Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How Do You Measure Your Effectiveness

It's that time of year again. The final push in the marathon school year that ends with North Carolina's End of Grade Tests. I always have a mood change when the stress of the daily grind takes over at this time of year. I asked myself, "Why am I feeling this way?" I have some ideas.

This mood hit full force this morning on the way to work when I realized that most of my Wednesday afternoon would be reserved for test administrator training. That's usually a 2-hour or so ordeal where we go over things like the Testing Code of Ethics (again - and yes it's important), and dissect the test administrator's manual. Highlighters whiz across pages at breakneck speed and we all pay special attention to all the warnings and directions about how to administer these assessments reliably and ethically.

I fully understand assessment is necessary, and accountability is ultimately a good thing. Every business has it, and education needs it too. It's just that I have an issue with what our method really tells us at the end of the year.

This morning I was helping third grade students take multiple choice test items using ClassScape. Teachers can pull test items by state goal and create assessments that return detailed data about what students answered correctly and incorrectly. It's a powerful tool that lets us as educators know how our students are doing and what we need to review and reteach. It's basically an EOG test on the computer. Usually, when our students come to the lab I see a little excitement in their eyes and motivated pupils who know we're going to do something creative and "cool." Today, the reaction was just the opposite. That reaction was powerful too.

I can't answer for for anyone except myself, but I know I got into education because I wanted to make a difference. I know that's cliche', but it's accurate. I believe most good educators got into the business for this reason as well. But what does that look like? How do we define and assess the difference we made at the student level like we attempt to using standardized test scores?

The fact is - I don't think we do, and that leaves me with an empty feeling.

At the end of the year all we are left with are rosters with scaled scores, percentages, breakdowns, and roman numerals. That doesn't tell me enough about my effectiveness as an educator.

I'd like to know that I helped develop more than a good test taker, but helped develop the whole child. I'd like to be able to look at my rosters and say, I helped motivate a child when there was little motivation. I'd like to know I taught students successfully to understand and accept classmates that were different with different opinions. I'd like to know if what I taught was clearly conveyed as necessary for successful living. That list goes on, but you get the point.

I want to try something different with our students using our teaching blog at the end of this year by allowing them to reflect on their school year and see what they can convey about what they have learned. I'm still working on the prompt, but at least I will have an assessment of sorts that is bigger than any scaled score. The responses will be valuable because the students will define the assessment by reflecting on what was significant to them. It won't be constricted to an A,B,C, D answer on a bubble sheet. I don't think students reflect enough, and that is a valuable lifelong skill to master. Of that I am sure.

Help me, if you will, shape this prompt. How do we as educators measure our authentic effectiveness?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Catching "Chocolate Fever"

After our video conference with author Robert Kimmel Smith (Chocolate Fever) the students had so much to say about their experience. Each student felt that they had a personal connection with this author, the world of books, and even publishing. They gained a personal insight into the world of literature that you don't get from just reading a book and writing a book report. I have asked my students to share their reflections about our video conference and how it made reading this book a very personal experience.
From a teachers perspective I feel that the little bit of time that I spent getting this experience set up was so worth it. To get ready Robert Kimmel Smith and I had a "practice" skype session to see how everything would work. This was new for him too since he had just gotten a new computer with a web cam. Once we were both comfortable with the logistics we were ready to set a date and time for the video conference. I then emailed him the questions that the students had written so that he would know the things the students wanted to ask. Since this was the first skype experience for the students as well we then set up a practice skype session. I took the class into a classroom with a web cam and my fellow teacher Ms. "A" was in another classroom in the school that also had a web cam. We "skyped" from one classroom to the other! The students loved seeing themselves on the screen and had to get all the wiggles out! They practiced reading their questions and then were ready for the big day. During the next week every time I saw one of these students in the hallway they would ask, "Are we going to skype today?" Over and over I continued to hear this question! Eventually the big day came and they could hardly contain their excitement! Once the video conference began the students were so engaged! They were having a real life experience with a book that I bet they will remember forever! See what one of our colleagues said about this experience on her blog "Technology" (Image from Madeleine_'s Photostream via Flickr)

Teach21 - Year One

The title says it all. Year one implies there is a future for Teach21 and there will be. Teach21 will be implemented with a new group of educators next year, and this trailblazing group, who met today for three hours to learn for the last official time this year, will continue to grow and learn and pass it on. That alone tells me that Teach21 has been a great success. If you go back to the origins of this blog you will see the milestones along the way. There have been pitfalls and glitches, but they've not been excuses for not moving forward.
Here's what I've seen in less than a year. Teachers who were anxious and reserved about using technology are no longer treating anything we show them tenuously. They have gained a comfort level never before reached. Others have seen the value of connections with other students and teachers within and beyond the walls of Bolton School. More to come THIS SCHOOL YEAR with that. Teachers who loved using technology continued to do so, but learned even more looked at it through a different lens, with new tools and products, and shared their expertise with others. That has even spilled over to our personal lives as we've celebrated several new additions to the families to those on our team. In the media center students at every grade level have been trained to check out their own books. That's a huge step that allows our media coordinator to be more free to be engaged in helping students navigate our resources. That part of our school is still being upgraded with hardware, but the mounted projector and screen has allowed a new level of instruction. In science lessons have come alive with video and interactivity to the whole world.
Teach21 has changed my teaching significantly as well. In the lab I have tried to teach our students how they can use technology to show what they know. It has made me more of a facilitator, forced me to become more connected within my own school and worldwide. That's exciting! I've been in contact with technology educators who are asking the right questions and have a head start on the things I want to learn how to do and bring to Bolton School. The impact on students has been significant. I don't know what it's statistical impact will be with regard to NC's End Of Grade Test scores, but I know there's an anecdotal record that shows a big impact on students and their ability to connect, create, and be lifelong learners.
I will never forget what one fifth grader who has been at Bolton since kindergarten told me about being a class with a teacher who has been part of Teach21. She said this year has been her best ever. Digging deeper into what she means I found that the Smartboard was a part, but it was more of what they did, and how they approached learning than it was having a glowing interactive whiteboard in the room. The success within our group of educators will be evidenced through their reflections on their own blogs, so check those via our blog links. Please comment and let us know what is working where you are. This is an ongoing process. It always will be, and that makes being in education at this moment in time a rich and exciting experience.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Visit With Author Robert Kimmel Smith

