31 March 2008

Pale Rider

  • $275K salary? Check
  • $2M consulting budget? Check
  • Lincoln Town Car with driver? Check
  • Bodyguard? Check

If you have these things, you too, can be the superintendent of Clayton County schools in Georgia.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Fewer qualified candidates, rising expectations, and a near-impossible job description are creating a new breed of superintendents: Call them central office rock stars. These candidates say that, for the right price, they're willing to do an unpopular job that can take a heavy personal and professional toll to whip underperforming districts into shape.

The trend is exacerbated in struggling minority districts – many in the South – the very ones feeling the greatest pinch from new federal and state accountability laws.

"This group of superstars who are acting as basically consultants and doing all the dirty work, that's becoming more common, unfortunately," says Jim Harvey, a senior fellow at the Center for Reinventing Public Education in Seattle.

Dirty work? Hey, it's not like these people are actually facing the daily rigors of the classroom.

Some aren't concerned because they see hiring such superstars as a stop-gap measure while compensation and skill requirements adjust to new expectations for school leadership.

Others say it is forcing school boards to pay high premiums for short-lived tenures – and gains. "To come in and ask for that kind of money knowing they won't last more than a year and a half, it's nothing but a big scam – almost racketeering," says John Trotter, head of the Metro Association of Classroom Educators, a for-profit Georgia teachers union.

The pipeline is drying up even as the number of US school districts, because of consolidation, has dropped from 35,000 in 1965 to 13,000 today. Some 20 percent of school districts are actively looking for a superintendent, according to the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).

That's because principals and central office staff who would typically fill the superintendent job say accountability standards and politicized school boards mean it's not worth the hassle.

Now, I would agree with that. The superintendency is much more of a political role than an educational leadership role these days. But huge salaries and perks just to be the school board's punch bag?

For school boards, the search for a competent bureaucrat has turned into a quest for a savior. "A lot of districts are looking for a person on a white horse, which is unfortunate because most people don't ride white horses," says former superintendent Paul Houston, director of the AASA in Arlington, Va. "The odds of getting the right fit has gone way down.... Competition is fierce for these people."

In 1990, a typical opening for a superintendent would bring in about 250 applications, says Richard Greene, a former superintendent leading the search in Clayton County. "Today, if you get 30 or 40 it's phenomenal," he says.

As a result, average salaries have increased from about $110,000 10 years ago to more than $200,000 a year today. Total compensation packages for larger districts are in the $325,000 range. Today, big-city superintendents stay an average of 18 months, says Dr. Greene of the search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates in Glenview, Ill. For suburban districts, average tenure hovers around three years, he says.

Superintendents often work 80-hour weeks and routinely have to juggle politics, policy, and management without generating negative headlines. With many capable bureaucrats choosing not to apply, short-term turnaround specialists are finding a niche, experts say.

In other words, if you're willing to be the most hated person in a school district---and go in like a junkyard dog for a year or so to shake things up, there's a lot of money to be had. Anyone out there willing to saddle up?

30 March 2008

Pondering Techy Things

It's spring break, which is one of the times of year when the cobwebs and dust bunnies of my mind clear enough to deal with other issues which need some tending. For example, I typically deal with my blog sidebar. It's time to sweep away inactive blogs and search out new things to add to the blogroll. It's during these reaches into the outer realms of the blogosphere that I find out how many people are actively digging into the potential of classroom 2.0.

  • Vicki Davis over at the Techlearning blog has written about The Five Phases of Flattening a Classroom. It's a great skeleton of a "how to" guide in terms of using social networking in the classroom, starting with an intranet approach while you teach students the ethics of on-line communities all the way to student managed social networks in the classroom. I find all of this very thought-provoking in terms of how I might use this with both students and teachers.
  • The readwriteweb has some links and ideas for writing a novel on-line. Some are tools which allow for collaboration, but others could be used by individuals wanting to find an audience (and/or publisher). I'd like to explore these a bit more. Again, I see the classroom and school potential...but I also wonder if there is potential here for grad school candidates working on dissertations or other teacher/author possibilities. As for myself, I'm a little ways off from putting a book together for the educational field---although I'm pretty sure what I want to write about. (Fair warning: My educationese term is going to be "congruence." You heard it here first.)
In all of this, I wonder what has to be in place for these sorts of experiences to happen. Obviously, there are hardware and bandwidth needs. I don't want to discount those, because most schools and districts receive no designated funding for technology. And with the ever updating tools we need, I don't know how to secure a stream of funding that would keep up. Secondly, just because the tools are there doesn't mean that people will use them. Teachers don't just need training---they need buy-in. What is the advantage of a "flat classroom" over one where kids can do projects that don't need anything technological? Meanwhile, kids need some basic technology literacy skills, too. While I think that even kindergartners would be engaged by putting pictures and words together on-line, they may not have the necessary keyboarding skills (mousing should be okay). How old do students need to be before they have the technological background, enough skill with reading and writing, and enough maturity for a social networking environment? What do we introduce first? It is also one thing to talk about all the "digital natives" who enter our schools these days...and quite another to realize the divide that exists between those children and children that age who haven't even seen a book before. Is a lack of technological skill going to be another factor associated with children of poverty? The mind boggles. (I smell several dissertations worth of research here, if anyone is looking for a project.)

I would be really interested in visiting classrooms where Classroom 2.0 features are in place. I've been in education long enough to know that the conditions in one school which allow programs to thrive are not necessarily transplantable...but every story has an idea or two that might be adapted. For now, I'm happy to marvel at the edublogging I see in the area of techy things for the classroom.

W00t!

I just finished my very last paper for grad school. Yes, I still have to do a dissertation. But assignments for a class? They are no more. Mind you, this current class doesn't officially end until April 20, but I have just uploaded all of my discussion posts and papers. Stick a fork in me: I'm done.

Let me eat cake. :)

29 March 2008

Vocabulary to Go

Yeah, I know. It's getting toward the final throes of the school year and the idea of "new strategies" has lost its charm. But perhaps something new will be the smelling salts your students and you need to stay focused on learning awhile longer. If not, just tuck these jewels away until next year. :)

The first one is a game I picked up at an NSTA convention several years ago. I can't remember who to credit, but if you recognize the source, let me know and I'll be happy to add in the information. Anyway, start with a list of vocabulary terms and definitions. Write them (or cut and paste them) onto index cards. On one side of the card will be a term and on the back side of the card will be the definition of the next term (not the term on the front). I know this doesn't make sense right now, but the pix below will help illustrate. It's very important to know the order ahead of time. What I do is create a table in Word with the terms on one column and the definitions in the other. After I print these, I make sure to cut out each column in the same order (e.g. top to bottom). Once the pages have been cut, I take the vocabulary term on the top of the pile and move it to the bottom. Voila!

