Monday, October 29, 2012

Marketing Our Classrooms

This is a blatant self-promotion post. The local news did a nice story about the #MyParty12 election project which you can see here.

Side question: Why do I feel uncomfortable promoting what we are doing? Why don't teachers share more the good things happening in their classrooms?

Side note: At my current job at the county level, we have a marketing department of three employees. They are the ones with the connections to get the media in our school. How many districts have marketing staff? Should they? How can we change the education conversation in this country without sharing what we are doing?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Student-created Political Parties

So here is the follow up to the What My Students Believe about Politics post. For phase two students formed groups based on common ideas as discovered from Students then created their own parties including name, slogan, logo, campaign platform, and 30 second commercial. They then premiered them this week in front of state representative along with a 2 minute stump speech. Overall they did a great job and I feel like the energy and interest in this project was the highest I have seen. Students definitely made an impression on the representatives. Check out their commercials and their party platforms are linked in the YouTube descriptions.

Which one is your favorite? One of these is going on to our network wide competition.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

MEAP Me Maybe

A local school made this to "pump" kids up to take the state tests this week called MEAP in Michigan. My daughter was shown it before she took her tests.

Most disturbing lines:
"I'm crazy worried"
"I fill the bubbles in and hope that it's right. I can't sleep at night."

Most accurate lines:
"MEAP, Since you came into my life I didn't miss you that bad."

There is so much about this that is disturbing to me. Why should elementary students be stressed by high stakes testing? Teachers are reaching at anything to motivate students because of the over-emphasis on these one time tests.

As for my own children they were not even allowed to read books or draw when they finished testing. They just had to sit there.

When the testing was over for the week they did have time to watch a Disney movie. Sigh

What on earth did they learn this week?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why we have trouble mobilizing our voice.

This post is a response to Scott McLeod's post Why are we educators having so much trouble mobilizing our voice in ways that are effective.

Scott's post really resonated with my thoughts this week. I want to share a personal story that I think addresses Scott's questions.

I teach in a PBL school that is part of the New Tech Network of over one hundred schools. Our class is participating in the #MYparty12 election project across our network. Students are creating their own political parties and voting on them based on their platforms and campaign commercials. Students are also watching the debates and tweeting about them, inviting in state politicians, and collaborating with other schools in different ways.

Yesterday I received an email and later had phone conversations with a producer of a national TV program that is interested in doing a story about the project. We are very excited about the possibility of this happening although it remains only a possibility at this point.

What I would like to share is the effort it took to get to this point. I was at New Tech training that they provide for us this summer and met many of their amazing staff. I also volunteered to do an Ignite talk at the conference which led me to develop closer relationships with both New Tech personnel and other New Tech teachers. I also network with many educators both in and out of New Tech through this blog and Twitter. While at the conference I had the crazy idea of a network wide project centered around the election. I immediately shared it with these teachers and staff.

We all agreed to make this happen and over the summer and into the fall we had numerous emails sent, virtual meetings, and created many documents to share with other teachers. The classroom teachers worked hard to develop the project and the supporting materials and dreamed up crazy ideas to implement it. This was a lot of work and time consuming but we would have done this work for our classes anyway.

Here is my main point: New Tech Network made this project huge in ways we never could have by ourselves. Three of their staff have committed considerable time and energy to this project: a professional marketer, a social media expert, and a person who has just organized the collaboration and done all of the "dirty work" behind the scenes. By myself I never would have had the time, energy, or connections to pull this off and then "advertise" it to get the attention of a national network. I am busy teaching my students in my classroom.

I blog; I tweet; I share at state and local conferences. But I do not have the ability to influence the national policy on education. New Tech Network does. And it has professional marketers / lobbyists who are making the connections in the media and in Washington D.C.

I am not saying that New Tech Network is going to solve all of the education problems in this country by itself. What I am trying to show is that the average classroom teacher, me, does not have the ability to have a loud voice in isolation. The power of a large network of schools is that we can mobilize large projects and have professionals market them. If I was to pick from Scott's choices of why we are having trouble mobilizing our voices I would say we are being outspent and need to do a better job of marketing.

My conclusion is this (which I have said before) I think we need lobbyists in DC who represent progressive, student-centered inquiry as a model of education. We need money and someone who can build connections with both Congress and the Department of Education and "sell" a better way to do school than test prep and standardized tests.

