Jul 31, 2012


From the site: Jux is the best showcase for your stories. Share words, photos and videos with unprecedented ease and impact. Fullscreen on every screen. 

I really like the look of this site. It's a fancy slideshow, and it looks good. I'm working on a presentation now--I'll embed it when it's ready.

Write it on your communicator: Jux.

SITE: MentorMob

I'll describe this site as a slideshow of videos, webpages, and text. Instead of sending a list of links or bookmarking sites for your students, create a MentorMob presentation, and the students can simply click from page to page. Even if you don't see yourself making one, check out the shows made by others.

Write it on your communicator: MentorMob.

SITE: Web Tools for Teachers by Type

Wow! This site is a collection of web tools. Many links. When folks do this much work, it's hard to complain about our own lack of ideas. Just click a few tabs and wait for an idea to pop into your head. Incorporating technology into our classrooms is ridiculously easy nowadays. It's fun and it grabs attention. Thanks to Tim Wilhelmus!

Write it on your communicator: Web Tools.

VIDEO: Math Makeover

Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover

Dan Meyer, a high school math teacher, presents a humorous, intelligent argument on changing math instruction.

Teachers, we have to change something. We order them to memorize vocabulary, practice facts, remember steps and algorithms, and, yet, we're surprised when they can't solve new word problems. Why? We've not asked them to do math. Now, I'm not saying that those things aren't valuable, but there has to be more to math. Through thinking and collaboration and freedom and challenge, we can create mathematicians instead of frustrated robots.

"To start with, I'd like to break math down into two categories. One is computation; this is the stuff you've forgotten. For example, factoring quadratics with leading coefficients greater than one. This stuff is also really easy to relearn, provided you have a really strong grounding in reasoning. Math reasoning -- we'll call it the application of math processes to the world around us -- this is hard to teach. This is what we would love students to retain, even if they don't go into mathematical fields. This is also something that, the way we teach it in the U.S. all but ensures they won't retain it."

"So first, five symptoms that you're doing math reasoning wrong in your classroom. One is a lack of initiative; your students don't self-start. You finish your lecture block and immediately you have five hands going up asking you to re-explain the entire thing at their desks. Students lack perseverance. They lack retention; you find yourself re-explaining concepts three months later, wholesale. There's an aversion to word problems, which describes 99 percent of my students. And then the other one percent is eagerly looking for the formula to apply in that situation. This is really destructive" [emphasis added].

"I encourage math teachers I talk to to use multimedia, because it brings the real world into your classroom in high resolution and full color; to encourage student intuition for that level playing field; to ask the shortest question you possibly can and let those more specific questions come out in conversation; to let students build the problem, because Einstein said so; and to finally, in total, just be less helpful, because the textbook is helping you in all the wrong ways: It's buying you out of your obligation, for patient problem solving and math reasoning, to be less helpful" [emphasis added].

Jul 30, 2012

SITE: Instructional Strategies

Don't let the name of the site fool you--it has several strategies and links for use across subjects. Below, you'll find the sections and explanations.

Active Participation
These strategies support active student participation in math lessons and allow teachers to assess the developing proficiency levels of all students in the class by walking around to monitor student responses. These strategies are especially effective during the Mental Math part of an Everyday Mathematics lesson.


Assessment takes many different forms in today's math classroom. Teachers who maximize active student participation in lessons also maximize assessment opportunities. Assessment must both diagnose student strengths/weaknesses and inform instructional decision-making. Good assessment practices provide information on student conceptual/skill development as well as information on the effectiveness of instructional activities and grouping practices.

Classroom Management
These resources offer practical suggestions to help teachers organize classrooms and implement practices that help students achieve both academic and personal success.

Cooperative Learning
Teachers must use flexible grouping practices to best address the varied needs of students in a heterogeneous classroom. Over the course of a lesson or a unit, successful teachers break from whole-class instruction to require students to work as partners or small groups, making students more actively involved and responsible for their own learning.


Differentiating instruction recognizes that today's classrooms are comprised of students of varied ability levels, interests and capacity for independent work. The regular use of differentiated instruction recognizes these differences and targets instruction, activities and flexible grouping practices to more effectively meet the needs of each student in a heterogeneous class. 

Write it on your communicator: Mathwire.

IDEA: Math Activites & Tools

I'm hanging out on Pinterest, so I thought I would collect some stuff in one post.

SITE: Math Notebooking

From the site: Whether you call them math notebooks or math journals, writing about math and documenting math activities are a great way to cement mathematical understanding. And along the way, you're creating a wonderful record of your math studies that can be useful for portfolios or homeschool evaluations.

