Mar 29, 2013

SMS Generator

Stop Deficit-Model Thinking

And in schools all over America, students are forced to “learn” in a way that befits deficit model thinking. We make sure that students are doubled and tripled up in the subjects they are worst at. Schools are reducing the amount of time students have music and phys-ed and even science so that kids have more time to raise their test scores. It is as if the sole purpose of schooling for many kids is just to make sure that they are slightly less bad at the things they are worst at.

We have created a schooling environment where the sole purpose seems to be to ameliorate the worst of abilities our students have, rather than nurture the best of who they are. We have created a public environment where “reforms” label schools as failing without ever stepping foot in them on the basis of one metric.

This year, we were promised student progress and relief from RtI requirements. Just put the students in front of the computer and the new Math program automatically feeds the students problem after problem, adjusting the difficulty, offering lessons, and online tutorials--all of which is considerably more effective than spending time with a teacher and a carefully designed lesson... or not. It's all perfectly boring if you ask me.

A couple of days ago, it dawned on me. I no longer believe that my purpose is to prepare the students for sixth grade or junior high or beyond. No, that will take care of itself. When, year after year, teachers focus on preparing the students for the next grade level, the students are reduced to receptacles for objectives and test prep.

Teachers, our purpose at the elementary level is to build confidence, strengthen critical and creative thinking, and develop a love and thirst for learning. That sure ain't gonna happen with worksheets, homework, deficit-model programs, and an endless stream of state exams and summative assessments. 

Focusing on the end often leads to frustration for the teacher and the student who didn't get there. Intellectually and professionally, we understand that people learn at different rates, but that doesn't seem to change anything. We expect all of them to earn acceptable grades by the end of each grading period, pass the state assessment on the same date, and learn all of the objectives by the end of the year. 

These unrealistic goals cause teachers to plow through the curriculum, offering one-time lessons and assignments lacking in rigor. Once a lesson is taught and an assignment is graded, it's time to move on. We've reduced students to checklists and numbers. Without all of the checks and a high enough score, it is a failure. Or, the more popular conclusion: Teachers are the failures.

Mar 23, 2013

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.

Teachers Observing Teachers: A Professional Development Tool for Every School

For me, these are the most important points:

The most positive benefit of teacher-to-teacher observation is that it makes teaching a public rather than a private act.

Professional development should be job-embedded.

If done well, it is carried out in a real, practical, immediately relevant situation.

Rather than leaving school to travel to a staff development building to hear non-teachers talk about something that they learned from someone else, I  think we should stay at school and learn from one another. lets you author beautiful presentations, right in your browser.

Like sliderocket or other online presentation tools, it looks easy to use. It sets itself apart by offering directional transitions, which is great for subtopics. I'm definitely using this in the near future.
Improving the School District

Principals: Our schools need head teachers, not managers. All of the principals should strive to support teachers in all areas, especially instruction. They should be required to stay up on education research and best practices. A principal must share a clear vision and goals, use multiple observations throughout the year to guide teachers the specific goals, and provide opportunities for the staff to tackle the goals together.

Staff development: If hours are required, the SD opportunities must be relevant, practical, and leveled. Ideally, PLC's at the campus level would replace all staff development requirements. Although the district could continue to provide opportunities, teachers would be better served by meeting in PLC's.

Testing: Professionally, I understand the importance of formative assessments--I use them to guide my instruction. The state test is not a formative assessment--neither are the benchmarks. They are summative assessments, ending sections of the scope and sequence. They do not guide our instruction because our instruction is planned and we're flying to accomplish everything--no, they simply steal time from our instruction. Right now, teachers are simply preparing students for a test--they are avoiding technology use, in-depth projects, and the creation of innovative lessons. While there's no way to avoid the state test, we should focus on instruction, trusting teachers to use formative assessments along the way.

Expectations: In regards to assignments, homework, and grading, the district must push its principals to raise their expectations. Too often, students are asked to complete low-level assignments, which lack rigor. Grading should reflect true, deep understanding--not the ability to find words for blanks. If that truly happened, we would not need silly benchmarks--we would know that teachers are preparing students for anything.

Professional respect and opportunities: Teachers are treated like big kids. The administration feels like it has to dictate everything. If the district is doing a poor job at hiring new teachers, it might think that total control is a good idea, but it deflates the quality teachers. It's time to give teachers respect. From respectable salaries to improved benefits to growth opportunities, teachers should have something for which to work. Working at a recognized school is not a motivation. Hoping for a 2% raise is not a motivation. Having a few extra iPads in the classroom is not a motivation. When a state or district engineers the improved prestige of the teaching profession, it will see an improvement in the district--from quality of instruction to quality of applicants. 

Paperwork: Elementary school teachers have a tremendous amount of paperwork (school forms, RtI, TELPAS, SpEd, etc.). When should we complete it? If our conference times are used for conferences and paperwork, when do we plan and grade? Does a district want quality lessons or completed forms? Unfortunately, it wants both, and teachers are left to spend their own time or their family's time to do those things. Teachers are resenting the system and no one is listening. The states and districts simply pile more and more on the teachers. Each grade level or groups of grade levels should have a manager, someone to process paperwork, plan schedules, and deal with anything else that distracts teachers from lessons and instruction.

