Friday, December 15, 2006

A Glimmer of Hope

Finals began yesterday.

I like finals. I like the idea that my students have an opportunity to put all they've learned to work for them. I'm not so fond of the results, sometimes, but them's the breaks.

Thursday's finals were something altogether different.

My final is simple, students receive 10 possible writing prompts and must choose one. They brainstorm, plan an essay, write a rough draft, revise that draft and write a final copy. It sounds more tedious than it is. I try to select prompts that are interesting and the fact that there are ten choices is helpful.

Yesterday's results were astounding. I was walking on air. A student who has, thus far, sat through timed writings and ended up with a barely legible third of his page filled up gave me a full page including 3 similes. I don't know if I was more excited about that or about the fact he FILLED an entire sheet with his brainstorming. It was tremendous.

Many other students who have heretofore done little or nothing when it comes to planning and brainstorming filled pages with webs and outlines. There was drive, effort and ability.

"Look at mine," was not an infrequent thing to overhear. I am proud.

I announced Wednesday when we were finishing our review for the test that the top essays from each class would be posted here on the blog. It's going to be a tight race.

More later.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What I Learned

Yesterday was the first day of my experiement with having my students teach their peers. While it was not a shining success serving as a beacon to the way education should be, it did offere a glimmer of hope of things to come.

I will use my last period class as an example. Two students were in the group that taught yesterday afternoon. They were a good pair who are also friends. Now, this can mean two things. Friends in group work can lead to no work or it can lead to good work. In this case,  it led to the latter.

Of the two students, one is a frequent challenge. By the time this student ends the day in my classroom, I frequently wish my walls were padded in rubber. Monday, though, something else happened. These two students who had communicated over the weekend, who had sacrificed their lunch and wheel classes to work on their presentation brought their A Game.

From the top of the class, they had something for the students to do. They modeled, practiced and then assigned - taking questions as they went. What's more, they showed patience and understanding of those students who were off-task. Their re-direction was not loud or threatening, but quiet prodding of the "So, what are you writing down? Can I help?" ilk.

I was impressed. The cap was when theses student teachers had one of their class share a paragraph he had written. About the most difficult decision he'd ever had to face, the sharing students paragraph outlined his decision of whether or not to go skydiving. Without missing a beat, not a beat, the usually bouyant student said, "I can relate to that. When my mom went skydiving, I went up in the plane with her, and just being up there was scary."

He offered clear, relative feedback. He connected with his students.

I'll be doing this again when we return for second semester. It's a trial and error thing. Now that I know they can do it, I'm excited to see them do it better.

More later.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Students Teaching

We're heading in to finals week next week. Because Phoenix is an 8th and 9th grade school, our 8th graders will also be taking finals. This is a first for many of them. It was a first for me last year. Earlier this week, I was pondering how I would prepare my students for their final. What review would work best? I feel I've dowsed them in the steps of the writing process for the past 18 weeks; one more time and they might drown.

Luckily, the idea came to me in the shower, as many good ideas do.

I'm not teaching anything. It's a tough on to grasp and looks like loafing at first glance.

It's not loafing, it's learning. If William Glasser is correct and we learn 90% of what we teach, then why not turn the teaching over to my students.

And so, for three days now, my students have been creating lesson plans, using computers, and working in groups to teach the steps of the writing process.

Let there be no confusion, it was painful at first. Many of my students claimed they had no idea how to plan for an essay, though my memory recalls planning being the chief concern of at least a dozen lessons. They looked like they were listening, even answered questions.

So, the learning's on them. The teaching's on them.

My job is to buzz from group to group and say things like, "If you're working on conclusion paragraphs and the group before you is working on introduction and body paragraphs, why not ask what the topic of their essay is and feed off of them?"

Last night, in an attempt to settle some concerns that continue to come up in each class, I built this. Hopefully, it will serve as a guide to the misguided. Either way, they're taking ownership...if somewhat reluctantly.

The Superintendent is doing a whirlwind tour of schools this week and next with a reporter from the Herald-Tribune. Mine is the class at Phoenix they'll be visiting. Sixth and seventh periods (two in which there is the most controlled chaos) have been told we'll have visitors. I'm excited because I think they will be proud of themselves after the visit. They are ready to answer questions (I hope) and they are owning the project so they should be fairly articulate. Of course, that's with me. Who knows what will happen when they are approached by total strangers who want to know "What are you doing?"

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Who Says Experiments are for the Science Classroom?

So, I was feeling rascally today.

Things in second period were a little off during our journaling at the beginning of the period.

How to deal with this? How to focus the students without setting out for a day of stress and frustration. I truly woke up this morning and told myself I would not be coming back to my apartment frustrated. The question became, then, how would I accomplish this?

Then answer: Don't teach.

As my lesson was completely set up on the ActivBoard (including discussion questions), I handed over my stylus to a student and said, "Take the class."

He took over the class and I sat at a desk and participated as a student.

I raised my hand, I asked questions, I offered answers during discussion. Even better, rather than leading the students through difficult vocabulary in the passage we were reading, I raised my hand and asked, "What is an 'alibi'?"

My students worked these questions out, discussing and arguing and moving on. At no point did anyone say, "Mr. Chase, you know what that means." Caught up in the moment, they took my questions as genuine and answered them as such

I thuroughly enjoyed myself. As the experience went so well in my first class, I decided to give it a go in my next as well.

I'll tell you something, it was eye-opening. The lesson was two-fold. The students in the seats were involved in learning what I had planned. The students who were teaching were involved in learning how to communicate a message to a resistant audience.

Things went very well, from my point of view.

The most memorable moment, for me, was when my 6th period teacher looked at me and said, "Ok, Mr. Chase, I get the lesson." He was not talking about our discussion of what it took to make a quality piece of writing. He was speaking of what it takes to hold a class together. He was talking about the gymnastic rigamaroll included in keeping a room of 8th graders interested in anything. You know what, he did get it. He did not (nor did any of my literal "student teachers") give up. Each of them toughed out the entire period with some astounding results.

The question becomes, can I go back there again? How often?

Tomorrow, we'll be completing our monthly timed writing, so I'll be leading the class. Still, a seed has been planted. Can this exercise evolve to the point where I give my students a topic or information set and a date and tell them to be prepared to present?

More later.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Great Discussion

My second period class didn't know what the midterm elections were. They didn't know why last night had any potential to impact America. Only time will tell if last night's results really did have any impact on politics in America.

We did get into an interesting conversation about political parties. A few of my students decided things would be better if there were only one party in power at one time. Say, a Republican president were elected, they decided the entire Congress should also then be Republican. We spoke further and talk turned to the war in Iraq.

"Why are we there?" I asked.

"The Iraqis flew the planes into the World Trade Center," was the majority response.

"No," one student said, "It's because of the weapons of mass destruction."

Thinking this was a strong road to follow, I asked the student to elaborate.

"Bush didn't pay off the weapons of mass destruction, so the people from Iraq attacked us."

The discussion was heated and everyone had an opinion. Tomorrow, I suppose I've got to decide whether I follow them down the rabbit hole. For right now, they're writing. I can't wait to see what they have to say.

More later.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Next Stop?

My students have been reading The Freedom Writers Diary. Yesterday, we read Diary #5 which recounts one student's decision to buy a gun for protection from a group of teens in his neighborhood who are constantly messing him up. In the discussion that followed in each class, my students were in 100% agreement that they like this book. It's difficult not to be drawn to truth and honesty. My response was to ask the students whether they thought they had stories worth telling.

From playing the Line Game, I knew the answer was "Yes."

My next question was more difficult to answer, "Why aren't you telling them?"

In truth, no one has ever asked them to tell their stories. No one has said to them, "Write something you would want to read." The Freedom Writers Diary has helped them see that what they want to read, they could write. My assignment at the final 15 minutes of the class period was to "write a story from your life that you would be interested in reading." The results were varied from the expected to the intense. I want to use these truths to begin editing and publishing. I need to get from these stories to blogs. They need to be able to post anonymously. Logistics to think on.

What's ironic is that I was waiting for their skill sets to get to the point that my students could blog. This was wrong. I needed to wait until they had a voice that needed hearing. We're almost there.

