Friday, December 28, 2012

Teachers With Guns? Sign Here.....

I avoided this post for a while now.  I started writing it and stopped many times.  But I just can't stand back any more.

There are people who want teachers to be allowed to have firearms on campus.  I can go on and on about why I think this is wrong but, instead, I offer this contract that I want EVERY teacher, who wants to be in the same building as me and carry a weapon, to sign:


        The following agreement is made between myself (the undersigned) and all parents, teachers, administrators, and students in _____________________ (name of school/school district)

                1.  I will attend annual firearm and use of deadly force training each year at my own expense.
                2.  I will send a letter to all parents of my students that I have a firearm in my classroom and I agree to allow any students whose parents are uncomfortable with my possession of a firearm change classrooms to another teacher.
                3.  I will clean my weapon, at least once a month, off of the school premises.  And, I will let the principal or other administrator know that this has been completed.
                4.  I will, at all times, keep the firearm and the bullets separated and stored where students are unable to find them.
                5.  I agree to allow unannounced inspections, by police or other state sanctioned representatives, to verify I am following these rules.
                6.  I agree to discharge my firearm, when the need arises, in a manner that will stop the possibility of harm to students, faculty, or innocent visitors to my school.  I further understand that discharging my firearm may hurt, maim, or kill anyone between myself and the person I am firing at.  And, when necessary, I am prepared to kill the person causing harm to others.
               7.   I agree to psychological testing, by a school district or other state sanctioned psychologist, upon signing this agreement and, again, every three years from this date.

     I hold a concealed weapons certification dated __________________ and do hereby sign this agreement without reservation.  Signed this ___(day) of _____(month), _______(year)

If you want to carry a weapon then do so.  After 20 years in the military I don't have a big problem being around people with firearms.  However, I do have a problem with people carrying them without facing the fact that they are then telling me that they will use it to protect me, my children, and any other innocent person in my building.  I will NEVER carry a weapon and find no reason to do so.   I want to know that others are prepared to kill someone so that good people may live.  Just give me that psychological test first - please.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Reflecting on my Life With PBL

In July of 2011 I wrote about attending training and how I realized that my perspective had changed when it came to experiencing new requirements with my teaching.  

Having just re-read that post and reflecting on the year that is about to finish, I realize just how fortunate I am for embracing PBL.  And, I realize how important it is for all teachers to discover what I have discovered about this teaching/learning process.

If you haven't considered  PBL yet, or you are struggling with the idea of doing this,  you might want to read through this post from last Spring on 6 things you can expect when you are a PBL teacher.  There are hundreds of other posts on the subject with many just in my postings over the years.

Five years ago I considered myself a pretty darn good math teacher.  I believed in (and used) cooperative learning groups.  And I embraced the use of technology in the classroom.  My fellow teachers and administrators would (probably) agree with the instruction piece of being a good teacher but they would definitely say that I had trouble with classroom management.  My Achilles heal.

In PBL I was able to continue working on improving my teaching abilities but I still struggled mightily with classroom management.  However I learned that, in PBL, I could do a better job at managing my classroom when I was organized with my daily plan.  Who'd a thunk!  Organization makes the classroom management easier.  Wow!

And so, this school year, I've been able to see many teachers in their classrooms in my roll as an instructional coach.  I no longer have to worry about how my students are acting (and neither do my neighboring teachers).  I get to see effective and less effective teaching practices.  I see good and not-so-good classroom management.  I see students thriving and students not being given the same opportunity to learn.  It's time to make a difference at my school.

With the new year I really need to share the good PBL practices I have used and the practices I have read about.  I need to model teach and I need to help plan classes and projects.  In short, I need to be a good instructional coach.  I need to push data to hours outside of the school day.  Our teachers need me during the normal school hours and I owe it to them to be available.  And, my principal needs to know that I'm out there helping make our school the best it can be.

Thank you New Tech Network, Buck Institute for Education, and Edutopia for providing my PBL knowledge.  And thank you to Steve Zipkes for hiring me at Manor New Technology High School back in 2008.  This PBL rocket is heading for the stars and I'm loving every moment!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

So, What Do You Think?

If this post sounds whiny I want you to tell me at the end of the post.  If it resonates with you then feel free to leave a comment telling me that.  If you found a typo in the third paragraph then feel free to let me know in the comments section at the end of the post.  If all of these questions/statements in the first paragraph drove you crazy then I want to hear about that too.

I have been writing posts here since St. Patrick's Day, 2009.  That's over 110 posts in 44 months.  My total comments on these posts? Somewhere between the number of months and the number of posts.  In other words less than one comment per post.

I can guarantee you that if I were to look at the last 100 "posts" I did on Facebook you would find plenty more than 100 comments.  In fact you might just find kloser to 500 comments, I'm betting.  I can always find 4 or 5 comments on things I say there.  And, how many comments have you (or I) written on other people's Facebook posts?  I have exchanges on single posts that went 30 or 40 comments - just by me!

Why don't I leave comments, more often, on blog posts?  I do try to leave a comment whenever I find a post that hits home with me.   I like to add comments after I read a good comment on a good post.  But sometimes I am in a hurry and I finish the post and then send the link out to my twitter stream so others may find it.  But does the author know I've sent out a link to the post?  Does the author know I thought it was great?

I see posts all of the time about teaching students to be good communicators and leave comments on posts by other students.  I even see students being told to leave comments on posts they read while doing research.  So why don't we educators take the time to leave a comment?  Well, I think it comes down to the time thing.  It really does take about 4 or 5 minutes to write the comment, go through the Captcha sequence, and hit "submit comment."   And do we have a spare 4 or 5 minutes?

Well, actually, I think we do.  If you can spend 4 or 5, (or 30), minutes on Facebook commenting on and posting items, then I think you can do the same with some one's blog.  It takes changing your mindset.  It takes me changing my mindset too.  I have gotten better about it.  And I intend to get even better about it.  Now it's your turn.  Go find a blog post you have read this week and leave a comment on there.  Then, the next time you read a post, at least scroll down to the comments section and remind yourself that you should leave a comment.  Before long it will become a habit and bloggers will thank you for it.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I've Got A Lot of Questions...

Have you ever noticed that great teachers ask great questions?  That actually wasn't a great question.  I could have asked several related questions:  (1) Why is it that great teachers ask such great questions?  (2)  What great questions have you ever been asked by a teacher?  (3)  Have you ever been asked a great question by one of your teachers? - or - (4) Have you ever noticed that one of your better teachers was really great at asking question?

