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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