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updates for 08.24.2011

13 new posts today


Earth shakes as ed reform continues to roll

The Washington DC region experienced a bit of a tremor Tuesday, and I'm not referring to Matt Damon's interview during the Save Our Schools march from a few weeks back or even Standard and Poor's historic downgrade of U.S. credit. On Tuesday, an earthquake rippled across the mid-Atlantic region with a 5.8 magnitude at it's epicenter approximately 80 miles west of the nation's capitol.  Of course, this event blew up across Twitter, and Education Week put together a top ten list of education-quake combo tweets. My personal favorite is:

8) @andrewrotherham: OK, whose fault was that? Obama? Tea Party?
Love puns!  Check out the rest of the top 10 here.
 


On the sunny side...

I've yet to stop believing that it gets better.

 


And it's begun...

Last year, I was overwhelmed by the number of kids initially in my room (27) and the number of kids that left and arrived over the course of the year. I've already had my first student leave and it breaks my heart. The school was simply too far away for the family. He left unceremoniously on Thursday last week and I cleaned out his desk this morning. Today was a grudge day -- kids would not stop talking, not taking consequences well, copier broken, copier fixed, copier out of toner. In essence, the usual added with an unusual level of tired. When I checked my email at the end of the day, I had this waiting for me in my inbox. Hi Ms. Astronaut: This is [Sarah], [Jon's] mom just writting to thank you for the help you gave him during the days he was at [your school]. He really enjoyed being with you as a teacher. You are the first teacher that he have had that called to introduce yourself and being so helpfull. Thank you I really appreciate how you make him feel at class. God bless you for your great work.!!!! Frown? Turned upside down. Here's to hopefully a trend of similar sentiments!

 


Blood or Bad Water

It is 96 degrees outside, and there is no air conditioning at school. Fans are not making a dent in the oppressive heat inside each classroom, and you are sweating profusely while you try to listen to your teacher. You have two choices. You can: A) Go get a drink from the water fountain, where you will discover that it tastes unbearably bad. Someone is definitely going to have to check the water quality, but it won't get done today. At least one student will inevitably go to the nurse from making this choice. B) Try to stick it out, and see how much thirst you can handle. If your nose starts bleeding from dehydration after your teacher is already sick of dealing with bloody noses, you will have to sit at your desk with tissues and a makeshift trash can and deal with it yourself. Which do you choose? My poor kids. There's no way they were listening to me today while they weighed Options A and B to keep themselves alive. I was so tired and sweaty I barely listened to myself.

 


All In the Name of Progress (Reports)

It was the best of days, it was the worst of day; as I entered week three of year two of teaching, I found myself constantly looking for wood to knock on for good luck. I’m fairly certain I never had a honeymoon period to enjoy last year, so I’ve been in unfamiliar territory thus far as my students continue to do their work and bring me classroom supplies as extra credit. Hey, I’m not complaining!

Today, I had promised my kids unofficial progress reports because I wanted to give them a tangible means of seeing that they can maintain an A in my science class albeit for two weeks. At the same time, I wanted to show my boys and girls in danger of slipping back into 7th grade habits that although they started with a 100, it is up to them to change their behavior and work habits in order to remain above an 80 in my class. Due to some printer issues, I ended up writing each student’s scores on a half-notecard, which I thought was bootleg, but my students still liked seeing where they were at and gaining bragging rights. One girl told me she was going to post hers on her refrigerator! Next time, I’ll do better about being more professional because my students deserve it.

And they really do deserve it. My principal came into my homeroom/first period class this morning and commented aloud that she was “very impressed” with a strong smile. I wouldn’t have gotten that last year, and I wouldn’t have deserved it; however, although she was commenting on my room décor as much as my homeroom’s behavior, I really wanted to say, “thank you, but I’m doing well because my student’s are doing well.” (One boy asked for candy for good behavior afterwards) And it’s true: I bring my A-game because my students bring theirs. When you feel motivated, anything is possible, but when you’re beaten down and feel hopeless, as I often felt last year, everything feels impossible. I truly feel like my students and I are working together towards a common goal, rather than as if I’m dragging unwilling teens towards an outcome neither party cares about.

