Differentiation Beyond Instruction

Differentiation is a word we hear a lot in education. Differentiated Instruction is something most schools as well as most teachers strive to do regularly in their classroom. We know how important to focus on students’ strengths and give them a little push when they are not grasping a concept. We know all students learn differently and we need to meet those needs.

But why do we just think that students learn differently but are the same outside of instruction and curriculum? Most do not even realize that they are thinking that way. We know that learning is not one size fits all, but when it comes to discipline, we have one size fits all approach.

I often post on social media, blog, and speak about ADHD. Responses I always get from people are asking about how to handle certain situations or advice on my idea for behavior charts, plans, etc. I’m just going to come out and say it, I hate behavior charts and I some times wish clothes pins would disappear from Earth so they never have to go on red again. As an advocate for students with ADHD, I understand the negative effects these have on children. And don’t even get me started on the horrible effects of Class Dojo. I’m still waiting on that lawsuit from mental health officials once we have proof of the way those “monsters” have ruined the self esteem of children all over the world.

Untitled drawing

I understand the purpose of behavior charts, give students a physical reminder of making a mistake then hope that this helps. I am not going to sit here and argue about the stats on this, but I am going to explain ADHD and other behavior problems. They are impulsive. Students will ADHD do not blurt out on purpose. Standing up and walking across the room is not premeditated. Forgetting homework in the locker and asking to go get it is not an evil plan to go play in the hall (most of the time). So punishing students for something that was not premeditated to make them stop that behavior is never going to work. (If you haven’t, take a moment to read this post on what you probably didn’t know about students with ADHD.)

Every time I talk about this, I get another question, if I don’t have behavior charts, how do I reward students that actually do benefit from them? Believe it or not, my child is one of those students. His goal is always to move his clothes pin up. And he usually does. He lives for the reward of having the best behavior in the class. He has zero impulsive behaviors and most of his actions are premeditated. He does deserve to be rewarded for trying so hard to do what is right.

So I just contradicted myself, right? Not really. What if we approached discipline and classroom management with a differentiated mindset? Let’s look at it like we look at curriculum. Say a child has a learning disability or dyslexia. You are going to teach reading and have different requirements than a student that is gifted and reading a lexile score 3 grades higher than he/she is in. I would hope that the student with dyslexia would never be randomly called on to read a passage in front of the class and his/her reading scores are probably based on reading the level he/she is on. But you may have your gifted student read a picture book to a small group during centers and grades come from doing activities on the meaning of books they are reading.  So a student with ADHD is really like that student with dyslexia, they cannot help their impulses. Do they need to be corrected and taught how to handle the situation? Sure, but stopping class and making them move a clothes pin is not going to ever correct or stop the behavior. But saying, “we don’t disrupt” and moving on to call on a student with their hand up reminds them of the behavior without shaming them. (Yes, moving that clothes pin in front of everyone is shaming. Trust me, it is humiliating, I’ve been there.)

Now that gifted student needs that encouragement and chance to succeed. Then set a reward program. Maybe have a ticket program that students can collect when caught being good. Please make sure everyone gets a ticket at some point. Let them use the tickets to buy prizes or trade activities like choosing friend to sit in special lunch seat with them.

I also get the question about how if they are more lax with students with ADHD or other behavior problems, is that fair to students that don’t have ADHD? Yes it is. All students are different and you need to meet each of their needs. A student without ADHD yells out in class just because he wants attention of his crush has to move clothes pin but student with ADHD does not. It is ok. I promise, by November, your student with ADHD no longer cares about her clothes pin anyway, she knows it is going to be moved no matter how hard she tries. The student that wanted to test you and be center of attention, if he moves his clothes pin, he is going to realize that he was in the wrong and will remember that when he goes to do it again.

So if you have a behavior chart, so many schools require them, you don’t have to treat each kid the same when it comes to ‘moving the clothes pin.’ If you don’t have to have a behavior chart, why have it? I taught elementary school for a long time. I did not have one. But I had a clip board (had this in middle school too) where I would record discipline problems and have the students sign when they got in trouble. To be honest, I did not use it much because if I could not remember it by end of day, it probably was not a big deal and I didn’t need to tattle to parents about it. But everyday my students had a behavior calendar and I would write a smiley face if student didn’t get in trouble but if they student did something awesome or they had a discipline problem, I would put a little note on the day. It was simple and gave me a quick one-on-one time with every student for 1 minute each day.

