Friday, November 16, 2007

Failure Rates

I just received an email from our outstanding office manager with a list of students who had been withdrawn from school for truancy (etc.) There was a list of about 20 kids which is only a small fraction of the 650 or so left here. Each of the kids were listed with a withdrawal code next to their names. This comment was at the top of the email:

"I'm sending a list of students that have been W/D this past month. Please look over the list to see if any of them are on your class list..... It should be good news for your failure rate."

I was immediately struck by the last line which was emboldened in the original email too. Why should teachers care about their failure rate more than the fact that these kids are losing an opportunity at life? Why are we reducing human life to numbers like wd codes and failure rates? Our school is usually a last chance stop for at-promise students and when they are withdrawn for truancy, they don't make it back to HS. They are done.

Now, its not our office manager's fault for the language she used (although I did send her a biting response). She only reflects the language of the instructors here. If we are more concerned that our student failure rate is low rather than a student's humanity then something is really wrong.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Reflections from Beyond BlogWorld

Its been a week since the opening keynote at the Blog World Expo and some really cool things have begun happening as a result. I attended a session called Building an Online Community and picked up a valuable lesson; if you want to build a community of people who you correspond with then comment on their ideas. Now, I read a lot of blogs. I just never comment on them. I have been reading blogs to learn about education and some technology tools that will help me help my students but I figured most of the learning comes in the reading part, never thought about the commenting part. So, this week I started commenting on blogs and tracking my comments using an awesome program called coComment.

Here is why I love coComment. It helped me start a conversation with Louis Schmier. He writes an edublog called Random Thoughts. Some of his best posts, the posts I connected with the most are about his humanistic approach to students. For those of you who don't work in a high school you might think, well aren't all teachers humanistic, don't they all value kids, isn't that why they are teachers in the first place? No, no, and no. Thats one of the saddest enlightenments I've had in the past year, most teachers at my school don't really like kids. Sure they like the good ones, the smart ones. The ones that have failed and are labeled failures are still failures in the minds of many and the steps needed to give them the confidence to begin succeeding are rarely taken. Random Thoughts puts this a lot more eloquently than I do, and I thank coComment and Blog World for giving me the insight and confidence to start making thoughtful comments on thoughtful blog posts.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Day I Almost Unofficially Met Mark

Cross posted at The First Day of Kindergarten, a teacher-to-student blog

I almost got to ask Mark Cuban a question today. If I would have, that means we might have almost unofficially met. He looked right at me...... I got nervous, but I was ready...... I thought for sure he was going to call on me....... but at the last second he passed. Off to the next man with his hand up. I don't feel sad, don't worry. I am a little disappointed though. He seems to know a lot about the internet, and I really wanted a quote from him to share with you, my students. Here is how the story goes.

I was attending the Blog World Expo which is the largest gathering of bloggers on the planet. DONT STOP READING NOW, this isnt all geeky. So anyway, I was sitting with 500 or so other bloggers at the closing Keynote address listening to internet guru Mr. Cuban (also owner of the Dallas Mavericks) about authentic blogging and something struck me. I wonder if he has any visions for education? He knows a lot about business, a lot about basketball, tons and tons about the internet, what about education? A lot of our modern pioneers have visions for changing education to bring American students into the forefront of the information revolution and help them escape from the industrial one (see Bill Gates). I wonder if Mr. Cuban does too? So, I thought, phrased, and garnished the nerve for 10 long minutes to ask him this one question:

Considering that the public education system is light years behind the real world and blogging is almost nonexistent in schools, do you see any role for blogging and Web 2.0 in high schools?

My question is still out there to you Mr. Cuban. My students would love to hear your answer.

Blogworld - NewMedia w/ Leo Laporte

New Media in the Internet

Leo Laporte: TwitTv

Note: Please excuse the quality of writing, liveblogging.

Came from mainstream media so he knows the old way = Your grandpa's media. In the old media if you wanted to have a voice, you had to have money to get it heard. In mainstream media, it was usually one guy telling you something. Now its changing, its in networks. We get to talk back now. We are creating media using blogs, podcasts, that dont cost any money and are influenced by our audience.

He started 'This Week in Tech' which is the #1 tech podcast on the internet. Uses Skype to interview for his shows but for the most part does this out of a cottage. He had 1/2 million in ad sales last year, doubling this year. This is a podcast folks. An mp3 or video recording put up online and sent out through a feed.

