Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Off the Road Again

Back in the classroom after a week in Long Beach working with the Freedom Writers Foundation to engage, enlighten and empower a group of 30 educators from across the country. It was my first extended absence from SLA, and I wasn't sure how things would play out with my sub.
Moodle was helpful in automating my class, but the substitute was, shall we say, "colorful."
While that could be seen as working for me in that my students heralded my return, the loss of face time, of structure, of concrete learning in my absence was worrisome.
While I'm uncertain of the degree to which I should accept the truthfulness of their statements, my students reported the substitute teacher said that iPods were outlawed in the city of Philadelphia, that working in groups was not allowed (I left a group assignment and outlined it as such in my lesson plans) and that moodle was off limits.
I hate leaving my kids with anyone else. It comes with the vibe of teaching the "Classroom of Love." Still, I should be able to. The tools exist. In many lessons, I approach the goal of facilitating self-directed learning over simply teaching.
Why, then, does leaving the room to a substitute create the havoc it does? The substitute teacher was a former full-time educator, she has had her own classroom. As such, the execution of the lesson plan should have been simple and effective. Though across the country, I was still facilitating. And yet.
The system was broken somewhere. That's my initial response. Further consideration pushes me to think that perhaps the teacher, the actual person, is of more importance than thought. The tools, the collaboration, the self-direction - all tied up with the presence of the teacher.
Is this true? Poke holes.
More later.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Convoluted Job? (This title means it's about something that missed the mark.)

A classroom pushes upon a teacher a daily, sometimes hourly, choice - say what my big boy brain knows is right or hand control over to 5-year-old me.
One of what I hope are a multitude of reasons I am entrusted with the growth and development of young minds is my proclivity to listening to my big boy brain. Mocking a student's ideas would undermine what we're (teachers and students) all in the classroom to do - build, challenge and support. It would also invalidate whatever community or trust has been created in the classroom.
The same is to be said of a faculty meeting. We're in the room to improve how we put our axioms into practice. Again, the big boy brain is the tool of choice. Tearing down a colleague's idea in a way that also calls into question the integrity or ability of that colleague would open the door to me teaching in isolation - and not by choice.
I preface with these statements because it gets to the meat of what's been troubling me about James Farmer's post "A Con-Job?" Farmer takes issue with the axioms on which EduCon 2.0 is built. More specifically, he seems to take issue with the semantics of those axioms.
Though EduCon is to take place at my school, I've little interest in arguing for or against Farmer's thinking (others are involved in that discussion). My interest is really in the tone of the post.
It's a cat post. It's talking about someone and then pretending you weren't when they walk up. Most importantly, it's not helpful. That's what gets stuck in my craw. Farmer's tone is one of degradation. It does not strike the reader as a post interested in discourse, but of one interested in disarming. Were a colleague to "poke holes" in an argument of mine or of a peer using words and phrases like "codswaddle" and "No shit, Sherlock" the conversation would be over. Though it could be argued an axiom should make one respond with such an Arthur Conan Doylian invocation of the vernacular.
It could be argued the post was not meant for discussion, but then why choose a global forum?
It could be argued that Farmer was unaware of the tone of the post. This is unlikely from someone whose own axiom states:
"Too often we hold back users through unnecessary constraints when we could be encouraging expression, exploration and achieving far greater success through incorporating subversion."
An "unnecessary constraint" exists in Farmer's tone. Rather than welcoming forthright debate, he chooses language that operates more on a level of mockery. Any hopes of an elevated argument are lost in his eliciting of ire and emotion. This is bad design. To be sure, Farmer has incorporated subversion, so long as there's such a thing as self-subversion.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Long Time Gone

So, a bit's happened since last I posted. If you permit, a bit on my personal life. I'll get back to the professional hobnobbery soon.

Three weeks ago, I received an e-mail, now I live in Philadelphia and start tomorrow with the gang at the Science Leadership Academy. The last few weeks have been some of the most trying and growth forcing of my life. Tonight, I sit in the living room of a new colleague who is giving me shelter after my initial hopes of an apartment fell through waiting for the first home-cooked meal in over three weeks.
Tomorrow, I visit the wonderful people of the central office of the Philadelphia public schools and work out exactly how I'll be securing my emergency certification.
After the day is done, I'll be signing a lease and moving in to a new apartment.
The process of packing up my life, bidding farewell to my Floridian friends, telling my students, working out out-of-state certification, has been trying.
With even the little perspective that one day in Philly has offered, it is a grand and exciting adventure that I've embarked upon.
New students, new peers, new tools, a new city (I'm all about listing at the moment) - they await me on this new horizon.
One of the aspects that interests me is the continued communication that will happen between my students in Florida and I. Through this blog, my teacher myspace page, e-mail and ANGEL, we will be able to participate and educate one another from afar. I don't have a clear picture of what that will entail, but I know I look forward to the new lexicon to be formed by all parties.
For now, I prepare for the coming day and credit my arrival for the good fortune of the Phillies this afternoon. I wonder if I can take them all the way to the World Series.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What it Takes...

After a week and a half of engaging kenesthetic activities. I changed directions with my students today. We talked. That was it. We talked. They wrote, they thought and we talked.
The opening question - their bellwork, what got the ball rolling - was a simple query, "Is diversity a good thing?"
Underneath, on the board, read the parenthetical note, "If you do not know the definition of 'diversity,' look in your dictionary."
Let me say this before moving on - they actually looked in the dictionary. Even better, at tables where both students were stymied as to the denotative meaning of the word, I watched as one table partner waited patiently (not getting off task) for the other person to finish with their Webster's work so they could have a full understanding. It really is an amazing thing to see such dedication to getting it right.
As is oft my role, when they had written their initial thoughts, I played devil's advocate depending on the majority's opinion. It really was some fantastic discussion.
At the end of 7th period, Jamie announced to the class, "This class made me think some things that I didn't think before." Any educator knows it's not often that you get a child to realize, let alone pronounce, a paradigm shift.
One of the places a few of the discussions wound around to was shoes. I polled the class on an acceptable maximum amount for an 8th grader to spend on a pair of shoes. We had been talking footwear as an example of following the crowd rather than one's one drum. Jordan's were the favorite though none of my students was alive to see MJ play live. The mean acceptable price was around $110.
We talked about why brand names were "important" and whether or not acquiring one's clothing from Wal-Mart was a mark of shame. The whole thing set me to thinking about where to take the discussion next. Not with every class, just the ones who showed interest. After a little reflection, here's what I've got:

  1. Each student picks a country (most likely a Third World counry).
  2. They use the CIA World Factbook to find: children per capita, average annual income per capita, possibly mortality rate per capita
  3. Each student then finds the retail price for each item it took to prepare him/her for school that day. (This would include hygeine products, et al.)
  4. The student finds the total cost of being him/her and multiplies it x7 to get the cost per week.
  5. The student then compares the findings.
The question is - what do they do with this info.? I'm sure it will be eye-opening, but what real purpose can they put it to? Where do they go after they realize "what it takes to be them?"
Anxious for thoughts and suggestions. Anyone have a class they'd like to have compare themselves to mine?
More later.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The First Week

It's only been five days and my room smells like stale coffee again. I'm not certain I can't say the same for the inside of my body as well.

I'm finally keeping up with my feeds again, and reading some great stuff. For whatever reason, I can't access twitter via G-chat. Luckily, I've got twitbin to keep me connected.

My kids this year are tremendous. I've almost 120 students and they have each impressed me in some way already. I'm trying to make at least two calls home each night - positive calls.

