Tuesday, November 09, 2010

"Post-Post-Observation" Analysis

Recently I completed a full clinical cycle with a colleague of mine, Mrs. K.  I recorded our post-observation conference so that I could analyze it later. Frustratingly, my video cut out without my realizing it, and I lost 15 minutes of the 20 minute postconference.  For that reason, I am relying on notes and memory more than I would have liked. 

Mrs. K and I sat together at a round table in her classroom.  We picked that location so that she would be more in her comfort zone.  I “talk with my hands” and I noticed when watching the video that I did a lot of gesturing and leaning forward.  Mrs. K was smiling and cheerful but more contained and quiet, reflecting her nervousness at being observed even unofficially.  During the conference, I quickly felt that I was “taking over” although I was just reviewing the observation notes at first.   I should have given her more time to talk about her thoughts regarding the lesson before jumping into my notes.  I corrected this during the rest of the conference (the part that did not tape).  Regarding my delivery, I think that I came across as very positive, but also uncertain and too “buddy-buddy” on occasion—reflecting my own nervousness!

We both had copies of the preconference information.  When previously working with Mrs. K, I had thought her to be a “Caring” communication style—primarily concerned with harmony and giving support.  I gave her the inventory from Honoring Diverse Teaching Styles by Edward Pajak, and was surprised when her result was “Knowing,” which is a style more concerned with efficiency, standards and procedures, and getting results.   This helped me to understand that someone can be very nurturing and warm, as Mrs. K is, but as a teacher seeking to improve her craft, she might operate in a very different communication mode.  Suggestions for a Knowing style teacher were to highlight the presence or absence of desired behaviors, be friendly but clear and direct, focus on the observable and functional, and think through new ideas together, all of which I incorporated in the post-observation conference. 

I provided Mrs. K with a copy of my notes from the observation, and we discussed each section.  I made sure to emphasize the positive first.  Her instruction was structured clearly around a gradual release of responsibility model, and her management was excellent.  The two major areas of concern were ensuring that Mrs. K knew that every student had achieved the learning objective, and making sure that all students participated during small group activities.  I gave Mrs. K a few ideas regarding cooperative learning structures that  I have found helpful, and suggested that she attend an upcoming Kagan Cooperative Learning workshop that could help her with both areas of concern. 

I realize that I started the conference in a very directive mode, since I was telling Mrs. K things that I thought were positive about the lesson.  I took that approach because of the suggestions about communicating with a Knowing style teacher, but still felt that it was too “reinforcing,” implying “This is what I, the evaluator, am telling you that you did right.”  However, we quickly progressed to more of a problem-solving discussion.  While Mrs. K is a new teacher, she has extensive substitute teaching experience, including long-term substitute teaching, and was already aware of the areas of concern I noticed—she just needed to think it through and get some ideas on how to approach the problems.   A less directive approach is the appropriate one to take with her overall.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Rows? Pairs? Clusters? Horseshoes?

Taking a walk through my school, you can get a pretty good idea about the methods of individual teachers by looking at their classroom arrangements.

My school is 2nd-12th grade, but I focused on middle and high school classrooms during a recent walkthough.  The most common arrangement is traditional single rows, other than for science labs.  A few classrooms have clusters or pairs of students, and I saw two that had double horseshoe arrangements.  All of our classrooms have interactive whiteboards, so that tends to define the focus of the room.  I use cooperative learning extensively, so my class has tables—the only non-science room I have seen with that arrangement. 

Teachers with rows seemed to use lecture as the primary instructional strategy, although in one class, students were working on laptops.  Both of the horseshoe classes were high school classes engaged in discussions in which students spoke to one another as well as to the teacher.  With both rows and the horseshoe arrangement, the teachers were stationary and were sitting or standing next to the interactive whiteboard. 

In the rooms with clusters, some teachers were stationary, but others were circulating throughout the room.  Some involved mostly direct instruction, but others used partner work or cooperative learning.  Again, the whiteboard tended to be the focal point of teacher activity.

The interactive whiteboard can be a great tool, but at our school it has “glued” teachers to the front of the room much more often. We are both encouraged to use the boards extensively and to circulate extensively—without a slate, this is very difficult! 

A few teachers have gotten together enough donations to buy wireless slates that they can use to interact with the board while moving around the room.  I have one, and it has freed me up to circulate much more during direct instruction segments of my classes.  Since our district is committed to continuing installing the interactive whiteboards in every classroom, adding in a slate for each teacher would be a good idea. 

Our teachers share laptop carts between 2 or 3 teachers.  The carts are big and bulky, difficult to move, and the teachers often struggle to find a place to put them that is both easy to access from both sides and does not block traffic.  Another issue with the laptops is that when students are using them and they run out of power, there are too few outlets around the rooms and none set into the floors.  This results in some odd student arrangements as they sit anywhere they can to connect to an outlet. 

