Thursday, December 23, 2010

Education Reform

My letter to my local representatives concerning education reform. 

It has come to my attention that a special committee on education reform has been created to hold hearings on education reform. 

There has also been some mention of Geoffrey Canada and his new education reform movement called Stand for Children. 

In my years as a teacher, student, education specialist, and education blogger I have done much research and writing on the topic of education reform. You are welcome to read my blog. I suggest searching for key terms such as firing teachers, quality education, and reform. 

There is no doubt that education is changing along with just about everything else in the world. However, making changes quickly and expecting fast reform is a sure recipe for failure. 

I know that Mr. Canada has had some success with the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ). Though not as stellar as we are sometimes lead to believe. However, what is less publicized is the true cost of his private reforms. I believe that cost of running HCZ has been very much more than that of the public schools in the area. ($16,000 per student)

What also seems to be lost in the general clamor for school reform is that notion that charter schools are not meant to be replacements for our public education system. They are meant to be laboratories. Charter schools develop new and innovative charters or ways of running a school, test them out then if they work scale up (sometimes they are not even meant to be scaled up) and if they don't work close or change. Even chartered schools that work are not always meant to replace schools, but rather create opportunities or alternatives. 

With all that said I do agree with the basic principal of the HCZ. That is, schools alone are not a solution for the education crisis in America.To truly improve education there must be changes in nutrition, home life, and health care also. 

The idea that education can be reformed by judging teachers on the basis of one or more tests, by reducing their job security, or incentivizing pay is ludicrous. 

Value added measurements done on a classroom level are just not that reliable. At the minimum they should include several years of testing. They should also be a minimal measure of a teacher. They should be backed up by physical observations of the teacher by several parties as often as possible. I know there is a push for watching video, but as someone who has observed in the classroom a video is just too limiting, especially for a formal evaluation.

As a business person yourself I'm sure you know that the worst way to motivate an employee for the long term is to make them fear for their job. 

We also know that merit pay doesn't work. We have known if for a long time if you are unsure of why please watch this excellent video by Dan Pink, or this article from Time Magazine

National, state, and local conversations on education must happen and I look forward to participating. Let's make sure I and everyone else has the opportunity to participate. 

Brendan Murphy

http://twitter.com/dendari

The Blogs:
http://jhuistemurphy.wordpress.com/
http://philosophywithoutahome.blogspot.com

"The question is not will he be a doctor, but what kind of doctor will he be"
paraphrase from Harry Wong

"I can't define a hero. All I know is that it's someone you probably don't notice, but when you find out what they did and how modestly they did it, you can never shake off the feeling that you're cut from a lesser cloth, and you find that braggarts suddenly offend you a great deal more than usual."
―Admiral Wullf Yularen[src]
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ideal Life

Norman Rockwell paintings look cool. The quintessential American life. They are a moments captured in time, but they aren’t flowing emotions. They evoke emotion, but attempts to recreate what you think the participants are feeling fails and fails miserably. We have everything we need to create our own Norman Rockwell painting. We just don’t realize he didn’t paint reality, he painted ideals.


Photo and quote from Denverpost.com


The most memorable moments are not the scripted scenes or the moments we imagine. No, the most memorable moments are when something happens unexpectedly and instead of getting angry the people let go and enjoy the moment. Happiness in life can only happen when we give up control.
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Educational Philosophy

My rewritten philosophy of education, cross posted at my student blog. Comments encouraged.


Educational Philosophy

          Schools can and do influence most aspects of their students. To effectively educate students schools must reflect the attitude of the local community and build a vision derived from these values. At the same time not compromising on the needs and expectations of a larger community.
            It is the responsibility of the school to teach the curriculum, but more importantly schools must engage students in becoming life-long learners.   Schools should be safe places for students to experiment and take chances, to follow their interests, and learn independently beyond the normal scope of the curriculum.
            With the curriculum as a concrete foundation to build on, teachers can guide students as individuals in learning the basic skills of deconstructing problems and creating solutions. With patience and care students will learn the skills necessary for independent critical thinking through the standard curriculum.
            The ultimate goal of a school is to produce a graduate who is a life-long learner with the ability to think with an open mind and consider different points of view.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Philosophy of Education highlights