Okay, so here is the front and back of one card:













I had about 15 cards for this particular review. Two or three students would play the game. Cards are dealt with the term face up. One card is selected for the start of play and is turned over in the middle of the playing space.


Students then search their "hands" of cards to find the matching term. When one thinks s/he has it, the card is placed on top of the first card, with the next definition showing.


Play continues in this manner...


If students have correctly matched terms and definitions, the term on bottom of the completed deck should match the definition at the top of the deck. Kids really do like this game.

Here's another, stolen from the Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin. As the teacher, you would precut the sheet into 9 cards. Then, students are asked to reassemble the puzzle. The pieces fit together to match a term with a definition or a term with an example. You can use this as a springboard activity to do some Frayer Models with students or other work which will deepen their knowledge.

Have you tried something new this year? If you're willing to share, leave your ideas in the comments.

In Case You Were Wondering

Thursday went very well. The various arenas of my life all seemed to meet up quite nicely, and I have to say I truly enjoyed the side-by-side comparison of the districts I work for.

But first, let me just say that Ryan is as thoughtful and amusing in person as he is on-line. We didn't get to have much in the way of conversation because he had laryngitis (poor man). I did way more talking than he did (again, poor man), but he did bring some really fun pictures of his near 2-year old daughter. What a cutie she is! He's going to be presenting at WERA next year, so get those meetings on your calendar now.

As for my presentation? I SO rocked it. I can't claim that it was well-attended (at least compared to the two sessions I sat in on), but I had a very enthusiastic audience. In fact, I had my own personal cheering section, composed of three people from my afternoon district (including the ass't. supe), excellent questions to discuss, and I only neglected to mention a few ideas from my notes. I have thought about using Slideshare to put a copy of my powerpoint here, but I don't know if it would make all that much sense. I'm not one of those Death by Powerpoint people. I have a brief outline present on the slides to guide discussion---as opposed to using the powerpoint as a text to read aloud to the group.

Anyhoo, as I mentioned mere sentences ago, the ass't. supe of my afternoon district was on hand, which meant that immediately following my presentation (which exceeded the standards), she went into the hallway to make some phone calls on my behalf. While my morning district took more than two months to think about my research proposal for my doctoral study before turning me down, the afternoon district only needed an hour to see what I have to say "Yes." I'm still not officially allowed to research (yet), but I just need to file the paperwork. Other phone calls which will be of help to me were also placed...but I can't talk about those right now. :)

Here are some other interesting things about the experience. My morning school district (where I have worked for 12 years) had about 15 people from various walks-of-education attending the conference. The number of people who came to support me in my session? One---who was really there out of curiosity about grading. (To be fair, I told one friend she didn't need to come to my presentation as she already knew what I would be saying.) The afternoon district (where I have worked for two months) had three people other than me attending. They all came to the presentation to support my efforts. My morning district paid no expenses for me (although they did for their other attendees). My afternoon district? They paid no expenses, either; however, they are going to have me do part of my presentation in some of their schools and will pay me for that in order to reimburse my personal costs for Thursday. When the day was done, the morning district peeps took off for their own devices. The afternooners? They invited me to join them for a frosty beverage and asked me to dinner.

I'd do a Venn for all of this, but there's really not much to compare...is there?

In total, it was a long, but very worthwhile, day. I got to shake myself out as an educational researcher. I got to know lots of fun new people. I got my project back on track. And I got to see who loves me, baby. In case you were wondering, I'm doing just fine.

28 March 2008

WASLus scientificus

The science WASL will take place in about three weeks. After Spring Break, I've set aside a few days to do some targeted review with my kids. We'll look at some released items, along with good and bad student examples, scoring guides, and ideas for checking their work. I also break down the test so they know how many questions there are, how to answer them, and how many points they need to get to pass. Although my students don't need to pass the test to get a diploma, they can use good scores for free tuition at in-state universities and various scholarship opportunities. I want them to do well. I know that most of them can do it if they make the effort to apply themselves. I've been talking to kids about not closing doors. Maybe they're not sure about going to college right now, but who knows what they might want in a couple of years? If they make some good decisions now, they'll have lots more choices later---with or without college.

I was talking to the Bad Neighbour about this. He hasn't done any labs with students this year and doesn't teach any inquiry or application associated with science. The kids just answer questions out of the book (and the school wonders why science WASL scores lag). Anyway, he said that he wasn't going to bother do any prep with students because "they" are going to change the test in a few years.

I pointed out that even if the science WASL changes or goes away in the future, our current kids have to deal with the current version. Besides, at least some of them might qualify for support for college because of their scores.

"None of my students are going to college."

At this point, I was done with the conversation. What do you say to a teacher who has already ruled out any sort of opportunities for the kids sitting in his classroom---both in terms of teaching to the standards and preparing kids for life beyond high school? I'm sure that not all of them will go to college, but I'd bet that at least a few are thinking about it. After all, he apparently managed to earn a degree. The students probably could, too, if he cared enough to give them a chance.

As teachers, we might not like the standards. We might even disagree with the testing and how the results are used. But we owe it to our kids to do the right thing by them and help them learn what we're asked to teach. I really wish that those who are just showing up to pick up a paycheck and surf the internet while kids fill out another worksheet would get out of field and make room for other teachers who care about students.

27 March 2008

Meeting in the Middle

Wish me good fortune. I'm off to WERA this morning and the various worlds I move in will be in one place at the same time for the first time ever:

  • co-workers and friends from my morning school district
  • co-workers from my afternoon school district
  • Ryan from the Edusphere
  • and me, presenting my doctoral study and some classroom info
I'm sure it will all be a bit surreal. I feel like the missing link between all of the pieces. I'm hoping that we can meet somewhere in the middle and have a great conference.

26 March 2008

It's A Shallow Pool

The new principal hire was announced today. The district had promised a nationwide search to fill the position. The school is, after all, on Newsweek's Top 500 list. I'm not sure what happened to all of the promises, but the school has ended up with one of the assistants moving into the job. I taught with this man at one time...and I've seen him in (in)action as an admin for the last few years. He's not the sharpest tool in the shed, if you know what I mean. And now, he's going to be in charge. Oy.

A friend in another school called me yesterday to ask how the hiring process would lean. Since the committee was stacked with people who just wanted the status quo, would district admin have enough vision to select someone who would be interested in the 1000 of our kids who are not enrolled in AP? Would they have the courage to select someone who has a strong interest in doing what's best for kids? Would they see all of the changes on the horizon with possible school closures and restructuring...budget cuts and program alterations...redistricting and more...and pick someone to lead the school into a new age and open possibilities for students?

Um, apparently not.

Are Teachers' Unions Bad for Schools?

