Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Some Halloween Math and Science


The really scary thing is that I have been keeping up on the blogging. Hopefully, I will keep it going past my usually week long sprint.

From my great people in my PLN on Twitter, some illusions and neuroscience ghosts to help in your classes for Halloween.

What I like best in the illusions is the geometry connection to the sarcophagus illusion. This one provides students a chance to explore the measurements of the geometry of a parallelogram. I think that more constructions need to be done in geometry classes to get a tangible feel for the shapes and solids. Main reason why I remember that a cone has 1/3 of the volume of a column with the same height and base is because we actually measured it!

The attractions to the neuroscience ghosts is, again, the fact that students must do something. This should encourage students to ask questions! The bigger challenge is to prevent the teacher from providing the answers. We should encourage more questions!

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Flip the ordinary!

One of the big trends in education is the idea of the flipped classroom. This concept switches the prescribed times when students work and when students "receive" information. Someone who is running with this is Brian Bennett ( or @bennetscience on Twitter) This is a fascinating concept that seems to be a natural progression from the school of analog thought that teachers would have students leave their textbooks at home because that is where the teacher is not, thus allowing students access to an educated resource away from school.

As we try to not only engage students in meaningful educational activities, teachers needs to be engaged in the discovery process and to change their methods of instruction. As you have probably personally experience, change is never easy and there is a process that people must go through to bring the changed state into their everyday existence. There are multiple examples of this process:
As teachers attempt to make changes in their instructional methods, some people will jump right into the pool of change, while others will only dip their big toe in. It is important to only give people a push when they are ready for it (OK, maybe sometimes we can push a little earlier if they have good support surrounding them). It is this that I want to explore. Instead of jumping right into flipping a class, why not try a few activities. It can be as simple as taking Prensky's idea of doing something old in a new way.

Case in point: there are many digital representations of the periodic table of elements. One that caught my eye is this one. It is not the colors that caught my eye, but the fact that the 2nd sheet of the Excel file contains ALL of the data (and more) that is in the periodic table. If we utilize this periodic table in class, we can not only have students develop a better understanding of chemistry, but of 21st century skills and skills that can even (*GASP*) help them on standardized test, by having students manipulate the data to have Excel create the graphs.

Another example that got me thinking is an open source game from MIT called "A Slower Speed of Light" which helps put relativistic principles in a format that might be easier to understand.

For those who have been reading (and I thank you for doing so), look at an activity that you have done for the past 3 can you flip it to make it something new and engaging? Leave a comment or mention it to me on Twitter (@misterabrams). Once you have flipped a few activities, it may not seem so scary to go waist deep into the change pool. :)

Happy flipping!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Words matter

To begin, I would like to wish all Illinois Principals (and principals and school leaders everywhere) a Happy Principal Appreciation Day! This is a video from the Illinois Principal Association which is a great organization for any school administrator.

After attending the ISTE Leadership Forum, I had the opportunity to drive from Indianapolis, IN to Springfield, IL for the "first annual" Race to the Top (RT3) state meeting. During the meeting, I had the opportunity to reconnect with some central IL colleagues from the early part of my teaching career and meet other educators whose districts are participating in this initiative. When you look at the 4 main goals of the state for RT3 they all seem to sound good:
  • Adopting more rigorous standards and assessments
  • Recruiting, evaluating, and retaining highly effective teachers and principals
  • Building data systems that measure student success
  • Building state capacity for support
During the meeting, the state had asked a few administrators from around the state the discuss their district's progress in meeting the deadlines. One administrator from central Illinois got up and spoke very candidly about his district's process.

He said, "The name Race to the Top is horrible. If a program is meant to increase the rigor and quality of instruction for all students to increase student achievement, the philosophy of a 'race' indicates that districts are in direct competition with one another and there will be some winners and some losers". He went on to say that words matter, in naming an initiative and in the directions for implementation.

I completely agree with him in his message and feel embarrassed that I did not make this connection before. The focus of this initiative should promote equity.