I've highlighted the parts of my educational philosophy I still like. I've also added a short rewrite I did about two years ago while looking for a job. (mostly just a copy paste job)



We must teach our students the skills to think and reason critically. Critical thinking is taught through the vehicle of other subjects when we ask students to solve problems rather than memorize answers. Students are given time to explore concrete areas on their own until they discover regular patterns on their own. As these patterns are discovered the teacher gently pushes towards formalizing the rules. For example students are given blocks to count with; the physical presence of the blocks is something they are familiar with and they learn to add by putting blocks into a pile one at a time. The blocks are concrete and easily understandable to the children. As they become more familiar with the results they move into adding with fingers and eventually to doing it in their head. As higher levels of math are taught we can again go back to the blocks that are easily understood and build form there. The students are taught that when they don't understand they try to break down the problem to parts they do understand and build form there.

The goal is for students to learn not by the teacher saying they are right or wrong, but when the students discover how their experiments either work they way they predicted or they don't When they don't work the student is forced to reevaluate what he/she thought was right and re run the experiment. The Scientific Method applied to learning if you want to think of it that way. The way we teach can either help students to become more independent or can foster a dependence on getting answers from “experts”. The teachers' role is very intensive in education. Teachers must be expert enough to lead the students as they need it, but be patient enough to allow the students to learn on their own. 

With students especially younger students it is helpful to introduce concepts as concretely as possible. Using manipulatives or other hands on work to illustrate the concepts. Eventually moving to the abstract by generalizing over different variations of the same theme. As we get older most people develop the ability to think more abstractly, but even then it is often easier to start with a more concrete model and more towards the abstract.

The teachers role in education is not simply to impart information to students, but rather to guide students in the discovery of their learning. This sometimes means presenting the same concept to students more than once, but in different formats. Often each concept will touch on or relate to more than one skill so this often becomes a natural part of planning a curriculum.


Philosophy of Education

Schools are a major influence on the lives of almost everyone, whether they like it or not. Many of our basic notions of good and bad are in part formed by our early education. Take for example “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” One of the reasons this book was so popular was because so many people can identify with the premise. In our early years we learned that good people share, wash their hands, put away toys, etc... From the very beginning we learn some of our most basic mores in school. Are our school trying to teach this? Should we be teaching this as educators? Do we have a choice?

The average American spends 6 hours a day, 180 days a year, for 13 years in school. Whether we like it or not that is a large chunk of the social live of most children. This is not the greatest time influence on our children, but it is just behind family and peers. During this time schools and teachers will have a large impact on the lives of our students. We as teachers will educate the minds as well as spirits of our students. To be effective education needs to have certain goals to strive for as well as a plan to achieve these goals. As a part of society these goals must be acceptable to the parents of the children we are education.

Schools were originally build to teach specific intellectual goals. However, schools do influence children in ways other than just concrete curriculum subjects. School can, but don't always have influences on the morals and values of their students. If we had a concrete goal such as all students will have good morals how would we teach that? Who would be the final authority on what good morals are? Is it the teacher, the principal, the PTA? The problem is that the definition of morals would be different for each person asked. Schools should be aware of the effect they have on students orally and intellectually, school need to prepare students intellectually but also be aware of the effects on students morally and at least not do any harm.

So how do we teach this? After all we will have an effect on this whether we want to or not. We teach this by not teaching it at all. We must teach our students the skills to think and reason critically, by learning to use critical thinking building skills in more concrete subject like math or science the student will learn to use critical thinking in other areas of their life. Critical thinking is taught through the vehicle of other subjects when we ask students to solve problems rather than memorize answers. Students are given time to explore concrete areas until they discover regular patterns on their own. As these patterns are discovered the teacher gently pushes towards formalizing the rules. For example students are given blocks to count with; the physical presence of the blocks is something they are familiar with and they learn to add by putting blocks into a pile one at a time. The blocks are concrete and easily understandable to the children. As they become more familiar with the results they move into adding with fingers and eventually to doing it in their head. As higher levels of math are taught we can again go back to the blocks that are easily understood and build form there. The students are taught that when they don't understand they try to break down the problem to parts they do understand and build form there.

The idea is that as children are focused with the less concrete problems of morals and values they can break down the problems to a way they understand and build from there they can make and use their own rules. These rules don't become formalized by the teacher saying they are right or wrong but how the students discover how their actions make it easier or harder to get along with their peers.

