Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What does an A, B, C actually mean?



This week marks one of the worst periods of my life as a teacher: report card week. I do not loath this week for the reasons that many teachers loath this week (extra work, long hours, etc), I hate it because grades (as presently configured) are unfair and are often unrepresentative of learning.

Full disclosure here: I don’t quite understand what the letter grades “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, or “F” mean or stand for.  Do they really stand as a measure of understanding or rather a way to rank and judge students? If you get an “A” in a course does that mean you know the material and can think in new, innovative, and exciting ways about said content or does it mean that you outscored the rest of your peers? Let us assume it means mastery of a course or concept. Is there some magical line floating in the abyss which students must pass to reach an “A”? How does a teacher know a student passes this line of understanding or mastery from an “A” to a “B”? Presumably, this is why many teachers use percentages. But then again can you really quantify learning, abstract ideas, critical thought, creation, and the like with a percentage? Of course not. So then I am left with the question: what are letter grades, what do they mean, and how do we get them?

So then grades become a way of measuring competition. How crazy is that? Why must we have a certain amount of “A”, “B”, “C”, “D” and “F”? Is life really built on the notion of a bell curve? If I get my students turned on to learning and they get excited about a concept, all of them may produce high quality work and understanding. To then say that some of this work is not quite good enough is absurd. Am I really supposed to tell a student that has done everything asked of her that she does not deserve an “A” simply because another students did it just a bit "better"? Why is it not “A” work? As students believe grades equal worth (because of pressure by parents, society and peers alike), how devastating is it to a child who works their tale off on a project and is given a “C” just to uphold the bell curve. In an awesome blog post by Steve Miranda titled “Average” is a concept that no longer exists, he writes that the traditional notion of the bell curve is vanishing. He tells of the success of Netflix and Amazon who do big business by providing the obscure and limited. He also links to a TED talk by Malcolm Gladwell that tells the tale of the food revolution: the discovery of people wanting not one great pasta sauce but different flavors and types of pasta sauce. But schools don’t get this. Instead of valuing the most minor and obscure talents of its students, it values a small and some would say trivial amount of knowledge. We have labeled kids as “A” “B” “C” learners based on how they perform in a few subjects in relation to their peers.

Finally, we are exposing kids to competition that by its nature is not fair. The true beauty of athletic competition is that two WILLING parties of relative equal skill and potential face off against each other. Based on this idea, competition has no place in the classroom and grades just serve as a way of maintaining low self-esteem and low self-efficacy.  First, most kids don’t want school to be competition. Instead, it is the creation of the American government’s schooling policies and a few over zealous parents. Why in the world would you want a child to get ahead at the expense of another kid? In effect we are doing that with grades. They devalue collaboration and  teamwork and promote the notion that education is a zero-sum game. If knowledge is created through experience, relationships, and time how can it be zero-sum? Why do we push for a system that tells us a few kids can corner the market on knowledge and learning?

After this long-winded rant on grades I still succumb to the pressure myself. I write long comments and hold mini-conferences with students to concentrate on the learning, but in the end I often cave and give them a grade. I often tell them that thinking of only the grade robs them of truly seeing what they have done and accomplished. It is a slow process, but I see small successes. Today, I wrote long comments on an open-ended assessment and one of the kids came up to me and said, “What is my grade?” Before I could respond, a quiet kid in the front said, “who cares, we learned a ton.” Boy, was that sweet.  In order to minimize the deflation that some students experience when they learn their third quarter grades, I am going to give them a presentation showing them all the things they have done and learned this year. Before I hand out the dreaded reports cards I will say to concentrate on the things you have done not the grades that you have “earned”. In the fourth quarter we will be setting up digital portfolios, which I hope will lesson the need for grades to be more prevalent. We will wait and see. Baby steps …

What does an A, B, C actually mean?



This week marks one of the worst periods of my life as a teacher: report card week. I do not loath this week for the reasons that many teachers loath this week (extra work, long hours, etc), I hate it because grades (as presently configured) are unfair and are often unrepresentative of learning.

Full disclosure here: I don’t quite understand what the letter grades “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, or “F” mean or stand for.  Do they really stand as a measure of understanding or rather a way to rank and judge students? If you get an “A” in a course does that mean you know the material and can think in new, innovative, and exciting ways about said content or does it mean that you outscored the rest of your peers? Let us assume it means mastery of a course or concept. Is there some magical line floating in the abyss which students must pass to reach an “A”? How does a teacher know a student passes this line of understanding or mastery from an “A” to a “B”? Presumably, this is why many teachers use percentages. But then again can you really quantify learning, abstract ideas, critical thought, creation, and the like with a percentage? Of course not. So then I am left with the question: what are letter grades, what do they mean, and how do we get them?

So then grades become a way of measuring competition. How crazy is that? Why must we have a certain amount of “A”, “B”, “C”, “D” and “F”? Is life really built on the notion of a bell curve? If I get my students turned on to learning and they get excited about a concept, all of them may produce high quality work and understanding. To then say that some of this work is not quite good enough is absurd. Am I really supposed to tell a student that has done everything asked of her that she does not deserve an “A” simply because another students did it just a bit "better"? Why is it not “A” work? As students believe grades equal worth (because of pressure by parents, society and peers alike), how devastating is it to a child who works their tale off on a project and is given a “C” just to uphold the bell curve. In an awesome blog post by Steve Miranda titled “Average” is a concept that no longer exists, he writes that the traditional notion of the bell curve is vanishing. He tells of the success of Netflix and Amazon who do big business by providing the obscure and limited. He also links to a TED talk by Malcolm Gladwell that tells the tale of the food revolution: the discovery of people wanting not one great pasta sauce but different flavors and types of pasta sauce. But schools don’t get this. Instead of valuing the most minor and obscure talents of its students, it values a small and some would say trivial amount of knowledge. We have labeled kids as “A” “B” “C” learners based on how they perform in a few subjects in relation to their peers.

