Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A quick & easy way to boost question complexity

Imagine you are designing an assessment. You have a set of questions that you would like to ask but you are struggling to find ways to elevate the levels of complexity and rigor associated with those questions.

One quick and easy way to boost depth of knowledge and rigor levels is to simply add a picture to the question.

For example:

English question - What is the difference between effect and affect?

Math question - What percent of an 8 piece pizza remains if two pieces are already gone & you are planning to eat two more?

Social studies question - What made the attack on Fort Wagner during The Civil War so difficult for the Northern troops?

Science question - What is an example of bison working together for the betterment of the group?

Now, all 4 of these questions are low level depth of knowledge questions. They are simple recall for the most part and don't have much rigor associated with them. You either know the answers, or you don't. These are hard questions if you don't know the answers, but the reality is there is no real complexity to these questions. Remember, hard and rigorous are NOT synonymous...

Take these low level questions to a higher level by adding an image:

English question - What is the difference between effect and affect? (In this image students compare both situations and evaluate the difference between the two words. This requires tapping into prior knowledge and understanding the progression of one image to another while inferring the results of what would happen next.)

Math question - What percent of an 8 piece pizza remains if two pieces are already gone & you are planning to eat two more? (In this image students can visualize the question as well as anticipate what would happen with the two pieces about to be eaten. Then, students can anticipate how much of the pizza will remain and compare that to a full not eaten pizza.)

Social studies question - What made the attack on Fort Wagner during The Civil War so difficult for the Northern troops? (In this image students can evaluate the attack and recognize that the fort was fortified, the Southern troops were at an elevated position, and the fort was difficult to approach due to water on at least one side.)

Science question - What is an example of bison working together for the betterment of the group? (In this image students can recognize that bison work together by walking in a line in the snow so each individual bison wouldn't have to plow through the snow. The work is being done by one bison and the entire group benefits from the work of that bison.)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Should we be preparing our kids to work at Google?

I recently read an article that discussed the hiring mindset at Google. Read the whole article hereObviously Google is a widely known company and you'd be hard pressed to find someone who didn't know of Google or didn't use Google on a daily basis.

The Vice President of People Operations at Google, Laszlo Bock, has come to the conclusion that 'G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything.'

People in the education world have to be cringing like finger nails on a chalkboard after reading that. All those students who are so good at playing the game of school must be throwing up their hands in disagreement. Universities across the globe are turning up their noses and saying, 'well maybe that's true for other universities' graduates, but not ours.'

Reading further along in the article Laszlo emphasizes the five most important qualities he and the hiring teams at Google look for when interviewing possible candidates:

1). Cognitive ability (your ability to learn) trumps IQ
2). Leadership
3). Humility
4). Ownership
5). Expertise

Obviously I understand that not everyone can work at Google and not everyone wants to work at Google, but is there something we can learn from the hiring practices at Google?

Is there something we can learn about the focus we put on grades and the focus we put on ranking and achievement over others?

What if we started to plan our instruction and plan our school culture around these 'Google' qualities?

What if we treated every kid as if they were the next possible employee at Google? 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

One bad apple doesn't ruin the 'bunch'

We all know that person.

We all know that group.

We can predict with precision what they will say way before ever even asking the question.

We know exactly the tone that will be in their voice.

We know it doesn't matter if we are talking about students or if we are talking about adults... this type of person exists at all ages.

Do yourself a favor.

Realize and appreciate the fact that the world is full of great people. 

Great people who are not like 'that' person.

Great people who do everything in their power to not be associated with 'that' group.

Great people who will fight for what is right no matter how many of 'those' people are in the room.

Great people who don't want to be and don't deserve to be put in 'that' group.

Remember, one bad apple doesn't ruin the bunch and most definitely doesn't represent the whole lot of apples...

Monday, April 21, 2014

10 education images to inspire you this week

6 ways to avoid responding 'defensively'

You probably don't do this on purpose.

