Sunday, February 3, 2013

Moving my blog

I have decided to move my blog to a self-hosted wordpress site. I will no longer be publishing at this site.

 Please join me at and subscribe to the RSS or email feed there. I look forward to continuing our conversations there.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Squeeze of the Test

We offered our first professional development this week to local teachers on PBL (project based learning). Since we are a lab school at the county level it was determined from the planning stages of our school to offer PD to the local districts.

One of my colleagues and I ran the PD session and I was struck by a couple of things. The teachers who attended did not ask very many basic questions about what PBL is or why it is a good pedagogical choice. Many of them had already used it in their classrooms in at least one project and were looking to further develop their understanding and practice of it. They did not need to be convinced to try PBL. In their districts they were the early adopters. They did ask questions about student motivation, managing the projects and groups, and grading.

The questions that hit me the most were questions about testing and assessment. They wanted to know how we assess; how we measure student growth (i.e. what standardized tests do we use and how often); were we concerned about how our students will do on the 11th grade state test (you know the BIG one).
Lifted from Trendblend
These teachers were obsessed with testing and assessment. But to be clear these questions were not asked in a skeptical or judgmental way. They were asking these questions because that is the climate that they live in back in their home districts. It was very clear to me that testing was very emphasized in their schools and although they wanted to shift to student-centered PBL they were concerned about how their students would do on tests. They were looking to be assured that if they went all in with a PBL classroom that their students would perform better on standardized tests. To me, test results are not a very important part of PBL at all. I believe in PBL because I think it encourages a better way to learn and develops important life skills such as collaboration and communication that won't be on any test.

Even though I taught in one of these districts two years ago, I have forgotten how dominate the testing culture is in most schools today squeezing out everything else. I am truly blessed to be free from the fear of these tests. My students will take the tests and I sometimes worry about how they will do a little bit, but I do not teach in a climate that obsesses about them non-stop and makes them a key factor in every decision.

Other PBL teachers, how do you encourage teachers who want to shift to PBL but feel pressured by a test obsession culture?

Monday, January 28, 2013

"What are you willing to get fired for"?

My favorite session at Educon was session 5. You won't find this title in program, but this is a snapshot of a great conversation that I had with Rob Grecko. He asked me: "What are you willing to get fired for? Poor test scores vs. refusing to teach scripted curriculum?"

Photo Credit: muffytyrone via Compfight cc

We all make compromises and do things that we may philosophically disagree with at times to work in a system called a school, district, or whatever. If we are always backtracking to obey district mandates it is a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? When is enough, enough?

But I also have an addiction to food, clothing, and shelter (hat tip to Ron Houtman)  that my wife and children share. I need my job to live and I was raised to respect and obey authority figures. I think a not so subtle belief of my religious upbringing was that they have all of the answered figured out and everyone else is wrong, which very quickly leads to listen to their authoritative voice and don't question it.

If you know me, you know that I have shed the "don't ask questions part" but in truth I am a complicated mixture of rule follower and rebel and don't even know how to classify myself.

So the driving question haunts me because the truth is I am not willing to lose my family income for what I believe is the best for students. The truth is also though that I am not in a position where I have to make that choice.

But let's try an experiment in empathy. What if you WERE met by your administrator tomorrow and handed a scripted test prep curriculum and told that you had to use it the rest of the year and that your students had to reach a certain level on the state test or you would be fired. 

Which risk would you choose? Teach the test prep curriculum and hope you don't get fired from low scores or ignore the scripted curriculum in favor of meaningful student-based inquiry and risk getting fired for disobeying orders. Which risk has the better payoff? Which risk helps students?

What are YOU willing to get fired for?

National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day!

Today was supposed to be the launch of our school's greatest project ever including field trips to local factories. Unfortunately weather got involved and we had massive closings (our school buses in students from 20 different local districts) and our busing canceled the trip on us. We ended up with about 25% of our student body showing up so what should we do? Well when you are given lemons you make...bubble wrap!

On the way to work I heard that today is national bubble wrap appreciation day. So we took the protocols learned from Chad Sansing's Flying Schools Educon session and adapted them to this "special" day. Students went through the design process creating new applications for bubble wrap.
 They made boats that really float 


 Bow ties are cool!

Animal Clothing

Gun target with paint in it that "pops" out when it is hit.

A steering wheel that you can pop when you are stressed. 

If you didn't catch the reference this came from The Reichenbach Fall. 

All in all it turned into a good introduction to design thinking. We have a long ways to go in particular in the area of improving on our original ideas but it was a good first step and I look forward to implementing this kind of thinking into future projects.