It’s a Struggle

Rigor. I hate that word. Reminds me of dead bodies. It has been a pretty popular word in education lately, especially since Common Core. It is a word many aren’t sure of the meaning. It’s definition is kind of the opposite of what kids endure on a regular basis. But even as much as I hate the word, I completely agree the idea behind it not only needs to be present in every classroom, but is something we cannot have STEM or any kind of advanced learning without.

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Last week I had a meeting and in that meeting it was brought up that a complaint (which I have had a lot of this year and it’s something I’m not used to) a parent had about my class is that the student was struggling and the parent did not want the kid to struggle. It has really stuck in my mind and I had been researching (because that is all I have done this year), thinking, and trying to play out in my head about learning and struggles.

I have written before about failure and it’s importance when learning, but the struggles are not something I have evert stopped and thought about.

I feel like I need to point this out to give you a background on my class -

1. I teach technology elective and there has been a lot of discourse over whether an elective should be an easy A class. I wish I did not have to give grades here so we could focus on the learning.
2. My class is really not that hard. Yes the technology is mostly something new, but it is not hard stuff. I have actually made sure that I could find 2nd and 3rd graders who have done the same.
3. This is my first year teaching the class. I had 2 weeks to prepare for it. I have had to write my curriculum as I teach it. I have re-written this said curriculum as I have seen what works and/or researched methods, which is probably at 100 times now.
4. This class is 90% PBL using authentic assessment.
5. Classwork grades are mostly based on kids successfully completing small portions of the projects by deadlines (give or take a few days). Classwork must be 20% of grade says my district higher ups.
6. Finished projects are graded on a huge spectrum from the research to the correct use of tech, not on just being pretty. This assessment grade is 70% of the grade.
7. This is the first time my students have had any experience with PBL.

Ok back to the post. Struggle. I love science and math. Struggle comes with science and math. The entire scientific method has to have struggle to even work. There must be variables, testing, and going back to test again. That is not a do ‘without thinking’ task. But are struggle and rigor the same thing? When I look up rigor is almost always defined as the depth of understanding, questioning, and application. So maybe these words are not synonymous. But I can’t help but think that you can’t have rigor if something is simple. It takes searching and testing for answers or to see if it works. To me that is a struggle. It is not something that is easy.  If you can do something the first time, did you really learn from it? If you can memorize it, are you learning it?

I read this article a while back and it has stuck with me. The title alone is “The More You Struggle with New Information, the More Likely You Are to Learn It.” It goes on the say that struggle is an essential part of learning. If that is correct, when we teach students to learn through rote memorization, are we helping or hurting? While searching for answers on this I came across this article from NPR about struggle in a Chinese classroom. It talks about a student who does not understand a math activity and the teacher makes him go to the board and do it in front of the classroom, and then talks about the class cheering for the student when he gets it right. No I would never do that in my classroom and I worry often if classrooms from the East are lacking in creativity but it has a point. The student had determination and then had a huge sense of accomplishment when he was done.

Look at sports. I love sports. I love watching. I was a cheerleading coach for years (yes it is a sport). My 8 year old daughter spends 5 hours a week in gymnastics class.  If she didn’t struggle, then she would not have to go but for an hour a week. I still know every motion to the “UCA All Star” cheerleading dance I learned in 10th grade. It was so hard and I was 2 years younger than the other girls trying out, I practiced more for that dance because I could not get it. (I did eventually and I made All Stars that camp.) But because of that struggle, it stuck with me. I was a better cheerleader for it. I’m a Bama football fan, if you know who Nick Saban is, I really don’t need to draw a parallel here.

But with all of this said, struggle cannot be the only factor and rigor does not mean hard. You can’t give extra work and make it harder and call it rigor. Struggle needs to just be a part of it. There needs to be fun. There needs to be student centered motivation. There needs to be the problem solving aspect. There needs to be some passion. It is just a part of the whole. Just like the PBL lesson it self, there has to be many parts to make a whole in the end. Without each part, the learning goals are not really met. I don’t know if I am hitting each part with every lesson. I try.