Finally, we are exposing kids to competition that by its nature is not fair. The true beauty of athletic competition is that two WILLING parties of relative equal skill and potential face off against each other. Based on this idea, competition has no place in the classroom and grades just serve as a way of maintaining low self-esteem and low self-efficacy.  First, most kids don’t want school to be competition. Instead, it is the creation of the American government’s schooling policies and a few over zealous parents. Why in the world would you want a child to get ahead at the expense of another kid? In effect we are doing that with grades. They devalue collaboration and  teamwork and promote the notion that education is a zero-sum game. If knowledge is created through experience, relationships, and time how can it be zero-sum? Why do we push for a system that tells us a few kids can corner the market on knowledge and learning?

After this long-winded rant on grades I still succumb to the pressure myself. I write long comments and hold mini-conferences with students to concentrate on the learning, but in the end I often cave and give them a grade. I often tell them that thinking of only the grade robs them of truly seeing what they have done and accomplished. It is a slow process, but I see small successes. Today, I wrote long comments on an open-ended assessment and one of the kids came up to me and said, “What is my grade?” Before I could respond, a quiet kid in the front said, “who cares, we learned a ton.” Boy, was that sweet.  In order to minimize the deflation that some students experience when they learn their third quarter grades, I am going to give them a presentation showing them all the things they have done and learned this year. Before I hand out the dreaded reports cards I will say to concentrate on the things you have done not the grades that you have “earned”. In the fourth quarter we will be setting up digital portfolios, which I hope will lesson the need for grades to be more prevalent. We will wait and see. Baby steps …

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A 7th grader's reflection (I was blown away)


This was a student's reflection for the last seventh grade social studies project based learning unit. For context's sake the driving question was, "What is the proper role of religion in government?" It was my way of teaching the Crusades and other medieval issues. For whatever reason her reflection really resonated with me. I was blown away by her honesty and how she expressed her thoughts. As I was reading it, all I could think about was this is why I  "teach" the way I do. I don't want to analyze it and take away from her words, but I think it speaks to what students can accomplish when they take control of the learning process. 




What did I learn in this process?
         
I learned that since the middle ages we have evolved so much, considering that back then it was all about Religion, hangings, and etc. Religion was a huge part of life and at times was above the king. Today Religion can have a say in what government does but government will make the final decisions. I also learned that there will always be a way to communicate, be you have to be patient because they won’t always be able to answer right away.
How can I apply things learned into the real world?

Over the time of this project I learned that there are many different ways to communicate with people that are either a couple of miles away from you or thousands of miles away, I could use this in future projects to get both sides of the story. I also learned that it is very important to say what you believe. You should always speak and say what you believe or else you will never be heard, but ALWAYS have information to support your option. Finally, I think in future projects I must make things entertaining. For example using my acting skills to make my work enticing and not boring like most teachers do, and I personally detest that.


What went well and what did not?

I think the research and effort went well. In my opinion we all put in the same amount of time and effort into this. We worked well and got things done, we split the work and analyzed all of our work. I think what didn’t go well was our class time. We wouldn’t talk to the groups; we would talk with each other but get off task a little and not get everything done. Also, we did work things at the last min. because of the things we didn’t do during class. In the end I think we did a good job and we could work this great any time again in the future.

*** Please share you comments

A 7th grader's reflection (I was blown away)


This was a student's reflection for the last seventh grade social studies project based learning unit. For context's sake the driving question was, "What is the proper role of religion in government?" It was my way of teaching the Crusades and other medieval issues. For whatever reason her reflection really resonated with me. I was blown away by her honesty and how she expressed her thoughts. As I was reading it, all I could think about was this is why I  "teach" the way I do. I don't want to analyze it and take away from her words, but I think it speaks to what students can accomplish when they take control of the learning process. 




What did I learn in this process?
         
I learned that since the middle ages we have evolved so much, considering that back then it was all about Religion, hangings, and etc. Religion was a huge part of life and at times was above the king. Today Religion can have a say in what government does but government will make the final decisions. I also learned that there will always be a way to communicate, be you have to be patient because they won’t always be able to answer right away.
How can I apply things learned into the real world?

Over the time of this project I learned that there are many different ways to communicate with people that are either a couple of miles away from you or thousands of miles away, I could use this in future projects to get both sides of the story. I also learned that it is very important to say what you believe. You should always speak and say what you believe or else you will never be heard, but ALWAYS have information to support your option. Finally, I think in future projects I must make things entertaining. For example using my acting skills to make my work enticing and not boring like most teachers do, and I personally detest that.


What went well and what did not?

I think the research and effort went well. In my opinion we all put in the same amount of time and effort into this. We worked well and got things done, we split the work and analyzed all of our work. I think what didn’t go well was our class time. We wouldn’t talk to the groups; we would talk with each other but get off task a little and not get everything done. Also, we did work things at the last min. because of the things we didn’t do during class. In the end I think we did a good job and we could work this great any time again in the future.

*** Please share you comments

Monday, March 21, 2011

Don't call me a good teacher, call me a good learner

In 8th grade Social Studies we recently finished out latest Project Based Learning endeavor. The driving question was should Native American be allowed to operate casinos on tribal land. The idea was that in answering the question students would address Manifest Destiny, westward expansion, Andrew Jackson, Trail of Tears, ideas of sovereignty, the India Removal Act, etc. They would also have to think about what this means in a contemporary fashion. Therefore, they studied court cases, compensation, and reservations. They pretended to be lawyers and presented me with either a defense of or case against Native American casinos. The presentations rocked and it was fun for all. Today was assessment today which means that they responded to two of four questions (One via a group and one individually).


How have Native Americans been treated over American History?
Who was Andrew Jackson and what were some important events during his presidency?
What is sovereignty and how does it relate to Native American Gaming?
Should people get compensation for past discrimination?



They could  do this via an imaginary twitter feed, a short essay, an illustration, or an imaginary facebook page. Basically, you name the way to answer, just make sure there is correct factual information and good analyzation. As they were doing this a student stopped me and said, "you are an awesome teacher...I wish other teachers were like you". Three things crossed my mind:

a) I have never heard a student say this during a "test" before!
b) I was extremely humbled
c) I realized I wasn't really a teacher for the last two weeks

So my response was, "Thank you, but I prefer the term an awesome co-learner." The poor girl was dumbfounded and I don't blame her. I then went on to ask her who was at the front of the classroom presenting last week. She said, "We were" and then I asked her who helped her understand the material and she responded, "lots of people, my group, and you." "Well then we all learned from one another right?" I went on to tell her all the things I learned from the class.

