When Teaching Science, Do You Ask Questions or Give Answers?

Hello everyone. It’s been a while. I’ve been so busy and when I have time to write, I’m just exhausted. I think we all get there at some point. I’ve been to the edge of burnout and very discouraged. Through that I decided I needed a refresh and attended a conference that focused on tech, how students learned best with tech, and what it does to the brain. I needed to be around others who see tech and learning beyond tools and training how to use them. This post is kinda long, stick with me, or at least scroll to the bottom to get the link to the “Challenge Cards.”

It’s funny how things that have been on your mind are brought to the forefront when you hear experts talking about information that supports it. Lately I have been really worried about how we teach science. I know I have blogged about this in the past, but I really have focused a lot on how to bring science and STEM into elementary classes but it is middle school I am really starting to worry about. I had a friend post not too long ago a statistic about how many less labor jobs we have now as compared to the past. It reminded me of what Mark Coleman said the other day, “we don’t need to focus on preparing students for a world whose jobs don’t exist yet but a world with no jobs.” Are we teaching STEM and engineering skills so students have the opportunity to become entrepreneurs or designers or innovators, or are we too focused on preparing them for what we think the teachers will need them to do in the next grade level? “They need those skills in high school” is just sad because usually those “skills” aren’t appropriate in a high school classroom either. 

Reading and math have gotten huge overhauls in elementary schools, kids are leaving able to read all texts or solve math problems in different ways. In elementary schools science might be the PBL lessons of the day or as a part of reading curriculum with hands on activities. When they move to middle school, are they still getting that? Or are they taking pages of notes and doing fill in the blank labs where they are all finding the same results? I’ve always been a bit supporter and “pusher” of STEM in the classroom, beyond just a makerspace in a library. It needs to be part of everyday math and science learning. We need to bring in those maker and STEM tools as well as the engineering process into science classrooms.

Last week I was helping a middle schooler study for a test. I asked her about Pangea and she stopped and said, “I have no idea what that is.” But her test was on continental drift so I immediately was sick to my stomach. I Googled and showed her the results and she said, “oh yeah I copied notes about that all week, just didn’t know what it was or how to say it. That picture of it makes the notes make sense now.” That made me pause (and maybe a bit angry) because she not only just got surface level facts about this but she didn’t even hear the word. This isn’t science, this is basic literacy. Exactly what life-long skill is copying notes? A skill for high school? Hope not, that high school teacher wouldn’t be doing their job either. No one that age should just learn from writing something. It leaves out a huge group of students who do not learn that way. How much more meaningful would it have been if she was given one of the 3 arguments that Wagner presented to support Continental Drift? It would have became more than a list of facts. 

Part of what science really is is to have students question the world around them. Another part of it would be finding answers to problems they find in our world, this brings those STEM skills to life. Using PBL questions or challenges get them to start questioning and learn those facts as they find solutions. Often when we bring up PBL or using engineering/STEM challenges teachers freak because they don’t know what questions to ask or struggle with connecting it to their curriculum. But really, you are scientists, you know why students should know the content and how they could use it. Also, it should be fun but with a touch of frustration, they need to think. Lastly, keep it simple for you. Just think of something basic.

I love practice of when elementary librarians or teachers use STEM kits or tools they create “challenge cards” to keep students on track or guide them with questions. To help with the brainstorming of PBL , inquiry, or engineering lessons,  I have created some “challenge cards” for the space unit in middle school earth science (what I used to teach). Here are some examples of Challenges that are easy yet students can’t just Google the answer and the answer can never be copied in notes. 

Seasons and Tides Unit

Phases of the Moon

Human Impact on Earth

Planets

These are just a start but could teach more skills than a lecture or note taking. It would reach kids of all abilities and the process plus product would make for a great assessment of the standards. By the way, I listed the standards covered on the slides.

Maybe you hate the idea. Maybe you can see the value. Either way, we have to do something because what we are doing isn’t working.