This school year I’m learning. I’m struggling. I have never struggled with curriculum before. I’ve never struggled with teaching the way I have this year. BUT I know I have learned so much. I know what works with PBL and middle school kids. I know what does not work as well. I hope my sharing with y’all these “struggles” I am learning from are helping y’all in some way. Someone called me an “expert” in PBL the other day and I laughed because I have had as many failures as successes this year. You should see my private journal! Ouch! But I looked back on a PD session I was asked to give last summer on PBL, if I gave it again tomorrow, not much would be the same. There is a huge difference between having that text book knowledge of something you did 2 or 3 times a quarter and something you do everyday. I knew what PBL was, how to do it, etc, but now my knowledge is so much deeper and clearer.

If life is easy, we do not learn from experience. We would not be able to take that experience when harder things come our way. We have to find a way to give our students these experiences. We have to find a way to do it while encouraging as well. We have to celebrate the successes that come from that struggle. I think that part is forgotten. I have had so many successes in my classroom this year, but no one calls the principal about those or send me an email about how awesome their child’s website is. I know how that feels, so I know I have the goal of always pointing out the success that comes from the struggle with my students. Just like the story of the classroom in China, they celebrated when he got it. A “good job on ___” can go such a long way. The struggle cannot be the finish, just the path to get there. That means I have a finish line this year, right?

More links I like about rigor and learning through struggle:
Rigor: What Does It Really Mean?
Thoughts on the Meaning of Rigor
We Learn and Grow Through Struggle
Rigor Redefined

What is a Great Teacher?

So this question has been plaguing me over the last few months. We all strive to be the best at what we do. But what I get stuck on is what is the best?  What makes a teacher successful/great/etc?

Are the most successful teachers ones who’s kids make A’s and B’s?  Grades suck.  I hate them. I wish I could just write a letter saying “Your kid did all that was asked, followed the criteria, and understood the material” or “You child never turned in any work or attempted to do anything other than argue in class. He seemed to understand the concepts but I have no way to prove it.” But like them or not I have to give them. So are those teachers whose majority of students make perfect grades better than those who have grades across the spectrum? Is a whole class of A’s good or too easy and not pushing the students?  We learn more through struggle, right?  So is this good? Or on the flip side, if kids have low grades because of lack effort, is that a reflection of the teacher?  What if the district has a grading scale that puts too much emphasis on assessments or benchmarks? I bet if I gave worksheets, had kids read from book and gave tests on it, my kids would make A’s. You wanted your kid in that class?

Are they the teachers who are nominated for awards? Or national board certified?  Do these things make you a better teacher. Maybe at some point. I just know people who I think “Why are you here? You hate kids.” but they have that certification. Does that teacher in your school who gets nominated every year as TOTY that much better than you?  And if so are they helping others to be as great as they seemed to be?

Are they the ones who are good at self promotion online? Those social media “stars” (insert sarcasm there) that tweet in every chat available. Those that tell everyone they are the best. Are they better?  Are they any different than teachers not online everyday who seem to rock?

How do we measure if we rock or suck?  By parent emails?  What those parents are saying about the teacher at the ballpark? By behavior of students that we have no control of 23 hours of the day?  By how much time they put into what they do?  Is it pedagogy?  Because if you are doing blooms correctly and hitting higher learning skills, kids aren’t going to always make A’s. Is it how much their students actually learn, not based on grades?  I read something the other day that when summed up said that as long as you care for the kids and loved them, it didn’t matter if they learned content. Does that really make you a better teacher? That’s kind of a scary thought. Is it the teacher always using technology with students VS the teacher who only turns on computer to check email and post grades? Is one better because preparing kids for their world or is one better because kids still learn the content?

I have no idea the answer to this. It is been driving me crazy. I just want to be the best at my job but I’m none of those. My kids don’t have all A’s. I just want them to finish something and turn it in so I can grade it some days. I just want them to learn, and OMG at what they have learned this year, but that isn’t good enough, to be great, is it? I don’t have any awards. I’m not a national board certified teacher. I tweet out my blog post but I get very embarrassed when I need to self promote, I have a panic attack writing bios and resumes because feel weird bragging. If parent emails suggest, I suck. Behavior has driven me nuts this year. Not usually an issue for me. Disrespect when you try to show respect us hard. Pedagogy is a strong point for me. But being PBL class this year has caused most of the hate mail and kids never experiencing it not to make A’s. So I know I am using really good pedagogy, but I’m so close to just giving them all A’s and letting them play games all class so I won’t be measured as a failure. I used tech, but who knows. And I really do care for my kids, even that 1% I smile when they aren’t there because I know no one will hijack my class.

