Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I read this post at the Cooperative Catalyst by Educational Revolutionist and left the following comment:

I think you are confusing two separate issues: unions and learning. The purpose of unions is to protect the rights of workers in regards to wages, benefits, working conditions, etc. Union dues are paid by teachers to protect their rights and wages. Unions are not directly designed to promote learning or guarantee student rights. Unions are part of the democratic “checks and balances” against big business. Review the history of Carnegie and other robber barons. Sure they donated lots of money to libraries to and created education institutions. Sounds alot like Gates, Broad, and crew to me.
But as Mary Beth has pointed out, positive working conditions and benefits leads (but does not guarantee I admit) to better learning situations for students. These benefits lead to more qualified teachers entering and staying in the field. Other rights such as planning time lead to better learning opportunities. As my dad always quoted a friend who owned a used construction equipment business said, “I can’t afford a $7/hour mechanic. I need a $20/hour mechanic.”
Unions do fight for more funds for education all of the time. Are they self-interested? Sure, but the money goes to many things in schools also.
Lastly, I agree it would be incredible if teachers would rally, protest, and boycott against NCLB, RTTT, and standardized testing too.

BTW “Get up, Stand up” by Marley came up on my Itunes shuffle as I wrote this. #karma

Sunday, February 20, 2011

#sbar rejected

Exploded Model T 
We have a nice discussion started in the comments of my last post about #sbar (standard based assessment) in elective classes. In that post I think I had some difficulty articulating my problems with sbar in my classroom. Most of the comments came from a point of assuming that there needs to be specific standards for my class. I do not share that assumption.  I come from a more open perspective of giving students varied learning opportunities and they learn what they choose to learn.  I think I found an example to explain this that makes sense (at least to me).

This weekend my family went to Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. This is a huge building full of the history and culture of technology in America. It has tons of vehicles, planes, and trains in it along with farm equipment. The amount of history and science in that place is overwhelming.

Now I know how schools sometimes "do" fieldtrips with a scavenger hunt of items to find and write about or some other assignment. That is not how my family does museums. We came to the museum with no pre-determined agenda  about what we would learn.  My family explored the various parts of the museum, looked at the exhibits, and interacted when possible. Interactive items were my kids favorite parts by far, no matter how simple it was. We talked about the exhibits and asked each other questions. I never assessed my children's learning. I just let them experience it. I (lead learner) did steer them toward things I thought were interesting or important and they steered me to the things they wanted to see.
Lin generating electricity

When the day was over I knew they had learned many things because we experienced them together. I felt no desire to give them an A, B+, or C-. They did not earn a 3, 4, or 5 either. The real purpose of grading of any kind is ranking students. Even sbar is ranking students against a list of norms for their age/grade level.

I feel the same way about my applied technology class. My goals for students are for them to problem-solve, think critically, and work collaboratively. These things are difficult to assess objectively. I want students to experience challenges in my classroom and feel free to attack them without worrying about failing attempts. Educators often talk about a "sandbox" space in schools where students can experiment and play. That is how I would ideally describe my classroom. Students, in my humble opinion, get enough standards in their other classes. I give them a freer environment to explore and experiment.

Again I think sbar is a good tool for core classrooms where meeting specific standards is required. But my classroom focuses on doing and experimenting and I believe a failed attempt at solving a problem can be just as important part of learning as success. Grades are not really necessary for any of us to learn.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#sbar in Electives

So Monday afternoon (great timing having a half day for students on Valentines Day) we had a  professional development centered on Ken O' Connor's 15 Fixes. The book basically argues for standards based grading #sbar (disclaimer: we did not get through all of it yet). I agree with most of it in principal and it was very good to discuss grading policies with my colleagues (refreshing to have conversation focused PD!). Even though I profess to agree with many of the principals I was challenged that in practice I do some things that I say are wrong (for example I sometimes give zeros).

Ultimately I think grades suck and are just for comparing/ ranking students. If I have to give them then sbar is probably the best method in core classes. But there are a few points that I have issues with/ am still sorting out for elective classes. I teach Technology and consider myself part of the fine arts department of my school. I use project based learning with no summative assessments. I use my standards as topics to expose students to with alternative methods rather than formally assess. I also try to make my class a place to "play" where students can experiment and learn without fear of failure.

The big fixes that the fine arts have issues with are #6 " Don’t include group scores in grades; use only  
individual achievement evidence" and #1 "Don’t include student behaviors (effort, participation,
adherence to class rules, etc) in grades; include only achievement." In music/band/orchestra class the group is graded in performances together and how one acts on stage affects the group. I also do almost exclusively group projects. I do not always assign members the same score, but then I fall into the grading participation problem. For physical education participation/effort seems to be a very important part of the class and legitimate to grade. The goal is active fitness not just rewarding the best athlete. I can make a similar argument for art class.

So I/we are looking for some feedback. Next Friday we will meet with our principal to discuss our concerns. She is open to us using a credit/non-credit system and not using grades at all (which I think is ideal, but still requires some standard for earning credit).

Is anyone out there using sbar in elective type courses? I would love to hear from you if you are using it in art, music, PE, or technology. My principal is also looking for examples in language arts and social studies to mentor/share with other staff as this is a building wide initiative. If anyone would be willing to share with my fellow staff/ administrators please let me know. Perhaps we could skype some people in? You can contact me via twitter (mikekaechele) or email (concretekax at gmail).