClassDojo.

Write it on your communicator: ClassDojo.

ARTICLE: Deep Permanent Learning

The Essential Teacher Action

Dr. John Jensen writes, "We wish to be alert to what teachers can do that causes student learning to blast off, that jump-starts students to incorporate knowledge more broadly, and deepen it more permanently." He offers three steps. "1. Define learning as what persists in the mind... 2. Input and output of what you want learned... 3. Repeat step two until everyone learns everything."

As part of step 3, Jensen continues, "Then at least once week, students receive this guideline: 'Pair up now and ask each other the questions all the way back to the beginning of the course.  Concentrate especially on anything you think you are weak on. At the end of the period, turn in to me the name of your partner with the number of points they knew well. Identify any they need more work on.'"

Sounds easy enough. I use think-pair-share for new material, and I'm constantly spiraling, but I should have them regularly discuss the older material. This falls in line with the language objectives for ELPS students.

CREATION: Around the Classroom

A shameless plug. I uploaded something else at TeachersPayTeachers. It's been around for a while, but I finally made a template of sorts. It's a fun activity that gets the students out of their seats.

Write it on your communicator: Around the Classroom in 24 Questions.

Mar 7, 2012

ARTICLE: Idiot-Free Zones

Arizona House Votes To Repeal Gun-Free School Zones

Another example of tax money going to fantastic causes. The Arizona House wants to get rid of those pesky gun-free school zones. Here's the reason...

"[Rep. Jack] Harper, who carries a gun, said that when he is visiting his child's school or attending a school function as a legislator, he has to leave his gun in his vehicle and park away from the building, which he said causes issues for him and other parents." 

Issues? It's called walking, and it's good for you. 

There were enough law-makers who thought this was a good idea. Think about that.

Mar 5, 2012

ARTICLE: Bad Teacher

Confessions of a ‘Bad’ Teacher

"When the assistant principal walked in, one of these students, a freshman girl classified with an emotional disturbance, began cursing. When the assistant principal ignored her, she started cursing at me. Then she began lobbing pencils across the room. Was this because I was a bad teacher? I don’t know... I know that after she began throwing things, I sent her to the dean’s office. I know that a few days later, I received notice that my lesson had been rated unsatisfactory because, among other things, I had sent this student to the dean instead of following our school’s “guided discipline” procedure."

I think this illustrates one of the problems in education. Decision-makers and the administration are out of touch. It's all so black and white with them. When you're close to the action, though, you realize that classrooms can't function like that. 

Let's try something. Before a teacher can "earn" an unsatisfactory rating, the evaluator must present three perfect lessons to the same class. Afterward, the teacher is allowed one more shot. Don't just tell the teacher about the mistakes--demonstrate the right way.

Heck, anyone can criticize, but... can you teach?

ARTICLE: Mmm, Pink Slime

Pink Slime For School Lunch
The Huffington Post

"Pink slime -- that ammonia-treated meat in a bright Pepto-bismol shade -- may have been rejected by fast food joints like McDonald's, Taco Bell and Burger King, but is being brought in by the tons for the nation's school lunch program."

First, that's a good color. When I see Pepto-bismol pink, I know that my stomach will smile soon. 

You know what's in cleaning products, right? Ammonia. It kills germs. That's a big plus in my book. 

If drinking milk is good for teeth and bones, eating connective tissue must be good for tendons or nails or something.

Come on, folks, we're in a financial crisis here! I know that we love them. I know they're special. But, what's more important than children? That's right... saving money! Besides, if something happens, you can have more of them--they're so easy to make. Like cookies. Nine months... bing! Take them out and start all over again.

Mar 2, 2012

SITE: Lapbooking

When I found this on Pinterest, I thought it was a creative idea with great potential. So, I did a search. Good gravy, there were 339,000 results! 

From Wikipedia: A lap book generally consists of a paperboard folder such as a file folder with small pieces of folded paper glued inside. These folded papers may contain facts, diagrams, illustrations, etc. related to the subject. Lap books can be adapted for any subject and grade level. Teachers and parents who use lap books with students say that they enhance creativity and critical thinking while integrating subjects such as science, language, history, geography, and mathematics, depending on the subject of the lap book.

My brain cogs are spinning. The applications for Social Studies are obvious, but Math... ah, that's worth a bit of thought.

Write it on your communicator: Our Homeschool Style: Lapbooking.

Extra credit: Lapbook Lessons.

SITE: Thinkfinity

Lesson plans and student interactives.

Write it on your communicator: Thinkfinity.

SITE: ReadWriteThink

Lesson plans, student interactives, and printouts.

Write it on your communicator: ReadWriteThink.

SITE: Cube Creator

Too cool. This is definitely going on my menus for Social Studies.

Write it on your communicator: Cube Creator.

SITE: Choose Your Own Adventure

Found this through Pinterest. Mr. Roughton has created a cool website with a long list of social studies activities. I like creating menus for the students, hoping that choice and creativity will save the day. This site gives me options.

Write it on your communicatorMr. Roughton's Classroom 2.0.

VIDEO: Voter Fraud

I don't know what's worse: wasting tax-payers money on stupid legislation or fining a teacher for doing her job. One thing's certain, though--sharks are cool.