So what makes a good teacher?  What makes a sucky teacher? I wish I knew. I’m kind of good at doing what I’m supposed to, but I don’t know what that is anymore. I just want my kids to learn. And learn stuff they can use for a life time. But that may not be successful. What do you think? How would you classify great teachers?

A Connection Via a Sea Star

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So it started with this little guy yesterday. We were on the beach enjoying spring break and I ran my son back to the house. When I returned to the beach my daughter brought me this. As someone on instagram pointed, what happens when you breed a starfish with a snake. As the day went on, hundreds start washing up on the beach.  They were such unique creatures I took as many pictures and videos as I could. I took this video and posted to Instagram (from there to Twitter and Facebook).

From there I got tweets and replies asking what they were. In the mean time I’m on Google looking for these starfish. I tried Google Goggles, at least 30 different search terms, using every Boolean trick in the book, and I find nothing.

Meteorologist Jason Simpson, who used to be in Birmingham but has since moved to Huntsville, retweeted and posted to his Facebook page asking if anyone knew what they were. A lot were telling him brittle stars. Now it’s been a long time since I took island ecology (I got to take that in the Bahamas for my biology credit, can’t beat that class) but I do remember the difference between brittles and starfish had to do with rows of legs and the eyes at end of legs. But I looked it up just to make sure. When looking it up I came across this blog about starfish. Well all kinds of echinodermata, it’s called EchinoBlog. Looked on the blog for a moment and didn’t see my sea star.

After hours of searching I had to stop and be Mom. This morning I went back to looking. Tried new searches. I kept coming across the EchinoBlog. So I go to the site and see that the author, Christopher Mah, has a Twitter account. Thought I’d take a chance and tweet him the picture. Less than an hour later he sends me this link. The starfish is a banded sea star.

You see I’ve spent my life at the beach, I’ve taken classes about sea life, I teach earth science, and I teach kids how to Google things but I still had no idea. I’m not A starfish expert. I don’t accept not knowing something, I get obsessed with finding answers. But I was overwhelmed by not finding. If someone had tweeted me a question about edtech I’m sure if I didn’t know the answer I could find it quickly. I’m an expert in that field. Just like Christopher Mah is a starfish expert.

Sometimes we send our students out into the world wide web with just a few Google skills (which are so important). We forget that connecting them with experts could start a dialogue and learning can go even deeper. Often we are so afraid of social media we don’t forget the positives that can come with it. They need to learn to look for blogs from experts and use the “contact” section to connect.

Sometimes we need reminders of things we already know and this was a reminder for me.  Below I’ve listed some links I have bookmarked in the past and haven’t thought about looking back up. Use connections and teach kids how to make connections wisely for learning.

Connecting Experts To Your Classroom

Skype in the Classroom

Sparking Student Interest in STEM By Bringing Industry Experts into the Classroom

How To Redefine Your Classroom By Connecting Students

Kindergarten Tweets with Weather Experts

Find Someone Else to Blame, Leave Barbie Out of It.

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Dear media,
Stop blaming Barbie for girls feeling like they don’t have choices for careers. Apparently we are out news stories. But let me ask, how often do you feature women doing remarkable things in their field? Or have women as your head meteorologist? We can blame schools who give 2 electives “choir for the girls.” We can blame parents. How often do moms come home from work talking about what they did that day? Their successes and failures? If you are a stay-at-home mom do you take your children to see you work with charities and make a difference in your community? Do you take your daughter to the mall more than museums? What do you watch on TV, princesses AND shows about animals? Do you praise their intelligence as much as beauty?  Look at your facebook posts.  I just asked my son what a scientist looked like. He said “a girl or boy in a lab coat.”

Barbie is not a problem. Definitely not the problem. I’m a huge Barbie collector. I have a ’84 Peaches and Cream still in  box. But I also have astronaut, Air Force, and President Barbie. She’s a successful single woman.   She has a new book “I can be a Computer Scientist.” I teach science and tech every day in heels and dresses, just like Barbie. Who cares if I’m girly in pink if I’m smart and successful. I’d wear tiara everyday if I could but I could read the html of this page at same time. My most successful technology students are drop dead gorgeous girls. Who cares if their Legos are pink if they can out build you. Leave Barbie out of this.

