31 May 2013

5 Reasons Why Teaching Summer School is Good for Professional Development

I'm beginning my 6th edition of summer school for my district on Monday. My first summer, before we had children and my wife was still working, summer school was a means to cut my teeth in my own real-life math classroom before the fall semester began and stuff got real. 

Teaching summer school is more of a financial requirement for our family now, but there are still several things I enjoy about the summer session that I think make me a better teacher.

1. "Do your worst."
If you can handle what summer school students have to throw at you, you'll probably be prepared for the worst you may see during the regular session. Some summer school students are highly motivated (which is what I expected of all of them before my first summer), and they are a delight, but most in my district come to me with one or several of the following: immaturity, frustration, anger, dejection, ambivalence, complacency. I jumped over a table last summer in the midst of what was looked to be a fight brewing. It was awesome.

2. Try new things.
The thinking on this is that for most of these kids, whatever traditional activities you or a colleague tried during the spring or fall were not successful strategies, so repackaging the regular curriculum into a shorter chunk is asking for boredom at best, and more failure at worst. I feel less pressure to have my lessons or activities go perfectly during the summer because classes are smaller and we meet longer, so its more feasible to clarify directions and completely change course if necessary without sacrificing an entire day's 50 minute period.

I love piloting projects, games, and software in the summer.

3. Motivate, motivate, motivate.
This is for my students, too, but secretly maybe for me the most. :)
There aren't a ton of self-starting, goal-setting 16 and 17 year olds to begin with - you're definitely not going to find them in summer school. Teaching my summer students forces me to rethink why I teach, and what heights are possible for any of these students. 

Morning-grump-Chuck does not fly in summer session.

4. Make new connections with colleagues
Since my district consolidated summer school for our 3 high schools into one building 3 years ago, summer school has meant working more closely with teachers I only see on sporadic district PD days. Collaborating with these teachers during the summer has given me a clearer picture of what goes on across my district and helps me make sense of goals and vision given to us from administration across the street. Most of the trainings on this page were made possible by connections I made during summer school.

5. Prioritize and dump.
You know that practice where you teach some things during the regular school year "for exposure," just because its in your book, or you like that trick? 

Reteaching an entire semester's worth of content is obviously impossible, so the summer session requires refinement of the curriculum to essential topics and strategies. Fortunately for me, my district already has separate pacing guides for the summer, so I don't have to reinvent the wheel every summer.

This year, to cut costs, our district is holding only "credit recovery" courses, which the state allows for students who were close to passing. My class will be 2 weeks instead of the usual 4, so I'm forced to prioritize and predict where the biggest needs will be amongst my recovering students.

Why does this matter for the regular session? The topics we end up covering in summer school often become the subject of smart goals and data collection from common formative assessments in our PLCs.

26 May 2013

5 Reasons Why Common Core Will Promote Creativity

There are a lot of reasons to #stopcommoncore, 5 of which I shared here about its effect on creativity, but let me give you 5 ways CCSS could be good for our right-brained students, and actually promote creativity in our schools.

1. Modeling with mathematics. 
Modeling "real-world" situations with arithmetic, formulas, and statistical displays and inferences is one of the the Standards for Mathematical Practice, which while not much different than the current Missouri process standards (the "placemat"), go a necessary step further for no other reason than acknowledging that technology beyond scientific calculators exist.

Modeling can often leads to multiple solutions and different approaches to the solution of a problem, and require much more holistic thought to a task than simply "Solve the quadratic function by factoring."

Another aspect of CCSS math standards in particular that encourages creative thinking is the new prevalence of statistical literacy in nearly every level. Something I love (and some hate) about the study of statistics is that there are seldom black and white answers in inference. Interpretations of results given a particular situation makes statistical study inherently more of a right-brained activity.
2. Evaluating Authors' Differing Points of View
Is role-play not an element of creativity? When we evaluate viewpoints, replacing the author's attitude for our own, we experience fresh perspectives and we can express individuality in new ways. How do we innovate without empathizing with what is different from our own?
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

3. Using and consuming diverse formats and media.
If you're assessing in your classroom in student centered methodologies, I trust that you're doing more than giving students homogenous paper tests and you're pushing them to use more than 5 paragraph essays to provide evidence of and for learning.

I don't think drawing upon multiple info sources is too much of a problem for teachers, gathering info for lesson plans, but how often do we actually model that and expect it of students?
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
4. Using Design and Digital Media Strategically
Using color for emphasis = good
Using color because its cute = bad

It's a creative work to thoughtfully include media and design in a presentation or project. It's lipstick to have an item on your rubric that says something like, "Student used color."
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
5. Writing Narratives for Real or Imagined Events
From my social studies background, this might be my favorite creativity-promoting standard of them all. I had my Algebra 2 students do this for linear inequalities last fall and a lot of students really got into it. (Kids made up or recounted a scenario in which they could have used a linear inequality to make a decision and gave details of how the inequality was set up and how they used it in the story)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
As far as history class, you're challenging your students to know just tell you what happened at the Battle of Hastings - they should be trying to make you experience it. Like World War Z.

