Reflective Teacher Day 26- Go-to -sites

Day 26- @TeachThough  30 Day Reflective Teaching Challenge 

What are your three favorite go-to sites for help/tips/resources in your teaching?

Find resources is necessary for all teachers. Content is constantly changing and students need to be engaged with up to date learning materials. Where do I go?

1. Twitter- I am on twitter daily. My PLN is a great resource. One of the first places I stop when I am looking for engaging material is twitter. A quick tweet to the world with the right hashtag or to the right person can turn up resources very quickly. Of course sometimes it also can turn up nothing new. Great first stop on the journey to finding resources.

2. YouTube – I start my class every day with a 3 to 5 minute video to engage and activate prior knowledge. I was going to make a few of my own, until I found the many wonderful teachers have made endless hours of resources for the world to use on YouTube. Thankfully our district unblocked it a few years back. I subscribe to so great teacher channels.

3. The Science Spot – A wonderful science teacher Tracy (Trimpe) Tomm has created The Science Spot. A must go-to spot for any middle school science. The science is well organized, with printable lessons. I find it a great resource for lessons that engage my students. Full of many hands on science activities.

Of course I have many more resource sites I go to depending on my need. I love to explore the internet and find new resources for lessons every week.

A great jumping in point for any teacher is Cybrayman’s Catalogue of Educational Sites.  If you can’t find what you need there, it doesn’t exist on the internet.

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What do we do with these results?

So the data is in from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program(MEAP) Fall 2014 8th grade  science test.  Doesn’t look good, 20 % of students in the state were proficient 55% Not proficient at all. Staggering numbers to say the least. To really understand the MEAP science results one needs to understand the testing cycle. The 8th grade test is given in October covering standards taught from 5th grade through 7th grade. Due to limitations on the number of questions on the test (around 40) MEAP test questions narrowly focus on just a few units of study covered over a 3 year span and cover  general science processing skills. The science test is given as the last assessment for the students to take in the state assessment program so they are a little tired of testing. These test are used to grade the schools and districts but have little to no meaning to the students. Grades are not effected, proficiency is not required. As a science teacher I am ashamed of these scores. What do I do?

Are the results an accurate measure of Michigan’s students science ability? We still have students going to college to be doctors and engineers. Maybe they are the 20% proficient in 8th grade. Should this large a group score so poorly on any test? I don’t think so. When I have gotten similar results in my classroom, it is time to re-examine the curriculum used, how it was delivered and if it lines up with the test. Obviously something is amiss here. When looking at the science MEAP trend:

It is even more troubling. Out of all the students in the state of Michigan less than 20% have been proficient for 5 strait years. This is totally discouraging as a science teacher. 5 years with only minor improvement. One would think the test would be changed to give the educators and districts better feedback as to how their programs were working. With these results it just looks like schools are not teaching much in the way of science. Is that the case? DO districts focus so much on math, reading and writing because they are tested every year and let science slip to the wayside?

The state of Michigan needs to examine this test, adjust it to measure the skills taught. Make sure that the questions are above the knowledge level with out being vocabulary specific. Or better yet stop wasting money on a test that doesn’t give us results that can be used to help our students learn.

It reminds me of a story my younger brother shared when in college. Philip was a graduate student at Duke, taking an undergrad prerequisite at UNC. His professor had to talk to with him because he ruined the curve. He received scored a 96% on a test that the class average was 35%. The professor wanted to curve the test but Philip’s score would not allow him to curve it equally for all students so the professor had to explain his actions. As my brother shared the story he state, “It is ridiculous to create a test that the majority of your students fail.”  My sentiments for the Science MEAP!

MEAP Data screen-shots from www.mischooldata.org

#MSchat 4-18-13 #CCSS

Tonight we had a lively discussion about the Common Core State Standards. We started off talking about the limited amount of training many teachers have had for the change. I lead to a great debate about teaching reading and writing across the curriculum. Very informative discussion. Below is the link to the archive.

 

[View the story “#MSchat 4-18-13 CCSS” on Storify]

Duck Dynasty Math, Science infused instruction!

It started this morning. Where will it end?

I awoke this morning with childcare duties on my mind. Amy, my wife was off at 8 AM to help coach our 8-year-old son Griffin and his Science Olympiad Team. My duties were to feed and entertain our 4-year old twins Gavin and Grace. Grace awoke as her mom and brother were heading out the door. After a quick breakfast she started playing independently. I headed up stairs to check on Gavin, finding him snoring away, I quickly checked my e-mail and twitter account.

