Friday, November 28, 2014

What if all classrooms were like Kindergarten classrooms?

If you've never had the opportunity to visit a Kindergarten classroom, you should find time to do so.

To be frank, they are really amazing places.

Typically, there are 20-25 students and one teacher. That in itself isn't that big of a deal, but add in the fact that some of these students have never been away from their parents. Some of the students have never been in an environment where there is structure and organization. Some of the students have never had to walk in a line and some have never been in a public restroom without the assistance of their parents and/or guardians.

In spite of the before-mentioned dynamics, Kindergarten classrooms are really magical places where kids are able to collaboratively and independently create and design. Kids move like a well-oiled machine from one center to the next with very little if any teacher direction. These students, most of whom have never been a part of such madness, are able to find structure and are able to be trusted to do the right thing.

Students are able to 'playfully work together and learn about the creative process: how to imagine new ideas, try them out, test the boundaries, experiment with alternatives, get feedback from others, and generate new ideas based on their experiences.'

Kindergarten classrooms are a hotbed for makers and the maker movement. Kindergarten classrooms are spilling over with exploration and discovery. Kindergarten classrooms beam with pride as kids put their best efforts forward to please their teachers and expand their knowledge of the world.

Kindergarten classrooms are indeed a magical place.

So, what can other classrooms at other grade levels learn from Kindergarten classrooms?

What if 'instead of making kindergarten more like the rest of school, we make the rest of school – indeed, the rest of life – more like kindergarten?'
'We live in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before. Today’s children will face a continual stream of new issues and challenges in the future. Things that they learn today will be obsolete tomorrow. To thrive, they must learn to design innovative solutions to unexpected problems. Their success and satisfaction will be based on their ability to think and act creatively. Knowledge alone is not enough: they must learn how to use their knowledge creatively.'

So, what if all classrooms were like Kindergarten classrooms?

Ideas and several lines in this blog post came from this article titled, 'Lifelong Kindergarten:' 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

5 alternatives to traditional homework

Many of us in education, both educators and students, look forward to breaks. Whether it's Spring Break, summer vacation, Thanksgiving and/or Christmas/Winter Break, both educators and students always get excited about a little time off and the chance to recharge.

I don't know about you, but during these breaks I find it to be beneficial and actually quite healthy to let go of and remove myself from work. I think these breaks should be focused on spending time with family, exploring personal interests, and at times, just simply sitting back and kicking our feet up.

Likewise, I'd like to see our students have the same opportunities to use these breaks as actual 'breaks.' It honestly hurts me when I hear of students who are buried in homework and buried in tasks that we educators have assigned for them during these breaks.

So, if you feel that you absolutely must assign some kind of homework or assignment during these upcoming breaks, I urge you to consider these non-traditional alternatives:

Watch a TV channel (age appropriate) you've never watched before: Have you flipped through the available channels recently? There are so many interesting and new TV options nowadays and when it comes to education, shouldn't we be focused on expansion of ideas and exploration of concepts? Imagine a student coming back from break all excited about something he/she didn't even know existed before. Sure, there's lot of trash TV, but there's also quite a lot of wonderful and educational TV that can really broaden our students' minds.

When you are out and about (with an adult), say 'hello' and ask every person you encounter or interact with 'how they are doing': Talk about a neat social experiment! Imagine that when standing in line, or browsing in a store, or simply walking in the parking lot to and from the car... how much can we learn from interacting with others and simply observing and experiencing the ups and downs of basic human and social interactions. Also, think about how this social experiment could go both ways... by being nice to strangers we possibly brighten their day while also being reminded of our influence on the attitudes of others.

Read about something you know nothing about: It doesn't matter if it's a magazine in the doctor's office or an article from the newspaper or something online. Go find something you know nothing about and read about it and learn something new. Simple and easy.

Either alone (if you are able) or with someone else, try and cook something you either never cooked before, or something you've never eaten before: The world is full of wonderful dishes and cooking is becoming a lost art for many young adults in our fast-paced society. Take some time during this break to explore the world of food and get a little experience navigating the kitchen. BONUS... if you can find a family member or relative to assist, the learning experience easily doubles!

Go outside (dress warm and appropriately) and explore a part of your neighborhood or town you've never explored before: Far too often we simply go to and from work and school, and that's it. We end up missing and never seeing the many great places right around where we live. Encourage our students to take time to get outside and get some fresh air and explore what's right beneath their noses.

What other non-traditional homework alternatives would you suggest if assigning homework was a 'must?'

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Are we giving standardized tests a bad wrap?

When it comes to assessments, there are a couple words that typically come to mind when determining their overall value.