Based on their priorities and decisions, one can only assume that the decision-makers are completely out of touch, using teachers as cannon fodder, insignificant and replaceable. And they continue to rewrite improvement plans, purchase savior programs, and motivate with threats--over and over and over. They continue to try everything under the sun, except improving the initial training of teachers and the significant compensation of teachers now. One has to wonder why they make the money.
How Evernote Is Revolutionizing My Classroom

Whether Minecraft Math or the Wix webpages that my students are creating now, I've been looking for ways to present work in new ways. Technology has improved engagement in my classroom, so using Evernote or Google Drive intrigues me. However, for successful implementation, it's imperative that iPad/laptop use is 1:1.

Mar 14, 2013

How I turned my classroom into a ‘living video game’—and saw achievement soar

I'm thoroughly intrigued by this article from Joli Parker. Although I use several of the mentioned tools, this idea could tie the lessons and topics together. Incorporating actual video games, like Minecraft, with this theme might create constant engagement.

How to keep the attention of students is an ongoing topic of conversation among educators. But as McGonigal points out, when they’re interested in something, kids demonstrate a powerful ability to maintain focus on even the most challenging tasks. Case in point: video games, which are so challenging that players fail 80 percent of the time—and yet are still motivated to persevere. If we can tap into even a fraction of this energy and enthusiasm, I thought, then we can effect the kind of educational transformation called for in the 21st century.

Collaborative Screen Sharing: You each get your own mouse, and you're both always in control. 

I don't know about using this at school--I want Pop to download it when he calls about computer problems!


Great Teachers Are Great Learners - AITSL from Innovation Unit on Vimeo.

It seems so obvious--how long do you think it will take for them to get it?

Mar 13, 2013

Search CreativeCommons

Last year, my class did a photo-saturated American Revolution project, which we submitted to the district's Media Fair. Good gravy, I wish I'd known about this site.

Create a Graph

So easy... Just so easy. 

Next week, my students are going to spend time constructing graphs. I was going to use Excel--that would give them practice with a spreadsheet and graphs. But, this site would make it so much easier. Just so much easier...


Dipity is a free digital timeline website. Our mission is to organize the web's content by date and time. Users can create, share, embed and collaborate on interactive, visually engaging timelines that integrate video, audio, images, text, links, social media, location and timestamps.  

A Teachable Moment #32

To Disrupt Education, First Shift the Balance of Power

This article was recommended by Aimee. 

She and I have talked about revolutionizing the system, but I've not a clue on accomplishing that goal. Not one clue. So, I'm walking a line between gung-ho revolutionary and deflated automaton.

Although I've Diigo-ed the link, I'm going to lift one chunk...

To disrupt education, focus on the products and services that shift power from institutions into the hands of individual students, parents, and teachers: online assessments that tell a student what she has learned and what she could learn next, knowledge maps that show how specific skills and understanding add up to expertise in a subject or field, guided tours that take a learner through the experiences that develop mastery of various subjects, collaboration platforms that support peer learning and peer standards of excellence, data collection engines that give learners deep insight into their learning: more, invent the tools and resources that give power to learners and to the teachers that guide, encourage, and inspire them in ways that have not yet been framed or considered. Ask yourself – does this product deeply support students in becoming independent learners and active agents?

Minecraft Math

A few weeks ago, I searched for Minecraft and the best option for bringing it into the classroom. Keep in mind, I have no money and my team has no money and the school has no money. So, I settled on the Minecraft Demo from It's free! And timed! Fifth graders can't run off and build a castle instead of working on the project.

After the last benchmark, I needed to review our weak topics, but I didn't have to make it boring. I scoured the web for Minecraft activities, found several high school level lessons and lists for other subjects, and became impatient. So, I came up with my own activities. Six of them.

I wrote up the assignment sheet. I used screenshots from my full version and created ShowMe videos, illustrating the end results. Once the videos were uploaded, I made QR codes and added them to the assignment sheet. While one partner used graph paper to plan the task, the other partner gathered materials and found a spot of flat land.

TASK #1: The students created a rectangle with a perimeter of 14 units. Next, they doubled the length and width, creating a second rectangle. For both rectangles, they had to calculate and post the perimeters and areas. Result: I wanted the students to learn that doubling the dimensions would double the perimeter but quadruple the area.

TASK #2: The students created a tower of prime numbers. Initially, I asked for the first 10, but, after watching the speedy groups take forever, I let the groups stop after 6 or 7 rows. Result: I wanted them to remember the first few prime numbers. Not only were they saying the numbers over and over, they were building the only possible arrays.

TASK #3: The students created three towers with the same height and different depths. From one direction, the towers looked identical. Result: I hoped that they would notice that equivalent fractions are the same but different. Admittedly, I cheated on this one. Fractions are huge in the fifth grade, so I had to have an equivalent fractions task. Ideally, like fraction strips, the towers should be the same width and height--just divided differently. As it is, my students did some ratio work. That's okay.

