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Archive for September, 2011

The case for a fourth grader’s digital footprint

September 29th, 2011 No comments

1. Positive digital footprints, 2. Communicating with digital tools, 3. Transparency for parents and family, 4. New ways of thinking about Web tools, and 5. Effective digital citizenship” (Posted by Jenny Luca on Aug 26, 2011 in Creating Global Classrooms)

I sent a note home this week introducing my parents to blogging and eportfolios in my grade four classroom. A few families have put restrictions on internet publishing. I will have to exclude them from our Posterous site and the wikispace eportfolio project. I will have to adapt their learning to private digital formats like a Word Document or PowerPoint.

Why not simply do Word and PowerPoint with all of them? I briefly asked myself. I think Jenny Luca explains why very well. My students need to learn how to create positive digital footprints as they practice digital citizenship. I don’t think Word or PowerPoint represent authentic learning experiences for that. Transparency for parents and family is also critical in public education at this point. We need to effectively publish student learning and we need to empower students as publishers. When teachers publish student work, teachers reflect on student learning. When students publish their own work, students reflect on their own learning.

My students are young, and the Saskatchewan is remiss in addressing Jenny Luca’s outcomes in its curriculum, but they need to be addressed. I’ll try and meet with those parents in my classroom who are reluctant to allow their children to publish on the internet. Perhaps I can talk them around.

Curbing my enthusiasm for standardized tests

September 28th, 2011 No comments

In their book The Myths of Standardized Tests, Phillip Harris, Bruce Smith and Joan Harris tell this story:

 

“What are you doing?” a helpful passerby asks.
“Looking for my car keys,” answers the drunk.
“Did you drop them somewhere around here?”
“I don’t think so,” replies the drunk.
“Then why look here? the puzzled would-be helper wonders.
“It’s the only place where there’s any light.”

 

What we find is largely dependent on where we look. The more we tighten our focus on highly prescribed curriculums that are enforced by test and punish standardized exams the more we miss. Ironically, an intense focus requires a kind of tunnel vision that blinds us to the wider consequences of our decisions.

Joe Bower, For the Love of Learning

 

My students are frollicking in the local aquatic center. At their grade we can offer swimming lessons for about two weeks. It is a wonderful experience for them I think. It is a moment of relaxation for me because I can sit pool-side and catch up on my marking. As it turns out, I’m marking the beginning of the year math assessment. It surveys the learning my students hopefully carried over with them from grade three. Yes, September is over and yes, I feel I should have gotten this done earlier. Insert your own favorite excuse at this point to explain that.

I’ve commented on this moment in earlier posts at edustange. Twice in response to other Joe Bower posts here, and here. Another was on standardized testing. In each case, and once again this week, Joe Bower calls forth a critical stance on my practice. It feels so comfortable shuffling the assessment papers, tallying results by catagory (numbers, statistics and probability, shape, and patterns), compiling the quantifiable data into an Excel spread sheet. I’ll use the result to group students for math and target outcomes. You really know where you are going with these tests. Unless of course the test is a convenient, but inadequate measure of acquired learning.

Aye, there’s the rub. Part of it is twenty-five multiple choice questions. Three questions to a page, nine pages just for that; administered to nine-year-olds. Two additional pages for multi-step word problems, and a final page of sixteen computations. How does that impact the results I always ask myself.

Some struggled greatly with division and the multi-step word problems. I helped two by supplying them with manipulatives. It helped them greatly. I realized others in the room would have benifited from that adaptation but I had not anticipated the possibility. For the other twenty-one the assessment was administered in a uniform fashion. It was administered in a (to my mind) small room where distractions were inevitable. I could continue to follow this train of thought for some time longer. People were not getting what they needed to demonstrate their learning. People were accommodating themselves as best they could to the conditions of the test.

Well, practically speaking, it has to be this way. Perhaps; but its hard to maintain confidence in a measure when you know the principal criteria of the test is practicality. It operates efficiently but does it achieve the intended goal. The more I have to mediate the results of assessment with my month’s contact with the students, the less sense the test makes.

I’ll revisit this tension in November when I prepare to meet with the students and their parents. I seem to need to guard myself against an enthusiasm for the pat results.

Posted via email from edustange’s posterous

Mobile platforms spoil some of the fun

September 25th, 2011 No comments

I’m a little sorry so much of our communication has shifted from desktops and laptops to smart phones… or simply phones since they are pretty much all pocket computers now. It probably is good advice to simplify the message. I still enjoy the odd flash on my pages. I added this one to my portfolio resource page. It could be a great way for students to explain their learning. I was not sure the embed would work so here is another link to the animation.