Two nights ago, I called and spoke to a mother to tell her how impressed I was that her son didn't miss a beat after being out sick for a day on the first week. She told me she had already seen an improvement in self-confidence after three days and that her son had begged to go to school with a fever the day he was out. I thanked her for saving us from and endemic before I hung up the phone.

I feel like we're all on our game even more than last year. We started with a non-traditional open house. I'm teaching Grades 8 and 10 this year. Rather than rotating parents and students through each classroom and having them listen to teacher presentations that were remarkably similar, we set up paperwork in the literacy center and all of the teachers were available to talk in the common area. Here's the key, we made it a potluck dinner.

Some people on campus felt slight trepidation over whether or not our parents would show, let alone bring a dish to share. Their concerns were not without reason; our first year, about 7 familes showed up for our Open House. This year, we were only missing 7 families out of the 8th grade! It was tremendous. I got to shake each student's hand, find out a little about them and eat brownies. It's not a perfect world, but it's close to it.

This first week has been dedicated to class/family building and policies and procedures. Today, we wrap up the Coat of Arms project procured from Erin Gruwell. The first day, they were quiet and not too engaged. It was a slow start. Today, as the deadline hung in front of them, students who were already finished sat next to students who were a little behind and helped search for and cut out images that symbolized their goals, achievements and things/people of value.

I have been operating at 11 for the entire week. I had also forgotten how exhausting teaching is when you do it right. I haven't had the energy to go for a run after the marathon that is the school day. But, I wouldn't have it any other way. This weekend's agenda? Sleep. Maybe a little response to some entry and exit tickets.

Lesson plans? I've got the next two weeks planned out. It's a weird feeling.

More later.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Grrr and Argh

I sent a package to a friend of mine yesterday. He's heading into his first year of teaching and I want to give him all of the support I can. It wasn't until I jumped online and read a column from the paper back home that I realized the package I sent was intellectually racy.
Inside, it held a copy of The Essential 55 by and Life's Greatest Lessons by Hal Urban. Both are books that saw me through my first years of teaching and to which I continue to turn. According to the column, though, one of the leaders of my district worries that The Essential 55 could be taken as condescending. Ron Clark is white, his students when he taught in Harlem were mainly African American and Latino.
Apparently, Clark was on the shortlist of keynote speakers at our back-to-school meeting. Last year's speaker was Willard Daggett and the year before that was Erin Gruwell.
According to the column, and I'm not taking any of it as gospel, the district administrator had reservations about Clark speaking because he thought it could be taken as condescending to listen to stories of how Clark took his students from Harlem on horizon-expanding field trips. Clark's efforts to teach etiquette in preparation for a trip to a formal restaurant reportedly found a particular sticking place in the administrator's craw. Lyons implies the administrator believes Clark's speech is condescending because he is a white teacher who was working mainly with students who didn't look like him. I'm not sure what to make of it or how those beliefs would reflect on my own teaching.
Two things are happening here that have me frustrated.
One, I'm none-too-impressed with Lyons' reporting. The column could have been held for next week in order to include the asst. superintendent's side of the story. As it reads now, the column is another in a growing collection of pieces that makes teachers and the school district feel as though they are at odds with the press.
The other element of contention is with the idea that the central office wasn't immediately forthcoming with the details.
Again, all we have to go on is what Lyons saw fit to print, but the idea that the district's spokesman tried to sidestep the issue at fist blush isn't exactly going to make any inroads toward a strong relationship between the district and the press. This is to say nothing of the fact that the column was going to run with or without the administrator's quote, so it makes more sense to be open on the front end than to have to clean up after the parade has passed by.
From both sides, we (community members and district employees) need sincerity over spin.
More later.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I love how this guy thinks...

From Darren Kuropatwa:
Imagine a 20 minute lecture where all your students back channel about what you're saying. Outside guests or experts are invited in. Someone acts as a "rudder" to keep the conversation on track. The discussion is displayed on a SMARTboard or with a projector. The chatcast is immediately dumped into a wiki. The rest of the class is devoted to reorganizing the wiki clarifying what was said, answering questions (student to student as well as teacher to student; and don't forget the people, students, teachers, mentors or parents beyond the glass walls of the room) summarizing the big ideas, reframing the discussion in terms of what needs to be explained again and where we're going next. Imagine the possibilities ...

I want to be in that classroom as a student and as a teacher!

Long Time Gone

It's been too long since I last posted. Not on purpose. I flew out to Long Beach directly after the Denver conference and jumped right in with the Freedom Writers Foundation. Tuesday, we wrapped up the July Freedom Writers Teacher Institute.
Twenty-four teachers ventured to Long Beach, CA for 5 days of truly empowering collaboration. I was fortunate enough to be part of June's Institute as well. Thus far, I've had the chance to meet each of the teachers going through the program including the frenetic bunch that with whom I went through.
Something is truly energizing about bonding with 20-some people with the same heart for kids.
The ties are truly amazing.
When I returned to Sarasota last October from my turn at the Institute, my friends and colleagues were eager to hear about my trip. The interest was strong and the questions the same, "So, what was it like?" "What did you guys do out there?" "What was Erin like?" even "Was it fantastic?"
I stumbled around like a zombie when I returned home. I was able to chalk it up to jetlag, but it was something more than that.
Every once in a while, I need to be reminded of why I'm a teacher, of the sense of purpose I that motivated me to enter the profession.
As it turns out, I didn't become a teacher to help students incorporate technology in their learning. I don't know that I even became a teacher to give kids the chance to work and think collaboratively. Hard as it is to believe, it wasn't to administer standardized tests or bring up flagging scores.
It actually all comes down to showing up everyday to show kids they have they have power, choices, ability and promise when they think that they do not.
I realize the details of the process are more intricate and the path much more winding than the idealism of my purpose appears to acknowledge, but I've got to remember that's where I'm rooted.
I had a chance during this last session to meet teachers who are truly amazing in their love and passion for helping their kids. Time and again, though, I heard these same teachers say they were unworthy or not up to snuff.
We cannot allow for the perpetuation of a system that takes its most dedicated workers and breaks them and makes them feel they are less than.
It's a big system, widely fractured. Still, when the last FWTI is complete, 150 teachers will have been trained and connected, creating a nationwide network of support and activism.
Many students have walked through my classroom door bruised or broken by what life has thrown at them. Though their maturity may mask and delay the effects, the same is happening to teachers.
Often, when we speak of teacher attrition, it is in reference to the difficulty of replacing them with new hires. Our focus must be on retention. How do you keep a great teacher in the classroom?
More later.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

NSDC Breakout Session 2: Closing the Male Literacy Gap

[Live Blogged]

Kelly King, Principal
Dawn Ryan, Teacher
Boulder Valley Schools

Doing personal intros. Just got a tease of brain research. I'm feeling a little excited.

Showing a cartoon, "I need you to line up by attention span."

Telling a story by grown men to illustrate differences between boys and girls. I'm engaged. Boys throwing darts at each other in the dark.

Using cooperative learning to share brain research. My fact, "Boys get bored more easily than girls, requiring more varied stimulation to keep them attentive."

Just talked about the use of music as a buffer between conversations.

Stress hormones "coritzol(sp?)" go up when you're low on the pecking order.

"PET scans show the resting female brain is as active as the male brain working on a problem."

This creates different tendancies in motivational patterns between male and female brains.

Going to talk about male and female brains definitively for the purpose of making points.

"There are actual physical structural differences between the male and female brains."

1. "at-riskness" among boys
2. understand chem. and struc. differences between male and female brains.
3. learn about effective inst. practice for addressing brain needs of both boys and girls.

Girls are outperforming boys in all industrialized countries in reading literacies.

(me - exam Phoenix's writing scores by gender)

Showing data on improvement of boys' scores since the school began focusing on boys.

