A New First

This is my first blog post in quite some time, and I actually have guilt over it.  So…. here it goes!

This year, I am no longer teaching middle school.  I am not teaching high school and not elementary school either!  I have the amazing opportunity to each at the University of Lethbridge in the Faculty of Education.  This opportunity is a secondment position – it means that I am “on leave” from my school district and “on loan” to the Faculty of Education.  My teaching assignment this year has me working with not only amazing faculty members (such as @hewsonk27, @rmarynow, and @mombouc to name just a few) but working within the professional semester one with the first year education students!

If there was ever a time when professional growth was at its peak for possible potential, I think this would be it.  Collaboration is not a buzz word, I am living it.  The collaboration thus far in the first two weeks before class has been OUTSTANDING!  I have worked with collaborative individuals before, but I never actually thought that it would be to the extent that it is in advanced education.  No slight there – really!  I just am surprised at how willing everyone that I have spoken to is willing to share and work with this newbie.

Now, back to the “kids” for just a moment.  The new teachers.  The “raw” teachers, if you will.  Another amazing professional growth opportunity for me AND them.  I am so excited to share everything that I can about my teaching, the teaching of others, pedagogy, theory, practice and new ideas.  And in turn, I am looking forward to the energy, creativity, enthusiasm and excitement that they will bring to the class each day.

I should have thought about posting this much earlier in the day when I had more time to write (believe me – I have lots to do before tomorrow and few hours before bed!), but I thought that if I am having mys students do some reflecting while in their student teaching round, then I need to be modelling the same.

So count this as the start of (hopefully!) a much busier year to blogging, sharing and Tweeting.  And here we go….!

A reply to “Death of an awards ceremony”

A staff member in my school, Cam Hall (@Challmv) recently shared a link to a blog post by Chris Wejr (@mrwejr) about the death of the awards ceremony.  THe post is nearly two years old, but it is certainly one that echoes each year.  Here is my reponse ot my staff via email about the post.  I wrote it SUPER early in the morning, so I hope that it makes sense.

—–

I may be too tired typing this out, but I was thrilled to see you post this blog post, Cam.  I came across it about a year ago and thought it was an interesting read as well.  If you haven’t read it , please take the few minutes to read it and give it a scan.  Some very thought provoking questions…

I know that our school has done awards ceremonies each year, and that the tradition of recognizing kids is what we all want to see happen (in some form or another).  I know that if my daughter was to be recognized for an award of ANY kind, I would be a thrilled parent and try to be at the school to see her receive the recognition.  But I have thought for a little while now that the academic awards ceremony doesn’t really fit our assessment practices that we have been striving towards in cycle 3 and 4 of AISI (Alberta Initiative for School Improvement).  If marks are not what we want students to strive for, then why do we promote them at the end of the school year?  If we all to be grading students according to outcomes ONLY….. what then?  Would we still have awards for those students who are “meeting grade level expectations and outcomes”??  And what of the honor roll now?  Our district approach (as I have heard from our superintendant) is that we should not be giving students zeros.  There is a HUGE discussion that we can have here, but I want to ask of your thoughts on how this affects the honor roll.  No zeros means grades do not accurately reflect student achievement in some cases.  If we look at grades at the end of term two, lets say, are these all “authentic” honor roll students??  How can we tell?  Is it now subjective?

And each year, we struggle with holding the awards.  I know that I have had several conversations with some of you who have asked the same question…. And the kids ask this too…. “why do we recognize all the smart people and the athletes at award ceremonies?”…. or… “why is one award ceremony held DURING school time, and another AFTER?  Is one more or less important that we make the time for it??”  Good questions….

The blog post asks the similar questions…. Why do we present awards to certain students?  What does this do to help learning in schools?  Yes, there are CTS (carrer and technology studies) awards, but admittedly to less of a fanfare than they rightly deserve.  I think that the CTS awards are not held to as high of a standard as the oh-so-coveted 90% and higher awards or lamps of learning or medallions or whatever.  Again, my thoughts only.  How do we get the kids in guitar class to all be recognized as equals to all the kids in the grade seven math for their accomplishments in class and those in phys ed classes?  Can we acknowledge them all in their own way somehow??  Certainly a daring and daunting task…..

These are merely my late night ramblings, but I thought I would share.  Delete this, ignore this, come yell at me or join the conversation –I welcome all.

—-

Your thoughts?

My Happiness Project

Happy New Year!

Every year, I make some sort of resolution. Years ago, my resolutions and goals were ambitious…. Lose 30 pounds in 30 days, see two other countries in one year, reorganize all my unit binders by March. Ambitious but not unreasonable! And as many people do, I found that by mid January, my goals were slipping away.

While in chapters on New Years Day, I came upon a book by Gretchen Rubin called The Happiness Project. The gist is this – Gretchen wrote about how she changed little things in her life each month in an effort to change her overall outlook and be more positive in each aspect of her life.

20120106-082522.jpg

Now, a preamble to this. I am not saying I am unhappy. And neither was Gretchen when she started. But like her, I felt that I could be happier and more positive.

So starting this year, and with the help of Gretchen’s book and the accompanying daily journal, I am embarking on my own happiness project, I will certainly let you know how it goes.

Why Science Teachers Should Write

I stumbled across this article among my hundreds of other reading materials and posts through my Google reader.

The article title is self-explanatory: Why Science Teachers Should Write | Powerful Learning Practice. (written by Marsha Ratzel).  In the article, she explains why it is so important that students write as a way to learn science – and why science teachers should write as well.

The opening paragraph sums up the article nicely for me:

“Science needs people who can explain what they’re thinking so that the rest of us can understand the world. That’s one of the reasons students write in my science classes.”

What The Kids Want

Its About Me First….

I find myself more focused this school year, and I am not too sure what has changed exactly.  Yes, I am busy with my family.  Yes, I am busy with my planning, marking and daily school “life” (that certainly hasn’t changed!).  And yes, I am certainly busy with my professional duties being an active member in the Alberta Teachers Association, along with serving on numerous committees and planning groups.

Yet I feel more focused and relaxed.  It’s kind of weird, actually.

My focus and attention comes to the kids.  Now more than any other time in my professional career, I really feel that I am focused on the students in front of me each day and how I can best help them to be successful.  I find that my teaching is focused on the learning – more than it ever has been! – and I am venturing away from the topics of lates, zeros, missed assignments, tardiness, etc.  Instead, my focused thoughts and conversations with myself, my patient wife and my colleagues (who feel the same way) are more directed to questions like the following:

  • What can I do to make a child’s day today?
  • Is what I am teaching relevant to the students?  If not, how can I make it relevant?
  • Is my lesson engaging and challenging at the same time?
  • How am I preparing students for the next “century of learning” (I use this term since I find the 21st century term a bit dated…)
Changing my focus has caused me to re-think how I can connect, inspire, engage, excite and intrigue the students in my room with the content that we are covering (and at times, this is a HUGE challenge being middle school science!).  My focus, I find, is more on what they want, in the sense of how can I best reach all (or nearly all) of the children in my room to help them to learn best.

...And Then Its About Them

I follow a few blogs through my Google Reader, one of which is Lisa Nielsen, best known as creator of The Innovative Educator.  Some great reads on here almost daily, but a recent video post has caught my attention.  The video is entitled “Children Share the 12 Most Important Things They Want from their Teachers“, which was inspired by this post by Angela Maiers.  As the kids share these twelve things in the video, it made me think about how many of them on this list I find myself doing on a day to day basis.  I was pleased to see that many I do, and some I could improve on.  And what I really liked was not all of it was about “let us play more” and “talk less during class” – they were simple requests that I think fits all age groups.  The video reminded me of the little things that I can do and continue to do to make the most of my time with my students.  It all adds up, I think.

Image from The Innovative Educator blog - click to play!

Why are percents so sacred?

I am first going to say that I am not an expert on grading.  This is my continued area of exploration and growth.  If every year I included assessment and reporting in my professional growth plans, I believe that I still would not completely understand this topic.  However, it is one that I an intrigued with and find myself strangely drawn towards.