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communicating in hand

September 24th, 2011 1 comment

Yesterday I decided to give up on my small netbook. The XP operating system, or perhaps Dos seems to be corrupted in some way. I played around with the system, all the while feeling I had been warped back tothe pre-Windows world. My efforts failed. This has become the all too familiar dilemma of replacement or repair. With technological obsolescence and depreciation weighing heavily on the one side. I’ve turned to available resources in the mean time.

I have an HP laptop that has become the family computer. In this time of downsizing it feels heavy to pack around now. I also have my Blackberry Torch. With the netbook sidelined indefinitely I’ll have to rely on the laptop and the smart phone is going to have to up its game.

I am exploring just what RIM has built into the Torch. There are limitations to be sure. Blackberry does not open and edit Google Docs and Tweetdeck is lost. It can handle part of my workflow. I can accesss my school’s attendance program. I can also administer this blog. This is my immediate tech focus. It will be interesting to see how the changed technology changes my communication and work flow.

It takes time

September 23rd, 2011 No comments

It takes time so live in the now when you have to. My intern is teaching a lesson while her university advisor is observing her. I’m sure it is well planned and well documented. She is that sort of teacher. Before that my hour and fifteen minutes was one long improvisation. It began well with a review of how we will use the library later this morning. I then shifted into a quick organizational moment. I was simply returning some papers to the students before moving into the morning’s topic. This was to be a five minute eactivity. No such luck. A student reminded me that we were finished the unit and that I had said we would shift old material into binders. That process took over half an hour. largely because we had a fire drill in the middle of the process. All I was left with was fifteen minutes. Sometimes the plans need to be disgarded and there is no point in stressing about it.

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John Spencer’s 10 reasons to get rid of homework

September 19th, 2011 No comments

The Wrong Focus: Homework is precisely that: work at home. The goal is often increased achievement. The bigger question is whether we want achievement or learning. If the goal is learning, homework kills the desire to learn.

What I Advocate Instead:

  1.  Emphasize the idea that learning can and will happen naturally at home or elsewhere in a child’s world. Visit a skate park and watch the learning that happens. Spend some time watching kids develop new games in the neighborhood.
  2.  If parents really want homework, let teachers give workshops (might be a great time to bridge the gap with homeschoolers / unschoolers by doing a co-teaching workshop) on how to engage children at home in authentic learning.
  3.  Provide ideas and support for students who are interested in doing more. If a teacher had said, “Hey, I’d like to meet with you on that novel you’re writing,” I would have met one-on-one or in a small writing circle.
  4.  Treat homework as an extracurricular activity: Students in my class voluntarily do homework when we create documentaries. They take pictures, film interviews, complete community surveys, work on neighborhood ethnographic studies and volunteer with local charities. The key here is that it is not graded and is treated as an extracurricular activity.
  5.  Ultimately, we need to tackle injustice. If parents can’t be home with kids after school, there is a systemic flaw that needs to be addressed socially, culturally and politically.

John Spencer, Education Rethink

I’ve sent home a little bit in the last three weeks. My reason has been to give the parents a sense of what the students have been learning. My fourth graders are not usually articulate enough to convey this in dinner conversation. John Spencer begins with nine other reasons for refraining from homework: Young Children Are Busy, Older Children Are Even More Busy, Inequitable Situation, Kids Need to Play, Homework Creates Adversarial Roles, Homework De-Motivates, Homework Doesn’t Raise Achievement, Most Homework Is Bad, and Homework Teaches Bad Work Habits.

John’s point about homework’s inequality is critical and I don’t believe we can ethically ignore it. Grading, even assessing homework for learning is wrong.

This afternoon the student agendas finally arrived. I’ll use them to help build communication with families. They won’t be a check-list of homework assignments. They will be a record of in-class learning. That will take a little time out of the school day, but it should be time well spent.

Categories: public education Tags:

John Spencer’s 10 reasons to get rid of homework

September 19th, 2011 No comments
The Wrong Focus: Homework is precisely that: work at home. The goal is often increased achievement. The bigger question is whether we want achievement or learning. If the goal is learning, homework kills the desire to learn.

What I Advocate Instead:

  1. Emphasize the idea that learning can and will happen naturally at home or elsewhere in a child’s world.  Visit a skate park and watch the learning that happens.  Spend some time watching kids develop new games in the neighborhood.
  2. If parents really want homework, let teachers give workshops (might be a great time to bridge the gap with homeschoolers / unschoolers by doing a co-teaching workshop) on how to engage children at home in authentic learning.
  3. Provide ideas and support for students who are interested in doing more.  If a teacher had said, “Hey, I’d like to meet with you on that novel you’re writing,” I would have met one-on-one or in a small writing circle.
  4. Treat homework as an extracurricular activity: Students in my class voluntarily do homework when we create documentaries.   They take pictures, film interviews, complete community surveys, work on neighborhood ethnographic studies and volunteer with local charities.  The key here is that it is not graded and is treated as an extracurricular activity.
  5. Ultimately, we need to tackle injustice.  If parents can’t be home with kids after school, there is a systemic flaw that needs to be addressed socially, culturally and politically.

