30 November 2005

A Reason to Love Wednesday

Wednesday Addams by kirinqueen CC-BY-SA

No, not this Wednesday. I mean the day of the week. It is often reviled, being the midpoint between weekends. The week may feel as if it's dragging by.

But now we have the Education Carnival each and every Wednesday. It is again hosted this week by the Education Wonks. They have once again put together a fabulous collection of posts. My faves this week are
Next week, the Education Carnival will be hosted right here in this space! Again! See? Wednesday is easy to love.

29 November 2005

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

First of all, there was no snow to contend with this morning. Which category of this post's header "lack of snow" falls into depends on who you ask. I'm going to call it "good."

Other things today were also "good." I had a major breakthrough on getting at all of the elementary science issues that I've been wrestling with for weeks. Huzzah! And, I received notification today that I have formally been accepted into the EdD program for Teacher Leadership that I had applied to. I also had a great time with my kids today in class.

Meanwhile, "bad" things lurked. I had been tasked with writing common course descriptions for AP science classes in the district. I asked all the AP teachers a couple of weeks ago if they'd like to help. No one jumped at the chance. Now that I've written them, one teacher wants to make a stink. I'm not sure how having a single description district-wide changes what he does in the classroom, but I think he's just being pouty after the meeting (and its fallout) that he organized in October.

Then there's the ugly. If you're a regular lurker here (you know who you are), then you know that one of my goals this year was to make a class blog work for my kids and me. And I've been dogged by our tech people at every step of the way. They won't allow any posts, comments, or other work through the filter to the blog. We can only admire it on the computer screen from school. The techs' reason is that some blogs have porn, therefore all blogs are bad...and aren't they doing me such a favour in allowing mine to be viewed? I've gone round with them for months now and they have finally decided to pull the plug---because they don't like some information a student posted. Part of me thinks the techs have just been looking for a reason to axe their involvement in this project. So, fine---they can "filter" it out, but the blog will continue. I might be the first to take up this fight with them. I doubt that I will be the last.

For now I'm going to concentrate on the "good" from today, shake my head at the "bad" until tomorrow, and show a finger to the "ugly." :)

28 November 2005

Let it snow (but only a little bit)!

For the first time this year, there is the heavy hint of snow in the air. Kids were energized at the thought of a "snow day." As for me, I prefer to have a "late arrival." At least I used to.

I found out today that my Curriculum job is not exempt from weather. We at Central Orifice are expected to show up and work, even if other staff and students are not. Now it doesn't matter if school is late or cancelled---I still have to work. I'm not sure when science curriculum became an essential service like fire, police, and hospitals. I had always thought my job important, but not quite to this extant. If, for some reason, I am stranded at home, I am allowed to call the Boss Lady and ask for dispensation to telecommute. (This is assuming that she makes it in to work.) Or, I could always just call in sick and make up the day at another time. I brought home plenty to keep me busy tomorrow, just in case.

This school district is third largest in the state in terms of the size of geographical area it serves. Because of this, some parts of the district can experience quite the snow dump while the rest of us are looking around going "Snow? Where?" Our superintendent is a cautious man. He is willing to call for a two-hour delay to schools---enough time for the sun to come up so people can see kids waiting for buses. Or, enough time to decide if school should just be cancelled.

I'm not sure whether or not to cross my fingers and hope for snow. It's always fun to see. It's also a rare occurrence here in Puget Sound. But if I'm going to have to work anyway, it's better if they roads are dry. I guess I'll know the answers in a few hours.

27 November 2005

Paradigm Shift

Ah, more "education-ese." This time I'm thinking of the change in focus for instruction that comes from being "teacher centered" to "student centered." Or, "what I want to teach" vs. "what should kids know and be able to do," which are not necessarily the same things.

There is a continual rumble about Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Some people love them because of the rigorous curriculum. Some people don't because the syllabus is inflexible. As an AP teacher, I have a bias. But I have to say that one of the things AP does well is that it provides a student focus. When I walk into my classroom tomorrow, I will know from the outset that the class period is not about me. It's about what kids need to know for The Exam in May. I understand that this goal is not the only one---I want my students to develop a love and hunger for knowledge. I hope that they'll always pursue learning. But those are my "teacher" wants for them.

In my Curriculum role, I work by the math person. He's new in his role and in some ways, his task is more difficult than mine. They are trying to do their scope and sequence, choose curriculum materials, and write course descriptions all at once. There is more urgency to do this because students are already going to be held accountable (in terms of earning a diploma) based on their ability to meet the math standards. He has had to spend hours more time pouring over the standards in the last nine weeks vs. the previous years he taught math in the classroom. He talks about the "paradigm shift" he's now undergoing as he looks at things from his new role. He is greatly concerned about being able to help move teachers to a new understanding. I am, too.

It's really not about whether or not we agree with the standards movement. It doesn't matter how much we like NCLB. These things are not going to go away and we can't bury our heads in the sand and ignore that we need to do things differently.

A colleague asked me today to help him think of a way to hook kids into wanting to learn about cells...how best to engage kids to make them want to learn about these. This is not so terribly different from what I think I need to do in order to help some teachers with the shift in focus for the classroom. How do you get teachers excited about changing what they do?

