Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Getting Students Motivated.

I’ve heard that good students will survive a poor teacher, but bad students will never recover.

I’ve also heard:

Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.

-Chinese proverb

Quality teachers get students involved.

How do you get students involved?

· Make them feel safe in the classroom

o Safe from violence

o Safe from ridicule

o Safe to be wrong

o Safe to ask for real help

· Preview what will be learned

o Point out the things they will learn

· Give an activity and let them do it

o Refuse to accept anything until after they try

§ Students don’t try because

· They don’t see the point

· They don’t understand

· They need to keep up walls physical and mental

· They know it isn’t important

§ Give them the skills they need to complete the project.

· There are students who don’t try because they don’t know how to do it and they are afraid to admit weakness.

· Especially at first keep the activities short

o Check for understanding often

· Summarize the learning after each activity

o I cannot emphasize enough how important this is

· Summarize learning for the day

o Again, I cannot emphasize enough how important this is

· Tie learning into concepts taught and learned earlier.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rewarding Teachers

Day 82: Working with Another TeacherImage by Old Shoe Woman via Flickr

If you care to look you will find dozens of articles just like this one. Articles about states passing laws requiring teachers to show improvements in student test scores or lose their jobs.

First, I think it should be obvious, but it isn't, that one test per year is just bad science. We need a real way to measure teacher performance, preferably based on a combination of several metrics.

Second, if we pass a law like this how is that going to play out in the classroom?

  • Who is going to take the IEP students?

    • “Not I”, said the teacher with 10 years of seniority.

  • Who is going to take the disruptive students?

    • “Not I”, said the team leaders

    • “I'll send that disruptive child to the office everyday before 8:01 so I can teach the other 29 students in my classroom.” Said the teacher who got stuck with them.

  • Who is going to work in the worst schools?

    • “Not I”, said the teacher who wants to feed his children and pay the mortgage next year.

  • Who is going to fix the problems of poverty, gangs, poor parenting, and drugs that are out of the control of the teachers?

    • “Not I”, said the politician who really could care less.

In Time Magazine there was an article recently about motivating students. Many folks were in a big uproar because they felt this was paying for grades. Unfortunately that was about as far of the mark as you could get. In reality paying students to get A's or B's (though a time honored tradition among parents) had almost no effect at all. What did affect students grades was to pay (or reward) students for doing something they could control that we know will help improve their grades. Like reading books, or finishing homework, or showing up on time ready to go, or NOT disrupting class.


Uh, duh. So how do we reward teachers for doing something that will improve their teaching and that they can control?

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Future Education

It's been kind of a busy week for reading and all.

A great blog on gearing up to teach Algebra I next year

Summative exam (thoughts on Karl Fish's transparent assessment)

If I have been proving that I know a concept throughout the year because I am passing formative exams then why should I have to pass a summative exam at the end of the year to prove that I know what I proved that I knew then.

All I’m really proving is that I remembered what I proved that I learned earlier in the year.

Some thoughts on bringing the conversation of change into being

Thoughts on teachers from Rethinking Conversation and Change

Often the problem at home (in the school) is that it (the conversation) quickly turns into a bitch session.

Well if the administration did this…

If the parents did that…

If I were allowed, knew how, had the expertise, had the resources I could do the other…

Most teachers don't really want to talk theory in the break room. They just want to complain about the students, administration, etc...

True we need a bit of time to vent, but we also need to talk, research, learn, discover what it is we can do better, why it works, what it looks like, where we can practice, and do all this without dropping test scores that might hold sway over whether or not we keep our jobs.

The conversation starts online, because we find like-minded folks who can't complain about the pitfalls or deficiencies of their school because I'm not in their school. Though I think most of the people in my PLN tend to get past the bitchiness fairly quickly.

I think one great way to start the conversation at school is to create a school or district wide conversation online. Make teachers and administrators start twitter accounts and blogs and ask them to discuss theory. Create message boards and wikis and try to get everyone involved. Get the momentum started, give them a chance to hold conversations when they don't really have time to meet at school. Get the to start conversations but not attend meetings because the general consensus is meetings are just a waste of time. Ask teachers to do this on their own time, but ask the conversations to stay theoretical. Perhaps it is too Utopian to think that this might work, and some districts have probably tried and already failed, but I think others have also tried and find it is actually working.

Not everyone will be involved or change, but change doesn't happen all at once. Change starts with small committed groups of individuals. If your lucky one or two people you never thought would be accepting suddenly do, and they motivate dozens of others to do the same. All we need is the one great follower.