Write it on your communicator: Squidoo.

ARTICLE: A Lesson Against Bullying

Awesome Bullying Lesson From A New York Teacher
LINK: Buzzfeed

"Paula - A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and gave them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stamp on it and really mess it up but do not rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty is was. She then told them to tell it they’re sorry. Now even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars they left behind. And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it. That is what happens when a child bullies another child, they may say they’re sorry but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home."

SITE: Muffin Tin Reading Games

This site offers four different games that use muffin tins. They're designed for Language Arts lessons, but I think muffin tins are a great idea for other subjects.

Write it on your communicator: Growing Book by Book.

ARTICLE: Merit Pay Study

New Study Shows Merit Pay System for Teachers Works
LINK: Education News

"A study out of Harvard, conducted by the economist Raj Chetty, found that those placed in kindergarten classes run by more experienced and better teachers not only were more likely to perform well in later grades, but also were more likely to graduate high school, enroll in college, earn more and save more for retirement. A good teacher, defined by Eric Hanushek of Stanford as landing in the 84th percentile in quality, could add between $22,000 and $46,000 to a student’s lifetime earnings."

Because of this, some reformers support merit pay systems, which link pay raises and promotion with evaluations. Some folks from Harvard, University of Chicago, and UC San Diego have offered the results of their study.

"The authors split teachers in the study into a control group, who were not offered any rewards, a 'gain' group, which was promised rewards of up to $8,000 at the end of the school year, and a 'loss' group, which was given $4,000 upfront and asked to pay back any rewards they did not earn. The idea behind the latter group was that loss aversion should motivate teachers to perform better than they would if they only stood to gain more money. Additionally, the gain and loss groups were split, with a 'team' group being rewarded on the basis of theirs and fellow teachers’ test scores, and the “individual” group being reward only on the basis of their own scores. The conclusion: it worked, and it worked almost twice as well when the money was given at the start and then taken away."

Of course it worked twice as well. If you gave me $4000 up front, I'd spend it immediately on glue sticks, pencils, and video games--I'd not have it to give back. Seriously, a $4000 "pay raise" would immediately improve motivation and satisfaction. Next time, they could try $20,000 and watch the teachers work some real magic.

ARTICLE: Design Flaw

A Serious Design Flaw Is Suspected in State Tests

"Now, in studies that threaten to shake the foundation of high-stakes test-based accountability, Mr. Stroup and two other researchers said they believe they have found the reason: a glitch embedded in the DNA of the state exams that, as a result of a statistical method used to assemble them, suggests they are virtually useless at measuring the effects of classroom instruction...

"Pearson, which has a five-year, $468 million contract to create the state’s tests through 2015, uses 'item response theory' to devise standardized exams, as other testing companies do. Using I.R.T., developers select questions based on a model that correlates students’ ability with the probability that they will get a question right... 

"This is not first time the use of standardized test scores in Texas has been questioned. In 2009, the state implemented the Texas Projection Measure, a formula that critics said allowed schools to count students as passing who did not. After outcry from lawmakers, the state dropped the measure in 2011."

This is heavy stuff. There's more to the article, so I hope you'll read it.

Jul 29, 2012

GRAPHIC: Critical Thinking

To up our game, teachers, I think we absolutely need to consult the Bloom Taxonomy when preparing lessons, activities, quizzes, etc. We can't rely on fill-in-the-blank for assessments and assignments. To improve our prestige, we have to expect more of ourselves and our students.

SITE: Spark Science

I did not dive too deep, but it looks fun. My link will take you to the videos and activities on flight, but you can check out the rest of the site for other videos and topics.

Write it on your communicator: Spark Science.

Jul 27, 2012

COMIC: Teachers in July

ARTICLE: Electronic Portfolios

Using Technology | Electronic Portfolios in the K-12 Classroom

My teammates and I tried portfolios two years ago. It didn't go well. But, to be honest, I left too much to the students and didn't guide them enough. Since I do a lot of projects on the computers, an electronic portfolio is an interesting idea. 

This article gives several helpful ideas about them, including steps, types, and reasons for using them.

ARTICLE: Teen Author

Nikhil Goyal, Teen Author, Shares Thoughts On How To Reform America's School System 

Despite the incredible accomplishment of writing a published book, many comments--aimed at Mr. Goyal and education--were negative. I just had to write my own.

