Friday, September 21, 2012

I Am Not A Twit

Originally posted on my work blog

Some basic resources for effectively using twitter as a teacher.
A wiki to introduce people to twitter. Yes, you can tweet all about your boring breakfast (and worse) but if you would also like to get past that you can.
A wiki specifically for teachers to learn about using twitter in education.

The real question is:

Why would I bother using twitter as a teacher?

It does make one wonder. This Internet time suck used by celebrities and sports stars, how can it possibly be an effective tool for a serious endeavour like teaching?  

That is the beauty of twitter, you make of it what you want or need. Twitter, along with many other similar social media sites (Google +, Facebook, “yes, facebook”, pinterest, scoop it, etc...), has the ability to connect like minded people. Imagine if you will the teachers lounge, except the other teachers don’t know your students. All they can do is respond to questions with best practice advice, what I did in similar situation, what worked for me.

Twitter in this case has suddenly become what they call a Professional Learning Network as described in “The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age” by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall.

Professional Learning Networks are about individuals gathering information and sharing resources that enhance their personal and professional learning.

That’s great if I want to spend my evenings with teacher talk. Is it possible to be a bit more formal with our professional development?

As a personal learning resource use one of the links up top to find thousands of quality teachers to follow then check in once a day to see if there is anything interesting. Of course going through thousands of tweets is time consuming. We can sort through all of that by getting out daily twitter paper delivered right to our laptop. collects all the links and articles referenced in my twitter stream and  organizes them in a newspaper format based on how often they were tweeted out.

Still that isn’t formal learning. It isn’t professional development.

Social media is about connecting like minded people. Twitter and other media are great places to begin, to get ideas, but they are also great places to meet and connect while working as a more formal group. Below are a list of great weekly teacher meetings held on twitter.

General chates
#ntchat - New teacher chat - learn or mentor -
#edchat - The grandaddy of them all a general education chat -
#cpchat - connected principal chat -
#spedchat - Special Education chat -
#sschat - Social Studies -
#musiced - Music
#scichat  -Science

There are hundreds more find and learn about them here

Spending an hour once a week chatting on twitter doesn’t seem too big of a deal at first, but then again when it becomes a requirement it can be a big deal. Imagine this scenario though: This weeks #mathchat is "Is mathematics more important than numeracy?" this would be a great topic for elementary teachers to discuss. We decide to discuss it as part of our regular professional development in school. 

A professional learning community, again defined by Beach and Hall.
Professional Learning Communities are traditional school-based structures in which staff--both teachers and administrators--learn together with the goal of improving student achievement.
A teacher(s) or principal could participate in the #mathchat (held at noon or 7PM) then during regular team meeting times a discussion could be held. If nobody can make the chat, or even if they did, the archive can be distributed to the team and a discussion can be based on that.

Discussions are held, teaching practices are modified or strengthened, and the school as a whole is improved.

So there you have it, two, of many, ways twitter can and does provide professional development for teachers. There are more, many more ways networking through twitter and social media can be a catalyst for growth in our personal and professional lives. I can directly connect my twitter use to a graduate school program, CPDU opportunities, and and even a few job opportunities. In the end though twiiter is what you make of it, good or bad.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Competing Philosophies of Education

Perhaps this is just my view, but it looks like education is slowly inexorably changing and we have two choices competing for the dominant theory of what constitutes a quality education.


This is a nice model for the business community, because, eventually, the costs will drop. The basic premise is that if we design adaptive software students can sit in front of a computer all day and just follow the learning program. Costs will be limited to the hardware (less than $1,000), software, ($5 per student), and a person to monitor students (minimum wage). $45,000 for a class of 30, or $1500 per student, $65,000 for a class of 60 or $1,100 per student. Or about 10% or less of the cost to teach a student now.


Instead of the presenters of knowledge teachers become the facilitators of knowledge. Experts in their craft who guide students through individualized learning experiences.
  • Teachers of young children focus more on learning milestones and owning the skills that are the building blocks of different subjects.
  • Middle school teachers focus more on developing burgeoning critical thinking skills.
  • High school teachers give students a wide latitude in finding, creating, and solving problems that are central to learning standards.
Students use technology to explore, question, collaborate, practice, and create.