Rant done. Going back to breakfast and my favorite Barbie cup.

STEM – CCSS – CCRS – NGSS Are Letters That Can’t Spell Anything Without PBL

So my last post was on project based learning. Since then I have received a lot of comments, encouragement (thank you, much needed!), and questions. One of the questions that keep coming up is how hard it to justify moving to PBL and STEM in the days of common core. I find that question funny because PBL is the only way I can think of making sure I meet CCSS (or in my state CCRS, we aren’t a common core state) across the curriculum. If I was just teaching a basic “How to use a computer” type class without using PBL/authentic assessment I wouldn’t be hitting almost every ELA anchor standard and I definitely would not be meeting many of the math standards.

Even more important to me as a science teacher (yeah I still teach one science class a day) with instructional technology degrees are the ISTE Standards for Students and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I don’t wants to just meet the first ISTE-S in each section, I want to meet all of them. If you look at them, moving from a-d moves up to higher levels of learning. With authentic assessment and PBL, we are meeting those higher ones. Also, I feel like I’m doing a better job hitting the NGSS in my STEM/Tech class than I am in my science class. The NGSS have a lot of focus on “STS,” which stands for “science, technology, and society,” and the interdependence of science, tech, and engineering. I talk about this often, you throw math in there and you really cannot have one without the other. The MakerSpaces movement lines up with these so perfectly, I cannot see how there could be an argument against them. I love how the storyline for the middle school engineering standards state “By the time students reach middle school they should have had numerous experiences in engineering design.” Looks like STEM needs to start earlier than middle level. Also, it doesn’t say “gifted students” (who usually get that experience) it says “students.”  Not science is the last on the list with social studies, that engineering design (as well as other scientific concepts) needs to be experienced.  Ok went on a little side step there. Back to standards.

I’m sure I can say this all day but some examples of standards I have used this year:

ELA Reading Anchors:

  • Analyzing texts that address similar themes and topics
  • Analyzing point of view
  • Summarizing key details
  • Cite textual evidence
  • Integrate and evaluate similarities using content presented in diverse media formats

ELA Writing Anchors:

  • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of text or topics
  • Use tech to produce and publish writing to interact and collaborate with others
  • Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation (If that is not inquiry based PBL, I really don’t know what is!)
  • Gathering information from digital sources. Assess credibility and accuracy while avoiding plagiarism.
  • Writing over long periods of time and shorter time frames (this has probably been the hardest of anything else).

Math Standards:

  •  Attend to precision
  • Use appropriate tools strategically
  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively
  • Represent and interpret data
  • Analyze decisions and strategies using problem solving concepts
  • Solve real world problems involving area, surface area, and volume
  • Represent and analyze relationships between dependent and independent varibles
  • Develop an understanding of statistics variably
  • Summarize and describe distributions
  • Use random sampling to draw inferences about a population

Next Generation Science Standards (Middle School):

  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Developing and using models
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
  • Engaging in arguments from evidence
  • Evaluating and design solutions to determine if something meets criterias
  • Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  • And these don’t even get into the specific content standards!

I’m sure there are more, but these are just some. The thing is, CCSS/CCRS/NGSS are more performance based than content based. According to Google performance means “the action or process of carrying out or accomplishing an action, task, or function.” There is a product that comes with that action or task. Again, authentic assessment and PBL is not about the content or the finished product but the action, task, or function. It is why we look at the project as a whole, from beginning to end. These standards start from the beginning with the questions and research and end with designs and arguments. The data, evaluating, problem solving, reading, writing, etc, all fall in between. So like I said before, I cannot imagine teaching these new standards without PBL, how is that even an argument?

Authentic Assessment, It’s Real, Y’all!

So lately I’ve been spending too much time defending or explaining my teaching style. It’s exhausting, discouraging, and, to be honest, just down right annoying. I feel like a broken record some times.  But I understand that when you do something different, you have to do it. I think the most frustrating part is that it’s different. It really should not be. By the time kids are in 6th grade, project based learning (PBL) and authentic assessment (AA) should be something that has been experienced several times. So I wonder, do educators know what PBL and AA really are. I know that most parents don’t and they really don’t know the why behind using such methods. Since I’m constantly going over this, I’m going to share it. (Plus this will help me to put all in writing while not feeling like I need to be defensive.)