The Birds and Bees of Today

Do you remember “the talk?” Yeah, that talk. The one you always dreaded. That moment your parent(s) sat you down and decided you were ready to talk about sex. There was probably some technical information. Then the whole safe sex and preventing pregnancy stuff. Probably ended with your parents telling you never to do it until 30 or something. But that was about it. And in the 1990s when I was a teenager, as uncomfortable it was, it was enough. It is amazing how much has changed. But what I am afraid hasn’t changed, “the talk.”

social media icons

The Birds and Bees, do you know these icons?

Everyday when I walk into a school convos come up about cell phones and students on social media. Almost every single day I hear a story about a kid that did something wrong online that will effect them for a while, if not forever. Every time I hear one I am sick to my stomach and I blame myself as the instructional tech coach for not getting the message out to every kid warning them not to do things. Or that I haven’t met with parents at that school to educate them. Or what have I done to make sure the teachers are educating the students on this? I know there is no way I am responsible for all 36,000 kids in my district but I can tell you, I feel like I should just do more every time. Today I heard a story about a good kid and it has just eaten away at me to the point I was in tears.

Here is the deal, “the talk” mentioned above isn’t good enough. There is so much more kids are dealing with beyond face to face interactions. So while safe sex is a great start, it is just a small part of it.  I never will feel comfortable talking about this with my kids but there is no other option, they are my children and I have to protect them.

So what is new, what do we need to keep in mind when talking to students?

First, know that dating is different today. In the past it started by passing notes then phone calls then hanging out at a mall or the area hangout. Now, it starts with private messages on a phone through a social media app. Please realize, Instagram is “hanging out” for kids today. This is how they are social.

Why is this a problem? Well the scary part about dating starting this way, it is completely private. They feel like they can say things that they wouldn’t normally have the guts to say. Conversations can go from flirting to sexual fast. When that happens, pictures eventually might be shared. Sexting is real and is happening earlier and earlier. The thing is, screen shots are real too. Pictures get saved. Snapchat even saves them on their servers, fingers crossed they don’t get hacked, right? Oh wait…

Another reason this is a problem, middle and high school relationships rarely last. Breakups hurt and revenge happens. Revenge is no longer telling the locker room your ex is a bad kisser, no revenge is posting those pictures and convos that happened in private with someone the kid trusted. Now there are pictures circulating through an entire community and beyond. This is the one that breaks my heart the most. That is someone’s child and once it is out there, it can’t be undone. Also know, it is not only boys spreading about girls, it happens to both.

And we have one more reason these private conversations are dangerous, kids are not sure the person they talking to are really who they are. Have you talked to your child about that being a scenario? Yeah we all think the show Catfish is kinda funny but there are more dangers than that an ugly person showing up. Strangers are no longer just the creepy guy in a white van at a playground and the abduction nightmare happens more times than the news puts out there. There is more that goes on beyond that, these people they are chatting with are saving those pictures. Then they are blackmailing the children they are chatting with. Blackmailing to get more pictures or pictures of younger siblings or real life sexual partners. Have you told your child that is something that could happen to them and is there a plan in place for when it does? Not a fun convo but I have to keep my child safe and hope when I talk to students they are listening.

So now what?

As educators, you need to keep having these convos with students. No you don’t need to talk about sex, but you need to constantly remind students the consequences of actions online. Their parents do not know to have these talks. You also need to listen out for students talking about sharing embarrassing pictures or convos online, if you hear about any, go to your administration and SROs as quickly as possible. Stop it before it gets shared more than it should, but never ask to see these images, leave that to the admins.

As parents, these conversations need to be happening more and more in your home. You never want your child to be in a situation that could cause them harm or be harmful to their future. I know that most parents don’t know all the apps out there, heck by the time I post this there will be more for them to use, but you need to go to social media where they are and learn it. You need to check phones, you pay for it. You need to be careful with younger children in bedrooms with door closed on phones, if you wouldn’t let a boyfriend in your child’s room with door closed, why on earth would you let him in her room on Facetime with the door closed? Pay attention to them hiding the phones when you walk in. Know the apps on their accounts. Check their browsing history, if they keep deleting it, ask why. Know that porn is available 24/7 for free and not always on an obvious site, Tumblr is one of the top places for it and Reddit is catching up quickly.

Lastly, they are kids, they are going to make mistakes just like we all did when we were kids. Unfortunately, their mistakes never go away. Be supportive and understanding when they make these mistakes, they are going to need all the love and support over the next years of their lives.