Good grief, people, he didn't raise taxes or shoot your dog--he wrote a book. Fox Business invited him on their show, asked the questions they wanted to ask, and rushed him out. To criticize him for not sharing more ideas and painting a picture for you in the time that he had is ridiculous. Are we under the impression that he wrote a coloring book? I'm sure his ideas are described in detail.

How does the system improve without a drastic paradigm shift? I'm not talking about reforms and the next best thing. "No, that's crazy. Test the students. Fire the teachers. Cut budgets. Offer choice. It'll work!!" We can't tinker with the system--we have to overhaul it. Mr. Goyal made an excellent point--we have to reinvent the teaching profession...

Teachers and some posters of comments love to make excuses, searching high and low for reasons why we shouldn't change. They blame class-size, parents, schedules, standardized tests, curricula, etc. Yes, some of those things can hinder teaching, but they exist. I've noticed that many teachers complain because change means... well, change and an end to comfort. It's a new world, a new culture, new families, new technologies, and, most importantly, a new breed of student. Several countries understand this, so they made changes, from the top down, and settled in for a long process. Unless we're happy with the present system, the United States needs to rethink everything.

To raise the prestige of teachers, the universities need to be more selective, more rigorous, and more practical. With higher prestige, the relationships between parents and teachers will gradually improve. Also, the profession will feel like a profession, and teachers will find their hearts again, which greatly benefits the students. Schools need autonomy--they need to make independent decisions for their students, teachers, parents, and community. Teachers need to collaborate, creating lessons together and observing one another. Ideas shouldn't come from district "specialists." Formative assessments, differentiation, and feedback need to saturate a teacher's classroom. And, unfounded plans like NCLB and R2T need to disappear... 

It's easy to find success in other countries, in certain districts, and at certain schools. Instead of embracing that success and emulating it, we just point to differences. Or we criticize a 17 year old. That sucks, folks. The administration and many Americans are way off point on education. High-stakes standardized tests, rewards and punishments, competition for money, choice... none of these are going to work. They haven't and they won't. Defeatism and excuses won't work. Blaming parents, students, teachers, and schools won't work. Posting a negative comment at the Huffington Post won't work. Ignoring the research won't work.

So, in my classroom (fifth grade, fifteen years), I decided to stop making excuses. If I want my students to succeed and my parent-teacher relations to improve, I have to change, grow, communicate, relate, and facilitate. It's true... education can get messy, but it's a heck of a lot of fun, and it's worth it. If I ever get to the point that it's not, I need to move on. In the meantime, teachers, we need to fall in love with teaching again, enjoy the students again, and create the greatest classrooms--change will have to happen from the inside out.

Jul 23, 2012

ARTICLE: Highly Qualified

'Highly Qualified Teacher' Designation Reconsidered By House Panel For TFA Corps Members, Student Teachers

"Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, all students should have a highly qualified teacher, and all school districts must inform parents which teachers are not highly qualified." 

I would argue, according to common sense, all students should have a highly qualified teacher.

"According to the Department of Education, to be deemed highly qualified, teachers must have a bachelor’s degree, full state certification or licensure and prove that they know each subject they teach."

I know that I'm just playing with semantics here, but a degree, a certification, and knowledge really just describe characteristics of a qualified teacher. Shouldn't you have to earn the adverb after a length of time and positive evaluations?

"The proposed legislation [from a U.S. House appropriations subcommittee], if approved, would ensure that teachers in training meet the “highly qualified” standard. This includes recent college graduates attending Teach for America’s five-week summer training institute."

Hey, now, I've taught for 15 years, and I wouldn't consider myself "highly qualified." I might be "enthusiastically qualified." Whatever that means. I continue to adapt and change and educate myself. TFA teachers train for five weeks. After my first degree, I still went back to school for two years. I spent my last year in the classroom, observing, completing grunt work, writing lesson plans, leading small groups, and working my way up to whole-class instruction. Five weeks?! And that's highly qualified?! 

When TFA fails to perform miracles, be sure to blame all teachers, look for ways to offer ignored choice, praise charter schools for nothing, attach more consequences to those ill-conceived laws and their standardized offspring, and systematically destroy our public school systems. Morons.

SITE: Vidquik

When my wife gets home, I'm going to try this today. I thought it would be interesting for teacher-to-teacher questions during the day. Another idea hit me, though. Parent communication. Once in a while, a parent isn't able to appear in person, and requests a phone call. A video call is somewhere in the middle, I think. 

Here's what I like: there's nothing to download. It's all web-based. Just shoot an e-mail to the other person and set a time or talk instantly. Cool.

Write it on your communicator: Vidquik.

