Packing Parachutes

GOVSometimes a piece of student’s writing draws my attention away from offering feedback and assigning grades; instead, I feel a need to pause and reflect more deeply on why I feel called to work in schools. Reading Noah’s essay moves me to reflect on why we do what do:

Before coming into Government, I never thought I would be so participative as I am. I have never been interested in any of the events that were going around the nation or even the world.

In Government, you have helped me have my own voice, whether it was during school, class or at home. I have been able to speak for myself and what it is right for others… before this class, I kept my mouth shut and never gave my opinion in an argument with friends or family. Now, they are used to me butting in or look to me to settle one.

I want to thank you for how hard you push us to be responsible, engaged, involved, participating citizens in our American democracy.

As I read Noah’s writing, I recalled a remarkable essay authored by Toy Savage, one of my old teachers. In his piece, Mr. Savage reflects on the meaningful relationships that make great schools so magical. I have posted an excerpt below – hoping that the sentiment “lifts us up and keeps us well.”

After a few minor matters of business, Royster Director Matt Sigrist dug into the real “stuff’ of a middle school – the formation of meaningful relationships between faculty and students. He reminded us that grades seven through nine can be tumultuous, confusing times, and the availability of a caring adult for each student is at the very heart of what we do.  He talked of our designing schedules and systems that maximize the opportunities for those relationships to develop and flourish, and he urged each of us to focus on simply being there for the kids.  Heady words indeed.

But what followed really got to me.  One by one, Cecil Mays, Ari Zito, Brooke Fox and Trish Hopkins stood up and answered the question “Why I teach.” 

It took Brooke Fox to put me over the edge.  She played an excerpt from what I assume is a motivational speech given by Charlie Plumb, who was shot down over the Sea of Hanoi during the Vietnam War, parachuted to safety but was captured and incarcerated as a POW for six years. Evidently, this gentleman was out to dinner one night many years later when a complete stranger approached him and asked him his name.  When the reply came as expected, the fellow said, “You know the day you were shot down?  I packed your parachute that morning.”  The implications were obvious – as teachers, we never know when some mundane exchange with a student will end up being very important to him or her, so we better pay close attention to every one of those moments.  We may be packing parachutes daily.

Except Brooke turned it on its head, and talked about the times in her life that being a teacher acted as her parachute.  She recounted several moments in her life roughly equivalent to being shot down, and how returning to a classroom gave her what she needed to hit the ground safely and fly another day.  In doing so she unplugged my basket of memories of the same times in my life, where the smiling faces of those before me in a classroom or on a field sustained me when I needed it most.  I had to fight back the tears.

So I have never been more excited for a school year to begin.  As a faculty we cannot wait to get to the work of providing students fabric, factual and emotional, that they may hold on to in their lives.  The joyful mystery of that work is that in packing other people’s parachutes, we receive fabric in return that lifts up us and keeps us well.

Noah, thanks for packing my parachute today.

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21st-century Summer School

My wife Lisa and I were out to the movies on date night last Sunday when my phone started vibrating… and vibrating… and vibrating. It was still previews, so I peeked: one of my students was “doing Government class” while I was at the movies. He had just tweeted a link to the “running battle” between the White House and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee over the ATF’s so-called “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking scheme.

I imagine some folks would complain about being “on all the time;” not me: I think it’s GREATNESS!

One of the reasons I love teaching in ParishVirtual‘s Summer Academy is the amazing flexibility students have to complete their assignments from anywhere, at anytime. Teachers work to complement students’ flexible routines by developing a blended approach that combines innovative, online learning with the support and structure of a more traditional school community: strong relationships developed through weekly face-to-face class meetings and meaningful feedback delivered through our learning management system.

As I was walking the dog this morning, one of my neighbors complained that her son is struggling to stay focused in traditional summer school: eight hours a day for two weeks in a row. Class ends at 5:oo in the afternoon, they rush to his summer baseball games, and then he has homework to do for the next day’s class. She’s exhausted, and her son is worn out, too. To me this seems like all the worst of school compressed into two solid weeks!

