31 October 2006

Blood, Sweat, and WASL

If you're an old-timer on this blog, then you know that I helped the district organize a summer program for kiddos who didn't pass the 10th grade WASL last April. Specifically, the program targeted students who were classified as a "near miss" by the state. Test retakes were in August, and we have been anxiously anticipating the results. The numbers finally arrived today.

News is good. Perhaps not as good as some would like to see---especially in the area of math---but you really have to get in and walk around inside the numbers a bit in order to really think about what's going on. Seventy percent of the Reading kids passed, 85% of the Writing testers passed, and about 40% of the math kids passed. Preliminary scuttlebutt among districts (since the state hasn't formally released information) is showing us that our students did better than several others.

And what of our summer seminar kiddos? I'll leave Reading and Writing out of the discussion, as the numbers were so small. In math, however, kids made a 16 point gain over their April scores. For students outside the targeted audience, this wasn't enough to put most of them over the bar, but they certainly got a lot closer. When we compared the groups with those kids who retook the math WASL but didn't receive any assistance, we were able to see that the gain was more than triple for those in the targeted group who got tutoring, and more than double for the others. In both cases, kids who participated in summer seminar had a lower average than kids who didn't---and then ended up vastly outscoring non-participants in August.

The bottom line here is still being ferreted out. We can say that the materials the state provided were helpful. We know that intensive tutoring and teaching around the standards can make a significant difference. Targets are clear for students to be able to hit. I don't know how many classroom teachers will take such a message to heart during the regular school year, but I hope that at least some will pay attention.

29 October 2006

Life After the Kit Center

It seems like most of my working life over the last year has been devoted to thinking about our science kit center. Should we have one? How much would it cost? What would we need? Could we handle it? There are lots of other projects I would very much liked to have worked on, but this was one that just had to have priority. It has made this fall difficult in some ways and not much fun in others. But we have survived in good stead.

We were able to hire someone, although a month later than what HR promised us. Good things come to those who wait, I suppose, as the person we got is amazing. She is terribly overqualified with an M.S. and years of experience running a research lab where people who had earned their DVM degrees came back to work on PhDs. Ordering paper plates and cutting wax paper is definitely not what she's been professionally trained to manage. However, she has her reasons for wanting this job and we're not going to quibble with them. We have truly come out ahead with this.

There are some minor issues continuing to dog the first rotation of kits...and we are certainly having to think about getting restocked for rounds two and three. I don't think that there will be a quiet spell until the spring. But we are getting several community volunteers in to help and our new coordinator has brought several good relationships with vendors with her. Things take time, which is not what you want to hear if you're a classroom teacher with a need for that day. Most of them have been very patient and understanding.

This is the first week where I don't have back to back meetings and events scheduled on my calendar. I have time to actually concentrate on my job: supporting teachers.

28 October 2006

Doomed to Repeat

We have no "social studies" specialist in the district, although there is a teacher pulling in a $3K stipend for very little effort toward that program. Instead, the elementary math specialist has decided to put her two cents in because she loves history.

With the new standards coming out for social studies, there is interest in having a deeply aligned program. Someone will have to helm this, and secondary teachers can be tricky to work with. I listened to her have a conversation with the another specialist yesterday, and it raised some concerns for me. The main focus of the visit was to find out how to get a group of teachers to set a scope and sequence that was already preconceived by a curriculum specialist before the first meeting takes place.

When I helmed a group nearly two years ago for the science scope and sequence, I didn't go in with any preformed notions of what we should come out with, other than some agreement around the standards for each grade level. If teachers had questions (Should we go with an "integrated" curriculum vs. the traditional "life, earth, physical" sequence?), we researched the answers together. I didn't find a bunch of articles first that fit my ideas and have them read only those. As a result, we seemed to have ended up with good agreement---and buy in---from all of the secondary schools and things are going well.

There was a suggestion made to cull articles for the steering group to read so that if you want a group to move in a particular direction (e.g. a more "thematic" curriculum vs. different aspects at different grades, such as US History, civics, geography, etc.). I had such a hard time biting my tongue. The impetus for change has to be with those who will be tasked to make it happen. You can't stack the deck in your favour and think all will be rosy. I'm not saying that certain ideas don't have merit, just that it's important to go about things the right way.