Every child in your classroom is an unique gift. Our job is to take them and love them as they are and help them become better people. Shamming and putting them down does not do that, it kills who they are and stunts their emotional growth. They are all different and we should treat them that way.

Are You Teaching Your Students to Be Martians?

Usually when a book is made into a movie, one is better than the other. A few months ago my friend Michelle insisted that I get The Martian on audio book. With my ADHD, I struggle with audio books so I downloaded just the regular ebook.  With the end of school years stresses I never finished the book. Last week I found out while I would be visiting NASA’s Johnson center in Houston I would be meeting some of the cast and getting to watch a preview of the movie. I finished the book. Probably one of the most amazing books I ever read. My inner geek (ok those that know me, it’s all outer) loved not only how cool it was to imagine someone on Mars, but how realistic and possible it actually was. Then add how lovable and hilarious Mark Watney, the Martian, is, it’s the perfect book.


After a day of press conferences with the cast and astronauts I was pretty pumped to see the movie. First, let me just say, walking into a movie theater carrying a large red Icee and looking up seeing about 20 real astronauts sitting around you is a tad bit intimitating. But finally I get to see the movie,  and weeks before it comes to theaters. Mark Watney, who I was loving before I found out was Matt Damon, in 3D. Can’t imagine a better way to spend an afternoon.

So… The movie was amazing. Just as amazing as the book. I don’t think I have ever been able to say that. The few parts were a tad different but it stayed true to the book. Well, there was one difference, the cleaned up Watney’s mouth. No F bombs. Was glad about this, not because my potty mouth was offende, but because this movie is a must see for kids around middle school age. With his mouth cleaned up it got a PG-13 rating. It does show his rear at the end, but really it was just to show how his body had changed by Sol 300something. Yeah, body double, not real Matt. Sorry girls.


So why am I writing a movie and book review on my blog? Not typical topic here. And I can promise you it’s not to brag. I have a reason and as usual, I took the long way getting there. Movies and books like this are insanely important. Think about the first time you saw a space movie, Star Wars or Apollo 13, whatever that movie was, it got you thinking out what it would be like to travel into space. It probably got you excited or interested to know if it would be possible. Movies like this inspire kids to learn more about space and want to be part of the space problem. This is no different than a kid going to a football game and leaving wanting to be a starting quarterback or the cheerleader sticking her liberty.

What else did we learn from this book and movie? The beautiful and painstaking art of problem solving. Every single day Watney gets up and goes through the scientific method for something else trying to stay alive. Some days he fails. After he gets angry about it, he looks at the failure and fixes the problem. He doesn’t let getting left alone on Mars or blown up stop him. Nope he looks at one small part of his problem and fixes it bit by bit. His ability to hone in on one thing at a time amazed me and ended in succes. This is the skills we need to be teaching our students everyday. This is science. I say time and again, science has got to stop being reading comprehension. It has to be inquiry. It has to be problem solving. Watney would’ve died if he only knew how to read a chapter, listen to lecture, and answer questions about the facts.

I know, Watney is not real. I get that. So how close are we to getting humans on Mars? Well educators, there estimate time frame, but really when it comes down to it, it’s up to you. The students ages 9 to 15 will be the astronaut class that goes to Mars. And it takes thousands of people to train and support one astronaut. We have 15 to 25 years. If you teach reading comprehension, the odds of your students being part of this are dwindling. If we all band together and start focusing on problem solving, teaching students the importance of teamwork, and getting them the STEM skills they need, we may have people heading to Mars by 2030.

Mars can happen in my lifetime. I would have never believed that 15 years ago. Orion has already taken its first test flight, and it worked. We have Scott Kelly in the ISS for a year. That is a huge step because we have the technology to get humans to Mars, we just don’t have the human body ready for it. Scott Kelly’s year in space is a first step in preparing humans and foreseeing problems. We have landers, probes, and rovers on Mars or preparing to make a trip. It’s close. It’s really close. But while NASA is preparing the human body, us as educators need to prepare the human mind. That’s why we went into education to start with, right? It’s time. We need to step up and get kids interested and prepared to be part of history.

Here are some great starting places to get resources for your students. If you have older students, recommend them to go spend some time with Mark.


