Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oh to be in School

A few days ago, before I wrote yesterday's post on the horrors of preparing for the ISAT, I wrote this

Oh to be in a school that allows a teacher the freedom to really teach. Instead we Buckle Down and do our best to meet some adequate standard on the ISAT test.

It's not that the kids can't do it. The real problem is that the students are just bored silly and tired of proving what they know and what they can do for a school system that seems completely irrelevant to the life they will lead when they grow up. Don't get me wrong some just haven't learned the skills, but a significant number just don't want to do it.

I sit and watch students taking an ISAT practice test and they don't care. They work harder on trying to communicate without tipping off the teacher than they do on the actual test.

We are not testing their knowledge or even their ability to do math. What we are doing is proving to our students that school has nothing to do with the real world.

Oh to have the time and freedom to participate in the Flat World Project. To explore or just converse about what we are learning. Instead we fight to keep quite and on task against students who want only to be engaged in something anything.

Today I went to a professional development class focusing on hand-on math for middle school and high school Algebra and Geometry.

Why do authorities like state and federal governments insist on measuring effectiveness through the use of paper and pencil tests while regional offices of education promote teaching hands-on math?

The problem with the paper and pencil tests is that they try to simulate the real world. In so doing they make the world seem stilted and contrived. They are also looking for the right answer, even if there is more than one acceptable way of finding that answer.

With hands-on type of math students solve a puzzle. We all love to solve puzzles, even if some people are better than others at doing so. But like the ISAT tests these hands-on math programs are still a simulation of the real world. In the end it can feel stilted and contrived or at the very minimum students just can't transfer the skills to another medium.

At the end of the day we want our students to know how and where to apply math concepts to problems in the real world. This means students have to know the concepts and where to apply them, which hands-on math does a great job of teaching. Then students have to know how to solve the process which is the purview of the "traditional" math curriculum.

In the end I think math should start with a hands-on curriculum allowing students a lot of time to explore and discover concepts on their own. But we also need to spend more time debriefing our students, a fatal flaw in many a classroom. We need to take our discoveries and make sure our students understand what they mean and where they are applicable.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ISAT Tests

I was listening in on a teacher conversation the other day. They were discussing ways to improve their school.

"Did you see the book Measuring Up? Its better than Buckle Down. They have examples on the first page then practice, then short answer, short answer, short answer, short answer, and extended response. ... If they are going to judge us on how well we do on the ISAT then this is the book we should be teaching."

I tried to hide my horrified expression. I love the student centered curriculum the district bought, but everyone is so worried about ISATs they barely use it. I was hoping that after the big test we might actually have some fun teaching instead of struggling to maintain control while the students are being bored to tears. Thankfully just a bit later another teacher brought up what will happen after ISATs.

"You should have seen X's face when she came in my room today. It looked like we were cleaning up after a project and she looked so disappointed. 'You did a project without me?' We didn't of course, but in two weeks ISAT's will be over and we can do fun projects. This book has a great unit on data and the end project really demonstrates the concepts."

Being in the classroom, but not teaching I think gives me an ability to see when the students are getting it and when they aren't. Of course I might just be imagining what I see. Mostly what I see are students who aren't being challenged and start to devise ways of distracting the teacher or other students without actually getting in trouble. It doesn't happen all the time and certainly there are students who are completely lost, but too often I see students just trying to keep entertained.

Often I'm surprised by students. I sometimes get the idea from the teacher that this student or that one might need more practice, but when I go over to help it's either they have no clue at all or they find it too easy. Almost never are the drill sheets right on the developmental level of the student.

As I move around the room I wonder is there any learning going on? Perhaps the ISAT scores might go up, but still 'Is there any learning going on?'

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Monday, February 15, 2010

I'm working with a teacher the other ...

I'm working with a teacher the other day. She goes to the computer and brings up Engradeand starts entering a few grades. She says to no one in particular, "I don't know what I did before Engrade".

Sixteen years of teaching, self-proclaimed computer Luddite, loves Engrade an online based open-source gradebook. Better yet most of the teachers I've talked to are looking forward to the planned inplementation of Infinite Campus, if only for the ability for parents to stay more informed.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

What If

After reading some blog posts reflecting on the latest Educon. Especially Bud's "SLA isn't the promised land". I got to wondering what I would do if I were principal at one of the schools that I have worked for in the past.

It certainly wouldn't look like SLA, and not just because I work in elementary or middle schools. Chris Lehmann is the founding principal of SLA and as such he, I'm sure he picked a staff that has a similar educational philosophy. Taking over an existing school also means taking over the existing staff. How would a person radically change the philosophy of a school without being able to radically change the staff?

And thus we come to the problem facing major school districts around the country, even the Secretary of Education himself; How does one fix education without starting over? Evidently most big cities have quit trying, at least it seems that way because their solution is to close failing schools and reopen them as private schools, charter schools, or small schools whatever flavor of "educational reform" is your favorite.

There are of course no shortage of books detailing how to motivate people. We can influence friends and win converts, but in the end is it really a reform? I've blogged in the past that the current state of public education in America is actually much better than we think it is, even in our worst schools.

I think our schools are more of a reflection of ourselves. That the "fix" has less to do with pedagogy and more to do with people. Yes, problem based learning is a great way to teach. Yes, 1 to 1 technology should be the norm. Yes, teachers matter as well as leaders. But all that isn't the cure, it isn't the "fix". Or maybe it is, but all that won't happen until, well I guess people really start to care.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Have you ever tried to teach a student, or help a student when you don't speak the same language? I have. I spend a lot of time pointing and drawing pictures.
As I watch the ESL teacher teach mostly in Spanish I wonder if I could teach his class. I wondered today if I could teach an entire math class without saying a word.
When I teach math I spend most of my time drawing pictures. If I'm not drawing pictures I'm letting students mess around with manipulatives. If we aren't doing that I try to get the students to work in groups and "discover" or find a pattern.
Could I teach without speaking a word? I doubt it. Could I teach when we don't speak the same language? Maybe, Certainly if we had a good number of words in common. I might even be a better teacher for it.

Next time you teach try using fewer words and see what happens.

Or as Dan says "What Can You Do With This"