In the next few weeks, I will be spending time on extended observations in several classrooms.  Understanding the physical limitations of the room and different styles of room arrangements will help me to pay attention to how those limitations/arrangements affect instruction, and how the teacher moves (or does not move) in the classroom space. 

I will be offering several staff development sessions in cooperative learning this year, and I need to keep in mind that teachers who are comfortable with rows are not likely to rearrange their rooms to try out a structure.  There are structures that can be done with students in rows, or with students standing up, that I can focus on.  Although my first instinct is to say that group arrangements are THE way to go, I have got to be careful not to project my style onto other teachers.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

School Leadership and "Second-Order" Change

In my last post, I considered school culture and how it provides a basis for the success of reform efforts.  When that positive culture has been established, what else does a school leader need to consider when implementing reform?

Marzano defines two types of change:  first order (incremental, everyday) change and second order (deep, sweeping) change.  In a factor analysis of multiple studies, the following responsibilities were determined to be key to second order change:

1) Knowledge of curriculum, instruction, and assessment -- understanding what the new practices are, how they are supposed to work, the research supporting them, and how they should affect student achievement
2) Optimizer – providing a positive vision for what change could look like
3) Intellectual stimulation – fostering discussion on theory and practice among teachers
4) Change agent – encouraging teachers to challenge themselves and move beyond their comfort level
5) Monitoring/evaluating – establishing an effective feedback system
6) Flexibility – inviting multiple opinions and adapting leadership when necessary
7) Ideas/beliefs – maintaining integrity  by behaving consistently with stated values and philosophy

A leader who is implementing second order reform is going to look very different from a leader who is working on incremental change.  Second order change can be scary and uncomfortable.  The school leader has to maintain integrity of vision and help staff push past their previous limits.  At the same time, the leader has to be acutely aware of the needs of individual teachers as they progress through the change process. 

In a discussion of the Concerns-Based Adoption model, Susan Loucks-Horsley explains that professional developers “have to be facilitators, assessors, resource brokers, mediators of learning, designers, and coaches, in addition to being trainers when appropriate” (1996).  This description also applies to school leaders, who must evaluate the constantly shifting implementation process and respond thoughtfully but decisively.  The difficulty of maintaining this type of balance for the time period it takes to bring about deep change—several years—may be a factor in the failure of so many reform attempts.


Loucks-Horsley, S. (1996). The Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM): A Model for Change in Individuals. Retrieved August 22, 2010, from http://www.nas.edu/rise/backg4a.htm
Marzano, R. J., McNulty, B. A.,  Waters, T. (2005). School leadership that works: from research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  

Friday, August 20, 2010

School Culture and Change

We have seen it before: well-meaning leaders find a well-researched program to meet an important need.  They introduce it to the faculty, do their best to rev everyone up—and then the reform effort struggles for awhile before withering away.   What happened?  Perhaps teachers were stuck in their “caves,” doing their own thing.  Maybe there was direct hostility to the idea of doing things differently.  Or maybe everyone had seen so many reform ideas come and go that they just didn’t see the point in trying.

Even the most promising plan for change will fail if the school culture is not ready to embrace it.   If the idea is the seed, school culture is the ground in which it is planted.  If that ground is “toxic,” nothing will grow.

In his article “Positive or Negative?” Ken Peterson defines a toxic school culture as one that “lacks a clear sense of purpose, have norms that reinforce inertia, blame students for lack of progress, discourage collaboration, and often have actively hostile relations among staff” (2002).   In such a culture, staff learning, which is vital to successful school change, is greatly hindered. 

On the other hand, in a positive school culture, staff is open to trying new things because there is a high level of trust and collegiality.  Commitment and motivation are high.  These qualities provide fertile ground for positive change.

If the school culture is broken, before any substantial reform can occur, it needs to be repaired.  School culture is not a fixed attribute; it is created and maintained by those in the school, and it can be changed.  Peterson describes a school that began combining professional development with shared meals, nurturing bonds between staff members.  Along with rituals and celebrations, leaders can work to see that staff members have the resources they need, and opportunities for collaboration.

Working with staff to shape a positive school culture will go a long way toward preparing for lasting change to take root. 

Peterson, K.D. (2002). Positive or Negative? JSD. Retrieved from http://nsdc.org/news/getDocument.cfm?articleID=430  

Friday, July 30, 2010

Effective Leadership Course - The Journey So Far

I am in week 3 of the Effective Leadership course for the Johns Hopkins University/ISTE certificate program.  People kept telling me about the level of rigor, and I am now a true believer.