NASA Educators Resource Network http://www.nasa.gov/offices/education/programs/national/ercn/home/
NASA Museum Alliance https://informal.jpl.nasa.gov/museum/
Student Spaceflight Experiment Program http://ssep.ncesse.org
Talk to the astronauts on ISS with inflight down links. http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/teachingfromspace/students/downlinks.html
STEM on Station http://www.nasa.gov/education/STEMstation/I

No More ‘Have To Centers’

Today my nephew went to orientation at his new school. Last year he hated preschool. This year he will be in kindergarten and at a new place. After he met his teacher, my brother asked him what he liked about the school. His answer was “they don’t have half to sinners!” Ummmmm. First of all, we are from the south so all kids forget the “t” and centers become sinners, so I got that part. And in the south “have to” sounds like “half to.” Anyway, after some questioning he explained it perfectly. “You know when the teacher makes you go to all these centers and they are boring and you have to write or color something boring and you ask why and the teacher says ‘because you have to.’ I hate have to centers.”

My nephew, P, hates school at age 5. And his biggest hate is not having a choice. And really not having a voice. Isn’t that the original idea behind centers, giving kids a menu of choices? Maybe not. P is a smart kid but he is an active child, not ADHD, just very athletic and learns through movement. Sitting at a table doing worksheets because he “had to” is probably pure torture. Seriously, he would just start drawing circles on the pages just to get done. He didn’t care if right. Sounds like he learned to play the worksheet game earlier than most kids. Usually isn’t perfected until 3rd grade.

You may not do centers but we all are guilty of making students do things that probably turn them off to learning. Turn them off to school. And the only explanation we give is, they have to. You have to learn math, not let me show you how the math works everyday. You have to write a paper, not let’s try blogging so you can write your ideas and find other who think like you or disagree with you. You have to memorize the 8 (or 9) planets, not let’s figure out how to live on this planet because your generation will be on Mars. No we just say they have to because a lot of times we don’t know the reason or we are just going for the easy.

My daughter, on the other hand, is in a class this year that completely PBL for social studies and she can’t wait for tomorrow to “get to” work on her project. (She’s in 4th grade, every person in Alabama dreads 4th grade history.) We should make sure our classrooms aren’t “have to” but “get to.” I understand there are requirements and standards, but if you are telling kids every day they have to and that’s the only explanation, there is a problem. I wonder how P’s views of school would change if his teacher would have explained why they were doing the activity instead. Or even better, find an activity that did meet his learning needs.

This year as you pull out old lessons from years past ask yourself the same thing P asked his teachers, why do we have to do this? If the answer is because “you have to,” it is time for a new lesson.

Do You Teach Science or Reading Comprehension?

OK humor me for a moment. Think back on science classes you took as a kid? What was the class like? How about science in your classroom? What are students doing the majority of the time? How are they assessed? OK now hold that thought.

Now let’s look at the definition of science. Dictionary.com defines it as “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.” When you look science up on Wikipedia it says “a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. In an older and closely related meaning, “science” also refers to this body of knowledge itself, of the type that can be rationally explained and reliably applied.” Hmmmmm. I see:

Knowledge of the world through:



Builds knowledge in form of testable:



Body of knowledge that can be:

rationally explaned

reliably applied

Summed up it’s knowledge gained from observation, extermination that can be explained and applied.

Back to science classes. Let’s look at the typical science class. Before I get push back, I know not everyone does this, but know I spend a lot of times in many different schools and was a science teacher for years. Most of the time here’s a typical unit:

Students read from text.

Students answer questions about said text in form of worksheets or questions at end of section.

Teacher lectures on topic. Students take pages and pages of notes. Lecture probably will include video.

Homework may include define words.

One day of unit may be focused on a hands on experiment related to the topic.

Quizzes and a final test.

Agree? Is this what most science you’ve experienced in your lifetime look like? At one point of my life I taught science this way. If we did a venn diagram of science vs science class, would we have anything in the middle? Or would it look like this:


I used to tell my students don’t use a venn diagram if you don’t have a middle. You are no longer comparing it is just contrast because they obviously have nothing in common.

I speak all the time online or at conferences about STEM and PBL and why it is important for us to change our teaching. And this is exactly why. We are not teaching science. We are teaching facts. We are really teaching reading comprehension. I am in schools all the time where teachers are telling me they don’t have time to teach science so they do it during reading. But science is gaining knowledge through all that other stuff above, not through just reading.