Here were just a few:
-One group gave a wonderful legal history of court cases between Native Americans and the United States. I was fascinated!
-One group described medical conditions of Native Americans and made an argument that it was a result of poor land and economic prospects we gave them
- One group retaught me how to use Google Forms
- One group even researched the term genocide and made an argument that the Trail of Tears was nothing less
Part of one group's presentation



Somebody asked me today why I love being a teacher and I promptly said because I get to learn everyday. It is fun when I see this in action.

Don't call me a good teacher, call me a good learner

In 8th grade Social Studies we recently finished out latest Project Based Learning endeavor. The driving question was should Native American be allowed to operate casinos on tribal land. The idea was that in answering the question students would address Manifest Destiny, westward expansion, Andrew Jackson, Trail of Tears, ideas of sovereignty, the India Removal Act, etc. They would also have to think about what this means in a contemporary fashion. Therefore, they studied court cases, compensation, and reservations. They pretended to be lawyers and presented me with either a defense of or case against Native American casinos. The presentations rocked and it was fun for all. Today was assessment today which means that they responded to two of four questions (One via a group and one individually).


How have Native Americans been treated over American History?
Who was Andrew Jackson and what were some important events during his presidency?
What is sovereignty and how does it relate to Native American Gaming?
Should people get compensation for past discrimination?



They could  do this via an imaginary twitter feed, a short essay, an illustration, or an imaginary facebook page. Basically, you name the way to answer, just make sure there is correct factual information and good analyzation. As they were doing this a student stopped me and said, "you are an awesome teacher...I wish other teachers were like you". Three things crossed my mind:

a) I have never heard a student say this during a "test" before!
b) I was extremely humbled
c) I realized I wasn't really a teacher for the last two weeks

So my response was, "Thank you, but I prefer the term an awesome co-learner." The poor girl was dumbfounded and I don't blame her. I then went on to ask her who was at the front of the classroom presenting last week. She said, "We were" and then I asked her who helped her understand the material and she responded, "lots of people, my group, and you." "Well then we all learned from one another right?" I went on to tell her all the things I learned from the class.

Here were just a few:
-One group gave a wonderful legal history of court cases between Native Americans and the United States. I was fascinated!
-One group described medical conditions of Native Americans and made an argument that it was a result of poor land and economic prospects we gave them
- One group retaught me how to use Google Forms
- One group even researched the term genocide and made an argument that the Trail of Tears was nothing less
Part of one group's presentation



Somebody asked me today why I love being a teacher and I promptly said because I get to learn everyday. It is fun when I see this in action.

Friday, March 18, 2011

I used to hate school....maybe I still do

    I remember in middle school my friends and I had a countdown to graduation. It wasn't a countdown because we were proud of graduating, but more because we hated being in middle school. It wasn't because I hated my friends or had problems socially, but rather because I was absolutely bored and unchallenged. I never remember having student choice or doing anything other than outlines and worksheets. While the school community included many amazing people who cared for the students (of which I am infinitively thankful), I learned how to win at the game of school. I learned how to be what the teachers wanted, I learned how to memorize things quickly and I learned that schooling was just something that had to be tolerated.

     Flash forward to high school and nothing changed except my learning habits got worse. As the pressure increased, I was able to keep the stress down because I became a heck of a cheater. I knew that to win the game, I simply had to get good marks and keep put of trouble. Looking back, I don't think I was even cheating myself because I didn't see a value in any of that information and I was rarely asked to really analyze it or add something to it. I had a few teachers who challenged me to discourse and debate and I have since thanked them, but most of the time I sat there and thought of ways to beat the system. As I moved through high school, I became more and more sick of school and even got into some pretty big trouble, but in the end I was able to memorize enough equations and answers to make it to college.

    In college, a funny thing happened. I was surrounded by a bunch of people that had read books and traveled not because they had to, but because they wanted to. I had roommates that fiddled on the computer for hours just trying to figure something out. I was exposed to research that was truly remarkable. In effect, I became exposed to real learning. I had professors that put on syllabi "optional books". Occasionally, I would pick one up and read a few pages. Not because I had to, but because I wanted too. I traveled abroad and learned about a whole new culture. I got to choose the classes I wanted. Throughout the course of four years I started to see that I loved learning not school (or maybe it was the way school was constructed). I loved the people I was around and most of the time I liked my teachers, I just didn't like the system. That is when I got the idea to become a teacher. Why can't school be fun? Why can't we be excited to learn in school? Why can't I make a difference?

    I continued to take this approach in grad school. Sometimes I wouldn't do trivial assignments because I was researching something else. Maybe I wouldn't do all the assigned reading, but I was picking the teacher's brains for ideas and philosophy. My peers would ask me why I didn't care as much about the grade. I used to think it was my hubris, but now I know it is because I love learning and that other stuff is just well stuff.

    So as I start and continue my teaching career, I approach teaching in a way that stresses learning as much as possible. And yet schools are not constructed for this. They are constructed for competition, for mindless memorizing, for sheer control and power. Not all schools are like this, but we have institutional and political pressure for most to be like that. We are designing schools that are made for people to hate. I am very lucky that I love my students, the place I work, and learning. I found a great place where we constantly strive to make school different, but I know many people aren't this lucky.

So do I still "hate" school? Maybe not. What I really hate are some people's notions of what school is!

I used to hate school....maybe I still do

    I remember in middle school my friends and I had a countdown to graduation. It wasn't a countdown because we were proud of graduating, but more because we hated being in middle school. It wasn't because I hated my friends or had problems socially, but rather because I was absolutely bored and unchallenged. I never remember having student choice or doing anything other than outlines and worksheets. While the school community included many amazing people who cared for the students (of which I am infinitively thankful), I learned how to win at the game of school. I learned how to be what the teachers wanted, I learned how to memorize things quickly and I learned that schooling was just something that had to be tolerated.

