There Are No Underdogs

I’m going to write this and it is not going to be easy. And if he was still alive he’d be so angry at me for writing it, but he left me here on earth with just memories so he gets no say. That “he” is Dean Taylor. He died Saturday morning in a car wreck. And he was my friend. My one of my best friends. He was also a dad that loved his son so much and a businessman always looking for investments. Dean was a school board member in my district, the board president at one time, which is why not many knew of our friendship, politics are blah. But it is funny, we became friends because he was always trying to learn more about education and always had questions, but in the end he taught me so much more.

You see, he was so proud to be a board member. Think of that one person that you know that puts their all into their job, that was him. He told me a few times that he went to a ribbon cutting one day and went to bed that night a politician. But more times than that he would say that he was there to make a difference. He was a dad and wanted for his son what every parent wants, but he had the position to make sure it happened not only for his son but for everyone’s sons and daughters. All 37,000 sons and daughters, as he would say. He would tell stories of how he was not supposed to be as successful as he was (he was a pretty successful businessman and never took it for granted) and he wanted every kid in the district to know that if he could do it, they could too. I would get so mad at him for putting himself down and he’d get mad at me for making that comment and say it isn’t about him. He was in the Air Force and would tell me stories from war and end by saying that God didn’t let him die because he was supposed to be there to fight for kids like him. Every single war story ended with that. He believed and he lived to complete that mission.

But here was the thing, while he was always about the “underdog,” he never once treated anyone as the underdog. He knew every single maintenance worker by name. Was actually became close friends with many of them. He would bring them water in the summer. He would mention them when telling me a story and act like I was weird because I did not know them.  He would compliment custodians on how clean their school was. He ate in a school lunchroom at least once a week, usually more, and would not only sit with the kids but compliment the staff on the great food. He went from unknown new school board member to in the press every week because when we had cut backs and the majority of secretaries in our district were going to lose their jobs, he fought until the cuts were rescinded.

He had this amazing ability to make whoever he was meeting feel like what they were saying was the most important. He was in the schools, all 56. He’d ask me everyday, “what school did you visit today?” And then “Did you talk to ___?” I’d answer then ask him the same. He was in the schools as much as me but had the gift of meeting so many more people when there. Those people were important to him. He let them know how important they were.

Dean coding robots with students at HMS.

Dean coding robots with students at HMS.

He made students feel the same way. I was looking through pictures today and saw the one above and could hear him asking the kids to explain how it works. A friend told me yesterday he was supposed to be at her school next week to talked to a group of boys that were always in trouble. He worried about those students more than any. He worried that too often we focused on the kids that were gifted or already college bound and left the rest behind. He would talk often about how he never had teachers that believed in him when in school. We always had that in common. One teacher even wrote in his yearbook about how he would not succeed. It crushed him, but mostly gave him the push to become the man he was. But he would say that he never wanted a student to feel that ever again. He wanted kids to have someone to believe in them. He wanted them to know that college was not always for everyone and that was ok. He was telling a class the other day that each of them could be anything they wanted, and he truly believed it.

He was always on a mission to help someone. He would do the kindest things but usually did them secretly. He would call me and ask what type of tech would a certain school needs because “rumor” was that a teacher was about to get it anonymously. That was him.

He was a huge supporter of STEM in schools. He knew that it would reach students that textbooks didn’t. We would talk STEM all day. He loved LEGOs. Like always had a LEGO minifigure in his pocket. He had 100s. So makerspaces were a natural draw for him. He loved it all from coding (he was the biggest supporter in my district for Hour of Code) to 3D printers. He was always trying to figure out how to get more in our schools and if you asked him why, he would talk about the importance of it and how it would reach all students. All students. That was important to him.

He’d be the first to admit when he was wrong. He would tell me over and over that if I ever blamed others, then I was still at fault. He told me all the time that I had to find my issues first then I could blame others, but by then I knew it was my fault. Oh he’d make me so mad making me face my demons. But then he’d congratulate me when I would figure it out. I don’t like the thought of this cheerleader being gone.

In his honor I am going to remember the underdogs. Who are not really underdogs, because he was proof that anyone can do anything. He was proof that drive and self confidence is all you need. He had both. And maybe fake glasses that made you look smarter.

Goodbye my friend. You told me that we were separated at birth and I was the crazy twin. I will miss my twin. Though I only got to know you for a little over a year, you left your mark on me and I will forever remember to continue your legacy and treat the custodian like the CEO to be the voice for students that don’t have one. Also, I hope God had a closet full of shoes for you. Oh and yes I wrote this on my Macbook just for you.

This was his favorite quote. Said it all the time in his best southern politician voice.

This was his favorite quote. Said it all the time in his best southern politician voice.

Are We There Yet?

I hate car trips. OK so I really hate. I love going places. I love vacations, quick trips, even business type trips. I even love hotels. People make fun of me often because I’m always moving from place to place.