Thought after talking to a colleague at school or well maybe a paraphrase or two

“I could list all the training the district has wasted money on all the stuff they have made us go through. This program that was actually good is long gone. “

So perhaps the problem is like the marketing story of store and newspaper delivery. That is they marketing company wanted the newspaper delivery boys to wrap the papers in a plastic sleeve with their name on the outside. The problem was the delivery boys were expected to go through a ton of hassle and extra time, but weren't being compensated. What did they do? They tossed all the extra bags and it became a huge unsightly litter problem with the companies name all over it. The moral is if you don’t get the buy in from teachers is doesn’t work.

Personall, I also think the majority of these behavioral – classroom management strategies are very similar. There is no “silver bullet” except consistency and time. As the administration changes they change systems and everyone has to start all over. Some of the teachers fall behind because they liked the other system better, they gave up, they forgot, etc… suddenly you have a hodge podge of behavioral systems and it just doesn’t work.

Thought on the future of education
Notes from elluminate session

Norm Garrett: In medieval universities, the students hired the faculty!

Elizabeth Psyck: I believe that students should both be the market and be driving it. But in reality, they're bodies in seats. The sad realities of the current system. This could change quite a bit in the next couple decades as private educational institutions are expanded (I'm higher ed oriented)

Wouldn't it be interesting if the students could hire the teachers again? Of course I think I've written about some ideas how to do this, or something like that.

In todays day and age it wouldn't be too difficult to rate teachers and then pay extra money to sit virtually in their classrooms. The real question would be what of the controls. I suppose businesses could form a network and rate professors. You know because many might be rated as great teachers only because they inflate grades, while businesses would want professors who actually taught. That would be a lot more difficult than it is today where higher education is accredited. Of course accrediting institutions might accept grades from any professor who they rate as satisfactory. They could even have high and low accredidations determinined by the quality of the professors overall on your transcripts.

So perhaps the entire higher education world could be upended with students choosing individual professors based on quality and price. Then after finishing a standard course of classes they could submit the grades to the accreditation board (with payment or government funded) and receive a degree. Many student will of course go to a brick and mortar institution, but few will take all of their classes there. Their final degree will be awarded either by the college that is associated with the accreditation board or a simple accreditation board. The degree will be rated for quality as well as classes taken. Yeah, I went to state college for core classes, but six of my twelve major courses were virtual classes taught by top ten professors.

There was more, but I think this is enough for a start. I look forward to thinking about the future of education.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Motivating Students

Year 2~Day 51 +022/366: Do You Know Your Multi...Image by Old Shoe Woman via Flickr

After reading this interesting article I really wanted to get my thoughts down right away.

The article seems to be saying if we pay students every week or two to for concrete actions that we know will improve learning than paying for grades works.

We aren’t paying for grades so to speak but motivating students to do those mundane tasks they don’t like, but which we as teachers know will help them learn.

If we pay a student to read a book, or pay a student to control his/her behavior, or show up to school, or any of those things we as educators know our students need to do to be successful, is it wrong? It’s just another way to motivate our students. I'm not really fond of paying money to go to school, but I like it better than spending so much of my time talking about discipline.

One of the biggest complaints of middle school grade math teachers is that students don’t have basic skills. They can’t do simple computations in their heads. If we paid students to memorize the times tables in 3rd grade would we still have this problem?

Here’s how it might work: The third grade teachers teaches how to multiply in anyway he/she feels best, but after the multiplication unit the teacher starts to pay students $1 every time they get 100% on a weekly multiplication facts test. Multiplication concepts are still taught constructively if the teacher wants, but the memorization of the facts is paid for. Students are intrinsically motivated to learn how to multiply and externally motivated to memorize facts.

The creative pursuit of mathematics is no longer sullied by the introduction of crass rewards. Tangible rewards that might actually have a long term negative effect on learning.

Reference articles

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Teaching Math

After reading Lockhart’s Lament I got to thinking about what might happen if we taught math class more like we teach Art.

I thought about the first district I taught at. We never seemed to have any real art classes. A couple of volunteers would come in about once a month and teach a lesson and that was it for the elementary school. Yet, the high school always seemed to be filled with the most amazing art.

I know my fourth graders loved to draw. I encouraged it as much as I could but I never really tried to teach art. I just don’t know enough about the subject to teach it. I brought in a few artists I knew and let them teach when I could.

Was the positive encouragement and the hands-off attitude crucial to developing so many artists or am I just imagining things.

