Monday, September 1, 2014

5 reasons why we need physical activity in schools

As schools and districts attempt to continue improving student learning opportunities, there's a frightening trend emerging that might not have the intended consequences.

In an effort to provide students more time with math and reading and other core area subjects, schools are cutting back on physical education courses, and recess opportunities are shrinking for students at the elementary levels.

The dangerous trend of giving physical education the backseat to other 'more important' areas of learning might not yield the intended results.

Here are five reasons why we need more physical activity in our schools and not less...

1). Physical activity helps to enlarge your brain's basal ganglia which controls your ability to focus.

We all know how hard it can be to focus at times and we are living in a day and age where a plethora of things are vying for our students' attention. Therefore, any measures we can put in place that will help our students to not just maintain their focus, but also enhance their focus, most certainly will pay off when it comes to student learning.

2). Physical activity positively affects several vitally important areas of health.

Steady amounts of physical activity will prevent obesity and will help to maintain proper levels of blood pressure. Additionally, physical activity will ensure students grow up with healthy bone structures as they continue their skeletal development. Finally, cholesterol levels will also be kept in-check with daily physical activity. As we all know, students who are physically healthy will be in school more often and absent less and will be better able to focus on their learning.

3). Physical activity helps you sleep and improves your overall sleep quality.

When we get consistent and daily doses of exercise our sleeping experiences become higher quality. Since the physical body needs the nightly recharge more, the body is able to fall asleep faster and get into a 'deeper' level of sleep more quickly. Because of this, the quality of sleep goes up drastically and a classroom full of well-rested and recharged students will always perform better than a room full of tired and fatigued students.

4). Physical activity is a natural stress reliever.

When we are stressed we are unable to focus as well and we become tired more easily due to struggles with sleeping. Additionally, we are less able to be patient and are much more susceptible to mood swings. When we get physical activity we are able to relieve and diminish these levels of stress which in turn will have several positive effects on our overall mental and physical health. Stressed students don't and can't learn, so let's ensure they have some outlets to keep the stress at a minimum.

5). Physical activity stimulates brain plasticity.

Brain plasticity allows our brains to be more 'fluid' and 'moldable' so to speak. When this happens, our brains are able to make new connections as well as able to strengthen existing connections. The more and stronger neuronal connections we have the better able we are to learn and retain information. This obviously has huge implications for our students on how and when they learn.

So, in closing, let's increase opportunities for our students when it comes to physical activity. When we add physical activity to our overall instructional programming rather than cutting it, we might just get the results we are looking for...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Is it time to eliminate extra credit in schools?

'Is there anything I can do to get some extra credit?'

If you've worked in education for more than 20 minutes, you've probably heard a student ask this question.

Extra credit has been and continues to be a common staple in classrooms all across the globe.

I personally was a teacher who awarded extra credit to my HS German students when they brought in Kleenexes, markers, and even on quizzes when they could answer random questions correctly when the questions had nothing to do with German. I even one time gave extra credit to students who brought in my favorite candy.

I saw nothing wrong with what I was doing.

Oh how wrong I was...

For the record, I openly and publicly apologize for committing a crime against assessments and a crime against my students because what I was doing was wrong on so many levels.

For one, I was reinforcing socio-economic differences and discriminating against those students who didn't have the means to buy Kleenexes, markers, and my favorite candy. Those who had the means whether it was financial or just a simple car ride, were able to capitalize on these extra credit opportunities while others weren't.

Also, a majority of the extra credit that occurred in my classroom had nothing to do with students and their learning of German. Heck, many didn't have any educational value at any level for that matter.

Lastly, and possibly most importantly, the extra credit I was giving was completely distorting and destroying any accuracy that I'd hope to achieve with my grading structure. I would work so hard to ensure my assessments were properly aligned and equitable for students based on their preferred method of mastery demonstration. Then, in one fell swoop, I would destroy it all by giving extra credit for stuff that didn't have any relation or connection at all to German.

What I thought was perfectly fine was anything but fine.

It was not until several years later that I recognized the error of my ways.

Here's the deal, if you want your grades to be accurate and a true reflection of student mastery and learning, then you can't muddy the waters by giving extra credit.

Also, I would urge you to avoid giving extra credit for doing 'more' of something as well. For example, a kid who does 100 math problems poorly hasn't demonstrated the same level of mastery as a kid who does 20 perfectly.

More doesn't always equal a mastery of learning...

So, are you going to take the plunge and eliminate extra credit from your classroom? What are your thoughts...?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Does late work deserve a reduced grade?

A battle that continues to rage in schools all across the globe is the battle about what to do when students turn their work in late.

One camp is going to make comments like this: 

What about student ACCOUNTABILITY? What are we teaching them? What are they learning? Just turn it in whenever they decide. Deadlines really don’t matter. We are suppose to be educating them, not just on subject content.

Why shouldn’t students be penalized if they can’t meet a deadline? What incentive is there for a student to turn work in on time if there is no penalty?

The IRS doesn’t care about deadlines, right? Your boss doesn’t care about deadlines, either. Work at McDonald’s? There is no deadline for making that Big Mac, right? You can take 4 hours to make it if you want.

Do you think a college professor is going to accept a paper WHENEVER IT’S CONVENIENT for the student? How are we preparing students for the “real world?"

Why don’t the little darlings just do what they’re supposed to and turn the work in on time? Enough of this pandering to spoiled brats.

The other camp is going to make comments like this: 

What’s the point of a letter grade students get at the end of the term? Shouldn’t it indicate the mastery of the subject matter? If so, why shouldn’t teachers accept late work?

Penalties for late work distort the accuracy of the grade which has the sole purpose of communicating academic progress and mastery toward a particular standard.

