Where Do You Go From the Soap Box?

So it happened. Now what? When we push for things for years and all of a sudden it starts to become the norm, what are our next steps? Do we move on to something else “new” or still stand on the “soap box.” Or are there other options? I think there are other options and that is where I will head next.

Let me explain what the heck I am talking about. Five (almost 6!) years ago I joined Twitter. It took me about 4 or 5 months to really catch on but once I did my teaching and learning changed forever. Since then I have been on a mission to teach others about the power of being a connected educator. It has been a long road, I can remember doing a session on using twitter at a conference and only 10 people showed up. Even worse, one of the 10 was a principal in my district that called my principal to complain I was telling people to meet strangers online. I remember my first ISTE and clicking on the hashtag #ISTE10 and knowing every single person posting in the search. Not so much anymore. It is the norm for districts to have “chats” and have leaders online connecting with others. I read a report from Twitter the other day that educators make up the largest group on twitter (once I find that link, I forgot to bookmark, I’ll post it), we are to that point that we have preached about for years. But now what? I really miss that intimate space I used to have on twitter but I like that education is moving forward quickly.

Another soap box I have been on for about two years now is STE(a)M and Makerspaces. I wrote this post in March 2013 about the need of these in school and how this will get STEM into the schools and classrooms. While at ISTE this year, Makers and STEM were the key words I heard over and over. Last year I had to search for sessions on these topics and this year I had to decide which one I wanted to go to. It is fantastic. I am so excited and relived that this is something that others are now seeing the importance of. I love hearing how others are using this across the curriculum, something I have been talking to teachers about all spring and summer.

So what now? My two big soap boxes are no longer needed. What I have been pushing for and have worked so hard to get the word out on is now the norm. Where do I, and the so many others like you who have been pushing for things we know are essential to education go from here? No where. We are still the experts. We are no longer just passionate about this, we are experts. So now we need to take that expertise and guide the others. We know where it leads, they are just putting their toes in and wading around. We need to be their tour guides. We need to give advice, hold their hand, listen. We need to learn from those who are new. We need to tell others we are here for them when they do mess up or need that advice. So often I worry about those that are only a year or two into social media and have jumped to “twitter fame.” Without connections, it will fizzle out pretty quickly, I have seen it several times. We should be there supporting and connecting with them before that happens. We also need to keep moving forward. technology and social media are changing every day. Those of us on Twitter 4 or more years ago have seen this, those of us who had people look at us like we are crazy for pushing “making” in an everyday classroom understand pushback. Lets use those leadership skills as well as our knowledge of this for moving forward.

I don’t know what the next ‘soap box’ will be and I may be too tired to jump on, but wow it is incredible to see that soap box I was on so long is no longer that, it is now the ground floor with everyone else. It is awesome that movements that my friends/colleagues and I have have pushed for so long be something that is accepted and popular. Gives me hope that when something is right, it will work if we keep believing in it. And if not, we all learned something from Google Wave, right?

Hope y’all are having a fantastic summer!

Summer is for Reflection and Relaxing

So I’ve been out of school for a week now and I’ve been wanting to write a post to reflect on this year over the last two weeks but I’ve been so busy that it has yet to happen. And then there is the deal of when I start one in my head its either too much or not enough to make a whole post on. So I’m going back to what I did at midpoint of the school year, a top 10 list of what I’ve learned the last week of school and the first week of summer break. I’ll try to keep it short, I’ll try. Here goes :

10. Relaxing is not laziness.
Last week I had so much to do but I took the time Monday to have a long lunch with my daughter then on Wednesday I got my “hair did” which was much needed. Both times I felt like I needed to work or picked up my phone to work. Luckily I stopped myself. We need breaks. We need to stop and enjoy the life we have.

9. Reflection is important.
Don’t just end the year thinking “that was good” or “that sucked.” Look back through the year, what worked, what didn’t. You can’t grow without reflection. Use data in that reflection. No matter what I reflected on I didn’t feel like I was successful this year. But when putting together the evidence of my end of year professional plan we have to do here in AL I saw data and I saw my successes.

