30 July 2005


Gentle Readers, it is time for the Goddess to have her summer holiday. Rest assured that I will return at the end of this week. I'm off to explore some new things and try to function without being part of the ether world for a few days. I hope that you get a chance to get out and play, too. See you on Friday!

It's Sad When PD Starts to Invade Your Dreams

Teachers have school dreams/nightmares. It's part of the gig. I have asked people in other professions (like my dentist) if they have sleeptime explorations of job-related issues. So far, they all seem to do just that. The brain is a wondrous thing.

So, in the wee hours of the morning today, I was dreaming about doing professional development with teachers. This is a first for me...and seeing as I will be leaving on holiday later today, I hope it's the last one for awhile. :)

In the first dream I had, there was a bonfire. The idea was for teachers to burn all of the "bad" stuff that they had in their files. All of the things that weren't aligned to the standards...or were based on "poor" models of teaching...were to be turned to ash. This would then allow us all to start over with what we do in the classroom. Now that I think about it in the cold light of day, it was really more of a nightmare than a dream. Most teachers (including me) are involved in a co-dependent relationship with their file cabinet---and with good reason. But I think the problem my brain was picking at was "How do you get teachers to change what they do in the classroom?"

My second dream was much nicer. It was not more realistic, but perhaps it had a better take on the problem-of-the-night. I remembered that the most likely way to effect this sort of change is to provide individual teachers with evidence. There should be data available to show student performance before and after new practices are put in place. Most of the rest of my dream was about determining the type of data to choose and how to get it into the hands of teachers. I woke up with these thoughts on my mind. I didn't reach any particular resolution with them yet. But I think that I would like to. It may be very important to do so.

In a couple of weeks, I will be meeting with the district Data Queen. I think I will ask her about the measurement aspect to things: what is most meaningful to track and the best way to do that. Maybe I can pilot something this year. I haven't a clue what it would look like. It would be nice to think that there's some way to roll a professional study group, action research, PTL, job-embedded staff development, and other items into one package.

29 July 2005

Equal vs. Fair

I subscribe to a few listservs. I find the one sponsored by the College Board for AP Biology to be particularly good. Help on almost any topic (no matter how obscure the question) is just a click away. I have several folders full of suggestions on making the required labs run more smoothly, ways to demonstrate or model information for kids, and so on. There are always all sorts of discussion threads running at once, although a few seem to repeat from year to year.

One of these threads has to do with pre-requisites for taking AP Biology. There are a variety of schools of thought here. The College Board recommends that students have taken chemistry prior to AP Bio, and many schools follow this suggestion (my school was one of them). Some schools have no pre-requisite requirements. Others have several. The push in my district is to remove any "gates" for upper division courses. If a kid wants to try a class, let him/her do so. In some ways, I have no problem with this. Perhaps a certain lack in their academic background is a handicap, but I can think of plenty of kids I've had who have had the proper course "pedigree" but didn't want to make an effort to apply it. I'm happy to have the kid who wants to try to make a go of the class, regardless of their previous preparation.

Today, one of the members of the listserv posted these thoughts about doing away with pre-requisites:

Why do we need to be more inclusive for those kids who want in to AP classes? This mindset really bothers me. Our policy is too lenient as it is at having a 90% in Bio 1 and passing Chem 1 to get into AP Bio. It should be tougher than that. These kids need a taste of reality. Should we let anyone into med school who wants? What about law school? NO. They have to learn that you have to earn spots in certain cases. It should be an honor to get into the class and the kids who get in should feel a sense of pride about it, not look across the room at some kid who shouldn’t be in there. I am sorry if I offended anyone, but this mindset that this country is moving towards of making everything equal just fires me up. There is a huge difference between equal and fair. I agree with being fair, but everything will not always be equal.


Stepping back to take a look at the larger picture, I can't quite agree with this particular view of "equal vs. fair." It is absolutely true that there are limited numbers of spots for different post-graduate programs, but why should a high school class be as competitive as med school? Is it "fair" that many students nationwide have been "tracked" away from more rigorous curriculum because of their skin colour and/or socio-economic status---and now they can't get out because they weren't allowed to take the pre-requisite courses? (Are these the kids who "shouldn't be there" that the other students will have to look at?) Is it "fair" to tell a kid that because they slacked off their studies when they were 14 and didn't get a certain grade in a class that they should be prohibited from showing they can and want to apply themselves to their studies? It's true, not everything will be equal. But I would like to think that we could at least level the playing field a bit and make it fair for students of all backgrounds.

My Boss Lady in Curriculum is an exceptional woman and I am learning a lot from her. One of the things that I have liked is watching her listen to someone on a rant about which classes are appropriate for which students (in their opinions). She actively listens. She shows concern. And then she simply states that we have to teach the kids who show up. We can't control how much money their families have...or how much time they spend on homework...or what they eat. What we can control is what happens in our classrooms during the moments those kids are in there. What will you do to make the most of that time for them? And how can I support you?

Like it or not, she's right. Every kid deserves the opportunity for a rigorous education. This does not mean that every kid needs to take AP Biology, only that we need to be in the business of helping kids find their potential---not keep them from doing so. All things being equal, that seems pretty fair to me.

28 July 2005

The Evolution of Inservice

The last couple of days, I've been posting about the upcoming inservice days my district will be having. And since the concept and themes for these days was brought up in April, I have had a major concern about sustainability. Maybe that isn't the right term---but what I'm trying to work out is how we take this one day inservice and give it legs. If our message is so vital, how do we make it part of the classroom every day?

My district has really bought into the idea of coaches for math and literacy (reading/writing). They have primarily been assigned to the elementary schools, but my school had a literacy coach for two years. For classroom teachers, these people are a fabulous resource. They are experts at putting research into practice and are there to help design lessons with teachers, teach model lessons, help with reflective practice, and more. (You can read more about coaches here. ID: bugmenot@123.com; Password: password) I know that coaches will help with our district focus where they can.