It’s journey that drives me crazy. If I fly, something dumb will happen. Never fails. I can cause the entire Eastern seaboard to become stranded. The alternative, car trips. This weekend we decided, last minute, to go to Busch Gardens Tampa and Legoland in Orlando. The parks were a blast and the kids got time with their cousins, even though they see them few times a week. But I hate 9 hours each way in a car. I feel stuck. I feel confined. I read, or like now, write, but still not satisfying. While I’m in the car I want to scream. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I think since I’m in passenger seat, I need a drink at lunch. Don’t judge, I get edgy. And I usually don’t give in to that.

So why do I end up still taking the trips? Because tomorrow, I’ll forget the grueling part. I’ll just remember destination. Last weekend I went to beach and Mardi Gras in Mobile, 4.5 hour trip. On the way down there and back I swore off car trips. Yet 4 days later I agreed to a 9 hour drive to Florida. You forget the hard part and think of the satisfying part of the trip.

Seriously that quote is from Drake the rapper. You know, the dancing in a box guy. I researched it, and it's from a graduation commencement speech.

Seriously that quote is from Drake the rapper. You know, the dancing in a box guy. I researched it, and it’s from a graduation commencement speech.

Lately I’ve been talking with my PLN and so many of us are in frustrating situations professionally and some even personally. Myself included. But conversations, ah ha moments, and seeing things fall into places are making those frustrations and the long journeys starting to become a fading memory. Hopefully the destination is worth the journey, it usually is.

So those of you who are in the same place as me, stuck in a long car ride, we eventually will make it to where we want to go. And it makes getting there so much better. We learn so much as we go. You know all the quotes about learning being the journey not the destination, right? Yeah it is!! But know through those learning struggles, the outcome is worth every moment. And then it will be time to find a new road and start a new adventure! It too will be full of struggles and boring white dotted lines but worth it in the end. You’ll forget about the struggles that have now shaped who you are and remember the success.

Teaching Engineering is Not Scary!

I spend a lot of time talking to teachers about STEM and PBL. When we go through that process, I can usually almost predict what they will grasp onto and what they will shy away from. Teachers usually get really excited about the project part, the hands on math and science part. On the flip side they usually hate the idea of the “engineering” process. Mostly because it sounds scary. Engineers have a stereotype, one that STEM ambassadors like me are always trying to get rid of. To get them to understand the process and the ease of it, I usually have them do projects that involve it. But when they go back into the classroom I always worry if they have their kids prototyping or asking questions. For months I have been looking for materials that will help them not only get over the fear of “engineering process” but something they can go back to when planning lessons and units. I haven’t found much that would be helpful or not overwhelming.

During this search I was contacted by BloomBoard. They asked if I would be interested in a blogging campaign they are doing, I decided to check out their site. I loved it. BloomBoard is a place where educators can learn, share, and discuss the best teaching ideas to solve everyday classroom challenges and improve their practice. They have these Collections that teachers have curated based on different topics. I am joining over 20 other bloggers throughout the month of February, sharing Collections of learning resources on their blog and writing about how that Collection powers their practice. The Collections will either be ones the bloggers have curated themselves around a topic of interest or expertise, or just a favorite of theirs from the new BloomBoard.

The content at BloomBoard is high quality and easy to search through. I like that I can search my topic, and the topics are beyond just “math.” Topics that are part of today’s education world, for example: Educating the Whole Child, Critical Thinking, and Increasing Engagement. Good stuff, right? You can even earn “micro-credentials” that some districts would even count for PD credit.

So back to “engineering process.” As I was searching the site, I immediately looked up “STEM” and “PBL” as a topic. I came across this Engineering Can Be Easy collection. The resources are fantastic. The links in there have “Teaching NGSS Engineering Design Through Media” from PBS, Teach Engineering, which is a favorite site of mine, that has lessons for days, and others that are geared to elementary classrooms and even teachers. Putting these resources into one place, and having resources that are actually helpful, is wonderful and I am excited to share. I also loved how it was not overwhelming and it was easy for me to pick and choose what I wanted to look at.

Engineering Can Be Easy

If you are looking for STEM ideas, I recommend starting with this collection, then browse around the site! Also, check out the  BloomBoard Blog every Monday in February for the week’s schedule of bloggers and follow along daily on BloomBoard’s Facebook and Twitter.

 
The next blogger is the series is Ariana Morrow atTeachers42morrow. She is a a special education teacher in Texas.  She has taught students with learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, autism and other cognitive disabilities at both the elementary and middle school levels, delivered through co-teach, self-contained, redirect and alternative learning environment (also called specialized support) settings and models.