8. You are not the failure you think you are. And when you do fail, learn from it, then share the knowledge.
Friday night I saw the movie “Mom’s Night Out.” The whole point was a mom going through all the stresses that women, especially southern women who have to smile and not have moments and be perfect 24/7, go though. This past year I have gone through a lot in my classroom. I’ve never felt like such a failure in my life. Usually I wouldn’t care. The last two years have really taken a lot out of me. I’ve lost all my confidence in myself as a teacher. It hurts. I’ve never had insecurities like I have and I let that control me sometimes. But in all of this, I looked at the data I kept up with throughout the year and saw what worked. I’ve taken that and tried to share this with y’all. Half of my PBL presentation last week was on “what I did wrong and how I changed it.” Why let others make your same mistakes?! I also learned others outside your situation see you a lot different. Being nominated for a Bammy floored me. I still don’t think I deserve that nomination but wow can I say humbled?!

7. You are your soul not your body.
Whether you’re like me fighting health issues or you have everyday physical insecurities, that is not what defines you. Changes have to be made to keep your body healthy but never let them stop you.

6. Social media can destroy faster than it builds.
I saw this first hand this week. I everyday is just part of our story, so we need to keep writing it when we’ve been torn down, so chin up. But please everyone, think before you post. Think about everyone affected. Never use the “I’m not naming names” comment but give enough details that everyone can guess. Just don’t. Think.

5. Yes, we are all entitled to a bad day, but keep it to yourself.
One bad day, one “having a moment,” one lashing out can destroy everything you’ve worked for. I have no advice for when it has happened but when you have insecurities or hurt, keep it to yourself until you have calmed down. You can’t take it back. You can only apologize so much. But damage is done. And that hurt is worse than anything else. One day can destroy the most important thing in yout life. Also, on the flip side, if someone hurts you on that bad day, be forgiving.

4. Don’t be just a presentor.
Many of you that read my blog go to conferences and present. When you do, take the time to meet people who are in your sessions. Make sessions have time for people to get to know those around them. Met some pretty cool people that I learned so much from in my sessions at #AETC2014 last week. I met a STEM teacher from a private alternative school who drove his hydrogen modified car hits students built to the conference. Totally learned so much from him. Met so many more through emails and tweets. Relationships are our key to learning, y’all.

3.  Establish an “Ask don’t tell” policy.
Changes have to be made. As a teacher or a principal, when those changes effect your students or teachers, ask their opinion. Even if you have made the decision and nothing will change your mind, run in by those people involved. That’s the difference between a leader and a boss. Just that little action can make people feel like they matter.

2. Your passions should become more.
Looking over my resume the other day (I’m still looking for a tech specialist job, know of any? I can’t move but I can travel ;), my mom and I noticed that I had the word passion in there a there times. But she said this “I know these are your passions, but look where you did _ and _, these more than passions, you’re an expert at this. They are now your expertise.” Wow that struck me. Yeah I guess so. It is easier to “brag” that we are passionate than experts. I look at the passion based learning movement, that’s what it’s doing, taking kids passions and not only are these passions making our world a better place, it’s giving them experience to be experts in something they love.

1. It’s about process not product.
When I talk about PBL my big focus is on letting teachers know it’s about the process not the product. I learned my own lesson this year. I feel like writing my own curriculum while teaching the class and trying something new was my own PBL. But here I am, focusing on products. Not the amazing process I went through. Isn’t that what life really is? This whole process. We don’t really have much of a product in the end, just what we leave behind.

So over the past few days I’ve been reflecting. This is just some of it. Have an amazing summer. Reflect and relax!

I’m Sorry for My Hypocrisy

A lot is going on in my head right now. It was a busy weekend, mostly due to EdcampBham Saturday. It’s my favorite weekend, but usually my most stressful. This year due to some health issues and the craziness of this past school year I vowed to not be stressed. Luckily we had new teammates as well as the team we have had in the past that pulled off an amazing event. This year, with my vote to stay worry free, I was more “present” for the day.

