31 December 2008

Obligatory Post

If you use the Gregorian calendar year, then today marks the end of 2008. As I write this, nearly half the planet is already into 2009. I hope that all is well on the other side. The rest of us will find out soon enough.

By this same calendar, it's Wednesday. I haven't reminded readers of the Carnival of Education for awhile, but this periodic addition to the Edusphere is now in its 204th incarnation over at Bellringers. Go visit your favourites from 2008 and perhaps find some new blogs to read for 2009.

It will be a quiet evening here, chez Science Goddess. I had a wonderful time out with friends last night---an early celebration of sorts. Tonight, I'm staying home...and if I feel really wild, I may get a Costco pizza and/or open one of the splits of champagne I've been saving for my graduation party. I am off until Monday.

2008 was not too bad of a year. I learned a lot about grading, had my most favourite job ever (elementary instructional coach), started to be a creator and producer of knowledge to share (presentations on grading practices), and more. I met a ton of new people--both on-line and in the real world. I am grateful for all of my friends, as well as being able to have money in the bank, a roof over my head, and food in the pantry. I may not be wealthy in a material sense, but I feel rich in ways that maen more to me.

As for the upcoming calendar year? I haven't given it a lot of thought. I hope to put my dissertation to bed this spring. I'd like to finish up the book proposal I was asked to write and get the best practices in grading website and Ning up and running. I want to be healthy and spend more time with friends (I am thinking about working 4-day 10-hour work weeks in order to get back my personal life.). I want to find a project or two at work that I can be passionate, rather than bureaucratic, about. Perhaps I can translate these things into some semblance of goals and action.

Best wishes to all of you in the coming year. See you on the next page of the calendar.

28 December 2008

What It Means to Make the Effort

The results of a recent study of college undergraduates (n = 400):
  • If I have explained to my professor that I am trying hard, I think he/she should give me some consideration with respect to my course grade -- 66.2% agree
  • If I have completed most of the reading for a class, I deserve a B in that course -- 40.7%
  • If I have attended most of the classes for a course, I deserve at least a grade of B -- 34.1%
  • Teachers often give me lower grades than I deserve on paper assignments -- 31.5%
  • Professors who won't let me take my exams at another time because of my personal plans (e.g. a vacation) are too strict - 29.9%
  • A professor should be willing to lend me his/her course notes if I ask for them - 24.8%
  • I would think poorly of a professor who didn't respond the same day to an e-mail I sent - 23.5%
  • Professors have no right to be annoyed with me if I tend to come late to class or tend to leave early - 16.8%
  • A professor should not be annoyed with me if I receive an important call during class - 16.5%
  • A professor should be willing to meet with me at a time that works best for me, even if inconvenient for the professor - 11.2%
These results, if representative of college-age students, leave me almost speechless. They remind me of a conversation I had with a parent last year. Her son wasn't passing my class---he was rarely able to show any evidence of learning. Mom was convinced that they boy should get credit for the class because he was a nice person. In her mind, the fact that he wasn't a problem (behavior-wise) and did seat time should be enough. I don't know that I ever truly convinced her that it wasn't enough, but what I realized is that I was fighting years of the child (and parent) being rewarded for being nice. How many of this young man's teachers---and how many of the parent's teachers from years ago---had awarded time served for good behavior?

The information at the start of this post comes from an article in Canada's National Post suggesting "Entitled" Students Expect Better Grades (emphasis added).
The paper describes academic entitlement as "expectations of high marks for modest effort and demanding attitudes toward teachers."

It's a hot topic -- and source of much frustration -- among instructors, author Ellen Greenberger, a research professor of psychology and social behaviour at the University of California-Irvine, says.

"I would have trembled with fear before I suggested to some of my revered teachers that I wanted them to give me a higher grade," she says.

Ms. Greenberger's study reveals that students who are academically entitled are more likely to engage in academic cheating, exploit others, shirk hard work and display "narcissistic orientation."

She found virtually no connection between self-entitled attitudes and grades, meaning it's not just weak students trying to wheedle better marks out of their profs, and those who do so aren't reaping the benefits on their transcripts.

"It certainly suggests that these attitudes and behaviours aren't producing the desired effect," she says. "It's just making teachers crazy."

Ms. Greenberg was surprised that parenting appears to have little influence in shaping self-entitled students, with one key exception: students who say their parents often compare their achievements to siblings, cousins or friends are more likely to engage in these behaviours.

