A Simple Switch Creates Curiosity

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How often have you heard this in a meeting with your department, a parent, or even in your own head:

“Kids are too dependent on calculators!  They can’t do anything in their head any more!

There are countless examples of 17 year old kids not being able to complete simple arithmetic which is distressing, but it is not the argument I am here to make.

Instead, I am concerned the fear of calculator dependence is negatively affecting the way teachers design lessons, structure discussion, and assess their students.  When that fear is in the forefront of our minds, we ask students to put the calculators away.  “We need to understand how to do this by hand before we use the calculators”, you might say.  I ask WHY?

Living in the 21st century, we have technology all around us and if I want to know the answer to something I am going to google it.  If the calculator can do the problem for us, why are we wasting our time?  Maybe you argue you have to understand the process to really get what’s going on.  Okay.  My argument becomes: make a question that demands I understand the process.

I am not arguing that understanding how to complete a problem by hand is a bad thing; instead, I’m arguing it’s a great thing!  But we need to make students feel the need to understand.  We need to show that the calculator can calculate, but only humans can think, dig deep, and discover connections.  We need to design problems where the calculator can’t solve it in one step or at all so it once again becomes a tool in the learning process rather than the process itself.


 

To make my point, I will use the example of a lesson devoted to adding and multiplying 2×2 matrices.

Method 1

  • Give students an example of two matrices adding together, then work on the problem with them and show them how it is done.  Leave time for questions.  Then give them a few problems to try before moving on.  Pause for questions.
  • Now give students an example of two matrices multiplying together.  Don’t forget to warn them that this one is tricky!  Then, go through the process with them and take questions.  Then give them a few problems to try and walk around to help answer questions.
  • Two days later, show them how to complete it on the calculator.

Method 2

  • Show students how to add two matrices together using the calculator.  Have them figure out the pattern. Takes about 1 minute.
  • Show students how to multiply two matrices together using the calculator.  Have them figure out the pattern.  Takes very long.  Eventually after giving some hints and gentle nudging, students (maybe not all of them) figure out the pattern and share it.  Without discussing right or wrong, put up examples for students to try by hand and then check them with the calculators.

 

An amazing thing happens in method 2.  Students begin to view the challenge as a puzzle to figure out rather than an “enter” button to be pressed for an answer.  If you pause long enough after kids first type the multiplication into the calculator someone will ask, “why does that work?”. THAT’S LIKE NEVER ASKED!! YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY?!?  It’s a cool feeling.

Even though we allowed the students an opportunity to struggle, we have to wonder what motivation students have to remember the meaning of a topic and how to complete it by hand.  Why can’t they just go back to using their calculator?  The truth is, they can….if you design problems with simple answers. (Assume these are 2 x 2 matrices below being multiplied)

Easy With Calculator

[  1    2 ]      [ -2   4 ]
[  7   -4 ]      [  0   8 ]         =     ?

Not Easy With Calculator

[ 2     4]       [3      x]                [4      12]
[ 1     1]       [-1    6]        =       [14    9 ]

 

A slight change in thinking renders the calculator powerless or, at most, a guess and check monster that drags out the process.  Instead of fearing the power of a calculator, we need to make kids jealous of the power it has and push them to ask why and how it works!  If we can do that, while creating challenging questions that force students to think deeply, we won’t have to let the fear of calculators cloud our judgement.  A simple switch can lead to more curiosity, discovery, and understanding for students.

The Struggle of Letting Them Struggle

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Today I was teaching an honors level class how to add and subtract rational expressions.  These are the students that have pushed themselves to take Algebra 2 over the summer to advance their potential opportunities as they become upperclassmen.  We’re talking serious students.

To begin the unit, I modeled my teaching after a Dan Meyer inspired idea and, although, not the most exciting thing, it helped students gain a little buy-in.  The previous day we had actually looked at adding fractions, discussed the similarities and differences of adding rational numbers and made significant progress.  So I thought.

We started today by checking over the homework and there were a lot of questions.  THERE SHOULD BE  A LOT OF QUESTIONS.  This is hard stuff and I was fortunate to have curious students, anxious to learn the content at a deep level and ask about their confusion.  If there aren’t any questions after the first day please don’t assume they’re good.  In fact, I could sense the frustration and kept telling them:

This is hard, but that’s why it’s better than many of the other things we look at.  It’s a chance for you to struggle and flex your creativity in solving problems.  Keep trying, keep failing, and keep asking questions.