What Changes Have You Missed?

Today I was in my happy place, on the beach. We decided to take a last minute family trip with the kids before the hectic start of school. When I walked out on the sand first thing I noticed were people pointing and staring out on the water. There were 3 dolphins swimming near shore, they always take this path that time of day but never so close in. I was literally dropping everything to get out my camera to video take a picture of them. But there was a group of college aged girls next to us that were so busy trying to get a group picture they missed the dolphins right behind them. Good thing it wasn’t a shark.

The thing is, we can blame technology or narcissist generation but they are just doing what they do. When teen/college girls go to beach, they take a picture and Instagram and snapchat it. Sometimes doing what we always do is ok, but sometimes we get so hung up in what we do we miss changes to everything around us. When I’m on the beach I make the effort to watch the sky behind me, why, because too often I’m facing the Gulf and miss the storm forming behind me.

We all do this but what are we missing? What are we missing when we plan our lessons during the summer and haven’t met our kids yet? What are we missing when we pretty much teach the same way we did 6 years ago? 20 years ago? We are missing the students we have today. We are missing the lives they live. Most middle school students haven’t ever been dropped off at a mall to hang with friends. High school students are younger than Google. IPads are older than kindergarteners. So how do your students hangout without malls? How do they find out information and learn something new? And yes, you’re right, younger kids don’t know how to use a mouse and a keyboard because they have only used touch screens.

Think about your lesson planning and PD, is the focus on what you’ve always done with a little tech or something new mixed in? Every time I introduce Google Suite to teachers for first time or really start digging into the tools it never fails, I have a teacher that says, “don’t teach my kids that, they will cheat/not work.” That’s one statement that really drives me nuts. Is cheating finding the answers? Isn’t that what you want them to do, answer your question? Does it matter if it was memorized or Googled? It shouldn’t because Google is with them 24/7. Maybe they should be applying that knowledge instead. Take into consideration that when teaching this generation. While a teacher could be demanding a student memorize the circumference of a circle, Google made it where when you ask for circumference it gives you a calculator to put in your radius and it tells you the answer. So instead have kids find circumference of a round irrigation farm but using the measurement tools in Maps and find the best method to get the water from the well. Are the changes in the world around us being considered?

Area of circle -  Google

One last thing, take a moment to look at your student supply list. I saw one few days ago with a dictionary on it. We won’t say anything more than I saw it, and this was for middle school in a BYOD middle school. A dictionary. My mom said, “well it’s a good thing to learn, dictionaries show you how to pronounce words.” If I’m in chrome, I highlight a word, it defines it and will even read it to me. That’s not going away. While the same parents are purchasing two, yes two, trapper keeper type binders (around $15 to $20 each) because that’s how one teacher has always used for organization and the school purchases paper planners, my high school math teacher has created a Google Classroom that will sync to calendar and hold resources and videos for her students in an organized way. While one focused on the same thing that worked for them, my math teacher was looking for ways to help students if 2018 not 1998 when I was in her class. (Just FYI the majority of middle schoolers have trouble with binders because the organization part of their brain isn’t strong during those years. Binders, tabs, loose leaf paper, set up for failure especially if you have notebook checks.)

Are we trying to make 30, or 160 of you’re secondary, students adapt to the one teacher in the room or are you, the one, trying to adapt to the 30/160 lives in your classroom? I took enough stats to know what will have a better success rate. I know nothing is perfect and some old ways work and help with testing, sometimes access is an issue, but we need to step back from our norm and look at what is changing around us. How can we change to not so much keep up but really teach our students of today while preparing them for a world we can’t even imagine. While sitting there today at beach two younger teachers were talking about how crazy it is they have to spend time teaching cursive when they would rather be helping kids learn or even type. Atta girls! That’s exactly it. They see the changes.

Those going back to school next week or so, best luck on this school year. Enjoy every minute! 

What is you ROI? #ISTE17

I just left #ISTE17. If you have ever been, you know it is an overwhelming, if you haven’t then just trust me, it is. The crowds (20,000 educators this year!), the expo hall, the sessions, and the wonderful people, all take a lot out of you. In the past I have posted about all the new technology tools found in the expo hall, in 2010 about how ridiculous it is unless you change your thinking and the learning in your classroom and last year posted about how we have some of the most powerful tech that can change the lives of students today and we need to use them.

