Monday, October 10, 2016

Work/Home Balance

I am thrilled that my district has been able to send me to a conference this week. I have spent the first day in some pre-conference sessions getting the chance to dive deep into some of the new functions in products that we use for our student information system. While in education, you may not get to do it a lot, I have always enjoyed traveling to conference. I love the chance to learn more about how to connect with kids, share my ideas with other educators, see what great things other people are doing to engage students in learning, and, of course, the new restaurant possibilities of a new city!

When I have taken trips in the past, I knew that I would miss my wife and my kids, but I also knew that I was coming back soon. None of that has changed...except leaving this time was harder. I spent some time thinking about this on the plane as I reflected on the teary goodbye in person and over face-time before I got on the plane. What made this trip different?

One of the benefits of this trip is that I got to see my sister and her family and be a part of my nephew's birthday celebration. That certainly did not make things harder. I am away from work for 4 days (one is a school holiday), so there is work that might pile up, but that is really no different that other times I have traveled. My current location is in the same time zone, so it is easy to communicate with home, so no problem there...what is the big deal?

I realized, that for me, the big deal is just kids are bigger now. I traveled before when the kids were infants and young toddlers. I never missed a "first" of anything and my kids were doing projects in preschool as their learning. With our first child, the new experiences in daycare and preschool were exciting, but with our 3rd child, it because old hat. It was exploring ground that had been walked on already. We were thrilled for each new child to experience it, but we knew what to expected.

But now, my kids are in school...real school. This is also new territory for me as a parent. I always look forward to discussing their day, asking what they liked best, seeing what they have learned and how hard they worked. Now, as I am away, I feel like I am really missing out on these first experiences for them. My kids are experiencing new things in school every day; exploring new territories and gaining experiences. I can talk to them over the phone and video chat, but it is not the same. I will miss the hugs, the high fives, the feeling of excitement. These are big.

Learning new things to ensure a quality of schooling for my students is important. If what I learn improves the education experience of one student and their family, it is worth it. Being with my kids as they learn and enjoy their school experience is incredibly important as well...

Where is that line between work and home?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Global Class Connect

A little less than a month ago, I participated in #GlobalEdChat.One of the questions posted to the chat was "What challenges exists to connecting your class with others across the world?". Some of the responses included permission from school/administration/parents, time zone differences, and where to find global partners. This is what sparked my interest...

As a moderator of #ILEdChat, one of our standard questions that we ask is "What can you take from this chat and DO tomorrow?". Our goal is to make the chat into something actionable and not just an ethereal discussion of the state of education. Taking that thought process, I said to myself, " something about this!"

While I cannot change the rotation of the Earth and global time zones, I did want to see what could be done about getting more people connected. I went to Google Drive and made a very simple form that people could fill out with some basic information about where they are, what they want to accomplish, and how they can be contacted. Simple took less than 5 minutes to make.

It has been a month since that chat and I am so thrilled that I made that simple form. As of now we have approximately 230 educators from 16 different countries spread across 6 continents! I have made a Twitter handle for Global Class Connect (@Global_Class_1) and have been using the hash tag #GlobalClassConnect. I have even started a Google site about #GlobalClassConnect 

If you are interested in becoming a part of this global connected network, you can sign up directly here

I look forward to seeing the list continue to grow and the map get more connection points.  Please share this with your colleagues and encourage them to sign up. Let's show our students their place in a much larger world!

Global Class Connect

I want to use this post for #GlobalClassConnect users to share their successes, so please comment in the comment section!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Are we asking the right questions?

This week, #ILEdChat had a discussion on rethinking our grading practices. (You can see the archive of the chat here). Grading has always been, and I think will always be, a touchy subject. It has to do with the concept of a grade and what a grade means. Ideally, I think a grade should be a reflection of the level of mastery for the content or skill. One of my #ILEdChat partners, Linsy, pushed my thinking further with the reminder that it should be a reflection of mastery based on a predefined learning standard, outcome, skill, or target. This is an essential piece of the learning process for the students. We, as educators, need to make sure that the students know and understand expectations of their growth and development and we should NOT make them try to hit a moving target.

