May 29, 2012

VIDEO: Evolving Classroom

David Thornburg on the Evolving Classroom

"To me, the real power of technology in the classroom comes when we use it to do things we couldn't before at all. Not just to do things differently."

The students must use technology to synthesize, create, and collaborate. That requires thought, planning, and commitment on the part of the teacher. The payoff is enthusiasm and attention.

ARTICLE: Charter School Effectiveness

Roland Fryer Identifies Five Habits of Successful Charter Schools

A Harvard economist collected data from a number of charter schools in New York. His data "showed that traditional solutions like class size, per-pupil expenditure, and the number of teachers with advanced degrees are not correlated with effectiveness, and in fact, 'resource-based solutions' actually lowered school effectiveness."

The following qualities made up 50% of charter school effectiveness:

1. Frequent teacher feedback
2. Data driven instruction
3. High-dosage tutoring
4. Increased instructional time
5. Relentless focus on academic achievement.

May 28, 2012

CREATION: Superhero Battle Game

"I needed an end-of-year project that incorporated the review of important topics--multiplication, division, factors, and fractions. I came up with a basic role-playing game to combine review and superheroes. (Some teachers are geeks, too.) Although it seems that there's a long build-up with several steps, the students thoroughly enjoy each assignment."

Write it on your communicator: Superhero Battle Cards.

CREATION: Battle Cards

"Collectible card games are crazy popular. So, I thought I'd try to capture their interest and imagination. This activity is great for the end-of-the-year. It allows for creativity, math review, descriptive writing, and alliteration."

Write it on your communicator: Battle Cards.

ARTICLE: Ignoring the Success

Something Not Quite Right in Tutwiler, Mississippi

This blog post brings to light an interesting contradiction. While a doctor, working in a low-income area, is considered a hero, the teachers are considered failures and the elementary school is threatened with closure.

If the doctor doesn't cure obesity in the area, will her clinic become a charter clinic, run by a private firm?


500 schools offering 'iPods and shopping voucher bribes' to cut truancy rate and make pupils do homework

It seems obvious, doesn't it? Bribe the students with something and they'll do as you want. Too bad it doesn't work.

Check out Marzano's research. 

In the Freakonomics documentary (I can't remember if it was in the book), paying students with cold, hard cash for grades proved ineffective. Can you imagine? Cash. 

Two weeks ago, my students were working on a project. We were building a math game with several parts. Running out of time, I asked them to take home a "map" and finish coloring it. Coloring. In my three classes, 50-75% of the students did not finish. Coloring. No really... Coloring. For many students and their families, school is simply daycare. Bribes are not going to change that view.

In fifteen years, I've tried everything. Encouragement. Extra recess. Parties. Certificates. Game hours. Toys. Treats. Money. Coupons. Free time. Everything works for about a day. Nothing works in the long run.

Listen, I'm not a defeatist. I continue to do my best to motivate the students in the moment. By offering creative, enjoyable, unique, fun lessons and activities, I trick the students into learning. In spite of themselves. Toys and treats can't compete with a good computer activity.

ARTICLE: Education Statistics 101

Education Schools' Training On Standardized Tests Found Lacking In New Report 

"In the wake of test-heavy policies like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, a teacher's job description now entails data analysis and a grounding in statistics -- crucial skills that a new study claims teachers aren't learning in the education colleges that prepare them for the classroom."

I have three things to say...

First, it's not that hard to read data from a stupid standardized test. Let's just chill out. 

Next, I hope colleges never offer Education Statistics 101. Doing so would only validate the idiocy of modern standardized tests. 

Finally, we'll analyze the data about our students when decision-makers reveal the studies proving that standardized tests improve student achievement. In the meantime, I'll continue to ignore the student scores and spend more time with the students.

I may put that on a t-shirt.

ARTICLE: Uh... no.

'Students Should Not Be Informed' Of Connection To Standardized Exams

I'm sure it's just the end-of-the-year talking here, but I think the New York State Department of Education needs to be punched in the face. They've approved bad test questions, released teacher names, and encouraged lying to students about a fake test. Out of control.

The memo reads, "The field tests should be described as brief tests of achievement in the subject." Instead of adding a few questions to the required tests, they thought it better to give another test and lie to the students.

Way to go.


Since January, I've tried to average a post a day. I fizzled out this month. You know, every year, we're eager for the end of the year. This was one of those years, though, that pushed me to the limit. 

Given my students and some of my parents, I made a point to meet a variety of needs. Like usual, if something didn't work, I adapted and improved. And, yet, it wasn't enough for some of them. Their hoops were just unreasonable, lacking responsibility.

Now, I'm exhausted and I wouldn't consider this a successful year. I hoped I learned a few things and can use them next year.

May 15, 2012

VIDEO: Team Teaching

Team Teaching: How to Improve Each Other's Game

VIDEO: Reteach & Enrich

Reteach and Enrich: How to Make Time for Every Student 

SITE: DoppelMe

At this time of the year, I'm still reviewing and reinforcing, but I'm using Web 2.0 to do it. Honestly, I stumble across new applications, and I force a Math topic into it. Just trying to keep everyone interested. Myself included.

Having said that... this one's just for fun. I have no idea what to do with it.

Write it on your communicator: DoppelMe.