With concrete goals in regular subjects schools have a solid curriculum to show that students are being educated well. The way we teach can either help students to become more independent or can foster a dependence on getting answers from “experts”.

The teachers' role is very intensive in the education of children. Teachers must be expert enough to lead the students as they need it, but be patient enough to allow the students to learn within the development stage they are currently in.

Children especially younger children tend to be more concrete. As we get older we develop the ability to think more abstractly. With students especially elementary students it is helpful to introduce concepts as concretely as possible. Using manipulatives or other hands-on work to illustrate the concepts. Eventually moving to the abstract by generalizing over different variations of the same theme.

Not all students will be at the same ability or developmental stage at the same time. At times it may even seem that individual students change from hour to hour, or subject to subject. It is important that as teachers our lessons give the students the opportunity to learn and demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways. As long as students are moving toward the ability to demonstrate mastery to independent objective measures. This will give students who do not learn in the traditional teacher directed method the chance to develop their knowledge in their own ways.

The teachers role in education is not simply to impart information to students, but rather to guide students in the discovery of their learning. This sometimes means presenting the same concept to students more than once, but in different formats. Often each concept will touch on or relate to more than one skill so this often becomes a natural part of planning a curriculum.

Schools have always had and will always have a large impact on their students. It is the responsibility of the teacher to not only teach the subject matter at hand, but to give the students in his or her charge the tools to continue learning after leaving the school. To that end the school should be a comfortable place for students to experiment and take chances. Students should be encouraged to follow their interests and learn independently beyond the scope of the single class.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I hope everyone has a great Winter Break. Stay safe and we will see you next year. A little something for your reading and viewing pleasure.

Lockhart’s Lament.  - The views of a middle school math teacher who also spent many years as a math researcher and college professor.

Alan Keys Ted Talk . boring for about the first 10 minutes, but then he gets into some thoughts on teaching math.



What do you think? Should we change the way we teach math? How would it work? I've thought about it before here.
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Friday, December 10, 2010

Philosophy of Education

My philosophy of education from 10 years ago. I am required to rewrite and condense to 150 words by January 3rd, 2011. It will be interesting to see how much of my philosophy has changed after having actually taught.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think reducing the number of words would be the most difficult part of a writing project.


Philosophy of Education

Schools are a major influence on the lives of almost everyone, whether they like it or not. Many of our basic notions of good and bad are in part formed by our early education. Take for example “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” One of the reasons this book was so popular was because so many people can identify with the premise. In our early years we learned that good people share, wash their hands, put away toys, etc... From the very beginning we learn some of our most basic mores in school. Are our school trying to teach this? Should we be teaching this as educators? Do we have a choice?

The average American spends 6 hours a day, 180 days a year, for 13 years in school. Whether we like it or not that is a large chunk of the social live of most children. This is not the greatest time influence on our children, but it is just behind family and peers. During this time schools and teachers will have a large impact on the lives of our students. We as teachers will educate the minds as well as spirits of our students. To be effective education needs to have certain goals to strive for as well as a plan to achieve these goals. As a part of society these goals must be acceptable to the parents of the children we are education.

Schools were originally build to teach specific intellectual goals. However, schools do influence children in ways other than just concrete curriculum subjects. School can, but don't always have influences on the morals and values of their students. If we had a concrete goal such as all students will have good morals how would we teach that? Who would be the final authority on what good morals are? Is it the teacher, the principal, the PTA? The problem is that the definition of morals would be different for each person asked. Schools should be aware of the effect they have on students orally and intellectually, school need to prepare students intellectually but also be aware of the effects on students morally and at least not do any harm.

So how do we teach this? After all we will have an effect on this whether we want to or not. We teach this by not teaching it at all. We must teach our students the skills to think and reason critically, by learning to use critical thinking building skills in more concrete subject like math or science the student will learn to use critical thinking in other areas of their life. Critical thinking is taught through the vehicle of other subjects when we ask students to solve problems rather than memorize answers. Students are given time to explore concrete areas until they discover regular patterns on their own. As these patterns are discovered the teacher gently pushes towards formalizing the rules. For example students are given blocks to count with; the physical presence of the blocks is something they are familiar with and they learn to add by putting blocks into a pile one at a time. The blocks are concrete and easily understandable to the children. As they become more familiar with the results they move into adding with fingers and eventually to doing it in their head. As higher levels of math are taught we can again go back to the blocks that are easily understood and build form there. The students are taught that when they don't understand they try to break down the problem to parts they do understand and build form there.

