31 December 2014

My Favorite Books from 2014 Book A Week

A few of the books I read in 2014
This morning I finished reading my 52nd book in 2014. What a terrific feeling to have accomplished my personal goal of reading a book a week consistently for the entire year.  I began this journey on January 1st of 2014 feeling confident yet slightly cautious. However, knowing I'm someone with determination once I set my mind to do something, I never really thought I wouldn't achieve what I set out to accomplish.  I believed I would do it all year long, and I did. As is typical with my favorite genre of books, many of the books I read were about individuals on journeys of some sort.

As predicted, I read more nonfiction than fiction, and somewhat surprisingly, I read only a handful of professional books. 37 works of nonfiction. 9 works of fiction. 1 collection of poems. 5 professional books for a total of 52 books read for pleasure, knowledge, inspiration and sheer enjoyment.

Here are my 14 favorite books from 2014 (in no particular order). Keep reading below for short descriptions on why each of these books made my top 14 list.

1. Wave: Life and Memories After the Tsunami by Sonali Deraniyagala
2. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
3. A Sliver of Light:  Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran by Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal, & Sarah Shourd
4. Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of a Creative Mind by Biz Stone
5. A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout
6. 46 Days: Keeping Up With Jennifer Pharr Davis on the Appalachian Trail by Brew Davis
7.  Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary Confinement with the Bard by Laura Bates
8.  A Long Way From Nowhere: A Couple's Journey on the Continental Divide Trail by Julie Urbanski and Matt Urbanski
9.  In My Father's Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate by Saima Wahab
10. Become Your Own Great and Powerful: A Woman's Guide to Living Your Real, Big Life by Barbara Bellissimo
11.  Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
12.  Thinking in NumbersOn Life, Love, Meaning, and Math by Daniel Tammet
13.  Hatching Twitter:  A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal by Nick Bilton
14.  Ultima Thule by Davis McCombs

General reasons these books made my top 14 list
**They made me laugh, cry, feel outrage, want to speak out, want to take action, and want to make changes in my life**

Two of my January 2014 reads made my top 14 list. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala was heart wrenching while also offering hope. The author was the only one in her family to survive the 2004 Tsunami. I read this book while traveling for work and could hardly wait to get home to be with my family because I know without a doubt how fortunate I am for their presence and love.  46 Days made my list because I enjoyed reading the daily journal of logistics and support as Brew Davis helped his wife set the record for the fastest AT thru-hike. Both hikers amaze and inspire me to get outdoors & get moving more.

Only one of my February reads made my top 14 list of books this year. Hatching Twitter was interesting and fascinating as well as it transported me to another world of high technology and business start-ups.  You can read more of my thoughts on the book here.

March proved another fantastic month for reading, and once again two of the books made my top 14 list. Recommended to me by a friend who knows how much I enjoy nonfiction, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, left me wordless and unable to articulate just how much I learned and experienced while reading about the lives of people half a world away from me in Mumbai. Also of note in March was Daniel Tammet's Thinking in Numbers which took me into a world of thoughts about how numbers connect to every aspect of our lives, including language and poetry.

When National Poetry Month rolled around in April, my list had to include at least one collection of poems. Though I love poetry, I don't take nearly enough time to read it daily (other than the poem a day which comes in my inbox). Ultima Thule by Davis McCombs provided the perfect segue into a field trip to Mammoth Cave I took with my son. With great anticipation, I also read A Sliver of Light in April. This story of three American hikers imprisoned in Iran kept me curious for years so reading their book provided more details of their experience and awakened me to other issues of solitary confinement and false imprisonment, issues that continue to keep me curious and wanting to take action.

Four of my five reads in May made my top 14 list, all nonfiction, of course. Because I've been thinking a great deal this year about my career, my life, my family, Barbara Bellissimo's book Become Your Own Great and Powerful:  A Woman's Guide to Living Your Real, Big Life was inspirational. I have found when you start your career as a teacher, it's not easy to think about asking for what you want and need for yourself. You are taught to believe--you do it because it matters--so money, comfort, and stability shouldn't matter. This year is one when I've been denying that expectation as truth, and I've been thinking more than ever before about what I really want and need from my career and personal life.

Five Days at Memorial, Things a Little Bird Told Me and A House in the Sky also made my list. Each of these books left me thinking throughout the year for different reasons. When I visited New Orleans for a conference in October, I was taken back in memory to the fantastic journalistic piece by Sherri Fink. When the beheadings of other journalists in Syria this year were reported, I remembered with vivid detail Lindhout's story of her captivity.

Half way through the reading year June-September, I continued reading with a list of both nonfiction and fiction, though none of the books from those months made my top 14 list here.

By October, I was beginning to realize I really would make my goal of a book a week as long as I continued to stay consistent through the busy work conference and holiday seasons of October-December. Included in my top 14 list was In My Father's Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate by Saima Wahab. In this memoir a young woman was sent to America to live with relatives at the age of 14 so she would be spared a childhood marriage. If you care about women's issues around the world, I would encourage you to read her story.

I ended my year by reading memoirs for all of December. Each story was interesting and inspirational as the authors shared their personal stories and journeys. However, the story of Julie and Matt Urbanski hiking the Continental Divide Trail was the only one of the five to make my top 14 list because I enjoyed the book as each spouse took turns writing chapters from their individual point of view. Since the book was about their hike and their relationship, it was inspiring to see how the couple worked individually and cooperatively to meet personal goals and solve problems.

Cheers to a great year of reading!

29 December 2014

10 Most Popular Blog Posts of 2014

Sitting on the balcony of our beach condo rental on this beautiful December day, I'm reflecting on my year as a reader and writer and planning several end of the year blog posts accordingly. My 10 most popular blog posts for the year aren't even necessarily my favorite posts, but they all hold a common theme of more engaged education experiences for students and teachers.

Even though this post has been up the least amount of time of all the posts listed here, it is by far the most popular amongst readers as it's had the most page views.

Number 2: Why I Support the Common Core

Unfortunately these excellent standards have become extremely politicized, and higher standards for students have turned into politician talking points. I'm no politician. Just a parent and educator who genuinely wants what's best for children and teens.  At a recent education conference, I heard Chuck Todd speak, and he assured us the political drama over these standards will increase in the coming election year.

Number 3:  Social Studies Includes History and Teaching

Another hot topic in America right now relates to how we teach social studies.

Number 4:  EQuIP Educators Evaluating Quality Instruction 

My work this year has led me to participate as a member of the peer review panel with Achieve, and the opportunities have continued as I've spoken at several national conferences, have guest blogged, and have met new people because of my work with The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky. 

For me this actually was one of my favorite posts to write, and it's also been popular amongst readers. I suppose because we see so many poor examples a of vocabulary instruction, we're all hoping for something more meaningful and engaging. 

Number 6:  A World Enough and Time

When my husband started teaching high school this year, we began this written conversation series and have blogged together a few times. This particular post includes a play on an Andrew Marvel poem.

Number 7:  Kentucky and Colorado Teachers Collaborate to Create Units of Study with Embedded  LDC Modules

Collaborating with others invigorates me because I believe many minds are better than one.

Number 8:  Why I Won't Make My Child Complete a Word Search Worksheet for Homework

Talk about feedback. Within a few hours this post garnered both positive and negative feedback on Facebook, so I provided an update a few months later.

Number 9:  Formative Assessment--A Process--Not a Thing

This post followed a NCTE Twitter chat about formative assessment and included a culmination of my thoughts on this topic from the past few years.

Number 10:  Students Plan to Change the World with Real-World Project Based Learning 

A highlight of last year for me was listening to students explain their project to me. I have no doubt they really will impact our world.

Finally finishing this post while enjoying the evening view.