Its all about the conversation. No longer about one person directing the entire distribution of information. Its about people sharing. Sounds very much like the Socratic method in education. The conversation is directed through questions and answers from the community.

Video (and TV) appeals to your monkey mind, the non-rational, non cerebral part of your mind and is designed to stimulate emotions. Look at the comments on Youtube, they are moronic.

Blogging is good for the rational part of the mind. Comments are often thoughtful and part of a conversation. Sometimes the bloggers personality doesn't show through completely so their ideas are at the forefront.
Audio is intimate. You are talking into the mind through the ear. Audio is very good at abstract ideas because it doesn't rely on pictures to get a message across. Audio allows you to promote your personality along with your ideas.

Think of yourself as creating content. Not a podcaster which focuses on the medium of delivery, but as a content creator.

The Babble Objection- If "everyone" is blogging and "everyone" is podcasting, who is listening? Turns out a lot of people are according to Leo.

We can all be our own solar systems. Our goal shouldn't be to get on CNN. Our goal should be to be a hub of our own world, our own community. ex. If you do a show/blog about woodworking, you should strive to be a hub about woodworking. Then use your acquaintances to branch out to other hubs that are related and then will draw people into your system. Its all about dialogue, and community, and connections.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Blog World 07 Opening Keynote

Note: This is live, please excuse the quality of writing.

I'm sitting here at Blog World Expo with about 300-400 people listening to Ed Sussman interview Matt Mullenweg the founder of Wordpress as the opening keynote session.
It's pretty cool how the world has changed and geeks are really cool now. At least in my world, but in a lot of other people's also.

PhotoMatt is Mullenweg's blog.

Q: What makes a compelling blog?

A: Passionate content. Uniqueness.

What Matt loves about blogging is when he says something dumb someone tells him. People don't tell you face to face, but he loves the comments section of his blog because people are frank and it gives him perspective.

If people make an interesting comment on his blog, he will often go back to that person's blog. If you comment, it helps your work get noticed. This is news for me because I only comment on one blog. If I really want to get my ideas out there than I need to comment and get better with my labels.

Talking about why he likes the Craigslist model. He asked Craig why there was no advertising on his site and Craig responded "Because the users didn't ask for it." That's a really interesting comment. If you can run something with user influence as the main source of reasoning, that's fantastic.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

VSS 07- First Presentation

A small group of teachers from my school presented at the Virtual Schools Symposium this week. We discussed how we are using Social Networks and Web 2.0 tools in our courses. The presentation went pretty well, check out our wiki below if you want to see it. That was the highlight of the conference for me, many of the sessions were vendor driven and since I dont make policy decisions, or influence purchasing at my charter school there wasn't a lot of sessions left that fit for me. Note: Remind me to get some sleep the night before my next presentation.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All I Ever Wanted to Know about Dieting I Learned at Work

I have learned so much about Weight Watchers, dress sizes, plus sizes, counting carbs, fat grams, and points this year at work that I wont ever have to watch Oprah again.

Not that I'm opposed to learning, Im just not so sure dieting should be the number one topic on a high school campus. Not even moaning about administration overtakes diettalk for the #1 spot. Now what kind of school is this?

In addition to dieting I was lucky enough to listen to teachers booking travel plans over the phone, getting tickets to hear a political speech, and planning their party/outing tonight. What I didnt hear was one teacher calling students and discussing how they can do help them do better in their courses in the 2nd quarter. hmmm,

Yes, I know, Im whining. This is a HS after all.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Accessibility in Online Classes

There are some fundamental accessibility problems at our online school. High School students, and students of all ages for that matter, have trouble navigating online courses. So, if we know that, why don't we make it easier for them? Are we trying to trick them? Are we trying to exude power by playing guessing games? It's simple, they will learn more of the actual content if we take the time to include some fundamental basics when constructing our courses. Below are 5 tips for making your online coursework more accessible.

1. Lesson Introductions - Most of our online teachers do not include this basic part to a good lesson plan. The introduction, or what I call the hook, has to somehow connect what kids are about to learn to what they already know. Building your lesson to connect to their background knowledge is the first rung on a ladder to creating schema organization in long term memory. It also gives the lesson relevancy and motivates students by tying into what they already know or like.

2. Be Brief but Organized - We have all been to a website where you scroll down further and further, seemingly never coming to an end of the webpage. If you do that in an online lesson the kids are gone, done before they ever begin. Lessons have to be constructed in small, organized parts without including pages worth of material on one webpage.

3. Requirements - Tell the students what you want them to do. For example, if you are sending the student to a link outside of your webpage then tell them what to do once they get there. Be specific, tell them exactly what to read and sometimes what to ignore. Also, when the student is completing a project or written assignment, you should include the exact requirements of what they need to understand for that assessment.

4. Student Samples- Try to provide student samples. We do this in a regular class, why wouldn't we do it online? All of my courses utilize a wiki that my students have created and host to show off quality work.

5. Don't hide things from our kids- If you want HS kids to find what you want them to learn, put it right in front of them. Don't make them go to one page to find a password or another to find what you are going to assess them on. Don't get me wrong, it's okay to have links that shoot the kids off to content, but don't make accessing the content a labyrinth they have to navigate. Its difficult enough for kids to just complete the assignments in an online course, don't try to teach them how to be successful scavenger hunters to do that.

Many of us believe the way we have set up our courses is spot on. Are we paying attention to the signs that student's are giving us that tell us they aren't?

Educational Technology Carnival

I wanted to thank Global Citizenship in a Virtual World for featuring two of my blog posts in their recent Ed Tech Carnival. They are picking up steam over there and have some great postings in this collection.

2nd Edition of the Educational Technology Carnival

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Does Communication Equate to Attendance?

We have a very high at-promise population at my charter school. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that 90% of our kids are at serious risk for not completing HS. This is the time of the year when it really starts to get scary. It seems that the initial burst out of the gate wears off right around week 5 (we are in week 7 now) and student's start missing class. Early on attendance is up but then they hit a wall. They just stop showing up. So far this year that hasn't been true in my courses, but its still true in other classes on campus. It got me thinking. If I'm getting 80-100% attendance everyday but many teachers are only getting 40-80% attendance everyday, is there a relationship somehow. I've made some formal and casual observations through substituting and observing classes throughout the day and I see this pattern a lot. A theory has started to form..... The teachers that spend a lot of time tracking students academic achievement, which includes knowing almost every detail of their coursework, monitoring grades bi-weekly, and calling home on a regular basis, seem to have better attendance. The kids whose teachers are much more blase about tracking progress and calling home have lower attendance numbers. Well, thats my hypothesis anyway. I wonder if it could be true.

It would be really interesting to break down attendance numbers by teacher and compare that to the amount of time each teacher spends monitoring students to see if my hypothesis could become a theory (shout out to my 7th grade science teacher for teaching me the difference). Too bad I can't do that. Its pretty invasive and calls for a lot of formal judgment on my part and probably wouldn't lead to any change at our school anyway. So for now, I will just continue to watch most students fall through the cracks but hope that the work a few great teachers at my school are doing can save enough. Oh yeah, one of my goals for this year is to stay positive so I'm writing this entry with a smile on face to counter balance the negativity in the last paragraph.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Motivating Student Creativity Article

I've written an article that will be posted in the Techlearning E-Zine in the spring. It's a short piece with 2 central themes. The first theme is the idea of options. It's important that teachers provide students with options for completing assignments. Of course this isn't practical for all assignments since we are often trying to teach them something with the method of assessment. However, most assignments in secondary education are essays and traditional objective based assessments. Communication and information in the beloved 'real world' isn't based on those methods anymore. Essays certainly play a role but not the central role in communicating ideas in the Web 2.0 world that our kids occupy. Which is my segue to the 2nd theme, using Web 2.0 tools in my courses. In other words, allowing students to use project based tools that are valid to the world they live in will promote creativity, motivation, and 21st century literacy.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Playing with Money

I read a prompt on Brickfish the other day. It said "sum up a politician using visuals that represent parts of a mathematical formula." The final slide is at the bottom of the page, but first check out my SlideShare version.

Then I took 13 of the pics and told the same story in an Animoto Video:

Then I had to pick one slide and submit it to the contest. If you like it, please vote for me.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Don't Despair

Don't despair even though the numbers aren't there. This is still going to be the best year ever. Okay, what do I mean? Well last Friday we submitted unsats for each of our classes. Any students with a 'd' or 'f' in any course would receive an unsatisfactory notice home. Our Assiss. Principal ran the numbers today and here is what we got. 726 students, 650 receiving at least one unsat, 76 with none. That means, hold on let me get out my trusty windows calculator, 89.5% are not passing at least one class 6 weeks into the school year. I like to think of it this way, 10% are passing every one of their courses, yayyyy!