That said, I yelled more today than I have on any single day so far this year. Not necessarily at my own classes (though there was some of that, too) but a combination of reprimanding 6th/7th graders acting foolish while out of place on my 8th grade hall, and "going HAM" on boys and girls trying to fight each other. Reflecting on the day, I think I accessed a new level of Mr. Britt today- Super Saiyan…super yellin’. My own students told me to calm down because I looked like I was going to fight someone- and I was. Still, I started to feel bad because some of the sixth graders arguably didn’t deserve to get the brunt of my frustrations, but they don’t need to be at the wrong place at the wrong time in the first place. I also don’t need any more boys falling down the stairs as they attempt to run away from me. One of these days, I will bring my cross-trainers and run them down- quickest science teacher they’ll ever see #acceleration.

Regardless, as I continue to work on building relationships and classroom culture, I really want to incorporate some type of conflict resolution-orientated curricula. Especially in middle school, kids need to learn how to deal with the issues and arguments that will inevitably come up at some point. I’m looking forward to working with some of the teachers at my school on a plan to help our students in this area and would love any suggestions or advice. All in the name of progress!

 


Day 1B

My juniors this morning were a lot harder to sell than any of my students yesterday. It was first (second) period, and I was a bit distracted. Thank heavens I'd had all of yesterday to back me up, which meant I was able to hold them to the level of yesterday's classes even when half the class still decided they were too cool. If today had been the first day, I think I would have crashed and burned! * the plus-or-minus-three rule is a tricky one, but really useful (this is the rule that says you shouldn't ever be winning or losing by more than three tallies on the scoreboard). At one point I heard a kid say "you guys, we're not really all that far behind! Come on! * I don't know why it was so hard for me to assign homework last year. Maybe it's so easy right now because I know they're doing non-math-related homework they feel confident about... but it just does not feel like the battle it was last year. In other news, I finally have a legit no-English student. Literally none. I think last year I had a total of four LEP students, so this is a big deal. I just felt so horrible for her-- I cannot imagine the stress of your first day of school, in a building you don't know, when you don't know what the words on your schedule mean or how to talk to any of your teachers. I felt worse when I just. Kept. Talking to her in English. Why do I, as soon as she says "no ingles," start trying to give her really clear and slow directions in the language she  JUST told me she didn't understand? I'm trying to say reassuring things, about how she should just hang tight while I find someone who can help us, but of course I'm just making it worse. She looks like she's about to cry. Finally a student from last year saves the day. Turns out she was just trying to figure out whether she was at the right room. Sigh. A BUNCH of teachers from my school are going to come to my workshop on Saturday! I'm so GLAD this is actually happening!

 


Why Teaching is Important...

I never knew how much work teachers did until I started teaching. I never considered, even for a second, what it took for my teachers to do what they seemed to do so flawlessly while I was in school. Growing up in a family where education was always valued, I had a million and one responses to why education mattered and why teaching was important; though I never considered it myself. As an educator now, I can think of a million more reasons why teaching is important. Teaching is important because it shapes growing minds. It is the cauldron that holds young psyches bubbling with brilliance and curiosity; the same brilliance and curiosity that led to some of the most innovative technology and discoveries. Teaching is important because very few people in this world have the ability and opportunity to inspire and build up a child like a teacher who cares about and believes in her students. Teachers hold the key to the future both directly and indirectly. Without teachers motivating students to defy laws of nature, statistics and the expected adverse effects of poverty, the world would be an empty place enveloped with miserable and violent people full of anxiety and anger. Teaching is important because it takes excuses out of children’s hands and replaces it with the key of knowledge, hope and security. It is through the daily intercourse of teaching (and learning) that people develop their habits and character that later determines their paths. I walked in my class on Monday morning and looked at the faces of students that no one believed could ever achieve success just because of their socioeconomic status and race. Knowing I had my share of work cut out for me, I started conversing with them; asking them questions and explaining classroom procedures. Between Monday and Friday, something magnificent happened! Not only did we start bonding as I continued to teach them, but the roles switched and they started teaching me! It was like finding a gold mine in a valley or an oasis in a desert. It was a refreshing and exciting. My students were very bright; As a matter of fact, they were brilliant, hungry and begging to be fed more knowledge. They were interested in politics, international relations, life, college and everything else under the sun. Although I never doubted for a second that they were intelligent, it did not occur to me that they would be so interested in the various topics they wanted to cover. All of this to say, no one would ever have discovered this if there was no teaching taking place in the classroom. A famous saying in the education field is “if the students aren’t learning, then someone isn’t teaching”; which is true. But what does that really say about teaching? It shows the importance of what I wake up every morning to go do. It shows that no amount of money could ever compensate or replace the art of teaching.

