29 April 2010

What the Fudge

Have you seen "A Christmas Story"? Of course you have. So you'll no doubt remember the scene where our hero, young Ralphie, gets to help his dad change a tire for the first time.



Ralphie does his best to assist, but things do not go quite as they should. As the hubcap with the lugnuts goes flying into the dark knight, Ralphie reacts by exclaiming "Oh...Fudge" in slo-mo. Okay, so we end up learning that he really said "THE word. The big one. The queen mother of dirty words. The 'F---' word!" But this was a family film and this is a family blog. So, we'll stick with "Fudge."

You see, I had my own "Oh...Fudge..." moment this week. Perhaps you can help me get this thing fudgin' figured out.

As regular readers know, part of my work this year involves working with a kickass group of teachers to develop some assessments for our educational technology standards. I've written before about how the targets are squishy to measure---how creative is creative enough? what does it mean to organize one's ideas? But we are actually figuring this part out. A lot of our time and energy has been devoted to taking existing assessments for social studies and building in the ed tech components. Teachers are already using these assessments with students. The student tasks and supporting documents are built. Instructional components are not provided in any depth (based on the assumption that social studies teachers already know how to teach those topics). This is perfect for us, because so many of our targets are centered around thinking and process skills: how to find information, how to determine if that information is valid, how to document its origin, etc. It's not a problem for us if a 3rd grader ends up handwriting a couple of paragraphs about the social studies topic at the end. The product isn't our focus.

We have some beautiful supporting documents written. I am most anxious to have them available for public feedback in a month or so. I have been working through the drafts one. more. time. in an effort to incorporate all of the current suggestions and make sure we are ready for prime time. In short, I have been Ralphie with the lugnuts in hand. Now, not so much---the hubcap has flown from my tenuous grasp.

All of the instructional components we've built in don't necessarily lead to products. For a teacher in a classroom, this is not such a big deal. If I need to see whether or not my students are able to effectively choose and use a search engine, then it makes sense for me to just monitor kids and provide feedback as they
use teh Googles. For my group, however, this doesn't work. We need student evidence in order to do rangefinding, select exemplars, etc.

What should we have teachers send us?

I really don't want to do some sort of fill-in worksheet where the student lists a URL, cites needed bibliographic information, summarizes info, and then provides an explanation why the source is valid. In a perfect world, I would love to do some filming in a few classrooms of the lesson presentation, kids working, and then interviews with students about their thinking and choices. But I will have to find a happy medium between these extremes.

How do we secure evidence of thinking---all the metacognitive stuff that happens along the way to the final product?

Oh...Fudge.

Update: I'm wondering about using Zoho Notebook as a possibility. Anybody using this with students? Concerns about login (requires email) or "cloud" issues? I was all excited about Google Notebook, until I found out the bastages discontinued it in 2009. I seem to be getting fudged over by Google a lot recently. 

27 April 2010

The Kids Are All Right

I'm on the road (again) this week. Mind you, it is nothing like last year when I was out of town for six weeks in a row. In fact, my former colleagues just headed to Cincinnati a couple of days ago, much as I did last year. Once I finish this current venture, my calendar is blissfully dull. Lots of work to do, but it can be done in the usual places and hours. This year, I get to enjoy my lilacs, peonies, honeysuckle, and other pleasures of home.

Wherever I roam these days, I try to take advantage of the opportunity to meet edubloggers. I have a couple from Stories from School on my assessment committee and enjoy seeing them on a regular basis. I've met Washington teacher-bloggers Jim, Ryan, and Hedgetoad in previous outings. I know Science for All from previous work (and miss running in the same circles as he). I was finally able to have some "face time" with "Mrs. Lipstick" and Jenny last November. I met Athena (who is now MIA) on a trip to Texas a few years ago. I get to chat with Hugh now and then. I briefly saw Joe in San Antonio last month. And, at ScienceOnline 2010, I met dozens of bloggers (including Washington's DigitalBio)---not necessarily of the edu variety, but important to me in other ways. If I get permission to go to ISTE in Denver in June, I hope to be part of edubloggercon and put a lot more faces with names. Edubloggers are a unique breed. It's been good to see them in different places and times...and I hope to meet many more.

It's easy in today's digital world to forget that there are real people behind these blogs. Many are teachers are on the front lines, some have administrative or policy perspective, others are students, parents, or community stakeholders. While there is no doubt that every voice is important, we have to remember that what we're really wanting to say is that every person is important. Each time I get to meet and learn from other bloggers in person, it reinforces that message for me. It is also a wonderful opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of that person and his or her perspective. A blog is only a small piece of the whole.

Last night, I finally got to meet Dr. Pezz (and Mrs. Pezz, who lurks here; and a friend of the family). They graciously agreed to take some time away from their home improvement projects to share a frosty beverage and swap some stories. Good people, passionate about education, doing what they can to make their schools a good place. Does this old lady's heart good to know the kids are in good hands here.

25 April 2010

Getting Mean with Online Grades

It seems like nearly every conversation I have about grades eventually turns to online gradebooks. There is a presumption that parents like them...administrators, too...but I have yet to hear from many teachers who appreciate them. This is occasionally due to some sort of mandate that the gradebook be updated a certain number of times per week, but more often than not, it is because of the column at the very end.

It isn't so much a problem with the concept of averaging itself, it's the underlying assumption that the numbers in the boxes represent the only possible data. Once there is some sort of "final" grade showing (which is what parents look for first and last), then any room for professional judgment has gone out the window. All the observations teachers make...all the conversations we have with students...these things don't fit in a traditional gradebook, and yet they deserve consideration.

One district I talked to was looking into ways to not display a summative score with their online grades. Seems like a smart solution to me---I hope they can make the software bend to their will. Better yet, I hope that software makers will catch on and make this a standard option with their offerings.

24 April 2010

This Blog Has Moved

In an effort to appease Teh Googles (information about why people like me had to move their stuff can be found here), this blog is now located at http://blog.whatitslikeontheinside.com/. You will be automatically redirected in 30 seconds, or you may click here. Any former bookmarks that you have should also automatically redirect.

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16 April 2010

It's a Means, Not an End

I find myself occasionally amused by the EdTech zealots---the ones who are convinced that technology in the classroom is the Be All and End All. They are the educators who will tell you that 19th and 20th century schools and their methods will be the continuing downfall of society. These are the very same ones who will shame you for not putting a computer into the hands of every student every class period (and further ridicule you if you don't suggest said computer be an Apple product).

I want to remind these people that my 90-year old stepfather functions just fine on the computer and internet. In his lifetime, any number of new technologies have emerged that his teachers had no inkling of, and he continues to learn and adapt. As teachers, we have always prepared students for an uncertain future---we have no way to tell what the world will be like (or the opportunities available) 5, 10, or 50 years from now. That was true for teachers 20 years ago (when I started) and long before that.

If you know one of these tech zealots, do us all a favour and ask them to take a breath. Technology is not an end we are preparing kids for---it is simply one of many ways and means to help students develop a mental toolkit for engaging with content. For example, blogging is a wonderful way for kids to practice reading, thinking, and writing skills...but it is not the only way to engage students with this work. Plenty of us made it through school and into the world with critical and creative thinking skills honed without ever having access to the internet. Tech can facilitate these things, but to assume it is the only pathway is silly.

I was thinking about this again as I read some suggestions that tech was going to be the catalyst for remaking schools. Sorry, but it won't be. Do I think schooling will look different in time---with learning extending beyond the classroom? Sure. But meatspace isn't going anywhere because it is the place where you learn a lot about forming and maintaining relationships. Being connected online is very different from learning to connect in person.

We spend a lot of time thinking about "ends" (standards, assessments) and not very much about the means (instruction). How do we encourage the zealots to take a broader view and think beyond tools to the possibilities? Do we need to start a "slow teaching" movement like the foodies have done?

14 April 2010

The Gift

Over the weekend, I was hanging out at an area watering hole enjoying a late lunch and the opportunity to do some people-watching. While ensconced with my book and some chicken strips, a couple came in to talk to the staff person. They wanted a gift certificate for a football coach, as their son was just awarded a full-ride scholarship (worth $20K/year for 4 years). The parents wanted to thank the coach. They did their business and afterward, I listened to the cook and bar man talk about this noble gesture.

I sat there thinking about this little scene while I pretended to read my book. It was a wonderful gesture on the part of the parents. As teachers, we often get gifts from families (although not $75 worth of steak and wine). Genuine appreciation is such a rarity and all the more meaningful when you receive it as an educator.

But I was also bothered by the reaction of the restaurant staff that this student's success all belonged with the coach. When this student goes off to college, he won't major in football. He'll choose business or history or science or theatre or something else. What about all of the teachers in his K-12 career who taught him to read, write, and think critically---skills that will serve him in the decades of his life after his scholarship is gone? What about the teachers who inspired a passion for a particular area of learning?

I'm not treading new territory by suggesting that high quality teachers are under appreciated. And I don't want to suggest that this coach doesn't deserve a wonderful thank you dinner for his part in developing the athleticism of this student (or that the student shouldn't have a chance at college). I just hope these parents help their son to remember that he received a lot of support and gifts along the way.

13 April 2010

Let the Voter Beware

With the state budget bottoming out and school district rainy day funds drying up, many districts around our state are dependent upon levy dollars. Districts can ask their local property owners to pony up for two, three, or four years of funding. The four-year option is a recent addition to the mix and is very popular because it means having to run a levy less often.

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend in the local district I once called my home. A program he's involved in was on the list for the latest levy. The district told voters that if the levy passed, the program would stay...if not, it would be cut. The levy passed. What did the district tell my friend? That was a different story. They told him that his program was safe for next year and probably the following year, but after that, the voters would have forgotten what had been promised and he could be cut. He went from being the levy poster child to being told he's headed for the trash heap in days.

Wow. As a teacher, what do you say to that? Kind of a political nightmare. On one hand, there's no use pointing it out to the district leadership, because they're the ones telling you they think the voters aren't too bright. And, on the other, if you tell the voters they're being played, it will be the kids who lose out in the end as budgets are slashed.

He has some time to figure this out. His job and program are safe for now and it will be nearly four years until there is another levy vote. In the meantime, he and many others are hoping the school board will wake up and smell the need for new leadership.

12 April 2010

April 2010 Grading Roundup

This month's cavalcade of grading comes early this month. Let's see what's caught in the net, shall we?


The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article on Outsourced Grading. There is now an option for professors to use "expert assessors" in India to provide constructive feedback on student papers. The outsourcing has grown from a frustration on the part of professors that students aren't doing high quality writing, but teachers do not have the time to provide feedback to large numbers (e.g. 1000) students. Even teaching assistants are not enough. For those who are using the service, there is an opportunity for teachers to review (and adjust comments), but I somehow doubt that anyone who does not have enough time to read 1000 papers is not going to have time to read comments on 1000 papers. You'd have to take a sample and call it a day. In the meantime, if the purpose of doing this is to provide support for student improvement, then the professor would need to do two things: teach students how to use the feedback and change his/her instruction to help.

My favourite quote from the article is at the end:
"People need to get past thinking that grading must be done by the people who are teaching," says Mr. Rajam, who is director of assurance of learning at George Washington University's School of Business. "Sometimes people get so caught up in the mousetrap that they forget about the mouse."
Really, I'm shaking my head in disbelief. Dude, if anyone is forgetting about the mouse, er "student," it's you. I can understand that it is unreasonable for one person to score 1000 papers at a time and provide appropriate feedback---but it is also ridiculous to assume that professors who are "freed from grading papers [so they] can spend more time teaching and doing research" is going to benefit students.

In other college news, Loyola Law school in Los Angeles has been retroactively changing grades (back to 2007) in order to alter their scale and make their graduates more competitive. It's not a major shift, but intriguing with continuing conversations about "grade inflation" that a college would choose to boost its students' transcripts (as opposed to look at what goes into the grades or supporting students to meet expectations). You can read more at the LA Times.


Speaking of grade inflation, have a look at this graph from I Love Charts:

No explanation as to its origins. Not sure how meaningful the information is. If I'm reading this correctly, then the average change in GPA is about .5 grade point (13%) spread out over 40 years. Is this a significant difference? Not going to pull out my stats here, but someone else is welcome to whip out a chi-squared analysis. I also wonder about the change in college populations over that time frame. Draw your own conclusions here---just wanted to offer it up for consideration.


