Sunday, December 30, 2012

Math Education: We Need New Answers

Someone in my PLN shared this cartoon on Facebook this afternoon. (I'm not posting a picture of it due to copyright).  That, in combination with a discussion stemming from a blog post entitled "What is UP with Multiplication Tables" by Lisa Cooley in the Innovative Educator Forum on Facebook recently, led me to this thought:

We ask students to add 2+2 and expect them to answer that it equals 4.

They'd be better off if we asked them to find examples of when it doesn't.  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Don't Be Standard

Do you want to drive a car that meets only the government's fuel efficiency standards, or do you want a car that exceeds them?

Do you want to live near a nuclear power plant that focuses only on the recommended standards for safety, or do you prefer that plant looks for additional ways to be safe?

Do you want to buy chicken at the supermarket from a company that uses just few enough hormones and chemicals to meet the FDA's standards, or chicken from a company that strives to make their food healthier?

Do you want to be the teacher who teaches students only the standards developed and handed to you by politicians, or do you want to be the teacher who inspires your students to learn more than just that?

Don't be standard. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

More is Not Better

In the last week there has been a lot of coverage of the upcoming addition of 300 hours to the school calendar in 5 states.  New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Massachusetts will be requiring students to spend more time in school in order to "boost student achievement." 

When I first heard this, I had a flashback to a dinner party at a friend's house a few years ago.  I'm not going to mention this friend by name so as not to cause embarrassment, but she is a terrible cook.  Everybody enjoyed the time with friends, but nobody enjoyed the dinner.  The instant mashed potatoes were runny enough to be a soup, the meat was drier and tougher than a leather jacket, and I learned that peanut butter and lime are flavors that do not mix well in a dessert.  My wife and I politely ate enough as to not be rude while we were there, but quickly pulled some leftover pizza out of the fridge as soon as we got home.

The problem with the dinner party was not that we needed more food.  The problem was that the food needed to be better.

That's how it is with our schools right now.  As long as we are providing education that focuses on test-prep, teacher directed lecture, irrelevant canned textbook lessons, and treating students as data that can be manipulated; more of it is not going to fix any of our problems.  In fact, it will probably make them worse. 

Just like forcing me to eat more of that brisket would have had awful consequences, forcing students who (correctly in most cases) have learned that school is irrelevant to endure more of it will not make the problem better.

As has been pointed out by many others covering this story before, American children already spend more time in school than their peers in Finland, Japan, South Korea, and other countries that we perceive as being "high-performing."  More time in school has not made us better in the past.  It won't make us better in the future.

What will make us better is to change our approach to education.  Make it student-centered.  Make it relevant.  Make it about learning and not about test-taking.  Because, if we do it right and teach our children to love to learn, they'll do it all the time.

They won't need to be in school all those extra hours in order to learn.  They'll be doing it everywhere they go and in everything they do.

And when that happens, other countries will be trying to figure out how they can design their education systems to be more like ours. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Student Created Awesomeness

It's been too long since I last blogged.  I've got lots of excuses.  I've been busy training for my first half-marathon in Philadelphia this weekend.  I've been busy running an after-school club where students are free to explore and experiment with web2.0 technologies.  I've been busy developing a 3 credit course that begins in January entitled "Collaborating and Innovating in the Early 21st Century".  I've been busy helping my students be awesome. 

It's that last one that lit a fire under me and forced me to put this post up today.  Because my students have been pretty awesome lately.  And it would be a shame to not share their awesomeness.  So, here are a few of the many things they've been up to lately.

For the presidential election, my fifth graders in collaboration with our other two fifth grade classes participated in a nationwide student-run election.  Results were reported on a collaborative Google Doc and tabulated using electoral votes.  In all the years I've been teaching students about the Electoral College, never have they understood it more than this year when it was directly relevant to them. 

Students created voter registration cards, researched candidates' positions on the issues, ran the polling place, and calculated our schools' results to report.  I thouroughly enjoyed sitting back and watching them participate and learn.  Below are some pictures from the event.

Also, our fifth graders are running a food drive during the months of November and December to help the local food pantries.  In order to promote the food drive, my class organized an advertising campaign.  They split themselves into three groups and decided that one group would be in charge of producing a 30 second video ad, one group would transform a hallway bulletin board into a billboard, and one group would create posters to hang in the hallways.  I was blown away by their work.

Here's the video ad:

Here's the billboard:

The posters should be finished by the end of today, but they aren't ready for me to share yet. 

I'm really proud of the work my students are doing.  I'm proud because it's good work, but also because they are making a difference in the community and learning how rewarding that can be.  And they have ownership because it's their work.  They wrote, produced, and starred in the video (I was the camera person because their designated camera person was absent).  They designed and created the bulletin board with very little help from me (I helped them hang the background paper).

This is what learning should look like.  Students in charge.  Real problems being solved.  Teachers supporting and not leading.  Evaluation based on "How much of a difference did we make?" rather than "What was my test score?"

When students are being awesome, I am reminded why I love my job.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Fight Against Common Core Irrelevance

We've been told again and again that the Common Core Standards are being put into place to prepare our students to be ready for college & career when they graduate high school.  These standards are supposed to better prepare students for life.

So why are schools buying textbooks to implement them?  If these standards are supposed to prepare our kids for life, wouldn't it make sense that the best way to teach them would be through life simulations?

Shouldn't every one of these standards have a real-world application?  And if so, why aren't we giving students the opportunity to use them in real-world settings?

The more we make a separation between the "real world" and the "fake world" of school, the more students will realize that we are irrelevant.  And they'll be right.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Happy World Teacher Day!

Today is World Teacher Day.  I placed this Thank You Card on the Faculty Room table in my school to tell the teachers I work with how appreciative I am for all that they do for both me and my children.

I also appreciate all of you in my PLNs:  in the blogosphere, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Plurk, and everywhere else that you all share and collaborate.  You help me become a better teacher.

Thank You!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Want Great Schools? Start Simple.

No teacher ever became great by being the best at following the textbook, being the best at reading from a script, or being the best at passing out multiple choice tests from the back of an assessment guide.

No school ever became great by having the best textbook programs from which their teachers read, the best benchmark tests, or the best canned lesson scripts for their teachers.

No country ever became great by having schools that were the best at selecting textbook programs for their teachers to use and the best test-prep programs.

A great national education system starts by having excellent public schools.  Public schools are excellent when they have excellent teachers facilitating learning.  Teachers can only be excellent when they have the autonomy to be.

