Vol.#79: Southern Snow Days

It was just after Thanksgiving in 1985. My family had just relocated from Newton, New Hampshire to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I was in fourth grade, my younger sister in first.

Our first week there, my mother received phone calls from some horrified very concerned teachers. Where were our gloves? Scarves? Boots? Winter coats? I mean it was almost December! Of course, temperatures would have been in the 60s, which would have been May weather for us. Coats? You’re lucky we’re not here in shorts.

“Map: How Much Snow Cancels School?” via The Atlantic

Here in NC we have only attended school on both Mondays the past two weeks.  During these eight snow days, I have seen lots of commentary on social media about the “Southern Snow Day” phenomenon. The Atlantic did a piece last year with a Map: “How Much Snow It Takes to Cancel School in the US”. They made sure to make the point that it’s more about infrastructure than fortitude of citizens.

Still, comments like, “We’d love that forecast up here in Maine!”  or  “We have six inches more than you and we’re still going to school here in Massachusetts.” were lobbed at those of us holed up in our homes by mere whispers of winter weather.  “We just have a different mindset up here,” one friend of a friend posted.

No. False. It’s much more than your “mindset”. It’s a result of societal, environmental, and biological differences.

A society decides on what to spend its collective revenues. It’s not worth investing in salt trucks and sand trucks and arsenals of snow plows to maintain the roads full-time when your state doesn’t get snow for three weeks, let alone three months. Boston and Nashville are of similar size in population, but it would not make sense for their budgets to allocate similar funds to snow management.

Image Credit: Flickr User TrackHead
Image Credit: Flickr User TrackHead

The environment here surrounding a snow event is also different. It gets warm enough here during the day to remelt the snow. Then snowmelt refreezes at night, making a treacherous black ice glaze. It’s not that “southerners can’t drive on snow” because it quickly becomes sheets of ice. Northerners aren’t going to drive on that either, even with your fancy snow tires. And of course all our school districts need is one bus to slide on our ill-prepared roads to be open to litigation.

The panicked run to the grocery store that makes the news is not the overreaction northerners think it is either – we may or may not be able to get there for weeks. They can roll their eyes if they want, but I and many colleagues were stranded at our schools with students overnight due to these sheets of ice resulting from the mere half-inch of snow in 2006. I’m going to go ahead and get bread and milk, m’kay?

Finally, there’s the biological differences I experienced first hand at nine years old. I wore shorts that first winter, but wouldn’t now. Our blood thins/thickens due to where we live. People adapt to their environment. There are more heat stroke stories from the north than the south in the summer. They just aren’t as adapted when temps spike. It doesn’t mean southerners should take to social media to call them “wimps” for it.

A month into that first school year on Hilton Head Island in 1985, it “snowed” with the lightest dusting. School completely stopped and everyone went outside. The fourth and fifth grades were in mobiles, and I remember so clearly how teachers and students were running around, laughing, delighted….

I had just moved from New Hampshire. One could literally see the ground right though this “snow”. I didn’t get it.

It had not snowed on the island in over a decade. My classmates, unless they had moved like I, had never seen this stuff fall from the sky in their entire lifetime and might not again until their twenties.

It was  a big deal.   I didn’t get it then.

I do now.

 

Vol.#78: Never The Destination

accountableI read Karl Fisch’s great post over at The Fischbowl about the word “accountability” and how too many in education erroneously equate it with using standardized testing to justify educational actions and decisions.

It got me to thinking how this current phenomenon often has educators, sometimes myself included, pinned in the corner of “all standardized testing is bad.” This is an understandable reaction to the ridiculous, high-stakes, over-emphasized testing of today. When one feels they are under attack, they take a defensive stance. Testing gives a snapshot of a narrow facet of skills, and while it shouldn’t be the focus nor the be-all-end-all… it isn’t completely useless.

After writing recently about my frustrations of the frequent pre-screening before the pretesting before the big test, it must sound like I’m completely backtracking. However, it’s the way the data is used that is important to examine.

