Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Another Personal Rant Against Timed Math Tests...

I am going to apologize upfront for my obsession with this topic.  As a STEM educator with a son who is 100% into STEM topics and is extremely literate in many areas, I am venting my frustration in public... May not be a good idea but it feels right at this moment.

Last February I crafted a post: Fluency Does Not Equal Speed, where I wrote a letter to grades 1 - 3 or 4 or 5 teachers asking them to re-think how they use timed tests with their budding mathematicians (students).  It was a cathartic process for me as I crafted a letter to share with all teachers who use timed math tests without singling out my son's experiences in his three short years of attending school.  I also made sure that I offered alternatives rather than just complain or whine... we all know those parents.  Unfortunately, I find it necessary to re-visit the topic after an eye opening experience I had with my third grade son this past week.

We were finishing up his homework after dinner.  He was moving back and forth from focused work to what I call his "border collie behavior" of pacing, jumping, and escaping to his happy place - (another post for another time).  He had completed the first page of his math and I do make it a point to sit with him and discuss his thinking as he solves problems (the math teacher in me making sure he is a problem solver not a rule follower).  He had six problems left to complete and we had 15 minutes before bath time, so I set the timer for 15 minutes.  Instantly, Tater fell into hopeless despair, crying, agitated, whining, and completely melting down.  SIX PROBLEMS!?  being a failure of a parent I assumed he was practicing his learned helplessness - acting like he cannot do something so that someone will swoop in and do it for him - another quality skill he developed in first grade and perfected in second grade.  He remained frozen, not able to complete his work and crying and tantruming for the entire 15 minutes.  I had taken television and the iPad away during what I thought was an Oscar award winning act being put on by my son (another parent of the year moment...).  As soon as the timer went off it took him about 5 minutes to calm down and he proceeded to complete the last six problems in less than 2 minutes.

The next morning while in the shower I was hit with a blast of clarity - he was not being helpless, he was frozen because of his experience being timed to perform academically.  He had begun being timed in mathematics and reading fluency in kindergarten.  Instead of practicing learned helplessness, he had learned that when a timer starts, the best thing to do is quit, give up, and/or not try.  Better to fail up front than to try your hardest and fail anyway.  Now I know where his "I'm stupid" comments that he made frequently last year originated.  My frustration with Tater the night before quickly became focused elsewhere.

  • If a teacher tells you that your child is "slower than the special education kids" in reading but you believe otherwise, ask for the assessment data, get a second opinion and kindly ask that your child no longer be assessed that way.
  • If a parent helper comes to tell you that your son is "bad at math" because he is "slower than the special education kids" on the timed tests (she corrects the timed math tests for the teacher) excuse your child from taking the timed tests and ask your child's teacher to tell his/her helpers not to discuss the achievement of your students with ANYONE.
  • Ask the teacher what research they are using to support their practice of timed math tests.
  • Please stop timing our children, your students.  
  • I will say it again Fluency does not equal speed, fluency is about being literate in whichever discipline you are learning and literacy is not based on how fast you can do something.
  • When someone asks you why you give timed math and reading tests, base your reason on research, if you don't have any research to support the practice, then abandon it
  • Remember what literacy is:
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as:
"the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts."  (I would throw in visual and audio resources also).

Here are some resources to consider:
NCTM Teaching Children Mathematics April 2014 - Jo Boaler
Faster Isn't Smarter - Cathy L. Sealy
Competitive Timed Tests Might Be Contributing to the Gender Gap in Math - Emily Richmond

Friday, August 29, 2014

AUSD #throughglass Fear of the Unknown

Our new school year started on August 13th.  As the Curriculum Coordinator I have decided that Mondays are #noofficeday (the day of the week I will visit sites and get into classrooms).  I am also a Google Glass Explorer.  This year it is my goal to find as many ways as possible to integrate Google Glass into the learning environment throughout the district.  So, during my site visits on August 18th and August 25th, I wore Google Glass into the classrooms I visited.  I sent the following email to inform the school's staff I was visiting:

Good Morning,
Now that I have a year under my belt, I want to spend more time visiting sites and specifically classrooms.  So, I have dedicated Mondays to visit sites, get into classrooms to experience the learning through the eyes of the students.  This will enable me to also get a better understanding of the strength and areas of need related to curriculum, instruction, and assessment.  I will enter quietly and smile hello.  You do not need to introduce me unless it fits in with whatever you are doing.  I will wave on my way out.  I will be using my tablet to take notes directly related to student learning and engagement.  I will share positive feedback with specific examples based on my observations with every teacher I visit.