 


what i teach.

If I knew then (i.e., this summer, before unit planning) what I know now (haaaa), I would have planned a little differently. My first lessons wouldn't be characterization and setting and topic sentences and inferences and transitions, as they were. Instead I would have carefully crafted a unit one plan consisting wholly of life skills and specific tips re: becoming functioning humans. Seriously. I was on the phone with my mom tonight, hissing about how insulted I was that when I gave my kid the rest of my coffee because he couldn't hold his head up in first period, he said all slow and weird, "Daaaaaannnnggggg, thiiisssss neeeedsssss mooooreeeee sugggggaaaarrrr," and GOOD GOD didn't he have any idea that I need caffeine more than him at that moment???? Didn't he???? There was that. My mom is the best. She sits at the other end of the phone all calm and then she said something that is TRUE SO TRUE I just wish I knew it earlier. She goes, "You know, I teach a lot more than seventh grade." (Oh. She teaches seventh grade. That's important to know.) DUHHHH. And I teach more than ninth-grade English, right? Of course. I should be actually lesson planning right now, but the past few days have left me exhausted and frustrated in ways that can only be assuaged by eating insane amounts of mini-chicken tacos and gulping down sangria (check, just did that) and bloggin' it out, you know? So here is my first unit, in a perfect world. Lessons I've come up with from scratch, or ones that I've created based on need, when I see students lacking understanding in a particular area: Lesson 1: Why We Should Be Nice to Everyone. (self-explanatory.) Lesson 2: Why It's Inappropriate to Sidle Up to Your Teacher and Say "Heyyyyyy You Lookin' Real Good." (also self-explanatory.) Lesson 3: Why It's Inappropriate to Punctuate Outside Quotation Marks. (gotta throw some content in there, always.) Lesson 4: Why You Should Keep Trying Even If You Think It's Hopeless. Lesson 5: Why Class is Not the Time nor Place to Produce Binoculars and Try to Complete Worksheet While Holding Said Binoculars. (real talk) Lesson 6: Don't Tell On People. Lesson 7: How to Enter the Classroom, Take Binder from Shelf, Open Binder and Copy Work from Board in Under Eleven Minutes. Lesson 8: How to Turn to a Classmate and Ask for Help. Lesson 9: How to Turn to a Teacher and Ask for Help. Lesson 10: How to Not Drink 54 ounces of Water Before a Double-blocked Class If You Know Bathroom Breaks are Not Permitted. Lesson 11: Trust Thyself. Lesson 12: Why Your Teacher Will Not Accept Homework When Said Homework is Covered in Hot Cheetos. Lesson 13: Why It's Not Cool to Say You're Staying After for Extra Help and Then Ditch. Lesson 14: Why It's Always Cool to Stay After for Extra Help. Lesson 15: Why You Should Laugh When Something Funny Happens Only if It's Not at Another's Expense. Lesson 16: Please Do Not Eat Your Pencils. Lesson 17: Please. Lesson 18: I Buy Them With My Own Money. Lesson 19: How to Believe in Yourself When You Think Nobody Else Does. Lesson 20: How to Disagree With Someone Lesson 21: Without Punching Them in the Face. Lesson 22: Why It's Not Appropriate to Scoot Down Hallway on Back, Pushing Self with Heels, at the Age of Fifteen. Lesson 23: Wait, You're Thirteen? Well, It's Not Appropriate For You Either. Lesson 24: I Care. Lesson 25: Did You Hear That? Lesson 26: Why Getting in My Face and Telling Me Not to Care Will Only Make Me Care More. Lesson 27: How to Accept a Consequence for Poor Behavior Choices. Lesson 28: How to Get Excited About Following Directions. Lesson 29: How, When Confronted With Prejudice, Shrug, Say "Haters Gon' Hate," and Walk Away. Lesson 30: I Care. Get Over It.