What is Authentic Assessment?
Authentic assessment is when students are giving a real-world task or have to demonstrate their knowledge of something. I love Wikipedia’s definition, it says the measurement of “intellectual accomplishments that are worthwhile, significant, and meaningful.” I love those key words! Think about it, at some point in your lifetime you took a test that you crammed for and totally passed it, but later on you could not recall a thing. Let’s think back to high school algebra. More than likely you memorized the slope intercept formula just so you could solve for x, y, or m. If the teacher pulled out pattern blocks and made you work backwards to find the slope intercept formula you probably then grasped the whole idea it’s all about patterns. But you probably still are thinking “why do I need to learn this? I won’t be drawing graphs in real-world.” But the moment you have to figure out your monthly phone bill when they charge a monthly $25 fee then $0.10 per text message, ahhhhh now you see how it and the patterns work. But more than likely your grade came from a test focused on just that problem you memorized.  You probably still know y=mx+b, but you don’t think to whip it out when renting a car that charges a rate then additional per mile. Authentic Assessment goes much deeper than figuring out your phone bill, but see the different types of learning and application?

In my class students are given projects that have more meaning than “make a PowerPoint.” Let’s use PowerPoint for example. Y’all know my hate-hate relationship with the program, but it is a state technology standard. So for their two PowerPoint projects, the first one was to make an interactive game on the topic of choice. The second they had to use results from a survey they created to do marketing research on an ‘emerging technology’ they researched during their Word projects, and form conclusions and present them to the company using charts, data, etc, and the slides had to use the CRAP designing method. Real-world learning. I could just grade them on making a tacky PowerPoint, but the learning would just stop there, and seriously no one wants to see 100 cheesy slide transitions.

Also, with Authentic Assessment, you don’t just grade a finished product. There are steps, checklist, rubrics, that are part of the assessment. There is conferencing with each student through out the process. They have to reflect and meet deadlines. I can usually tell who isn’t going to finish on time a week before due date bc not meeting deadlines. So they learn to manage time, to reflect, to follow multi-step instructions, to converse with adults (not just one telling them what to do), look at strengths and weaknesses, work with others (that’s huge in middle school), as well as practice real world projects. It can be tiring on the teachers side. Its not something where you give an assignment and just chill, especially when you have almost 30 students to a class. Also it’s pretty heart breaking after all the conferencing and walking students what they need to do to complete a project and they still don’t turn it in.

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So Why Use Authentic Assessment?
I may ask myself this multiple times a day. There is a lot of push back. Kids don’t always wanted to follow the multiple step instructions, parents get angry because kids grades are a lot different than they were when could just memorize answers, there is a lot of work on my end, grading (and regrading stuff turned in weeks and weeks late), planning, meeting with students all day (some days the 5 minutes I have in the lunchroom is only time I sit), etc. So why? Because I know it’s what’s best. Go back to the slope formula and real world uses. I remember when my dad was getting his pilot license, he had to do three different things, have so many hours with an instructor, so many hours solo, take a written test, and then pass a test flying with an instructor. Would you really want to get in a plane with someone who didn’t do one of the four? And if you got into a plane with someone who passed the bare minimum of one of the regulations, would you rather it be the flight with the instructor or the written test? Is rather none but it’d choose the city one who can fly the instructor not one who can bubble in correct answers. Wouldn’t you? On those days I want to just give up and let them play video games and just give them an A to make everyone happy I remember how important these skills are. Just time management alone is huge for a 6th grader. So I keep on. I get back up, I dust myself off, and I send one more letter home explaining the grading and readjust the assignments. Because my students’ future depends on it. If I have the to teach them skills that will have them not only college ready but career ready, why would I? So parents don’t get it, I don’t get why my grocery store doesn’t put razors on the aisle with the soap, but I don’t complain to Publix CEO or store manager and I am sure they have reasons. I don’t have experience in the grocery store market even though I shop there a few times a week. And I’m sure if I complained, it would still not be with the soap on my next trip. I know authentic assessment is the most effective way to assess my class. And I know and see students learning so much more than things they could memorize. And I hope more teachers move passed push back of change when it comes up. Someone needs to for our children. For my own child. There is so much for them to learn beyond textbooks and we only have a short time to do so.

