Sunday, September 14, 2014

10 things students experience every day at school that we educators tend to forget about...

So, just recently I was challenged by our middle school principal, Ty Crain.

The challenge was simple... come be a student at the middle school for an entire day.

This would mean starting the day at school at breakfast and following a schedule throughout the entire day just like any student would.

The goal of this challenge is to experience what a student experiences and see the day-to-day operations of the middle school from an unbiased and different set of eyes.

I accepted this challenge and have a new appreciation for what our students get to (have to) experience each and every day they are at school.

Here are 10 things our students experience every day that I believe many of us educators tend to forget about...

1). Limited amounts of time and constantly in a rush to go from one place to the next and having to eat at a pace that isn't normal or ideal for most.

2). Trying to keep straight a different set of classroom expectations, procedures, and beliefs about learning for several different teachers.

3). Dressing out for gym class can be quite an intimidating and frightful experience for many.

4). Having to go the restroom and either being rushed or having to ask for permission to go to the restroom during a time in class when it's convenient for the teacher.

5). The amount of food our students get at breakfast and lunch may not be enough to completely quench their hunger due to recent changes in food and nutrition regulations.

6). Lots of sitting only to be followed up by more sitting. A majority of a student's day is comprised of sitting in an uncomfortable chair. 

7). Students are asked to travel all throughout the building over the course of the day, and it seems like each classroom and each space in the building has a different temperature. One room may be too warm while the next room is too cold.

8). Lots of being talked 'at' rather than being talked 'with.'

9). Other kids in class who purposefully derail and consume large amounts of attention and time from the teacher which leaves other kids feeling like they aren't important or don't deserve any of the teacher's time.

10). Lastly, and probably most frustrating, the tiny little desks and work spaces students are provided that make it difficult for everything to fit. Pencils and pens falling off desks, and books, devices, paper, and writing utensils all fitting on the desk at the same time are real problems.

So, in closing, let's not forget about what our students experience every single day they are at school.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Is your gradebook supportive of learning?

When was the last time you looked at your gradebook?

Not just look at your gradebook because you are recording grades, but to actually look at your gradebook and evaluate its purpose and the reasoning behind its existence.

What is the purpose of a gradebook?

The logical answers would be...

To record and document the grades of students in a particular class.

To document how well a student did on worksheet 1.7 and record how well a student did on the chapter 4 test.

To sort and categorize our students into A, B, C, D & F grade rankings.

These answers are widely accepted and widely practiced by educators all across the globe.


What if the gradebook was more?

What if the gradebook was viewed as another tool in the student's belt for learning?

What if the gradebook gave specific and detailed feedback to students about their learning progression?

So, the challenge is, how can we use the gradebook as a formative tool in the learning process rather than a summative 'end of learning' tool that has very little if any effect on student learning?

When a student sees they received 12/20 points on worksheet 1.7, does the student really know specifically where he/she is struggling? Does the student know specifically where he/she needs to focus to master the skills/content from those 8 missed points?

When a student sees they received a 72% on the chapter 4 test, do they know specifically where and why they lost points?

What if instead of seeing worksheet 1.7, the gradebook said something like, 'determining the central idea of a text - RI.6.2?'

What if instead of seeing chapter 4 test, the gradebook chunked the test and said something like, 'finding the area of right triangles - 6.G.A.1, represent three dimensional figures - 6.G.A.4, & finding the volume of a right rectangular prism - 6.G.A.2?'

If you are an educator, a student, or even a parent wanting to help, which gradebook is going to provide you specific information on where a student is in the learning process? Which gradebook is going to encourage future learning? Which gradebook is going to lead toward an authentic and valuable conversation about how to help that student with their learning?

So, ask yourself, is your gradebook supportive of learning, or is your gradebook just full of subjective and irrelevant information...?

Monday, September 8, 2014

The H&R Block Budget Challenge awaits you!

I can remember in high school taking a personal finance class. At the time the class didn't really have a huge impact on me as I didn't always see the connection and relevance to my life. If I only knew then what I know now...

Far too often kids are leaving high school with limited knowledge about the basics of personal finance and the possible long-term implications that can and will result from poor financial decisions. Sure, money isn't everything, but it definitely can make things in life easier.