My hope is that we will be able to have a level of interaction similar to that of Will Richardson's class when they blogged about The Secret Life of Bees. Having had the chance to actually get to meet the freedom writers, I feel sure they would take 5 minutes every once in a while to write back to my kids. Here's hoping.

More later.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Chicken Noodle Soup

A man's voice is booming from my CD player as I sit this Tuesday morning putting the final touches on my lesson. Layered over it are the soft cajolings of a woman encouraging me to "let it rain and clear it out."

I'm not sure of the name of the song, but it's inspired many of my female students to enter my room and dance. It's a dedication and energy I wish to tap in to when I'm teaching.

They flock in and out of the room, some watching, some participating, everyone wanting to be a part of the experience. How do you get this kind of excitement and thought about learning?

I want the best way to subvert this culture. Yes, technology is where they live, but most of my students use technology as a means to get to their real homes - their music.

In the five minutes of writing this post, the number of students has gone from 10 to 20. They are 100% engaged in what is going on.

The bell has rung. The experience is over.

Lightning in a bottle.

More later.

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Marathon Return

The post below was originally written Monday, Oct. 23, 2006.

A race well run. I’m laying on the floor outside Gate 18 in Terminal 5 of O’Hare International Airport and I’m dreading what will happen in 20 minutes when I have to get back to my feet and begin boarding. If ever you find yourself spending major amounts of time in Terminal 5, bring food. The options once one passes through security are scant to say the best. It has been a busy weekend full of family, friends and running. Though it was not a PR in terms of time, this completion of the Chicago Marathon was one of my favorites. It elicited nowhere near the same emotional reaction from that sacred place at a runner’s core from whence emotion springs at the finish line and other major checkpoints, but it was still preferred.This year, for the first time, I was running a marathon not just with someone I knew, but with someone I’m related to. I’m unspeakably proud of my sister Rachel who has now completed 2 marathons before the age of 17. The world should expect great things from her. Running the first 10 miles along side Rachel will be a memory I treasure forever. She is tremendous. Knowing some of my closest friends, Teacher Dunda, Katy and Natalie were sharing the course gave the race a since of completion I’d not known before.

Hobbling with Natalie, Dunda and Katy to lunch today was a comical sight. Almost as comical, I would imagine, as the site of Dunda, Natalie and I making it to our gate.

In two weeks, I run again. For the first time, I’ll be trying my legs at the ING New York City Marathon. I’ll be covering the course with thousands of others, but I’ll also be covering it alone.

I’ll have no sister beside me for the first ten miles. It will be the city and it will be me.
We were speaking at lunch of the feeling that one can accomplish anything after running a marathon. Soon, I will find out if that anything includes another marathon. As with my first race, the goal is to finish – to know that I’ve pushed myself further and farther than I ever knew I could.
The metaphor is carrying over into the classroom. I was telling my friend Rachel the other day that I feel I’m back on my game as a teacher. The past few years have been stuffed to capacity with trainings and seminars and anything else that falls under the guise of professional development. It wasn’t until spending time with the Freedom Writers and Erin as well as running the marathon that it all fell in to place. Rather than using the tools I’ve been given to teach someone else’s way, I’ve got to find a way to re-focus on what it is that makes my classroom unique and use these new tools to improve upon that. You don’t build because you have the tools; you have the tools because you want to build. Tomorrow, it’s back to the workshop.
More later.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Freedom Writers Return

I suppose I'll eventually return to a halfway witty post title, but I'm going with what's on my mind at the moment. My midnight return played havoc with my waking this morning. My head was swimming with everything from the weekend.

I needed some sort of FW detox. It's nice to be back in the classroom. So much to do. I've got to pace myself.

I woke this morning to an e-mail from Principal Steve. He's been reading the blog and had this to say:

Your most difficult battle could be convincing "old codgers" like me that we need to reexamine our belief systems when dealing with students in the domain of discipline (sounds as if you may have had a 'philosophy-changing moment" in this regard).  Having been around the block a time or two I think I know something and not so sure we don't have some anecdotal and data proof to back it up.  High expectations, a relationship-based approach and a gradual shift to the center is a recipe for post graduate success for our kids.  I mean our students will have to function in society, won't they?

I'm in agreement with what he has to say about high expectations and a relationship-based approach to teaching. The thing is, we can't just worry about the relationship between the teacher and student, we must also be agents of change for building relationships between students.

I don't know that I've had a philosophy-changing moment, more of a philosophy empowering moment. I'm going back to the essay I wrote at the end of my time in university. My "Why I Want to Teach" essay. Though my understanding of the working of a classroom and the daily struggle for relevance is refined and evolved, my target is the same. My core values haven't changed.

On the ride to the airport yesterday, I wrote this:

Andy Hargreaves talks about the fact that people rarely give up who they are all at once. It is something that happens piece by piece. With that mellowing process, educators become ENRONS of public education. I saw that happening; I saw myself slowly giving in to the pressures of a methodology of pedagogy that is not my own. My kids have missed out because they have been moving targets in a war of educational assimilation. It is not "standardized" thinkers who become heroes.

More later.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

More Freedom Writing

What an amazingly cohesive unit we 16 have become in such a short period of time. Meeting the actual Freedom Writers and getting to know them is a tremendous experience.

Friday and Saturday, we've been going through activities to help engage and enlighten our students. There are things being said and done that truly hit my head and heart with massive impact. Not only is this experience rejuvenating, it's challenging as well. I am being reminded of why I became an educator. I am reviving the passion for using English and literature to reach my students and help them to learn to shape their lives and take them in new directions.

I feel like I'm another version of the other Freedom Teachers I've met. We are in sync. We are starving to reach our children, to feast on their success.

We dug deeper today and experienced things we want our students to experience.

In one activity, a role play, we looked at what it might be for a class to play out a talk show using the characters in one of the Freedom Writers Diary entries. I was chosen to play the Freedom Writer. It was a tough job. This FW was a witness of a gang murder, the murder was done "for" the FW. The FW had to decide whether they wanted to lie and protect a fellow gang member or tell the truth and sentence an innocent man from a rival gang to life in prison.

Something in me connected with those students I see sitting in conferences or discipline situations - those students who are forced to listen as they are talked at or about and then asked what they think. I got angrier and angrier as I put myself in this FW's place. Trying to find something to say that would make everything ok, that would take weight off my shoulders and get someone to listen, to see me.

It was a dark place that I have seldom gone to.

A powerful experience, it woke me up to the need for more advocacy of our students than admonition of our students. To think that they have the answers to how to turn themselves around but are merely choosing not too is foolish. It is the type of ignorance good teachers got into this profession to erase.

I talk to my students constantly about perspective and why they think other people might be doing things. Not enough do we put ourselves, really put ourselves, in their position. We know their lives are frightening in many cases, but then we convince ourselves that we understand that and know what is right.

Easily, I sound say I want to do what Erin Gruwell did. I would be proud and honored to have that kind of success. I must fight against the powerful draw of statements. Her path was hers. Mine is my own. I can take strength from what she has experienced, I can adopt and adapt her methods, I can open my heart and my life completely to my students, but I must remember my path is my own.

If the greatness my students accomplish is different, then that is fantastic. We are each meant to follow our own passion and though it will have the same shine, it may not take the same shape.

More later.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Freedom Writers Day 1

Well, I started out today in Sarasota, Florida, flew to Charlotte, NC, got on another plane (delayed 40 minutes) and now I’m in Long Beach, CA.
Fay of the Freedom Writers Foundation picked me up from LAX with Heather from OK City in tow. I was supposed to arrive first, but the delay put a kink in those plans. The trip from the airport to the hotel was great. Both Fay and Heather have such a great energy, not that I wouldn’t expect that to be the case. I have a sneeking suspicion that this is going to be weekended of kindred spirits.
I’m sharing my hotel room with another teacher. He wasn’t here when I showed up, but just popped in for a bit. His name’s Darwin and he and his colleagues are from Toronto. I’ll need Google Maps to decide which of us has traveled the farthest to get here.
We’re due down in the lobby in 20 minutes, so I should get myself prepared. I gave my schedule printout to Principal Steve before I left, so I have only a cusory familiarity with what we’ve got going tonight. I do know that activities are packed in to these four days. I can’t wait to get started.

More later.