The idea is that as children are focused with the less concrete problems of morals and values they can break down the problems to a way they understand and build from there they can make and use their own rules. These rules don't become formalized by the teacher saying they are right or wrong but how the students discover how their actions make it easier or harder to get along with their peers.

With concrete goals in regular subjects schools have a solid curriculum to show that students are being educated well. The way we teach can either help students to become more independent or can foster a dependence on getting answers from “experts”.

The teachers' role is very intensive in the education of children. Teachers must be expert enough to lead the students as they need it, but be patient enough to allow the students to learn within the development stage they are currently in.

Children especially younger children tend to be more concrete. As we get older we develop the ability to think more abstractly. With students especially elementary students it is helpful to introduce concepts as concretely as possible. Using manipulatives or other hands-on work to illustrate the concepts. Eventually moving to the abstract by generalizing over different variations of the same theme.

Not all students will be at the same ability or developmental stage at the same time. At times it may even seem that individual students change from hour to hour, or subject to subject. It is important that as teachers our lessons give the students the opportunity to learn and demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways. As long as students are moving toward the ability to demonstrate mastery to independent objective measures. This will give students who do not learn in the traditional teacher directed method the chance to develop their knowledge in their own ways.

The teachers role in education is not simply to impart information to students, but rather to guide students in the discovery of their learning. This sometimes means presenting the same concept to students more than once, but in different formats. Often each concept will touch on or relate to more than one skill so this often becomes a natural part of planning a curriculum.

Schools have always had and will always have a large impact on their students. It is the responsibility of the teacher to not only teach the subject matter at hand, but to give the students in his or her charge the tools to continue learning after leaving the school. To that end the school should be a comfortable place for students to experiment and take chances. Students should be encouraged to follow their interests and learn independently beyond the scope of the single class.
 
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mathmusicians

Pythagoras, depicted on a 3rd-century coinImage via WikipediaOk so a couple of videos have been floating through my PLN this week.  I followed them to their youtube home and found one mathmusician.  Oddly enough I remember one musician spending hours , or what seemed like hours, telling me how chords in music aren’t random but based on mathematical principals.

So I’ve always known there was some sort of connection between math and music, I’m just not really sure of the connection.  You won’t either after this blog post, but I hope someone figures it out and explains it to me.

Anyway, the videos she creates are pretty cool and do a great job of connecting real world mathematics to doodling.  After watching the videos I thought it would be great time filler for those half days when you can’t really teach anything and the students just don’t want to learn anyway.

Show them the video and turn them loose to be creative. Just be sure to ask them to explain what they can of the math before you hang them on the wall.

If you don’t have the time or ability to get a youtube video into the classroom here is a link to a cool Pythagoras Tree applet.  Students can draw those pretty easily.
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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sharing what We Know

Source: http://www.chicagob2b.net/links/pages/...Image via Wikipedia
Today, I don't have a resource so much as a request for collaboration. If you haven't noticed yet the country is under a strong push for common standards. What they call Common Core Standards. On June 10, 2010 Illinois adopted the Common Core Standards. These standards will be adopted in three phases according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

I know there are people who are spending a lot of time getting us ready to meet these new standards. However, I don't see any reason why we should leave all of that work to the administration. I also see a lot of reasons why we should, at the very least, show what we know.

With that in mind I would like everyone, or as many people as possible, to share their favorite lesson and align it to the new Common Core standards for mathematics.  Please, don't spend four hours making a new lesson and getting every little detail perfect. Take a lesson you already have and show us how it meets the new standards. Then post it on the Waukegan math teachers wiki page. The easiest way to do that is make your adjustments, copy the lesson from Word, go to this link, click the edit button near the top right, and paste the document onto the page. Don't forget to save it. You don't need an account and you don't have to put your name on your work. If you would like to be a bit more neat you can create a new page, but I will let you figure that out on your own.

