Thursday, March 21, 2013

Where is the line?

I am a big proponent of educators utilizing a variety of social media outlets to participate in professional development, engage students in the learning, and maintain open communication lines with stakeholders concerning important events. Having said that, I have had an occurrence that has got me asking the question of where is the line?

My 2 boys (4 1/2 and 2 1/2) both go to school/daycare. It is a WONDERFUL facility with an amazing staff who genuinely care about the social, emotional, and cognitive growth of all of the children who attend. My youngest son is in the 2-3 year old room and, with any child who is exploring the world but can not fully express himself, there are instances where two children will get into a scuffle. Sometimes it is a little hitting or pushing, sometimes biting, but these are isolated incidents and parents are informed of when they occur. All of the rooms are under video surveillance and in order to protect all parties involved, a parent is notified that their child was involved in an incident but is not informed of who the other child is.

I pick my boys up from school in the afternoon and notice that my youngest son has a scrape on his nose and by his eye. I ask the teacher in the room what happened and she did not know. This is not necessarily uncommon because of the shifts that the teachers have during the work day. She went to go check in the office to see if there was a notification and came back to tell me that there was not one. At this point, I go to the office and speak with the directors asking them to check the video to see what had happened because there is one child in the class who has been having some issues in respecting the personal space and belongings of other children. (The only reason why I know this child is because my son tells me who did it when something happens.) The directors apologized that there was no incident report and said that they would look at the video and get back to me.

Here is where my dilemma started...through Facebook, I am connected to many of the teachers' personal pages that my kids had at the school. As I said, they are wonderful people there and like keeping up with the goings on of the school's families, even after they have left a particular class. My quandary was do I contact the teacher directly through Facebook to see what happened.

I remember when I was a second year teacher and a parent called me a home to yell at me about their child's progress (or lack thereof) and to challenge what I was teaching in class. I remained calm, answered all of her concerns, and then politely told her that if she has further questions or concerns that she should contact me at school via phone or email and do not call me at home again. When I received that phone class at my home, I felt attacked and felt that this parent had broken a line of decency, for lack of a better term, because she had made no attempt to contact me at school.

As I was trying to decide if I should send her a private message about the incident, I received one from the director of the daycare indicating that he saw my son fall down (with no one around him) and that seemed to be the only event that could have caused this incident. He further explained in the message that he would speak with the teachers in the room and remind them of reporting policies and procedures.

Since I had a resolution to this incident and it was cause by my son's inherited grace and balance, I did not contact the teacher via Facebook. When I dropped the kids off the next day, the teacher came directly to me and told me what she knew about the incident and showed me the report that was completed, but had not been filed yet.

Should I have contacted the teacher via her personal page? If she had a work email or classroom page, I would have no issue in initiating the contact. When I thought of my own experience, I felt that contacting her via her personal page would be akin to the phone call that I received at home. But what of the director contacting me?

I viewed this as a contact from the school to a parent in which, as a teacher, I would call the home or business number or email an available address to discuss any issue. I did question why he did it via his personal Facebook account, but did not push the matter.

It just raised some questions. Where is the line of appropriate contact? As an educator, I would not want people posting items to my personal page nor calling me at home uninvited. How much training do we provide for our staffs about issues like this? Connecting with parents and students through personal pages? Are mandates and policies needed? Guidelines?

Regardless, education of all is needed in appropriate ways to establish lines of communication in the hyper connected world.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Revisiting the falling coconuts

In late November, there was a chance for people to win $550 million in the PowerBall Lottery. I wrote a post with some interesting statistics about the chances of winning. You can read that post here:

With all that being said, March Madness is upon us and I have filled out my bracket. I make not pretenses, when I complete this every year, I always end up in the middle of the pack of my friends in "scoring" the bracket. It got me thinking, could I ever pick a bracket that is 100% correct?

If we take a look at the design of the bracket (ignoring the play-in games of yesterday and today), there are 63 games that will happen. (If you need a bracket, you can get one here)

64 teams start the playing tomorrow in 32 games
32 winners will then play each other in 16 games
16 winners will then play each other in   8 games (Sweet 16)
8 winners will play each other in 4 games (Elite 8)
4 winners will play each other in 2 games (Final 4)
The 2 winning teams will then play 1 games for the National Championship

32+16+8+4+2+1=63 games

If we take power rankings and knowledge of teams out of if, the chance of any team winning is 1/2 (although we all know that no #16 seed has ever gotten out of the first round...)

If we take the probability of winning a game and then expand that through the 63 games, you will end up 1/2^63 or .5 raised to the 63 power.

If you evaluate that expression, you end up with an answer of 1 chance in 9,223,372,036,854,780,000. That is 1 in 9 QUINTILLION! (9.22*10^18)

Just to touch back at the PowerBall chance of winnings, you were 3 times more likely to die from a coconut falling on your head and killing you that picking the winning numbers for the PowerBall. The chance of winning the PowerBall was 1 in 175,223,510.