How has what you have learned so far in this course shaped your concept of an effective leader?

The first week of the class, the readings seemed to present an effective school leader as a superhero.  According to Kelley and Peterson (2007),
[Principals] must set goals and develop plans; build budgets and hire personnel; lead the organization of work...select structures and coordinate time use; evaluate staff and assess student learning...organize improvement efforts and develop processes for working with clients, customers, and community; and understand and reinforce positive cultures. (p. 358)

Oh, is that all? 

It seems that in many cases, we look at successful leaders and attempt to duplicate what they do, but we can’t duplicate who they are.  I do not feel that I am a “born leader.”  I am envious of people with that seemingly effortless charisma that causes people to flock to them. I recognize that I lack that “it-factor” and will have to make up for it with hard work.   While there was definitely a “leaders are born, not made” component in some of our readings, I was comforted by the fact that there are specific characteristics that I DO have (see previous post), and can strengthen or develop.

Based on what you have learned so far, what are the top 3-5 characteristics you believe a successful principal must possess?

A study called "Teachers' Perceptions of Principals' Attributes," by Mike Richardson, Ken Lane and Jackson Flanigan surveyed thousands of teachers to find out what they looked for in a leader (cited in Stronge, 1996).   The top four characteristics according to those teachers were honest, competent, forward-looking, and inspirational, and can be used to summarize the clusters of attributes/behaviors that have appeared again and again in our leadership study so far.  

Honesty can be grouped with integrity and ethics.  A leader must “walk the talk” or lose all credibility.  Also, being up front about weaknesses can ensure that those weaknesses are addressed.

Competence can be defined as knowledge about education, including curriculum, instructional methods, and school organization, along with the ability to apply that knowledge.  Teachers are unlikely to respect a leader who is not an accomplished educator or is perceived to be unable to “get the job done.”

The importance of vision (being forward-looking) has come up again and again.  With the demands of the job, a principal has to be able to see beyond the small (or large) crisis of the day to an overall purpose.  This higher purpose is necessary to foster motivation and hope, both in oneself and in faculty/staff: 

“[Teachers] need to be reminded that they are connected to a larger purpose and to others who are struggling to make progress. Articulating and discussing hope when the going gets rough re-energizes teachers, reduces stress, and can point to new directions.”  (Fullan, 2010).

Inspiration” can mean different things to different people, from fostering new ideas to giving someone “warm fuzzy feelings.”  For the type of inspiration I am talking about here, imagine th school as a literal ship, of which the principal is the captain.  The captain may have a destination (vision) and know how to set a course toward it (competence), but that does not do any good if the captain is the only person on the boat. Inspiration is being able to get others to join the “crew.”  The first three attributes will go a long way toward inspiring others to get on board, but inspiration takes direct and distinct effort in and of itself.


Fullan, M. (n.d.). Leadership for the 21st Century: Breaking the Bonds of Dependency. Center for Development and Learning. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http://www.cdl.org/resource-library/articles/bonds_dependency.php

Kelley, C., & Peterson, K. (2006). The Work of Principals and Their Preparation. The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership (2 ed., pp. 351-401). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Strong, J. (1998). Leadership Skills in School and Business. School Administrator, Oct. Retrieved July 20, 2010, from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0JSD/is_9_55/ai_77336351/?tag=content;col1

Leadership Characteristics -- do I have what it takes?

This week I did a self-assessment (giving myself a 1-5 rating for each) and an online assessment that asked me questions to give me rating (you can find it here).  I based my ratings and answers on my current actions as a teacher/team leader/trainer when possible, but there were some I had to answer hypothetically.  It’s definitely not a scientific process, but it is an interesting one.

I compiled my seven strongest and seven weakest on both assessments, then compared them and pulled out the ones common to both assessments to check the correlation to student achievement. 

Where am I strongest, and how do those traits correlate to student achievement?  Being a change agent (one who is willing to challenge the status quo), having knowledge of curriculum and instruction, and resources (providing teachers with materials and professional development necessary for the successful execution of their jobs) all have average .25 correlation, which is in the midrange compared to the other responsibilities.

The responsibilities on both assessments’ “worst” list were communication, culture (fosters shared beliefs and a sense of community and cooperation), optimizer (inspires and leads new and challenging innovations),  and situational awareness. (is aware of undercurrents in the school and uses this info to address potential problems).  I believe I do most of these well in my classroom, but not so much with other teachers.  While the correlations with student achievement for the first three ranged from .20 to .25, I am in trouble with situational awareness.  It was my lowest score on both tests, and has the highest correlation to student achievement of ANY of the characteristics, .33. 

