Saturday, May 10, 2014

My day of learning at IRA

Today was my first day of learning at the International Reading Association Convention. I have to admit, I had some trepidation attending this conference because this is completely out of my content background. I was a biology and chemistry teacher and then moved into an instructional leader for math and science. Attending a conference full of reading and English teachers seemed a little intimidating. I knew, that because this was out of my normal comfort area, it would be a great learning opportunity and would truly be professional development instead of merely nodding my head in agreement with presenters in my content areas.

The day started with some colleagues, Traci, a fellow administrator, and Lisa, one of our reading specialists. As we were waiting to enter the exhibit hall, we saw the tweets of the conference streaming on a video monitor. Both Traci and Lisa said, what is this all about, so I got the opportunity to show them Twitter as a learning tool and sharing resources from the conference. Both were excited by the opportunities that were presented by using Twitter for learning, professional development, and becoming a connected educator. Please give them a follow by clicking their names above.
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Me and Traci in front of the Twitter feed screen

 My first learning experience was with a group from Lego Education and them sharing how Legos and some of their software can help students develop their story telling skills. By utilizing legos, students can do a variety of story related activities including setting the scene, build parts of the story, collaborate in telling parts of the story with classmates, and even build alternate endings. The software would allow for documentation of their learning and the ability to share their creations. The presenter even challenged us to build an alternate ending to the story. Although this was being framed for elementary grades, I fell that this could be used in high schools. Students could build main events from literature they have read for class. They could share their builds and have other students identify symbolism, main characters, and this process can help with students ability to summarize, identify main idea, supporting details, and more. Student active engagement in the build should help cement the information for long term storage, and the use of the software and story boarding can help have some authentic voice and get peer feedback. The activity of creating the alternate ending would be a quality assessment of their understanding of author's intent and the character development. It would propel student thinking into the upper levels of Bloom's and engage them in new active, both physical and cognitive, ways.

My next learning was with Kristin Ziemke. It was strange, but I had to travel to New Orleans to hear her talk about her passion for education and learning networks and transform the PLNs that many of us have for continued learning to a tool her students can use. The strange part is that both of us are in the Chicago area. Kristin advocates and models how Student Learning Networks can be developed and supported by bother the school and parents. Kristin also introduced the concept of transliteracy. She described transliteracy as the ability for students to read, write, and interact with multiple forms of media. It is an interesting concept that I would like to explore later to see what it will look like in different content disciplines. Katie Muhtaris was Kristin's presentation partner, in spirit only due to flight issues, and co-author of their book on this topic of creating a learning environment of connected comprehension.

Lunch was spend connecting with other educators via Twitter and responding to intriguing tweets and responding to tweeps. Food-wise, lunch was very good! I highly recommend the Ugly Dog Saloon! In addition, I met up with another colleague, Cynthia, and got her started on Twitter for learning. Give her a follow also!

I spent the afternoon learning from Dr. Vicky Zygouris-Coe and disciplinary literacy in math and science. Key takeaways I had from this session are that some of my teachers are on the cutting edge and doing really awesome things in the classroom that are supported by the research and literature. As a part of her presentation, she was modeling effective discussion techniques that she provided in writing (see below).

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Additionally, when asking students to participate in discussion, make sure that the desired practices are modeled and that students are engaged in the practice of engaging with one another and meaningful content. When they answer a question, train them in the habit of providing support to their responses. This practice should help their writing skills as well.

All in all, today was a pretty great day of learning. I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Assessment practices and diabetes

Below is a diagram of how a human body typically regulates blood glucose levels:
The concept show above is common in biological processes. It is known as a negative feedback loop. A negative feedback loop works because a stimulus (in example below blood sugar level) causes an action. The action results are monitored to stop the action once the it has reached an acceptable level. 

In a person who does not have diabetes (either type I or type II), a high level of blood sugar would cause the pancreas to release insulin that would stimulate the cells of the body to take in the blood glucose and causes the liver to go through the metabolic process of changing glucose into glycogen for storage in the liver (See yellow arrows). In a person who does not have diabetes, a low blood sugar level would cause the pancreas to release glucagon, which has the opposite effect of insulin. Glycogen is broken down in the liver and glucose is released into the bloodstream. When an acceptable level of blood glucose has been reached, the stimulation of the pancreas stops and the insulin and/or glucagon is no longer released.

In a person with diabetes, the body has an abnormal blood glucose tolerance and does not produce insulin (type I diabetes) or has decreased sensitivity to insulin or inability to use their own insulin (type II). Either way, the feedback look is broken. Either the stimulus does not begin the action or the action is not stopped after monitoring.

Our current practices in assessment are like a person who has diabetes. The feedback loop is broken. Students participate in instruction, they take an assessment, and instruction continues, regardless of students' results on the assessment.

If we are to actively utilize assessment for learning (instead of assessment of learning), then the use of these assessments must be formative and instruction must be adapted to match the needs of the students (i.e. blood sugar level). 

From Kanold & Larson (2012), Common Core Mathematics in a PLC at Work, pg. 90

As seen in the cycle above, steps three and four are the key monitoring pieces to achieve step 5. Students must be active contributors to the Teaching-Assessing-Learning cycle. They must reflect on their classroom practices, as teacher should, to help alter actions in class. If this learning environment can be cultivated, both students and teachers will help drive needed changed in instruction to meet the needs of students and to assist them in achievement of their learning goals.

Educators cannot continue to provide assessments without the clear understanding of how they will be used to adapt instruction to help students meet the learning targets. If a student does not demonstrate that they have learned the information/skills from a unit, what sense does it make to just push them down the curriculum road map that is scaffolded upon that previous information?!

Diabetes is a disease that is treatable is monitored closely, but at this time, there is no way to fix what is "broken". We can fix the broken part of the teaching-assessing-learning cycle.