 


and they're off

The first day of school is a foggy memory by now. I forget how absolutely all-consuming teaching is once that first day bell rings. I am thankful to have been much more prepared for my second year of teaching (you poor first-years ...), but I'm still scrambling to catch up. This year's crisis: notebooks. Last year, no students labeled any materials, at least to my knowledge. This made for a pretty easy collection and redistribution policy; just distribute as needed, put the rest in materials bins for activities. No problem. This year: "My momma said I have to bring that home! My momma said I have to have my name on it! My momma said these are MY tissues and no one can use any of them! Also, I have to bring those tissues home today." Add in the irritated mommas visiting the teacher earlyearlyearly because their student didn't bring home all of their materials and BOOM: you have a no-win-flabbergasting crisis on your hands. To be fair, this year's crises are no comparison to last year's. We haven't any fights or stolen purses or blood in the hallways or runaways or police presence or screaming teachers attacking screaming students. I haven't had cabinet locks broken or money stolen or profanity written in permanent marker on classroom equipment. This time last year, I was barricading my desk into a corner and buying heavier-duty locks and chains and generally trying to breathe down the panic attacks. It is the same and yet a palpably different school. It is filled with the same students who are held to much different expectations. It's amazing what a group of teachers believing students are capable and desirous of achievement can do. Well, most teachers. Frustratingly (but not totally unexpectedly), it seems some of the most idealistic teachers are rapidly running out of steam. We have some of the best teachers in the city housed in our experimental school and they proved it during inservice. We met each other, swapped expectations, and sized one another up. In fact, one of my posts (um, the one that busted me?) responded directly to a handful of these teachers who shouted "accountability" and "assessment" down, in vehement favor of "whole-child," "arts-integrated," and "broad (read: kinetic) assessment" and teaching. They shook their heads at us "novice" TFA teachers and our perspectives, pursing their lips and hmmph-ing that their years of experience trump our Institute training and single year of teaching. These, interestingly, are the teachers who were not prepared for our low-income, low-expectations, low-performing, underserved, aggressively, emotional students. These teachers are beside themselves now that they've met our students, who on paper are just "low" but in person are real children kicking and screaming their frustrated way from bell to bell. Of course, they blame the students for their behavior. I never did. As angry as I was last year, and as often, I never once blamed N for screaming as many profanities in my face as saliva, or J for marking every available surface "B*tch" with some magically produced Sharpie, or S for literally tearing the skin off anyone, including me, who offended her in the slightest. I never blamed them because as enraged as I got trying to change it, they are the ones living it. Their lives take place in unsafe schools and often-worse homes. They are the ones years and years behind in reading, through absolutely no fault of their own. They are the ones who are told they have to calculate probability for the LEAP but who don't comprehend at all what "addition" means. They are the ones faced with violent conflicts on a daily basis and taught to fight back to save themselves. They didn't do this to themselves, or ask for it, or want it. It just happened to them. And these teachers were not prepared to meet these children, much less educate them up to "on-level." We're now told by them that we won't make the significant gains TFA demands we do; that we can't maintain pace; that we can't use centers because "those kids can't handle it; just look at last year's scores." It's sad, but not surprising, that those teachers believe only SOME students deserve whole-brain teaching and arts integration and broad assessment. Thankfully, that's a minority. Worry not, faithful reader: the TFA teachers are fighting tooth and nail to prove this year, yes, even in this school, "those kids" can rocket their way to closing the achievement gap and radically changing their lives. "Insufficient TFA training" and all.