ARTICLE: Ontario's Success

Response: Factors Behind The Success Of Ontario's Schools -- Part Two

"Michael Fullan is professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, and is currently special advisor to the premier and minister of education in Ontario."

In addressing improvements to education, Professor Fullan wrote, "Unfortunately some countries in a hurry to address the issues get the solutions wrong. I call these mistake 'wrong drivers for whole system reform'. Drivers are policy and strategy instruments designed to 'cause' improvement in the system. A wrong driver is one that does not work; a right driver is one that does produce improvement. In our work on system reform we have been sorting out what drivers work and which ones do not. This is our conclusion: excessive accountability, individualistic strategies designed to increase human capital, technology and ad hoc policy solutions waste valuable time and resources and often make matters worse. By contract emphasizing capacity building, collaboration and teamwork, instruction or pedagogy, and systemic coherent policies do work. The key is which policies end up 'motivating' teachers and others to put in the effort to get better results, while at the same time serving the public accountability requirement that practices and results are getting better, and that interventions are occurring that actually address the problems in a productive way...

"But our approach and results as well as progress in other countries using similar policies raises the direct question of how can the US re-configure its approach at the state and Federal levels in order to increase performance on a wide scale. The good news is that this can be done, and that in can be done in a relatively short time --5 or 6 years to make substantial progress. Time is of the essence in getting started down this more productive path...

"Ontario public schools follow a model embraced by top-performing hospitals, businesses, and organizations worldwide. Specifically, they do five things in concert -- focus, build relationships, persist, develop capacity, and spread quality implementation...

"By focusing on teacher development, Ontario was also able to raise teacher accountability. Decades of experience have taught Canadian educators that you can't get greater accountability through direct measures of rewards and punishments. Instead, what Ontario did was to establish transparency of results and practice (anyone can find out what any school's results are, and what they are doing to get those results) while combining this with what we call non-judgmentalism..."

Much more was written. And there are responses from some Canadian teachers.

Jul 21, 2012

SITE: Drawing

15 Free Awesome Drawing and Painting Tools for Teachers and Students

From the site: To help teachers and educators cultivate this skill and improve students critical thinking processes using drawing  , I have compiled a list of some of the best free drawing tools that can be used very easily and most of the time without even registration or any software download.

Write it on your communicator: Educational Technology.

Jul 20, 2012

SITE: Pics4Learning

From the site: Pics4Learning is a safe, free image library for education. Teachers and students can use the copyright-friendly photos and images for classrooms, multimedia projects, web sites, videos, portfolios, or any other project in an educational setting.

I know, teaching the students how to cite photos is important, but this type of site is perfect for a quick need.

Write it on your communicator: Pics4Learning.com.

IDEA: Place Value

Love this. Some--scratch that--many of my fifth graders have such trouble with place value, value, and expanded form. With folded paper, you can only create one number.  With the cups, though, you can create several cups and use them interchangeably.

I ripped this off of Pinterest, but the original post came from the blog, Mrs. T's First Grade Class.

Jul 18, 2012

ARTICLE: Budget Cuts & Class Sizes

Larger Class Sizes, Education Cuts Harm Children's Chance To Learn

"Thirty-four states have slashed their K-12 education budgets since 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Making sure class sizes don't explode nationwide would cost $10 billion annually, according to a March report from the Southern Regional Educational Board."

I understand that Education is expensive, and I appreciate the need to balance budgets and prevent overspending. But, when did we stop believing that the future of our country rests with our children and their education? Now, it's all about the money.

"Likewise, teachers in McAllen, Texas, reported having 50 students in their classes this year, and a Las Vegas kindergarten teacher had 41 kids. According to the National Education Association, there are as many school jobs now as there were in April 2005 -- but 300,000 more students."

So, budget's are decimated; teachers are fired, and classes are bulging. As a result, teaching is less efficient and less personal. That's a logical consequence. Those who deny the negative consequences of large classes have made money a priority of their lives.

"Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president, has criticized the president for sending money to the states for such purposes. 'He wants another stimulus. He wants to hire more government workers,' Romney said last month at a press conference. 'He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. … It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.'"

Last I checked, firemen, policemen, and teachers are American people. Every job is important. Everyone plays a role in our society. Some help build profits more than others, though. Now, I'm not saying that those three professions are more important than others--it just seems that it's become too easy to minimize their importance and pound them with budget cuts.

