but we focus on test scores!

testscores

My students come to class hungry

not knowing where the next meal comes from

but we focus on test scores.

My students come to class tired

They have not had a full night’s rest

but we focus on test scores.

My students come to class anxious

living in fear of violence and abuse

but we focus on test scores.

My students come to class unfocused

so much uncertainty in their world who could

but we focus on test scores.

My students come to class sick

no insurance to help cure their ills

but we focus on test scores.

My students DON’T come to class

having to care for siblings at home while parents work

but we focus on test scores.

My focus will be my students

Maybe if our school reforms focused on students and not their test scores we could really fix education. Schools are but a reflection of the ills in our society. When we truly value education and educators we might find the solution!

we-all-make-mistakes-1

Real Choice Needed

realchoice

As I drove to set up my classroom this morning, I passed a brand new charter academy with a beautiful campus and two billboards advertising neighboring district schools. Educational choices are abundant like picking a brand of potato chips at the store.   Similar to picking chips are the school choices a REAL choice? or just choices based upon the brand names? My kids have long sense realized that the store brands taste the same as national brands. Aren’t mosts schools the same?

Of course schools have different physical facilities and staffs. The content taught and methods used in schools are predominantly the same. When picking a charters schools or school of choice it is more about the marketing campaigns, Zip codes and facilities than about educational choice. Districts and charters are competing for students. Money is being spent on advertising and “shiny” upgrades instead of going into the classrooms to improve learning. Instead of collaborating to offer students real choices in their education, districts are fighting for every last student. It is time to stop the cannibalization of schools! It is time for collaboration.

3 steps to improve choice:

  1. Charters need to offer something different working in conjunction with public school around them. Student populations are very diverse, one method of instruction does not fit every students. Charters should be offering this alternative. If school district offers traditional instruction then charters should offer Project based, flipped or blended options (Some do this now). This way when districts encounter students that are struggling alternative teach methods can be offered and students moved to proper fitting school.
  2. End open school of choice. Too often parents move from school to school based on zip code. This will allow all the funds used for marketing to be redirected into classrooms. Did you know some larger districts employ entire marketing departments?
  3. Encourage neighboring districts to collaborate and establish smaller alternative learning path schools. Many districts are doing these now with Career and Technical Education. Wouldn’t it be great to offer more students a similar choice? Just think if districts offered up a project based or blended high school or middle school option.

Without this coordinated collaboration districts will continue to drain their limited resources fighting for students. Charters will pop up offering no real choice in places corporations see the ability to make money. It works best when we all get better together.

5 Popular Trends in Online Higher Education

online_education

*Guest Blog Post by Ethan Miller

5 Popular Trends in Online Higher Education

I understood the importance of education at a very young age. My father ensured that he made me realize that how privileged I was to attend schools and to have an opportunity to pursue college education. My father had to give up his higher education dreams as his family couldn’t afford to send him half away across the country for college. And the circumstances were such that he couldn’t leave his remote town either. He was a self-made man and it was his emphasis on education that has got me so far in life.

When I think of it, I believe that my father would have loved to be growing up in present times as education is easily accessible to everyone irrespective of their financial situation and geographic location. With the advancement of internet and technology, not just our teaching methods have transformed but also our classrooms have been transported online. Thanks to e-learning, education is available just a click away to anyone who wants it. Online Learning industry is growing rapidly, and more and more students are preferring to opt for online courses as it allows them to experience classroom learning by sitting at home.

While some might argue that it can’t match the conventional teaching practices, I think it’s biggest advantage is that it gives education opportunities to students in the remotest parts of the world. Many colleges and universities have started offering online courses.  While the world is still skeptical about e-learning and is trying to figure out how online higher education works, I bring you 5 popular trends in online education that underlines the effectiveness of online programs:

 

  • Gamification: One of the emerging trends in online higher Education (also my personal favorite) is gamification, which taps on the competitive nature of students and attempts to make learning a fun filled experience. Education based videogames have already proved to be useful in helping school students learn concepts of math, history and geography etc. Gamification has transformed my ESL classrooms as students spend more time in fun reward-based projects than writing long often boring essays. Taking a cue from MineCraftEdu, many colleges have started to gamify their online courses through video games, simulators and online activities that help students to understand the concepts by applying them in practical situations. Few online MBA courses provide their online students with a simulator platform that allows them to run a company and justify their decisions in front of virtual board members. The primary idea of gamification is adding fun elements to dry subject topics in order to improve the level of student understanding.    