 


Class Warfare: Fact checking pages 201 through 300

In the first 100 pages, we meet the main characters and learn about successful charter schools.  In the second 100 pages, we learn that a major cause of the problems in fixing education is the unions refusal to allow teachers to be evaluated based on their standardized test scores -- however inaccurate those may be. In this installment, the ed reformers take control with Obama, Duncan, and the true purpose behind Race To The Top.  While I already knew most of what I had read in the first 200 pages, the material in this section was very new and surprising to me. Since this section is much more of a narrative than a barrage of facts in the earlier pages, my commentary on this will be less detailed in a line-by-line manner, and will also summarize some of the key moments. From 201 to 205, Bill Gates entices ed reform with a competition for substantial grant money.  This sets the precedent for Race To The Top. From 206 to 209, DFER gains power and supports Eva Moskowitz to create the charter network of which Harlem Success 1 that we met in the beginning of the book was a part. On page 208 the resistance to the co-location of charters and traditional public schools is described as "In those situations the parents would be told, wrongly, that the charters were being run by 'outsiders' who were grabbing space that was needed and occupied by children going to 'real' public schools."  Brill fails to mention the real issue that has caused even the NAACP to sue the New York DOE:  The co-location creates a 'separate but unequal' environment, which was outlawed by Plessy v. Fergusson.  The kids in the charter school often get access to the playground at the better time and the cafeteria at the convenient time while the traditional public school eats lunch at 9:30 AM.  This is partly because of the extra private funding the charters get.  So what happens is that there becomes a dual-class system.  Though the majority of the kids are black, you have the less poor black kids in the charters getting the better services and the more poor black kids getting shafted. Page 210:  Reid is starting to teach 1st grade for the first time at Harlem Success 1, though she is used to fifth.  She's worried because "I was terrible at talking down to kids" but "Moskowitz had assured her that part of HSA's culture of high expectations was that no child was to be talked to the way some adults talk to children."  But these kids are 6 years old, so it is definitely good for the kids when the teacher knows how to talk to the kids in a developmentally appropriate way.  This isn't a major note, here, but it shows how clueless some of the reformers are. From 211 to 215, we meet a teacher who awaited a hearing in the New York City 'Rubber Room'  The hearings sometimes are prolonged for 3 to 5 years, he says, but this isn't the unions fault.  If the DOE wants to speed up the process, which they eventually do after Brill writes a New Yorker article about it, then they should have worked that into the contract. From 216 to 228, the ed reform becomes an issue in the presidential election.  Obama and McCain pretty much agree on it.  When Obama gets elected, DFER dissuades Obama from picking Linda Darling-Hammond, who has been a nemesis to TFA since it started. From 229 to 235 we see that the winners of the Gates grants have test scores factoring into teacher evaluation. Page 237 we meet learn about Duncan's experience.  He ran an afterschool program for disadvantaged kids.  Then the school was shut down and he helped reopen it as a 'turnaround' school.  Then, three years later, he worked for the head of Chicago schools before taking over Chicago schools in 2001 where "he pushed hard to close failing schools and replae them with new, smaller turnaround schools or charters."  There is no mention by Brill of what kind of success he had in Chicago since Duncan had no success there.  This article from Chicago the other day shows that test scores have not changed in years in Chicago, despite all the schools he shut down and reopened as charters.  A Duncan speech about this topic is actually what sparked my interest in getting involved in this ed reform discussion about 6 months ago, when I wrote this post which got the attention of Diane Ravitch and was featured in her New York Times OpEd piece which, I believe, will one day be looked back upon as the 'turning point' in the fight to not let people who know nothing about schools dictate the changes that need to be made. So Duncan is named Secretary of Education and comes up with the idea for Race To The Top:  "Duncan remembers when the Bush administration had distributed a few competitive grants, he had achieved many years' worth of reform in a few months because his team had been so eager to win."  I'm not quite sure if 'reform' is measured in years, but Brill gives no specifics of what sorts of great ideas he had in those few months. Page 241:  To get the government to give the $5 billion for RTTT, Cain, Miller, and Schnur had to justify the expense legally:  "The hunt began to find some law or other that would allow money to be spent to reward states for initiating merit pay pans for teacher or for building data system to track student performance and link to individual teachers."  They find it, ironically enough, in NCLB since it helps states check that disadvantaged communities were getting an equitable share of "well-qualified" teachers.  This same part of NCLB should probably put an end to TFA, under its current training model where they only get to student teach for 10 to 20 hours with 5 to 15 kids. Page 243:  Obama in a speech say we "let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us."  Ignoring that when you take the PISA scores and just take our schools that have 25% poverty, we become a world leader. More from Obama "If a teacher is given a chance or two chances or three chances but still does not improve, there's no excuse for that person to continue teaching.  