Obviously, this is one I’m going to need to work on.  As a teacher, I know there are many issues that are not directly voiced to leadership.  In a leadership position, I would need to spend extra effort on reading between the lines, paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues, and asking about a tense situation if I perceive one. Those are things I can start on now. 


Balanced Leadership Profile. Retrieved July 25, 2010, from https://www.educationleadershipthatworks.org/

Marzano, R. J., Mcnulty, B. A., & Waters, T. (2005). School leadership that works: from research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association For Supervision and Curriculum Development. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Transformational School Leadership

As teachers, why do we work as had as we do? Why do we get to school early, stay late, pore over test scores, make those extra parent phone calls, spend hours fine-tuning lesson plans?  For most of us, the answer is not to get a bigger paycheck or a pat on the head.  It is because we know that what we do matters, and we are passionately devoted to making positive change.  We are focused on transformation, not quid pro quo. 

Transformational leadership is a leadership philosophy focuses on bringing about change by tapping into individuals’ values and by activating the motivation they already have. Teachers are especially, and maybe uniquely, suited to transformational leadership styles.  A transformational school leader is characterized by four major characteristics, as defined by leadership theorist Bernard Bass (1985):

  • Individual consideration.  The leader seeks out those who are on the margins and recognizes the strengths that each teacher has to offer.
  • Intellectual stimulation.  A transformational leader involves teachers in the problem-solving process and encouraging “followers to think of old problems in new ways” (Marzano, Walters, & McNulty, 2005)
  • Inspirational motivation. The leader communicates high expectations using personal charisma and projection of a confident presence.
  • Idealized influence.  The transformational leader is an exemplary model for teachers, a person to whom teachers can look and see a master teacher as well as an administrator.

School leaders can use technology in the shift toward transformational leadership.  When engaging in the problem-solving process, why not connect with administrators and teachers at other schools around the work who are dealing with the same issues?  The data that is at our fingertips can be sorted and reinterpreted more easily than ever before. The Internet provides endless opportunities for professional development.  At large, busy schools where “face time” is at a premium, a school leader can use blogs or Twitter to connect with teachers and to highlight the accomplishments occurring in classrooms.

We know transformational leadership works in education. “A compelling body of recent evidence tells us that successfully implementing local change of the sort that accountability policies advocate requires transformational forms of leadership—at the least” (Leithwood, 2007).   The problem is that proposed educational “reforms” are becoming more and more transactional in nature—“implement these programs and receive extra funding,” or even “produce these outcomes or else.”  District and school leaders must often attempt to reconcile transactional mandates from above with the transformational philosophy that they know is in the best interests of students and teachers.   They must work to transform not just the schools they are responsible for, but also the structure above, so that the potential for positive change is not lost with the next set of legislation. 


Bass, B.M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: The Free Press.

Leithwood, K. (2007). Transformation school leadership in a transactional policy world. In Fullan, M. (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership (pp. 17-25). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Marzano, R., Waters, T., McNulty, B. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. San Francisco: Alexandria, ASCD.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Teach Like a Champion, Part 2

This is the 2nd post in a series reviewing Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov.

Chapter 2 is "Planning that Ensures Academic Achievement."   There are a lot of times when I hear about how schools of ed don't prepare their students well enough to teach, and I am grateful for how well I WAS prepared. (Thanks, Warner University!)  The lesson planning criteria in this chapter-- at least, the good ones-- were communicated early and often to me as an ed major, and I was required to put them into practice early and often.

Technique 6, Begin With the End in Mind-- Don't wait until the night before to plan lessons.  Start with unit goals, then break them down into lesson objectives in a logical sequence.  (Seriously, are there ed schools that don't teach this?  Or is this more directed at 2nd career teachers?)

Technique 7, the 4 Ms of objectives-- Manageable, Measurable, Made First (objective precedes instructional method), and Most Important.  Most Important to what?  "What's most important on the path to college, and nothing else. It describes the next step straight up the mountain."   (My emphasis.)

Here's where I had a "whoa, wait a sec" moment.  First of all, while the first 3 Ms are fairly  objective (pun intended), this one is very subjective.  Who says what is "Most Important" on the way to college?  Creative thinking, for example, is absolutely necessary, and we're not doing a great job teaching it-- mostly because we're so focused on kids passing standardized tests.  What about civic values?  Not on the SAT, but something that is undoubtedly part of a well-rounded education.

Educating children is not a hike "straight up the mountain" of college admission and "nothing else." This is the kind of attitude that gets music and PE tossed out of schools.  Kids need to do some meandering, some exploring.  It's not just "Input 5-year-old, output college freshman who is really good at filling in bubbles but terrible at life." What are they going to college FOR? 

Okay, off soapbox.  Technique 8, Post It, advises posting your objective in kid-friendly language.  Great advice.

