30 November 2006

Non Sequitors

Some parliamentarians in France are recommending that schoolchildren there should learn about wine. Anyone interested in volunteering to write the curriculum for that one? Perhaps do the test item selection?

And, a tip of the hat to Bits and Pieces for the item at the right. I hope you laugh as much as I did.

29 November 2006

Ninety-Five Big Ones

Ah, Wednesday. That magical day when we all benefit from someone's feverish work to bring together the week's Carnival of Education. It's number 95 this time around and is still as fresh as the first one posted nearly two years ago. Head over and have a read.

The two I pulled out this week as favorites have to do with grading, of course, as that topic has been on my mind this school year. Check out perspectives from two right-wingers:

  • Darren is perplexed by students who see grades as a means to an end (like getting into college) and not a measurement of their learning. Tests and quizzes are the opportunities for kids to show what they know.
  • Meanwhile, Right Wing Nation contemplates whether or not "good vs. bad" test-taking abilities exist. A thoughtful piece, indeed.
Like Darren, I wasn't wild about offering extra credit. If a kid couldn't do the regular work, then how would s/he do well with something extra? My guess is that what most kids are really asking for is something differentiated. They want a way to show their learning on something other than a test or quiz for every unit. Many don't realize that there are usually a ton of opportunities built in: homework, in-class work, discussions, etc. I also agree with the other post in that most kids and families will use bad test-taking abilities as an excuse for poor study habits. I must say, however, that I had a senior last year who was the worst test-taker I had ever had in 15 years of teaching. I don't know why---and I truly did try to help her by giving her some strategies. Even take-home tests were a dismal failure when other take-home assignments were not. When you talked with the girl, you could tell that she understood the material. She was able to use the information and apply it in different ways. The whole test thing? Not so much. I do wonder how she will survive college when so many grades are based solely upon exams.

Anyway, get on over to the Carnival and stimulate yourself. Your brain will thank you for it.

28 November 2006

Damned If You Do...Damned If You Don't

We don't get a lot of snow or ice out in this part of the world. Rain? Certainly. But temperatures tend to stay, well, temperate for most of the year. But Sunday brought us a bit of snow. Clear skies yesterday followed by more snow and unseasonably cold temperatures brought us a lot of ice on the roads.

School was cancelled yesterday, but the supe opted for the late start option this morning. There were lots of angry phone calls from parents today. Didn't he see the news claiming that if you didn't need to drive, you shouldn't? (True, but that was for Seattle metro...which we arent'.) Our district does cover a lot of geographical territory, so some places can have clean and dry roads while others are dealing with several inches of snow. It doesn't always make sense to parents as to why schools are closed or aren't closed, depending upon where a family lives.

We're scheduled for more ugly weather today and tomorrow. I'm hoping for some patience on the part of families. It's one of those things where whether or not we have school, somebody will call and let us know our mistake.

27 November 2006

Deep Cleansing Breath

Image Credit: Unknown

If you look at the title of the graph, you'll notice that it refers to first-year teachers...but if you spend a moment thinking about the graph, you teachers out there will realize that it doesn't just reflect newbies. How many of us vets start off with enthusiasm at the start of another year---full of piss and vinegar? Do we not enter a "survival" phase as we get into a groove before the doldrums of winter set in? It feels like such a long time until June...especially with a few (or more) impossible students and tasks. Spring brings a rebirth of hope, and enthusiasm about summer.

I shared this graph along with an article about first-year teachers with the mentors in the program this year. They all laughed (as did the noobs when they saw it), recognizing the rhythms of the job. I asked the mentors to share some of their experiences navigating this curve and strategies for making it through the "disillusionment." I implored them to tell the beginning teachers that it's normal to feel this way about the job.

As I trawl the edusphere, I see that many bloggers are feeling negative at the moment---and guilty about not having something positive to say...and for being whiny. But I hope that they realize it's all right. We're all surfing the wave. It's better to blog about an annoying student, recalcitrant parent, or aggravating admin and then set it aside for a bit than lose a night of sleep. Invite all of us to the pity party. We'll help celebrate in style and then pick you up to keep moving on. No one wants to be down on things all of the time. Give yourself a chance to vent once in awhile, take a breath, and then go forward. There will be things to celebrate soon.

26 November 2006

Of Tweens and Teens

When I was in junior high, one of the heartbreaks my peers and I endured was that there were no school dances. This was not reflective of the plotline in Footloose (although the movie was contemporary to our situation), but rather that the school thought that it was best to save some experiences for high school. "What will you have to look forward to if you get to do everything now?" This rather old-fashioned point of view was not enjoyed by those of us in our pre-teen/early teen years, but I respect it now.

I was prompted to remember this story after reading "'Tweens Are Fast Becoming the New Teens" on the AP wire. The gist of the piece is that typical teen behaviors (need for independence from parents, dating, etc.) are now being seen more and more commonly in 8 - 12 year olds. It's not just behavior that's changing, but also bodies. "Several published studies have found, for instance, that some tweens' bodies are developing faster, with more girls starting menstruation in elementary school — a result doctors often attribute to improved nutrition and, in some cases, obesity. While boys are still being studied, the findings about girls have caused some endocrinologists to lower the limits of early breast development to first or second grade." Are parents really having to buy training bras at the same time they provide training wheels for their daughters' bikes?