They were in the Newsweek article "The Boy Crisis."

"With Boys and Girls in Mind" Education Leadership, Nov. 2004. - great stats. on boy achievement.

Collaborative investigation of a fact that we find interesting. Partner is "take the answers down 5 'whys'." (me - I want this slideshow)

For every 100 girls...

...suspended from school, there are 250 boys.
...expelled from school, there are 335 boys.
...who earn a masters degree, there are 62 males.

"Just the Facts" cards?

Sit and Get is tolerated by the neurological make-up of girls.
Biology is for cavemen. Sociology is advanced.

Key Brain Differences Impacting Learning:
New Yorker cover with "make-up" of teen brain.

Verbal-Spatial Difference: females have more coritcal areas in brain for verbal thinking. More resources for putting emotions into words.
Males more spatial thinking cortical areas. Males may need to prime pump before jumping in to descriptive writing. Females may need to hold model to get to thinking about concepts like rotating things in space.

Memory and Sensory Difference: Girls sing in tunes 6x more often. More boys are prone to color-blindness. Females see sharper more vivid color, more sensitive touch and acute sense of taste. This goes back to survival. Male better are depth perception, tracking objects through space, better at navigating through spatial areas. You recall an event using the senses you collected it with. Prime the pump differently to get more detail.

Frontal Lobe Development: develops in mid-20s for females, early 30s for males. Suppresses impulsive behavior. This is part of writing and risk-taking behaviors.

Cross-Talk Between the Hemispheres: Females have 20% more thickening between corpus colosum than males. More nerves, more communication between hemispheres. Male brain compartmentalizes and lateralizes brain activity. Female brain disperses activity around the brain to solve the same problem. When there's a learning problem, it's more difficult for the male brain to delegate problems. This points to stroke recovery and females regaining speech function better. Males tend to operate more in the left hemisphere, females in right hemisphere. Right side thinks more about problems and anxieties. 75% of divorces are initiated by females. Male brain is more learning fragile (disabilities). Female brain more emotionally fragile (anxiety, eating disorders, depression). Compartmentalization can lead to boys focusing on one thing and blocking other input out.

Natural Aggression: Testosterone (males), Oxytosin (bonding hormone) (females), oxytosin spikes in males during sex then goes back down again. Oxytosin inspires girls to want to be liked, fit in, belong. Boys have less oxytosin which creates a disconnect between boy investment in school.

Neural Rest States: Boys are gone when they go there. Girls can still be intaking a little bit. Might as well be talking to a wall at this point with boys.

Need natural light for good brain chemistry.

Book Suggestions:
Action-Packed Classrooms, Summerford (K-5)
Learning with the Body in Mind, Jensen
Action Strategies..., Wilhelm

Asked fourth grade writing students to act out the differences between "editing" and "revising" without speaking. Leader was responsible for interpreting movements.

What a complete sentence is: Took sentence strips, color coded nouns, verbs and finishers. Gave each of 5 groups a bunch of possibilities with a "Bank of Punctuation." Gave kids 5 minutes to build complete, perfectly-punctuated sentences. Had to explain, "why they needed a comma or an exclamation point instead of a period."

(me - audience is entirely engaged!)

Boys have less access to sensory details. This makes it more difficult for them to integrate those details into their writing.

Inverse relationship between quality of illustration and volume (quality?) of writing.

Bring in music to create a mood, think of colors that would create a mood and THEN put that mood into words. Need to do more priming of the pump for boys.

Putting vocab. words to music. Spelling words with elbows and then backsides. (hilarious!)

Too many words make the ideas too difficult. 8 purposes of writing simplifies things. Give them right visual-spatial tools to kids for the job you're trying to get them to do. Visual construct must match intended verbal output.

Video games give things a better safety for pecking order movement.

Throw gender grouping into small grouping every once in a while. Expand topics that appeal to boys. Stop censoring boys interests.

"A good book for a boy is one he wants to read." (Moloney, 2002)

In writing classroom, use "crappy prompts" to get kids to make writing their own.

"If the bum is numb, the brain is the same."

I'm Glad I'm a Boy, I'm Glad I'm a Girl (1970)

"Me Read? No Way!" - Ontario Provincial Government

Monday, July 16, 2007

NSDC Concurrent Session 1: Breaking Barriers to Learning

Live Blogging: Norwalk Community School District in Iowa

Starting off the presentation by showing Karl Fisch's "Did you Know? 1.0" I wonder how many people in the room have seen this before.

I wonder how many presenters will be using this. I wonder how many presenters will be making their own. Why not?

Just got through the "Name this country..." I always want to shout out the answer.

In under a year, how much of this information is outdated? Not to mention how many schools and districts will be presenting it at back-to-school events this year as though it's new?

Presentation Beginning:
How am I going to prepare students for a world that's not in existence now?

Quoting Pink's A Whole New Mind and three essential questions.
1. Can someone overseas do it more cheaply?
2. Can a computer do it faster?
3. Am I offering something that satisfies the monmaterial transcendent...

Prereq. Friedman quote: There are no more "American Jobs." There are only jobs.

Only 1/3 of school districts in Iowa are growing.

Not sure our mission statement is different from many others. What's different is how we act on them.

They have 7 student learning goals.
1. Communication Skills
2. Thinking and reasoning skills
3. interpersonal skills
4. personal and social responsibility
5. learning to learn (warlick happy?)
6. Technology
7. Expanding and integrating knowledge

Goals drafted after community input and search for a theme.

Referencing: Indicators of schools of quality.

We, as a district, were starting to form what's important to us. Modified indicators to align with parents, community and staff. Printed NSCC as their own.

Complete survey every 2-3 years.
Ask where students are and where they want to go next.

Referencing PLCs and Rick DeFour. Mission statements look alike. Vision statements look alike. Belief statements are special to schools/districts. (me- does SRQ have belief statements?)

Guided by values in decision making.

SLCs are very important. Have looping and traditional. Full-inclusion model.

Belief 5: Common knowledge base for students. (me - who decides knowledge base?)

Speaking on teachers saying they didn't think they did anything special.

Systemic issue.

Parent approached one of them and said they didn't live up to belief statement.

Talking about Iowa Professional Development Model and how it is a collaborative effort including ALL stakeholders. Even high ed.

Focus on curric., instruction and assessment.
Shared decision-making

Constant Cycle of PD.

Simultaneity is a growing requirement in education (me - are our kids there already?)

6-year curric. assessment evaluation cycle.

Curriculum will provide success with 80% of students.

Years 4-6 work to find out what curric. did do for other 20%.

No state standards in Iowa (me - !?!?!?!)

8 Iowa Teaching standards made up of 42 criterion: build teacher portfolio (NGT?)

Their content areas rotate to ensure constant curricular reform. There's a systemic cycle built in. (me - replicable on a larger scale?)

Data is imperative. (me - are we measuring what's going to matter?)

One word to describe Norwalk - collaboration.

They have 26 School Improvement Advisory Committees.

Quoting Gardner on Transformational Leadership.
Quoting Marzano's School Leadership that Works.

Assessing administrators not just teachers. Marzano's 21 administrative characteristics. Did a time audit in 15-minute increments.

Pausing for reflection. Back to work.

(me - we've been sitting for over an hour, I'm sitting and getting.)

Discussion State Accreditation process

"MetaAnalysis" is a smart-sounding word that engenders much unquestioning reverence.

(me - is this good teaching?)

NSSE - Survey of Goals for Student Learning.

End-of-Year report required for each SIAC for website and newspaper.

Out-of-School programs effective for lower elementary and high school according to McREL.