Instead of moving on, I asked them if they would prefer to practice this a little more; they said yes.  I started by giving them a more simple problem.  Then, I increased the level of difficulty, and finally, gave them this harder problem:

__5__  +         4         –      2  
x(x+2)         -x – 2             5x

The students were able to handle the first two problems fairly well with asking only a few questions.  The final question pushed many of them outside of their comfort zone.  I let the students begin on their own, then as they began to ask questions I went in to help clarify some confusion.  But….it was rough.  I’m talking seriously rough.  Like, why would you do that, how can you even think that after the other things we looked at rough.

What I found myself doing as they asked me questions was becoming overwhelmed.  Student after student asked me questions, and I was having the most difficult time thinking about how to steer them in the right direction without showing them exactly how to do it.  At one point, I told a student:

Just hang on for a minute; I’m going to go through it with the class in a little bit.

It was at this point I realized the struggle of letting kids struggle.  Learning is messy, but when we have a quality problem of difficulty and students ambitious enough to struggle through it, we must ask ourselves whether we are ambitious enough to help them through the struggle rather than re-gain control and show them how it is done step-by-step.

As teachers, we need ways to encourage kids to take risks, while demonstrating that it is okay to do so.  We need to allow kids to make mistakes and fail, but we cannot be there to catch them as soon as it gets a little difficult.  Instead, we need to foster a classroom where creativity is encouraged and wrong answers are explored and shared.  In that moment, I wonder how the learning in my classroom would have changed if I grabbed three students’ notebooks, threw them under the document camera and, as a class, we discussed the math (wrong or right) that the student displayed.

I, like many other teachers, get caught up on the right answer rather than the process of getting there.  Because of this, I get frustrated when students are nowhere near the correct answer.  Instead, we need to embrace the messy process and the learning that is held within.  Maybe the student that struggled and got a problem wrong three times actually ends up learning and understanding the process at a deeper level than the student that got it right on the first attempt.

I ask you to be careful next time you get frustrated because no one in your class is finding the right answer.  Use the opportunity to talk about mistakes and continue to give them chances to flex their creativity and make mistakes.  It’s a struggle.

Not Tech-Savvy? Be Tech-Curious.

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The year was 2006.  I was voted most tech-savvy among my friends on Myspace.  To that point in my life, I had mastered the portable CD player and creating a Green Bay Packers themed MySpace page.  I borrowed cell phones to call people and used Ask Jeeves past the point a person probably should have.  I don’t think “tech-savvy” was the correct phrase to describe me.

Fast forward six years to December 2012, my first year of teaching, when I purchased my first smart phone.  A co-worker and I both had new smart phones and we were excited to try these “apps” we heard so much about.  “You should check out this app called Snapchat.  All the kids are using it and it’s kind of fun!”.  Sure enough, it’s awesome, and over the past two years I have developed a lesson for students to learn about similar triangles through the use of Snapchat.

Somewhere around the same time, I began using this thing called Twitter.  You may have heard of it.  My college roommate’s pet tortoise had an account and tweeted about eating lettuce, and my friends used it to share tidbits of our 2012 roadtrip.  Little did I know four short years later I would be using it nearly every day to connect, share, and discover innovative ideas centered around education.  Something happened in the years from 2012 to 2016, and it was great.

I share these stories to show that I really started out on the other end of the “tech-savvy” spectrum.  I grew up with a computer, yes, but compared to my peers, I always seemed to lag a few years behind.  Although I would say I was not very tech-savvy when I entered teaching, I would argue that I quickly became “tech-curious“.  This has led to amazing growth for me as an educator and as a leader.

Being “tech-curious” is an old way of thinking wrapped with a 21st look.  Being tech-curious means that you are realistic about the world in which we live and are determined to find the best ways for students to learn and for peers to improve.

Long before the modern era of iPads, Chromebooks, Smartboards, and apps the best teachers still understood their students.  They understood pop-culture, they understood the most popular styles, and they understood the pulse of each generation; they understood what made their students tick.  Today is no different.  A teacher today understands that smart phones and other technology are part of our students’ lives, and it is our job to find a way meaningful way to bring it into our curriculum, pedagogy, and reflective practices.

I believe being tech-curious is important because using technology effectively offers students more opportunities to collaborate, publish their work, and personalize their learning.  If you are a new teacher or experienced, tech-savvy or not, you have the opportunity to say “YES!” to being tech-curious.”  The change is not instantaneous but curiosity begins to drive who you are as an educator, and you will constantly find yourself tweaking, refining, and asking “is there a better way?”.