Since taking on more of a leadership role in school I have noticed the importance of  "good questioning."  As a TAP ( Teacher Advancement Program) mentor teacher I was told to look at teachers and how they asked questions.  And, as a teacher in a TAP school,  I was observed and reminded to use good questioning techniques.

When I moved to a school using PBL as its main delivery method I learned of specific types of questions that were important to getting students hooked on the theme of the project - Driving Questions.  In studying driving questions I discovered that it actually mattered whether the teacher presented the driving question or whether the students created the driving question(s).  I decided that at the K - 5 level it might be better for teachers to present a problem statement and driving question.  At 6 - 8, it was better to present a problem statement and help the students create a driving question that all of the students work on to answer.  And, at the high school level, teachers should present a problem where the students then create a problem statement and driving questions that they will pursue during their examination of the problem. 

As I continued reading more and more about the importance of having students derive a driving question, I became more sure that this was the necessary first step in having students "own their learning."  While reading a blog post about questioning, I first saw a mention of "The Right Question Institute " or RQI.  This group takes student ownership of learning to the next level by having them create questions around a central idea that they work on.  So now we have moved beyond teachers asking great questions and are moving to students learning how to ask great questions that fuel their learning.

My first paragraph was actually based upon the first few steps of the RQI's Question Formulation Technique (QFT).  Step one of the QFT, The Question Focus, was my blog post title.  It tweaked some interest that got you to read the first few lines of the post and started you asking yourself questions about why I might be writing this post.  In step two, The Rules for Producing Questions, are rules established by the teacher on how the students should create their questions.  I omitted this step.

The third step is where the students Produce Questions.  Like brainstorming in the Engineering Design Process or Scientific Method, this should be limited by only time. The students shouldn't think about whether it is a great question, they should just list their questions.  My four additional questions were an example of this step.  

Once they have their list of questions then they can think about the questions and they will have a chance to  Categorize the Questions , (step 4).  There are only two categories: Closed Questions or Open-Ended Questions.  My first question was an example of an open question and questions 2 - 4 were all closed questions.  While in the categorizing mode the students should be told to change one or two of the questions so that they might fit the opposing category.  For example my question 4 (closed) might be reworded to "How might a teacher ask questions that stimulate a desire to learn about a topic?" That is a more open ended question.

With their questions categorized they are ready to go on to step 5: Prioritizing the Questions.  The criteria for prioritizing can be set by the teacher or, for older students, stated by the students themselves.  This is the point where students can focus their work and as they are prioritizing the are ready to consider step 6, which is their Next Steps. The next steps might be simple like getting ready for a summative assessment or completing an assignment.  Or, they might be more involved like completing research for a project idea.

And so I end by asking, have you ever noticed that great students ask great questions?   Take your students to the next level by helping them learn how to question.  While they are learning the process remember that there really is a step 7 in the process.  Have the students reflect on what it is that you have purposefully done in the classroom.  Ask them to think about whether writing down and prioritizing questions helped them focus on what needed to be learned.  Ask them how they might use this technique in life.  Ask them great questions because, if you are using this, you are a great teacher.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Maintaining a Blog is Hard!

     Watching the US Grand Prix practice rounds this morning and then opening my blog to see if there were any comments I had to respond to, I realized that I was attempting to maintain my blog so that it was functioning at it's highest level.

     Not quite like maintaining a F1 car like this Lotus team to the left.  Still, if I want to get the most from my writing, and I want my readers to get the most from my writing, I need to keep my hand in on the process.

     Before taking this tack with this post I went through my posts from November and December of last year.  What was I looking for?  I'm not really sure.  But last year was my most successful, as far as number of posts, and I know I had some posts that really resonated with some readers.  There were a few trends I noticed.  For one, beating my self up over not writing as consistently as I wanted.  I have been really hard on myself for not posting more because my "numbers" weren't at the level they were last year.

    Number of posts doesn't always go hand-in-hand with quality.  But, being a math guy, I do see the numbers and when I finished my 52nd post last year I was very excited because I had suddenly met my post-a-week goal.  And, this year, when I was behind my pace from last year I started getting mad at myself.  I really wanted to get posts up so I could meet my mark again.  Well, that aint gonna happen.  I am NOT going to write 52 posts this year.

   So why maintain a blog at all?  I write, mainly, to reflect on things going through my head.  I blame that on being a PBL teacher.  In Project Based Learning we are always having our students reflect on their learning.  We have them do journal entries and "tickets out" telling us what they learned or are still confused about as they leave the classroom, during the project.  Then we ask our students to critique themselves, their group partners, the project as a whole, and their teachers at the end of a project.  Reflection and learning go hand-in-hand.

     It naturally follows that I reflect on every aspect of what I do as an instructional coach and a teacher.  How could things have gone differently?  Notice I didn't say better.  That was by design.  It's easy to look at the negatives that come to the front when you reflect.  It's a better idea to look at every aspect, good and bad.  If I narrow my scope of reflection I can say that as a New Tech Network trained teacher I use a critical friends protocol when I examine how things have gone.  This protocol asks you to look at things you "liked," things you "wonder" about, and "next steps" you can take for future work.

    My next steps, in life, are to reflect upon what has occurred and write them down in this blog.  I like the fact that I do this.  I like the fact that a handful of people will read what I wrote.  I like the fact that 1 or 2 of the readers might leave a comment.  And, I like the fact that I do this on a regular basis.

     I wonder if I can ever get over looking at the stats for this blog.  I wonder if I will ever write a post that is suddenly read by hundreds of people with dozens of comments.  I wonder if I can be stronger with my content of my posts.  And, I wonder how many years I will keep this blog going.

     My next step is to hit publish on this post and not worry about what happens next..... PUBLISH....

Monday, November 12, 2012

Keeping a Focus on Learning

     At Decker Middle School I have a principal who understands the difference between a focus on teaching and a focus on learning.  And, I don't have to say that because I want a raise - I am being sincere.

     He has really opened my eyes to the difference between these two and now he is starting to get through to our staff on how they are different.

    This afternoon he met with the department heads and we discussed how things are going so far this year.  I won't get into their responses here but I would like to make some observations:  (1) he is new to the school,  (2) I (the only instructional coach and a rookie at that) am new to the school,  (3) the superintendent and a large percentage of his curriculum and instructional staff are new to the district, and (4)  there are a lot of new systems and technologies in place to work with curriculum.