The big emphasis these days seems to be on "job embedded staff development." This means that instead of taking a day to go to a workshop, you take a day to work with colleagues. It occurs during the work day (hence, "job embedded") instead of after school or on weekends. Preliminary research seems to show that this is the most effective way to help teachers become better practitioners. Education Week has a nice article on professional development and current thought around it. (ID: bugmenot@123.com; Password: password) Lots of us are searching for answers when it comes to helping teachers be better at helping all students achieve.

The one problem that I've run into (so far) with the job embedded model is that teachers don't like to be out of the classroom. Not that I blame them. It's a pain to prep for a sub and to have to come back and deal with things. The staff development has to be so good that you can tip the scales to make teachers feel that their effort to be there is amply rewarded. I believe that's a fair expectation. And it will be up to me in the future to make sure that I do that.

I know that my district is working to have professional development evolve to include two days per year per teacher for observing in other classrooms. I'm not sure how they'll manage that. We're talking about over 700 teachers...180 class days (not all of which are suitable for observations: first days, state testing, end of semesters)...and subs are always a premium item.

I am glad that inservice is starting to change. I'm not sure what it will look like in another ten years. My guess is that the focus will continue to be on classroom practice, but I hope by then that we will have figured out most of the "hard stuff" related to student achievement. I'm sure that there will be new challenges by then.

27 July 2005

Planning Ahead, Part II

The Elementary "Curriculum Day" in August is more or less laid out in my mind. I know what I'm supposed to do and need to get my presentation fleshed out and polished up.

But the next inservice day in August is for Secondary teachers (grades 7 - 12). The first half of the day will consist of two 90-minute sessions, one of which will be the mandatory Duane Baker PTL thing. This time, teachers will be split up according to schools, rather than grade levels. This is because some schools have already been indoctrinated. Others, like mine, consist of heathens that are to be brought into the fold. So, Duane will have different messages for different audiences.

I am supposed to have a presentation at the ready for the 90-minute session that teachers aren't PTL'ing. It doesn't have to be science oriented. In fact, the Curriculum department would prefer it not to be. And I haven't a clue what to do with that. Very soon, I'm going to have to give them some sort of answer. It's rather frightening, considering that I will have to present some area of "expertise" with all the brain-based strategies thrown in for good measure.

The afternoon is reserved for content area meetings. This means that for two and a half hours, all the science teachers in the district will be gathered together. I have a huge amount of things to share with them and work through...especially for the short time frame. Here, I'm only concerned about having to do the PTL stuff with them---as in model strategies or have a discussion. Frankly, I know my audience. And professional or not, this part just isn't going to fly. I'm not the only one worried about this, either, as several other of the content area leaders know what the groups will be like.

So there you have it. Two days of major stuff to plan. And the big overarching question I have about both is "sustainability." What little research there is on professional development shows that "one shot" workshops result in the least change in the classroom. If the district is truly going to make PTL a focus from here on out---what other plans are being developed to supplement the work we do in August? How will teachers be supported so that they can make the necessary modifications to their work in the classroom? And how will we know if it's really having any effect?

I suppose that those are really not my concerns. The Boss Lady and principals are those tasked with "supervision." But I hate to spend so much time and effort planning these days when their effects on students will be negligible.

It's about the kids, isn't it?

Don't Forget...

It's Carnival Day! This week, Jenny D. has taken on the task of hosting the midway. Do visit if you can. My three faves this week are
  • Get Out Your Blenders and Drink Up from Eduwonk. It's a wonderful use for the all of the eduspeak out there. I'd love to play, but I'm too busy working them into my presentations next month. :) On the other hand, maybe things would be nicer to do after a few drinks.
  • Over at Extreme Wisdom, it's claimed that Being an Educator Is Not a Special Calling. I agree, but not for the same reasons as the author of this post. It's good food for thought, however, written by someone outside the field of education.
  • Unprofessional Development is on the mind of a Teach for America teacher. He's upset about the way inservice is conducted. I've been frustrated by some similar issues, but after taking my position at the district level, I now see why things are what they are. This does not excuse inservice done poorly.

I'll be back a little later on to get out my blender and talk about professional development I am planning for next month.

26 July 2005

Planning Ahead, Part I

In another month, things will be cranking up again for another school year. There will be a few days of "inservice." I am heavily involved with two of these. The district has chosen "Powerful Teaching and Learning (PTL)" as the focus for the 2005 - 2006 school year. PTL, which conjures up frightening images of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker for me, is actually just fancy packaging for brain-based learning and student engagement. As district science goddess, I'll have to put on a good show of not only buying into all of this, but also practicing what is being preached in front of every possible audience.

The first day of inservice is just for elementary teachers (grades K - 6). There will be four 90-minute sessions. Teachers will be split into four grade level groups. Two sessions will be mandatory: Duane Baker preachin' the PTL gospel and the new math curriculum alignment. Teachers will have choices for the remaining two sessions. This is where I come in. I have committed to presenting on "inquiry" as it relates to the science standards.

Content-wise, I have no concerns. I have some good tools to put in teachers' hands and I understand how to connect it to the standards. I am a little nervous about other things. First of all, I've never taught elementary...although I did teach sixth grade when it was part of a middle school. I don't know if my lack of "street cred" is going to damage anything. I've also been reading How Students Learn: Science in the Classroom. This book shows the application of cognitive sciences to helping students learn to do science and think scientifically. One thing that I have really pulled from it is the sense that our teaching of science needs to be more conceptual. But the tools we primarily use (textbooks, kits...) are more fact-based. So, my other concern about my presentations is how to translate this to teachers who are already overwhelmed with what they are to do and are not experts in science. I am thinking that if I pick the "right" kind of experiment to do with these teachers during our time together, that it will help. "Right" meaning that it fits the grade level that's being taught...addresses the standards...has a strong inquiry component...and may cause teachers to confront and explore some misconceptions they may have about the content. It's not such a simple bill to fill. I am glad to have some time to reflect on this and look for something suitable.

The icing on the cake is that I have to model a few of the brain-based strategies when I do all of this. It's not that these are "new" to me or that they are bad ideas---but it's a very different style for working with adults. At least for me. Will I be able to successfully juggle all of that in with everything else that's being presented?