Compare the odds, friends! You are 52 billion times more likely to win the PowerBall than pick a bracket with 100% accuracy.

What does all this mean?

Coconuts are going to be raining down all over people!

Bring this to your classroom. What questions can we have kids investigate?

  1. How many USA (population thereof) would it take to equal the odds of 1 person randomly picking the a correct bracket?
  2. If chances were M&Ms, how many equivalents of Soldier's Field would be filled?
What questions can the students come up with in investigating these numbers?

Monday, March 11, 2013

The need for STEAM

I will now give fair warning...I am going to get on a soapbox for this post.
I was reading through my Zite feed and found this post on how at the heart of every Pixar animation is a computation engine designed with the rules of geometry and physics. This just reinforces that idea to me that schools need to focus on more than STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) career pathways and redefine them as STEAM (add Art) career pathways.

The POTUS has put a lot of money and policy (Race to the Top) behind the creation of these new STEM career pathways to create a new supply of trained and educated workers for these career fields. Primarily, the major need for these fields is due to the retirement of workers after the last push for these career fields from the Sputnik scare of 1957. With the idea that the Russians were able to create and successfully orbit and artificial satellite during the escalation of the Cold War, Americans had to ensure that we would be second to no one. This resulted in a huge push for more scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, and President Kennedy's decree that we would reach the moon by the end of the decade (1960s).

With it now being 2013, all of those engineers, scientists, and mathematicians have had a very successful 30+ years in the field and are now retiring in droves. As we push forward, we have to recognize that the world has radically changed since 1957.

I was very fortunate to experience a very well rounded education when I was in high school. I had the chance to explore visual as well as performance art in addition to my studies of science, math, and the humanities. I joke with people that I was much smarter when I was in high school because I was able to discuss topics of biology, chemistry, physics, history, literature, and others. Once I went to college, I chose a major and focused on the study of biology and my working knowledge of the other subjects went by the wayside. But, again, I was fortunate to still have the chance to continue a personal pursuit of vocal performance with the Varsity Men's Glee Club and an a cappella group, No Strings Attached.

It is this well rounded education that has enriched my life and my work in education. But a big part of that is that the pursuit of biology, education, and vocal performance were my passions. Educators and policy makers are pushing these STEM career pathways into 6th and 7th grade. As students move through these pathways year to year, it will become progressively difficult to alter pathways the later they go in the schooling. Should we be asking students to select a career pathway in 6th grade?

And why this push? Our test scores are low, compared to other nations. So, how do we fix this? Test more and narrow focus. What happens when a student's passions are not found within STEM? What happens when students grow and develop and their passions change?

If we are able to evolve STEM into STEAM, that would at least provide more students options and open more pathways to students who already like the STEM careers.

Case in point, a friend of mine had quite a bit of talent in the sciences, but she also had a lot of talent in drawing, which is where her passions were (as she was graduating college). Luckily enough, she had good educators around her to guide her to her career in medical illustration. Just as the Pixar article suggested, within the arts, STEM is already present, but not necessarily a conscious part of the career choice process.

Additionally, recent conversations I have had with various colleagues and friends have mentioned how their ability to express themselves, in both written and verbal formats, have allowed them to advance and collect more grant dollars than any of their subject specific trainings. Despite their lack of formal testing under NCLB, the arts need to be emphasized and encouraged.

Education needs to move full STEAM ahead.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Is your degree worth it?!

Saw this from my Twitter feed and it needed to be shared.

Too often students will pick schools or majors for the most trivial reasons. I, myself, picked my major because it was what I liked. I did not put any thought into possible career paths or potential earnings. Even the school I picked, which I LOVE, was picked because I figured that I could live with the choice and it would save my parents some money. Other times, students will pick a major simply because of the potential earnings and have no idea of the amount of work needed in order to be successful.

Hopefully, this infographic will help students find the middle ground between those two areas...
Original Source: Source

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Standards...Not Nuggets

When I was in high school, I thought my biology teacher was the best teacher I ever had. He promoted deeper thinking and understanding and challenged us to apply what we were learning to new situations. While it may have been inappropriate, I heard him once say that another teacher was teaching "Gee Whiz" biology where the focus was on the interesting little nuggets that can be found in this area of science as opposed to discovering the connecting thread of all of those ideas.

When I take a look at tests that I have written, I know that I reviewed what was discussed in the unit (which was based on objectives aligned with the learning standards) and wrote questions accordingly. I attempted to have question frequency represent the importance of the topic in relation to the unit and the entire year and the time spent in class discussing and explore the topic. (One noted exception was Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, but I told students about that ahead of time. We spent over a week learning how to solve these problems, but there were only 2 questions on the unit exam. This was mainly due to my desire to prep the students for Advanced Placement Biology and received positive feedback from both the students and the teacher about this practice...but I digress)

Recently, I was looking at a rating system for a intervention model of a grant application that our district is going to pursue. We were going to have to have the committee members look at particular characteristics and then, based on the characteristics selected, determine which intervention model is the best fit. Because I have been on various committees like this and know that some people, including myself, are a little mouthy and push their ideas onto others, I wanted to find a way to allow everyone to express their own ideas and then look at the group data to protect the integrity of everyone's voice. As I did this, I wrote some equations into the Excel spreadsheet that would, based on the characteristics selected, would determine the percent alignment with each model.