Acknowledging errors in last year's summer program and addressing how they are corrected.

Teacher talking now about moving back to Norwalk because of collaboration. Saying the program didn't make sense at first, but now has a better understanding of the big picture.

Also referencing Gardner's Five Minds for the Future.

NSDC Summer Conference Opening Keynote

[live blogging the session]

Encouraging us to take every minute to learn from others.
Make a committment to actions. Every teacher needs to stand up to the plate of teacher leadership.

Sue McAdamis - NSDC Board PRes.

Mentioning sponsors.
Recognizing organizers.
There were 19 organizers on the stage, all educators - one man.

Sharing meals, networking and engaging in reflective conversations.
Encouraging us to be risk-takers. Sit with people we don't know and take reflective thoughts.
Avoid side conversations, turn off noisy stuff and give full attention.
Today's take-away is a bookmark made by 4th-grade students.
Another take away at lunch to inspire conversation at lunch.
The practice of deep reflection leads to knowledge and ultimately increases student achievement.

Denver public schools innovative teacher compensation program.

Welcome Phil Gonrey (sp) of the Rose Foundation

me - I wonder if "Rocky Mountain High" is played at every Colorado convention.

Denver first to make cheeseburger.

2nd producer of lamb
1st producer of millet (small seed grain grown in a difficult environment - sounds a lot like a school)

Introducing - Joellen Killion and Stephanie "Nikki" Rivera

It's not about choice, structural changes or market reform.

We understand that education is a human capitol issue.
Smart, dedicated well-trained people with the right incentives and the right support can do amazing things with kids.

Our grant-making has been focused on the simple fact that there si a tremendous genius in teachers and given the resources teachers can do amazing things.

Killion - Deputy Exec. Dir. of NSDC "taking the lead: new roles for teacher leaders..."
Rivera - clinical prof. in Adams 12 district, master teacher who assumes a leadership role in the dev. of pre-service and novice teachers.


Importance of aligning actions with beliefs. Beliefs are what we stand for. Beliefs challenge and facilitate work. Give courage and direction. Help take a stand. Re-assessment of beliefs increases integrity. beliefs Riv. now holds are not the same ones she held when she started as a coach. Started by giving resources. Stopped doing that because it created dependence.

Talking about the importance of not creating dependence as a coach. Haven't integrated beliefs until we experience them in a real-world setting.
Each experience provides us an opportunity to discover beliefs.
Admitting difference between what they believe/say they believe and what they actually do.
Two kinds of beliefs: beliefs in action and espoused beliefs.
"Reading my life as a textbook is a good way to discover if my life reflects my beliefs."
focus on student assessment that are true to accomplishment.
Fundamental beliefs of teacher leaders and coaches:
1. Let Go
2. believe in possibilities.
3. keep promises
4. do you best always
5. check perceptions

1. Let Go: Talking about difference between espoused/action in reference to imposing answers or letting community find solutions. Did not act on espoused belief. "What do you want?" "To be right." What did you get? Frustration and resistence. What did you learn? Being right didn't matter...they mattered. Let go of the need to fic and heal and rescue and repair others. Work rather on yourself. - Scot Peck "A different Drum."
(me- this is a basic tennet of improv)

2. Possibilities: (me, using narrative to show points) Lesson Study Protocol. Rolled out LSP with one team with no new teachers. Debriefing went well. Three years ago, school still using LSP. By believing in poss. these students and teachers are growing. Support and scaffolding gave every chance for success.

3. Keeping your Promises: Promised to send protocol when she got home. Did not send as she promised. Didn't remember. Got call Tuesday of the next week. Disappointment that the protocol didn't show up. Horrified. Made promise and didn't follow through. Sometimes not conscious of the promises we make. "See you later. Meeting starts at 3:30. Meet you in the library. I'll send that when I get home." (me - Four Agreements: Be impeccable in your word.) Loss of integrity leads to loss of trust leads to inability to engage with others. no objection can be read as a promise. Failure to keep promises is a choice that endangers the relationship.

4. Do your best, always: (me - Another Four Agreements: Always do your best.) Using story to explain points. She's a biking enthusiast. Went on trip to France. Promises of travel company's website didn't come through. People on buses were acting horrible. Coordinators listened to clients and wrote down complaints. Explained circumstances but didn't make excuses. On the last day, asked coord. how he was doing with near mutiny. On the bus. sitting in front of her, turned and said, "Life, is 10% what happens to you. 90% how you react to it." What a beautiful example of doing your best, always. Guiding belief was getting him through difficult situation. Often faced with visible and invisible mutinies.

5. Check your perceptions: Sometimes I make up explanations of things that I don't understand. Assumptions from wonderings. Andrea (teaching 3 years, tapped to be a coach). Doing observation of teacher. Andrea was conscious of butterflies. More severe than normal. Teacher she was observing had been her teacher. Facing a severe case of role reversal. How was she going to be able to give feedback to this teacher? Anxiety grew as lesson continued. Assumed feedback session would be horrible. Teacher sat, put hands on top of Andrea's. "Andrea, many years ago, I had the pleasure of being your teacher. I look forward now to you being my teacher." Andrea dissolved into tears. (me - etymological difference between "perception" and "assumption"?) "If I don't know something, it's best to check, clarify or hold curiosity about it." Withhold the drive to make up stories to explain what we don't know. (me - this is Covey "Seek first to understand and then to be understood.")

When we stand for what we believe, we are more authentic. When we take a stand for our beliefs, we make a difference for teachers and their students.

NSDC's new purpose statement - Every educator participates in effective professional development everyday so that every student learns.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A cellular classroom?

I've been thinking recently about what technology I can expect my kids to have next year. We're still not at a place where Internet access is at 100% (my kids tend to hover around 80%).
What I can almost always know my students (last year it was 95%) will possess is a cell phone.
Of course, my school has the posted "Use your phone and the world around you will come crashing to a hault" policy. We can work around that.
So, here's the question, what are you doing in your classroom to integrate/embed cell phones into instruction? Where are the resources built around cell phones in education?
Does a wiki already exist with this info.? If not, it does now. If you've got anything you can contribute, post away.
More later.

Ubiquitous does not equal free

A bit of a typo on my trip itinerary led me to arrive at the Tampa International Airport about 4 hours ahead of schedule this morning. I can honestly say that has never happened before. I don't mind so much chilling at the airport. Free wireless, blogs and news to read, Starbucks in my system. The problem was waking up at 4 a.m. to get here "on time." Still, nothing I can do about it now.

I was looking at the hotel I'll be staying at while attending the National Staff Development Council Conference in Denver. Decided to check up on wireless access. Three page clicks in and I found this:
Every convenience is yours in our 360 sq.ft. Denver Colorado accommodations, including Continental breakfast, on-site business center, work station with ergonomic chair and wired/wireless Internet access (fee applies). Enjoy Rocky Mountain or city views from our luxurious downtown Denver accommodations, plus two telephones, 32-inch, flat-screen TV and one king or two double Hyatt Grand Beds with plush pillows, soft sheeting and thick down blankets piled upon a pillow-top mattress.
I might be the only one who thinks this strange. A 32-inch, flat-screen TV and I still have to pay for Internet access?
During my trip home last week, I stayed at La Quinta on the way up and back. La Quinta of Chattanooga boasts:
Guest Room Amenities
  • Free High-Speed Internet Access in some rooms
  • Dataport Phones
  • Cable Television
  • Coffee Maker
  • Hair Dryer
  • Iron with Ironing Board
  • Alarm Clock
Sure, my television wasn't flat, but my access was free. That was for $40/night. Baffled I tell ya, baffled!
More later.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Is using new tools for old things acceptable?