My colleague and friend, Leslie McMillan, is truly a gifted teacher who is broadening her skills every day - especially with regard to technology. She's been a lifesaver over and over as we've gone through Teach21 together. I see that she has a passion to use these tools to be even more masterful.
Today she arranged a video conference meeting with her third grade reading group and children's author Robert Kimmel Smith, who wrote the books Chocolate Fever, and The War With Grandpa.
Her students prepared questions for Mr. Smith, who lives in New York City, after studying and reading Chocolate Fever. We invited other classes to watch and/or ask questions by broadcasting our meet over UStream.tv. We told teachers if they wanted to ask Mr. Smith questions they could get a UStream account and use the chat feature. We then relayed the questions to him for his animated and anecdotal answers. At one point we had as many as eight locations "tuning in," and I know some classes combined in a room with Smartboard so they could see and hear well.
Our students were TOTALLY engaged with this, and we prompted Mr. Smith ahead of time that we wanted him to plug his other books in the hopes that our students would take the initiative to read them as well.
This was our first attempt at this, but we see the possibilities and learn with each new product and "educational experiment." Mrs. McMillan will surely share more about this later. Here is the recording of the webcast if you would like to see our time with Robert Kimmel Smith.
Streaming live video by Ustream

Monday, April 6, 2009

Educating A Colonized Mind - Who Are We?

This is more of a thought in process, but I hope it's one with which everyone can help. There are a lot of elements that brought these ideas together - music, various twitter tweets, random blog posts that I've read, and President Obama's Inaugural Address. Here's how it's come together.

The more I look to connect our students with a global culture the more I realize I am thinking with a colonized mind. I guess my age is showing. Let me define colonized mind. It is a mind or mindset that narrowly looks at our nation derived from its roots of British colonies, and with a largely Judeo-Christian background. That's who we were, although it's not really that simple. But the more I read and learn the more I realize we are not that anymore.

A recent Will Richardson tweet on Twitter said he really likes reading the NY Times Global Edition, and that he even was pointing his own children toward that resource for news. He wanted, and likes a global view. I look for news sources that come from outside the United States. It's "interesting" to see how the same news is reported based upon who is telling the story.

Vicki Davis, aka Cool Cat Teacher, recently defined a flat classroom in a post entitled "How do YOU Roll?" In that post she talked about vicarious modeling and its affect on students' viewpoints. She said through vicarious modeling and making connections students learn not to be sterotypical. She wrote: "Unfortunately, some of the biggest phobias we all have relate to one another. Flattening the classroom is about learning, technology, and collaboration, but the most important by product about which I am PASSIONATE is how it transforms the world view of the students involved. Learning to overcome cultural barriers and collaborate with anyone, anywhere, anytime, is vital to the success of any nation, and indeed all of us."

Refer back to this past January and the Presidential Inauguration. Partisan politics aside, Barack Obama made it a point to redefine us in his address by stating, "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.
"And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace." Not the thinking of a colonized mind.

I'm not sure if I know who we are now, but I know it's not what we were. I also believe that even if I don't have a good handle on that I should continue to consider this. In our schools we teach children of varying races, creeds, values, and religious backgrounds. We live in diverse communities. While we don't always agree with the values and beliefs of our neighbors surely it is important to respect and consider them. Surely teaching our students to do the same is even more important now. That's why I am passionate about connecting our students. Please comment, share your global connection successes, stories, and insights.

Still in process...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How Microsoft Can Help Me Teach Better

Times have changed! They are changing faster than most of us can keep up. So it's important to pass along to our students the skills that are transferable to any discipline, any career, and for anything they may want to do in an unforeseeable future.
As educators, that means we must assign our students tasks that involve higher order thinking, project based work that requires them to work collaboratively, to reflect on what they have done and are doing.
Whether we like it or not the Internet has become part of our infrastructure. We use it to bank and manage our money, to conduct all kinds of business, to communicate with voice and video, and to connect and collaborate with colleagues, friends, and family. Its become a part of our identities. Like it or not, this is not going to change. That fact means that we need to teach our students responsible ways to use these hardware and software tools and be good digital citizens.
Technology hardware and software changes fast, but the basic functions stay relative the same.
To teach better we as educators must think globally about what we are doing and allow our students to design, connect with stories and create their own, see the big picture, how all the smaller parts work together, have the ability to see through the eyes of others. They need to understand many perspectives, and bring meaning to whatever they choose to do in the 21st Century. All this can come about by integrating technology in education. It's not all about the hardware and software - it's what you do with it. Microsoft can help by continuing to create the hardware and software to make these connections and support events like NECC and conferences at the state level.
The opportunity to connect, virtually, electronically, and face to face is the key to great education. It's only through these connections that we broaden our skills, learn new things and continue to try to keep up with these changes, and change ourselves. This way, none of us has to learn alone.