It's later. What a fantastic group. When all of the delays and flight re-routes are taken care of, we will be 16 teachers strong. Tonight was a brief bit of housekeeping and laying out of the itinerary. I've got to say, I love these people. One of the things I imagined tonight during dinner was what it would look like if all of us worked together in the same school. Unfair to our home schools, but amazing for our students.

We met two of the freedom writers tonight. Well, two of them were here. Sonia and I go way back (lol). Honestly, I can't imagine a better group of people. One of the things I noticed while people were introducing things was the high percentage of people who said they were in the profession for fewer than 10 years but felt as though tteachinge teching for 25 or longer.

That, to me, is one of the most important pieces of being here. After just one quarter of the year, I know I need to sharpen the saw (thank you Stephen Covey). Tomorrow, the real work begins. I cannot wait. I want to package all of these people and bring them back.

I also want to sneak all of my Phoenix counterparts in to the workshop.

Before signing off, I tell you to watch the video below. The Freedom Writers trailer went live on YouTube. It's pretty hard core. I tell you this that Erin is not nearly as rough in real life.

Darwin sends a special shout out and would like to let everyone know he's a self-described "Chinese George Clooney." I'll have to get some pics for Flickr.

More later.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Thank You Google Maps

Some students were in my room this afternoon during lunch using my laptops. One student was using the USA Track & Field website to map out a route he would be running this weekend. Another student, Jose, was sitting next to him and looking to find his house.

"Jose," I said, "see if you can find your town in Mexico."

He got this look on his face, this, wonder struck look.

"Oh, yeah," he said, "I never thought about doing that."

So, he went to the general Google maps page and zoomed in on Texas.

"Now, where is the Rio Grande," he said.

He found the river, but was a little upset that it was so long.

I suggest he do a search for a town name he remembered. He googled Eagle Pass, TX and the excitement increased.

"Here's the church we used to go to."

"Here's the place where my mom's house used to be."

"Here's where we would go to the flea market."

"Here's where we would cross over."

"Here's where a border patrol agent shot a lady while she was crossing."

I asked how long it had been since he had visited - 6 years.

No lesson I could have created on reading maps or autobiography could have rivaled what took place this afternoon. A site I use all the time to get directions or find a new running store did more than that today. It helped me to connect with one of my students. It helped him visit home.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Simultaneous at the same time"

So, today was literally one for the record books. Phoenix and Booker Middle School were the two schools in Sarasota County to participate in Florida's effort to break the Guiness World Record for the most people reading the same thing simultaneously.

Despite the somewhat corny intro. and showing by Gov. Bush and our state's education czar that they are fairly disconnected with the psyche of Floridian middle schoolers, and despite my initial reservations, I have to admit it was a fairly exciting thing to be a part of.

The students weren't really sure what to say about it. The cynical side wanted to mock the whole thing, but the prospect of breaking a world record kept that in check. Instead, we were left with awkward jokes they didn't really believe in.

So, we got a couple hundred thousand Florida students reading simultaneously today. The next step is getting all of them to learn simultaneously.

More later.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

The Student Side of Online Conferences

A great opportunity for students:
What does it mean to be a global citizen?
Four conferences for students! iNet is hosting four online conferences that will allow students around the world to learn about global issues and it will provide students with the opportunity to share their ideas with their peers as well as develop a global perspective on life on our planet. More importantly, these conferences will permit students to develop a more active role as global citizens and to discuss what it means to be a global citizen. “We need students help to make the conferences a success. We invite students to use their imagination and creative skills to tell us what they think about their role in the world – today and tomorrow. This might include short stories, essays, letters, mind-maps, drawing, videos or audio files. We have provided questions as a starting point, but they are only a guide – we want students to be honest and submit resources on the issues that matter to them. The resources may then be discussed by students from around the world.”
The online conferences are based on material produced by students. Adults are not allowed to participate in the student online conferences.

Students and teachers, who intend to forward access details onto a large number of participating students, may register for free for the set of four conferences at

Conference 1: Global Citizens – Are You A Global Citizen? 11 Dec. – 17 Dec 2006- Deadline for papers / presentations is Monday, Oct 23 2006

Conference 2: Global Equality – We Are the First Generation Who Can Eradicate Poverty. 11 Dec. – 17 Dec 2006- Deadline for papers / presentations is Monday, Dec 11 2006

Conference 3: Global Resources – How Can We Protect Our Planet? 12 Mar – 18 Mar 2007- Deadline for papers / presentations is Monday, Jan 29 2007

Conference 4: Global Peace – How Can We Bring Peace To Our Planet? 14 May – 20 May 2007- Deadline for papers / presentations is Monday, Apr 2 2007To learn more about these conferences, please visit

For questions, please e-mail Online Conference Manager, Ms. Debra Brydon at

Advanced Broadband Enabled Learning Project (ABEL)

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It's Game Time!

Science Teacher Stephanie sent an e-mail out today asking for "links of educational websites the students can peruse in the before school program." I don't have a huge database of educational games.

I know they're out there and growing in popularity, but that's about it. I remembered Marc Prensky's talk at BLC'06 and turned to the web.

More specifically, I turned to and started a tag search. Not two minutes later, I was breezing through a site called Social Impact Games. I'll admit, I stopped by a few to test them out. I'm got particularly hooked on "Wast of Space" by Hidden Agenda Games. They've got some spectacular science games. Nothing like blowing up aliens and getting a first-class refresher on the laws of motion at the same time.

I have yet to find any writing games, but I'm sure they're out there. This is not to mention the writing component that can be built in to explaining any of these games.

I remember doubting the validity of what Marc was saying when he spoke of the coming wave of relevant educational games. A child of "Oregon Trail" (I never made it without breaking an axel or losing an ox) my memory is of edcuational games that could never stack up to the system that was waiting for me at home. While these newer offerings are not yet up to par, their inclusion in a classroom environment would likely meet with excited students. This is taking the learning where they live.

Incidentally, this has become my mantra for the year, "Take the learning where they live." If they live online, we've got to go there. If they live for sports, we've got to go there. The way I see friends and family in specialized careers, I see my students more and more specialized in their lives. Though these specialties may not last, it's where they live.

More later.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

"Heavy is the head that wears the crown."

So, this happened yesterday:

Dr. Carol Todd, President
School Board of Sarasota County Florida
1960 Landings Blvd
Sarasota, FL 34231

Dear Dr. Todd and Members of the Board of Education,

It is with sadness that I am serving you notice today that I will resign my position as Superintendent of Schools effective June 30, 2007. I appreciate the fact that with your “meets expectations” vote on my evaluation, June 21, 2006, the board automatically extended my contract another year until June 30, 2008, but unfortunately, I must decline your offer. I intend to immediately begin a search for a new position.
The past several months have been unnecessarily tumultuous and have exacted a huge toll on my family and me. I have loved every part of my 24-year career as superintendent of schools until recently. I think it best for the school board, the school district and my profession, that I not elaborate any further.
The past few weeks have cemented my realization that while the work to create a NeXt Generation education system is essential, there are unimaginable roadblocks in Sarasota County that will continue to impede the transformation.
My passion to insure a NeXt Generation Education for our children is now even stronger than it was when we first met in October, 2003. Every single day, the research becomes clearer that this type of educational reform is necessary for our students to be successful in our changing world. I intend to offer that vision to another community or institution.
I will continue to work tirelessly on your 4 goals until June. Equally important to me is that your next superintendent has a very smooth transition period. I will do everything in my power to make sure that happens.
Thanks for the opportunity to work with the fine professional educators and support staff in this school district. I truly believe in them and their abilities. My sincere thanks, to all of our outstanding community partners, that have been so supportive of our efforts. I sincerely hope that the community believes that we have made a small difference in establishing the vision and elevating the discussion about the importance of transforming our schools.
Sincerely yours,
Dr. Gary W. Norris, Superintendent