English class, is, admittedly probably less "fun," now, but how many kids were getting overly expressive about Huck Finn and The Scarlet Letter, anyway? The good news is, "creativity" in every other discipline is promoted and has been emphasized. Creativity hasn't left our schools, its been given a purpose and legitimized.

23 May 2013

5 Reasons Why Common Core Will Kill Creativity

My district began compiling PD resources and formally thinking through #CCSS implementation for our administrators, teachers, and parents this week, so I've got common core on the brain.

On the whole, I think our districts' teachers still feel rather in the dark about what Common Core changes will and won't mean for their classrooms, but I think, in part, the action in Jeff City at DESE is to blame. Missouri is not a Race to the Top state, so there has been less funding available for the guiding the transition, so it makes sense, but disappointing nonetheless.

Locally, our Superintendent Dr. McCoy has been a vocal leader in some criticisms of common core and its effect on the creative freedoms of our students in their lit/comp classes.
To say creative writing and literacy for advancement and personal improvement is a focus in our district   would be putting it lightly. Dr. McCoy wears his literary and creative heart on his sleeve (in an all school assembly, even), and I believe many of students see him as a positive African-American role model because of it. (And his transparency inspired me, too.)

Last word of background, my friend at another high school in the district has seen high results in engagement through creative writing opportunities for her students and shared them in our #METC13 presentation.

So here are 5 things you might start missing if you have a passion for creative, written expression.

1. The classics are de-emphasized.
Do you feel like all you ever read in high school lit class were novels, short stories, and poetry? No longer the case. Our students do need more exposure and readiness to informational text, but find me someone who was inspired to change the world after reading an unbiased account of the migratory patterns of monarch butterflies.

2. Journal writing - where does it fit in?
In Missouri Course-Level Objectives, "reflective writing" is listed across the board for all high school courses. I value reflective writing from my experience as a student and an adult, and I think it can be transformative in understanding who we are, what we think, and what we know, and what we value. How are students to find themselves if they're only ever summarizing arguments and detailing main points and themes? Who will write the next century's Walden Pond?

3. Creative writing is devalued
As referenced in the last point, non-fiction, technical writing has been given at least half of the emphasis in the ELA standards, which means fiction writing had to be de-emphasized. Two different Missouri CLEs (W2A and W2D) currently require students to write considering "different audiences", and to employ "imagery, humor, voice, and figurative language." When you're a teenager and you feel like no one else hears you, how do you find freedom in a formal analysis of novel X, Y, or Z?

4. Less choice in composition style
Reading through the ELA standards for high school, what continuously sticks out to me is "analyze, analyze, analyze." writing styles or works. It seems to me that if CCSS are successful they'll have produced an army of literary critics, but who'll be left to criticize?

5. Less time to enjoy and appreciate literature and art.
Those times when you reread a passage because there is such beauty in the alliteration, or you stop in a speech because your heart is racing. If an ELA teacher is "doing" common core right, where does that fit in? Thinking of it this way, if I'm always analyzing my wife, I never appreciate and grow fonder for her. How will we inspire the next generation to beauty and emotion in written word?

But don't fret!  I've got 5 Reasons Why Common Core Promotes Creativity, too.

15 May 2013

DEWALT Mobile Pro iPad Calculator - Demon or Delight?

Note: I have no affiliation with DeWalt - I just love calculators!

This is either the best thing to ever happen to tech school, shop/engineering courses, and applied mathematics, and maker spaces or it will go largely ignored in education.

You have to choose sides with the DEWALT Mobile Pro Calculator - do you think its necessary and helpful for your students to memorize formulas, conversions, and common reference measurements and values, or would you rather take the memorization time and errors away so you can spend more time doing real (ugly, scary, student-centered) stuff? [I know, like I really gave you a choice, eh?]

There is so much loaded in this app! It opens right to the main content screen and you find a scrolling menu on the lefthand side that seems to have all of the calculating options.

"Hmm. Pretty extensive," you think. "Wonder when I'll get to the in-app purchases."

And then you keep scrolling. And keep scrolling. I wasn't going to list all of the functions you get for FREE in the app because it's a long list, but look at this!

