Archive for November 2006

Why Not Rant on Someone Else’s Blog if You Get the Chance?

November 29, 2006

So, I was reading Miguel Guhlin’s blog yesterday and I came across a post entitled Shocking Education Culture.  It is a great post and brings up some interesting and thought-provoking ideas, but I was taken aback when I read this as one of the potential solutions to a stagnating culture…

Link compensation to desired performance goal (e.g. technology use) – For K-12 educators, this would means having a high stakes test that measures student technology competencies within the content areas…not a separate technology test, but a content area test that uses technology.”

After reading the above statement, I couldn’t even concentrate on the rest of the post until I left a comment.  So, this is what I said…

“I enjoyed your post until I got to this statement…

‘Link compensation to desired performance goal (e.g. technology use) – For K-12 educators, this would means having a high stakes test that measures student technology competencies within the content areas…not a separate technology test, but a content area test that uses technology.’

I beg of you… no more high-stakes testing!! Not even the re-vamping of current testing to include technology… We need a better and differentiated way to assess what students are learning – portfolios, projects, presentations, discussions. Anything but standardized tests!!”

And then he said…

“Angela, thanks for commenting. I’m exploring ideas here, so let me go out on the limb a bit further.

Today, I facilitated a meeting of campus technology representatives. We shared the changing expectations of teachers in the new long range plan for technology (read earlier blog entry on the subject).

One of the teachers came up afterward and shared how scary this was for teachers…technology on top of high stakes tests. If teachers–and to be honest, blogging teachers are a minority–only pay attention when there is a high stakes test…maybe what we need is a bit more of what we fear.

What’s a better approach?”

And then I said…

“Unfortunately, I can’t claim to have all the answers, but I do think there has to be a better way than how we are doing it in Texas. Here are some ideas…

1. In lieu of an exit-level test, why not a portfolio that showcases students’ strengths instead of points out their deficiencies (and of course, technology would be a component of this… in fact, why not e-portfolios?)

2. If we must have a test, why not “grade” students on how well they have progressed from year to year instead of requiring the same exit-level score for everyone?

3. In lieu of a test, why not have an exit-level project that utilizes skills students have learned to solve real-world problems?

Honestly, I don’t know… I know technology use is scary to many teachers but it is not to the students. Teachers need to learn to give up a little bit of their control and allow their students to teach them once in awhile. It is okay that the teacher doesn’t know everything as long as he/she is willing to learn.

I am just afraid that tacking technology on to the already high pressure and high stakes testing will just result in more drill and kill and less actual learning.

Thanks for listening to my rant.”

<All of a sudden I felt like a teenage girl again. “What did he say next? And then she said…> 🙂

I think it is an interesting conversation and would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.  Any opinions?

Failure is not an Option

November 29, 2006

The team leaders on my campus have recently begun a book study over Alan M. Blankstein’s Failure is Not an Option.  We are only in chapter 3 at the moment, but I am enjoying it so far.  I especially like Chapter 2 entitled Courageous Leadership for School Success which basically discusses the importance of having and acting with courage in education.  Here are some of my favorite quotes from Chapter 2 – 

“They [educators being discussed] do what they have to do because of who they are and what they value.” – This is a rather vague quote and certainly better understood in the context of the chapter, but I like this idea although it is certainly not always the easiest thing to do.  Following the crowd is certainly easier, but in the end I would rather have a clean conscience and be able to live with my actions than make others happy. 

“In education, a growing body of research indicates that the belief system of teachers heavily influences their students’ possibilities of success.  In short, ‘Positive expectations yield positive results.’” This is basically the self-fulfilling prophecy… Students will rise to the level of expectation you set for them provided you provide the support and guidance they need. 