TASK #4: The students converted an in-game object into other objects. With the time constraint, converting wood into planks or sticks or fences were the most obvious choices. Result: I wanted them to "physically" convert objects.

TASK #5: The students transformed a design with reflection, rotation, and translation. Result: With the new and improved state test, the students are asked to transform figures before finding an ordered pair, so I wanted them to practice the act of moving the design.

TASK #6: The students gathered animals or objects, wrote the probability of choosing one type of whatever, and, using equivalent fractions, made a mathematical prediction. Result: The students make the connection that predictions are simply equivalent fractions.


inBloom vision video from Intentional Futures on Vimeo.

I want this, please. Right now. Especially the high school teacher's computer.
5 Critical Mistakes Schools Make With iPads (And How To Correct Them)

Good article. I'm sending it to my AP, requesting a faculty training or PLC.

By the way, I'm trying something new. Rather than copy-pasting chunks from the article, I'm using Diigo and highlighting those same chunks. Here we go...
Explain Everything

An iPad app to explain anything and everything.

I've not used this, but I'm so tempted. So far, everything that I use in class is free, but... I'm tempted.

Mar 12, 2013

John Seely Brown on Motivating Learners

Innovative thinker John Seely Brown, known for his ideas for merging digital culture and education, shares lessons educators can learn from surfers, gamers, and artists on how passion and competitive hunger can drive intrinsic motivation.

"Remake Your Class"

I'd like to embed the video, but I don't want to log into facebook to do it. 

Although there weren't many ideas shared, I heard one that I like--dry-erase desk tops. That's awesome. I can't wait to watch the updates on 

According to a 2012 study from Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, students who used social medial like Facebook or Twitter and texted in class reported lower GPAs than their peers who did not. The problem is widespread. The Lock Haven researchers polled more than 1,800 students for their study, and nearly 70% of them reported using their smartphones in class to text or communicate with a friend.

Listen, I'm all about researching the effects of traditional and non-traditional methods. But this one seems like a no-brainer. It doesn't sound like they were studying the effects of texting on classroom interaction and engagement. Seemingly, they were studying off-task behavior. And off-task behavior will lead to lower GPA's. Are we under the impression that merely having technology in the classroom will lead to smarter students?

I have an old Atari 2600 in the garage. I'll move it to my classroom cabinet and watch the learning begin! 

Mar 3, 2013

Rigor in the Classroom

This video was recommended by Aimee. Sometimes, you have to laugh to keep from crying.

Teacher of the Year

I was voted as Teacher of the Year! 

Given my struggle and doubt and frustration this year, I'm more than pleasantly surprised. As a result, I'm automatically entered into a district-wide Teacher of the Year contest, so I have to write an essay, fill out a questionnaire, and collect a few letters of recommendation. Because I'm a bit of a competition junkie, it's a small price to pay. Good times.
Who's Teaching Your Children?
by Vivian Troen & Katherine C. Boles

Not only do the authors point out the history and errors of the modern school system, they offer a solution: the Millennium school.

The current teaching model--one teacher in a single classroom, doing the same work on the first day of the job as on the last--no longer adequately serves the needs of a radically transformed society. First and foremost we must recognize that one of the most serious obstacles to education reform is the culture of the school; and that culture cannot change until the job of teaching is reconfigured to reflect the reality of how people work and learn in today's world. Successful education reform depends on transforming teaching from an isolated, freelance culture in which mediocrity is the accepted norm, into an open, collaborative culture that fosters professional excellence and accountability (79).

American students are being tested more often now than ever before in our history and far more than other students elsewhere in the world. In Japan, for example, a country widely admired for the ability of its education system to produce outstanding test takers, standardized testing does not start until the end of the sixth grade. Massive amounts of testing have not helped, nor can it ever help, to improve the quality of education. 'You can't fatten cattle by weighing them more often,' observed a savvy rancher. To state it another way, taking your temperature does not lower your fever (93).

Homework, as it is currently assigned in the elementary grades, is both a boondoggle and a Band-Aid. Administered by poorly trained, unsupervised teachers, homework, is too often excessive to a harmful degree, delivered by the incompetent to the unwilling, improperly meted out as a reward or punishment, based on educationally unsound principles, and used as a coverup for the shortfalls of inadequate classroom teaching. We agree with the authors of The End of Homework--'homework' should be carried out at school, under the supervision of professional educators. We would add one more thing. Those educators need to be supervised themselves, and trained to administer and correct homework, or the battle is only half won (129).

History has shown rather conclusively that, when only one reform is attempted, that reform is ultimately diluted and then defeated. The reason all currently proposed education reforms are ultimately doomed to failure--the reason they will not solve the deeply embedded problems of today's schools--is that they are all modern accessories grafted onto an obsolete model that is fundamentally unsound (142).

This book was written in 2003. Is anyone surprised that decision-makers are still ignoring great minds and great ideas?