I'm not asking you to share because it will help the administration make the change. I am asking for two reasons: First, sharing your favorite lesson is a great way to help your fellow teachers improve. Second, as teachers it is not our right, but our RESPONSIBILITY to participate in all aspects of our students education.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Math Picture

This one is just cool and not just because I love The Lord of the Rings.


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Saturday, November 20, 2010

What is Important in Math

This is a great Ted Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/conrad_wolfram_teaching_kids_real_math_with_computers.html

The basic question is should we teach students how to do stuff by hand or is it better to teach concepts?

This isn't to say calculators should be introduced in kindergarten, but honestly let's question what is important when teaching math.


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Friday, November 12, 2010

Teaching Kids to Think

1st days of school 012Image by dendari via FlickrThe 2010 K12 Online Conference (blocked in district) just ended. The most useful presentation I saw was this one by Chris Betcher, about using scratch in the classroom. He has a little more information and the complete 20 minute presentation on his web site (open to the district) and some further information on a wiki. (also open to the district) After about two minutes into the video I think you will find that programming in Scratch is not only easy, but can really enhance learning. 

Scratch is a simple programming language developed by MIT specifically to help middle school and high school student learn math and computer programming. If your students find Scratch too easy or want to stretch their wings they can also try Alice. Originally developed by Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University.

Scratch and Alice are separate free downloadable computer programs. However, I am assuming that if requested it can be downloaded and installed on your computer.
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Monday, November 8, 2010

Brain Based Research in the Classroom


I’ve heard a lot about brain-based research, but haven’t really puzzled out what it might look like in the classroom. Then I read a blog that suggested Kenneth Wesson.  
Evidently he is a brain researcher and a Science teacher. (college)
I’ve gone through some of his slides. I’ll share a couple of interesting points, but I don’t want to be rude and share too much when you can easily go to his site and look at them yourself.
More brain cells must fire actively to keep the body still than are required for movement.  Keeping the brain’s inhibitory neurons active requires more concentration of valuable brain resources than executing physical movements.  When cognitive energies are diverted from learning to keeping still, we need to decrease our expectations for learning outcomes
•A 5th grade class in Charlotte, NC -  increased attention spans and facilitated good posture. The classroom - a sea of motion - children bob and weave, sway and bounce their way through lessons perched atop fitness balls.
•A Mayo Clinic study found that these balls burn calories, attacking the growing problem of childhood obesity. Fidgety students or those with ADD/ADHD have an outlet for their excess energy. Concentration increases and physical conditioning is improved because of the work involved in staying on top of the ball.
• Studies show more time spent on task and less time squirming while students sat on the balls, “People are not meant to sit still.”

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Teacher observation and post conference write up

Enthalpy profile of an endothermic reactionImage via WikipediaA two-piece post. Look for the second part at my other site

I observed an 8th grade Science class. This specific class was a lab to determine if temperature changes increase chemical reactions and whether a reaction is endothermic or exothermic.
For the post-observation conference I pulled the teacher out of her lunch period, because we had had so many scheduling conflicts it wasn’t funny. She was very good-natured about it.  She choose to sit next to me instead of across the table, but that may have been just so her back wasn’t to the camera.
We both share space in the “new teacher” office, so we know each other fairly well. She is normally a very reserved and quiet person. During the conference she was also trying to eat lunch.  Halfway through the discussion as I was asking her questions such as “why did you choose that method”, and “how could you have done it differently” she became noticeably more animated. She stopped eating, made direct eye contact, and leaned into her words. She spoke confidently, using sound supporting arguments for what and how she taught, yet still seemed open to the idea that her choices were just that, choices. That another teacher could have taught the lesson differently and have been just as effective.
Though this teacher is only in her third year, I would probably consider her, as Glickman termed it, a “solid” teacher.  She has an excellent grasp of her content and teaches a strong lesson.  She is happy to be observed and I think willing to examine her own teaching style and look for improvements.
During the post observation interview I found it very productive to point out her strengths. (She seemed genuinely surprised) Then I asked her how she thought the lesson went. I asked a few clarifying questions to get her thinking. There weren’t any problems to fix, but if I were her supervisor I might have asked her what areas she thought she could or would work on and how she could do so before our next observation.
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Friday, November 5, 2010

Teacher Skills 2

A slideshow presentation I created about a year ago. I still love it.
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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Texting in the classroom - No not the dreaded cell phone