     Flash forward to high school and nothing changed except my learning habits got worse. As the pressure increased, I was able to keep the stress down because I became a heck of a cheater. I knew that to win the game, I simply had to get good marks and keep put of trouble. Looking back, I don't think I was even cheating myself because I didn't see a value in any of that information and I was rarely asked to really analyze it or add something to it. I had a few teachers who challenged me to discourse and debate and I have since thanked them, but most of the time I sat there and thought of ways to beat the system. As I moved through high school, I became more and more sick of school and even got into some pretty big trouble, but in the end I was able to memorize enough equations and answers to make it to college.

    In college, a funny thing happened. I was surrounded by a bunch of people that had read books and traveled not because they had to, but because they wanted to. I had roommates that fiddled on the computer for hours just trying to figure something out. I was exposed to research that was truly remarkable. In effect, I became exposed to real learning. I had professors that put on syllabi "optional books". Occasionally, I would pick one up and read a few pages. Not because I had to, but because I wanted too. I traveled abroad and learned about a whole new culture. I got to choose the classes I wanted. Throughout the course of four years I started to see that I loved learning not school (or maybe it was the way school was constructed). I loved the people I was around and most of the time I liked my teachers, I just didn't like the system. That is when I got the idea to become a teacher. Why can't school be fun? Why can't we be excited to learn in school? Why can't I make a difference?

    I continued to take this approach in grad school. Sometimes I wouldn't do trivial assignments because I was researching something else. Maybe I wouldn't do all the assigned reading, but I was picking the teacher's brains for ideas and philosophy. My peers would ask me why I didn't care as much about the grade. I used to think it was my hubris, but now I know it is because I love learning and that other stuff is just well stuff.

    So as I start and continue my teaching career, I approach teaching in a way that stresses learning as much as possible. And yet schools are not constructed for this. They are constructed for competition, for mindless memorizing, for sheer control and power. Not all schools are like this, but we have institutional and political pressure for most to be like that. We are designing schools that are made for people to hate. I am very lucky that I love my students, the place I work, and learning. I found a great place where we constantly strive to make school different, but I know many people aren't this lucky.

So do I still "hate" school? Maybe not. What I really hate are some people's notions of what school is!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I "go" to Yale (not really, but maybe)

I "go" to Yale. I "attend" talks by the most innovative people in the world. I "converse" with people all over the globe all the time. I "read" anything and everything all day long. I "participate" in PD while on my couch.

 Let me explain how I do this everyday.

I "go" to Yale
A couple times a week I listen to Professor Steven B. Smith's 2009 class on political philosophy for undergrads. Yale has put many classes online through iTunes U and you can upload them to your mp3 player or smart phone. I discovered a love of philosophy at the end of my undergrad career but it was too late to really start taking classes. Now I can "go" back and take philosophy courses while I drive back from school or practice.

I "attend" talks by the most innovative people in the world
You no longer need to pay thousands of dollars to hear the best and brightest discuss some of the most interesting topics on the planet. There's an app for that. TED has a mobile app that allows you to view their famous talks while you wait in line for a prescription or are anxiously preparing for a date with the dentist.

 I "converse" with people all over the world all the time.
Via Twitter I get to talk to the most passionate, knowledgeable, and progressive professionals in my field. It is uber personal and collaborative. The community feel of educators on Twitter is truly remarkable. For the first time in human history you can easily discuss your thoughts and opinions with experts. I am constantly learning about new ideas and engaging in meaningful and authentic conversation.

I "read" anything and everything all day long
I must read between 10 and 30 blog posts a day. These blogs may be on education, philosophy, sports, music or simply anything I am into on a particular day. Besides blogs, I read book excerpts, professional research, and primary sources. All of this disparate knowledge is at my fingertips and is effortlessly gleaned. Whatever I am passionate or curious about I can google and my learning takes off.

I "participate" in PD while on my couch.
Whether it be Twitter chats, online conferences, google docs, or Youtube videos, I am constantly polishing my craft and can do so at anytime. Most of this is personally directed and  individually relevant. It is meaningful and relates to the things I need in my classroom.

All of this "learning" occurs on a regular basis for me. In fact, as I was typing this post my roommate (a businessman) shared two interesting articles that got me thinking. This is the world we live in. Where information and self-directed authentic learning is right in front of us. Yet, we still push for a system where one individual is supposed to dispense their knowledge to 30 students. How does this make sense? I have met some smart people, but I can not think of one who could teach me all I learn on a daily basis. We need to guide students to be able to navigate this world and make it work for them. Our ideas and notions of education must change to meet the learning opportunities that we have here in the present.

I "go" to Yale (not really, but maybe)

I "go" to Yale. I "attend" talks by the most innovative people in the world. I "converse" with people all over the globe all the time. I "read" anything and everything all day long. I "participate" in PD while on my couch.

 Let me explain how I do this everyday.

I "go" to Yale
A couple times a week I listen to Professor Steven B. Smith's 2009 class on political philosophy for undergrads. Yale has put many classes online through iTunes U and you can upload them to your mp3 player or smart phone. I discovered a love of philosophy at the end of my undergrad career but it was too late to really start taking classes. Now I can "go" back and take philosophy courses while I drive back from school or practice.

I "attend" talks by the most innovative people in the world
You no longer need to pay thousands of dollars to hear the best and brightest discuss some of the most interesting topics on the planet. There's an app for that. TED has a mobile app that allows you to view their famous talks while you wait in line for a prescription or are anxiously preparing for a date with the dentist.

 I "converse" with people all over the world all the time.
Via Twitter I get to talk to the most passionate, knowledgeable, and progressive professionals in my field. It is uber personal and collaborative. The community feel of educators on Twitter is truly remarkable. For the first time in human history you can easily discuss your thoughts and opinions with experts. I am constantly learning about new ideas and engaging in meaningful and authentic conversation.

