Over this holiday break, our family traveled to Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida. Being a budget minded teacher, having a family of five the most efficient mode of transportation was in a car, driving 1,200+ miles from Michigan. We loaded into the car filled with excitement, ready to enjoy our vacation in the sunshine state on our first trip to Disney World. We departed Christmas afternoon heading south on I-75 with great excitement. As I piloted our Chevrolet Traverse down the interstate, I noticed numerous brown signs flying by the window. Signs for historic sites and national and state parks. The famed horse parks of Kentucky, Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and Civil War battle fields of Georgia. Were we missing something?
Disney World is a wonderful place, Walt Disney created it to educate and entertain. Should it be the sole focus of the millions that flock there every year? I began to question my planning of the trip. Should I have planned stops along the way to help my children understand all the wonderful places in the United States? To help them understand our country and its history? Maybe I need to schedule another trip to visit the marvelous sites we missed.
I began to notice a parallel in education. Teachers seem to focus on the end destination of standardized test scores instead of the journey of education. Tests like Disney World will always be there and are constantly changing. I see to many teachers abandoning great teaching activities to focus on test scores. It is sad to hear about students who are being rushed to tests, having fun engaging learning experiences lost to test preparation. How we travel to Disney or the Standardized test is our choice. Teachers need to make the trip a journey that students will remember, full of adventure and excitement, because unlike Disney World students don’t want to return to the standardized tests. A Teachers job is to make them to want to return to YOUR Classroom.
This year I have had the pleasure of working with an MSU PHD candidate, who has come in to observe my teaching. He started observation a few years back as part of the Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators (FAME) project. Since that time his observations really focus on the what and how teachers teach. The following is the most recent transcript of his observations in my classroom, Names have been changes of my students, I found it cool to reflect on my teaching after reading his account of what happened.
When I walk into Todd’s second hour science class a scene from the movie Up is playing on the screen in the front of the room. “You’re going to see something that I talk a lot about,” Todd tells students from the doorway as they settle in. He also mentions that the class will not be watching the entire movie. Students just need to watch this scene so Todd can make his point.
After the scene is over, Todd stops the video and says that students should not be like the dogs in the movie who are constantly distracted from their pursuits because they see a squirrel. Todd asks students to think about the “squirrels” in their lives and suggests that these distractions could be a cell phone or other electronic devices.
“The cellphone is not going to help you do well in school,” Todd says. “don’t let the squirrel lead you out of where you need to be.”
Next, Todd introduces his three children briefly. Today is “Take your child to work day” and Todd has brought his three children to see what their dad does for a living.
Some of the students are engaged in animated talking and Todd calls for their attention. He explains to students that today is the final day of working on the research report that they started a week ago. He tells students that they should consider the rubric for the assignment and compare their work against the stated requirements of the rubric before they submit their final project. When Todd is finished with the explanations, he asks, “Does this make sense?”
No student raises a hand. “Yes? No? Maybe so?” Todd asks as he scans the room looking for hands.
“Maybe so,” one student in the middle of the room calls out.
Todd dismisses this comment and begins talking to students about another requirement of the assignment. Students have to complete a self-reflection after they have submitted their research project. This self-reflection asks students what grade they think they deserved and also requires them to justify this conclusion.
“And I don’t want ‘I deserve a good grade because I worked hard,’” Todd explains, “everybody worked hard. I want you to use the language of the rubric in your response.”
Todd next asks two students to help distribute laptops from the laptop cart. The two boys go to the back left side of the room to where the cart is located and begin to distribute laptops to the other students who have now gathered around the cart waiting for a laptop. The research projects varied but each was supposed to use digital media of some sort. Thus, each group of 2-3 students needed a laptop to complete the work. The laptops are quickly distributed and students return to their tables. Many students engage in social talk as they are waiting for their computers to boot up.
I decide to go to a back table (nearest to where the laptops were being distributed), and ask a boy, Chris, who is working by himself if he would mind if I sat and talked with him for a few minutes. He says yes and tells me that students were allowed to pick their own groups. I ask him if students were also allowed to work alone as he appears to be doing. However, Chris tells me that he is not working alone. He has a partner. He then points to his partner, Brad, who is standing up on the left side of the class between the front and the back of the room talking to a boy and two girls.
“I’m working with Brad,” Chris says.
“He’s not working, though,” I say.
Chris smiles but keeps working.
For his project, Chris has created a website on the human impact of the earth. As one scrolls down the page, Chris has recorded information about his topic “Humans Impact on the Earth” and found several pictures (using Google images) that would appropriately represent each of the facts that Chris included on his website.
I ask what work Chris has done and what work Brad has done. For Brad’s portion, Chris show me a picture and a one-sentence description.