Okay, so it's July and I should just chill out. But I'm the kind of person who likes to have a lot of "think time." Tomorrow, I'll fill you in on what's in store for the day for secondary teachers. PTL and pass the aspirin.

25 July 2005

Scores and More

I had to run into the nearest town today and take care of a few items of business. This included the most important (to me) job: retrieving my AP score report from my school mailbox. Overall, I have to say that I am pleased with the scores---with 2/3 of the kids "passing" with a score of 3, 4, or 5. It is good to know most of my students managed to succeed in spite of me. :)

Speaking of AP, I did delve into the Big Blue Box I brought home for the summer. It contains my resources for that class, compartmentalized into fifteen folders. Each folder represents one unit of study. At the moment, things are placed in the folders by topic, but they are unorganized. I spent some time looking at them today. I also retooled my curriculum a bit. I am pretty happy with the format I've used the last two years. I do think that I'll try a slightly different sequence at the beginning of the year next year and see what happens. I'm basing this on feedback I got from last year's students---what would have helped them more. I also tried to organize my thoughts regarding a class blog and some other new things I'd like to attempt this year.

WASL scores should be available very soon. As in "later this week," I hope. Our district testing coordinator said that I could start hounding her for them the last week in July. I am, however, forbidden to share them with anyone until she has made a formal presentation of them to school principals mid-August.

I also outlined the two curriculum days for staff that I have to help with next month and corralled some resources. It's likely that I won't look at this stuff again for a couple more weeks, but at least I have captured some thoughts for now.

Meanwhile, I got my car all checked out and a had a minor engine repair tended to. This process took longer than I had anticipated, mainly because the mechanic thought there was an odd vibration to things after it was all put back together. I have to tell you, from a woman's point of view, that vibration is rather nice. And if it's only going to be felt when the car is sitting in traffic, then that's all the better to pass the time. Ahem.

I took in a Pontiac that looks like this:

2000 Pontiac Grand Am by jparise CC-BY

And while there, a Pontiac like this arrived:

'58 Bonneville by Cauldrongraphix CC-BY

I asked to take the pretty black one with the fins home with me. Instead, I was sent home with the one that brung me. Ah, those fleeting summer loves.

24 July 2005

Pet Parade

The town festival continues. This morning was the Pet Parade. There were bunnies, rats, chickens, snakes, lizards, hermit crabs, miniature horses, turtles, and lots and lots of dogs. The owners have as much fun dressing up as they have in decorating their pets. (Most of the pets aren't so excited by the whole thing.) It makes for quite the unique event.

There is also a classic car show going on. I like looking at them, but even better are the conversations I get to hear. People enjoy talking about how a certain car reminds them of a particular time in their life---or of a person. The air was ripe with nostalgia.

As soon as the tide goes out a little farther, a town baseball game will take place on the beach. I haven't decided whether or not to wander down and watch. It is another beautiful day to be out enjoying what Life has to offer.

23 July 2005

What Summer Is All About

This beach bunny (both she and her pop gave permission to snap a photo) was out enjoying our town festival today. There is a sand castle building contest in progress. Her family's entry is a "ferry monster:"

People are out and about all over the village square. A root beer float can be had for $1.50. The salmon bake dinner tonight for $7. And if you're still ready to party, a BYOB dance begins at 8 p.m. Tomorrow there will be a classic car show, pet parade, and town baseball game on the beach.

I've had a bite of lunch and will have a short rest before my dinner duties resume. I am to be back at 3 to help with kitchen prep for the salmon bake. (We started yesterday by chopping ingredients for the cole slaw.) More later. :)

22 July 2005


When I started my career in teaching, Bart Simpson and Beavis and Butthead were also newly introduced to the world. I remember the moral outrage about all of them. They were, apparently, going to be to blame for the end of western civilization as we knew it. Much like Elvis after his appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. Or those naughty flappers and that pesky voting rights for women movement even longer ago. What stuck with me most about Bart and his contemporaries was the influence it had on the slang students used.

Since then, I've seen other terms enter our social vocabulary: da bomb, sweet, my bad, and jacked up. Sometimes I have asked kids what they mean when I hear a term for the first time. Other times, it's easy to figure out within the context it's given---kind of like seeing a new word in print.

The most recent additions to the "kidspeak" pantheon are coming from the on-line world. Some are terms used by hackers. Most of the words come from slang found in chat rooms. By the end of last year, terms like "n00b" and "pwned" were becoming standard among my students. I've even had kids say "j k happy face." (translation: "Just kidding, okay?") In print, these terms take on a variety of spellings---often including numbers or other symbols in place of letters. But I haven't seen my kids using them in their written work. Yet.

I found this link on another site yesterday. It was written to illustrate what World War II would have been like if it had been played out in an on-line gamers' forum. Warning: implied four-letter words and other inappropriate/offensive terms are liberally sprinkled throughout. Read at your own risk. If you do choose to follow the link and need help translating any of the lingo, go here. I have to say that I find the concept of this illustration rather clever: taking a historical event and giving it a modern twist. I'm wondering if I might be able to offer something like this as an option for kids next year, although without the more offensive elements. Not for every assignment, mind you---but I do like to give students some choices in terms of products when I can. Demonstrating that one can "meet the standard" need not require a three-paragraph essay.

Even if I don't end up using this in class, I know that the "kidspeak" will continue to evolve. New pop culture references will creep in and I will have to learn a whole new set of slang words. I hope I can keep up.

21 July 2005

Internet or Sci-Fi?

As I continue to toss around the idea of having some sort of on-line component for my class and me, I'm thinking about lots of things. Would participation with it be part of their grade? Can I structure it to protect their privacy? What format would be most user-friendly and interactive? Why do these things have to have some sort of weird name---like George Lucas thought them up?