Once again, I am labeled one of the “tech-savvy” teachers at my school.  This surely has more value than my 2006 Myspace page, yet I still don’t really feel I have earned the title.  “Savvy” really makes it sound like I have a clue what I’m doing.  Perhaps a title more fitting would be “Likely to try new technology tools, probably screw up, share successes and failures and then annoy people with reminders to tweet their work as well”.

Kind of long winded…perhaps I’ll just go with the title – tech-curious.

My Journey With Growth Mindset

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Past

If you’re like me, you enjoy teaching, and you enjoy finding cool new ways to help kids learn. Specifically, I teach math.  Learning math can be a struggle.  I know that teaching it is!

In my experience teaching, I have tried new tricks, I have tried to make math more engaging, and in my student teaching days I even rapped about it (probably something I should bring back).  With all of these attempts I still found that my students that “cared” worked hard and found success, and those that “didn’t care” struggled to learn or be engaged at any time.

Along comes growth mindset – a new idea.  I like new ideas.  I burn through more of them than the average person, but I find triumph in trying something that most people haven’t – even if the idea crashes and burns.  And trust me, they’ve burned.

I began my experience learning about growth mindset in a free online course I took through Stanford one summer, How to Learn Math.  In the course they presented math as the meaningful connection of ideas and conjectures, and it emphasized the importance of students modeling and sharing their experiences with these ideas.  Most importantly, it emphasized the importance of failure and the importance of making (and sharing) mistakes.

In the course, I was introduced to Carol Dweck and her work with growth mindset.  I was intrigued by her research, and the following year, I began to use the language in my classroom.  I embraced the mistakes that students made and tried my best to use language that would help foster a growth mindset.  Half way through the year I started to question whether this new idea was all it was cracked up to be.  I found myself saying, “Is anyone even listening?”  I still had those go-getters that were finding success, and I still had those strugglers having difficulty.  Perhaps this was yet another crash and burn, which is pretty standard in room 253.

And then, this happened.

A student sketch of me talking growth mindset.

A student sketch of me talking growth mindset.

It was not uncommon for student to make sketches of me.  In fact, I recall one class period where a student drew normal Ulrich, skinny faced Ulrich, fat faced Ulrich, monkey Ulrich, and even Ulrich as a banana.  I know, I’m inspirational.

What was different about this was what the student quoted me saying.  When this student decided to draw a picture of me, rather than saying something mathy, I was encouraging students to work hard and stretch their brains.  I got one of those warm fuzzy feelings.  They’re listening!  This growth mindset thing actually gets through those ears!  On a side note, this class also liked to yell “SHAME!” every time I made a mistake on an answer key or in the notes and that also appeared in the drawing. We’re working on that…

Present

To start this school year, I decided to focus on developing growth mindset in my students early and never let them forget it.  We worked more as a group and I emphasized the importance of collaboration and using each other to find mistakes.  As the year progressed I found myself saying a lot of the same lines to encourage students to change their mindset.  Here are a few:

Worse case scenario you get it wrong and learn something”
         – I use this when students are reluctant to share their work.

That is the PERFECT wrong answer.  Thank you.
         – I think it is important to be as excited about incorrect answers as the correct one.

“Awesome!  Guys, let’s check out this mistake.”
         – I like finding mistakes and then sharing it with the class.  It goes a long way to make people comfortable with making mistakes.  As an added bonus, learning occurs!

“How are you supposed to stretch your brain if everything is easy?”
-This is a good response when students are complaining that something is too difficult.

“I made it difficult so that you can actually learn something”
        -Even the brightest students with a fixed mindset can be annoyed by challenges.  As teachers we want to push students and this phrase I’ve use a lot with honors students.


Growth Mindset In Action
im so sick of school

Let me tell you about a recent situation I encountered.  I have an honors geometry student that is just the best.  She works hard, asks questions, comes in outside of class when extra help is needed, and truly cares about understanding math.  You might even say she has a growth mindset, and yet, last week math class made her utter, “I’m so sick of school”.

What did it take?  She earned a B- on a test with a few essential skills also incomplete.  She worked really hard to prepare for the test and still came up with less than she hoped.  It’s not the first time I’ve heard the phrase, and I know it won’t be the last.  What would be your response?

“Keep working hard!  You’ll do better next time!”

“Earning a B- is not bad!  That’s still a really good grade!”

“You get an A for effort in my book.”

The problem I have with each of these approaches is that it brushes off the learning that actually occurred.  This student worked really hard and, yes, she came up short, but why not focus on what she did learn?  Here was my approach as soon as she said, “I’m so sick of school”.

lets find your mistakes

Response #1: Let’s find your mistakes.