I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences."  He really needs to spend some time in the failing schools and see how hard the teachers are working there. Page 244:  I never realized how devious the Race To The Top plan was until I got to this part.  Basically, the $5 billion was to be allocated based on a competition that states had to apply for.  Only a few states would 'win', but most states would apply for it.  The 'catch' is that in order to apply, you have to first change your laws so that there is no charter cap and so that teacher performance evaluation must be linked to student performance via standardized test scores. "if they wrote tough enough rules for getting it -- rules that required the winning states, DESPERATE to plug their budget deficits, to deliver on REAL reforms -- they really could seize what Duncan had called this 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."  (Capitalization added by me)  So they were bribing states with a one time payment to change their laws to advance a reform agenda that has little evidence that it will work. Page 246:  Michael Johnston wants to get Colorado the RTTT money so he gets elected to be state senator. Page 246:  Rhee's old program The New Teacher Project, which is a spin-off of TFA and trains mostly career changers to become teachers publishes a paper with a pretty provocative title: "The Widget Effect:  Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Difference in Teacher Effectiveness."  But if good teachers are that important, how does The New Teacher Project who also trains new teachers in five weeks fit into that? Page 260:  The point scale for winning Race To The Top based on: The states' plan for taking over failing schools and turning them around. Improving curriculum standards. Innovation, including no caps on charters. Using student test data so that "teachers (and principals) could be compensated and, when necessary, dismissed if they were found to be ineffective." Well, I like improving curriculum standards, but the others just won't work.  Turning around schools, if they keep the same kids, is generally a failure.  If you can swap the kids, it sometimes works, but not always.  Expanding charters, well New Orleans is the extreme example of that -- completely unregulated and massive cheating in so many different ways (I can't prove all this yet, but it will eventually get out.  There are a lot of reporters working on this -- just wait.) Page 261:  So states are trying to change their laws just to enter the competition, even though it is a bit of a trick since "In fact, the potential winnings looked like a lot more than they really were." Page 265:  Johnston, now a senator, "sketched out a plan for legislation that would require teachers to be measured for effectiveness, half by test scores and half by other rigorous processes."  This is ironic because the school he was just principal, and which he hand-picked his teaching staff from scratch had horrible standardized test scores with only 11% proficient in math.  I am going to call him out on this when I finish this entire project.  I'm sure that he and his teachers were trying their best, so should they have gotten judged (and possibly fired) under his plan? From 270 to 280:  States like New York are applying to Race To The Top despite not really qualifying since they could not change the law that teacher performance should not be tied to test scores (at least not at that point.  Now, it can be up to 40%).  Still, they checked all the boxes and signed all the forms that said they did qualify to apply. Page 281 to 286:  Waiting For Superman comes out which showcases a few charters that seem to be working and zero public schools.  This movie had a huge publicity blitz including a week of education coverage on NBCs Today show, but this movie was so slanted and misleading that all it really did was wake up people from the other side to fight against it.  'Class Warfare' could do the same thing.  They were better off hatching their plans in secret, I think. Page 293:  Parents in Harlem are protesting against charters and charter co-location.  Though it might be tough for an outsider to understand why some black parents are against something that seems to help black kids, a writer like Brill could surely understand, at least, their point and explain it clearly to his readers -- even if it is so he can shoot it down.  Instead he writes: "Next up was a fiery speaker who seemed to want to use the event to launch some kind of campaign for political office.  In an argument that was hard to follow, he compared the decision that was going to be made tonight to Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation, asserting -- actually, screaming -- that allowing Harlem Success to move in would reverse Brown because Harlem Success taks only 'certain' students.  (The hard-to-follow part was the idea that being chosen in a lottery is like being chosen on the basis of race, which is what Brown was all about.)"  I explained, earlier in my analysis why this fiery speaker had a point.  Though the NAACP lost the lawsuit trying to halt the process, there is another bigger lawsuit over this in the works.  This could end up in the Supreme Court, eventually in my opinion.  New Orleans is the extreme example where the top 75% of students are in charters who boot the lowest performing kids to the public schools which have to work with a disproportionate share of the toughest to educate kids.  This sets up a two-tier system where the bottom 25% are neglected so that as many of the top 75% can get their test scores up.  This type of educational 'triage' might raise scores a bit, but it is completely un-democratic for kids to raise test scores (though not necessarily learn much) at the expense of other kids.