A comment from LaReinadelaSuerte: Let's talk numbers. Most Jr. High and High School teachers are assigned 6 classes a day to teach, some have 7. If there are 30 students in each class, that comes out to 180 papers to grade per day. If the teacher takes 3 minutes to grade each paper, that comes out to 540 minutes or 9 hours. If a teacher decides to give each student 3 grades per week, the total hours per week dedicated to grading comes out to about 27. Grades then have to be input into a computer program or grade book, averaged at some point, etc. This is time consuming but important work. Math and English teachers probably grade more papers than 3 per week and on many assignments, like essays for example, take more than 3 minutes to grade them because written correction is needed. Larger class sizes force teacher to greatly reduce the amount of individual feedback they can give students. 40 hours (at least) at school per week + 27 hours for grading (at least) = 67 hours (at least) Would you put in these hours plus take everybody's abuse and be on your feet all day for $38,000/year? Teachers usually also have children of their own and would like to see them on a daily basis.

Jul 17, 2012


This is a list of sites that allow you to convert and manipulative PDF files. 

Write it on your communicator: PDF Tools.

Jul 16, 2012

ARTICLE: Fixing Charter Schools

What Chris Cerf Needs to Know About Albert Shanker

This blog post addresses the words of Chris Cerf, the commissioner of education in New Jersey. She speaks to his support of charter schools. In her blog, Ms. Ravitch states that charter schools could be successful... if they take the form of Albert Shanker's original idea.

"You can fix the charter idea if you align it with Shanker’s original idea.

"First, insist that all new charters are endorsed by the local school district and the union representing teachers.

"Second, bar all for-profit management.

"Third, insist that all charters recruit and enroll only the lowest-performing students, the students who have dropped out, and the students who are doing poorly in their present public school.

"Fourth, require that charters collaborate with the public schools and share whatever they learn.

"Fifth, to truly revive the spirit of Shanker’s proposal, bar all corporate-owned charter chains. Authorize only stand-alone charters that are created by teachers and parents in the district to serve the children of that district. No chains, just local charters committed to that community."

VIDEO: Diane Ravitch

What can I say? I enjoyed her book. I enjoy listening to her. Plus, I love shows like this. An educated, interested interviewer and an fascinating interviewee. 

VIDEO: Save Our Schools

Again, these videos are dated, but I stumbled across them, and, heading into this school year, I need all of the encouragement that I can find.

SITE: Engaging Parents in Schools

This blog comes from Larry Ferlazzo. I enjoy his other blog on websites. I've only looked at a few headings so far, but, because it's one of my goals this year, to develop strong, positive relationships with my parents, I have to look into it.

Write it on your communicator: Engaging Parents.

VIDEO: The Daily Show

These are a bit dated, but they're hilariously poignant. The first three segments are from a 2011 episode on funding and overpaid teachers. The fourth segment shows a younger John from 2003 about "politically correct" language in textbooks. John interviews Diane Ravitch in the third and fourth clips.

Jul 11, 2012

ARTICLE: Republican Platform

Texas Republican Party Calls For Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Corporal Punishment In Schools 

So, I read the "Educating Our Children" section of the platform. Here are some ideas.

"American Identity Patriotism and Loyalty – We believe the current teaching of a multicultural curriculum is divisive. We favor strengthening our common American identity and loyalty instead of political correctness that nurtures alienation among racial and ethnic groups. Students should pledge allegiance to the American and Texas flags daily to instill patriotism."

I believe that patriotism is actually the support of one's country. Now, I'm expected to say the Texas pledge, so I do. However, personally, I find it to be a distraction from national pride--it's almost contrary to patriotism.
"Classroom Discipline – We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas."

You know, there are other ways to reach children. I'm not speaking against corporal punishment--I just wish it wasn't a point to their platform.

"Early Childhood Development – We believe that parents are best suited to train their children in their early development and oppose mandatory pre-school and Kindergarten. We urge Congress to repeal government-sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development."

This is not uncommon in some countries, beginning school at age seven. Given the emphasis on testing and more testing, it's not a bad idea. Let them stay home, play, build their imaginations, enjoy life.

"Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

Uh, what?

"Educational Entitlement – We encourage legislation that prohibits enrollment in free public schools of non-citizens unlawfully present in the United States."


I hate the idea of punishing children for their parents' actions. I know that folks are here unlawfully and that needs to stop, but we're mixing issues here, aren't we? If schools are closed to illegal non-citizens, will that change things? Or do we care?

"Funding of Education – We urge the Legislature to direct expenditures to academics as the first priority."

I won't hold my breath.