The Long Road Home

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So #edustranded has now taken on a new meaning today. I have guilt and I’m thankful. Today snow started while at school. They decided to let us go home an hour and half later. Well kind of. Many coworkers got heck out of dodge. I thought about it because my youngest needed to be picked up. But my oldest was on a bus heading to the school. So I waited for her. The phone lines were jammed and so for 2 hours I waited for her bus to make the 3 mile ride to our school. Seeing her get off that cold bus was the best feeling ever.

They asked for volunteers to stay until parents got the rest of the kids, some from elementary school, get picked up. My dad at that time showed up in his 4×4 truck to get me. My youngest has breakdowns when a parent is gone and I knew his dad was already not going to make it home so I just wanted to get to him.

You see this amount of snow was not predicted. In Alabama we don’t have salt trucks, snow plows, etc.  We have sand trucks but they didn’t get there until after roads iced and could not get to the roads because thousands had already hit the roads and wrecks or not able to get up mountains.

So it’s 9 pm and about 10 of my coworkers and 20 students are sleeping at school. Target being awesome walked pillows and blankets. McD’s walked over food. I have about 10 more facebook friends who are sleeping at school with their students. Thousands are stranded at schools in our area. Their teachers stayed with them. They probably could have left, but they stayed. They are their taking care of children. Because that’s what teachers do.

I’m still not home. I can’t get up the mountain to my house. My children and I are staying. My poor dog was fed this morning hope she eats sparingly. And keeps the puddles to a minimum. I feel bad about complaining about clean undies while my coworkers are on floors and in same clothes from today.

I read an article today about someone complaining about teachers having snow days,  wish I could find the link. Next time you think teachers work 8-3 and are over paid and lazy (said guy from Philly I was next to on flight to #educon last weekend) or that we only work 180 days a year, remember there are parents separated from their children and teachers are giving them peace tonight.

Top 10 Things I Learned in Tech Class

So I always push that if you can’t be honest about ups and downs in your blog, then don’t blog. Write articles for magazines or something if you can’t be completely honest. So here I am, open. I have just finished my first semester teaching this technology class. I learned from my failures first 9 weeks and totally revamped 2nd 9 weeks. And I have learned a whole lot, some of which I can change and make into positives, some things I know work and will keep doing, and somethings I cannot change and not sure how to avoid. So I have made a Top 10. Top 10 Things I Learned in Tech Class.

10. I will never make parents happy.

No matter what I do, how bad I try, it is my fault. Or as I was told last week, “I’m incompetent.” I tried so hard to make everyone happy last 9 weeks with more traditional approach. They were angry I had to give a grade in technology class and it was “ridiculous they had to spend time at home” on the class. So this 9 weeks, nothing went home, everything in class, and I taught it my way. I got the “why can’t they just do it at home?”

9. Project Based Learning is exhausting when it comes to grading. (I have to give grades so don’t waste your time arguing with me on this because will straight up ignore you, I like getting a pay check, so I will give grades.)

So when you have 130 projects to grade, OMG! Takes me forever. I am getting emails I’m not grading fast enough but I am seriously trying. When things are digital, it is definitely harder to grade. You have to “open” or download each file. Even when in groups, it still takes a while.

8. Sixth graders respond better to PBL.

They work hard and take pride in their work. They are quiet. They work together. Was sick last week, my coworkers were able to let kids go to lab, work and just have someone monitor and they worked, they worked hard, without me.

7. If you put middle school kids in pairs or groups, you must give them an assignment that is easier than the assignment would be is done individually.

I have always done this, but the last few weeks have reiterated it to me. Don’t think “since in groups, I’m going to make it harder” or “this is hard activity, I’ll put them in groups.” Yes eventually they will be better at team work and learn to bounce ideas back and forth and prove that two minds are better than one. But with sixth graders, life is drama. They end up spending more time trying to figure out how to work together, the project takes second fiddle, so to say.

