Thursday, October 31, 2013

Philosophy, Style, and 40 Years | October 25, 2013

Jessica Anderson
http://triscicurious.blogspot.com/2013/10/philosophy-style-and-40-years.html

Learning and teaching are amazing things when done right. But "done right" means a lot of things to a lot of learners and teachers, and it really depends on your philosophy.

As an individual, I am a very visual learner.  When I first started teaching, I assigned a lot of pictorial vocabulary sheets, made students draw pictures to show processes, and had them look at pictures I'd drawn, in books, and on the internet to help them understand concepts. As a science teacher, I also loved to show them demonstrations and small clips on YouTube to help illustrate verbal explanations. As I progress in my field, I'm finding myself delving into all of the learning styles in order to reach all learners/teachers in the classroom.

Through this progression, I've found myself moving more towards an asynchronous classroom every year. I began by cutting back lecture, adding more explorations and inquiry activities, and finally making the full transition to blended-gamified self-paced courses. So where does this all fit in with my philosophy? Well, it's important to realize that I truly believe that science is a non-linear process that requires exploration, failure, and lots of prototyping. Students cannot truly learn science unless they are doing science. Yes, doing science not just reading about it (I am textbook free in my earth science course). This is why my classes are full of labs, hands-on activities, outdoor explorations, demonstrations, inquiry/problem-based projects, activity choice, and, most importantly, are self-paced. I truly believe that my students should be in the driving seat and not just taking the given path. I also include technology-based activities and virtual interactions with students across the country because I believe these are pertinent to our evolving technological world and my students' ability to be successful in whatever workforce they choose.

I believe being a part of the educational system should be fun, rewarding, and worthwhile. All learners should be included in the learning plan, be able to recover from failures, and leave the classroom knowing they've accomplished something everyday. They should also be prepared to apply skills taught to situations they encounter out in the workforce. Learning is not about learning facts, but applying skills and knowledge to present situations. It's my philosophy as a teacher to support learning that can be used 40 years from now and discard all the rest.  

Friday, October 25, 2013

Teacher Leadership Challenge | October 25, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 5.01.03 PMThis is a multipart series of posts intended to help teachers grow their leadership practice and ignite conversations about education online and in person. The goal of a teacher leader is to improve the learning of all students through their efforts, collaboration, and influence. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond within one week to the prompt via a post you publish to your blog. Responses to the prompt that you publish to your own blog should be around 500 words or less. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community. You can subscribe to this blog to get the weekly challenge sent automatically by email.

You can share your post to Twitter using #TLC2014 and spark conversation with educators. In addition to posting on your own blog, you can elect to include your post in the weekly collection showcase blog. To do this, simply email your completed response post to the showcase, at tlc2014.posts@blogger.com Make sure that you include the title of your post with the week of the prompt for proper tagging (e.g., "My Post Title | September 6, 2013") in the subject line (without "re:") of your email, and the full post laid out in paragraphs in the body of the email. Posts are automatically published from sending the email. You can embed images and URLs into the body of your email, and the post will publish while maintaining your formatting and layout. Check out others' responses in the response collection or on Google+ each week, leave them your comments, and get the conversation rolling ahead for teacher leadership.

This Week's Challenge:

How is your personal philosophy of education demonstrated in your teaching style?


IMG_6341What do you believe is the purpose of education? Why should students learn to read and write, understand foreign languages, or know about history? What reason is there for schools to exist, especially given all the wealth of information and knowledge available online for free?

As teachers, we all have beliefs about the purpose of education and our roles as teachers. For some, teaching is the ultimate opportunity to impact the lives of others, while for others it is the chance to communicate a subject area passion. Whether we do it consciously or not, we all infuse our personal philosophy of teaching, learning, and education into the decisions we make as educators on a regular basis. It also shapes the rewards we derive from teaching and can influence the way in which we view some of the challenges in the teaching profession.

Some educators believe that students learn best when they have the opportunity to construct understanding for themselves through guided experiences. For others, a great storyteller is necessary to explain things in a way that students can understand. Yet another view holds that students can learn best through an apprenticeship model of teaching and learning, where students watch it, then do it, and come to know it with a teacher who demonstrates well. Should learning be something that is active or passive for students? Does the role of a teacher to accomplish student learning outcomes center on behaviors and actions, or on thinking and metacognition? What should a teacher be doing to facilitate learning in their classroom?