24 December 2014

Coding in December

Hourofcode.com Social Media Share Buttons
My thirteen year old tech-savvy son thought it was a hoot that I was the parent advocating for his middle school to participate in Hour of Code this year. Since my boys started school nine years ago, I've been volunteering in the public school system. I've chaperoned field trips, baked goodies, and sold refreshments at middle school dances, but the volunteering I've enjoyed the most has been the times I have been able to work directly with students. When I sign up for committees, I try to sign up for committees that might afford me the opportunity to interact with students. Maybe it's my former teacher self who misses regular interactions with students. Maybe it's my parent self who wants to know the kids my own children attend school with. Or, maybe, it's my school improvement advocate self who wants to know what students really think about school, and the best way to know is to be there with the students.  Regardless of the reason, I set my plan in motion in October when I first heard about Hour of Code via Twitter.

By working with the head of technology at the middle school my sons I attend, I was able to gain access to two teachers who felt they had room in their curriculum to squeeze in an hour of coding during the official week December 8-14. These teachers opened their classrooms to me, and I spent each hour working directly with students as they tried out the various tutorials on the Hour of Code site. The best part? Hearing kids say "hey miss--I got it! I figured it out!" None of the students with whom I worked had any previous experience with coding.

Social Media Share Buttons from Hourofcode.com
Whatever field our children choose to enter as adults, their ability to succeed will increasingly hinge on understanding how computers and other technology work. Nearly 9 out of 10 schools do not offer any computer science classes. Yet, the demand for skilled workers to fill computer science jobs will continue to increase. Supposedly by 2020, there will be a million vacant computer science jobs. When I shared this statistic with some eighth graders, I saw their faces light up a bit.

Across the globe, schools are beginning to see the benefits of teaching coding. While jobs in the future might motivate some people to teach coding, I can imagine others are less motivated by jobs and more motivated by other benefits. Coding teaches students problem solving and forces them to pay attention to details, and if you have students work in teams on coding, they are also learning valuable skills as members of a team.

Business and community partners have everything to gain by volunteering time and resources in our public schools. Microsoft sends their engineers to schools to teach courses and volunteer, and several other organizations (including Facebook, Google, and the Ford Foundation) partner together as part of the #yeswecode movement. One of my favorite holiday activities this year was following Google's work with lighting up Christmas trees (an initiative aimed at getting more girls to code) and encouraging kids to use the Santa Tracker to code. Certainly, these activities are specific to people who celebrate Christmas, but since I celebrate Christmas, I found it fun to see the opportunities to make the holiday a continued learning experience.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, administrator, or community member reading my blog, I want to encourage you to support more coding opportunities in the area where you live because it's interesting to kids and it provides them valuable skills and experiences in life now and for their future.

Earlier this month, I attended and presented at the Achieve Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. so my colleagues and I took a walk the first evening to see the Christmas lights. We were excited to see the trees that were lit because students wrote computer code to light them up.
Seeing my world come full circle this December along the Christmas Pathway of Peace delighted me to no end. Kentucky's ornaments this year created by students from the Warehouse After School Program in Danville. This is the very program co-founded by Kendra Montejos, the young woman I interviewed for a Cake and Whiskey magazine article. You can read more here.

01 December 2014

How Rosa Parks Can Inspire Our Efforts to Transform Education in the United States

One month before our family visited Washington, D.C. for spring break in 2013, a statue of Rosa Parks was unveiled 
at the Capitol, so we were excited to snap this photo when we visited.

Today, on the 59th anniversary of Rosa Parks not giving up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama,  I'm thinking about how Parks' refusal to give up her seat moved the world. She was a leader who made a difference in the Civil Rights Movement because she was passionate and took a stand when she was tired of giving in to the inequities she faced as an African American. I believe there are lessons we can learn and apply to the world of education and the inequities we see as evidenced in both achievement gaps and opportunity gaps

We must be passionate about our work to transform education & act on our passion to improve the opportunities for all students to enjoy high quality learning experiences. Where I work, we often talk about "blowing up the education system." Not in a violent sense, obviously, but definitely with a sense of urgency. We are impatient about the need to change and improve our current educational system. Too many children and teens are bored in school because so many school systems are doing the same thing they've been doing for hundreds of years, and it's often focused on test prep, worksheets, and isolated learning experiences.

We can make a difference together.  Just as Parks was part of a longstanding effort to create change, we must not underestimate our individual and collective efforts to stand up for what we believe is right for children and teens. Last month I was offered the opportunity to blog for Teaching Channel, and what resulted was a post on transforming the teaching profession and honoring teachers as leaders as one strategy for improving the educational system for the students we teach.

We must shine light on bright spots in education. Granted, boring instruction is not happening everywhere, and I'm all for highlighting effective learning experiences. We need these experiences to be more widespread for all students.

 "I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people." 
One of my all time favorite quotes by Rosa Parks

30 November 2014

Sunday Salon: What I Read Online November 16-30

 Still Life with a Ginger Jar and Eggplants, 1893–94
Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906)
Oil on canvas; 28 1/2 x 36 in. (72.4 x 91.4 cm)
Bequest of Stephen C. Clark, 1960 (61.101.4)


When Thanksgiving Was Weird, an article by Lisa Hollenbach, explores the history of the Thanksgiving holiday in America.

A New York Times article by Sandra Joy Stein titled An Intensive Thanksgiving provides insight and opportunity for reflection based on a year when the author spent the holiday in her son's hospital room.

The band from one of our local high schools played in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, so it was fun to read about they prepared for the big day.

My appreciation for art and my leisure time on Thanksgiving Day led me to this fantastic article by Christopher Jobson. How 10 Famous Artists Would Plate Thanksgiving Dinner.

Dreaming, Hoping, Creating

You Too Can Help Students Achieve Their Dreams @ E blog post by Next Generation Leader, Shannon Treece. Seriously, you should read this blog and see how you can help this group of students change the world.

Continued protests around the country resulting from the Ferguson decision led me to this article by Chloe Johnson. Meet Davonte, the little boy with the big heart.

An art program for low income youth in Lexington intrigued me because of the innovative way they plan to take art to students via a mobile art studio, provided they raise all the money they need for the project by midnight tonight.

A Foundation in Georgia funds innovation projects for STEM learning looks promising.

How Much is Too Much? NPR Story about an 11th grader in Florida who will take more tests his junior year of high school than any other year. Granted, there's too much testing and test prep in all grades in America, and we need to do something about it. This story shares some hope for the future.
The Great Escape, a creative nonfiction piece, by Chris Bell a friend from college, appears in a brand new online literary journal--Grand Central Review.

Picasso Plates for Creative Dining showed up as a holiday gift suggestion in the New York Times. I just thought it was a cool idea to have creative dining options.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art releases 400,000 images for non-commercial use. I actually recall this announcement happening several months ago, but when I read the Colossal post it reminded me of this treasure of images available for use.

"Paul Cézanne: Still Life with a Ginger Jar and Eggplants" (61.101.4) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/61.101.4. (December 2008)

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."

09 October 2014

Let Them Be Curious: 13 Year Old Shares His Ideas on Science Education

Note: This article originally appeared in Science Connection, a newsletter produced by the Kentucky Department of Education.

Since his toddler years, my oldest son (now age 13) has shown an interest in physical science, especially anything having to do with energy. From his earliest years, science books, gadgets, circuitry, and anything solar powered has fascinated him. He even spends spare time watching YouTube clips about science and Mythbusters. Now, before you get a mental picture of educators’ son (My husband is an educator, too) who’s just a nerd, let me tell you that this child is an average teen interested in video games and computers like most other teens his age. The other trait Ethan has in common with average kids his age is a curious mind interested in exploring and learning. What’s exciting to me about the Next Generation Science Standards is the push for greater exploration of scientific concepts and the opportunity for students to ask more questions. Since the goal will be for students to ask the questions rather than for teachers to create a lab experiment with step-by-step instructions, I recently asked Ethan about NGSS Standard PS3.C. His curious nature took hold as he explained to me how he would teach this standard if he were the teacher. Below is a portion of our conversation.
Ethan: An active teen

RB: Ethan, I’m looking at the Next Generation Science Standards being implemented in schools around the country, including Kentucky, and I’m looking specifically at a standard for middle school that says “when two objects interact, each one exerts a force on the other, and these forces can transfer energy between them.” What do you think?