"Local Control of Education – We support school choice and believe that quality education is best achieved by encouraging parental involvement, protecting parental rights, and maximizing local independent school district control. District superintendents and their employees should be made solely accountable to their locally elected boards. We support sensible consolidation of local school districts. We encourage local ISDs to consider carefully the advantages and disadvantages of accepting federal education money."

Look at that first sentence again. That's some kind of crap. Really? Quality education has nothing to do with teachers and autonomy and high expectations and joyful classrooms and... okay, parental involvement is important, but they left out the other stuff.

"Parental School Choice – We encourage the Governor and the Texas Legislature to enact child-centered school funding options which fund the student, not schools or districts, to allow maximum freedom of choice in public, private, or parochial education for all children."

Did you see it? Child-centered school funding. A nice touch. I'm all for it. Seriously, let's just get this over with. Give everyone a choice, and a voucher or golden ticket. Watch what happens. Nothing or worse than nothing. At least everyone will shut up about it.

"U.S. Department of Education – Since education is not an enumerated power of the federal government, we believe the Department of Education (DOE) should be abolished."

Go for it. I'd like to add, though, that we should drastically limit state control also. Let's create mini-districts with autonomous schools. I have no idea what that would look like, but it sounds fun.

Jul 10, 2012

VIDEO: Collaboration

How Teachers Collaborate Online and in School
LINK: edutopia

ARTICLE: Fancy and Whim

Transforming Education

An attorney gives her take on changing the education system. One of the weaknesses of our system stems from a distant, centralized authority, who make choices and pass down decisions, bouncing from fad to fad, paying for unproven tests, and writing policies based on fancy and whim.

"Attorneys attend years of college and law school to develop specialized legal skills and knowledge and yet the legal profession explicitly acknowledges that decisions regarding the purposes of representation (as well as some particular decisions such as whether to settle a matter) are reserved to the client and not the professional."

"What if students had the authority to terminate the teacher-student relationship over unresolved disagreements about the instructional methods, materials, and other school policies?  Would it change the way teachers and schools communicate with parents and students about instructional and policy choices?  Would we still see fifteen minute lunches and decreasing time for recess?  Would we still see widespread implementation of PBIS?  Would educational leadership still be talking about more time in school?  Would we see more discussion about and variety in educational philosophy and choice of instructional methods and materials?"

"If teachers could meaningfully exercise independent professional judgment on behalf of their students, what would schools look like?  Would there be fewer politically or corporate-driven fads in the classroom?  What are the institutional implications for protecting the exercise of independent professional judgment by teachers?   At the very least, it would seem to require much less centralized control of curricular and instructional decisions."

If you've read my stuff long enough, you know I admire Finland's education system. Yeah, yeah, find all of the differences between the United States and Finland that you want--it only keeps us from taking reasonable, proven, and necessary steps toward improving our schools. Granting autonomy to experienced and educated teachers will make a difference.


After writing my first post a year ago, I finally hit 1000 walkthroughs! So, in honor of this incredibly hard-to-find and rarely read blog, let me hit you with a bit of fascinating data.

This is a breakdown of the visits:

United States - 633
Russia - 205
United Kingdom - 54
France - 35
Germany - 27
Netherlands - 8
Latvia - 6
Philippines - 5
Canada - 3
Indonesia - 3

Having been to only one of these countries, I'm honored that they would think to stop by. Thanks, everyone! (I must say, though, I'm hurt by my friends in the Great White North--I thought we were closer.)

Firefox was used 42% of the time. You, go, Firefox!

Windows was used 69% of the time, while iPhone had 15% of the visits. I mean, I know it's only 15%, but, wow, some iPhone users are staring at a tiny screen just to see my blog. I'm touched... Get it?

I had 259 pageviews last month--that's nearly 26% of the total. Did I get popular or what? 

Well, I'm inspired to continue adding links and my personal drivel to the Interwebs!

Jul 9, 2012

BLOG: Choice

The choice they don’t want you to have 

"Under No Child Left Behind, my local public schools -- and all public schools in America, in fact -- now must pursue the policy of raising standardized test scores at all costs. School officials who don’t raise standardized test scores can end up losing their jobs. But if they turn out kids with no intellectual curiosity, kids who see reading as a chore, kids who perform just to please the teacher and get by, kids who’ve never learned how to use good judgment, ask a good question, or make a good decision, kids who see adults as adversaries, kids who take no pleasure in learning -- nothing bad will happen to them."