A blog is an obvious choice. Is Blogger my best option? I know that I can restrict who is able to view the blog, so that might help keep anyone trolling for info on sweet young things out of our way. But perhaps there are features that might be useful to us that aren't offered by Blogger. I've been looking at MyBlogSite.com. I like the option of a calendar and a way to arrange files by topic. This could be really handy for kids...especially when we're preparing for The Exam in May. I'm not interested in LiveJournal (although most kids have an "LJ"). Typepad might be nice, but I'd have to pony up for it. I'm thinking that "free" is a word I would very much like to have associated with whatever format is chosen.

After scoping out the Education Carnival yesterday, I discovered that there are such things as Blookis. They are part blog, part book, part twiki. This is an intriguing idea, too. It would give us all a way to maintain and edit our own pages. Here, too, money could be an issue---I'd need to find a host server. I suppose it's possible to put it on the school server, but I'm a little nervous about that. My job is then at risk for any controversial content that could appear (and very well may...these are teens, after all). I'm not saying that I won't monitor what we create, but it is different when you know Big Brother has the final word. Next year will be a grand experiment. I'm not ready to deal with bureaucracy just yet.

I think my next step is to spend some time surfing for other classroom blogs. I have done this a bit---but I would like to see more how different people are using these tools. Maybe I can even find out a little more about what helps them be successful.

For now, it's time to grab some lunch and sunshine...and find something with a non-sci-fi name to do.

20 July 2005

Academic Estivation

Some animals estivate: the summer form of "hibernation." This is most common with herps. They will literally cook themselves to death when it is too hot since they lack a way to regulate their body temperature. Also, the heat of summer may be a time when vegetation is lacking for prey animals and so predators (like herps) are also impacted. The herps head to anyplace cool to hang out until the heat of summer passes.

I've been thinking that estivation may also impact teachers. Summertime may somehow induce a state of torpor in teachers. My "statcounter" shows very few hits in the last week or so. "Carnival Days" like today, usually bring anywhere from 100 - 600 extra visitors here. This week, it has been seven. (Last Wednesday was around 50.) I am hoping that educators are out and about this July...trying not to think of what will come in August. They are, perhaps, estivating from all things "school."

I can't say that I blame them. I admit that I haven't done anything classroom related in a month or so. All of that will change soon enough. Estivation will give way to all kinds of renewed activity.

Enjoy yourselves. I'll still be here when you get back.

19 July 2005

Stay Tuned

The blog will be having a makeover here in the next day or so. I'm excited about the new look and hope that you will be, too.

I have spent the day reading The Secret Life of Bees, doing more stitching, and organizing some things. After another walk on the beach at low tide, I read about the different kinds of barnacles we have around here and even watched some barnacle porn. I am avoiding the Big Blue Box which contains all of my AP stuff. At some point I will tackle it and wrestle it into submission...all with the goal of restructuring the class for next year (now just 6 weeks away).

For now, I'm just enjoying the freedom of summer.

18 July 2005

Now and Then

For the first time in my life, I live very close to the ocean---as in a few hundred yards from it. I took a leisurely stroll to the post office this morning by way of the beach. There are some very low tides for the next several days. This morning I was able to walk far out along the sandy beach. I looked at sand dollars and teased some anemones. I listened to the barnacles who were currently stranded above the water line. I even picked up the largest shell I have ever seen. Later, I took a walk down the pier and gazed at Seattle. Lots of small children and dogs were playing in the warm water. Everyone seems grateful for summer to be here.

But all of this is still new to me. I'm really much more of a desert rat by definition. I grew up in the Chihuahuan Desert where there wasn't much playing during a summer's day. It was too darned hot. Once the sun started to set and things cooled off, it was very different.

Instead of hunting for shells, we went herping. I know that this sounds like a wonderful way to contract a socially transmitted disease. What it's about is collecting snakes and lizards. Being ectothermic, these animals depend on outside sources to maintain their body temperature. At night, they come out to the highways and lay on the radiant asphalt for the night. This also makes for good one stop shopping for whatever you might be looking for: kingsnakes, skinks, and the like. There's good money to be had if you can collect something desirable. I've always had a thing for snakes, even though I've never owned one. (Yes, Dr. Freud, I know.)

If you're really looking for a good time, you could travel down the road to watch for the Marfa Lights. These are colored blobs of lights that dance around on the horizon. (The more beer you have beforehand, the easier it is to spot them.) There have been documented observations of the lights since the 1800's and some claim that native Americans saw them even earlier. No one is really sure what they are...although plenty of explanations abound.

Giant Film Production Sign by sashafatcat CC-BY

 The observation area is not too far from where the movie Giant was filmed. There are plenty of locals around to tell you about seeing Elizabeth Taylor at the country club. Even my next door neighbor got to ride around on Rock Hudson's shoulders when he mowed the lawn at her grandfather's house (where Hudson was staying during filming). For many years, you could see the "Reata" house from the highway. It was just a facade, of course. It eventually fell down from neglect. I'm still sad about that.

I have a different sort of life now. One that's providing some new avenues of learning and thinking. But I do have to smile when I think about the 3-year olds talking about the tide pools this morning...and wondering what would happen if they met up with some young desert rats.

17 July 2005

Technology Management Idea

A couple of days ago, I posted some information from Edutopia concerning the use of media in the classroom. There were some new things to think about in the article---something I always appreciate. One of those was pondering how to actually get the technology. eSchool News published an article (id: bugmenot@123.com) the next day about a possible way to hold costs down while keeping the technology sustainable.

The idea here is that instead of outfitting a classroom with a set of computers, software, and miscellaneous hardware which has a three - five year "life span" before becoming obsolete, that you buy one set for the teacher. Here in Washington, a program will be piloted next year. These classrooms will receive the following (at a cost of ~$8400):

It is still a hefty price tag---but is far cheaper to update over time than continuing to buy new classroom sets of student hardware and software every few years. "The combination of a whiteboard, projector, sound system, and personal response system makes up for the lack of individual computing devices for students by allowing them to engage with the instructor, the technology, and each other, while not leaving them huddled around a single desktop PC four at a time."