Ethan: yeah, what about it?

RB: If you had to teach that standard to kids, how would you do it?

Ethan: Well, there are several ways you could do it. You could use magnets, or plastic combs or balloons, but you should really let kids explore and see what might happen before you tell them anything.

RB: What do you mean?

Ethan: So, take the plastic comb idea. I would gather the students around a sink, give them all plastic combs and tell them to make the water bend.

RB: What if they don’t know what to do?

Ethan: That’s okay. They’ll figure it out probably if you give them a chance.

: But how would I give them a chance and still teach them anything? What if they just stand there?

Ethan: Mom, these are middle schoolers standing near a sink, they’re not going to just stand there. They’re curious and they will want to play around.

RB: ok. But what if they don’t figure it out?

Ethan: Well, after you wait a bit, you might have to start giving them hints.

RB: What kind of hints?

Ethan: Well, you could ask them questions or get them to ask you questions.

RB: What kind of questions?

Ethan: More than likely, the students will start asking questions and trying things out. They might ask—what will happen if I put this water under water? What will happen if I run the comb through my hair and then put it in water? If they don’t ask those questions or try out those things you might ask them how they think they could make static electricity with the comb.

RB: So, more than likely they will have some experience with combs and their hair having static electricity, right?

Ethan: yeah, then you could start explaining stuff to them like electrical charge happens when objects are rubbed together, so you will have charge when you run the comb through your hair.

RB: Tell me more.

Ethan: Negatively charged particles move from your hair to the comb. This makes the comb negatively charged. Electrons repel other electrons. If the negatively charged comb (from rubbing it in your hair) is near the water, it repels the electrons in the water. The water near the comb has a positive charge. The attraction between the positive charge and the negative charge bends the water.

RB: So how do you know this? Is this an experiment you did at school?

Ethan: No, I tried it in the bathroom sink one time. Plus I watched a YouTube video about it. It works the same way with strong magnets. But really, mom, you should try it and read about it too.

And, there you have it, a science lesson from my 13 year old son, and I would guess most science teachers already know this experiment, so the purpose of our sharing was not so much to tell you a cool experiment kids might enjoy. Instead, the purpose of our sharing this exchange and idea with you is to help you see just how curious kids are on their own, if we let them be. We don't have to provide step-by-step instructions for doing the experiment, and it seems the NGSS don't want us to do that anyway.

Some sites Ethan suggests for learning about bending water (just make sure you don’t provide kids the step-by-step instructions).

07 October 2014

Breaking Down the Silos Between School Finance & Teaching and Learning

Last week I once again stepped out of my comfort zone, big time. I attended an education finance training in Chicago where the majority of the attendees were CFOs or other business types who provide technical assistance to districts and schools as they align instruction priorities and finance decisions.

Several of the comments made by my table partners alarmed me, and I pushed back on them too. Take this statement--

"We can't have people so close to issues involved in decisions about how we spend money."
                             --anonymous person at my table

Really? Wow. No. I couldn't let that one slide. I believe there are teachers who are logical minded and plenty smart enough to help make decisions about how we spend money that will impact their students. So, of course, I calmly brought this up, and was repeatedly smacked back down. I'm not one to stay down for long though. Advocating for teachers as part of decision making processes is important to me, so that's what I did. By the end of the session, I had a couple of people beginning to see my perspective.
"Someone from leadership needs to determine what needs to be fixed and take steps to fix it"            
                            --anonymous person at my table
Another shocker. Why should it be someone at the top making decisions about how to fix problems? I learned recently about some of the best places in America to work, and each of those places values the input of everyone on every level in the company. Can't it be the same way in our school systems? Students, teachers, janitors, administrative assistants all are people who might have suggestions for budget issues in our public schools.