6. Schedules and Plans are laughable.

Oh good grief I just want to stick to plan. I gave kids a time management plan. Well that ticked parents off, why can’t they just turn it in when ever they want or finish?? It ticked me off because they refused to follow so a simple Word doc (learning Office is in state standards for them, they were clueless, don’t judge, I got it all done so we can move on to real technology) took weeks longer because day it was due, they were still researching and looking for pictures. KILL ME NOW. I’m learning, give them a day, they don’t start until the day it is due anyway. Ok maybe won’t do that, but time management is a HUGE skill lacking that they need to learn. I think I am going to make them fill out their own check list now. Have them grade it themselves and see what is missing. Also, you can plan all day, but you can’t plan for you as the teacher to have to take a sudden trip, sickness, death in family. Happens, throws everything off.

5. Kids don’t remember to Google when there is a teacher.

I’m not going to always be there, so this is skill I’m really going to focus on. They forget how to do something they immediately want you to tell them. Nope, I want you to try to look it up. Not answers to questions as much as actually doing something. Going to have to work more on this. Maybe Google a Day needs to make more appearances. I’m not sure.

4. Digitally turning in work is hard for 6th graders.

Completely a new skill for them. Edmodo does a stinky job helping with this. If the assignment needs an attachment, but they just click “turn in,” it tells them they have turned it in. But they didn’t. So have to be really careful. Make them “open” the file to check. It got better as the 9 weeks went on. Thank goodness. Just remember this is new for them. You have to keep checking and reminding them. And yes they forget how every time, just go back over it.

3. Teaching a tech class in a computer lab with no projector is hard.

There is a huge disconnect when kids have to walk across the hall to the lab from the classroom where skill was taught. Even with notes, screenshots, etc. It becomes hard. I just have to buy the projector mount. I have a projector and even a IWB but no mount. So with money I could be buying 2 engineering kits, I’m buying a mount :(

2. Give kids choice.

They rock this. I gave kids a choice of 13 emerging technologies to choose from and they surprised me with their choices and you could tell the ownership because their choices were something they were somewhat interested in. I gave them complete control of the choice of their interactive ppt game or movie and all but one of 130 kids chose really good stuff. And since I let them choose I did not criticize their choices. Some did video games that may have some violent parts. We talked about how to make it tasteful. They did amazing jobs on this. I may could go the rest of my life not having to hear about Jameis Winston and how he is kin to them or friends with a cousin (he is from the area and I love how that gave me flash backs of growing up in this area and hearing the same stories about Bo Jackson) but they did amazing jobs with this!

1. It is HARD writing a curriculum as I go.

I had 2 weeks to plan before school. So I drew a timeline. That was pretty much all I got to do before diving in. The KIDS and admin have been patient while I feel around and fumble. I mentioned the parents thoughts already. I am not completely satisfied with how I am doing. I wish like heck I was doing a better job. There have been so many success and realization of what is working but also I see what doesn’t and it is too late because time has been spent on it. I have many wishes, like more supplies, enough computers for every student, etc. I feel bad giving kids grades for my trial and error so a lot gets tossed or grades get round up like 10 to 20 points (lol). If I get a chance to do this next year, I know what is not working, what is working, etc. I wish I could set up this class in other schools in this district now I know what works. Next semester is going to be a huge challenge because I’m not even close to being an expert at engineering, makerspaces, and design thinking. Research has been on going. I am lacking HUGE in funds. Only 10% of my students paid their class donations and I can’t make it mandatory. This is going to be a huge challenge, just getting Legos and play-doh will be stretching funds. I still want LEGO Mindstorms BAD so if you know anyone that can help, please send info.

So that is my list. I have a lot to learn. My kids have learned a lot. I see it often. I have had so many ups and downs. The ups make it worth it. Next semester is a lot of STEM. This is huge passion of mine so I am looking forward to it. Only “tech standards” left are website building and video editing. I think we are going to mix that with design thinking and start mixing that in. I think we may be more successful since we will have more “learn by playing” this semester. If I had to give myself a grade for this class so far. I’m looking at pros and cons and averaging, I’d say a C. Hey, a C in middle school isn’t too bad, right? Middle school kids grades always bottom out first semester. We have parent meeting warning about that. Soooo looks like I’m on track! Ha!

Happy Holidays to all! I’m a little behind wishing that but Happy New Year!  

What Exactly IS Science? and Math? Is That What is Being Taught?