I "read" anything and everything all day long
I must read between 10 and 30 blog posts a day. These blogs may be on education, philosophy, sports, music or simply anything I am into on a particular day. Besides blogs, I read book excerpts, professional research, and primary sources. All of this disparate knowledge is at my fingertips and is effortlessly gleaned. Whatever I am passionate or curious about I can google and my learning takes off.

I "participate" in PD while on my couch.
Whether it be Twitter chats, online conferences, google docs, or Youtube videos, I am constantly polishing my craft and can do so at anytime. Most of this is personally directed and  individually relevant. It is meaningful and relates to the things I need in my classroom.

All of this "learning" occurs on a regular basis for me. In fact, as I was typing this post my roommate (a businessman) shared two interesting articles that got me thinking. This is the world we live in. Where information and self-directed authentic learning is right in front of us. Yet, we still push for a system where one individual is supposed to dispense their knowledge to 30 students. How does this make sense? I have met some smart people, but I can not think of one who could teach me all I learn on a daily basis. We need to guide students to be able to navigate this world and make it work for them. Our ideas and notions of education must change to meet the learning opportunities that we have here in the present.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Biggest obstacle to change is the way we were taught

    Yesterday, I reserved the laptops for one of my classes so when I wheeled the cart in I wanted the students to get right to work on some presentations we were working on. At the beginning of the class, one of my students had the laptop on his desk but was trying to read the last few pages of a book. I knew the student was making good progress on this project and presentation (we had talked about their progress in mini-conferences the previous day), but I instantaneously told him to put that away. Why? Because this is what teachers are supposed to do. I mean, this is what every teacher did to me or a classmate growing up. This is what every teacher I observed in teacher training did. Control and strict obedience are everything in a classroom, right?

    As I said this, I saw the look on his face and how disappointed he was. He wasn't angry or upset with me, but rather disappointed because he was so excited to finish those last few pages. I quickly thought about how thrilling the sensation of finishing a book can be and I realized that I was squashing this student's natural excitement to learn. I quickly told him to take out his book and finish it. I know he will finish his project and 5-10 minutes is really nothing in the grand scheme of things. To the student, finishing that book was more exciting than the "fun and exciting" project we were working on. Learning doesn't fit into tidy little boxes, with tidy little time periods, and tidy little subjects. Unwavering control and command are not best for learning. But we are taught growing up that it supposed to. This "training" all too often takes over for teachers. For one day and for one moment I was able to catch myself and I hope the student benefited.

Biggest obstacle to change is the way we were taught

    Yesterday, I reserved the laptops for one of my classes so when I wheeled the cart in I wanted the students to get right to work on some presentations we were working on. At the beginning of the class, one of my students had the laptop on his desk but was trying to read the last few pages of a book. I knew the student was making good progress on this project and presentation (we had talked about their progress in mini-conferences the previous day), but I instantaneously told him to put that away. Why? Because this is what teachers are supposed to do. I mean, this is what every teacher did to me or a classmate growing up. This is what every teacher I observed in teacher training did. Control and strict obedience are everything in a classroom, right?

    As I said this, I saw the look on his face and how disappointed he was. He wasn't angry or upset with me, but rather disappointed because he was so excited to finish those last few pages. I quickly thought about how thrilling the sensation of finishing a book can be and I realized that I was squashing this student's natural excitement to learn. I quickly told him to take out his book and finish it. I know he will finish his project and 5-10 minutes is really nothing in the grand scheme of things. To the student, finishing that book was more exciting than the "fun and exciting" project we were working on. Learning doesn't fit into tidy little boxes, with tidy little time periods, and tidy little subjects. Unwavering control and command are not best for learning. But we are taught growing up that it supposed to. This "training" all too often takes over for teachers. For one day and for one moment I was able to catch myself and I hope the student benefited.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Introducing China: Two ways for active learning

The other night I created two short ways to introduce the Silk Road and the Great Wall to sixth graders. Feel free to use them or edit them as you choose.

1) Silk Road-- Corner the Market

I got the inspiration from a card game I played with my family over the holidays. I can't remember the name, but I thought it was corner the market.

I made a set of 36 playing cards. These were simply printed pictures that I cut up (I have links below). From there you split students into groups of six and you give each player 6 random cards. Therefore, each student has 6 cards or "products" in their hand. Once trading starts their goal is to get all six of one product. Whenever they want to make a trade, they simply turn to one of the six players and say I will trade you two for two or three for three. The other person does not see the traded cards until the transaction is made. This continues until one person has all of one product. They then have cornered the market. In order to add a new wrinkle to it you can assign each product a point total. This means that rice may be worth 50 and art 200. The students then have to figure out if it is better to make the most "cheap" transactions or try to wait and make the more "lavish" ones. This becomes a lesson in supply and demand and price for sixth graders even though I really didn't stress those points. After this you can introduce the Silk Trade and the students are pumped to find out more.

If you take this game an use it my only wish is that you make sure it stays a game and not a competition. I was clear that we were not keeping score or points and the kids had not problem with that.

My products were: Rice, Asian Horses, Silk, Art, Cows, Chinese Paper
Google Doc with for cards
More cards
(When I uploaded to Google Docs the pics went astray so you can email me tmonreal42@gmail.com for word doc)





#2 Make you own wall

Before class, I asked the teacher next door to try and get into our classroom in 15 minutes. As the students walked in I announced that angry Ms. B was trying to invade the class. We would have 10 minutes to try and block her. I told the students that they could use anything to build a wall blocking the door. As long as there was no running or screaming everything was game. One student asked what would happen if there was a fire and my response was, "I hope that doesn't happen". Students stacked desks, chairs, and supplies to fortify the classroom (while they were all their I briefly thought about burning them). In 15 minutes the teacher could not come in and then we had a brief discussion as to why countries build wall and barriers. It was a great intro to the Great Wall.

Introducing China: Two ways for active learning

The other night I created two short ways to introduce the Silk Road and the Great Wall to sixth graders. Feel free to use them or edit them as you choose.

1) Silk Road-- Corner the Market

I got the inspiration from a card game I played with my family over the holidays. I can't remember the name, but I thought it was corner the market.