I will also be wearing my Google Glass as I will be using it to take pictures (only posted with your permission) and share the wonderful learning experiences our students have every day.  If at any time you would like me to video a lesson or activity, I can do that also.

I look forward to getting into your classrooms to see firsthand the learning our students experience. If there is a specific lesson or activity you would like me to observe, please let me know.

Have a great Monday,
Kristen Beck
Curriculum Coordinator,
AuburnUnion School District

I had crafted this email thinking that the biggest obstacle to wearing Google Glass would be the distraction it would cause with the students.  I want the students to get used to seeing me wear it in their classrooms without it being a distraction.  However, what I did not realize was that it evoked fear among the teachers.

I assumed that this email was sufficiently providing information about my observations and specifically wearing Google Glass.  Unfortunately it was not.  I was contacted by teachers throughout the district informing me that there was stress surrounding the fact that I was secretly video taping and taking pictures of  teachers teaching in their classrooms.

I suddenly realized that my perception was completely out of whack with the teachers' perceptions, not because of a lack of communication but because of a lack of knowledge and understanding.  So, then I sent the following email:

Happy Thursday Certificated Staff,
I have been receiving many questions concerning my use of Google Glass as an Educational tool when I go out to visit classrooms.  The purpose of my observations is to know firsthand what is going on in our schools and classrooms so I can better support the teachers and other district employees to positively impact student learning. 
Here is what I have done on my visits so far…
·        During lessons I sit quietly and observe from a student's point of view.  I will take some notes on my TABLET so I can provide positive feedback on student engagement, effective teaching strategies and other POSITIVE things that I see directly impact student learning and understanding.  I will use these notes to send positive feedback notes to the teachers whose rooms I visit.
·        I wear my Google Glass while sitting, although I do not have them "awake" because they are anything but discrete and/or secret.  To take a picture, I have to tap the side of my head, or say "okay glass, take a picture" and that is a major distraction. 
·        If there is an appropriate time and/or place, I will ASK the teacher who's room I am in if I can take pictures of the learning environment - I do not photograph/video students or teachers.  If a teacher requests me to video tape a lesson, I am able to do that with Google Glass and would work with the teacher before hand to plan etc… 
·        When I am walking around campus I only photograph the learning environment NOT people.
·        At this time, Google Glass is a tool for me to document the incredible learning environments provided for our students.  Right now I want to make everyone comfortable having them around.  There are many other valuable ways they can be used to enhance learning and I will be asking for volunteers later in the year to try the other tools.

Please let your site administrator know if you would prefer I did not wear them when visiting your classroom.  He/she will compile a list so that when I visit your site I will know when to remove them and put them away.

Thanks so much,
Have a great Thursday!!
Kristen Beck
Curriculum Coordinator,
AuburnUnion School District

This email eased minds and became a step in our district's increased understanding of how technology can be an instructional tool.  We are in the infancy of integrating technology as a learning tool and as I work with teachers and site administrators to facilitate the integration we will continue to hit some speed bumps along the way.  I will continue to openly communicate and clarify as we learn and grow together as a district.  Please copy, cut, and paste as needed if you experience similar situations.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My First PLN - Sending Gratitude

Tomorrow my son and I leave for our yearly trek to Lake Almanor, CA.  For my son Skyler it is a non-stop play fest with seven of his best buddies, they ride bikes, scooters, play in the lake, build sand castles, run, jump, laugh, repeat...  For me, I get to meet with my first PLN - 5 friends/teachers (now moms) who once worked together (over 11 year ago) in a small northern California school district.  We carpooled together, student taught together, attended conferences together, attended or were in each others weddings, got pregnant together, lost pregnancies together, went through divorces together, have always been there for each other.  Now, we make sure that once a year we get ourselves and our children together.

Because we are passionate educators we do spend a lot of time talking shop, we need to catch up on each others "school year" and then share resources, reflect on our practices, discuss our various school situations and problem solve together.  It is a face to face professional learning network.  We know that when we are together and pouring out our educator souls, it is possible that we get the "bullshit" card thrown out for a reality check and we embrace and welcome that.  Although we only see each other once a year, it is like we see each other frequently and we are transported back to the time when we all worked, taught, and learned together.  I am privileged to spend a week of my year with these incredible educators, moms, and women.