If we want excellence, we need to start by thinking more simply. We need to start by allowing teachers to be great.  Then encourage them to share what they are doing to inspire others.

Because the current direction of demoralizing them and having them compete against each other simply isn't going to get us there.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Slippery Slope to Irrelevance

About a week ago someone in my PLN on Plurk asked for opinions on the standardization of assessments among teachers in a school district.  I responded by referring to the post I wrote a few months back entitled "Standardization is the Death of Excellence."

You can't have both standardization and excellence.  The former prevents the latter.  And while excellence is something that all teachers should strive for, it's naive to think that we'll all reach that level.  Even if you do, there's always someone who does it better than you - someone from whom you can learn, someone you can collaborate with to get better, someone who can show you new ways to see problems that arise.  When we standardize teaching, a nasty side effect is that we discourage teachers from even striving for excellence.

Standardization, whether it be of assessments, teaching practices, curriculum goals, or anything else prevents those someones from being available to those trying to learn.  When everyone is the same, nobody is setting the bar higher.  Nobody is innovating.  Nobody is growing.  Nobody is learning to do it better.

Let's come right out and say it - the only purpose for standardization is to prevent inferiority.  And while it's great to try eliminate inferior assessment practices, our students deserve more than the mediocrity that is left in the wake of standardization.

The argument I often hear for the standardization of assessment practices is based on the need for grades in each classroom to mean the same thing.  As if grades meant anything meaningful now anyway.

Assessments should be done to provide students vital feedback so that they can learn.  When we assume that grades are that feedback we send the message to students that their learning means nothing more than a number in a gradebook.

Our students deserve more than that.

Not only should assessments not be standardized between classrooms, they shouldn't even be standardized inside classrooms.  Students should be free to express their learning in the best way they see fit.  If one student wants to demonstrate understanding of division by creating a video explaining how farmers use division to determine medication doses for animals, another by creating a slideshow showing how car companies use division in determining the effectiveness of their factories, and a third wants to write an letter to their congressman explaining how the states resources are not being divided equally among its citizens, shouldn't they be able to?  Shouldn't they be encouraged to?

None would be allowed if teachers were forced to use a district mandated multiple choice test.

It's time for teachers to stop this slippery slope to irrelevance.  After all, that's where we are headed if we keep letting others tell us how to teach and how to assess our students.  We are professionals.  We have certifications given to us claiming that we are experts in these decisions.

If we start giving up this control, we will be left following canned lesson plans and giving canned assessments that some corporate textbook company came up with.  When we give up that control we will turn teaching into a job that any schlep with a pulse can do.

And our kids will be left with an education that's the same quality as if any shlep with a pulse was teaching them.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

About "Enrichment"

We use the term "enrichment" from time to time in schools, and I hate it.

Sometimes it refers to the opportunities that our "gifted" students have above the regular curriculum to pursue research and projects that they care about.  Sometimes, it refers to opportunities given to all students after they finish their regular classroom work.  This supposed "enrichment" is meant to give them a "richer" educational experience..

Why should kids have to wait for boring test-prep based seat work to be over before they get a rich education?  Why is this rich education often only available to our students who are labeled "gifted"?  Doesn't every kid deserve the opportunity to see relevance in what they learn?  Shouldn't we be striving to allow all children the opportunity to become passionate about learning?

If "enrichment" is that extra stuff we do, what is the normal stuff we do?  Maybe we should classify it as "unrichment". 

I hate the term because enrichment shouldn't be the extra opportunity we give kids in schools.  It should be the focus of what we do in schools.

Then, we wouldn't have to call it "enrichment".  We could just call it learning.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Closing the Parent Communication Gap

I try and communicate regularly with parents, post tons of student work online, provide study guides and videos on our class wiki, and open my classroom to parents who want to come in and see what we're learning.  Every year I still get questions from parents who still are unaware of why we are using certain technologies and what resources are available.

To help close this communication gap, I did a few things differently this year. 

First, I am using Edomodo, a education social networking site that allows parent access, for the first time.  I'm hoping that this allows parents to have more insight into what we are doing in the classroom.

Next, I used Screencast-o-Matic to create this short video explaining some of the websites we are going to be using this year and how they can be used at home.  It's a great tool because it's unblocked by my school's filter, and it does not require anything to be downloaded.  I uploaded the video to a site called MyBrainShark, which I've come to like more than TeacherTube, SchoolTube, and Voicethread for video hosting.

Finally, I am going to have students share the products of their learning on both our class wiki and personal blogs this year using Kidblog.  I'm hoping that having an individual space of their own to showcase their learning will make students want to share more than in the past.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why Don't Parents Appreciate "Reforms"?

We keep hearing over and over again that recent education "reforms" are good for children.  Proponents of this "reform" movement will say, "Sure, selfish teachers and those nasty unions hate what we're doing, but it's good for students and their parents."

I find that a bit curious.  In my 16 years of teaching I've never had a parent say any of the following things:

  • "I really wish my child had more students in their class.  She is getting too much attention from her teacher."
  • "My child is too engaged in your class and has too much fun learning.  Please do more test prep with him."
  • "I'm really upset that my child is becoming too well rounded.  I'd really appreciate if you stopped teaching her anything but reading and math."
  • "My child's school has too many resources, the facilities are too nice, and I hate that it's so easy to learn in that environment.  I wish they would let the place get run down a bit."
  • "Kindergarten was terrible for my child.  She would have been so much better off if it wasn't available.  My child would have been so much better prepared for first grade if there was no kindergarten."
  • "It would be so much better for my child if they eliminated all of those extracurricular activities."
  • "Instead of spending money on children, I wish the school would give more to companies that publish test-prep materials."
  • "All that learning time is bad for my child.  I wish you would spend less time letting them learn, and more time testing how much they learned."
  • "I love the stress my child feels during the three weeks the state tests are given."
You would think if these "reforms" were making our schools so much better that parents would be more aware of the great changes going on.  Maybe they just don't know what's good for their kids as well as legislators do.

I don't fight against high-stakes standardized testing, budget cuts, allowing for-profit charter school management companies to siphon public school funds, and the influence huge test-prep corporations have over legislators because I'm a member of a teacher's union or because I am worried about my job.  There's a much more important reason.

Like every other teacher I know, I chose my career because I wanted to help help kids find the potential inside themselves so that future generations are better than mine.  I want kids to love learning, and to develop their talents so that they have every opportunity to be successful in their lives.  Like every other parent I know, I want the same things for my own children. 