I made a set of 36 playing cards. These were simply printed pictures that I cut up (I have links below). From there you split students into groups of six and you give each player 6 random cards. Therefore, each student has 6 cards or "products" in their hand. Once trading starts their goal is to get all six of one product. Whenever they want to make a trade, they simply turn to one of the six players and say I will trade you two for two or three for three. The other person does not see the traded cards until the transaction is made. This continues until one person has all of one product. They then have cornered the market. In order to add a new wrinkle to it you can assign each product a point total. This means that rice may be worth 50 and art 200. The students then have to figure out if it is better to make the most "cheap" transactions or try to wait and make the more "lavish" ones. This becomes a lesson in supply and demand and price for sixth graders even though I really didn't stress those points. After this you can introduce the Silk Trade and the students are pumped to find out more.

If you take this game an use it my only wish is that you make sure it stays a game and not a competition. I was clear that we were not keeping score or points and the kids had not problem with that.

My products were: Rice, Asian Horses, Silk, Art, Cows, Chinese Paper
Google Doc with for cards
More cards
(When I uploaded to Google Docs the pics went astray so you can email me tmonreal42@gmail.com for word doc)





#2 Make you own wall

Before class, I asked the teacher next door to try and get into our classroom in 15 minutes. As the students walked in I announced that angry Ms. B was trying to invade the class. We would have 10 minutes to try and block her. I told the students that they could use anything to build a wall blocking the door. As long as there was no running or screaming everything was game. One student asked what would happen if there was a fire and my response was, "I hope that doesn't happen". Students stacked desks, chairs, and supplies to fortify the classroom (while they were all their I briefly thought about burning them). In 15 minutes the teacher could not come in and then we had a brief discussion as to why countries build wall and barriers. It was a great intro to the Great Wall.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What is Professional Dress for Teachers?

     Both my seventh and eighth grade Social Studies classes are in the middle of a project right now. One calls for them to pretend they are lawyers and one calls for them to pretend they are congressmen and women. As I introduced these projects last week, I thought it would be fun to dress up in a suit. I did this as part of the intro event to generate excitement for the projects. The students had a blast seeing me in a suit and many asked me why I was in a tux (to which I promptly explained the difference). Based on the response and also due to a general slacking in taking in my dry cleaning, I wore a suit everyday last week. Whenever students asked why I was dressed so nice I said three things

1) You deserve it
2) Because you are lawyers and congressman and we are conducting serious research here
3) Mr. Monreal hasn't done his laundry

     All this got me thinking, what is professional dress for teachers? For me it is a tie everyday. I used to say I did this for respect and I did. As I grow in my understanding of classroom management, respect, and teaching, I really hope my students don't buy into my methods just because I wear a tie. Yet, I still do it everyday. While my dream classroom is more of a learning lounge, I would never dream (nor would my principal endorse) of walking into class with a T-shirt and jeans. To be sure you can be a good teacher and not wear a tie, but can you be a good teacher if you wear a T-shirt everyday? I would say yes, but once again I would never dream of doing it. I tend to rationalize my dress as a way of representing the profession of teaching; the years of post-grad instruction and the various degrees to show from it. Thinking of that I am then thrown in two directions. Yes, I have a lot of pride in how teachers are educated and how they are specially trained for their craft, but at the same time we are regular people who learn and grow from interacting with our students as equals. We do not need to act elitist. So all this comes from the simple question--Does it matter how teachers dress?

 I would love your feed back and answers.

What is Professional Dress for Teachers?

     Both my seventh and eighth grade Social Studies classes are in the middle of a project right now. One calls for them to pretend they are lawyers and one calls for them to pretend they are congressmen and women. As I introduced these projects last week, I thought it would be fun to dress up in a suit. I did this as part of the intro event to generate excitement for the projects. The students had a blast seeing me in a suit and many asked me why I was in a tux (to which I promptly explained the difference). Based on the response and also due to a general slacking in taking in my dry cleaning, I wore a suit everyday last week. Whenever students asked why I was dressed so nice I said three things

1) You deserve it
2) Because you are lawyers and congressman and we are conducting serious research here
3) Mr. Monreal hasn't done his laundry

     All this got me thinking, what is professional dress for teachers? For me it is a tie everyday. I used to say I did this for respect and I did. As I grow in my understanding of classroom management, respect, and teaching, I really hope my students don't buy into my methods just because I wear a tie. Yet, I still do it everyday. While my dream classroom is more of a learning lounge, I would never dream (nor would my principal endorse) of walking into class with a T-shirt and jeans. To be sure you can be a good teacher and not wear a tie, but can you be a good teacher if you wear a T-shirt everyday? I would say yes, but once again I would never dream of doing it. I tend to rationalize my dress as a way of representing the profession of teaching; the years of post-grad instruction and the various degrees to show from it. Thinking of that I am then thrown in two directions. Yes, I have a lot of pride in how teachers are educated and how they are specially trained for their craft, but at the same time we are regular people who learn and grow from interacting with our students as equals. We do not need to act elitist. So all this comes from the simple question--Does it matter how teachers dress?

 I would love your feed back and answers.

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Students Proved Me Wrong--I'm so proud

     I am in my first year of implementing project based learning. For those of you that are unfamiliar don't worry, I was until last year. Basically you give students one, big, driving question that they work on for an extended period of time. Usually, this is a question that bridges modern day issues with historical research. It is also meant to be something the students will see as real-life and will be motivated to answer it in their own unique way. It is a way of pushing students into their own learning.

     Currently, my seventh grade Social Studies class is pretending to be newly elected congressman and congresswomen. They have been asked to chair a committee on church and state. They need to answer this question, "What is the proper role of religion in government?". Since we were studying medieval Europe, they are using historical examples like the Crusades, conflicts between papacy and monarch, and philosophy. Many groups (committees) have also explored the Reconquista, the Reformation, and indulgences. In addition, they have been tying in modern day examples to help decide their point. One thing I pushed them to do was conduct interviews as a way of gathering data from their constituents. Most people chose to interview teachers and friends. Some grabbed a flip cam and hit the streets, Jay Leno-style asking for people's opinion. I thought that was great. Once group of girls wanted to send Obama an email. Even though I told them that he probably wouldn't answer, I didn't stop them because it was a valuable learning experience. Looking up Obama's information and formulating a professional email are great things to learn. They then turned their attention to the pope. I said the same things as with Obama. But once again valuable knowledge was gained. They asked what the Vatican was and it led to good conversation. Next, they set their sights on the mayor. For the third time, I had a conversation explaining how he was probably really busy and he may not answer. It didn't deter them!