Two Op-Ed pieces recently caught my eye: Teaching Change in the New York Times and Teachers' Unions Are Ruining Our Kids' Schools in the National Examiner. Both make the argument that the current practice of collective bargaining (and therefore a one-size-fits all contract for teachers) is stifling the educational process.

Most contracts are throwbacks to when nascent teacher unionism modeled itself on industrial unionism. Then, that approach made sense and resulted in better pay, working conditions and an organized voice. Yet schools are not factories. The work is not interchangeable and it takes more than one kind of school to meet all students’ needs. If teachers’ unions want to stay relevant, they must embrace more than one kind of contract. ---from Teaching Change

Teachers unions derive their money from the fact that, no matter how badly they function, public schools don't shut down. That's why they bitterly oppose any attempt to introduce competition into education.

It's why the Detroit teachers union organized a walk-out that sabotaged a $200 million private offer to fund charter schools in that troubled city. (The new schools would not have been unionized and would have competed with Detroit's decrepit public education system.)

But competition between schools isn't the only kind that teachers unions can't accept. Competition among individual teachers, with incentives for the best performers, also undermines the unions' chief selling point, collective bargaining.

If teachers are paid on their individual merits - like every other kind of professional, from accountants to dentists to engineers - why would they want to negotiate their salaries through a system that collectively lumps innovative, energetic educators together with slackers doing the bare minimum? ---from Unions are Ruining...

We tend to talk about merit pay in the form of bonuses, but what if it wasn't set up that way? What if it was simply different salary scales for different teachers to be contracted for? The "trick" in all of this (as well as in merit pay scenarios) is determining what is most valuable about classroom work as well as its monetary value. Can the threads of student achievement be untangled enough to identify exactly what each teacher contributes to the educational process of the student?

25 March 2008

Ding Dong

The *itch is gone. Well, almost.

I have no doubt that a small cheer went up in Curriculum when the news was announced...and I'm sure that there is joy in Mudville and Who-ville...and all over the district.

Boss Lady 2.0 will be starting a new job on July 1. She's off to a neighbouring district to share her special brand of poor leadership with them.

Join me in a glass of champagne? It's time for this district to get its party on.

Wee Ones

According to the Perry Preschool Study, "eight dollars was saved for every dollar invested in early learning, as the costs of remedial education, special education, abuse and neglect, health care, school drop-out rates, teen pregnancy, crime and incarceration were all significantly reduced." As I can think of no school district who isn't constantly fussing about their budgets, the investment in early childhood programs would appear to be a no-brainer (or at least a small brainer). The problem is, of course, that in a money-tight time, we are asking schools to spend money on both ends of the spectrum: invest in pre-K/K to prevent future problems and also attempt to fix the issues in older students that we were unable to address at an earlier time. If you have to toss one of these out in order to make your budget boat float, it is often the wee ones who get the boot. We'll get back to them later.

But let's say that a school district recognizes and supports the need for investing in a strong early childhood program, what qualities should they include? In "Creating the Best Pre-Kindergartens," Lawrence Schweinhart of Education Week identifies five primary (no pun intended) characteristics:
  1. Include children living in low-income families or otherwise at risk of school failure. Long-term effects have seldom been looked for and have yet to be found for children not in these circumstances, although there are arguments for serving them as well. For example, a recent study by William T. Gormley Jr. of Oklahoma’s state prekindergartens, which are open to all children, found short-term effects on participants’ school achievement that were large enough to promise long-term effects. Prekindergartens open to all children also enjoy a wider political base than a targeted program, and still include the children who are most in need.
  2. Have enough qualified teachers and provide them with ongoing support. Qualified teachers are critical to the success of any educational program, a principle now embedded in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. In early-childhood settings, being qualified is taken to mean having a teaching certificate based on a bachelor’s degree in education, child development, or a related field. Because research is constantly informing us about how young children learn and can best be taught, it is also important that early-childhood teachers receive curriculum-based supervision and continuing professional development. Systematic in-service training, in which teachers learn research-based, practical classroom strategies, also helps ensure that young children are having the educational experiences that contribute most to their development. So that pupils receive sufficient individual attention, highly effective prekindergarten classes have two qualified adults—a teacher and an assistant teacher—for every 16 to 20 4-year-olds. Although having qualified teachers, a low child-to-teacher ratio, and ongoing professional development may cost more, cutting back on these components would threaten program effectiveness as well as the return on investment.
  3. Use a validated, interactive child-development curriculum. Such a curriculum enables children as well as teachers to have a hand in designing their own learning activities. It focuses not just on reading and mathematics, but on all aspects of children’s development—cognitive, language, social, emotional, motivational, artistic, and physical. And it has evidence of its effectiveness. Implementing such a curriculum requires serious interactive training, study, and practice, particularly for teachers who have little experience with this type of education.
  4. Have teachers spend substantial amounts of time with parents, educating them about their children’s development and how they can extend classroom learning experiences into their homes. All the programs in the long-term studies worked with parents. In fact, in the High/Scope Perry Preschool program, teachers spent half their work time engaged in such activities. As child care beyond part-day prekindergarten has become more widespread, parent-outreach efforts also need to include other caregivers, in centers and homes, who spend time daily with enrolled children.
  5. Confirm results through continuous assessment of program quality and children’s development of school readiness. Good curriculum and good assessment go hand in hand. Prekindergartens striving to be highly effective need to replicate the policies and practices of a program found to be highly effective, including the five ingredients listed here. The proof that this is being done lies in program-implementation assessment, a system for measuring how well a program carries out administrative and teaching standards. A program assessor uses standard protocols to observe classrooms and the school, and to interview teachers and others about the various aspects of program quality. The results can then be used for program improvement. Systematic observation and testing measure prekindergarten children’s development of school readiness. With an interactive child-development curriculum, systematic observation fits better than testing, because it records children’s usual behavior rather than requiring them to respond on cue in a particular time and place. Program administrators and teachers who know how children are doing on such assessments will be able to use this information to monitor the children’s progress and attune their teaching to it.
I have to say that I really like the last point. Kindergartners do not have a very long attention span---testing and/or progress monitoring these children is a ridiculous task if the test is timed. A moment of staring off into space can mean that a child is inappropriately identified as needing assistance because she didn't answer enough questions within the time allotted. Shouldn't we care more that the kid can answer them? But I digress.

What I really want us to take away from all of this is that if we really care about making social change---breaking the cycle of poverty and establishing equity---we need to do this from the very beginning. At the start of 2008, 1 in every 100 Americans was in prison: a record high. While we can't give up on any member of our society, I can't help but wonder what might have happened if we'd given each of these people a better beginning when they were wee ones.

24 March 2008

He Who Has the Gold, Makes the Rules

Where do we draw the lines in learning? Can it be determined exactly what the responsibilities of child, parent, and teacher are? And if those of us within education cannot, is it possible that the courts can?