26 November 2005

Sniffing at December

Retailers in America are leading me to believe that it is already December even if the calendar doesn't agree.

Now that I am at home again, I'm finding that my thoughts are wandering into next month. Upcoming big events include:
  • Going back out to an elementary school in order to teach 5th graders some science. This time, we'll do some "bubble-ology" and then work on their technical writing skills.
  • Meeting with a group of 6th grade teachers in order to begin the materials selection process for that grade.
  • The second meeting with the grade 7 - 9 science teachers to continue the materials selection for their classes.
  • Another meeting with the biology teachers at my school to talk about the standards selected for focus for the second quarter of the school year.

Three of these will take place within a four (work)day time period, beginning on Friday. I have some preliminary work done, but I will definitely need to put some flesh on those bones this week. I'm hoping that I can motivate myself to do some of it tomorrow. Each of these will present some unique challenges.

Somewhere in all of this, I'm supposed to be teaching my class, too. I have slighted my students a bit over the last few class meetings. December has the potential of exacerbating that if I'm not careful.

It's still November for a few more days. Better yet, there is still holiday time today and tomorrow. I think I'll get back to my jigsaw puzzle for a little while longer.

25 November 2005

Out and About...Again

Today is my travel day for returning home. I am hoping that the airports won't be too crazy---that people will be out doing their "Black Friday" Christmas shopping and eating leftovers.

By yesterday evening, my thoughts were already turning back to work-related things. Sad, isn't it? But I have a couple of big weeks coming up and slacking off isn't an option. It's a good thing that I'll have plenty of time in planes and airports today to make some notes and do a bit of planning.

Best wishes to everyone as the holiday season begins in earnest!

23 November 2005

Too Busy to Properly Blog

The last few days have been rather full around here...hence the lack of posting. But I do hope that everyone is enjoying their week. If you're in the states, then you're likely getting ready for the turkey-thon tomorrow.

In the meantime, do stop in and visit the Wonks, who are again hosting the Education Carnival. Thank goodness they're still willing to soldier on with the blogging!

21 November 2005

Countdown to Thanksgiving

Even if the pre-holiday nonsense (like the neighbours having their Christmas lights up by Veterans' Day) gets to be much, this can be a good time of year in terms of working conditions.

This will be a short week, followed by only three more before "Winter Break."

Later today, I'm off on my own holiday adventure. Regular blogging will return tomorrow.

20 November 2005

The Creative Process

I have worked with very few teachers over the years who were uninterested in trying to improve upon previous lessons they'd designed. This part of the job---the creative process---is typically the part with which you get to have the most fun. But it can also be rather frustrating.

I've been thinking all weekend about what I want to do with my kids tomorrow in order to wrap up our look at cell signaling. I suppose I could give them a review sheet. Or we could read an article together. Maybe I could assign a webquest or have them look at other resources on the topic. I even have some suggestions of things other teachers have used. None of them feel like the right fit for my kids.

With only one class to worry about (and one that I've taught before), it would be simple enough not to really care too much. And I admit that there are days when I don't put as much effort into my planning as I should. This year, however, I really think that I've been a better teacher than the last couple of years when the balance between my two jobs was different. I'm glad that students this year aren't getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop in all of this.

Writing seems to help with this process. If I can just take a sheet of paper and a pencil, capture some various ideas of what I want gets to get out our time together, and then connect these, I can eventually end up with what I think will be a really good plan. It just takes a lot of think time---and lots of fits and starts.

I more or less have my plan in mind for tomorrow. I need to work out a few details, such as the specific pathway I want to model with kids, but I'm pleased with the way things are leading.

Soon, it will be time to invent another wheel.

19 November 2005

Another Take on Using Data

Not so long ago, another department at central office was interested in sending four of us "curriculum specialists" to Denver in order to take a "Data Teams Training." Due to some office politics, we didn't go. This was a good choice because it was a lot less expensive to pay for one airline ticket, one hotel room, and one person's time to come here and present the information. Also, a lot more people than just four could attend.

Yesterday was the big day. This particular training compliments the book all of the admins in the district are reading for their lit circle (one I have also been asked to participate with). Almost every building was represented by an admin yesterday. The thing is, the "Data Team" idea is really about teachers. Only one school had teachers there: my school. I was able to secure three subs and my principal was able to find three volunteers to go.

The process is fairly simple in many ways. First, teachers (in groups of 3 - 10) look at some data on their students in order to identify an area of weakness. A pre-assessment is developed and administered to the students. The team of teachers meets to look at the information from the assessment to specifically identify which kids are "proficient," which are not, and why. The group then writes a SMART goal (or two) focusing on a reasonable increase in student performance. From there, two to three instructional strategies are selected which will help more students become proficient. Teachers commit to using the strategies a specific number of times and for a certain period of time during a class over the course of ~two weeks. A post-assessment is given and results determined. This cycle would occur several times during a school year.

I can't adequately condense the full-day training into this space, but I think the process has a lot of potential. Identification of good leaders at the building level is critical. Schools will need to involve their resource people (such as me) in order to educate and model for teachers what best practices involve. I liked what we heard because it's "small." Groups are just looking at one target and a short period of time. At the secondary level, this might not mean using data from all the students a teacher has---but rather just one class period. It's all doable.