Should elementary teachers who don't know anything about Math or Science not teach those subject and invite experts to visit their classrooms?

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Trying to Think

I’m not a strict Problem Based Learning (PBL) person, but I am one who loves to try to make my students think. Actually, I love to think so I just assume my students should also. It isn’t always true.

Suppose I gave this problem to my students:

What is the measure of angle C?

Even my best students would probably give this problem about five minutes before giving up. They simply don’t know HOW to go about finding the answer.

I have noticed that as soon as I start asking students to think they often just shut down. Problem solving at its core is a creative endeavor. Students must transfer the problem from English, or better yet an observation, decide what the actual problem is, devise a strategy of attack, evaluate the effectiveness, and often times start over again from the beginning. Or as illustrated:

Picture found at Man With No Blog.

The problem is students are in school and as Sir Ken Robinson is so famous for saying, “Schools Kill Creativity”.

When asking student to take the time to solve a problem they often don’t know where to start. So it might help to list everything they know about the particular subject as a class before hand. As the students get used to this practice they will start to learn to anticipate what they will need to know by what you get excited over, so to counter act this it might do to start putting big posters on the walls entitled what we know about _______. This in turn becomes a resource for students to use throughout the year.

So the thought goes: Students have been socialized into thinking school is a place where knowledge is given not developed. Students generally don’t or won’t think for themselves. If we start slow we can re-teach our students to use their own brains. If students are asked to use what they know to solve problems without being lead by the hand eventually they will start to work on their own. The end goal of course is to get students to put some value on the knowledge they possess. I guess in the hope that they will apply it when needed.

Please share some of your favorite tactics for getting students to work on their own.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010


UndercoverImage by bionicteaching via Flickr

Not since I was a student teacher have I had to deal with a school Internet connection that had any sort of serious filtering. Way back then I talked to the IT person and we discussed the pros and cons of filtering. Eventually, we decided that teachers should bear the primary responsibility of monitoring student behavior and the filters would simply block obvious pornography sites.

Ah the good old days when we didn't have to worry about gambling, online games, facebook, myspace, twitter, and all that other stuff. Today the conversation is a bit longer, but I think the results should be about the same. The primary responsibility of monitoring the students should fall on the heads of the teacher. The filters should block only the sites that violate school codes. Social networking, games, etc they can sometimes offer quality educational value and should not be blocked.

I never really understood those teachers who would complain about the excessive filters in place at schools. I just didn't realize how troublesome those filters could be. As a responsible adult I have used my access to the Internet in a responsible fashion. Over the years I have developed what they call a personal learning network (PLN). These folks, whom I usually contact on twitter or through the blogosphere, have taught me more in the last two years than in my first four years of teaching.

Suddenly, at a new job in a new district, I am cut off from my PLN. Twitter is blocked, almost every website with the word blog in the title is blocked. Even a site by the name is blocked.

It's like I am back in my first teaching assignment in my own classroom. The kids enter, the door shuts, and I'm alone with 30 children and my lesson plans. What happens if we are getting off track in a math discussion and a student asks about the circle proof. Will it be blocked? Will I have to do a quick search of my blogroll to find the information? Can I find what I need?

Worse that that what if I'm planning for the next day and I want to tap into the combined wisdom of my PLN? How do I do that? I don't have phone numbers and emails, I have blogs and @usernames, besides am I going to call 400 names, many of whom live outside my home country? How would those 400 phone calls go anyway? Excuse me do you have any information on circle proofs? NO, ok, wait yes, ok can you email it to me. No I can't go to your blog it's blocked.

Listen, I don't care if a couple of years ago some idiot brought a laptop in with a virus and you had to spend hours on the phone removing our webservers from spam filters. I don't care that the forms on some sites could actually be phishing scams. I don't care that this might increase the workload on over burdened IT professionals. What I do care about is being able to do my job, and right now you are hamstringing your running back. So let me read education blogs, watch youtube videos, and yes chat with my friends and colleagues on twitter.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Curing Cancer

Last year a grandmother was watching her grandchild Rey Rey die of cancer. She wanted to do something about it. She started a fund raising campaign with the help of St. Baldricks. Last year the school raised over $1,000 and the district raised about $3,000 total.

Rey Rey did not survive, but the St. Baldricks charity event did survive. This year the school raised over $600 not including however much the district raised in total. At the is point the reader may be disappointed that the children raised less money, but you shouldn't. With the struggling economy and the number of empty foreclosed homes in the area, combined with the over $1,000 raised last month for Haiti relief I think these kids are pretty amazing.