Here's what's happened:
  1. Jennifer Dorman posted her reply to Will Richardson's post about the effects/changes brought about by twitter.
  2. Will posted a twit saying he had finished writing a column and was heading to lunch. He added that he didn't know why he was writing what he was writing.
  3. I responded to Will asking if twitter made him feel more connected and why he would share those bit of info. outside the twitterverse. (Will did not respond because he is not following my twits. But...)
  4. Vicki Davis (who is a friend on twitter) twitted to Will saying he twitted to make our day and "Who knows - why do we write anything in here?"
  5. I twitted to Vicki asking if twitter provided a sense of community and likened it to chatting with the postman about neighborhood events.
  6. Vicki responded she learns about breaking events "microblogging and aggregated from the 'horse's mouthes'."
  7. I responded to Vicki with the question, and I'm putting this out there for everyone, "Does twitter serve a purpose/need/interest that was previously unmet?"
This all leads to the question that serves as the post title and the bulk of my response to Jennifer. Are blogging, skyping, twittering, etc. really new? Are we doing new things or doing old things on a bigger scale? I can't think of a 2.0 tool that doesn't do something old in a new way.

blogging = letters/e-mail (we can count e-mail as old school now, right?)/book or prof. journal publishing/message board
skype = phone calls/having coffee with friends
twitter = chatting up the postman/getting the news at the barbershop (I grew up in the country, it really happens.)/eavesdropping
aggregator = periodical subscriptions

The tools are new, the functions are the same.

What then, is the big deal?

Jennifer Dorman is in Pennsylvania.
Will Richardson lives in New Jersey and was twitting from Wisconsin.
Vicki Davis is in Georgia
I am in Florida.

Scale, diversity, depth.

Using new tools toward old means is not inherently a negative practice. I can participate in an informal global conversation (scale) with professionals from varied backgrounds/mindsets (diversity). That conversation with thinkers outside my immediate real-world environment bring a diversity of thought I would not have encountered having the same conversation with the same people in the same environment. New perspectives push my thinking in new directions (depth) and drive me look at issues more deeply. That augmented thinking is then taken back to my real-world environment and integrated into the conversation, thus providing my local learning community with new material.

This provides a pathway to ownership for hesitant digital immigrants.

More later.

Blogged with Flock

Who needs data?

Next week, I'll be flying to Denver to present Phoenix's story along with our new principal and the director and supervisor of Professional Development for the district. We 4 will be telling our story at the National Staff Development Council's annual conference.
In looking at the session descriptions when registering a few months ago, I was struck by the lack of variety. With perhaps 4 (and that could be pushing it) exceptions, every breakout and keynote session is centered around data and the amazing things different districts, schools, departments and teachers have done with it. Data, I've realized, is the Silly Putty or Little Black Dress of education.
Our presentation will not be about data. It will include data. To be sure, data has its place in the structure of success at Phoenix. We use it to inform our instruction. We use it calculate projected success on the FCAT. We use it to understand "academic needs."
Data will not drive our presentation. It does not drive our school. I should clarify my use of the term "data" here is meant in its clinical sense.
What drives our school and will, in turn, drive our presentation are relationships.
Formative and summative, high-stakes, formal and informal - assessments in the hands of teachers will not decide the success or failure of that teacher's students in the academic year.
Relationships are key.
As such, our presentation will reflect this.
Here's the funny thing. As I write this, there's a tinge of wonkiness at the thought of the heresy of downplaying the importance of data. My first experience with PD as a professional teacher were on things like data walls and the drafting of common assessment meant to synthesize the state assessment. My indoctrination started early.
Let me put the argument to you another way: Do you want teachers who know data or teachers who know kids?
"This is Mr. Chase, he can compile interpret a great Data Wall." vs. "This is Mr. Chase, he finds ways to reach and motivate some otherwise lost students."
I know my argument has holes. Poke at them. Push this. Push me to think. Anyone?
More later.

Image credit:

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Facebook/Myspace = Haves/Have Nots?

In running a technorati search for one thing, I stumbled upon something else. This Live Journal post points to an Information Week article that reports on an informal ethnographic study's findings that "MySpace and Facebook have come to reflect class divisions in American society..."

According to the study by Berkeley Information Sciences Ph.D. student Danah Boyd, Facebook is home to kids whose paths point them to toward completion of a college eduation while Myspace is the refuge of those whose paths are much less conventional.

According to Boyd's study:

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other "good" kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we'd call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, "burnouts," "alternative kids," "art fags," punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

While these informal findings are of interest, more compelling are the author's own thoughts:

I have been reticent about writing about this dynamic even though I've been tracking it for a good six months now. I don't have the language for what I'm seeing and I'm concerned about how it's going to be interpreted. I can just see the logic: if society's "good" kids are going to Facebook and the "bad" kids are going to MySpace, clearly MySpace is the devil, right? ::shudder:: It's so not that easy. Given a lack of language for talking about this, my choice of "hegemonic" and "subaltern" was intended to at least insinuate a different way of looking at this split.

I need to read Boyd's findings again to try to place her findings in proper perspective as they relate to the larger picture for education.

The results got me thinking about Brian Grenier's survey results and the discussions of diversity they led to. Much of what charms me about the playing field offered by the digital world is its potential to offer a level environment for all participants. Is that flattened field still possible?

More later.

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Wiki for Thought

I put it down about a month ago and hadn't had a chance to pick it up until this weekend. That said, I just finished Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. A chunk of the information was not new and had been encountered in Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture and other readings, but there is something to be said for ingesting these ideas on the heels of finishing Pink's A Whole New Mind.
As per usual, I read pen-in-hand marking the margins as I went. Though the book touches only briefly on education (and even then only to speak of university research), it's implications for education are far-reaching.
More importantly, it's expectations and assumptions of education are universal and flawed. Tapscott and Williams make statements about the Net Generation that leave out variables like access and experience, claiming Net Genners are entering the workforce with expectations based upon their time using and exploring the tools and tactics allowed to learners through web 2.0 access. Unfortunately this is not the reality for many.
At the risk of sounding as though he's the only blogger I read, I point to David Warlick's comment that "[c]hildren without personal and unfiltered access to contemporary technology are alone — and there is no power in that."
While the truth of this statement is a sad one, that sadness is only compounded farther down the road for those children.
They will not have the tools to connect to the world Tapscott and Williams describe without serious effort and a presumably monumental learning curve.
In describing the "perfect storm" leading to a collaborave world, the authors count "a generation that grew up collaborating" as one of the contributing factors. What of the members of that generation who did not grow up collaborating or who were part of an educational system that was not yet plugged in to the flattening world?
I realize I'm making the case for the need for expanded collaborative efforts. Before that case can be made in full, educators must be mindful of those students standing at the edge of the digital divide.
More later.

A Whole New...Everything

I've just finished reading Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind. My read before that was Chap Clark's Hurt. Add to that the 200+ posts I've read from edubloggers across the world and my head is full of new thoughts and new versions of old thoughts.

In his Afterward, Pink writes:

Individuals and organizations that focus their efforts on doing what foreign knowledge worders can't do cheaper and computers can't do faster, as well as on meeting the aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual demands of a prosperous time, will thrive.

Scott McLeod issued a recent challenge to educational technology advocates to "...articulate in a few short sentences or paragraphs what the end result looks like." As educators, advocates of embedded technology or not, our responsibility is to create an end result that applies Pink's guidelines for success to education.

According to Clark, the largest problem facing adolescents today is a "systematic abandonment." The answer to what we must do, to the end result, is a reversal of that abandonment. Technology is a piece, but countless posts from minds I've come to respect show that the places where technology has had the greatest effects have been where it connects students to other students, to other teachers, to other learners.