I was very pleased that the teachers who came from my school felt like their time was well spent. One even said it was the best thing he'd attended in several years. I hope that they can sustain and spread this enthusiasm. Our kids need that.

17 November 2005

Getting Ambitious Again

I honestly don't know what's going to happen with the elementary science program in the district. My hare-brained thought yesterday evening was simply to say, "What if we kept the kits and threw out the teacher's manuals?" There are some great materials, but perhaps we could reconfigure the activities to incorporate more inquiry and actually make them grade-level appropriate.

In the meantime, I mapped out a professional development plan for elementary consisting of nine sessions. They would be independent, but we may be able to offer some graduate credit for teachers who attend them all.

I am hoping to recruit some other staff members to help present. There is a lot of expertise in the district to draw upon.

There will invariably be questions about the kits. I have tried to design the sessions such that they get at the concepts in science, along with how the standards are constructed and assessed. Teachers with a good foundation in these things will be able to make use of the kits...or whatever we replace them with in the future.

16 November 2005

Heresy, Indeed

I subscribe to Education Week, which is, unfortunately, rather unfriendly in terms of its on-line content. However, if what I'm about to comment upon intrigues you, jump the hurdles and read the article: Increase Class Size---And Pay Teachers More.

Saul Cooperman wrote a commentary piece for the publication with the idea that if you reduce the number of teachers needed (by increasing class size), then there will be more money to pay them, as they will split the money allotted for other staff. Because the studies regarding the impact of class size on student achievement don't clearly support the "smaller is better" camp, why continue to pour educational dollars in that direction?

It is true that more teachers means more money spent on equipping classrooms (which have to be heated, cleaned, etc.). More teachers means that more funds will go towards benefit packages. As I think back on my career, I would also have to agree that I didn't teach a room of 35 kids much differently than a room of 20.

But here is where Mr. Cooperman misses the boat: what happens outside of the classroom. Every extra student means extra time assessing their progress. It means more time to set up labs/activities. Would an additional $25K/year be enough compensation for a secondary teacher to have 180 kids a day (or 35 for an elementary teacher)? Would it also mean that you would attract a better pool of applicants---thus exposing more kids to better teachers?

Maybe. It just seems like this solution is a little too simplistic...and very little in this profession is ever so simple.

15 November 2005

Round One

Today was the first day of science materials' adoption meetings. We looked at curricula for grades 7 - 9. It was a long day.

The morning started off all right. We talked about some general issues and then started looking at the standards. One group was way off task right away---already pulling texts out of boxes. I tried explaining (again) that we were going to establish criteria first so that we knew what we were looking for...but I had to go back once more after that and take books out of their hands.

It not that I don't understand their excitement. It's cool to have new stuff. But we have certain responsibilities in this process and I didn't want the teachers making decisions based solely on the layout of the text or a review they'd read.

Anyway, everyone managed to finish looking at the standards and we moved on to other criteria. These included things like the types of assessments provided, the kinds of work students would do, etc. It is hard for people to take a global view. I include myself in that observation. Teachers today were really more focused on how they as individuals would use the materials, when really they're just representatives for a wide range of current and future staff.

The late morning and most of the afternoon were devoted to doing a quick paper screen of the available materials. There was a lot to look at---maybe eight programs per grade level. Teachers had a terrible time staying on the primary task, which was to identify standards-based resources.

There wasn't as much diversity of materials as you might guess. Most were traditional text-based programs. This doesn't mean that they're bad, but it's what we have now and it's not developing things as we would like. What interested me is that publishers have put a lot of effort into the resources teachers have (e.g. PowerPoint presentations at the ready), but very little into changing how the student interacts with the material. There were a couple of programs that were at the other end of the spectrum---completely inquiry based. As nice as that idea sounds, there isn't enough "meat" there to dig into. I don't know if we'll be able to find a happy medium or not.

At the end of the day, each grade level team had whittled things down to three choices. We will look at these more in depth next time. I am not sure how it all will pan out. My guess is that we will end up with something more traditional---a text based program. But if it supports student investigation into inquiry, along with helping teachers craft this, then I think that's okay.

We'll meet again in another month. In the meantime, I have a lot of thoughts to organize about (re)directing things.

14 November 2005

Battling the Hydra

Remember this thing from your lessons in Greek mythology? (Who says that they don't allow the teaching of religion at school?) The beast would grow two heads for every one that was lost?

I'm starting to feel like dealing with the elementary science program in the district is a Herculean task.

One head of the beast is our Educational Service District, which is a group that (supposedly) coordinates common needs among area districts. Last spring, many teachers worked at the ESD in order to look at how well our science kits aligned with the newly released state standards. But earlier this summer, the ESD science representative was fired, er, asked to leave. Much of the work that was done also seems to be missing. The new ESD science person isn't being particularly cooperative. These people are charging my district $140,000 to distribute the kits. (We're not the only district that is served.) And wouldn't you know, the ESD doesn't have any money in order to "finish" the alignment?

Fine. So my district is thinking of leaving the consortium and just taking care of our own kits. But should we when we don't know if they're aligned to the standards?