What interests me the most about the emphasized areas is how closely they relate to my ideas about some of the behavioral theory behind best practices in grading. If you're an oldtimer here, then I'm about to get into grandma territory---where you've heard the same story so many times you could tell it better yourself. But for you whippersnapper readers out there, the predominant theory about motivation in educational settings is Achievement Goal Theory. From an earlier post:

Without boring you to tears, the basic idea here is that students will pursue one of two goals within the classroom: mastery which values learning for the sake of learning or performance which values learning for the sake of external indicators. These students associate success with how their performance appears to outsiders, doing better than other kids, and achieving success with as little effort as possible. Performance goals lead to a greater amount of cheating, less cooperative learning, and students who pick the easiest tasks available (or are the first to give up when faced with difficult tasks). On the other hand, mastery goals have been linked with the development of new skills, an increased confidence in abilities, the preference for challenging work (and greater persistence in the face of difficulty), and a stronger sense of school belonging. Teachers have an enormous influence on the goal structure of a classroom. Even if kids walk in the door with a performance orientation, teachers can cause them to become focused on mastery goals.

When I read this article about entitled students, I see Performance indicators everywhere. These are students who have been conditioned to believe that the grade is the be all and end all for learning...and they will do whatever they have to for it. One might think that means that they're learning and engaging in significant study along the way---but that is not typically the case. Think about the responses to the survey...the sheer number of students who believe they deserve a B for showing up most of the time or trying hard.

What do we do about these sorts of values, assuming we don't like them? Personally, I think that schools need to take a long hard look at the messages they send students and parents. Are we talking about grades...or are we talking about learning? Do we set up policies and practices that serve to entrain the higher priority on concept mastery...or are seat time and smiles enough? I believe that we can get students and parents to focus their attention on learning if we set those examples. When I read pieces in the New York Times commenting on America's need to reboot, I feel like there is a connection to schools---our entitled society is not only a product of them, it models and encourages their development in our youngsters. Hedgetoad points out that

We aren't inspiring people who want to create. We're producing people who want to be famous and rich. A generation of would-be lottery winners. Not for creating something, but just for being something. I've had several would be famous hip-hop artists in my classes, but none of them want to put any work in actually writing anything. I remember one former student who swore he would be a writer as a job, but couldn't write a complete sentence. And nearly punched the luckless teacher who attempted to point this out. I could go on and on with the stories of student who expected that whatever they wanted would eventually fall into their laps with no effort on their part. Even so-called 'fun' assignments show little effort and generally end up as not much more than coloring pages glued to a poster board.

In reading the blogs of others, I can see educators fighting the same apathy and I can see people finding moments of brilliance. What kind of shift do I need to start to get more moments of brilliance and less apathy? How can my students be inspired to want to learn?
It takes all of us. It means that we as a society have to reflect on both the hidden and overt messages we are giving kids. And it means that we have to change those. We can't say that we value intelligent and creative people---and then set up the rules for school in ways that don't support this. We can't shake our heads and say "Kids these days." as if they are all in some sort of phase that they can grow out of. We created the playing field and we have the responsibility for making things better---not necessarily easier. I hope that we make efforts to do so.

27 December 2008

Negotiations and Navigations

Being in the classroom comes with a variety of blessings and curses. On one hand, you are shielded from most of the politics and intrigue that happen at the school, district, and/or state level in education. Ignorance in many of these particular instances can indeed be blissful. You also have the luxury of just shutting the classroom door and doing your very best for the students sitting in front of you. You are the most influential factor and have the most direct power for what happens in the classroom. But, on the other hand, the fact that you are left out of the conversations means that you often have very little say in many of the policies and practices which shape most of the other aspects of classroom life. These include everything from how much prep time you get, to the number of students in a class, to the money spent on supplies. In that sense, it feels like everyone but you has a say in how you do your job.

What I am seeing from my current vantage point is that we all need to be better negotiators. By "we," I mean anyone who is sticking their fingers into the education pie: legislators, teachers, policy people, budget-makers, etc.

For example, there has been a lot of talk about "opportunity to learn" in several meetings I've recently attended. The idea here is that unless students get to engage in science lessons, they won't learn science (and scores on tests won't improve). So the answer is just to do something to mandate/encourage more time on science, especially in the k-8 levels, right? I'm not so sure. I do think that more practice with scientific skills and content may very well result in better student performance---but just telling teachers to teach more isn't a magic bullet. If we do this, then we also need to make an offer. In other words, what will we take off of their plates? Are we willing to work with schools to identify how to make more pockets of time for science in their schedules? Are we willing to say "teach reading and math less"? Are we willing to provide more prep time---or pay for a longer school day? What support will we provide so that teachers can be successful with the "do more science" thing? Where is the spoonful of sugar that will make the medicine go down?

