23 November 2014

Banning Worksheets or Prohibiting the Use of Cell Phones and CrayonsWon't Increase Student Learning

Banning worksheets or prohibiting the use of cell phones, crayons, or other tools in the classroom won't increase student learning. For any of you who read my blog regularly and know what I think about worksheets, you might be wondering why I would begin this post with a strong statement like this. You see, I've been thinking more about why (Thanks to my recent reading of Simon Sinek's book) we do what we do. My reading of this book collided with my attendance at a GAFE Summit (Google Apps for Education). Perfect. Instead of just complaining about the ongoing situation with worksheets, I can actually offer some solutions.

But first. A Story.

Several years ago when I was still teaching in a local high school classroom, the district conducted walk-throughs and decided too much coloring was happening in the schools.  Quickly, an across the board ban on crayons and markers ensued, and teens rebelled by wearing crayons on a piece of yarn around their necks (not because they wanted to color worksheets but because they felt their opportunity for creativity was being denied with an across the board ban on a tool). The idea of the ban was to make a point about the lack of meaningful tasks being completed in some classrooms. The problem with the ban is that it took away a tool (coloring instruments) instead of tackling the larger issue of poor instruction provided by some people. What do you suppose happened with this ban on a writing instrument? Did it improve instruction across the board?

Fast forward six or seven years to my experience now as a parent in this same district. My eleven year old son brought home a coloring sheet for homework recently. I emailed the nameless school to inquire as to the directions because I couldn't believe the directions were to color, but yes, the directions were to color tastefully and not to scribble. That was it. Now, keep in mind, this is an assignment given at one of our state's top performing schools. I refuse to blame the teacher because we have a problem with our system, and across the board bans on tools (crayons, or cell phones) clearly--

 A) do not stick over time,
and more importantly
B) do not improve learning experiences for all students.

Fortunately, we now have tools beyond worksheets and crayons, so let me share some options I learned about recently when I attended a  GAFE Summit. One of the sessions I attended was titled No More Worksheets. Here, Holly Clark, a NBCT and a Google Certified Teacher shared ideas with us for eliminating worksheets in classrooms. Thankfully, the ideas she shared were not merely electronic versions of paper handouts. Rather, she shared meaningful teaching ideas and tools for engaging students in relevant learning. She emphasized the importance of using the tools well so that students make their thinking visible. Obviously, all of the tools she shared could turn into their own type of worksheet if we aren't thoughtful about how and why we use the tools. Teaching isn't easy, but using tools properly can help ease the load and increase student engagement and learning.

A formative assessment tool (kind of like Are You Smarter than a 5th grader)

Clark emphasized the importance of using the quick questions and non-multiple choice portions for deeper thinking.

The point Clark made with this tool is that we must make sure to offer mathematics instruction that's more than a worksheet or series of problems in a textbook because now the problems can be scanned and completed by the computer. Watch the video--it could blow your mind!

This tool allows you to speak your answer (maybe use it as an exit slip?). You can even send responses to parents. If you set up a private croak and teacher site, you can avoid public site nonsense and inappropriate croaks.

Explain Everything
Here's another app that allows students and/or teachers to create a voice over on an interactive whiteboard. You can also annotate, animate, import and export presentations.

**Stay tuned for at least one more blog post on the GAFE Summit in Kentucky. I still have to share about the tools  Donnie Peircey shared for interdisciplinary learning.
Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/sally_12/312460637/">*Sally M*</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

16 November 2014

Sunday Salon: What I Read Online October 27-November 15

Instead holding my Sunday Salon weekly, I've opted for bi-weekly, and I'll continue to share only a sampling of what I've been reading since there's no possible way to share absolutely everything, nor would most people want to know absolutely everything. I'll share the links I believe you, my readers, will find most interesting.


A thoughtful Edutopia blog post by Vicki Davis titled Social Entrepreneurship: 7 Ways to Empower Student Change Makers

In this white paper, read about teachers around the United States who are empowered to start and cooperatively run their own schools because they believe all students deserve equitable opportunities to learn and succeed.

The Teachers for Teachers blog had an excellent post titled Are We Creating Schools of Engagement or Schools of Compliance. Be sure to check it out. It gets me all fired up when I think about the all too often reality in most American public schools.

With the announcement of our city's school superintendent resignation came this brilliant op-ed by Kentucky students proclaiming the need for their voices to be heard in the search for a replacement.

The child who created this Rube Goldberg machine is empowered to learn through failure. Love this video, and I think you will, too.

Parenting Considerations

I really appreciated Harvard, Schmarvard: Why Getting Your Kids Into College Should be the Least of Your Concerns, and I agree whole heartedly with the importance of encouraging my children to be creative, independent, problem solvers who are passionate about what they decide to do in their lives and who enjoy their own company.

If you read my blog regularly, you know my thoughts about meaningless homework. In this blog post, I appreciated a fellow parent who decided it was more important for her son to play with toy engines and interact with others than to scribble responses on a piece of paper. What do you think?