I took the time to look over her test with her.  What we found was that she was very skilled in visualization and breaking down shapes into more manageable pieces.  She was persistent in solving difficult problems and took many approaches in order to find the solution.

On the contrary, her struggles were very small.  She forgot to use pi in a few problems and read too quickly, misreading the numbers given.  Her struggles and stressful B- assessment came down to a few silly errors.

Response #2: Look at all you learned.  You didn’t know how to do any of this two weeks ago!

Taking the time to point out all of the concepts she understood took 90 seconds out of my day, but did a world to show this student that her hard work did, in fact, pay off.

Future

Recently I read an article shared by a colleague, and it rewired the way I think about growth mindset.

 “It seems the growth mindset has run amok. Kids are being offered empty praise for just trying. Effort itself has become praise-worthy without the goal it was meant to unleash: learning.”

The article challenges the average proponent of growth mindset, forcing them to rethink the way in which growth mindset manifests itself in the language, curriculum, and assessments of their class.  After reading it, I boiled implementing growth mindset into these four questions:

1. What specific language do you use to encourage growth mindset?
-Do you value mistakes?
-Do you value struggle over speed?
-Share your growth mindset language with the hashtag #growthlanguage

2. How do we model the process for students?
-If we ask students to embrace mistake and overcome struggles we should probably being doing it too.  What does that look like in your classroom?

3. How do we create a system that allows for a growth mindset?
    -How can we value mistakes and struggle if we don’t give students a chance to fix them and learn form them?
-Telling kids they can succeed but not giving them the support or tools to get there is something we probably do but need to change.

4. How can you demonstrate to students they are learning and growing?
    – Think about the student that says, “I hate school.”  How can you show them that all of the work they are doing is paying off?  I’m not talking about the gradebook or even pre-test/ post test.  How can we connect their struggles and effort to their success, however small it may be?

 

These are the questions I hope to answer moving forward.  Being mindful of them and working toward progress is where I’m at now.  I’m sure crashing and burning is still in my future, and, yes, I still will have some students that care and some that don’t, but I’ve noticed an overall change in my kids.  They’re growing; they’re working hard and persisting through struggles more than they did at the start of the year.  I’ll count that as a win.

Rewiring the Teacher Brain for Growth Mindset

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Teaching growth mindset is not as much “showing students how” as it is a “changing the way we talk about what we already do”.  If we are able to talk about learning differently, it becomes embedded in daily routines.  Here are a few subtle changes I made to my syllabus this year.

Old syllabus

EXTRA HELP:

Get it when you need it!!   After school!  Before school!  During class work time!  From your friends!  From me!  From other teachers!  From parents!  From older siblings!  From a tutor!  From the internet! From Khan Academy! The possibilities are endless – YOU just need to make the effort.  Just like life, math doesn’t come easy for most of us – you have to work at it!

New syllabus

GROWTH MINDSET:

Work hard and ask for help when you need it. After school or before school! During class work time! Browse the internet! The possibilities are endless – YOU just need to make the effort. Just like life, math doesn’t come easy for most of us – math is not about speed, it is about the struggle!

As you can notice, very little changed.  Instead of implying getting help is an extra part of learning (making kids feel dumb if they need to get help), I express that hard work is part of the learning process and that asking for help is the norm.  I like how the original paragraph emphasizes effort, but I tried to take it further by emphasizing that struggling is okay.  If students are content with solving problems quickly we are robbing them of real learning.

I challenge you to choose your words carefully when creating documents and especially as you are talking with students.  It is not easy at first, but soon enough it becomes a normal way to talk about learning.

Creating a District Culture of Sharing

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Teachers are awesome people.

They care about kids.  They force students to challenge themselves.  They make learners question the world around them, and when needed, they listen.  Yes, I am a teacher, but the stories from other educators are what inspire me.

There is one weakness of teachers that I would like to point out but hope to improve: sharing.  For all of the awesome things that teachers do in the classroom we are afraid to have someone else look at our work as if somehow the miracles we perform on a daily basis aren’t up to someone else’s standards.

Here are three ways I plan on trying to start building a culture of sharing.


1. Make time to watch other teachers teach.

How?

I’ve been saying that I want to this for years now, but this year I’m going to make it happen.  It is easy to make excuses.

-I’m a young teacher; I don’t have time for it.
-My curriculum changed; I don’t have time for it.
-I’ve got parents to contact and I’m behind in grades; I don’t have time for it.
-…you get the picture.

