Friday, February 27, 2015

Is this what Tolkien was thinking?

My daughter came home from school yesterday with a book fair ad. We excitedly started looking at all the books and trying to decide which one we should buy. As a kindergartner, her choices are limited, and it will take some parental guidance to bring the right one home. As I was looking through the options I saw little icons at the bottom of each description telling me the Lexile level and if there was an Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts quiz on the book.  That immediately became my focus.  "Is there a RC quiz? Great! We'll look at it." or  "No quiz? What?!? Forget that!"

Fortunately that conversation happened silently in my head not out loud in front of my daughter.

When Tolkien sat down to write The Hobbit, I'm fairly certain he wasn't aiming for a certain Lexile score.  "I think I can hit 900. I'm pretty sure of it."  When it came out as a 1000, did he jump for joy and fist-bump CS Lewis? Or did Lewis have a pity party when The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe came out as a mere 940. Of course not.

Authors write books to tell a story, not as a way for students to take tests.

I write this knowing full well the irony of my post.  I am the AR Guy at my school. I do see the value in checking comprehension of a story, and these tests are a good measure to do that. After all, comprehension is the main building block to higher level thinking. If a student doesn't understand the basics of the story, how can we use that story to compare and contrast with other stories, characters, and plots?

The danger comes when we focus solely on the comprehension test. That's where my daddy role got in the way of my professional knowledge. Knowing that my daughter is into taking these Reading Counts tests at her school, that became my main focus when looking for a book.

Tonight, I think I'll look for the actual content of each book to see what she will enjoy and forget about the stupid test.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Why I'm Starting An Ohio #GeniusHour Group

Two weeks ago at this time I was nervously anticipating presenting Genius Hour at Ohio Ed Tech Conference in Columbus.  To be honest, I was surprised I was selected to present this session. Surely, I wasn't the most experienced Genius Hour teacher in all of Ohio.  Certainly someone else knew more than I did, but I gave it the old college try. 

That session showed me three things.  One, there is a lot of interest in Genius Hour in Ohio.  About fifty us sat through the prime lunch hour to talk about this hot topic in education.  Two, not many of us are using Genius Hour. Only five us had actually used Genius Hour.  While this didn't represent ALL the Genius Hour teachers in Ohio, it did show me that the idea had yet to take root in actual practice. Three, the enthusiasm for Genius Hour is overflowing.  Before, during, and after the session I had some great conversations about starting the process right.  There are people who want to dive in but have questions, lots of questions.

So, I started a little Edmodo group of Ohio teachers who want to use Genius Hour.  Why? I wanted to create a safe place for teachers to collaborate, celebrate, and commiserate as they take the plunge.  Here are the rules so far...
  • It's for Ohio teachers.  (I'll explain more later.)
  • It's for any teacher of any grade level in any content area.
  • It's for newbies and grizzled veterans.
  • It's a place to discuss what's happening or ask questions about what to do next.
  • It's not just for people who attended OETC.
My session was billed as round table session.  Generally, round table assumes conversation, conversation among people who have experience and knowledge.  What really happened was I talked for 95% of the time.  I want to change that for next year.  I want to bring my own panel discussion to OETC16, and the best way to do that is to have a group of Ohio teachers who already have a report and community together.

If this interests you, please contact me.  I'd be happy to add you to the group. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reflections on #OETC15

For two days, I wandered the halls of the Columbus Convention Center, listening to other educators talk about how they are using technology in their worlds at the Ohio Ed Tech Conference. As I picked up tidbits about programs, apps, and practices in classrooms and schools across Ohio, I heard one resounding theme emitting from the speakers.
Students can demonstrate learning in so many ways! Give them a chance! 
I made that cry in my Genius Hour presentation, but I was surprised how often I heard it from other speakers.

I sat in on an OETCx panel discussion, where the main topic of conversation was how to change school culture. Let me tell's hard.  Our default mode is to teach the way we were taught. With increasing emphasis on Common Core standards and high-stakes standardized testing, it's continually easier to drift to the lecture, lecture, lecture model.  School culture may be hard to change, but it's necessary to change it.

Teachers at Bay Village Schools decided to teach Scratch to their fourth graders, collaborating with a local university.Those students went crazy using Scratch as a learning tool. And it's more (much more!) than making a cute cat move across as screen.  Students are using code to teach about math, prepositions, and lots more.  I got to thinking that what we have here are students who are learning -- really learning -- the required standards in core classes but using a non-traditional way to demonstrate their learning. That learning is shared on Scratch and their local Scratch site, so they are creating for a larger audience than just the teacher. Awesome! (You can see their presentation here.)

Kent Schools has created a girl coders club that meets one evening a week. These eight young ladies are learning some key skills that can directly lead them to STEM jobs, and we all know about the huge gender gap in all things STEM.