When walking through the expo hall we need to not get sucked into the pretty but look for ways these tools will benefit our students. I love this tweet from Will Richardson saying these are the two questions to ask when we talk to vendors on the expo floor.

Awesome, right? But I think we don’t need to only ask when we are on talking to vendors or buying certain technology. I think we need to ask this every time we spend money in a classroom. I read these statistics last year before school started on the amount of their own money teachers spend for their classroom and supplies every year. An average of $500. While I do not doubt that a lot of it is for crayons, pencils, etc, I am curious what exactly they are buying. I remember back to school was so expensive, then one year I realized I was spending it all on bulletin board border and decorations. While I wanted my room to look good, that was a little much and started stepping back over the years. I started asking myself if I was spending it for me or for my students. I started putting that money away and eventually bought another laptop for my classroom. Same with the money in my classroom account, I ended up with 7 laptops when I left the classroom. Four of which were bought with the money I saved.

In the business world there is a term called ROI, return on investment. For some reason cost effectiveness and ROI are not really pushed in the education world. But if you ask those questions from Will Richardson’s tweet before you buy or buy more of something you might have a different outlook. Some things that cost a lot might be worth it while others, not so much. I made this chart for my schools a little over a year ago for them to compare the costs of items they are buying. I hoped it would stop buying things that were expensive and only used by the teacher buy tech that can be put into more teacher’s hands. I later made this chart to show this visually.

But let’s look at this more closely. On the chart I started with $1000, the price many schools pay for a good quality document camera. Who usually uses it? The teacher, usually when giving notes, heck when I see them, it is usually for kids to copy a worksheet so they don’t have to make copies. For that same price, a teacher could get 5 Dash and Dot robotics kits or 4 Chromebooks. How would you rather teach math, using coding and spacial ideas with a robot or copying problems off the ELMO? The top complaints when I do tech PD with teachers is “I don’t have enough tech” or “I don’t enough money for tech.” But the school buys them ELMOs? I don’t understand.

Here is one more, for the cost of 1 interactive TV with stand (we use 2 different brands, the ViewSonic is around $2800 and Promethean is $3400), you could buy 14 Chromebooks or 2 3D printers, 2 laptops, and 2 Chromebooks or 3 TVs each with a Chromebox and wireless keyboard/mouse combo. While the TVs aren’t going to have students working on them like the others, you are servicing more teachers. How many teachers actually use the board interactively with students and how many use them as a $3000 projector. The cool of it isn’t worth the money if not used by students.


The point of all of this is that before we get sucked into the cool or pretty we need to ask ourselves if the products we are buying are actually being used by the kids for creating or if they are using it to just test. Is the item being used at all? That is a big question. If you get bored, go to Pinterest and search “classroom decorations” and see how much money is put into “learning space design” that is really just “Pinterest pretty.” We have too look at the ROI because when it comes down to it, our investment should be 100% student learning, everything else is just noise.   

Class Beyond the Four Walls

Today I got to show students that history is more than just stories in a text book but something that happened to real people as well as something that still effects us every day. I am from Birmingham, AL and was asked by my friend, Maria Galanis, from Deerfield Public School District 109 to share with students in David Komie’s about Kelly Ingram Park and the civil rights movement.

dog statue

My city’s history isn’t pretty. But walking around this park and seeing people of all races talking and kids playing is a reminder that changes can be made. I’m not naive enough to think that it’s perfect now but seeing Birmingham revive and become so diverse gives me hope that all the hate and conflict around our country will get better. It also reminds me that we need to learn from history and see how leaders have pushed for change effectively.