Technique 9, Shortest Path.  Aaaand... back on the soapbox.  This is where Lemov takes another swipe (there have been several so far) at what he calls "clever" lesson planning.  What he appears to mean by this is any lesson with criteria other than getting the kid to spit out the appropriate answers as fast as possible.  A good lesson, to him,  is one that has the kids perform the desired objective in the shortest amount of time. Engagement, relevance, etc. are to be "thrown out" as criteria for lesson planning.  "Throw out" is not my phrase, it's his.

Absolutely, mastery of the immediate objective is the MAIN criterion, but it is NOT the only one.  I also argue that I can teach quickly and shallowly-- "yours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply" or I can take more time, teach in a more constructivist way, and have my kids actually UNDERSTAND division of fractions.  I can get them to regurgitate an algorithm, or I can get them to think.  Guess which is the shortest path?  Guess which is the BEST path?

Technique 10, Double Plan.  Meaning that you plan not only your actions during a lesson, but also your students'.  (Again, good advice, but what ed school isn't teaching this?)

Technique 11, Draw the Map. This one is about your classroom environment.  Lemov immediately explains why "pods" of desks are a bad idea. (For one, he thinks that with groups you always have some kids with their backs to the teacher--which, nope, not if you do it right.)  He "is a big fan of rows." Get this man to a Kagan Cooperative Learning workshop, stat. I'm not anti-row, and definitely rows are helpful if you have management problems, but it's not the only effective way to structure your classroom.   However, I absolutely agree that planning the physical classroom environment is a necessary element of planning. 

Last chapter, I had some head-nodding and some head-shaking moments.  This time there was a little head-nodding, and quite a bit of me wanting to bang my head against a wall.  Here's hoping that Chapter 3, "Structuring and Delivering Your Lessons," will be less frustrating.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

My (Self-Assigned) Summer Reading Assignment: Teach Like a Champion

This the first post in a summer series on Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College.

The first chapter/set of techniques concerns“Setting High Academic Expectations.” In each explanation of the five techniques here, I had some head-nodding and some head-shaking moments.

Technique #1, No Opt Out, means that when a student says “I don’t know,” you go back to that student later and have them give the right answer.  Either the teacher or another student can state the answer, or a cue can be given.  This is supposed to teach the student that “I don’t know” is not a free pass to doing nothing in class.  Sounds reasonable, but I could see a student feeling badgered and embarrassed if she is the target of this technique often.  Using a cooperative learning structure such as Think-Pair-Share  prior to asking a whole-class question could make reasonably sure that an “I don’t know” is less likely.

Technique #2, Right is Right, is about demanding exactly the right answer rather than an approximation.  Academic vocabulary and complete definitions of terms should be expected.  Effort should be encouraged, writes Lemov, but not confused with mastery.  I agree, but unless you’re in math class, this is a fairly limited technique in that it only applies to simple recall-type questions.   Get up into those analysis and evaluation questions, and “exactly the right answer” becomes tough to determine.

Technique #5 is No Apology.  Teachers shouldn’t apologize for something being hard or boring.  This one got me. I never apologize when something is difficult (typical response to this-is-hard whining: “Great!  That means your brain’s working!”), but I have apologized when something was boring. I think I’ve looked at is as acknowledging, yeah, this is not terribly exciting, but it’s something we have to do.  However, it gives my middle schoolers an instant mental opt-out clause (“even the teacher doesn’t like it”).  

I know a truly great teacher can make anything fascinating—I’m not there yet.  Working on it. When a lesson rehaul isn’t possible (or falls flat), I have got to use everything I’ve got to communicate that this is important, it’s valuable, it’s relevant. 

Other thoughts: The main thing I’m noticing so far is that these are very teacher-centered and assume a “teacher asks, one student answers” style.  The accompanying video clips reinforce this—rows, silent students, teacher front-and-center.   When I can help it, I don't teach that way, because such a small fraction of the class is observably active at once, and because I find that my kids need to interact and move. It's the Kagan Cooperative Learning school trainer in me.

However, there are times that even the most project-based guide-on-the-side cooperative-learning teacher has to stand up front and deliver content, and some of the ideas here, when implemented thoughtfully and tweaked when needed, can definitely help the teacher do that more effectively.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Blogging "Teach Like a Champion"

Like many teachers, I saw the NYT article "Building a Better Teacher" pop up repeatedly in my Facebook and Twitter feeds as well as my e-mail inbox.  The article featured Doug Lemov, a teacher turned charter school network director, who says he has spent years trying to nail down what behaviors make a great teacher.  His book Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College, published in April, explains these techniques along with providing video clips demonstrating them.