This is what some parents are hoping. In The New Golden Rule, a reporter from Canada's National Post describes several court cases where teachers are being sued either for damage to a child's self-esteem or for failure of a student to learn. Some of the cases, if based on fact, may well show some lack of responsibility at the school level (especially those involving bullying and harassment). What about these kinds of claims?

The teacher hindered the student's learning by...
  • failing to make the child record his first journal entry until two months into the school year.
  • failing to make the child complete a handwriting workbook for the first three months of the school year.
  • failing to provide more challenging work in spelling, reading and comprehension.
  • failing to make the child finish a one-page poem and subsequently displaying the unfinished poem in the school hallway.
  • failing to send a daily homework list home with the student for three weeks, thereby knowingly setting up the son for failure.
Do these kinds of things become a slippery slope type of argument? Is each party in this always responsible for the same amount of effort toward student learning?

23 March 2008

Last Call for Nostalgia

I'm sure that there must be some of you readers who remember one or more science related products Ma Bell used to have available for the classroom. Whether it was a film like Hemo the Magnificent or a kit exploring sound, Bell Laboratories were an integral part of American science classrooms.

Believe it or not, someone has a stash of the old kits. These kits were never distributed---they are "brand new," in a sense. They've been waiting for 40 years for you to want them.


The bad news is that the distributor is going out of business. Now is your last chance to own a bit of science education history---and perhaps use these tools to inspire a new generation of scientists. If you're interested in learning more about the kits, pricing, and ordering, visit the Bell System Memorial page.

22 March 2008

Of Ring Rust and Good Instincts

This week, I organized and presented my first staff meeting in nearly a year. While classroom teaching is its own form of presenting, I had to shake off a bit of ring rust where working with adults is concerned. This is still very much a new-to-me staff and we are learning how to play well together. I did the kinds of things I would normally do---made sure that treats were available, set out some supplies (highlighters, sticky notes, pencils...) within reach at every table, and constructed a short powerpoint using a pretty template. There was some music playing as people wandered in. We had some opportunities to vent about some things and laugh about others. I don't know that I hit a home run, but I think we all learned a lot about working together along the way.

I learned that I planned one too many activities, but at least I know where the line is now. I learned which person on the staff is the barometer---when that person starts to show stress, it's time to pull back and wrap things up. I now know who The Paper Grader is and have identified those who are going to hang in there with things every step of the way. I know where people expect to sit. Those are all good things for me in my presenter/facilitator role to keep in mind. But I also learned more about what a dedicated group of teachers they are. This is not a group to make excuses about why kids might not be learning---this is a group who looks for solutions.

In the meantime, I'm pleased to be finding out that I have very good instincts for this coaching gig. There's a lot that I don't know---it is, after all, an elementary school and I have been in secondary for my whole career. It's a different district with its own unique demographics and approach to supporting student learning. But the issues which are getting tossed my way seem to have simple solutions---which I find later to have been the right choices to make. This includes everything from how to work with kindergartners on their abilities to distinguish which quantity is larger/smaller to helping second graders recognize when it's okay to play with the math manipulatives and when it is time for math business to developing some talking points so one teacher has the confidence to work with another on testing decisions. I am sure to make some wrong choices here and there, but overall, I'm not as afraid that I'm going to be a total screw-up.

There is a lot of fun to be had along the way, too. I got to watch a gym full of second graders do The Chicken Dance this week. I saw some first graders get their very first Easter baskets. I laughed with my principal and met many of our families at this week's Math Night festivities. I helped a kindergartner tie his shoe while he excitedly told me all about his new Spiderman shirt. I think once my staff development ring rust is finally gone and my instincts for elementary honed more finely, there will be even more joy to find in the job.

21 March 2008

Get the Ax

I'll bet every building has one: a Tree Killer of a Teacher. You know the one I'm talking about...the one who believes his or her teaching is the most awesome ever, because s/he has the stack of handouts to prove it?

The handouts are amazing, mind you. (We have a teacher who typically runs 90 copies of 40+ page packets.) Tree Killer Teachers spend hours upon hours crafting them. They draw upon their vast quantity of content knowledge and distill it.

In short, they don't see learning as the responsibility of the student. The teacher has taken it upon himself to learn everything for the kids. He has thought about and summarized it so that the kids don't have to do any thinking about things.

Am I wrong in thinking that this is somewhat back asswards? Teaching requires a lot of reverse engineering---the ability to reflect on what you know and how you learned it---then develop that same ability within your students. Kids have textbooks. They don't need your reams of packets in addition to that with your interpretation of the material. They need your help to create their own understanding of the curriculum.

I don't know if I feel more sorry for the Tree Killer or the students. While I admire the intellectual curiosity of the Killer, I can't imagine the utter boredom of going through page after page of packets, day in and day out. All the variety of instructional strategies out there, the great diversity of learners and students to reach, and you just use one dull tool. Ditto for the poor students who are stuck in the classroom version of Groundhog Day...and the poor kids who wanted to learn the subject matter, but whose needs weren't being met. Goodness knows that there aren't very many tree-huggers where this variety is concerned.

19 March 2008

Spring: When a School's Thoughts Turn to Fall

As I write this, I can hear the first frog of spring croaking outside the window. He has apparently awakened from his long winter's nap and is looking for a little action. The songbirds have returned, the bulb plants are blooming. Renewal is the theme of the moment. Spring has sprung.

In the schools, there is a different sense of purpose. It is time to think about next year. No, the current year isn't over yet. (We're somewhere around 70% complete.) Budgets, hiring, and "I wish we would have..."'s from this year need to be contemplated before schools go into their summer estivation mode. It is as if we reach a point in the current year where it is too late to make any significant changes in course, so we just have to plan to do things better the next time around.

Working for two districts---and in two different roles and school types---has given me a different look at these processes. In one district, it's every teacher/program for itself. The goal is to be as cutthroat as possible in order to preserve yourself. It's not very pretty and while I don't think that anyone feels good about it, I haven't seen any leadership to make things change. The other district is more interested in instruction. There are budget issues there, too, but it is not the only thing that is talked about. The discussion begins with "What's good for kids?" and then goes from there. That makes a lot more sense to me.

I have always liked the "do over" aspect in education. I like knowing that there is another chance just a few months away...that someone else will take your kids and move them to the next level while you work your own magic with a new batch. We get to try, try again.

To celebrate spring, why don't you head over to this week's Carnival of Education at So You Want to Teach? You might also visit the Students 2.0 blog. Here is the description: We are students: the ones who come to school every day, raise our hands with safe questions, and keep our heads down. Except, now we have a voice—a strong voice—to share our ideas through a global network. What an awesome and powerful thing to have a group of students join the dialog, adding in their classroom perspectives. Go have a look!

18 March 2008

Coaching in the Classroom

Instructional coaching is a bit of a murky business. The overall goal, of course, is to improve student achievement by supporting the implementation of best practices. But there is no magic formula or step-by-step guide out there. As a newcomer to building, grade levels, and district, I am trying to be very humble and respectful in my approach. All of the wonderful things which happen there (as well as the not-so-wonderful stuff) is a product of the culture they've created over the years. I may be there to add my own flavour to the mix, but I have to work from the inside. So, I'm spending a lot of time just observing. How do kids work together? What are the building norms? Who plays which role in the "family" of staff? I'm in "seek to understand" mode---not judgment mode.

I've recently been combining two ideas I've picked up elsewhere and using them to test the waters in classrooms. I have some index cards with me when I visit classrooms. I wish I could find the post on Leader Talk which mentioned this, but I've been unsuccessful. Whoever wrote the post designed and printed cards which had specific targets s/he was looking for. It was their way of collecting data for evaluations. I'm not in an evaluative role and for now, the cards I'm using are blank. Anyway, toward the end of my visit, I write a note to the teacher on one of the cards. This is where Part II of things comes in, as I structure my feedback in the same way I do with students. I try to give very specific and positive comments about the instruction first. Then, I pose a question. (I never point out the big but in the classroom.) What would you think about trying...? Have you ever thought about...? I wonder what would happen if...? or something else along those lines. My goal is simply to cause some thinking and reflection---something we teachers rarely have time or energy for. But perhaps a single question isn't too overwhelming.

Is this the right thing? I honestly don't know. I just think it's a simple way to start. Have I seen anyone actually make use of my suggestions via questions on those cards? Yes, I have. I feel like that's a good thing. It means that the questions I pose aren't too big or threatening and that they fit within the culture of the school. Meaningful change doesn't have to be overwhelming. Will it make a difference? That remains to be seen. For now, it's just one way to make coaching happen in the classroom.

17 March 2008

Grilled Cheese and Natural Wonders

Original Artist Unknown


Overview of Carlsbad Cavern Highway by daveynin CC-BY
If you've ever been to Carlsbad Caverns, then you know that they are not located next to the town of White's City---which is even closer.) I mention this because when I taught in Carlsbad, I had students who were born and raised there and who had never visited the caverns. I'm not so sure that those kids had ever left the city limits, for that matter. I never quite wrapped my mind around the whole thing. How could a parent know that something like the caverns was less than 30 minutes away and not once in 16 years be bothered to drive their child there? I admit that it isn't one of the prettiest drives you'll ever take, but that isn't the point is it? It's what's inside that counts.
Carlsbad itself. (In fact, there's another "town"---
Hall of Giants by SamuraicatJB CC-BY-NC-ND


Anyway, one of the things we did at the school was take a few kids up to the caverns on job shadow opportunities with the rangers who worked there. We always gave priority to the kids who had never been to the caverns---especially the lifelong residents of the eponymous city. We'd drive two vanloads of kids up there early in the morning and then while they got to play junior ranger, we teachers had the run of the place. There were times when this was a great opportunity to catch up on grading and planning. Keep in mind that these were the olden days of classroom teaching---before computers simplified a lot of things. You young whippersnapper teachers today don't know what it's like to take your mimeograph stencils to write on so you can make those smelly purple copies the next day.

Carlsbad Caverns: Lunch Room by sdscott
You had three choices for lunch on those days. Choice A was to brown bag it. The second choice was the underground lunchroom. It's ~750 feet below the surface and quite the novelty. In addition to the box lunches packed in wax paper to stave off the ubiquitous dampness, there are all manner of tchotchkes available for purchase. It is a sight to behold should you ever get the chance. Option C is the ground level diner. I always chose "C." It had tables and afforded a chance to sit next to a sunny window (while the air conditioning kept you comfy). It made grading a lot more pleasant and was a visible spot for kids to find me as they moved through their day. The food was standard griddle fare---simply prepared and presented by tourist-weary waitresses. For lunch, I always had a grilled cheese sandwich, stale potato chips, a couple of pickle chips for garnish, and a watered down coke. I know how unappealing that may sound, but on those days, it tasted like a little bit of heaven.

So, on a day like yesterday when there was sunlight streaming in through my windows and I had plenty of work to keep me company, I felt like eating a grilled cheese sandwich again. As I sat by the window with my high-falutin' laptop and internet connection, I couldn't help but think of all those kids we took to the caverns and naturally wonder where they are now.

16 March 2008

A-maze-ing


When I saw this cartoon by Mike Bannon, I felt like it summed up my current progress on my doctoral study. I was told last week that principals in three of the four buildings I want to survey find it too much of a burden to be aware of my project. Yes, you read that right. To even know that somewhere in the world, some research is going on is too overwhelming for them. One wonders how they even manage to function appropriately. Let's hope that they have coping mechanisms in place so that they never see a newspaper headline, new titles of books, the 11 o'clock news, or other sources which might place such great weight on their awareness level. I shudder to think what might happen if they were ever to see a calendar. They only work in schools. What possible good could come from new learning for them?

All sarcasm aside, I do know these people and I find what I've been told to be incongruent with my own experiences with them. They're actually reasonable and genuinely nice human beings. A couple are actually very good leaders. Whatever their message is or was, I'm not convinced it was appropriately translated by the Powers That Be. Or perhaps the PTB garbled mine. Somehow, that seems much more likely.

Let's recap, shall we? I had originally planned to survey the motivational levels 5th and 6th graders at four schools, each in different stages of implementing standards-based grading and reporting practices. I would make all copies of the survey. I would go to classrooms and administer the survey (no more than 30 minutes per class) on my own time. I would analyze all data. We have no costs to anyone, other than some instructional time. And we benefit by learning whether or not what we're doing in our schools is meaningful to the people we do it to: kids.

Someone in the district was quick to point out that I haven't officially been told "No." yet, but it seems pretty evident. I should have been collecting data around this time. The supe has had two months to make a decision. Doesn't sound like this is going to happen. Meanwhile, I'm losing time, tuition money, and the only data I'm gathering relates to how the supe isn't following school board policy regarding how research is conducted within the school district. As I'm allowed to appeal this to the school board (according to their policy), all of this may well become part of the public record---even if the outcome remains unchanged.

In the meantime, I'm refocusing things a bit and looking at Plan B. The other school district I work for is much more research friendly---or so I've heard. They, too, have implemented standards-based grading practices, but have done so very differently. Their demographics are also different. So, I may look at still doing something cross-sectional, but across grade levels as opposed to schools. I have struggled a bit with what to compare within the data, but think that I will be looking to see if the decreases in motivation (which are predicted through my literature review) are not statistically significant in light of the mastery approaches used in classrooms. I still have another day to ponder this before I make my pitch to district number two.

I have a five weeks left in my current (and last!) grad class. I just want to gather some data so that I can finish my dissertation and degree. It's time to get out of the maze.

15 March 2008

We Got Told

Yesterday was an inservice day in one of my school districts and the principal had decided to bring in Jamie McKenzie to talk about...something. I'll get to that in a moment. His skills with presenting and facilitation were pretty good. He keeps a very quick pace going---no time to be daydreaming or off task. And he did well with letting a large group have short table discussions and then getting everyone refocused. If you've ever had to do this with adults, you know it isn't simple.

He also did the thing at the beginning where you suck up to your audience. You compliment them on their acumen in bringing you there, how it's so nice (and rare) to be in a school where blah-blah-blah. And then, things went a bit wrong. You see, one of the first things he talked about---and dissed---were blogs. He belittled them because they're not associated with any kind of critical thinking. (This from a man whose own on-line profile brags that he maintains 3 on-line "journals" and who claims to be into educational technology.) I can agree that there are posts or even whole blogs which are mind-numbing. But to issue a blanket statement would appear to show the lack of critical thinking you're railing against. Wake up, man.

Anyway, I did have a good laugh about how uncooperative our technology was for him---not that I didn't feel bad that he couldn't present things the way that he wanted to. It's just that when he Googles the word "China" in our district and gets less than 100 million pages listed...and says that when he's been in communist China gets over 1 billion, well, that tells you something about the filter we have. (However, just because you get all of those hits in China doesn't mean the pages themselves aren't blocked.) Meanwhile, since anything streaming and most java is also blocked by the filter, he couldn't even show the teachers some of the cool on-line tools, like the Visual Thesaurus (which was blogged about in this space a couple of weeks ago, thank you very much). Even though he had sent the list of sites to our Mordacs a few weeks ago, they weren't particularly cooperative. I had warned the principal about this earlier in the week and advised him to look through the discipline files for the school's very best hacker and pay the kid to be on call for yesterday. :)

Keep in mind that this district has to follow the same laws as the one I work for in the afternoon. Their technology (and student protections) must meet all of the same requirements...however, we don't have the kinds of filters there that my morning district does. Teachers can actually download and install software on their computers---or install things from CD. The tech-head said earlier this week that it would be a nightmare if his department had to do all of those things for teachers...and that it's unnecessary. Ugh.

Back to McKenzie, I didn't get the full meal deal, as I had to go to my other job. I'm not sure what his message was. He never told us what the goal of things was or even a title for his presentation. I'm unsure if that was a function of his own random thinking patterns or just part of his approach to thinking. Either way, thinking needs a peg to hang upon. Maybe he should get a blog?

13 March 2008

It's Official: I'm a Tool

During winter break, I was chatting with someone about my role of instructional coach. The person I was talking to does not work in education and I did my best to talk about the purpose behind this role within a school---the idea that coaches work to support teachers in their classrooms. She then said, "Oh, I get it. You're a tool."

Usually when one is referred to as a "tool," it is not meant to be complimentary. I admit that I was caught off guard, but I also have to admit that she was right. I'm such a tool in my afternoon school.

For now, being a tool isn't so bad. I get to work with great teachers and an awesome admin. Eventually, however, I'd like to work myself up to "fairy godmother" status. While I certainly do what I can to promote good instruction and serve teachers, the ultimate goal (for me) is to keep their passion for the classroom alive and make all of their profession-related dreams come true.

I wonder, do tools ever get to say "Bibbity Bobbity Boo"?

Their Loss Is Your Gain

When I scored AP Biology exams, I used to be grateful for every empty test booklet that passed through my hands. Sure, it was easy to score, but more importantly, every low-scoring student was of help to my own kids. Because only ~60% of the test-takers can "pass" the test, there is a rather Darwinian feel to things. You not only compete against your own classmates to be in the top portion of the draw, you have to compete against every other student. And as prepared as I might help my students to be, I was never adverse to any help that came in the form of an uncaring student from another class. I was reminded of this when reading a New York Times story about how the projected changes in the demographics of high school graduates will make it easier for other students to get into college.

Projections show that by next year or the year after, the annual number of high school graduates in the United States will peak at about 2.9 million after a 15-year climb. The number is then expected to decline until about 2015. Most universities expect this to translate into fewer applications and less selectivity, with most students probably finding it easier to get into college. The demographic changes include sharp geographic, social and economic variations. Experts anticipate, for example, a decline in affluent high school graduates, and an increase in poor and working-class ones. In response, colleges and universities are already increasing their recruitment of students in high-growth states and expanding their financial-aid offerings to low-income students with academic potential.

Nationally, the population decline is projected to be relatively gentle, with the number of high school graduates expected to fall in the Northeast and Midwest, while continuing to increase in the South and Southwest.

The number of white high school graduates will go down nationally, and the number of African-American graduates will remain relatively steady. But the number of Hispanic and Asian-American graduates will increase sharply, according to projections by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, whose demographic estimates are highly regarded by admissions officials.

For those of us working with students who are of late junior high/early high school age, this is a great opportunity for those kids. Keep your eyes on students with potential who might have struggled to make the next step in their education---and see if you can't help them take advantage of this change in the admissions market.

12 March 2008

Getting What Is Deserved

My morning school is on the hunt for a new principal---and the staff attitude is rather disheartening. They were asked to develop a list of qualities the new admin should have. Instead of considering a vision of the future and what the school could become, the answers were entrenched in the past and present. The number one thing they want is someone who won't change anything about the school. The number two thing is a principal who stays in his/her office and doesn't venture into classrooms. I could list a few others, but they all have the same bent. Hey, they all run perfect and engaging classrooms where all students learn, right? Who needs instructional leadership?

Not a single one of their ideas has anything to do with kids.

I wish that the school district would recognize this and hire based on what's best for all students at the school. At some point, you'd think someone would put the smackdown on the narcissistic scree emitted from the place. For once, shouldn't the kids get what they deserve?

March Madness Carnival

Is grading getting you bogged down? Does Spring Break seem too far away? Why not dribble on over to this week's fine Carnival of Education over at Learn Me Good. It's madness over there, but you can sweat away your cares.

10 March 2008

Meme O' the Moment: Hope (Passion Quilt)

I've been tagged by the Repairman for the meme o' the moment: Passion Quilt.

THE RULES:

Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for kids to learn about.

Give your picture a short title.

Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt.”

Link back to this blog entry.

Include links to 5 (or more) folks in your professional learning network.

So without further ado, here is my picture:


This is Hope, by Gustav Klimt. I thought about "wonder" as the theme for my patch on the quilt, because I find that to be the underlying passion for science. But Hope is there, too, in every answer we seek and every problem we solve. More than that, Hope is what sustains us through our trials and dances with us in our tribulations. I see so many children each day who are living in poverty or dealing with other significant issues. And still others who are losing hope. We have to give them the tools to make their own dreams come true. We need them to keep that small flame of hope going.

Hope can also be playful and full of whimsy. It can dazzle us with promise. The Cigarette Girl charged us to "Start from hope. Live dangerously." It is a motto that I often use---a reminder that every day brings new opportunities and life is meant to be experienced. Whether you ascribe to Annie's schmaltzy "Tomorrow" or Scarlett O'Hara's petulant observation that "Tomorrow is another day." you can't deny that we are always afforded second chances. No one can take away your hope (although some pathetic souls will no doubt try).

Regardless of where you are in your own life, hope reminds us that there is always more. Even if the past is staring over your shoulder as it is with the woman in the painting, hope grows within. It is abundant in nature and is the precious container of our future. Put flowers in your hair and stare life in the face. Be alive with hope.

I'm not going to tag anyone in particular for this meme---but if you would like to play along, leave a note in the comments so I can see what you've added to the quilt.

Everybody's Doin' It

I think that one of the biggest classroom tug-of-wars of my career has been around cheating. Over time, I've discovered that one of the major reasons is that kids' operational definition for "cheating" differs from mine. If you ask someone what the answer for #5 is---does that count? What about copying some math homework? If you have biology fifth period and you ask someone in a first period class what was on the test---does that mean you've cheated? Those examples suit cheating for me, but I can think of countless students over the years who were not in agreement. They honestly saw nothing wrong with those kinds of behaviors. Their view of what might be constituted as crossing over ethical boundaries has been confined to the use of crib notes on tests or stealing a copy of the test prior to class. I have found over the years that it is worthwhile to have a discussion with kids at the start of the school year about what I will view as "cheating," and then go back and revisit that definition as instances start to creep into classroom life during the year. I can't say that my classroom is ever cheating-free. It's an ongoing drama.

I started thinking about this again after seeing this ABC News piece about cheating scandals in some of America's top high schools. Examples do include stealing a copy of a test from a classroom and photographing a test with a cameraphone. There are "lesser" examples as well (such as copying homework), if you believe that not all cheating is created equal. The bottom line? "An estimated two-thirds of all high school students admit to 'serious' academic cheating, according to a national survey by Rutgers' Management Education Center in New Jersey. A startling 90 percent say they cheat on homework."

I know some teachers who have completely devalued the points awarded for homework in their classrooms because of the amount of cheating. I'm not sure if this is really the right reason for using homework as formative assessment. As a teacher, one still needs to have a sense of what every student can do...not what one kid can do and the other 29 can copy. While I agree that communicating to students the value of an assignment (and ensuring that the work is meaningful) is part of a teacher's responsibility, a student shouldn't use boredom as an excuse not to do it (or to copy it).

Technology will make things simpler for preparing for assessments. (For more on this idea, check out Bora's recap of a "Facebook scandal" in which students used an on-line meeting space for a study group and were accused of cheating by their professor.) However, poorly applied classroom ethics aren't going away anytime soon. If anything, I expect that advances in technology will make it easier for students to find ways around engaging with the hard work of learning.

09 March 2008

No Mother Left Behind

Science Daily had a recap of an interesting piece of research that linked low maternal education and increased intellectual disabilities in their children (emphasis added).

By applying a public health approach, researchers at three universities have discovered a key indicator for increased risk of mental retardation in the general population. The study assessed population-level risk factors by linking birth records of 12-14-year-old children in Florida with their respective public school records, over the course of a school year.

Using the rationale that high-prevalence risk factors can have a substantial impact at the population level, even if the risk to the individual is low, the researchers found that low maternal education resulted in the highest risk of intellectual disability to offspring compared with other factors such as maternal illness, delivery complications, gestational age at birth, and even very low birth weight.

Extremely low birth weight infants (less than 2.2 lbs) were 9.1 times more likely to have a mild intellectual disability compared to normal birth weight infants (5.5 lbs), yet were only associated with 2.1% of cases in the population. Women with an education below the high school level were 8.9 times more likely to have a child with mild intellectual disability compared with women who had more than 12 years of education, but were associated with 50.9% of cases.

Significant socioeconomic effects were found across all levels of intellectual disabilities, with higher income and education dramatically attenuating risk associated with biologic factors such as low birth weight, indicating a range of opportunities for population-based prevention and early intervention services.

The study's corresponding author, Derek Chapman, explained, "This approach to the study of disabilities is critical because an exclusive focus on prevention via medical interventions ignores the tremendous impact we can have by addressing social factors for which low education is a marker. If infants born to women with a high school education or less had the same risk as those born to college-educated women, there would be a 75% reduction in mild intellectual disabilities. Although genetic and biologic factors clearly play a role, their risk can be attenuated and there is a greater potential impact by addressing social factors such as maternal stress, birth spacing, preconception care, the child-rearing environment, and access to early and comprehensive intervention for at-risk infants and children."


As I think about all of this, I wonder what role schools might play, because there are two different considerations here. One is the preventative end---what can we do as a society to raise the educational status for all (and is NCLB already aimed to do that) before children are born? Secondly, what can we do for mothers and children who are already in this situation? It looks like intensive pre-school programs might help the kids. Should schools also offer continuing education to parents? At first, I wondered whether or not this should really be the responsibility of the schools. It isn't, and yet we are held accountable for getting every child to meet the standards. If fewer of them came to us with learning disabilities, our job would be a lot easier. Perhaps the answer lies in partnering with other community services. While the school could provide a location for parenting classes or other outreach programs, another agency could do the training. How far should schools go in order to ensure that every child has the best possible opportunity to achieve?

08 March 2008

Whiplash

I had someone ask me this week how I was handling the very diverse halves of my day. By morning, I'm a high school science teacher...and in the afternoons, an instructional coach for an elementary in another district. It's a short drive between the two jobs and is the time I make a bit of a mental shift. You see, this week I spent a good chunk of my mornings talking about the evolutionary biology of sex. It makes for great conversation with the 16-year olds and helps build our understanding of the mechanisms of evolution. But I have to go from talking about why homosexuality could be adaptive and how having a child with your cousin might not have as many negative consequences as you think to chatting with a fourth grader about why they predicted that a penny would hold 3 drops of water while their partner thought it would be 10 drops. Whiplash can ensue, but I have to say that it's really not that bad. I like the diversity of the tasks and conversations. My afternoons are full of incredible learning opportunities. I come home absolutely exhausted---but smiling. How am I handling the parts of my working days? Very well, thank you.

06 March 2008

Trendy-garten

The kindergarten classes have been immersed in some science lessons and I've spent as much time as I can with them this week. I've enjoyed the conversation with the kids, but there has been one aspect I hadn't anticipated: they're distracted by the "accessories" I wear.