I feel like I should find a way to say something. I know, it's not my business. I wasn't part of the conversation (although being seated at the next desk made me privy to every word). Nobody asked me for my opinion...and likely don't want it. Maybe I can find some way to at least put in my two cents.

27 October 2006

Closing In, Part II

I went to breakfast this morning with some friends who teach at one of our elementary schools. They told me that someone had been out the day before to give them "the talk." I wasn't sure I understood. "You mean Boss Lady 2.0?" as she is planning to visit all of the elementaries. "No. We and another school are 3 and 4 on the list for closure. This was our 'heads up.' They won't tell us which school is which."

Very interesting.

It had been kicked around for some time that three elementaries might be closed. I did mention that to my friends, but it wasn't until later in the day that it hit me: Why would you tell both #3 and #4 if they both aren't seriously being looked out for closure? The district has been pretty open with the top two choices...and there has been a lot of work to keep things out in the open and rumors to a minimum. What reason could there be for stirring up two more schools?

A newspaper article in the area printed an amount close to the magic number I've been hearing: $5 million. That's the shortfall expected. (Each elementary closure = a $.75M savings.) But today, it was revealed that the number could be as high as $11M and Boss Lady 2.0 has already been warned that she will only have a "skeleton crew" in our office next year. She was away today on jury duty.

I could kid myself and think I'm "safe." Science is a core area (although not by SPED standards) and scores are horribly low across the district. One would think that the district will keep a math, a science, and a literacy person on board...that there are lots more "expendable" positions, no matter how essential we may view them.

I don't mind going back to the classroom, which is what will happen if/when my job is cut. I do think that I'll have to make doubly sure to get as much done for district science this year as I possibly can. It may very well be that in a few months, there will be no one to finish the alignments and support the teachers. Whatever we're able to create and get to schools may be the last for a very long time.

I hope the last one out of Curriculum remembers to turn off the lights. The district needs the money.

26 October 2006

Closing In

School closures are a fact of life in this part of the country. Housing prices that are out of reach for young families coupled with smaller family sizes means that there are a lot of empty classrooms: classrooms that cost a lot of money to keep. My district currently has over 1800 seats at its elementaries that are empty this year. While no final decisions have been made (and won't be until Valentine's Day 2007), the threat of closing 2 of our 14 elementary schools is driving a lot of other things within the district. Any other changes have been put on hold for now, knowing that the stress of the closures, people changing jobs, programs being cut, and so on will be enough to deal with. There's no sense in talking about rolling out the new report card district-wide.

Seattle schools are also facing some closure issues. Theirs are quite ugly---lots of name calling and personal attacks, when in the grand scheme of things, these are not personal decisions. I can't say that if I wouldn't be upset if I was a parent in an area where the neighbourhood school was slated for closure, but I hope I wouldn't hurl racial slurs at the supe.

There are lots of articles (like this one in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) examining the issues in Seattle and some thoughts about the supe (who is leaving in August). It does take a certain kind of leader to be able to head a school district, let alone do it well. We're very fortunate where I am. We have one who knows that "Kumbaya consensus isn't leadership at all -- it's death by a gazillion selfish interests."

The remainder of this year promises to be a bit of a wild ride, especially for those of us huddled down in Curriculum. Our jobs may very well slip away with budget cuts. Some people have already looked into retirement options...others are already in line for transfers back to the classroom...still others are training for other jobs. We can see the writing on the wall much more clearly than many in the district. If you're a music teacher in an elementary school, good luck. If you're a coach, be prepared to have fewer players---a combo of "pay to participate" and less travel funds. This place is going to be a much leaner machine in a few months.

Quick, Before Blogger Crashes Again

Is it just me, or has blogger been particularly fussy over the last week? Seems like when I've got a few minutes to post or catch up on my reading, things haven't cooperated.