ARTICLE: Manipulation

Time Out From Testing Resolution To Abandon FCAT Gains Momentum In South Florida 

This will illustrate the idiocy of state standardized tests.

"In the past year, the board chose to 'increase expectations regarding the correct use of Standard English conventions' in the FCAT's writing section after acknowledging that in previous years, the section 'had been scored with leniency.' As a result, 2012 FCAT writing scores in the state plummeted. Among fourth graders, only 27 percent scored a 4 or better as opposed to last year, when 81 percent of fourth graders got a 4 or better. The drastic dip in writing scores was also seen in eighth and tenth graders. Florida’s Board of Education is now considering lowering their writing standards again to insure that more students pass the test."

Whether the FCAT or TAKS or STAAR, the passing rates are manipulated every year. There's no such thing as 70%. It's not enough to create a strenuous and rigorous exam--the decision-makers want scores that balance we-have-high-expectations and our-kids-are-smart. Unfortunately, if one is high, the other is usually low. Why can't they both be high? If the exams were testing basic skills, we might find a direct relationship. On the other hand, when students are asked to decipher questions that are written without regard to developmental appropriateness, it's not surprising when they cannot keep up with increasingly rigorous tests and unrealistic lists of objectives.

"Critics also want the state to stop over-relying on the FCAT because it is unfair to teachers, whose pay and job security are tethered to scores that the resolution calls 'inadequate and often unreliable measures.'"

Think about that. Their pay and job security are tied to scores that are manipulated every year. Teachers are badgered and threatened and insulted because they can't prepare their students to pass a simple enough test. When taking the SAT or a certification exam, most test-takers are motivated to do well. With kids, though, you can't guarantee self-motivation. Also, you can't guarantee that a class of students have developed at the same rate. Finally, you can't guarantee that the exams reflect a knowledge of basic skills or that the passing rates mean anything at all.

When my child takes that first high-stakes exam, what will the results tell me? Nothing. Did she guess? Did she calculate the wrong answer but chose something close? Did she pass after correctly answering 25 out of 52 questions? Did she fail after correctly answering 37 out of 52 questions? Did she understand the material or use tricks and test-taking strategies? 

I hate that this is the future of her education.

May 8, 2012

ARTICLE: Economic Failure

Education System Failure Leads to Economic Failure

"The importance of a good fundamental K-12 education is proven by the fact that over the last few decades, it is the countries with the best schools that are growing the fastest, greatly outpacing the economic growth of the United States. And as the scores on math and science improve, so does the growth rate. According to the information provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, improvement in schooling is directly proportional to the rate of economic expansion."

ARTICLE: Thanking a Teacher

How to Thank A Preschool Teacher

Here's a letter from a mom to her children's teachers and preschool. Very honest and hilarious. When she mentioned the meth lab, I laughed out loud.

BOOK: The Blackboard and the Bottom Line

Recently, I finished this book by Larry Cuban. The subtitle is Why Schools Can't Be Businesses. I made lots of notes about points I wanted to share, but I'm going to control myself. Not wanted to steal all of his thunder, I'll ask you to read Mr. Cuban's book.

From the jacket: In this provocative new book, Larry Cuban takes aim at the alluring cliche that schools should be more businesslike,and shows that in its long history in business-minded America, no one has shown that a business model can be successfully applied to education.

"Few members of reform coalitions openly acknowledge the undeniable fact that most policy changes entering schools undergo adaptation by teachers. And even among the occasional policymakers and CEOs who do recognize the inevitability of classroom adaptations, few figure out how to determine whether the new policy itself, teachers' modifications, some other factor, or a combination of all of these produced the desired (or undesired) outcomes" (37).

Because of this, he states, we'll continue to argue over the meanings of success and failure.

"Because principals and teachers are gatekeepers to school and classroom improvements, their perceptions, beliefs, knowledge, attention, motivation, and skills come into play when policies from state, federal, and district levels arrive at the schoolhouse steps. Many factors shape what happens to those policies once the classroom door closes" (106).

"Teachers are, in the crisp phrase used by Andrew Porter and his colleagues, active 'policy brokers'" (109).

Unfortunately, decision-makers are under the impression that they are qualified to influence my classroom. Unless a majority of their time is spent in the classroom, they are too far removed to make a difference. Thankfully, as a gatekeeper, I'm able to make the best decisions for my students.

"Let me reassert the obvious: well-organized, politically powerful groups holding defective theories of action aimed at effecting school reforms trump facts time and again" (162).

Yep. And that's monumentally disappointing. How do teachers fight against powerful decision-makers who make life-drainingly bad choices?

"Little evidence is available to demonstrate that scores on standardized tests translate to getting a college degree or a well-paid job. The linked assumptions remain unfounded. Even new autos get tested for safety before they go into full production. No standards-based testing and accountability policies have been yet field-tested and found effective" (175). 

Recently, the New York test questions are a perfect example of crap quality assurance.

You know, doctors know medicine and attorneys know the law. Teachers know education. Just leave us alone. Let's try that for a while. We've tried your ideas--for years. The experiment has run its course... and failed miserably. It's our turn. But, I'm no idiot--that's not going to happen. So, teachers and administrators, if we want to find success, we'll become a collective of "policy brokers."