31 January 2006

Gun Shy

Last month, I sorta worked with a group of teachers. I say "sorta," because even though I was charged with arranging subs and planning out the day, once people were there, the meeting got hijacked.

The next meeting is scheduled for a week from today. Once again, I've arranged subs and have been asked to build the agenda. I'm not finding any particular enthusiasm for the task this time. I'm worried about getting burned again.

The department chair is planning on being there and I'm not thrilled by this prospect...but there isn't anything I can do about it, either. He admits that his agenda is driven by developing a document he could hand any incoming teacher so that they'd know what our biology curriculum is. This is not a bad goal---but it also doesn't do anything to effect a change about what happens in the classroom. He admits that no one thought the last meeting was valuable, although each person had a different reason for that.

So, I don't know what I'll be blogging about next Tuesday. I suppose I have to just keep my fingers crossed that I can get excited about planning this meeting...and then being allowed to carry it through.

30 January 2006

Mid-Year Report Card

I posted my New Year's Resolutions in September. Maybe I should see how well I'm doing with these. After all, second semester begins tomorrow.
  • Class Blog---I'm still fighting with the tech department on this one, with yet another meeting scheduled in a couple of weeks. I would have to give it an "F" as a class project at this point, but most of that is not the fault of students. Distict censorchips are keeping them from taking advantage of this format.
  • Implementing the Holy Grail---This probably deserves a "B." I am getting pretty good about watching the clock and scheduling activities of different lengths and various intents. I just need to do it every day that I'm in class...which isn't as often as I'd like.
  • Reading Strategies/Study Skills---A "B," too, at this point, because I'm at a point where I'm pushing the little ones out of the nest. I've done a lot of modeling this year. Now it's their turn.
  • Spend Time in Other Buildings---This one is hard to score. My original intent was to do this with secondary science staff. What has really happened is that elementary classrooms have been opened to me. I've gotten my foot in the door of half of our elementaries so far this year. This is a tremendous bonus. So, perhaps a "D" for making progress on my original plan, but a lot of extra credit for all of the schools I've picked up.
  • Make the Load Bearable---Maybe an "incomplete" here. I am still working on some ideas. I do think that the new science classrooms, full-year format, and new curriculum materials will make a world of difference next fall.
  • Personal Time---I didn't start the year thinking that I would pursue another degree as my "hobby," but I am very pleased with my choice. An "A," for sure.

The year ain't over. I have some time for improvement. Here's looking forward to Spring 2006!

29 January 2006

Signs of Hope

Most edubloggers inevitably post about someone they work with who is a negative influence on their school or program. What are we to do in order to help these co-workers find their enthusiasm again? And do we hang garlic or carry an exorcism kit in the meantime?

Since starting my district role, I have encountered one science teacher who fits this profile. There have been others who weren't especially wild about me, but they have since become some of my supporters and best contributors to district work. Only one is still holding out.

"Jane" teaches at one of our junior highs---in fact, she works at the one where I participated in the accreditation last Monday. I will not deny that teaching middle school science is a challenging job. Jane goes way over the top in her descriptions. No one could possibly know how hard she works or do what she does. She can be quite spiteful in describing just how overwhelmed she is and calls the union reps many times a year. The principal at that school never says anything negative, but I know that she feels like she can't do much to help this teacher.

Two things happened this past week that made me wonder if there might still be hope of bringing something positive from Jane. When I was at the school on Monday, Jane came to see me in the library. She did end up spewing a lot of venom about how ridiculous her job was (leaving the other 3 people in my group stunned), but she also touched me on the shoulder and smiled to get my attention. Perhaps she doesn't hate me, after all. The next day, she cc'ed me on an e-mail response to two elementary teachers. The elementary teachers had asked for help from several secondary science departments in the district in the realm of finding some resources. Jane replied by sending them my name along with a statement that if I couldn't help them, no one could. Gosh, another vote of confidence.

What I learned from Jane on Monday during her rant was that she thinks she has a wealth of experience and no one will listen to her. Therefore, she isn't interested in hearing anything others have to say. There is some truth to this, I think. Is the answer for us (admin and me) to find a some sort of new forum for her ideas and then use that as an entry point to engage her with district initiatives? I don't want to give the impression that Jane has been completely ignored until now or that she has no opportunities to be heard. She may feel that she has been undervalued, but I really think it's because her ideas are in such conflict with where education is headed these days, no one takes up her cause.

The only other option would be to find a way to get her to gracefully exit teaching. If this career choice is really so awful, then perhaps there is another road for her. I think she likes kids. I think she likes science. She just doesn't like education.

I hope to meet with Jane's principal soon and do a bit of colluding. Next year is going to bring a lot of changes to science at the junior highs. Maybe we can bring Jane along with us.

28 January 2006

Public or Private?

Do students who attend private schools fare better in math than those kids who sit in a public school classroom? According to a recent government study, public schools do a better job in promoting student achievement in math. (ID: registernow5; password: registernow)

"Though private school students have long scored higher on the [NAEP], the new study used advanced statistical techniques to adjust for the effects of income, school and home circumstances...The study found that while the raw scores of fourth graders in Roman Catholic schools, for example, were 14.3 points higher than those in public schools, when adjustments were made for student backgrounds, those in Catholic schools scored 3.4 points lower than those in public schools...The study also found that charter schools, privately operated and publicly financed, did significantly worse than public schools in the fourth grade, once student populations were taken into account...The current study found that self-described conservative Christian schools, the fastest-growing sector of private schools, fared poorest, with their students falling as much as one year behind their counterparts in public schools, once socioeconomic factors like income, ethnicity and access to books and computers at home were considered."

There is more to be found in the whole article, of course. Overall, students in private schools do appear to outperform their peers in the public arena. This study shows just how much of an impact the above factors (income, ethnicity, home access to books/computers) have on children. If you can afford to send your child to a private school, you are also likely to have the ability to send your child to school "ready to learn."

A public school district in this area consistently has test scores that are among the top few in the state. The group I worked with on Wednesday and Thursday were talking about this phenomenon---as the group leader was the wife of the superintendent for the high-achieving district and one of the teachers had worked there at one time. Everyone agreed that kids are kids. The difference is that the high-achieving district has enough affluent families who can afford to ensure that their kids come to school well-fed, in good physical condition, and with few wants. Kids there can concentrate on their education.

What will the results of the "private vs. public" study mean? It's hard to say yet. This is only the first. It only looks at math scores. With the increasing numbers of charter schools, it may take time before we can really get an idea of whether or not public schools are better for those students who are not white and/or from more humble backgrounds. Should be interesting to see what we learn.

27 January 2006

End of Round One

Today marked the end of the first semester. I have had so much on my plate the last two weeks that it was Tuesday before I really realized that we were wrapping up the first half of the year. There are times that I truly don't know where the time goes.

I had five meetings today...originally scheduled for four separate locations. One of the meetings was moved and so I only have to appear in three places. I liked the first three meetings of the day---each one was with just one teacher. It is good to have some time to sit down and talk about their individual needs. The third teacher was the one who had me come and do some "bubbleology" with her kids. She had had them take an assessment this week so that we could see how much of the science process piece they've internalized during our work this year. We feel pretty hopeful in looking at the responses. The vast majority of kids seem to get it, but they don't understand what the prompt is asking them to write. This is fixable...and we have three more months until the WASL. We can help them learn how to better show what they know.

Representatives of the area consortium arrived back in Curriculum and I scurried back for meeting number four. They did little more than reinforce the view that they are incompetent when it comes to fulfilling the science needs of our district (and others). These are not dumb people, mind you, it's just that they haven't a clue how to tackle the tasks that need completion for elementary science.

Finally, I got to sit with the other specialists and the Boss Lady and talk about ways to streamline the way we provide information to principals and teachers. I really think that we'll be able to create something wonderful.

There was lots of other good news today. My heart is light this Friday as I look forward to a three-day weekend...and round (semester) two of the school year.

26 January 2006

The Principles of Principals

The principals of our district junior high schools had a "retreat" today at the home of their boss. I was invited to stop by for a little while, as they knew they would have some questions about the upcoming changes in science. I had anticipated what they specifically wanted to talk about and felt good about being able to do that.

I had to leave to get to my next appointment, just when the conversation was really starting to get good. The principals had moved from thinking about science specifically to what they needed to do in order to have a consistent program throughout the district.
  • Staff are expected to use the adopted curriculum as the primary resource. It should be used as often as possible, although it is understood that some supplementation is expected.
  • Staff are also expected to teach to the standards.
  • Staff should obtain training on how to best implement the curriculum. The district will provide opportunities, but if a teacher chooses not to attend these, they will need to find their own training.
  • Staff should use common assessments. This could be just used at specific progress points during the year, such as the end of each semester.
  • Principals are responsible for monitoring these goals. If a staff member chooses not to use the program, this will be documented in their evaluation and could eventually lead to their dismissal.

I really like this united front that they want to have. The Union is very strong in this district, so the goal is to get them on board with these first...then explain them to the full district staff. There are definitely going to be teachers who don't like one or more of these ideas. The first two bullets are actually part of state law, it's just that the principals haven't monitored them in the classroom. The third one (training) could become part of board policy. It is believed that the one related to assessments could, too.

None of these principles relates to the "how" of the classroom. There are plenty of best practices to choose from and the new science curricula really provides a lot of various support. If assessments are at the semester, then teachers will still have a lot of flexibility in terms of organizing the curriculum. Academic freedom can remain uncompromised without sacrificing student progress toward the standards.

Next year is going to look a whole lot more principled.

25 January 2006

Little Stuff

Things went well in the "sandbox" today. I am constantly delighted to find such a wealth of elementary teachers who care about quality instruction in science...who just plain "get it." Our second day of planning is tomorrow. They were really able to create a great outline today.

As with every Wednesday, it's time for another Carnival of Education. Click on over to the Wonks and make your mind happy.

I got my free iPod today. Got a lot of old CDs sitting around? Why not ship them off and get something you'll use? I did. I haven't played with it yet, but am looking forward to doing so.

24 January 2006

Full Steam Ahead

I (and some others) had a big meeting with the Supe yesterday to talk about the elementary science plans. His reaction was basically, "Why wouldn't we do this?" in terms of running our own kit center, media center, and creating our own alignment. Our district will save over $200,000 within four years. No small change, even without the budget crunch we're in.

Tomorrow begins the retooling process for one of the kits. I am really excited about the plan that's laid out and the opportunity to work through it with a small group of teachers on a single kit before we try to apply things on a grand scale.