I admit that I really do like this idea. I am especially interested in the wireless response system and would like to see one demonstrated. According to the eSchool article, "the wireless eInstruction keypad system permits anonymous, immediate student responses to teacher polls and allows educators to view the success of any given lesson immediately. Its data-management system also allows teachers to track student progress and performance data against state standards." Sounds like quite a tool, don't you think?

When I begin to think about the cost involved in outfitting classrooms like this, my head hurts. My district has always been generous about getting technology into the classroom, but we are mostly the "buy new computers and software" mode. I wonder if I could convince anyone to try to switch us over to something different? Some long term planning, some thought given to this for our upcoming Maintenance and Operations levy, and maybe the process could be started. In the meantime, perhaps I'll try to sniff out some tech grants.

16 July 2005

Summery Idea

I like this idea...looks like a comfy spot to read a book:

Maybe it comes as a set? Matching tables and chairs?

15 July 2005

Same Old Song---Will Anyone Dance?

Those of you who have been recently haunting the edusphere have likely noticed lots of posts about teacher pay. Some states (like California and Texas) are seriously looking into "merit pay" for teachers. Others are simply taking advantage of a free market system: the more you offer, the better pool you attract (a/k/a the "get what you pay for" theory).

But will more pay---regardless of how it's assigned---attract more people to the profession? And, will it bring people to teaching for those vital positions that are hardest to fill: math, science, and special ed?

An Op Ed piece in the Indianapolis Star claims that a "one size fits all" with regards to teacher salary isn't appropriate. Indiana has recently been funding a program to transition people from other professions into teaching. But even with "modest successes," they still lack a deep pool of teachers from critical areas. Why teach for $32,000 a year when you can work as a drug company chemist for $60,000 a year?

As a society, we'd like to think that teaching is something of a noble profession...even a "calling." Therefore, salary and benefits shouldn't be at the forefront of our thinking. Maybe that's how things should be. It isn't how they are. People like money---for the security it gives and for the toys it buys. If one employer is willing to look at your education and credentials and pay you twice what another employer will, I'm thinking that nearly everyone would choose the higher pay. Even if you would be a knockout teacher.

The Indianapolis Star suggests that in order to level the playing field a bit, that teachers of math, science, and special ed be on a different pay scale---an elevated one which would (hopefully) allow more professionals in the industry to get into teaching without a significant decrease in financial security.
Critics argue it's not fair to pay a high school trigonometry teacher more than a second-grade classroom teacher since both work equally hard transforming lives. Is it fair to our kids that 15 percent of high school math teachers didn't major or minor in mathematics? Is it fair that 95 percent of urban school districts have openings now for math teachers and can't fill them?

I don't see any end to the teacher pay debate for the foreseeable future. I have no doubt that the NEA will fight any talk of merit pay or separate pay scales for different specialties. Instead, they will continue to endorse the pay scale developed over 100 years ago---one which rewards older teachers (and protects "bad" ones) while punishing the new blood we so richly need in our schools.

Lost in the shuffle are our students. Do they or do they not deserve the best math and science teachers possible?

14 July 2005

Media Smarts

Have you heard grumbles from teachers (perhaps even yourself) about a time when kids were "easier" to teach? A time when they had longer attention spans?

Consider the following:

A national Kaiser Family Foundation survey found children and teens are spending an increasing amount of time using “new media” like computers, the Internet and video games, without cutting back on the time they spend with "old" media like TV, print, and music. Instead, because of the amount of time they spend using more than one medium at a time (for example, going online while watching TV), they're managing to pack increasing amounts of media content into the same amount of time each day.

I am certainly guilty of some of this, too. Why else would I continue to wonder why technology is supposed to make life easier...and yet I don't have any more "time" in my day? Every time I have added something (e-mail, cell phone, PDA...), I haven't taken anything away. How did I expect these things to make my life nicer when I didn't use them to replace "slower" modes of dealing with the world. I just added to what I juggle in my school bag.

Anyway, the implications for kids include

"...students in grades 3-12 spend an average of six hours and twenty-one minutes plugged in to some type of media each day. Accounting for multitasking, the figure jumps to about eight and a half hours including nearly four hours of TV viewing and forty-nine minutes of video game play. Comparatively, homework gets slightly less than fifty minutes of attention. For this digital generation, electronic media is increasingly seductive, influential, and pervasive, yet most schools treat the written word as the only means of communication worthy of study. Therefore, most American students remain poorly equipped to think critically about, and express themselves through, the media that defines them.

"Media literacy means various things to different people, encompassing everything from the basics of graphic design to critical analysis of advertising images and news broadcasts. 'One of the radical ideas behind media education is to make school more student centered,' says Robert Kubey, director of Rutgers University's Center for Media Studies. 'That isn't to say that we pander to whatever students are interested in so that the whole curriculum is about video games and rap music. But we want to understand a little better about the pleasures and interests that students have and use that as an avenue to have intellectual and analytic discourse about these products. Could they be better? What makes this one good? Are there moral values being taught? In other words, reach kids where they live.'" (Edutopia)

This is an interesting take on things. All too often, I hear from teachers that we aren't entertainers. We are all for making learning as engaging as possible, but it is not our job to sing and dance and give lessons in sound bites. (I'm sure I've said these things myself...and on more than one occasion.) But it is interesting to look at it through the lens described above. Can we use media to somehow "reach kids where they live" and then find a way to use that to teach them to think critically about the "media that defines them"?

I wonder about the infrastructure necessary for this kind of change in education. Will schools have the technology (LCD projectors, SmartBoards...) to help carry this out? Will we be able to train teachers to look at media the way their students do---and then find ways to use it in our classes? Can we have the support personnel to supply expertise in the classroom for these projects?

As usual...I don't have any answers to these questions. But I do like thinking about them. It keeps me on the lookout for ideas that might fit. Things for teachers in my district to try. Possible ways to fund the hardware we need. Conferences to attend. I don't expect to find the magic panacea to all that ills the classroom, but maybe I can help piece a few things together in the interim.

Many thanks to my Sweetie for sending the Edutopia link to me this morning.