Some things I'm thinking about, but haven't gotten to write about...
  • The easing of limits by the Department of Education for single sex classes and schools in public education. I'm not quite sure how they can claim a year ago that their studies showed single sex education doesn't make a difference in student achievement and then now decide that schools can use it when the district believes it will. I know that some bloggers have mentioned that this change in opinion may reflect a more parent-friendly stance: it can provide another type of choice. Is that okay? Should our focus (parents, educators, community) be on what's best for kids...not parents?
  • Some of you out there might also be interested in checking out this article from the Harvard University website about a joint study they completed on the (lack of) relationship between high school AP courses and college success in science. I can't say that I find the results surprising. AP science courses are intended to be equivalents of courses for non-majors in college---not for those who pursue degrees in the sciences. The AP curriculum might be standardized, but that is not true for colleges and universities. Different places (and professors) have varying expectations, including some very specific knowledge they want kiddos in the sciences to get a handle on.
Hope to blog again soon. There's lots more to share!

23 October 2006

Don't Spend It All in One Place

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

For those of you who might not know, today is a type of holiday in chemistry: it's Mole Day. I blogged about this last year, and over the course of the last week, I've had several hundred hits by people searching for information on Mole Day...and in particular, Mole Bucks. So, to all of you out there partying in a hardy way and desperate for your just rewards, you can now find a sample above.

Happy Mole Day!

22 October 2006

Baby Steps

We continue to inch toward standards based reporting for students in the elementary grades. A lot of the reason for the slow going is that we need to develop tools for teachers along with their understanding of how to use them. There was a long meeting on Friday with the various curriculum specialists and Boss Lady 2.0 to try and map out what we need to do in the next few years. During the meeting, I had a bit of an epiphany. I had been feeling rather despondent because there's no way I can do what has been done with Reading and Writing---and I really don't feel like it's the right thing, anyway. I want to shy away from relying upon summative assessments for teachers and students. So, here's what I mapped out while other areas were talking and planning.

Below is a chart representing the science kits third graders have, along with the 1 - 4 scoring guide. The boxes would contain information for teachers about which lessons were specific to our standards, along with a description of what a student performing at a 1, 2, or 3 would "look like" for those lessons. A "4" would represent knowledge that is not directly part of the standards, but that kids might have mastered in addition to the goals.

So far, so good...but this only represents content information. What about the scientific process? This information is not kit specific. These are skills students would acquire and refine throughout the year. They need to be benchmarked---in other words, the standards represent a goal for the end of the year, but teachers would want to be able student progress along the way. Our report card is being communicated to parents as a document that shows where students are in their progress---not how they compare to the end goal. This means that the tool for teachers' assessment needs to look a little different:

Again, each box should contain specific information about what a teacher would see or hear a student doing. I would hope that the entire document for a grade level would be no more than three pages. We have the math/science cadre this year---reps from every building for every grade level in the district. It's a perfect forum to gain input on the benchmarks. Those teachers will have the best idea of what's developmentally appropriate throughout a year.

The benefit to teachers is that they don't have to individually figure out what to use in order to score students. Keep in mind that every elementary teacher is having to score every student in science, social studies, reading, writing, math, communication, and art. It's a huge amount of information to manage and we need to be mindful of what is on their plates.

The benefit to the district is that in taking the guesswork out of scoring, we have a much better chance of getting agreement between classrooms and among schools. A "3" in Ms. Smith's class would mean the same as a "3" in Mr. Sosa's class. It doesn't mean that they have taught things identically---teachers still have the academic freedom to tailor instruction---but it does mean that the outcomes are the same.

I'll float this with Boss Lady 2.0 tomorrow afternoon and then with some teachers Tuesday morning. Depending upon their feedback, I'll see if I can at least get one grade level drafted and perhaps round up a teacher or two to field test some things this spring. Does anyone out there in the great wide blogosphere have any suggestions I should incorporate?

20 October 2006

New Sheriff in Town

Boss Lady 2.0 has been in the office four months, but I haven't had a lot of contact with her until this week. I know it sounds odd---but her job is quite broad and mine has been more than I can juggle. There just haven't been a lot of points for intersection. In the last two days, however, I've been in 6 hours of meetings with her and I'm starting to get a better feel for how she is going to do business.

My first Boss Lady was more of a nurturing type...matronly in the sense of being a sort of den mother to us. She was very protective of the teachers in her charge. Her communication style was more subversive---she preferred to lead discussions in such a way that you came to the conclusion that she wanted so that it felt like your idea. She was not always an out front sort of leader---not that she stayed away from any challenge, but rather that she seemed more interested in coaching some leadership skills from the rest of us.