“How long have you been working on this?” I ask.
Chris tells me that the class has been working on the project for about a week.
“So, in a week Brad has written a sentence and found an picture on Google Images to go with it?” I ask.
“Yeah,” Chris confirms, again with a smile and again without taking his eyes off his computer screen.
Momentarily, Brad wanders over, sits for a moment, fiddles with the computer and then leaves to talk to a girl at another table, where he promptly commandeers the girl’s I-phone and begins to manipulate the buttons.
A female student comes over to Chris and stands behind his right shoulder.
“Are you in my advisory?” the girl asks.
“No,” Chris answers without looking up from his computer.
“Are you sure because I think I’ve seen you before,” The girl continues.
Chris says nothing and the girl quickly flits away and continues to work with the two girls with whom she was working before.
Brad comes back and stands over Chris’s shoulder. “Chris, did you finish?” Brad asks.
“I’m almost done,” Chris answers. Again, he does not look up from his computer.
“Don’t play games!” Brad says, “Hurry up.” Brad blows a bubble and walks away.
A few minutes later, Todd walks by and Chris tells Todd that he needs him.
“How can I help you, Chris?” Todd asks.
Chris tells Todd that he is having trouble publishing his website. Todd angles the computer toward him and tells Chris a few things. Todd then leaves and walks to the adjacent table where his children are playing chess with students who are finished with their projects or are otherwise not currently working on them. Todd takes a picture and moves on to help students who need him.
“Brad!” Chris calls. Brad is now talking to a pair of girls near the checker game. At first Brad delays in coming over to where Chris is working, but eventually Brad makes his way over to where Chris is working.
“Did you finish?” Brad asks.
“I don’t know how to spell your last name,” Chris tells Brad. Brad sits down, angles the computer toward him, and types in his last name. Brad then gets up, walks to the other side of the class, and sits on the back counter next to friend. The two boys talk to a girl who is standing in front of them.
Momentarily, Brad comes back and Chris tells him that he has now published the website and the project is finished.
“You got it published?” Brad asks with enthusiasm, “Woo-hoo! We’re famous!” Brad gets up and leaves again.
Again, Todd walks by and Chris stops him to ask a question.
“Then we do the reflection?” Chris asks. Chris is asking about the self-reflection that students must complete electronically as part of the assignment.
“Yes, do the reflection,” Todd confirms.
Chris begins working through the reflection. I ask Chris if he is doing one for both him and Brad. Chris responds that he thinks every student must do his or her own reflection. Brad comes back after socializing for a few more minutes
“Did you finish?” Brad asks.
“Yeah, I’m doing the reflection,” Chris explains. He then tells Brad that he, too, will have to complete a reflection.
“Put me and you both in it,” Brad insists, but before he can leave again, Chris tells him that each student has to do his or her own.
“I’ll do my after,” Brad says looking over Chris’s shoulder at the computer screen.
Chris says, “to be honest, I think we deserve a B because we could have added more.”
Brad, still looking over Chris’s shoulder, says nothing. After a few seconds, Brad begins walking around the room again. This time he is clapping rhythmically (this lasts for about five beats).
Chris completes his self-reflection. Todd tells students that they should be submitting their work or preparing to submit their work. Brad returns and Chris tells Brad that he should complete the self-reflection. Chris has it all set up for Brad.
Brad sits at the computer and reads the screen. He then types responses to two of the questions in the self-reflection activity:
What grade do you deserve?
Brad’s response: A
Why do you deserve that grade?
Brad’s response: because I put all my effort into this that is why I think I
Deserve an A
Brad finishes and puts his computer back on the rack. Todd calls for all students to log off on their computers and to return them to the mobile lab as Brad has just done. In a moment, Todd continues.
“Can everybody get in their seats, please?” Todd asks. He is repeating, “Shh!” as many students continue to talk socially. “Alright, excuse me. I know we’re having trouble settling back down.” Todd then thanks individual students and coordinates the return of a few final computers. “If I could have your attention please so we can wrap up and you can go on time.” Todd explains that some of the students are done but that some need more time. He suggests that students who need more time work on this project during advisory. All students will be presenting their projects next week. Todd says that he heard a lot of good collaboration and question asking during the period.
“What was the point of the project?” Todd asks.
“To understand how humans affect the earth,” A student calls out.
“Alright to help us understand the earth with the things we do,” Todd says. He then
tells students that he wanted them to learn how students can make a positive impact on the environment.
“I want to go now!” Todd’s young son announces (remember, it is “take your child to work day”)
Nearly everybody in the class laughs (a good-natured laugh).
“He’s a squirrel,” one student suggests. The student is referring to the reference Todd made about the importance of focus.
I don’t catch Todd’s response but in any event he dismisses the students and they exit.