Just another story to prove that in a school with 78% free/reduced lunch eligibility, the less you have to more you tend to give to charity.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Think Thank Thunk, Constructivist Education, and Standards Based Gradeing

I’ve always loved the use of a student-centered or constructivist based learning for classroom teaching. The knock has usually been that there isn’t enough practice. I’ve never felt that was a problem. Everyone else seems to comment on it so I’ll mention it.

Adventures in Engineering and Science instruct...Image via Wikipedia

The knock I find is assessment. Yes, we can assess projects and read journals, and take tests, but for me that doesn’t satisfy (and for many it isn’t a multiple choice test so it isn’t valid). As a student I was always a master of learning a specific skill and remember it long enough to pass the test and then forget it (Please give me a multiple choice test, I can pass most of those without even knowing the material). Yeah, some of the stuff I stuck in short term memory is still there, but not all. Really, for me the stuff was there like the answers to Trivial Pursuit questions, but they had no real meaning. The problem for me is if it isn’t important enough to remember for long term then why bother testing for it?

So my conundrum is how to I get my students to remember stuff for the long term without actually forcing them to take cumulative tests all the time? Yes, I know the Constructivist Theory is to create a meaning for the information and the meaning becomes the hook. Sometimes the projects, or problems, or carefully crafted meaning just aren’t meaningful for all (or any) of my students.

The answer is of course to implement standardized grading. Students are expected to know standards of course, but in general we test for information that covers standards and then just assume if they know enough stuff in generally than they know the standard in general. Think about your usual unit test, it might contain three to five or more major standards for your grade level. Then each of those standards might contain one or more sub-standards (as I call them) or standards from earlier grades. (Well it works this way in math, sorta kinda. In reality it isn’t so pretty) if students get a problem wrong, what they are really saying is they have not mastered the standard or part of the standard covered in that question. Perhaps this is easier to think about for a math teacher because we are used to telling students to show their work so we can point out the specific part of the problem they made a mistake on.

The thought then leads us to the belief that if we grade each question as a standard that should be mastered then students will know exactly what skills they need help in and thus can concentrate on bringing that skill up to par. Kinda like a RTI for all our students all the time.

Students will then be expected to remember the standards through the year. If students have a low score on a standard they can make it up by doing a question on that standard. This way we are constantly revisiting the core of the curriculum and giving students the opportunity to lift their grade on a regular basis.

If you like to see standards based grading in action I suggest reading Mr. Cornally’s blog and watching it in action.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Passion and Education

While listening to Sir Ken Robinson the other day I saw a lot of people in the comments asking these questions along the lines of:

Should we continue to encourage students in their passion even though they suck at it? And should we allow passionate teachers to stay even though they suck?

MSC_1154Image by USV via Flickr

Is everyone who is passionate about art creating museum quality art? Of course not. Some passionate people are curators, some are graphic artists, some are in design, and some teach. Not all make a living by making art, but I would bet most have a job or hobby that let’s them express their love of art. Even though I like art, I’m not one who is ever going to pay millions or even thousands of dollars to buy a piece of art for my home. I’m just not that passionate about art. I do however like to doodle a bit when bored.

Should passionate teachers who aren’t really good teachers be allowed in the classroom? We aren’t even close to being able to ask that question. I think if we had a perfect world where we had the best and most passionate teachers in all of our schools we would be right in asking that question. This isn’t a perfect world. We don’t have passionate teachers in all of our classrooms. I think a bad, but passionate teachers are more likely to, at least be willing to learn. While just plain bad teachers likely just don’t care enough to try to improve.

I’m one of those who thinks improving education hinges on support of teachers. One of the most important supports is real teacher training. Allowing teachers to co-teach the first year or two in the classroom. The first year of mentorship should include something along the lines of creating, teaching, and reflecting on lessons with a master teacher everyday for a full year. Then during the second year being a part of a small team lead by a master teacher. Each teacher on the team gets the opportunity to observe and evaluate each other on a regular basis. All this observation and evaluation is geared towards creating quality teachers and should have little to do with teacher retention. Almost like TFA, but with real support and mentorship for new teachers after real classroom study.Years three through 100 should include opportunities to observe and be observed on a regular basis as well as about a million other things.

Should teachers with a passion for teaching be allowed to stay in the classroom and teach. Yes, and they should receive the support they need to learn to master their craft. When we finally get around to getting rid of the sucky teachers who hate educatoin we can start looking at passionate teachers who just don't have the skills.
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