I recommend a look at the whole article, if you can spare a few minutes. It brought up a variety of questions for me. "Childhood" is really a 20th century and western cultural concept. Could it be that some of the behavioral maturity we're seeing is just something that was there all along? Right or wrong, children used to be viewed as mini-adults and expected to be as such. We may not be sending our kids out to the fields or off to work in the sweatshops, but we are sending them to school and continuing to push the envelope in terms of what we expect kids to know and be able to do. We now have tutoring for toddlers and learning benchmarks for early childhood (starting at birth).

The article does make some good points about the role of parents in all of this. Just because your nine-year old is nagging you for a cell phone doesn't mean you have to give it to her. Parents can monitor and guide selections for tv, music, and video games. However, even the most vigilant parent isn't likely to completely prevent their young children from learning about sexy, violent, or "in" things from their peers. I especially liked the point about clothing. What kind of parent buys their 12-year old a pair of shorts with "Hottie" printed across the seat? My guess is that most consumers out there will blame manufacturers for these, but if there wasn't a demand for it, they wouldn't make and sell it. How many parents out there had children because they would be the ultimate accessory item...and are treating them as such?

I get the feeling that this road to early physical and behavioral maturation is a runaway train. We're not likely to stop it at this point. One thing that is not in the article that I wonder about is the cognitive development in children---and if there have been any changes there. My guess is that the pre-frontal lobe of the brain (responsible for more complex decision-making and abstract thinking) is not maturing at an earlier point in time. In other words, kids might look and act more like adults at a younger age, but they can't think like adults. What impact will that have on them in the long run?

RIP, childhood.

24 November 2006

Court of Intrigue

Now that it's Thankgiving Break, I've been trying to catch up on my reading. My book club picks three at a time and then we meet over the next three months to talk about things. The book for November is The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory. Historical fiction is really not my first choice when I'm reaching for something fun to read, but the author did a decent job with the characters. There couldn't be much in the way of suspense. It's like Titanic. You know how it's all going to end before you even start reading.

The interesting part of the process of reading the book was how much the court of Henry the Eighth reminded me of working in Curriculum. Okay, so Boss Lady 2.0 does not physically resemble that monarch, but we specialists are courtiers in one way or another. The elementary literacy person, with her ladies in waiting (a/k/a instructional coaches), is pretty darned close to Catherine of Aragon. She might have been the first to gain the king's favor, but his eye is wandering elsewhere. He is looking to the Pope (a/k/a superintendent) to find a way to divorce her somewhat gracefully.

We may not be living and working in an early 16th century English court, but all of the intrigue is still the same. Who will curry the king's favor next? Who can capture his attention...and who will lose her head in the budgetary beheadings this spring?

Boss Lady 2.0 has been out among the people...traveling from building to building getting some input about the state of the monarchy. Some bow deeply while others have clumps of manure in their hands, ready to throw at her. On the surface of things, she seems a popular choice: a person who can solve problems with a magical phone call. But this cavalier approach (as another courtier described it) only serves to backfire on those of us who have a more global view of things. There is never any pause for reflection or weighing of evidence. It is no danger to her---no one would dare to displeasure the king---only to we courtiers, striving to make get our families (subject areas) into better favor.

Somehow, I doubt that the next pick for our Book Club, Funny in Farsi, will have anywhere near the parallels with life in the Court of Curriculum. It's nice when books take you to a different place rather than striking so close to home.

23 November 2006

Happy Thanksgiving 2006!

Thanksgiving Dinner by Pink Sherbet Photography CC-BY

Best wishes to those of you celebrating American Thanksgiving out there. May you feast with those who bring happiness to your life as you usher in the holiday season! Enjoy the cheesy Macy's Day Parade, cheer on your favorite football team to victory, and eat 'til you can't eat anymore. Diet-schmiet.

22 November 2006

Respect Your Elders

The granddaddy edubloggers of them all, the Education Wonks, have put out a fine spread of posts from around the edusphere for the 94th Carnival of Education. Please do take a moment to stop by and take a stroll down the midway. So, get thee to the Carnival!

20 November 2006

The Dreaded School Project

An Op-Ed piece in the Christian Science Monitor is "A Mom's Plea: Don't Make Me Do School Projects." I admit that I was a bit put off by the title. My initial reaction was "Who asked you to?" As a teacher, I've seen more than enough projects that were obviously not done by students. At least one elementary school in my district has a policy that kids can bring the "stuff" for their projects, but work must be done at school. It has kept the parental interference to a minimum.

Delving further into the Monitor article, it appears that the mom is upset by a few different things. One is the sheer diversity of projects ("What ever happened to the written word?"). I support the need for differentiation, but at some point, teachers need to offer some options. Not everyone needs to make a puppet. Another complaint is the tendency for teachers to give group grades. I fully support her here. It is not fair to a student to be held accountable for the learning of others. If you must, give a part of the grade for how well kids work as a group. Outcomes need to be individual.

Mom's biggest rant however, is firmly in her own backyard to solve. This woman is a serious enabler. If the kid waits until 10:30 on a Sunday night to tell you that they need a Big Mac box to take to school in the morning, you know what? It doesn't mean that you need to drive over to Mickey D's right that minute. You need to go to Walgreens at the last moment to pick up a box of sugar cubes? Why didn't you look at your child's planner when s/he got home from school...or check the teacher's letter or website...to see what the upcoming assignments were? Is there no real communication expected on the part of the student to the parent. Granted, no parent wants to see their kid fail, but at some point, you need to put the problem-solving back on the student's shoulders. "You need a small box for tomorrow? What can you do about that?"

I don't begrudge the frustrated mom that projects take time and that there can be quite a few over the course of the year and across the curriculum. Teachers and schools would do well to think about that. However, most teachers provide extended timelines for these assignments. Maybe there would be a lot less frustration at home if time management and personal responsibility played a larger role in completing homework.

19 November 2006

Is Our Legislators Learning?

Some of my fellow edubloggers here in Washington have already posted a thing or two about the new Washington Learns report. For those of you living elsewhere, Washington Learns was an initiative by our governor to take a deep look at the educational system in this state. The report is meant to prod the legislature into making a commitment to providing a quality/world-class system here in Washington.

In general, there are some good suggestions here. Every dollar spent for early childhood education saves eight dollars that would be spent for remediation later. It's a no brainer that the Washington Learns group suggests phasing in full-day kindergarten and reducing class sizes k-3. A first grade teacher in my district referred to her role as one of "baking the cake." She meant that if teachers at the primary levels didn't create a basic foundation, no "icing" could be added in later grades.

Other things in the report are a bit scary. As much as I like the idea of supporting high quality math and science education, this part bothers me (emphasis added):
  • By December 2007, the State Board of Education will adopt international performance standards for math and science benchmarked to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) or the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and will adopt high school graduation requirements aligned with those standards.
  • By July 2008 for math and by July 2009 for science, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education will identify no more than three curricula for elementary, middle and high school, along with diagnostic and other materials that are aligned with the new standards.
  • By December 2007, the State Board of Education will incorporate into their accountability plan the requirement that schools must use one of the state curricula, with exceptions granted by waiver from the State Board of Education for districts that demonstrate outstanding student performance in math and science.
Um...are we really going throw out the state standards that we've developed over the last ten years? The same ones that the WASL is aligned to...not to mention all of the districts who have developed alignments to those standards? I don't mind a state approved list of curricula, but only three? This seems quite limited. Meanwhile, what happens to districts like ours which just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on new math and science materials...let alone little districts which can afford change even less than we can? Some publishers out there are vicious lobbyists. How will we ensure that the selection process for these materials doesn't line the pockets of those with flash instead of substance?

Mind you, none of the items listed above has the caveat that most of the things in the report do: "Subject to appropriations..." This means that the legislature isn't going to consider subsidizing or supplying these materials, once they are chosen.

Some people in my district aren't too concerned about the report simply because of all of the items that the legislature would have to find a way to fund (and in a hurry). I suppose that a "wait and see" attitude is called for. The legislature won't convene until early next year and their extended session could well last into the summer. Whatever things happen as a result of this report will likely not occur according to the suggested timeline. Legislators may not choose to accept all of the report. Their ideas about what learning should look like in Washington could be more broad.

In the meantime, I'm off to have a closer look at the TIMSS and PISA benchmarks. I haven't the heart to tell teachers that it's possible we could be starting all over again.

18 November 2006

What's In A Grade?

If there's any theme to this blog this year, it's grading. Between our district move at the elementary level to have a standards based report card, my work with new teachers, and other thoughts afoot with my own return to school, I've been thinking a lot about grades. Some of it is philosophical ("What does an 'A' really mean? Should we really give zeros for missing work?") and other tangents are a bit more practical ("What tools can teachers use to assess student progress based on standards?"). I find myself doing a lot of reading and thinking and talking with other teachers when I can.

I ran across an Associated Press article earlier today that describes the problem college admissions are having with weighing GPA as part of college entry. If you have schools with multiple valedictorians (even 75 of them), what does that tell a university about the students? Are they really all 4.0-ready-for-Harvard types?

One way that colleges are dealing with this is to look more at standardized tests. The ACT and SAT are still good predictors of success, like it or not. How many places of higher ed are looking at state tests is not known. Of course, once such tests either become graduation requirements for all schools or in 2014 when all kids must be at standard (or else...), then I'm not sure they will be good tools for distinguishing among applicants.

The article doesn't mention course selection. It's a lot easier to get your 4.0 if you have 2 periods of study hall, 2 periods of PE, an English class, and an early dismissal at the end of the day than if you're the gung ho type who takes multiple AP classes. Shouldn't a transcript say more to an admissions officer than just GPA?

What colleges are wondering, however, is just what an "A" means in high school. There's not a way to calibrate and every teacher's expectations and grading scale can be different...yet colleges look at an "A" in high school chemistry the same. I am not of the opinion that the number of A's should be limited in the class---a/k/a "grading on the curve"---but if a teacher's view of an A is a kid who turns in their work on time, participates in class, and doesn't get test anxiety is all it takes, then perhaps we at least need to think about that.

When I talk with secondary teachers about grades, there are varied viewpoints. Most think that a grade reflects student knowledge, but also some intangibles ("He works really hard!"). They are not willing to factor out those intangibles, although some would welcome the ability to report two grades: one strictly for content and another for things like effort, attitude, and so on. I like this idea, but I don't know if we'll see it come to fruition here.