So, with our impending gathering, I have been thinking of an interesting pondering... what are the key educational resources and/or innovations I HAVE TO share with my girlies?  It is a daunting question (and I would love input on this!)  So, I began thinking, if I were giving them a short list of resources what would I share?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cooperation vs. Collaboration Is There a Difference?
I chose this picture for this post (thank you Krissy Venosdale for your incredible poster stream) because it has the word Collaboration. I also like that the message is to share and I take that as sharing your Talents, Passions, Creativity and Innovations as an educator freely. This past week I attended a Gifted Learner Conference (coincidentally, Krissy is a gifted learner expert) and we discussed the differences between Collaboration and Cooperation. Interestingly, I had not pondered the unique differences between these two words.

Please bear with me as I publicly work through my understanding (or lack there of).

Collaboration (Based on Dr. Sandra Kaplan's definition):
  • Collaboration is based on the strengths or talents of individual group members
  • Each member has a unique skill, talent, strength, or expertise he or she brings to the problem or session
  • Participation can be passive or active and participants may be generalists or specialists depending on the situation and the needed talent or expertise
  • Team members are chosen thoughtfully based on their needed contribution to the group
  • An example would be a district textbook adoption committee which is a group of carefully chosen educators with specific skills and expertise (you want to be picky about who you choose so that you have a mix of talents and/or expertise)
  • You are solving a problem or building or creating or designing
District and/or School Site Talent Teams (I don't have a better name right now):
  • I see these groups as collaborative in nature because they are formed to solve problems, design, build, create - in other words: be the innovators of the district
  • We have a District Instructional Leadership Team (DILT) in which members are carefully picked for their strengths and expertise.  This team is expected to create, innovate and share with others.  These folks are the visionary educators of the district
A pre-requisite for any "Talent Team" whether it be a group of students, teachers, or administrators is finding the individual strengths and talents of each individual.  This takes time and effort and is absolutely necessary if you want creativity and innovation to drive change in your classroom, school or district.

Cooperation (based on what I was taught from the Cooperative Learning Gurus - The Johnson Brothers:
  • Cooperation is based on "inter-dependency" all group members must count on or depend on every other group member for success
  • Each member has a defined job and the jobs are periodically rotated so that each person experiences each job
  • The jobs are practiced and understood by all students (adult or child)
  • Job assignments are not related to the strengths of the individual group members.
  • An example would be a grade level or department team made up of a group of teachers at a site or district level coming together to meet and discuss student learning (the group members are pre-determined by what grade level and subject matter they teach)
  • You are completing a needed task or assignment
Professional Learning Communities - PLC Mondays - (PLC's that meet weekly in grade level or department groups):
  • I see these groups as Cooperative in nature.  They are getting together to create common assessments, collect and discuss data based on student performance on the assessments, and plan instruction and intervention based on the collected data.  Because of the time frame (one hour each week) 
    • Inter-dependency and specific jobs will allow for optimal use of time
    • Each member contributes equally based on his/her assigned job
    • Jobs are switched so that group members experience each job
    • A specific agenda with guiding questions is followed so that group members come prepared and ready to discuss their students' performance or to contribute to the formation of common assessments
    • Because of the time constraints, the groups must be focused on how students are performing in their classes and who to provide interventions or extensions to when differentiating the curricula
    • PLC time is short and must be productive
As I stated earlier, this post is a result of unleashing the contents of my brain as I reflect on new learning and perspectives on Collaboration and Cooperation.  This reflection will lead to more ponderings as I battle and struggle to make sense of this.  

One connection I have made is to Google and Google Teacher Academy.  I have a friend who works at Google as a software designer.  The biggest frustration my friend had when starting work for Google was that after each project was completed the groups would be changed.  As a computer nerd who struggled with new group dynamics, this was a frustrating part of working for Google.  However, as I see it, Google constantly creates "Talent Teams" which emphasize individual strengths and expertise leading to superior products.  Google Teacher Academy participants are chosen the same way.  They are looking for a "Talent Team" of educators with a mix of strengths and expertise to build the strongest cohort possible.  So, those of us who are not chosen do not "fit" with the team YET...  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Last Day of School That Wasn't

 by Krissy Venosdale

One of my favorite things about being an educator is building relationships and connections with students, parents, other teachers and leadership.  The end of a school year always brings a shower of mixed emotions:

I am elated that I get to spend time with my family, relaxing, reading, writing and renewing my love of education all at a slower pace than during the school year.  I'm invigorated by the professional learning I will do by reading, collaborating with others on twitter and Google +, and by attending one or two focused learning opportunities - this year it will be #cuerockstar Las Vegas Teacher Camp.  These are the all about me relationships and connections I look forward to.

In contrast, as I spend the last couple of weeks with my students, I experience a whole different set of emotions.  I often catch myself looking out at my students and thinking about how far the class has come growing together as learners and collaborators.  I think about each student and see his/her individual growth, struggles, successes and year long transformation into a stronger learner and thinker.  My heart smiles as I scan the room re-living the moments we shared and watching as they complete end of the year explorations.  At the same time there is a feeling of sadness at the thought that I won't get to see their faces everyday as they enter my classroom and I struggle thinking about letting them go.  I wonder how I will ever build connections with the next group of students coming in a couple of months at the same time I am excited about the prospect of new classes.  Then internal fight inside my brain takes me from tears to laughter with just a thought.  Finally there is always the nagging feelings of emptiness as I say my final goodbyes for the summer.  I call the entire rush of emotions "The End of the Year Magic"

Many of you experience similar emotions at the end of a school year, or the end of a sports season.   Finishing up my first year as a curriculum coordinator brought me to the end of a school year at a loss for what I was feeling.  There was no classroom(s) of kiddos to experience the  "The End of the Year Magic" with.  It is a similar feeling to celebrating a holiday or the birthday of a loved one who is no longer with us for the first time (ironic that I am writing this on Father's Day, my first one with my Dad as an angel).  I was surrounded by a global sense of emptiness and wondering of how do I get the "The End of the Year Magic" emotions back in my new position at the district office.

Those thoughts bring me back to the picture and quote from above, it is all about the connections and relationships that you build and so here are my goals for next year:

  • Continue to build connections and relationships with teachers, administrators and learning support staff
  • Work with administrators to become instructional leaders for their sites and not just building managers
  • Look for teachers' strengths by getting into classrooms as often as possible (instructional rounds using Google Forms to make notes)
  • Build capacity in all teachers by emphasizing their strengths and providing support in their areas of struggle
  • Create a district resource of "experts" (I'll probably call it something less intimidating) so that teachers have colleagues they can ask for help or support.
  • Provide the foundation and supports for the teachers to grow as lead learners (it's not about me!)
  • Implement a #geniushour for teachers who want to learn and collaborate and share new knowledge
I will continue to work on this list, but the main thing is to do for the teachers what I did for my students when I was in the classroom - make it so they do not "need" me.  Then at the end of each year, I will look back on the teachers in the district with the same emotions and feelings I felt for my students for the 23 years I was in the classroom.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Google Teacher Academy Mountain View - The Gift of a Near Win

A couple of weeks ago I found this TED Talk by Sarah Lewis on Twitter: Embrace the Near Win.  As I reflect on my second Google Teacher Academy (GTA) rejection, this talk resonates with me.  Here are some quotes:

"Success is a moment of time..."
"The pursuit of mastery is the reaching not the arriving..."
"The near win shows you how little you know..."
"What, right now, do we plan to do to address that mountain in our sites..."
"We thrive not when we have done it all, but when we have more to do..."
"Coming close to what you thought you wanted can help you attain more than you thought you could..."

What do these quotes have to do with my failure or "Near Win"?  They are motivating me to work to improve and become the educator who is chosen for GTA.  Here is my plan for improvement:
  • As I watched the video submissions of other applicants, I realized how much my video sucked.  I was so stuck with the process of making the video that who I am as an educator did not shine through.  BIG MISTAKE!  I tried to follow David Theriault's advice about creating a winning short video:  CLICK HERE (thanks for sharing David!), I was frozen with fear.  Instead of being myself and letting that come out by telling a story, I did the opposite and made it forgettable.  So, I will make sure my video tells a story and that who I am as a person and educator shines through.
  • Even though I have been using Google Apps for the past 5 years, I still have much to learn about infusing GAFE tools.  So, I will become a Google Educator by July 2014 and a Google Education Trainer by October 2014.
I have to say that the past and present "Chosen Ones" are impressive and truly innovative educators.  It seems like each round gets more competitive and the bar gets raised just a bit higher.  It is truly inspiring to know that all of the recent applicants (successful and not so much) are making a huge difference in their classrooms/schools/districts and they impact student/adult learning and motivation.  I will continue learning with/from them on Twitter and Google+. 

