27 February 2015

He REALLY Said That! - Episode 6 - PBL Surprises and Struggles

In this episode, the Algebra 1 PLC debriefs on the surprises and struggles of the first week of their project-based learning unit, "The Lemonade Hustle."

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24 February 2015

He REALLY Said That! - Episode 5 - Are Our Schools Unfairly Punishing Black Students?

Prompted by this tweet of a story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

Chuck and Ed discuss their experience with African-American students' suspensions and discipline referrals. Reflecting on the work of the late Rita Pierson, the guys discuss the importance of students' ability to "play" school and the role that a "common sense" disciplinary policy might play in giving kids a chance. Ed shares what he hopes for his own boys and their future in public schools.

Chuck starts to go down a path of white guilt toward his African-American students, but lunch ends before he gets there.

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16 February 2015

What You Say When You Listen (When I Learned How Wocca Flocka Sold Out)

Are you better suited to speak, or to listen?

photo via +David Robert Bliwas 
I don't spend much uncommitted time outside of work, home, or my church, but when I do, its seems like this happens to me.

While waiting for my car's safety inspection at Firestone this afternoon, a 22 year old "kid" (Gosh, how old did YOU feel when you were 22? I would have been mad at someone 10 years older calling me a "kid.") struck up conversation about how the stretch of St. Charles Rock Rd across the street from us used to have a full strip mall and how Northwest Plaza a couple blocks down from us used to so vibrant of activity when he was a kid. That moved on to his (and his friends') experiences with coke heads from in old neighborhood of Baden (on the northeast edge of the city of St. Louis.), the corruption of the St. John police chief who used to be a school resource office at his middle school in the Ritenour School District, and that his favorite car is an 80s-era Honda, particularly a Prelude, for the flip-up headlights. Somehow this all led into his lamentations that his favorite rapper, Mac Miller, ("I mean, he was reppin '92, just like me") has sold out and would rather just produce music than stay true to the art of freestyle and that Wocca Flocka has betrayed Gucci Mane and the rest of his crew from Brick Squad.

Did I lose you? Teachers, ask your students tomorrow. If you're just a friend of mine that reads this blog, (Bless you!) then you'll probably just have to YouTube that.

Granted, this kid (there I go again), seems to be just a talker in general, but engaging in that conversation far from my comfort zone then led him to open up about his relationship troubles with his dad after he took the 1st call in a month and a half from him, his relationship troubles, and what its like to be a 22 year old father of a toddler that also is responsible for taking care of your fiance's other child from another relationship. Assuming everything he's said about his background is true, he's dealing with a much "heavier" life than I do with less emotional and spiritual capacity to cope with it. All things considered, thinking of myself as a 22 year old, it almost seemed heroic.

I can't say I looked like my "normal" self today (I changed the brakes on my car in the driveway in the snow before going for the inspection),
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but I know that letting this guy know that I wasn't going to blow him off while we both sat in the Firestone waiting room for 2 hours said a lot about how I care for people.

When you listen to your students talk about "nothing," it sends a signal that you'll be ready to listen to the real issues whenever THEY are ready. Think about about it on a personal level - how often do you just jump into a hard conversation with your spouse, a friend, or a co-worker? Why do expect different social exchanges from our students?

I believe that if you want to affect a students' life (or anyone's for that matter), its not so much important how much you know, or how well you do your job. No one ever claims "favorite teacher" on the grounds of their excellent lesson on systems of equations or the theme of friendship in A Separate Peace. They're not mutually exclusive, mind you, but when you're in the business of growing people as much as you are minds, you've got to win a kid's heart, first, and let them know that you're #upforwhatever they might throw at you. 

15 February 2015

He REALLY Said That! - Episode 4 - Great Tech-spectations (and Reality)

In this episode, Chuck and Ed recap their experience from METC, Erin and Bridgett chime in with the importance of selling projects to your students to carry them through frustrations and figuring out what technology integration works for YOUR situation.

Chuck also airs his secret feud with +Greg Lawrence that +Manuel Herrera helped clear with some fresh perspective.

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12 February 2015

What Do 42 Educators Think Is Wrong With Math Class?

At the beginning of my 3-Act Math Stories presentation today at METC, I prepped the audience to watch the beginning of Dan Meyer's TedTalk from 2010 by reflecting on what they felt was wrong with math class.

The prompt: "What do you think makes it so hard for our kids to be independent, competent problem-solvers in our math classes?"

I had them share their responses in a very low-tech method of throwing the paper wads to the front. Some of the audience enjoyed hitting me with their paper a little too much, I think. ;) Its an engaging strategy, but then you have to do all of the de-crumpling. LOL.
So what DO 42 educators at an education technology conference have to say about the problem with math class? I put together a few word clouds on Tagul, ABCya!, and WordItOut of their responses to pull out the themes.

Here are the themes I pulled from this cloud and the responses as I read them:

  • Our students lack confidence as problem-solvers and mathematicians
  • Our students fear being wrong
  • Many of our students don't want to think
  • Our students lack basic skills (which makes even simple approaches to problems difficult)
How do we get past these challenges? One problem I see to the solution is that "confidence as problem solvers" and "lacking basic skills" seem like problems that usually have divergent solutions. To build students' confidence as problem solvers, it takes the time and opportunity of giving them safe chances to fail, reflect, and improve their approaches. To build basic skills, there must be at least some layer of kill-and-drill practice. How do we do both? I only see this as possible when we double up kids' math classes. (which can have its own motivational problems).