We make so many excuses that we don’t have time…and I get it, I make those same excuses.  So here’s what I’m going to do (hopefully blogging this will help hold me accountable):

Make a list of people that I would like to see teach.  Ask them if I could come watch them teach. Schedule a specific day and time to watch them teach and add it to my calendar.  Things come up, yes, but reschedule and make it happen.  Think of it as a meeting, but this meeting you will actually grow as an educator.

Why?

I will get a better understanding of what my students go through in an average school day.  I will be able to see how other teachers question students, encourage students, and hold them accountable for their learning.  To think that I know all there is about teaching or that my way is the best is simply foolish.  How can I grow unless I am introduced to what else is out there?

I can create a better relationship with my peers.  If they are comfortable with talking about it, I can ask them their rationale behind decisions.  Did you notice you did this?  Why did you make that decision?  It creates an opportunity for educators to be reflective while having a meaningful conversation about improving learning for students.


2. Create a hashtag your district can use to collaborate and share resources or ideas.

twitter

George Couros is a boss educator, and I had the pleasure of listening to him speak at ISTE 2015. One of the many moving quotes was simple:

“Isolation is now a choice educators make”

Often we as teachers hide away in classrooms, overwhelmed with the tasks that lay before us, but twitter presents a new form of learning, connecting, and growing as professional educators.

How?

I plan on writing a more detailed layout of how this has worked in my district, but here’s the general roll out of what I have done in regards to creating a district hashtag.

1. Find a hashtag that is short and not already used by others.

2. Find other innovators and tell them about your idea.  Keep this group very small for the first few weeks to generate content and help determine what type of content will be shared.

3. After three to four weeks try to expand your group to other early innovators.

4. Try to get administration on board – show them or, even better, have them try it!

5. Ask to share the idea with the rest of the staff.  Take time during the next staff meeting to share your thoughts.

6. See if you can lead training sessions for interested staff members.

Why?

In this day and age we have access to all of the info in the world, but more importantly, we have access to one another (another Couros quote).  In the crazy routine of teaching there are days we do not have a moment to eat lunch or even go to the bathroom.  Getting out of our room to have a conversation seems daunting, but taking a minute to tweet one awesome thing that happened each day allows us as educators to connect, have conversations, and share learning at pace that matches our lifestyle.



3. Create a Tagboard to share experiences in the classroom, at sporting events, and in the community.

vision

Districts are made up of much more than teachers.  To fully create a culture of sharing, students, parents, administrators, coaches, and community members also need to be a part of the process. Many of these members are already producing content whether it is on facebook, twitter, or instagram. Tagboard allows all of these mediums to be collected and shared in one place.

                                                How It Works

Anytime someone uses a hashtag on facebook, twitter, or instagram it is displayed on a tagboard devoted to that tag.  For example, check out the tagboard for #badgers.  As you scroll, you can see that most of the content came from twitter and instagram, but there are occasional facebook posts that appear as well.  All that is needed is a simple tag you can use for your community and spread the word to start sharing.

                                   Why?

Taken from https://ggulibrary.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/featured-database-statista/

Facebook, twitter, and instagram all tend to be favored by different demographics.  From my experience, many parents have and use facebook.  They love to post pictures of their daughter/ son’s sporting events or club outings.  Some parents, teachers, and students prefer to use twitter to share experiences.  For me, it is the preferred method to share content.  Lastly, the preferred form of social media among students is instagram.  They already throw a million hashtags on their pictures; why not add one more that will share a classroom experience/ basketball game/ musical/ band performance/you-name-it with others excited to be part of the community?  Could you imagine a district where student learning and success was displayed openly and everyone was welcome to be part of that community?


I plan on writing more about my experiences as the next school year begins, but I challenge you to find ways to expand your comfort zone and push others around you to share more of what you do on a daily basis.  Teachers are awesome people – its time to show off.  Own your greatness; everyone loves learning.

What Is The Point Of All This Data?

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http://spotfire.tibco.com/blog/?p=10941

“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see” – – John W. Tukey. Exploratory Data Analysis. 1977.

 

Data is everywhere.  Data is used in sales, marketing, politics, and now more than ever education.  Information helps to inform businesses and mobile apps, and helps to shape the world around you.  The card you scan or number you enter at the grocery store gives the store a snapshot of your spending habits.  Those things you “like” on facebook dictate the ads that you see when scrolling through your news feed.  There is plenty of data floating around in the world, but only the best organizations understand how to interpret it into something meaningful.

21st education understands that data collection is important, but I believe that interpreting is still in its infancy.  School districts cannot afford statisticians and often we are left with spreadsheets of data that tie only numbers to students. Ugh, spreadsheets.  What – a – headache.  Way too much time is spent figuring out what number goes with what student or whether that number means growth, mean score, percentile, or whatever.  Either way you put it, interpreting the data is HARD.