According to some researchers, there are multiple teaching styles with which educators may identify. Is your teaching style subject-centered, student-centered, or teacher-centered? From where does the authority of teaching stem in your classroom? How do you design lessons to accomplish your goals as a teacher and your learning outcomes for students? If we can articulate our philosophy of education, we can more deliberately refine our instructional practice to accomplish our goals; conversely, if we identify the actions we take as teachers in the classroom, it might reveal more about our educational philosophy than we ever knew. Think about it: How do your classroom decisions or actions reflect your philosophy on education?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sophisticated Accountability | October 18, 2013


Accountability Should Be Sophisticated and Complex
There has been a growing demand in the past decade for accountability in public education. Policy makers, students, families, and taxpayers all want teachers to be “held accountable.” Conventional accountability in teaching is based on student achievement on standardized tests and graduation rates. A current bill (MIHB4625) up for consideration in the Michigan House of Representatives proposes that teacher accountability be based primarily on student growth measured by assessments. Legislation such MIHB4625 suggests that accountability in the teaching profession is merely an objective matter; however, teaching is complex work and it has subjective elements that must also be considered for accountability.

The rhetoric accompanying legislation such as MIHB4625 touts that objectivity in accountability would incentivize teachers to focus on results, reward our best teachers, and make the profession more attractive to prospective talent. Attempting to evaluate complex work with simple quantitative measures could yield inaccurate results and adverse outcomes. We have seen in recent years how too heavy a reliance on objective measures of accountability can lead to distortion of goals by teachers and schools, misguided decision-making, and corruption within education systems. While these adverse outcomes are predicated upon the actions of educators, the ultimate antecedent is oversimplified accountability.

While teachers have the greatest in-school impact on student achievement, external factors have an even greater influence. Teachers could be using the most research-proven effective instructional methods in their classroom, but truancy, poverty, neglect or abuse may inhibit students from fully focusing on their learning. The resulting achievement outcomes might suggest ineffective teaching; conversely, teaching quality could look highly effective even in the absence of solid instruction. Teachers might not be using effective methods, but students could be receiving extensive outside-of-class tutoring, leveraging online learning resources, and achievement measures would suggest the teacher exceeded their professional responsibilities. This means without considering broader subjective indicators of instructional quality and service, along with student achievement, it will be difficult to accurately measure performance of teachers.

Ultimately, there should be accountability for the teaching profession based on student learning, but one-dimensional approaches are inadequate. After all, teaching is complex, multi-faceted work, and not easily summarized by simple quantitative measures. A model combining multiple measures, qualitative and quantitative, such as effective instruction, external factors, and student achievement could yield a more sophisticated and nuanced accountability model. This approach could more accurately measure the complex work of teachers and provide better feedback to foster high levels of learning for all students.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Teacher Leadership Challenge | October 18, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 5.01.03 PMThis is a multipart series of posts intended to help teachers grow their leadership practice and ignite conversations about education online and in person. The goal of a teacher leader is to improve the learning of all students through their efforts, collaboration, and influence. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond within one week to the prompt via a post you publish to your blog. Responses to the prompt that you publish to your own blog should be around 500 words or less. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community. You can subscribe to this blog to get the weekly challenge sent automatically by email.

You can share your post to Twitter using #TLC2014 and spark conversation with educators. In addition to posting on your own blog, you can elect to include your post in the weekly collection showcase blog. To do this, simply email your completed response post to the showcase, at tlc2014.posts@blogger.com Make sure that you include the title of your post with the week of the prompt for proper tagging (e.g., "My Post Title | September 6, 2013") in the subject line (without "re:") of your email, and the full post laid out in paragraphs in the body of the email. Posts are automatically published from sending the email. You can embed images and URLs into the body of your email, and the post will publish while maintaining your formatting and layout. Check out others' responses in the response collection or on Google+ each week, leave them your comments, and get the conversation rolling ahead for teacher leadership.


This Week's Challenge:

What do you believe should be the basis for accountability in education?

There has been a growing demand in the past decade for accountability in education. Policy makers, students, families, educators and taxpayers all want schools to be "held accountable." While these requests are akin to a teacher's request to hold students accountable for their homework or a project, there does not seem to be wide agreement about what accountability actually is for education.