Does this mean we need to do at least some sort of alignment with the kits? And what if the news isn't good? We don't have time or money this year to adopt new curriculum for next year.

The Boss Lady would like to see some professional development offerings for elementary teachers this spring. But I hate to design something for the kits...when we don't know what's happening. We could just work with teachers on the science concepts...and yet, like most of us, unless the material can be put into practice, the information isn't any good.

Legend has it that in order to slay the Hydra, I must cauterize each "stump" as I go. My problem right now is figuring out which head to attack first.

13 November 2005

Tutoring for Toddlers

Do four-year olds need tutoring before they enter kindergarten? I'm not talking about going to pre-school here. This is a one to two hour program (including homework) that takes place in addition to pre-school or daycare. A recent article takes a look at three such nationwide programs.

The increase in demand is being driven by parents even though with the exception of "children with learning disabilities or other factors that make learning difficult, tutoring has not been shown to have any long-term benefits." Parents, however, believe that these programs provide certain intangibles: "confidence and important building blocks for school."

Hey, it's their money. But I can't help but wonder if the reason why there are no documented gains for these kids is simply because they already have a rich home environment. I'll bet every one of those children knows what a book is. I wish I could say the same for all students entering school.

12 November 2005

Winter Is In the Air

The leaves were falling from the great oak at the meadow’s edge. They were falling from all the trees.

One branch of the oak reached high above the others and stretched far out over the meadow. Two leaves clung to its very tip.

"It isn’t the way it used to be," said one leaf to the other.

"No," the other leaf answered. "So many of us have fallen tonight we’re almost the only ones left on our branch."

"You never know who’s going to go next," said the first leaf. "Even when it was warm and the sun shone, a storm or a cloudburst would come sometimes, and many leaves were torn off, though they were still young. You never know who’s going to go next."

"The sun seldom shines now," sighed the second leaf, "and when it does it gives no warmth. We must have warmth again."

"Can it be true," said the first leaf, "can it really be true, that others come to take our places when we’re gone and after them still others, and more and more?"

"It is really true," whispered the second leaf. "We can’t even begin to imagine it, it’s beyond our powers."

"It makes me very sad," added the first leaf.

They were silent awhile. Then the first leaf said quietly to herself, "Why must we fall?.."

The second leaf asked,"What happens to us when we have fallen?"

"We sink down..."

"What is under us?"

The first leaf answered, "I don’t know, some say one thing, some another, but nobody knows."

The second leaf asked, "Do we feel anything, do we know anything about ourselves when we’re down there?"

The first leaf answered, "Who knows? Not one of all those down there has ever come back to tell us about it."

They were silent again. Then the first leaf said tenderly to the other, "Don’t worry so much about it, you’re trembling."

"That’s nothing," the second leaf answered, "I tremble at the least thing now. I don’t feel so sure of my hold as I used to."

"Let’s not talk any more about such things," said the first leaf.

The other replied, "No, we’ll let be. But---what else shall we talk about?" She was silent, but went on after a little while, "Which of us will go first?"

"There’s still plenty of time to worry about that," the other leaf assured her. "Let’s remember how beautiful it was, how wonderful, when the sun came out and shone so warmly that thought we’d burst with life. Do you remember? And the morning dew, and the mild and splendid nights..."

"Now the nights are dreadful," the second leaf complained, "and there is no end to them."

"We shouldn’t complain," said the first leaf gently. "We’ve outlived many, many others."

"Have I changed much?" asked the second leaf shyly but determinedly.

"Not in the least," the first leaf assured her.

"You only think so because I’ve got to be so yellow and ugly. But it’s different in your case."

"You’re fooling me," the second leaf said.

"No, really," the first leaf exclaimed eagerly, "believe me, you’re as lovely as the day you were born. Here and there may be a little yellow spot but it’s hardly noticeable and only makes you handsomer, believe me."

"Thanks," whispered the second leaf, quite touched. "I don’t believe you, not altogether, but I thank you because you’re so kind, you’ve always been so kind to me. I’m just beginning to understand how kind you are."

"Hush," said the other leaf, and kept silent herself for she was too troubled to talk any more. Then they were both silent. Hours passed.

A moist wind blew, cold and hostile, through the treetops.

"Ah, now," said the second leaf, "I..." Then her voice broke off. She was torn from her place and spun down.

Winter had come.

---Chapter 8, Bambi; Felix Salten, 1929

This Just In...

...Smarter Kids May Enjoy Longer Lives

This conclusion is from a study that began in 1922 and followed over 850 children with an IQ of 130 or above. The study ended in 1986.

Why do smart kids live longer? There aren't any particular "cause-effect" connections made. Perhaps they just made better choices. Maybe they were able to get better jobs and health benefits. It could be that these aren't the risk-takers in the world.

You might have wondered, as I did, as to whether their socioeconomic status growing up might have influenced things. "Though the reasons for the link between IQ and longevity are not clear, it does not appear to be merely a reflection of income and social position. As children, the participants were from affluent families and most were white. Yet childhood IQ was still a factor in their lifespan. Similarly, in an earlier study of Americans with more varied childhood IQs and family incomes, Martin found that IQ was related to health problems independently of socioeconomics. This suggests that IQ affects longevity among lower-income people as well."

