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. 
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.


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.

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


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.