Every year that she has taught, she has been rated “Exceeds Standards” by the Texas Professional Development Appraisal System.  She  was a featured teacher in the Online Training Module for the Low Incidence Statewide Network, being honored with the opportunity to share successful classroom systems with other teachers in the state of Texas who work with students with low incidents disabilities.  She teaches adult education classes on lesson planning, behavior management, year-long pacing calendars, scheduling, curriculum accommodations, data collection, time management and organization for special education classrooms.  I’m currently creating a Down Syndrome 101 webinar for the Statewide Low Inccidents Disabilities Network, and she is updating and expanding the Monthly Instructional Guides for Region 3.

Which Turn Gets My Teachers to SAMR?

New year. I’ve missed my blog. I haven’t been making time to blog. I have a few reasons. But no matter my reasons, I know better. I preach over and over how important reflection is for learning and improving practice. Because I’m no longer in the classroom and my practice now includes adults and adult learning, I have fear my reflection will put my job at risk. A job I love and have worked hard for. But lately I feel stalled and I’m smart enough to know that lack of reflection is part of the reason. So I’m making a commitment to blog more this year. First one starting now.

As I said, I’m stalled. I feel like I’m going in circles. One year when I was in middle school my family went camping through Florida. We got stuck in Tampa. Actually we were outside Tampa in Pinellas County. I know that because they put the county name on everything. Being lost is my panic. Knowing that we were passing the same thing over and over and not driving so having no control drove me insane. I remember asking my mom why my dad wouldn’t just turn off the highway to any road. She told me it was because there were so many options he didn’t know which road would take him to St. Pete. Eventually my dad shared the map with my mom and I, we found our location and where we needed to go. After an hour of being lost, we found the way and in 10 minutes we were on St. Pete Beach. 

I’m in that circle. I don’t really know what will take me to the destination. I have ideas but I’m not sure which risk or idea will take me in the right direction.

The highway I’m stuck on is SAMR. SAMR is the level at which teachers integrate technology. Here’s a diagram that explains SAMR.

SAMR

The goal with SAMR is to get to the M and R. We want teachers not to just use technology as a substitution to lessons that are already doing but to change how they teach and use the tech to do so. I know that for tech to have maximum impact and for student learning to be most meaningful we need to have students creating, innovating, etc.

How am I, someone not in the classroom, stuck when it comes to SAMR? I’m stuck with the PD I do. I feel like I’m stuck teaching how to use the tech, the basics. Mostly Google Apps for Edu. I love Google and I know the importance of getting teacher buy in to get student use. My job title is “Instructional Technology Coach” and I feel that is my job, coaching teachers to use tech in instruction. But I’m at a place I’m stuck teaching the “how to” not the ways to use in instruction.

When lost and looking at map, you have to find where are located at the moment, then figure out what turns and detours are causing you to keep circling. So I sat down and made a list/diagram of what keeps getting me lost. You know, those roadblocks, excuses, issues, etc, that stand between you and the destination. I could list them all out, but who wants to read a list of complaints? So I put them on this map: (click on the pins if you want to read my roadblocks)

These are my reasons. They may be called excuses or whining but I needed to figure out what highways I’m circling, those are them. Now I can find them on the map I need to look for streets to turn on to go in a different direction. I have some ideas.

  • The easiest may be to stop asking principals to come to their school, but to schedule the school and PD. Makes it hard to get buy in or know exactly what they need but I’m desperate.
  • Make it so when I schedule a PD the school must schedule at least 2 follow up sessions. Schools that did this last year had high tech usage and I had good relationships with teachers there.
  • Start just showing up at schools and stop by classrooms during planning periods and ask what I can do to help. Ask teachers to share with me what they are teaching. As a former teacher, I’m worried that there may be push back did being that guy that is interrupting their planning time without notice.
  • And this is the hardest. I’m not sure if it would work. But I’m wondering if I could create a tech school type program. Create online and face to face courses that teachers can work their way through in cohorts within their school or feeder pattern. As teachers complete levels, they can get badges or incentives. I’m not sure how great the incentives would be. I wondered about sponsors for that but then we have strict laws about teachers getting things from vendors and companies. The main incentive would be the teachers would become experts in their schools. They would also get PD credit for the courses.
  • Or in the similar mindset have a series of challenges with apps and sites then have the teachers complete and post their challenges. Then we’d have a database of sort of lesson ideas for those apps/sites. We could have a prize for those finishing all the challenges and badges.

These are some of the roads I’m looking at. I’d love to hear what you have done and what did and didn’t work. Also I would hear feedback on the ideas above. Help me find the right direction. Hopefully just writing these will get my wheels turning. I’ve missed y’all. I’ve missed writing. I’m going to be brave and take the risk of being back online. Have a great start to 2016!

For more information on SAMR, check out Kathy Schrock’s Guide to SAMR and Blooms.

 

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.

55f91500c0273.image

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.

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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.

journey_to_mars

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:

observation

experimentation

Builds knowledge in form of testable:

explanations

predictions

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:

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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.