On twitter I noticed the #satchat had started. I joined in a with a few comments and became engaged. As #satchat wound down, I saw a great discussion starting in #rechat. All about metaphors in education. I feel that metaphors are powerful and needed to help connect and engage students in their learning. John Spencer was leading a great conversation about the need to think carefully about metaphors used in education. Their power can be helpful and also harmful if used inappropriately. As I followed the conversation stream, Barbara Madden talked about the metaphors found in the reality show Duck Dynasty. She even shared a math problem created for her class connected to the television show.  We both shared out love for the show. Talked about writing a blog post about how we could connect student learning to the ideas presented in Duck Dynasty. I commented on how I would love to “read” a blog about these lessons.

At this point Math Minds had joined in the conversation on how great Duck Dynasty would be to connect students to their learning. Conversation moved to the creation of duck calls in the classroom. Seemed similar to the “straw” recorders built in my science classroom. To create the correct sound to call in a bird, frequency will have to be taken into account. Math and Science were coming together on Duck Dynasty. Needed to be merged together in our connected lessons. As Gavin walked into the kitchen to be served his breakfast, blog posts about lessons turned into an e-book. I was going to be an author? I, the teacher who tells his students that he is not a strong writer, is going to write a book.

Scares me a bit, but I am not doing this alone. This is going to be a great collaborative project. Three Twitter teachers are starting off with the goal of creating a math and science infused instructional book based upon a reality show. We are focusing on the areas where we have “expertise”.  If any other teachers feel so inspired by Duck Dynasty that they want to join us, welcome aboard. Contact us and share lessons you would like to see used in the classroom. Who knows where this project will lead. Who knows where this project will lead. Great Blog posts for sure, a book will ultimately be pieced together. After that who knows! Maybe even a meeting with the Duck Commander Crew!!

Stay tuned in a see where it goes. At least now I can buy Duck Dynasty DVDs and write them off on my taxes.

Conference Reflections

After spending a day last week talking to parents about how their children are doing in my class at school. My conversations seem to focus on grades and behavior and not on learning. Sure, the grades are a reflection of learning and the behavior affects the learning. I did not seem to have questions about learning directly. When conferences were finished I left with questions of my own.

  1. Why are parents fixated on student grades instead of student understand?
  2. Why do some parents want more homework, others less?
  3. In general What is the purpose of school?

To start our educational system has created a culture of grades. We have a system where “A” is what parents want, “B” is okay if the student tried hard, “C” is bad and we have to take some action, “D and F” mean parents will yell at the child right in front of the teacher. Does this grading system work anymore? No, first it does not talk about what a student knows or doesn’t know. Second, it creates a ranking and expectation system. Parents will look at how many A’s are on the report card and rank their child above students who have fewer. Parents will begin to expect the same grades from year to year, without thinking about their child’s ability, passion and work ethic. The learning expectations change each year and with each teacher. Science jumps from biology to physics to geology. Social Studies jumps from state to state, continent to continent, geography to history. Math and language arts are more progressive but they have jumps also. Schools need to move away from grades and focus on what a student knows and doesn’t know. Colleges would have a better idea if a student was a candidate if they knew the knowledge levels not the letter grades of applicants.

This moves us to question #2: My parents at conferences always ask about homework, “I have not seen any (or very little) work at home.” Well for staters, I don’t believe in homework, so only work that is not completed in class goes home. Some of my parents get upset and ask for MORE homework. I always ask why, and it is so their child can do better in my class. I don’t understand the correlation, if you want your child to do better, spend time with them. Go over the work we did in class. Have them read. Look up the topics on the internet and discuss. Parents are to be partners in the teaching process. I always offer resources for the parents, few have taken me up on this offer. I have also heard of the parents who want less homework. I would say, that school is the job your child is doing now. If you feel the homework isn’t meaningful then have a discussion with that teacher. If the work is meaningful then do it. Hopefully teachers are only giving meaningful homework but I have seen some work that sure seems busy.

Finally the big question: What is the purpose of school? I often feel I am a babysitter for 12-13 year olds. During their time with me I feel I need to instill in them the values of society and show them how to gain knowledge. Are teachers too overloaded with content nowadays? I was asked that by one parent. Yes, we have more content standards now. Schools have SO much content to teach. Students come in with a wide range of ability and background knowledge. Should schools be focused on content? No, schools need to make an impact. If they try to teach too much content knowledge it is not covered in a way that students can critically think about the content. Covering a broad range of content also creates problems with the disadvantaged students. The speed at which each topic is covered puts them at a disadvantage.