Testing should be small, incremental, low-stakes, and personalized. If  I have a student who is struggling, as a language arts teacher I should be able to request testing to indicate issues of fluency vs. comprehension to know how best to help him/her.  It should be targeted and prescriptive, but this would require trusting educational decisions of professional educations, which is not what’s happening in the political scope of education right now.

Even the larger tests that level students in achievement ranges could be helpful if it were early in the year so teachers could use it to help inform their instruction for the year. However, it’s used at the end of the as a  summary of what the student and teacher have “done right”. This, again, is a misuse of the data. It’s an autopsy when only a biopsy can help a teacher help a student. Also, inferences are being drawn from the data which does not measure what it’s being assumed to measure. (ie: “teacher effectiveness.”)

Therefore, high-stakes testing becomes the “goal”. Schools can’t test to see what they need to teach, they are too busy scrambling to teach what’s on the test that contains what someone else decided was important and another said it would carry serious consequences for the student, teacher, and school if some bubbles aren’t colored as well as last year.  And consider what that these tests could never measure for just a moment…

Your doctor does not decide your heath on a BMI score or triglyceride reading alone.  However, that small piece of data can inform a medical professional if its part of a larger picture. The problem is when non-educators in charge of education (which is a problem in and of itself) decide to measure the doctor’s competence by his/her patients’ BMI average (teacher’s test scores). This is a misuse of the data, and a ridiculous way to measure the doctor. 

TL; DR:

Education Haiku

Vol.#77: Early Adaptation

One of my earliest posts (Volume #7) was about how to use technology to its maximum advantage in the classroom.  I’ve sometimes been referred to an “early adopter” (one who starts using a product or technology as soon as it becomes available) because I like trying new tools as soon as I hear about them. However, the term “Early Adoption” seemed antiquated to me when talking about EdTech. I looked it up, and in fact the term originates from the technology adoption life-cycle originally published in 1957.

I think a better term might be “Early Adaptation” as one is”adapting” to how things will  eventually be for all, rather than “adopting” something unusual, different, or foreign. Adoption is a concise process, where adaptation is ongoing. Am I just debating semantics here, or does someone else see my point?

Via: http://dcamd.com

And what even  is technology? Both Alan Kay and Sir Ken Robinson have been quoted as saying technology is: “Nothing invented before you were born.”

So, to my current sixth grade students, that would be nothing invented before 2004. This means they see laptops, hybrid cars, iPods, camera phones, DVR or Tivo, and the internet as just regular normalcy, not technology. Our using them in the classroom would be analogous to when your teachers used television in the ’70s or ’80s:  flashy and fun, but not novel or new.

The other day, I read that TRON  was disqualified from receiving an Academy Award nomination for special effects. The reason? The Academy felt that the use of computers was cheating.  No, really.

First of all, I can’t imagine the technology available in 1982 wasn’t more of a handicap than a shortcut. But anyway…

If you asked the students in your classroom about movies and special effects (or FX as they may spell it) they would think it synonymous with computers, CGI, and so on. There wouldn’t even be a line of distinction.

My point?

Education, like Hollywood, is an establishment. While we are not funded or respected like Hollywood (Vol.#45: Why Doesn’t George Clooney Have to Deal With This Crap?) there’s one important similarity this TRON trivia fact clearly elucidates:

The establishment often does not support or even understand a major industry change when it first arrives.

Vol.#76: Enough

saferThe fact that some people actually argue that the best response to the gunning down of innocent  school children is more guns in the hands of teachers absolutely terrifies me.

First of all, trained officers with guns were on the premises and unable to stop the shooter at Columbine High School, so . . . there’s that.

But besides this fact, every piece of data I’ve read confirms an unintended shooting of a loved one is statistically more likely than actually protecting your home. It would stand to reason that accidents are more likely than successful warding off of would-be school shooters in schools as well. Certainly, the teachers that accidentally shot themselves while at school in Utah and in Idaho earlier this school year do not bode well for the success of this”arm the teachers” plan.