What is the point of data in schools?

1. Large amounts of collected data should help see pockets of strengths and weakness in a building to make celebrations and next steps more clear.

When a company finds that some employees are thriving and others are struggling two questions arise.  What makes the thriving members so great, and what support do the struggling members need?  Without proper visual displays of data, it becomes difficult to determine the thriving members as well as those in need of support.  This is a problem and impedes potential progress for schools.

2. Smaller, more individualized data, should help paint a detailed picture of each student.

Between the MAP, ACT, and ASPIRE kids are absolutely tested out.  Throw in literacy assessments, math tests, and every other academic grade students receive I sometimes wonder the actual ratio of learning to assessing.  Every student deserves their information to be collected and visually organized in a matter that can help them and others make meaningful connections about their learning.

Possible SolutionsMAP

While attending ISTE 2015 I sat in on a session led by Sujoy Chaudhuri and Shabbi Luthra.  Their approach to data was interesting.  Instead of looking at MAP scores through a spreadsheet, they created visual displays that broke the scores into smaller strands and organized students visually depending on their strength or weakness within a set of skills.

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Instead of deciding which teaching standards needed to be emphasized and hoping it would work out, they tracked and compared artifacts as they related to ISTE standards, state teaching standards, and Marzano’s effective teaching strategies.  They were able to visually see areas of weakness, emphasize the work, and within a year a visual improvement was noticed.  It is amazing stuff when the data is presented so clearly.

Things to Consider

Regardless of the data collected it is up to you to determine what patterns are important.  As said by Blaise Pascal, “We are more easily persuaded by the reasons we ourselves discover than by those which are given to us by others.” We were left with these guidelines when interpreting data:

Wonderings – What do you find yourself wondering about as you look through the data? Wonder, discuss, uncover but don’t jump to conclusions

Observations – Look for patterns. What are you seeing? What are the outliers? What are the surprises?

Connections – Start to connect the data with your background experiences with a student, a class, a grade level, a school, a curriculum, other variables and other data

Questions – What are the questions you find you need to think about, talk about, act upon?


Whether you are a teacher or administrator it is important to find ways to produce and interpret visual representations of data rather than spreadsheets and lists.  Too often we find what want to see in spreadsheets and use data to justify our own rationale.  We now educate in the day and age where data rules.  It is time we find an effective way to use it and help propel us forward.  If we don’t, I’m afraid we will continue to spin our gears and not find meaningful progress.

If your school or district uses data in an interesting and meaningful way will you please share?

 

How do you keep teachers?

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What is the reason that teachers stay?

Seriously.  I am curious.  Is it the summers?  Is it the feeling we find when a light bulb goes off for a student?  Is it the “maybe next year it’ll work” mentality?

I don’t know if it is the case in other professions, but teachers complain. A LOT.  We complain about the number of hours we work, we complain about the salaries we deserve, we complain about lazy students not doing their job, we complain about administration not being there for us, and we complain about the whole education system going to hell in a hand basket.

Many, if not all, are totally justified, but …then what?  Where do we go from there?

People on the outside see this complaining and have plenty of other things to say about teachers; administration could look at it and make arguments about the budget or bring in professional development to “help” manage time and teach new strategies.  These too are also well founded and have their importance.

 

What I Enjoy About Teaching

1) Teaching is creative

If I was stuck in a cubicle all day doing the same thing each and every day I would die.  The chaos of teaching, I think, is also one of its greatest strengths.  There is no “one way” to teach a child or share an idea.  Instead we struggle each and every day to find a new, creative way to get little Johnny to class on time, Sarah to share her thoughts on the civil rights movement, and Shauna to argue her reasoning about a mathematical formula.

2) Teaching is collaborative

…or at least it should be.  In my job I collaborate with other teachers all of the time.  We compare results, we develop curriculum, and we share assessments.  The most important aspect of our collaboration is our professional growth.  Collaborative conversations force us to be reflective and we stretch our thinking by combining the thoughts of two to four minds that all see a situation through a different lens.

3) There is room to grow and pave new paths

Any teacher can tell you that you they are always learning – about content, ways to teach content, methods to deal with behavior, or even ways to communicate with peers.  The real exciting part, though, is that 21st century learning is basically untamed and WE are the ones that will shape what the next 50 to 100 years of teaching and learning will look like.  This is what motivates me each day and excites me as I fall asleep at night.