Video screen

Technology made this happen. That “Global Collaborator” ISTE standard and the “R” in SAMR is something we can do so easily with a little planning. No way students would be able to leave Chicago area just to walk around a park, but I got to take them there. Students no longer should be stuck inside the 4 walls of their classroom but should be given the opportunity to branch out and see the c world. Even if they never leave their desk. We have the tools to take them their, but we have to take the initiative. It is the least we can do.Talking to a computer

How To Encourage Girls on #internationalwomensday

Hey y’all! Hope your life isn’t as crazy busy as mine has been. I miss this space. I miss reflecting. I have so much in my head, just no chance to get it out. Today I feel caught up. Today is a good day, it’s International Women’s Day. A day we celebrate women and realize what a huge contribution they make on today’s society. We celebrate our female heroes. My heroes growing up were Sally Ride and Amelia Earhart. I read every book I could about them. It’s amazing I don’t have wings! 

Sally ride

I find it counterproductive, though, to celebrate women without taking the time to celebrate girls. One of the largest struggles women and girls face today is being put in a box. Girls are told what they are supposed to like, believe, look like, and careers that should choose. As educators, especially female educators, we should make a conscious effort not to do this. Here are some things women do that they probably don’t realize are harmful.

  • Openly diet. When teachers are constantly talking about what diet they are on, body shamming themselves, and skipping meals, it makes an impact on children. I’ve had my own child beg to go on a diet and refusing to eat meals because she wanted to be like the teacher she idolized. I remember wanting so bad to get nutri slim shakes growing up because that’s what the cool teachers had for lunch. When as a middle schooler I struggled with anorexia, I learned my habits from my teachers. 
  • Say that math is hard. Girls don’t have the support to try math career paths like boys do. Stereotypes are already telling them careers like doctors, engineers, and scientists are for white male nerds, they need strong women to show them that math can be done.
  • Focus on looks. Take a moment, or a day, and look at how many times you compliment girls vs boys on looks. While it does feel good to be complemented, make sure their worth isn’t just how they look or what they wear.
  • Ignore technology. Same as I said above with math, girls need that exposure before stereotypes are formed. I hear too many female teachers say daily that they don’t get technology (though they are nailing Facebook and Pinterest). I rarely hear that from male teachers. Take the tech you are used to and bring it into the classroom. Ask for help. Most districts have a tech specialist, they have that job because they want to help you, ask!

The majority of educators are women, we have the power to empower girls. We are their biggest cheerleaders. Let’s cheer for them to be whoever they are meant to be, not the box society expects them to fit in.

Will You Stay Cold or Light a Fire?

Teachers are awesome. They are this group of people who put others before themselves. Many times before their families and social lives. They care more than you can imagine. Teachers take a lot of abuse. They allow things to just roll off their backs because they know what they are doing is the right thing and is for the betterment of society. While, thanks to social media, we have many leaders emerge and take stands, there is still a majority out there that are so busy putting others first, they aren’t taking a stand for the career they have put everything into. Because of this, I am starting to worry about education system of this country. We are starting a new year, I think with this new year, we need to say something. There is power in numbers and there are a lot more teachers out there than there are politicians. It is time to fight for our jobs. It is time to stand up for what is right.

If you are curious to what I am talking about, here are two examples:

  1. A few months ago my state, Alabama, got a new State Superintendent. Our former one “got it,” he understood students, teachers, and curriculum. Our new one, Michael Sentance, has a degree in American Studies and a law degree. He went from Assistant Attorney General of Massachusetts to their Undersecretary of Education then Secretary of Education. He’s never worked in a school, has no degree, and no experience. He also has no certification. He may have great ideas, but without experience does he even know if his ideas will work? How does this make those of us that are in schools feel? Those who have taken classes after classes on best practices, curriculum, and school management and are still paying for those classes with no pay raise for almost 7 years? But our government thinks that he is an expert yet teachers can’t get supplies and respect they deserve.
  2. Then, Betsy DeVos has been named as the President Elect’s US Secretary of Education. My first thought was to be glad it wasn’t Michelle Rhee. But then I read her resume. Again, a US Secretary of Edu without an education degree. But it gets worse. She has never even attended a public school. We laugh in education at how everyone is an expert because they went to public school, she didn’t. Her kids have never attended public schools. She’s never worked in education. She did lobby for Detroit, I’ll let you read this and form your own opinion.

So yeah, teachers are taking hits. You have to wonder what these degrees are actually worth. The years of preparing for walking into classrooms are for naught. Almost 60% of us have higher degrees, not many professions can boast that. We need to speak up. We need to start proving our expertise. While shopping on Black Friday I saw this quote from Horace Traubel, “If the world is cold, make it your business to build fires.”