Simultaneously amuse and horrify yourself fellow teachers: At your next faculty meeting, when someone is saying something so unbelievably, stupefyingly short-sighted, ill-advised, and/or unintelligent (and you and I both know that s/he will) ponder working up the hall from them… whist they are armed.

And if you can get past your horror, realize the whole plan is more than a little insulting, given our current circumstances. They can’t pay us a professional wage or give any paid professional development. (I’m paying for conferences out-of-pocket, anyway…you?) But they’ll suggest finding money to arm us? Nice.

Plus, teachers are already so over worked, so overburdened… I mean seriously. During a fire drill I am just lucky to get the little green card in the window. There are days I can’t find the stack of 120 copies  I  just  made  and you want me to be responsible for a 9mm Smith and Wesson? No thanks.

Not that I’m in denial that something needs to change. There have been nearly 100 school shootings since Sandy Hook. The fact that the school shootings aren’t even news-worthy anymore is almost as sad as the shootings themselves.

Anyway, whilst surfing the various social interwebs this holiday, I came across the following video. I can understand if some people find celebrity  “campaigns” normally annoying, but I think this one is worth the 1:23.

 

#enough

Vol.#75: Mastery vs. Work Behaviors

I apologize for the absence of fresh posts lately. Any teacher knows how the time second quarter can just get away from you, so I won’t try to explain.

As the quarter closes this week and I enter numbers that turn into the less-specific feedback of letters representing a range of numbers on the report card, I think about what report cards really represent to students and parents.

The last days have been met with so many of the usual questions that teachers get at the end of the quarter:

“Can I have a packet for extra credit?”

  • No. Nor may you eat junk food for months and then eat a salad right before the doctor’s appointment and get the same results as the person eating healthily the entire time.

“What can I do to get an ‘A’?”

  • Um . . . know more and do more to show that you know it?

“If I do XYZ (turn in this missing assignment, retake the low test grade, etc.) is it possible to get an average of blah-blah?”

  • Look, even if you had all the exact numbers in your mythical scenario to give me, I am afraid I could not plug it in with your grades – which I don’t know of the top of my head – and compute the weighted average to give you an answer. So…stop.

What’s frustrating is that the focus in all these questions is how to get the (usually lowest number in the arbitrary range of the) letter grade. Not the learning. Nor the work that should have gone into mastery. Nor the opportunities already missed. 

If it’s not on the report card, it does not have meaning or value for parents or students.

Teachers know that work behaviors and effort are very important, probably even more important to a child’s future success than if s/he can diagram a sentence, or solve for x, or find the capital of Belize on a map.  Therefore, teachers usually have typically included them in a grade to give them meaning and value. Those behaviors might count for 25% of a class’s grade, or 10%, or “folded in” to each assignment and result in some unknown number.

I’ve done the same. Valuing effort is important.

The problem? A grade as a method of communication to students, parents, universities, and other stake holders in that information is compromised: What does that “B-” mean? A hard worker who doesn’t fully get math – or – a lazy but brilliant math student? It could be either – and it often is.

Here’s my proposed solution: We need to report both content mastery and work behaviors.  Equally.

content work

Each class each reporting term should have a content mastery grade AND a work behaviors grade.  A student earning an “A/D” knows the material set forth in the standards, but does little in the way of these important behaviors, which he will also need in life. (ie: the lazy AIG child, who does almost nothing but gets an “A” in mastery anyway)  However a “C/A” student may struggle with the content, but she works REALLY hard to get that “C” in mastery.

Parents would know an “F/F” on the report card means there’s a reason the child isn’t learning any of the material. An “F/B” however  represents a student mostly trying and still failing to grasp concepts. That’s a very different problem. We already know the difference as teachers: parents should know this about their children too. It should be reported to them. It should be reflected on the report card. It should matter.