Might be interesting to watch for more research in this area.

11 November 2005

A Little Friday Fun

I'll be off in a little while to go explore some area artists' studios. If you're looking for a little fun of your own today, here are some few sites on the net that might pique your interest:

    Photo from Argus
  • Argus is maintained by someone who buys old cameras that still have film in them. Then, the film is developed and s/he posts the pictures. There are some amazing time capsules here.
  • Speaking of time capsules, did you know that you can compose an e-mail to be sent to yourself at some point in the future? Just head on over to Forbes, fill in your message, and choose the time frame for it to be returned to you: 1, 3, 5, 10, or 20 years.
  • Do you think you could trade a paper clip for a house? Kyle over at One Red Paperclip has this goal in mind. He's making small trades, one step at a time, in order to achieve the goal. Think it can't be done? He's found stories of similar things happening. Maybe you can help him out.

10 November 2005


It's the end of the work week for me. We have Veterans' Day off, which will make for a much needed three-day weekend.

These are my random thoughts and unfinished business as the week ends...

The neighbours already have their Christmas lights up: blue icicle lights strung along the eaves. Overachievers. I can't help but think of my adad when I see Christmas lights show up again. The last holiday season that he was alive, he called me one Saturday afternoon after spending a lot of time trying to untangle and set up the lights amom wanted put up outside. He said that he'd decided that he was just going to use them to spell out "F--- You" in the front window. I couldn't help but laugh. It still makes me giggle when I remember that.

In Washington, regions of the state have an associated "Educational Service District (ESD)" which houses media, helps with professional development, etc. for area schools. Ours sponsored an alignment for elementary science last year. Whatever was created was apparently wonderful, but the woman in charge was fired over the summer. The new guy is both clueless and useless. While he flails around in his job, kids and teachers are needing help. I sent off a mildly blistering e-mail today to him. It might not get him going in terms of sending us the alignment, but it certainly made me feel better. :)

The materials adoption begins Tuesday and oddly enough, I'm not obsessing over it. I do have the day more or less organized. Maybe that's enough.

I met with the district technology people today regarding the blog I've tried to do with my AP class. It's very frustrating, since we can't blog from school...which really defeats a lot of the purpose I'd intended. Meanwhile, I don't know how to deal with district support when their primary focus is ensuring that NO objectionable material get through the filter. I'm not saying that everything on the 'net is appropriate for school. But to let a server specially bought for student e-mail to sit unused because a piece of spam could get through is ridiculous. And, of course, all blogs and Wikis are pornographic...so we can't have access to those. I really don't think it's right that one or two people in the district are allowed to decide what sites are appropriate---and there's no process for it.

I have several professional development opportunities that I would like to offer in coming months. Some would be elementary science specific. Others would be more about doing some general things to change what happens in the classroom. The more I play with ideas, the better I'm able to put pieces together and make something good happen. So, I'll keep picking at these.

Is that enough for one day? There was more...and yet I don't feel like I was overwhelmingly productive with my time this Thursday. But hey---there's always the weekend. And what would one be without work to do?

09 November 2005

Dr. Goddess

Well, I'm taking the plunge. Or perhaps it's more like going off the deep end. This afternoon, I sent off my application to an EdD. program.

It must have been one of those "right place at the right time" sorts of things. If you're a regular lurker on this blog, then you know the myriad of issues I'm facing in my district job...and my struggles with dealing with them. And then I received some info in the mail about a "Teacher Leadership" program. This is not meant to be an admin sort of thing, but rather for those people who are working with other classroom teachers. Imagine that.

This program is not as lofty as others. I'm not earning a PhD. I had to do a dissertation to get my BA---I think one of those in a lifetime should be enough for anyone. And this will be on-line/distance education. (Dr. Cookie, I'm not---although I have such great admiration for her.) But it is good for me in both terms of money and time costs and it looks like it will fulfill a lot of the professional development needs that I have. In turn, this may help a lot of teachers and kids.

As my Sweetie and I like to say, "Start from hope. Live dangerously." Here I go.

Doin' the Wednesday Thang

Believe it or not, it is once again Hump Day. Actually, it's even better than that---because we don't have school on Friday (Veteran's Day holiday). But the real cherry on top is that it's time once again for the Carnival of Education. The Wonks have put together a collection of stories that you will not want to miss.

I'll be back later in the day with some stories from the WASL event I'm attending this morning...and perhaps some personal big news to share, too. :) Go Wednesday!

08 November 2005

When Is Group Process Better Than Just Me?

I made an executive decision recently regarding the upcoming materials adoption process. I've decided not to have the group set the criteria. Time will tell as to whether or not this was a wise choice on my part.

Most of the time these adoption cycles start up, a committee meets, hashes out what the philosophy of things should be and develops associated criteria. Then they go look for programs to match the criteria. I do feel as if this would be a valuable process. Why am I throwing it out? Because we have standards now. We are told what to look for in terms of curriculum and what students whould be able to demonstrate with their work. We are not provided with whatever the best instructional approach is, but this needn't be a lengthy discussion point.

