Parents who want to prepare kids for the past

Below is my response to: Parents want kids graded to the letter
Published by the Chicago Tribune 6-2-2016, by Diane Rado  

For decades, education has been mired in a rut of students sitting in rows, teachers lecturing, and grades being issued based on how well the students can regurgitate the information pushed at them. As an educator with 20+ years experience, and currently the Director of Instructional Technology, I would like to address the parents whose backlash is causing districts to rethink their standards based grading described in the June 2 article, “Parents want kids graded to the letter”.  This article could easily be titled: “Parents who want to prepare kids for the past”

Recently, we have seen positive changes in classrooms which create a learning environment which emulates the changing workplace our children will see in their future. New classroom layouts allow students to sit in groups and collaborate when needed, or use individual space when necessary. As an adult, do you want to sit in those school desks and read? Or to create an artistic drawing? Are parents complaining about changes in the classroom layout? No, because this prepares the child for their future, and benefits their child’s education.

In many classrooms, students are driving the learning process while teachers take on the role of facilitator. Teachers give instruction when necessary, then support it with reading material, and videos which the teacher created. This gives students the time and space necessary to explore topics more in depth, re-watch lessons when needed, and actually take ownership of their learning. Even more importantly, it allows teachers to better individualize their one-on-one time with students. Are parents complaining about their children learning more in depth and getting more focused one-on-one time with their teacher? No, because it prepares the child for their future, and benefits their child’s education.

However, when we finally see a change in an outdated grading system in Downers Grove SD58, Deerfield SD108, and many other districts; parents complain. Why? Standards based grading actually gives parents a clearer picture of what their child does, and does not understand. This gives everyone involved in the child’s education the ability to pinpoint where that child struggles with concepts or ideas, and allows teachers to develop strategies that can help the child succeed. When my child graduates with a 3.5 GPA, that doesn’t tell me that she still struggles with her grammar & writing skills. It doesn’t tell me anything she learned, or how she grew as a student. It only tells me that she learned how to do school pretty well.

Standards based grading also allows students to demonstrate their own growth. Colleges are beginning to use student portfolios as part of their admissions process because they want to see a student’s growth and progress, not just a number. As an adult,if I turn in a report that my boss feels is in need of revisions I don’t receive a C+ (or 75% of my pay) . Instead, I complete the revisions and resubmit the report. As long as I learn how to create a better report next time, I stay employed and continue my journey as a life-long learner.  Why should our children turn in their report, be given a C+, and not be given an opportunity to correct their mistakes? With a grade based system, that report is a finished product, it ends up in a garbage can, and students don’t see learning as a lifelong process.

What if that report was published as a blog post? What if that student could look back at that blog post in 4 years to see how they’ve grown as a student? What if a college or an employer could see that growth? We need to stop looking at learning as race to the finish line where students with a 4.0 GPA are the winners. Did those students actually grow? Or were they always the ‘A’ students?  As an adult, is there a finish line in your workplace? Have you stopped learning? What if you did?

If you are a leader in one of these schools who have instituted standards-based grading. Please don’t back down. Please don’t change what can create a better opportunity for our children’s future. Instead, offer opportunities for parents to learn about standard based grading (which I’m sure many of you have done).

If you are a parent in a school using standards-based grading, please take the time and any opportunity to ask questions that can clarify this new system. Good communication could solve much of this backlash. The problem is not about a new grading system, but with parents who don’t understand this change; a change which benefits their child’s education.

“We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past.” -Daniel Pink

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Google Slides – Now With Q & A

Did I ever mention how much I love the educators who share resources on Twitter? Click here for the post from Michael Frederick, Google Slides Engineer that I found last night on Twitter.

On Star Wars Day (May the 4th), Google released a game changing update for Google Slides called Slides Q & A.  While you are presenting a Google Slideshow, your audience can ask questions and even +1 other participants questions.  As the presenter, you get a great presenter view with presenter notes and a laser pointer (which has a cool tail to it). But, even more impressive is the ability to check the audience feedback without leaving your slideshow.