Finally, Science News has a story on how Homework Makes the Grade. Surprise, surprise: Physics students who actually do the homework/practice score higher than students who just copy homework from others.
Students at MIT and other universities commonly complete homework using an online system, giving Pritchard and his colleagues a wealth of data to analyze. The team tracked homework for four terms of introductory, calculus-based physics, a requirement for all MIT undergraduates. Since all of the students’ entries were time-stamped, Pritchard and his colleagues knew how quickly the problems were completed once the question appeared on the screen.
In the team’s analysis, three clusters emerged: One group of students solved the problems about 10 minutes after the problem first popped up, another answered a day or two later, and a third typically answered correctly in about a minute. Because the online system presents problems one at a time, it precludes working out all of the answers ahead of time and entering them all at once.
“Our first reaction was “Wow, we must have some geniuses at MIT’,” Pritchard says. The team soon realized that the answers in this quick-solving group were entered faster than the time it takes students to read the question, raising suspicions that these students had a cheat sheet of copied answers.
Equating speedy answers with copying, the team concluded that about 10 percent of the students copied more than half of their homework, about 40 percent copied 10 to 50 percent of their homework, and about half the students copied less than 10 percent of their homework. By the end of the semester, students who copied 50 percent or more homework earned almost two letter grades below students who didn’t copy very much, the team found. Heavy copiers were also three times more likely to fail the course.
Other patterns emerged from the data as well. Students who copied were much more likely to put off the majority of their homework until the last minute. And copying rates increased dramatically after the first midterm.
In the study, the heaviest copiers were male, and although most of the students in the classes were freshmen and had yet to declare a major, subsequent analyses turned up an interesting trend: “Copying homework is a leading indicator of becoming a business major,” Pritchard says.
As I've written here many times, as long as grades are valued over learning, you will have cheating. This does not mean that homework is evil. It doesn't mean that students don't need practice. What it does mean is that we as teachers need to make it clear to students why we're assigning the work.


That's all the grading news fit to print for the month of April. There appears to be a dearth of K-12 information at the moment, probably because it's testing season. I expect another fit of discussion as the year draws to a close in May.

11 April 2010

Spring Cleaning

I'm still getting the blog ready to move to its new digs. Google, in its magnanimity, extended the deadline from end of February to first of May for blogs like mine to bend to their will. If all goes well, readers should notice no changes.

In the meantime, I'm doing a little spring cleaning on my sidebar. For those of you reading posts via an aggregator, this won't be a big deal. However, I like to keep my recommendations current. This means that nearly everyone occupying that space represents a blogger who posts regularly, looks for solutions, challenges my thinking, and makes me laugh. Perhaps not all blogs hit all of those sweet spots, but those are my basic criteria for sharing with others. So, I've removed a few links and added some others.

The new additions fall under the category of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Although this concept may have originally been seeded by special education, it's really much more than that. In my mind, it's really about differentiation with a focus on accessibility. So, without further falderal, I would like to welcome the following to my sidebar and hope that you will give them a look:
  • Assistive Technology bills itself as a "blog on the topic of assistive technology, eLearning, mind mapping, project management, visual learning, collaborative tools, and educational technology" and is written by school psychologist Brian Friedlander. The blog is primarily a showcase for computer and web-based tools.
  • Karen Janowski writes over at EdTech Solutions: Teaching Every Student. Her posts are an amalgam of tools, instructional strategies, and her reflections on working to create an accessible learning environment for every student.
  • Over at Free Resources from the Net for Every Student, Paul Hamilton not only shares links for tools, but instructional ideas and support for teachers in implementing these tools.
  • Finally, I am late to the party in noting Ira Socol's blog: SpeEd Change. Part policy, part ed theory, part tech, and part awesome, the blog is a thoughtful examination of UDL.

I hope you'll have a look at these. Are there other UDL blogs (or just new to the edusphere blogs) I should know about? Drop me a comment or email.

01 April 2010

I Told You So

In August, I wrote a post about some impending plagiarism. My ideas were being kidnapped and there would be no ransom---just wholesale stealing with no credit offered or permission requested.

And, as unfortunately expected, things have turned up here (the "Physical Science and Inquiry" section). The materials are not the same format, but there is no mistaking what I published in August as being used. If there is any question of which came first, one only need right-click their page and view the Page Info (shown below):


They posted on December 15, 2009---nearly four months after I posted here. Rather sickening to think that one of the people who participated in the thievery is involved with conversations about national science standards. It will be quite ironic to see concepts of integrity show up in those, don't you think?