31 October 2007

The Haunted Schoolhouse Carnival

“What are you supposed to be dressed up as?” asked the Repairman.

“I’m Virgil. You know? The Aeneid? The Inferno?” replied the Science Goddess. “I’m your guide on this tour, after all.”

“Works for me, but I’m not so sure about this whole haunted school idea. I’ll bet this creaky old place has plenty of horror in store for us.”

They started up the steps, easily passing through the gate. “Gee,” said Mike, “This school has about as much security as mine does. Maybe they have the same admins who talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.”

“Just the word ‘admins’ sends a shiver up my back,” added Greg. “Did you read about the one who went unpunished for something that would have a student under a ‘zero tolerance’ policy expelled?”

“Yeah, well, the administration in my district can’t seem to make up its collective mind about whether or not teachers should be using novels in their language arts classes,” said Jo.

Mamacita perked up when she heard the discussion about novels. “Gosh, some of those books from my childhood are still influencing me today. It would seem important to have them.”

“Agreed,” said Jo.

Joanne looked at the visitors, all dressed in costumes. “I wonder if this school ever allowed children to come in costume at Halloween? Some schools these days have changed their policies.”

At first, all seemed quiet in the building. There was no trace of ghosts on the stairs…but a low moan started from down the hallway. “Those are the sounds of teachers who have been toiling away,” said the Goddess. “Let’s move down to see what has happened to them.”

In the first room, they found Chanman, buried under thousands of miniature skateboards. “These things bugged the life right of me. I hope you aren’t suffering as I have.”

The group scurried away, wondering what would be in the next circle of schoolish hell. They found Frumteacher, her soul tired from dealing with bullies in the classroom and the Woodlass, whose hands had become staple removers in an effort to rid the classroom of neverending clutter.

Siobhan said, “I can empathize with Frumteacher. There but for the grace of Spellings go I. I’ve certainly been thinking a lot about respect in the classroom.”

The group toured further down the hallway to find Carol, forever crafting and balancing her deadlines. “Can’t you see how easily just one small thing throws it all off track?”

Peeking on Darren, they could see him cutting up stacks of Che Guevara t-shirts. “Why are these allowed in school?” he wondered aloud.

The moans grew louder as the band of brave explorers found the staff meeting area. Bill was rattling his chains inside. “How are we ever supposed to make sense of the data when there’s measurement error?”

Mike shuddered. “I don’t think they’ll be getting out of there for a long time.”

“Do we have time for a stop at the restroom?” asked Ms. Cornelius. “I don’t want to be graphic, but those last scenes nearly scared the…well, you know.”

“The lounge is just ahead.” said the Goddess.

Mister Teacher asked, “Will you be browsing in there the way I see some students doing at my school?”

“Heavens, no!”

They entered the teachers’ lounge. Inside, Mamacita and Mrs. Bluebird were chatting. “Trick or treat!”

“No treats here,” said Mrs. Bluebird. “In fact, I’ve heard some things recently that I wish I hadn’t.”

“Me, too.” Mamacita sighed. “There are just some things I’ll never understand about how some children are treated.”

The group noticed some stairs leading to the basement. “Do we dare go down there?” one of the group asked the Goddess.

“No. That area is a special pit reserved for those teachers who have sexual relations with a student.” She answered.

Nancy joined the group at this point. “Yes, sadly enough. I was just writing about this very issue in Sex, Lies, and Newspapers.”

As was I,” said Marcella.

Dave said, “Maybe we need to be more selective about who we invite to join the profession.”

“And maybe we need to be aware that kids are growing up all too fast these days,” added the Education Wonks.

The group moved upstairs. “This is the area where unresolved issues go,” said the Goddess.

“Like what?” asked Ms. Cornelius.

“For example, whether or not the idea of schools as ‘dropout factories’ is really new. Matt certainly thinks that they aren’t.”

“Or,” said VJack, “the value of an education. Will we ever determine what that means for students---especially at the college level?”

Dave said, “I’m more worried about the watering down of standards and expectations at the public school level. What was the LA Times thinking with its recent editorial on NCLB?”

Ms. Cornelius screamed. “Aaaaaah! Don’t say that…acronym!”

Dave apologized. Dy/Dan said, “If you really want to squirm, read ‘Why Schools Don’t Educate.’ I did. Stop by sometime and read my response.”

“Better yet,” said Matthew, “Have you seen the brouhaha over Bill O’Reilly and Media Matters over the state of American History Education. I got sucked into that one, even though I had tried not to at first.”

“I was thinking about what you mentioned, VJack,” said Henry. “Perhaps more people should see what advice Thomas Sowell has offered about choosing a college.”

“Or maybe it’s not all about college,” added Lynn. “I think we need to do more to individualize education for students.”

“Either way,” said Maureen, “there continues to be a disparity of science education offerings to students.”

“Not to mention the continuing data coming in about differences in gender performance in math.” added Eduwonkette.

“What’s that racket over there?” asked the Repairman.

“Just the same old hem and haw about Unions,” said the Goddess. “At the moment, Ms. Teacher is in their corner, but Muse is upset with hers for thinking the membership is too dumb to notice that a lower salary was negotiated.” The group cast pitying eyes their direction.

The NYC Educator sighed loudly. “No matter what happens, there’s a continued lack of support for teachers. They’re no better off than a processed sandwich."