Are the same students answering all the questions in your classroom? Would it help if the answered were anonymous? Would you like to poll the class, but don't have a set of clickers? It is as easy as pie just use http://www.polleverywhere.com/ While not perfect this can at times take the place of a $1500 set of classroom clickers. How do students answer the poll, well that is a bit tricky. responses are logged using a web browser, twitter, or text message. Twitter of course is blocked in the school. The web page should work if each student has a computer. the cell phone of course is supposed to be turned off and in the locker. The exact policy is "Cellular telephones or PDAs that also are telephones (collectively referred to as Cell phones) are for emergency parent/guardian contact purposes only, unless otherwise authorized for use by school administrators." '
I would suggest talking to your building principal about a test run. Just make sure you couldn't do the job just as well with a small whiteboard and markers.
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Look Another Gradebook

Did anyone think about starting a lesson study group? As I have traveled around my schools and asked people if I could observe them either for a full period and just a couple of minutes I have tried to make sure everyone has understood that my observations are for my own personal studies and not used for any part of their formal observations. Yet some people have still intimated that in their experience there has never been any sort of observation happening that didn’t involve evaluation of the teacher’s skill set.
The philosophy I am developing though is that the best way to truly excel as a teacher is to observe and be observed. The difference is that observations change focus from what the teacher is doing to what are the students doing.
If anyone wants to start a group I am more than happy to be the guinea pig.  I don’t get the opportunity to teach much these days and I love to do so when I get the chance. If two or three people want to get together and design a lesson with me I’ll be happy to teach it during one of my free periods. We can then go over the video later. We can even do this all online. 
Anyway, today’s resource is Think Thank Thunk. Some great examples of Standards Based Grading and inquiry based learning in the classroom.
I like this blog, first because the writing is light and funny, but more importantly because he’s an actual teacher showing us what he does in the classroom. Shawn teaches high school Math and Science using his own system of grading based on just a few core standards that he feels are the most vital aspects of the subjects he teachers.
This doesn’t mean he skips the rest of the content, but rather he allows that content to develop naturally from the focus on the core principals. This is certainly more difficult to pull off in a school with pacing guides and common assessments, but it is still possible.
The second reason I like this blog is the grading system. It seems to be similar to Robert Marzano’s grade trending. Simply put the most recent work done by the student is more important than the older work.  If you would like to play around with his grading system he has developed his own gradebook. I know you all want to do some extra work, especially in the form of yet another online gradebook, but if you do please comment on the blog or the wiki and let us know what you think.
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lesson Study and Observations

My wife always seems to complain that I think I know every thing and I think I’m perfect. I’m not sure where she gets that because I usually think of my self as a sort of humble guy.
It occurs to me that some of these resource emails might make it look like I think I know everything and want to explain it to everyone. That is not the case. Most of these resources do not come from my personal in class experience. I haven’t taught regularly in the classroom for a few years now. I get to teach a lesson here or there, but really I spend most of my time as the second teacher in the room.
Most of these resources though come from what is commonly called a PLN or a personal learning network. These are teachers and administrators who are using these activities in the classroom. So no I don’t use these things but some people whom I think are pretty good teachers have used them in the classroom.
With that in mind I want to go back to videos in the classroom. Students aren’t the only ones who learn from watching video we can too. I know as a student teacher most of us video tapes a lesson and turned it in to our supervisor. Did you ever watch it with your supervisor?
In Japan they have a professional development called Lesson Study. Many people assume right off that this is basically an observation. It isn’t. The first difference is the observation is done in a non-evaluative way. Second, the lesson plan is written and developed by the group of teachers who will be observing the lesson. Third, the purpose is not to evaluate the teacher, but to evaluate the lesson and the learning.
It is very similar to, though much more involved, than the newer take on observation called purposeful observations. That is the focus is on the effectiveness of the lesson in terms of are the students learning.
So here is my suggested resource for the week. Grab a feaw friends and design a lesson or two together. Have one person on the team teach the lesson, either while the others are observing or video tape the lesson. Then meet and determine if the lesson was working the way you designed it.  But be purposeful about it. Decide if you are going to look at student engagement, or group work, or concept knowledge, or transfer of concept, or what every you like as long as the focus is on anything but what the teacher did wrong.  For some help or further insight here is some advice from other teachers.
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wearable Computer - Student Data - Using Technology