The use of percents to me has become somewhat of a strange concept.  I understand that it is an easy scale to use.  That grading someones work or exam can be given a mark from a 100-point scale.  This mark, based on what you have “achieved” on that 100-point scale is what we base our students entire educational career on.  And when I say career, I mean beginning with middle school and right onto post-secondary.  This scale of 100 points drives the system, I think.  It tells students where they are in relation to the top, middle and bottom.  When a student recieves a 55% on an assignment, they know the following three things:  (1) “I passed but barely”, (2) “I am not totally dumb because I passed”, and (3) “there are lots of people much smarter in my class compared to me”.

I think that the resulting thought from a middle schooler in this situation is “why try.”

A percentage to me has never been totally clear, even from the days when I was in middle school.  If I got a 70%, what was the information that I knew?  What was in that 30% that I didn’t know?  What do I need to do better on for next time?  Was it a silly mistake that I made, or have I totally missed the boat?  Percentages have always lacked clarity for me.

Which is why I sometimes find it difficult to understand why there is such reluctance to let go of this 100-point scale and move to a scale that is perhaps 4 or 5 points and describes how students are achieving according to the grade level and subject learner expectations and outcomes.  I would be much more inclined to respond, as a student, if my teacher told me that I had clearly demonstrated outcomes A, B and C, was struggling with D and had not yet explained outcome E.  In my mind, I would be “approaching” or “meeting” grade level expectations.  Good…. fine…… I can work with that!

And as a teacher, this is more common sense to me as well.  I can better assist and help students when it comes to meeting the outcomes if I have clearly recorded and assessed the apparent outcomes that are appropriate to the assignment task or exam, and then reporting these to the students is much easier.  I understand, however, that grading and assessing in this way, without percentages, is a major shift in thinking.  It becomes nearly impossible to simply hand out assignments sheets and tests without percentages.  Grading according to outcomes means rethinking and shifting your assessment practices, policies and philosophies.  It means moving from pedagogy to andragogy.

The apparent reluctance to move away from percents is, I am sure, much deeper and more intricate than I have outlined or expressed here.  Percentages are rooted in our categorizing and sorting of students.  It will take some time, education and a deeper understanding from all parties involved to fully grasp how to assess and report without percentages.  I understand that change is difficult sometimes.  That going away from what is expected to what is unknown can be uneasy.  When we changed from the imperial to the metric system, I am sure that there was near upheaval.  That cars were burned in the streets and that people objected and protested for weeks.  I am unclear, however,  of the reluctance to let this scale change into something more reflective of learner outcomes that can potentially grow or change into a more accurate mode of assessment for learning.

And then again, maybe I ramble too much.

It started with the shoes….

It is but the second full day of classes.  We have just come back from a long weekend, and the kids are just starting to settle into a routine.  Some students know each other in their classes, others do not.  Others still are brand new to the school and the city, as they have emigrated to Canada.  Today, in this extremely fresh and new school year, I witnessed kindness like I have never seen before.

Kindness from a grade eight boy in my advisor class.

I discovered today that one of my advisors, we will call him Calvin, had noticed that a peer of his, in the same class, did not have the best of shoes.  On his own accord, by his own decision, Calvin sought the advice of school councilors to determine the shoe size of his peer and set out to buy her a new, more comfortable and winter-worthy pair of shoes.  It took Calvin the weekend, but he found them.  A pair of tan colored Sketchers, shoes that were “trendy but would still be good for the winter”, as he put it.  He was then going to have school staff anonymously gift the shoes to this young lady.

Awesome.

I racked my brain trying to think of the last time that I had witnessed such an act of kindness…. and was stumped.  Please don’t get me wrong – I have had some incredible young individuals come into my classroom over the years of teaching and have seen some outstanding personalities with such passion, drive and enthusiasm it seems to be unmatched for the years to come.  But never have I seen such compassion for another from a middle school student.

I can only imagine what this young lady will feel when she gets these shoes later this week.  For me, it is uplifting and energizing.  Such a positive and energetic act to start the school year solidifies my approach to the school year – be there for one another, make each others day, play and choose your attitude.  And take care of each other, no matter what.