    All of this newness has added to what would normally be a stressful part of any school year - the first 90 days.  The biggest "new" expectation would be in our cycle of instruction.  First we look at the core curriculum in 3-week bundles.  Next we look at what the district pacing guide says should be taught during those 3 weeks and we look at those standards that should be included in the 3 weeks.  Finally we select a few standards that are considered the most important and we label them our Power Standards. (See my earlier posts on this: here and here )

    After we select our power standards we lay out our 3 weeks with what standards will be addressed each day of the 3 weeks.  Next we plan a 10 question formative assessment that is given towards the end of the 3 weeks.  This is so the teachers will be able to see how our students have done on the power standards and to set up plans for any reteaching that will need to be accomplished during the week after the assessment.  Once the test is given our teachers are expected to analyze the data and write down a plan about reteaching skills that were not mastered.  They are also expected to discuss, with others in their subject area, the successes or failures that other teachers may have had so that instruction can be modified for success.

   This process repeats every 3 weeks.  This week was the week for re-teaching from the third cycle.  But it also is the point where they are planning the assessment for the fifth cycle.  Next week they will be giving the assessment for the fourth cycle.  At the end of the sixth cycle they will also have to give their semester exam - a summative assessment that coincides with the cycle assessment.  Oh, and by the way, our teachers also have to turn in lesson plans each Monday for the week.  This is definitely NOT like it was when I first started teaching in 1992!

   All of these data driven decisions are for one reason - to help our students learn.  It really is all about their success as learners.  Our teachers would not be working this hard if all they wanted to do was be good at teaching.  I know a lot of teachers who can give awesome lectures and tests that make you think.  But how many of them really know how much each of their students learned?  They can tell you how many A's, and B's they gave though.

    At our school we are all about how our students are learning (or not learning).  And, we are all about improving on successes and stopping failures during our process of analyzing results.   This, in a nutshell, is a LOT of work for our teachers.  It has also been a lot of work for our administrators and our lone instructional coach (me).  But we are banking on this being a very successful year - followed by another, even more, successful year next year.  We owe that to our students and we owe that to our future leaders.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Where Do I Find Project Ideas?

I'm just not a creative person.  I never had a big imagination.  I can never think of great ideas.  How do you come up with these project ideas?

I hear this all of the time from people new to PBL.  They really think that there will be a dearth of ideas and they will struggle when it comes to planning a PBL unit.  In fact, when you have standards that you are trying to plan from there will be ideas.

Standards are the key.  Until you have taught at least one school year with standards based PBL then I do not recommend creating a project followed by adding standards to it.  And, even then, the majority of your PBL units should be standards based.

There are several reasons I could list for this but the main two reasons are, first,  that by starting with the standards teachers guarantee that they have thought about the curriculum and, second, this is where the ideas are going to come from.

Teachers have been creating problems in mathematics, labs in science, writing themes in English, and the same type of things in every other course since we have had teachers.  The idea here is that teachers are good about taking standards and creating tasks for students to do in the classroom.  With PBL, teachers take that up a notch and they add an inquiry based atmosphere to the classroom.  That's really all it is to this stuff.

For example, I had to teach parallel lines with a transversal in geometry class.  I just happened to see an article about the rice business in South Texas and the canals that are used.  Suddenly I envisioned parallel canals with crossing canals.  So to take that to the next step I had the students design barges to carry rice through the canal system.  They got to be creative and design barges and these barges had to be able to turn a certain number of degrees so they could navigate from any canal to any other canal.

Another example: my co-teacher and I had seen where a teacher had created pieces of art with her algebra classes using basic algebraic functions.  We had to teach the idea of functions and suddenly we had a project where students had to take parent functions and create artwork.

In each of these examples there was a need to teach certain standards and the project idea came from that requirement.  Here is a post I wrote a year ago that talks about getting started.  It is one of a four part series on jumping into PBL for the new year.  Feel free to read that series if you are thinking about getting started in this process.   You can do it and, with the standards as your guide, you will have project ideas to work from.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

PBL Should Not be Done in A Vacuum

One of the most important skills students learn in PBL is collaboration.  It only follows that PBL teachers work best when they collaborate with their fellow teachers; with their friends; with their family; with social media friends; or with their students.

Each phase of the project planning works best with a partner.  For example, let's use the following list of project steps from the Buck Institute for Education:

   - Select your standards
   - Develop a Project Idea
   - Decide the scope of the project
   - Decide the 21st Century Skills to be taught/assessed  
   - Decide the Culminating Product

When you look at your standards that are coming up in your curriculum, what other subjects might have standards that are related?  If you are teaching Parent Functions, for example, maybe you could have your students create artwork from them and maybe one of your art teachers might have some standards related to that.  Or, maybe there is a school-wide art show that your students could enter their finished products.

Maybe your Science standards are related to alternative energy.  Can you enlist the help of your English  Language Arts teacher to help your students write editorials to your town's newspaper or to an alternative energy website?

Suppose you are planning to have your students create a "market" with your students buying and selling food using their Spanish (or other language) skills.  Do you have a culinary arts teacher to work with on this?  Or is there a farmer's market in town that you could actually set up a booth to make and sell foods from this country?  You could raise money for the Spanish Club or some charity organization.

The bottom line is don't do this alone.  Bounce ideas off of someone.  Brainstorm, as I tell my students, without any constraints.  Go wild with your ideas.  Then pull in the constraints that will affect every project: time, knowledge/skill level required, cost, and time.  Yes, time is an (the?) important constraint and can be the one key item that can kill an, otherwise, well thought out idea.  What are you waiting for?  Invite a friend to your local coffee shop and start brainstorming.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trials and Tribulations of a First Year Instructional Coach

I am about to start my third month as an instructional coach and I have got to take charge of my calendar.

Does that statement resonate with you?  Did you have a certain vision of what it meant to be a coach and now you're wondering if you were under the influence when you had those thoughts?

I will (attempt to) reflect, positively, on my first 9 weeks as the Instructional Coach (IC) for Decker Middle School.  There is nothing worse than reading a whiny, ranting, rambling, mess of a post by someone and you won't get that here (I hope).

So what has gone wrong and how could I have made the experience more favorable?  Let's start with new technology/programs.  As an IC I am expected to be able to help our teachers create common assessments and analyze the results so that our students can be successful learners.  In that sentence there are three components: Creating the test; Grading the test; and, Analyzing the data from the test.

This year we are using a new test creator.  We are creating the answer documents in a new system that helps collect the data.  We are using a new way of scanning the answer documents that puts the data into the system for analysis.  And, we are using the (new) system's data reports to help make decisions about where students were successful and where they have not demonstrated success.

All of this new stuff  is creating an increase in anxiety with our teachers - and with their IC.  I have not done a good job making this transition better and I have made the mistake of letting them see my frustrations.  I want to be a loud voice for our teachers.  I need to let those in decision making positions know how stressed our teachers are and that one thing that might help is the knowledge, and commitment, that we will NOT add another new required technology into the equation for next year.