The end result is greater personal connection. Access to information is important, yes. Access to others is key.

The end result is a classroom in which students' personal needs are first recognized and valued by a teacher who takes the time to learn who each student is as an individual and then uses the limitless reach of tools, 1.0 and 2.0, to create a learning experience that encourages shared ownership and elevated expectations.

I read with great interest the dispatches recounting the learning going on in Darren Kuropatwa's classroom. Technology has had an amazing impact on Darren's students.

I argue, though, that it is his level of respect and caring for his students' opinions and needs that has garnered him them such results. His willingness to allow his students access to a global stage and show them his faith in their ability to guide and sculpt their own learning have filled a gap left by, if Clark's claim holds true, societal abandonment.

Will Richardson's recent posts about spending time with his kids, Miguel Guhlin's posts about his time in Panama, David Warlick's twit about shopping for a bird bath, Paul Wilkinson's admittance that web browsing and video watching are helping him procrastinate - these are not high-minded intellectual posts. These are asyncronous social connections allowing others (many anonymous) a feeling of connection.

McLeod's post points to one by Warlick where Warlick states: "I think that the real story is that our schools are not connecting to (relevant to) their own goals, preparing children for their future." I offer a slight but imperative amendment: The real story is that our schools are not connecting to their students and their goal of preparing them for their futures.

More later.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

L.A. Again

For the first time ever, I was on a plane that arrived early to its destination. I'm still a little shocked. Not only that, in my first 20 minutes in L.A., I witnessed three separate incidents of strangers performing acts of kindness for each other. I'm in a good place.

I read the entire flight. My mind's wrapped up in Chap Clark's Hurt.

Clark does a fantastic job of reporting the findings of his study of the history and world of emerging midadolescents.

The most impress part for me so far is Clark's willingness to approach all subject areas (schoool, family, sex, etc.) from teens' perspective rather than that of an academic, parent, youth minister, or any of his other roles in life.

Clark has an impressive resume':

Clark is associate professor of youth, family and culture and director of youth
ministry programs at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. As well
as being a two-degree seminary graduate, Chap holds a Ph.D. from Denver
University in Human Communication specializing in relationships, teams, and
organizational and family systems. His responsibilities at Fuller
include chair of Practical Theology Division (School of Theology), Director of
the Doctor of Ministry in Youth, Family and Culture, and Director of the
Institute of Youth Ministry. Dr. Clark also oversees the Ph.D. youth and
family ministry track.

To keep his research open to readers with world views other than his own, Clark includes an appendix in which he examines the implications of his findings for Christian youth ministry.

What never gets left behind is Clark's obvious love and concern for today's youth.

More later.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Success (x2?)

Yesterday's presentation at the district's differentiated instruction conference felt as though it went very well.

I knkow from experience in the audience that teachers are a tough audience. For that reason, I've tried to pack my presentation full of as much relevant information as possible. From Clark (Ron and Chap) to Warlick, it's all in there.

I've divided the presentation into three parts - Social, Academic and Professional Development. You can view it below as well as look a the notes and accompanying files at the session's wiki.

Two pieces of this experience have been extremely worthwhile.

First, the reflection I've had to go through to put what I do in my classroom into perspective. I know I do all of the things I do for a reason, but presenting those practices to a larger, critical (in a good way) group of professionals requires me to finally do explicitly what I've been doing implicitly - connect the research with the practice. The rationale for me is inherent in the practice. To show others and pull back what is to me a fairly uninteresting curtain requires that rationale to be systematically connected. I've got to admit, the temptation was certainly present to say, "I just do this because I know it's what's best for kids!" I tried to stay away from that one.

The second benefit of the presentation thus far is finally getting an initiated audience involved in the conversation. Part of the frustration of participating in teaching 2.0 is the passive nature of our discourse. The people who read this blog are, I would imagine, largely people who have their own blogs. If we want to influence true, system-wide evolution, we (read I) must be better advocates for that evolution outside of our comfort zones. Scientists don't just publish their findings in an e-mail to the scientists who work in the lab next to them.

I know there is an interest in moving our practice and pedagogy forward in a meaningful manner, I hope I'm doing my part.

More later.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Stressed? Maybe a little

Since school let out, I've been uber-busy. I know, I know, the busy-ness is supposed to slow down when the year's over, but it hasn't. I'm a different sort of busy now.
I've three presentations to prepare for this summer.
First up is next week's district conference on Differentiated Instruction. My presentation is on building community and an environment for risk-taking in the classroom. I've been whittling away at an outline over at my wiki, but hadn't realized the true work ahead until I sat down to put the actual presentation together. I'm facilitating the session once each day of the conference and a little tense.
I don't want to be that guy at the conference who gets people to say, "Oh, don't worry about that one, I went yesterday and it't not worth your time."
The main source of stress is finding a way to put everything together in a way that's accessible and succinct. I called Ms. Dunda after one long go at putting the presentation together and voiced my frustration at wanting to show how all of the pieces fit together but also feeling like I have to introduce all of the pieces.
I also want to truly facilitate and not merely present. I value the experiences of each teacher who's going to walk through that door and want those experiences to be shared and incorporated.
I've set the bar mighty high for myself. I've got a few days to prepare to reach it.
As for the other two conferences, they can wait until this one's done.
More later.

Photo from

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I'm sure I'll have more to say on the subject later, but I've got to get this out there.

My students are in the middle of their final exams. Mine is an essay exam. The prompt this go 'round asks the students to write about one important lesson they have learned this school year and explain its importance.

We're about 25 minutes in and every student is brainstorming, planning, revising.

Now, bear in mind that these students came to Phoenix and 25 minutes in to our first writing assignment had been "done" for about 10 minutes.

Students are looking up words in dictionaries, crossing things out, balling up paper and throwing it away when the words don't come out just right.

Conscious or not, these students have become writers. They have started to care enough about their work to want to get it right. That comes only with a sense of self-worth.

At the beginning of the year, they didn't write because they didn't care, didn't think they could, any "didn't" you can think of.

I am tremendously proud of the writers they have become.

More later.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

IWBs as a Panacea?

In the rush to prepare students for finals and make sure everything is in order for end-of-year celebrations, I've been inattentive to the blog. The number of posts waiting in Google Reader from Miguel Guhlin is mind-boggling.

Still, a story appeared in our local paper a bit ago and it worried me a bit. You can read the whole story here.

Two aspects of the story me worry me.

Sarasota County has spent an estimated $12 million on purchasing an interactive white board for every classroom in the county. The intent was to roll out the first wave of installs to those teachers who most wanted the boards so that they could then assist those teachers who were more resistant to the new tool. This was mostly how it worked out. To be sure, there are some boards out there in the classrooms of teachers still hesitant to post their attendance online let alone give up their overhead projectors.

The fact that the newspaper took notice of what's going on in the classrooms excited me.
What worried me, made me cringe really, was this:
What is not clear is whether the Activboard will be a panacea for public schools, boosting the graduation rate or closing the achievement gap.
Let me solve the puzzle. Under no circumstances will the mere presence of ActivBoards act as a "panacea" for lagging test scores or troubling graduation rates. That is similar to implying that students' ability to read will improve simply because there are new books in the classroom. As with any other tool, the ActivBoards' potential will only be reached when teachers explore their own potential to utilize the boards as educational tools. Implying otherwise is frighteningly wreckless.

More frustrating still was our union exec's quote a few paragraphs later "...the fact of the matter is, technology so far has not been shown to have a tremendous impact."

I'm fairly certain we can't blame the technology.