How does your school “do” summer school?

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Reframing the Journey

I’m reading in Dorothy Mackeracher’s Making Sense of Adult Learning today – specifically, Chapter 8: “Relationships in Learning.” The author notes three types of relationships that are essential in adult learning: 1) learner and facilitator: where a positive relationship helps learners “feel secure enough to take risks;” 2) learner and co-learners: where a “sense of belonging” facilitates learning; and 3) learner and knowledge: where learner connects current learning activites with past experience and present/future goals (151).

I offer this bit of research for two reasons. First, they offer a glimpse of my Journey: recently I’ve begun the first semester of a three-year, cohort-based EdD program at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College . From time-to-time, I’ll write to reflect on the work that my colleagues and I are doing together.

And secondly, Professor Mackeracher has hit on something that begins to capture my need to reframe this blog by changing its title and purpose. This blog will serve as a public space to consider Mackeracher’s point #3 “learner and knowledge.” I’ll reflect on learning activities – from both the EdD program and my work at school – and connect them with past experiences and future goals.

I remain hopeful that my sharing can be of service to others who are making their way along similar journeys of professional growth and development. After all, as Mackeracher notes, “human interconnection, relatedness, and interdependence form the central plot of human development” (Mackeracher, 2004).

How do you fulfill the need for “interconnection, relatedness, and interdependence” with professional colleagues at school?

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Thoughtful Engagement with Twitter

When I was young, my grandfather would clip articles from The Baltimore Sun and mail them to me at our family’s home in Southeastern Virginia. I remember Orioles’ season preview sections, bios of Colts’ draft picks, and – as I grew older – stories about government, current affairs, and Judaica… each offered its own sweet little reminder that Pop-Pop was thinking about me and wanted to engage in an on-going conversation about ideas and events.

I imagine that many of us have people in our lives who clip newspaper and magazine articles for us – heck, one of my wife’s colleagues sent along a story about our school’s football team just last week!

Within my professional learning network, Twitter has become my on-line home for reading and sharing clips with colleagues and friends. My appreciation for Twitter has evolved in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined a year ago: I’ve come to view Twitter as a key place to ask and answer a pair of powerful essential questions:

“What are you reading?” and “What are you thinking about?”

Twitter is my favorite place to choose the clippings, in the form of links to on-line sources, I’d like to read today – from leading thinkers and colleagues in education whom I’ve added to my professional learning network. Their work is inspiring, and I feel challenged to join the dialogue and participate.

And I still choose to mix in commentary about the Orioles, too.

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Happy Birthday, Baby O.

Watching our son Andrew’s developmental process has been fascinating!! Often I join in and play along on our living room floor; sometimes I just sit with him and observe. Lately I’ve been reflecting on some of the lessons that our happy, healthy 11-month old boy can teach my high school students and me. And so, in honor of Andrew’s FIRST birthday, following are a few observations from our afternoons together:

1. Be Relentless. I’ve watched Andrew work toward several developmental milestones in his first year: rolling over, crawling, and standing up. At the moment, he’s working to hold a spoon and feed himself and find his balance to walk. For each, I’ve watched Andrew struggle and fail… for weeks and even months. At times it’s difficult for me to escape making comparisons to so many of my students: I would LOVE to see students engage more often in a similar sort of long-term struggle to reach important goals. Andrew’s response to adversity is humbling for me, too: he keeps trying over and over and over again. What an extraordinary example of perseverance; it’s the sort of effort that is a prerequisite for greatness!

And also, as I watched Andrew struggle to roll over, I could see “the answer”: just scoop him up and flip him over to his tummy. I have to check myself, step back, and allow him to work through each step his inquiry process. I’ve got to resist the urge to “help” students in similar ways – redirecting students is easier when I think about my experiences with Andrew. I won’t be doing my son or my students a service in the long run if I enable skipping steps in the learning process by doing things for them that they must learn to do themselves… even though observing the pain of their struggles is hard!