While this is an isolated event, the concept can be expanded to looking at standards and objective-based assessments as opposed to nugget-based. Previously, I wrote a post about providing students with more immediate feedback using Google forms and included some "coding" instructions. I want to expand on that here...

Before, I was writing about grading the entire assessment based on total points. If the questions are written to reflect one specific objective/topic, then the questions can be coded as such (overtly done in my example below) and the scoring can then be adjusted to reflect topic/standard specific questions and their level of mastery. Take a look at the sample below:

You can see that in the 2nd line of each question, I have included an Objective number. Using these, we can then select those questions to score based by objective and get a mastery level based on these particular questions.

What you will need to do is to develop your quiz in the Google docs and then enter the answer key as the first entry in the spreadsheet. When you look at the spreadsheet, you will see the the questions/column headers are in the first row. After the questions, I added the column headers of Objective 1 and Objective 2.
The grading formula for Objective 1 is seen below.


Essentially, what the formula is telling the spreadsheet to do is if the entry in cell B2 is the same as $B$2, then give it a score of 1, if not, a score of 0. Now, the difference between B2 and $B$2 is that when you drag this formula down the spreadsheet for every entry, the B2 will change to B3, B4, B5, etc for each subsequent entry; the $ in front of the cell letter and number makes it static, and will not change with a dragging of the formula. (The same is try for C, D, and E).
Since we are looking for mastery of Objective 1, I made the scoring formula reflect only the assessment items that were coded for that objective. On the Google form, they are items 1, 4, & 5, which correspond to columns B, E, and F in the spreadsheet. In order to develop a mastery level, the spreadsheet will take the score for each of those items and then divide by 3 because that is the total number of items for this objective. The color coding occurs with some simple conditional formatting. If the numerical value in the Objective 1 column (H) is greater than .5, the background will become green. Likewise, if less than .5, it will become red. Because there are three items, it is impossible to get an answer of .5, which is why I made it the scoring differentiator. For this instance, we will define mastery as 67% or 2 out of 3 questions per objective. In order to get the conditional formatting, you can either right-click in the particular cell or look under the "Format" menu.
The same was done for the Objective 2 column (I), but the scoring formula was adjusted to reflect only the objective 2 questions (2, 3, & 6 or columns C, D, and G, respectively).
Once students have taken the assessment, you can drag the contents of the cells H2 and I2 down for each entry on the spreadsheet. By using the "$" in the scoring formula, only the cells without the "$" will change to match the subsequent entry lines. The conditional formatting will be dragged down to the subsequent cells also! Unfortunately, you cannot drag the contents before students have made the entry on the form. If you try the assessment, try dragging it yourself by clicking on the spreadsheet link!
This can be extended to more questions per objective and more objectives. This can also be expanded to include question types of "Choose all that apply" (using the Check Box option on Google forms), but this will require a little more work.
Explore and play.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via the blog comments or on Twitter (@misterabrams).

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Change your perspective

I just got back from a training seminar on how to be a support coach for the Rising Star program. For those unaware, Rising Star is the new school improvement accountability system for the state of Illinois. The whole point of the Rising Star system is for schools and districts to look at the past and current conditions of their systems in order to make appropriate changes (backed by research) to positively impact student achievement. During this training, we discussed monitoring and sustainability of programs.

Part of the emphasis of the training is to look at the programs and steps of implementation and ask the harder questions about what is not working and why. Part of the challenge to making these changes is the dreaded phrase of "we have always done it this way". My quick response would be "Look where that got you", but that is not supportive to the change process. The entire point of Rising Star is to make changes in our past practices to make vast improvements in our schools.

Whenever we are looking to do something different, why do we often start at what we currently do. We must have made the choices to our current location because they seemed to be the best option at the time. (Sometimes it is a best option for a teacher and not necessarily the students, but that is a different conversation). If that is the case, when we look at the choices to do something different, how would we ever arrive at a different conclusion?

Sometimes it takes standing on your head or flipping your frame of reference. Case in point can be seen here:

Deeper thinking can happen when the status quo is challenged and we look for new perspectives. How's this for a change in perspective: If we want students to be more engaged in the learning process, ask them about their passions! Students can provide the adults with all sorts of ways they want to learn and it will be authentic for them. (And, teachers will get more engaged because they won't be able to pass out the same worksheet they have done for the past umpteen years...)

Deeper thinking can be activated and even framed with aspects of the common core and the next generation science standards. We learn science by doing, not by memorizing! We need to have the credo in our classes and schools that FAIL means First Attempt In Learning!

Go back to basics and when you look at the path you used to take, when you took that right before, this time, jump off of the path and go exploring!

Here are some other ways to consider flipping: