Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day Three Chlorine and Math

Ok I've been on this exercise kick this week. I can think of better things to do with my time, but I need to get ride of this spare tire. Well this morning I thought I would do some swimming. Big mistake. I brought swimming trunks, but no goggles. After half an hour in the pool I ruined my day. I spent the entire day in a chlorine fog and righting a headache.

In between moaning and complaining I tried to listen to the keynote at the blogger cafe, Why don't they have coffee? I couldn't hear much especially at the end as the conversation got louder so ask someone else for a synopsis, but get one cuz I think what I did hear was very good. Try Budtheteacher I think I saw him in the bloggercafe.

I went to one public BYOL session “Beyond Graphing Calculators: Technology in the Mathematics Classroom” presented by (husband and wife team by the name of cross not the bad guys to be known as DC for the rest of this blog)

In my district I find a lot of teachers worry about passing the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT). For some reason this translates into spending an inordinate of time practicing ISAT questions. This isn't limited to Illinois, I know teachers around the country who feel it's necessary to use class time to practice for their specific state test.

Ok so one of the first things DC did was to take their state standards an put it into a Wordle. Yes you guessed it Technology was one of the biggest words. Yo, teach! Technology is important in your classroom. Not in my state, but that is a different problem.

Wordle: 8th grade Illinois learning standards

How do we incorporate technology into the classroom? Let's set some prerequisites. We want:

  • free

  • simple

  • student-centered

First some video presentation teachers or student can create easily. (DC used Prezi but didn't explain it)

  • Powerpoint / Photostory

Create a simple presentation in Powerpoint - save the slides as pictures - import them into Photostory - add voice to each slide.

Free because just about everyone has Powerpoint already and Photostory is a free download for Windows machines. I know you can replace PowerPoint with Presentation in OpenOffice if you don't have Word. I'm not sure about alternatives to Photostory.

This is something teachers and students can use in the classroom. Why not have students explain the steps to solving a cube root using a presentation?

Second suggestion – Create your own common craft type video

DC suggest a flip video type camera, but I think this is also the opportunity to show the usefulness of cell phones in the classroom. If you want to go there. Considering they suggest 3 X 5 cards and a steady cam perhaps a document camera might work for this also. (I don't know if they record or not)

Third Suggestion Geogebra

I love Geogebra, but I think I said it yesterday, I'm more of a give me your idea and I will expand on that in my classroom rather than I want to spend hours of my time exploring. Exploring is great if I want to learn about Geogebra, but I want to learn how to use it in my classroom and that means I need to know how to use the program first then I can explore the possibilities for my classroom.

The great think about Geogebra, besides being free and being either a download or a web app, is the amount of documentation found on the web. I've seen the wiki and the help files at and they are great, but I didn't know about the youtube channel. I should have known because I tell my teachers all the time, if you don't know how to do it look for a video on youtube.

DC gave us a quick demonstration of a use in the classroom. input an equation into the input bar at the bottom such as y=mx+b or y=Asin(x). Geogebra doesn't know what to do with the extra variables so you have to do two things.

  1. enter the equations with the * to signify multiplication

  2. add a slider for the extra variables

The slider allows you to define the variable over a range giving you the opportunity to change the variable and watch what happens to the line, or you can set the slider to automate (right click) and watch the line move back and forth on it's own. The linear equation has two variables so you can animate one or both at the same time. It is fun I suggest trying it right now, I'll wait.

The last suggestion from DC was Glogster, make sure you use the site.

Glogster makes a nice poster with embedded video, sound, and pictures. A great way to introduce a new topic or for student to show what they know. Glogster seems pretty self explanatory, make sure you embed the videos, not link them. and the background is called the wall.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day Two ISTE Wow Me

I skipped the free breakfast, yeah I know I can't believe I did that either.

I headed for the session on using Google Earth. I don't know what we expect to get in an hour, but I liked the session. We were taught the basics of marking a point in Google Earth, describing the point, and adding pictures or other data. We learned one very good use for Google Earth in the classroom and the hour is finished.

Later on Monday I went to the Gcompris session and it is relatively similar. Here is the program, here is how to use it, and here are some suggestions for the classroom.