2. Identify (and resist!) the “fake cry.” Lately my wife and I have noticed that Andrew cries sometimes when he doesn’t get what he wants when he wants it: he’ll lift his arms and cry to be picked up, for example. What’s curious is that this type of cry has a different sound – we’ve begun to identify it as the “fake cry” and try to resist our parental urge to soothe him until he quiets himself. To some extent, the “fake cry” has become part of Andrew’s mealtime routine. He want to eat right now; we want to encourage him to begin feeding himself: tilt his bottle/cup, hold his spoon, pick up pieces of food and pop them in his mouth. In the short run, this approach takes longer, and it’s messy. In the long run, I’m convinced it’s best for our son.

I’m beginning to identify some students’ complaints as a version of the “fake cry” – when we challenge students to think critically, collaborate purposefully, and create meaningfully, they sometimes respond with a “fake cry” that says ‘feed me’ now. I think I’ve learned from Andrew that this “fake cry” is a perfectly normal initial response. Our challenge as teachers is to RESIST spoon-feeding our students – even though it’s quick and easy; instead, we have to see the value in striving for something more over the long haul –  put the pieces of banana on the table and encourage students to reach a little further than they thought they could. In the long-run, they’ll appreciate having learned to feed themselves!

3. Encourage Curiosity. One of Andrew’s most endearing traits is that he’s mischievous – it’s been a race in our house to baby-proof each room before he discovers all the possibilities in it. He loves to open cabinets and drawers, pull books and magazines off their shelves, and pull up to windows and look out. I enjoy observing and encouraging his curiosity!!  As I think about the on-going process of professional growth in my teaching practice, one of my major challenges is to develop curriculum and pedagogical approaches that stimulate my students’ curiosity, too.

4. My son has been engaged in authentic, problem-based learning (learning to roll over, to crawl, to stand, to feed himself) throughout his first year. As his teacher, I’ve been encouraging his curiosity, allowing him the freedom to fail – safely – and learn from his mistakes, directing his inquiry, and choosing to prioritize the “messy” long-run over the temptation to quickly and cleanly ‘solve’ problems for him.

Happy Birthday, Andrew.

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Safe Text Messaging with Students?

In my websurfing through the myriad of tools available out there for savy early adopters, I managed to run across a great post by Steve Anderson over at Blogging About the Web 2.0 Connected Classroom. He writes about a number of different topics that relate to exactly what I have been searching for over the past few months — Web 2.0 tools to make my life as a teacher easier and to also help to engage my students more in class on our content and our assignments.

So below I have re-posted Steve’s review of a new service called ClassParrot that allows teachers to text message students and parents without ever exchanging numbers. So read on and if you find it interesting and would like to know more, click this link over to the original post and be sure to use the link at the bottom for an additional 200 credits!

BRING ON THE TEXT MESSAGES WITH CLASS PARROT

By Steve Anderson

ClassParrot is a relatively new service that allows teachers and students/parents exchange text messages without exchanging numbers. Here is how it works. You as the teacher create a free account. Once you have the account you create a class. Now, the class name is important because it was will be attached to every text so it is important to choose something everyone will recognize.

Then you have to decide if Parents/Students will be able to reply. That is what sets ClassParrot apart. If you allow this anyone who subscribes can reply. But, what is great is you can turn it off if you don’t want this feature but you can only set it up when you create your class.

Anyway, now that you have a class you will get a unique number and code to text too. This is what you give to students. The number they will be texting to is not your phone number, rather it is a number that is generated by ClassParrot and assigned to your class. When the students reply they then follow the series of texts they get to give their name so the teacher knows who they are. In your class account you can see who is subscribed by name and if need be you can delete someone. But again, no other information is there. No phone number, email address, anything.