IMG_2896There are varying elements of accountability familiar in the teaching profession and with each comes unique outcomes. There are levels of accountability that rely on standardized testing or adequate yearly progress, but there are also teacher evaluations, classroom observations and student growth. While there are other aspects of school or individual accountability in education, the currently prevailing model of accountability in many places relies on two main measures: student achievement on standardized tests and graduation rate. The basis for accountability is a highly discussed matter in education. Entire teams of educators and departments of state-level experts work regularly on assessment and accountability projects for schools. Many have their doubts as to whether our current measures are sufficient, but they also tend to believe that there is no reasonable way around the current accountability system of standardized test scores or graduation rates.

Whether or not you agree with the current accountability measures in your school or state, the intent of accountability remains an important one, but does the current "yard stick" of accountability (achievement and graduation) miss the mark? Are there other areas of education upon which accountability should be based? Do you agree with the current system of accountability going on for your school? Are the current measures enough, too much, or inadequate? Is it possible that there is one all-encompassing means of achieving accountability in education, or is there a certain combination of factors that must be considered?

Ultimately, education might have to maintain a basis for accountability, but what do you think the basis for accountability should be?

Image"Technology to Support Instruction That Works" by Gary Abud, Jr.

Monday, October 14, 2013

It's Not Really About Pringles | Oct. 4, 2013

Is it more important to teach skills or content? Similarly, is it the details or big picture we need to focus on? Before I continue, check out the video below.


Did you focus on just the "trick"? Were you able to step back and see the big picture? Or, were the background changes actually irrelevant details and you focused entirely on the cards? Sure, this is contrived, but nevertheless illustrative.

Too often, teachers are expected to "cover" a set of details and we end up missing what's really important. Whether the card was the three of hearts or the queen of spades is not significant. Solving the problem of "how they did it" is the real challenge. Take, for example, a recent problem-based learning activity in my son Ethan's fourth grade class with Mrs. Howie.

Watch the video: The Pringles Challenge 2013

Picture
You can read Ethan and his partner's summary of the project here. Students practiced math skills, writing in a voice, problem solving, communication and project management. Did you notice the "technology"? It was sprinkled in there, as a sauce to add flavor but never sustaining in itself.

Oh, and there was passion? Did I mention passion? What else could a parent ask for from a rock star teacher's lesson.

What is the content? Certainly mass and volume are important terms to know, but in this project students demonstrate that understanding, and much, much more. The kids will probably say they "learned about Pringles." We know it's not really about that.
This post is part of the Teacher Leadership Challenge, sponsored by Michigan Teacher of the Year Gary Abud. This week, he asks, "How important is the teaching of content knowledge compared to teaching thinking skills?"

Friday, October 11, 2013

Teacher Leadership Challenge | October 11, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 5.01.03 PMThis is a multipart series of posts intended to help teachers grow their leadership practice and ignite conversations about education online and in person. The goal of a teacher leader is to improve the learning of all students through their efforts, collaboration, and influence. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond within one week to the prompt via a post you publish to your blog. Responses to the prompt that you publish to your own blog should be around 500 words or less. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community. You can subscribe to this blog to get the weekly challenge sent automatically by email.

You can share your post to Twitter using #TLC2014 and spark conversation with educators. In addition to posting on your own blog, you can elect to include your post in the weekly collection showcase blog. To do this, simply email your completed response post to the showcase, at tlc2014.posts@blogger.com Make sure that you include the title of your post with the week of the prompt for proper tagging (e.g., "My Post Title | September 6, 2013") in the subject line (without "re:") of your email, and the full post laid out in paragraphs in the body of the email. Posts are automatically published from sending the email. You can embed images and URLs into the body of your email, and the post will publish while maintaining your formatting and layout. Check out others' responses in the response collection or on Google+ each week, leave them your comments, and get the conversation rolling ahead for teacher leadership.


This Week's Challenge:

Think back to a time when you successfully learned something that was especially challenging for you...Describe the context of the learning situation, what made it challenging for you, and explain what ultimately enabled you to be successful with that learning. 


Many students find certain subject area topics difficult to grasp while others find them more accessible to understand. The same goes for picking up a new game, skill, sport, or technique. Whether you are an adult or child, a student or an educator, you have likely encountered a notably challenging learning experience before. We have all been there at some point or another in our lives. Whether the situation took place in a classroom or elsewhere, all learning experiences have some underlying commonalities.