Beautiful Chicago at Night from the Air
Honestly, I can't say I've previously paid much attention to how money is spent in our schools, but I've decided I need to change my perspective on this, and I was inspired by Irvin Scott from the Gates Foundation who said he used to not think much about the finances either, and then he determined that if he was going to think about wisely spending money on the resources needed for instruction, he needed to understand the bigger picture. He recited a poem for the group and reminded us of the high expectations we need to establish and maintain for our students. Sometimes we need resources for helping us maintain these high expectations. The image he shared was perfect. We want students on their tip-toes reaching our expectations, and we certainly don't want students to stoop to meet our expectations. Again, all the more reason to think about how we spend our money to impact student learning.

According to reports from Smarter School Spending, only 8% of schools and districts compare investments based on student achievement. I'm not sure why this surprised me. I worked in schools and districts for nearly fifteen years, and countless times I saw money wasted on various fads or initiatives that were not necessarily aligned to any learning goals or objectives.

Educator friends, I encourage you to learn what you can about finance decisions made in your schools and districts. How? If you're all about instruction---step out of your comfort zone & learn something new about finances and make your voice known in a logical and smart way.

Finally, though, I think it's essential that we break down the silos between the people in finance and the people in teaching and learning. By working together, we have a greater chance of making smart decisions about how money in our schools is spent. If you need tools to help you make smarter decisions, you might consider checking out the tools I learned about last week.

03 October 2014

Let's Change the Test Scores Conversation

State test scores were released to the public today in Kentucky, and I can already hear rumblings. Our scores dropped, we didn't meet our goals, what are we going to do? More test prep! NO. Please. NO. We have schools full of unengaged and bored children and teens who don't even want to attend school. More skill and drill and continuous test prep will surely make them dread school even more. Plus, really, has it worked for you thus far? Have constant test prep, worksheets, overloads of boring homework improved learning and test scores. Doubtful that it has.

In the two hours since the scores have been released publicly, I have had at least a half-dozen friends who are educators contact me, I guess because they know I generally speak out about test scores, test prep, and my desire for a new way of thinking about test scores. I've blogged about it numerous times, and each time I say the same general thing in a different way.

Let's change the conversation
This morning, instead of thinking about the examples where we don't have it right, let's look again at some hopeful examples of teachers, schools, and systems who are focusing on engaged student learning based on the interests of students and based on the needs of the whole child.

Take Eminence High School for example, they do not focus on test prep at their school. Instead, they focus on engaging students and connecting them with their community. Read about this class that has plans to change the world using Project Based Learning.

In this post "I remember that worksheet said no student ever!" we also have the story of Shelly, a teacher in Woodford County, Kentucky. Shelly engages her students by empowering them. "Students are empowered as they become experts who communicate and share their ideas with an audience.  They are inventors and artists creating products for the future and dreaming of endless possibilities."

There's also Andrea, an elementary teacher who engages her students by having them explore historical artifacts. You see, it is possible to teach the required standards and meet the demands of the state assessments in interesting and engaging ways.

In Danville schools, a whole system is pushing back on the test prep ways and moving beyond dependence on traditional tests as they explore more performance based assessments for students to demonstrate learning.

Tricia Shelton and Patrick Goff, two Kentucky science teachers, are challenging each other and collaborating to ensure more collaborative and engaged science learning. Patrick shares his reflections on interactive learning including problem based learning on his blog.

Another one of my favorite Kentucky stories is a group of teachers in Louisville who teach a food literacy class. Here's another fine example of learning that doesn't involve test prep, and the teachers are finding great results.

My challenge to everyone today and throughout the year is for us to continuing sharing these bright spots. Instead of focusing on test prep and all the negatives associated with test score release, let's share positive examples that move well beyond skill and drill. Let's share examples of students engaged in genuine learning, examples of kids who want to go to school because they know they will enjoy it, examples of teachers doing what they do best--getting students excited about learning.

I know there are many many more. Will you join me in changing the conversation? Please post links to positive examples below in the comments. Thanks!