The new style of leadership in the department is definitely one where Boss Lady 2.0 isn't afraid to be blunt in voicing her ideas and having a strong hand in guiding conversations. She is interested in equity of resources (Huzzah!) and talking about the elephants which have been in the room for some time now. Her thought processes and goals are transparent. While this is definitely a big change in how our department operates, it's not all bad---and it certainly isn't being received favourably by all. Change is difficult.

The next few weeks should reveal a bit more about how things may move from now on. Right now, it looks like the new sheriff is ready to get her guns blazing and clear a path for us.

19 October 2006

Admins Aplenty

Admins are beleaguered here in the edusphere, slightly less so than The District, but they still take their fare share of beatings. Being a teacher who works in the central office, I experience both sides of things. I completely understand the perceptions and comments of teachers...but I also know why certain decisions are made. I am expected to spout the party line, and there are very few times that I choke on it because I do get to see the full spectrum of information. Recently, I've felt more like the teachers who shake their fists at the admins. A couple of them have been very difficult for me to work with.

One is a former science teacher who is a new admin. You'd think she'd have a broader view of things...or at least support her teachers...but this isn't turning out to be the case. She was the one threatening the secretary and I last month when there weren't extra books sent for classroom sets. We did get CD-ROM versions of the texts for her to look at, but she didn't. She instead sent us an assessment of them by reading the back of the packaging. The teachers told us that she didn't use the discs. The teachers also told me today that they have had no complaints from students about the on-line versions that each of them has. In other words, the admin is making up quite a lot of information. We've now caught her in a couple of lies (Boss Lady 2.0 wasn't terribly happy) and are leaving her out of further discussions.

The other is the principal of the Not-So-Pretty-High School whose antics last month only served to alienate many teachers in other schools. I was told by our delivery personnel that they were having trouble at the science kit center finding room to move the trucks and were about to file a grievance against the principal. They have been trying for a long time to get his help regarding the student parking that is keeping the drivers from being able to safely do their jobs. I was asked to help, so I e'd the principal explaining the issues and asking for ideas. What I got in return was a snotty e-mail musing about when parking attendant got added to my job description...and asking that if any illegal parking was going on, to e-mail him and he'd get it taken care of. The next day, I did just that---sent the license plate info for the cars that were at issue. This time, an expletive laden phone call was provided in return. Sheesh.

I think that part of my job relates to knowing which battles to fight. I see some admins that don't possess this ability and others which seem to do it quite gracefully. I'm still trying to navigate the landmines, but in all of it, I keep thinking about my general approach to working with junior high kids: don't make a rule I wouldn't enforce---and pay attention to the small things. If kids know you're looking at the details, they will rarely attempt to get away with something grand. I have a sneaking suspicion that very few in administration here---either those who supervise teachers or those who supervise other administrators---pay attention to the small things. As a result, there are people getting away with all sorts of slams against the system...and I am left wondering if and when personal responsibility will make a reappearance in the way we operate here.

18 October 2006

How Low Can You Go?

I'm staying late tonight as I have a presentation on pre-school science to make. Yes, pre-school science. Did you know that Washington state has benchmarks for children from birth to kindergarten entry? (See more here.) Until recently, I hadn't even realized there were such things for science. Mind you, they're not terribly complicated (e.g. "Observes sun and clouds.") but until kids acquire the ability to communicate, there's not a whole lot to measure, either.

Anyway, I'm starting off by creating a sense of wonder in the adults by doing a bit of "milk-cow-motion" as an engagement activity. If you haven't done this one before, you can play along at home. You'll need a small dish of milk, food coloring, a toothpick, and a drop of detergent. Go ahead and collect the items. I'll wait.


Add a drop of food coloring (your choice of color or colors) at the N, S, E, W points of the milk. What do you see happening? Not much?

Milk, Food Coloring, and Detergent by Moonflower CC-BY-NC-SA

Okay, now put a drop of detergent on the end of the toothpick and dip the toothpick in the middle of the dish.