My friend Jon talked about writing iBooks with his students. He recognized that his students hated to write, but when presented with the idea of publishing books online, they stepped up their writing, editing, and collaboration skills! Now 43 books, 30,000 downloads, and one global project later Jon has found a way to ignite a love of learning and writing while demonstrating that to a very large audience. When he first got into the iBook game, his principal asked him if he could come up with some standards he was hitting. Jon highlighted 75 standards they covered writing one book in two weeks. Score! (Jon's presentation can be found here.) (Commercial Break: Jon is looking for teachers to join him in #twima2. Interested? Click the link.)

The theme ran through keynotes and special sessions. I don't have time to hit all the points, but Yong Zhao said it well that schools should be a personalized educational ecosystem.  It got to the point that I sent out this tweet.
Vicki Davis packed her session with tons of great quotes, but two ideas stuck out to me.  Students should create things that are meaningful TO THEM. If a student writes for just you, it is a waste of their time and your time. The audience should be so much bigger.

I mentioned in my Genius Hour session that the average preschooler asks about 100 questions a day, and the average middle schooler has stopped asking questions? (source) Why is that? We, the educational system, have told them that sitting quietly, listening to our questions and answers, and giving that information back on a test are all more important than exploration, mentoring, and global audience.

By the end of OETC, I felt like we were all saying the same thing but coming at it from different angles - coding, books, geniuses, and other examples I didn't get to. I felt like we were a group of 3000 people all saying the same thing.

  1. Students can learn and demonstrate learning in non-traditional ways. The don't all have to be techie though.
  2. Students need to take ownership of their learning. Student choice helps bring that to the table.
  3. Their audience should be much more broad than the teacher. The World Is My Audience.

Now... How do we get our friends and colleagues on this train with us? 

Vicki Davis had an interesting saying. "Innovate like a turtle." While I would love to see my entire school using these great teaching tools and others NOW, I realized that it's more important to look to the slow innovations around me.  I have a colleague who has said, "My blackboard doesn't break on me." In other words, she had no intent of diving into ed tech because what she has always done is working well for her.  I'm happy to say that for Grandparents' Day she had her students create and show Educreations videos.  Next week her class will participate in our first Mystery Skype session.  Baby steps. Innovation like a turtle.

I love OETC.  I love seeing the great new tools that are out there. I love meeting with like-minded educators and coming home with new contacts. I also love to see it applied in my school, and I'm hoping I can bring some of this edtech love to my colleagues and see more innovation around me.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

#GeniusHour at #OETC15

Yesterday, I had the joy (read that as "extreme terror") of presenting Genius Hour at a round table discussion at the Ohio Ed Tech Conference in Columbus, Ohio.  When I put in a proposal for this in the fall, I really didn't think I'd get it. Surely there are more knowledgeable and experienced Genius Hour teachers in Ohio than I am.  Well, surprise! I got it.  I was even more surprised to see that out of 50 us in the room, only about 5 of us had ever attempted Genius Hour.

It was a blast to share my thoughts, research, and experiences with these fine educators as well as chat with them after the session and connect with them via social media as the conference goes on.

In case you missed it or would like to refresh your memory, here you go...

My slide show can be found here.
I also referenced a Google Doc with detailed notes, which you can find here.

Finally, you probably shouldn't tell your students to...

Oh, and sorry my daughter's pediatrician called in the middle of the session. All is well.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Blend That Learning!

I spend roughly six hours a week sitting in math classes, supporting regular teachers with Accelerated Math sessions. During that time, I generally sit in the back of the room and mind my own business while the students work. If they hit a technical issue, I can (sometimes) fix it. If they need a test generated or objectives added, I can do that.  This frees up the teacher to answer math questions that inevitably come up.  In fact, I've been known to help (or confuse?) students with their math questions as well. 

Our school has been using Accelerated Math for a bit more than a year, and I've been impressed with the transformation I've seen in that time.

Accelerated Math time used to be just that. Students with iPads, focused on AM.  The only throwback to traditional math classes would be students showing their work in a math notebook. If you were to walk into the room, you would see all faces looking down at mobile screens and would have a hard time guessing what subject students were working on....but you'd be impressed that they were working on iPads.

In recent weeks, I've noticed an incredible shift in how learning is done in these AM classes.

Second grade teacher, Mrs. Tissot actively scours the data generated by AM and traditional math assignments. She obviously puts in a ton of work outside of class, because she knows exactly which student needs more work with each objective. During AM time yesterday, she pulled individual students to sit on the floor with her to do measuring activities. It took only a couple minutes with each student, but they learned the desired skill and got right back to their iPads.

I also work with Mrs. Young who uses AM as a center.  When I am in her class, she normally has 4 or 5 students working on AM.  The rest of her class is working on other assignments and cycle over to the AM table. She uses that time to work with individual students on skills that they need extra practice on.  