The first word is reliability. Assessment reliability is defined as the degree to which an assessment or assessment tool produces stable and consistent results.

The second word is validity. Assessment validity is defined as the accuracy of the assessment when it comes to actually measuring what it's supposed to measure.

So, if we can agree upon these two definitions, then let's talk about the types of assessments our students do:

Type 1: Standardized state and federal-level mandated assessments

Type 2: Assessments that are a part of a purchased or canned program

Type 3: Assessments that are designed by the district and used consistently across grade levels and/or departments (common assessments)

Type 4: Assessments that are designed by individual teachers and used just for their individual classes and/or students

So, here is the million dollar question... when it comes to the four types of assessments that are most typically used in schools, and based on the agreed upon definitions, which of the four types do you believe are the most reliable and most valid?

Which assessments produce the most stable and consistent results?

Which assessments can we confidently say measure what they are actually intended to measure?

Which assessments have went through a vetting process to limit bias and ensure standard alignment?

Which assessments have had multiple sets of reviewers and multiple versions before being pushed into circulation?

Which assessments have been designed and created by folks who create and design assessments for a living?

Which assessments allow for apples to apples comparison and consistency across communities?

Are we giving standardized tests a bad wrap or should we consider some of the positives and strengths that naturally emerge as part of the standardized testing process?

Just a few marbles rolling around in my head right now...

Friday, November 14, 2014

I've been doing this for the last 13 years...

I've been visiting classrooms this school year at a much higher rate than in years past. Additionally, I've really tried to speak with a student or two during each of my visits to see what's going on and to simply stay in touch with students and what's happening in regard to their learning.

On one of my most recent visits, I visited one of our HS math classrooms.

The teacher in this classroom is an experienced and well-respected teacher among the teaching ranks at the HS.

This teacher has also been around long enough to have experienced first-hand the many pendulum swings in education.

Most importantly, this teacher has been a pioneer and early-adapter of moving forward with technology integration as well as some pretty progressive and innovative teaching practices.

This teacher has been doing the flipped classroom model for about a year now.

This teacher has also been embracing BYOD and technology integration in a HS math course, which most would consider pretty difficult.

This teacher has created a blog which is used to drive the activities for the day and the week and archives resources and information on what the students are learning and how they can empower themselves to take ownership in the learning process.

This teacher has made significant shifts in grading and redo/retake structures and has committed to ensuring a grade represents what a kid actually knows... and not just how well a kid plays the game of school.

So, today, I was speaking with a group of students in this HS math class. Many of the students, if not all, were seniors as this was an upper level math course.

I asked a few questions about the structure of the course and inquired about some of the changes that have been occurring recently with this teacher and the overall structure of the class.

And then, like a punch to the gut and slap to the face, I heard it...

'I've been doing this (school) for the last 13 years, and now the teacher is changing everything on me my senior year. Can't we just do things the way we've been doing them before?'

Wow... who would have thought these words would have come out of a student's mouth.

So, the next time we think about how the adults might be affected and impacted by significant change, let's make sure we don't forget how it might affect those kids who've found success in the old ways of doing things...

Monday, November 10, 2014

Accountability: Do we mean the same thing?

So, the word accountability is thrown around a lot in education, but the more I hear the word, the more I think we are really saying different things...

For example, teacher A wants to teach students accountability by holding firm to strict deadlines. Teacher A also does not allow redos and retakes because he/she thinks this is preparing kids for the harshness and reality of the real-world since redos and retakes aren't allowed. Teacher A believes firmly in designing assessments and activities that are hard (not necessarily rigorous) and thinks there should be some students who get high grades and other students who get low grades. Teacher A makes accountability a teacher vs. student enterprise and expects that students will naturally want to learn anything and everything just because he/she said so.

This is what teacher A believes is accountability...

Teacher B, on the other hand, wants to teach students accountability by holding them accountable to their own learning. Teacher B allows redos and retakes because he/she thinks learning is a process and sometimes there are ups and downs in this process. Teacher B acknowledges that redos and retakes are allowed in the real-world, and that for students, their everyday life is their 'real-world.' Teacher B also believes in designing and engineering highly challenging and rigorous learning experiences with appropriate levels of support. Teacher B holds his/her kids accountable by not allowing them to do anything but their best work and by not accepting anything less than their best. Teacher B put kids in charge of their progress and empowers them to own their learning.

This is what teacher B believes is accountability...

So, which teacher are you?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Preparing our students for a brave new world

Nearly 50% of occupations today will no longer exist in 2025. New jobs will require creative intelligence, social and emotional intelligence and ability to leverage artificial intelligence.