Any takers??? I would donate $50 for that person's salary and if everyone on blogs and Twitter that says they care about these issues pitched in I think we could afford a few lobbyists.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Strewing vs. Standards

By Mag3737
A tweet led me to a term that I had never heard before "strewing." This post gives a nice description of this homeschool concept: as "leaving material of interest around for our children to discover." Google says the verb form is to "scatter or spread (things) untidily over a surface or area." Basically strewing is exposing students to interesting books, objects, places, etc and letting them choose where to take their learning path. Strewing is also the design of a quality museum.

I have definitely used this idea with my own children and have had it in mind when I picture teaching in my ideal classroom. But seeing it spelled out was the perfect articulation for what I don't like about the Common Core or any "standards."

Standards control learning and kill curiosity. Strewing on the other hand allows the strewer (probably just made up that word) to influence the learner without controlling her. That is how I envision the perfect school. Master learners creating interesting experiments and simulations that apprentice learners will want to become invested in out of their natural curiosity.

I want to strew but standardization fights against it by requiring that every child learns the same stuff. Hard to guarantee that if students are allowed to wander all over in the subject. Definitely will be thinking about how to subvert Common Core to allow maximum "strewing" time in the future...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What My Students Believe About Politics

This past week we finished "phase one" of the #MYparty12 election project. Students explored their personal opinions about political issues and the historical backgrounds of the two primary parties. Here I would like to share how students explored issues and then started to identify with different parties.

Our "entry event" was to have students write their name on a scale of 1-10 on a huge banner paper on two issues: healthcare and concealed weapons (click through to see how we framed the issues). We picked these two issues because of our students interests (guns) and we also wanted an issue that involved a belief in both the responsibility of government and budget issues (healthcare). We also picked our issues from the topics on the site After we described the positions students wrote their name on the spectrum where their position was.

Next students read the arguments and statistics at ProCon and discussed it in groups. Then students re-wrote their name if their position changed or circled their name if it stayed the same. This led to a discussion of changing your beliefs and also what your beliefs are based on.

We also were very deliberate to only use the 1-10 scale. We avoided the words "left," "right," "liberal," and "conservative" because we did not want them to be biased according to what they thought they believed or had been taught by their parents.

The following class students brainstormed a long list of issues and then each group researched on in the style of In other words they had to find arguments and research that supported both sides of the thesis statement they created. Next students had three minutes to present both sides of the research and then every student got up and stood under the banner to represent their views. We intentionally had the "liberal" view on the issues go to the left side and the "conservative" view go to the right, but still avoided using these terms until after they were done.

Students stood under this banner to represent their views
Afterwards students reflected on how much they stayed in the same general spot with the different issues or moved around. We also had a big moment when I "rephrased" a student thesis. The original was "Illegal immigrants should not be allowed in the country." Almost all students agreed with this statement in the "10" or  "conservative" side of the spectrum. I changed the wording to something to exempt children who have lived in the U.S. most of their life here and there was a large shift to the "left." We talked about how pollsters frame questions to manipulate how people vote on issues.

We then spent a few days researching FDR's New Deal and Reaganomics to understand the historical origins of the basic beliefs of the two majority parties. And finally students took the survey at I really like this site because student are matched to candidates based on their opinions about the issues. It lets a person rate how important each issue is to them and gives multiple nuanced choices for each question. For example on abortion instead of just Pro Life or Pro Choice you can choose things such as "not after the first trimester" or "only legal in cases of rape or when the life of the mother is at stake."

The best part of the site though is that it matches you to minority party candidates such as Gary Johnson (libertarian), Jill Stein (Green), and Rocky Anderson (Justice). The students ended up pretty evenly divided between Obama, Romney, Johnson, and Green. Students were surprised by these answers and that led to some great discussions. Some were also upset and claimed that the site was rigged because they did not like who it said they were matched with. Many of these students scored high for both Obama and Romney and did not understand how that was possible. This lead to a nice discussion about what it means to be an "independent" who agrees with both sides on different issues.

All in all this was a great process that led to great conversations about both the issues and later the parties and candidates. After watching the first debate this past week students are starting to get excited about politics and the election! This week students will create their own political parties with names, logos, slogans, and platforms. Stay tuned...