In third grade, Mrs. Bartholomew's students have found themselves comparing fractions on MathFacts in a Flash.  Comparing fractions? In third grade? That's not a problem for Mrs. B. She dug around in her closet, found some fraction manipulatives, and told her students to practice with the fraction pieces before testing the skill. Yesterday, I watched as one little girl helped her friend figure out how to use the new tool.  Technology, manipulatives, and collaboration? Score one for Mrs. B!

Mrs. Plikerd teaches 6th grade math in a class with a very wide range of abilities. Most days I saunter into a glorious "organized chaos."  Some students are working on AM. Some are working in their books. Some are being taught a formal lesson. All students are engaged in math, but it's a fluid collaboration of teachers, students, and groups navigating math together.  And it works! Students are growing and learning some intense math skills, way above what I would consider within the ability level of a sixth grader. 

In middle school, Mrs. Gibbs took the idea of math review to a new level.  She posted a Super Bowl bulletin board, and broke the students into two teams.  Intricate rules have grown, but the concept uses class notes, book work, and AM as ways of gaining yards, scoring touchdowns, and even extra points with bonus questions.  Students are telling her how exhausted they are from answering as many questions as quickly and accurately as possible. 

As I waltz around the school, I'm seeing how we're getting this blended learning thing down. It's not necessarily the tech you use, but how you use the tech to teach your students in a way they can learn. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Book Review: Authentic Learning in the Digital Age

Title: Authentic Learning in the Digital Age
Author: Larissa Pahomov

"Good schools are about people honestly and intentionally working together very purposefully."

What if your entire school was built surrounding an inquiry-based learning model?  What would that look like? What policies would you adopt? What core values would drive learning?  Would you foster a school-wide culture of learning and growing through inquiry or would it happen piecemeal on a class-by-class basis? How would you leverage experts in your city and around the world to help teach and mentor your students?

If reading these questions gets your creative juices flowing...or asking how on earth you could convince your administration to let you get started... you need to read this book.

Science Leadership Academy is a public high school in Philadelphia that opened in 2006.  The goal was to build a school with the intent of being inquiry-driven and project-based.  They partnered with Franklin Institute and put in a ton of work before the school year started to speak a common language and have common goals.

Maybe one day you can add a trip to SLA to your next Philly vacation, but this book pulls back the curtain to show you what makes this school tick. Even if your school will never completely immerse itself in inquiry-driven learning there are still some great ideas here for your personal practice to guide students in your project-based curriculum. In fact, I found this book invaluable in my Genius Hour studies this winter.

Incidentally, all this talk about the Franklin Institute brings up such happy memories of one of the greatest places on earth to go on a field trip while growing up in suburban Philadelphia.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

This morning I had the privilege of observing an 8th grade English class working on Never heard of it?  Me neither before last week.  Our middle and high school teachers are trying out the free version to see if we want to purchase it.

Teachers set up their class and can track their students in any one of a number of grammar skills.

  • Find the noun in the sentence.
  • Your or you're? Its or it's? 
  • What verb tense is this?
You know... all the normal grammar stuff we were taught as students and have had to teach to those bleary-eyed children.  (Isn't it great to use a sentence fragment in a blog post about grammar?) 

The great thing about noredink is these students weren't moaning and groaning. They weren't fighting the urge to take a nap.  They weren't disengaged.  Every single one of them was working on their grammar skills.  I've taught most of these students over the years, and I've seen them zone out during those "exciting" moments.

What's the trick? I saw a few things working in our favor here.
  • Every student was engaged on his or her screen. There is no hiding because you have to do it.
  • Students could choose their topics.  (This is not always the case, as the teacher can assign a specific skill if desired.)
  • The sentences were bizarre.  "Princess Leia and her friends shopped at the outdoor mall." "Legolas helped Saruman up the stairs." "Jill could not find the beach house." 
Teachers have the ability to track student data and to create assignments within the program.  

I have taught grammar for most of my adult life. I've used a few different curricula and methods, but it always boils down to something that isn't all that interesting to most kids.  Like one student said to me years ago, "Why do we have to learn English? We already speak it."  (My response? "So you don't sound like you're from Kentucky.")  Here is a program that can insert some fun into the mundane. 

Is this a winner? I have no idea at this time, but I'm excited to see if it really is.  Stay tuned!

Innovation Museum

In preparation for next week's round table discussion about Genius Hour, I have curated some of our best Innovation Projects into this museum. Wander through the links and leave comments for the students.

rage .jpg
The Time Warp
(A Stop Animation Video
(An Original Video Game)

(A Knife Flipping Site)
Java Innovation Project
(Daniel teaches himself Java)

“With You”
(A Song Written and Performed by a Student)
Maxx and the Robot
(Maxx shows off his Lego robot)
American Sign Language
(A Site About ASL)
Connor’s Wall Art
(A Graffiti Web Site)
Ride the Roller Coaster
(A Collaborative Amusement Park Using Tekkit)
Maxx and the Saw/Gun
(Maxx takes his Lego skills in a different direction)