Doug Gilliland, a tremendously inspiring high school science teacher and a colleague of mine, is quoted later in the article saying, "How well will they use it? I don't know. I think it will be like other teaching tools. Some teachers will grab on and run with it, and others will do the bare minimum."

This too worries me. It worries me because we are part of a system where Mr. Gilliland's prediction can come true.

The answer is an uncomfortable one for those in education who see the roles of teacher and student as mutually exclusive - we must raise the expectations for teachers.

Expectations for teacher, not just student, achievement must be higher than ever before if we are to serve our communities well.

I do not mean this in the context of standardized testing or any of its ugly stepsisters. I mean this in the context of personally guided exploration. Or, as Will Richardson put it a while ago, "It's the Empowerment, Stupid!"

Teachers must take the reigns and begin to direct their own learning. While it would be easy to let an IWB sit in a classroom unused and complain about a lack of training, it is also lazy.

How do you motivate teachers to own their learning? Anyone?

More later.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Videos like this and the power it could have are why we shouldn't be blocking YouTube.

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Lowering the bar?

Last Friday, our 8th-grade students to their penultimate field trip to the Florida Holocaust Museum in Clearwater.

It was a great trip with much learning on the part of students and teachers alike. Not everyone experienced the same levels of engagement. They are, I must remember, 8th graders.

One student in my group said she wished we had been able to roam and read rather than listen to our docent (I must admit that I took some teacher liberty and lagged behind to read placards we had missed). I noted that this student had perhaps decided early to reject the idea that this woman had something to share and had tuned out early.

Then, and this is the point, she turned to me and said very earnestly, "I know what she said, Mr. Chase. If you give me a quiz, I could get a 70."

A 70?

Now, when I was in school a 70 was cause for concern - mostly concern over my parents' reaction. And yet, this student saw what we will call "minimum proficiency" as the level at which she would prove she had learned all she could.

You see where I'm going with this?

Her remark took me out of the moment for a bit.

In Florida a level 3 out of a possible 5 is considered proficient on the math, reading and science portions of our standardized tests, the FCAT. Parents, students, teachers are all working very hard to have as many students as possible at that level 3.

Friday was the first evidence that "minimum proficiency" wasn't just the standardized standard.

Do we worry now?

More later.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I can't stop now, they're learning!

Big day here on campus.

I was happily displace 2nd period so that my room could be used for ESOL testing. This meant I taught that class in Mr. Timmons' room. After some initial lag time in getting adjusted to another room, we were up and running.

To add the pressure, Phoenix welcomed the President of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee was on campus observing classrooms. Then, we welcomed Bob Hansen the director of technology for Sarasota County Government and Sarasota County Schools. Big day.

The thing was, it wasn't a big day because of the visitors. I'm coming to get used to them.

The big day was the "clicking" that was going on in my classroom. Bellwork today was a quiz reviewing the verbs we learned about in class yesterday. It was self-grading and on ANGEL so my students got immediate feedback on their practice. From there, I showed the movie below to introduce irregular verbs, not the most engaging topic, but there was silence as the video played. I've also posted the video to Myspace, Revver, and Google Video. Let's not forget ANGEL. They can download it and do whatever they want. I'm really working toward the award for nerdiest teacher.

Now, usually I'll end the year with poetry and a poetry slam. This year, for whatever reason, I decided grammar would bring the most soul and life to the classroom. Here's the thing, it has. My students are asking questions, trying harder and pouring themselves into learning more than I've ever experienced with 9 days of instruction remaining. Crazy.

One other development. I've argued for a long time that we (educators) could be using Myspace to our advantage. Only recently have I started following through on my claim. I set up a Myspace page accessible to my students a while back and left it dormant. I was tired of students asking if I had a page.

The last couple days, I've started posting bulletins on the page. Nothing jazzy, just homework reminders and links to class notes and presentations. Last night, after finishing today's video, I added the video to my page. I know it's silly and most students won't view it, but I'm trying it out.

Here in Sarasota, a popular weekend hangout for my students is outside the multiplex on Main St. I can only imagine the fear they strike in our elderly population with the sheer force of their magnitudes. I've wondered for a few years now what would happen if I infiltrated their mob, if I began ad hoc tutoring on Friday and Saturday nights. Myspace is similar to that. I wonder if they'll appreciate the transparency.

On last thing. My friend Sgt. Jenny Morgan is stationed in Iraq and I had my students record their questions about the war and life in Iraq as podcasts for her. A few days ago, she replied to the first of their questions. It's an interesting read and a much different perspective than my students get at home or on the news. Check it out.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Blissful Nerdiness

Yes, we're 168 days into the school year. Yes, we have 11 class days remaining. Yes, the children remain shocked every day when they see I expect them to continue learning.

All those truisms aside, I'm nerdy excited about tomorrow's lesson. I completed my ActivBoard flipchart for tomorrow's class, and it's a good one. My students are working on understanding how verbs work to better grasp what they're looking for when they edit others' work and their own.

There's something to be said for building a common language.

We've attacked the ignorance from several fronts. Still, some vestiges remain. Never fear, United Streaming to the rescue. I found a not-altogether-campy video from US to use as an intro./review to the basics of verbs and stuck it in the presentation. Finding something useful about grammar on United Streaming felt like a bit of a coup. From there, some great interactive practice is built into the flipchart.

But the fun doesn't stop there. Upon completion of the flipchart, I exported it as a PDF. You may ask, "Why, good sir, would you do such a thing?"

First of all, what's with the "good sir"?

Second of all, I posted the PDF on my ANGEL page for those students who will be absent tomorrow or will need to review what we cover.

But wait, there's more. I also created an online formative assessment that is self-grading and includes a link to the day's PDF in the quiz's instructions.

Each of these pieces creates a foundation on which I can then build to create authentic assignments through which my students will be able to exhibit their new vocabulary as well as spread the learning. Watch out blog.

I've just got to remember all of this at the top of next year so it doesn't take me 168 days to get so close to synergy.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

How Many Hours in the Day?

In an earlier post, I wrote about a community forum our school board put together to address community questions and concerns surrounding NeXt Generation Learning, our district's strategic plan.

Though pleased to see the district making a serious effort to engage the community in an open, transparent discussion about NGL, I also left the forum feeling frustrated. I wanted to write about the frustration earlier, but it's not my style to complain without offering a solution. There's enough of that in the world already.

After stewing on the subject for a bit, I think I've found the true cause of my frustration - time. There's simply not enough of it.

As I was sitting through the presentations offered for community members, I found myself thinking, "Yes, show them ActivBoards, but don't forget to mention Kagan and McREL's High-Impact Strategies. We mustn't leave out Web 2.0 and our focus on fostering meaningful relationships between learners and educators as well as learners and learning. Show them the data on the importance of engagement in the classroom and the work that's being done to bring gaming and play into formal education."

It wasn't that the information being shared was unimportant, it was that all the information that didn't get shared was so important too.

Each of these new tools and tactics works in concert with the others in creating a concert of learning. Cooperative learning without technology will work. Podcasting without cooperative learning will work. Cooperative learning and podcasting will each work without non-linguistic representations. But, all these used together will create an exponentially more powerful learning experience. It's difficult to make that argument in one evening. Thank goodness we're trying.

Will Richardson recently blogged about some frustrations in the discussion of technological integration and digital literacy:

Recently, in the middle of a presentation to about 500 teachers, one woman raised her hand and said something along the lines of “Look, I’m not the most technologically savvy, but I have to tell you that in a lot of ways I think all this technology is the devil. I mean my kids plagiarize stuff left and right, they don’t learn how to spell because of spell check, and I just think we’d be better off without it.” And a number of people applauded.