I'm skeptical that what works in a few specific charter schools in the urban Northeast  will apply to all or even most classrooms.  And of course, I'm skeptical that good teaching can be reduced to "49 techniques."  However, I'm always up for adding to my toolbox, so I'm replacing my yearly reread of Harry Wong's The First Days of School (which has the same nuts-and-bolts focus as Teach Like a Champion) with Lemov's book and blogging my way through it this summer to see what I can gain from it.

From my reading/blogging, I hope to reflect on what I do and what I can improve as I enter my 10th year of teaching.  I won't cover all 49 techniques-- even at one a day, that would take me into next school year, when I will have Other Things To Do. I won't be quoting extensively from the book either.  My intent isn't to duplicate the content of the book (hello copyright issues), but to review and reflect on it.

Next post, I'll be jumping right in with Technique 1, "No Opt Out."

Disclosure:  This site is part of the Amazon Associates program.  If you buy one of the books above by clicking on the link, I get something.  So they say. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

We interrupt your irregularly scheduled educational ramblings...

...to bring you eerie/ whimsical foxes frolicking in what appears to be a red, empty diner.  (Sandy Skoglund's Fox Games installation at the Denver Art Museum.)

For my major pre-ISTE sightseeing day, I was debating whether to go to the Denver Art Museum or the Museum of Contemporary Art (not to be mistaken for one another).

Then I found out out that the Denver Art Museum building is by Daniel Libeskind, which made my decision for me.

Libeskind designed the Jewish Museum of Berlin, which I visited during my National Endowment for the Humanities Teacher Institute on the Holocaust in 2008.

His spaces force you to interact with the setting, not just the exhibits.  There are unexpected angles, nooks, patterns of light.  You round a corner and see somewhere you have just been from a completely different perspective.

Even if you can only spend a couple of hours, it's worth the price of admission just to explore the space.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Free Web Tools vs. Expensive Online Learning Platforms

My district spends what is probably a LOT of money on AngelWeb, which is an online learning platform.  Lots of my colleagues adore it.  You can use it for quizzes, polls, discussion boards, blogs, bookmarks, etc.  I keep going to trainings, keep thinking about using it... and keep not doing it.


So far, AngelWeb doesn't do those things as well as the free tools I'm already using.

I use Wordpress as my class hub.  I can do polls there, or use PollEverywhere during class.

Posterous provides password-protected blogs with personalized themes, and UNBELIEVABLY easy addition of media content.  I'll be using it for e-portfolios next year.

Edmodo gives me a private Facebook-like messaging space that I can use for discussions.  I can also set up a "fun" group for the  "Hey what's up?" chatter.

Diigo provides an easy way for me to do bookmarks.  AngelWeb doesn't let me use tags, and with 300+ bookmarks and counting, I need them!  With Diigo, my students can also post and annotate links to my class account, which I'll be taking advantage of this year.

Google Docs is my weapon of choice for class files.  I'm having a little trouble with students not being able to access public files from some browsers, but I have a "dummy" Google account for kids whose parents are concerned about having them set up their own.

The main area where AngelWeb would come in really handy (and the main reason my colleagues like it) is giving quizzes and tests.  You can maintain a huge question bank so that every kid has a different test.  That's not something I really need.  If I want to do an online quiz, I can use Google Forms. (It's not self-grading, but again, that's not something I need.)

Sure, it's a pain to maintain a bunch of different accounts, and it has taken time for me to introduce and implement these in class, but the extra functionality is worth it.

So why is it that these free tools look better, are easier to manage, and are easier for students to use than the Very Expensive systems so many districts pay for?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Johns Hopkins/ISTE Certificate Program... Ready, Set, GO!

Last week, I began the orientation for a one-year graduate certificate program in Administration and Supervision through a partnership between Johns Hopkins and ISTE (International Society for Technology and Education).  Our face-to-face kick-off is at ISTE 2010 in Denver at the end of the month, and then my cohort will work together all year until our capstone experience at ISTE 2011.

I joined the program for a few reasons.  I've become very interested in moving into a technology position, such as a school technology coordinator, or perhaps a district trainer.  I checked into a few Ph.D and Ed.D programs. However, the more I have integrated technology into my classroom, and the more trainings I've done, the more I realize I have to learn.

I'm most hoping to improve in the area of leadership/professional development. As a grade level team leader this year, I've realized that leading teachers is like herding the proverbial cats.  Cats with strong opinions and nice loud voices.  I hope to gain skills that I can put into practice at my small team leader/occasional trainer role for now, then expand later as I take on new responsibilities.

Although I'm an online course veteran (my Master's degree from the University of South Florida was almost completely online) I can already tell that the JHU/ISTE program will be in a far different league.  It's going to take more attention and more collaboration than any online experience I have had so far.