I usually keep a nice sharp pencil tucked behind my left ear. It's a habit I've had since my early days of teaching and it's not something I pay much attention to anymore. But the six year olds? They thought the concept was a very cool idea and insisted on trying it themselves. The only problem is that their ears are too small to do this with, so we ended up with pencils sticking in tufts of hair. It was a start.

And then yesterday, I had a sweater chain---you know, the kind of thing that was in style when grandma was a teeny-bopper? The clips that you can use to keep a sweater over shoulders? Well, to the kindergartners, this looked like a cape. Each kid who noticed got saucer eyes. "You could be Superman!" one said. I didn't have the heart to tell them that sweater chains haven't been cool for a few decades.

It's anyone's guess what sort of trend I'll start tomorrow.

05 March 2008

Old School Carnival

The Education Carnival has gone home to the Education Wonks. Wander on over and make your Wednesday one to remember.

03 March 2008

The New IQ

via Reuters:

Defects in working memory -- the brain's temporary storage bin -- may explain why one child cannot read her history book and another gets lost in algebra, new research suggests.

As many as 10 percent of school age children may suffer from poor working memory, British researchers said in a report last week, yet the problem remains rarely identified.

"You can think of working memory as a pure measure of your child's potential," Dr. Tracey Alloway of Britain's Durham University said in a telephone interview.

"Some psychologists consider working memory to be the new IQ because we find that working memory is the single most important predictor of learning," Alloway said.

Read more here.

I've talked with my own students about the idea of working memory---along with the importance of being able to store information long-term and the ability to retrieve it when needed. How to learn is an important skill. It's part of the reason many teachers have come to use more thinking tools/graphic organizers as part of their lesson plans. I think there will continue to be people looking at applications of cognitive science for the classroom---not just Alloway's lessons on training one's working memory. There appears to be some grand potential here for student achievement.

02 March 2008

Sunday Shout-Outs

As MGM pointed out for us in The Harvey Girls, "Alas and alack, it's a great big world." While this earthly notion stands in stark contrast to Walt Disney's concept of having a small world, after all, I can't help but think about how these arguments might apply to the blogosphere, too. In an effort to take this great big place and make it feel a bit more manageable in size, I'm going to pass along some tools and other grand ideas I've seen out and about this week.

  • The Interactive Venn: Do you get that urge once in awhile---the unavoidable need to Venn? Have you said to yourself in a meeting, "Uh, excuse me, but I feel a Venn coming on." Do you find MS Word's Chart Art function inadequate? Hey, who hasn't. Why not give in to your desires with the interactive tools found at ReadWriteThink.org? There are all manner of graphic organizers teachers and students can use to satisfy all of their mind-mapping needs.


  • Clix over at Epic Adventures Are Often Uncomfortable had a great series about the sessions she attended at The Georgia Council of Teachers of English conference. What a great idea for sharing this conference with a broader audience. Start with the first post and read the whole thing. Really, I insist.
  • Palomino pencils. I know it's old-fashioned, but I do loves me a good pencil with a long sharp point. This week, I discovered the best. pencil. ever. So, as long as I'm geeking out about things today, I might as well throw this one in. Incense cedar wraps around the silkiest piece of graphite you have ever held in your hand. You can make such long smooth strokes with it. It's a cylindrical piece of heaven, don't you know. I could say more, but some of you readers are no doubt wondering if this isn't already bordering on pornographic. Anyway, if you don't own some of these---buy some.
  • Ms. Whatsit had a post on social software that pointed the way toward some additional tools for mind-mapping. My favourite (and hers) is Bubbl.Us. A teeny-tiny screenshot of features is below (click to enlarge...or go to the site itself and click on "features"). I really like the idea of having one of these up on the LCD projector during class so that discussions and reading could be tracked. Once students had some practice as a class, I'd love to see what they put together as individuals.


  • Have I ever mentioned that I have no skills or abilities for drawing? It's true. My drawings are so bad (How bad are they?) that the kindergartners at my afternoon school have told me that they stink. When you get dissed by a group of 5 year olds---and, I have to point out that none of them are Rembrandts, either---it's bad. Anyway, some people, like the guys over at The Superest really do kick ass and chew bubblegum when it comes to drawing. The two artists who draw for the site take turns each day. The goal is to create a superhero who would be able to defeat the previous one. One of my favourites from this week (who defeated some bullies) is shown below. I highly recommend entertaining yourself with the whole series.
So there you go. Squee! with delight, as I have. And if you have another idea for something or someone who deserves a Shout-Out this week, leave it in the comments.

01 March 2008

Separate, but Fair?

I love this series of pictures by Michele Asselin:


The first fits our traditional sense of what annual class pictures should be. There are neat rows, still hands, and studious gazes. But the second? Those are real second graders with personality to spare. This is how I like to think of students. When I close my eyes and remember visiting an elementary classroom in the last few years, this second picture best represents the kids I conjure up in my mind. The time on the clock in both pictures is a reminder of just how quickly context and energy can change in a classroom.

You may have noticed something else about these pictures: all of the subjects are male.

The pictures were taken as part of an article in the New York Times Magazine on single-sex classrooms.

Separating schoolboys from schoolgirls has long been a staple of private and parochial education. But the idea is now gaining traction in American public schools, in response to both the desire of parents to have more choice in their children’s public education and the separate education crises girls and boys have been widely reported to experience. The girls’ crisis was cited in the 1990s, when the American Association of University Women published “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America,” which described how girls’ self-esteem plummets during puberty and how girls are subtly discouraged from careers in math and science. More recently, in what Sara Mead, an education expert at the New America Foundation, calls a “man bites dog” sensation, public and parental concerns have shifted to boys. Boys are currently behind their sisters in high-school and college graduation rates. School, the boy-crisis argument goes, is shaped by females to match the abilities of girls (or, as Sax puts it, is taught “by soft-spoken women who bore” boys). In 2006, Doug Anglin, a 17-year-old in Milton, Mass., filed a civil rights complaint with the United States Department of Education, claiming that his high school — where there are twice as many girls on the honor roll as there are boys — discriminated against males. His case did not prevail in the courts, but his sentiment found support in the Legislature and the press. That same year, as part of No Child Left Behind, the federal law that authorizes programs aimed at improving accountability and test scores in public schools, the Department of Education passed new regulations making it easier for districts to create single-sex classrooms and schools.

I have to admit that I haven't paid a lot of attention to the gender studies as they relate to the classroom---but I do feel like I've been seeing more and more articles in the general media about the move by schools to offer more single-sex education opportunities. I find myself neither for nor against it. Instead, I am simply curious about what the research will show in a few years. What will be the long-term effect on student achievement? For families who opt into single gender classrooms for their children, what happens to these kids when "mixed" classrooms become the only option later in school? Will this type of education turn out to create the kind of magic we need to close the achievement gap? If schools are indeed full of "soft spoken women who bore boys," what changes to teacher education and/or professional development might be helpful?