Global Learning

Though you can only read a teaser at this link, I strongly encourage you to order a copy of Cake & Whiskey Magazine (or pick one up at a bookstore--limited distribution, but I hear they are now available at Barnes and Noble). The article, Conflict Kitchen, is about a business in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that promotes discussion of global issues of conflict the United States has with various countries, and they apparently serve up some amazing food from whatever the country being discussed happens to be at a given time.

With all the talk about project based learning and its benefits, there's some raw honesty in these posts about students from Kentucky who are building a partnership in Nicaragua, and you absolutely must read about what they are doing. Read the principal's post here, and a post by an honest student here.

Educational Resources

Since joining Achieve's EQuIP Peer Review Panel a while back, I have continued to be impressed by the quality resources and tools submitted and shared on their website. Recently they reached the goal of 50 Exemplar CCSS aligned lessons. The rubrics for evaluating lessons are useful by individual teachers or larger groups working to ensure quality materials are utilized in schools.

Kentucky teacher, Brad Clark, shared his thoughts on What a Common Core Classroom Really Looks Like. I share this article under resources because it's especially useful for anyone battling the CCSS debate.

Read about critical technology integration lessons being learned because of a mishap in California, here.

Miscellaneous Fun

We have less than a month until Cheryl Strayed's book Wild appears on film, and I've been eagerly awaiting. Watching the teaser on this website made me long to see it even more--only to have my hopes dashed when I learned the film release isn't set for any place near Lexington anytime in December. Keeping my fingers crossed that it will eventually make its way to our lovely Kentucky Theatre downtown.

I used to teach Arts and Humanities and would have loved this project I learned about at the GAFE Summit last weekend, but now I can use it for my own fun and continued learning. You won't want to miss it.

My appreciation for old time jazz brought me to this New York Times article about a man who won a Thelonious Monk competition.

Pairing traveling with teaching? What could be better? I follow this blog regularly, and enjoyed an article about short term volunteer opportunities abroad.

I've read Into the Wild a handful of times, so when I saw Outside's article about Carine McCandless's new book, I was curious to learn more. Needless to say after reading the article, I now have another book on my list of books to read.

Experience English teacher/tech geek fun when you read Adam Watson's blog post titled Star Wars, Shakespeare, and Rebels.

My sons always have me on the lookout for information about Minecraft in education. There's a great example in this article of a teacher from Louisville, Kentucky using the game well in his school.

Hope you enjoyed reading about what I've been reading.  Please take some time to comment below to let me know which articles you liked most.

15 November 2014

GAFE Summit Kentucky

A week ago at this time my head was spinning with excitement and overload from all the learning at GAFE Summit in Louisville, Kentucky. Though my teaching now happens one course each semester at the college level (pre-service literacy methods course) rather than full time in K-12 public schools, Kentucky's first Google Apps for Education Summit provided opportunities to connect, learn, and rejuvenate. 3 reasons this is important to me...
  • In my work at a non-profit, we wish to disrupt the normal systems and operations in public schools as we support teachers and leaders because we believe all children deserve opportunities to learn in relevant and meaningful ways.
  • I now spend most of my time working with teachers, and in my desire to stay relevant drives my desire to learn about new technology tools. 
  • You never know when I might just live my dream of opening a Teacher Powered school. 

Creativity, Inspiration, and Excellence: Opening Keynote by Rushton Hurley
Have fun.
Save time.
Make learning meaningful.

The session wasn't about flashy technology but about ways technology can enhance learning, make it meaningful, let you have fun and help you save time. Hurley shared thoughtful, real examples relevant in the academic world. Check out Hurley's resources for ideas about using images and videos with students and competitions for students to create their own videos.

Inspiring Your Staff with Free Technology: Featured Session by Rushton Hurley
Free tools for discussing (though I have used all of these free tools myself, I'm sharing them here in case you haven't, and I'll also say the other tools and ideas about how to use the tools were new to me...)

Ponder: Do you have something happening at your school that makes a memorable experience? What's your story? You have a story to tell!
Free tools for wondering (all except the Google Art Project were new to me)
Ponder: How do you get people to share creative ideas?
Free tools for telling digital stories (all were new to me, and good stuff for use in classrooms)

Free tools for using Chrome

Google Apps in the Classroom to Engage Your Students by Monica Martinez

My favorite take-away from this session was World Wonders, but Monica's link above takes you to her site with a treasure trove of other tech ideas for use in academic classrooms.

My biggest take-away from the entire GAFE Summit experience was about hope--hope for humanity, hope for meaningful learning experiences, and hope that we can make it happen with so much free technology available to us now.

Check out the Storify of the event created by James Allen & check back on my blog for more posts about this fabulous learning experience.

09 November 2014

Writing for an Inspiring Business Women's Magazine

My newest issue of Cake and Whiskey Magazine arrived in the mail this week, and it's arrival was made all the sweeter knowing I am a contributor to this issue. C&W is all about sharing inspirational stories of business women around the world. My article originated from an interview with Kendra Montejos, a young woman who immigrated from Peru when she was six years old. Her life experiences as an immigrant student and Spanish speaker in American public schools prompted her to create a mentoring and tutoring program for other immigrant children in rural Kentucky. If you are curious about her story, read C&W issue 7.