Another area of frustration is our use of data driven decisions.  The process we are using is new to everyone and, again, this is adding to the frustration levels.   We are using a Power Standards Protocol to select standards that give us the biggest bang for the buck.  Then we create the test and analyze it and this analysis is spiralled into our next power standards protocol.  The tests are given after each unit and each unit is 3 weeks in length.

This cyclical process is, therefore, repeated every three weeks.  Pick the standards, make the test, analyze the results, reteach where needed, pick the standards, make the test, analyze the results, reteach where needed,...  And, at the end of every 9 weeks we set aside a day, we call Meeting of the Minds, where the teachers take the day to plan as much of the Power Standards Protocol, the tests, and any other formative assessments they can plan for the upcoming 9 weeks.

Although I have stayed on top of this,  I could have done a better job in keeping our teachers informed, a better job of visiting them and helping them with the process, and a better job of recognizing their frustrations.  If I had purposefully gone to the teachers I could have alleviated a lot of their anxieties.   I will do a better job with this as we progress.

So where do I go from here?  Calendars are a good thing.  I really should use them.  At least that's what I hear.  All new coaches should be be told this over and over again.  Mentors for coaches should help them set these up.  Then, administrators and coaches should get together and come to an agreement that both of their calendars will be sacred.  Or, at least, as sacred as is possible in this profession.  Let your teachers know when you are available for "a quick conversation." Let them know when you will be in their classrooms.

No matter what "new" things come your way, these times with your teachers are important.  They are important for your knowledge of how things are going within the school.  They are important for improving the instruction going on within the classroom walls.  And, they are most important for the success of your students.  When the coaches and administrators are on the same page as the teachers and when the teachers are using the latest and most affective strategies, then our students will be successful and that is why we are coaches.

My small change that will, hopefully, make a difference is being available and visible. And that will happen through the use of a dedicated (and shared) calendar.  To be honest this feels like a huge change for me.  But I will deal with it because it is just that important for my teachers.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Power Standards to Project Planning

At Decker Middle School we are using a Power Standards Protocol to choose those state standards that have the most bang for the buck.  Since we are in Texas we don't need no stinkin Common Core Standards, but you could do the same thing with those standards.

So, you've selected your power standards and you want to now do some project ideation.  What I would say is that you have already missed some of the best project idea brainstorming time - if you have completed the Power Standards Protocol and you haven't completed a project planning form while you were selecting the power standards.  Let me show you what I mean.

Let's say you are looking at selecting power standards for 6th grade English.  Here is the form we are using to select our power standards.  We look at what standards are to be covered during a set period (in this case 3 weeks).  We look at whether the standard is a Readiness or Supporting standard.  And then we look at how we have done on state standardized tests with these standards.

But the first and last conversations we have about those standards are a ranking of importance.  Here is where you have the chance to have those tough discussions.  Does the standard have endurance?  Does it have leverage.  How does it fit in the student's readiness for deeper learning?

Now look at this form, from the Buck Institute, for planning your projects.  Notice that there is a space for Content and Skills Standards to be addressed.  You should have this form right next to you as you are addressing the conversations about ranking.  When you are discussing endurance, leverage, and readiness you will, undoubtedly, talk about how you have presented and assessed each standard.  You should also have discussed how important it will be in future classes.

This is where I envision someone saying, "What if we do.......?"  POOF!  You have an idea of what you want to do for the next project.  And, you can start looking at the scaffolding based upon the other standards that need to be addressed during the project time frame.

The Project Planning Form is often forgotten when, ironically, you are planning for your subject area.  Take the time to have a planning form with you whenever you are discussing your content.  I would even say you should have one out as you are having discussions with other teachers about their content.   You might discover a cross-curricular project lying in the conversation.  That makes me think of a possible project, got to run......

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Problem Statements and Driving Questions, Oh My...

     This week I was able to overhear and then take part in (for a few moments) a discussion on Problem Statements and Driving Questions and what they look like at various levels of educational maturation.  I love my job and I love having smart PBL people like Chrysta, Claudia, and Ashley to talk with about such things.

     So how should we introduce a problem and then keep pushing our students toward a goal that ensures successful knowledge gain?  Here are a couple of videos that let you see teachers discussing their driving questions (notice that these are both at the high school level).

     Watch this entire video to see teachers discussing components of the driving question and subsequent questions that will need to be examined.

     I love this discussion of crafting a driving question.  This link starts in the middle of the discussion but there are some key points made here.

     When we are creating a driving question we want to know what our students should be learning and we need to think of questions that must be answered by our students as they demonstrate knowledge.  That is rather obvious.  But how much do we give to our students, up front, and how much do we expect our students to ask/answer by themselves.

     With upper elementary students and lower middle school students we will need to drive them to the questions they need to ask.  They may not know what they need to know to be successful.  As the students mature we will need to guide their questioning.  This is usually expressed as their Knows and Need to Knows.  We help them make a list of items they will need to learn.

     With our secondary students we may just need to facilitate their discussions of Knows and Need to Knows.  They should be able to brainstorm what will need to be learned during the project.  And so we are able to guide them to the driving question.  They create the question that will drive their learning.

     In more advanced (with PBL) classes we can even have our students create their problem statement.  The overarching problem can be tackled from many different directions and therefore the students will need to decide how they want to tackle it.  They create the problem and the ensuing driving questions.

     To sum up these thoughts, I would suggest students who are in their first year with PBL or those students who are at the elementary level will need to have a problem statement and driving question from the outset and generated by the teacher.   Middle school students or students with more than a year of PBL should be able to take a problem statement and create the driving question.  (Note: at this point groups may have different driving questions.  It will be up to the teacher to ensure they are heading in the right direction with their problem.)

     Finally, those students with years of PBL experience and a high enough maturity level, will be able to take a "problem" and create a problem statement and their driving question.  They should also be able to create sub-questions that will need to be answered for their group to successfully answer their driving question.  It is at this point that the teacher truly becomes a facilitator.

     Some might look at this as when the teacher's job is done.  However, this is when a teacher must be at his or her finest.  Teachers must guide the students with their learning which might mean a sudden need for a workshop on a topic, about which,  the teacher may only have cursory knowledge.  Then the teacher may have to do their own learning on the topic.  This is why many teachers describe their experience with pbl as "the most walking I've ever done - I never get to sit!"