I look forward to the process of completing my next application for GTA Austin.  I will be like astronaut Jose Hernandez from Stockton California.  He applied to the astronaut program 12 times before getting accepted.  Hopefully it won't take me that long!? 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Building Balloon Cars - Ambiguity and Cognitive Dissonance

NOTE: These beginning paragraphs are the "Background" to the what and why I do this activity with my students, you can skip to the lesson link below if you are short on time and want a fun and challenging activity to do with your students the last weeks of school.

 from: Krissy Venosdale:                                                                     
Way back in the summer of 1995, I attended a summer institute on integrating technology into the classroom.  I received a computer with a dedicated phone line for internet access, a stipend, and two weeks of STEM (not called that back then) activities.  There was a cohort of 25 Idaho teachers who would build what we now call a professional learning network.  The expectation was that we would use our computer and dedicated phone line to collaborate and stick together as a group since we taught in different areas of the state.  One of our first activities (and the only one I remember) was experimenting with rubber band cars leading to the building of balloon cars.  It took the entire first week to test the cars, collect data, make observations, and then transfer what we learned to build our own balloon powered car.  Of course we were working in collaborative teams and using the computers to organize data, graph data, and make notes (much more clunky than using Google Docs/Drive).

The University of Idaho science professors who were leading our group used ambiguity to force us out of our comfort zones.  There were no guidelines, just guiding questions.  When they introduced the rubber band cars they handed them out, dumped a pile of rubber bands on each table and we sat in silence for a few minutes thinking and waiting to be told what to do.  As the seconds ticked away, our looks became more perplexed as we continued to wait for instructions.  Finally the professors broke the silence and said "Get to work".  "What are we supposed to do?" one brave student asked.  They answered with two simple and profound words, "Be scientists!"  They gave us the ultimate statement of ambiguity to send us on our thinking way long before #geniushour and #20%time existed.  After continuing to sit with dumbfounded looks on our faces, (we were all very obedient science teachers/students who wait for instructions and procedures) the professors realized they needed to gently nudge us forward.

They began by asking us a question, "What is a scientist and what do scientists do?"  Make a list in your groups, you have 2 minutes to brainstorm.  For the first time that morning the room was a buzz with chatter.  After the brainstorm session, we shared and made a collective list to help us remember our role as active, thinking, tinkering, and information seeking scientists.  The next guiding question the professors asked was, "What are you going to do with the rubber band cars in front of you?"  Again they sent our groups into a brainstorm session and the room was once again a buzz.  We shared with the whole group after 2 minutes and wrote the collective list on the board.  The professors asked one last question, "How many of you have enough information to get started?" All of our hands went up and we spent the rest of the day and the next two days "playing" with rubber band cars in the halls of the science building.  At the end of the three days, we had rubber band car races down the halls.  We used the data and knowledge we gained from tinkering and experimenting with them to find the combination of tweaks that resulted in the fastest car and the farthest car.

Day four began with the professors dumping piles of materials down in front of us and challenging us to use only those materials to build a balloon powered car that would be the fastest and/or the farthest.  We experimented for a day and at the end of day 5 we had balloon car races in the halls of the science building.  The ambiguity and cognitive dissonance was at times extremely frustrating, but it lead to a strong commitment to the process and a willingness to persevere and get it figured out.  And, way back then, we could not Google It.

So, the next school year in my middle school science classes in Twin Falls, Idaho, we played with the rubber band cars and then built balloon cars.  And from that time, the project became a yearly staple in my classroom.  Before I share the lesson plan, I want to share some interesting observations I have noted as my classes have completed the exploration over the years:

  • High achieving students struggle with this process because of the ambiguity - they don't do "play and figure it out" well
  • You will be surprised and inspired by what your students create.
  • Be prepared to provide questions to guide struggling groups so that they do not give up
  • Remind everyone that this learning experience is about the process and that there is no failure 
  • Figure out ways to give the students hints without telling them what to do
Here is a very basic outline of the lesson and supplies you will need: 

I will be going into third grade classrooms this week to have them build balloon cars and I will add pictures here.  You can use the links and information below to have your students explore NASA's Balloon Car Challenge.  I would do this part with middle school students.

  • Pick 8 of the cars, write their name, distance and time.  Then calculate the rate of each one (SPEED).

Have a great end of your school year!