Educator's note:
Though it wasn't part of the article, I have to tell you that Kendra told me her most memorable assignment in public school was writing her own story. So, educators, in our quest to ensure students are ready for the academic writing that they will face in college, let's also remember that students have stories to share and we need to encourage them to tell, write, and share their stories with the world.

30 October 2014

Why Teachers are Important: Insight from an 11 year old

As my boys grow older they are beginning to think about college, jobs, and careers. On a recent afternoon drive home from cross country practice, the boys started asking me about our evening. You know--the usual--What's for dinner? (pasta because they needed to carb load before their big cross country meet) When will dad be home? (late due to open house at the school where he teaches)  May we play computer games before homework? (no)  When I told them their dad would be home late, my oldest son immediately launched into all the reasons why he would "never become a teacher." I guess growing up as a child of educators, he's seen the good and the bad, but he mostly feels impacted by a desire to make more money than his parents ever have. While my older son was listing all the reasons why he would never become a teacher, my younger son piped up from the back seat "but, we need teachers or the world would be chaos." He went on to explain how he sees teachers as essential to helping students be well educated. It's true. Teachers are important, and they have the power to influence and impact change in our world. Teachers teach students to think, to dream, to create, to learn, and so much more, both academic and social.

26 October 2014

Sunday Salon: What I Read Online October 13-October 26

Social Studies has been an especially hot topic in the past couple of weeks, and since our family also recently visited historic Perryville Battlefield, I'll share history/social studies readings first.

Social Studies
Last Sunday I wrote a blog post about the draft social studies standards in Kentucky--standards aligned to the national C3 Framework. The post quickly became one of my most popular yet-I'm guessing because of the controversy. Anyway, if you missed it, check it out here.

A Kentucky teacher writes about how she appreicates the proposed Kentucky standards for social studies because they promote civic responsibility.

Thinking about Hybrids of Teaching for Historical Thinking by Daisy Martin on the Public History Weekly site is well worth your time and thought.

Common Core State Standards

Not surprising, since Kentucky was first to adopt and implement the Common Core State Standards, there's another great article/interview with the state education commissioner and former associate commissioner. 
Common Core interview with Dr. Terry Holiday & Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith

What the Common Core Did for My Classroom by middle school math teacher Brooke Powers is a post full with honesty and excitement sharing how her classroom is now alive with numbers.

Teacher Time & Leadership
This report compiled by Kentucky teachers for a national organization highlights the differences between the way teachers spend time here in America compared to teachers in other countries.

It's not planning time if teachers are told how to use it by Llana Garon provides more details from a teacher perspective about this issue of teacher time.

In an Education Report article, Barnett Berry writes more about teacher leadership. It's an article worth reading.

Student blogging, writing, and learning
These 11 year old bloggers amazed me & I think blogging for kids is a great way to provide an authentic audience for writing.

Teens at Eminence High are using authentic Project Based Learning to learn and change the world, for real. Read an update of their work in this blog by their principal, Shannon Treece.

This Washington Post article recommends having students internalize texts to become better writers, and I couldn't agree more.


19 October 2014

Social Studies Includes History and Thinking

My two sons & two of their friends at Perryville Battlefield State Park
In Kentucky right now there's a little controversy stirred up about the new [draft] social studies standards for our state based on the multi-state-led c3 Framework (College, Career and Civic Ready Standards). Since I've written numerous times previously about how our family likes history, I decided to share some of my own thoughts following an historically enriching afternoon our family spent at Perryville Battlefield State Park not far from where we live.

History is important.

Based on what I've read in the draft standards, I don't think there's any doubt that history is important. Sure the standards don't dictate which events we must study, but they do require us to study history in order to think historically. Let's take a look at grade 6.

As a professional, I am given the freedom to determine which events from history we will use to make connections and classify them as example of change and continuity. Likewise, for each of the historical thinking stanards above, these standards honor my professional judgment for working with my individual students to determine which events from history we will explore.

As a parent, I like this approach because my child who loves history can explore the aspects of history which most interest him while still learning how to think critically. Additionally, as a parent I can determine which aspects of history we will continue to study as a family.  Sure, the standard doesn't say "explore the Battle of Perryville as an important part of Kentucky's participation in the Civil War." However, the standard doesn't have to state specifically which battle we will study in order for us to study a battle. Standards are the minimum students will learn, not the maximum, another important consideration.

 I appreciate this important consideration and the fact that the new standards don't articulate exactly which pieces of history should be taught. Instead, the standards encourage thinking and they leave the job of considering the specifics of what to teach up to the local districts, schools, and teachers. As a former English teacher I can't tell you how much I appreciate the freedom provided in this approach. Think about it--how would we feel if the standards demanded that we teach particular novels or selections of non-fiction with little regard for our contexts, our students' interests, or our own professional judgment?

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the C3 Framework. Notice the emphasis on honoring students.

"Readiness for college, career, and civil life is as much about the experiences students have as it is about learning any particular set of concepts or tools. Thus, the learning environments that teachers create are critical to student success. Students will flourish to the extent that their independent and collaborative efforts are guided, supported, and honored."

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