Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reporting What I Learned at ASCD12

I have been consolidating my notes from the ASCD conference in Philadelphia. I do have to say that the convention has recharged me and relit my love for my job. I have been in the muck lately. I haven't ventured out to meet others with like minds, passion and new ideas. I have been doing my research in a redesign bubble. It also made me realize how far ahead we are in some aspects at my school, but how far behind we are in other aspects.

The convention also helped me realize that I'm on the right track with the blended classroom model I am trying to develop. Before the convention, I based my practice for this model on the research I've been doing independently. Now that I have been able to interface with like minds who have been doing this longer, I have found new ideas that I can inject.

I also found out how I can use social networking tools to keep my PD personalized and up to date. I am trying to make a habit out of using Twitter to start building my personal learning network (PLN). This allows me to get information in real time about things I'm interested in learning about. I have even been getting incidental information about things I didn't know were out there.

I wish our school would open up social networking to our professional staff so I could show them what I'm learning. Right now, the way it stands, I would have to capture video on my computer from home and bring in the video if I wanted to show them. Too many road "blocks" in place right now.

I also like the idea of a senior academy as a means to help our seniors transition to a world of work and independent learning. A nay-sayer this morning at the teacher's table said "We had that at our old school and we found that the kids were packing in all their required classes their first 3 years so they can make their senior year as light as possible." And my response was "Really? They started planning their freshman year with the end in mind? They tried to manage their time so that they can graduate on time?" I was probably a bit too snarky, but the point was that is what we want them to do! We have students here that are on the 6-year plan because they drag their feet through the mud, not seeing a value in taking their classes, doing well in them and going in to the world ready to work. But if they get a motivation, like a light senior year, to start working in their classes so they can do better, finish them on time, and then have a lighter senior year then yeah!

But the point of senior academy is not only to open the campus for our seniors who don't have classes, but also to free up their time so they can work on that in-depth senior project. It frees them up to do community service which will help them become competitive for scholarships, or prepare them to be good citizens. It gives them some independence to learn how to juggle school and work, much like they will have to when they go to college. Sometimes I think we are not really preparing them to be independent with their time. They finish high school with every minute of their day planned for them and then three years later they are like lost lambs on a college campus trying to figure out where and when they are supposed to be someplace.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

When the Teacher is the Student

One of my hobbies is weaving and another is sewing. I enjoy fiber arts, and it is such a remove from my job teaching technology that I look forward to working on my projects. Yesterday my daughter and I went to a fiber arts symposium broken down into various classes.

I signed up for five classes, none of which were weaving. The first class I took was "Learn How To Knit". This is something I've always wanted to do, so it has been added to my bucket list.

I had a very patient teacher. I needed so much help with every step that I thought to myself "why am I bothering?" Why? Because I have always wanted to learn this. It would be a good skill to have. People have been doing this for hundreds of years and I would like to continue that tradition. I just wasn't getting it.

I found casting on very challenging. My yarn was coming untangled as I knit. She stopped the class to show me how to cast on. Then she showed us how to do the knit stitch. She had to stop the class to show me how to knit stitch. Then we practiced. I was getting pretty good with the knit stitch, even getting a little faster. My confidence was building, my fingers were going faster and it actually started looking half decent. Then she stopped us to have us do the purl stitch. I now had to wrap my mind around a different stitch. I was fumbling, I was untangling and I was highly frustrated. She stopped the class to show me how to purl.

I was thinking about all this on the way home. How much accommodation this teacher made just for me. I met the objectives of her class. I'm able to sit on my own and cast on, knit and purl. I'm not very good at it YET but I know with practice I'll be doing it as mindlessly as I weave or sew. In fact, I had even bought an extra learning kit so I could show my older daughter how to do it when I returned home, because she couldn't be there with us that day.

That is when I faced my first test, or summative as we call them at our school. I had to switch from knitting student to knitting teacher. That would be the real proof of my understanding. Could I pass my knowledge on to someone else?

I was not very successful at teaching her how to cast on, so she looked it up on YouTube. She finally figured it out. I was able to successfully teacher her how to knit. I have not taught her how to purl yet, but she was fine with that because she wants to master knit before purl.