I fight because "reform" is stealing the future from our students and my children.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

If Testing is So Great for Kids...

Imagine a situation in which you have the option to send your child to two schools.  Here are the two schools' mission statements:

School #1 - Our goal is to ensure each student in our school learns the standards that have been developed by our legislators, so we test them at every opportunity to measure their progress.  In order to prevent students from failing to meet these standards we eliminate music, art, physical education, and any other non-tested subject for students who don't test well in order to give them additional instruction on test preparation.  

School #2 - To meet the needs of an ever changing society and develop each student's natural potential, we strive to foster the unique talents of each individual through a comprehensive program of academic, cultural, and physical development.  Our collective goal is to develop life-long learners who can work cooperatively and collaboratively, respect and value the uniqueness of others, and think critically to meet the challenges they will face in their lives.

In which school would you enroll your child?  In which school would your child be more engaged?  Which would be more likely to provide an environment in which learning thrives?  Which would prepare them for their future better?  

Then why are we spending so much time and money trying to force our public schools to be more like school #1?  

If testing is so great for kids, why aren't the expensive private schools that legislators and CEOs send their kids to demanding more testing and changing their mission statements to be more like school #1 above?

Maybe it's because the standardized testing movement has nothing to do with what's best for kids.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Best Year Ever

This conversation took place in my classroom at the end of the day today when I was giving an overview of what we are going to be studying:

Student: "Are we going to be learning a foreign language this year?"

Me: "If you want to learn a foreign language this year, I will do everything I can to help you. I want this year to be about you learning whatever you want to learn."

Student: "I really want to learn how to 
speak Spanish and Chinese."

Me: "Great! We can use Google Translate, and I'll look for some other tools to help you. Just make sure you share what you learn with everyone else on our class wiki and your blog."

Student: "This is going to be the best year ever."

I hope it is the best year ever for her.  And all of my students.  
I really do love what I do for a living.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Here We Go Again: 5 Things I'm Looking Forward to This School Year

The school year officially starts tomorrow for me, and I'm pretty excited to get back to helping my students do and learn amazing things.  
The summer was a wonderful time for me, and I enjoyed pursuing passions I have outside of teaching.  I spent three amazing weeks touring Europe with my family and did a bit of travel blogging.  I started training for a half marathon that I'm going to run in November.  I enjoyed time with my wife and kids.

For the first summer in a long time, I took time away from teaching and education.  I didn't attend any conferences this summer or teach any graduate classes.  The books I read were all on subjects other than education (most were travel guides to places in Europe).  You may have noticed that I haven't posted on this blog for about two months.  

I needed that time away.  I wasn't feeling burned out by any means, but I was feeling frustrated.  So many of the trends in education are bad for our students, and I needed time away to accept that the change in direction I'm fighting for sometimes happens slower than I want.

Now, refreshed, I'm looking forward to a new school year and all of the amazing things that will happen in the next 9 months.  As a throwback to my previous "Friday's Five" posts, here are five things I'm really looking forward to this year:
  • Having my students blog regularly - I've done bits of blogging with my kids before, but not on any kind of regular basis.  This year, I'm going to have them start in the first week of school and post often.  While our class wiki has been a great place for students to post the amazing things they've done over the past 5 years, I want each student to also have a place on the web that is their own.  I want them to be able to share the incredible things they are doing with others, get feedback, and have pride in the product of their learning.
  • Giving students more freedom in what they read - Every year it seems that I learn new ways to ditch the reading textbook, give students more choice, and still teach all of the standards that my kids are supposed to learn.  I'm hoping to expand that even more this year and rely on the textbook even less.
  • Math class - I love teaching math.  I love that my students seem to love learning math.  I love that my admin collected all the math textbooks in trucks and sold them to some other school district.
  • Being an American History teacher during a presidential election.  Sure, there's the obvious benefits of it being an election year like the fact that it's much easier for kids to understand the electoral college.  There's also the less obvious benefits that students will disagree, argue, and debate more.  There will be ample opportunity to have them defend their positions, research why candidates do the things they do, and learn about bias.  
  • The unknown - Each year and each group of kids is so different than any other.  I love that the best lessons and the most meaningful interactions usually happen in moments of unplanned serendipity.  I can't wait to experience more of those moments with this year's group of students.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Should We Still Teach Cursive Writing?

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook a few days ago:

In the comments, I was one of the few who didn't agree that the lack of instruction in cursive was a huge problem.  Now that we are 12 years into the 21st Century, it's about time we start focusing on the skills our students will need in this century.  We need to be teaching kids to collaborate, create and innovate, communicate effectively, and think critically.  Not doing so makes school irrelevant to them.  What makes us think that someone would be engaged in a learning process that is irrelevant to them?

Cursive writing does not aid in collaboration in any way.  It doesn't help students become more innovative.  Cursive writers do not think more critically than those who print.  Today's communication is not done in cursive.  

We should be teaching students to communicate in the way they will need to in their world.  How much of your communication with your colleagues is done in cursive?  How much is done electronically?  

If we continue to teach our students things because "that's what we learned in school," we will continue to produce a generation of graduates without the skills they need to be successful.  It's time to prepare students for their futures and not our past.  

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Real School Choice

Instead of letting parents choose their students schools, we should be talking about finding ways to give students choices in what and how they learn.

That's school choice that will make a difference.

The former is politically motivated, the latter learning-motivated.

Our reforms won't matter until we start focusing on the people who matter:  individual students. Every student's needs are different.  Every student has different interests that need to be tapped into, talents that need to be developed, and passions that need to be ignited.

Lets start having that conversation, please.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Year of Contradictions

Today was the last day of the 2011-2012 school year.  Looking back, it was the most rewarding and enjoyable year I've had in my fifteen years of teaching.  As I look back and examine the reasons for having such an excellent year, I'm faced with a few contradictions.
  • I taught less this year, and yet my students learned more.  As time goes on, I continue to learn ways to make students responsible for their own learning.  I find myself standing in front of the room talking less and walking around giving encouragement, feedback, and guidance more.
  • I graded fewer assignments and yet my students got more feedback to guide their learning.  My focus continues to shift from giving grades to providing opportunities for students to get meaningful feedback on their work from myself, classmates, and others outside my classroom.
  • My students worked harder, produced more on-line content, researched more, and learned about a greater number of  topics than any other class I've ever had, and yet I've been told numerous times by many students and parents that this was the best school year that they've had.  Since they had more control over their learning, school didn't seem like work as much as a chance to pursue their interests.
  • This year it felt like I worked less hard than at any other time in the past, yet I probably spent more hours collaborating with my PLNs, reading educational blogs, discussing education with other teachers, and reflecting on my practices than ever before. 
I've written plenty about how our educational system needs to catch up to the realities of the 21st Century in which we live.  As that happens, it will continue to be a struggle to balance the demands of a broken system with what we know is best for our students.  I feel like this year I made good progress towards figuring out how to do that. 

