Jul 6, 2016

BOOK: Schools on Trial

Again, I'm not going to review this book. As a teacher, I read books like this to understand Education outside of my classroom. If it speaks to me, I like to post something about it.

From Knopf Doubleday...
Schools on Trial is an all-in attack on the American way of education and a hopeful blueprint for change by one of the most passionate and certainly youngest writers on this subject.
In faculty meetings and over lunch, teachers don't spend too much time talking about the origins of compulsory school, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top. We do talk about our struggles in the classroom and our frustrations with the system. Mr. Goyal shows us the connection. Although he explains it from a recent-graduate's point-of-view, with the frustration of school fresh on his mind, I can't help but look at this through teacher-colored glasses.
If schools were actually places of joy, freedom, engagement, and inquiry, you would think that children would want to go to them even if they weren't compulsory (52).
Good gravy, that's convicting. While Mr. Goyal writes of philosophical and systemic change, I use his book to spur a change in my own classroom. I keep telling people: I don't believe my job is to teach a list of objectives and prepare students for a test--it's to strengthen a love of learning in my students. It's what I can do right now.

Jun 25, 2016

BOOK: The Math Myth

I'm not going to spend a lot of time reviewing this book. I'm not a reviewer. I'm a teacher who reads. Mr. Hacker is a professor and author. He researched and worked on this book for twenty years. That's amazing.

From The New Press...
The bestselling author’s timely and provocative argument that requiring all students to master a full menu of mathematics is causing more harm than good.
It's easy to read and I was surprised by much of what I read. Not only does it dispel the myth that math is essential for every student, every major, and every future, it offers a thorough explanation of why this myth was created and how it's perpetuated.

As a fifth grade math teacher, I know that much of what I teach is important for the future--basic operations, fractions, decimals, and reading graphs. So, what is it that I take from this book?

As we prepare for an avalanche of assessments in elementary school, feeling the pressure to perform, we try to motivate students by reminding them of their futures. On one hand, we remind them that they need our lessons to find good jobs. The Math Myth makes the argument seem a little silly. On the other, we remind them that they need to do well to pass tests and make good grades. That rationale just lacks... heart. I didn't become a teacher to help students pass tests or report cards. I want them to enjoy school and enjoy learning, so my job is to find ways of making that happen.

Jun 23, 2016

Quest for Engagement #3

Todd Finley @ Edutopia

To help explain engagement, Mr. Finley uses Adam Fletcher's definition.
"Students are engaged when they are attracted to their work, persist despite challenges and obstacles, and take visible delight in accomplishing their work."
That's good, right?

Mr. Finley continues by listing the benefits of engagement, including increased academic achievement and better social skills, and the results of disengagement, including disruptive behaviors and avoidance behaviors.

Finally, Mr. Finley summarizes the results of Kristy Cooper's extensive study on three effective strategies to increase engagement. The third engagement, Connective Instruction, proved to be the most meaningful. There are six behaviors that teachers can use to build relationships. Read them. Use them. Engage them.

Jun 22, 2016

Quest for Engagement #2

Brian Sztabnik @ Edutopia
"If a lesson does not start off strong by activating prior knowledge, creating anticipation, or establishing goals, student interest wanes, and you have to do some heavy lifting to get them back."
This reminds me of the lesson plans I had to write in college. Miles long, they began with attention grabbers. I remember having discussions in class and spending so much time trying to come up with good ones. After that, though, the discussions turned to procedures, materials, questions, and conclusions. Important stuff, sure, but we stopped talking about grabbing the attention of students.

I'm worried that, twenty years later, the expectation remains the same. Grab attention in the beginning and get right to the lesson and data collection. So, for the last few years, I've made a point to create unique, engaging activities and avoid traditional, boring ones.

However, I get so caught up in the games and technology that I've ignored the 8 minutes that matter most. Mr. Sztabnik offers some great ideas for Beginnings and Ends, and reminds me that every minute of a lesson should focus on student engagement.

Quest for Engagement #1

John McCarthy @ Edutopia

In his article, Mr. McCarthy outlines three practices for improving student engagement.
Practice One: Be Real
Practice Two: Launch Events That Matter
Practice Three: Keep the End in Mind
I want to address Practice Three. Mr. McCarthy encourages us to treat lessons as journeys. The students need to know where they are going from the beginning, reminded of their journey with essential questions, and given feedback of their progress through assessments. 

In my district, we are expected to post the objective on the board before each lesson. I do it, but I struggle with it. Fifth graders have short attention spans and have trouble tolerating boredom. Frankly, school is boring, and students expect that. I think beginning a lesson by stating the objective simply confirms their expectations. So, considering I have to post them, I would argue that even objectives should be stated in engaging ways. I know that it's just one more thing that teachers need to consider, but, if engagement is the secret, we need to make every part of the lesson engaging, including the bits we're forced to write on our boards.

Today, you must multiply decimals to the hundredths place in order to solve the... 
Maze of DOOM!!

Jan 2, 2016

A Summary of Homework Research

 Research Trends: Why Homework Should Be Balanced

This is a nice summary of the research and a jumping-off-point for real conversations on the value of homework. Here is my comment on the site:
Forgive my lateness to the party... Having read Marzano, Vatterott, and Kohn, I realized that, as an elementary teacher, I needed to start questioning my use of homework. I'm glad to see articles like Mr. Terada's because I hope it forces teachers to consider their homework philosophies. Unfortunately, somehow, teachers tend to believe that their homework policies fall in line with the research and nothing changes. We assume that our homework assignments are fulfilling the Pros, and simply make excuses about the Cons. For elementary students, I can't stop thinking about two things. If lessons and assignments were more engaging and students enjoyed learning more, I don't think we would need homework; plus, I should facilitate their practice anyway. And, secondly, it's hard for me to justify homework when it forces itself into personal and family time. Teachers argue about a lack of time and a need for practice, but those seem like issues that should be fixed in the classroom.

Dec 31, 2015

Homework, the Common Core, and a Slightly Frustrated Parent

"Stanford Prof. James Milgram, the only mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the math standards, calling the whole thing 'in large measure a political document' during testimony he gave in May 2011 in which he advocated for Texas not to adopt the Common Core standards."