January 24, 2010

Snow days

Watch the video on KCCI to see what we are doing about snow days. Also, my classroom is videotaped for the news section as they learn social bookmarking.

Schools Face Growing Snow Day Dilemma - Education News Story - KCCI Des Moines

January 22, 2010

Pass or fail. It's that simple.

A-, B+, D, F...What does it all matter anyway?  Who determines if a B+ student is any different than an A- student?? I sure can't do it.  Yes, the "numbers" might tell you it's an 89% vs. a 92%, but that fine line, when considering ability and knowledge, really isn’t what matters.

First of all, grades are for the parents and bumper stickers, not for the child.  If grades were truly designed to help a child, they would be pass/fail (some med schools are considering this beneficial as well), or satisfactory/unsatisfactory - standards-based grading.

We need to determine if a child is really understanding and mastering a concept or skill, and that’s it.  When in the “real world” will you ever be graded with letters? And when will it ever be ok for you to do below average work and move up? Either the report you wrote for your boss is excellent or you fix it and you work on it until it’s satisfactory, and then you move on – why not use that model in education?

I say when students are proficient, they move on. There should be no time limit...and that might mean that we don't have grade levels, either. Hold on to your seat...no grade levels?! They could then take classes at various levels depending on which subjects they had “mastered” and they wouldn’t be held back by a grade level.  Again, if you go look at any job – you start at the bottom, and you work your way up.  It doesn’t always take 13 years (K-12) to get your promotion (graduation), everyone has their own speed.

Like I always say, its important to create an educational atmosphere that is most like what students will experience in their future.  It’s unfair for us to do what has always been done - just because.  It’s time to think about our system.  It’s time for a change.

January 18, 2010

Junior high classes offered online - brilliant!

So, after lengthy discussion about online learning platforms (@eabbey), I started pondering the idea of taking my 7th and 8th grade language arts classes to a predominantly online structure. I could see this working.  Not only working, but becoming a much more efficient and educationally sound way of teaching and learning.

Here are my thoughts.  So, students have your class material online. What material? Well, this would depend on what you wanted them to do.  It might be a video or podcast of you teaching, discussing, modeling, etc. It might be a link to a website, or a Keynote/PowerPoint type slideshow.  It might be an activity or a discussion topic. It would depend, but it would be appropriate and relevant to your topic.

The students would then work through your class while posting to forums, creating projects and utilizing the internet and various resources…and you could just sit back and relax, right?! HA, yeah right!  This is your opportunity to do what you love the most (at least if you are the type of educator I’d want for my child).

This is where you have a chance to post back to questions on the forum, or comment on your students’ posts.  This is also where you have your ONE-ON-ONE time with students!  That’s what we all want and need, right?  You’d have time to assist the students that need help, and challenge the students that excel.  This is our chance to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of students on different levels.

Would this be hard work for the instructor? Yes, more than just opening a book and assigning number 1-20.  At the same time, it wouldn’t be more work than what you are already doing if you are teaching at a rigorous and relevant level…

Online college classes have been around forever, but online instruction in the K-12 setting? That’s an idea that needs explored. 

Other schools/institutions have done this - check these sites out - Laurel Springs (school), Eagle Christian (school),  Online Classrooms (article).

January 14, 2010

Semester tests - as old school as it gets!

I'm going to skip the whole hey-it's-my-first-time-blogging speech, because it will probably be pretty obvious to everyone that it's my first time.  If it's not entertaining enough, just picture me writing this while jamming out to Britney Spears and trying to burn calories by keeping my abs tight the whole time (why did I eat that cookie for lunch?).

But really - I'm writing in honor of my students' semester tests. HOW EXCITING, right?! Not as much.  Don't get me wrong, it's a nice idea: teach all semester - test to see what they learned - check tests -  no feedback (usually) - move on.  Heck they probably enjoy testing. And I am SURE they love the multiple choice questions we gave them (they'll never know it was because we wanted to check 150 tests in 10 minutes).

That was my attempt at sarcasm, let me know how it went.

I just don't understand this innate NEED educators have for semester tests.  I don't have it.  In fact, I'm "subtly" trying to abolish these tests by dropping hints like,  "Hey, maybe we could do away with semester tests." :)

My teaching style just doesn't align with these types of assessments.  I like to teach, then "dipstick" along the way to see how they are comprehending, adjust, move on (or back up, according to the needs of the students), repeat.  Don't get me wrong, I do test. Just not usually in the traditional sense of the word.  I test through projects, application, verbal comprehension, individual discussion, and in some cases on paper - well, not PAPER - we have a 1:1 computer program at Van Meter...more about that later.

Tomorrow my 8th graders are creating a glog to upload to an educational wiki - Greetings from the World.  They will be posting the glogs under the Van Meter link.  The students are able to be as creative and advanced as their minds allow, while developing a virtual poster about Iowa, and at the same time utilizing the information covered from first semester (like poems and figurative writing).

Were they excited? More than if I handed them a four page multiple choice test and said, "good luck."  I've heard educators say a lot of things, but my recent favorite is  that it's not our job to excite students -  that baffles me.  I'd say finding a student's passion and getting them excited is a good portion of my job description.  Without that, I have 108 students learning material for a test and then forgetting it the next day - and be honest, we KNOW that's possible.  If they learned when I taught it (which I'd know from various assessments along the way), then semester tests are silly.