I'm still taking time to process the whole thing. I actually had a meeting at the district office toward the end of the day yesterday. Before I finished the 20-minute trip, I had two texts and an e-mail letting me know what had happened. Still, I didn't have any concrete proof until I sat down in my meeting and everyone received a copy of the Superintendent's resignation letter. Definitely a pallor to the spirit of all involved. ITC Wendy asked what I thought about things. My response:
You know that feeling people describe when they're telling you the campfire story/urban legend about the guy who wakes up in a tub of ice water and his kidneys have been removed? That guy, that's how I feel.
It's true. All along, I've said Dr. Norris is a man of vision and the back-to-school meeting gave evidence he was recognizing the need to better communicate that vision. True, there is some value in the criticism that he wanted to do too much too quickly, but the responsibility for these past few years' tumult cannot rest on his shoulders alone. Our district has proven itself to be a lumbering machine. So often do we hear cries of improvement, that we failed to act when the cries were real. Thinking critically is good. Living in a constant mode of criticism is not.
Tumult, tumult, tumult.
More later.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Of Geeks and Google and the Tears of Heaven

To say it rained in Sarasota last night would be a gross understatement. Last night brought a cataract of ark-building proportions. It does that in sub-tropical locales. As such, the power in our school flickered on and off a few times. The network went all screwy and connectivity was hit and miss all day. ITC Wendy came into my room mid-day and said, "I think if you don't restart, you should be ok."
I had, of course, restarted at least three times to try and solve the problem. Luckily, the student laptops were still functioning, so I didn't need to fall back on Plan B. This deep into the school year, I wonder would I would have done were I already up and running as a blogging classroom. Generally speaking, in the traditional classroom, the textbooks aren't given to disappearing after a storm. Still, I'd much rather have what I have than have not.
Our ESE Resource teacher Lynne helps daily in my last period class. This means she was in on my Eminem lesson yesterday. This morning, she told me last night she read my post on the lesson. She was in her daughter Crissy's room, she'd forgotten her laptop at school, and Crissy came in. She explained what she was doing and told Crissy what she was reading about.
"They got to listen to music in English class?" she said, "I want to go to Phoenix."
I'm a little incredulous at the idea that music in a classroom is so difficult to believe at this point in the game. It's such a rich mix for a language classroom in the first place. Given the success of yesterday's as shown by my students' almost total recall of what we had done and the lesson to be learned, I'm planning on using it more and more in my classroom.
The room has also become a hub of activity during lunch. I've a contingent of male students who pile in to use the computers to listen to music and look up weird news. I've also a contingent of female students who come in to look up videos of the latest dance crazes. These same students who struggle when I give them a research topic or question are incredibly adroit at finding exactly the right video or finding their way around dead links. The knowledge is there, but the building is dead. I've got to bring more relevant content to the class.
My students, by-and-large, do not see themselves as writers. If I can get them writing about where they are and interacting with the online segment of experts on those various subjects, I think they will be pushed to explore their abilities.
More later.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Music for the Masses

Part of biulding endurance in writing in my classroom is using daily journaling in response to what I try to make high-interest prompts. We've been journaling for about 10 days so far and my results are encouraging.
One common frustration is the way almost all of my writers start their journal prompts. Today was a prime example. One of the prompts was, "What are three things in your life of which you are proud. What makes you proud of each?"
Any teacher who has thrown such a prompt at their kids knows most beginning writers will come back with a first sentence that starts something like, "Three things in my life I'm proud of are..."
Determined to show my students why that can make for painful reading, I played just the intro. of Eminem's song "Lose Yourself" from the movie 8 Mile.
The song starts with a piano solo a la the introduction to a Mariah Carey song. Just as you're getting pulled in and lulled in to thoughts of herbal tea and afternoon naps, a strong bass guitar line takes the place of the guitar.
Before I started the song, I wrote the question, "What do you notice about the beginning of this song?" on the board and told them all I wanted to do was listen and write.
When it was over, after promising we could listen to more of the song later, I asked them to share what they noticed.
The results were great.
"In the beginning, I thought it was going to be a Mariah Carey song because it sounded like one of her beats, but then it changed up," a student recalled in last period.
It got me where I wanted to be and got them thinking about how they started their writing.
I asked them to think of what they wrote today and what they read of other people. "Raise you hand if what you wrote or read started with..." I listed the usual suspects, hands went up.
"Would you really want to read that?"
A chorus of "No, that would be boring."
"Then I challenge you not to write it. Don't write what you wouldn't want to read. Easy is boring."
Talking to other teachers after school today, it sounds like they were listening. Tomorrow's journal prompt will be a better barometer.
More later.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Human Error

Time for some soul cleansing.
Sitting at my desk this morning, I am responding to school e-mail and notice I have yet to RSVP to an invite to take part in some district training. I hit the reply button and type my missive, explaining I will be a little late due to our school's late release time.
Two Minutes.
That's all it took before the e-mails started rolling in from across the county letting me know that I had inadvertently "Replied All." I've unsent the message now. Anyone who hasn't already seen it, won't. What's interesting to me is the mood of the response I got from many teachers. The few from around the county who know me and read the message were polite with their replies. Not everyone was.
One teacher, whom I do not know, replied:
You've got to see the irony in using all caps and the "That way the whole world does not have to read your messages or be a part of your business," coupled with "Have a great day."
It's amazing how snarky we can be to each other when there's no person attached.
So, here I sit, replies rolling in from those teachers who already opened the message. Each one telling me just how to reply to an e-mail. Nothing like starting the day with humility brought to me by EVERYONE in the district.
More later.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Run, Dean, Run

Life has become 50-50-50. As a marathon runner, I have a natural curiosity when it comes to Dean Karnazes' planned running of 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days. As a teacher, it goes a bit farther. Tomorrow, the day of Dean's second marathon, my students will be exploring his site, the site The North Face (the event's major sponsor) has set up and the Runner's World website to gain a better understanding of what exactly is underway.
Friday, I used the USA Track & Field route mapper to show my students what 26.2 miles from our school would look like using the site's Google Maps-based technology. They were hooked.
Then, with no prior knowledge, I had them predict the times for Dean's first 10 marathons.
As he goes, we'll fill in the actual times and work in Excel to create formulas to track the differences. The math teacher on my team is on board to help the students with graphing of the results and tracking trends. It's actual data. It's something real.
Outside of that, Dean's blog will be a big focus. As we uncover information, I'm going to show the students how to post their findings as comments to his blog. Hopefully, this will whet their appetites and usher in the use of blogs in my classroom. My difficulty thus far has been the idea that they would probably not just latch on to blogging. It needs a purpose and I think this will help them see it.
As far as how this connects to writing, it's clear to me. They are doing authentic research, interacting with the world and making informed predictions. I'll be asking them to think about why Dean's doing what he's doing and how that could be compared to their lives. They'll be looking at what this can do to his body and explaining it to others. The hope is for this to build natural intrigue.
In other realms, I missed an opportunity Friday. My daily journal prompt asked my students to identify who was the more successful of two men pictured. The picture on the left was popular rapper Ludacris. The picture on the right was Vice President Cheney. There wasn't one class where at least one person could identify the vice president, though it did take time. Were we farther along, I could have posted the prompt on my blog and had my students use the "Blog This" function of Flock to pull down the pictures and then write their response.
The piece that's missing is the learning of the skills. I'm not only trying to integrate tech. literacy into my classroom, but I'm also charged with paving the way for my students to come in to their own as writers. Some days, I'd settle for capitalizing the word "I".
I've been doing some interesting reading lately, but, as always...
More later.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I could throw in the ubiquitous lines about it being a long time since I've posted, but I don't want to waste time with that.

With the holiday last week and then a professional day Tuesday, we had a 3-day week last week. Talk about difficult recovery. A full week out for Kagan training and a four-day weekend, getting the students back in class was difficult. It's like starting the year all over again. This week is a bit better. We're getting there.

Last week, we started journaling, the old-fashioned way, on paper. What incites this has provided into what is going on with my students. It also shows great formative assessment opportunities as to where their gaps are in writing. Still, it's quite a bit of information to process.

Today, as I'm sure many teachers across the country are doing, our journal prompt has to do with the attacks of 9-11. I was on the fence as to what I was going to do. Ignoring it seemed wrong, but I know the country's close to saturation on remembering what we must remember. The students have a choice between two prompts: Where were you 5 years ago today when you heard about the WTC? OR How has America changed in the time since 9-11? What examples can you give to prove your point?