You also most likely don't even recognize what you are doing and how it's affecting those around you.

As humans, it's quite natural to do things we believe are helping to 'protect' us and insulate us from people and situations that could possibly do us harm.

It's this behavior that at times can send the wrong message and unfortunately limit our ability to see alternate perspectives and viewpoints.

Whether you are feeling attacked, threatened, or criticised, responding defensively typically only makes things worse. Yet, it happens so frequently and is commonplace in organizations and even personal families and relationships.

So, how can you be less defensive and respond more constructively?

1). Take time to actually listen before responding. (If you are thinking about your response while the other person is still talking, then you aren't really listening...)

2). Ask some follow-up questions to get more clarification about the points being made.

3). Allow yourself the opportunity to be in the other person's shoes for a moment to see where they are coming from.

4). Remember, not every person you encounter wants to steal your job and eliminate your existence.

5). Also, even if the other person is wrong and is acting inappropriately or being out-of-line, matching and mirroring their behavior will only make you look equally bad.

6). Try and view the comments being made constructively and figure out a way to apply this information/perspective to improve what is being discussed.

Irregardless of what happens, you want to start with an open-mind and end with an open-mind. Also, it's the more mature and more calm behavior that others will remember and respect when the dust settles... 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

8 things I'd like to change in schools

I'd like to see fewer walls. I think walls are limiting and confining and make it way too easy for silos to form. Information is stymied and doesn't flow well when walls prevent the information transfer. When we tear down walls, a whole new world becomes possible.

A shift away from traditional report cards and more conversations and presentations demonstrating realistic evidence of learning and mastery.

I wish we would realize that fair isn't always equal. We know that every student is different, therefore it seems rather silly and almost moronic to try and teach and assess each student the same way and call that fair.

I'd like to hear fewer bells and fewer signals that supposedly tell us when to start learning and when to stop learning. The concept that learning should stop and start like turning on or turning off a light is obsolete and we should be moving toward authentic and realistic learning.

It would also be nice if we made a conscious effort to increase physical activity and movement in the educational setting. The benefits of movement on cognitive processes and overall health are indisputable. While we are talking about health, why can't we make breakfast and lunch learning experiences where kids learn about lifelong health and the process that must occur to bring food to the proverbial table.

District and building policies can be a blessing, while at other times they can be monumental roadblocks. It would be worthy and very positive if we figured out a way to not policy ourselves to death. People get deflated and overwhelmed when they feel like policy is driving every decision they make. Remember, education is about individuals doing things for other individuals.

Zero tolerance anything should be avoided... schools shouldn't treat students and situations that happen at school in absolutism. There is very little that is black and white in education thus each situation and each student needs to be treated consistently on an individual basis.

A complete elimination of the focus being on adults. I know we adults are important, but when we make decisions based on what's best for adults, we tend to forget and miss out on what's best for kids. Keep the kids first and you can't go wrong.

Monday, April 14, 2014

We might not be as far along as I thought...

I recently sent out these three tweets and the responses I got were somewhat surprising and startling to say the least...

Now, when I say surprising and startling, I'm referring to the push back I got from these statements. I realize we are all in different places in terms of our philosophies and approaches to grading and assessment, but I didn't know there were still so many who opposed these beliefs.

If we are to move forward with these discussions in an effort to align our beliefs with our actions, I fear we are much further off than I have imagined. I fear the situation is becoming increasingly more important especially as new educators enter and leave the profession at an ever-increasing rate.

Let us sit down and actually make a list of what we believe to be the most important and critical pieces to grading and assessment. Let us then make a list of the things we actually do in our classes when it comes to grading and assessment.

Then it might be quite appropriate to get out the proverbial 'red pen' and get to work...

Friday, April 11, 2014

8 ways to spruce up that classroom activity

1). Make sure the activity has relevance and purpose beyond 'it's on the test.' We live in a world full of problems that could use improvement and solving, give learning a purpose beyond your classroom and beyond your influence.