As usual, I don't really have any answers here. Schools need to have some hard conversations about what a grade should be in the 21st century and colleges need some communication about what they need to know about applicants. It is a seemingly impossible task when you consider the sheer number of schools (secondary and post-secondary) involved. We have to start somewhere. Huge numbers of students are dropping out of post-secondary ed programs because they don't have the right tools to be successful...but obviously, they had the GPA.

17 November 2006

The Bottom Line

One always expects a few changes when you're working for a new admin. Every boss is a little different in terms of his or her expectations and management style. Up until now, though, they have all had some things in common. The new Boss Lady, however, has been a bit of a puzzlement. And now that I'm starting to get things figured out, I'm not so sure I like what I see.

The previous Boss Lady had her quirks, but you could count on two things. First, she was always there to back you up when it counted. It didn't mean that the two of might not disagree in private, but she was always your champion in public. There was a sense of trust and safety...a feeling of mentorship. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you knew that her bottom line was "Is it good for kids?" That was the ultimate filter. Yes, you needed input from stakeholders. People who would be impacted deserved a voice in process. But at the end of the day, if something was a good thing for kids, then she was willing to take a few hits from unhappy adults.

The bottom line with the Boss Lady 2.0 is very different. Her filter is "Will this make me look good?" This is a little frightening in some ways. It means that all of us in Curriculum will be left hung out to dry. She might understand the issues and agree with the problems in private, but she is not going to publicly support you. It also means that our roles become something akin to popularity contests with the boss. In order to get ahead, you're going to have to make someone else look really bad. You'll have to shine...but not moreso than her. You'll need a posse at meetings in order to pushover another group, because there's no way the Boss Lady is going to mediate. She'll just smile upon the winner while jackals have at the loser.

There are already several examples of this afoot, but it's taken awhile to figure out just what the motivation is. The question then becomes "Do I (and do others in Curriculum) really want to work in that environment?" I have to think hard about my own bottom line.

16 November 2006

Test-Taking to Improve Memory?

LiveScience recently posted the results of a study looking at the connection between test-taking and memory. Their title is a bit misleading, making the claim that test-taking leads to an improved memory. What the study really reveals is that it's not so much the test as it is the opportunity to review. And sleep. "Based on the results, the researchers, led by Jason Chan of Washington State University in St. Louis, recommend that 'educators might consider increasing the frequency of testing to enhance long-term retention for both the tested and the related, non-tested material.'"

This is not really news. There's lots of research out there to support the importance of having practice with information in order to achieve mastery. I used to talk with students frequently about the importance of sleep...something often lacking in the lives of teenagers. It's not just the rest your body needs, it's the opportunity for your brain to process the things encountered during the day and reinforce new neural connections it has made. If you don't sleep, there is even less of a chance of retention.

15 November 2006

93rd Carnival of Education: Get Your Feast On

The doorbell rang. Three teachers, dressed in warm winter coats and holding bowls of food, awaited entrance.

“What did you bring?” asked Mr. Lawrence.

“Well, I made my green bean casserole. It’s my grandmother’s recipe,” Mamacita proudly stated. “Would you look at this rain? I was just blogging about the weather. Somehow I didn’t picture this.”

The NYC Educator shuffled his feet. “Yeah, well, I never pictured that we’d get stuck with a secretary who thinks a bit too highly of herself. I’d always heard that it was best to make friends with the office manager of any school since they run the place, but I thought it was just a euphemism. Looks like some of them take it to heart.”

"That must suck," said Mr. Lawrence.

The door opened. “Welcome!” said the Science Goddess and she smiled. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had you all over to my place. Looks like a great start to our potluck. Let me have your hats and coats. Have you met John Dewey and the Textbook Evaluator?”

The teachers looked over at John and Text. They appeared to be engaged in quite the discussion.

“You know,” said John, “I’m not entirely convinced that constructivism is the way to go...especially in math.”

“I think you may be right. I was just looking at some current research. It doesn’t seem entirely supportive of the model,” said Text.

Dr. P walked out of the kitchen with some crackers and a bit of dip on his tie. “Maybe we should be looking at the whole idea of ‘highly qualified’ in math and science, too.”

“Or,” said the HUNBlog, “perhaps we should just take a closer look at how we use constructivism. Inquiry should be appropriately guided.”

“Teachers—especially in the area of math—also need to be strong in their content knowledge,” added NCLBlog.

“That gets back to my point,” Said Dr. P., as he wiped his tie.

More teachers came through the door.

“I have the pecan pie!” cried Margaret, the Poor Starving College Student. “Hang on just a sec...someone’s texting me.”

Ms. Cornelius rolled her eyes. “Did you see that New Zealand is actually going to allow kids to use text message style writing for classroom pieces? What’s up with that? And where do I put the mashed potatoes?”

Margaret replied, “I don’t think I saw that. But hey, you can’t read kids’ handwriting these days, anyway. I just can’t figure out whose job it is to make them write legibly: schools or parents?”

“Ugh. Cell phones,” said 3σ to the Left. “You should hear what all my principal and I had to deal with recently. This parent just couldn’t understand why the school rules about cell phones should apply to his child. Why can't parents act like parents?”

“Don’t parents get any of the burden for student achievement these days?” asked the Education Wonks. “We read that some schools are now closing the achievement gap, but are still wondering why the government makes the schools solely accountable.”

“I know,” said the Science Goddess. “I keep thinking about how to get parents involved in positive ways. They’re such an integral part of the puzzle.”