"For the kids in the Federal Option, school would look a lot like it does now. No Child Left Behind would be in full force, and the district and its school personnel would have to meet NCLB’s standardized testing benchmarks or face the statutory penalties. In these classrooms, the district would do whatever it takes to raise math and reading test scores, regardless of the other values that might have to be sacrificed. Subjects with no direct bearing on standardized test results, such as art and music, would be cut back as necessary. Recess and lunch would be minimized. Untestable qualities such as curiosity, skepticism, creativity, and initiative would not be pursued. Whether the kids actually enjoy learning would be a secondary concern, at best. To keep the kids from squirming during their lengthy test prep sessions -- er, I mean, lessons -- the teachers would instruct them on the importance of unquestioning compliance with rules, and would single out the quiet and obedient students for special praise and rewards."

The blogger goes on to discuss the Local Option school, which sounds much better. 

We live in a nation in which the decision-makers love their standardized tests. And, since they have no idea what they're doing, they've decided to rule with threats and penalties. Now, as teachers, we feel the pressure and pass it down to our students. Students, here are the rules and here is our goal--if you keep us from our goal, you will face the consequences! An ugly system. 

We can't avoid the test, but we can avoid its control over our classrooms. I know that we can be successful, grow relationships, and enjoy our career without letting those stupid tests run our lives. Let other people worry about the tests--you know, those who haven't been in classroom or those who have forgotten what it's like to teach.

I know that four things will save us. 
1) A safe, respectful, and enjoyable environment
2) Strong, positive relationships with students and parents
3) Differentiated instruction
4) High expectations

I know, some of those are no-duhs, but I hear people complain about time more than they share successful ideas. Because of time or student effort or family involvement or [insert another excuse], I've not tried to strengthen and perfect those four things. I can keep complaining or I can try.

Jul 8, 2012

SITE: Diane Ravitch

Yep, Diane Ravitch has a blog. That's it. That's all I have to say. I think that's pretty cool.

Write it on your communicator: Diane Ravitch's Blog.

ARTICLE: Effective Teachers

Do effective teachers teach three times as much as ineffective teachers?

"As this statistic has been quoted by Melinda Gates recently on PBS and by Michelle Rhee in various places, including the StudentsFirst website I thought, in response to a recent post on Diane Ravitch’s blog I would investigate the source of this claim."

And he did. It's good. Sadly, his last statement is infuriatingly poignant.

ARTICLE: Finland's School Buildings

Finland Rethinks Factory-Style School Buildings

While Finland was redesigning new buildings, Texas bought a new standardized test. While Americans are arguing over charter, private, and public schools, Finland builds new buildings to create the perfect learning environment. While Finland pours its creativity and money into the children, some Americans would rather make a buck.

I know, I'm over-simplifying the issues, but I'm absolutely sick of experimenting on our students with unproven "solutions." 

"That collaboration shows in the spacious teachers’ lounges and work spaces in the schools. For example, the Kirkkojärvi School teachers’ lounge has a built-in coffee bar and cafe tables, where the principal serves coffee and tea during breaks; the room is intended to give teachers a place to regularly meet casually with the principal and other teachers, beyond formal working groups. And the Sakarinmäki School, scheduled to open in 2014, has a separate wing for teachers’ offices and work space, which gives adults quiet for preparing lessons and conducting professional development work but connects to the nursery school and upper grades by a central atrium. The buildings are laid out in clusters, with multiple gathering places inside and out. In part, this is necessity: While American schools are cutting recess, Finish schools set aside a 15-minute break after every 45-minute lesson, coupled with a half-hour lunch break, even though they traditionally have shorter school days overall than those in the United States."

Comment from Extra Credit?: Because in Finland their society values teachers, education and the students! We value Tiger, LeBron and Lady Gaga. Until our society changes it's value system our education system is going to suffer, regardless of desk arrangement and wall color.

Comment from frankly: It is nice to see that form has really followed function in these examples. The communication to the staff and students is very convincingly, we value you. Sadly, in the United States, we communicate, in our school buildings, teacher pay, school budgets, mass media, and general political discussion, that we value money more than education or people, whether students or teachers.

I was intrigued by the photos, so I searched for more. You can see more of the school here.

ARTICLE: Charter Schools

Are Charter Schools Public Schools?

This is an article written by Diane Ravitch. In it, she described the original intent of charter schools and the direction that many have taken now.

"Today, charter schools are very far from the original visions of Budde and Shanker. Few are run by teams of teachers. Most are managed by for-profit corporations or by nonprofit corporations with private boards of directors. The charter reflects the aims of the corporation, not the aims of its teachers. Most charters are non-union and rely on young teachers who work long hours and leave after a few years, thus keeping costs low. Many have high executive compensation. Charters have a high rate of teacher and principal turnover. Clearly, charters do not 'belong' to the professionals who work in them, but to the corporation and its directors, who hold the charter."