Work behaviors need a separate grade on a report card so that they are deemed important but the content mastery is still clear.

Thoughts? Rebuttal? Hit me up in the comments!

Vol.#74: Ten EdTech Terms

I was looking at how concept-18290_1280Concurrent Sessions will be categorized at an upcoming EdTech conference and found myself googling a few terms just to make sure I knew the differences between them.

Next thing I knew, I am researching the others I “already know”.  Long story short,  after honing the definitions a little further, I’d ended up with this little EdTech glossary list that I thought others may find interesting as well:

  1. 21st Century Learning Environment  (n.) Creates learning practices, human support and physical environments that will support the teaching and learning of 21st century skill outcomes.
  2. assistive technology (n.)  an umbrella term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities and also includes the process used in selecting, locating, and using them.
  3. augmented reality  (n.) a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.
  4. blended learning   (n.) a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media with some element of student control over time, place, path or pace.
  5. digital citizenship  (n.) the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.
  6. flipped classroom (n.) a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions.
  7. makerspaces (n.) sometimes also referred to as hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs, these creative DIY spaces are where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. (3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies are examples of makerspace tools)
  8. mobile learning  (also: m-learning)  (v.)  learning across multiple contexts, through social and content interactions, using personal electronic devices.
  9. personalized learning (v.) tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning environments by or for learners in order to meet their different learning needs and aspirations, typically facilitated via technology
  10. project based learning (also: problem based learning or PBL)   (n.)  a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge
What EdTech terms, new or “old” (as old as EdTect terms get) should be added to this list?

Vol.#73: “Turn Out for What?” #ItsOnNov4

October has completely run away from me. A new school, a new curriculum, a new role as department chair, a mentor training program, leading Professional Development sessions and a conference presentation… I completely neglected the “Volumes”.

However, I couldn’t let this week get away without saying my (predictable) piece for getting out there to vote this Tuesday.

In honor of World Teacher Day on October 5th, WalletHub researched the 50 states and DC and ranked them in order of the best and worst states for teachers. Guess who’s dead last at #51? Our legislation denies this reality, even reporting skewed numbers to try to downplay the 25% increase in teacher resignations this past year from the year prior.

Voting is always important. But this Tuesday, it’s crucial for our teachers and the North Carolinian children they serve.

The NCAE website has a form where one can enter his or her address and  receive a list of candidates endorsed by the North Carolina Association of Educators for that region here at ncaevotes.org.  (Spoiler alert: It’s not Thom Tillis)  #ItsOnNov4

What are you turning out for?

Vol.#72: Data Happens (And What To Do Next)

I have  data about literacy – my students’ and own children’s – coming at me on a regular intervals; tidalwaves on the beach of what is otherwise a peaceful school experience.

For my own son, he camScreen Shot 2014-09-21 at 5.08.52 PMe home with an mClass report with all little running men at the top of their little green bars – save one – and a lexile level that corresponds with a 3.6 grade level early in his third grade year.  However, another letter says he’s been flagged as a “failing reader” based on the preliminary standardized test given in the beginning of third grade. This would have perplexed me if I didn’t already know how ludicrous it is to assess literacy of children with these frustrating bubble tests.

For my sixth-grade students, I have access to their standardized test data from the end of fifth grade – the ones with passages that are way too long assessing way too many standards and simply expecting way too much of the poor ten-year-old test takers.

We also give our middle schoolers quarterly timed tests on basic skills in reading and math. Based on these results, students are sorted into green, yellow, and red, with intervention plans written for those in the “danger zones”. Also, there are standardized benchmark tests at the end of each quarter to see if they are on track to attain a passing achievement level for the standardized state test at the end of the year.

demaNdingIf anyone counted, that’s seven tests during the year for students, including the “real” test. But not including any tests given by the teacher. (And that’s just for reading, don’t forget to then add in math. And science. And social studies… But I digress.)

I am not naive enough to think I am going to change the path we are going down right now, but I feel strongly that if we are going to make students do all this, I’d better find a way to make all the resulting data helpful to my instruction.