Here's something I hadn't thought of that is unique to students in my county, some of them were in the room when President Bush got the news. They were there. One young man raised his hand during our post-journaling discussion and said, "I shook his hand that day." That's something he'll always have. While it was clear from my follow-up questions he doesn't quite grasp the impact yet, with time, he will. I also have students whose family members were in the Twin Towers that day. Here they are, sitting in a school on a day when the entire country is remembering and theirs are the memories that are more unique than most.

What to do with this information? It seems to me to be teeming with possibilities for using multiple literacies. I'm not sure we're ready yet. I don't know how to evaluate those skills. I know I'm ready. I know I have the knowledge necessary to blog and research and respond to posts, but do they? How do I know? It's something severely lacking in my pre-service experience and professional development. How do I assess media literacy? Where's the test?

I can't remember what I've never forgotten.
More later.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

On Cooperation and Engagement

We've one more day of Kagan Cooperative Learning Train the Trainer training. During today's session, I began to think about cooperative learning and engagement in the modern classroom. Part of the Kagan premise is "Simultaneous Interaction" which asks the question, "What percent is overtly engaged at a given time?" It's a fantastic time and one teachers have been asking since they stepped in to the first schoolhouses. The trouble I see is prescriptive engagement. Jackie, our trainer, made sure to point out that engagement does not equal compliance. Doesn't it? Another piece of the Kagan premise is "Individual Accountability" which asks, "Is individual public performance required." It's that last word that runs up against the idea of compliance being separate from engagement. If I'm requiring my students to fulfill a certain role, am I not requiring them to engage in a compliant manner? If student A refuses to work because he wanted the role assigned to student C, then he is truly engaged, but not at all in compliance. Most teachers would give student A the choice of complying or choosing to work alone. I know many who choose the latter and even more teachers who expect the former.
This works away from 21st century literacy skills and problem-based learning. I would much rather my students were engaged due to authentic interest in content rather than contrived adherence to teacher prescription. In my doodling/notetaking today, I wrote down, "Cooperative learning does not fix bad teachers." You can take a horrendous teacher, train them in Kagan structures, have them buy in and own the structures and use them everyday in their classroom, but I would argue you haven't helped that teacher if the content the students are cooperating to learn has not changed. If this teacher is having students use the "Quiz-Quiz-Trade" structure to review important dates of battles of the American Civil War, then the students are still being done a disservice in their learning. Even if they were using the same structure to review the causes of the war, a disservice has been done if those causes came from the textbook or teacher. The teacher has simply found a new way to transfer old information.
Teachers must also be taught how to let students uncover and evaluate their own information. From there, quiz-quiz-trade is a great avenue of education. Kagan surely informs our practice, but not our pedagogy. Old dog, old tricks, new order.
I would be remiss if I did not clarify that I am a believer in the promise of Kagan. I've experienced the transfer of responsibility and increase in student accountability in my own classroom. My worry is that it is not requiring teachers look more critically at their practice, rather it is providing a more palatable (for teachers and students) method of delivery. Taking your cousin to the prom is taking your cousin to the prom whether he's the best looking person their or not.
One piece I thoroughly enjoy about Kagan is its focus on state change and its interest in brain chemistry. While teaching does have an artistic side, educators cannot afford to ignore the science of the brain and how best to activate it. Including the elements of "Silly Sports" and "Goofy Games" is something all structured events, from classes to faculty meetings would do well to include.
Miguel Guhlin had a fantastic post recently on "Whitelisting and Transparency" that has certainly informed my thoughts on covert and unintended hypocrisies in education. It's led to the consideration of how I can transform the way I do things in such a manner that it provides my students with authentic engagement in a safe (in many senses of the word) environment. Kagan is an undeniably useful tool, but it is the lens to examine the findings, not the hammer and pick to unearth the learning.
More later.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Time, Time, Time

I'm in training all week this week to become a certified school trainer with Kagan Cooperative Learning. I'm highly excited by this prospect. This is my third Kagan training, and each time I walk away with new knowledge that had direct benefits for my students.
The difficulty comes in the visage of being out of my classroom for an entire week so early in the school year. It's never easy for me to leave my students in the hands of a substitute, even the most capable. Amazingly, I know they've learned from teachers I'll never meet and will go on to meet many more. For me, though, it's a question of how long I have them in my classroom and I hate to waste any of that time.
For the most part, my substitute reports have been positive, with regular mentions of some frustrating mishaps. I've had my students working on the laptops the first two days of the week, but that met with big problems. For someone who knows what to expect, it's an excellent environment. For someone who neither designed the lesson nor has the training/experience with technology, it's proven a nightmare.
Tuesday, as my final attempt, I designed an automated PowerPoint presentation with embedded audio thanks to audacity. I figured the students would be able to hear my voice and that will help as a behavior regulator. Plus, it was a way for me to be in the room without being in the room. For some, it worked; for others, it did not. That's ok. It was a trial.
Upon returning to school Tuesday afternoon and reading of further mishaps in the substitute teacher's notes, I packed up the laptops in the cart and wrote a lesson plan that was technology free, no projector even. Not only that, for the first time in four weeks, I was sent to the copy machine. The lesson I designed was high-content, but low-tech. Traditional would be the word for it.
I didn't go back to school when I got out of training today. After staying up until 1:30 both Sunday and Monday nights, I decided I had put in my time. I got to bed at a decent hour last night, but it hadn't been 11 hours since I left when I stopped by the building this morning. Luckily, I have not much of a life outside of teaching.
The whole week takes me to what I've heard Will Richardson comment on several times in person and in podcasts - it's about teaching the skills. I thought I had made headway with my students in showing them appropriate use of resources and the rationale behind it. Clearly, there's more work to be done. When we get back after the holiday, I'll start in with new class and teambuilding as well as tech. and web usage skills. One of the pieces I'm constantly reminded of is the premise that many of my students stand on the losing end of the technology divide. Though the majority of them have home computer and Internet access, it's a slim majority. They may be natives of Prensky's digital world, but they are not among the power class. There's a difference between living in the Bronx and living in Manhattan. I'm not sure if the metaphor works, but it's how I see things in my head.
Much of the time, I feel the shininess must wear off before we can get to the true potential of these tech tools.
One more note about training before I sign off. The final announcement for the day was about the follow-up to the training and making sure every participant had support in taking what we've learned back to our schools. The way that will happen is a follow-up day back at the district office for participants to voice concerns, questions and the like. Stephanie, friend and science teacher at Phoenix, and I agreed a blog would be the best way to house that conversation and eliminate the need for yet another day out of the classroom. We proposed the idea and were told a blog was a great idea, but as a follow-up to the follow-up. Tried to make the case for blog-as-follow-up, but met with resistance. I suppose the agreement that a blog would be a useful tool is a sign of progress. Oh, progress, you slow, lumbering behemoth. (My point was just validated by the fact the spellcheck did not recognize the word "blog." Too funny.)
More later.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bringing Dimension to the Flat World