Milk, Food Coloring, and Detergent by Moonflower CC-BY-NC-SA

Ooooo. Ahhhhh. Pretty colors.

Milk, Food Coloring, and Detergent by Moonflower CC-BY-NC-SA

We'll talk about that for a few minutes before thinking about the inquiry cycle, sample ideas for 3 - 5 year olds, and how it all relates to the benchmarks. Presto! Pre-school science in 20 minutes or less.

I'm told that this is a fun group of people to work with. They're interested in whatever information can be shared and receptive to new ideas. It should be a nice way to end the day, even with the surprise of looking at benchmarks for toddlers. Whatever happened to just being a kid?

17 October 2006

What's in an A?

I've mentioned before that our district is gradually moving toward standards based grading and reporting for students. This is just taking root at the elementary school level for the time being, but over time, it might be able to move up into the secondary levels. This article in the Washington Post details that college admissions officers might welcome such a move.

"Grades have long been contentious in education because they are so subjective. Grading scales vary widely among K-12 school systems -- and often within schools -- making it increasingly difficult to accurately compare grades.

Science teacher Terry Shales grades students based on tests and quizzes, daily class work and projects, with a little homework thrown in. But the teachers on both sides of his classroom at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, Ore., have their own systems.

The inconsistency bedevils college and university admissions directors, so much that many are focused on efforts to make grading less subjective in school systems across the country. They also are working to find better ways to level the field when considering GPAs. Admissions officers rarely take a GPA on its face value, and many recalculate the averages to make them more comparable.

Many factors go into giving a grade: A student's academic progress, homework or class work may be examined. Then there's the question of whether teachers should grade on a curve. And, researchers say, admissions directors cannot forget about the unintentional biases inherent in grading."

Colleges which monitor the relationship between a state's standards based tests and high school grades don't find much to correlate. As much pride as many high school teachers might take in that (at least in this district), it only reinforces to colleges that teachers aren't evaluating students against the requirements of the curriculum.

Interestingly enough, some colleges are recalculating student transcripts and eliminating weighting factors for honors and AP classes. This way, applicants from small schools which don't offer as diverse of a curriculum aren't penalized. A few colleges are also tracking student success in college along with whatever high school they attended. They can then make future recommendations for acceptance based on how previous students fared.

On Thursday, part of the discussion science teachers in our district will be having will include "What is an 'A'?" In other words, when a 10th grade biology teacher looks at a transcript and sees that an "A" was earned in 9th grade physical science---what does that mean? That the kid didn't cause any problems? That s/he is a good test-taker? That s/he had great attendance and worked well with others in a lab group? How much of that grade really represents what a kid knows and can do? Should make for an interesting conversation.

16 October 2006

Picking Up the Tab

I have rarely run across a college bound high school student who had a solid plan for paying for his or her post-secondary education. Most of them believed that scholarship money would carry them through. Even if high school was a bit late in the game to be thinking about funding things, there was still no shift in thinking. Good grades = money, right? Sometimes it does. Most of the time, it isn't enough.

A recent article by Eileen Powell confirms what I've noticed over the years: Parents low ball college costs. A study referenced in the article found that "87 percent of parents believe scholarships and grants will cover at least part of their children's undergraduate expenses, and nearly three-quarters think their children are 'special or unique' enough to win a scholarship. Financial aid administrators said 92 percent of parents overestimate the amount of scholarship money their children will receive. Meanwhile, parents are not saving much on their own for their kids' educations."

So, if scholarship money is few and far between in terms of abundance and families aren't saving or doing much financial planning---how are expenses covered? Loans. Both parents and students are taking out loans, burdening the student when s/he graduates and sapping future plans for parents.

We seem to be doing a good job in helping families see the value in attaining higher education. We emphasize that the foundations are placed all along the k-12 path. We tell kids that good grades are a ticket to success. How do we help families understand the financial aspects to all of this?

15 October 2006

Bombs Away!

It's a big week out there. Our first round of the new science kits heads out to teachers. It has been a major battle to get things kinda-sorta ready. HR is dragging its feet on our hire(s)---one position they are leaving unposted for the time being. The copy machine was delivered a week late. We couldn't get all of the items labeled for staff nor all of the prep work done. Here's hoping that teachers will be somewhat understanding. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that wonderful things happen this week.