And therein lies another layer of my molten lava white-hot fury. What has been sorely missing from the dialogue in all these data-sessions is the next steps. Ok, Sally Sue is “red”.  What does she need now?  Or, even more frustrating, she passed one test, but is “red” on the other. So…now what? What do I DO for her? (You know, that I wasn’t going to do anyway? Like…teach her?)

Perhaps this oversight is because those who pushed this agenda only wanted to sell us all the screening tests so they don’t actually know what to do next? Or, maybe their answer is they want us to buy their scripted program to “fix it”, but we are all out of money?

At any rate, here’s where I am with this new normal.  I need pragmatic (*ahem* free) ways to address all this conflicting data. What follows is a list of  strategies I have to that end:

  • Offer the same article in several different lexile levels using Newsela. Some articles have leveled questions as well. (Newsela has a free version and a “pro” version.)
  • ReadWorks “The Solution to Reading Comprehension” offers both nonfiction and literary passages, questions, and units for free. It includes lexile leveling information.
  • You can also check the reading level of any text or website at  read-able.com for free.
  • Offer clear instructions for how you want students to complete a close reading of a text. Here’s mine. Sorry for the shameless plug. 🙂
  • Mr. Nussbaum’s webpage has reading comprehension passages and Maze passages that score themselves for free! It only goes up through grade 6, so it would only help students up through about a 960 lexile.
  • ReadTheory is free, and allows you to create classes and track reading comprehension progress.
  • There are several reading leveler apps you can pay for and they are probably fancier, but I’ve found this one handy, both as a mom and as a teacher. For example, I used to have long conversations with my students who kept picking up books during DEAR time, not an occasional graphic novel, but always a graphic novel, cartoon books, picture book …you know the type? Anyway, scanning their bar code and simply telling them it has a 2.4 grade level has been more effective than the long conversation. 🙂
  • One on my horizon to try: curriculet.com  It’s free and I’ve heard good things!
  • I have also found the following conversion chart handy, because of course the data does not always come in the same format:

4879716These have helped me in more than one “What are you doing for my child?” conference and to complete the required intervention plans based on all the data. I don’t know if they have revolutionized me as a literacy teacher, but I suppose time scores will tell.

Have a strategy, tool, or resource for helping your students as readers? Please share in the comments!

Vol.#71: #TeachingInNC, A Snapshot

Sure. My humble submission follows.

To be read in the slam poetry style of Marshall Davis Jones’s Touchscreen.

#TeachingInNC

Not enough copies
Not enough books
Teachers spending their own thin dime
It’s a crime.
Not enough time
Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 12.45.26 PMNot enough technology
There is simply not enough me…
to go around
to these 42 students in this one class
Because class size limits…are gone.
Education is a pawn
in their reelection game.
But the more they talk of change,
the more things stay the same.

Instead of the blame, they should find the funding instead.
But their friends get deep tax cuts so it puts our schools in the red.

They vilify those that they should empower.
But those making the choices refuse to hear the experienced voices.

IEP, PEP, ADHD, EBD, AIG
OMG

This student’s a “two”, this one’s a “four”
No. A child something more
than a score.

integrity, creativity, ingenuity, responsibility,
curiosity, humility, reliability, empathy…

These are not on their test
So teaching them is not part of my “effectiveness index”.

They tell us to individualize our instruction
But they standardize the tests.
It’s impossible. It’s a mess.
But NC kids are the state’s future…so as we wait for November we’ll  keep trying our best.

Vol.#70: PicCollage {‘Appy Hour}

Sometimes a simple App is the best place to start when learning to integrate technology in the classroom. PicCollage is a very straight-forward way to create digital collages. There are videos that show what it is in about 30 seconds.

But how can it be used in the classroom?

Other ideas on how to use PicCollage in the classroom? Please share in the comments!

Writing Volumes About Teaching Whist Learning Volumes About Teaching

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