Our students are missing out on learning how to experiment, observe, make predictions, and apply knowledge. So really, we aren’t teaching science, we are teaching kids to read. Then we punish those who were too bored to pay attention during the reading or had trouble paying attention during lectures. No child should ever fail science because he or she was bad at reading comprehension or bad at paying attention to lectures. Yes, they need to read, but they also need to have scientific skills. There is this thing called the STEM Gap that refers to there not being enough people to fill STEM jobs. 40% of employers cannot find applicants that have degrees in the STEM fields nor can they find employees with the problem solving and inquiry skills needed in today’s world.

We have to make the effort to teach science as science. Had a teacher the other day tell me she didn’t have time to teach her science curriculum and do PBL. Told her great. Throw away her science curriculum. Instead of worksheets do inquiry activity during that time. Allow kids to research, apply the information, evaluate their ideas, then create something. Science should be all about curiosity. If students are not getting to be curious, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Things have to change because I really do not want to live in a world of compliant readers, I want to live in a world of problem solvers who are making an effort to make our world a safer place. 

Rebels at #ISTE2015

Sitting in today’s Ignite sessions at #ISTE2015 I felt inspired. My friends talked about things that are not the norm and did a bit of pushing the envelope. Rafranz talked about diversity in ed tech,  Pernille about kids hating school and what we can do to change it, and Bob about what he experienced living in St. Louis during the unrest in Ferguson and how we should use tech and influence to make a difference. All of the ignites were awesome but these were one of the 3 that actually made you question “why are things staying the same?”

Bob Ignite

My thinking hasn’t left that question yet. But what makes them different, they were not promoting a product or something that one person can do. No, they were talking about changing mindset and making a difference.

You see, I’m learning there are two types of thinkers. There are those who think “we should do__ right now.” They tell us to use websites, focus on movements that are happening, what products other districts are using. Those people are great to have around. You need to know what trends are out there. They get the ball running. They excite people to try something new.  They get those who are afraid of change making small steps. They usually are the decision makers.

Then there’s the other guys. This is where I find myself in trouble a lot of times. This is where I notice people I seem to gravitate towards fall. They are those who see to see things as the big picture.  They are the ones who speak and blog about changing mindset, looking to the future instead of the new, and questioning why things are the way they are. They are the ones unfortunately are called ‘opinionated’ though they are usually giving facts. They are the first to push back when those above want to do buy or start something. They don’t push back to be difficult or a know it all,  they usually push back because while it’s a new idea for everyone else, it’s something they probably have been researching or doing for a while now. These people are not the norm. They are not trying to go against the grain, they just see everything differently. They are the rebels.

We need more rebels. I don’t know if you can train your brain to think this way, but those that do need to use their voice. Social media has given these a voice. I think that’s why those who are part of my PLN that are most important and influential to me are these thinkers. Those that focus on tools and techniques seem to not have as much pull in this world. I had someone ask why bloggers, etc, do it, this is why. They have these ideas or these passions and want to share when with others. That have figured out that sharing is what will influence generations to make a difference. It’s what will change our world for the better.

I’m excited to hear more from the ‘rebels’ this week at ISTE. I need those to push my thinking. I need them to remind me that this thinking is normal. I can’t wait to share what I learn!

Schools and Educators Online: What Should We Be Doing?

I get asked to consult often about teacher internet and social media use. I get asked about directions school and district websites should go in as well as teachers and admins. I was answering some questions via emails today and thought I’d post some of the information I was sharing. So maybe putting this out there will be a good reference for me when asked in the future and maybe a place to help others looking for this information. I also know that some may not agree with my thoughts, that is ok, these are just trends I am seeing.

What are teachers roles online?
If you were a teacher in 2006 being a digital leader you had a website but stayed away from social media. Things have changed. Your school website needs to be a place for parents to find out who you are and your contact information. That’s all. The days of updating websites weekly have been gone for years now. This is where your district’s LMS is the most important thing in your classroom’s digital life. Whether it’s edmodo, Google Classroom, or Canvas, this is where your need to be posting your information. There are multiple reasons:

  1. It’s private. Think about it, you post that your class is going to zoo tomorrow. That’s really bad if little Joe’s parents are in a heated custody battle and the parent who lost custody can’t have contact. But you post it on your public site, that person now knows where that student will be and probably will be more accessible than he would be at school.
  2. You need to be posting your assignments here anyway, right? Why post twice? No one wants to do that, especially a teacher who works as much as you do. If you aren’t posting assignments to an LMS, you’re missing out on students being more organized and having more ways to turn in as well as reminders sent to text, email, or social media.
  3. You can post pictures, work, etc. Please don’t post pictures or work of students publicly without permission of parents. It’s really just better to do this privately. Parents want to see their children learning, but the entire world doesn’t need to unless posted by the parent. I’m a huge believer in world wide audience when students are blogging or using a class social media but everyday events need to be private.