    Whether you are providing the problem statement and driving question or you are facilitating as groups create their problem statement and driving question(s), you must be tuned in to every discussion and conversation happening in your pbl groups.  With advanced work on what you want the problem statement and driving question to be, you will be able to give your students a framework for rich conversations that will foster a deeper understanding of a topic.  And, hopefully, those students will be more capable in using the required skills that drive your curriculum.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Using A Power Standard Protocol

Many teachers get stuck at the project ideation stage when they consider using PBL in their classes.  What standards will they use?  How do they convert the standards to a step or concept in a project?  Should they come up with a project idea and then figure out what standards "fit" the project?  What do they do if they don't have a good imagination or they aren't creative?

Once a teacher has been "doing PBL" for a few years they will discover that they can choose whether to take standards and think of a project idea around those standards, or, take a project idea and fit standards into that idea.

Since I have immersed myself into looking at standards, in my new job as an instructional coach, I will base this post on going from the standards to the project idea.

Our district is currently using a Power Standards Protocol, as first mentioned in Larry Ainsworth's Power Standard's book.  If you use this process, along with your district's curriculum guides, you will be set up for creating projects that are fully standards based.

To use the protocol you first need to have your district curriculum for the year.  Many districts call this a Year at a Glance or YAG.  Within your YAG, or equivalent document, you will have standards that you will be expected to cover during set periods or within designated "Units."  If you're lucky your district will have given the units a theme or big idea.  Having a theme or idea will immediately translate to a project idea and you are already heading in the right direction.

But no matter how it is presented to you, there will be standards that are expected to be taught and here's where the Power Standards Protocol comes in.  Power standards are those standards that have endurance, leverage and/or readiness.  

Endurance standards are those standards that will be important for students throughout their academic life and beyond.   For example understanding whether a math answer is reasonable is a standard in many math courses and at many grades.  It is also important in life - when you get that car loan does the monthly bill seem reasonable?  That standard has endurance.

Leverage standards are those standards that will be important in multiple classes.  For example understanding how to read data in a graph is important in math, in social studies, in science and in many other courses.  That is a standard that has leverage.

Readiness standards are those standards that help build a foundation for success in the next course or grade.  For example basic arithmetic standards for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing are required to be successful in subsequent math classes.  This example is also a standard that has leverage and endurance.  So, some standards have all three requirements.  And, these are standards that are more powerful - hence power standards.

These days we also look at how standards effect the successful completion of state standardized tests. And so the ideas of endurance, leverage, and readiness must also be discussed in relation to these tests.  Results from the previous year for individual students or for specific grades can, and should, be added into the discussion of which standards are Power Standards.  If only 44% of your students got the correct answer for questions involving a certain standard and there were 8 questions from that standard on the latest test, then this standard might be a power standard.

So, look at the standards that you have to cover in your next unit.  It is a good idea to make an initial prioritization based upon your knowledge of your content and any other relevant factors.  Then look at the data from previous years as well as the leverage, endurance, and readiness qualities.  This will often change your initial prioritization.  Now you are ready for a final prioritization of the standards for that unit.  

It is important to understand that prioritizing the standards does not imply that you don't have to cover those standards that received the lowest priority.  Every standard will have to be taught and assessed.  But, those standards with  the highest priority will be your power standards and you will want to make sure that you plan to teach, assess, and reteach (if necessary) these standards.  And, you will want to have these standards as key components of your project.

One way to emphasize the power standards is to have them listed in your rubrics.  We like to use 4-column rubrics with the first column listing the standards to be covered in the project.  You may also want to have line items in the rubric that address these standards specifically.  If students know that they are required to master a certain standard or task then they are more willing to take them seriously.  Make sure they are aware of what standards they are expected to learn and they will take charge of their learning.

Data mining is now an expected skill in education.  And, I would say, this is one of the more important tasks teachers learn in their first few years in the classroom.  Through the process of finding the power standards teachers now know what key topics their students need to learn to be successful in the classroom and in the students' future classes.  Knowing their power standards can turn teachers into power educators.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Getting My Head Around Design Thinking

As someone who has been teaching "at the tip of the spear" for the last four years, in a PBL school that is considered innovative by conservative education standards, I know that telling people that I feel that I am still teaching in the past will make people shake their heads.

In 1992, I graduated with my MSEd from Old Dominion University's education curriculum department and during my time there we were teaching middle school teachers the value of putting students in cooperative groups and using manipulatives or hands on activities to help those students with different learning styles.

Yet, it wasn't until I came to a New Technology Network (NTN) school in 2008 that I finally had a school where you were expected to have students working in groups.  But those guys also had us teaching with this thing called Project Based Instruction.  And, even in the NTN our school was fairly unique because every teacher was expected to be teaching with PBL - even in PE/Health.

Fast forward to Educon 2012 and I am hanging around with some teachers who are teaching in School's of Choice.  Thinking about shifting our school to a school of choice hurt my head.  And after a few weeks I just decided that it was something that would have to be taken on by a much younger person with a higher brain capacity.

In between those two events (2008 and 2012) I had heard more and more about Design Thinking and Understanding by Design and Apple's Challenge Based Learning (which we had sent teachers to in Cupertino).  I saw differences between each of them but not enough to make me think that one might be better or worse for our students so I didn't spend much energy on this topic.

Then came this thought provoking post by Ewan McIntosh which brought me back to his TED Talk that I had seen quite a while ago.  And I started thinking.  And I responded on Ewan's post and he mentioned that the conversation was also going on at Justin Schwamm's Google+ page.  And I submitted some frustrations about trying to do this with our students, in our school district, with our state standardized tests.  Ewan responded with "Try any of the schools in Brisbane with whom we work who will match your criteria.  Or any of the 20 schools, elementary to high school, who more than meet it in Sydney.  Or Rosendale Primary School in London who might well "beat" your mix of teacher experience, testing requirements and student background.  Poverty in cash terms doesn't mean a poverty of ambition."  

Wow, I had been told what I have said to people for many years - the economic background of a student shouldn't limit their capacity to learn!  So, are we limiting our students' capacity to learn by only providing an education with PBL instead of Design Thinking?  The answer, I think, is yes.  What to do about it on the other hand is a whole different stone to turn.

Having seen the push back and fear in some of our veteran teachers' eyes when being told that we are shifting to PBL made me acutely aware of what the reaction would be if we attempted to shift to design thinking.  And, in my opinion, something as drastically different as that needs to have 100% teacher buy in.

So how do I proceed?  Well, to start, I have nearly 300 6th graders coming into our school in 4 days.  I have eight 6th grade teachers who I am asking to use PBL this year.  The teaching experience ranges from 0 to 15 years and six of them have been through PBL training.  I owe it to my teachers and our students to make sure this school year goes well.  Next year we will be adding the 7th grade teachers and I need successes so that the next group of teachers are able to feel as though they will be successful.

Design thinking is the future of collaborative grouping.  When I started on this education journey I fully believed that working collaboratively was the way our students needed to work in their schools. That hasn't changed.  And, as we move ahead with the educating of our children we need to make sure they are also thinking critically.  Are they using their imagination?  Are they asking themselves "What if...?"

As educators we need to loosen the reigns a little more and give our students more ownership of their learning.  They can and will succeed.  We just need to provide a safe learning environment and the spark that gets them motivated to explore all possibilities.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What if Education Were Like Golf?

Watching the PGA Championship  I started thinking about how we expect every student to be the best at everything.  If they aren't making "straight A's" then we, as parents and teachers, have let them down.  But what about golfers?  Do they get straight A's in every facet of their game?  Let's just look at the "Top 10" in the world -  Luke Donald, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar, and Justin Rose.

   Where do they stand in the rankings of 4 categories: Driving Distance, Driving Accuracy, Greens In Regulation, and Putting?  In other words teeing off, getting to the green, and then getting it into the cup.  Kind of like our students at school.  They may be great in their Spanish class but where do they sit in Math, English, Science, and Social Studies?

   In Driving Distance Bubba Watson is first but Tiger is 37th and Matt Kucher 107th!  Of course hitting it long doesn't help if you aren't in the fairway; let's look at Driving Accuracy.  Well Luke Donald is 18th, Justin Rose is 30th, and Bubba Watson is 127th.  Bubba can hit it a ton but he doesn't always get it in the fairway.

   OK, so you don't hit it long or you may not hit the fairway when you do hit it long.  The important thing is that you get to the green in as few swings as possible so that you can still get a par.  They assume 2 putts on every green so that means getting to the green in 2 shots less than the par for that hole and we call it Greens in Regulation.  Since there are 18 holes on a course the best you can do is get to all 18 holes in regulation.  Let's see how our stars do.

   As expected our guys do pretty well with this stat.  Bubba is #1 and Justin Rose is #2.  Poor Adam Scott is 43rd best at this statistic though.  So if he doesn't get to the green as well as the others he must be one heck of a putter.  Wrong.  Adam is 166th in total putting.  Yet, overall, he is 7th in the world.

   What if you had a student who was a whiz at math (top 10!) but was 73rd best of all of  your English students?  Would he stand out as an incredible student?  Or would you assume "he doesn't try" or you just can't "reach him."  And what if he were 25th in Science and 43rd in History?  Where would that have him in relation to his peers?  If there were less than 300 in his class then he might be outside of the top 10%.  That's because we rank our students much differently than we do our golfers.

   Golf rankings, usually, go by earnings.  Win a tournament with a big purse and you can do worse in a tournament with a small purse.  Then just add up all of that money, cumulatively, and see where you sit amongst your peers.  But in education we average their scores.  What would this do to our golfers if we had to take the four categories I chose and we averaged their rankings?

   Our new rankings, in order: Tiger (27th), Jason (48th), Matt & Justin (52nd), Luke (68th),  Webb (72nd), Bubba & Lee (75th),  Rory (77th), and Adam (91st).  So looking at their grades for these "key" statistics we find that they really are just middle of the pack kind of golfers.  What makes them so great then?  Well, on one or two weekends each year these guys can put it all together and beat everybody else at the game of golf.

    Are we willing to let our students have one or two great test grades during the school year and then let them just be average?  What if we took the time to recognize students who outdid their "average" grade each week?  What if we took the time to recognize students who are pretty darn good writers or artists or loved the unit on amoebas?  Would that take away from what we already do or could it spark a drive in one of our students to be the best at some aspect of "their game?"

    Take the time to get to know your students.  Be mindful of how they are doing academically and take the time to let them know when you notice they have done well in another class.  Ask the artistic ones to help you set up or decorate your room.  Ask that whiz in math to help you analyze your class statistics (without the names next to the grades of course).  Let them be the "best" at the part of school they are good at and they might just start working on the rest of their game.  And everything just might come together for that student on your Academic Championship (state standardized test) and they might just win.

Read more here: http://www.macon.com/2012/08/06/2125414/matthew-up-4-in-world-rankings.html#storylink=cpy

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Starting PBL at Decker Middle School

This year all of our 6th grade (core) teachers will be teaching with PBL and will be under the New Technology Network (NTN) umbrella.  In addition to teaching with PBL, the teachers will be grading with Learning Outcomes based upon "21st Century Skills."  The learning outcomes they will be using are Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication, Work Ethic, and Digital Citizenship.

To meet these expectation we had to recruit a group of teachers who were willing to take chances and get messy (as Ms. Frizzle would say).  Each of our teachers came from our district and over half of them came from our school.  But whenever you are introducing something as different as this you have to have buy-in from the teachers and that means everyone had to be willing to commit to the change.

As of this point there are two teams of teachers for nearly 270 students.  These 8 teachers are not only about to start teaching all of their classes with PBL but these teachers are committed to planning what the culture of this school will become and what steps we will take to become a New Tech school.

Some might say that having teachers teaching with PBL is all it takes for you to be a New Tech school.  But there is much more than that simple step.  The real key is building a school with a culture of Trust, Respect, and Responsibility(TRR).  Decker Middle School (DMS) has established itself as a school that is improving and a school that has set in place a sense of structure and discipline.  To try and create the TRR piece without this in place would be much more difficult with our demographics.  Our teachers must learn to set boundaries and then trust that the students will operate "freely" within these boundaries.

Giving more freedom to students can be a HUGE issue for some teachers.  If you have ever taught in a school where there are discipline and consistency issues then you know that it is really nice to have a structured, scheduled, consistent plan for discipline.  And some teachers worry that giving the students more freedom could lead to anarchy.  And the first step towards this anarchy (in their eyes) is working in groups.  We had to come to an agreement of what we could all agree upon as a schedule for successfully shifting to PBL.

Our list of "non-negotiables" had to include the fact that we would want at least one project during the first nine-weeks grading period.  Again, if you haven't taught with PBL, this may seem like a small requirement.  But we have the words "at least" in there.  A couple of our teachers will have their students in groups from day one and will end up with more than one PBL unit during this period.  But those who need to establish their classroom rules and regulations have the opportunity to slowly shift from rules and regulations for students in rows, to the same basic rules and regulations with students in collaborative groups.

Two weeks to go and our teachers have been working as a team.  They have agreed upon norms that we will follow when meeting.  They have created our learning outcomes and the weighting that goes with them for grading.  They have agreed to have a grade-level "project" during the first five days that will cover classroom rules and expectations as well as how to function in a group.  They have agreed to create one full-blown project from Entry Event to Presentation during the first 9-weeks grading period.

I look forward to writing on this blog about their trials and their successes as they go through the year.  I have ideas for them to try and I offer a shoulder to cry on if they fail.   We will be successful because we are already a team.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Getting Students to do Deeper Analysis

When I attended the New Tech Network's Annual Conference (NTAC12) I knew which facilitators I wanted to see.  One of the best in our network just happens to have been our school's NTN Coach for the previous 5 years - Kevin Gant.

Kevin is a great guy, a pleasure to work with, and a person who is capable of getting you to think.  As a matter of fact I have heard many people say something to the affect of "he made my brain hurt - and that's a good thing!"

I attended two of his sessions.  The first, A Framework for Supporting Deep Learning Instruction, introduced us to a model of deeper learning (see the image below).  The second session, Analyze This! How to Consistently Engage Students in Analysis built upon the earlier session.  And so, between these two sessions, he got us to examine the cyclical process of  thought:  Exploring, Analyzing, Applying, and Reflecting.  As can be seen by the diagram, this process is best realized when there is the anchor of Desire from the individual involved.      

From Kevin Gant, Nex+Gen 

The key first point he made with us is that PBL does a great job with the vertical components of this process.  Students get hooked through our Entry Events (the desire), and then they explore concepts and apply what they've learned to create their final product (Exploring the idea and Applying the idea).

Where we are often less successful is on the horizontal axis: Analyzing and Reflecting.  And so he spent time having us discuss and explore our own knowledge and experience with these two very important components.

So what are some ways we can help students do analysis and reflection better?  An important thing to note is that the only real difference between Analyzing and Reflecting (in this model) is the target of each of those.  With analyzing we are looking at the content and with reflection we are looking at self.  Therefore we can use similar, if not the same, activities with our students.

We came to four "levels" of analysis and these were used as a way to think about getting our students to do this process.  They are "Compare Stuff," " Compare to Criteria," "Find Patterns, " and "Extrapolate and Find Analogies."

So, to start, we need to have something for our students to compare.  As with the way math and science teachers prepare prior to working problems, do the analysis first to anticipate the student responses.  This will allow you to pose questions that get students discussing the matter.  Remember to challenge students about their analysis and have classroom norms in place.

Some common mistakes students will make in their discussions are Overgeneralizing, Making Claims Without Citing References, and Judging Without Considering a Different Perspective.  In anticipation of these  the teacher can ask that the reasoning come before the actual statement.  This may require teachers to have a good "poker face" so that the ideas aren't squashed before being presented though.

The beauty of a PBL classroom is that there are lots of opportunities to engage in deep analysis.  This can be done in Class Discussions, Group Discussions, Workshops, Journals, or as part of any written or oral assignment.

What is important is that teachers recognize that the average student is happy to do research.  But as Kevin points out about analysis, "this is execution-heavy....which is to say, a structured examination of ideas may not be something that students know how to do.  Exploration, students do on their own.  Analysis, maybe not.  A teacher should think carefully about how to structure conversations and activities that allow for careful examination of ideas."

Students will not want to dig deeper and do analysis to get a better understanding without intervention.  Purposefully planning and executing days of doing deeper analysis will pay dividends and just might encourage more of your students to become life-long learners.  Isn't that really our ultimate goal for all of our students?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New Tech Conference Grand Rapids 2012: A Survival Guide

     As we get ready to attend the annual New Tech Conference in Grand Rapids (NTAC 2012).   Here are some tips to get ready for the conference and some of my favorite things to do in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

     This is an update to my New Tech Conference Planning Guide (NTAC 2011)  including some thoughts from this year.  One thing to know is that although THAT Guide covers everything you can think of, the link in that post takes you to last year's sessions!  For this year's draft of the 2012 sessions click on this link.

     As I get ready I am wearing a new hat:  Instructional Coach for Decker Middle School in Manor Tx.  I'll be bringing 8 teachers who are new to New Tech and new to Grand Rapids.  And so I have created a Wall Wisher for them to let me (and the others) know what sessions they will attend and their one take away.  In addition to that I have a room set aside to meet each day to discuss what they saw and how we might include that in our school as we bring in on line.

     I have also selected some sessions that I think they shouldn't miss.  For example the math teachers need to attend anything with the idea of Problem Based Instruction (PrBL) and anything with Geoff Krall's name on it.  And, since our district is trying to improve literacy, anything with Alix Horton's name or the word literacy in the title is a must.  And finally, because he is always insightful,  anything with Kevin Gant's name on it is a must.  I made sure I included many more of my "must see" facilitators in my recommended sessions list but you can't go wrong with those three names.

     Please take time to read my post from last year (in the second paragraph and here) and, if nothing else, you must watch this video (with nearly 5 million views).  It was shot all around the conference center and it's just fun!

     I hope we get a chance to talk during the conference and make sure you do what we do as New Techies:  Work Hard, Learn Hard, Play Hard.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

That Left Out Feeling

     Ah, summer.  That time when teachers pack up their classrooms and move to the pool or the beach.  They are out there hiking, fly fishing, and sailing.  Isn't it great only working about 40 weeks of the year!  That's 12 weeks of kicking back and doing nothing.

     If only that were true.  Yes, there are some teachers who will take an elaborate (and well-deserved) vacation during the summer.  But most will find time to relax and reload with their immediate families.  They will do some much needed yard work or house repairs.  They will work on that one project that they've been meaning to do since last summer.  It really isn't that glamorous.  And, more and more, teachers are spending a huge part of their summer getting smarter.

     Many are taking graduate classes.  Many are taking part in conferences and professional development (PD).  Some of this training is required by their district.  And some are just teachers wanting to be the best they can be and recognizing that learning the latest techniques or being involved in conversations about the latest in educational topics will help them attain that goal.

     And, that's where this post is coming from - I'm envious of many of those educators who have been able to attend really great conferences or PD's and have shared what they have experienced on twitter (got to follow that hashtag!), on Google+ (gosh I wish they hadn't shared that with me - wish I were there too), or in a Blog Post (Wow!  They really brought that conference to life.  That must have been awesome!)

     Wouldn't it be great if airlines gave away "tickets to anywhere" for educators to use during the summer to attend these events?  All we would have to do is show our teacher ID and the attendance confirmation and "poof" we were on the next flight out.