I had 2 big ideas when I first read about this:

  1. Using this as a keynote presenter would be a powerful way to get feedback from my audience. All the responses would be in my presentation instead of checking a Twitter feed or Today’s Meet on another device or screen.
  2. When students do partner presentations, one person can present while another member handles the feed of questions.

Today I started my day by showing it to a Spanish teacher, Mr. Tim Ashe, and he took it and ran in a completely different direction with it. He instantly saw it as a way for students to answer his question of the day (bell ringer) in a new and engaging way. So, within 3 hours he had taught 3 classes and was ready to use this new tool.  He left his questions on his original Slide deck, but when he started the presentation for 5th hour, he turned on the audience feature and that’s when the magic happened.

The Q&A shortened URL appeared at the top of the slideshow, and students entered it on their iPads, logged in with their school GAFE accounts, and started entering their responses. Mr. Ashe began checking the feed and clicking on the student responses – all while leaving the presentation up for the students.  Then, when the teacher clicks on a question – or a response as Mr. Ashe used it – that question takes center stage on the presentation screen so all students have a clear view of what it being discussed.

An extremely useful effect of using this new technology, was that instead of students reading their responses, Mr. Ashe could see their responses and check for spelling errors. Students could also see every response, and they could use peer review to build their language skills.

We did learn a few things along the way through the setup of Slides Q&A:

  1. From an iPad, you must be connected to AirPlay before you begin the process.
  2. From a computer connected through a VGA or other cable, you can’t mirror your display. You must have it set as separate displays.
  3. Give teachers a chance to play with this and they will come up with things even Google hasn’t envisioned with their own project.
  4. Google has done it again!

If you come up with other ideas for utilizing this in your classrooms, please share them by commenting on this post.

 

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Professional Development Using Modified EdCamp

Ever since my first EdCamp experience 3 years ago I’ve wanted to bring that concept into our school’s professional development. Last fall at EdCamp Chicago I even proposed and attended a session on EdCamp style PD for your own school.  Through sharing of ideas and experiences, we felt the best way to approach this style in our own schools was by having presenters for multiple sessions and allowing teachers to choose which of those sessions they wanted to attend. As we discussed this at EdCamp Chicago in April, Mo Ferger – @Ferger314 encouraged us to be aware of the difference between volun’told’ & volunteered. When teachers are volun’told’ to present, they sometimes lack the passion of someone who wants to share their story.

Creating Modified EdCamp

Last month, I got the gift I’ve been waiting for. Our Principal proposed that we change up our traditional professional development and provide an opportunity for faculty to have more choice for PD – proving once again that he’s not only forward thinking, but that he follows me on Twitter and we’re on the same page.  We would create 8 sessions, and allow faculty to choose the 4 sessions they had the most interest in. We decided to provide 4 sessions that focused more on EdTech, and 4 that focused on strategies. Each session would be an introduction to that app, tool, or strategy. Since this was presented in the Spring, we felt teachers could have more time to investigate and work with these things in order to prepare for next year. We also wanted to keep sessions small, so we agreed on a 12 teacher limit per session. If we had all 4 sessions fill for that topic, we would allow that topic to have more than 12. 

The Presenters

One concern with teachers presenting, is that if you present – you can’t attend other sessions. So, as we asked teachers to present we offered to give them a partner. This way they could present 2 sessions, and still attend their top 2 choices. Interestingly enough, many teachers started with that plan, and then decided to collaborate and present together. The requests to present were made in a face to face conversation. Since we had never done this before, I describe the format, and explained they were being asked to present because of the success they’ve had with the app, tool, or strategy.  The teachers were more willing to present when they understood this wasn’t a ‘how to’ session, but an opportunity to share why they use something in class, and how it helps their students.

Google Forms & Add-ons to the Rescue

At first we discussed allowing teachers to register for the 4 topics of their choice and then placing them in sessions. Although spending hours upon hours distributing teachers into sessions sounded like a great time, I used a Google Form (click here for the template) and some awesome add-ons.

I created a Google Form which automatically collected they email address, and had 4 multiple choice questions. Each question was simply – Time Slot A, Time Slot B, etc… The answer choices were the titles of the sessions being offered. Example: Room 130 – Becoming a Connected Educator.

