Category Archives: Observations and Opinions

Observations and Opinions

What would you do?

what-would-you-do

As class starts, I notice a couple of students in the back of the room focusing their attention to a yellow piece of paper. As a 4-minute video clip plays on the screen in the front of the classroom, I circle around to see what is diverting their attention. Incomplete math homework! Hmm, what should I do? I asked myself as I walked back to front of the classroom as the video wrapped up.

When I started teaching this behavior would have invoked anger in me. I would have quickly snatched up the papers and either ripped them up or passed them on to the assigning teacher to inflict a proper punishment. After 15 years in the classroom, I have realized this does not fix the issue of students focus or homework completion. What do most teachers do in this situation? I just want to make sure students didn’t miss the lesson on the periodic table. The video was an introduction to element groups. I felt it was engaging since Gallium is a pretty cool transition metal.

 

I had to make a quick decision. I asked the student to bring me their yellow papers and set them on my desk. I quietly shared my concern about missing the science lesson to finish math work. They both wanted to share excuses: “I didn’t feel well last night!” one exclaimed. I just asked them to return and focus on the task at hand. A bit later in class as students were working independently, I looked at their yellow math pages. I quickly noticed one student had no idea what they were doing and the other hadn’t shown any work. I called each of them up individually. First asking how they arrived at their answers to the first question. Neither one of the students could explain how to do the work. Both shared how they were confused with the assignment. One explained that he was ill the previous night the other confessed that sports practice obligations were taking precedence to his school work. Know that their math class was after lunch, I offered the the opportunity to complete the work during our lunch hour. Both students welcomed the invitation.

At lunch, we talked through the math equations. It seemed that students were not recognizing how to set up the ratio equations to properly solve them. After working through a few examples I made up about sports. Each of them independently worked through the 6 question assignment from the math teacher. As I checked over their work giving them high fives for success. “I though you were going to call my dad!” one exclaimed as he thanked me at the end of the lunch period and headed to math class with work completed in hand.

School needs to be a safe place! Even for those that make mistakes, forget to do their homework or are just plain lazy. Teachers need to focus on the individual students needs giving them time if needed to finish. Sure it is frustrating to have students focused on other classes in mine. I bubble of anger rises in my chest when I see students who seem to waste their time and never seem to have work completed. Does expressing this anger help these students? Not usually. Next time you encounter a similar situation, think about how you would like to be treated!

Opportunity #Oneword2017

oneword2017

Definition:
op·por·tu·ni·ty
noun
  1. a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.
    “we may see increased opportunities for export”

(from: Google)

As I sit down this evening before returning to the classroom for the new year one word weights heavily in my mind: Opportunity. In my 45 years of life numerous opportunities have presented themselves. At 12 I attended Space Camp in Huntsville Alabama. A few years later, I attended a boarding school in Connecticut. Opportunities have presented themselves in many ways. Travel, connections and experiences. As I shopped for Christmas gifts for my 3 children: Opportunity was in mind. Opportunities to spend time with family, to travel and experience life. During break as Griffin and I spent quality time together scouting out locations for his upcoming 13th birthday, he stated that he felt lucky to have the opportunity to spend time with me. As the conversation progressed Griffin shared that his friends did not spend time with their fathers and mostly sat at home watching TV and playing video games. Sad, that their circumstances don’t make it possible for them to do ‘something”!

Do my students have similar opportunities? Over the years of asking “What did you do over break?” I know the most frequent answer is “Nothing” or “Sleep!” Sure breaks are a time for rest but also an opportunity for more. Students might have opportunities in their lives but choose not to take advantage of them. As a teacher I need to model how to see opportunities and create a mindset that makes students comfortable in taking the risk of following opportunities.

I hope to spend 2017 exposing my students to as many opportunities as I can. Opportunities to: Grow, Explore, Discover, Create, Connect and Learn. I vow not to restrict my students’ opportunities and to create as many for them as possible!

 

Overloaded

overloaded
Image From: BoredPanda.com

Nine o’clock  Sunday morning a notification goes off on my cell phone.  Amy, my wife, picks up my phone to see what the buzz was about while I was readying breakfast for our 3 children. Was it an emergency? Was it an invite for an outing during the day? Was it Grandma asking us to attend church with here?  NO,  a work colleague had sent our building staff a survey to take by Wednesday to plan a parent engagement night for our school.  Amy threw my phone down on the table with disgust:”Why is your work ALWAYS budding into family time?”  A teacher working at 9 AM on a Sunday morning? Yes, this is the teacher’s life. So much work that even the day of rest gets compromised to check things off the to do list.

Teachers are overload with work, left with little time to check things off their “to do” lists. Often when teachers find time they use it for much needed unwinding and family time than to dive into new needed tasks. Teachers show up for their days early and work late into the evenings focusing on lessons plans and feedback. We worry about our students and spend time focused on relationships. Our jobs are full of activity and stress. Kaye Wiggins writes that teaching is one of the top three stressful careers.