Pretty disparaging. So why am I optimistic? Change takes time. We have implemented drastic changes to our school from the way we deliver our content to the methods we communicate with our kids. Its a HUGE change and we are only 6 weeks into the year. I know that I'm doing more than Ive ever done before, and I trust that is going to save more kids from dropping and failing out than Ive saved in previous years. There are a couple of us doing this, we will make a big difference to our students. Other teachers will begin to make the necessary changes, jump on the bandwagon so to speak, as we get into the school year further. They just need a little time, but not too much time because students drop like flies at our school. Also, they may need some not so gentle nudging from admin. I know some of us who are maxed out would like to see some swift kicks to those who waste sooooooooo much time. It's obvious to us admin, just ask.

Friday, September 28, 2007


The weirdest thing happened to me this morning. I was driving to work, listening to NPR as usual, and I hit the magic BBM spot. Behind Black Mountain. Around here that means NPR goes out for a few miles, no other station does, but NPR does, maybe because its public. Anyway, I switched over to the one other station in Vegas I dare listen to, the pop station which has the #1 morning show. It was a commercial. I looked at my radio, gasped, took a deep breath and pushed the power button. It was about 6:45 in the morning and when the radio went off the only sounds I could hear were the ones coming from my tires bouncing, pot holes and all, along these desert highways. And the whoosh of cars passing me at 80mph. Then something interesting happened.
I started to get panicky and wondered why. Then, in a split, mind numbing moment of clarity I realized where my anxiety was coming from. It was the first time I had the radio off in 4 years of driving this route. Maybe longer, cant remember the last time I turned the radio off and just listened..... just.....thought.
Well, for the first 10 minutes I tried to convince myself I could make it through this new experiment. The anxiety was overwhelming, whats wrong with me? I tried to focus on something to help me get through the silence. I kept thinking about a thought I hadn't finished from last night, how Podcasts could help my kids?
I couldn't focus, couldnt come up with anything. All kinds of thoughts went in and out of my mind, but nothing productive. I took a couple deep breaths, tried to envelope the silence, and then just went with it. Go with the flow Cheech and Chong always said, or some unproductive person, cant quite remember who. Anyway, I went with it. All of sudden swarms of clarity came to me. Thoughts of making my classes better, posting on blogs, communicating with at-risk students, all these thoughts hit me. Of course the only thing I didnt think of was another way to use podcasts in my courses besides students making audio essays, but I did come to one clear resolution.
Monks are smart. Take time to meditate. Its almost impossible for me but the unnerving silence of this morning was the only point of relaxation I had all day.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Professional Podomatic-er

Not really. I made my first podcast today. I used Audacity software and uploaded it to Podomatic. Podomatic's MP3 recorder didn't work for the first 4 days I went to the site, so finally had to break down and get Audacity, upload the special LAME d.ll file, and get it operating. After a few hours of working on my first pod, which only took 5 minutes to actually record, I'm tired. But, I learned the program and put something up. Now lets see how I can use this in my courses.

First guess is to let students do audio essays posted online at Podomatic. They could do this for virtually any essay based assignment. Hmmm, will put some thought into what else and post it at The First Day of Kindergarten when I'm ready. If you have any suggestions, comment below.

Oh yeah, I'm super excited about the K12onlineconference. Already booked some time on my Outlook calendar.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Branching Out

I recently attempted to write my first article for publishing. It was for Techlearning's E-zine and it was about using Web 2.0 tools to enhance student motivation and creativity. I started knowingly using Web 2.0 tools about 6 months ago and immediately saw some of the possibilities, so I played all summer trying to get a feel for how to implement into my courses. So, the beginning of the year comes around, I got a handful of kids to start using them and then the opportunity for the article came up. One month into the school year I didn't have too many student samples that I felt comfortable publishing and wouldn't you know it, once I submitted the final version of the article to the editor, I got A LOT of student samples turned in. Oh well, hopefully it gets published and then I can build from there, if not, I can try again later with some better examples. Nevertheless, I'm completely stoked with what I am seeing and new ideas are popping up everyday.

This week Im going to work with some students to set up a wiki that hosts student samples for online assignments in each of my courses. The student volunteers will run the wiki and post the good, and really bad, examples I send their way. A student ran wiki with student samples for students to use as models. Cool.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Family vs. Work

I love movies..... a lot. I've seen tons of them and a few popped into my mind recently when I began thinking about this blog entry. Lean on Me, Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver, The Ron Clark Story, Freedom Writers, these are just a few that fit the classic genre of inspirational educators saving kids in a difficult environment. I figured out long ago one common thing among all of the lead characters in these movies, they all work way too hard and have no life outside of school.

If the educator's family life is shown at all in the movie, its usually because their relationship goes bad due to overcommitment. For the last couple of years I could of never been one of those lead characters because, although I always work hard and maximize my time between 7-3, I relished my time at home without a lot to do. I told myself, well, if you are getting all your work done on campus, than why not enjoy your time at home. Gosh knows a regular school day is ultra draining.

I was cheating a lot of people this way. First of all I cheated myself because I wasn't learning on a daily basis. I cheated my kids because I wasn't learning on a daily basis. I cheated my wife because I wasn't improving myself or our position in life. Now I'm cheating my family in a whole new way.

I work all the time now. I'm learning on a daily basis (mostly how to use Web 2.0 tools to help my students). I'm helping my kids more than I have ever done, both with the tools I'm teaching them and my commitment to communication. That all sounds good, but I'm having trouble balancing time with my wife and newborn son. When I get home from school, I'm on the computer whenever the baby is sleeping or feeding, which is most of the time. I play with the littlebabyman whenever he is awake. Who do you think gets left out, my wife. AHHH, how do I balance this? I'm more satisfied than Ive ever been in my life as a collective whole, but there is this one LITTLE thing. Trying to find a balance, but its not easy to pull myself away from what I know is going to make me a better educator, more fulfilled, and hopefully help provide a better life for my family. My wife is so patient.

I may be able to get my own movie soon. Time will tell.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Opposing Forces

My school made several commitments to dramatic change this year. Since we are a charter school, have missed AYP every year, and are on the verge of losing our sponsorship from the district, we had to make some HUGE changes. The two biggest changes seem to be opposing forces though and that is making the teachers lives very difficult right now.

The first major change is the new Learning Management System we use to host our online courses. It was never made clear why this system was brought in but it has proved to be the opposite of what we needed at this junction in our school. You might be thinking, "its so early in the year, how can you make that judgment right now." Well, there are two really good reasons. One, this system is not designed to communicate with high school students, and in an online school filled to the max with At-Risk students, communication is a major factor to success. Two, this system takes a lot more time to operate than our previous system and right now time is not one of our luxuries. This is where the second major change comes in.

We have shifted our focus as a school, hopefully as an entire school culture, to promoting the success of our lowest achieving students. We are supposed to be better mentors, better student advocates, better instructional designers (in order to motivate production of course work), and better communicators. As stated earlier, the nature of our new LMS demands WAY more time. So if the system forces us to take more time to grade, more time to input quality assignments, more time to communicate and more time to operate the basic system components than we are losing more time to call the students, losing more time to visit them when they are campus, losing more time to work one on one with both our online and mentor students, and losing more time to track their progress.

Opposing forces: How do we better mentor and communicate with our students, as demanded for the success of this student population, when so much more time is lost due to a system clearly not designed to fit our high school right now?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Ive Made a Decision

Ive been trying to decide how I wanted to best use my student blog The First Day of Kindergarten. Ive been promoting it as a place for them to get help with research and project alternatives. Since almost all of the blog entries are based on Web 2.0 applications, they will get to learn those tools on top of having choices for assignment completion. A couple weeks ago I realized its not enough that they know the options are out there, I have to give them incentives to use these Web 2.0 tools that Ive been promoting. So, Ive made a decision.

Im going to run weekly themes. The theme this week is SlideShare. I will post an announcement modeling the theme for the week (see below). I will link them to a blog entry about how to use that tool. And, here is the incentive part, I will give them additional points for any work that they turn in that week using the tool. I think this might work.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Noticing Some Major Differences in Myself

I have had some paradigm shifts in the last 6 months that have changed a tremendous amount about how I am approaching teaching this year. I'll try to put them down on paper, or zeroes and ones as it is known today, and see if I can express what I feel motivating me every day.