I had made a similar comment concerning NCLB in the state of Illinois. In Illinois, our test for high school students includes the ACT...a test designed to leave children behind.

In a separate issue, I had received a request today to provide words of insight to new department chairs. I looked back on my time as a DC and thought about my mistakes that I made and the thought of 'words matter' really rings true. The advice I ended up providing was:

As a DC try to make all of your actions fit within these two lenses: Is it good for kids and will this enable the department to encourage all students to succeed.

If that is your direction, it is hard to go wrong.

With so many initiatives, policy changes, and mandates, I think that some people opt for the path of least resisitance as opposed to what is best for kids and encouraging ALL students to succeed.

In this day of immediate feedback, many people speaking in only bullet points, and a sometimes a speak first-think later mentality, we need to remember that our words do matter.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

6.02 musings from ISTE Leadership Forum

Happy Mole Day to everyone! If you do not remember from your high school or college chemistry class, the mole is a quantity in chemistry used to get matter that is atomically small (or smaller) into a group large enough to measure. The quantity is Avogadro's number (6.02*10^23). If you want to learn about the celebration, go to

Today was the last day of the ISTE inaugural leadership forum. I would like to refer back to my post from 2 days ago and repeat how intelligent people correctly call the first occurrence of  an event that will happen annually is inaugural, as there is no such thing as the "1st annual". This is particularly peculiar because I am now in Springfield, IL for the 1st Annual Race to the Top Conference, hosted by the Illinois State Board of Education.

As I digress back to the title of this post, here are 6.02 (in honor of Mole Day) musings about today's events at the Leadership Forum.

  1. The NMC Horizon Report for 2012 (K-12) identifies six technologies to watch in the present to the next 5 years. They include mobile computing and apps, tablet computers, game based learning, personalized learning environments, augmented realities, and natural user interfaces. Some very exciting things on the horizon when we bring these into education.
  2. The importance of coaches is becoming more evident in this era of high stakes testing and evaluation of teachers. Admin need to support the role of coaches in the classroom. A good coach instructional modeling idea I got from the conference was the first class, the coach models the lesson. The second class, the coach co-teaches the lesson. The third class the coach supports the instruction of the primary teacher. Finally, the fourth lesson, the coach observes.
  3. An easy way encourage a collaborative process in your classroom is to change the physical space of the room. It is a feature that we easily overlook that can be an obstacle to encouraging conversation.
  4. Great teaching is great teaching. Technology will enhance great teaching. Technology is not assist poor teaching practices.
  5. Change takes relationships, relationships take conversations, conversations take time.
  6. When trying to create and implement a vision for technology, your first impulse is to grab the early adopters, but it is important to flip your thinking. Bring those who would be reluctant into the fold first to reduce their anxiety.
    .02 Five steps to create change: Model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart.

Big lesson from Fullan and Quinn from the closing -- Premature excitement is fragile. Lone innovators are not contagious, but rather annoying. Inspire others to be exited!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The good, the bad, and the ugly...

On day 2 of the ISTE Leadership Forum, we had a little bit of everything. The bad wasn't all bad and the ugly wasn't all ugly, but that doesn't make for a good title.

We will start with the ugly. I went to a panel discussion on Learning and Teaching:Powered by data use. I was really looking forward to this discussion because of my new position as Coordinator of Assessment, Data, and Grants. Unfortunately, this panel discussion consisted of little more than data talk in the ether without true plans of implementation. As stated in the opening keynote yesterday, vision without a plan is just a hallucination. Some of the good parts of the discussion were the disparity of autopsy vs. diagnostic data. This idea fits in with my idea of where I would like to take the usefulness of my position. There was a decent point made about the speed at which data can be collect and analyzed because of the collection being done in real time. The best message discussed was the role of the data coach to improve the communication between teachers and leaders. That makes the difference between assessment of learning and assessment for learning. What made this session ugly was the fact that is was a covert Pearson sales pitch with a panel including a Pearson employee and her former boss from CPS who is now a consultant. At least with the required industry meet-ups, you knew what you were getting into...I did have good conversations with some educators from Bloomington, Indiana who shared some of their data solutions and plans for implementation with me.