20161126_182704

I think it’s time to start building fires. Not time to be defiant (we are teachers, we like rules) but time to take a stand. Stop allowing others to put down our profession and taking away our voice. Naturally teachers are nurturers we put everyone else before us, we chose a profession out of love not need to make a lot of money. But if we keep rolling and not asking for help from the community and politicians while educating them, then we can’t expect things to get better. Start here with signing and sharing this petition to Congress.

Where Is That Bridge Over the Digital Divide?

I made a joke the other day that there was an entire generation of people that has no idea why people are looking at their phones and raising eye brows and opening their mouths. (If you are one of them, Snap Chat has filters that change when you raise your eye brows or open your mouth.) While I said it as a joke, I started thinking about the fact that this is true. No not everyone needs to know how to Snap Chat but adults need to know what kids are doing when using phones/internet. Especially teachers.

 

I live on the side of a mountain in Alabama. We had snow/ice/sleet last night so spent the night at my parents’ house to avoid getting stranded (they also have more food and a generator if power goes out). While snooping in my childhood bedroom I found a note passed to me from a friend back in middle school. While I found “so was Space Jam any good, I think we are going Friday” hilarious, of course it was awesome, the rest made me stop and think. She was ranting about our Spanish teacher going on and on about something that happened 20 years ago. She said, “why would I care about something that happened that long ago, she needs to worry about today.” So this may have just sounded like typical bored middle schooler but I had just had a conversation with my mom that made this hit home.

Earlier I was telling my mom about how I was explaining to some teachers that if Google Suite makes their lives easier, then they need to remember it can help their students’ lives easier. After talking about a few more conversations like that she looked at me and said, “you have to wonder how many times a day students look at teachers and think, why can’t they get it, they are so old and behind the times” she then said, “it is like there is a language barrier without anyone to interpret for each group.” Huh. She may be right.

When I was in grad school I had to do so many projects on the digital divide and “haves” versus “have nots” when it came to technology usage. We learned that people with money used tech and those without did not. I think our digital divide has shifted. When I pause and look at education and technology, our kids get it and find ways to get/use technology. That socioeconomic divide is getting smaller everyday, but a new divide is taking over. The new digital divide is from those resistant to use technology with students and those that use it as best as they can. The ones finding ways to use it are speaking the language and meeting the needs of the students that need the technology. They get that students don’t have pencils because outside of school work, there are not uses for them. They get that since they use digital calendars for everything at their place of business, this may work for their students as well. I get the push back all the time, I don’t like having my students use Google Docs because that is not what they will use in business, they need Word. I get that, but how many of your students have computers with Word? I bet that number is drastically less than the number of students who have smart phones or tablets with a Google Doc app. We need to use what is best for them, now.

I understand, technology is hard. But if we want to reach all students, we need to try to speak their language. We need to get to their side of the divide. Maybe even make a funny video raising our eyebrows?

Socialized VS Self-Authoring: Where Is You Mind?

I am sitting here doing my ‘homework’ for a class I am in and I have a few thoughts. We are studying the top stages of Bob Kegan’s Constructive Developmental Theory are “socialized mind” and “self-authoring mind.”

Socialized = external sources shape our meaning-making

Self-authoring = my own internal thoughts shape my meaning-making

I wonder if Facebook and social media are causing us to move backwards or get stuck in the “socialized” level. I think the voices on the outside are given more opportunity to drown out the internal voice.

The question is, are we wrong for being the loud external voice? With this election and other social issues that are happening right now, are our constant posting of opinions and biased information bringing others down? Is this ok?

Shouldn’t we be looking for ways, especially as educators, to bring others to the self-authoring level? Our posts and comments that are constantly trying to sway others to our “side” is hurting others internal voice. You may be at the “self-authoring” level but that does not mean your beliefs are the only ones out there. It is ok to share your opinions and ideas. We all should, as well as encourage our students to, share. But we have to be careful to think that our meaning-making is the only one out there. While influencing others is great, we have to step back and allow others a chance to listen to their internal voice. 