12 October 2006


Answering Machine Tape by Breakfast for Dinner CC-BY-NC-SA

Hi, you have reached the blog of the Science Goddess. I'm away from my computer right now...so sorry to have missed your visit. If you'll leave your information in the comments, I'll be happy to get back to you just as soon as I return in a few days. Have a great weekend!

11 October 2006

Wednesday Never Felt So Good

Pssst...it's Wednesday, and you know what that means: time for this week's Carnival of Education. Get on over there while the gettin's good.

10 October 2006

Long Live the Noobs

The beginning teachers really are quite cute. Six of them made it to the meeting tonight and shared a few of their joys and woes. For the most part, they're having a good time in the classroom. Their greatest frustrations are not with kids---but with learning to navigate the system: getting professional leave, feeling comfortable enough to disagree with their peers, or managing things. We munched on cookies and found some humor in their respective situations.

I am excited by the learning goals that they've set for themselves between now and the next meeting. It is no small task to get consensus simply because their teaching assignments are so wildly different: 2 career and technical education, 2 high school self-contained SPED and one elementary self-contained SPED, 1 high school math, and one high school PE. There isn't a lot of middle ground there, but we found a section of resource items that they all felt they could pull from. Their goal is to try one new thing from the list by December and then come back to share out what they did, samples of student work, and their reflections.

I modeled some different reading strategies with them and we did a lot of talking about grades. I told them that I'm not there to say there's the right way to handle these, but now is the time for them to challenge their own thinking. Research indicates that career-long patterns get set by about 6 months into one's career. Better to ponder now...and with others in the same boat...before their ideas are completely cemented.

It was good for them to have the camaraderie this evening. They need to know that they're not the only ones with struggles, even if they are each alone in their classrooms during the day. I hope to get out and be with them more in the next few weeks. I wish them much success.

09 October 2006

Haggling about Homework

Coach Brown also picked up on this article in the San Francisco Chronicle on the movement toward assigning less (or no) homework. It seems like this sort of backlash emerges from time to time. I don't think it's really as simple as whether or not a kid has 10 minutes of work per grade level per night.

Numerous studies (nicely distilled by Marzano, et al) show that practice with a new skill is important for mastery. Homework is certainly one way for students to develop fluency with reading, writing, math, and more...but that still isn't the whole story. Part of what needs to be considered here is the structure of the assignment: quality, not busy work. A kid doesn't necessarily need to do 25 long division problems as practice. Can they do five and explain how they were able to solve them? Is knowing the answer to 3694 divided by 31 as important as being able to have a method for solving this sort of problem whenever you need to (without a calculator!)?

The other part that isn't being considered here is what the teacher intends to do with the homework. Most secondary teachers grade it in one form or another---either a "completion" mark in the gradebook or all-out-grab-the-red-pen-and-bleed-on-the-paper type. Is all homework really destined for assessment? If it is practice, then why consider penalizing kids for mistakes and incompletions? Do some kids quit trying because they believe the teacher is just going to put an "F" on their efforts, even if their learning is emergent?

Homework, like grades, isn't going to go away---no matter how many articles and books like to claim otherwise. What public schools do need to think about is what homework and grades mean...to teachers, parents, and students.

08 October 2006

Group Therapy

The Beginning Teachers and I will have our first group meeting of the school year on Tuesday. Since the initial meeting in August, I have had weekly contact with each of them and I know some of them have been chatting with one another. Tuesday afternoon will be the first opportunity for them to do a bit of scar sharing.

I've been trying to decide what sorts of events to share from my first year of teaching. Do I tell them about the open house when the recently released convict stepfather (who was later found to be molesting his stepdaughter) yelled at me for two minutes in front of the other parents because I wouldn't tell him what grade the girl had? Or the kid who walked in from another class (on his first day at our school) and punched out two teeth from the mouth of one of my students? Maybe I should tell them about the custodian who showed up at my house stinking drunk one Friday night insisting he should come in for awhile...or the student counselor who suddenly kissed me in his office? (I was younger and cuter then and sexual harassment was not an issue.) Do I share my sixth-period-class-from-hell with the noobs...and how relieved I was when one of them (who was a 17-year old freshman at the time) wrapped his car around a telephone pole the next year? How about the purchase order the principal gave me to buy some Everclear because we had no lab grade ethanol for labs?