2). Give students voice in the activity. Part of empowering students is giving them a voice in the learning process. We should be shifting our focus away from doing education to our students and double-down on doing education with our students.

3). Ensure students have an authentic and preferably a global audience in which to share their learning journey. We the educators are important, but we want our students to showcase and demonstrate their genius with the world. The world is hungry to hear from our students and if our students aren't doing work worthy of sharing with the world, then we need to change what we are doing.

4). Encourage and provide students the opportunity to work collaboratively. The world is going to require and ask our students to work collaboratively and work in teams. Our students not only need these experiences for life, but also when brains are combined the levels of learning are limitless.

5). Don't inadvertently put 'limiters' on student learning, discovery, and exploration by making the activity too specific and too detailed. It's easy to have rubrics and expectations that end up restricting possibility and limiting creativity. Be sure you have some structure and guidance for those who need it, but make sure it's not so limiting to those who need less structure.

6). Get your kids up and moving! The research is quite clear on the effects of activity on the brain and cognitive processes. Instead of confining students to their desks because that will help maintain order in a low level engagement environment, encourage movement and action for a high level engagement environment.

7). Don't hog the stage by doing all the talking and allow your kids to do the talking. The person who does all the talking is the person who will do all the learning. As educators we naturally love to talk, but step aside and allow our kids to lead the action and their learning will go up significantly based on their level of involvement in the learning process.

8). End the activity with a survey getting feedback and input from your students. Students will appreciate the opportunity to provide honest feedback and they will appreciate that you care what they think and what they have to say. The feedback you get will also help in making future activities even better.

What would you add to this list to 'spruce' up that classroom activity?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The balance between new ideas & the 'rut'

So, I honestly don't think there is a shortage of great ideas. To be frank, I think there are so many great ideas that we struggle to focus in on just a few that we can actually manage at any given time.

Having said that, it's also pretty easy to get stuck in a rut. Not because the rut is the best thing since sliced bread, but because the rut is comfortable. The rut is predictable and we know exactly how the next leg of the rut is going to turn out.

We become complacent and content with the preparation required to travel the rut and the overall outcome as a result of the rut never comes as a surprise.

This rut and level of comfort can become quite dangerous if we allow them...

So, my recommendation and advice are simple:

When trying a new idea, continue doing the idea if the results are positive or up until you can comfortably say the new idea isn't working and isn't yielding the desired results.

I know some changes require time to fully develop, but I think if the idea is worthy and good, you will see immediate results, albeit small, but positive results nevertheless.

If it's been a while since you've tried something new that you've learned from a conference, conversation, tweet, article, or any other medium, then what the heck are you waiting for!

The perfect time to try something new is right now because right now can't be returned and can't be recovered.

You won't regret the new idea you tried that failed, but you will regret the idea you never tried and the opportunity you missed...

Friday, April 4, 2014

Whose responsibility is your happiness?

So, we all live in a world with good days and bad days. Sometimes we even have bad weeks, bad months, and I've even heard of people having a bad year.

Obviously when someone is having a bad day, their level of happiness tends to be on the low side.

These days of low happiness are natural and perhaps even therapeutic from time-to-time.

It's when there are periods of prolonged unhappiness that it becomes troublesome and frankly worrisome for all those who interact with this individual.

So, when you yourself are having a prolonged period of unhappiness, who do you turn to?

Do you turn to others and blame them for your unhappiness?

Do you take your unhappiness out on your friendly four-legged friend and blame those cute and sweet innocent eyes?

Do you blame your unhappiness on 'the man' and curse him for holding you down?

Do you point your finger in every direction but your own...


Do you take responsibility for your own happiness and make your outlook toward life something you are in control of?

Do you taken ownership of how you feel and how you let other things affect you?

Do you refuse to let anyone or anything be the determining factor of your level of happiness?

Remember, it's your happiness, so why should anyone else be in charge of it...?

10 female Twitter accounts that make me better