Last week a teacher left a nasty comment on my blog. I thought it funny at first, but then started to get angry the more I thought about it. I was not angry because of what she said, I was angry because she never questioned, just commented and insulted. She thought her way was correct without trying to see why I write like I do. Before correcting, we need to question. Why do you say that? What influenced your thinking? Those are better than just saying “I disagree and you are wrong.” (Or better yet, I shouldn’t be an educator.)

It is a hard balance to balance these two mindsets but it is something we need to be mindful of. We should strive to question and listen not overwhelm and push. The next generation, as well as our peers, need to grow their way, not ours.

Just my thoughts. Of course you are welcome to have your own 😉

Compliance and Grades

Welcome back to school! I love back to school season. All the fun school supplies. I especially love the back to school pictures of everyone’s kids on social media. But lately I’ve been seeing a lot of post on social media about those first day of school letters from teachers to parents and students. Those letters are usually full of procedures, FAQ, standards, etc. I love the “I don’t give homework” ones and I love the ones where you can tell the teachers are excited about the upcoming year. But I’m seeing another trend. A trend of teachers sending home procedures that are linked to grades. Those have really made me pause. Pause and reflect on things I did wrong as a teacher as well as what grades are in general.

Now I’m just going to put this disclaimer out there and get it over with, I know some of you hate grades and think we should all be standards based or whatever. This is not about that so don’t go there. Some teachers don’t get a choice. My focus is on making that choice wisely.

OK now that is out of the way, back to those lovely parent letters and procedures. I’ve seen posts about bathroom passes costing points. If paper is not headed correctly. Turned into the wrong place. Not done in pencil (seriously it’s 2016). Notebooks not in correct order. Tardiness adding up. Class Dojo points added to grade. List goes on and on.

I had my own quirks as a teacher. I took off points after a week late. I gave homework then gave grades for students just finishing it, not on correctness. I stopped giving homework because I realized I was just giving grades for those that had parents at home not for learning.

One post about restroom passes equally bonus points, a teacher replied that she didn’t do this but had 56 students a day and needed them to help organization. I wish I had had 56 students, I had 156, but organization can’t be my focus of the day.

So let’s stop for one minute. Forget all I said above and remember why we have school. What is the point? Why do we have grades? I had a teacher ask me last week why I started using Google Drive. I told her because I felt like my classroom was becoming more of a place for me to work instead of a place for my students to learn so I had to make it more streamlined and less about paperwork.  But that is a huge problem. We are putting so much on teachers that schools are becoming a workplace not a learning place. That stress and burden is then reflected in our grading system.

We have to stop and think, “does this grade reflect learning or does it reflect learning?” If it is about completion, behavior, etc, it’s not about learning. Yes we need order to have a safe place to learn, but what you see as organization is not clear organization for some of your students. Think about students with ADHD. Those that don’t know me, I’m huge advocate for kids with ADHD because there is so much more that goes on in their brains than just paying attention. Now look at that list in the 2nd paragraph. Heading papers – Yeah speed isn’t on their side, your heading just added 10 to 20 minutes of procrastination to their assignment. Restroom – please spend a week on ADHD meds and tell me how your stomach feels after the lunchroom. Notebooks and tardiness – not even going to touch organization and timeliness. Dojo –  just stop. The list goes on and on. Same thing could be said for kids with disabilities. Dyslexia. Autism. ESL.

So our grades are going to reflect two things, compliance or learning. If your grades are reflecting compliance, kids are going to be resentful. They are going to give up because it really doesn’t matter if they study because they can still have a low grades. It also is doing the opposite. It’s allowing students to show up to your class and pass with high grades but not learn what is needed to move to the next course. How many times have you gotten a group of students and they didn’t know the basics from the year before and you wanted to blame that teacher last year. Maybe the kids didn’t learn, they just headed their papers pretty and didn’t use restroom passes to make that 60 to move on.

Be mindful of what your expectations are for your class. Be mindful of your grades. Before you put in that grade book or mark of a paper, ask yourself if you can prove the student learned something here. If not, reevaluate. We want learners not compliant little people. Isn’t that what the entire school reform movement is all about, getting away from teaching students to be robotic factory workers but places for students to learn to be successful at their pace and skill levels?