Teachers also should be using social media for learning and connecting with other educators. If you teach older students, encourage them to do the same. Be an example. Create a PLN and sit with the smart kids of the world daily. Use Twitter, Facebook groups, voxer, blogs, or whatever you are comfortable with to learn and reflect. Start a blog, one that you feel like you can be open on and reflect on your successes and failures. Don’t advertise it to all your parents and coworkers if you feel like it will take away your honesty. But have a place to learn comfortably.

What should schools’ and districts’ be doing online?
Websites need to be just for information purposes only. Needs to be where stakeholders can find news, links, forms, etc. It needs to be easy to maneuver with simple menus. What it shouldn’t be is a place for curriculum and sharing. That is the purpose of your district LMS. It should be used for sharing curriculum information as well as places for online professional learning.

Social media on this level should also focus on getting information out to parents. There should be some level of 2 way communication. If people ask questions or make comments, there should be replies. No, don’t get sucked into trolls but communicate. Even my cable company replies when I tweet them. One way communication for website (think online information circa 2005) and two way communication for social media accounts. Principals need to be in charge of their school’s social media. They need to have that ownership. It is their school. They should curate the information coming from it.

How should administrators use social media?
You are the “lead learner” of your school. You need to be modeling how teachers should be using social media for their learning. Participate in Twitter chats, then curate the tweets on the hashtag from it. Blog about things you are learning, this can be public or private for just your teachers. Admins need to be listening to podcasts and reading blogs. Here is a great list of blogs by principals from all over the country. BAM Radio is a great place to get podcast and BackchannelEdu that was made for principals is amazing. Take charge of your learning and share with your teachers.

You also as I stated above need to be in charge of sharing the great things going on in the district. Don’t leave this for others to do, this is your school. Own it.

With all of these, be careful about student privacy. Don’t post things you can’t publicly talk about online or even offline, like if a child has special needs or something they are dealing with. This post from my friend Rafranz has totally change my thinking of what we post about students online. Don’t post things that could be embarrassing to a student. And please be careful about names and following parents’ wishes about posting online.

The Internet is a fantastic place. Educators need to be online reaching out to our students and their families. We also need to be taking advantage of the learning opportunities that are available. Social media has taken down so many walls and if used correctly can really change your world. Go out there. Reach others. And if you ever have questions, I’m here as well as thousands of others.

5 Things I Learned (as a teacher and parent) From the Movie Inside Out

I took my kids to see Inside Out today. They’ve been asking to see it and with heat index over 120 degrees I didn’t argue not sitting on the hot sand at beach all day. If you haven’t seen the movie, I definitely recommend it. If you are a teacher or parent, I more than recommend, I demand you go. I saw so much of what my middle school students went through during the movie. Heck, I could relate to most of it too.

Inside out

The movie is about a 11 year old who has to move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Instead of watching the movie from the outside world, you go through everything inside her brain which houses memories and emotions. Her emotions are the stars using memories to relay her feelings. So as this movie played I took away so much. Haven’t done a list in a while so here it is,

Top 5 Things I Learned From Inside Out:

5. Pixar is amazing. Seriously, Riley’s hair looked real. I push STEM so often, we forget it is more than just need for engineers. We need more kids thinking with STEAM concepts because they will be the ones creating Toy Story 6 and turning drawings into the most realistic characters ever.

4. Adult emotions are a lot different than a preteen. My son asked me why the parents’ emotions worked together better. Well even though we do have battles inside as adults, it’s nothing compared to what is going on inside a preteen’s head. We have had years to learn to control and work with emotions. Their emotions are still learning how to interact with each other. When all parts aren’t working together there is no harmony. They have not learned to control this yet. Be patient, by 15 they will have a better grasp.