Which system of education seems better to you? Why?
If you had the choice which school would you enroll your children?


Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Best Teacher

I've read a several times in different articles this week the author saying something to the effect of If a student can learn from the best teachers then why shouldn't they?

This is a great sentiment, but I find the underlying assumption being that the idea of a great teacher is a person who wrote a great book, made a great discovery, presents a great lecture.

I think they are missing the point. Teachers don't present the material so much as they set up the learning environment. Teachers facilitate learning.

Sure it could be a lecture, or a presentation, or a power point-keynote, whatever. On the other hand it could be a project, or following a misconception all the way to it's end.

Teaching is more than filling the empty vessels, it is igniting the fire.
"For the mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth."
Moralia, On Listening to Lectures 48C (LCL 1.256-259)

Teachers respond to students questions, follow tangents, and allow the student to determine the direction of the class.

On the other hand we can just lock children in the classroom turn on the TV and let them be educated.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Master Learners

Master Learners by Clint Hamada
Master Learners, a photo by Clint Hamada on Flickr.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Dont Give Up

So I get this in the mail the other day.

Dear Friend:
Today, we are excited to announce that more than 1,700 schools will plan and hold events during National School Choice Week 2013 (January 27-February 2, 2013). Please check out our press release below.
National School Choice Week 2013 is going to break all records — so please help spread the word on social media about our big news today! If you're on Twitter, be sure to retweet this tweet. I know many of you are on Facebook too, so please like this post. You can also check out our new video.

Now is the time to start thinking about how you will participate in National School Choice Week 2013 — and we're excited to have you celebrate with us.


And I think to myself. What do they mean by school choice, don't they really mean I give up?

Our public schools are what we make it. We vote the school board in and we sit on our butts and watch Tuesday night TV while school boards decide what to do with our money. We didn't care as our schools went down the tubes. And don’t let me hear any excuses like my kids weren’t in school then or I didn’t live here then. We all live in a school district.

Oh, but this doesn't include school districts like Chicago and New York. They were taken over years ago by mayors who ran their little dictatorships right into the ground.

Nope this isn't school choice this is giving up on our local, community school.

Please oh please let me give my tax dollars to some "For profit" education company. I want them to cut costs so my tax dollars can actually fund some rich man's yacht. While my kids continue to get a sub-par education.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

What am I thinking Right Now

Try this, type ruby yacht of khayyam into Google or Yahoo or Bing. Go ahead I’ll wait.

Bullwinkle (Photo credit: bbaltimore)
Did you come up with a Rocky and Bullwinkle episode? Did it come up even before you finished typing yacht?

I find it amazing that a a bad pun for a children’s show that has been off the air for years comes up so quickly and easily.

I guess this goes to show you that I am not part of the digital native generation. I grew up with the idea that computers were stupid, if you didn’t spell things out exactly the way you wanted then you didn’t get what you wanted out. It even had its own acronym GIGO garbage in garbage out.

I suppose we shouldn’t read too much into this. The pun after all is probably the only one like it. Then I’m sure some geek heard the pun as a kid years ago and spent hours searching the information in dusty encyclopedias in the library. With the invention of the Internet and Wikipedia and finally Hulu s/he then created the page and as it turned out there were thousands of other geeks who did the exact same thing. Then when I introduced Rocky and Bullwinkle to my sons and got curious about the pun I could suddenly tap into the research in seconds.

This is the natural skepticism of the digital native. I question what seems like to amazing ability of technology to anticipate my needs. I’m sure it is getting pretty good right now, but it isn’t actually thinking. It is using the data it has about me and building a model of what people with similar data models might be thinking about.
What I’m wondering now is do our digital natives think the same thing?
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Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Evolution of a Gate

This post can also be found on my blog

It has been interesting to watch Bill Gates grow and evolve in his efforts to improve U.S.