Grades seem terminal. They are final. Once that letter or number is inscribe in red ink on the top of the page, there is nothing that can be done to change it. This is why feedback should be the term that we are using with students. Feedback provides the students ideas on their attainment of mastery, areas where they can improve, and most importantly, a chance to activate those ideas and help their own thinking grow, develop, and change. This concept of feedback can be analogized to the use of a doctor. We go to the doctor to provide us with feedback on our current state of health. Recommendations are provided for improvement. Sometimes, something stronger, like medicine, is provided to help us move back towards the goal is we are off course. A grade seems more like the coroner performing an autopsy and saying "this poor guy should have changed X, Y, and Z a long time ago". There is a much longer blog post about formative and summative assessment in here, but we will get to that later.

Unfortunately, too many times grades end up representing either an attempt on completing an assignment, an arbitrary conversion of a look at that completion to a number out of ten, or the ability to hand in a piece of paper at a given time and date. I will admit, my thoughts have changed an evolved on this topic as my experiences have helped me learn throughout my years. I am not proud to admit it, but I have committed the above acts before. One of the most important things I have learned is that grades should not be a punishment.

In a different chat, educators were continuing the conversation about grading and one of the questions that came up was what policies about what type of grading practices motivate students to work harder and want to improve and learn more? It was the idea of altering a grading policy to improve student motivation instantly provoked to ideas:

  1. Tougher punishments will prevent crime -- While I think this may hold true for those afraid of the punishment, it clearly does not work for all. Education needs to be for all...not just those who "play school well".
  2. This was the other idea...

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After I chuckled and winced at my ability to amuse myself, I had the thought: Are we asking the right question? Why are we trying to find more stringent ways of reviewing work to improve student motivation to want to do better? Let's alter our own thinking and try something different...

Let's change our question to what kind of assessments/learning opportunities will provide students a method they choose to demonstrate their level of mastery? What if we provided more authentic learning opportunities than the summative/final multiple choice exam, with little or no opportunity for improvement?

I would think that if students have a voice in their learning and in how they demonstrate that learning, the motivation takes care of itself. The examples abound in standards based learning, genius hour, passion projects, choose-your-own-adventure learning. The variety of potential products from students might seem overwhelming, but this is where we go back to the initial idea of the purpose of a grade: "a measurement of student attainment at a predetermined point of predetermined skills" (quoted from Linsy Stumpenhorst on Twitter, 8/29/16).

The variety can be as wide as the day is long, but the expectations for the work can be clearly define in rubrics that provide support to the students in how to demonstrate their learning. There should be check-ups (doctor analogy again) with the students to monitor their progress, provide support, and, in more severe cases, some medication (intervention, resources, additional structure).

Let's see if we can change our question to achieve the desired outcomes.

Friday, August 26, 2016

I had a good couple of days

I have been in my new position with my new school for about 6 weeks now. Each day has reinforced that I made the right decision and reminded me of how fortunate I am that the district felt that I would be a good fit with their organization. There were some things that happened this week that reminded me why I love what I do.

Monday: This was the first #ILEdChat for the 2016-2017 school year. We have new team members to the chat team and they are a great addition. We have really started to gel as a group and working collaboratively to make the chat the best possible for this school year. We had a great opening to the chat with the timely topic of forming meaningful relationships with students. It was great to see new faces participation in the chat and seeing our regular participants back for another year. It is great exchange of ideas and really invigorates me for the week. You can look at the archive of the chat here.

Thursday: I jumped into a few random chats that caught my eye on Twitter. I was able to learn and share in #3rdChat and #GlobalEdChat . With all of my experience in high schools, the #3rdchat really opened my eyes to the wonderful and mysterious world that is elementary school. I found it important to take a look at this because I have 2 boys who are in the primary grades and the more I can learn about the pedagogy and instruction for the younger grades, the better.

With the #GlobalEdChat, I am amazed at the connectivity that I have through Twitter and yet how limited, globally, I am in my connections. The idea that technology can connect people across oceans, cultures, and languages is an idea that needs to be pushed into the mainstream. As a step towards action, I decided to create a quick form that would collect the contact information of educators who would like to connect. While the number of responses was not YET at a large level, in the first few minutes we had people from across the US, and even had educators from Canada and Australia sign up. If you are interested, please sign up here and I will share the spreadsheet with you after sign up.

Friday: Most of my new position, at lease at this time of year, involves working with students schedules and making sure that things work within the school system. Today was different, I had the wonderful opportunity to interact with actual students who had some concerns about the classes they were in. I had a great time helping the students realize that they had the ability to solve the problems in front of them. The students, both of them, came into my office at a level (1(low) - 10 (high)) of wanting to stay in the class and try at 0. When each left, they made positive movement and realized that success in the class was within their influence and they had to power to make it into a reality. I even got to teach a little chemistry, so that made it even better. :)

I also had to opportunity to introduce High 5 Friday to the students here. The concept is simple: See someone in the hallway, offer them a high 5 and watch them smile. It has a 98%+ success rate and hopefully, I will start to get some "regulars" who look forward to getting the high 5 and offering it to other students.