I was talking to myself as I walked through the halls yesterday morning. It wasn't the first time and I doubt it to be the last. I happened upon our assistant principal, Dr. Shelley, and said, "Do you know what Jason (our social studies teacher) is talking about in his class today?"
She didn't and asked what.
He was talking about the flat eighth graders...historically low-achieving eighth graders. It was amazing. Not only that, he opened with a streamed video clip from one of Thomas Friedman's appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Then, he gave a mini lecture to familiarize his students with the topic. From there, the learning belonged to the students. He asked them questions about the populations of China, India and the US. He asked about graduation rates, industry and the like. He didn't point them toward the information, he simply supplied them with the question. Our kids still need the guidance.
Tomorrow, he will be presenting a PowerPoint on China and India and how they measure up to the US. I'd showed him Carl Fisch's now-updated presentation and told him our students had already seen it in my class. His picks up nicely.
To round it out, he has the students identifying the possible impact of developments in China and India and then writing about possible solutions in the US.
A group of students was talking about effects of war and ethnic cleansing in another class with our literacy coach the other day and she asked what they would do if someone came in to their homes and they were forced to leave. Some of the students said they would go to China because they had learned in my class that there were a lot of smart people in China, so it must be safe. Our lit. coach told me of the interesting and engaging conversation that followed.
Now, think about this. I can't imagine another 8th-grade group that has spent such a chunk of the beginning of their school year talking about, thinking about and soon writing about global economic shift. As they are about to become participants in the global community, it's probably best that they realize its existance and importance first.
I realize they don't get the nuances of the process. I realize it's new and will take much more to develop a reasonable understanding, but what a great foundation for learning. Often, we talk about what our kids are and are not prepared for. Rarely, do we speak TO our kids about what we have a faint idea might lie ahead. I cannot wait to begin blogging with them. I cannot wait for the world to engage them.
More later.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Part of me can't believing I'm posting this. The rest of me isn't surprised at all.
My friend Rachel and I went to see the much-anticipated Snakes on a Plane last night. I don't have a particular affinity toward snakes, planes, Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Marguiles, etc. In talking Rachel into seeing this movie, I finally became exasperated at making my case and just said, "We just have to see this movie."
If you haven't or are thinking about it, I will leave that decision up to you. Much in the same way this post is not about the movie, the need to see it last night was not about the movie.
Exiting the theater in extreme states of incredulity, Rachel and I both agreed, SOAP is an incredibly important movie. Incredibly.This movie, on its merits, hadn't a shot in the world, but then came Web 2.0. The blogosphere erupted, T-shirts were printed, news outlets had no choice but to engage.
I'm not immune to the ironies at work here. A movie that would otherwise have been heavily neglected was brought to the global conscious while policital issues and global crises fail to garner the attention due to them. Still, it is a first major flexing of a muscle that, 5 years ago, was barely forming.
Change consistently happens in unexpected ways. The key to the success here had to be its lack of contrivance. If it had been a promotion originating from big business, I argue Snakes on a Plane would have crashed. Natives no contrivance, it lacks luster. In the same way my educational practices must be authentic, SOAP had to be an authentic phenomenon.
Either way, it is an important movie, perhaps one of the most important we've seen in a while, but that importance has nothing to do with the movie. What will be next?
More later.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Two Weeks

With two weeks under my belt, the school year is zooming by.
I did an informal survey today, asking my students to tell me what they had learned in the first two weeks of my class. "What have you done that you haven't done before? Tried that you hadn't tried before? Learned or thought about that you hadn't before?"
More than once, a student raised his hand and said something to the effect of, "Last year, we visited the computer lab maybe three times in the entire year." Three times! I'm finding, not surprisingly, that my kids are not as tech literate as I'd like them to be. In one class, four kids raised their hands when I asked if anyone had ever created a PowerPoint presentation before. They know Myspace and they know the ins and outs of Windows Media Player, but the majority don't have anything past that. The vision is to move to a community of bloggers the way I read about Konrad Glogowski or Darren Kuropatwa's classes doing, but it's going to take time. The legs are still shakey. We'll get there.
Alan November's question of "who owns the learning" is in the driver's seat this year. Today, I did something I wasn't so sure about. I knew it would be uncomfortable for my students, but I also knew I had to stop spoon feeding them and let them gain confidence. I put up the assignment on the ActivBoard with three bullets:
  • Log in to Blackboard.
  • Read the announcement.
  • Complete and turn in the assignment.
In a Hansel and Gretel-type fashion, I had pebbles of instructions throughout the assignment for guidance, but I told them at the beginning that I would not be answering any questions, that they already knew how to do everything they needed to complete the assignment. It was uncomfortable. One student raised her hand and told me she couldn't get to the website. "Try typing in the address again," I said. "I've typed it three times already, I'm just not going to do it," was her reply as she sat back in her seat with her arms crossed. "Ok," I said, "That's your choice, but I'm sure the site's working and I know you don't want to fall behind. You can do this." I walked away, but continued to monitor. Sure enough, within minutes, she had found her typing error, fixed it and logged in. It was a step toward self-reliance.
In another class, students would try to get me to answer questions and I would almost answer, but I was cut off by a slew of students who said, "Can I help him, Mr. Chase?" They would get up, walk over and show the students how to complete the assignment. One girl announced, "All right, I'm not getting up after this, so who needs help now?" How many times have I thought that as a teacher. I was monitoring screens with my new Vision access to make sure things were on track. They were.
It felt fantastic. I was so proud. They were building a community.
One other things of note today. I'm not certain of the etiquette on this one. Checking my Bloglines account this morning in a faculty training on how to use the district's online print shop order form (not so helpful for the paperless classroom), I saw my name in David Warlick's blog 2 Cents Worth. I literally let out a little scream.
Now, I've been published online, in newspapers, magazines, etc., but none of it compared to the excitement of this. Why? A number of reasons. For one, it wasn't passive. I had written something that made someone else think. For another thing, it meant more people were going to be reading what I wrote. I called my mom. By the end of the day, I had messages from around the globe. I stopped and realized. This is why our students should be blogging, this feeling of connectedness, of authenticity. I shared the whole thing with my classes, explaining how the network operated, how David likely found my blog and so on. All but three of my students had never heard of a blog before, so I took it slowly. It was the first glimmer of realizing the potential in a first-hand manner. Awesome. I feel I'm such the nerd for saying so, but it truly was.
More later.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

So Much!

Nine days, that's it! I've only been in the classroom nine days and I feel like I'm doing good. My kids are using Blackboard, they've posted to an online discussion board, they've uploaded files, they're getting closer to where they need to be.
Tonight, Wendy, our Tech Coach, and I worked with my student laptops to install Vision. This means that my room of 20 laptops is much more manageable. I can keep tabs on what they're looking at, chat with them, demo what I want them to do, the works. It's one of the pieces I've felt was missing.
For the first time, today, I was able to work Wikipedia in to my lesson today. I posted a piece of the entry on on the discussion board. It was all about restrictions being put on the site in schools. My kids were all over the place with what they thought. Not everyone was a fan, all of them understood the dangers. What surprised me last week was the number of kids who said their parents also had Myspace pages. The kids knew it and they knew their parents were watching. Maybe things aren't as bleak as the frightened masses would like to think.
In the coming weeks, I see great opportunities. I showed my kids the PowerPoint presentation from Karl Fisch's blog today. Some good conversation came from it. Not only that, Wendy said the kids were asking her about the presentation after they left my class. Something stuck.
I've been looking at tonight. What an excellent partner for our program that puts computers in homes of students who don't have them! No longer do parents have to worry that they can't get the right software. Kids can save their work online and then pull it down. Start a file at school, edit it at home, share it with classmates. It's a network in a grand sense.
My problem is that I'm so anxious to use these things. I need to pause. I need to slow down.
One of my frustrations when listening to the podcasts and presentations of folks like David Warlick and Will Richardson is that I want examples, I want lessons and projects, I want to see what's going on with the people who have been there.
Perhaps I should sleep. Take pause. I feel like I can't afford to pause.
More later.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Stepping Forward

Reading Doug Johnson's latest post tonight, I was reminded of the term "change agent." It's what teachers must be. It's our job. How ironic that the change agents of society are so resistent to change. Today, though, I saw things move in the right direction.
We've been trying to implement various technologies at Phoenix this year. Some are big ones, initiatives like blogging and podcasts and wikis. Some, like one I experienced today, are small but important. Rather than have each 8th-grade teacher keep his or her own separate parent contact log, we've designed an Excel file that lives on the server which is access-restricted. All 8th-grade teachers can open and modify the file that has columns for Date, Last Name, First Name, Calling Teacher and Notes. Not only does it put a record of all teacher-parent contacts in one convenient location, it is sortable and each-to-use. It's something that's been possible for years, literally. While I realize it's simple, I cannot overstate it's importance. It's something that I can show to teachers and say, "Look, this is a way you can look to technology to improve how we do things." Once they are sold on the little things, we're more open to putting more deep-seeded traditions on the table. Small steps.
The thing is, at the end of the day, our assistant principal called me in to her office about finding the right tech tool to provide basic bulletins on specific student behavior monitoring. This is a conversation she would not have had last year. Even she realized and appreciated that fact.
Some fantastic news, news I'll say "I told you so" on. Today, Phoenix started a waiting list. A WAITING LIST! The school that was searching for students just last year and worrying about it's numbers in a much different way, has people waiting to get in. What an amazing team I get to be a part of that has created an environment for students in which such contagious change is possible. Seeing them in action today reminded me of what consumate professionals they are. Hearing their dedication to solving the little problems that arose during Day 1 reminded me of what adept problem solvers they are. Such a healthy place to work.
As more and more outlets enter the DOPA debate, I've been asking myself what I can do. I've decided to pitch a column to the paper presenting a NeXt Gen educator's take on the whole thing. With the fair and impartial piece on our dedication to tech integration, it seems a logical follow-up.
With all the changes in humanity, it amazes me the extent to which we are still afraid of what we do not understand.
More later.