Betonwerksteinskulptur "Lehrer-Student&qu...
Image via Wikipedia
education. Just an informal overview of the highlights I remember.
There is High Tech High School in San Diego, which I think is a pretty successful group of schools. Technology infused with project based learning.
There was the small school initiative which didn’t work out so well. Reduce the size of the student population. I thought there were better methods (Leads, research) to reduce school size without reducing the options available to students, but Bill tried his methods and admitted failure.
He also tried measuring teacher effectiveness. The idea that teachers are the determining factor on student success has hinged on the research that states teachers have the greatest influence in student success. However influence and determining factors are different.
A lot of educators are wary of value-added measurements and so-called teacher accountability, because used incorrectly it can be a weapon. Most statisticians will agree that the value added measuring done on teachers has too much of a margin of error to have any meaning.
In Bill Gates 2012 Annual Letter it seems he has realised the error of his ways, or at least refined how he proposes to measure teacher effectiveness.
Looking at test data has been relegated to a smaller piece of the puzzle. Instead training teachers and administrators to observe and evaluate teachings plays a central role.
Feedback was a major point in Bill’s letter. Feedback that comes immediately and has specificity is useful. A general statement such as satisfactory is useless to help a teacher improve. Positive feedback is just as important as negative feedback (I added this part).
Let’s try an example:
In the observation I saw three students off task while you were giving instruction.
As opposed to:
Yesterday while you were giving oral instructions the three students in the back row were not listening. Is this normal behavior for them? Do they hear and understand the instructions you are giving? Are they a disturbance to the other students? The school wide expectations are that students listen attentively to the instructions? In this instance they are not meeting school expectations. You as the teacher either need to address the expectation with the students or develop an alternative method of delivering your instructions. I would suggest either moving them closer to you and/or reminding them of classroom expectations, by practising or modelling the expectation. If not that I would suggest delivering instructions in an alternative manner such as written directions.
I kind of combined several different ways of not only providing feedback, but adding corrective measures as this is an essay on Bill Gates’ change in attitude towards education and not a book on supervision and feedback.
BUT I think Bill’s letter is still missing a few pieces of the puzzle.
  • Retaining teachers and administration
  • Too often teachers don’t put effort into changing because they see programs implemented by one administrator only to see that person leave and be replaced by another administrator who emphasises something completely different.
  • Often these programs are based on a small numbers of similar general concepts but teachers are judged ineffective because they are implementing the specific methodology of this particular program.
  • I wonder sometimes if principals should be asked to sign 5 year contracts. That would also require the building leadership team to be involved in the hiring process.
  • To often the best teachers in the worst schools will either leave education all together or transfer to a better school. (I don’t have statistics to back this up)
  • Safe classrooms
  • When the principal comes around to do formal evaluations I see teachers time and again setting up a dog and pony show. Creating that one perfect lesson that meets all the criteria necessary to receive a satisfactory or excellent on the evaluation.
  • Do peer reviews mean reviewers work with the teachers to improve what the teacher is doing in the classroom or is it to make sure they teach the right way?
  • Is there one set of standards that says this is the right way to teach or is it at least partially individual based on the teacher and the needs of the classroom?
  • Differentiation
  • There is still talk about changing the pay scale, but I don’t see talk about increasing the autonomy of the educator.
  • I’m not talking old school autonomy where the teacher closes the door and does what s/he wants. I’m talking about allowing the teacher to choose the method of teacher s/he thinks is most effective. (with justification of course)
  • Whole schools can be differentiated like this. I just think real school choice actually includes choice between the methods of teaching.
  • This doesn’t mean schools are factories that each teacher teaches in the exact same manner, but that they have similar philosophies of education. Then parents can choose how their child is taught and not just who does the teaching.
  • Currently in most district tenured teachers just don’t get evaluated as often
  • What if this were changed to something along the lines of peer reviewers are different for various groups of teachers and/or they look for different aspects of teaching.
  • Newer teachers often struggle with classroom management, but other teachers might have a nice quiet classroom and struggle with engaging students or critical thinking.
The pressure for school reform is having a positive effect.
  • SB7 in Illinois has a large section on teacher evaluations and though test data does play a part it is not tied specifically to one test and the percentage can be negotiated as long as it is replaced with another qualified measure.
  • School districts around the country are working with teacher unions to create better evaluation procedures for teachers. Here is just one example.
I think we can and will continue to evolve in the area of teacher quality and effectiveness. I have been looking at the Regional Office of Education a lot lately. Part of the description of the office as written in Illinois school code is:
To give teachers and school officers such directions in the science, art and methods of teaching, and in regard to courses of study, as he deems expedient.
 To labor in every practical way to elevate the standard of teaching and improve the condition of the common schools of his county
I think schools and districts working on improving the educational practice of their own teachers is paramount to improving education. And I think the method of doing this lies in local central offices empowering teachers and administrators to make the changes they feel appropriate then sharing those changes with educators in the larger area for feedback and suggestions for improvement. Similar to the way an individual teachers would make and apply changes to his or her classroom and submit those ideas to a peer review group for observation and feedback.
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Sunday, February 12, 2012