Maybe after fifteen years I'm starting to figure out this teaching thing a little.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nope. I'm a Teacher.

Yesterday our fifth grade students made cold salads, deserts, and rolled cold cuts for a deli platter in preparation for today's Volunteer Appreciation Lunch.  As I was in the school kitchen showing a few of our fifth grade students how to safely use a knife to chop celery and other ingredients for a pasta salad, one of our maintenance guys walked past.  He asked me, "Is there anything your job doesn't include?"

I answered, "Nope.  I'm a Teacher."

Because if there's something one of my students wants to learn, I'm always going to be there to help them learn it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Legalized Theft of School Tax Money

While driving and listening to the radio this weekend I heard an advertisement for a local cyber charter school.  Knowing that charter schools, even those run by for-profit companies, are funded by taking school tax dollars away from public schools, this seriously alarmed me.  This advertisement was paid for by school tax dollars that should have gone towards educating students.  Instead, the money is being used to drum up business, thus raising more money.  It's a fundraising campaign paid for by taxpayers.

 The more corporations push for "school choice" instead of seriously looking at how to best fix education for all students, the more schools will have to fight for students in order to survive.  Apparently, this is what is meant making schools more like businesses. 

But, schools are not businesses.  And students are not widgets.  Our focus should be on learning, not on profit.  Public tax money should go towards student learning, and not towards advertising campaigns, for-profit management companies, or any other corporate agenda, especially when state budget cuts and restrictions on the power of publically elected school boards have left many districts in the state severely underfunded.

Vouchers and "school choice" are forms of legalized corporate piracy in which those looking to make a profit can do so by dipping into public tax dollars that should be going toward students.

It's time to put students before profit.  Our future depends on it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Math Inspiration from No-hitter Graphic

As a lifelong Mets fan, Johan Santana's no hitter on Friday night was awesome.

Finding this graphic in my Google Reader account from this morning was pretty cool, too.  
If you haven't seen Dan Meyer's 101 Questions Blog, it's worth checking out.  It's filled with examples of short videos, pictures, and other graphics produced by math teachers with the hope of sparking student questions which lead to great learning (Check out hashtags #101qs and #anyqs on Twitter).  For more information on this type of math pedagogy, check out Dan's dy/dan blog.  

This graphic immediately made me think of mathematical questions like "What's the probability that the Mets will get another no-hitter this season?" and "What is the percentage of games with a no-hitter the Mets have now in their history?"  I wonder if my students will have a similar reaction.  I guess I'll find out Monday when I show it to them.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Need for Passion

Anyone who has been lucky enough to hear Angela Maiers or Sir Ken Robinson speak, or has read some of their work can understand the need for passion driven education.  Students who believe they matter and that they are doing something meaningful will learn.  Lately, I've heard many others promote education where each student is able to pursue their interests and their passions.  It's a positive trend and a discussion that needs to expand.

What worries me, though, is that teachers are losing their passion.  I can't think of a teacher who didn't enter the profession because they wanted to make a positive difference for the youth of the next generation.  Because of the punitive way standardized tests are being used, the forced use of canned lesson plans, and a system that promotes standardization over student growth, many teachers feel that they are unable to make the kind of difference for their students that they envisioned when they chose their profession.  When you add the anti-teacher rhetoric coming from politicians and business leaders, teacher evaluation systems that put importance on factors outside of a teacher's control, salary cuts, and a growing disrespect for teaching as a profession, it has become very difficult for teachers to maintain or grow their passion.  I've heard many teachers talk about how they would discourage their own children from pursuing a job as a teacher.  As someone who can't think of a job that could possibly give me a better feeling of "I'm doing good", that makes me sad.

It is important for each of us to help foster that passion in our colleagues.  It is imperative that we help each other focus on the positive differences we are making for our students, and not the ways others outside of our schools are finding new ways to put roadblocks in front of our students.  Students with passionate teachers learn more.  Schools with passionate teachers are better learning environments. 

If you see a colleague doing something positive with their students, let them know about it.  Better yet, tell them how it inspired you to do something similar with your students.  Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and we don't get positive feedback often enough. 

Share the great things you do with your students.  Talk to colleagues in the faculty room.  Blog.  Develop a PLN and share with them.  Send pictures and descriptions to the local newspaper.  Let your example inspire others. 

Collaborate, collaborate, and then collaborate some more.  Share your ideas with other teachers, even if they aren't complete.  Discuss ideas for lessons, projects, and formative assessments. Get excited together about really cool things you are going to do with your students.

There was a time a few years ago that my passion was starting to wane.  I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I was even leading professional development sessions on how to raise reading test scores by focusing on test-questions as a new genre.  It sickens me to think about it.  Test scores went up, but I didn't enjoy my job and I'm pretty sure my students weren't enjoying my class as much as they do now.  I was doing a great job of developing kids who could pass tests, but couldn't think, and I was getting little enjoyment out of my job because I knew that what I was doing really didn't matter.  I knew those test scores were meaningless for my students compared to the things I was ignoring, but I was trying to be a "good teacher" according to the rules set forth by those whose concern for my students lags far, far behind their desire to raise campaign funds for reelection. 

I am so thankful that I was introduced to Plurk (and later Twitter and Facebook) where I have grown networks of educators who inspire me daily.  Because of all of you and the interactions we have, I love being a teacher as much as ever, my students are loving school more than ever, and more learning is taking place in my classroom than ever before.  Developing my PLNs has allowed me to rediscover the passion I had for student learning, and helped me realize that the best way to be a "good teacher" is to follow one simple rule:  Do what's best for your students.

*** Special thanks to Maureen Devlin, whose question and follow up conversation on Twitter inspired this post.  Just another example of a way that building one's PLN can give inspiration!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Let's Start Being Truthful

Take a second and picture in your mind what the best schools in the United States are like.  Really visualize them.

Now, do the same for the worst schools in the country.

When you think of the differences, are they that the second set of schools don't administer enough standardized tests, or that they have teacher unions that are too strong?

I didn't think so.