Ready, set, go!
Though what makes something a challenge to learn varies from learner to learner, but what can make that learning opportunity a success or a struggle can look very similar regardless of the context. What is responsible for making something that is difficult to learn more accessible for the learner? Is it the teacher? Is it the nature of what is being learned? Does it have to do with some inherent trait of the learner? All of these elements of learning might have an impact, but each affects learning differently and to a varying degree.

When you think back to a time that your own learning experience went from struggle to success, can you identify what made the difference? What was the nature of that learning experience for you? Was it a project? A tough academic topic? A new skill? How did you feel when it was a challenge and what made you stick with it to success? Pointing out the features of a successful learning experience can help to inform the learning progression that takes place in classrooms and beyond. Whether it is a gymnast learning a new balance beam technique, an adult installing a new faucet on a sink, or a middle school student beginning to speak a world language, that which makes learning successful is an important consideration for teachers and students alike.

In general, what learning conditions and teaching strategies do you think enable you to learn most effectively? How do they compare from one context to another for you? Are those conditions the same for all learners? How about for all learners in the same context as you described? As educators, becoming aware of the hallmarks of successful teaching and learning, by tuning into our own successes and challenges as learners, can help us to enhance the success of all learners.


Image: "Ready, set, go!" by Judy Griffith

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Thinking = Learning Potential? | October 4, 2013

Seth Furlow
http://furlowtlc2014.blogspot.com/2013/10/thinking-learning-potential.html

How much do you remember about what you learned in high school? College? How about last month? I have taught with the Michigan High School Content Expectations in Chemistry for about seven or eight years. I think there are about 10-15 HSCEs that I would argue common citizens should have a good understanding of. The others? Well not so much. Why does anyone need to know the how to do stoichiometric calculations with chemical reactions? How about the different in number if neutrons in one isotope vs another? Even if someone does learn these things if left unused for any extended period of time they'll forget. I've heard someone say there is three types if knowledge students need to learn in school...things they need to know for 40 minutes, for forty days, and for 40 years. Unfortunately, I think a lot of what we teach in some of our core classes is in that 40 minute to 40 day range.

When I got hired for my first job out of college as a research assistant in the genetics department at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati I was told the main component of my job was to run a process called PCR. I had learned, briefly, about the polymerase chain reaction while in undergrad but had no idea where to begin running this procedure on my own. I nervously asked if I was expected to know how to do this on my own, and my boss said of course not, that he would train me. This was the "real world" wasn't it? This is what we teachers preach to our students all the time, isn't it? Wasn't this why I went to school, to learn things that I would use in a future job? Well, it turns out I was only expected to be able to learn something new, not necessarily utilize everything I has learned in each class.

I am not in any way saying that no content should be taught. Learning conceptually difficult material is beneficial, it builds confidence, and develops a sense if curiosity. Being able to critically think about new material is aided by prior knowledge, but what is that essential knowledge in each core area? I would argue that we need to spend significantly less time on content and more on critical thinking. Teach the basics, give students the opportunity to think, challenge them with difficult material, and then make them think some more.

My boss at CHMCC didn't care that I wasn't walking into the lab with the ability to run a PCR machine on my own. What he cared about was whether or not I could learn quickly, and understand the importance of each step of the PCR procedure. Content matters, but if I had an endless supply of content facts, but no ability to think beyond those facts, what good would they be? Teach kids how to think, how to be curious, and do so in the context of your core subject area, and they'll be successful in whatever they choose.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Teacher Leadership Challenge | October 4, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 5.01.03 PMThis is a multipart series of posts intended to help teachers grow their leadership practice and ignite conversations about education online and in person. The goal of a teacher leader is to improve the learning of all students through their efforts, collaboration, and influence. The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is a weekly installment activity that poses a prompt on an educational topic or issue. Your challenge is to respond within one week to the prompt via a post you publish to your blog. Responses to the prompt that you publish to your own blog should be around 500 words or less. The aim is to get more teachers thinking globally about their classroom practice and their own connection to the wider education community. You can subscribe to this blog to get the weekly challenge sent automatically by email.