It’s a false assumption that students build moral fiber and respect for deadlines by slapping them with an “F” or a 0” for work not done. This teaches nothing but resentment and cheating. 

Teachers turn things in late all the time, as do workers in every profession. The idea that you can't get away with turning work in late in the real-world isn't true.

To say it must all be done at the same level of quality as everyone else by this one particular day of this particular week flies in the face of all we know about how humans learn. We all learn at different rates and at different times.

As you can see, there are great points being made on both sides... 

But if in the end, we expect and want our grades to accurately and precisely reflect what a student is able to do when it comes to a particular standard or learning objective, then we can't and shouldn't reduce a student's grade based on when the student turns the work in. Obviously we have quarters and semesters when we eventually have to finish out our grades, but until that date students should receive some sort of 'incomplete' or 'not yet assessed' to ensure overall grade accuracy.

As educators, we should teach responsibility and accountability, but those need to be separate and not tied to a student's academic mastery grade. Academic indicators must be kept separate from non-academic indicators to ensure the accuracy and fidelity of both.

Check out Rick Wormeli's thoughts on late work below:


Sunday, August 24, 2014

6 things we need to stop saying in #education...


Obviously teaching is a word that gets used quite often in the education setting, but I push you to try and eliminate it from your everyday vocabulary. When we say 'teaching,' we are talking about what we the educators are doing or not doing. Though this important, we have to ask ourselves where the kids are in this conversation. Instead of saying 'teaching,' let's start saying 'learning.' This will quickly and easily shift our focus away from us the educator and place it on the students whom we serve. Think of it as going from teacher-centered to student-centered.


The word rigor has quickly transformed into something we say all the time though it more times than not doesn't actually mean what we think it does. By definition, rigor is very much based on a 'severity of strictness, inflexibility and harshness.' Now, I don't know about you, but when I think of education and I think of students, those really aren't the words I want associated with what happens in education. Having said that, what I really think we are meaning to say is 'appropriate challenges.' So, let's stop saying we are trying to increase 'rigor,' and let's start saying that we are trying to create an environment that 'appropriately challenges' our students.
Professional development...

Have you ever heard someone say, 'Hey, I'm going to go do some professional development!' I'm assuming you probably haven't, and if you did, they probably weren't doing it on their own accord and were probably fulfilling some required district mandate. Professional development has become a negative thing for many folks because they see it as something done 'to' them rather than 'with' them. More times than not they are unfortunately correct. Instead of saying 'professional development,' let's start saying 'self-directed growth' which puts the ownership back on the individual and allows them to be empowered and responsibility for their own learning and growth.

Differentiated instruction...

Far too often we say differentiated instruction because we have groups or centers of kids doing different things at the same time. Just because we have kids doing different things at the same time doesn't mean we are truly differentiating instruction. To help make this distinction a little more clear, I recommend that we start saying 'personalized or customized learning.' Similar to teaching, differentiated instruction is very teacher-centered whereas 'personalized & customized learning' is more focused on the students. Additionally, it's not just kids doing different things at the same time, it's providing kids a personalized & customized learning experience that meets them where they are, not where their classmates are or where we want them to be.


Let's ask the most important question first... why do we have assessments? Are the assessments just so we the educators can accumulate and gather huge amounts of data? Or, are they a form of feedback and input that benefit both the educators and the students to provide a monitoring system to improve student learning? I hope we all agree it's the latter... So, let's stop saying 'assessment' and let's start saying 'input and feedback tool.' This will also help to show kids that these 'assessments' are used to help and support them in their learning journey, rather than end and limit.


Most folks hear the word 'meeting' and they immediately start to cringe and get that fingernails on the chalkboard kind of shiver. The word meeting has overtime become a word synonymous for 'you sit and listen to me talk' kind of an event. Though folks with good intentions have tried to change these types of events to be more productive and collaborative in nature, the word meeting still evokes a negative emotion that many struggle to shake. I challenge you to replace the word 'meeting' with the word 'gathering.' When people talk of gatherings they are usually fun and people enjoy being there, so set the tone in a positive way and move away from meetings.

What do you believe we should stop saying in education? Feel free to share in the comment section below!

Friday, August 22, 2014

You have to hit 'em in their 'passion!'

So, I've been thinking a lot lately about change.

Not just the type of change that comes and goes and fuels the 'this too shall pass' epidemic, but the type of change that endures.

The type of change that is self-sustaining and the type of change that permeates throughout all levels of an organization.

The type of change that hits you deep down in your bones.

The type of change that forces people to make a choice... a choice to either get on the bus, or find an entirely new bus...

We all know about the 'low-hanging' fruit type of change.

This easy change is typically what folks go for because they believe that it takes these little small battles before one is prepared for the war.

It's these small changes that build confidence and credibility which in turn will increase the chances of success when it comes to larger more systemic and far-reaching change.

That is the typical approach and theory anyway...

I'd like to push back some on that approach and theory.

It's not that I don't think it will work, but rather I think it's short-lived and superficial more times than not.

These small changes are easy because people aren't really invested either way. There may be a few folks who are invested, but a majority don't really care which is what makes the change easy.

I'd like to challenge you to push for the big change.

I'd like to challenge you to go for the hail marry grand slam version of change.

When you have a conversation with your colleagues, find the topic that gets people most heated. Find the topic that gets people fired up and showing their 'passion.'

When you find that topic that hits people in their area of passion, you've found your opportunity.

You've found what people care most about and you've found something that goes to their heart. It's this type of change that builds long-lasting, enduring and sustainable cultural shifts because they touch almost everyone. The roots of this type of change go deep and are hard to break once established.

Make no mistake, this isn't the easiest path.

This won't be the quickest path.

But it may just be the path that gets you where you want to go...