Workspaces with rows of desks will become completely redundant, not because they are not fit for purpose, but simply because that purpose no longer exists. Read the entire article here:

1,000 U.S. hiring managers revealed that eight in 10 view creativity as important to success yet they find that the majority of students are unprepared for the workplace of tomorrow. Read the entire article here:

Tier 1 skills needed to succeed:

Tier 2 skills needed to succeed:

Tier 3 skills needed to succeed:

Read the entire article here:

Google determined 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." Read the entire article here:

So, where does your school district fit in this brave new world?

Where do the students who will graduate from your district fit in this brave new world?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What happens when we ask the students?

In my district we've been seeking input and feedback from all of our stakeholders as we revisit and update our strategic plan.

The more we talked about who our true stakeholders were, the more we realized we needed to involve our students in the process. So, since we are a GAFE district, we emailed every student grades 4 - 12 (all of whom have a district Gmail account) asking for their input and feedback.

The question was simple: what are the 4 words or phrases you would use to describe the perfect school district?

The Wordle (which pulls out the most frequently used words) is below:

I wonder if that big word right in the middle of this Wordle has anything to do with the loss of enthusiasm toward school as kids get older and spend more time in the system...

I just wonder...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

10 ways to transform the way we do education

1). Let's take what the most innovative and progressive companies are doing and try and replicate it within our schools... Far too often education is behind and lacking when it comes to what is happening in everyday society. Education is constantly in a state of reaction and is very rarely setting the tone for what happens in the lives of most. Education should be learning from the trend-setting companies and organizations that are leading the way rather than constantly responding to the trends being set by others.

2). Let's require and build time into the schedule for teachers to go observe other teachers... There's no argument that teachers observing other teachers is one of the best forms of professional growth, yet we don't require it or build time into the everyday schedule for teachers to do it. Let's hire a few more teachers so we can free up some time and then let's get teachers learning from other teachers. A more effective teaching staff for a few extra dollars sounds like a good investment to me.

3). Let's revamp, revisit, and retarget our hiring procedures and practices... The hiring practice and general education system tend to reward and attract very conservative, very 'safe', and very predictable educators. Most in education played the game of school very well and thrived in the traditional school setting. Maybe it's time we hired a few folks who didn't fit the mold and those who maybe bucked the system from time-to-time... maybe we need some folks who didn't thrive in the traditional system to help us see how we can improve it for everyone...

4). Let's eliminate the ridiculous practice of having bells and having each and every second a student is at school consumed with 'tasking...' We jam pack every single day at school for students and most (including educators) barely have any time to eat lunch or go to the restroom. We believe that any time not structured is lost time and wasted time, but in reality we are turning school into a job for many of our students. The most innovative companies know ideas and learning need time to simmer and take time to cook... we need to ensure we build this kind of time into the typical school day and we can't just focus on time utilization, but rather on time maximization.

5). Let's start using the 'wasted' spaces in our buildings for learning... Enough said.

6). Let's commit to having students create as much as they consume... When we simply have our students consume information, they are merely taking and giving nothing back. Of course, our kids need to know some stuff before they can do too much, but when our kids consume it should be with the goal of creating something even better in return.

7). Let's require administrators to teach a general education class as part of their administrative duties... If administrators are the instructional leaders in their buildings, then they need to be in the 'trenches' with teachers demonstrating and showcasing their skills. This practice is used in countries around the world, and if we truly value the expertise of our building leaders, then they need opportunities to keep the saw sharp by working with students in a classroom setting.

8). Let's make a commitment to providing more unstructured time for exploration and discovery... The makerspace movement is gaining moment for a reason, and it's because kids are encouraged to explore and discover by creating, tinkering, taking apart, and building. We need more learning spaces in our schools and in our classrooms for kids to do unstructured learning and untethered exploration. Sure, things won't work and lots of stuff will fail, but it's in failure that true learning becomes possible.

9). Let's make opportunities and access to resources a higher priority than just salary... So, don't get me wrong, money matters and money is important. But, what if instead of giving folks more money for simply being a year older, we focused on providing those who demonstrate a willingness, commitment to, and learner-centered mindset, opportunities and resources that not everyone gets? What if our rockstars got the best and newest technologies before others? What if our innovators and risk-takers got opportunities to attend the best and biggest learning conferences? It's not about being fair and equitable, it's about recognizing and rewarding those who are doing what's best for kids.

10). Lastly and most importantly... let's stop holding onto and wishing what was will return and replace that mindset with taking full advantage of what could be and will be... We can't let our simple and closed adult minds get in the way of the mind of a child which sees no limits and barriers. Our top priority as educators should be to ensure kids leave the same way as they found us in regard to their free-flowing and open-minded approach to life.

So, let's start transforming... the world needs you.