  • Loan Compare
  • Notches/Holes, Joists
  • Notches/Holes, Studs
  • Wall Opening
  • Rough Opening
  • Studs
  • Volumes, Various Shapes
  • Areas, Various Shapes
  • Perimeters, Various Shapes
  • Pythagorean Theorem
  • Gross Profit Margin
  • Cost of Acquisition
  • Marketing ROI
  • Trim, Casing
  • Trim, Crown Molding
  • Trim, Running
  • Odd Shape, L
  • Odd Shape, U
  • Odd Shape, Multiple
The calc has templates AND overviews built in -
Your students can pick up the concepts behind the templates
along the way

[Still there? Keep scrolling!]

  • Roof Gable
  • Stairs Landing Height
  • Baluster Spacing
  • Common Differences, Rafter
  • Rake Wall
  • Roof Underlayment
  • Rafter, Common and Jack
  • Roof Hip/Valley
  • Deck Footing Size
  • Roof Conversions
  • Deck Boards
  • Deck Load
  • Roof Shingles/Square
  • Roof Dormer Ridge Board
  • Stairs
  • Ohm's Law
  • Floor Joist Span
  • Total Gross Wages
  • Deck Post
  • Calculator
  • Concrete Slab
  • Drywall, Total LF
  • Paint
  • Area Conversion
  • Auto Lease
  • Auto Loan
  • Concrete Bags
  • Date Conversion
  • Discount
  • Fuel Efficiency
  • Gravel/Stone
  • Length Conversion
  • Mass Conversion
  • Mileage Reimbursement
  • Mortgage
  • Compound Annual Growth
  • Percent Change
  • Sales Tax
  • Savings

[You can do it! Almost there!]

  • Seller's Net
  • Temperature Conversion
  • Volume Conversion
  • Energy Conversion
  • Force Conversion
  • Power Conversion
  • Pressure Conversion
  • Velocity Conversion

This list does not even include the more specialized electrical, business, concrete, carpentry, landscaping, etc packs that you can add on.

Much like when students still need to know what to put into formulas on exams when they have formula sheets (statistics, geometry), whoever uses this calculator must still have a brain and know what they're entering into the template and why.

If your goal is to assess students' memorization of facts and figures and hand calculations, then this app isn't for you. I were teaching engineering, electronics, or technical courses, I without a doubt would want my students to download this calculator to their favorite devices. If you are a math or science teacher that wants to explore more project-based learning, this app would answer a ton of your "what do we need to know" questions. If you aim to get your students solving real problems and applying real principals to their problem-solving toolbox, you should give this a try.

At the very least, download it for yourself! (or your favorite tradesman, handyman, or do-it-yourselfer)

14 May 2013

Jeff Bliss, Luddites, and Graduation Credits

Just happened upon this editorial from Trinidad and Tobago (you know, that country with the TieDye hockey sweaters in D2: The Mighty Ducks) calling for a new Luddite movement, and I'm not quick to disagree.

Wait, what? 

What's wrong?

This is a math and EDTECH blog. Why are you trying to champion the Luddites?

Do you KNOW about the Luddites, or do you only use the word synonymously for tech haters that make your job training and collaborating more difficult (depressing?)

Luddites were about quality. Is it in your life? Is it in your classroom?

All the championing of teacher-teller-offer Jeff Bliss this week has been largely about his passionate plea for impassioned teaching. I get it. The kids our one-size-fits most educational system hurts most are the ones who burned out once, realize they really want it for themselves, and then remember the whole reason they left in the first place. Sometimes school sucks.

Enter the machines to save the day! Flipped class! Online courses! Blogging! Differentiated objectives!

These are great strategies to turn the industrial system on its head - in the right hands. Online courses are wonderful for students who cannot participate in the time or space of the local traditional school. I love how the flipped class gives more time for peer discussion and productive struggle. Mastery systems that deliver differentiated objectives for individual students and groups lead students in goal setting, self pacing, and reward students who want to work ahead without punishing those that need more time.

None of these matter, however, if teachers and admin just go through the motions, gaming the new systems, getting kids through their new technology-enriched courses while patting themselves on the back with the credits they're rewarding. The teenager in front of you is more than willing to get his credits (that word has me thinking about arcade tokens, which is all I feel like they're worth sometimes) from "passing" that course. Are you REALLY helping them? I'm not sure.

Does Jeff Bliss just want to get through high school? I'm sure he wouldn't hate it, but is that what he deserves? Jeff Bliss wants to star on the movie about his life where he made the choice to return to school and in return found teachers who shared an kind of passion with him.

I don't think Jeff Bliss wants his math teacher to be his best friend, but I do think he wants to know his math teacher isn't counting down the minutes until he's out the door. It doesn't matter how shiny and differentiated our systems are if the teachers (even in online courses) are bland robots going through the motions.

Technology is great, but remember, you're also a craftsman.