The group moved along to the final stairway, moans and groans fading into the distance.

“Up here are our more successful tales,” said the Goddess guide.

Pat offered some tips on using a Student Job Description in place of classroom rules while the Fresh Geeks suggested some ways to have students work with digital art.

“Even in the midst of chaos, some order can be found…to co-opt a phrase from Nietzsche,” said Judy. “Why, even in Detroit, you can find some urban success.”

“Maybe, just maybe, reducing class sizes could solve many issues,” offered Bogusia.

“Certainly couldn’t hurt. That, plus some lessons for schools from dead CEOs,” said the Eduguru.

The group laughed. “And with that,” said the Goddess, “shall we away for some treats…maybe even a little ‘brew’?”

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this week’s Carnival of Education. If you are interested in hosting one of these extravaganzas, please contact the Education Wonks at owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net. Next week’s affair will be hosted by Right Wing Nation. Use the blogcarnival submission form to send your post.

30 October 2007

Last Call for Trick or Treating

Hey, you---you with the edublog. Tomorrow is the big party right here in this space: the Carnival of Education is rolling into town. It'll be a special Halloween edition full of all manner of tricks and treats. Come join the fun by sending me your link (the_science_goddess [at] yahoo [dot] com) or use the submission form over at Blog Carnival. Come over and play!

29 October 2007

I'm "It"! Run!

Ms. Cornelius, the sparkling hostess of A Shrewdness of Apes, has tagged me for the latest in meme-fashion---all started by Pharyngula (who is another daily "must read").

First, the rules:
There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is..." Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

  • You can leave them exactly as is.
  • You can delete any one question.
  • You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question.
  • For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".
  • You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".
  • You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.
  • Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions. Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

So, without further ado:

My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-
great-great-great-grandparent is Pharyngula.

My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-
great-great-grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club

My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-
great-grandparent is Flying Trilobite.

My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-
grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock.

My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Primate Diaries

My great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Thus Spake Zuska.

My great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is a k8, a cat, a mission.

My great-great-great-great-grandparent is Monkeygirl.

My great-great-great-grandparent is DancingFish.

My great-great-grandparent is Dr. Brazen Hussy.

My great-grandparent is Addy.

My grandparent is Mommy/prof.

My parent is A Shrewdness of Apes.

The best short story in SciFi/Fantasy is: "Kaleidoscope," by Ray Bradbury.
The best cult movie in comedy is: Airplane!
The best children’s novel in classic fiction is: Wizard of Oz
The best high-fat food in Southern cooking is: chicken fried steak
The best recent movie in comedy is: Idiocracy

Okay---be fruitful and multiply...don't let me go extinct:

28 October 2007

Tools for Investigative Design

All too often, the scientific method is taught like a laundry list. Its lockstep pattern doesn't feel like a scaffold to students---there are too many terms to remember in order to make it work. It is not a "plug and play" type of format. Also, there is a disconnection from the way real science is presented. All of the elements of the scientific method are there, but it is not always in the same format. The method itself is just a suggested recipe, not The Way.

Several years ago, I saw a presentation at our state science meeting on Inquiry Boards. These were laminated posters which had each step of investigative design printed on them. A teacher would have these in the classroom to model the process through the use of well-placed sticky notes. The idea was presented as something to use with elementary students; but I have used the posters and booklets with secondary students and teachers. It's another tool in the arsenal...another way to get even more kids on board.

I first pose a research question or problem. For example, a recent problem in my classroom was "What factors change the rate at which an enzyme works?" I asked students to help brainstorm a possible list of ideas: temperatures, pH, concentration, type of enzyme, etc. We then brainstormed possible things we could measure: time, number of bubbles generated, and so on. Each of the students' ideas were written on individual sticky notes: one colour for the manipulated variable and a different colour for the responding variable. I placed the notes on the "Brainstorm" poster.

Next, we choose variables. Earlier in the year, we choose them as a class. Once kids have more experience, I allow them to select their own with their lab group. The sticky notes are physically moved to the new poster. One is placed in the manipulated variable box at the top...at least one goes in to be measured in the middle...and the remainder of the brainstormed manipulated variables are moved to the box at the bottom. This is very important. Most students stumble when they try to figure out what the controlled variables are. Using the different coloured sticky notes and physically moving the items is great reinforcement.

From there, students use the variables to write their hypothesis, consisting of a prediction and a prediction reason. I scaffold this by asking students to use an "If...then...because" writing frame. Once they understand that a hypothesis needs to express a relationship between variables and a reason why, they don't have to use the frame. For most of them, however, it is a comfortable tool.

There are also posters for the materials/procedure, results, and conclusion, but I won't show them in the post. (You can get all of the inquiry boards/posters by opening the document at the end of this post.)

I also use a student sized version of these in a foldable. If you open the document at the bottom and then choose to print by using "2 pages per sheet" (see bottom right of print box), you will have the boards on four sheets. Copy them back to back. Have kids fold each one in half. For the first one, the kids should cut 1" slits from each end of the fold. For the other paper (it doesn't matter which is which) they should cut out the fold, except for the final inch at each end. By inserting the first page through the hole created in the second page, they will have an instant booklet. The pages in the electronic document are purposefully placed in an order that will become a beginning to end story within the booklet.

If you want the posters, print out the document (or send to Office Depot or Kinko's directly) and then use a poster maker to enlarge the papers. I highly recommend laminating these so that you can write on them with dry erase markers. I will try to remember to take some pictures the next time I use these. Please let me know if you think of any improvements. And without further ado, here are the Inquiry Boards.

27 October 2007

Teacher Things

There is a running joke about the basement to this house. Every time I've had someone over to work on the furnace, electricity, plumbing, or haul away stuff, I've heard the same comment: "This place has potential!"

Why, yes it does...however, I'm sure they didn't realize all of the potential hidden away in storage boxes. When I moved out of my classroom and down to Curriculum, I packed up all of the teaching things I'd accumulated over 15 years. There are files, bingo games for science vocabulary, books, and other ephemera sitting there in testament to a science teacher.

I searched through a couple of them on Friday morning, looking for a few materials to overhaul for current kiddos. Time and space is a wonderful thing. As I poked through some of the boxes, I realized that I was ready to let most of their contents go away. But it brings up an interesting conundrum. Where do old teaching materials go to die? (without exploiting the potential of my basement, of course)

The older lesson plans---the museum quality ones---are in many ways outdated. I wouldn't want to give them to a newbie teacher as they don't really reflect best practices in instruction. I have a stack of lab ideas in a box. They were printed on a dot matrix printer and sent to me by a friend of my parents when I was a new teacher. None of the activities required much in the way of materials---a good thing, since neither the school nor I had any money to buy things. I think most of these things are taking one last journey...to the dump.

The books are another matter. They are all science related topics, but I don't think I'll make use of them. Maybe some time in a used book store will help them find new owners. I do have some items I want to keep. I'm not ready to let go of them yet, but they deserve better care than a cardboard box. I'll find some Rubbermaid containers for them---hopefully far fewer than the boxes currently occupied. If anything, I'm all about being pared down to what's essential.

The games and ephemera would probably benefit a beginning science teacher who is trying to build up a collection of activities. I'm not sure who or how to get them where they should go. I'm certain I am not the only teacher who has a basement (or other space) full of things for the classroom. We need some sort of education oriented thrift store where they can be donated.

I had heard an idea once about having a day in August when district teachers (and recent retirees) could show up with "stuff" and have something akin to a massive rummage sale. Everything would be classroom supplies---and all of it free. The goal was simply to help new teachers or other teachers in need get materials.

Are there any other ideas out there with potential?

26 October 2007

Being the Grown-Up

I think the teachers I am around have either been around teens so long that they have adopted their habits...or they're just not terribly bright. I'm not sure which prospect is more frightening.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked the other biology teachers if they wanted to work together on some intervention strategies for the sophs. After all, this is the only school in the district where scores in science have declined every year. Perhaps there should be an attempt to do something different in the hopes of getting different results? One teacher told me that she only uses the standards when convenient...another blew me off...and the third told me that he only bothers with WASL prep a month before the test. The third one bothers me in the sense that this is someone who thinks we should teach to the test, which is completely devoid from his curriculum. It's my understanding that, by law, we are required to teach what the state and district identify for us to teach. This is not a new mindset with this school, but at some point, don't you think the teachers would look around and realize that maybe what they're doing isn't working? Does blaming everyone else ever get old and give way to more adult-like reflection?

On Thursday, the science teachers at the other two high schools got together for some collaborative discussion. My school? Not invited to the roundtable. Mind you, this school was the one who had their principal send a note excusing them from every district science meeting last year. I'm not surprised the other high schools have given up on working with the staff. I was surprised at how indignant they were not to have been included. Hey, your poop don't stink, right? What could you possibly learn from others? I think that depriving this school of the right to say that "We don't need anybody." was what really ticked them off. Instead, the precious time to collaborate was spent grading papers, playing fantasy football, washing dishes, or schmoozing---whatever individual pursuits looked most interesting.

It is the end of a long week---which means I'm definitely ready to fuss. My store of optimism has just about hit the "E" mark on the tank.

Instead, I need to accept the good things that did happen. I did a nice little intervention with kids on Wednesday---and it paid off on their tests today. Time will tell if the help sticks in the long term, but the progress is truly jawdropping so far. It's hard for me to understand why other teachers don't want to be the grown-ups in the classroom when the students are waiting for us to mentor them.

24 October 2007

Carnivalicious Wednesday

History is Elementary is hosting a fine Carnival of Education this week. It's chock full of ideas to discover. Click on over there and peruse the midway. Next week, the Carnival will appear right here in all of its Halloween splendor.

23 October 2007

The Lifeboat

I understand that my task as a teacher is to get all of my kids to standard---even the ones who have to be dragged there kicking and screaming. For maybe the first year ever, I can honestly say that I can't think of a single kid I see all day who is a reluctant learner. This doesn't mean that they are all Lake Wobegon children (all above average). I have some that are not terribly bright, others who are classic underachievers, and still a few who---on a daily basis---inspire me to want to pinch off their noggins and use them for bowling balls. But the bottom line is that when I talk with these kids one on one about their work, they ask questions and listen to comments. I think they believe that I genuinely care about their success.

That being the case, I have a problem to solve.

I'm tracking data on my kiddos. I can tell you who knows the difference between a manipulated, responding, and controlled variable...who can construct a hypothesis...and who can conclude their way out of a paper sack. But as you imagine, there are sprinklings out of the 120 kiddos who can't do one or more of those items...and there are still more skills to learn. I have an intervention plan in mind for the kids who are just about to make it over the bar: the ones who need 15 minutes of intense work and a bit of practice to cement things.

But I have about 10 kids who appear to be utterly clueless. Is there a lifeboat for them? They want to row with the others, but how do I get the time to give them the significant attention they need to catch up with the rest of us? I don't want to pull them from their other classes. The other biology teachers don't want to help. Do I contract with the kids (and parents) for some after school or weekend work? Do I ask for a sub to manage the bulk of my kids while I shepherd the few lost lambs during a class period? How do I keep these kids from going under?

22 October 2007

Moles Aplenty

In going over this week's targets and schedule with my sophs, I noted that tomorrow is Mole Day. I was impressed with their fluency of thinking. "You mean like the furry things in my yard?" "Like on Survivor?" "Like the thing on people's faces?"

They were mystified that there could be yet another explanation. Mind you, we don't do much celebrating of Mole Day in the non-chem classes, but it gives them something to anticipate.

I know the blogging here hasn't been anything to write home about over the past week. All I can tell you is that I'm darned tired...the first chapter of the dissertation is done...I'm jumping the hoops with my district to do my research...conferencing with every kid about improvements to be made...dealing with pissy parents...looking at job postings for next year...trying valiantly to catch up on the laundry/vacuuming/dishes/misc. chores...and so it goes. I have a mole's worth of things to do at the moment and they are weighing me down.

I have a couple of half-finished posts...good ones that I'm excited to share once I can get my head on straight enough to give them a little TLC. Hang in there with me. :)

21 October 2007

The Seedy Underbelly

Last week was Homecoming Week...an event which causes teachers nationwide to collectively groan. I have to say that it wasn't much of a disruption at this school, but maybe that's because I don't run with the glamourous crowd.

At the assembly on Friday afternoon, I knew none of king/queen candidates. The kids who put on the skits were not part of my classes. Ditto for the multimedia support. I watched with this disconnected sense of things. Who were all of these other kids? Were they really part of the school, too? And if I didn't see my students out in front of their peers---how did they feel about the lack of representation? I knew that I had the kids who don't get attention at that school (and these happen to be the ones I like best), but things seemed a bit ridiculous. It's like we are all part of some other school, happily going about our business while some other more public persona is functioning elsewhere in the building. We are the seedy underbelly.

Personally, I don't mind. I have great kids who are starting to thrive with some attention and support. I'm not missing the pretty people. From a teen perspective, however, I'm not sure if this is true. I worry about my young charges and the need to see positive peer models they can identify with...something to connect them to school, not show them how different they are. How do we do that, I wonder?

20 October 2007

Find Your Grail

As the Hedgetoad mentioned, we had quite the weather pass through here on Thursday. Blogging was made pretty much impossible on Thursday. In a moment which defines the kind of luck I have most of the time, the power returned to my abode just as I was walking out the door to go to work on Friday morning. Lots of students had trouble getting to and from school, although my school was more fortunate than some others---we had power (but no heat). A couple of schools didn't even have that. I had two questions I asked my afternoon classes yesterday. The first was "How many of you were unable to do your homework last night because your power was out?" At least 50% of each class raised their hands. The next question was "How many of you had power but told your morning teachers you didn't so that you were excused from handing in your homework?" A couple of sheepish looking students put up their hands. See? We're onto your little games. :)

Yesterday evening, a friend and I went to see Spamalot. We had both had an exhausting week, but a good dinner took each of us to our happy place and set the stage (so to speak) for a very enjoyable time of things. It did, however, make for a late night---I got home around 12:30. After 20 hours among the living, I was just too darned out of it to even think about blogging.

This weekend will be spent in a continued search to find my grail, also known as Chapter One of my dissertation. A few more paragraphs should put the final touches on the draft and then it's on to Chapter Two. Now that I don't have to grade papers by candlelight, perhaps I can catch up on my schoolwork as well.

I have some more important posts in mind, but they'll have to wait until later. Get out and enjoy your day---find the grail of your own.

17 October 2007

Teachers and Kids Say the Darndest Things

I asked the other teachers in the department who teach biology if they wanted to team up for some "intervention" (Can't we just use remediation?) work with kids. I know that a school in the area has worked things out such that once kids have been identified as able or unable to meet a particular standard, teachers who have the same prep during the same class period team up. One teacher takes all of the students from the two classes who are at standard and does some enrichment...the other teacher takes the remaining kids and does some things to try to get the kiddos up to standard. Seems like a beautiful plan to me.

My collegial inquiry has been met with the sound of chirping crickets. Sigh.

I did have one teacher mention that she just "fits in the standards" where she can and is not really sure about which kids need help. (Perhaps it is not surprising that she is also the one completely mystified by the disparity between the course grades kids earn in her class and their science WASL scores.)

Okay. I get the message. If I want my kids to be able to be successful, there's not going to be any help. It's a good thing for me, then, that my kids are starting to step up to the plate. For example, I had a young man check with me yesterday about the conclusion he had just written for his lab. He said, "I really want to do better with these." Dude. So, of course, I talked to him about what was working well and what needed beefing up. You should have seen the little cheer and dance he did today when he showed me the new and improved version---and I told him it was darned good. Motivated to learn? Almost too good to be true...and definitely the highlight of my week.

Want to read more about what teachers and students? Head on over to this week's Carnival of Education. The Education Wonks have put together a marvelous array of posts.

Watch this space for a special Halloween edition of the Carnival of Education. Be ready to get your spook on!

16 October 2007

Not Just the Hokey Pokey

This is Juan's Graduation Day. Juan got his diploma many many moons ago---just before I headed into the classroom to work with kids just like him. I don't know where he is now...if he's had a happy life since high school...if he has children of his own on their own roads to graduation. But I've kept this picture for nearly two decades as a reminder to me of just how much it means to a kid to finish high school.

I was thinking about this today for a couple of reasons. One is simply that the honeymoon is over for kids this school year. All of their good intentions that walked through the door with them in September are sliding away as the reality of school settles in. So, I'm on them about things and calling parents, trying to reach a happy medium. Kids may groan, but the goal is to have them keep moving toward that diploma. Secondly, I was listening to all of the various uncertainties around graduation requirements. I was frustrated that we have kids in the system who need diplomas and the state is still dancing around what can be used to get one.

That's what it's all about, right?

15 October 2007

Take It and Run With It

If you've lived and/or worked with teens, you know that compliments are not always forthcoming. This is not to imply that teens are uncouth or ill-mannered, only that their priorities can be a little different from those of adults.

During dinner last week, I was catching up with a friend I hadn't seen in awhile. I mentioned that the outfit I was wearing was the same as the first day of school. At that time, a young lady in one of my classes had caught my attention at the end of the period and said "I like how you match." While this might not be the most blush-inducing comment I've ever received, I made sure to thank her for her gracious words. It was a very nice gesture and it makes me laugh when I think about it. (As an aside, when my friend and I were leaving the restaurant that evening, the hostess looked at me and said, "Your outfit really matches!" I couldn't help but burst out laughing. I'm sure my friend would have never believed a 15-year old had said the same thing if we hadn't just talked about it.)

I had an admin tell me today that kids have been coming in for schedule changes, but any time the counselor mentions that what they want would require them to no longer be in my class, the kid chooses not to make a change. It's a compliment in its own way. Kids might not say anything to me about liking my class, but the fact that they're willing to put up with someone else's so they can hang around in mine makes a nice quiet statement. (Yes, I also know that it also highlights that kids might not have the right motives in going in for a schedule change if they're willing to give it up so easily.)

Teachers know that compliments are few and far between. It can be years before a kid returns to tell you "Thank you." For now, I'll take these two small treasures and run with them.

14 October 2007

What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?

When people hear that I'm working on...and nearing completion of...my EdD, there is the inevitable question of "What are you planning to do when you finish?" I manage to refrain from the quick and easy answer of "Grab a bottle of champagne and a very big straw." I assume that they are being politely curious about the larger picture. They really want to know what I'm going to be when I grow up. I'm not ready to answer that question quite yet.

There are lots of opportunities out there: regional labs, university positions, consultant work, and so forth. And there's no reason why I would have to do anything different from what I'm doing now.

I am a firm believer in listening for the hard-knuckled rap of Opportunity at the door. The goal is to earn the EdD---not land a job at a particular place for a particular reason. The big picture includes doing what I can to help teachers and kids---not a certain role which fosters that. If and when I'm ready to look around (and listen for a knock), then I can evaluate things at that time. What am I going to do with my life? Make the most of it.

13 October 2007

Look for the Union Label

Are you living in a state with forced unionism for teachers? (There's a map here, if you're not sure...or are thinking about moving.) Dues vary by district and state. Here, they're close to $870 per year. As a "fees payer," I do get a bit of a rebate once a year.

I was poking around the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation recently. Tidbits of interest included a way (pending member support) to deauthorize the portion of the contract which forces dues collection. The union doesn't lose the ability to be the negotiator in collective bargaining, but it does have a bit more accountability to potential members. There's even a "Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism" group, a blog, and other resources available.

Teacher in a Strange Land shared a link to an interesting report by the Education Sector about Leading the Local: Teachers Union Presidents Speak on Change, Challenges. As TiaSL points out, one of the most interesting aspects is the "learning from the research was that most of the presidents felt they were leading “'parallel unions:' an old-guard contingent unwilling to give up the adversarial politics that got them improved salaries, benefits and entitlements, and a newer group of teachers who are more interested in guaranteed mentoring, professional learning, teamwork and genuine opportunities for leadership." That is certainly the case here, with the union leadership only interested in the "old-guard contingent." If the newer group of teachers had the ability to withhold dues until their interests were adequately represented, I wonder what would happen?

One of my primary objections to the union as it exists today is simply that if teachers are professionals, we should act in a professional manner. The "old guard" is purely representing a blue-collar mentality of labor-management relations. It's time that we as teachers expected more from "our" representation and thought more about how we view ourselves. As long as our appearance as "just teachers" is facilitated by union leadership, we can never build the kind of collaborative community we need to help every student reach his or her potential.

12 October 2007

Everyone's Got a Big But

I know that many parents find a teen's imploring "But..." to be the thing which gets on their very. last. nerve. Personally, I encourage the use of the word. It introduces a contrasting statement and shows thinking. I need kids to stick out those buts and share their ideas.

As for me? I try to avoid it like the plague. Why the double standard? Because as soon as a kid hears that word leave your lips, they tune out. No matter what good you've said beforehand, a teacher's big but will undo all of that every time.

"What you did with your hypothesis was very good, but your conclusion needs work."