 

  • Synchronous Instruction: One of the drawbacks of online education is said to be the lack of classroom experience and socializing with other students. The growing trend of Synchronous Instruction in online learning can put an end to this problem. Synchronous Instruction transports the whole classroom experience online by allowing students to interact with professors and other students through live video streaming, podcasts etc. Also known as real-time instruction, it facilitates face to face discussion between professors and students. It makes the students feel involved in the subject, take part in discussions, ask questions and get instant feedback. Few online college courses have started to use Synchronous Instruction for creating mock drills and simulating real life experiences like pitching ideas to the clients by hiring actors to play as clients in order to help the online students gain hands on experience before they go out in the real world.     

 

  • Asynchronous Instruction: Considered to be the anti-thesis of synchronous instruction, asynchronous learning is considered to be the torchbearer of personalized learning in online education. Asynchronous instruction involves professors sharing lessons, study material, notes, presentations etc. through email and other doc sharing platforms that can be accessed by students at their convenience. It allows students to study and learn at their own pace, something that is considered almost impossible in synchronous instruction and conventional classroom setup. Students, who are shy or introvert, enjoy asynchronous learning as it gives them chance to manage the pace of learning as well as gives them a platform to discuss their problems and shortcomings with professors in private. It also helps the professors to gauge a student’s understanding of the subject with ease. Asynchronous Instruction has been there since the advent of online education, but it is popular even today thanks to its scope of personalized learning.  

 

  • Competency-Based Learning: Inspired from project-based learning that has become popular in schools these days, competency-based learning seems to be a trend that is catching up in e-learning community. In competency-based learning, students’ understanding is not measured by tests or exams but through practical application of the concepts in a project. Irrespective of the field of study, many online college courses have embraced competency-based learning that requires students to complete a project in order to demonstrate their competency on a particular topic. This helps students to think out of the box and understand the practical application of concepts of a subject. If the students fail to demonstrate their competency and fall short in their projects, then the end goal is revised and student continues to learn until they have mastered all the competencies.  It focuses on mastering a topic rather than abstract learning, allowing students to set the pace of their learning. This makes competency-based learning a new pioneer in online personalized learning.

 

  • Social Media Learning: Understanding the influence of social media on student community, Social Media Learning is an emerging branch of online education that taps the fun, addictive potential of social media.  From creating Facebook groups for online discussion of subject topics to using blogging tools for submitting assignments, Social Media Learning is catching up in popularity. Professors in many universities are sharing their instructional videos in Facebook and YouTube and are facilitating an online flipped classroom where students share their understanding of the topic, and engage in discussion through video live streaming sessions. Coupled with synchronous or asynchronous instruction, Social Media Learning can be the next big thing in e-learning industry.

With the advent of these useful e-learning trends, and hopefully many more to come in next few years, I can positively say that online learning is here to stay!

  • Ethan is a dedicated private ESL teacher who also works as an online tutor at various education portals. Apart from his passion for teaching, Ethan loves to write and holds a degree in creative writing. When he is not teaching or writing his book, Ethan loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. You can follow Ethan on FacebookTwitter and check out his blog on WordPress.

Honoring Time

time

“It must be nice having summer off!” Rick exclaimed as he climbed into the passenger seat of my car. “Sure” was my quick response as I put the car in drive as we headed downtown to the 1 pm start of a Thursday Detroit Tigers game. “Hold it a minute, Rick, aren’t you working right now? Must be nice to work from anywhere with flex time.” Rick along with 4 others in my car were technically working on this afternoon. I was the only one with the summer “off”. All jobs are different and honor time differently. Many of my friends work in the corporate world having the flexibility to go to sporting events or other outings as long as their jobs get done. Often these outings are done in conjunction with work. As they are jealous of my “free” summer, I envy their working conditions that honor their time. A teachers day is very different than any other professions. My previous blogs: “A Teacher’s Day” and “7 Hour work day and summer free must be the life” talk about how a teachers work is different than other careers.