Once all the set up is over then you can begin sending messages. Everytime you want to send a message you log into your ClassParrot dashboard and send your message. But you can also send a poll. You decide the question and what responses you want to get back. The default is yes/no but you can change this to anything and have more than 2 responses. They have to respond with one of the choices and you can see those responses come in under your History. That is also where you can read replies to your messages (if you set that up.)

Ok, so yes, ClassParrot is free. But…it works on credits. When you sign up you get 500 credits. And each month you get 200 more. It costs 1 credit to send a message or a poll. And it costs 1 credit each time someone replies. An unlimited plan is $9 bucks so not too bad but I know budgets are tight. If you simply turned off the reply feature and just used it to broadcast you would probably never need to pay. You have to decide what is going to work best for you.

ClassParrot could be a great service if you want to help classes keep up with assignments or dates. Or for coaches/sponsors who have afterschool activities where it might be great to keep parents informed of schedule changes or what have you.

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18 Ways Teachers Can Use Google+ Hangouts

Below is a wonderful article about the amazing uses for the video-conferencing feature of the new Network from Google –> Hangouts. These are videochats that sync up with Google Docs and a few other Google apps to allow for some really amazing educational opportunities in the 21st century learning environment. The original article can be read HERE at http://www.onlinecolleges.net.

Whether you teach online classes or just love bringing social media and technology into the classroom, Google offers up some amazing tools to help you get students thinking, learning, connecting, and sharing. One of the newest, and perhaps the coolest, additions to Google’s suite of online tools is the recently updated Google+ Hangouts. Through Hangouts, up to ten users can video conference at once, and the service is easily connected to existing Google+ circles, offering up a whole host of exciting ways teachers can make use of it for educational applications.

If you haven’t tried out Google+ Hangouts yet, take the time to learn more about it and consider some of these amazing ways you can use it to add to your existing curriculum and make class time easier, more fun, and a more rewarding experience for you and your students alike.

  1. Facilitating group projects after school hours.

    If students need help after class hours or just some support while working on group projects, Google+ Hangouts can be an excellent way to offer it without having to even leave the house. Once students know how to use it, they may even want to meet up on their own, making working together a whole lot less stressful. Students can share what they’ve completed through Google Docs as well.

  2. Inviting remote guests to speak.

    Along the lines of Adafruit’s “Ask an Engineer” program, which also worked through Google+ Hangouts, teachers can invite experts, writers, other teachers, and people from around the world into the classroom with a click of a button using this amazing new tool. It can be a great way to enrich a lesson and with the help of a projector, a speaker can be larger than life in your classroom without having to travel at all.

  3. Answering student questions about homework and projects.

    Students often make excuses about not doing homework because they say they can’t figure it out when they’re home alone. Well, no more. Teachers of all kinds can offer support to students who need it through Google+ Hangouts. Students can show what they’ve completed and teachers can help them by offering guidance, input, or access to lessons.

  4. Expanding a professional network.

    Google+ Hangouts doesn’t just benefit teachers in the classroom. It can also be a great tool for getting in touch with others in education to talk, share ideas, or get help. With up to ten people able to join in a discussion at a time, it can make meeting with other professionals easier than ever, offering chances to network and expand your personal learning network even further.

  5. Hold office hours online.

    Professors and teaching assistants will love the ability to hold office hours online using Google+ Hangouts. Invite your students to a hang out online and they’ll be able to meet with you to discuss any questions or concerns they have with the course. If they need help with a paper, it’s easy to share an outline or draft through Google, and you can even make edits!

  6. Group grading sessions.

    If you’re trying to keep grading fair and make sure all teachers in your team or who work with students in a course are sticking to a rubric, it can be useful to hold group grading sessions. That way, teachers can ask questions, make comments, and get feedback while grading.

  7. Attending academic conferences.

    There are loads of discussion groups, meet-ups, and other educational groups that use Google+ Hangouts. If you’re lucky, you might be able to attend in real time, but if not, you can often access recorded sessions after the fact, giving you access to greater learning opportunities without incurring the costs associated with traveling to an event.