This is my first year to teach technology after 5 years of science and 3 years of math before that. I’ve had a lot on my mind about STEM and the connection of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math part. Even throw in an “A” for Arts and make it STEAM. To me they can all fit together seamlessly. Think about it. Science is this ongoing process of testing knowledge, it test the “unknown” as well as the “known.” Math is that “known” science of space, quantity, and numbers. In my tech class our definition of technology is having scientific knowledge, skills, or tools to perform or improve a task. We discuss how only 1/5 of tech is actual hardware, rest is that knowledge and skill. Lastly, engineering is the combination of math and science to design real world solutions. The “A” in STEAM focuses on the art of the design. So no way you can argue these do not fit together.

Now lets look at it from a classroom perspective. Look at a school day. A typical math classroom. A typical science classroom. Maybe a computer lab class. Do they fit together seamlessly? Look at standards, benchmarks, and standardized tests. Are they completely separate? Does the science class fit the definition above about “ongoing process of testing knowledge?” Are math classes focused on just the number part or all three listed above? Do technology labs focus on learning hardware or scientific knowledge and skill? Is that skill tangible? Do you use all of these skills to design and build? Well if you live by standards, probably not. If your students have to take benchmarks that are pure memorization or formulas, probably not. I can be as guilty of this as the next guy. It’s hard not to fall into that trap. Benchmark asks “which biome __?” You fall into “here is the facts…” Be science is not facts, knowledge yes, facts, no. When I taught math “memorize this formula” not “take info and ___.”

So here is what is the problem. School and real definitions do not match. Matching is a 1st grade (or was when I taught first grade) math skill, so we all should know how to do it. I could sit here all day and point fingers and say we need it to be __ way. But common sense tells us, “we ain’t doin it right.”

This month the 2012 PISA scores came out. PISA measures scholastic achievement in math, science, and reading in nations around the world, and ranks them by comparison. According to the rankings, the US fell below average in science and math. *sigh* People want to blame teachers, poverty, etc. Please don’t blame teachers. Teachers are told “teach __” those blanks do not usually match those definitions of science or math mentioned above. Students are tested on __. Those skills tested do not match the definitions above. So of course when we are assessed on our global knowledge of science and math we are not really “doing” math or science.

This past week was Computer Science Education Week. During this week there was a big push for all students to spend one hour this week coding. The Hour of Code was promoted by everyone from President Obama to Mark Zuckerburg. But for every teacher who had students participate I have to wonder how many teachers did not because “it didn’t fit the curriculum.” When looking through information about Hour of Code I heard coding called “the one thing not taught in schools.” I first I wondered why then realized, duh, there is no “standard” that says “Learn to code” and so often if it is not on the benchmark test or written word for word in the standards we feel like we can’t spend time on it. I’m sure many teachers thought it was insane to waste an hour on it this week. But that idea has got to change. I saw a lot of praise that half of US students participated in Hour of Code, that is so exciting, but what about that other half? Half is not acceptable. But it is a start.

The technology and engineering takes those math and science skills makes them practical. It brings them out of the text books and off the paper and into real life skills. The state I live in does not follow Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we have College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS) so I’m not 100% sure what all the CCSS are, but when I look them, and the CCRS, I see these math abstracts that are right on with higher level Blooms domains using words like “model” and “reason” but then you see the standards and we are back to “understand” and “solve.” When you have all these basic levels it is hard to focus on the higher level skills, ones you know may not be on the multiple choice test. This is why STEM needs to be in place in schools. It allows for the “create” and “evaluate” domains to come first. It allows for taking that basic and giving it a place for practical use. This week my state announced that computer science will now be accepted as a high school math elective. This is definitely a step forward to the matching and combining. The state superintendent Bice put it perfectly “These courses are rigorous and are an innovative way to teach our high school math curriculum. In these courses, students will learn the core concepts of mathematics, but they will go one step further and apply these concepts to real-world situations.” Ta-da! That’s what we need!

When it comes down to it, I wish STEM programs were not a separate class or after school program. I wish it was a huge few hour combo of math and science. We need to stop separating it. We need to have “standards” that stop with these nit-picky skills instead of knowledge. When we teach these classes, we need make this a focus. We heard over and over about tech integration, but lets make that tech integration more than “google your answer.” Let that tech me the 4/5 of technology that is not exactly tangible. Let’s take that knowledge and design and create to support it.

Lastly, this video was recorded in 1996. It is of Carl Sagan an advocate for science and science education who died in 1996. He was a little radical but this video did a pretty good job predicting science education.