Mister Teacher groaned. “Don’t get me started on parent issues. Have you seen the way they drive and park in school zones? It’s enough to give me second hand road rage.” He walked toward the bar area.

DeHavilland got up to follow. “Schools can definitely see that there are achievement gaps. But instead of supporting them with the best instructional tools, we give them a lot of rules and roadblocks. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

“Are you talking about tools like strategies for vocabulary development?” asked D-Ed Reckoning, walking the other way. “It seems to me that we have all kinds of ways to get kids to standard in many areas of education, but until we can consistently help students develop vocabulary, we’re going to be in trouble.”

“Maybe we just need to learn more about how to think outside the box,” said the Eides. “The problems in education aren’t going to be solved in traditional ways.”

The table was finally set. “Come on, everyone,” the Goddess called. “Soup’s on!”

“Is there assigned seating?” asked Mr. Lawrence, suspicion gleaming in his eyes. “You know, at this one school I sub at, the kids choose to segregate themselves into separate lunchrooms. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.”

“Probably not,” said Ryan from Edspresso. “But hey, some people moved to the ‘burbs thinking that they would find a better school system for their children. That isn’t necessarily the case.”

“Which way’s the bathroom?” asked Mike.

“It’s down the hall,” said Alex, “but I think that Janet’s in there.”

“Figures,” sighed Mike. “And I’ll just bet that she leaves the seat down. Again. I seem to be always surrounded by female co-workers. My kingdom for a men's room.”

Matt passed the marshmallow covered sweet potatoes to Alex. “So, what’s on your mind this week?”

“Well, I’ve been thinking that in light of the recent election results that there’s a good chance the minimum wage might be boosted. That could be a good thing for schools. Maybe we should rally for it.”

“Very interesting,” said Scott. “Over at Get on the Bus, I was just writing about a different reflection on the political process. I really think it’s valuable to kids to involve them in discussions and let them see you vote.”

“I agree. Have you seen that YouTube video with pre-schoolers and the election process?” said Just a Substitute Teacher. “Check it out when you get a chance.”

Discussion at the other end of the table was a bit different. “I’m so stoked! We’re going to take a group of students to see Julius Caesar. I really have a love of the theater. Don’t you, Darren?”

“Oh, I love a good field trip as much as the next teacher. However, one of our own teachers went to DC to receive our school’s National Blue Ribbon Award. The reception wasn’t anything to write home about, unfortunately.”

“We got to go see a different reading program,” said the Median Sib. “I bet those teachers were relieved when the 20 of us departed for the day.”

Matt perked up. “Did you see anything that might support the learning of gifted students? I notice that we don’t serve them well. Maybe they’d be better off classified as being legally disabled.”

Janet returned from the bathroom. “What did I miss?”

“Talk of field trips, students, and parents,” said the Goddess. You’re just in time to get in the last word before dessert.”

“I could use some chocolate. I finally had some resolution to the issues with the class I told you about last week. Sometimes, you just have to focus your energies where they can do the most good.”

“Indeed,” sighed the Goddess. “Shall we retire to the livingroom for football and a tryptophan induced haze? Or would you prefer to check out the Carnival of Teaching next door?"

“That sounds great,” said the Wonks. “And don’t forget, next week we’re hosting the Education Carnival! The deadline for submissions is: 8:00 PM (Eastern) 5:00 PM (Pacific) Tuesday, November 21st. Submissions may be sent to: owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net . Contributers may also use Blog Carnival's handy submission form. You can always check out the archives here.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

14 November 2006

Where's Your Homework?

Submissions for this week's Carnival of Education are due today. Send your permalinks to me (the_science_goddess[at]yahoo[dot]com) by 6 p.m. PT today. There's plenty of space at the table for this potluck Thanksgiving feast. Bring a dish to share and a hearty appetite for all the news fit to blog about this week. Latecomers will be seated, but it may be at the kiddie table. :)

13 November 2006

Hostile Witnesses

Classroom teachers know that every class has a particular dynamic. Like families, there are roles to play. If you've seen The Breakfast Club, you know the drill. No doubt, if you're a teacher, you can add to that pantheon of student archetypes. You can also delineate all of the roles different staff members play. All you have to do is observe a staff meeting like an anthropologist and watch the dynamics. In all likelihood, such a stance will be far more entertaining than the meeting itself.

Now, take a step back and imagine things at the school level. View the district at a distance. Are there "princess" schools and "outcasts"? How does your department or school fit in the grand scheme of things? As a classroom teacher, I never thought very much about it. In my role with the district, I have this perspective quite a bit.

The junior high schools tabled a discussion last spring. Parents, students, (most) teachers, and administrators reached consensus that we should have an honors option for seventh and eighth grade science...but nobody could agree as to what it should look like. We just didn't have the time and headspace last year to deal with this issue. But, I picked open that scab last week and did I get an earful (or perhaps I should say "eyeful" as responses were via e-mail) from science staff at one school.

Science teachers at the rabble rouser junior high are an interesting lot. A few are elementary teachers who were moved up at one point in their careers (they have no/little science background, but are learning and are good instructors)...one is a good general purpose science teacher...and the other is biding time until he retirement. If they were playing a particular family role, I would say that they are the classic middle child...and they have serious attention seeking behaviours and passive-aggressive tendencies.