Thursday will be more work on the kit...but after I make an appearance at the "retreat" for junior high administrators to talk about secondary science. Everyone's worried about their teachers---and they should be. But I'll do the best I can to talk about what's around the corner and how they can be helpful. In the afternoon, it's off to another elementary to talk about inquiry...and unveil the district plan for their science program.

And Friday? So far, I have five meetings on the calendar at four different locations. I'll get to see a lot of the county as I race around to work with teachers and other staff members.

It is also the last week of the semester. I'm trying to finish up my grading for my class, get their final exam prepared, and all of the other considerations that come with still being in the classroom part-time. My students have not been getting all of the attention that they need. "Full steam ahead" in other areas means that they're getting steamrolled for now. Hopefully, February will be different.

23 January 2006

Accreditation: Take Two

I got to do something new today. I was part of a visiting team for a school's accreditation. You might remember that in May, I was on the other side of this sort of visit. I was really interested to see how the process worked from a visitor's point of view.

The day was spent interviewing teachers about their views on collaboration. This was the "strand" I was assigned to help evaluate, along with three other people. Running around the school to see different classrooms at work or find teachers on their planning periods really made the day go quickly. We collected lots of information and summarized the strongest points as either "commendations" or "recommendations."

Along the way, I got lots of insight into how and why teachers choose to team. One of the most interesting things was that people tend to group themselves with others who are in the same point of their career. There's not a lot of collaboration among those who could be mentors and new staff. Another view was simply about the operation of the school. Everyone there is strongly opinionated and that they are all correct in their opinions (or so they believe). It's hard to develop trust and respect in a staff where everyone is sure that s/he's the expert. These things are important for me to remember as I continue to work with this school on science implementation. It has been the most difficult spot for me to make inroads.

The rest of my week is just going to be nuts. I'm glad today included a bit of a look into another world and some time to reflect on it. Those moments are all too rare.

22 January 2006

A Sandbox of My Own

Wednesday and Thursday this week will be the first two out of five days allotted to restructuring one of the kits in our elementary rotation. It is the only kit that is not from FOSS: it is homegrown. This "realignment" was set up early this year, long before any of us knew the direction my district would choose to take. I think this turns out to be a rather fortunate set of circumstances.

Working with these teachers will be an experience in miniature for me. Not because the grades they teach are small, but because we will work through realigning all of the kits next year. Being able to focus on one this spring gives us a bit of a laboratory experience...a little sandbox to play in regarding how to best structure this kind of professional development for teachers. This will also be a big piece of my doctoral research.

I have spent a lot of this weekend looking at resources and trying to get my vision out on paper. I have started with A Private Universe. If you haven't seen it, follow the link and you can watch the video on demand. It opens with a Harvard graduation and many graduates being asked to explain what causes the change in seasons. Nearly all are unable to do so. It illustrates the need for helping students grasp concepts in science. From our discussions there, we'll move into an examination of the 5E cycle for lessons in science. Beyond that, I'll need to guide teachers into an examination of the appropriate content standards and then we'll start looking at restructuring the kit.

There are other considerations in all of this. I expect that by the end of Day Two, we will have little to show in terms of the physical product, but the teachers' should have a far richer background for our work. The final outcomes in March should be incredible.

Here's hoping that this sandbox turns out to be as nice as a day at the beach.

21 January 2006

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Scientists

Take a moment and imagine a scientist: features, clothing, etc. Have a mental picture in mind? Good. Give this scientist a setting---where is the work being done? Now, imagine that the scientist is doing something. What is happening?

Finish up your image-making. Let me see how good I am at guessing who you thought of.

Was the scientist a white male? A bit advanced in age? I'll bet he had hair like Albert Einstein or no hair at all. He could very well have had on glasses. Your scientist was probably wearing a white lab coat, going about his business in some sort of laboratory---things bubbling and changing colour. Did your scientist have a test tube in hand, perhaps pouring the contents from it into some sort of flask?

If any of these characteristics hit home, you're not alone. When I taught chemistry, I always did this mental exercise with students the very first day of class. I even had them draw their scientists. Rarely did a student ever draw a woman or young person or minority. I never had a student draw himself or herself.

My students aren't the only ones with these perceptions. A recent article published by the BBC suggests that students across the pond see the work of science in much the same way.

"Researchers Roni Malek and Fani Stylianidou are completing their research in April but have analysed around half the responses so far.

"They found around 80% of pupils thought scientists did 'very important work' and 70% thought they worked 'creatively and imaginatively.' Only 40% said they agreed that scientists did 'boring and repetitive work.' Over three quarters of the respondents thought scientists were 'really brainy people.'

"Among those who said they would not like to be scientists, reasons included: 'Because you would constantly be depressed and tired and not have time for family,' and 'because they all wear big glasses and white coats and I am female.'"

Depressed? Tired? No time for family? Sounds like teaching. :)

All kidding aside, how do we give science a bit of a makeover? Fewer students are choosing to pursue careers in the sciences. I find this trend disturbing. From the looks of things in the BBC article, I'm not alone.

20 January 2006

Moving Forward

Life in the classroom often feels like a continuous (and often ponderous) march through the year. Life in Curriculum is different. Here, "hurry up and wait" is the frequent order to things.

Right now, we're in "hurry" mode.

The decision about leaving the consortium and running our own science kit center has precipitated all sorts of events. Several of us toured the current facility run by the consortium. The space is owned by our district and will be returned to us sometime in the next few months. It was our chance today to scope things out. On Monday, I'll be meeting with the supe (along with the Boss Lady and another curriculum specialist) in order to lay out things for him. After that, I have a feeling things may get really ugly with the consortium.