I have adapted a process used by BSCS. We'll have five categories: content, work students do, work teachers do, assessment, and other (cost, material/technology needs, etc.). I have described indicators for each (which reviewers will rate on a scale from 0 - 5 in terms of their presence/quality in the materials) and weighted the categories. I'm hoping that the group will swallow all this without a fuss.

What I haven't done is limit the materials they are allowed to look at. I have nearly 8 different programs for each grade level. There are "traditional" textbook programs...newer unit-based versions...and still other programs that are more concept and inquiry-based. I'm hoping that the group will pick the "concept/inquiry" stuff. You may be thinking that I rigged the rubric in order to make those rise to the top, but I really haven't. Even if I'm directing the criteria, I want teachers to be able to go back to their buildings and tell their cohorts that they had a chance to look at as many different options as we could find---and why we rejected the ones we did. I don't want any "Central Office wouldn't let us..." comments floating around for the next umpty-squat years.

Still, I wonder if I should make the process more open concerning the establishment of the criteria. One of the biggest factors in my decision is really just that of time. Being able to schedule and pay for subs is not easy or cheap. Would I rather have us focus on making the criteria or selecting good materials? Materials wins out in my mind.

We will meet one week from today. I have a bit more time to stew and adjust plans as necessary. I think I've made the right choice.

07 November 2005

One of these things is just like the others...

I sometimes miss my days of watching Sesame Street. Things were pretty simple. It was easy to identify which "one of these things is not like the others."

Why am I thinking about more halcyon days? Well, I sat down to spend some time with the elementary science standards today. Perhaps this seems like a long overdue task for someone who's the "science specialist," but I'm not officially assigned to those grade levels...yet. Anyway, as I sat there to read through things this afternoon, here are some of the discoveries I made:

  • Grade 4: Identify and describe the state of water as solid, liquid, or gas in different situations.
  • Grade 2: Illustrate and tell about the properties of water as a solid and liquid.

Hmmm....a bit of difference...but not a whole lot. What about...

  • Kindergarten: Identify observable characteristics of living organisms (e.g. spiders have eight legs, birds have feathers, plants have roots, stems, leaves, seeds, flowers).
  • Grade 2: Observe and describe characteristics of living organisms (e.g. spiders have eight legs, birds have feathers, plants have roots, stems, leaves, seeds, flowers).

Is it just me, or wouldn't you think that "observe" would come before "identify"? Beyond that, how is a Grade 2 teacher supposed to clearly distinguish between what his/her kids can do vs. a kindergartner?

There are other items of interest contained within the standards. What on earth am I supposed to do with these?

I did have one giggle, though. There is a kindergarten goal associated with being able to identify, name, and draw external parts of the body. We provide incoming kindergartners with the outline of a dog and various parts to choose from and place appropriately on the dog. You'd be amazed where many 5-year olds put the elephant trunk. Ahem.

Rob, who's a longtime fan of this blog, left this comment yesterday: "The silly thing about this is that you're having to do it at all. Since every Science Goddess in every district is going to need similar tools, why haven't the people who developed the standards provided the tools to teach the standards? Who better than the developers of the standards to identify the 'Big Ideas' which they contain. I know, I know, I'm dreaming..."

I wish I knew. In the midst of my preparations to commit Hari-Kari over the elementary standards this afternoon, the reading specialist pointed out that the people at the state level don't seem to have a clue. It gives you a similar sense of disillusionment as when you found out that your parents didn't know it all. Aren't the people leading the state supposed to be more clued in?

So, I'll putter along with all of this and we'll see what happens. In the meantime, I have to revisit my Sesame Street so that I can perhaps better figure out which of the standards is "totally different."

06 November 2005

What's the Big Idea?

One of the things on my "to do" list is to identify the "big ideas" contained within the standards and put them into friendly language (while maintaining the integrity of the concepts). I have some sort of chart pictured, so that teachers can see not only what they are responsible for, but how it fits with the overall K - 10 flow. I would also like to put together some sort of quick reference for teachers so that they know when kids (are supposed to) learn different things. If you've always taught atoms, but can see that it is assigned to another grade, perhaps it might be easier to focus on what your objectives are.

The second task is much simpler than the first. I'm really struggling with the whole graphic organizer thing for the big ideas. I know that it sounds like it should really be simple to do. But there are just so many standards---and I'm wanting to make things fit nicely on a page. It may be that these two things are just so much at odds that I will have to let go of the "one page" goal. My other problem is that things don't spiral nearly as nicely in science as they do in math, for example. I've seen a chart another state produced for calculus---and underneath are all the math standards that lead to up to a student's ability to be successful with calculus. It's a thing of beauty. This may well be a possibility for the process skills in science, but dealing with the three Life/Physical/Earth science strands makes it very messy for content.

What I do visualize down the road is a nice sheet to go with each science kit used at elementary. The sheet would provide alignment with relevant standards, point out the most vital concepts contained within, and other resources for teaching and assessment. Of course, the Big Idea would be right at the top. This sort of approach has been well-received in terms of the math expectations. It might be quite palatable for teachers to also have it in science.

In the meantime, if anyone has any great ideas for how to squeeze eleven years of content onto one page, I'd love to hear them!