We need to start being truthful and upfront about the real problems in education if we are going to solve them.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Seeing Reform Past Our Own Noses

It's been about two weeks since I wrote my last post.  It's not because I haven't had ideas.  On the contrary, I've had about five topics I wanted to write about in the past couple of weeks and couldn't find the time.

I was hoping that I'd be writing a post today summing up my experiences at EdCamp Philly.  I was really excited to go to my first edcamp, and had it on my calendar since the day they announced the date.  Unfortunately, the fan belt in my car broke about 20 miles north of Allentown on the way down.  Instead of collaboratively learning about assessment practices and pedagogy, I learned that to make sure when Toyota says they checked your belts and hoses that they really mean it, and that the Chestnuthill Diner in a town called Saylorsburg, PA serves a really good breakfast for an amazingly cheap price.  You can't beat eggs, homefries, corned beef hash, coffee and toast for less than 6 bucks.

What I do want to write about is how we sometimes stumble to see educational reform globally.  I've noticed in many education conversations I've had recently in person and on social media sites that we each tend to see educational reform through the lens of our own experiences when we were in school.  I guess this is natural, and I'm sure that I'm guilty of it at times.  But, it's also dangerous if we are trying to build an educational system that meets the needs of all students.  

Because changing the system based on what would have worked for you or me is only a move forward if it doesn't infringe upon someone else's opportunity to be successful.  The problem is not that the system wasn't designed to do what would have been good for you or me.  The problem is that the system didn't allow for teachers to meet the needs of every child, including you and me.   

Standardizing education, whether it's through nationalized curriculum, standardized testing, coming up with standards for "college and career readiness", or any other means eliminates our ability to customize education for all students.  No matter what we change those "standards" to, there will always be kids whose needs aren't met by them.  Most people aren't "standard." Until we allow for and encourage customization, there will always be a pretty significant population who leave our schools with a legitimate complaint that the system didn't work for them.

And it's not acceptable to deny a percentage of students the opportunity to learn because their talents don't match what is easily measured.

On a separate note, this is the 100th post since I started the blog a little over a year ago.  Thank you to all who read, comment, debate, and share.  I hope that you've had as much fun and gotten as much out of reading as I have from writing.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Irresponsibility of Grading Responsibility

When I first started blogging I promised myself that I would never post anything that would jeopardize my job.  So I'm not.  We won't talk about the specifics of what has me fired up today.

I will say this, though.  Including homework completion or being prepared for class when factoring grades is bad for students.  It's irresponsible.  It's not good educational practice.  When a student shows up for class without a pencil, give them a pencil, not a zero.

I can hear some teachers out there now.  They're saying, "But, kids need to be responsible to be successful."

And they're right.  But I've never heard of a student who was having trouble completing their homework or being prepared for class that learned responsibility because they got a bunch of zeros in a gradebook.  And I've never read any research that states it works, either.

If you want to teach responsibility, then teach responsibility.  Explicitly.  Teach lessons.  Create a course.  Make it a priority.

If grading is about sharing what students know, then these things have no place in a gradebook.  If grading is about showing the potential our students have for future success, then we should all have a column in our gradebooks for empathy, passion, innovation, and "questions authority".

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Friday's Five - A Year of Educational Musings

This will be my final Friday's Five post (but certainly not my last post).  For the past year I've picked a topic each Friday and come up with a list of 5 items/ideas/thoughts about that topic and shared them with you.  I've really enjoyed it for a few reasons.  Knowing that I had to blog each Friday forced me to deeply think about my profession at least once per week, even during the summer and over breaks.  I was forced to think about education from many different angles and points of view.  Most importantly, it forced me to blog at least once per week, and I really believe that blogging makes me a better teacher - both through the self reflection that is a result and the interactions with the wonderful readers who comment on posts.  

The reason I'm ending "Friday's Five" is because I want more freedom in what I write at times.  Sometimes a list works great for what I'm fired up about or feeling strongly, and sometimes it doesn't work well at all.  I've found quite a few times that I've had ideas for a great post on a Friday, but couldn't use them because I needed to put a list together.  After one year, it seems like a good time to move on and explore some different ideas.

So, for my final Friday's Five, here are my five favorite posts from the past 51 Fridays: 
  1. Five Quotes from Walt Disney
  2. Five Reasons My PLN Rocks!
  3. Five Misconceptions about Math
  4. What We Should Be Teaching
  5. Five Success Stories
If you'd like to see a list of all 52 topics from the past year, all Friday's Five posts are linked here.  What are some of your favorites?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Most Important Things

Today I sat in a very productive meeting with colleagues and administrators trying to prioritize ways to improve what we do as a school district.  We looked at data, had philosophical discussions, and talked about what we can do to meet the needs of all students.

At the end of the day I was getting a few things together and another teacher asked me to speak to a student who had gotten in trouble a few times during the day.  Without going into details, he shared with me some of the issues he's dealing with at home, and explained how those frustrations are boiling over at school.  After listening to him and talking with him for a few minutes, he calmed down and wrote down some of the things he could have done differently.  It was a good conversation, and clearly one that he needed.

I realized that the most important thing I did at school today had nothing to do with data, philosophy, or a general discussion of "students." 

The most important things we do in school happen one student at a time. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday's Five - Assessment: Our Students Deserve Better

I've been thinking a lot about assessment lately.  Not "assessment" in the narrow term meaning the high-stakes tests to which we are forced to subject our students, but assessment in the more global sense: how we determine what our students know and change our teaching to make sure they are learning.  That's what assessment is for, isn't it?  Despite the nonsense that is being thrown around by non-educators about the need to test kids to identify bad schools, bad teachers, bad kids, bad administrators, etc., assessment is really about identifying how we can help kids learn more.  The rest is all political mumbo-jumbo that's hurting our kids because it takes the focus off where it should be - student learning.

There are a few reasons that assessment has been at the forefront of my mind lately.  The most obvious is that the last month of school has been a fragmented mess of teachers struggling to promote real learning in the wake of schedule changes, lost teaching time, and stressed students due to mandatory state "assessments."  I've also spent a lot of time reflecting on my own assessment practices as part of my PAEMST application (one of the more grueling and beneficial experiences I've done as a teacher), which is due on May 1st.  Finally, this is the time of year that we place students into their courses for the next year - a practice that has increasingly become dependent on "data" instead of teacher recommendation.