“Despite the current focus on testing and standards, educators need more than incremental gains on their students’ test scores to establish a motivating connection to their work.  Similarly, students need to see the relevance of schoolwork in their lives.” I like how this guy thinks! J 

Chapter 2 also encourages reflection by educators and my principal ask that each team leader take the following five questions back to his/her team and have each team member answer them and then discuss.  So, here goes… 

1. Why did I become a teacher?  I would like to say that it is always what I wanted to be and I felt a calling, but that is not entirely accurate.  While growing up, I always thought I would be either an environmental lawyer or a marine biologist.  As I got a little older, I dropped the idea of the marine biologist, but I still dreamed of being an environmental lawyer… until I learned what lawyers really do and then I decided that it wasn’t for me.   

As I entered college I reflected on what career would make me happy and teaching just seemed to be a natural fit.  I have always been an avid reader, and I have always enjoyed writing.  English has always been my favorite and best subject in school, and I like kids and do well with them.  In fact, when I entered college, the only jobs I had ever had revolved around children – assistant manager of a daycare, babysitter, nanny and after school enrichment teacher.  So, I decided… why not become a teacher?  And although I struggle at times with the politics of education, I can’t see myself doing anything else. 

2. What do I stand for as an educator?  Hmmm… this is a difficult one.  I would like to think that I stand for doing whatever is best for the student – making the curriculum relevant, teaching students to think for themselves and do what is right, encouraging them to creatively and out-of-the-box, helping them develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, teaching them perseverance even when something is tough, etc. 

I would like to think I stand for making the “right” choices for my students even if they are not always the easiest and the most popular. 

3. What are the gifts I bring to my work? Obviously, there are too many to mention. J  

Seriously though, I think one of the most important gifts I bring to my job is the ability to relate to students and build good relationships with them.  I have found that developing a solid relationship with students makes the rest of the job so much easier and more effective. 

4. What do I want my legacy as a teacher to be?  I am not sure if it is a legacy exactly, but when I retire I would like to have helped some students find their place in the world as literate, hard-working, respectful and honorable citizens.  If they remember some literature and sentence structure that would be great too. J

5. What can I do to keep track of myself – to remember my own heart?  I don’t really like the way this question is worded… it is a little too cheesy sounding for me, but I will give it a shot. 

It may sound a little trite, but one of the things that helps keep me sane is reflecting about what I am doing, how I can improve and focusing on my continual growth.  Currently, I do a majority of this on my blog by writing about what is going on around me and occasionally venting about my frustrations.  I also use the others in the field of educational blogging to help keep me abreast of what is happening in other parts of the world in regards to educational technology.  It is a great way for me to develop professionally (and I can do it while sitting on my couch). 

Well, there it is – my answers to the questions and my thoughts on Chapter 2.  Perhaps I will post my thoughts on some upcoming chapters as well… 

The Living Room Candidate

November 28, 2006

I came across this nifty little site yesterday, and I thought I would share.  The site has presidential campaign commercials from 1952 through 2004.  It also includes  lesson plans that can be downloaded, textual information about the campaigns and results maps.

I tagged the site for the history department’s Delicious site but also thought it would be useful in Language Arts classes to display persuasive techniques, as writing/journal prompts, and discussions/debates about how campaigns have evolved over the years.

I am sure there are applications in other disciplines as well.  How could you use this site in your classroom?  I would love to know.

Digital Storytelling and YouTube in the Classroom

November 17, 2006

One of my English teachers offered her class extra credit to create a digital version of their written narrative.  One of her students took her up on it and did a fantastic job!  Take a look and leave him a comment if you like. Pretty cool!

More Thoughts on Finding Our Way Off the Plateau

November 17, 2006

So the other day I posted a little rant… I have continued to think about my frustrations and have talked with others at school as well as read the comments left by others, and I am feeling a little better about things.  Nothing has really been “solved” but I think I have come to terms with the root of my frustration… the politics of public education.

As I said in my rant, I know my teachers are working hard and I know they feel pulled in too many directions… let’s face it – we ask a lot of them.  I guess where my frustration arises is that because of everything that is pushed upon them by NCLB, TAKS testing and state standards, district curriculum and benchmark testing, AP testing, SAT and PSAT preparation, there is little to no time to focus on the things that really matter (or at least I think really matter) like making the curriculum relevant, teaching the students to think critically and creatively, building personal relationships with the students, teaching skills students will need in the “real-world,” and, yes, effectively integrating technology.