I've blocked out my 60-90 minutes a day for class time (at least for now-- may need to bump that up) and prepared myself to feel like a small fish in a big pond!  I'm also gearing up for more chat-based teamwork than I've done in the past, and will be setting up a Skype account to work with teammates.

As a writer, I've got my work cut out for me.  My classmates are very articulate, both on discussion boards and chat, and the level of discourse is going to be higher than I'm used to.  Even though this makes me nervous, it is also exhilarating to be working with teachers of this caliber.

So... Denver, here we come.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cartoon: "Boy" toys, "girl" toys, and STEM careers

From SMBC.
Computer Engineer Barbie to the rescue?

WallWisher for a Reading Review

I read about WallWisher a couple of months ago on Free Tech for Teachers. WallWisher allows you to set up a quick "wall," to which users can add "sticky notes."  No sign-in needed, and the creator can moderate before allowing a note to appear. 

I hadn't figured out a good way to incorporate it into a lesson yet.  I was overthinking! It's perfect for a quick review. Yesterday, I was introducing a lesson on Australia, and I needed to review some background reading that they had done for homework.  I set up a Facts about Australia WallWisher, and had student groups of 4 work on adding facts they remembered from the reading using laptops.  I set a timer, so there was a great sense of urgency as each group tried to get a fact onto the wall before someone else did (I had a "no repeat" requirement). 

When the time was up, we did a "List-Group-Label," one of my favorite standby activities for intros and reviews. The listing of facts done already, we moved around the "stickies" on the wall into groups with similar ideas, and gave each category a label. List-Group-Label generally works well with post-its and small groups, but is tougher with the whole class-- lots of little, hard-to-read pieces of paper all over the place.  This worked great and provides a record that students can look back at later as a refresher. 

With just over 2 weeks left of school, I am planning to use WallWisher for a "This class is about..." wall that this year's students will leave for next year's.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Sim*Sweatshop and "Persuasive" Games

I teach a 3-day lesson on the impact of globalization that focuses on sneaker design, manufacture, and distribution.  Pros and cons of free trade are discussed, as well as working conditions in garment factories.  Today my students played Sim*Sweatshop, which simulates conditions in a sneaker factory in a developing country.

The "fun" aspect is racing to complete the required 3 shoes in your 12-hour shift (actually 60 seconds, ticking away stressfully).  As your shift wears on, you get tired and have to spend some of your hard-earned wages to buy food and drink, or work more slowly.  Periodically, you are asked to make decisions, like whether to start a union or work an unpaid overtime shift. The more you play, the more you realize that while you can get by for awhile, there's really no way to "win."  The game has a section called "What's the Story?"  where the concepts in the game are explained (and sourced, which I appreciate).  I realized I need to make sure to use those sections when debriefing so that students are actually getting the point instead of just racing to make shoes.

I have used persuasive games/games for change several times this year, including Oiligarchy, Darfur is Dying, Against All Odds, and Ayiti: The Cost of Life.  Some court controversy than others (Oiligarchy is particularly biting in its criticism of Big Oil).  These games provide opportunities for media literacy-- does the game have a "point of view" or bias?  Is it constructed to predetermine a certain outcome?  Did it convince or persuade you to agree with its point of view?  Why or why not? (I always stress that it is okay to be persuaded by a good argument!) 

Developing a "filter" for media consumption is just as important as learning the "official" curriculum, and I don't see it being taught as much as I would like.

Do you use "persuasive" online games in your classroom? Which ones, and what do you think are best practices when using them?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Working the Backup Plan

In my classroom, I have an ActivBoard (we have them district-wide) and a set of ActivExpressions (won them in a professional development raffle-- best workshop ever). 

My ActivBoard projector went kaput on Thursday, and I was assured that it would be fixed by today.  Broken projectors are considered "emergencies."  Still, this morning 9:15 rolled around with no projector.  My lesson for today, concerning population challenges in China, was supposed to include the following:

1) ActivExpression preview quiz (What fraction of the world's population do you think lives in China?)
2) Analysis/discussion of data and photos on the Activboard
3) Research and brief debate on the one child policy
4) ActivExpression survey on whether students agree that the one child policy is a good idea

Note that 1, 2, and 4 were shot without the ActivBoard.  Fortunately, I was able to secure a laptop cart for today. I uploaded the images quickly to my class blog so that students could view and discuss them with the laptops.  I whipped up a quick version of my quiz and survey on Poll Everywhere.  With Poll Everywhere, students can answer by text message or mobile web on phones as well as on the "regular web." This was the first time I had my kids take out  their phones during class this year, and they were very excited-- much moreso than when they use the ActivExpressions. 