There is this SUPERTEACHER myth advocated by education reformers that many believe. If teachers just gave more time, students will achieve. How much time can educators give? Most educators have families that they need to have time to support.  Educators are overloaded! It would be great if education was like many other professions, where time was flexible and work stayed at work.

To reform education, one might start by unloading the teachers, so they can FOCUS on their jobs of educating students.

#proudMIeducator

proud-miched
#michED Team presenting at MACUL 2014 

Michigan Department of Education is launching #proudMIeducator initiative this week  “that aims to acknowledge, elevate, and celebrate the work of great educators in the State of Michigan.” This is a great idea, we need to celebrate the great work of all educators. Don’t many educators already do this on social media? Well as a matter of fact they do. In 2012 a group of educators started a community call #michED , I became a part of this grassroots group pretty soon after it started. Educators have been sharing positive stories and celebrating our success on social media for years. Michigan Department of Education is just catching up. Is this a sign of how long it takes change and innovations to enter the main stream?

Michigan has been a  great state for teachers. Home to Michigan State University, University of Michigan and many other great teaching colleges. Our schools have been top notch but in decline of late, mainly due to funding issues and failing infrastructures. Teachers do need to be elevated and celebrated more. Is a social media campaign going to improve education while drawing the best and brightest into the field? The jury is out on this one.

Michigan Educators are proud. Proud of our jobs. Proud of our schools. Proud to be innovators. Proud to inspire youth everyday. Proud to be helping educate the future of our state, but we are also tired. Tired of over crowded rooms. Tired of crumbing school infrastructure. Tired of being blamed for the societies flaws. Tired of no substitute teachers when we are sick. Just plain tired.

To elevate the teaching profession in Michigan it is going to take great efforts by all involved. Using the #proudMIeducator or #michED hashtags is a start. Where do we need to go from here? First and foremost we need a legislature that listens to the educators, treating them like experts. Michigan Department of Education (MDE) is heading down the right road, hopefully they will join up with the already established #michED community. MDE should attend all of the state’s educational conferences talking about how they are working to elevate teachers. MDE should encourage all legislators to get into teachers classrooms and see the greatness that occurs. What if we promoted education and educators like we do tourism? Can you say Education Week?  I can’t wait to see what the future holds, we can’t go anywhere but up!

 

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!

#Makerspace Rage!

MakerSpaceLogo
From: http://www.clubcyberia.org

Over the past year, teachers can’t miss the hype around “Maker Spaces”. This movement is featured in trade magazines, presentations at conferences,  and thousands of social media posts. Making is a trait that makes us human. Schools today need to re-embrace making as part of their curriculum.

Sadly somewhere in the 1990’s or early 2000’s school lost sight of their making traditions in search of higher test scores and in budget crunches. By the late 1970’s making was a core part of our schools. Most districts engaged students in some form of industrial arts: from Auto Mechanics to Woods Shop to Home Economics students had making options at school. As the United States lost industrial jobs to overseas, products became cheaper to buy new than replace. By the late 1990’s a testing and college ready culture perforated our school systems along with budget cuts. Making classes were the first things to go.

Being a maker is a career skill! Most companies do one of three things (if not all 3): Make a product, market a product and service a product. If we teach our students to make products their will have mastered an valuable skill. By being makers our students gain skills most textbooks do not teach. Some making skills are:

  1. Identify a problem that needs to be addressed by a product
  2. Work as a team member
  3. Design a product to address the problem
  4. Budget and gather materials to build prototype
  5. Assemble and test prototype
  6. Communicate results
  7. Analyze prototype and redesign
  8. Mass produce product
  9. Meet Deadlines and stay in budgets

These making skills are needed in our workplaces today. Many employers look for this practical knowledge over college degrees when hiring today. Shouldn’t schools be developing practical work skills and experiences?

Our students need to be making things in every class, as often as possible. Most elementary schools encourage students as makers by doing crafts that connect to their curriculum. Art programs also seem to inspire students into making. By the time students make it to middle school most of these maker activities loose way to test preparation and core academic work. Making needs to occur in all subject areas on a regular basis.

Many teachers are discouraged about making due to the price tag that seems to come with it. Don’t be! Making can be done with cardboard collected at the local grocery store. Sure you can buy tons of cool making kits like “Little Bits” or “Tinker Create” but making has been done since the beginning of time with things found in nature. YES, we all want the cool bells, whistles and lights but making is an essential life skill that needs to be taught in schools. Make it happen on what ever budget.

 

As my friend Todd Beard says: “Hands on, minds on!”

Move making back into your curriculum! Our Kids Deserve it.