Update: An article published the next day in eSchool news provided another idea for managing this technology. Have a look!

13 July 2005

Carnival Day!

I know that we educators tend to forget what day of the week it is during summer holiday. This is just a reminder that it is Wednesday and the Education Wonks have the weekly midway open. As always, they've put together a fantastic selection of posts. Please do go and support them.

12 July 2005

Other Summer Stuff

As I poke around on other edublogs, I'm finding that other teachers are following the same summer pattern as me: some fun, some personal projects, and some thinking about school. As much as most of us try to leave the classroom world behind for a few weeks, it's hard to completely resist doing something constructive with the abundance of "think time" we know have. I did bring home a batch of things to do over the summer. I haven't touched a single one...yet.

One thing that I don't like about teaching is that there is no finished "product." Yes, we graduate students. We do write lesson plans and go to meetings. But it is not the same as being able to point to something you've completed. I think that is what attracts me to the idea of working with my hands to build or restore something. Perhaps it is even what is satisfying about this blog: there is something that I can see as a product of my time.

I do cross-stitch. And I especially enjoy doing this in the summer. Making something while I watch movies gives me a lot of opportunity to get my head organized...and still end up with something for my time. When I have my stitching at school, I always get several kids commenting that they would like to learn to do something like this. (Even the guys.) I think most of them also have the same sense that they rarely have something to show for their time. Also, some of the more "intense" students know they need a way to unwind and have their own version of think time. DMC has a nice mentor program that they're sponsoring. Perhaps I should think about using that with some kids after school this year.

Right now, I'm working on this piece:

She only looks like this at the moment:

...but she'll come along. It's only been a week and a half of work so far. In the meantime, I'm getting lots of good opportunities to think about some goals for my class next year, for my district job, and just life in general. It really feels good, especially because I bought a new chair last month. It's oversized and very cozy. The cats and I are taking turns in it, but it's hard to push them out when they look as happy as you see below. I guess I'm not the only one who's glad the lazy days of summer have arrived.

11 July 2005

Mind the Gap

What I really wanted to do after finishing high school was have a "gap year." I didn't know what to call it. What I did know was that I wasn't ready to take on college. I wasn't even 17.5...felt as though I had been pushed through school...and I needed a break. In the minds of my parents, that really wasn't an option. You're done with high school? Pack your bags and go to college in the fall.

So, I did. And I figured that as long as I had to do it, I might as well get it over with in as short of an order as possible---finishing my degree requirements in less than 3 years. I'm not one of those people you'll find who will extoll the virtues of college and what a wonderful experience it was. It was just another hoop to jump through, as far as I was concerned. I'm sure that this was why I didn't get interested in teaching until the month I graduated from college.

But I still pine for that "gap year."

I read an article this morning about the current crop of U.S. high school graduates and the prevalence of the "gap year." As you might imagine, with all the (perceived) pressures that go along with college admissions these days, the "gap year" idea is pretty uncommon. "But experts say that as the admissions process gets more stressful, the case for a gap year gets stronger. Colleges generally encourage the practice — as long as students who have committed to one school don't use the extra year to apply elsewhere. Since the 1970s, Harvard has used the letter it sends to admitted applicants to advise them to consider a gap year. Some, like Sarah Lawrence, have sent similar letters after realizing more students than they expected planned to show up in the fall."

I hear very few of my own students talk about taking a year off after high school. Some of the Mormons do head out on their missions. But in general, if you're a kid who has college in mind, then you go right away after high school. In the future, I think I'll keep the following resources in mind:
  • Gapyear.com---A student's guide to taking time out.
  • Yearout Group---Students can use the gap year to live abroad and take part in any number of opportunities to learn a skill or volunteer
  • Taking Off---"A service for students who take time off from the traditional classroom to pursue experiential learning."

I do run into kids from time to time who, like me, aren't all that excited about going to college right away. It's in their plans, but they just feel like they need a year to get their poop in a pile. Maybe being able to hand them some ideas and resources would help their families and them draft a slightly different (and improved) plan for these kids.

10 July 2005

Catching Up

There are lots of things I enjoy about having a summer break. The lifting of the tunnel vision that afflicts me during the school year allows me to welcome back a variety of other aspects of life I enjoy. Right now, I'm getting caught up on my movie watching.

by Adolfo.c7 (c)2012

There was only one movie theatre in my hometown. It was owned by one of the university's chemistry professors (Rangra) and most of us referred to the theatre as "Rangravision." This was because the film was rarely in focus...the audio might be synched with the video, and if it was you still might not hear it because of the ventilation system...and often the film or projector would break. There were areas of seat cordoned off because they kept falling over. But hey, admission was only $3 (it still is, 25+ years after moving there) and $1.50 each Thursday night ("Bargain Night"). There are two shows daily: 6:30 and 9:00 p.m. If you're ever in town, do stop in for an unforgettable experience.

I don't go out to the movies very much here. I seem to wait for things to trickle to cable. This means that I'm just now watching the big movies of Summer 2004 now. So far, I've seen Spiderman 2; I, Robot; Timeline; The Stepford Wives; and a few others. (I remember reading Timeline a few years ago and thinking that Michael Crichton had written it as if it were a screenplay already.) I peruse the theatre listings for this area and consider sneaking off to see a late night showing of one film or another. Again, it is a luxury (ticket pricewise and timewise) that I don't have during the school year.

I am hoping, perhaps foolishly, that next year I might have more room in my life for these little luxuries. I will teach one class. Maybe that will mean more days when I can leave work at work and get out and see what the rest of the world has to offer. I can't resent my job for being an attention whore. It does seem to make me value "catching up" all the more.

09 July 2005

Note to Self...

Next time I'm bemoaning my working conditions, perhaps I should be thinking of teachers in Thailand. An article in Wednesday's New York Times (id: bugmenot2005; password: june2005) begins with "On the weekends now, the military firing range here is crowded with teachers - in shifts of 50 - trying out their pistols, an essential new accessory in a place where teaching school has become one of the most dangerous professions." Things go downhill from there.