Since we only wanted 12 teachers in each session (per time slot), I used the Choice Eliminator add-on for Google Forms which eliminates an answer choice from the question once it hits your predetermined limit.   With the new Google Forms it was easy to see what percentage of teachers was signing up for each session through the charts.  Although, teachers could, and did, send themselves a copy of their responses, we needed to adjust some session sizes manually.

After adjusting a few session sizes, I was ready to send everyone their schedules on the day of the professional development. I copied the data into a different Google Sheet and used the FormMule add-on which emailed each teacher their completed schedule.

Sharing Resources

Since we use Schoology Enterprise, and I have a Professional Development Group setup for all faculty & staff, I created a folder for each session title and allowed teachers and the presenters to share resources in this location. If you don’t use Schoology, Google Docs would also be a very good tool to share these resources – just like we use at EdCamps. Simply create a Google Doc with all 8 sessions listed in a table. Create a link for each session that opens a separate doc where your presenters and participants can post their resources, questions, comments, etc…

The Feedback

At the end of the day I emailed the link to their Exit Ticket (click here for the template) and asked everyone to complete it prior to leaving their final session. When I opened the responses, I was blown away. 

The summary of feedback looked like this:

  • 96% of teachers responded that they really liked the format.
  • Teachers asked for the sessions to be longer so they had more time on the topic.
  • Teachers asked to have an opportunity to work together within the sessions.
  • Move this format to the beginning of the year so we can try these things out right away.

Personally I walked away from this experience with the following knowledge:

  • We will definitely do this again
  • Sessions should be a minimum of 30 minutes (ours were 20)
  • I need to meet with all presenters to ensure participants will have a hands-on experience
  • Participants need to know where the resource materials are ahead of time
  • Teachers enjoy PD when they have their choice of topics
  • PersonalizedPD works! Thanks @jbretzmann @kennybosch @GustafsonBrad and the other authors of Personalized PD – Flipping Your Professional Development

    Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 7.40.58 PM

    1 = I didn’t like this format, 5 = I loved this format

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Taking a Closer Look Classroom Management

Focusing on specific learning goals that promote critical-thinking, creativity, collaboration, and the creation of student-centric learning environments are really the best way to use iPads in the curriculum. (Source)

Most behavioral issues with iPads in the classroom occur when students don’t have a clear-cut reason for using technology, or they are not required to submit some type of measurable outcome. Any good lesson must include not only a clear learning objective, but students should also know the answers to the following questions:

  • What is the learning objective?
  • What role do students have in the learning process?
  • What assessment is being used to measure their understanding?

When we add technology into the equation, and these expectations are not clear from the beginning, students are more likely to be off-task and therefore will have a more difficult time when it comes to the assessment.  DSC_5216

When you consider Bloom’s taxonomy and using technology at various levels, the lower the level of your learning objective, the more your students will be off-task when technology is available to them.  If the iPad is being used solely as a digital worksheet for remembering and understanding, the students will utilize copy & paste, sharing files, and other ways to get this basic work done quickly and without actually learning the material. When students are expected to create a final product for an assessment, or evaluate various resources by utilizing their iPads, they will tend to be more on task, more engaged, and are more likely to reach the desired learning objective.

By using backward design of curriculum such as UbD, and focusing on the Essential question first, we can see what we want students to know, how we want them to get there, and how we will assess their understanding. When we utilize technology tools in this process, we expand our possibilities for the following:

  • Delivery of content
  • Formative assessments
  • Summative assessments

Once we know what we want our students to achieve at all stages of the unit, it is much easier to integrate technology effectively and with little disruption to our classrooms. When we integrate technology into our units with the purpose of enhancing the learning process and engaging the students more effectively, we gain better control of our classrooms and the learning process has more opportunity to become student centered.

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#OneWord – Encourage

I wanted a word that encompassed more than just EdTech, more than just school (work), and most importantly – more than just me. Therefore, my #OneWord for 2016 is Encourage.

I want to encourage my family to #OneWordbe the best at whatever they pursue. My daughters are involved in various athletic endeavors, but many times I’ve confused applause for encouragement. Applauding my children for how well they’ve done at the en
d of a competition or season doesn’t always encourage them, but it does show them I care.  Cheering for your children during competitions doesn’t necessarily encourage them (especially when you’ve body painted for the occasion), it’s just something every parent is expected to do. In fact, if the only time they hear my ‘encouragement’ is during or after a competition, I’ve failed.

Encouraging your children is more about what you do behind the scenes.  It’s that positive & supportive response you give them when they’re struggling to keep up with their grades.  It’s the ability to listen and assist them in making difficult decisions. Most importantly, in regards to academics, I want to encourage them to follow their passions, continue to grow in their knowledge, and become lifelong learners.

At school, I want to use this same mindset to encourage our teachers with their integration of technology. I want to give that positive and supportive response when they are struggling to utilize a new tool. I need to listen to their needs and help them make the decisions as to which tool and what pedagogy works best for them. Most importantly, I want to encourage them to follow their passions, continue to grow in their knowledge, and become lifelong learners.

With my PLN, I want to use positive and supportive responses when others are struggling, or simply trying something new. I want to listen to other people’s ideas, theories, successes and failures so that I might learn from all of these. Most importantly, I want to encourage them to follow their passions, continue to grow in their knowledge, and become lifelong learners.

In 2016, take time to encourage your family, your co-workers, and your PLN.  If you take time to encourage others, I guarantee it will have a positive effect on you and your personal and professional growth.

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Are you excited about the unknown, or shriveling with boredom?

Yesterday, during the #PersonalizedPD chat on Twitter Jason Bretzmann, (@jbretzmann) author of Personalized PD, asked the question, “If you could turn back time from a mistake you made, what would you do differently?”  It made me think not only about the mistakes I made in my classroom, it also made me consider where many of us are headed in January. Then I found this quote by Wallace Stevens, and it raised the question, “Does the unknown still excite our teachers, or are we shriveling up with boredom?”

When you begin 2nd Semester in January, what will change in your classroom? Are you planning “It is the unknown that excites the ardor of scholars, who, in the known alone, would shrivel up with boredom.” ― Wallace Stevenson opening that same old planner to Week 1 – Day 1, or are you willing to take a closer look at what’s working and what’s not?  Some of these plans may be great, but other plans have seen their better days. Do you know which ones are which?  I guarantee your students know.

For years I was jealous of teachers who knew exactly what they were going to do in the 2nd week of April, while it was still the beginning of November. I was constantly recreating lectures, group work, simulations, etc… At times I thought I was a bad teacher because there were only a few lessons I wanted to keep as part of my plan for the following year.  I always felt I could, and should, change how I was teaching the content in my classes. Were my lessons that bad? Why wasn’t everyone doing this?

Occasionally I used material from previous years and kept moving toward that June 1 ‘finish line’.  However, I realized that ‘finish line’ was neither the finish line for my students, nor myself. Just because they were done with my class, didn’t mean they were done with US History or Economics, and more importantly they weren’t done learning.  Had I created life-long learners or did I keep them quiet, obedient, subservient for 45 minutes each day?  Had I succeeded when they were quiet and took notes? Was it was a successful year when they were on their best behavior for my observation?  To some administrators those things seemed to be of the utmost importance, but were my students really learning?

Are you planning to use the same presentations, worksheets, tests, and VHS movies you used 5, 10, or even 20 years ago? Keep in mind that the students in your class today are growing up in a collaborative and connected world that is changing faster than ever before. So, what are we preparing them for?  If we are using the same material and lessons from 20 years ago, we are preparing them for their parent’s future, not their own.

Are your students worth changing for?  Change is rarely viewed as our friend and the unknown can be a scary place.  As an educator, is the unknown still exciting to you, or are you content with the boredom?  This should be one of the most exciting times to teach. The tools and resources available to us 24/7 give us the unprecedented ability to create lessons and projects we couldn’t even fathom 10 years ago. The ability to collaborate with educators from all corners of the world, is an opportunity our students can’t afford to miss out on – especially since it’s free!