So, when I sent out a reminder to science teachers that there was consensus from stakeholders that honors be an option, three of the staff at the rabble rouser jh e-mailed me rather contentious messages because their opinions differed from the consensus. A difference of opinion doesn't bother me...and I knew from discussions last spring that they weren't interested in honors science. It's the "what" of their messages that made me shake my head. One said "I teach all my classes as advanced and the kids who don't get it flunk, just like WASL." Um, okay. So much for being student centered. Another claimed that it was good for the kids who might otherwise be in honors to be mixed in so that they could help the lower kids. Again, how is that student centered? How does spending class periods tutoring help you advance your own content knowledge and skills? Kids are not teaching tools...and they should not be scheduled so that you have a nice class period.


I sent a nice, but firm, reply to the three. I mentioned that I respected their views but that it was not representative of the vast majority of stakeholders. In addition, we have a responsibility to help every child reach his or her potential...not just get low kids to standard. All was quiet on the rabble rouser front. I had surmised that they had just decided to be quiet and pretend that things wouldn't happen.

This morning, I had some nice inquiries from them. They've decided to come to the meetings to plan out the honors option. They have a representative for grade 7 and one for grade 8. I am wondering if they will be "hostile witnesses," there to be vigorous in stopping the process, or if they can set aside their personal opinions enough to work with the other schools to come up with something that's good for kids. Even so, I would much rather have them involved as we move along. Their presence---no matter how negative---is needed. I am hoping that some peer pressure and the fact that only one teacher per school will be present for each session will help. Should make for an interesting blog entry in three weeks, eh?

12 November 2006

The Parental Piece of the Puzzle

I write about parents here from time to time. It's such a vital piece of the educational jigsaw and yet they are not visibly involved with discussions about the kinds of things impacting students: NCLB, state requirements, School Improvement Plans, and so on. This is not to say that they don't care about their kids or do things at home to help things along on an individual basis, but I wonder if it appears that school is something done to their kids rather than with kids and parents.

The coffee clutch I visit on Friday mornings is made entirely of elementary teachers. I listen to their stories of frustrations with students and parents. They often turn to me and ask if high school teachers have the same problems of students not turning work or parents in denial about student behavior (or even helicopter parents). For some reason, the teachers thought that these problems go away. On the other end of things, most high school teachers don't realize that their elementary counterparts have these issues. They don't magically appear or disappear with puberty. The elementary gang said that phone calls about classroom issues begin in kindergarten and continue on. As a classroom teacher, you might think that you are calling a parent about a problem for the first time. A parent might have already had that phone call multiple times over the years.

This observation begs a few questions. How many parents have had call after call, year after year, about their child's behaviour or lack of work ethic? At what point do you (as a parent) just start shutting out what teachers are saying to you? Do you try for awhile to help correct behaviors...or do you just give up around second grade? Were you this sort of student, too, and does that impact your view of the school?

Schools---not parents---are held acountable for student achievement. I don't think that many parents out there realize this and that it is the reason that they neglect to support their children's learning to the fullest. I realize that the feds think we can get all kids to standard without parents helping along the way, but I don't know an educator out there who thinks that's realistic. So, what do we as schools do? We need all parents to shoulder their piece of the puzzle, not just some. Do we log parent contacts over the years? How do we make those calls more positive and draw in the parents we need?

11 November 2006

Been There...Done That

This is shamelessly stolen from Ms. Cornelius, but it's a rather fun little meme. Looks like Graycie enjoyed it, too! The items in bold are things that I've done. (I changed a couple of words from Corny's version.) What about you? What have you done?

01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
02. Swam with wild dolphins
03. Climbed a mountain
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
08. Said “I love you” and meant it
09. Hugged a tree
10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
14. Seen the Northern Lights
15. Gone to a huge sports game
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
18. Touched an iceberg
19. Slept under the stars
20. Changed a baby’s diaper
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
22. Watched a meteor shower
23. Gotten drunk on champagne
24. Given more than you can afford to charity
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
27. Had a food fight
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger
30. Had a snowball fight
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
32. Held a lamb
33. Seen a total eclipse
34. Ridden a roller coaster
35. Hit a home run
36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
39. Had two hard drives for your computer
40. Visited all 50 states
41. Taken care of someone who was drunk
42. Had amazing friends
43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
44. Watched wild whales
45. Stolen a sign
46. Backpacked in Europe
47. Taken a road-trip
48. Gone rock climbing
49. Midnight walk on the beach
50. Gone sky diving
51. Visited Ireland
52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table and had a meal with them
54. Visited Japan
55. Milked a cow
56. Alphabetized your CDs
57. Pretended to be a superhero
58. Sung karaoke
59. Lounged around in bed all day
60. Played touch football
61. Gone scuba diving
62. Kissed in the rain
63. Played in the mud
64. Played in the rain
65. Gone to a drive-in theater
66. Visited the Great Wall of China
67. Started a business
68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
69. Toured ancient sites
70. Taken a martial arts class
71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight
72. Gotten married
73. Been in a movie
74. Crashed a party
75. Gotten divorced
76. Gone without food for 5 days
77. Made cookies from scratch
78. Won first prize in a costume contest
79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
80. Gotten a tattoo
81. Rafted the Rio Grande River
82. Been on television news programs as an “expert”
83. Got flowers for no reason
84. Performed on stage
85. Been to Las Vegas
86. Recorded music
87. Eaten shark
88. Kissed on the first date
89. Gone to Thailand
90. Bought a house
91. Been in a combat zone
92. Buried one/both of your parents
93. Been on a cruise ship
94. Spoken more than one language fluently
95. Performed in Rocky Horror
96. Raised children
97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
100. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn’t stop when you knew someone was looking
103. Had plastic surgery
104. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived
105. Wrote articles for a large publication
106. Lost over 100 pounds
107. Held someone while they were having a flashback
108. Piloted an airplane
109. Touched a stingray
110. Broken someone’s heart
111. Helped an animal give birth
112. Won money on a radio show
113. Broken a bone
114. Gone on an African photo safari
115. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears
116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol
117. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
118. Ridden a horse
119. Had major surgery
120. Had a snake as a pet
121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
122. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states
124. Visited all 7 continents
125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
126. Eaten kangaroo meat
127. Eaten sushi
128. Had your picture in the newspaper
129. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about
130. Gone back to school
131. Parasailed
132. Touched a cockroach
133. Eaten fried green tomatoes
134. Read The Iliad - and the Odyssey
135. Selected one “important” author who you missed in school, and read
136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
137. Skipped all your school reunions
138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
139. Been elected to public office
140. Written your own computer language
141. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream
142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
143. Built your own PC from parts
144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you
145. Had a booth at a street fair
146. Dyed your hair
147. Been a DJ
148. Shaved your head
149. Caused a car accident
150. Saved someone’s life