In order to use assessment properly, to increase student learning, here are five things we need to keep in mind:

  1. Use the right tool for the right job.  Often we are told as teachers to "use assessment data to drive instruction."  The problem is that by "assessment data", those making this demand are talking about state assessments, benchmarks, or diagnostics.  You can't make day to day changes that benefit students based on this data.  Learning that one of my students scored low in the "geometry category" five months ago on a state assessment is worthless to me compared with the exit card that showed me that he/she didn't understand that area was a two-dimensional measurement.  The latter allows me to correct the misunderstanding immediately, thus leading to greater learning.
  2. I've heard Chris Lehman say before that educational technology should be like oxygen - imperceptible, ubiquitous, and necessary.  The same can be said for assessment.  We need it and should be using it all the time as a way to guide our students, but if our students are stressed about how they are being graded, ranked, sorted, or judged, they aren't focused on learning.  And learning should be our goal. 
  3. "Assessment" and "Grading" are not interchangeable terms.  Often they are used that way because we tend to want to make everything measureable.  Data doesn't have to be numbers to be useful.  Again, learning should be our focus, not ranking or judging students.  Tests and quizzes will, for better or worse, always likely have a place in schools.  What is more beneficial for students, though:  giving them a 30 on a quiz in which they got 7 out of 10 questions incorrect, or sitting down with that student to discuss their confusion and helping them identify ways to learn what they haven't yet?  "Grading" is something that is done for the benefit of teachers, parents, colleges, and others.  Good "assessment" is done for students. 
  4. Standardized tests, benchmarks, and diagnostic tests are not bad assessments unless we use them in ways for which they were not designed.  When we start using data from a benchmark or diagnostic tests to determine a student's placement in basic or advanced math classes or data from student standardized test scores to judge teacher efficacy and school quality we fail our students.  Arguments that my car got great gas mileage because it goes from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds or that my brother is a great basketball player because he has can punt a football 60 yards would be dismissed as absurd because those aren't valid metrics to use to judge such things.  Why aren't the conclusions we are erroneously drawing from bad metrics in education being dismissed as absurd?  I believe, as Joe Bower put it so well, we can't measure what's important, so we are putting importance on what we can measure.  It needs to stop for the sake of our children.  They deserve better.
  5. We need to do a serious cost/benefit analysis of how we assess students.  The assessments that are given the most importance in schools right now are also the most costly in terms of time and money that have ever been given in schools before.  We spend billions of dollars as a country each year on the tests themselves, test prep materials, and resources to meet the logistics of administering the tests.  We spend weeks of time that could be spent on learning critical thinking and innovation demanding that kids learn test taking skills and low-level thinking facts so that they can pass the tests.  And what do we get?  Lousy data.  Data that is far, far inferior to the formative assessment data I could have collected in much less time and that could have been used immediately to teach students. 
Some will say, "but scores have gone up since we started testing kids, so there must be some benefit to all this testing."  While scores on state tests have gone up, this argument is totally false.  We, the public are being manipulated.  Politicians have made the tests easier over the years to show how wonderful they (the politicians) are at "improving education."  Anyone who has compared state tests from 7 or 8 years ago to current tests can see this easily.  Our students score almost exactly the same on international tests as they did before we implemented high-stakes testing.  We've spent trillions of dollars and countless hours of time that could have been spent on real learning for nothing.  Actually, it hasn't been for nothing.  We've spent it to make politicians look good and to help their buddies who own stock in companies that produce testing materials make a buck.  We could have gotten so much more for so much less.  Maybe it's time to let educators determine how to educate our kids. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday's Five - Influencing Political Change

Many people, including teachers, are turned off by politics.  It's understandable.  Lately it seems that every candidate is bought by corporation and special interest money, and is more interested in following their party's line than doing what's best for the country.
Image Credit:

With Pennsylvania's primary approaching next week, I've been thinking of how our students have increasingly been hurt by politicians who further their agendas in the name of "educational reform", and what options we have as educators to change that trend.  After all, if we are so fed up with politics that we avoid the process, who will advocate for real education reform?  Here are five suggestions for getting involved.

  1. Check the voting record of both your state and federal representatives and senators.  Just because someone claims that they are have supported education doesn't mean that they really have.  After all, those cutting funding, firing teachers, mandating endless student testing without educational benefit, and creating unfunded mandates for our schools are claiming that all make education better.  A simple Google search with your representatives name and "voting record" will probably get you what you need.
  2. Do research for yourself instead of blindly following the advice of others.  Teachers unions and organizations will undoubtedly be happy to tell you for whom you should vote.  Don't be a sheep being led blindly.  Research the candidates to make sure they actually believe in the same things you do.
  3. Follow the money.  If you know what corporations, individuals, and organizations are donating big money to a candidate, you have a pretty good idea of what policies they are likely to support.
  4. Prioritize education.  If we as teachers don't vote based on what candidates are likely to do right by our students and schools, should we really be surprised that others don't either?
  5. Spread the word.  If you find a candidate who you really believe is going to make a difference, share that knowledge with everyone you know.  Blog about it, campaign for them, talk about it in the faculty room.  If there isn't a candidate you can support, spread the word about the issues that matter.  Tell the world how harmful certain policies are to your students.  Blog about positive reforms you like to see.  Your voice is louder and more influential than you think.  Use it for good!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday's Five - Wisdom of Age, Wonder of Youth

Let me start this post by saying that I am amazed at the wonders of modern technology, invigorated by the natural wonder of kids, and appreciative for the wisdom of older generations.  I'm writing this post on my iPad at 36,000 feet while flying home from a visit with my grandparents in Florida.  Last night I heard wonderful stories about the jobs they had between my grandfather's service in WWII and the time he opened a jewelry store in New York. This morning I had the pleasure of explaining to my 6 year old why walking on the clouds he sees from the plane window would be impossible. Great stuff!
Photo Credit:  worradmu
Along those lines, I was wondering if it's possible to combine those 3 things (technology, wisdom of the older generation, and the wonders of youth) to create incredible learning opportunities for our students.  Here's five ideas:
  1. Service learning projects involving local senior centers.  Students could read to seniors, help maintain the gardens, or help in other ways.  Afterwards, they could blog about their experiences and what they learned.
  2. Invite senior experts into the school, or videoconference, to offer guidance on projects.  I am always looking for community members to help my students learn about real-word situations and problem solving.  There are plenty of situations where students can collaborate with retired members of the community.  My grandfather, for example, has Skyped in with middle school students to explain his experiences as a Jewish soldier liberating Concentration Camps during World War II.
  3. Allow students to teach what they learn to seniors.  My grandparents mention often that they love when their community brings in college professors to give lectures.  Why can't our students do the same thing? My students would love to teach others how to use new technology, share their learning experiences, and present their projects with others.  It seems like a perfect match.
  4. Invite local seniors in for a "games day" where they can teach their favorite card and board games to students.  The kids can then create descriptions and written directions of the games afterwards to publish on the class wiki or website.  In addition to being the catalyst for a great writing assignment, the interaction during the games would be great for everyone involved. 
  5. Have children publish a biography of their grand-parent or other senior as a blog post.  They can do a series of interviews, and then compile a collection of stories from that person's life.  This way, the stories are saved forever, and students get a chance to learn a bit about their family history. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday's Five - Five Great Education Quotes