Meanwhile, there is one science kit that we use that is not part of the FOSS program. This kit was slated to be overhauled this spring. I had been assured that the woman spearheading the process was going to guide the whole thing. Only she changed her mind yesterday...and now it's my task to lay out the plan. Oh, we start on Wednesday.

I would be unhappy about this, except this is also the woman who has access to an $80K grant she can provide my district to help with our new elementary science kit program. It also means that we can do a bit of a "test run" on aligning one kit before we try to do the complete overhaul next year with all of the other kits. And, we can make sure that we have a quality product. I just hadn't planned on spending my weekend this way. I am glad, though, to have two quiet days at home to deal with this.

This has been a whirlwind week and next week looks about as blustery. I'll be glad to reach a "wait station" again soon.

19 January 2006

Pre-Conference Blogging

The annual conference held by our state's education agency started Tuesday and continues through today. (I even blogged about this a little bit last year, amazingly enough.) These make for long days, getting up early to make the same ferry as many commuters and then hiking through Seattle (uphill) to get to the convention center. The sessions have been good, but they are always very full. Much of the time in between sessions is spent negotiating some way to grab a seat for an upcoming workshop. I get home in the evenings, which feels very late. I do little more than get comfy and go to bed. And here I am, ready to head out.

I was starting to get annoyed yesterday about all the "educationese," and especially the enthusiasm some people have for it. I think I have heard all that I can manage about professional learning communities (PLCs), powerful teaching and learning, and collaborative assessment. I don't object to any of these, but the way these terms get tossed around is starting to feel like overkill. How on earth will I get other teachers (especially the jaded ones) excited about participating in something like a "PLC" when the term is a bit snarky?

The thing I do like about these conferences is that it does stimulate thinking. PLCs might be a really cool thing to set up, but how? How would we convince principals to restructure the common planning time schedule? How will we train all of the facilitators we would need? What do you do with teachers who are unable or unwilling to buy in to this kind of professional development?

One thing I am seeing and hearing more is that change is slow. Perhaps this seems like a statement from Captian Obvious, but in a society where immediate gratification is the norm, it is refreshing to hear the message that it is important to stick with one model of whatever is being tried...and stick with it over at least 4 years before you expect to see significant results. There are too many fads in education. We need to get off of that merry-go-round.

Today I'm going to a "Science Notebooks" workshop that targets elementary age students, that is, if there are any seats to be had. I have heard a lot of good things about this program and since we'll be overhauling our elementary science program soon, perhaps this is something we should try to roll in.

But first, I have to make it to the ferry.

18 January 2006

Ruff! Ruff!

Barker by 24gotham CC-BY-NC-ND
The Education Wonks probably had the form of "barking" pictured at the left in mind, as opposed to the type I (tried to) imply with my header today. Yes, folks, come one and all to this week's astounding Education Carnival!

There's a fabulous sideshow of posts this time around. Go see the struggling student who makes you crazy in The Reflective Teacher's tent. Peek under the canvas of Polski3's...if you dare...to discover what was in the teachers' lounge. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll think it's much, much better than "Cats," when you stop by Mr. Chips' Booth to share in the travails of being a substitute teacher among teens who'd rather be absent.

17 January 2006

Fussing the Budgets

The Boss Lady is going on medical leave starting on February 1. She may be gone for as little as three and as many as eight weeks. Many of the things that we as a department will be working on during that time---like upcoming budgets---have to be started now.

Elementary science isn't officially my domain yet, so I don't have to fret about that one too much. Things for secondary science---like textbooks and microscopes---are not within my part of the budget, so I just have to make appeals to others. For the dollars I do have input on, I need to write up how they will be spent next year, as well as how I could cut 5% and 10%. This isn't too bad.

The ugly part (for me) is trying to forecast through 2011 as to what the science needs will be. The district's new financial director is asking us to do this. It is understandable that we might not know all of the dollar amounts, whether or not levies will pass, federal impact dollars made available, revisions to NCLB, changes to the state requirements, and so on---but we have to at least try to outline our needs over the next five years. This kind of thinking is hard. Sure, I could be "pie in the sky" about some things, but that hardly seems worth it when I know those will be cut. What is realistic? Is there some sort of technology everyone is going to want in five years?

In other news, my district's plan to leave the consortium will not be a secret (from the consortium) for long. There is certain information we need in order to budget the costs for running our own science kit center---and they have the numbers. The Boss Lady also scheduled a tour of the center for Friday. I used to be concerned about tipping our hand on this, but now that a decision has been made, it really doesn't matter.

We're also looking at applying for some grant money and going to try a couple of other avenues to support our program.

I'll be glad when this part of the year is settled. I might not be happy with the way the monetary cookie crumbles, but at least things will be set for another year.

16 January 2006

Plunging Ahead

I have to submit a plan for completing my doctorate. Mind you, we just started our coursework on the third of January, and I need to turn in the description of my research project at the end of this month. It feels a bit rushed. I have, however, managed to nail down what I would like to do.

The elementary science plan that was outlined for my district on Friday will provide plenty of fodder for research. Some of it is about creating science content teachers for those grades. Elementary teachers know more math and can write better than their students. Not so many of them feel confident that they know more science than the kids in their classrooms. I'm looking at how to structure professional development opportunities around this idea.