This is not to say that kids don't need to hear constructive criticism and understand where they can improve. It is our responsibility as teachers to keep students moving forward with their learning. We just need to be sneaky with it by asking kids questions instead.

"This hypothesis is good because you state a reason to support the prediction. Another scientist might wonder if you still think the same reason would apply to your conclusion. What would you tell him or her?"

I've been trying to do this more this year and keep my big but out of student work. So far, I'm pleased with student response to the results. Many are using the comments to make positive changes in their work and I think it has helped nurture the classroom environment. We're not looking for what's wrong, but we're taking what's right making the rest of it better.

10 October 2007

Bonus Carnival

For today, please head on over to this week's Carnival of Education---a fine affair hosted by The Tempered Radical at the Teacher Leadership Network. It is, as always, a movable feast of educabilia. Or something like that. Anyway, click on over and feed your teacher soul. You know you're hungry!

09 October 2007

Oh, the Temptation

There are classes---and/or sometimes students---who love to try on a teacher's patience for size. I have just such a group this year...and the awful truth is, I actually like them. They make me crazy at times, but their only real issue is that they're 15 years old, not bad seeds.

It is a constant temptation for me to dumb down material for them. I know that I will have to fight them for every inch of attention and each precious moment of time on task. There are times I want to set aside some of the planned activities because I know it is at the limits of their focus. I battle with myself on a daily basis about installing the cruelest form of dictatorship imaginable and just assigning days on end of book work. Just so they'll be quiet. Just so I don't have to play tug of war all period. But how would they learn?

These are not dumb kids. I have to tell you that they ask very good questions---it's just that each word out of someone's mouth is something every kid wants to comment on. Getting through material takes forever.

In our last unit, I bravely led them through some thinking about whether or not a pesticide was feminizing frogs. It's a college level case study (you can access it here, if you're so inclined), but the data itself is comfortably within high school limits. I provided some "during reading" scaffolds and time to talk and reflect. We looked at information in three different days and then I provided a summative prompt for them to respond.

Three classes sailed through the thinking. We had good discussions. The difficult class? It was like pulling teeth just to get them to look at the material. But look they did. And you know what? That class had the highest percentage of students who wrote the essay...and I have to say that the writing isn't all that bad.

It is a temptation not to give challenging kids challenging work. But the simple truth of the matter is that they need it more than anyone else. I can't claim that appealing to their intelligence has made their behavior any more mature during class, but it reinforces for me that I just need to keep pushing them. As tempting as it is to give up on them and assume that their behavior will preclude any deep learning, I can't give in to that particular siren song. We'll have to find some way to keep on sailing.

Which Came First?

Live Science is publicizing a new study about the effects of an abusive boss---one of which is that workers tend to slack off. What is unknown is whether slacking is caused by bad bosses...or if having slacker workers leads to bosses taking on more tyrannical approaches.

Employees with difficult bosses checked out in the following ways:

  • 30 percent slowed down or purposely made errors, compared with 6 percent of those not reporting abuse.
  • 27 percent purposely hid from the boss, compared with 4 percent of those not abused.
  • 33 percent confessed to not putting in maximum effort, compared with 9 percent of those not abused.
  • 29 percent took sick time off even when not ill, compared with 4 percent of those not abused.
  • 25 percent took more or longer breaks, compared with 7 percent of those not abused.
The study looked at traditional businesses, not schools, but the findings are still of interest to me. I can honestly say that I took a sick day last year (I called it a "mental health day") because Boss Lady 2.0 was just awful enough that I needed a day away from the office.

What constitutes a "bad boss"?

Employees say that abuse from bosses includes put-downs in front of others, ignored e-mails and other correspondence and being berated.

Hochwarter and his colleagues conducted another survey in 2006, in which they polled about 700 people in a variety of professions about supervisor treatment, finding:

  • 31 percent reported their supervisor gave them the "silent treatment" in the past year.
  • 37 percent reported their supervisor failed to give credit when due.
  • 39 percent noted their supervisor failed to keep promises.
  • 27 percent noted their supervisor made negative comments about them to other employees or managers.
  • 24 percent reported their supervisor invaded their privacy.
  • 23 percent indicated their supervisor blamed others to cover up mistakes or to minimize embarrassment.
Yep, been there...experienced nearly all of that, unfortunately.

How many students, I wonder, have teachers that might fit this profile? If so, would this be a possible cause of "slacker effect"? This article reminds me of the study released this summer that two out of three workers have seen bad bosses either rewarded or never penalized. There seems to be little question that not everything that rises to the top is cream...or what comes first in developing these situations. The real question is what we do about it.

08 October 2007

The Big Cheese

From what I can tell, most staff members at the school love the principal. The reason why is a complete mystery to me, other than he seems to let them do whatever they want. I've seen him click through only one of the 21 powerpoints shown at staff meetings (so far) and present/facilitate nothing. The Big Cheese is content to sit back and let the ass't admin (a post unto himself) and the interns handle things. There is no clue as to his vision or ability to be an instructional leader. It frightens me to hear teachers at the school say they want to find a principal just like him when this one retires at the end of the year. It reminds me of bad parenting, in a way. What kid doesn't like the cool permissive parent on the block? Maybe the ones who understand what supportive parenting can look like.