Today was my first day of break, and I found it hard to think of good ideas for today's post.  When I'd think of a good idea, the motivation to write about it wasn't there.  I also came up with some pretty lame ideas that would have been fun to write about.  I didn't think anyone would have wanted to read "Five Things I'd Rather Be Doing than Blogging Right Now" or "Five Ways the New York Yankees Are More Evil than Textbook Companies."  Instead of stressing about it, I took a nap.  It's amazing how wonderful a well placed break in the school calendar can be.

Finally, I settled on sharing a few of my favorite quotes related to education.  I've already done a Friday's Five where I shared my favorite Walt Disney quotes on education, so I'm leaving Walt off the list today, even though some of his quotes are fantastic.  It's worth clicking the link above and checking them out.

  1. "Knowledge without character is a power for evil only, as seen in the instances of so many 'talented thieves' and 'gentleman rascals' in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi
  2. "Real education consists of drawing the best out of yourself.  What better book can there be than the book of humanity?" - Mahatma Gandhi
  3. "Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty." - Thomas Jefferson
  4. "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it" - Aristotle
  5. "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically... Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education." - Martin Luther King Jr.
There are so many great education quotes out there; it was difficult to narrow the list down to five.  What  are some of your favorites?  Please share with us in the comment section below, or on the Facebook page!

Image Credit: dimland

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday's Five - Qualities of Excellent Principals

It's tough to be a teacher in the current educational climate.  It may be even harder to be a principal.  You've got pressure to get the students in your building to perform on standardized tests, budget cuts, teachers who have had the love of teaching beaten out of them by politicians and media, and parents who increasingly can be classified as either helicopter parents or school adversaries.  It's a rare individual who can navigate this environment to build a culture of collaboration in a school, a focus on student learning instead of test prep, and a great relationship between his/her school and the community.

Often we hear what makes a great administrator from politicians and corporations who are driving the "education reform" movement:  Someone who uses "data" to increase test scores.  Those politicians and corporations have their own agenda, and it's not to increase student learning.  It has everything to do with political power and increased profits.  I'm a huge proponent of using data to drive instruction.  The data should be from within lessons and immediate - the opposite of what standardized tests provide. 

Our principals should be much more than excellent statisticians.  Contrary to what we are being told, better test scores don't equate with more learning.  As a matter of fact, often the opposite is true: better test scores come at the expense of real learning and thinking. 

As someone who entered the teaching profession because I wanted to have a positive impact on future generations, wanted to inspire children to love learning, and wanted to make the world better through increased understanding, I don't really care about test scores.  At least not more than I'm required to.  I don't want a principal that is solely driven by test data.  I want a principal that helps me help students learn, think, understand, and work together.

Here are five qualities I would look for in a principal:
  1. Leadership - Leaders are able to inspire those they lead.  They are able to balance giving autonomy to each member of their team with the need to make timely decisions.  They put people in situations that accentuate their strengths and make them likely to succeed.  Great leaders cultivate an environment in which people work together to be more than the sum of their parts.  Even the principals that I've met who were the best instructional leaders could not match the combined teaching expertise of their entire teaching staff.  The best principals are able to cultivate an environment where that knowledge is shared, expanded, and utilized to help students learn.  Great principals are great leaders.
  2. Consistency - When it comes to discipline decisions, curriculum matters, teacher evaluations, or any other aspect of a principal's job, it's important for those in the building to know that there will be consistency.  When you know what's expected of you, it's much easier to excel at your job. 
  3. Fearless - You can't move forward without taking some risks.  Principals who always play it safe, strive to maintain the status quo, and never think outside the box end up with buildings that stagnate.  Every decision a principal makes doesn't have to be risky, but some do.  Taking chances and learning from mistakes should be welcomed in a school from the principal down to the students.
  4. Networked - Two heads are better than one.  Three are better than two.  Thousands of people communicating, collaborating, problem solving, and innovating lead to great things.  Today's principal, just like today's teacher, needs to be involved in networking in order to stay current, have a support network, and get new ideas. 
  5. Global Thinker - In the era of instant information, polarized politics, and social media, it's easy to lose focus on the big, important issues while trying to deal with the small, but white-hot problems that arise.  Dealing with those small flames effectively is vital, but the best principals are those who can handle those situations without compromising what's really important. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Friday's Five - Self-Reflection

In order to become better at anything we do, it's important to take an honest look at our practices and look for areas of improvement.  Knowing our strengths, and recognizing our weaknesses allows us to make positive changes in our teaching.  Often, it's hard to do this self-reflection for a variety of reasons.

Over the past few weeks, I've been forced into reflecting on my teaching, and it's been both humbling and immensely beneficial.  I've been fortunate to be nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST), and the demands of the application process have forced me to seriously look at what I do as a professional both in and out of the classroom.  Because of this, I've been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about ways teachers can self-reflect to improve their craft.  Here are five ideas.
  1. Videotape and watch a lesson or two.  Having to watch myself teach has made me realize a few things about my teaching.  As the amount of time in the period gets short, my use of formative assessment decreases.  When my students are discussing concepts in groups, I sometimes cut them off earlier than I should.  Sometimes they are having great conversations, and I should let them continue.  I never would have realized these things if I didn't watch myself teaching.
  2. Allow others that you trust to come into your room, and discuss your teaching with them.  This is beneficial for both of you.  Too often we teach with the door closed.  Our great lessons never get shared, and we never get to hear an outside perspective on our teaching.  Some lessons are great, some stink, and most fall somewhere in between.  That's going to be true whether another teacher is watching your lesson or not.  The only difference is that you get professional advice and dialogue when you invite others into your room.
  3. Re-write your resume at least once per year.  If you are not looking for a job, it's easy to forget about your resume.  It can be a great self-reflection too, though.  As you look over your list of achievements you'll probably find it easy to identify what areas are strengths, and areas that are lacking.  Identifying those lacking areas is the first step toward building them into strengths.
  4. Develop lessons collaboratively with others who teach the same topics.  This can be colleagues in the same school/district, or it can be those you know from networking.  Collaborative planning gives you ideas of ways to improve upon your pedagogy, opportunities to share resources (like videos you make, math manipulatives, etc.), and different points of view.  Collaborating with those in a different location is easy now with videoconferencing tools like Skype and Facetime.
  5. Participate in a Professional Learning Community (PLC).  This term has gotten a bad reputation in some places because it refers to mandatory meetings lead by an administrator.  That's not what a PLC should be.  Get a group of committed professionals together and agree to meet once a month or every few weeks to discuss pedagogy.  At each meeting, set the topic for the following meeting and decide upon the information and/or data that each teacher needs to collect.  One month you could focus on formative assessment and have everyone bring the two techniques that work best in their classrooms to share.  The next month you could focus on reading comprehension and have each teacher bring a summary of a journal article, blog post, or other piece on best reading comprehension practices.  The meetings should be voluntary, lead by teachers, and the topics should be set based on what the participants want to improve upon.  