I am also interested in how to differentiate these opportunities based on career stages. Why do we assume that "one size fits all" works any better for staff than it does for students? If we are expecting teachers to differentiate tasks within the classroom, should we not model that in our work with them?

Perhaps in building some confidence with science content and processes by using a differentiated approach will help engage the "reluctant" teacher. It fascinates me that I work in a profession where it's considered okay to tell your boss "no" as often as you please. No, I won't teach to the standards because I have my own definition of biology. No, I won't use reading strategies in my classroom because I'm not an English teacher. No, I won't teach any science to my third graders because I don't have time. If the goal really is to help all students achieve, then everyone has to do their part. Teachers here are too protected by the union, so no one is actually going to make the teachers pull their weight. This means that to get a high quality elementary science program going, I am going to have to get as many teachers as possible to "buy in."

My doctorate should take three years. The plan we've outlined for elementary science reform in the district is a four-year plan, so evaluation will be difficult. But I'm excited to actually be able to use this large scale project for my district as the basis for my research instead of having to manage two separate efforts. I'm also glad to be involved with work for my grad class that can have an immediate impact on the classroom. I'm ready to plunge ahead.

P.S. If you have been wondering what the difference is between an "EdD." and a "PhD. in Education," the basic idea is that the EdD. is for practitioners (teachers, administrators---people who are in the classroom/school) while a PhD. is for researchers (people who will do their work from an institution). The line between the two programs has blurred at many universities.

15 January 2006

Other Thoughts About On-line Learning

According to an article by Justin Pope of the Associated Press, some students prefer classes on-line. While this isn't necessarily a novel observation in today's increasingly digital world, what is new is the number of on-campus students who are supplementing their studies with on-line courses.

The original intent of offering virtual classrooms in addition to traditional ones was to help students who lived too far from campus or who needed an alternative pathway. Now, as lines blur between the two (even "real" classrooms often have electronic message boards and drop boxes), colleges are having to rethink their purpose in offering on-line courses. Should it matter that a student could be living on campus and yet rarely or never set foot in a lecture hall? Should priority in college acceptance be incumbent upon an agreement to take a high percentage of "face to face" courses?

"Then there's the question of whether students are well served by taking a course online instead of in-person. Some teachers are wary, saying showing up to class teaches discipline, and that lectures and class discussions are an important part of learning.

"But online classes aren't necessarily easier. Two-thirds of schools responding to a recent survey by The Sloan Consortium agreed that it takes more discipline for students to succeed in an online course than in a face-to-face one."

I am still very new to the on-line classroom. I will say that it does take more of an effort in the personal responsibility realm vs. a regularly scheduled class. Like a "real" course, it is completely up to me to set my work habits. But, I have to be much more careful about my reading of the syllabus and other assignments. It is not that I can't contact someone with questions---communication in this program seems to be very good---there is just no immediate feedback. I must be more proactive about clarifications of assignments.

At this point in my life, on-line courses are the best fit for me. I can still work and have an income. I do have costs associated with the classes, but I gain in time. I don't have to commute or give up other regular commitments in order to go somewhere and sit in a lecture. I'm ready to be self-directed and am enjoying having time to think and reflect on things---and contribute to the on-going discussion when I'm ready.

I don't think college campuses are going to go away. There is more to the college experience (for those who pursue it immediately after high school) than just the lecture halls. In addition, there are things (like chemistry labs) which could never be the same in a virtual situation. But I won't be surprised to find more and more on-line offerings in the future.

14 January 2006

About the Kids

When I started this blog, I was more teacher than curriculum specialist. I had much more to say about the goings-on of my own classroom. Now that I am more specialist than teacher, there seems to be less to say about my kiddos.

I still have a class. And they are a lot of fun and I very much enjoy that part of my day. With everything else that is happening, I don't manage a full week of attendance as often as I would like. I haven't been giving them all of the attention that I should when I'm in class. It seems like I only have so much focus to go around within a given day. Many times they get the fuzzy end of the lollipop in that department---in part because I know that they're highly capable students who need a guide through the year as opposed to a teacher. It's still not fair to them. I hope to change this trend.

It is rare for schools and districts to live in the present. It's always about the upcoming test or what you will change "next time." I was part of a conversation this week about the staff days in August 2006. Registration for next year's classes is six weeks away. We tend to live in the future.

I don't know how much longer I will be in the classroom. Money is always an issue for any school system, so it may not be possible to fund me full-time in curriculum. There are already some things in the works to pull me out of my last class, but it's too early just yet to say that it will happen. I don't mind. I do think my schedule can be unfair to my students. I just have to remember to do the best I can to make it not seem that way.

P.S. Do go and cast your vote(s) in the "Best of Blog" awards. There are lots of categories and finalists to choose from.

13 January 2006

¡Viva La Revolución!

It was a day of big decisions...but they felt so good.

The easy one was whether or not to continue with the alignment efforts of the area consortium. This was a resounding "No." They have no plans and will not make any until we commit subs. That doesn't sound very promising to us. Shouldn't they want to sell their program? Tell us why we can't afford not to participate? But they haven't a plan for doing the work---let alone addressing any issues that come up. We know that there will be problems with relying on the FOSS kits alone. FOSS is good science. As far as the consortium is concerned, that should be enough. Who cares if it addresses the state standards?