10 November 2006

Why Did the Salmon Cross the Road?

You may have heard that there's been a lot of rain in western Washington lately. It's caused flooding and other problems in several areas. This happens to be the time of year when streams also fill up with salmon returning to spawn. The result? Salmon swimming in the roadways as pictured in the photograph above by Jim Bryant. Only in Washington can you have fish as roadkill.

To get to the other side, indeed.

08 November 2006

Just Do It: Carnival #93

The 93rd version of the Carnival of Education is hosted by the NYC Educator this week. If you haven't taken a stroll down the midway, I highly recommend it. There's a great collection of posts this week. Two of my favourites are


  • Right Wing Nation's take on GroupThink. I might not agree with all that's written there, but this particular post definitely strikes close to home. For most of the meetings I attend around here, I want to scream, "Wake up!" to others.
The best thing about the Carnival is the variety of viewpoints. Expand your horizons and go see what is happening in the hearts and minds of those who are walking in different shoes down the road of education.

Number 94 is only a week away. And guess what? It'll be right here in this space. I'm planning a big Thanksgiving dinner for everyone. So, get ready for turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie. There's room at the table---so send your links my way!

07 November 2006

The Other Shoe

We're waiting for an awful lot of shoes to drop around here. Fate must be a millipede.

The big one around here is the Superintendent's recommendation to the Board regarding school closures. That happens tomorrow evening. The safe bet is two schools on the list, but I like the dark horse: three elementaries. I taught a fifth grade class today at the school which would most likely be number 3 on the list. Kids were busy and happy. Teachers seem secure. I wish them well but budget and enrollment indicate that if they survive a cut this year that it will only be a temporary reprieve. I don't think the district is going to want to go through all of this multiple times. They might as well make deep cuts and redraw lines just once.

Most of us in Curriculum are still waiting for the Come to Jesus meeting, although it now looks like it's scheduled for Thursday. The person in charge of literacy here knows no bounds. This is not entirely her fault, as the previous Boss Lady did quite a bit of enabling. But there now seems to be enough critical mass and abuse of resources that the current Boss Lady is ready to make some changes. It's too much to go into at the moment. I'm not gleeful at watching the fall of Writing in the district. I am relieved that other content areas will get attention and that teachers will no longer be expected to do poor quality assessment on this woman's orders. It does mean telling elementaries "Oops, we really shouldn't have made this plan." I don't think they'll be upset.

Will we still have jobs next year? Don't know...and won't until February or so. We teachers are starting to build our own parachutes. It's far better to make one's own luck.

Beginning teachers and mentors are starting to take off. I spend a lot of time feeling guilty about not being out with the newbies more, but one of the mentors pointed out that I've already been in their classrooms more than the previous person. They think I'm doing a lot more positive coaching than noobs have had in the past. I don't know that it's true---I just wish I could do more.

The Washington Learns report will be out on Monday. I know a lot of us around the state are holding our collective breaths to see what will be in the final version...and what the legislature will do with the information starting in January.

The budget for the kit center is fleshed out, but the numbers won't be revealed until the morning. Our coordinator has been working very hard and getting lots of freebies, but my guess is that our start-up will be more than our budget. There have just been too many surprises this year.

There's so much more going on...it's hard to keep things straight from day to day and school to school. My focus is so split among the 16 new science curricula out and about in classrooms and the new teachers and district craziness that it's hard to sit still and complete one full task; however, all too soon, it's going to be raining shoes around here.

06 November 2006

Establishing Benchmarks

As I continue to work through the standards based grading process for elementary, things are starting to fall into place. It's true that teachers will do most of the work in terms of establishing the details, but I need to have a framework in place.

My first epiphany was really more of a "Duh." You see, reading, writing, and math already have their assessments and are starting to work on benchmarks. I had assumed I'd follow in their footsteps. But then, I realized it was all ass-backwards. Doesn't it make more sense to figure out the targets (benchmarks) and then create the measurement tools? Okay, if I go that route, how do we establish where kids should be at each reporting period?