This is the meaning of the BYOL labs. Here is something you can use in the classroom, here is how to use it, and a suggestion for use in the classroom. I like these because I love taking other peoples ideas and using expanding on the originally suggested use. It's a useful skill and one I think sometimes undervalued. Learning isn't always exploration and discovery. Sometimes learning is taking what someone shows you and finding news ways to use it.

In between I stopped to listen to Scott McLeod talk about CASTLE and SAI. I missed most of the explanation, but what I did hear was they wanted to teach administrators to learn how to anticipate and prepare for the future.

The other session was “At Risk Students in A Digital Age” Anthony Mullins, the teacher of the year not long from a visit with the president himself wanted to tell his story.

An ex-cop turned teacher he started as most of us did with at risk students, trying to figure out a way to reach our student, trying to convince them that not only is education important, but that they can be successful.

Tony said, “all good teachers can tell a story”. We can tell a story of success and happiness. We are given an opportunity to help create this story for our students.

Next came the interesting part. He told us the story of what changed in his classroom. Tony is not a digital native, nor is he a digital immigrant, he is as he says, “a digital interloper”. So when he got a bit of technology in his classroom he didn't try to use it to train his students he gave it to his students and said, “wow me”. What is the tweet that is going around., “technology doesn't make us good teachers it helps good teachers be more effective.”

I think Tony is the teacher of the year not because he found a smart board and used it in the classroom, he is the teacher of the year because he changed his teaching style from an authority attempting to convince his students that they need to learn and became a collaborator who allowed his students to learn.

“Wow me” and they did.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Sunday at ISTE - JHU and Keynote

Monday morning almost 6am. I've only been up for two hours. I'm going to need some sleep when I get home, but I know I won't get it because my wife has been alone with the kids for 4 days and will need a break. Maybe I'll make up for it in my next life time when I'm a banker.

Sunday was spent in the clutches of the JHU Cohort introduction. I should have taken better notes, but I was just happy to be listening. I think all that stuff leaked out during the night. or maybe it bounced out during my attempt at exercise on the treadmill.

Anyway, here are the basics.

  • We want you certificate to mean something so we are going to give you a lot of work and expect quality product from you.

  • You will be working in teams, but just because we try to invite only the best cohorts doesn't mean you won't have slackers. Think of it as preparation for real life and deal with it appropriately.

  • When working with teams play to your strengths and the strengths of those around you.

  • We already know what worked back in the day, but we want to know what works for the future.

  • Standards and what do they mean looks like it will be a big part of the course.

  • internships with local administrator and ISTE will be another major part of the course.

I love the part about the internship running the entire year. I tell anyone who will listen the best way to improve the quality of teachers is to lengthen the internship. One full year working one-on-one with a mentor in the same classroom, then a second year with a small group of 2nd year teachers being observed on a weekly basis by a mentor. So why shouldn't the administrators be different.

Everyone I think is starting to agree that teachers are the most important influence on individual students. But one good teacher in a string of mediocrity will not the education of a child make. We need quality administrators creating the schools that high-quality teachers want to teach in.

I hear it all the time around the water cooler. Teachers in a district move from school to school depending on the principal. A good principal will get good teachers, an easy principal will get lazy teachers. A too strict principal will I guess get the left overs. I want to be a strong principal that the best teachers want to transfer to my school.


I agree the speaker, Jean-François Rischard, could have been a bit more entertaining. He also could have been a lot more concise, in words and slides. I think he made two good points. First, the world is facing a multitude of crisis’s in the near future, and Second, educators can play a strong role in creating solutions.

As educators we need to help our students start to get beyond the narrow vision of OUR world and start seeing our lives in the context the a global village. We can find solutions to global problems that may effect individual lives, but they don't destroy us or our communities.

I think we might already be starting this trend with great programs like flatclassroom.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

First Day , First Time ISTE

Well I made it. Oh wait I've said that before.

Anywho, I couldn't sleep Friday night. I was to get up early in the morning Saturday and fly to Denver. I did of course,but I was so excited about an actual education conference (ISTE) as a teacher and starting a new course (JHU/Cohort), and meeting people, well seeing people I can be shy sometimes, (was that Jeff Utecht and Scott McLeod) I just couldn't sleep.