We also decided to walk away from the consortium and manage our own program. The superintendent will actually have to deliver the bad news at some point in the future, so today was spent getting all the pieces lined up for him. The other science specialist and I laid out the plan over the next four years, along with the costs (as best we can forecast).

The really rebellious part of all of this is that when we walk away, we're going to ask others to come with us. We also spent today drawing up the invitations. I don't know how many area districts will accept, but the fact that we can offer them a plan and provide them something to share with their superintendents is very promising...because we know the consortium has nothing to provide in that arena. Oh, and there's about $80,000 of money that the Navy is managing that we're also going to draw away from the consortium.

Did I mention that the consortium is in the midst of building a brand new building to house the science kits? And the media supplies for all curricula? And that we may leave the media contract, too? This is going to be one pissed-off consortium. We're not making these choices out of spite. We're making them so our kids can have the kind of quality education they deserve. ¡Viva La Revolución!

12 January 2006

Fish...or Get Off the Pot

Our elementary science program (or lack thereof) is at a crossroads. Five years ago---before there were state standards---it seemed good enough to just have some science happening prior to grade seven. There is a new ball game now. We have rules to follow. The "some science is better than no science" philosophy just ain't gonna cut it.

The kits our elementaries use for their science are delivered through an area consortium. The amount we pay to the consortium each year is the same as if we just bought a set of kits. In other words, we've bought these kits five times. We are not getting our money's worth. The consortium has also not delivered on its promise of staff development. It also wants to move forward with an alignment process with the kits---something teachers on my 6th grade materials' adoption group said was akin to "putting round pegs in square holes."

Tomorrow is the decision time. What will we do...and how much will it cost?

To tell the consortium that we will no longer take part in the alignment is no difference cost-wise. We would have to supply the subs either way. They have no plan for dealing with the alignment and how to handle problems that crop up. We do. And other districts are more likely to help us than work with the consortium.

If we buy the kits, that is a huge capital outlay---especially considering the idea that they won't likely deeply align with our state standards. Meanwhile, we would have to store, distribute, and restock these over the years. This requires manpower (salaries and benefits), among other costs. Some of this might be defrayed by an area military base outreach program. They, too, are unhappy with the consortium. Their $80K would go a long way toward fulfilling our goals.

Another science specialist and I will sit down tomorrow and draw up some budgets and make our recommendations. The superintendent is waiting to hear what the next moves will be. I think we're going to tell him that it's time to cut bait.

It's Official!

The Science Recommendations were formally approved at last night's school board meeting. This means that all students---regardless of which school they attend or their personal ability level---will have a full year of science instruction at grades 7, 8, and 9.

I started this process nearly a year ago and it has been a real learning experience. Numerous people along the way have contributed a lot of time, energy, and good thoughts. I'm so glad that there's a positive end to the story being written.

There is still much to do in preparation for rolling this format out in August. We are still selecting materials. And we need to get the science areas at two schools remodeled over the summer. Now that the school board has given their seal of approval, I expect that these other areas will move along much more smoothly.

In other news, do stop by Jenny D's place and check out this week's edition of the Education Carnival. And, my contribution (such as it is) to the blogosphere is a finalist in the "Education/Homeschooling" category of the Best of Blog Awards.

10 January 2006

Building a Better Monster

I had an amazingly good meeting today. I had sweated this one a bit, because I don't feel like I have a good grasp on elementary...let alone elementary science. This group I am working with is trying to select some materials to go with the standards assigned to sixth grade.

Conversations were rich today. People want to make connections between the materials, standards, assessments, and the way these are reported to parents and students. The teachers see how the possibilities in using the science materials to set up their reading and writing goals for the day. We have much more work to do, but there was some fabulous groundwork laid. I actually left work today with far more energy than I had when I went in this morning. I wish that happened more often.

If you've been lurking around this blog, you know that my district has several other significant concerns about the elementary science program we are using (FOSS). Teachers today described doing an alignment with it as "putting round pegs in square holes." Our regional science consortium is wanting us to send teachers again this spring to continue this process. I wasn't so sure this was in our best interests even before today's comments. This group's recommendation? Go through the process we are using now for grades 3 - 5.

This is a monstrous suggestion. Brilliant, but very problematic.

You see, we have to be ready to make a decision by next week as to whether or not to leave the consortium. If we do, then we have to completely outfit our district for elementary science. If we stay with FOSS, it would be doable. If we don't, well...what is the plan, then? Can we get it outlined in a week?

The truth is that I want to open this can of worms, as ugly as it is. The teachers today were right (in my opinion) to raise this issue. I think we can build a better monster than FOSS to help students reach the standards in science. I just wish we had more time to think through the options.

09 January 2006

Myths and Realities

I admit that when I was in the classroom full-time that I would look wistfully at the people who worked at Central Office. Imagine...getting input on your working hours...having a whole hour for lunch...no kids (or parents) to get on your last nerve. Summers must be a dream.

Some of this is true. Hours are a bit flexible if you prefer to come and leave early---or if you like a later shift. Those who regularly take an hour for lunch are also those who have extended days. They are not certificated personnel. However, if I want to take a longer lunch now and then, nobody bats an eyelash as long as I put in my requisite hours that day.

The reality is that people in our central office work pretty darned hard. Is it as demanding as teaching? I have a hard time comparing the two because the demands are so different. I may not bring home quite as much homework, but the projects I do have are much more global in nature. It's more mentally draining.