My projector was replaced about halfway through the day, and I switched back to my original plan for the photo discussion, but stuck with Poll Everywhere for the rest of my classes.

So my technology backup plan wound up being... more technology.  If I hadn't been able to use the laptops, I could have run some quick copies of the photos, and had the kids hold up sheets of paper with answers for the quiz and survey. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

My First Prezi

I have played around with Prezi for a couple of months, but finally used it in class today.  In my middle school Social Studies class, I teach a Holocaust unit coinciding with my students' reading of The Diary of Anne Frank in Language Arts.  My topic today was Ravensbruck, a women's concentration camp in Germany where I visited in 2008.  My Prezi, Support and Comfort in Ravensbruck, supplemented our conversation and set up a following analysis of art by Ravensbruck survivors. The Prezi took me about 15 minutes to create (but again, I've done some experimenting previously). Mine is very simple, but there are lots of more complicated visual effects that you can build in.

I love Prezi's intuitiveness on both the creation side and viewing side.  Its strength is that it's not locked into a linear structure, but you can still use the "Path" function to create a narrative. I like that you can choose from several color/font schemes, ranging from somber to splashy, so it can be appropriate for almost any content. A Prezi can be used to supplement an in-person lecture or presentation, or it can be designed to BE a self-contained, complete presentation online. Prezi has free educational licenses for teachers and students.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Edmodo and Student Collaboration

Each year, the 7th graders at my school do Travel Fair.  Each group takes on the role of a travel agency and pitch a visit to an assigned country to the Fair's visitors (other students, teachers, and parents).  We take over the entire gym.  It's noisy and colorful and chaotic (280 kids this year), and just completely low-tech. And this year, I'm the coordinator. 

I am slowly attempting to drag Travel Fair into the 21st century.  Last year,  I emphasized online research-- very web 1.0. This year, I tried to focus a bit more on online collaboration.  In the past, Travel Fair groups met at each other's homes.  Now our kids are spread out over a large county, and asking parents to cart them all over the place isn't practical.

I set up an account at Edmodo, a private social networking platform for education.  It's completely private and it's one of the few social networking sites that isn't blocked by our district. Within Edmodo, I set up one "group" for my entire class, another for each period, and finally one for each country group. In Edmodo, my students can share files, links, and comments with one another.

Here's a screenshot from my 3rd period Jamaica group:

The format is very comfortable for Facebook users, they enjoy being able to social network at school, and it really is handy for group collaboration.

Next goal-- using Edmodo for student assignments.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Alfie Kohn vs. Dwight Shrute

A great illustration of intristic vs. extrinisic motivation and the idiocy of token-based economies in education.  Dwight's apparently a B.F. Skinner fan.

Note to Legislators...

Via Indexed.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

(insert squeal of delight here)

Is it August 24 yet?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Backchannel Chat with TodaysMeet

I'm working on incorporating more technology tools into my teaching. The Free Technology For Teachers blog has been invaluable-- I find something new to try on a weekly basis, if not more often. Recently I used backchannel chat with TodaysMeet, one of the few sites that can be used for private chat that isn't blocked by my school district. I had the students conduct a chat while viewing a video (Rick Steves' Iran) and learned a few things:
  • Providing a few minutes of "play" time was essential. They were able to get their "OMG THIS IS SO COOL!!1!1!"s out before we started the actual content.  
  • Also essential:  very clear rules about appropriate vs. inappropriate chat.  One unforeseen wrinkle was that my students are obviously used to ragging each other while chatting-- I had to add a "No insults" guideline.
  • 24 kids + one chat room = chaos.  I wound up asking them to restrict themselves to 10 comments during the video.
  • An effective teacher pauses video content frequently to process with students.  This way, we didn't have to keep pausing, although I did once or twice when the situation warranted it. 
  • Connected to the above: I had to be much more engaged as a teacher than I generally am during a video.  The kids were not only answering the questions I posted on the board, they were asking me how things were spelled, explanations for things they were confused about, etc. 
  • The kids were also much more engaged.  In Kagan Cooperative Learning (the love of my teaching life), teachers are instructed to ask themselves, "What percent of the students are overtly active at once?"  A quick scan of the room showed maybe 1/4 to 1/2 of them in the process of typing a response at any given time.  They were keeping track of the chat, watching the video, and thinking about their own responses.  They most definitely worked harder than the typical video-with-a-worksheet (even more than a really good video with a really good worksheet)-- and they liked it more. 

TodaysMeet could be used across classrooms, with multiple classes logging into the same chat room.  I'm not secure enough to have students backchannel chat while I'm conducting a lesson at this point.  I feel like I need to be able to monitor the chat carefully while it's happening.  For in-class video viewing, though, I think it's going to be my new go-to activity.