Anyway, I'll meet with this person at some point in the near future about my evaluation process for the year. Since the Big Cheese is not very forthcoming about his motives or expectations, I am wondering what to expect this year. He doesn't care that his staff isn't intellectually curious. He doesn't support collaboration or active inquiry about what happens in the classroom. He isn't interested in accountability for supporting the learning of all students. During the first six weeks of school, I have seen him exactly one time...for 2 0r 3 minutes as he wandered through a classroom. Neither he nor the other admins are ever in the hallways or otherwise visible.

As far as I have come in my 16+ years in the classroom, I know that I can always be better and do more for kids. But how will the evaluative process this year help me grow as a professional when there is no modeling by administration, no plan for staff development, and no expectations for engaging in any sort of improvement? Do I dare ask the Big Cheese how he plans to support my goals in implementing best practices in grading and looking for ways to get some interventions going in my classroom for kids who are in danger of not meeting the standards? I have a feeling that his plan will just to be invisible and let me do my thing. Is that really good enough?

07 October 2007

Did You Hear the One About...

...the teacher who posted semi-nude pictures of herself on her MySpace page...and has blogged about her prescription drug use and "wild" students? You can read more here about it.

As you might imagine, some parents are upset by this. What is interesting, however, is that school district officials are not.

"There's nothing to indicate she's done anything inappropriate with the students," said Knox County School Spokesman Russ Oakes.

Oaks goes on to say like everyone else, teachers have first amendment rights.

But a Tennessee law says they must display appropriate behavior.

At least one school board member says he is not objecting at this time.

"This would make me raise my eyebrows but not call police or freak out as a parent," said board member Indya Kincannon.

Teachers have long been held to the kinds of standards of behavior by the same parents who display a far lower level of moral terpitude. Considering this is a new story---does this somehow change the job the teacher has done with the kids since the start of the school year? If the pictures did not impact her work with students before---why should it now? How many of the parents with stones in their hands also thought she was doing a good job before this information was public? These parents are asking the school district to regulate what a teacher does outside of the workday...are the same parents willing to allow their employers the same rights, I wonder?

06 October 2007


The main goal of my current grad class is to get the first two sections of the dissertation written. Mind you, this goal is thread through some other hoops for the class, but I can't complain much. I work better with a deadline---December 24 is it.

I did a lot of work during July, so that was a great help. Instead of spending all my time this fall doing a lit review, I just need to put the pieces together. "Just."

I seem to be going back and forth between digital and printed information. I wrote all of my notes first, then typed them. I marked them with some key terms---and then from the 30+ pages of quotes, I was able to pull ones that I thought might fit the first chapter (problem statement, theoretical basis, etc.). I printed these and then numbered them according to which area of the chapter they seemed to fit. This also helped me cull the information a bit---no sense in using all the best stuff before Chapter 2 (lit review). :) Then, I copied and pasted the usable quotes underneath the various subheadings for Chapter One. I printed things again, this time to renumber quotes in terms of the order they should be used. Once I did the cut and paste thing to move them around, I had an instant outline.

Writing a dissertation is like painting a room. There's a metric buttload of prep work to do. And, yes, you can quote me on that.

One thing I have learned about myself as a writer these past two years is to not force myself to be linear. In other words, I don't have to write the introduction first and follow the outline from there. If the middle of the paper is making more sense, I start there and then work in either direction. I'm a rather concrete-sequential person, so this way to approach a paper is out of character for me. This has helped prevent many cases of writer's block as I crank out 50+ pages each semester, so I'm willing not to fight this particular battle in my mind.

On Tuesday, I'm headed over to visit with the district research person to talk through how best to gather the data I need. Surveying kids means getting hundreds of parent permission forms out and back. What a nightmare; however, the one thing that comes up over and over in the literature is that it is student perception of the school environment that matters most in terms of impact on achievement. (Sorry, teachers and parents.) Meanwhile, there is absolutely nothing in the literature which describes the effects of standards-based grading on kids. Zip. So while I and others think this is the right thing to do in terms of classroom evaluation---does it really make a difference in terms of student motivation? It should. The kinds of environmental conditions for a classroom to be considered motivating (from the kids' perspective) is documented in the literature. We just don't have much of anything on how grading fits into that. This makes for quite an exciting project for a nerd like me.

For now, I'm off to grab onto a piece of dissertation like a dog with a chew toy.

05 October 2007

Adventures in Marking

A friend and I were comparing experiences in our journey through Standards-Based Gradingland. We're swimming in the deep end of the pool this year, and instead of feeling like we're drowning, we're finding the waters surprisingly inviting. This includes marking tests kids have taken.

Certainly the test items are designed with a particular right answer in mind; but, with this sort of grading there's a rubric. As a teacher, I'm looking for the gestalt in terms of the standard(s). Does the kid get it or not? I'm not totaling points and calculating percentages. I'm not fussing over weighting of items. This is not only an enormous time-saver for me, but a good support for kids. It's more about credit than penalties.

I will say that the rubric development is where most of my think-time has to go. And yes, there is some fussing with the idea of "How many (and what kind of) items can a kid miss and still be at standard?" I'm not assigning this a particular point value---I plan to mark all of the tests first and then quick sort them into two groups (at standard, not at standard) based on what I've seen. If there are scores of 1's and 4's to assign from there, I'll work it out in a similar fashion. The forest first...trees later. :)

What will happen to my kids with 1's and 2's? A few options. Kids can reattempt the test provided they engage in some additional learning. For others who don't choose that pathway, I'm looking at two things. One is to sit down with them for individual conferences and help them come up with a course of action. The other is to pair off with another teacher who has biology the same period(s) that I do. We can split our classes into two groups---those who are at standard can have an enrichment lesson with one teacher while the other works on remediation with the other group. Should be quite the adventure for all of us.