I realized today as I looked through an program for an upcoming conference that I was highlighting things that fit my curriculum role...not my teacher self. This is the first time I've had that intuitive sort of bent to things. Maybe I'm starting to see the reality of myself in this job.

08 January 2006

Stranger in a Strange Land

I've been spending part of today trying to finish my planning for a meeting on Tuesday. With all the hoopla last week, I really didn't have time to focus on future events, such as seeing my grade 6 materials' adoption group this week.

In some ways, this group really doesn't need me. They are the "gifted" version of teacher groups. They possess an intuitive grasp of how science works, they love it, they understand what it means to "teach to a standard," and they enjoy what they do. They are artists in the classroom. I think that if I just put them in the meeting room with the task of getting the sixth grade curriculum organized...and then left them alone...they could likely do a better job then with my interference.

This is because elementary is such an odd animal to me. I am learning, per the Boss Lady's suggestion. But when I meet with elementary teachers, I feel a bit like a foreigner. I have a strong background in the content. They are the pedagogical experts. Why should someone who's spent 20 years teaching third grade listen to me? I suppose that answer is a post for another time.

Back to my meeting.

The challenge this time is that there are many pieces to synthesize. There's a brand new elementary report. It's completely standards-based (no more letter grades, either) and will be at all elementaries next year. The math and reading alignments are already done---can we factor those into the science expectations? I haven't the heart to tell them that it doesn't look like there will be any money to buy the materials for next year...but how much will it cost to outfit 14 schools?! Should we attempt a pilot test of the curriculum? What should we do about staff development to help teachers deliver content in more of an inquiry mode?

It is odd to have teachers looking to me for guidance on these and other issues...especially when it's elementary teachers gazing my way. The kinds of knowledge and thinking required for my job are still pretty new to me. When it comes to taking it down to the lower grades, I really am a stranger in a strange land.

07 January 2006

Looking In

I hope to spend a lot more time in classrooms this spring---not as a presenter, but as an observer. I am not an administrator and have no interest or stake in evaluating teachers. I do want to look at what is or isn't happening in classrooms in terms of curriculum and student engagement.

I sat in on a class this week where the teacher had more or less given up on many of the students. One of these was relegated to the back of the room, next to the door. He could get up and roam the hall or make whatever comments he liked about the class or teacher because he was so far away from the action, the teacher couldn't keep track. Similarly, the one time the kid tried to constructively participate, he was ignored. A review was going on, and it seemed obvious that only three or four of the students had a relative grasp on the material. But no matter, the test was going to happen.

Now, the hard part in all of this is going into a room where I haven't a clue about the history of the class. Perhaps it was just an "off" day for kids. Maybe the teacher had spent significant time providing students with opportunities to learn the material...that there had been lots of guided instruction...and kids just weren't choosing to engage that day. But I didn't really get that sense. It felt more like the teacher had taken one look at the class roster in September and decided that these kids were too "low" to learn much---so why bother?

When I met with this teacher later about other things, we didn't talk about his class. We did talk a bit about doing some different things with the curriculum. This discussion was very well received. He's really loves his subject area, but until he had a chance to talk to someone about how he was approaching it, he really didn't have new ideas to infuse.

I don't know how many conversations I'll have like this as I get out and about more. I do think it will be a key component to getting a larger dialogue going in the district about what "good" science instruction looks like...and how to make it happen. Should make for an exciting spring.

06 January 2006

TGIF

I can't remember when I've been so busy---much less at the beginning of a semester. I've been to three different fifth grade classes to do some "bubbleology," presented ideas for inquiry to another elementary staff, and the Principles of Technology brouhaha has eaten up more than half a day (thus far). There have been lots of other little things to eat up my time. So much for easing back into the semester.

Next week proves to be very full, too. I have a meeting Monday to hash out a lot of the questions facing elementary science. Tuesday is the second all-day meeting for the grade 6 materials adoption. I see science department chairs from the junior highs on Wednesday to talk about whether or not we should continue to offer "advanced" classes for grades 7 and 8 (and also deal with the Principles of Technology issue for grade 9). Then, it's off to the school board to ensure a smooth adoption of the course proposal changes. This is the last step in getting full-year science in place.

I am also starting to juggle the demands of my graduate class. At this point, it's fairly straightforward...but there are lots of small deadlines and pieces to keep track of. With everything else happening in my life this week, it was a little difficult to roll this in.

But, it's Friday. And not a moment too soon. :)

04 January 2006

Busy...Back Tomorrow

Between teaching 5th graders, working with teachers, fussing the budgets for next year, teaching my class, taking my grad class, and a host of other items, blogging time is brief today. So do go and support this week's Carnival of Education, hosted by the Education Wonks. There are, as always, many wonderful and thought-provoking posts to examine.

(And Happy Birthday to my Sweetie!)

03 January 2006

Better Never Than Late

Long time readers of this blog will no doubt remember that during the late winter/early spring of 2005, I led some district work around scope and sequence for secondary science. We had the state standards in hand (finally) and set out to get our district program in order so that students would have opportunity to meet them. Since then, I've worked with district facilities' staff to get plans in place to remodel buildings, we're in the middle of choosing new curriculum materials, presentations have been made to the school board, and so on.

Someone in the district just showed up today to (try to) add a wrinkle to the plan. He is our Vo-Tech director.

He wants to offer our "Principles of Technology (PoT)" course---which is currently offered for science credit at the high schools---to grade 9 and make it an alternative to the course we placed there through our scope and sequence work.