For the first session my friend, Tom Murray, signed us up to do a session on professional development. He had done this session in the past so he knew where to start. If you have ever met Tom, he had a huge happy personality so it only took minutes for him to take over the session so I mostly stepped back, made a few comments and let it all soak in.  We had the group discuss what is wrong with traditional PD. We got the answers we expected: sit and get and no follow through and support afterwards. They then discussed new ideas in PD and pretended to be head of a school and made a PD plan. It was a fantastic session that wasn’t a gripefest but became an ideafest. OK so hold this thought on this session because I’m coming back to it. Promise.


Also this weekend, I made a video to go with an article for THE Journal I was interviewed for. If you know me, you know that I can get up on a stage of 1000s and I don’t get nervous and love it. But me and my southern accent on video is enough to make me a wreck. But the video was on a topic I thought was pretty important, so I agreed to it. The article was on using interactive white boards in BYOD classrooms. I focused mostly on ClassFlow and it’s benefits in the BYOD classroom. I answered this question “How do you manage a classroom with all those devices and the whiteboard being used all at once?” So as I’m recording my video I’m discussing teachers rolls have to change, etc (actually recording a million times), I had a sinking feeling in my gut and started thinking about that session I did at edcamp earlier that day.

I’m a hypocrite. You see I’m the “tech rep” at my school. I’m in charge of the technology PD there. We are also a BYOD district. We were not until around  November, tech reps were to inform the teachers and send home permission slips with each student. It was a hard transition in middle of the year. But I did just that. Then wondered why not many students took advantage of this and why teachers who are constantly complaining about lack of tech did not either.

Now I know why, it is all my fault. I can make excuses, I am teaching a new PBL tech course 5 times a day to 125 kids where I’m writing the curriculum as I go, I also teach one science class everyday. I also have 2 kids of my own who have a pretty active afternoon schedule. But excuses aren’t acceptable. When student learning is at stake I can’t make them. The central office never offered us (yes us because I would attend, even if I know this stuff bc I need to pass it on) training and even if they did its hard to expect teachers to drive to the district office 30 minutes away and it’s intimidating to some. I knew this and so I should have stopped up in my building. I should have found someone to cover my classes or stayed after school and net with every single teacher. At least those who were interested in using tech in their class. I know they don’t want more PD but I could’ve done something to get them there.

Few weeks ago I wondered why my district and school was not embracing BYOD like districts I read about in blogs and articles. Well it’s my fault. No one (ME, not pointing fingers here I’m taking the blame) said hey here is where to start, here is a new, free, product that can help. I never modeled for them. Seriously even if you are a techy, the idea of sending kids loose on cell phones and tablets is pretty scary. You’re entire job changes and we (I) expect teachers to jump on that. What the heck is wrong with me? 

The problem is when you are BYOD and do it correctly, it is more student centered and students actually are more engaged. We need that. We should want that. But without walking teachers through their role changes, how can we expect that. Think about how many (usually boring sit and get) PD sessions we have just for new textbook or new standards. BYOD is a new textbook, heck it almost replaces them. Why was this over looked?

So to all of my coworkers apologize. I did you wrong. I cheated your students out of learning.  To those who attended our PD session Saturday, I apologize for being a hypocrite. I just became one of those who do PD and you think “they have no clue what is like in a real classroom.” One of those in the session is a coworker of mine, I’m surprised he didn’t call me out. I’m glad now Tom was Tom and had the room’s attention so I didn’t put my foot too far in my mouth. I apologize to y’all, my readers, because y’all know how passionate I can be about PD yet I’m apparently just fooling y’all. But thank you for taking the time to read my blog and putting up with my struggles. I do have a plan for coming next year, hope I will get to put it into place. I will make the time. I have to, learning is at stake.

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.


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



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.


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.


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.