1. I no longer focus on learning my content as much as how to deliver it. I have 100's of history books, geography resources, war volumes, even the lonely economics book in my collection, but I haven't picked any of them up in awhile. I used to read those books so I could get MORE info to share with my kids, as well as broaden my understanding of social studies ideas. Not saying that I won't shift back to reading those things, but right now I spend all my time learning Web 2.0 tools and software programs to deliver that material. This new focus stems from another shift, or crack, or some might say break in my mind.

2. Im no longer going to blame kids for my course failure rate. This is a hard thing to say out loud (can you say something out loud when writing it down?) since it correctly implies that I have blamed kids in the past. I had a 50% failure rate across my 3 courses in the final semester last year. That does not include the other 25% that dropped out or were removed from my classes. The average person failing received less than 10% of all the points in the course. That means that the kids failing just weren't trying. They weren't doing ANYTHING! The last couple years I just figured the rates were like this because our school was known as a place where kids could sleep in, work only if they felt like it, and fall between the cracks when they wanted too, and they did. But I put the emphasis on them, I blamed them for not completing their work, for not organizing their course work schedule, for not motivating themselves, but something has changed. Im holding myself MORE responsible because I know there is a lot MORE I could do to communicate, motivate, and help them organize which are the crucial factors to success in an online environment. Especially for teenagers.

3. Im no longer relying on the face to face component of our hybrid model as the save all. Ive believed incorrectly that if I tracked my online students down when they came into their homeroom courses once a week, I could help them with their problems and get them going on their work. Yeah right. First of all, its rare that a struggling student shows up every week so its hard to keep regular contact that way. Also, its impossible to help all your online kids the way they need to be helped in the few minutes you can actually sit with them in their homerooms. Besides how logistically difficult it is to help kids face to face, one time a week, there is also the idea that we are an online school and I believe in online learning.

4. I love working. I spend a lot of time doing it because, and here is the kicker, Im learning MORE than I ever have before.

5. Individualized instruction for all kids, not just those that have mandates.

i can do MORE

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Individualized Instruction Online

To steal a saying from Oprah who probably stole it from someone else, yesterday I had an "ah ha moment." Usually those moments come for people when they hear others speaking or see something inspirational. My moment came when my own words were leaving my mouth. Sounds a little arrogant so far, dont worry, I'll knock myself down in the next couple sentences to balance things out.

Im not really good with labels. I rarely set a course and say here is the name of the course Im setting. For the most part, I just start doing things because I feel something is right, not because of a label or category it fits into. Sounds vague so far, okay, let me clarify.

Back to yesterday. A handful of thoughtful teachers stayed late on Friday to be part of a new Restructuring Committee at our school. Our principal got the idea out of the Model Schools conference he went to this summer. During the meeting we were bouncing around ideas and my principal said something that I felt needed clarifying. Im usually fairly heldback when it comes to these situations because I have a little bit of spotlight fright, but I spoke up. As I was speaking I heard myself saying, "Well, my goal is to provide individualized learning for all my students" or something to that effect. At that moment I realized I had finally found a label for an idea Ive been working hard at developing the last 6 months.

I feel blessed to be part of a charter school, and online distance education, and this is just one of the many instances why. If I say I want to provide individualized learning for all my kids, I can actually do it. All I have to do is be willing and flexible. Here is how it looks right now in my online classes. 3 of my 4 courses are essay and project based. The lessons are written up as projects, but for the most part they are assessments where kids write out their ideas. Beginning this year, Ive told my kids that anytime they see the words writing, essay or review than they have carte blanche how they want to handle it. Ive created a blog where Im posting lots of methods for completing projects and research to help them with options. The only stipulation is that kids have to meet the requirements I post in the lesson, but they can show me they have learned almost anyway they want. See, Im confident in my lessons enough to know the kids are going to get all the literacy and content that I want them to have, I just want them to have options for how to show it to me. I just want them to get excited about doing work because they have found a method for doing it that stimulates them. Does the method matter all that much or does the fact that the student learned something and can prove they learned it the most important requirement for my evaluation?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

My Favorite Time of the School Year

"Are you crazy, this is your favorite time of the year? The end of the year is every teacher's favorite time, whats wrong with you?" I've asked myself those questions 3 years in a row now and each time I come up with the same answers, yes and I don't know.