John Spencer, Education Rethink

I’ve sent home a little bit in the last three weeks. My reason has been to give the parents a sense of what the students have been learning. My fourth graders are not usually articulate enough to convey this in dinner conversation. John Spencer begins with nine other reasons for refraining from homework: Young Children Are Busy, Older Children Are Even More Busy, Inequitable Situation, Kids Need to Play, Homework Creates Adversarial Roles, Homework De-Motivates, Homework Doesn’t Raise Achievement, Most Homework Is Bad, and Homework Teaches Bad Work Habits.

John’s point about homework’s inequality is critical and I don’t believe we can ethically ignore it. Grading, even assessing homework for learning is wrong.

This afternoon the student agendas finally arrived. I’ll use them to help build communication with families. They won’t be a checklist of homework assignments. They will be a recorn of in-class learning. That will take a little time out of the school day, but it should be time well spent.

Posted via email from edustange’s posterous

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Launching from uncertainty

September 14th, 2011 No comments

 

On Thursday my fourth grade class is going on a 5 Kilometre walk south of town. The Trans Canada Trail runs along the south slope of the Wakamow Valley where the Moose Jaw River cuts its way through the Saskatchewan prairie. Along the short hike we can get a sense of  Southern Saskatchewan’s varied habitat: short grass prairie, parkland, rivers and ponds. It is a handy ecosystem close to home. I guess if you think about it, we can all find a handy habitat near our homes. The students are excited, I am less so.

I was very excited about the idea as I road my bike through the area this summer. The reason I am not excited now is because I don’t feel ready. It has been a busy three weeks. My days are consumed with daily preparation and learning with the students. My elaborate plans for the hike have not transpired. Okay, the stakes along the trail with QR Codes linking personal devices was overly ambitious, but I had more modest plans too. Yesterday Olivia Holman (my intern) and I put together four activities for the hike. I’m not sure the students are ready for them. Perhaps that is not important.

I need to remind myself that they can experience the hike without elaborate preparation. They can bring their experiences back for reflection in the classroom. Its silly. I begin many math lessons with an exploration before we focus on the concepts and practice the outcomes. Why would I not apply that to my student’s study of habitats?

Fidget Toys

September 2nd, 2011 No comments

I finished up my first week of classes in the fourth grade room. First weeks often feel long and tire me out. This one did not feel long, but it did tire me out. Last night I flaked out on the couch. My priority was establishing a sustainable work flow with the class. It varies from year to year as I try new things and respond to the differentiated character or unique needs of this year’s group. There are echoes, but the groups are never the same. I am stressing whether I am building an effective, inquiry based, differentiated, connected studio classroom design. That sentence is a mouthful but it encompasses my goals.

In the quiet classroom, after my fourth graders bubbled out for the long weekend, my pre-service partner Olivia Holman and I exchanged our assessment of the first five days. We especially focussed on the students needing adaptations in the classroom. I pulled out the binder where I keep records of adaptations from last year. The truth is we missed some needed adaptations, though in fairness we identified some needed adaptations not yet documented.

I have twenty-three students at the moment. One has a personal program plan. There are a further seven students with written records of adaptation. I adapt for students all the time. Everyone deserves adaptations for learning. We are increasingly expected to document them. I guess that is the times. My intern remarked one student probably needed a fidget toy, that in fact she had need one. I realized I did too. In fact I still need them.

In public school the only one I was allowed was my pen. It became many things in my imagination. As I grew older the space ships and secret agent laser pens vanished and the creativity found its way on the page. I doodle. I doodled for decades through conventions, staff meetings, and professional development. When the personal devices came along I traded my pen for a Palm Pilot. Then I went to meetings with a lap top. At this point I have a Smart Phone. People say its always on it. Talking with Olivia it suddenly became obvious to me, its my newest fidget toy.

We spent half an hour yesterday morning running a role play with our students on differentiation and why being fair to people does not mean everyone gets the same thing. We pretended to be doctors then asked each student to pretend they had an illness. For each one we responded with the same prescription, “Take two Tylenol and call me in the morning.” The young people got the point at that moment. Today I distributed two swivel chairs to young people who needed them. Inevitably others asked for their own chair. I wish I could supply a chair to everyone; at least to give them a chance to decide for themselves. Most would like them, but some wouldn’t. We all need our own unique adaptations and the a classroom should accommodate them all.

I was worried that when I lost my tables I would be off track; back to quiet disconnected uniformity in a teacher-centred classroom. I feel a little better tonight.