04 October 2007

Ranting and Raving

This is the 900th post to Ye Olde Blog. A milestone like this probably deserves some profound reflection, but if you've been hanging around here for any length of time, you know that there is very rarely much in the way of deep thinking to be had. This is a place to put my stuff. The modern version of a cabinet of curiosities. I really try not to be negative here very often. Being an educator means that there are plenty of things to gripe about; but for you, readers, it's not much fun to read about---and it's not respectful of the fact that you have your own problems to deal with. "We know that teaching is damned hard work. What else have you got?"

Sometimes, however, I just can't help myself. And this is one of those times.

I'm working in a school which prides itself on its Newsweek Top 500 high schools in America ranking, but whose science WASL scores have gone down every year. In fact, it's the only school in the district who has lost ground each year. It is also the school which consistently has resisted any attempts at professional development. In fact, they brag about how few meetings that they have. Okay---so I'm not interested in having meetings just for the sake of themselves...but when you have achievement issues, shouldn't you be talking about them? Your AP kids might carry weight with Newsweek, but that is only one-third of your student population. What are your plans for the other 1000 kiddos?

There was actually a meeting today---ostensibly to refine the school improvement goals for the year. The science department, as usual, turned out some really poor work. The consistent lack of student achievement is everyone else's fault. "But our AP kids do so well." At this point, I couldn't resist saying "Maybe that's because the curriculum and instruction for those classes is aligned with the assessment."

This comment went over their heads. One teacher thinks the biology textbook is the curriculum ("I can't possibly cover the standards, because the book is too big.") and all sophomores dumb. Another thinks quality instruction involves notes and a worksheet every day. And the other biology teacher thinks the reason that there's such a disparity between what she does in class and the standards as the fault of the state. None of these teachers has any sense of personal responsibility to the students in their classrooms. What happens there is about the teacher, not the kids. And it's that, more than anything, that angers me.

As much as I would like to rant and rave in front of them, I'm not sure it would do any good. We need common expectations---and high ones---for every student (and for ourselves). We need to work at aligning our curriculum, instruction, and assessment. We need to look at and talk about student work. We need to think about interventions for kids who need support. All of that, however, would require meetings. And for a place which loves to brag about how they don't meet, and instead are determined to show others how little intellectual curiosity they actually have, there is little hope of powerful change happening.

I realized in that meeting that it really didn't matter what the department goals were. All I can do is be the best I can for my kids. Each day, I tell them the targets they're aiming for. I give them feedback on their progress toward those targets as often as possible and provide additional support for kids who need it. I tell each and every one of them that I believe that they can achieve the goals that are set for them. And then I teach and coach and cheer them. Shouldn't that be why we're in the classroom?

03 October 2007

Doin' It Wednesday Style

Married to the Sea
had this perfect graphic. And why shouldn't we celebrate Wednesday? It's the day when the Education Carnival rolls into town. This week, it's hosted by Evolution: Not Just a Theory Anymore. Go and celebrate Wednesday with a fine collection of posts.

02 October 2007

Way to (Mis)Communicate

Things are a little busy here at the moment, as I am ensconced in drafting the proposal for the doctoral study. (No, I haven't bought the ring yet.)

However, I saw a link for a very interesting Flickr pool. It's all about bad signs. Not the astrological kind. Not things misbehaving. These are postings from all over the world that just make you go "Hmmm."I'm thinking about how to use some of these with my classes. As I continue to work with kids this year about using their writing to explain thinking in science, perhaps these might provide some much-needed humor. Not all of them are classroom appropriate, but they are amusing.

A couple of samples are below. For more follow the link above. A word of warning---you can end up spending more time there than you intend!

01 October 2007

Book of the Moment Club

I'm a card-carrying member of the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Out of various professional groups I've been a part of over the years, this one---more than any other---has provided me with the of source material for growing as an educator. I have a "comprehensive" membership, which is their middle tier. I get copies of Educational Leadership each month and the various updates throughout the year---and I get books hot of the presses, too. Kind of a "Book of the Moment" club.

This moment's title is Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. After scanning it, I would have to say that for the "with it" classroom teacher, there isn't much new territory here. Differentiated instruction, questioning techniques, authentic assessment, are all summarized here. I did like a protocol they included for looking at student work. They also have a fabulous "Checklist for Creating Common Assessments" adapted from work by Linn and Miller (2005). It has the desirable qualities for every kind of item you might use (true/false, matching, performance...) as well as an checklist for the assessment as a whole. The reality is that no teacher is going to be exhaustive with this checklist, but I plan to make a copy to glance at from time to time. It's a good reminder of how to take my goals for student learning and be congruent in terms of my testing.

The teacher who shares an office with me thinks I'm quite the nerd when it comes to staying current with best practices. He jokes about it in a nice way, mind you, and I certainly can't claim that he's saying something that isn't true. :) I do enjoy having time and opportunity to look at the latest publications and see what I can tweak in my repertoire to make things better. ASCD's Book of the Moment is good for prodding my thinking and my work in the classroom.