So what should schools focus on? Schools need to focus on knowledge obtainment skills. They need to teach student how they are to learn. Different tools, strategies and processing skills that give students the ability to learn on their own. The old proverb comes to mind:” If you give a man a fish he eats for a day, if you teach him to fish he eats for a life time.” So if you give a man knowledge he only has the knowledge you gave him, if you teach a man how to obtain knowledge he can have all the knowledge he wants.

The purpose of schools is to create independant learners, lets not complicate them by adding to much content that the essential skills of knowledge obtainment are missed.

Measuring Growth

Since the “Race to the Top” initiative/competition the education world is all a buzz about measuring student growth. Many states have adapted teacher evaluation models or are creating models that incorporate student growth into how teachers are going to be evaluated. I find it quite odd/disturbing that the most dominant measure of student growth is from Standardized tests.

So I spent some time thinking about growth. I take all 3 of my children to the doctor for an annual check up. The doctor measures their growth: Height, Weight, size of head, potty trained, talking, etc. The data is then placed on a graph and plotted against the “standard’ or norm. My boys height and weight are well above the 100% mark, but they have speech deficits. Are they ahead or behind? or are the just moving at different rates than the average child? My daughter is not above 100% but around 70% on height and weight and she speaks at level. Should I be concerned that she is not at 100%? No since 50% is average or the middle of the “bell” curve.

How does this relate to education?

1. Are we measuring many different skills and judging a composite? Not from where I sit. I see us focusing on 2 basic skills of math and English Language Arts.

2. How much growth is expected? I keep hearing we need to have a years worth of growth in a year. What is that? 100%? Even trees don’t grow the same amount each year. Anyone who has cut down a tree and counted the rings knows this.

So what do we do?

Hard question to answer but lets STOP measuring growth against an average which was calculated using a bell curve where the expectation is 50%  of students will score above average  and 50%  below! Half the teachers will fail on this model!

We also need to expand the model to include all aspects of growth: The PIES.

Physical growth: are students become coordinated, stronger and more fit. – This might help with the current obesity issues in the US.

Intellectual growth: are the students become better thinkers and problems solvers.

Emotional growth: are the students better able to cope emotionally and hand different emotional situations.

Social growth: are the students gaining social skills that will help them in employment.

The current systems are only focusing on a student’s intellectual growth. Teachers have an impact in all 4 areas. Students need to achieve certain base levels of growth in each area. All growth needs to be taken into account if Student Growth is going to be used in teacher evaluations.

I have personally observed a student grow in social and emotional areas but not in intellectual. In time due to the social and emotional growth in one year the intellectual growth will come. As a society we can not just focus in one area. As educational reform moves forward, remember that All growth is important.

We don’t judge parents when their child does not walk, talk or reach a certain height due to the date on a calendar. Lets make sure we do the same for teachers!

All students can learn, just at different rates and in different ways!

 

Common Core = College Core, should there be another path?

Like many educators I have spent time this summer looking over the “new” common core state standards. (In science they are called the Next Generation Science Standards) Overall I like the idea of having common standards between states, because up till now each state has had different standards. Comparing states educational systems has been very difficult. Some states have created rigorous standards, like Michigan where I teach, yet others have just left minimal requirements. Colleges have complained about students arriving with poor skills. Often so poor the students need to take remedial classes in record numbers. While I processed all of the information, I felt it would be tough as an college admission officer not familiar with all the different state standards. As a new college student I would be depressed if I was placed in nothing but remedial classes as a freshman. Core standards are needed. BUT are they needed for ALL students?

As I pondered these ideas, I started to notice articles about “Where the jobs are now.”  Sure you can find stories about unfilled STEM jobs that the Common Core will address. I noticed stories about jobs, I never expected: truck driver shortages and factory shortages. Does the common core help fill these vacancies? NO. What do we do with students who want to fill these positions? I believe the if the common core is the only avenue for them they will drop out! Is that what we want? I hope not.

We should not be telling our youth that the only path is College. Today more jobs do not require a college degree than jobs that do! Sure, I want to encourage everyone to get the best education they can, but there are many routes to success that don’t pass through college. As educators we need to be up front and honest with students. Tell them their options. Start them all off on the College Core path, IF and when it becomes evident that the path is not right, there needs to be another one for them to travel down.

When you ask a 5 year old what they want to be most will say: “Doctor, Lawyer, Fireman Police Officer, Nurse, or Teacher” as they gain knowledge about the many more professions it changes many times over. We need to offer core educational requirements that lead to ALL occupations: Musician, Artist, Cook, Truck Driver, Etc…. To do this we have to do away with 1 common core and create many cores that are as well defined as the common core. The common core is great for college bound students but not all students will go down that path.