I don't mean to trivialize things---but I do think that we need to be mindful that when we ask for something, it should come with an offer of benefit as part of the negotiation. Imagine how much differently NCLB would have played out by now if the feds had taken that tact.

If you're not reading Organized Chaos, you should. It's written by one of the best edubloggers out there, in my opinion. She's passionate, committed, and as adverse to capitalization as e.e. cummings. Her school was recently targeted for some changes, all in the name of district budget cuts. I could understand all of the amazing reasons she and others don't want these changes to take place---the reasons are entirely student-centered. The unfortunate thing is that such reasons aren't enough anymore. They should be. What's best for kids should be the very bottom line of every decision made in schools, in my opinion. The reality is that budgets must be balanced---schools aren't allowed to operate like the federal government. I suggested to her that her school will have to negotiate. To just offer the "right" reasons not to cut won't solve the problem for the money people. They have an ugly job to do. Instead, offer them alternatives: "If you don't cut x at our school, we could do without y." Help them achieve their goal---which in its own weird way, will get you to yours, too.

I realize that union leaders might negotiate for benefits and working conditions, but that's not where most teachers need help these days. Teachers need to be able to navigate the other systems which impact the classroom---those factors which often make them feel impotent, overwhelmed, and uncared for. It means that we all need to be respectful and aware of our power to negotiate---to give, as well as expect a return.

26 December 2008

A Brave New World

In a standards-based educational system, do grade levels really matter? A school district in Colorado has decided the answer is "No." and beginning next year, there will be no more traditional k-12 system.

A school district in Westminster struggling with declining enrollment and falling test scores will try something revolutionary next year that many say never has been accomplished in the Lower 48.

Adams 50 will eliminate grade levels and instead group students based on what they know, allowing them to advance to the next level after they have proved proficiency.

"If they can pull this off, it will be a lighthouse for America's challenged school districts," said Richard DeLorenzo, the consultant who implemented a standards-based model in Alaska and is working with Adams 50. "It will change the face of American education."

A district of 10,000 students and 21 schools, Adams 50 serves a working-class suburb north of Denver. Seventy-two percent of its students are poor enough for federal meal benefits, two-thirds are Latino, and 38 percent still are learning English.

Two years ago the district was put on academic watch because of achievement troubles; fewer than 60 percent of students graduate on time.

"What we are doing right now is not working," said Superintendent Roberta Selleck, who was hired in 2006 to reform the district. "We think this will be huge."

The new system will have 10 levels instead of the traditional kindergarten through 12th grade model.

Students will be tested this spring to determine their proficiency in reading, writing and math, and will be grouped next year with peers who are learning at the same level.

Next school year, the system starts with students now classified as kindergartners through eighth-graders and will expand into high school one year at a time.

"In a standards-based system, time becomes the variable and learning is the constant," Selleck said. "When a kid can demonstrate proficiency of a standard, they move on. There is nothing magical about a quarter, semester or the end of school. That becomes blurred. Learning becomes much more 24-7."

There's much more to read in the whole article from the Denver Post. I have to admit, I'm rather fascinated with the whole idea. It looks like standards-based grading practices will be used and mastery will be the goal. It's a bit buried in the piece, but Robert Marzano is consulting on this project---and a district could do worse than having him guide things along.

Still, if I may say so, this is one ballsy school district.

I would very much be interested to learn what the district will do with "outlier" students. I'm assuming that just because a 15-year old student is working at a 3rd grade level doesn't mean you put them with 9-year olds---you find the other 15-year olds who are far below their peers and group them that way. What happens to electives? Transcripts for college? Do kids only get the one test a year to determine placement---or is there some way teachers can have kids collect evidence of learning for a broader method of determining level? Would an ELL kid get to "skip" some levels once their language skills allow them to demonstrate the subject matter proficiency they may have had all along? What supports are in place for teachers? Parents?

While I doubt that this sort of model will become the norm in coming years, if it is successful, I wouldn't be surprised to see it adopted by others. I hope we learn a lot along the way.

25 December 2008

Happy Holidays!

I hope that all of you are enjoying the holiday season---whatever that may mean for you in terms of creed or style of celebration. We are still snowy here, but things appear to be melting a bit. I've been able to get out of the house twice in the last 8 days...I'm actually looking forward to being able to go back to work on Monday. How sick is that?