As an added bonus, this is the first football game of the season for my new school and it is a home game! I am excited to see the team participate in the new division and hopefully, bring home the "W".

Overall, another great week. How was yours? Share your great moments from this week and inspire someone to try something new!

Friday, August 05, 2016

If the leader sneezes...

I have been at my new job for exactly a month, as of today. What was a long and arduous journey of looking for a new school district as landed me in the right place at the right time. I am thrilled beyond words as to how things have turned out in my new position with my new district.

My journey began a little before I officially started when I was invited to attend the 2 day administrative retreat. While the term retreat might get some people excited, those of us who have attended administrative retreats in education before know the truth. Putting the day long meetings aside, the message, culture, and vision of the district and the leadership was evident from the first moments walking in the door. As I was the only really new person to the district (other people we familiar faces in new places), I kinda stood out as a fresh face in the crowd. Because of this, nearly everyone in the room came over to introduce him/herself, welcome me, and tell me that I will love it here. It was genuine. You could see it on peoples' faces how much they enjoyed the people, the schools, their colleagues, the district and the community. Many people expressed how they are alumni of the district, returning to give back to a place they hold so dear.

Then the meetings began and the superintendent started the day. She started with a simple, but powerful message: If the leader sneezes, the organization gets a cold. She went on to expand the idea we, as the learning leaders, must make sure that we are putting the correct message out to our stakeholders and colleagues, and must always try to remember where the other person is on their journey when they come into your path. She described how if a leaders is dealing with a real crisis or emergency, and we quickly dismiss a student, staff member, or parent who might be asking something "trivial" (at least in immediate comparison to the crisis), real damage has been done. Regardless of the amount of time afterward is spent trying to repair the damage, the scar has been created. This is evidence of the cold that the organization might receive.

When someone comes to you, as a leader, with a question, they are looking for validation, input, an opinion, or knowledge that they are being listened to and respected. Leaders maximize every opportunity to help their colleagues realize these events for if we ignore a teacher complaint, that complaint will become their truth.

Does this mean that every emergency must stop when asked a question? No, reality must prevail, but the question becomes who's reality? Perception of the other person is their reality. In these situations, even in the "need-to-know" situations, a leader can take the time to say "I do want to listen and hear what is going on. Unfortunately, I have an emergency I must attend to right now, but I will seek you out to provide whatever support and assistance I can." The key step is living up to seeking that person out in the end.

I want to thank my principal and superintendent for providing me this opportunity to be a part of this great organization. I will do my best to live up to the examples set before me in my first month. I look forward to continuing to grow and learn in this great organization that has a real vision and direction for the future.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Confessions and getting moving

I have a confession to make...this is 16 year in the making. When I was 24 and teaching down in Bloomington, Illinois, I had a bout of food poisoning. It was 4 days of agony and I was stuck and home and missing work. One morning at 6 a.m., after I dropped off my lesson plans, I wandered into a store quickly and was looking for a small diversion from my gastronomical torture. I saw the blue Pokemon game for Gameboy. I knew that I still had my Gameboy and it was in working order. After getting over my initial embarrassment of being 24 years old, I figured no one else was around, either in the store or my apartment, and I purchased a child's game.

It only took a few ticks of the clock and I was hooked playing it. I enjoyed the questing nature of the game and being able to wander around digitally and encounter all kinds of new beasts and watching them grow, battle, and evolve. At the time, I was wondering if I could use Pokemon as method of helping students understand evolution in my biology class. (I subsequently decided against that instructional strategy because it was a poor illustration at best as an attempt to get students to let go of their preconceived notions of evolution already).

Well, I feel better getting that off my chest. Why, now, do I choose to confess my embarrassment from 16 years ago? You guessed it, because of the week long buzz on the newest app to go viral, Pokemon Go.

I have recently changed schools and districts. In my previous district, I had a great cohort of people and we would walk on the track together to get moving and to get healthier. We were able to do this for about 5 weeks, between the time the students were let out of school and when I moved to my new district. Now that I am in my new position, it is a little harder to find time and a group to walk and get moving again. Plus, I am learning a new staff, schedule, and working on a ton of things at once. It is a great opportunity, but I did want to keep up my moving and not being in a seated position so much.