05 November 2005

What Do Teachers Need?

I've been thinking a lot this week about what teachers need (in terms of professional support) and why they do or don't get it.

Is the "eduspeak" a big turnoff? Likely. I had a teacher rail at me on Friday morning as we walked down the hall from the office. Here it was, not even 7:30 a.m. and this woman had been stewing in her own juices for hours...all over the term "scaffolding." Now, I admit it's a bit trite, but this is a term I actually kinda like. I like the idea of supporting student learning to a new place---and then removing the supports once the skill is learned. My colleague does not. Her perception of the term means that it is a support for a crumbling entity...not something used to build. This was just the tip of the iceberg for her. She ranted on about the need for scaffolding at all. Hey---we went through the educational system and made an effort to internalize the information and turned out just fine. Why on Earth isn't that good enough now?

I tried to explain that she and I had certain advantages (scaffolds?) in the forms of two educated and involved parents who made enough money to keep us comfortable. We had so little in our personal lives to worry about that it made focusing on what happened in the classroom pretty simple. But there are a lot of kids, then and now, who don't have that. We can't do much of anything about what happens to them outside the school walls, but inside, we have to give it our best shot. This means doing a bit of scaffolding for students who need help in building background knowledge. Not everyone has been to a museum or camping or had a parent read to them when they were young. What can we do in the classroom to bring everyone to a point where the same opportunities for the future are possible?

This explanation only served to make her more irritated. "Not everyone is meant to go to college. We'll still need people in services, etc." I agree. But I don't see the current trends in education as completely devoted to college readiness. It's about making sure everyone---regardless of their background---has the same basic knowledge and skills. What they choose to do beyond that is their own business. I do have some issues with the standards movement, but not with the ideas related to equity.

She and I have both been in this field for awhile. The standards movement has run over us, not through us as with the younger crop. These new expectations aren't things that we've had a chance to internalize---they've just been dropped in our laps and we're supposed to magically know how to change what happens in the classroom. Now that I have a greater support role in the district, it's becoming so much more obvious to me what is missing from teachers' toolkits. I'm just not entirely sure how to bridge the gulf. Here's some of the larger needs I see:
  • How do you "teach to a standard" and know if students have met it?
  • How do you change from a teacher who "covers" material to one who can say their students have "learned" the material?
  • How do you release your choke hold on the facts listed in the textbook and teach concepts?
  • How do you select instructional strategies and lessons that help all of the students in a classroom?

You may be wondering if I have the answers to these questions. I don't. I do have some ideas about how to approach them and some resources for doing so. I e-mailed my school admins with a few of these questions and the need for getting at the belief systems of the staff. We can't move forward as a school unless we have some agreement about what should happen in a classroom and why---along with a plan for supporting it.

The role of a public school teacher is difficult enough without having to figure out all of this on one's own. Those of us in support roles have got to find a better way to address the needs of teachers.

04 November 2005

I Gotta Quit Looking for Work

Did you ever read Hegel? (quite the challenge to attempt) One of his ideas was that "God" was the sum of all human knowledge...and God was growing. Maybe I am well and truly a Goddess by this view of things---because I keep acquiring information and my job is ever growing.

I have dipped my toes in the water of elementary science. So far, I'm just working with teachers at 3 (out of 14) elementaries. Each time I work with one staff member, I get called to come back and talk to more teachers. I don't mind taking my message to the masses. I'm glad people are hungry for delivering better science instruction...but some of this makes my head hurt.

Earlier this week, a teacher called and asked if I would work with her on developing a couple of inquiry lessons with the science kit she's starting with her 5th graders: Mixtures and Solutions. I grabbed the guide for this kit and thought it would be a simple matter to pick out some ideas to build on for the inquiry pieces.

I realized a few things as I did a quick overview of the kit. First of all, the concepts it targets are really designed for Grades 9 and 10---at least according to our standards. This is not to say that 5th graders couldn't do the activities in the kit, but there won't be any deep meaning developed to go along with the activities. At this point, kids haven't even been exposed to particles, much less atoms. Derived units (like density) are a middle school concept. Are they ready to take on saturation and concentration? How do kids do inquiry when they haven't sufficient background knowledge to start from---and there won't be something at the end to tie to their new learning?

Once I had my little fit about this, I realized it wouldn't do me any good. We might be able to address this problem in the future, but the teacher needs help now. So I managed to find a few things in the directions which would lend themselves to inquiry. It will really be process for its own sake. This isn't the best sort of solution, but it's a start.

This is just one kit. I haven't even looked much at the others. There are more than 20. From what I understand, most of them are really well designed. Many fit well with our state standards. I know that I will need to look more at this in the future...and that it will likely lead to a lot more questions and a lot more work.

Good thing this goddess has quite the appetite.

03 November 2005

Could Be Worse

Popular Science has published its annual list of the "The Worst Jobs in Science." Check out the article for more details, but here are the top 10 jobs that will make you feel like yours is akin to Utopia:

10. Organutan Pee-Collector
9. NASA Ballerina
8. Do-Gooder
7. Semen Washer
6. Volcanologist
5. Nuclear Weapons Scientist
4. Extremophile Excavator
3. Kansas Biology Teacher
2. Manure Inspector


1. Human Lab Rat

Want more? Check out the lists from 2003 and 2004. They'll make you feel a whole lot better about your job.