What I Learned at EdCamp

As a first time organizer of an EdCamp I very much enjoyed the experience. For a conference that pretty much ran itself the work really is only as difficult as you make it. If you would like to learn more about what happened at EdCampChicago 2012 the participants were asked to link their notes to the official schedule.

Outside of that I wanted to think about bringing EdCamp mainstream.
  • I created a proposal for ISTE2012 about organizing EdCamp. Sadly it was rejected (and with it my excuse to travel to San Diego).
  • I filled out the required paperwork to be a Professional Development Provider for the state of Illinois.
    • I am currently in the process of doing the paperwork to present my first CPDU credits.
  • I worked with a marketing friend to develop a campaign to present to businesses.
    • I had mixed feelings on this and was not too sad when this died as he got busy.

First, I don’t own a decent laptop or tablet device so I had to borrow a Chromebook from the school. I was very impressed. I’ve been doing almost everything on the cloud for years now so opening a chromebook and signing into my Google account gave me access to just about everything I could have wanted. It even included all of my passwords because I have a few apps set up in Chrome and everything is synced.

I like how EdCamps seem to start with an hour of just settling in. People got to know each other and drank some coffee prepared by the Culinary Club. As the buzz built in the library we stopped and explained what and how an EdCamp works to the participants. It was neat to watch the schedule start to fill in as we explained how to use it.

My first session was on being an introverted leader a topic that was a continuation from Educon last week and also synced well with an NPR story and book that just came out. In a room full of introverts we did talk, we just didn’t get loud. We also seemed to type as much as we talked. Are introverts more inclined to share?

Next was Standards Based Grading (SBG) for a half a session and on to eBooks in the library. I like the idea of SBG and as I understand it SBG will be required as part of common core in Illinois.

The big take away for me though was that SBG is individual for the school and even the class. It will be a long difficult journey to wean students, and parents off of the almighty grade, but in the end it will be worth it. Just don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because you will.

The eBook on the other hand is a great addition to the library. While there are companies such as Overdrive that will help with the transition, purchase, and lending of eBooks it certainly seems to me that the librarian of the future (now) has an entire new way to find and present research and reading materials to students, but they will need to learn some new skills.

Lunch was great. Homemade, literally homemade down to the chips. These kids started work at 5:30AM to prepare for us and then served us with a smile. Leyden High school from superintendent to students were the best possible hosts.

I lead the two afternoon sessions I was in and I was pleased to do so. Since I started blogging in 2008 the idea that school as we know it can be re-envisioned has been growing inside me. During the past few years my role as a teacher has not been satisfying. Perhaps if I had been a regular classroom teacher where I could close the door and create the learning environment I liked things would be different. But the fact remains that I have for the most part been the second teacher in the classroom and I have not liked it very much.