This morning I tore apart my project again and practiced casting on. I finally figured out what I was doing wrong. Then I started practicing knit again and decided to stick with that until I can do it mindlessly, then I will do purl again.

My teacher couldn't have given me that extra attention that I needed if it had been a class of 30. We were a class of 6 students. I was learning hands-on. I didn't need to know the entire history of knitting before picking up a needle. I jumped in there and started learning by doing. I didn't need to have an IEP in place to get that individualized attention, I just needed a teacher that could read me. I didn't need to be assigned homework to practice the skills, I went home and discovered my short comings in the craft when trying to teach it to someone else, and my daughter showed me how using available resources (YouTube) can enhance learning. Most important, I didn't need to get a grade or have credit attached to what I was doing to make me want to learn it.

What did I need?

I needed a desire to learn it
I needed the opportunity
I needed the materials (needle and yarn)
I needed a patient teacher
I needed to be able to share what I learned with someone else who wanted to learn
I needed to be able to make mistakes and start over
I needed to determine what I wanted to practice, and what I wanted to wait to practice

Now I need to figure out how to transfer this discovery of what I needed in order to learn to my own students so they will want to learn in spite of credit, grades or graduation requirements.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Teacher Evaluations

I've been waiting for something interesting to come through my email groups today so I can read and reflect but nothing has come through except opportunities to take webinars. I have my system of "to do" sticky notes on the table next to my laptop. Once of my sticky notes says "Admin Paperwork", which means I need to fill out my Teacher Evaluation Summary. It's made it to the top of the priority pile so I've been jotting down notes on it all day as things come to me so I can type it up later.

I was talking to one of my seniors who is a subject-level intern in one of my classes (it's a program we have at our school to encourage students to be mentors). I showed him the template we were given and said that I have a hard time evaluating myself. His response was "Why not just use that survey you asked us to take at the end of class last semester?"


We are not required to survey our students at the end of a course, but I have the technology in front of them and a free surveymonkey account. I use the surveys to improve my own teaching and methods. We're not required to do surveys at the end of a course. I remember how much I liked doing them at the end of my college courses because I felt I was adding to the quality of education. I wanted to do that for my courses as well.

I took screenshots of their responses and printed those out to attach to my evaluation worksheets. I also reread over their responses and realized that I have made many changes to my courses that are now working because of the student feedback that I received half-way through this year. I am now thinking I can include that improvement in my reflection section of my worksheet.

Keeping this blog is the beginning of an exercise in ongoing reflection, not just reflecting when you complete a unit or complete a semester. Seeing how much I learned from the student surveys today tells me that this is a good practice that I should continue this practice. Of course, like any tool, you can own it but if you don't use it, then nothing gets better.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New AP Courses

Ed Week blogged about two new AP courses that will be offered in some pilot schools. One of the AP courses will focus on critical thinking skills and the other will focus on research skills. One of the things I thought was interesting in the blog is that it stated "The research courses are not designed to replicate a college course, but rather prepare students for college-level work and be an indication of readiness for elite college admission."

I agree that these are skills we do not focus on exclusively in a course designed for them (although it is my belief that we should) because most schools assume that these skills are being interwoven into the current curriculum. I think the assumption is there because they tell us that it is important. They tell us to ask questions that promote critical thinking skills. And if a student can produce the desired outcome at the end, then it is assumed that they had to think critically to do that.

I believe that instructors are trying their best to bring critical thinking to the classroom, but may lack the training to do so. But what is the real evidence that critical thinking is being evaluated properly in our secondary schools? The blog quoted Packer as saying "[college admissions officers] said U.S. students are not coming to college having developed research skills and the ability to integrate knowledge across a variety of academic disciplines". I have not sat on a college admission board but I can say from my experience in a classroom that many students do have difficulty pulling from one subject and applying it into another subject without a great deal of prompting and guiding.

Sometimes it is true within the same discipline!