3. We can’t control others’ emotions. Heck people have a hard enough time controlling their own emotions without someone else telling them how to feel and how to act. If someone is angry or afraid or even sad, you can’t tell them not to feel that way. I used to have this conversation all the time when my children were younger. I have no right to tell them not to be angry. I can teach them how to act when they are, but I never thought it necessary to tell them not to feel that way. But others didn’t agree. It’s a battle not worth fighting, emotions are just that and only thing you can do about them is be there for the person you love.

2. Sadness is an OK emotion. The entire movie plot started with the emotion Joy wanting to stop Riley from ever feeling the emotion Sadness. We learn a lot from sadness. We learn who our friends are, we learn to be happy through the sadness, and most importantly, sadness helps us make the right choices. As much as we don’t want to feel sad or see others sad, it is going to happen and that’s OK. Sadness is part of what makes us stronger.

1. Sometimes we lose Joy. Riley’s emotion Joy got lost. She couldn’t find it. Some lucky people go through their entire life never losing Joy. But some of us do. And that is the most lost you’ll ever feel. When that happens, please talk to someone. See a doctor. There is nothing wrong with admitting to losing Joy. There are people and medicines who can help you find her. Also, when someone you love loses Joy, be there for them. Don’t leave them alone to look for it. A year ago I lost Joy and in the process I saw who turned their back on me, who said they were tired of hearing about my other emotions, and these people added to the hiding of Joy. If you know someone, especially a child, who seems to lost Joy, be the person who steps up and looks for Joy with them without judgement. Maybe their Joy is in same place you found yours.

So much of this movie reminded me that we are not always in control of how we feel. We are not ever in control of how others feel. But we are in control of our actions and reactions. If you see someone, especially a child whose emotions seem to be lost or out of control step up and help. Depression and mental illness is becoming something more people are willing to talk about, but that doesn’t always help those going through it at the time. Become educated on ways you can help. It’s too important not to. Life is too important to allow emotions to be lost, they must all be present for our personality to be the real us.

(On a side note, as someone who lives with ADHD, I could write an entire dissertation on what my brain probably looks like. I mean a movie on voices inside my head?!)

Use Your ‘Teacher Voice’

Last week I got to be part of 2 amazing opportunities. Two opportunities that only happened because of social media. Who would’ve thought 6 years ago when I started tweeting and a year later blogging that anything would come of it? But it has and because of social media I have a voice. We all do. And as last week unfolded I saw how important that voice really is. I wasn’t sure I wanted to share about the opportunities because I didn’t want a ‘look at me’ situation. But as others keep asking about it and more I decompress what I learned, I feel like I should share.

On Wednesday I left work to get on a plane and head to Seattle. The whole thing was surreal because I was heading to The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. If you are in education and/or follow education reform, you know this is the most influential organization in education. That can be positive or negative, depending on who you ask. I have yet to figure out why I was asked, but definitely honored I was. While there we had meetings where we talked about teachers in social media. Meeting with the brilliant Vicki Phillips and Carina Wong was pretty cool, women who have so much influence on me as well as in education. The best part was after lunch, meeting with Melinda Gates, yes THE Melinda Gates. Kinda crazy having someone with this much influence on the world actually asking our opinions and what we know. I rarely get asked that in my own office.


I left Gates and hopped on a red eye – one that was late – and went to Washington DC. Another very cool opportunity, I was one of 100 who got to attend Edcamp Dept of Ed. So I spent the day meeting and having open discussions with educators from around the country. Some were my favorite people I rarely see face to face, some were others that I have never met or had conversations with. Huge thanks to Richard Cullata and his office as well as the amazing edcamp foundation for this day. A day spent brainstorming and comparing and sharing, you cannot beat that. The day ended with Arne Duncan telling a pretty touching story about a student in Chicago (don’t worry, I will share in another post I’m working on) that was a huge reminder of why we do what we do.


I look back on these whirlwind days and one thing was a constant – Teachers have voices. Teachers need their voice heard. I hear over and over, we need to do this, teachers should do that, but no one actually stops and asks the teachers. I think if Melinda Gates and Richard Cullata can stop and take a minute to hear what teachers have to say, and really listen, then why are we not doing that at a school level, a district level, even a state level? We are the experts. Yet politicians around the country are deciding on testing or trying to do away with standards, but they are not taking the time to listen. We can tout education reform all day every day but until it starts with teachers, the ones on the ground floor of this, there will never be any reform. And the scary part, real teachers, talented teacher, will become more and more frustrated and leave the profession. My children need good teachers, they need teachers who feel like they are making a difference, not just filling out paperwork and adding to data.