"What concerns me most is the possibility that policymakers are promoting dual school systems: a privileged group of schools called charters that can select their students and exclude the ones that are hardest to educate; and the remaining schools composed of students who couldn't get into the charters or got kicked out. I wonder also whether it is wise in the long run to create one set of schools that is free from regulation and a competing set of schools that is subject to ever tighter regulation. What is the endgame? Is it our goal to undermine public education so thoroughly that teachers and students alike turn away from it?"

Jul 4, 2012

ARTICLE: Feedback

How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students
Susan M. Brookhart
Chapter 2. Types of Feedback and Their Purposes

Okay, now, this is a book. I've not read it. On the ASCD site, you can read chapter 2. I've not read the entire chapter, but, after eye-balling the charts, I'm interested and will give it some time.

BOOK: Improving Student Learning

Improving Student Learning One Teacher at a Time
Jane E. Pollock

It's packed full of stuff, so I can't possibly do it justice here. Read it.

The chapters...
1. Replacing Hope with Certainty
2. Learning Targets
3. Instructional Planning and Delivery
4. Varied Classroom Assessments
5. Feedback, Record Keeping, and Reporting

When I had my own children, my attitude toward my students and my teaching started to change. I was finally able to see my students as someone's kids. It forces you to question some things. One section of the book has a teacher discussing this idea. Are our lessons good enough for our own kids?

"'Research has consistently indicated that criterion-referenced feedback has a more powerful effect on student learning than norm-referenced feedback'" (31).

I think this shows the importance of a clearly written learning objective and a rubric. Rather than judging a student's work against other work, it's judged against a learning objective or a rubric. That leads to the easy discussion of how to improve.

"Recent research on the ways humans remember information indicates that when one spends time steeped in facts about a topic, one organizes and reorganizes memory points to retrieve and use later in spontaneous, independent applications... [Y]ou will more likely be able to use that information independently if you apply a technique to rehearse it, such as taking notes, creating a nonlinguistic presentation, or asking questions" (33).

In one of the videos from edutopia or Teaching Channel, a teacher talked about the notes that she expected her students to write--they organized the notes in graphic organizers. In math, I think it's foolish to expect students to cover their paper in examples and points, and study it later. Some can, but many of them are confused by their own notes. If a graphic organizer is included for each topic, that would help them revisit and remember.

"Many teachers say they teach with pedagogical automaticity, but for most of them, this translates to teaching on automatic pilot. When they notice that their students do not seem engaged with the content, they nevertheless continue to teach the lesson in the same way or attempt to modify their students' behavior with homework, quiet time, or a noninstructional measure" (60).

Because of time and the scope and sequence, it's difficult to stop for anything. You feel like you have to just keep plowing ahead. We have to stop and throw in an activity like Pass the Clap, or a dance, or something. Just take a moment and re-energize them.

"Neurologists indicate that reorganizing information builds neural networks, which helps us remember more and construct new meanings from what we remember. Essential to our students is that they learn to organize and reorganize the information in the curriculum in order to achieve a particular purpose. This is the essential reason why we teach students to think" (88).

"Procedural knowledge is hard to learn, but also hard to forget, so assessments that take place after repetitions elicit accurate and valid data about the individual's performance... [W]e know that when we memorize facts, we disregard deeply understanding the information. We memorize the knowledge for recall but aren't able to apply it to achieve a particular purpose at a later time" (89).

"Research shows that the average elementary teacher may ask as many as 348 questions a day, whereas the students may not ask any... I believe that any teacher who commits to testing for thinking is obliged to teach thinking" (94).

"Imagine the depth of understanding that would result if students could use tools that would demonstrate their thinking or organize their thoughts, make better use of the tools available to access information and summarize it efficiently, create or find images that would reflect and support their thinking or understanding, and facilitate interaction with others who could provide differing points of view and unique perspectives" (99).

In this day and age, it's so easy to find Web 2.0 applications online and have students create a product that others can evaluate.

"In order for performance to accelerate or advance, one needs feedback on just-right criteria and the opportunity to apply or practice that performance again and again" (104).

If I've learned anything in the last month, I've learned that effective feedback trumps grades. We slap a grade on an assignment and move on. Oh, sure, we may take a moment and talk about the assignment with the class, but that's not a personal feedback that many kids absolutely need. Plus, after the grade, we may stop and move on to something else, forgetting that the students need time to practice again. We really need to rethink this grade thing.