 

So that brings me to the question…how do we keep teachers?  There are definitely some awesome things taking place in education, but at a certain point the stress outways the perceived benefits.

 

Reasons I Can’t Make Teaching A Life-Long Career

1) I think I can make a bigger difference doing something else (administration, research, non-profits, private sector)

As a teacher I affect 150 or so kids that are in my classroom throughout the year.  Add that up and over a career of over 30 years that means I will have had 4500 or so kids that crossed paths with me and I was able to affect hopefully for the better.  Tally in extracurriculars and other staff, maybe somewhere around 6000 people.  The thought always bounces around in my head, how can you do more?  A principal affects an entire school and hundreds of teachers during their tenure.  Researchers and new ideas can radically change the course of education, and outside groups often have more money and freedom to work on projects devoted to any passion ready to be pursued.

2) Which direction is up? – Money

I do nearly the same job as other teachers in the school and just because I have been teaching less years I get paid thousands of dollars less?  I totally understand paying teachers for experience and the wisdom/ leadership they bring to the school, but as a young teacher “trapped” in some pay scale based on years teaching and possibly if I received a masters (which is a whole different blog), I have no reason to be motivated and no stars to shoot for.  Luckily, money is not the reason most people get into teaching.

3) Which direction is up? –  Leadership

There is a ceiling in teaching when it comes to leadership.  As a young teacher, I try to be like a sponge, absorbing as much information and many good practices as I can from experienced educators in my building and through blogs/ twitter.  Eventually I can be more of a leader, possibly a mentor some day, and even end up as a curriculum/ department chair if I play my cards right somewhere down the line.

What doesn’t sit well with me is that all of these jobs are really the same thing!  The next 30 years of my life and career would be devoted to…the same thing with a few things added here and there – all of which are added on top of the regularly expected hours of teaching.

 

So then, why do teachers stay?  Or even better, how to we get more teachers to stay, while at the same time attracting more teachers to the profession?  I will offer my thoughts and encourage you to do the same by commenting or sharing your thoughts via twitter.

Educators do not equal teachers.

My thought is simple to write and tough to do.

When I am hired and employed by a school district, I am expected to teach children.  I am expected to make sure that kids take tests and that they pass.  There is a lot that goes into it including caring about kids, conversations about them and with them, evaluations of our own, and forms to fill out for the state.

Almost never, though, do people expect teachers to receive a paycheck for learning or for sharing their work with others.  Stay in your classrooms, society says, and teach our children.  That is what we pay you to do.

If ambitious teachers are expected to stay in education it is absolutely necessary that they have the room to grow.  I’m not talking about slow change, the kind that takes 30 years; I am talking about the kind of “I have a dream to change the realm of education” growth.  We need to be given the tools to be able to test out our ideas, fail, and learn, all the while knowing that we are supported.  When we have ideas that work we need time to share them with people – I mean actually share them at a deep level and have time to meaningfully see the ideas through.

  • pay teachers to watch other teachers teach (within and outside of the district)
  • pay teachers to research best practices (twitter, blogs, provide them with research & guidance)
  • pay teachers to help other teachers learn
  • make time for teachers to share their ideas to other staff members
  • make time for teachers to share ideas to other districts

Some of this districts do, but it is usually on top of a regular work day.  I teach six classes and I’m not about to be taking on more.  Instead, we need to count research/ learning/ sharing as part of the work day.  If you want good teachers to be good you need to give them time to learn, practice, and most importantly share what they do.

These are just a few of my thoughts.  I would love to have a conversation with anyone about these ideas.  Let’s figure this out.  What does it take to keep a teacher?

Pre-Thanksgiving Thoughts for Post-Thanksgiving

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Recently I attended the Midwest Google Summit and was inspired by the energy, creativity, and truly innovative thinking that defined the conference.  Back in the classroom for a week, I am frustrated that I cannot instantly reach the level of so many of those innovators.  Nonetheless, I aspire to use technology to make learning as effective and engaging as possible.  I sit here days before Thanksgiving and I have thoughts jumbled in my head about how I can revamp my teaching upon return.  Here are my thoughts:

Have students reflect on their learning openly and online

Why?
I want students to reflect on their learning as I reflect on my practice.  I want students to understand, like teaching, learning is a continuous process that changes over time.  To steal a quote from the conference “education’s biggest measure of success is change”.  We look for student progress but never ask them to reflect on the process.

How?
I am considering the students begin a blog or a website.  I want students to share their learning openly to a community outside of themselves.  This way students are not only being reflective, but they are able to receive and learn to deal with feedback from others.

Post & Organize Course Material Effectively Online

Why?