So, I did what 10 million other people did and downloaded the app. My wife ridiculed me and said, you are going to let the kids play that, right? I replied, sure...sure I would. Here is what I have noticed in my short time with the game:
  • I have actually had a desire to get up, even when tired, to walk around the neighborhood. Granted, it is with my phone in my hand, but it would be anyway to listen to music or look at other things if I am walking alone.
  • I have noticed groups of children, young adults, and full grown adults, walking around in groups, outside. And yes, there are times when faces are buried in phones, but most of the people written in groups are running/walking together, talking, sharing their experiences, smiling, and laughing.
  • I can understand how people might get hurt playing this game, because I walked into a low hanging branch, so watch out... :)
  • Kids have their faces glued to their screens and we, as educators, should help use this fact to engage students in all forms of learning.
Based on the above observations, schools need to find a way to incorporate this crazed idea into the physical education programs. I had this thought when I downloaded the app and started playing, and then I looked for other people who had the same idea. In the past 4 days, there  have been almost 20 tweets using #physed and #PokemonGo in the tweet. (See them for yourself) This is a growing idea and we should be capitalizing on it.

Some thoughts I have on this and how to use it:
  • If there is a PokeStop close to your school, have PE teachers purchase a lure and activate it and tell the kids to catch as many Pokemon as they can. Students need to run to the stop and then run back after catching a Pokemon. Make it like s shuttle run. Students can collect data on their run and earn "points" for Pokemon caught and bonus points for new Pokemon caught. Students would need to record their data and try to improve their results day-to-day.
  • Have students run/walk around the track/football or soccer field/campus to search for Pokemon. Based on the Pokemon they catch, they must do the following:
      • Grass-type = 10 jumping jacks
      • Water-type = 10 sit-ups
      • Electric-type = 10 push-ups
      • Bug-type = 10 squats
      • Flying-type = 30 second high knee run in place
      • Fire-type = 5 burpees
      • Any other = 10 leg lifts
  • While I have not looked at it yet, there is even someone who wrote something else to engage the students in their physical activity. 
We have a nation of children who are dangerously sedentary. We need to engage students in life-long physical activities. Ones that will help students, and even adults like me, find enjoyment in just getting out and going for a walk. To quote Rob Goodman, "Any game that gets people off their bums and into the real world for physical activity is a success in my eyes." (Posted by @rob_goodman on Twitter, 7/14/2016)

Do you have other ideas? Share them in the comments!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A needed change of perspective

I was digging through the piles on my desk (aka my filing system) and came across resources that I received when I went to a training with the PBIS network on working out a Functional Behavior Analysis. The basis of the FBA is founded in understanding the ABC of the student behavior that we would like to see corrected.
  • A = Antecedent. This is what happens before the behavior occurs.
  • B = Behavior. This is the "problem" behavior that we would like to eventually see changed.
  • C = Consequence. This is what happens as a result of the behavior.
One more important piece is the Function, which is the "why" the student might exhibit this behavior. Most likely the function is avoidance/escape of something in the class. For more information on an FBA you can look here.

One of the things I remember most vividly from the training is that while we will have a desired behavior in mind, it will be a long time before we can get the student to modify their problem behavior to the desired behavior. The fact is that we need to help the student modify the problem behavior to an alternate behavior that still accomplishes their function. Over time, and a lot of patience, we can work with the classroom settings and the student to attempt to change the antecedent to make the problem behavior irrelevant and make the consequences change to make the problem behavior ineffective. Throughout this entire process, we work with the student to come to their own realization that the desired behavior is more favorable than the problem behavior.

As I stumbled across this resource again, it got me thinking. Throughout the FBA process, we are attempting to modify behavior, but supporting the student throughout the entire process. When we make attempts to change behavior, we might tend to focus on increasing the consequences and making them increasingly dire in an attempt to "threaten" the student into compliance. A traditional approach does not take into account the function or why the student is performing this behavior. The traditional approach tends to focus on trying to move a student to a desired behavior by focusing on the student's deficit.

What struck me with this newer (at least to me) approach to helping student arrive at a desired behavior is that this approach actually focuses on potential student strengths. If we want students to be successful, we need to help them see how they are growing and changing in positive ways. We need to have these check-in conversations with students to help them recognize that they are making progress on their long journey in education. It is often difficult to for students to see the finish line, but teachers and students might be ignoring the distance from the starting line that students have traveled.