Saturday, December 22, 2012

Computer Curriculum

Recently I was given the task to create our elementary and middle school computer and technology curriculum so it is integrated with the regular classrooms and helps align to Common Core.  This is an overwhelming task!  I need your help!  Please take a moment and fill out the form below.

Once you've finished the form, check out the results here.  Thank you so very much for your help!  Let me know how I can help you!

Monday, December 10, 2012

No Homework? Really?!?

"I show you how much I love by how much homework I give you," I said. "And I love you a whole lot!"

Those are words I've said over and over and over to students and parents.  I can give you numerous reasons why I think it's a good idea for kids to take homework home.  In fact, let me list a few.  (NOTE: You'll notice that some of these are not exactly educationally sound but I'm just going to be honest here and show you some of my bad teacher cards too.)

  • Growth comes from struggle.
  • Practice makes perfect.
  • Parents know what students are learning when work comes home.
  • Students have something to do during study hall. (See! I'm honest!)
  • We ran out of time in class.
  • It's a good discipline technique.
  • It prepares kids for middle school, high school, college, real life...
  • Everyone since the beginning of time has had homework.
Maybe you agreed with my list.  Maybe you didn't.  Maybe you could add fifteen more reasons. Regardless, I feel a change coming over me.

This school year is a different year for me for numerous reasons. I have a decreased teaching load to make time for technology research.  Half of my classes are advanced math classes. I don't have language arts for the first time ever. I'm recovering from a nasty neurological disorder which leaves me with lots of muscle irritation and little energy.  

I find myself giving the kids very little homework, which is odd for me. It didn't start as an ideological change.  It was more circumstantial.  The advanced math kids tend to need less instruction time and get work done more quickly.  I'm used to history class being 25-30 minutes like it was in my old school, but it's 55 minutes here.  This means that kids can get things done in class. I just don't have the energy to grade a lot, so I don't assign as much. I'm still giving a fair amount of work, but the kids are doing it here. 

And, I'm feeling less stress -- from the kids, from the parents, and from me.  

I have my own version of a flipped classroom.  I used to teach for 40 minutes and give 15 minutes to get started on homework (if that).  Now, I teach for about 5 minutes and give 50 minutes to get the work done.  This is marvelous!  Not only does virtually every student get everything done before the end of the period, but I get to conference with each student as I grade work on the spot and have the ability to teach focused, personalized mini-lessons if needed.

One of my favorite bloggers is John Spencer over at Education Rethink. John isn't afraid to think idealistically and expect that things can still be that way.  He's not afraid to admit his struggles.  And he's not afraid to call the rest of us on the carpet on a number of issues. I may not agree with everything he says, but he makes me think about why I do what I do.

If you spend any time reading that blog, you'll realize that Mr. Spencer doesn't assign homework.  He decided he would rather spend his time playing with his kids and his kids would rather be playing with Dad.  He realized that his students' families probably feel the same way, so he's abolished homework in his class. Here are his 10 reasons to get rid of homework.  In fact, he even has a spreadsheet of teachers who have abolished homework completely.

While all these thoughts are swimming in my mind, the news hit our teachers' lounge that the state of Maryland abolished all homework.  (It turns out that only one elementary school in Maryland did this -- in favor of 30 minutes of reading per night -- but that really isn't the point.) My colleagues -- whom I respect and think are excellent educators -- acted as if this was the beginning of the end of education.  I just sat there and thought that it was a cool idea and couldn't wait to see how it plays out.

I have not signed the no-homework spreadsheet, but I'm thinking about it.  This post serves as my method for thinking out loud.  Help me out here.  What am I missing?

Ditch the Homework List!

  1. Decreased stress for everyone involved: students, parents, teachers
  2. Less divisiveness.  We are all working on the same team. It's hard to see that through the haze of homework.
  3. Kids need to be kids. If they are bogged down with homework, they have less play time.
  4. Parents have the ability to take back control of their home and how they raise their kids. 
  5. Parents are not at odds with their kids to get it done. 
Keep the Homework List!
  1. Parents feel more connected with student learning when they know what's going on at school.
  2. What happens if/when I get assigned another language arts class which involves a lot more reading, writing, editing, and rewriting?
  3. Just when you say, "I'll never..." an exception will come along and make me eat my words. 
  4. How do you define homework? This is going to need subpoints.
  • Is studying for a test homework?
  • Getting supplies for an experiment or research project?
  • What do we do with assignments not finished in class?
  • What about long-term projects and reports?
So, I'm dying to know.  Where do you fall in the conversation?  What are your thoughts?  

Confessions of a Bad Hurdler

I had a dream of running the steeplechase on my college track team.  I asked our coach, and he was agreeable to it, provided I figured it out myself.  You see, our college was so small we rented a high school track for practices. We really were a rag-tag group of non-runners trying to get into shape before summer break with only one coach.  The same man was my cross country coach and I'm sure he figured I couldn't do anything goofier than he saw in the fall.

So... I set out to teach myself how to steeplechase.  The first goal, learn how to hurdle. I called my high school coach, who agreed to help.  My roommate and I drove spent a Saturday morning at my high school where we learned the fundamentals of hurdling.

What happened is that I never once ran steeplechase.  My winter blubber never dissolved during the track season so that I felt comfortable running roughly two miles while jumping over obstacles.

I did however reach ROCK STAR status on my track team. I was a hurdler!  I ran in the 110 high hurdles and the 400 intermediate hurdles.  And I was bad.  Not only did I never win, but I'm not so sure that I beat anybody in any race I ran.  I was an out of shape distance runner trying to run sprint events...but my teammates thought I was a big thing.

I took a chance.  I learned a new skill.  I did something the other people around me were too intimidated to try.  To the others, it didn't matter that I was good or bad but that I took that risk.

Looking back at my technology journey the past couple decades, I see some similarities. You see, when I started teaching, I hand-wrote my own tests. Over the years, computers began to creep into my classroom, till I realized I had technology and had no idea how to use it.  That led to my Masters' thesis on the topic of technology integration (published in 2002).  From then on, I've been something of a tech integrator, but things really changed when I started teaching at a different school that had just rolled out iPads.  I responded to an email asking how we were using our iPads in class.  My list -- verbatim -- made it into a Head of School email sent to the whole school, and I instantly became known as the iPad specialist.

You can look at a hurdle and decide to either jump over it or not.  Same thing with an iPad or a computer. Use it or don't use it.  Those who do choose to jump over the hurdle are revered by those who don't (and frankly, are probably looked at as a bit nutty).  Those who chose to learn how to use the iPad and integrate it into lessons are looked as something special.  Why? Because we took the time to learn how to do something the other people didn't want to learn.

There are days I don't feel like I'm doing anything special.  I can still be a lazy teacher at times, but a lazy teacher who uses a cool tool with the kids.  There are days when teachers ask me for a special lesson idea.  I'm more than happy to help out.  I do a Google search, skim off the top 5 results, email it off, and look like I did something great.

What makes a great teacher is not the tools they use but how they use them.

I was a hurdler at one point in my life, but I was slow, out of shape, and really bad.  Wouldn't it have been cool if I went into my hurdling career at my best performance weight and really tried to learn the craft well?  Then again, it would be really cool if I attacked every day of teaching with the same intensity that an Olympic hurdler attacks the first hurdle of the gold medal race. THAT'S what makes a teacher worth remembering!

Maybe one day I'll tell you about my triple jump experience!