The bad was the I have an iPad, now what session. The initial description did not state that this session was for people who did not know how to turn on an I learned in the session, you cannot turn it on with wine and soft jazz music! There was a good side conversation that hijacked the session on Airplay and Apple TV. Some very neat things that can be done! I got some beginner information that I can share with people new to the iPad, so that will be a benefit. There were some resources for evaluating apps in order to avoid the Carmen SanDiego Effect. (The CSDE is how in the early 80s teachers would do anything to include the game in their classes, even though it was not grade appropriate nor fitting with the curriculum.) Best comment was first use tends to become the entrenched use...don't fall prey to the razzle dazzle and prevent teachers from trying to twist their curriculum to make Angry Birds fit.

The good was very good! This was a panel discussion about the role and benefit of instructional coaches. Multiple things that I have studied before were reiterated and discussed in greater detail. This panel consisted of a tech director, a superintendent, and an instructional coach trainer. Big things from this discussion included how coaching has a spill over effect. The coach and collaborating teacher set the model for the school and others will see the benefit and want to be included. This build capacity of the building. Another big thing to remember is that the coach MUST be separated from the evaluation. This ensures the ability to make mistakes and learn from them without getting "ding-ed" on an eval. The coach cannot come in as the expert. They are coming in as a collaborator in learning and a questioner of the teacher to help them discover their own path toward better instruction. Most importantly is the role of the administrator in the coaching process: support!

I am looking forward to the last day of the conference for it will be good. I then get to drive from Indy to Springfield for a RT3 meeting...we might see bad and ugly again.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

10 things I have learned in my short time at ISTE's inaugural Leadership Forum

Here we go for about the 4th time of getting started in blogging.

Here 10 things I have learned in my short time at ISTE's inaugural Leadership Forum:

From the address by the board of ISTE:
  • Intelligent people who truly love to learn surround themselves with people from whom they want to learn.
  • Intelligent people also correctly say "inaugural" instead of "1st annual".
  • "True leadership begins with a commitment to students" -- Brian Lewis, ISTE President

From @chrislehmann's keynote address:
  • Students have the ability today to create profound artifacts of learning.
  • Students should have the opportunity to reflect on and direct their learning.
  • "We NEED kids to be better than we are".
  • The three major design influences for schools were factories, prisons, and churches.
  • We cannot replace schools with Wall Street. High-stakes, one-shot testing does not meet the original vision of schools. Schools need to represent our Democratic ideals, not those of capitalism.
  • Rube Goldberg has a larger influence in schools than imagined. Why do we keep trying to build a better multiple choice test or filmstrip?
  • We have several challenges facing us to change schools:
    • Leaders need to change the way teachers talk and model this talk. Students should never be the implied object of education.
    • We need to ask questions that we do not know that answers to. That is the link between inquiry and care. In the same vane, we need to care about students, not care for them.
    • Technology should be used to optimize person to person time. It should unite and connect...not isolate.
      • Administrators, in particular, should understand this and remove themselves from their office for an entire day each week. Remember why we got into education in the first place. (See Brian Lewis quote)
    • Schools need to be great places of passion: For teachers in guiding the learning and for students being an active participant in the learning.
    • Students need to be synthesizers of information. Were current educators trained how to make this happen for students?
    • Schools cannot be depositors of information. Learning needs to matter to students.
    • True change happens when leadership develops a vision, models that vision for all, and sustains that vision with systems and structures. If you lead by majority rule, it is the best way to build 49% opposition.
    • Leaders need to stop trying to fix the broken...we need to evolve.
    • And above all, be one school. Don't have a 1 set of rules for students, one for teachers, one for parents, etc.
If the keynote is any indication, all administrators need to attend this conference as a team to remember what schools can be.