        Today, they opened their email in Social Studies class and the mayor of Redwood City, CA sent them a personal email answering all five of their interview questions. I was stunned and the girls were absolutely ecstatic. They were so happy (I don't think they realized how excited their teacher was). I am sure it is something they will never forget. This is real learning. This natural sense of curiosity and determination are things we should value in students not prohibit. And think, I was trying to tell them not to try. Yikes! So in the end I was proven wrong. I underestimated the kindness of strangers (it was a politician for goodness sake) and my students showed me that nothing can come unless you ask.

My Students Proved Me Wrong--I'm so proud

     I am in my first year of implementing project based learning. For those of you that are unfamiliar don't worry, I was until last year. Basically you give students one, big, driving question that they work on for an extended period of time. Usually, this is a question that bridges modern day issues with historical research. It is also meant to be something the students will see as real-life and will be motivated to answer it in their own unique way. It is a way of pushing students into their own learning.

     Currently, my seventh grade Social Studies class is pretending to be newly elected congressman and congresswomen. They have been asked to chair a committee on church and state. They need to answer this question, "What is the proper role of religion in government?". Since we were studying medieval Europe, they are using historical examples like the Crusades, conflicts between papacy and monarch, and philosophy. Many groups (committees) have also explored the Reconquista, the Reformation, and indulgences. In addition, they have been tying in modern day examples to help decide their point. One thing I pushed them to do was conduct interviews as a way of gathering data from their constituents. Most people chose to interview teachers and friends. Some grabbed a flip cam and hit the streets, Jay Leno-style asking for people's opinion. I thought that was great. Once group of girls wanted to send Obama an email. Even though I told them that he probably wouldn't answer, I didn't stop them because it was a valuable learning experience. Looking up Obama's information and formulating a professional email are great things to learn. They then turned their attention to the pope. I said the same things as with Obama. But once again valuable knowledge was gained. They asked what the Vatican was and it led to good conversation. Next, they set their sights on the mayor. For the third time, I had a conversation explaining how he was probably really busy and he may not answer. It didn't deter them!

        Today, they opened their email in Social Studies class and the mayor of Redwood City, CA sent them a personal email answering all five of their interview questions. I was stunned and the girls were absolutely ecstatic. They were so happy (I don't think they realized how excited their teacher was). I am sure it is something they will never forget. This is real learning. This natural sense of curiosity and determination are things we should value in students not prohibit. And think, I was trying to tell them not to try. Yikes! So in the end I was proven wrong. I underestimated the kindness of strangers (it was a politician for goodness sake) and my students showed me that nothing can come unless you ask.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

An Amazing Look at 21st Century Leaders by PBS

     About a month ago, PBS came out with a documentary called Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century. Last night, I finally sat down to watch it and I think it is absolutely essential for all educators, especially those who consider themselves 21st century teachers. It is a wonderful look at how digital media helps produce an education system that is based on creativity, innovation, and engagement. It makes the case that we need to shift our education system as it is out-dated and not doing a sufficient job of educating kids for the world they are going to face. The documentary contrasts this old model with schools who have chosen to leave it behind. For most of the hour, we see students who are responsible their own learning and experts who are singing the praises of this notion. In short, this is simply a must-see.


    Instead of writing a detailed review, I am just going to include some quotes I wrote down when watching. I have tried my best to give credit to those who spoke them. I have also included the whole movie below and please check it out. 


Dr. James Gee

"Old model of teaching you the things you will need to know for the rest of your life clearly is not going to work"


"If a learning system is well designed, you don’t finish it without the guarantee that you learned it already. That is the design of a good game. You can't proceed unless you have learned the material to allow you to advance, unless you can learn on that learning. Therefore, learning and assessment are the same thing. Design such learning systems where they assess themselves"


"if your learning is just what you are learning now it is not that useful"


"doesn’t matter what passion you get as kid, because passion becomes learning"


"People say digital media is killing reading and writing, not true it is just killing the ecology of it…..different text are produced…kids are doing more reading and writing than the ever had"


  Dr. John Seely Brown


"in a world of change memorization is a 20th century skill---the need to navigate and trust information makes the world yours"


"most overlooked is the power and purpose of play--- Tinkering brings thought together, it is a lifelong learning event"

"Much of our learning comes in the interaction of others"


Diana Rhoten

“Evey kid has an interest…they may not know what it is or may not be able to articulate it but every kid has an interest"

"We are trying to  help the institution be in the center of a kids life instead of a kid be in the center of an institution's life"

"remaking content so you are the creater and the producer"


Christopher Lehmann

"We have continued to build schools in the industry model of go go go, periods of time, etc, but we have evolved past that as a society, schools haven’t"


 Students





"We don’t learn by staring at text book—we learn by trial and error and by hands on"

" If I can’t get a place to practice my passion then where do I go"



Other Educators and Teachers I Couldn't Catch Name 





"A cell phone can be a distraction or an amazing tool"

"Digitial media produces more democratically aware and commnunity minded citizens"




"




Don’t need to teach them facts they are not going to use"









"Don’t need an adult to help them because they are so excited"


"The indidividual can be empowered to find its own path, maybe it’s a very different path or personal path"

"Ignoring social media is being irresponsible as an educator"

"Learning the process in this day and age is more important to content"

"Teaching changes in a world where students own their own learning"

A quote to leave you with by John Dewey:
"If we teach students the way we taught them yesterday we rob them of tomorrow"







An Amazing Look at 21st Century Leaders by PBS

     About a month ago, PBS came out with a documentary called Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century. Last night, I finally sat down to watch it and I think it is absolutely essential for all educators, especially those who consider themselves 21st century teachers. It is a wonderful look at how digital media helps produce an education system that is based on creativity, innovation, and engagement. It makes the case that we need to shift our education system as it is out-dated and not doing a sufficient job of educating kids for the world they are going to face. The documentary contrasts this old model with schools who have chosen to leave it behind. For most of the hour, we see students who are responsible their own learning and experts who are singing the praises of this notion. In short, this is simply a must-see.