You can share your post to Twitter using #TLC2014 and spark conversation with educators. In addition to posting on your own blog, you can elect to include your post in the weekly collection showcase blog. To do this, simply email your completed response post to the showcase, at tlc2014.posts@blogger.com Make sure that you include the title of your post with the week of the prompt for proper tagging (e.g., "My Post Title | September 6, 2013") in the subject line (without "re:") of your email, and the full post laid out in paragraphs in the body of the email. Posts are automatically published from sending the email. You can embed images and URLs into the body of your email, and the post will publish while maintaining your formatting and layout. Check out others' responses in the response collection or on Google+ each week, leave them your comments, and get the conversation rolling ahead for teacher leadership.


This Week's Challenge:

How important is the teaching of content knowledge compared to teaching thinking skills?

ID-10044941Philosophies of what should be taught in schools seem to be starkly dichotomized. On one hand, there is the idea that schools are exclusively in the business of teaching knowledge of content in various subject areas; however, another view is that schools should be teaching higher order thinking skills.

Whether students are learning facts or skills, learning outcomes are still the driving force behind assessment and instruction, but the basis for learning outcomes is highly debated in many areas of education and society. One current iteration of this debate comes in the form of Common Core State Standards, where some argue that subject areas are being "watered down," or essential facts are being ignored, in lieu of the teaching of skills. 

Some opponents of the Common Core argue that teaching these application level skills at the expense of content knowledge deprives students of a high caliber education. Yet some find value in teaching students to reason, critically think, or problem solve, citing that rote memorization is but a low-level cognitive process that doesn't really demonstrate meaningful learning. Some proponents of the Common Core have deemed it a mechanism to move education toward preparing students for the "real world" by teaching higher order thinking skills necessary for careers and higher education, but others argue that these "skills" should not be taught in schools or cannot be taught to students at all.

In order to prepare students for the world they will one day inherit, it is necessary that schools provide students the learning that is most important to their future success, but which learning is most important? Should schools focus on teaching content or skills, or should both be taught? What benefit is there to teaching either or both? Are the learning outcomes of each mutually exclusive? How might the teaching of content and skills be accomplished? Which is more valuable for students to have going forward in their lives? Are all skills equally important to teach, such as collaboration and communication? Is there some content area knowledge that is more important to know than other information? What resolution might exist to reconcile the debate over what should be taught in schools?



Images: "Skill On Dartboard" courtsey of Stuart Miles & "Blacksmith" courtesy of Dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Homework: What Is It Good For, Dependency? | September 27, 2013

Todd Bloch (@blocht574)

There are many views in education about homework ranging from : Necessary for success to an evil tool from the old days of education. Parents, teachers and administrators are on both sides of the debate. Students not surprisingly are pretty much united against homework.


So the burning question is: What is Homework Good For?


The easy answer comes from students:

  • boredom

  • repetition

  • frustration

  • wasting time

  • busy work

These are not the desired outcomes when a teacher assigns the work, but what happens. Is something lost in translation? Most assigning the work feel it is practice that is reinforcing the skills learned in the classroom. Not being concerned by the students perception of the work. Recently, I have noticed a trend where teachers profess at Open House that they don't "give" homework, followed by a list of weekly at home expectations that include: Math practice (Online w/ TenMarks or IXL), spelling practice (Spelling city) a weekly reader and daily independent reading. These same teachers also expect student to finish any work not completed in class at home. All this work is done at home, so what is it if not homework?

Parents expect homework. They use homework as a gauge to measure what is going on in the classroom. It informs them of what learning is happening in the classroom. Working on it with their child can give them an idea of how their child is doing. Parents often mistaking the lack of homework for success by their student in a class. Parents also feel that IF their child does the homework it should be reflected in their grades, no matter how proficient they in the subject area tests. Of course teachers can have a hard time knowing if the student or the parent completed the homework.
Traditionalist feel that homework is practice of the vital school skills learned in class. How are our student going to learn math, spelling, vocabulary, etc. with out this practice? Practice is helpful. Should our students be practicing without a coach? DO they all need to practice the same material? How much practice do they need? Does practice count in the big picture?

Instead of giving homework, teachers need to teach student to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Give their students the tools to allow them to decide what needs to be practiced and how to practice. Then be available during practice time to help students hone their skills. By making this fundamental change, students will still have homework, but they will be the ones deciding what they need to do and when it needs to be done. Freeing up time for family and extracurricular activities. It will also end the homework dependency our society has created over the past few decades!