02 November 2005

Feelin' Groovy

(c) 2005 Campbell Biology

I really enjoyed being a teacher today. I feel like things have been going just perfectly the last couple of days.

You see this thing above? It's a graphic representation of what happens during nerve transmission---and in my experience, it's devilishly hard for most kids to wrap their minds around fully. There are lots of things going on: diffusion of ions, embedded proteins, electrical currents, and more. Students have to be able to integrate all of this and the last few years, I haven't felt like I've done very well at helping them.

But this year is different. We started yesterday modeling the membrane and just looking at how the electrical charges were set up and why. Today, I took the papers they created from the models and put them up on the chalkboard. There were four to represent the stages above (we combined "threshhold" and "depolarization." Instead of having the kids use manipulatives, I had them draw in the different items (sodium, potassium, chlorine, large anions) so that we had a big timeline to look at. We then looked at the above diagram in terms of graphing what we had represented in our timeline. So far, so good.
(c) 2005 Campbell Biology
Next, I handed out a case study entitled "Bad Fish." I have adapted it a bit from the ones you will see if you follow the link. It's a good way to get kids to apply their knowledge. We worked through a lot of the case today, using the timeline on the board to reference the learning. It seemed to be extremely successful. Students were very tuned into the discussion and interested in the problem.

It's exciting to me to have found a successful way to teach this. We have more to attach to this skeleton of information tomorrow...but I feel like the kids are ready. I haven't had to force feed the information and hope they keep it down. I'll let you know how the next challenge (above) goes.

Get on the Bus...to the Carnival

This week's Carnival of Education is being hosted by Scott over at "Get on the Bus." Be sure to have a look at all of the pages.

If you'd like to try a couple of other carnivals, why not go look at the Carnival of Cockroaches? Or one I'm enjoying: The Carnival of the Spineless (all about invertebrates...not admins).

01 November 2005

Moving Forward

As you may remember, I am not fond of October. It was with a lot of joy that I saw November on the calendar today. Things are already feeling like they're looking up.

My counterpart in another district is new to her role and has some huge tasks ahead of her---all
Planaria by David Thomas CC-BY-NC
without benefit of guidance from central office (her boss was poached to be a principal at a school...and the position of "Curriculum Director" isn't going to be filled). I am trying to share some things with her. It seems such a shame to have put so many hours of work into a project like our Scope and Sequence---only to have it used once. I handed over my huge binder of info and received this message in return: "If karma is real, and I know that is not a testable hypothesis, you have moved up the ladder and will not be reborn as a planarian! Thank You so much!" Gotta like that---although being a planarian wouldn't be such a bad deal.

Another thing I have been wanting to work on this year is to find some sort of personal ways to recognize teachers for the efforts they make. A colleague recently told me that one of her biggest joys and frustrations is developing and delivering a fabulous lesson---only to have no one see it but the kids. It's not that kids don't appreciate a good teacher, but there's no reason for them to be keyed into all that went in to making things happen. So, I've been writing postcards to staff who have invited me in...or taken time from their busy classrooms to work with other teachers...and so on. It's a start---and I have some other ideas I'd like to implement. Anyway, this morning I had a teacher tell me that the card I sent her was very much appreciated. This led to some other conversations about instruction. The small gesture of the card gave me an "in" to helping with other things...which will eventually impact kids in a positive way. I like that.

I have been invited over to an elementary school to work with more teachers. This is the school with the lowest science scores in the district, especially in Inquiry. I got my foot in the door last month with one teacher. She had a good experience and has recruited others with an interest in improving science instruction for their students. I'm really excited about this. It also gives me a chance to hear more about what kinds of support they need since elementary is a bit of a foreign land for me.

If all that weren't enough, I actually had a wonderful experience in the classroom with my kids today. I am also trying to "walk the walk" and be more constructivist/inquiry-based where appropriate. We are looking at the nervous system and today was the day to begin nerve transmission. I took my own advice and did the lab first. I really like the way this worked and am anxious to extend their knowledge into the textbook tomorrow. (I also have a group of observers in my room for part of the period tomorrow...so I hope this keeps working well!)

The icing on the cake today was getting to spend time with a colleague as he pilots a new unit on systems biology with his sophomores. A few years ago when we had a "coach" at our school, I had her spend some classes with me and it was such a boon to have another set of eyes. I had the same prep three times that year. She would sit and take notes the first time through and we would quickly chat during passing time so that I could make a few adjustments before the next class. We'd cycle again and by the third time, it was a lesson that could kick ass. I didn't know if this was the kind of thing that was desirable today or if it would just be a chance to see some new curriculum at work. I was really okay with either road. But the teacher was interested in a few ways to tweak things. As teachers, we rarely have the luxury of being able to thoroughly plan things out as we'd like. Collaboration can help with some of that. The other thing, of course, is that everyone's teaching style and students' needs are different. What might sound great to me is not necessarily the best for someone else's class. It's just good to be able to bounce around some ideas.