    Monday, March 19, 2012

    You Get What You Pay For

    This past Friday my wife and I took our kids out for dinner at a local restaurant.  The server complimented our children on their manners and then explained that he is a teacher who is working as a server on weekends to try and make ends meet.  According to the Association of American Educators, the percentage of teachers who are working second and third jobs has risen from 11% in 1981 to over 20% today.

    Later this weekend, @shirky17 on Plurk posted this astute observation:

    Most people would be shocked if their server was a doctor, lawyer, architect, or other professional trying to earn enough money to make ends meet.  Nobody is shocked when their server is a teacher.

    If you want to know why our educational system is broken, look at the respect that is given to the people who are doing the educating.  When teaching is reduced to a job that cannot even pay someone enough to meet their monthly obligations instead of a profession, should we be shocked that our educational system has problems? 

    When you look at countries like Finland, where teaching is one of the most respected and revered professions a person can have, is it any shock that their educational system is one of the best in the world?

    Friday, March 16, 2012

    Friday's Five - I'm Not a Trained Monkey! (and other thoughts)

    Some Fridays it's hard to come up with a topic about which to write.  Others it's hard to choose one topic because there are so many ideas I have floating around in my head.  Today is the latter.  I guess that means I should have blogged more during the week.  In any case, I'm going to share five thoughts that I've had the past couple of days.
      Photo Credit: C. Frank Starmer
    1. I'm not a trained monkey.  It's state assessment week(s) here in Pennsylvania.  The majority of my time in school has been spent watching students fill in bubbles with a #2 pencil.  Any trained monkey could do this.  I want to teach.  I want my students to learn.  The purpose of assessment is to guide teaching so that students learn more.  I won't get the results of this assessment until these students have moved on from my classroom.  It's a political shell game that doesn't benefit my students, and all the free snacks in the world won't convince them differently.  I'm a teacher, not a trained monkey.  Let me teach.  Let my students learn.
    2. About those free snacks during state testing time - If research shows that kids' brains work better when they are well fed, have snacks, etc., shouldn't we be giving them the snacks during the learning and not during the assessment?  Funny how something as simple as a snack can illustrate so perfectly how out-of-whack our priorities have become.
    3. Yesterday in the faculty room, someone was complaining that our elementary school pedagogy is too driven by the demands of colleges.  When talking about being more innovative with how we assess, teach, and organize schools, the counter-argument is often, "But what will happen when they get to college?  They'll be expected to listen to lectures and learn on their own."  Here's the thing: sticking 50-200 people in a room, lecturing at them (whether you use a PowerPoint presentation or not), and telling them to read textbooks in order to find additional information is not good teaching.  It's not the best way for people to learn.  I don't care how much people pay to subject themselves and their kids to that nonsense, it's still lousy pedagogy.  If colleges really cared about student learning and not their profit statements, they'd tailor their pedagogy to be more like kindergarten.  More play.  More investigation.  More collaboration.  More learning.
    4. The difference in the restlessness of elementary students after changing the clocks for Daylight Savings Time in the spring is stark.  It's like they know they should be outside now.  After hearing John Medina explain during his ISTE keynote last summer how the human brain performs optimally outside, while the body is in motion, and in changing meteorological conditions, this restlessness makes a whole lot more sense.  
    5. I've been lucky enough to be nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) this year, and a whole lot of my energy has been spent the past few weeks preparing my application.  The application is extensive and overwhelming, but I'm benefitting a great deal from the reflection and introspection into my practices that is required.  Part of that reflection has made me re-realize how much I benefit from all of you out there in my PLN - on Plurk, Twitter, Facebook, and those who I connect with in the blogosphere.  I am sincerely grateful to all of you for helping me better myself and my teaching.   

    Friday, March 9, 2012

    Friday's Five - Filter-Friendly Youtube Alternatives

    Like many other schools, the district in which I teach blocks Youtube and Vimeo.  Often teachers in my building ask me, "How can I post this video that my students have created on their blog (or our class wiki) without using Youtube?"  After the same question was asked by a teacher on the Facebook Educator Page, I thought I would offer five suggestions for alternatives in today's post.
    1. Schooltube - It's easy to use, easy to embed, and unblocked by the majority of school filters.  If you are looking for a place to simply upload a video and be able to embed it and share it, this is an excellent option.
    2. Flickr/stevegarfield
    3. Voicethread - This is my favorite place to host videos for my class.  As a matter of fact, I just used it as part of a math lesson on measurement this week. The video quality is slightly reduced compared to some of the other sites, but I like that you can easily create "scenes" on different slides and allow students to comment on each different section of the video.  You can also combine slides with videos, documents, and pictures into your Voicethread.
    4. Qik - This combination of website and app for your smartphone allows you to shoot video with your phone that automatically uploads instantly to the web.  You can then easily share the video without uploading or converting the file.  For those using portable devices in the classroom, or those with no access to a camera other than your phone, this is a great tool.
    5. MyBrainshark - With MyBrainshark you can create presentations by uploading content including videos, documents, PDF files, and photos.  It also allows you to narrate your presentation, share it with others, and track who views your creations. 
    6. Teachertube - Much like Schooltube, this rarely-blocked site is easy to use and allows you to easily embed and share your videos.  I've used it many times in the past to host short videos, but over time have found myself using the above four tools more.