I did get some wonderful gifts this year. I must have been a very good girl. Blogger, however, is getting coal in its stocking from me---having borked their ftp publishing the last several days. By sheer luck, I'm able to post again. Many out there cannot.

If, like me, you're starting to get a bit stir crazy and are ready to call it a Christmas, might I suggest the following links for a bit of comic relief?
  • The Saturday Bulletin has had quite the Christmas series going (see example at the beginning of the post---it's not PC, but I still giggle every time). Some are naughty, others shed light on Santa's recruiting methods, and one is brave enough to put into words what we were all thinking about string pulltoys. Guaranteed classy, indeed.
  • I also recommend The Weepies. Be sure to shake the snow globe.
  • If you have too much snow (and who doesn't these days?), take a look at these very cool snow prints. I may have to try something like this next time we get a snowfall. Like later today. Or perhaps show your pets this video of a dog joyfully playing in 4.5' of snow to encourage similar participation.
I am going to spend the rest of the day putting away paraphernalia, snacking, and cleaning house. Tonight, I'm snuggling down with the Bogeyfest on TCM and some pinot noir.

Best wishes to all of you for safe travels, happy families, and turkey/ham leftovers. Eat sugar cookies until you can eat no more. Get your Guitar Hero on. Take naps and watch wee ones play with toys. 2009 will be here soon enough.

23 December 2008

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I get e-mail from teachers looking for support with grading. The fact is, I'm getting more and more of it, both through the blog address and at work. I won't say that all of the questions and needs are the same, but I will say that the common factor is that nearly every teacher who makes time to write feels like they are an island in the sea of grading.

I hear you.

No, really. This morning, I purchased a new domain specifically for grading and am putting together a Ning as a point of connection for you. It's time you all had some way to find and connect with one another. You have a lot to share and would benefit from being able to find each other. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to discover just how many other islands there are. Trust me, it's not just you floating along out there.

So, stay tuned. Keep those e-mails coming, so I know where to send the invitations to help get the party started.

22 December 2008

Enough is Enough

I was told yesterday afternoon that someone who made the trip from here to where I work needed 5.5 hours to get there. Considering the added overnight accumulation of snow...opportunity for ice to form...and lack of plowing since yesterday, I'm going to stay put today. Yes, again. If I thought it would do any good, I would shake my tiny fist at the sky and say "Uncle!"

One of my major projects today is to work on some staff development materials for a group I'm working with in early January. Part of the focus that afternoon is to shape some ideas around "How much evidence is enough to convict a student of learning?"

I'm not thinking that there is one answer to this question, but I am still interested in how we make that decision. Even if you're not into using best practices in grading, a teacher is still making a determination about how many quizzes to give...activities to use...tests...and so forth for a particular unit of learning. What sort of "rules" do you apply when planning to assure/fool yourself into thinking you will be able to collect sufficient evidence?

This leads into a follow-up question about "How many students at mastery are enough so that you can move on to the next unit of learning?" In a perfect world, the answer is "all of them." In the real world of the classroom, we have some sort of cutoff point in mind. Is 80% enough (as RtI would suggest) and then we remediate the rest? Is a lower percentage acceptable? I don't know that many secondary teachers have thought about this particular question. For whatever reason, we are conditioned to finishing a unit and then, Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead!, even if most of the class can't meet the standards. We are more slaves to our ideas of pacing than student learning. So, in the era of No Child Left Behind---let's get real for a minute---how many is acceptable to leave behind (and hope to pick up later)?

Personally, I enjoy pondering these sorts of open questions; however, most teachers do not the luxury of time and headspace to do so. Therefore, many of the teachers I will see in early January will want some framework for the answers to these questions. I will have to think some more about any guidance I can provide, but perhaps you have some ideas of your own to share?

21 December 2008

It Just Keeps Going and Going

The picture on the left shows the scene on the mat by my front door this morning. Can you tell I left a bit of food out last night?

We had about 5 inches of new snow overnight, and it has continued to snow all day today (so far). This has really been the energizer bunny of storms. I notice that the Hedgetoad, who lives west of here, is also having her own weather saga. The governor is asking people to stay off the roads today---what that means for tomorrow remains to be seen. However, at least one of us who is snowbound here appears to be wondering if I will ever go back to the office.

I do have several exciting projects to work on. No, really. I'm supporting a few islands of teachers who are trying to implement best practices in grading---and I have some presentations coming up and some data manipulations I want to share. I am sure to steal some of Bill Ferriter's pivot table ideas to add to my bag of tricks. I am cogitating on ways to help these various islands of practice connect. They are sprinkled all over the state and are lonely in their own ways. Perhaps a Ning for them? I'm also working on my book proposal. I finished up my outline and have chunked out the introductory chapter. If I can finish that piece and write another sample chapter, I will be ready to test the publishing waters to see if I can snake a deal for the rest of the book. And there is always dissertation drama. I also have new things to think about as my job responsibilities start to lean more toward the area of assessment. Frankly, I'd rather work from home (and am more productive without the myriad of distractions offered by the agency) than make the long trek to the office. If the weather continues like this, I may just get my wish for Monday and Tuesday.

19 December 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different

Houseboundiness continues here. Every school district in the four counties I traverse to/from work is closed, so my laptop, sofa, and I will soldier on with various tasks. Up to another foot of snow is due on Sunday. It appears that I may not be able to leave the house until spring thaw. Since I'm out of links to share (and cabin fever is starting to set in), I thought I'd share my Top 5 holiday movies. To be fair, most of these are just movies set during December/January---not necessarily a lot to do with Christmas itself...but they are the ones that I like to watch this time of year.

Number Five: Holiday

This is probably the least well-known of the Cary Grant-Katharine Hepburn pairings. Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story deservedly get more attention, but this is still a little jewel of a film. For once, Hepburn doesn't play strong---she's a bit demure and stubborn in a quiet way. Perhaps even passive aggressive. She tries to resist adoring her sister's fiance (Grant) who has being introduced to the family over the holidays, but we can all see that Grant's and Hepburn's characters belong together. Eventually, they do, too.

Number Four:
The Man Who Came to Dinner

Monty Woolley chews up the scenery as Sheridan Whiteside, the man who not only comes to dinner, but won't go away. His larger than life world takes over the home he invades and those he interacts with. Hart and Kaufman's script is full of pre-WWII pop culture references and zingers that truly bite and leave a mark. Bette Davis plays one of her most understated roles while Ann Sheridan (the Oomph Girl herself) vamps it up.

Number Three: The Year Without a Santa Claus

It might not be Rankin-Bass's Magnum Opus, but it has the most cherished place in my grinchlike heart nonetheless. And, for the record, I'm a total Snow Miser groupie (even considering present circumstances).

Number Two: Christmas in Connecticut

I am not a big fan of Barbara Stanwyck, but there's just something about this film that sparkles. It's slapstick without being over the top...character development is strong...and the plot tiptoes along the line to being absurd without completely crossing over. Pure Hollywood. Like other films on this list, it's not so much about Christmas as it is a romcom set in the holiday season. Go watch. Giggle as Babs tries to flip a pancake for the first time, is clueless about changing a diaper, and falls for Dennis Morgan. I dare you to resist the urge to pinch S.Z. Sakall's cheeks through your tv screen. Reginald Gardner (who also starred in #4) makes an appearance as the man we all know Barb shouldn't marry, but who turns out to be a nice guy anyway.

Number One (with a bullet): A Christmas Story

What other choice could there be? Ralphie's passion for an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, the ubiquitous Bumpus hounds, Scut Farkus, the pink bunny suit, leg lamp, triple-dog dares, Lifebuoy soap, and all the rest provide much needed perspective and comic relief to the season.

Let's hope that tomorrow brings a break to the ugly weather...or who knows what I'll be posting here. :)

18 December 2008

Snow Day Two: Electric Boogaloo

I'm housebound again. Good thing I brought home plenty of work to do. My job responsibilities are undergoing a significant change when the new year begins, so I'm trying to finish up various projects now. I also have a few personal projects in the mix...and, of course, I have other things I'm chewing on. So, here are some things I won't be thinking about while working today---but perhaps you'd like to take some time with:
  • An article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about how some high schools are starting to drop the practice of determining class rank. As you might imagine, this is a load off of the minds of some kids and parents---but not so much for college admissions. If lack of a stated class rank hurts a student's chances of getting into college, then I don't think we should hurt the kid. But I also have to say that if college admissions hasn't figured out how to select students after 100 years of practice, then maybe they need to take a long hard look at themselves instead of depending on a number.
  • Or, perhaps you might be interested in thinking about other ideas related to evaluating students? As Hugh noted, some Canadian schools are dropping grades as measures of student achievement. (How do you like them apples, college admissions officers?) Hugh probes things a bit further in Do We Really Need Grades?
  • On the other hand, there is the Gates Foundation, who is looking at supporting a Cash for Grades program. I think the Gates Foundation has made some significant humanitarian efforts, but I am not convinced that they have ever made the right choices with any of their initiatives. (Small schools fiasco, anyone?) They are now looking to pour tens of millions of dollars into various educational efforts in several states. If cash for grades is any indication, they are off to a poor start.
  • There has been a lot of rumbling and grumbling in the edusphere about this recent report on students lying, cheating, and stealing (and liking themselves). Most of the educators I've seen posting about this seem unfazed and have something to say about the decline of western civilization. The part that I find interesting however, is that we are not asking why kids don't perceive these activities as being wrong. I'm particularly interested in the "cheating" part---because I think that in the digital environment kids are growing up with is greatly changing what "cheating" means. In an age where you have all sorts of tools available to mash up text, video, and audio, where does cheating start and creativity end? And is this the same as in the past? This is more or less a continuation of the conversation started with Cyberspace and Meatspace, only we have some numbers now to attach to things.
There you have it. The list of things I'm not thinking about while working today. You believe that, right?

17 December 2008

Kinda Sorta Snow Day

I'm going to be working from home today, due to snowy conditions elsewhere. When one has a 70-mile commute, even if one's home has no new snow and area roads are fine, knowing that wintry conditions exist for the majority of the drive is enough to sit out this particular dance.

I'll be working, mind you, which means that I can't distract myself with the links and sites below. As for you, however, rock on:

  • The New Examined Life in the Wall Street Journal tells the tale of those who track enormous amounts of personal data. Organized? Narcissistic? Anal-retentive? Introspective? You decide. The WSJ has even provided links to some sites that help support such habits, or you might try visiting The Quantified Self, which has "Tools for Knowing Your Own Mind and Body."
  • I've heard a lot of buzz about Malcolm Gladwell's recent article in The New Yorker: Most Likely to Succeed: How Do We Hire When We Can't Tell Who's Right for the Job? The article describes both teachers and football quarterbacks. Are there lessons here for schools? I'll have to find out later. I'm working today, remember?
  • Or maybe you want to check out Alfie Kohn's latest rant in Phi Delta Kappan? It's his view on Why Self-Discipline is Overrated: The (Troubling) Theory and Practice of Control from Within. I don't always like what Alfie has to say (and am not sure if I do this time), but I do enjoy what he brings to the table for conversation about education. Perhaps you will, too.
  • And finally, there is Tattoo Santa. Head on over to play around and ink the big red guy. You have your choice of location on the body (be careful with the rollover for the lower back, cause you'll see Santa's crack), wording, and so forth. Make something new to post on your own site, create a unique image for your Christmas cards, or just use it to frighten neighbourhood children from your lawn. Fun for the whole family, indeed.

For those of you with a day to play, enjoy prowling the internet. Feel free to pass along any links I should also be distracted by...after 5 p.m., of course. :)

15 December 2008

The Resume Gap

A colleague and I were chatting about resume-building the other day. What we noticed was that the generation made of 50+ year olds puts a premium on specialization. They appreciate that their own resumes show that they have a very finely honed skillset. The rest of us? We're interested in appearing well-rounded. We like to show that we've been successful in more than one environment, integrate different content areas, and have a broad base of knowledge to draw from. A singular focus is not for us.

For example, I have a healthy high school science background...but my Master's is in gifted ed and my doctoral work in motivation and grading. I've taught junior high and coached in elementary. I'm techie, so to speak. I have a lot of experience in designing and implementing professional learning experiences.

I'm not interested in being pigeon-holed, but older colleagues are. We have a resume gap.

Is that a function of all aging, I wonder? The more you experience, the more you hone in on what you like? Or, is it a matter of opportunity---and I've had a chance to learn from a variety of experiences which were previously unavailable? Do employers have a greater interest in one or the other? I can certainly see benefits and drawbacks for each.

What do you think? Would you rather work with a specialist or a renaissance educator?

14 December 2008

Once, Twice, Three Times a Meme-y

Miss Bioteacher tagged me for the "Seven Random Things" meme. I believe that this is the third time I've been asked to play---so apparently, I haven't developed an immunity to this particular meme. I think it must be a December thing, as it has been almost a year to the day since the last time I posted some answers. Have I discovered anything new to share in the last year? Hmmmm...
  • I recently received the final piece of paperwork regarding my elementary endorsement for the state of Washington. After nearly two decades of haunting secondary schools, I'm now qualified to warp the minds of little ones. I never anticipated I would actually be k-12 certified. It's just one of those strange turns---one of many---my career has taken.
  • I rarely watch the news on tv...or much commercial television at all. That's not to say that the tv isn't on as I do things at home, just that more often than not, you'll find the channel tuned to Turner Classic Movies or other movie channel. I don't find the way news is presented on tv to be useful anymore. Some of it is vapid in nature (or at least presented by and about vapid people)...much of it appears to be constructed to intentionally frighten viewers...and the rest is just an overloaded screen of information. When the intelligent talking head reappears, I'll go back.
  • One of my greatest pet peeves is when people display an utter lack of personal responsibility, especially by those in positions of leadership. If you screw up, say so and figure out a way that you can fix it. Don't make others continually clean up after you. Seems like this particular nerve is being rubbed raw these days.
  • As is the one stimulated by overuse of the word "team" in reference to work situations. Please, people, give it a rest.
  • My self-identified area for professional growth this year is information visualization. I keep thinking that all of the various tools out there (things, not people) have great potential for schools...I just haven't had the time or headspace to get practical with them yet.
  • I don't like slimy foods. Things like runny eggs or jams and jellies make me squick. I don't know what it is. I just can't handle the way they feel in my mouth.
  • Speaking of food, I'm allergic to strawberries. I get nasty hives every time anything with a hint of real strawberry comes close to me.
So, there you have the 2008 edition. I admit that I didn't check previous editions to see if there are any repeats. Do visit Miss Bioteacher and give her some encouragement as she progresses through her first year in the classroom!

12 December 2008

It's About Time

Dan Meyer recently posted about the various sessions he attended at a conference. In the last one, he reveals a comment about why this recent learning experience was better:

As educators, the stakes are too high and the time constraints too stringent to settle for anything less than our best efforts, even if hearing that we shouldn’t lecture from bulleted slides for an hour is painful.

Oddly enough, I had just been preaching this message to a group of staff developers. First of all, time is too precious to waste either on bad classroom lessons for kids or poor professional development for educators. As teacher leaders, we must know best practices for all of these areas and be able to walk our talk. There is no time to waste with hit-and-miss ideas about what you think will work. Know what works and do it.

In addition to Dan's observations, I found that I had starred a post from the Principal's Page about poor presentations at conventions: You Can't Just Hand a Microphone to Anybody.
It’s just that they presented the same information I have heard over and over for the last few years.

Our students are farther advanced in technology than adults. Educators should allow cell phones in schools because they are mini-computers. We should use Skype because it is free (we do and yes it is). Schools need to be proactive, not reactive to changes in technology.

I get it.

Enough already.

I need tips or strategies to implement technology and not the same old rehashed PowerPoint presentation with 187 slides (by the way… I can read, so you don’t have to pronounce every word on every single slide for me).

If I seem angry that is because I am (see: not sleeping in own bed and haven’t had a decent cookie in days not to mention the dodging of so many PowerPoint bullets).

I know we are falling behind with technology in schools, but now I am convinced we may be falling behind in presenters.

Just because someone is willing to talk into a microphone doesn’t mean we should allow them (see: President George Bush… let the emails from North Dakota Republicans commence…).

Not everyone talking into a microphone is an expert.
And there was an interesting conversation on Twitter yesterday, too, about how presenters need to be more than just spewing rah-rah ideas. Schools have real problems. We need people up there who have real solutions. I don't care what Mick Jagger thinks. Time is not on our side.

10 December 2008

This Many

Four by King of Monks CC-BY-NC
The blog is four today. Four years old, that is. "Four" those of you keeping score at home, this is post number 1259 and as of this post, there have been ~198,920 visitors.

Although the blog has had various growing pains over the years, it is still plugging along---even at its advanced age. Soon, I will have to think about enrolling it in kindergarten and saving for its college fund.

Many thanks to my Readers for making these small successes possible. I am grateful for everyone who takes time to stop by (or who subscribes via RSS)---and, as always, for those who are moved to comment. You continue to shape my growth as a professional educator and impact the work I do with students and teachers. I don't know that I would be able to reflect and improve without you.

I can't claim that I'll be around four years from now, but I will be here for the foreseeable future in some form or another. I hope you'll be along, too.

07 December 2008

It's That Time Again

The annual nominations for the Edublogger awards are out---so get your finger ready to vote for your favourite blogs in several categories. If you're so inclined, you can even put in a plug for me in the "Best Individual Blog" arena. (Many thanks to @MissBaker for the nomination!)