The hidden agenda here is one of program preservation. Vo-Tech is getting a smaller chunk of the pie because of both the standards-based moment and less support from the feds. Meanwhile, one of the two PoT teachers in the district is not well-liked by students. Current enrollment is such that it won't sustain his teaching position.

I admit to not knowing a whole lot about the PoT curriculum. It is an introduction to applied physics. This is not such a bad thing. But ninth grade also requires chemistry. And all grades need inquiry---not just application. I'll investigate a little further, but it's not looking like PoT is going to be a good fit for ninth grade.

The Vo-Tech director has not consulted teachers about this. The PoT teacher at my school is hopping mad over the whole deal. He has no desire to teach junior high and sees a variety of problems in following this plan (even if he doesn't teach the course). The director has never looked at the science standards and today seemed to have no clue about what it means to have deep alignment. In his mind, as long as some of the topics fit, it's good enough.

The thing is, I'm not sure why the director has chosen this particular time to jump in with his ideas. The PoT teachers were kept in the loop last spring when the scope and sequence was done. I even have e-mails from the director from last spring about the process. There have been no secrets anywhere along the way.

I have a bit more of this game to play. I'll visit the PoT classes and see what's happening. I'll spend Friday morning with the teachers (and director) really looking at the curriculum. And hopefully, by Friday afternoon, this problem will be resolved...and PoT will stay where it is.

02 January 2006

My $.02 on Gifted Ed

Jenny D. raised some interesting points about the role of gifted education in an age dominated by NCLB and rigorous standards for all students. I know a few other bloggers have also written about their views on gifted ed. I can't resist jumping in on this---after all, my M.Ed. is in gifted ed.

There are two big issues here. One is coming to some sort of consensus over what "gifted" means. Secondly, what tool(s) should we use in order to identify it in students?

I am not one of those people who believes that everyone is gifted in one way or another. Strengths and weaknesses? Sure. Kids with high IQs? Maybe. The district I work in has relegated its definition and identification of "gifted" students to CogAT scores of 130 or above in one or more areas of the test: verbal, quantitative, non-quantitative. Student scores on state tests can also be factored in. I really dislike this model. There are no interviews with parents or school staff. There is no assessment of a student's creative aptitude. We aren't identifying "gifted" kids...just smart ones. Even though we do screen all students twice during their elementary years, our numbers of identified kids tend to be disproportionately high (15% of the population) and from a middle-class anglo background. Furthermore, gifted students in this district are placed in magnet classrooms where they are asked to work above grade level in all subjects---even if they only placed high in math on their CogAT. I---and many others---shake our heads over this state of things, but there isn't much we can do at this point.

If we as educators are involved in the other end of the bell curve--special ed---why would we not be involved with the upper end? Our tools are better honed for students with learning disabilities. I think the lack of research for the upper end of the spectrum comes from a belief that those kids will do all right no matter what we do---so why worry about them?

As Jenny D. points out, long-term studies of identified gifted students seem to show that these students don't reach their potential. But if we expect them to be leaders, researchers, or change agents in the world, why do we then school them the same as other kids and then shake our heads when the results aren't different?

I support the advent of standards for the classroom. I strongly believe that every student should have access to a rigorous education---something that in the past was reserved for those labeled "gifted" or highly motivated students. But this doesn't mean that gifted education needs to be dumped any more than we would rid the system of SPED. We do need to change the way we define and identify students. We also need to think about how we support those students in order to pursue their talents.

Update: Please do consider checking out Graycie's thoughts on this topic, along with her follow-up post to one of the comments.

01 January 2006

Doing It On-line

I bet the search engines will love this post header. :) But this is a PG blog, so some people will just have to live with disappointment.

I haven't taken an on-line class before. And I haven't been a student for a long time now. I finished my M.Ed. in December 1994. I am now venturing back to school, but in a virtual classroom. I feel comfortable in an on-line environment, so I'm not worried about navigating one that relates to taking a course. I do think it will be an adjustment to learning this way---more or less in isolation from peers.

My first class toward my Ed.D. officially begins on Tuesday, but people are already introducing themselves on the class message board. I've been busy downloading and printing the syllabus and other expectations. I've even started reading one of the excerpts. This slight form of overachievement won't last long, since it's back to work in two more days.

The beliefs and attitudes I have toward teaching and learning have evolved quite a lot in the years since I last took a class. I am finding that as I read now, I do so more critically---both in terms of content and how I organize the information in my mind. I've hit reading strategies so hard with the kids in my classroom these last five years that I can't help but look at how to apply them to my current experiences. Maybe this will be a good thing. It might give me more insight into helping my own students navigate content on their own.

There are a bit of nerves involved with becoming a student again. Have my critical thinking skills become too mushy? Can I write with the kind of quality that I need to? Will I be able to get to a place where I can better help other teachers?

This first course looks straightforward, as it is an introduction to the whole process. So, there's a bit of reading, three five-page papers and quizzes, regular postings to the discussion board, and a journal. All of this will give a bit of practice in using the on-line format for a course, along with doing research, and learning APA style for citations. (After being a lifelong MLA user, this should be...interesting.) By the end, I'm supposed to have an idea of how I would like to focus my work. I don't have to do an official dissertation the third year, but there will be a large-scale research project.

I'm looking forward to the road ahead. I know that there will be reasons to celebrate and curse along the way. I just have to stay focused.