Good Press

Up and getting ready, but I've got to post this article from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on the NeXt Generation Teacher program. It's a nice, brief description. Let's hope Liz follows it throughout the year to keep us on our toes.
More later.

9.5 Hours

The first day of school is technically here and there's so much to do. So much. I need to be trying to sleep. Much like the night before a marathon, I have trouble sleeping the night before school starts.
Open house was a success this year. We had more parents come through than I've seen in 3 years of teaching. It was odd that I always forget how animated I get when I'm in a classroom. There's an electricity attached to it. At some point, parents were clapping and muttering "Uh-huh, that's right." One mother stopped me and asked if I could give my speech at another district school.
It wasn't until I got started with the first group that I realized what I was going to say. That's the improvisor in me. It turns out I was driven by the question Alan November asked us when he came to speak to the NeXt Gen teachers and again when I was up at the BLC06 conference, "Who owns the learning?" Well, it turns out I'm determined to have the students own the learning this year and I told them and their parents that. In fact, I flat out refused to own the learning anymore.
Now, I qualified it by confessing that I would kill myself to make sure they had everything they needed to succeed, but admitted that actually succeeding would be on them. A friend of mine stopped by Phoenix to pick me up Friday night (we'll not talk about how late I was in my room). Enamored by all of the technology with which we are equipped, she noted, "I guess you really do need to be following the technology, huh?" It triggered something, we shouldn't be following the technology. Playing catch up will leave us winded and grasping. We have to be on the edge. We have to be pulling technology, thinking of what we need it to do next and then finding ways for our students to demand more rather than patiently waiting to find out what we're supposed to be excited about next.
Web 2.0 came without a clarion call. We must set our own alarms for what comes next. Speaking of which, I should set mine so that I'm well-rested for what comes next.
More later.

Monday, July 31, 2006

So Much Input

Brain so full! Ideas everywhere!
The first day back was a full one. I gave Steve a hard time at the end of the day for saying we should include more during our initial planning meeting for today. Thank goodness we didn't.

Having never had any experience with MCREL, I found Wendy's information interesting. What struck me the most when she was talking about cooperative learning was the practices MCREL encourages are also the practices encouraged by Kagan. I saw quite a bit of overlap. In fact, Kagan makes a point of describing the difference between Kagan Cooperative Learning and generic Cooperative Learning. One example would be the formation of heterogenous groups. Kagan has it down to nearly precise science. It will be interesting to monitor further similarities as Wendy continues to help us understand MCREL.

Sue's presentation was full of useful information as well. I was particularly interested to hear the statistical data she brought to our attention on the role socio-economic status has on reading development. That knowledge will be helpful in continuing to develop an understanding of where our students are coming from.

As always, her strategies for vocabulary education were invaluable. I wish we had more time! I'm glad she'll have an opportunity to educate the entire staff on reading across the content areas this year.

I'm pleased with how the Lesson Tuning Protocol was received. Though the time crunch threw quite a wrench in the works, it was evident that some good work was going on. The key will be to schedule the protocol at fixed times throughout the year. Such good discussion. From the beginning of my career, I've missed the structured collegial interaction provided by interactions like these. Sue just made the comment that she recognized the tool as being helpful both pre and post. She said it took going through the process to see its value. That's exactly what I was saying to people as I was finishing up the plan last night.

I have a good feeling about the coming year. So much to be done. Such talented people to do it.
More later.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Lesson Tuning Protocol

The Lesson Tuning Protocol was designed by The Institute for Research and Reform in Education as a tool to help teachers work in a collaborative, structured environment to improve lesson plan design and implementation.
The LTP benefits teachers and students by:
  • providing a structure for collegial interaction
  • creating a space where educators feel safe to discuss and share pedagogies
  • allowing teachers the benefit of peer input on given lessons
  • introducing a mechanism for building Professional Learning Communities
Expected Outcomes:
  • Model use of LTP in larger Professional Learning Communities.
  • Integrate cooporative learning / MCREL strategies and content area vocabulary tools to work within your content area to develop a lesson plan you will be able to use this year in your classroom.
  • Work within small PLCs to carry out the LTP with a randomly selected lesson plan.
  • Post a comment to this blog entry with your thoughts/questions about the LTP.
To learn more about IRRE and LTP:

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

State Standards

I know I sound like a broken record on this whole Hargreaves issue, but I'm sure I'll find something newer and shinier soon. Until then, a report out by Education Next has a ranking not of state performance but on state standards and how they measure up nationally.
Interesting stuff.
Proficiency is a tricky word.
Florida pulled a C, nothing like striving to be average.
What this could point to is the idea that the FCAT is overly lenient in its assessment when compared to a national assessment. If this is the case, then the students who are ranked "proficient" according to state standards are below par nationally. What are we setting our students up for?
On the plus side, the bar's not quite low enough to trip over. On the minus side, it's a pretty challenging limbo. Over the next few years, it will be interesting to see if the legislature takes the time to put it at high jump level.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Steve's Response

As mentioned in my previous post, here's my principal's response to Andy Hargreaves' BLC'06 keynote on sustainable leadership:

I read the article and your comments. I believe the author is right for the most part, schools must develop sustainable systems (not a new concept, see Good to Great)...actually sustainable successful systems for learning (we have many of the former). And as stated, while we create these systems we must also deal with the higher system mandates such as standardized testing issues. That is the dilemma. I would love to be able to forgo the state testing dilemma we are in and move totally towards "owned learning". It appears that our students have massive deficits in this area and to correct it would take great time and effort. But, I think we are addressing it, slowly but surely in the context of our program, because to make them own their learning they have to have some success first. After the success, I believe they will begin to care and then we teach them to own their learning. As the author stated, to forgo the state testing program and our quick fixes is administrative suicide! Can both concepts coexist? Probably so, for the time being.

As far as effective PLCs. I am hoping that we will get there this year. I really want to see the teacher leadership step up, beginning with our coaches, but I know it will take time. Student learning must be the priority and it is a bit fuzzy on the correct path and methods to get there. Many ideas out there! Do we live and die with the data (maybe flawed data) or do we trust our instincts and discuss our strategies and plans. A balanced approach of both will probably get us our best results.

Your thoughts are interesting on the topic. I totally agree that one would be misled to look solely at years of teaching experience with our staff. Our staff has way too much to offer to look at that one indicator. Talent frequently beats the hard worker that lacks skills most times, but when you have both then you can move these students. Oh what a year we have ahead of us! We must have the best jobs in the district.

Swimming in Technology

Wow! Just - Wow!
I'm logged on at Metro literally double=fisting coffee and my head is swimming with information and possibilities for the coming year. I know where I want to go, I know the multiple roads that will take me there, I need to plot it out. This is one of those pieces where another person comes in handy.
I e-mailed my principal and assistant principal a link to Steve Dembo's blogging of Andy Hargreaves' keynote at BLC'06. See my post on sustainable leadership for my thoughts.
Steve, principal, sent back a very thoughtful/provoking reply. I've asked if I can post it here. It's worth reading.
As I was sending them the link and reading Steve's reply, I realized the entire process was behind the times. Web 2.0 means Steve would have a feed to my blog and would have read my post, checked out Dembo's post and linked his thoughts from his blog to mine.
From there, other teachers (those I know and those I don't) would check out all posts and reply. One keynote speech would directly affect the thinking of a community on the other side of the country.
I spoke to Stephanie earlier today about some training we'll be doing together for the start of the year. She and I will be integrating BlackBoard into our classes this year and are looking forward to get other Phoenix faculty on board. I told her the development facilitating team had decided to take baby steps in implementation. It's something I have to remember. Prensky would probably point to the immigrant/native divide. I'm a native teaching other natives in a school of immigrants.
In the same way getting my students to begin to think of themselves as capable and able writers is a slow process, affecting and integrating technological/pedagogical change requires a plan. A full onslaught would be daunting.
A note: I'm digging Superb.
More later.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