I started getting into computers around 1995. Back then I thought it would be pretty cool to carry my computer around with me. I wasn’t thinking about the early laptops, but literally rebuilding the desktop computer stuffing it into a backpack and carrying it around.
I thought I could break the keyboard into two pieces and strap them to my thighs. I would put teeny tiny projectors inside dark sunglasses and that could be the monitor. Way back then everything was dial up so I thought the portable modems of the day could be used as a mobile dial up. Then of course everything would have to be hooked to a giant car battery or something.
Obviously I never pursued this, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.
I-O Keyboard from http://nexus404.com/
There are small Bluetooth keyboards  Though I don’t see why they don’t make them so you can split them into two pieces.
3-D glasses from Zetronix http://www.zetronix.com/
There are wearable monitors. 
http://cdn.slashphone.com/sp/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/lg-ks-20-smartphone.jpg
And there are smart phones.
What does this have to do with math? (keep reading I’ll get there eventually)
Currently, I’m working on my type 75 and we are learning about walk-throughs, quick three- to five-minute observations. The non-threatening, non-evaluative walk-throughs give principals a quick snapshot of student learning. The data collected from these walkthroughs are then used to start on conversation on how to improve instruction in the school.
Following the lead of Science Leadership Academy in Philly and Van Meter Elementary in Iowa we created a Google form for our walk-through.
As I practiced using the form on my smart phone I realized this was very similar to something I tried to do way back when I was a student teacher.  Then I tried to carry around a clipboard to take notes on my students while they were working. It didn’t work because the students were more interested in what I was writing than what they were supposed to be doing.
Now I might not spend $300 dollars to get some fancy glasses, but I might spend $55 on a keyboard that I can wirelessly connect to my phone, or even my desktop computer as long as I am within 30 feet. I might then create a quick form for each lesson with checkboxes of skills I want my students to learn. I can even add a section for notes and type those in real quick using the keyboard. (That is of course if you can type without looking at the screen) I am now collecting tons of data everyday on my students. I won’t be guessing who will pass the next test, I’ll know.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Videos in education

Hello Teachers,

Speaking of resources I can't believe I didn't give these to you last week.
 http://www.khanacademy.org/
http://www.jogtheweb.com/

I've showed how to make simple videos using Jing Project. The sites JogtheWeb and Khanacademy specialize in videos for edcuation. Unfortunately, like most video sites they host their actual videos on Youtube so you can't access them on from the school. To use videos from these sites at school you will probably have to use a laptop, open the video at home and let it load all the way, then bring the laptop to school without closing the browser or turning it off. The video will still be loaded and ready to play without an internet connection. There are other ways to download Youtube videos but none that are legal as far as I know.

There are some sites that are open on district servers. They include

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Does Where You Sit Make A Difference


I spend a lot of time in different rooms in different schools. I see many different ways to arrange desks. (Pictures are representative and not actual rooms mentioned)
There is the standard arraignment of desks in a row. (Why is that considered standard?)

This is a great way for every student to be able to see the chalkboard. (yep chalk) The teacher in this room does like to use direct instruction a lot, but she will also ask the students to move into groups of four at least once a week. When working in the room I often stand in the doorway and watch the students. The teacher is forced to work at the board at the far corner and I think sometimes the students at the back of the room are don’t feel like part of the class.

Then there is the arraignment of groups of four desks.

In most rooms this feels crowded, but it does allow students to work together, which is what our math curriculum requires most of the time. Some students need to be situated so that they face the teacher most of the time. Group work in classrooms with this arraignment can sometimes be hampered by uneven desks.

Two classrooms have tables, which kind of limits the possibilities, but makes group work a lot easier.


For some reason rooms with tables just seem to be more open than rooms with groups of desks. In either case I find it interesting the most of the time the groups of desks and tables are still set up in rows. As opposed to the one room where I took a picture and the groups of desks were almost randomly placed. I think the difference is that in that room the teacher was teaching in learning centers thus she was sitting at one of the groups as opposed to teaching at a board. She really didn’t need to set up the groups to be able to see the board.

Finally, there is an arraignment of four straight rows across.