In my programing class, which is a high level thinking and critical problem solving class by nature, I set up the formative assessments by levels (1-4). At level 1 there are fill in the blank questions, sometimes matching, sometimes multiple choice. I consider these warm up questions. Level 2 will usually ask a student to find erroneous code and fix the problem. Students can usually plug the code into the compiler, have the compiler find the problem and fix it until the code runs. Still a bit assisting. At level 3 is when I get the most questions. Level 3 usually presents code that they are told is broken, then they are asked "Why?"

It's giving the explanation as to why the code doesn't work that throws them. They often ask if they can just put it in the compiler and run it, fix it and give me the results. It is the knowing of, and explanation of why the code doesn't work that I can tell they have a deeper understanding of how the code is functioning. I explain to them that the compiler can't find everything wrong in the code and if you run bad code, you get bad output. Unless you can understand, just by looking at it, why code might not work, then you can become a better troubleshooter. Level 4 is the backwards engineering of the program. All they get is an output screen and a few guidelines on how input is expected to be gathered and they are released to create the program from scratch. Do they like this? NO. Do they do it? YES. How do they feel about it when it is done? Amazing! Their is so much joy in their face when they accomplish that level 4 task because it was not only a test of their doing, but of their thinking as well. Once a student starts a level 4 task, I have never had one give up. They become fully invested.

I applaud the idea of these AP classes but at the same time I feel that it would be more beneficial to do this type of work with students from when we get them as 9th graders until they walk across that stage 4 or 5 years later. Critical thinking, problem solving and research skills are needed at all levels in our adult life. Offering it as an AP class will only draw those kids who are college bound. Since it is such an integrated part of life, it should be just as integrated in our teaching and we need more creative professional development in the field to show us how we can integrate it into our curriculum without losing the time we need to cover all the important items in our curriculum.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Roles of Collaboration

Tonight my collaborative grad class is wrapping up. I had always assumed that collaboration is something that came naturally when put in a situation where you need to work with others, but I now realize that collaboration comes with a checklist of ways to prepare to collaborate, the agreements between collaborators and most important, time to do the work.

Tonight she talked about Smart Goals, which would be IEP goals for every student in the school, not just SPED. Smart Goals should be aligned with IEP goals (one in the same) so that every student has a set of goals to work toward. I had always thought that all students should have an educational plan, a map of sorts, to set the road of their learning down so they have something to follow.

I also like the idea of not labeling SPED teachers as SPED teachers, to just call them teachers. After all, the bottom line is that they are teachers who just happen to be trained to work with students who have special needs. For SPED and regular teachers to successfully collaborate in a co-teaching situation, they need to have an administrator that understands collaboration (all parties have agreed, trust and communicate in an agreed way) and the teachers need to be empowered equally in the room. Both should be able to plan, teach and discipline in the class room.

How do you get support from administration? Ask, be prepared with data and a plan, offer to pilot the program, get permission to ask for help, agree on the communication that will be used, set the example for others to want to follow, understand that there are sometimes other things going on behind the scenes that you may not be privy to and could affect the collaboration effort, and actively participate in the opportunities afforded during meetings.

A collaborative group needs to understand the needs of others, related services, how to collaborate with these services, time issues and each person's role in the group. Do you know what related services are in your building? I know I don't know all the related services in our building that are available to assist special needs in our building. I know we have a person that helps students with vision issues, we have a math tutor, we have a reading specialist, etc but I don't know what it is each of these persons can offer. I feel that puts me at a disadvantage in the building when trying to assist students in my classroom.

The major goal of collaboration is because whatever goal you are trying to accomplish "is important". Something that is important, something that needs to be done right, needs to be collaborated on. Each party has an invested interest in accomplishing the goal because it is important. Giving parents practice sheets to take home with their preschoolers to support their motor skills can help prepare them when they enter school. Parents will participate because it is important. The class room teacher talks to the speech therapist about how to detect muscle issues that may affect speech. The teacher will participate because it is important. Specialists can visit class rooms to observe students as they work and assist any student with any issue. The specialist will participate because it is important.

Something said that I liked: Respect, Accept even if you don't Agree