  8. Have class discussions online.

    Can’t get your class together to discuss a book or project? No worries! With Google+ Hangouts, you can hold class discussions online. It can also be a great way to involve students who are traveling, sick, or otherwise out of school in what’s going on in the classroom.

  9. Sharing lesson plans and ideas.

    Have a circle of professionals you work with? Create that same circle on Google+ and use it to share materials and hold discussions on Hangouts. You can also send class materials to students who have questions or were out of class, with the added bonus of being able to explain them as you go.

  1. Gaining access to professional development.

    There are loads of opportunities for professional development through Hangouts. You can attend conferences, join in talks, make new professional connections, reach out to existing hangouts, and much more. How you go about learning and growing through the tool is really up to you, as there are many options (and more every day) out there.

  2. Host study groups.

    Finals coming up? Students freaking out? Help guide them through a study session by holding a study group online. Create a set time limit to answer their questions and address any concerns about the test so there will be no (legitimate, anyway) excuses on test day.

  3. Share your screen.

    Explaining something complex to your students? Just trying to show them how to access things on a website? Whatever the case, Hangouts makes it easy to share your screen with others in the session. It’s one of the newer and very cool features Hangouts has to offer, and there are numerous ways you can use it to help and teach, or even to learn yourself.

  4. Take advantage of the whiteboard capabilities.

    Whiteboards are an awesome thing to have in the classroom but you can also bring them into the digital world using Hangouts. Hangouts offers users the chance to share a whiteboard with other participants, which can be great for explaining concepts or showing how to solve a problem. Even better, others can collaborate on the whiteboard.

  5. Record sessions for later.

    Students will love being able to access recorded sessions from Hangouts when they’re studying or working on homework. Teachers can record discussions, tutoring, Q-and-As or whatever else they choose to use Hangouts for and store the file on the web for student access or their own personal records.

  6. Help students learn about careers.

    Whether your students are struggling to choose career paths or you just want to show them what a particular job actually involves (which can be pertinent to a whole host of lesson plans), Google+ Hangouts can make that possible. Simply find a professional willing to meet up, set up a computer, and voila, you’ve got an amazing career-connected presentation in minutes.

  7. Connect students with native speakers in language courses.

    Google+ Hangouts can be an amazing tool for language learners and their teachers. Now, students can see and talk to native speakers, learning valuable skills and gaining confidence at the same time. Teachers may even be able to set up exchange programs with their counterparts in other countries, so students learning both languages can benefit.

  8. Join in on educational hangouts.

    More and more teachers and educational professionals are using Hangouts, and they’re setting up sessions related to education. Some may require an invite and some might be open to anyone who wanders in. Seek them out and you’re bound to find something that meets your needs. If you don’t, start your own!

  9. Collaborate on teaching experiments.

    Trying out new teaching methods and implementing new technology can be scary. Yet it can be a lot easier with the support and advice of other teachers who are doing the same things. Google+ Hangouts can make it simple to collaborate and share your experiences with other educators, whether at your own school or halfway around the world.

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Making a Mess of PBL

Every so often, I re-read Dan Pink’s blog post called “Why you should come up with at least 1 bad idea today,” and I’m reminded that authentic PBL ought to be messy. Following is a short list of potential pitfalls that I’d encourage us to embrace rather than avoid:

1. The project design has imperfections. For me, the biggest hurdles to developing authentic, research-based PBL have always involved the move from “nothing to something.” I struggle to live up to my own expectations: I want each new project design to be perfect… from the beginning. We often say that we want to create more of an inquiry-based learning environment where students are encouraged to experience failure, to reflect on their work, and to make incremental progress. I often feel as though my approach to PBL design ought to model this behavior in my role as ‘co-learner’ with students. We’ve got to be flexible (and vulnerable?) enough to ask students for their advice and feedback about identifying and correcting design flaws – both during and after PBL. I strive to embrace the imperfections as opportunities to engage students in dialogue and share my learning process as a teacher.