What can you add? What's wrong with math class?

10 February 2015

Engaging Your Students With 3-Act Math Stories

You want your students engaged and invested in the math work they're doing, right?

Are sweating common core-style performance events that require kids to go make decisions about what information they need, and then successfully gather that info?

Are you looking for something more memorable to do with your students than "page 412, #34"?

Enter 3-Act Math Stories, a collection of open-ended, perplexing math stories (think of it as a word problem with all of the structure stripped away). The movement was begun and is being led by +Dan Meyer

3-Act Stories are what have me most excited curricularly in math this year, so when given a chance to put together something for METC this year, I knew that's what I was going to choose.

Links 3-Act Math Stories:
101qs.com - Dan Meyer created site to manage crowdsourcing creation of stories
threeacts.mrmeyer.com - Google Sheet of Dan Meyer (and others) stories aligned to CCSS standards
Three Acts Livebinder - Popular stories, reading and videos for training teachers

09 February 2015

He REALLY said that! - Episode 3 - What is "Education Technology?"

Looking forward to this week's Midwest Education Technology Conference (METC), Chuck and Ed reflect upon what "education technology" means to different people in different schools, and what technology training should and should not look like in a school. Ed shares what he's hoping to get from his first METC experience.

08 February 2015

Valuing Focus vs Creativity

Which should we value more in education? Should we have to choose between the two?
Have you ever seen this happen in your classroom? I remember lots of "he's not been on his meds," "they're in the process of changing meds," and "we're hoping the meds will help," conversations with parents and special ed case managers over the years that didn't always end have subsequent results I was hoping for that student.

It's hard to argue that attempting to control a child's hyperactivity or attention deficits is ALWAYS good or ALWAYS bad. While we see Calvin lose his imagination in the frames above, maybe we see his perseverance in problem solving increased. Perhaps because his brain is tuning out some inputs, he finally FINISHES well on a project and what may have otherwise been a serviceable B or C becomes an exceptional talk-about-it-to-everyone-you-know type project.

Are we putting Calvin and his parents in an impossible situation in the first place? Could Calvin's classroom teacher put more of an emphasis on learning through play and discovery? Could his teacher considered other ways for him to demonstrate his learning? (Unless report writing literally was the skill to be assessed - I believe we do still have a responsibility to produce capable writers, even as we provide alternative assessments.).  What happened to Calvin's work in art class after the meds? How elaborately planned and detailed were his creative freewrites?

What are you doing to welcome Calvin AND Hobbes in your classroom? Do you have any success stories from a time you may have welcomed the chaos of ideas that a non-medicated student brought to the classroom? 

03 February 2015

He REALLY Said That! - Episode 2 - Facts About Motivating Students (Part 2)

In this episode, Ed and Chuck wrap up the list of facts about motivating students from teaching.monster.com. Special guest appearance from Mrs. Baker sharing how allowing time for "homework" in class with the flipped model motivates kids to do the practice at school when they have her.

02 February 2015

Is Technology Spending Wasteful?

Education writer +Bill Ferriter  (Twitter: @plugusin) has written twice the past week questioning the efficiency/effectiveness/wisdom of schools driving change and improvement with technology initiatives. The two posts, titled "Note to Principals: Stop Spending Money on Technology," and "Is YOUR School Wasting Money on Technology" have got me thinking about our own district's technology policies and ideologies. I mean, I literally JUST finished a grant proposal to outfit all of my school's math classrooms with Chromebooks.

The argument that grabbed me most that Bill shares is from Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein. Ferriter paraphrases it as -
His argument is simultaneously simple and scathing: The students sitting in our classrooms are nothing short of complete failures because despite growing up in a world of incredible intellectual opportunity, they have made almost no progress on traditional measures of performance.
I feel like there is a lot of truth to be explored there - our students have volumes of knowledge in the  devices in their pockets, and we still have students struggling to pass Algebra 1 in the 10th and 11th grade at our schools. If you believe that technology should be helping these kids learn, then it should be helping students learn faster and earlier, to close the achievement gap, to engage at-risk learners, and whatever other buzzwords you're seeking to create new problems for.

I don't think the problem is in the technology, however. its in the way that the average educator/administrator/district continues to leverage it. Instead of developing systems in which students are encouraged to explore those vast libraries of accumulated knowledge via the web, we have labs and carts of desktops and laptops that stay locked away or out of use until its time for benchmarking, practice testing, or real testing. The technology isn't producing any new results because we aren't expecting any different products.

When technology is used as a substitution for worksheets, nothing has functionally changed.
When technology (or flipped learning) is used as a substitute to kids reading their textbook, nothing has functionally changed.
When the teacher uses the technology to present notes, to lecture, and to lead multimedia, nothing has functionally changed from dry-erase and filmstrips.

Ferriter's theme between the two posts ends up steering here - TECHNOLOGY is not going to save failing schools. TECHNOLOGY is not going to pull students ahead of their parents' generation. TECHNOLOGY is not going to teach children. What we DO with TECHNOLOGY affects the change we seek. When we use technology to support pedagogy that is student-centered and aims to develop and nurture students into young adults that seek out knowledge and can leverage tools to solve problems, THEN you can change students, schools, and communities.

The question is not, "What can we do with technology," but, "What do we want our students to do? How can we use technology to support that?"

@plugusin image
How do we run this grand experiment? Is pedagogical change on systematic scales possible, or should we scale back technology expenditures in favor of supporting students with human capital like tutors and teachers?