This is my 4th year teaching and my 4th year at the same charter school. When I began here I was a new teacher and I felt scared, anxious, excited, and really nervous on the first day of school. After making it through the first year I had a fantastic summer. Drove up to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, camped with my wife and dog for 9 days in the wild. It was fantastic. The last thing I wanted was for the new school year to start; I was loving my summer. Then something fascinating happened.

At our charter school we do orientations, uhhhh, "shared learning sessions" for the first week of the school year. It was during that week, 3 years ago, that I realized something. I was really hopeful. I met with a lot of kids and their parents that week, talked with them, helped them get prepared to begin working on their online coursework, and even saw a few sparks in the eyes of some students., That's when it happened, hope began to grow inside me. I was overcome by it and was giddy for that whole week. I remember saying to myself, the kids did horrible last year, what is going to be different this year? I couldn't answer, I knew I was evolving, but had no idea if the kids would be doing better as a result. I just began to believe they would and as a result hope lit a fire in me. The same thing happened two years ago and then last year also.

Now its the eve of our first shared learning session and I can feel it building in me again. This year is different though, its more powerful. Ive learned more this summer than at any point since I left college. Im extremely excited to share what I learned with my students and see if it can make a difference in their learning. The key to our school is just to get the kids to do their work. Im hopeful that they will, really hopeful, and still a little crazy.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

My First Meme-School 2.0

School 2.0
I love this pic so Im keeping it for my meme too.

Thanks for the tag Mr. Moses, I appreciate my first meme. Without your google link I would of thought meme just meant talking about ME so others could learn what I thought about specific issues. Now I understand it has to do with imitation, adaptation, and ideas leaping from one brain to the next and not just ME.

1. Is School 2.0 about technology or pedagogy (teaching methods)?
Its about teaching methods but with a clear understanding that technology should be a primary focus of changing schools. School 1.0 is the traditional school with traditional classrooms, administration, and teaching methods. 2.0 is not. Thats the point.

2. What were 1-3 things you had to”unlearn” to become an effective teacher?
That education doesn't take place only in a 30 desk classroom. That there are a lot more resources for educators than textbooks and worksheets. Am I yet an effective teacher?

3. Did you learn these poor practices in your teacher preparation program, or somewhere else? If so, where?
Yes, and yes. Life as a student in HS and college. I didn't see my first powerpoint presentation with pictures until my senior year in college, that was 4 years ago.

4. Describe the philosophy of your teacher preparation program in 25 words or less.
To prepare the best possible teachers to lead multi-cultural, 20th century classrooms. Quickly! We need bodies!

5. What age/grade level do you teach? When did you attend school at that level?
Grades 9 - 12, 1989-1993

6. When were you in your teacher preparation program?
Cal State Northridge, 2003-2004

I have no one to tag, all the people whose blogs I read don't know me yet., except the ones that Mr. M tagged.

3 Goals

Ive put a lot of thought into what my goals are for this school year, and Ive narrowed it down to 3 things.

1. Be persistent- Drive the kids crazy with communication. Yes, utilize the face time as best as possible but more importantly, talk to them when they aren't on campus. Many kids in our model dont reply or dont read their emails, so I have to call. Call often , email often, track them down on campus, be persistent!

2. Be resourceful- This is multifaceted. First off, I need to learn a lot more. I need to engulf all the possible resources out there for teaching kids online. Secondly, I need to get my students to use the resources I give them. I want them to create, imagine, construct, be engaged. Maybe if I can get them to find a few methods that interest them then they will use those to complete more of their work. I don't really care how students turn their projects in to me, I just want them to do some work. We can only go up from there.

3. Be Positive- This is the hardest one for me, 1 week into the school year and I already feel it being beaten out of me. I don't want to complain as much. Well, sort of. I question authority, its in my nature, but I need to learn how to do it in a constructive way. From another angle, I need to be more positive towards my kids. Simply meaning, I can't give up on them. Ive given up in the past but Im learning. Setting this goal is the first step, and I think its a big step, to promoting student success even when it is REALLY hard.

Not sure if this can be a meme, but I will tag a few people to see if they have any goals for this year:

Mr. Moses
Kimberly McClain
Belinda Shllingburg

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Charter School Staff Development vs.....