As a result I have started putting down some of the characteristics of what my dream school might have. It turns out a lot of my thoughts are not that different from some other teachers. Then again they probably are very different from other educators who might not come to an EdCamp. At any rate I enjoyed the discussion and took some notes down as comments while we talked. Fell free to put your 2cents worth in as well or better yet start your own dream school document and share it in the comments.

My final session was on the gamification of education. Despite what the title might imply I don’t think this is a bad thing. Some of the characteristics of games can and should be integrated into education.
  • Immediate feed back was cited by many participants.
  • The value of watching and learning from better players. (Games are inherently social)
  • It doesn’t hurt to fail again and again, because you can always start over.
  • Cheating is ok
  • Experts come in all shapes and sizes
  • The player chooses the difficulty level

I think most tellingly what wasn’t mentioned once was the earning of badges or points to make the game more interesting.

We never did get to our TechSmackDown, we just ran out of time. Perhaps next year, or even in another six months.
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Saturday, January 21, 2012

 I was thinking the other day of the great waste in the world. How so many people in this
Image by wpwend42 via Flickr
world spend the majority of their waking hours using all of their energy and resources to survive.
I wonder sometimes if the cure to cancer might be sitting in a refuge camp in Darfur. Perhaps the inventor of a FTL engine is selling drugs because she can't get a scholarship to college. It could be Einstein is throwing a rock at a tank in some desert. Who knows. Perhaps the next Bill Gates will be in India. She might have been here
We just don't know. I got into education because I saw it as an equalizer. A poor child with an education can compete with the son of a rich man. Almost, perhaps the 1% is exempt. Now if we can just convince our children to wait and be good for about 20 years or so, then they too can compete on equal footing. As long as they can find the seed money to invest in and develop their ideas. 
Well maybe we need to reevaluate some priories. 
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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Random Thought

Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr
Look I understand math pretty well. I like math and tend to get excited about the nitty-gritty details about what is happening and how to teach it at a very granular level. 

I am not an English teacher I don't get excited by the granularity of the mechanics of writing I just do it. Examining student work for the exact level they reached and teaching to that exact level is not fun and tends to be a lot of work

Should our teaching be all about drilling down using data to find out exactly where students are deficient and correcting that? Does that take all the art, all the love out of teaching? Is it possible that the tests are that accurate?Do I need a test to tell me that information?
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Monday, January 2, 2012

The World has A Long Tail

What I want to say when the interviewers ask “What makes you the best fit for the job?” is:

You’re asking the wrong question.

There is no fit for the job of leader. Unless, that is, you want to keep things going exactly the way they are. The world is changing, it has changed profoundly just in our lifetime and the pace of change is increasing exponentially. Sure, we can prepare our children for today’s world or even yesterday’s world and most of them will be fine. 70, 80, maybe even 90% will earn a decent living, raise a family, grow old and die without experiencing true hardship.

The long tail

What if hard times hit? Times like we are in now. Will our students be able to recover from being knocked down? It is said that most people who lose their jobs in a recession never recover. Sure, eventually they will get another job, but they may never reach the same pay scale again.

Do we want to set our future up for that crap shoot? Don’t worry kid, these cyclical downturns actually only affect 30% of the population, the odds are in your favor. (percentages pulled out of thin air, please don’t quote)

My father, my uncles, my older relatives decried the loss of a job for life. Some folks are still fighting that battle, but it has long been lost. People of my generation, people who are working now need to be ready to change adapt and seize the day. We can expect to change jobs often and even change careers on average about 5 times.

What about the next generation? Call it the entrepreneurial generation. They need to step up and create their own opportunities. People of my generation decry the loss of good solid jobs that allow us to earn a living wage. The fight continues, but it is a losing battle. As our parents were surprised that they couldn’t count on a job for life at a major company we can no longer count on making enough money just by working for someone else.

What will happen to our children? What will happen for the generation growing up today?

See, I don’t want to fit in to what you are doing today. I don’t want to be the best fit for the job. I want to prepare our children for the world as it will be when they grow up. I’m not sure exactly what that will be, but I am pretty sure success will hinge on the ability to create, adapt, and recognize both opportunity and quality.
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