06 December 2008

There Is No Spoon

For those of you who might have missed them, Roger---a frequent and most thoughtful commenter here---left some excellent responses to my post about Taking False Comfort in Numbers. I have found myself thinking about them a lot this week (a 2.5 hour commute time each day provides plenty of opportunity for ponderous measures), especially these ideas:
How long learning should last depends on the purpose of the learning. The only way to decide that is to answer the fundamental question, "What is the purpose of schooling?"

There is much talk that it is to acquire knowledge ("book learning") that will be used in life. But all high school teachers know in their heart of hearts that this is largely false. By graduation, most of what was learned in the previous four years will have been forgotten. Students have a pretty good idea, too. By the time they reach high school, they have stopped asking, "when will I ever use this?" because they know they won't get a straight answer. Most have decided it doesn't matter. High school has its rules. Play by them, and play well, and you will get a good score. Don't, and you won't.

It is this sense in which high school is a game. But then so is much of life. The great economist Frank H. Knight used to argue that Homo sapiens (wise man) was a poor scientific name for humans. He much preferred Homo ludens (game playing man). Humans, he said, are constantly engaging in competitions. They have an amazing ability to understand "the rules of the game" and to abide by them. It is this, he argued, that keeps us out of a Hobbesian "war of all against all." We refrain from stealing not because there is a policeman on every corner, but because we accept the rule that we shouldn't do it (which is, to a significant extent, because we know others have accepted the rule in relation to us).
I have to say that these ideas make me a little sad. I'm not going to disagree or step on Roger's Truth for the simple reason that I don't have to walk in his shoes. I haven't had the same experiences---past, present, or future. I'm not sure that the "social contract" evolves in the way described, but that's what makes it so intriguing to think about. What I do want to say is, in my own Pollyannaish way, that I hope that (high) schools are more than just learning to play the game. It may not be the Truth we have, but it's the picture I'd like to work toward.

I was also thinking about a question that came up during my presentation in Portland a couple of weeks ago. We had been talking about not assigning grade penalties for late or missing work. One of the attendees asked "What do you say to people who claim that we're not preparing kids for college if we don't assign those penalties? Students won't be able to turn things in late in college." My answer is simply that the kids I worked with last year were 15 years old---they were not in college. As such, they made choices that were typical of 15-year olds. A lot of brain growth is happening...lots going in the pre-frontal lobes which impacts decision making. My job is not to treat them as if they were college students. My job is to help them learn to make good choices so that by the time they get to college, they'll be ready for whatever they are asked to do.

I'm also not convinced that No Late Work is true of every college course, but I didn't feel like bringing that up there. There used to be a teacher in one of the junior highs in the area that we high school teachers referred to as the "Pre-AP Nazi." This woman drove her students into the ground, in part because of all these little rules that she claimed were true of high school. For example, she told her kids that they could never use a pencil because that's what high school teachers would expect. She went on and on about this. Was it true? No. Her list of threats was extensive---all in the name of preparing students for high school as she thought it was or perhaps wanted it to be.

So, here we are---educators each with our own Truth...our own motivations and approaches to what the ultimate outcomes of our jobs will be. Whether or not I agree with or like them all isn't terribly important. I actually like the diversity of ideas and models out there. I think it serves students well to see that there is more than one way to view the world---and they can choose from there which version of reality they wish to adopt and shape.

03 December 2008

Cliquing Around

I've mentioned before that I'm not much of a kool-aid drinker. I respect and am thankful for every group that is making positive efforts on behalf of science education. I can't help but think that all of this collective action could make a difference for kids. My big but in all of this is that there are a few groups which get the lion's share of attention and voice---although they do not represent the majority of school districts. This same representation is present at every. single. planning meeting. I am really starting to chafe against this.

One person who is also new this group recently mentioned the alienation and frustration by many school districts who feel left out of the discussions. This is a dangerous observation. We cannot claim that we are interested in effecting change when just the same small clique makes all the decisions---and has been doing so for years and years. I understand the need to honor their commitment (and, in some cases, their economics and power base). I just think that continually tapping the same "expertise" is not the way to go. They've had a strong voice for several years---long enough to show some effects one way or another---and there is not much of an impact. Perhaps it is time for new minds and new alliances to be brought to the table. Perhaps people who have a direct line to the classroom need to be the ones with the greatest voice.

It's time to do some clique-busting.