It is enough to make the teachers and students feel defeated and give up, and unfortunately some of them do and we lose some outstanding teachers and students with potential, but fortunately, the rest of us hang in there and do the best we can hoping it will make a difference to someone.

Finding Our Way Off the Plateau

November 14, 2006

I have been feeling a little defeated lately.  This happens occasionally for brief periods of time because I get overextended, stressed out or tired and then something happens and I am reinvigorated, but unfortunately I haven’t fully shaken it yet.

At times I am not really sure what it is exactly that is plaguing me.  I love my school, the kids are great, the teachers and administrators I work with are outstanding, and overall, we do a great job… better than most schools (at least I like to think).  So, I should be content.  Maybe my expectations are too high, but I think we should be doing more.  My school is six years old and it is our sixth year with our one-to-one laptop initiative, and I feel like when we started we were continually growing and actively striving to learn and improve.  We went above and beyond to learn new and innovative ways to implement technology in the classroom, to actively engage students and to make the curriculum relevant, but I feel like in the last year or so we have reached a plateau that we just can’t seem to find our way off.

Don’t get me wrong… there are certainly still teachers on my campus who go above and beyond “the call of duty” to teach their curriculum in innovative and relevant ways and there are teachers who are using technology in amazing ways, but there are also teachers who are stagnating – teachers who feel there is nothing left to learn or nothing worth learning.  I no longer feel the climate of continued growth and optimism for learning that I have felt in the past and I want it back, but it seems to be ever elusive.

I know my teachers are working hard.  I know they want what is best for their students.  I know they are tired and feel pulled in too many directions with preparing for TAKS testing, AP testing, SAT preparation and simply trying to help their students achieve basic math, science and literacy skills.

I need to know how I convince them to take some time for themselves to help them grow and improve professionally.  I would love to convince them that introducing some Web 2.0 technologies like blogs and wikis might actually help students prepare for the TAKS test and add some relevancy to their curriculum, but I only have a handful of teachers that seem to be buying in to the concept.  And although I didn’t comment on Will Richardson’s rant, I appreciate his post and the eloquent way he verbalized my thoughts.

Speaking of rants, thanks for listening to mine.  I would love any suggestions you guys might have… 

Maybe it is just time for my Thanksgiving Break. 🙂

Working Smarter with Del.icio.us

November 7, 2006

Every Tuesday on my campus I organize something called Teaching and Learning Tuesdays.  Basically they are teacher or administrator led professional development sessions centered around technology or instructional strategies.  Teachers attend them and “teach” them on a voluntary basis (although I do encourage both.) 🙂

Today I conducted a session on the social bookmarking site Del.icio.us.  I have used the site personally since last school year and am convinced of its usefulness but was struggling when trying to come up with a “hook” to get my teachers excited about the potential uses of the site.  In preparation for my session I viewed some of the social bookmarking presentations from the K12 Online Conference and learned some new features and tips to share, but I still didn’t have my “hook.”

Turns out that my “hook” was pretty simplistic, and I had my epiphany this morning while washing my hair… “Why not have each department create a del.icio.us account to use to share bookmarks,” I thought.  Yeah, not much of an epiphany, but it turned out to be a pretty popular idea.  I had a teacher from each content area create an account for their department and share the username and password with their cohorts.  Now everyone from the department can tag websites and add them to their del.icio.us site which will cut down on some work (having to e-mail them out to the group) and everyone will have access.  Pretty nifty! 

We also got really fancy and added each department to the other’s del.icio.us networks so now we are a networked social bookmarking machine.  🙂

Hopefully the knowledge will now spread to the students.  How easy would it be to create a del.icio.us account for students studying the same topic so they could work together to share resources?  How about students in the same class period?  Teachers could even share with students from different class periods, different classes or different schools… pretty amazing really.