 


I've Implemented My First Project Based Learning Experience! "Warning! Warning! A Science Safety Project"

It's incredibly exciting. I've spent a good number of hours planning a simple, four day unit on Safety in fifth grade science in which students work in teams to present skits that show scientists how to be safe and how NOT to be safe. Each team has a budget that they need to follow, a certain scenario they are addressing, and deliverables that are due on Friday. However, while well-planned, I've certainly learned a lot about implementation. First, the positives. ✚ I added some pizzaz, including a voiceover of the entry document (a letter from the CEO of OPC Labs), which helped the students get invested. ✚ I had the students in the second class start generating Knows and Need-to-Knows which we'll return to tomorrow. Now the Deltas. Δ Plan more time for fifth graders to learn how to grapple with PBL packets! I gave the packet to my fifth graders as homework to read, but underestimated how overwhelmed they'd feel looking at nine pages worth of information, especially since my fifth graders have NEVER seen a syllabus, never really worked with rubrics, and never worked so independently in teams before. In the future, I'll either have a ton of time in class for them to read and ask questions. Or, I'll present just the Entry Document first and then introduce the other pieces (like rubrics and checklists), only when necessary. Δ Spell check. I'll blog later this week about my entire planning and implementation process, because there's a lot of thinking that goes into planning and implementing a PBL and because I know I'm going to make a lot of mistakes, so I hope that you find my reflection process helpful as you also think about planning PBLs. I also promise to record my students' presentations and upload them on YouTube. I think they'll be pretty great. (= --- Warning! Warning! Safety Project Packet: Click here for full document, look below for preview. [googleapps domain="docs" dir="document/pub" query="id=15KxttpG07ov9l8dFaiel1ckBqriadR5CdhgdaZV8lV4&embedded=true" /] Originally posted on Science Never Sucks, a Wordpress.com Blog: http://wp.me/pZpWN-5s

 


Thoughts from a district training

Before I worked in education, people would say that it is the district and the bureaucracy of  teaching that kills you; the kids themselves are never the problem. As I sit in a continuous improvement training of a district that shall remain nameless, I have never agreed more. I'm not saying improvement is bad--I sure as heck am trying my best to improve, and fast! If improvement wasn't going to happen, I wouldn't be here at all. But there are 4 objectives to this training: mission statements, PDSA identification, SMART goals, and data folders. My school has already done trainings or sessions on three of these four things. Two of those trainings were done with the exact same presenter who is doing them today. In the end, I had to spend 4 hours making plans for the sub who will cover my class and 3 hours here at this training in order to relearn, in the exact same presentation, things that I have already implemented in my classroom. Plus since the sub can't really be introducing new material, it is a review day for my class. This would be fantastic, because they do need review, but because I'm not there for any of it I have no way of knowing if they really are reviewing and how quality that review is. Maybe the sub will be fantastic, and a better teacher than I am (which, to be brutally honest, would not be much of an accomplishment) and the kids will learn a ton today and will understand time and clocks by this afternoon. But if not, this is 7 hours of my time, 4 hours of theirs, and 8 of a substitute's in order to tell me about data folders. Which I could learn from my co-4th-grade teacher in 20 minutes. Bah. Sorry I'm always complaining. Here are some happy kid stories to end on a good note:

  1. One of my student's stepmom asked for nightly emails listing homework assignments so she can make sure he does them. She's started emailing me back to tell me how he's doing and which parts are hard. He's started turning in almost all his homework. AWESOME.
  2. Another student got in trouble yesterday for talking when I told him not to--4 times. In a row. Not because he's being bad, but because he's impulsive. I call home, turns out he didn't take his ADHD medicine that morning (whoops) but also his dad is super dedicated to his education and wants to work at home on anything that his son is having trouble with. He wants extra homework, text message alerts, maybe even extra time after school to push his son's learning (because he's actually near the top of the class, especially in math). AWESOME.
  3. My kids LOVE science. And it's not like we're doing fake science! We have a question, we come up with a hypothesis and a procedure, we list materials, we make results tables and a conclusion. It's the best--so far we've tried to figure out if we can eat 6 saltines in 2 minutes without water (conclusion: some can, most can't) and what things sink or float. Scientific method: check. Student happiness: check. Teacher happiness: check that too. AWESOME.
  4. One of the 5th grade teachers, Mrs. Discipline (pseudonym, obviously), is THE person for classroom management. She handles behavior improvement plans and discipline calls when the principal is out (which is often). Invoking her name is akin to invoking the bogeyman, as in, "You need to be paying attention. Do you need to visit Mrs. Discipline?" Yesterday she came in to yell at one of my kids who was being disruptive in the bathroom. She read him the riot act in front of the whole class. Afterwards, one of my girls asked the best question ever: "Ms. EMinNM, are you afraid of Mrs. Discipline too?" I couldn't help it--I laughed out loud. Hysterical.
 


Dallas Value Added Study -- More Analysis

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I did my own analysis of the 1997 study which is always quoted by Rhee about how 3 effective teachers in a row vs. 3 ineffective teachers in a row is life changing.  Now, as someone who considers himself an effective teacher, and someone who has been taught by effective teachers and also by ineffective teachers, I'm very aware that there is a difference.  The question is whether or not this difference really shows up in standardized test scores accurately enough so that districts can use them reliably as part of evaluations which can lead to teachers getting fired over them. Here's an example of one of the stunning graphs that still, all these years later, shows up in various forms in power point presentations by the corporate reformers. This shows three groups of students with about 25 students in each group who all started with about a 56% passing rate.  Then the graph on the right shows how three of those groups fared three years later.  The 555 group had three great teachers in a row, the 324 had average teachers, and the 112 had ineffective teachers.  Pretty dramatic right? Well, one thing to notice is that the 555 group, while way higher than the 112 group had only a marginal gain of about 4 percentage points.  Now though the report had the raw data for all 125 combinations of teachers from 111 to 555, they only provided the percentiles for the three groups in this graph and the three groups in another graph.  This makes it hard for others to crunch their own numbers.  But what I managed to do is take the six percentages that I knew and search through the other 122 groups to see if any others had this 56% starting point and an ending point three years later equal to any of the six percentiles I knew about for that test.  I managed to find 11 such groups. So compare the dramatic 3 bar graph above to my less dramatic 14 bar graph based on this analysis So, as you can see the top group did get the best, a 4 point gain.  Two other groups 345 and 235 got 3 point gains.  The rest, aside from the 112 group got 6 point losses. Another thing to notice is that nearly all the groups had some kind of a loss, meaning that Dallas would be wise to help improve their average teachers, rather than worry about firing their poor teachers. If having three bad teachers in a row is that bad (but getting some good ones in the mix seems to make things about average) then why doesn't Dallas use this information as Sanders suggested to make sure that students don't get three poor teachers in a row.  Since it seems that this combination can be avoided with some planning, this is a way they can use this data to improve student outcomes.  This study was 14 years ago and Dallas has the 7th highest dropout rate in the country, and the six cities below it are all under a million students.

 


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