2. We can’t see the end from the beginning. As many of us do, I have worked to ‘reverse-engineer’ the courses I teach. I begin with essential questions: what do I want students to know and what do I want students to be able to do at the end of the unit//semester/course and work backward from assessments to day-by-day planning. It’s hard to let go of that process and embrace a messier planning model for PBL. For me, planning authentic PBL is messy because we want students to have more ownership over the process – which means we won’t know precisely what directions students choose until they choose. Students will make mistakes along the way; their progress will be uneven; and sometimes their struggles will be uncomfortable – for them and for us. In my view, when we embrace the notion that losing (or largely giving up) control over students’ PBL processes is okay, we help to set ourselves moving along a path toward authenticity – which serves our students well.

3. Using the technology tools is overwhelming. For example, my students in Economics and I are in the process of developing a photography project. I’ve outlined a vision: students will use their cell phone cameras to capture ‘real world’ examples of concepts from economics, we’ll ‘tag’ the photo collection together, and then we’ll choose examples from the photo library to create writing prompts for assessment. (The end result may actually look quite different; see #1 and #2 above.) I have no idea which tool(s) will best facilitate collecting, tagging, and sharing digital photos. I’ve asked my PLN and my students for suggestions (and I remain open to hearing more!). After students and I decide, many all of us will have to learn how to use the tool together as we go along. I embrace this potential pitfall; it has the potential to create powerful opportunities for students and me to collaborate as learners and problem-solvers.

To conclude, the history teacher in me takes great comfort in following FDR’s example as “experimenter-in-chief” during the Great Depression:

The historian Eric Goldman wrote of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “he trusted no system except the system of endless experimentation.” FDR himself made this point time and time again. At Oglethorpe University, FDR declared, “this country needs bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something” (see Jonah Goldberg).

The phrase that speaks most clearly to me is FDR’s advice for when an experiment fails: “admit it frankly and try another.” Developing authentic PBL with our students can create opportunities for us to model the process of continual growth and improvement that defines our professionalism as teachers.

What other pitfalls should we embrace as we consider PBL?

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Pursuing Authenticity: Assessment Strategies for PBL

For me, setting expectations for grading students’ work product in authentic PBL activities presents a set of difficult challenges Below are a few thoughts I’ve “warmed up to” over the last few years as my teaching practice has evolved:

1. De-emphasize the Rubric – Focus on Creativity instead. Students expect us to define minimum standards; however, a rubric with point-by-point guidelines that have too many details may actually stifle students’ creativity. How can we set minimums and also encourage students to reach further and pursue their passions? For me, the answer is to keep the rubric general. I learned this from Christian Long, a fellow PLPer. I try to define standards in general terms: just as we all know obscenity when we see it, students and I all know “half-an-effort” when we read it in an essay or watch it in a presentation. For a recent project where the work product are blog posts, I shared these general thoughts about grading with students: 1) write thoughtfully and respectfully; 2) Individual students’ submissions will be evaluated based on overal thesis/ideas/style; 3) write in a way that is meaningful and compelling – period. 4)  be “remarkable” – so that visitors will choose to “remark” about your post and engage in conversation. I offered a minimum number words that I thought could accomplish these tasks; however, I also noted that I was NOT going to count words – instead, I emphasized that it’s tough to write a ‘complete thought’ in fewer words than the minimum.

When teachers define the minimum standards; rather than setting “maximum standards” with specific rubrics, we allow students to “reach for the stars” and pursue their interests in more authentic ways.

2. Avoid the recipe. I’m leary of rubrics that become “recipes” –  for me, if a student can merely follow a step-by-step recipe to produce a finished work product, then we’ve done too much of the lifting as teachers. We may also stifle students’ creativity and eliminate opportunites for students to apply critical thinking skills as problem-solvers.