Most veteran teachers tend to look at the first year of teaching as a form of hazing: a trial by fire. In order to be accepted into the fraternity, you have to run the gauntlet. I think that the mentorship we provide in this district is a positive step. It doesn't eliminate all of the things that one just has to face head on in the classroom, but at least there's a structure in place for guidance.

I've already had a couple of individual sessions with three of the beginning teachers who needed a shoulder to cry on. They weren't actually crying, mind you, but their frustrations as they try to wrap their minds around the whole job are understandable and they just wanted someone to care that what they were doing was damned hard work. I think the group meeting on Tuesday will be therapeutic, too. We'll have some treats, try to find a few things to laugh about, and then probe their thinking in other ways.

Do you have a great story (good, bad, or ugly) from your first year in the classroom? Leave it in the comments---it'd be great to have you join us.

07 October 2006

Death by Meeting

Communication isn't well done by this district. We think we're small---and we used to be---but we really aren't: 1600 staff and 12,500 students strong. Even in an age of e-mail, internet, and SharePoint, information transfer is often a constipated process. Will more meetings solve any of this?

I now have five regularly scheduled meetings each month that I didn't in the past. Two are individual meetings with Boss Lady 2.0. This is something that I asked for and my guess is that my need for them will ebb and flow with the rhythms of the school year. I didn't have this arrangement with the previous Boss Lady and it did impede some things. Ah, but now there is a Curriculum staff meeting once a month with those of us who work at Central Office (and a quarterly one involving the addition of classified staff and literacy coaches). There is also an elementary specialists' meeting and a secondary specialists' meeting...smaller affairs for those of us who are most directly involved with curriculum in classrooms. (The Curriculum staff meeting also involves the techs and library services staff.)

I understand the need for these discussions. As odd as it may sound, just because we all work in the same office, we don't necessarily know what is happening with different grade levels and content areas (I told you...communication isn't our strong suit.). But will there really be enough to talk about that would fill these 8 hours or so of meetings each month?

There are three and a half more work weeks this month...and I have only a single day left that is unscheduled with one meeting or another. Don't forget, I'm off to schools to work with beginning teachers, coach science staff, and more. I am starting to live in fear that I'll have so many meetings that the really important things I want and need to do for students and teachers can't get done. It is already starting to feel that way.

I am not an all hat and no cattle sort of person. If there is something to be done---let's it get done. I think that has been key in developing the relationships that I have with teachers. I worry that too many meetings will be the death of that. I plan to be vigilant here this first month as we test the waters with this schedule. I won't hesitate to pull the plug on meetings before they pull the plug on my program.

06 October 2006

Jesus Is Coming...Look Busy

Did you ever have a "Come to Jesus" meeting? These don't take place in a revival tent and they aren't run by fundies . They are when the boss is ready to straighten out a few crooked paths. The idiom refers to the epiphany the others should have (if they know what's good for them) while the boss redirects things.

I feel one of these meetings coming on in my office. One specialist has pushed things too far with everyone: teachers, principals, and definitely the rest of us in Curriculum. Not only is she getting major pushback from all of these parties, but Boss Lady 2.0 has a more balanced and practical outlook about things. What happens in the classroom---especially at the elementary level---should be about more than improving writing instruction.

Schools, departments, and districts are like families. Dysfunctional ones, perhaps, but still everyone has a role. There are golden children and black sheep, parents ready to take you to the woodshed, and nurturing ones who wish to spoil you. There is a lot of harumphing that things "aren't fair." Maybe life isn't meant to be, but schools are currently charged with establishing equity.

It isn't fair or equitable that six writing coaches received $30K of conference monies and $12K of professional books over the summer while the rest of Curriculum (math, science, reading) received about $5K total...and are not allowed to make any book purchases this year. While the majority of kids are not able to meet the standards in math and science while 90% do in reading and 86% do in writing, the writing program gets coaches, 6 subs a day (for 159 days)---math and science get no coaches and 6 subs a day for a combined total of 21 days (which we fought bitterly to get). It's not fair that there are seven people whose jobs are completely devoted to k-6 writing...and a single .8 person allotted for all of k-12 science.