I am now entering my 4th year teaching at a large charter school. The school is a distance ed, online curriculum based education model with a hybrid component(which involves one-on-one mentoring). I will talk more about that later on. Tonight I need to rant about staff development.

Staff development in traditional schools is a joke to almost everyone Ive ever talked to. In my school it's not, not normally. Our school prides themselves on shared decision making between administration and teachers. Normally teachers have a say over the type of staff development we do. For example, when we were really frustrated with a speaker who came to our school 3 times in a year to help us work together better, even though their weren't many problems with that, we voiced our complaints and she was taken off the schedule for the next year. Our admin team, Principal and AP, are very cognizant of not wasting the staff's time, I love that about my school. What made me bring up this topic is what happened today.

1. We start school next Monday. Our school is incorporating an entirely new Learning Management System, which is software that integrates all of the teachers curriculum and courses onto one platform for the students to use. Its brand new to us, we have had 1 full day to work on it since we came back to school this Monday and most of us aren't ready to start teaching kids in this new system.

2. Our school is radically shifting its focus this year. First of all, I love radical, and I love change so I'm all for everything that is happening in our school right now. We are shifting our focus to helping At-risk students become successful learners. Prior to this, most teachers, myself included, gave up fairly easily on students who didn't show much motivation and effort to complete their course work. Maybe giving up is the wrong phrase, but we didn't persistently accost them, we didn't persistently motivate them, we basically said "this student isn't right for this learning model." This year we are changing that, at least I know I am, and admin is pushing the rest of the staff to do the same. "Every student can learn in an online environment" is a belief that has overcome me after watching most of my kids fail the last 3 years. That's quite a turnaround. So, I have a high at-risk population with a high dropout and failure rate, how do I get that to turn around. It starts with me, but I need some tools. Our entire staff needs some tools, so today we spent an entire day of our coveted pre-student time to get staff training in working with At-risk students.

3. We start school in 2 days, kids will be in our classes in 2 days, and we have an entire new platform to learn in order to present students with the material for their best possible education. We also need to get some tools for mentoring students because that will be the key to getting these kids to do their work. If we build relationships with more students, more of them will do their work, and more of them will take and pass the HS proficiencies and our school will live to breathe another year. We are on probation through NCLB right now, really bad probation. We had a guest speaker come in today to give us strategies on how to build those relationships with AT-RISK students, to give us tools to help them, to keep them in school, to get them to pass their classes, to get them to learn something. At least that is how the guest speaker was billed, that's the only reason she would of been brought in to take a full day of our very important first week time, because we really need to learn how to work with these kids.

Conclusion: What did we get? We got a lady who came in and spoke for 6 hours. She did not once mention the words: online, distance education, or At-risk (or any of the alternative terms that mean the same thing). She didn't even recognize the uniqueness of our charter. Her presentation did not apply to our service delivery model. She gave strategies for working in a traditional classroom that maybe applies to 1/4 of the teachers in our k-12 program. It didn't apply to the HS, yet the HS faces the biggest risk of closing down next year. She spoke on fundamental first year teacher ed stuff like Gardner. What did we get? another day of lost opportunity to make our classes better for our kids. Not only that, a little bit of hope is gone. I really wanted some staff development that would help me to become better at my job, especially in communicating with our student population. Motivating our student population. So the key question is, if we are a charter school and can do pretty much what we want when it comes to staff development shouldn't we be avoiding the types of development that cause the staff to say, this is a joke? I was pretty mad when the day started and one of the older teachers said to me "you got to know how to play the game," aren't we in this to change the game?

Why I Started this Blog

Tonight I received a meme from a colleague and was asked my opinion about some fundamental school beliefs. Thats a great topic for me to rant about, especially because I am a teacher and teachers need to rant. However, the blog I had set up is designed to be a resource center for my students, and I didn't find it a valid spot to spout my opinions about education, my school, or my philosophies. For the first time since I started blogging, I thought, well I need a place to do that. See, I also have a family website and blog where I talk about my life, my wife, my baby boy, and other things in a well mannered, not to offend, not to philosophize, not to leave the little nest of vanilla family imaging. So I need this place now, mostly just to talk about my views on education, and what is happening in my life at school. But also to philosophize, question life, question life at my school, question life in education, and question my ideas.