I showed up at the hotel at around 11am local time, only to be extremely disappointed about the lack of internet connectivity. They want something like $10 a day for connectivity. During the conference that would be more than I pay in a month for connections at home. Listen Mr Hyatt, I am a teacher running for a large part on my own dime can ya cut a brother some slack?

Whatever, I can see the convention center from the window outside my door and they have free internet. No, I can't get a signal from my room I tried. So I'll walk across the street and buy my coffee from the Blue Bear Cafe. All right this is still costing me $9, but at least I get a muffin out of the deal.

I'm so excited to be here. yesterday (Saturday the 26th) after learning that the convention center had free wifi I headed over and grabbed my registration packet, only to discover that was already going strong. I suppose I saw that somewhere, but with so much new stuff I'm ove- flowing and I just can't seem to remember anything. I managed to catch the last half an hour of Are iPads a 1:1 Solution.

The conversation was good, but I think it ended with some good conversation but no minds changed. That may not be the point though, perhaps those who love the iPad will think more before just using it and those who don't like it will give it a try if it happens to be around. Now I just need to remember the tag. Was it ebcm.
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Different Schools Different Styles

Different Schools Different Styles

I wonder.

I wonder sometimes about how we go about teaching. I, personally, am a very student-centered teacher. This isn't a single style of teaching, but rather a collection of styles that generally tend towards allowing students to actively learn through exploration and discovery. On the other hand a teacher-centered would be a collection of styles that generally tend towards giving instruction to students and then giving them time to practice the skills that were explained. Neither style has to be absolute. With that in mind I like to think of myself as a student-centered teacher, I may not always be good at it, but if I teach anything I want to teach my students to think and reason, and hopefully discover. I want their curiosity to guide their learning.

I guess you can say that my goal is always just beyond what I actually accomplish. I like to be a student-centered teacher, but I know there have been and always will be times when I am a teacher-centered teacher. I will lecture, I will explain, I will try my darnedest to pour information into the heads of my students. Sometimes it will work better than others. Sometimes if will fail miserably. Usually it will fail when I am falling back onto teaching the way I was taught. Too often I do this because I am losing control of my room and I want it back. This is a classroom management issue, usually. Sometimes it is just pure laziness, but we won't mention that.

Of course sometimes I use a direct instruction by planning. Just because I believe in a student-centered approach to teaching doesn't mean I don't think there are times when it would be better to use direct instruction. In general my lessons plan will include 5 minutes of direct instruction, followed by a long period of exploration, with a teacher directed summary of what is learned to finish things off. No, I don't tell them what they learned I attempt to guide them through explaining what they learned.

So here I am getting off task again. I have one simple point for this blog post: Why do all schools in a district have to use the same textbook? Let's face it in many schools the curriculum is dictated by the textbook that is bought. We can have curriculum meetings, and hire curriculum directors, but in my experience, (yes limited to just a few schools) at the end of the day too many teachers grab the book and follow the curriculum they set forth. (yes I did it too.) Of course some teachers refuse to be bound by the dictates from the publishing company, but for the most part the average teacher doesn't have the time or energy to create their own curriculum. After all they don't have an advanced degree in curriculum and instruction, they don't have a team of curriculum experts, they don't get paid extra, they aren't given time during the day and must work on their own, and the district has created a curriculum for them. Starting over from the beginning might just be a waste of time.

When a teacher does deviate from the planned curriculum most of the time it is because they feel the need to improve the curriculum. Sometimes this means making the lessons more student-centered, as I usually did, and sometimes this means making the curriculum more teacher-centered. (please, let's try to keep this simple)

In my current district we use Connected Math. I for one like the Connected Math textbook series. I haven't taught it for a while, and if I taught it again I would probably try to find or create better lessons or activities, but I would likely follow the basic structure they developed. By better lessons I of course mean more realistic problems to explore along the lines of the famous Dan Meyer WCYDWT idea (I hate the fact that this blog is blocked at my school). In the end though that's just making the classroom more student-centered. On the other hand I know a lot of teachers that would do the exact opposite. They would take away the student discussion and exploration time and add more skill practice and direct instruction. They would consider that making an improvement.