I don't have any illusions about the upcoming shakeup. I know that I will be asked to give and make adjustments, too. It's only fair that we all do what we can to support teachers and kids...but I have to say that the rest of us in Curriculum are already shouting "Hallelujah!" at the idea of this meeting. It's about time everyone came to Jesus.

04 October 2006

Longing for the Empty Nest

Work and the rest of waking life have been quite the juggling act the past couple of weeks. Today marked the final math/science grade level meeting for elementary---and while this has been a fabulous opportunity, it has been a lot to handle in and of itself. Throw into that an entire kit center to get up and running with all of its politics...a myriad of administrative fires to put out...new secondary science curriculum...and a group of beginning teachers to help...and I'm very much looking forward to two weeks from now when all of these large scale projects will be more or less independent. It will be good to push them out of the nest because a whole new brood is ready to take their place.

02 October 2006

So That Explains It

Here's the new thing I learned today: there is no such thing as a learning disability in science. There are no IEP goals allowed as they relate to science...and there will be no alternative assessments for special needs students in the area of science (as there are for math, reading, and writing). Apparently, science concepts are readily and equally understandable by everyone, even Republicans and/or fundamentalists.

This brings up some interesting issues as the reauthorization rolls around and the Science Accountability Act becomes a real possibility. Since there can be no accommodations with science tests (apart from ones applied to all testing situations), what will happen with these students? What will schools do about their scores and lack of AYP when SPED students are held to a higher standard in science than they are in math, reading, and writing?

In some ways, I understand that the "no disability in science" (Is that like "no crying in baseball"?) thing, especially where content is concerned; however, the vast majority of our standards are process and skill-oriented, just as reading and writing and most of math. Our standards have grade-level appropriate benchmarks and spiraling ideas through the grade levels. Why is it reasonable to expect that a child who is allowed to have a 3rd grade proficiency in math and language arts when in 10th grade must have a 10th grade proficiency in science?

I will certainly be paying attention in different ways as science continues to grow in the public education eye. As there is no likelihood that the rules governing SPED will be altered to include science as an area of disability, we'll have to be even more creative about supporting our SPED kiddos.

01 October 2006

Enabling Science and Math

The elementary math specialist and I have been working together a lot recently for our "cadre" meetings: there is one per grade level, with a teacher from each of the 14 elementaries in attendance. The goal is to build a series of math and science grade level experts. Some teachers have chosen to participate because they have a passion for either math or science...others are less secure in their knowledge of these content areas and want the professional development...and a few are the only teacher at their grade level for the entire school---this is one of their few chances to talk and plan with others.

These teachers want to be enabled, much to my delight. What a nice change from secondary to have teachers who want whatever tools you can offer and are interested in giving new things a try...as long as you put all of the information into their hands. The math specialist wasn't entirely convinced that enabling is a good thing (although she does it, too). I'm likely naive, but I figure that it can't hurt. Whatever supports more math and science instruction is fine with me. And if it means that I make the copies...or cut the file folders to make sentence strips...or go out and coach a lesson, then so be it.

This enabling doesn't just stop with lesson materials---teachers want all of the assessments and alignments, too. The previous elementary math specialist had a hard time with the idea of writing all of the assessments. Her view was that we shouldn't be doing all of the "fishing" for teachers---instead, we should teach them to fish for themselves. I definitely understand that view, but I also think that elementary teachers have a lot on their plates. Every teacher is charged with teaching (nearly) every subject area and s/he can't help but have more expertise in some than others. Instead of teaching them to build the assessment tool, perhaps it would be a better use of time to help teachers learn how to interpret the results of an assessment...especially since they're moving over to a standards-based reporting system.

Right or wrong, it looks like the math specialist and I will continue to foster a sense of co-dependency within the district. Elementary teachers are enthusiastic about this sort of relationship: "I want to let you know how much I enjoyed our meeting on Wednesday. I felt that it was a really productive day. It was great to meet with other 3rd grade teaches and hear their ideas and to learn about our new science curriculum." Who am I to quarrel?