BLC '06 November Reign

Quite a bit to process after hearing Alan speak on new school design.
Perhaps most interesting was the fact he didn't talk about building buildings. He spoke mainly on what to do before or instead of building buildings. An interesting proposition given the topic at hand.
One piece that stuck out, was something he said at the end of the session, "If I were designing a new school, one of my main design principles would be that students own the learning."
It's not necessarily how we design the buildings; it's how we design the learning.
The applications to Phoenix are obvious. We are a prime candidate for implementing each aspect of the conference. When Alan spoke of having us write scenarios as to what a student's day would look like if a school were to implement everything that has been mentioned in the conference, I thought to myself, "I want to live it, I don't just want to write it."
Talking with Jenny during and after the session was good. She told me she gets terrified every time she hears Alan speak. I can understand that.
I told her I just enjoy being surrounded by people who think in similar ways.
Phoenix Academy is populated by a group of students who figured out long ago that the schools owned the learning. As such, they learned to sit back and slide through, not seeing the relevance.
I anticipate some interesting results next year as I turn over ownership. Socrates indeed.
Dangerously, children have not just been relieved of the duty of providing for the family's welfare, they have to a surprising extent been relieved of the duty of providing for their own welfare.
Will Richardson brought up this point in both of his sessions I saw, saying his children were already conditioned to look to the teacher for information and direction. Is it a sense of entitlement, a sense of surrender, or something else. Whatever the case, it surely does not bode well.
This is, I think, the reason Jenny was terrified. I don't get terrified in the face of these propositions.
I feel Alan does not intend to terrify, but perhaps realizes things must appear dyer before people are stirred to act. I take all of this as a call to arms. It's about time teachers started a revolution rather than simply being revolted.
More later.

BLC '06 Sustainable Leadership and All Things Otherwise

Sustainable leadership.
Schools run out of tricks. Must be careful.
As someone teaching a school charged with improving not only the test scores of a historically underperforming population, but its own school grade as well, I take to heart the caution of unsustainable leadership.
When Andy was talking today about the three types of school cultures - veteran, novice and blended - I began to think of where Phoenix fits in that spectrum. By some accounts, we are so novice that we would make Maria from the Sound of Music proud. Look closer, though, and I think one will find we are not as wet behind the ears as it would appear from first glance. Granted, the majority of us have only a few years of classroom experience under our belts. This does not mean we are unseasoned in other ways. Many of our staff have been highly successful in other careers and are bringing those experiences to the classroom.
Still, I would imagine we must be cautious with our expectations and our energies. Ours is a population that stays with you when you head home. They are on your mind when you wake in the morning. The ease of burnout is not to be mistaken. Luckily, we are infused with enough of a veteran faculty and administration that those "tricks" Andy mentioned are readily available. Also, though we all have horrible days when the sky appears to be falling, there exists someone who is not having a horrible day who can be counted on to listen and counsel where needed.
The thought of plateau-ing is a jarring one. The formula for state-mandated improvement and thereby success is not one that meshes well with the work we are doing at Phoenix.
I can't help wondering whether the work we are doing is to prepare our students to so growth or competency on a test or to learn in such a way that they develop a taste for it.
Yes, my students met with success when it came to the FCAT Writing exam last year, but are they up to par with what I would expect an 8th grade student to be able to do in written work? It's a daunting question.
If there is a message I have heard from speaker to speaker in the many conferences and trainings I've attended this year, it's the call for meaning and authenticity.
Year, align it. Yes, make it rigorous. But, make it engaging or no one will care. Plus, from what I've seen, if I provide the relevance, the students will provide the rigor.
One thing I would like to have seen more of in the last two days is more of a how-to or a showing of what each of these technological elements looks like in the classroom. I've heard presenter after presenter talk about blogging with students from other schools and countries. How did that happen? What are the nuts and bolts? What does a typical week look like in these classrooms? What's the best way to introduce blogging?
I get that I should start with a class blog before the students get individual blogs, but how does that work? Do I type? Do the students?
So many questions are left unanswered. This brings a piece of frustration, but it does not overshadow the excitement I have for the world, literally, awaiting my students in the coming year. Gladly, I meet with a network of qualified teachers who have gone this way or a similar way before.
A thought on myspace. Why have we not a session on appropriating myspace for the classroom? Will Richardson said today he thought each of the educators in the room should have a myspace profile so that we understood how it works. I'd like to take that a step further and make myspace work for my classroom. I've heard a great deal about blogging and podcasting. The students owned these tools before. They knew they existed and utilized them for socialization. Teachers are quickly appropriating them for classroom use. Let us find a way to do the same with myspace. Surely, we must be an ingenious enough bunch to find a way to tame the beast.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Andy Hargreaves

Now that, was an invigorating keynote. I'm now twice impressed with the keynote presentations here a BLC '06. Yesterday, Marco Torres gave us a great look at what he was able to do with students in a population similar to the one we're working with at Phoenix. He showed some excellent work by his students. I don't know that these things would work for Phoenix, given our "mission." Still, the thought processes are excellent. Will Richardson links to a full blog of the speech by Steve Dembo for anyone who's interested.
Andy Hargreaves was another who made me think at this conference.
His overarching point was that the current thinking of testing>achievement>learning is on the way out and we will be seeing a reversal to Learning>Achievement>Testing.
He was one of the first people to echo what I have said since moving to Florida. We, as teachers know what we are doing, we must be trusted. Must.
A non-teacher friend sent me a text the other day saying, "Teaching is not a lost art, but th regard for it is a lost tradition."
Hargreaves argues it is coming back. We will be regaining the power.
"Do not concentrate your leadership energies on complying what there is now," he says, "Prepare for what soon will come." I hope it to be true.
What he said interested me the most because it went along with a wonder I had at the beginning of my teaching career that has gradually faded away. Why are we standardizing what we teach? We don't standardize what we do. I mean, yes, there are standards and practices, but not in the same way.
Plus, these tests are faulty representations of what will truly be helpful.
It's an interesting dichotomy that I'm seeing so many wonderful resources at the conference and so many brilliant ideas for authentic learning, but worry that they will not have me preparing for the standardized test that is omnipresent in my county.
Perhaps what Sara Kajder said in her session yesterday is more important. An element of flying under the radar might be important. Ah, renegade teaching, a bold thought.
More later.

BLC '06 Will Richardson

Just got done listening to Will Richardson speaking on Web 2.0 and how it is affecting reading and writing. My beef with the people I've been to see so far is that they weren't saying anything that was totally new to me. There were no new ideas. There was some tweekage, but there were no band-spankin'-new ideas.
Then there was Will.
Again, Will didn't say anything that was totally new, but he said things that got me thinking. He also seemed to want to have a conversation with us; though, he didn't really ask us to speak until the end of things.
His point was that there are new ways of reading and writing.
I remember one of the first courses I took at ISU spoke of teaching students and living in a hypertextual society. Only seven years ago and it now looks like such a simplistic statement. The point the original statement was meant to make was that teens, and the tail-end of my generation have grown up surrounded by information input and are equipped with natural filters. While I still believe this to be true, I'm also brought to the realization that the filters can operate in reverse. Many of my students filter out the thoughts that occur naturally in many adult minds and, instead, allow in the barrage of images and information without questioning validity or perspective.
The danger is obvious.
I felt a bit weird asking Will why he wrote a book when one of his comments was that "as soon as textbooks are written, they are out of date." The same must be true for any work of non-fiction. His answer was one that garnered my respect. He'd considered this, and said there was no real reason other than his book had aggregated the information it contained in a linear context with which the standard reader is already familiar. I also appreciated the fact he had brought up the idea of publishing the book for free on the Internet. I can only imagine the publisher's response.
One piece I would like to see highlighted in more detail during the conference is the accessibility the Internet affords. Alan touched on it briefly when he came to speak in Sarasota, cautioning us that we weren't really doing anything new with the resources we have, just differently. It's a good point. That, I suppose, will have to be the challenge of the year to come.
I'm sure taking my classroom paperless will be a built-in driver. Part of me wonders why I would want to create what promises to be a bit of a headache. Still, this has to be the way education is heading. It's the responsible way. I need more models though.
Nice to have a session that makes me think. I sadistically wouldn't mind someone I didn't agree with. Now that the brain's moving, I'm in a bit of a mood for an academic argument.