I would disagree and suggest that those other teachers are actually making the instruction less effective, but that is a discussion for a different post. Right now I want you to imagine yourself in this situation and ask these questions:
  • What if a school district supported both types of teachers?
  • What if, as in my district, there were 5 different middle schools and we taught math using a different philosophy in each school? (Um editors note, we have 5 schools not 5 different philosophies of education) The teachers, and administration, could choose to teach in the school that most closely matched their philosophy?
  • What if instead of a teacher refusing to use the textbook imposed on them they moved to a school with a textbook they liked better? Quickly and easily without leaving the district, without repercussions.
  • What if the students or parents could choose the school that they thought most closely matched their learning style? Yes I know that means buying more than one set of textbooks, on the other-hand with more and more online learning management systems we are building more and more individualized content. It will not be long before many schools will have a complete curriculum online that teachers can use, edit, and share at will, there will be little need for new textbooks all the time.
  • What if school choice meant choosing the school not based on test scores, but based on your philosophy of education?

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Friday, June 11, 2010

The Beginning

I am very excited to start the JHU / ISTE leadership program. During the last several years my education has transformed from institutional learning to self directed learning. I think I realized when I was creating my gallery walk video that I used to go to school because that was what was expected. I have changed, during the past couple of years I learned how to learn. I discovered that as a student I don't have to wait for education to come to me. I can choose what I want to learn, when I want to learn, and where I want to learn. So in this new era of choosing to learn I am excited to choose to work with the intelligent and talented people in the JHU cohort.

I know how to run a classroom. I also know that running the school is a completely different beast. What happens in my classroom for the most part happens because I wanted it to, or I let it happen, or because learning is taking place. Students no matter where they come from, generally love to learn. They are in the classroom to learn. They know what to do and how to do it all I have to do is let them. Adults are different. Working with adults can be much more difficult than working with students and that in itself makes being an administrator that much more difficult.

I imagine that during the next year I will learn about the nuts and bolts of how to be and administrator. However, more importantly I imagine I will learn how to be an effective leader, and what it takes to motivate the adults I am working with. As a teacher I spend most of my time trying to convince my students to think for themselves. As an administrator the main focus will be effectively leading my fellow educators.

I look forward to working online. I love the freedom to work mostly when I want. I also love the opportunity to work with a highly motivated individuals who share my interests and passion for learning even though they may live thousands of miles away. I have two reservations: The first is keeping motivated. That shouldn't be difficult when I am working with such high quality individuals. The second reservation I have is finding enough time to get all my work done. I, like so many teachers that I know, tend to try and do too much. I have spent a lot of time with my wife and family emphasizing the need to work without interruption. They have agreed, but we will see.
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Thursday, June 3, 2010

I Forgot What It Means to Teach

Overheard, “Fourteen years ago I had a friend leave the district. She said I’ve been there so long I almost forgot what it meant to teach.” ­

What if she isn’t really teaching where she is now either?

I work in a poor and underperforming district. What if the low-skills and lack of discipline isn’t just a symptom of the neighborhood but a symptom of the teaching.

This isn’t to say we don’t have great teachers. But the honest truth is that our district and others like it are often used as a stepping-stone. Good teachers are often gone just as they are beginning to show a bit of return on investment. While less than stellar teachers might be kept around because they are the only ones willing to teach.

Non-educators may not realize that teachers, like you would in any other profession, apply for jobs at the best schools first, then move down the list. During a normal year it is a common occurrence for some school districts to have openings pop up in late August as teachers suddenly quit after finding a job at another school district.

This is one of those school districts. It isn’t just the teachers. It’s the administrators, the parents, even the students. Not enough quality educators actually want to be here. And sometimes even when they do want to be here ten of so years down the line they might decide that they have had enough.

Working for a difficult district requires a lot of patience, it requires extraordinary hard work, it often requires leaders to stop and rebuild their teams again and again every two or three years.

The problem is school improvement requires long periods of consistent direction. When the leader is promoted, or moves out of district, when the team members turnover on a regular basis, when upper management drops their support, or just doesn’t support you at all, creating long lasting positive change becomes almost impossible.

So how do we create long lasting positive change?