On school days, car pools gather at 8 a.m. at the old Esso station in Yala and then head out to join guarded convoys into the countryside. The teachers are in their track suits, loose clothes and sneakers, ready to run if they have to. "This the teacher's life," Ms. Duangporn said, as she did several times through the day. "We don't go anywhere alone. If I have to leave school during the day, I can call a military officer to escort me." Some teachers have been killed when they decided to run an errand without a military escort. Teachers and their escorts have been wounded together by roadside bombs. When the school day is over at 3 p.m. and the military guards withdraw, nobody lingers, neither teachers nor children. Extracurricular activities have disappeared, along with much of the daily life of the south.

These events have come about due to "a long-simmering separatist movement in this former Malay sultanate lies at the heart of the violence, hand in hand with resentment at discrimination against Muslims and attempts at forced assimilation by the government."

A friend I am seeing later today had an opportunity to teach in Thailand next year. And even though he would have been well cocooned within the realm of the International School, I am relieved that he and his wife have chosen a school in China.

I have to wonder how long I'd remain a teacher if I had to do my job under the conditions described in the NYT article. Are you willing to possibly sacrifice your life in order to teach kids to read and write?

08 July 2005

A Little Unhealthy Competition?

I must admit that I have rarely had students enter competitions. Educators know that opportunities abound for nearly every kid, but it seems like time and curriculum constraints often get in the way. I do encourage individual students to try their hands at some of the different options that come my way (especially if scholarship money is involved), but I don't make these things whole-class assignments. I do, however, play games with kids to review material. I'm not sure if that counts as "competition" or not.

A recent article in the American School Board Journal (ASBJ) claims that competition is bad because (in part) it "brands every kid a loser but one." Yes, competition does imply that there will be "winners" and "losers," but is that such a terrible thing? I don't hear anyone claiming that we should rid ourselves of athletic events because someone is going to have to lose. Isn't learning to be a gracious loser part of life (even for non-athletes)? Or is all of this worry a fall out of NCLB, which tells us that every kid must be an equal winner? Are we back to the whole "don't use red ink" thing because it makes kids feel bad?

The author of the ASBJ article does make a few good points.
  • Competition (in the classroom) focuses too heavily on extrinsic motivation.
  • When students are just acquiring new knowledge and skills, competition is counterproductive to learning.
  • Both high and low achievers can feel negatively pressured by competition due to teacher expectations.

As you might imagine, she goes on to stress the improved quality of learning occuring in "cooperative" classrooms. These would be represented by classrooms where there is "an investment of time in which students discuss the purpose of their lessons, how they plan to learn new material, and what they will do to produce high-quality work," with the "key [being] to plan ways to involve every student in learning, beginning with the first minute of every class."

Hey, I'm all for this. Find me a teacher who wouldn't be thrilled to have every kid intrinsically motivated to be involved with their learning every day. I'm just not so sure that competition doesn't have it's place. I have to tell you that in my experiences over the years that I have found that boys (in general) very much enjoy competition. Too much touchy-feely cooperative stuff and they shut down. (I realize what a broad and sexist statement that is...just keep in mind it's anecdotal. But then, the author of the ASBJ article doesn't back up her claims with any data, either.) When I started teaching, everyone was still in the "make science 'girl friendly'" mode. I think we've gone a little too far with that. But even more importantly, one of the things that "play" teaches us is how to win and lose with the little grace...and understand that while we can't win all things all the time, we aren't losers all the time, either. It seems to me that's a healthy thing for any kid's self-esteem to have.

07 July 2005

Three Thousand...and Counting

Are there really 3000 of us educators using these things? These "things" being "blogs," of course. According to Will Richardson of weblogg-ed.com, that's how many of us are blogging---including those who use them with students in the classroom. The Miami Herald recently published an article entitled "Blog-writing Teachers Crowd Information Highway" (id: bugmenot [at] 123 [dot] com; password: june2005). Somehow, 3000 doesn't feel "crowded" to me. There are an estimated 60 million bloggers worldwide (not including spots like Friendster and MySpace).

Those of you currently occupying the Edusphere know that there aren't a lot of rules in place at the moment. Teachers in most places are under no restrictions about having a blog (including my district). But many districts are starting to take notice---especially for those blogs where a particular teacher or class is identified.

I think the benefit of the "professional" blog is that it provides a more interactive way to have some reflective practice. A written diary or journal is usually only seen by the author---there's little or no opportunity for outside viewpoints and interpretations. Meanwhile, it is just as unlikely that you're going to be able to read anyone else's diary and consider their ideas. A friend of mine recently mentioned that he may start a blog related to educational technology and training. It's a wonderful idea---here is someone with a great deal of expertise and now he can have a forum to share that with anyone, anywhere.

I am hoping to start a blog with my class next year, which would obviously be very different from this one. Since my district duties will make me more inaccessible to my own students than in the past, I would like to think a blog would make a good way for us to stay in contact...continue classroom discussions...share articles we run across...and so on. But I don't wish to run the risk of having my kids personal information out there for all the world to see. I know that some teachers are having kids use aliases or id numbers. Maybe I'll try this.

Coach Brown has also noted the problems associated with security of personal student information...as well as the fact that many students don't seem to understand the risks involved with posting your name, picture, and cell phone number. He has also pondered what would happen if someone from school found his blog (and didn't like it). (Part II is here.)

I'm glad to know that out of the 3000 of us, I'm not the only one wondering about these sorts of things. The problem is, there aren't many answers at this point. I suppose the rule of thumb is simply "Try to not do anything stupid." I hope I'm smart enough to handle that.

06 July 2005

Carnival of Education #22

If you have some time today, be sure to check out some of the great posts submitted for this week's Carnival of Education over at Education Wonks. They have once again collected a variety of viewpoints, topics, and hotbutton issues from around the edusphere. Get your cotton candy and have a stroll!