And also recently, after finishing with another group of school leaders who I had been working with over the last eight months, I was surprised to learn that many of them had begun deleting their blog posts and blogs citing fears that they would somehow come back to haunt them. And so much of our conversations focused on all of the reasons why we can’t make change in our schools. The “yeah, buts” once again.

I can see both sides of the conversation, though I stand with Will in the end. Technology is not the answer in the same way that a Vitamin C tablet will not equip you with the vitamins and minerals you need to make it through the day. I need a multi-vitamin, and it better include Vitamin C. The thing is, we must also take into account those among us who don't trust vitamins and are sticking with a daily dose of cod liver oil.

An argument could be made that I'm expecting things to happen too quickly - that this is education and progress, no matter how slow, is an improvement. See that's the thing. It is an improvement, I'm with you. But this is not big business where a failure to respond to the market will lower our quarterly earnings by a few percentage points. This is biggest business and the capital on our ledgers is students; quantifying our losses means much more than upsetting our investors with weaker earnings projections.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bottom of the 4th or Top of the 1st?

At dinner tonight with Jason, Jessica and friends, I said something that's been knocking around my brain for a while - I don't feel like I'm at the end of my school year. I'm not ready to let these kids go.

Yes, I still have my down days. Yes, there are still those class periods that finish with my head spinning and me sure I completely missed the mark. But, those days are few and far between.

This year, for the first time, I'm not rounding out my 4th quarter on my last fits and spurts of energy. I'm finishing as though we're just getting started. Jason said he was feeling the same and we stared at each other for a second unclear of what to make of this feeling.

I'm still not certain of what to think. All I know is that 12 school days from now, I'm going to have the bittersweet feeling of seeing my kids move on to something new and leave our time behind.

More later.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

NeXt Generation on Parade

For those not based in Sarasota, I should explain before I expound. Two years ago this April, our superintendent unveiled his strategic plan for closing the achievement gap and giving our learners the skills and tools they will need to thrive and shape the world they will inherit. He called the plan NeXt Generation Learning.

The capital "X" is part marketing/part symbolism acknowledging different learners take different paths. Good message, no?

In fact, the entire plan is a worthwhile. It is a vision for the future of education in Sarasota that challenges teachers, administrators and community members to analyze the usual way of doing business (something we don't often consider).

Unfortunately, it is a difficult thing to make a vision reality - especially when there are thousands of stakeholders and especially when dealing with a culture in need of transparent communication structures.

Tuesday morning, I received a call from the head of Instructional Technology for the district asking me to participate in the second of three community forums being held across the district to begin building the lines of communication between parents and community members and the school district.

The first forum had not gone well at all, I have heard from many people and the district was wanting to refine the second based on lessons learned. As one of a small group of pilot teachers trained in what the district is calling NeXt Generation Teaching, I was asked to come and model the use of ActiVotes in my classroom. I was told I had 5 minutes.

The forum was opened with our current school board president announcing the event as evidence of the Board's renewed committment to working with the Superintendent and his staff in making NGL a success.

He was followed by a 10-minute presentation by our Associate Superintendent for NGL in which much of the presentation below was used. Imagine viewing slides 4, 5, and 6 from the back of a crowded cafeteria - imagine.

Next our Instructional Technology chief was up for 10 minutes explaining what a digital learner is and wants.

Then, we watched a video of two colleagues using ActivBoards in their classrooms. This was followed by one of those colleagues demonstrating the ActivBoard for 5 minutes and my 5-minute ActiVote demo.

From there, a supremely brief Q&A and those in attendance forming breakout groups to discuss the evening's critical questions. I've quite a few thoughts floating in my head from the evening, but I think I need to let them settle a bit before blogging. Next post, perhaps.

What are you thoughts on the slideshow? If you were at the forum, what were your thoughts?

More later.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Results Are In

It will come as no surprise that I'm not the world's biggest NCLB supporter. I'm as big a fan of unfunded mandates as the next guy. For some reason, though, this one just doesn't engender my full-throated support. It does seem to engender my use of sarcasm. (Six of one half-dozen of the other?)

Like it or not, standardized, high-stakes, one-shot, the pressure's on, don't screw this one up, for all the marbles testing is thriving in Florida. We're thinking of ditching "The Sunshine State" and adopting "#2 Pencil Only State" as our motto. And so, when Phoenix Academy's writing results came in yesterday, I held my breath.

Principal Cantees rounded up my team leader and I and announced the news. I say this in all sincerity, I jumped up and down like a little, tiny girl and screamed like one too. Let me explain...

The test is 45 minutes and students are given one of two possible prompts - expository or persuasive. They are to plan, write and revise during that time. Accomodations are made according to IEP and 504 documentation. The test is scored by two people and assessed on a scale of U (unscorable) to 6.0. Each scorer assigns a value to the essay and the two scores are compared. If Scorer A gave an essay a 3 and Scorer B did as well, then the essay rates a 3. If there is a difference of one point (Scorer A rates an essay 3 and B rates it a 4) then the essay earns a score of 3.5. If the difference is any larger than one point, a third scorer is called in and the whole thing begins anew.

Right, so "proficient" essays are those scoring a 3.5 or higher. Anything better than a 3.5 is good. The difficult piece here is students are only tested on their writing in grades 4, 8 and 10. I'm finding my students have had little to no writing instruction since 4th grade. I think that's as good an explanation as I can muster.

Here's the breakdown:

49% proficient

Mean score: 3.7
3.5 or higher: 71%
4.0 or higher: 45%
5.0: 4 students

Mean score: 4.0
3.5 or higher: 82%
4.0 or higher: 75%
5.0: 7 students
5.5: 2 students

Today was a day I enjoy. I got to call each of my students back to my desk one-by-one and hand them a Post-It note with his or her individual score on it. The thing is, I was proud of each and every student. Even my students earning a 2.5 or 3.0 made my heart swell. These were the students who would have earned a U at the beginning of the year. Though they may not be "proficient," they are growing, finding their voice and realizing the power of the written word.

The challenge now is not only to do the whole thing over with next year's 8th graders, but also to build a 9th and possibly 10th grade program that includes writing instruction as a key component. I say this not because of the lurking test, but because of the lurking future for which we are charged with preparing these students. If they cannot write, if they do not write, then we have failed them. We cannot afford to fail.

More later.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Moving Movies

I'm not entirely sure how much of this I've written about and how much I've just thought about writing about. Thusly, here goes.

Sometime early last summer, I was hanging at my local haunt Metro Coffee & Wine. They were going to have an event to introduce a new menu section and wanted to incorporate a fundraiser. Ever on the lookout to hook people up with Phoenix, I began the sell. They bit and that was that.


One day, again at Metro, I was talking with my friend Debbie who works there and is also a filmmaker. I ws talking to Debbie about how grea it would be for my kids to be able to get involved in telling their stories and experiencing writing in an authentic way.

We were off to the races. Debbie spoke to some people she knew at the Sarasota Film Festival, we had a series of meetings and the pilot of the Young Screenwriters Program was built. For three months, six of my students met twice a week after school to create screenplays of their own. It was an amazing thing to watch more than any assignment I have ever given, these screenplays pulled in my students.

Last week, in conjunction with the festival, there was an event to honor my students. We included a staged reading of their screenplays as well as a Q&A portion. The place was packed. Each of the students came and all but one brought their families and extended families (that's pretty big for my kids).

The video below is a taste of what happened. The entire process was amazing. The story was picked up by this local paper, this local paper and this local paper. It was awesome.

The idea is that, somehow, we'll be able to actually raise money so that we can purchase some minor film equipment in order that our students can take their concepts all the way from the page to the screen.

Here's hoping.

More later.

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