Take time to embrace a new tech tool and/or a new pedagogy. Take time to listen to an educational podcast, or attend an education or EdTech conference. Take time to connect with other educators on Twitter. Take time for your own growth so you can better prepare your students for their future, not their parents’ future. We can never go back and fix our mistakes, just as your students will never get another chance to experience your best lesson.

Are you too busy to make changes to your lessons plans, or are you content in using your lesson planner that includes a reminder to see the new Star Wars movie on May 25, 1977?

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Taking the Next Step

In our previous Professional Development session, we discussed why we needed to change what we do in the classroom. The focus of this change is to enhance our lessons with technology, and create a more engaging lesson for our students. Our faculty is familiar with both the SAMR and TPACK models, so we asked them to self-evaluate where they are on the SAMR model, and choose one lesson where they could go ‘1 Step Higher’.

I understand we shouldn’t look at SAMR as a ladder, but it does help our teachers understand if the lesson is simply substitution, or if they are truly reaching another level of technology integration.  A few teachers are still at the substitution level, a good number of them are reaching modification & redefinition, but the majority are at the augmentation level. With teachers in so many places, it would help only a few if we asked them all to reach for redefinition in their ‘1 Step Higher’ lesson.  It would also hold back the teachers who are ready for redefinition.

I challenged our teachers to find a lesson they honestly don’t like to teach, or a lesson they feel is stale. If we don’t have a passion for what we are teaching, how can we expect our students to get excited about that lesson? On the flip side, if you are teaching a lesson that has great results and you love teaching it; please don’t change that lesson. Even if it has NO technology. Find a different lesson and make it better for not only you, but more importantly, for your students.  I shared an “Instead of That, Try This” table which contained much of the pedagogy our teachers already use in their classrooms.

By focusing on one lesson, teachers only needed to make a small change. They needed to change by 30º, and not turn a complete 180º. I felt if we focused on a small change, it would be easier to accept and took a lot of pressure off our teachers to make sweeping changes.  Below are some examples of what our teachers created in their ‘1 Step Higher’ lessons.

Kahoot – This was not only used for test review, it was used as a pre-test and an exit ticket. It was used on a SMART board so our Geometry teacher could  click on the image of a triangle after students answered and break down the problem. I had asked teachers NOT to use review games for this ‘assignment’ because I felt we were already using Socrative & Kahoot. However, the PD session was about 5 weeks prior to final exams, and a few teachers who were at the Substitution level used Kahoot successfully and therefore moved ‘1 Step Higher’.

Schoology Discussion Boards – We started with Schoology as our LMS this school year. All of our teachers are using it to post assignments, and many are collecting assignments digitally. Only a few of our teachers had ventured any further in the LMS.  I encouraged them to try explore the discussion boards, and we heard many great stories about how students; gave more insightful answers,  responded to each other, kept the discussion going after the due date, etc…

Screencasting – A group of math teachers required students to record their problem solving process through Doceri, and submit a 2 minute video that demonstrated their problem solving process.  Many of our teachers have been using Screenasting apps themselves, but they witnessed a huge benefit in listening to student’s problem solving process. My personal favorite & most flexible one is ExplainEverything.

Desmos – Another group of math teachers used Desmos so students could manipulate numbers within a formula and see the direct effect on their graphs. This also works directly in Schoology, so teachers created a page of math problems in Schoology with links directly to Desmos problems.

Simulations – At the PD session in November, we saw a great example of simulations with iCivics. Check out Win the White House – it’s amazing! Our Biology and Chemistry teachers have used some simulations in the past, but they tried new ones on the PHET site for this lesson and had great reviews. We even saw these used in Theology with PlaySpent and Econ with a game on cooperative behavior.

Open Source Classes – Math, History, and Theology teachers used Crash Course videos as a resource for students. These helped introduce, present, and review content in their classes. These Crash Course videos are also available through Khan Academy.

Teach Like a Pirate – I shared some ideas from Dave Burgess‘ book, and a Theology teacher took his class to a cold and dark part of our building where they read Luke 2 – the Christmas story. Students then responded as a person from the period to a variety of prompts. This may have been low-tech, but the engagement was phenomenal.

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