This is a unique arraignment in that the movement is across the room instead of forward and back. It is very difficult to walk from the front of the room to the back, but feels different. Interestingly enough the Promethean board is the side of the room, but the walkways lead to and from the board. This room does seem to allow students to work in pairs easily while limiting cross talk between teams.

The other truly unique room arraignment is the English teacher who has rows of desks, but also has a couple of couches in a lounge area and some tables along the side.

In almost every room the teacher’s desk is either in the corner right next to the front door or in the corner directly across from it.  Of course that includes ¾ of the corners of the room so perhaps that isn’t very significant. Many rooms have two teacher’s desks. One desk for a Special Ed or paraprofessional who may be in the room for at least one period a day and one for the classroom teacher.  Most of the rooms just feel crowded to me, but very few classrooms I’ve been in anywhere have actually felt roomy.

All the rooms I work in have between 1 and 4 computers. Used mostly for teacher record keeping. One room has a Promethean board, new this year.

I know several teachers who use projectors, some who use student clickers, but other than that I don’t know of much technology use in our district. Is that because the computers aren’t there or is it because the teachers don’t know the possibilities? There is this book in the teacher’s lounge at one school.

Our district does have a very strong Special Ed. program. Our Special Ed. program has a long and very high-quality reputation. Some students with very severe disabilities learn in their own classrooms with all the special equipment they need to be successful.  While most districts in the county would send these students to a separate school, we keep them in school.

Many years ago when I first started teaching 4th grade I put my students in rows. We would move desks to create groups, but that got noisy. Eventually, I compromised and made rows of pairs. Later I moved to a room with tables, (and 8th graders). As a teacher I preferred tables. I thought they forced students to work in groups and once they learned that skill teaching became so much easier.

When I had tables I had assigned seating, which I changed about once a month. I considered: Who could work without talking. Who was at comparable learning levels, I didn’t want too much difference, but I wanted a range. I sometimes considered learning styles. I considered who was sitting in what seat so they would be facing me when I was at the projector. Finally I even considered the angle of the tables so students could take notes.

As a prospective supervisor I find the rows of seat to be conducive to finding and spotting off task behavior. Which is great if I want to find a gotcha against the teacher. What I would really like to see is learning.

I don’t mind seeing the rows of students, but I would also like to see students move around the room. What I’ve learned about education is that sitting in one place for a long period of time is difficult. It’s difficult for me, its difficult for students. That means seating arraignments need to be fluid. It that sense tables can actually be less conducive to learning than individual seats. What would be the best solution, certainly not the only, in my mind would be tennis balls on the bottoms of the desks. Movement becomes faster, easier, and quieter.





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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Content Resources

Did everyone enjoy the professional development Tuesday? I know I heard some mixed reviews, but nothing out and out negative. Perhaps I’m too optimistic. I know some people in felt starting with addition was too basic for middle school teachers, but then again I heard some comments about how some students would make simple mistakes like answering twelve for:
4 + 8 = _ + 5
I think I remember helping to revising curriculum at a school last year and someone saying something to the effect of “if they don’t learn it in previous grades I don’t care if its a standard or not we need to include it.”
If our students are making addition and subtraction mistakes then a quick lesson, or differentiation, on strategies for addition is something we might consider doing. More importantly knowing what students are, or should be, thinking can help us identify misconceptions.

Inquiry based math.

I don’t make it a secret that I like the Connected Math Books. It isn’t because they have great example problems. Actually, since I started reading Dan Meyer’s blog I’ve kind of learned to dislike textbooks as a rule. What I like about the CMP books is the inquiry based format. I like the fact that everything is tied together from book to book. I like the fact that often parts of today’s lesson will be used in later lessons. Though if a previous teacher didn’t follow connected math it can be more difficult to make the connection.

If you don’t like a problem presented in the CMP book I highly encourage everyone to find a problem that you like better. For example this high school algebra lesson (Transparent Algebra blog) is very similar to the paper bridge problem in Thinking With Mathematical Models book. The point is not so much the actual lesson, or even the actual math, but getting students to think.

So the actual resource here today are some content web sites. Find out what CMP is trying to teach (I know sometimes it is difficult) take a minute to figure out some of the procedures they have used in the past or will likely use in the future so you can make connections past and future. then go pick your own content, a better content, something you will teach with passion.

Basic math content sites.
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