The next epiphanies were around devising some questions to get at the heart of these ideas.

  • Are some Grade Level Expectations (GLEs) "more equal" than others? If so, does this influence evaluation of standards in the classroom?
I ask these because some of the standards (GLEs) are extensively tested...others not so much. When they are reported, they are reported as a single number. If a kid is strong in all of the "small" ones but weak in the one or two that are scored the most, should s/he get a "3" on their report card to indicate they meet the standard?

  • For a "3" student, how do his/her skills evolve over the year? What things should be demonstrated by the end of each trimester?
This, too, is important...and quite tricky. In Washington, standards for science are in grade bands. For a particlular "GLE," it could be the same expectation whether a student is in 3rd grade or 10th grade. When should we expect mastery? Are some standards prerequisites for others during the course of a year.

  • What does a kid who meets the standard "look like"? How would s/he be different from a student at level 2 or 4?
The information generated here is mostly for classroom teacher use. This allows us to identify some specific evidence that a teacher can use and a way to explain to parents why a child is below, at, or above the standard.

I'm excited about exploring these questions with teachers...and anxious to see what they generate from these seeds of beginnings. I also wonder how successful this process might be with secondary teachers.

05 November 2006


I don't know about you, but I'm ready for the election to happen and all of the political ads and signs to go away. There is enough diplomacy year-long in my job.

A friend asked me on Friday if I'd consider a job in administration. "You could make such a difference there." The bottom line is that I just don't have the stomach for all of the politics involved with that role as it is today. Being a principal is not focused on teachers and kids as it needs to be. It would be all too easy to blame the administrators themselves for that, but I don't think it's quite that simple. Schools aren't autonomous units anymore. A principal isn't in charge of hiring and setting the agenda. Instead, s/he is charged with various federal, state, and district mandates to meet. Various parent and community groups require participation. Is there time to be an instructional leader? I don't see that, and that would be the part I'd find interesting.

Another friend is starting on her path to principalhood. After a few years in Curriculum, she's decided that if she's going to be responsible for the kinds of things we're asked to do, she might as well be paid accordingly. I told her that I envision her like Shawn Alexander last year. He was hoping for to renogotiate his contract and make more money...and on his way to the NFL rushing title last year, his mantra was "Cut the checks. Cut the checks." as he'd sprint down the sideline. She will be successful as an administrator. She is a good global thinker and while she doesn't enjoy all of the politics of the job, she can negotiate and make things work well. I tip my hat to her as we need more administrators like that.

When I look at all of the special interest groups, teachers, students, parents, and so on that make up a school, an administrator's job is daunting. Everyone is so focused on their slice of the pie that they often don't step back to take a broader view of the school. I think that modern schools are going to have to let go of old-fashioned notions of what a principal is. I think we're going to have to develop teacher leaders to take on the instructional piece of the principal's job and find ways to promote communication and understanding between the various components of a school. I'd really like to see if there's a model out there to examine. I know that we aren't the only ones struggling with how to get past the politics and make a difference where it counts: kids.

03 November 2006

Not Your Parents' Protein Synthesis

And then again, maybe it is.

The "GooTube" film below is one that was sort of an underground sensation around here. There were rumors of hippies who had acted and danced out the basic parts of protein synthesis (while a Jabberwocky type poem is read in the background) and then a teacher found a copy on VHS. This much treasured video was shown to our more advanced students, not just because of content, but because of the oddity of it all. It's just so darned groovy.

Upon seeing this was now available on YouTube, I excitedly e-mailed my colleagues. One replied, "Twas totally brillig! Makes you want to gyre and gimble in the wabe. But at the moment my amino acid is flaccid."

See for yourself. Maybe it'll make your amino acids perky, too.

02 November 2006

Ain't It Cute?

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Have you been over to Adopt-a-Microbe? Go on and have a look. There's a lot to choose from!

01 November 2006

Am I Missing Something?

In June, I sent this e-mail to our tech department:

"During the Curriculum Optional Days in August, we are planning to continue training staff in grades 6 - 9 on the new science curriculum---specifically, the software components. I know that I already provided you with a copy of some of the software.

What does the timeline need to look like so that we can be sure the software is installed and related websites unblocked by the nannyware? What other information should we provide you?"

I received this reply...

"We will package and test the software over summer, and I will be happy to keep you in the loop."

Of course, that didn't really happen and so there were problems in August. Silly me, I thought the techs would actually do what they said. Today, the head of the tech department mentioned that they would need software to them by June 15 if we needed anything installed by the start of the school year. I asked them what timeline we could expect from them. It's all well and good to give us one...what will they do? I also mentioned the problems over the summer.

The head hemmed and hawed and went back to her department. She later forwarded these e-mails from the summer with this message:

"As you can see from this chain of e-mail, you never stated what software titles you needed installed or where, only that you gave [tech] some of the software. I am sorry, but it appears we did not have enough information from you to determine what software you needed and tested until you followed up in August."

Am I missing something here? I handed them the software (so the titles should have been clear) and indicated that they were for the optional days in August. It's true, I didn't state the specific place in June, but the techs managed to get all of the software for the SPED trainings loaded at the same building...could there be some valid reason they couldn't figure out that science people would be in the same place for a district-wide day?