05 July 2005

Pondering the Unknown

Science magazine is celebrating its 125th anniversary. In honor of that, they are taking a look at 125 big questions facing scientists within the next 25 years. We may live in an age where it seems like each day there are new answers to long standing questions. That doesn't mean, however, that we know about how Earth's interior works...or even whether or not an HIV vaccine is feasible. Essays on the first 25 questions (along with a host of other goodies) can be found here.

04 July 2005

Happy 4th!

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Ah, yes, the infamous "Goat Float" from my home town parade for last year's Fourth of July extravaganza. I admit that the "Goats on a Saturday Night" sign is a little disturbing...but I'm sure they mean well.

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Not all goats are willing participants in the parade. But maybe they should be grateful that they weren't used for cabrito.

03 July 2005

The Power of None

I had a routine speech to give my junior high charges. It was about the impact of a "0" on their overall grade. Their grades were reported as percentages, so a missing grade was a bit more obvious than reporting things as letter grades. I'd talk to the kids about how many outstanding scores it took to "erase" the zero and bring an average up to an A. We'd look at that vs. turning in an assignment late for partial credit. Blah, blah, blah---which is how the kids heard it after I'd given this particular speech a few times. I rarely give this same talk to my high school charges, although they still seem to need it. They don't always understand the "power of none" on their scholastic careers.

"Fair" grading practices seems to be a topic that comes up more and more these days. Should students be allowed to turn in work...whenever? Does it matter when a kid masters a task, as long as they do? Is a 100-point grading scale fair? If not, what are the alternatives?

Some schools in Virginia are taking a look at some possible alternatives. After all, they've given the goose egg speech to their students just as I have with mine. Kids still don't absorb it like they should. And yet, perhaps it isn't completely their fault. Maybe the grading scale is slightly stacked against them. An A, B, C, or D has a 10-point scale. An F (or E) has a 59-point range. But does it make sense to give a kid who has not done an assignment a "50" vs. a "0"? What if teachers just recorded things as letter grades and averaged from there? Or perhaps the whole grading scale is moved down from 100 possible points to only 50. Maybe we just adopt a 4-point scale.

Here is an idea from Robert Marzano (probably a lot of you have read at least one of his books) that I think has some promise:

Look at a student's assignment. Then, apply the heuristic below in order to assign the grade. It's simple...makes marking and record-keeping a snap for teachers...and also allows students to easily graph their progress toward a certain standard.

Are there any major errors or omissions?

  1. If no, the student's score is at least a 3.0
  2. Can the student evaluate the task and/or his or her performance on the task (i.e. Can the student exhibit Level 4 behavior?)? If yes, the student's score is a 4.0.
  3. If yes, can the student perform a rough approximation of the task independently? Then the student's score is at least a 2.0.
  4. If the student does not meet the criteria in step 3, then can the student perform a rough approximation of the task with help? If so, then the student's score is at least a 1.0. If not, then the student's score is at least a 0.0.

It's simple, but it more or less gets at what we're trying to do with kids in terms of measuring progress. It also means that a missing assignment will not have as great of an overall impact on a student's average. It seems fair (to me). Adopting this and putting into practice is another matter, I realize. (By the way, more info about Marzano's approach can be found in Transforming Classroom Grading Practices, having a training at your school or if you're lucky enough, taking a short course at MCREL based on this.)

I'll be thinking more about all of this over the summer. I'd like to find a way to unburden my colleagues of grading...a way that is "fair" to both their students and them. A way that still holds kids accountable and helps teachers see in a moment whether or not a kid is going to be able to meet a particular standard. If anyone out there already has the answer, clue me in.

02 July 2005

Oops! My bad.

Two recent stories from the world of education have caught my eye.

Northampton (note the spelling) Area High School, like many schools around the country, held its commencement ceremony in June. I'm sure that many seniors were anxious to get their hands on their diplomas: their "proof" of 13 years of hard work. And they did get them...but the name of the school was incorrectly spelled on that precious piece of paper. Graduates are going to be provided with replacements.

And you may have seen the news about a social studies teacher in New York who has been moonlighting as a wrestler for the WWE. The district doesn't object to his second job. They do, however, object to him using his sick leave in order to, er, compete. He claims that he didn't realize that personal leave and sick leave were two different things. The school district wants its money back for the costs associated with covering his "sick" days. They are also considering not rehiring him for the next year. The teacher is also quoted as saying that he had good relationships with his students and many of them did well on their examinations "because I taught them!" and "I would have been better off beating a kid, because those teachers always seem to keep their jobs." Um, yeah.

01 July 2005

Technology Skills for Teachers

T.H.E. Journal has a variety of technology resources for teachers. They have just released their "Top 20" list of skills every teacher should have. How do you stack up?

  1. Word Processing Skills
  2. Spreadsheets Skills
  3. Database Skills
  4. Electronic Presentation Skills
  5. Web Navigation Skills
  6. Web Site Design Skills
  7. E-Mail Management Skills
  8. Digital Cameras
  9. Computer Network Knowledge Applicable to your School System
  10. File Management & Windows Explorer Skills
  11. Downloading Software From the Web (Knowledge including eBooks)
  12. Installing Computer Software onto a Computer System
  13. WebCT or Blackboard Teaching Skills
  14. Videoconferencing skills
  15. Computer-Related Storage Devices (Knowledge: disks, CDs, USB drives, zip disks, DVDs, etc.)
  16. Scanner Knowledge
  17. Knowledge of PDAs
  18. Deep Web Knowledge
  19. Educational Copyright Knowledge
  20. Computer Security Knowledge

As for me? I'm okay on most of these. I'm weakest on 13, 14, and 18 (I'm not even sure what "deep web knowledge" means). And while others on the list (like 6 and 9) I'm acquainted with, I wouldn't say that I was an expert. I certainly wouldn't want people depending on me to answer their questions or provide training.

T.H.E. Journal has been kind enough to provide a list of on-line tutorials for each item. So perhaps one of my summer projects will be to spend a little time beefing up what I do know and developing new knowledge to replace my ignorance of others. I have a feeling that in my new district role that I may need a broader base of expertise in many of these items from the list. Better to learn in leisure than repent in haste. Or something like that.