Having said all that, there is a wonderful opportunity for students and teachers to get involved in a program that will help students to more fully understand the importance of good personal finance.

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The H&R Block Budget Challenge will allow students to participate in a FREE online simulation that allows students to experience the real-life expenses and experiences that come with adulthood.

The neat thing about this challenge is that students get to experience paying bills, paying taxes, and planning and saving for retirement. These aren't exactly the types of activities that most high school students get to experience which is why this program can be quite beneficial for preparing our students for the 'real-world.'

Even more, the students and the classes that participate have several opportunities to actually win large amounts of money. Each classroom and each student is competing with other classrooms and other students and it's the individual or collective success that determines if or whether money can be won.

I will definitely be sharing this information with the business and personal finance teachers in my district as this appears to be a great opportunity for students to learn and strengthen their personal finance knowledge.

Good luck to all participants!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Have 'summative' assessments become obsolete?

We hear the terms 'formative' and 'summative' assessments all the time in schools.

As educators, we learned about the differences while in college in our education preparation courses.

We now talk all the time about using assessments to 'drive' our instruction and provide guidance on where students are in the learning process.

I'm struggling though with how these terms are actually being implemented in classrooms with real teachers and real students...

To ensure we are all on the same page here with definitions, here is an image:

Formative assessments are a part of the learning process while summative assessments are an end to the learning process.

So, if we are formatively assessing students frequently throughout the learning process and constantly getting temperature checks on where they are in the learning process, we will eventually have students all over the place in terms of their learning.

We know students don't learn at the same rate and pace and we know students need frequent and timely feedback to assist them in the learning process.

We also know that if we are formatively assessing then we will always know where students are in terms of their learning.

So my questions are simple...

Why do we still need summative assessments to tell us what we already know? If we are frequently formatively assessing, then we already know where the students are... so what's the point of the summative assessment? What's the point of giving an assessment if we know the students aren't ready for it yet? And on the flipside, what's the point of giving an assessment when we know the students already have it mastered?

Why do we have every student do a summative assessment on the same date when we know every kid isn't at the same place in terms of their learning?

And lastly, why do we make each summative assessment exactly the same for every student when we know students need multiple platforms and multiple venues to demonstrate their learning?

I also recently read an article, 'Stop telling students to study for exams,' and it really reinforced my thinking...

So, in closing, have 'summative' assessments become obsolete? What do you think...?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Don't give up on your idea...

You know that idea you shared with your colleagues...

You were so excited to share the idea and you spent plenty of time trying to figure out the best way to get this information out to your colleagues. You tried to put yourself in their shoes so you could make this idea relevant and applicable to what they were doing. You even found a couple additional resources to complement the idea you were enthusiastic about sharing. You envisioned their response and knew they would be greatly appreciative of your time and effort to share an idea you think would benefit their practice, and most importantly, their students.

Unfortunately, the way it played out in your head isn't exactly the way it played out in real life...

If you are new in your position or new in your district, or if you are just trying some new things and new approaches, you most likely know what it feels like to share something with such passion and enthusiasm only to feel as if your words were falling on the proverbial deaf ears.

It's not a good feeling, and after getting that feeling several times, it's easy to see how some educators decide to work in isolation and simply focus on doing "their thing" rather than the collaborative and open-communication approach we would all benefit from.

It may be tough not to, but the easy thing to do is to give up on sharing new ideas. New ideas cause people to feel uncomfortable because it is the unknown, and it's human nature to fear what we don't understand. Additionally, it's easy for the person who is sharing these new ideas to be ostracized and cast aside as someone who is "pushing" their own agenda.

What you might not realize is that even though it appears these new ideas are going unnoticed and that people are ignoring anything and everything you say, I can almost guarantee that a few people are taking notice. Even more so, I would be willing to bet they are secretly having conversations about these ideas and possibly even trying them out in their classrooms. 

This won't be evident (at first), but after a while a few pockets of "initiators" will begin to form. People who didn't hear the idea first hand will begin talking about this new approach because they are hearing it second hand from others. You might even get a nice email thanking you for taking the time to share. You might... 

You might also never hear anything. You might never know how this idea or how the time you spent talking about it affected those around you. Even though you might not ever know, is not an excuse to stop doing what you do...

Don't give up... 

We can't afford for you to give up. Our kids can't afford for you to give up...