    Instead of writing a detailed review, I am just going to include some quotes I wrote down when watching. I have tried my best to give credit to those who spoke them. I have also included the whole movie below and please check it out. 


Dr. James Gee

"Old model of teaching you the things you will need to know for the rest of your life clearly is not going to work"


"If a learning system is well designed, you don’t finish it without the guarantee that you learned it already. That is the design of a good game. You can't proceed unless you have learned the material to allow you to advance, unless you can learn on that learning. Therefore, learning and assessment are the same thing. Design such learning systems where they assess themselves"


"if your learning is just what you are learning now it is not that useful"


"doesn’t matter what passion you get as kid, because passion becomes learning"


"People say digital media is killing reading and writing, not true it is just killing the ecology of it…..different text are produced…kids are doing more reading and writing than the ever had"


  Dr. John Seely Brown


"in a world of change memorization is a 20th century skill---the need to navigate and trust information makes the world yours"


"most overlooked is the power and purpose of play--- Tinkering brings thought together, it is a lifelong learning event"

"Much of our learning comes in the interaction of others"


Diana Rhoten

“Evey kid has an interest…they may not know what it is or may not be able to articulate it but every kid has an interest"

"We are trying to  help the institution be in the center of a kids life instead of a kid be in the center of an institution's life"

"remaking content so you are the creater and the producer"


Christopher Lehmann

"We have continued to build schools in the industry model of go go go, periods of time, etc, but we have evolved past that as a society, schools haven’t"


 Students





"We don’t learn by staring at text book—we learn by trial and error and by hands on"

" If I can’t get a place to practice my passion then where do I go"



Other Educators and Teachers I Couldn't Catch Name 





"A cell phone can be a distraction or an amazing tool"

"Digitial media produces more democratically aware and commnunity minded citizens"




"




Don’t need to teach them facts they are not going to use"









"Don’t need an adult to help them because they are so excited"


"The indidividual can be empowered to find its own path, maybe it’s a very different path or personal path"

"Ignoring social media is being irresponsible as an educator"

"Learning the process in this day and age is more important to content"

"Teaching changes in a world where students own their own learning"

A quote to leave you with by John Dewey:
"If we teach students the way we taught them yesterday we rob them of tomorrow"







Saturday, March 5, 2011

1 idea, 1 Tweet and my PLN runs with it

Running around the halls
Cleaning my room
Finishing lessons
Reviewing student progess on projects
Eating instant oatmeal

    This is how I usually spend the waning minutes before school starts. But for whatever reason this last Friday, I was calmly sitting at my desk wandering Twitter. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I needed to do something for Women's History Month. I mentioned it on March 1st and gave a 5 minute remark on its importance, but sitting there in the calm before the storm, I realized that this was not enough. For the whole month, I decided I was going to give a brief profile of an influential woman to start each class. Without thinking twice I sent out this tweet

Genius me put February instead of March

     Seconds later, I had multiple people respond with wonderful suggestions. Within minutes, I had more than 10 responses or RTs. It was awesome to see my PLN at work. I was enthused and excited to have the names of 10-15 women; some of which I had never heard of or forgotten about. I had a field trip yesterday, but the discussion continued on Twitter over the course of the day. At one point, people started asking if a google doc could be arranged for the names and resources that people had thrown out there. Once I got back to school, I quickly made a public doc and within an hour 25-30 names and resources were added to the list. I also had conversations with teachers who were trying to brainstorm my idea of a simple profile into a bigger lesson or project. One simple tweet and a community of teachers who were sharing resources, ideas, and excitement organically grew. Although it wasn't a massive group or document, it reinforces the power of having a PLN on Twitter. The connections and knowledge stored within my circle of followers and hashtags continues to amaze me and makes my learning experience a new adventure everyday. I can legitimately say that every morning I wake up and am psyched for all I am going to learn.



Here is the document if you wish to add or check it out. Also please tweet me with ideas to build upon my simple idea of profiling each one. 






1 idea, 1 Tweet and my PLN runs with it

Running around the halls
Cleaning my room
Finishing lessons
Reviewing student progess on projects
Eating instant oatmeal

    This is how I usually spend the waning minutes before school starts. But for whatever reason this last Friday, I was calmly sitting at my desk wandering Twitter. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I needed to do something for Women's History Month. I mentioned it on March 1st and gave a 5 minute remark on its importance, but sitting there in the calm before the storm, I realized that this was not enough. For the whole month, I decided I was going to give a brief profile of an influential woman to start each class. Without thinking twice I sent out this tweet

Genius me put February instead of March

     Seconds later, I had multiple people respond with wonderful suggestions. Within minutes, I had more than 10 responses or RTs. It was awesome to see my PLN at work. I was enthused and excited to have the names of 10-15 women; some of which I had never heard of or forgotten about. I had a field trip yesterday, but the discussion continued on Twitter over the course of the day. At one point, people started asking if a google doc could be arranged for the names and resources that people had thrown out there. Once I got back to school, I quickly made a public doc and within an hour 25-30 names and resources were added to the list. I also had conversations with teachers who were trying to brainstorm my idea of a simple profile into a bigger lesson or project. One simple tweet and a community of teachers who were sharing resources, ideas, and excitement organically grew. Although it wasn't a massive group or document, it reinforces the power of having a PLN on Twitter. The connections and knowledge stored within my circle of followers and hashtags continues to amaze me and makes my learning experience a new adventure everyday. I can legitimately say that every morning I wake up and am psyched for all I am going to learn.



Here is the document if you wish to add or check it out. Also please tweet me with ideas to build upon my simple idea of profiling each one.