How can the educational system honor teachers time? It is critical for us in education to answer this question. As other careers create flexible conditions that honor employees time, the education field appears less and less desirable. Millennials desire a work-life balance. Does our current system allow for this balance?

During the school year, teachers teach during normal school hours. Then they are often expected to attend meetings and other school functions outside of the school day. While still creating lesson plans and grading student work during their evenings. Many teachers end up putting in 50 to 60 hours a week and sometimes more. Teaching pay is not growing at the same rate as other college graduates, but pay alone won’t keep them from quitting. Our educational system needs to change so it honors teachers time! How?

Some suggestions:

  1. Remove mandated number of school days and hours. Focus instead on student learning.
  2. Build time into the school day for lesson planning, feedback and meetings. Many educational systems around the world have figured this out. The US is lagging behind here.
  3. Allow more flexibility in the scheduling of school hours. Why do schools start so early? Couldn’t teachers design their schedules in conjunction with schools?

Education is an inflexible profession because society views the education system as daycare. Schools are used as babysitters for kids while adults work. We need to end this notion and fix our educational system.

What should summer learning look like? 

Digging into worksheet packet Photo by T. Bloch

Today I had to be the mean dad. When school let out in June, Gavin and Grace came home with packets to get them ready for second grade. Fifty pages of worksheets working on basic language arts and math skills. Now with the school year four weeks away we needed to get to work. It was torture for me to sit and watch my two seven year olds do school work on a beautiful Friday morning of their summer break. A question kept popping in my mind as I helped the twins struggle through 5 pages of worksheets. Should schools assign work for students to complete during summer?

The worksheets seemed the standard rote math practice, elementary grammar and some reading comprehension practice. Gavin and Grace completed first grade with good marks, achieving at grade level or above in all areas. Could they use practice to keep sharp? Of course we all can. Do these worksheets inspire students to learn? Absolutely NO. Grace kept asking if she “Had to” do them. “I get good grades, it is summer break.” Gavin chimed in ” Come on dad! I want to go in the pool this is no fun!”  I told them that they didn’t want to be the only students who didn’t complete their work. “Don’t you want to be ready for 2nd grade?” They nodded their heads, begrudgingly returning to their work.

Would I ever assign work like this to my students? NO, I try not to give my students any homework to value their home life. Was this different? 50 pages to complete during the 70+ day summer vacation . It was less than a page per day. Maybe we were just slackers and didn’t make a page part of our daily routine. We read everyday of summer, we do physical activity everyday of summer, should we do a worksheet everyday? What should summer learning look like?

Shouldn’t summer learning be more than a worksheet? (What can you learn from a worksheet anyway?)  Summer learning needs to be engaging. Students need to find the value of learning skills so that when school starts back up they will be motivated to learn. Summer learning should be the freedom to explore HOW adults use their education in their daily lives. The twins learned more attending their summer day camp than they ever will from the worksheet package.

Please comment on what you feel summer learning should look like.

Summer Games Photo by T. Bloch

Tying Knots- Snapshot of Learning

tying knots

“You know the bowline, please show the younger scouts” barked the scoutmaster to the patrol leaders. The younger scouts looked eager to learn holding ropes in hands. The patrol leaders had blank looks on their faces. Eyes looked up as if they were searching for directions written on the ceiling. Finally the senior patrol leader offered help. “Come on! We learned this for camping and life saving merit badges, you know it!” He then offered the common mnemonic device most people learn the bowline know: “The rabbit comes out of the hole around the tree and back into the hole.”  The rabbit’s motion describes how the rope moves to tie the knot.

For some patrol leaders light bulbs went on. Ropes started to move forming proper bowlines, modeling for the younger scouts. The other patrol leaders observed their peers, upon seeing the modeling remembered how to form the knots. One exclaimed: “I never use the bowline, totally forgot!” as he tied a perfect knot.