I am not the most organized person.  It just happens to be a fact and there are plenty of people that can vouch for that.  If I can find an effective way to manage and post course material for students I believe they will benefit greatly.

How?

 The first change I am making is turning all of my notes into a google presentation.  I previously used Smart Notebook but now realize that without using all of the interactive gadgets it really is not any more special than power point.  The added benefit google presentation offers is the ease in sharing it with students.  No more printing off notes of the lecture.  No more “slow down” or “can you go back?”.  If students are gone… the notes are there!

The second change is that I want to utilize my google site in a more effective way.  I want to make sure that the day’s lesson is clear and obvious for students, and if they need past material it is simple enough to find.  Finding the right pieces to the site is essential moving forward.

Moving forward…

Those are two of the biggies that are on my mind.  Other concepts that I have thought about and need more insight on are:

1. How can I use google forms on a more consistent basis to help our class reach the learning goal?

2. How can I post our class progress that will be beneficial to student learning?

3) How do I create a website that parents feel comfortable using?

4) At what point am I just trying to hard… just shut up and teach math…

Midwest Google Summit 2014 Reflections and New Apps

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Sitting here at 6PM after the first day of the google summit for education my brain is overloaded.  Not the normal exhaustion that a school day brings, but a plethora of ideas and tools that I am excited to learn.  Here I offer a few of my reflections and key take-aways as well as a list of the apps that are either completely new to me or I am excited to explore more.  If you have other thoughts or other useful apps that you know about or learned this week please share them in the comments below.

Start, stop, share.  I love this phrase because it is simple.  For change to happen on a large scale it needs to start small and have a clear direction.  This simple phrase has given me that direction.  It is clear attending this conference that people are excited to start the journey that we all need to take to define 21st century learning.  People are open to sharing ideas and failure is encouraged in every session I attend.  We, like our students, are life long learners and I cannot wait to begin modeling that with my students and encouraging the explore because learning truly is an adventure!

Here are a few key questions and comments that made me deeply think about myself as an educator and is interesting food for thought.

  • What form of literacy will students need in the 21st century?  Is posting/ commenting on facebook/ twitter the new look of civic engagement?
  • communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking => are students doing this EVERY day?
  • there is a massive teacher gap, technology is pushing us to innovate and sometimes fail, but it is an adventure
  • We work in an industry whose greatest measure of success is change
  • before students are asked to present to the whole class, have them present to small groups
  • assessing students on collaboration and other 21st century skills needed => goes on report cards but not transcipts
  • a teacher asked students to find an oceanographer on twitter and ask them to help with a project
  • scheduling times with students to take reasessments on google calendar
  • teachers need to demonstrate what getting frustrated looks like so that students can see the proper way to deal with it
  • “Students should have their own personal (public) twitter.  It will be on their resume some day”
  • “I prefer google community (with reminder texts) because I get a notification on my phone – planners take up too much space”

A list of apps that I learned about today

Apps I LOVE

g(math) – google add-on; I love this because it allows me to write formulas, expressions, and equations into google docs and forms.  Really excited about the graphs that I can make in forms.

Google Calendar  – I already use this, but like the idea of setting appointments with students.  Especially with math reassessments needed to demonstrate proficiency

Google Keep – keep.google.com – A student found this and shared it as away to make awesome checklists.  I haven’t had a chance to explore it, but I remember being very excited about it.

TLDR – cool app; not sure if I’ll use it as a math teacher.  Shortens articles so students can see if an article is right for their paper.  Stands for “too long didn’t read”.

Twitter Bingo – okay, this is more of idea, but I loved it!  Used on a field trip or possibly for opening inservice to make an experience more interactive!

Tweet Deck – check it out if you love twitter.

Screencastify – easy way to record whatever is on the screen

Apps/ Websites I Plan on Exploring More

code.org, madewithcode.org, blackgirlscode.org  – using code to bring equality to classrooms; teaching a 21st century skill to all students

Google Draw – this looks like an awesome way for students to organize ideas; if you have ways you have used it please share!

Move it – chrome extension that gives students a mental break

Skype Qik – I was told it is like snapchat, but can be 42 seconds long..intriguing.  Did you just get the snapchat notification about “snap pay”?  My mind can’t even begin to handle this.

 

Mostly there are tons of things, but I am hungry.  Who is going to party tonight?!  I’m happy to learn of awesome things you have done and share my seemingly small resources compared to the giant known as google.  Please comment.  I’m all about learning more!  @mr_ulrich_uw

*not proofread and I’m a math teacher so get over any grammar/ spelling issues…*