Also, teachers, make your voice heard!! I never imagine anyone would actually read my blog, especially people who have huge pull in the education world. But people do. You have a voice. Use it. We preach about student voice and real world audience, but you need to practice this as well. I know we have to be careful what we say, we need our job, but when you learn something, share. Others want to know!

CIPA, COPPA, and FERPA Beyond Digital Citizenship

Hey everyone! I’m back, I hope! It has been a busy end of school year! I never imagined it could be busier than actually being in the classroom, but it is! I have a few flights over the next few days so I hope to catch up on everything. I’ve had a few posts in my head for the past month, now time to get them out of that chaos and on to the ol’ blog.

Lately I have had a lot of discussions about student privacy, students online, teachers using social media, etc. Every time this comes up there are 3 acronyms I keep explaining often. FERPA, COPPA, and CIPA. I feel like in education we are some times in such a rush to post things online or our students do that we forget that we need to protect students in the process.  I feel that there is a gap in knowledge here. Before we start pushing teachers and students to get online and use social media, we need to think of the whole picture here. We need to know what rules to follow.

So what are these? Here is my attempt in layman’s terms to explain each of these.

FERPA – Family Educational Rights and Protection Act. This act really says that educational institutions cannot give away any student information. This does not often really touch a classroom teacher too much, but one thing you need to be careful about is registering students for websites without permission of parents. Giving out any directory information to a secondary source without asking or informing. That includes parent information. You have a parent’s email address or phone number, you cannot use it for anything other than what it was given to you for.

CIPA – Children’s Internet Protection Act – This is why you have filters on the internet at your school. We have to have filters for: obscene, child pornography, and anything harmful to children. I get a lot of complaints that we should just open the internet and forget about the filters. We can’t. Do I agree with some of the sites we filter? No not always. But understand this is why there are extremes.

COPPA – Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. This is a huge one. You know when you sign up for a website and it asks you if you are 13 or asks for your birth date? This is why. Websites and social media sites collect information. Even gmail that is not through GAFE. It is the world we live in. But is a problem if someone is under 13. They are considered a child and are protected from this. So here is where this can become a problem: when you have students use a website that in their private policy states that someone has to be over 13 to use. You have students register without parent permission, we have a problem. When you get them to link their information to these sites. When you have accounts with these sites and post things about the students. Here is where the water gets mucky. Facebook is a perfect example of this, think of all the data they sale? This is why children have to be 13 to join.

If you are ever unsure about these, take the 10 minutes and check the private policy of a website. Yeah no one likes the fine print but your job as an educator is to protect students and you need to be sure you do so. Better safe than sorry.

We Have To Stop Pretending #makeschoolsdifferent

This morning I was tagged in a tweet from Scott McLeod that linked to his new blog post named “We have to stop pretending.” In the post he listed 5 things in education that we, obviously, have to stop doing or ignoring. Then he tagged 5 people he challenged to write a post with their 5 things. This afternoon, Beth Still posted a great list and tagged me in it. So here is my list:

We have to stop pretending:

  • It is cute or funny to “not be techie.”  Pleading ignorance at the stake of children’s learning is not funny. Ever. Stop.
  • Technology is just an add on to the real learning. Technology needs to stop being an extra or a check list. Curriculum departments need to work with instructional tech departments to really integrate it into everyday learning. Like the pencil.
  • Standards, Curriculum, and actual Teaching are synonymous. Common core is not a new way of teaching math. Also, no matter how many times we get new standards, lazy teachers are going to be lazy teachers.
  • PD happens during a special day or planning period. PD needs to be personalized and sought after regularly by whatever means you are comfortable with. Principals should be leaders in this and help their teachers find new ways to learn.
  • 2 hours (or less) of science a week in elementary schools is enough. The US is ranked ridiculously low in science and math. Yet not much has been done about this even though STEM is a huge buzzword right now. Science and math need to be combined and taught daily.

Ok it was hard to just stop at five. Please know this is not written to be offensive, it is written to make you think.  Think about what can we do as an education community to increase student learning and make schools a better place for all kids.

Now the even harder part, who to tag. I think I am going to tag Jenna Shaw, Todd Nesloney, Craig Badura, John Spencer, and Michelle Wilson. What do you think we need to stop pretending? Don’t forget to tag #makeschoolsdifferent