This small snapshot of learning that happen Wednesday night at Griffin’s scout meeting tells us three key things about learning:

  1. Learning needs to be used frequently to be recalled without prompts. The senior patrol leader had just finished his life saving merit badge that required him to tie the bowline multiple times. The other patrol leaders were more than six months removed the the last time tying the knot. When learning is distanced from assessment, results may not be accurate. Many of the patrol leaders knew how to tie the bowline but when initially assessed failed.
  2.  Prompts help recall. Once the senior patrol leader shared the rabbit mnemonic many  of the scouts who previously master the bowline, remembered how to tie the knot. Many times in our classrooms we expect students to perform without any prompts to help them recall learned skills. We all need reminder prompts, especially if we are removed from the learning. I was recently asked if I remember a person from college. Not recognizing the persons name at first, my friend show me a picture which helped my memory. Auditory or visual prompts will help students students remember skills learned. How can we incorporate them into learning and assessment processes?
  3. Modeling a process reaches most learners. The mnemonic story help some, but the modeling of tying the knot allowed all the scouts to be successful. How do we model before we assess learning? How connected is the modeling to the assessment?

When reflecting on this snapshot of learning it reinforces the negative feelings I get when administering standardized tests. Standardized tests are often distanced from learning lacking any prompts or modeling of skills. How can we create more accurate measurements of student learning?

At first glance one scout knew the bowline knot. After further examination ALL of the scouts knew the bowline. Our goal is for ALL students to be successful. Let’s make it happen!

Overcoming my prejudice 

By: T. Bloch 2016

I have always had a negative imagine of bikers and the motorcycle culture. Growing up the son of a doctor, I was alway told to stay away from motorcycles. My father shared stories from the emergency room about how dangerous cycles can be. Never having first hand connections to bikers, I assumed the movie depictions of bikers as hooligans and degenerates were accurate.

Last week Griffin’s scout troop was asked to help out with a veterans ride sponsored by Wolverine Harley-Davidson in Clinton Township Michigan. At first I was uneasy. Not many scouts were signing up to help out. Griffin, being eager to check out something new, insisted that we attend. I couldn’t say no to my son. With reservations we signed up to attend. Visiting veterans at the VA Medical Center in Detroit is a good thing to do, even if the event is being put on by a bunch of bikers.

We arrived at the Harley dealership early. Griffin was a bit nervous seeing rough bikers all decked out in leather. Smoke pluming from their mouths as they exhaled. I hid my prejudice and  walked up to meet the organizers. We were greeted with wide smiles and open arms. A couple of female bikers were eager to get pictures with Griffin all decked out in uniform. They asked how were heard about the event and were excited to have us join the ride, even from our car.

I was astonished by the organization and rules the cycle club had in place for the ride. We followed the Harley line of 84 bikes the 20 miles downtown to the VA Hospital. Nurses meet our group at the door. The event organizers restated the purpose of the ride: “To put a smile on our VETS’ faces and get them outside for some air”. He announced that the ride raised $10,000 for the veterans recreation services department, “because they need to get outside now and again!” Then each participant went to a hospital ward to deliver a bag of toilettes to every veteran in the hospital. “If they can get in a wheelchair, bring them out to check out our bikes!” Were the last words shouted out before we entered the hospital.

Griffin meet Mr. Z and World War 2 veteran. He was excited to just see a young man’s face. We took Mr. Z outside. He marveled at the wondrous machines parked at the front of the hospital. Griffin listen as Mr. Z shared advice and stories of his experience. All the bikers were interacting with Mr Z ad thanking him for his service. Mr. Z was sad when we had to leave 2 hours latter. He just enjoyed talking to those that would listen.

My perceptions were changed this day. No longer will I prejudge a group based on stereotypes. Thanks to Griffin’s desire to go, I learned that this group of bikers are passionate about helping and serving others. I am sure many road clubs do similar things. My lack of experience led me down a road of prejudice. As learners we need to take on new experience with open minds. We can’t let our fears of the unknown hinder our lives.

As summer’s end creeps upon us, I will need to remember to overcome my prejudices during the up coming school year. Judging students by their daily actions and not lumping them into a stereotype.

Griffin and Mr Z by Tbloch 2016
by Tbloch2016

Working hard to make sure teachers are inspiring the youth of tomorrow.