 3. Offer examples. For an example of a thoughtful blog post, I like to share this one from Dan Pink with my students. Sometimes we’ll look at work from past years in the course together, and I’ll choose points of emphasis to clarify expecations for students. Our increasing connectedness as educators also means that I can draw on published student projects from colleagues – known and unknown – around the world, too.

 4. Implement Soft Deadlines If it’s a 40-minute activity in class, I’ll check-in and provide feedback about students’ progress at/around the half-way mark. For longer projects, I tell students that we’ll have a soft deadline after the first week and again at the half-way mark – I’ll want to hear about their process and view their work product for two reasons: 1) we can offer feedback to redirect students toward meeting expectations; and 2) it’s helpful for students to know where they are in terms of pacing. Soft deadlines are all about feedback; I don’t actually grade students’ work at this point.

 5. Separate Facts from Opinions. I tell my students early-on that my job is to teach students “how to think” not “what to think” about history, government, and economics: we are always working to separate facts from opinion. For example, students and I are engaged in a study of current affairs as they relate to economics. I have encouraged students to choose stories from current affairs that fit their passions and interests. The stories they choose don’t much matter. For me, an essential question for grading is “can students use economics vocabulary and the ways of thinking in economics to explain and analyze the story?” A crucial task, then, is to focus my grading rubric on reading for economics vocabulary used in a proper context that demonstates student understanding of the term beyond textbook definition. (Done well, this would, I hope, suggest students are thinking analytically.) As long as students have explained and applied concepts in ways that are factually correct, they are free to draw their own original conclusions. At this point in the process, I’m looking to grade students’ command of the facts.

 5a. Emphasize students’ analytical processes; de-emphasize students’ conclusions. This is a follow-up to #5 above – US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously asserted, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.” For me, students must have command of factual details to form a foundation for analysis; therefore, grading for nuanced details has to be part of the process… but… it doesn’t go far enough. We also want to emphasize students’ ability to construct a logical argument that uses analytical links to connect factual detail to students opinions. Here again, the topics they choose don’t much matter, and neither, ultimately, do students’ points-of-view. What really matters is how they answer the “WHY” question with a clear, analytical process.

 Which items in my list would you prioritize? Which items would you discard? What else would you add?

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A Nod to Teaching Math

Happy New School Year!

Over the last two years, my process of professional growth has been informed most directly by working with Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) as part of a school-based team. PLP develops cohorts of teacher-leaders and challenges us to consider the implications of Web 2.0 technology for teaching and learning. The work has been transformative for my personal teaching practice, and I like to believe that our school’s team has created ripple effects that continue to influence teaching and learning across our entire school. Effective use of 21st century technologies remains at the center of this effort: encouraging students to solve authentic problems, to collaborate with purpose, to create new ideas, and to communicate for a global audience.

I was watching a friend teach math through his open door earlier this week, and I got to thinking about the concept of “spiraling” as it relates to curriculum design. As many of us know, “spiraling” is a notion, developed by Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner, that curriculum should “revisit basic ideas repeatedly, building upon them until the student has grasped the full formal apparatus that goes with them” (The Process of Education, 1960: 13).

My friends in math seem to have embraced the concept of spiraling and built spiraling into their math curricula in ways that I might like to emulate this year. Check out this Toyota Venza commerical , for example. A young person sits with her computer and “builds relationships” through Facebook; meanwhile, her parents are meeting up with other adults to go mountain biking… I particularly enjoy the young woman’s facial expressions (dripping with irony) when she describes her parents as ‘anti-social’ because they only have 19 Facebook friends.

The commercial reminds me to spiral back to a powerful, basic idea: building strong, healthy relationships with students – through our face-to-face interactions each day – remains at the center of effective teaching.

Source: Smith, M.K. (2002) ‘Jerome S. Bruner and the process of education’, the encyclopedia of informal education http://www.infed.org/thinkers/bruner.htm.

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