     This summer's big sigh, for me, was ISTE12.  It seemed like everyone I know was there.  And, they were all romping around in my old stomping grounds - San Diego.   They were kayaking, visiting the zoo, and watching the sun set over the ocean.  And, most importantly, they were discussing the latest topics and learning from each other.  They now have shared experiences which make them seem closer sounding in their tweets.  They sound like old buddies on Google+.  Heck, as I see it, the entire future of education was decided by these few hundred people.  And all this was happening 1300 miles from my home.  It might as well have been happening on Pluto (and, as we know, that's not even a planet any more!)

     So, I will re-tweet their hash tags with a smile.  I will give them a + on a well written account of what they discussed at their silly conference.  And I will leave a pleasant comment on their very descriptive blog post; thanking them for telling us all about it and telling them how much I enjoyed the post.  Even though I want to tell them that I hate them!  What right do they have for traveling to places I can't afford to travel to?  Why do they have to enjoy themselves and then tell us about it?  

     Well, I'll show them!  I'll be there at EdcampDallas and I'll be there at TechForum Austin.  And then I'll save my pennies and I"ll head to Educon 2.5.  And, after that I'll be at TCEA 2013 and SXSWEdu 2013!  And finally, next summer, ISTE comes to San Antonio!  I'll be tweeting the heck out of those conferences.  They'll see!  Then we'll see who's envious.  Those guys will really feel left out of the loop.  I'll tell them about my speaker proposals, and my acceptance of the proposals , and my travel plans, and my parties that I accept invitations to, and my tweetups, and .......

      Hey, things are looking up already!  What a great summer....

Monday, July 2, 2012

You Want Me To Do What? Creating School Culture.


     Last week I sat down and took a serious look at what I need to do between now and the first day of school and I had to pause and shake my head (while saying "holy crap!")  It was one of those days.

     So, this transition thing - how hard can it be?  To answer that I took a look at an 8 day training plan I am putting together for the 6th grade teachers as they change from being regular classroom teachers to PBL teachers in our New Tech school.

     I decided that they needed to find out what it means to wear the label of New Tech (NT).  Anyone can become a teacher using PBL in their classroom.  There are 100's (1000's ?) of teachers in the United States who are trying out PBL or have been using PBL, successfully, in their classrooms for years.

      But what does the PBL look like in those classrooms?  How strong are the inquiry and the questioning?  How open-ended are the products being created?  And what is the school culture like for the school within which these classrooms reside?  In my opinion, it is this culture piece that is the biggest difference in schools with the NT label.

     If you are to be a NT school you must be willing to create a culture of Trust, Respect, and Responsibility.   And, you can't just give those three words lip service.  A bunch of posters in the hallways or the classrooms with what those three words mean doesn't mean they actually reside within your school culture.

     We will start building this culture with our teachers in Grand Rapids, MI as they attend the New Tech All schools Conference (NTAC12) during the week before we officially start the 8 day training.  The teachers will have assigned breakout sessions to attend and then share at the end of the day.  During the end-of-day get together we will be discussing and creating our meeting norms.  And, we will be establishing our School-wide Learning Outcomes (SWLO's).

     These teachers will never have used learning outcomes to grade student work.   When schools attend the New Schools Training with NT they spend hours upon hours establishing their learning outcomes complete with written definitions and rubrics of how they will be assessed.  Our teachers will not have had that benefit and so I will have to facilitate this conversation.

      To make life easier for them I intend to put the learning outcomes used by our district, in its Strategic Plan, on the table as a starting point.  They are: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Digital Citizenship, and Work Ethic.  Our teachers will have at least a cursory vision of what each of these look like and this will be easier for them as they make these outcomes our own learning outcomes.

     At the end of our discussion each night it will be time to bond.  Too often we forget to take the time to get to know each other.  Gone are the days where teachers lived in their little classroom never to mingle with the other teachers.  And so, for us, that may mean sitting together for dinner, it may be having a drink together, it may be doing some of the fun night-time rituals NT schools do in Grand Rapids like the Piano Bar Sing-a-long.  The most important thing is creating memories, outside of work, that will stay with us as we tackle the more difficult issues during the following weeks and months.

     Then, with this week of getting to know each other behind us, we will really be able to tackle culture during our 8 days of training.  Here is a brainstorming list of what I will have for them to work on:

          a. Specific ideas for Culture –  (Something every day)
  1.  Use a PBL approach to this with an Entry Event and agenda within ECHO  (a Moodle-like platform used by the NT schools) so they are seeing how to use a project briefcase.
  2.  We will use team building activities each morning and after lunch each day.
  3.  We need to set the Norms and the decision making process.
  4.  We need to discuss the Learning Outcomes, define them, and create a rubric for each.  We will use the 5 mentioned in the district strategic plan:  Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Digital Citizenship, and Work Ethic for our first year.
  5.  We need to weight the Learning Outcomes – Content 40 – 60% with the others adding up to 100%.
  6.  We need to discuss a 6th Grade Orientation.  Do we want to use MNTHS (Manor New Tech High School) students who graduated from our middle school?
  7.  We need to discuss how we will conduct Classroom Observations and what we will do during late start Mondays (our district has late start Mondays for PD).
  8. Have a "Day of Celebration" when we get to the end of the first 9-weeks (or other significant date).

          b. Specific ideas for PBL – (2nd week only?)
    1. Teachers will plan their first project.
    2. Teachers will plan a 2-week culture project (for the whole school to create the culture).
    3. We need to have a literacy component to the project briefcase.
    4. Have a critical friends day, in the middle of the second week of training, to see what they have planned for their first project. 
          c. Specific ideas for ECHO – (Something every day)
  1. Who will be the ECHO liaison? 
  2.  We will create a standard project briefcase that every teacher will use for the first two 9-weeks grading period (minimum)
  3.  We need to create a School Resource Library in ECHO
  4.  We need to have a Low Tech version of the Project Briefcase.  This could be a “White Binder” for each student with pre-set tabs where each of the sections will be electronically. 
  5.  We need to show them what is available in the NTN Resource Library also in ECHO.

     The culture we create will need to be refined and worked on throughout the school year and beyond.  Culture is not something you create and then "it's done!"   This up-front time without distractions will pay dividends as we move through the school year.  Wish us luck.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

NST12 Wrap UP

     Whenever you can attend a conference or training and feel exhausted ( not from drinking too much but ) from thinking too much then you have gotten your monies worth.  An obvious conference for me is Educon where you spend the day discussing educational topics.  The problem is that these conversations can go from 7 AM to 2 AM the next morning!

     But this time I am talking about the New Tech Network's New Schools Training (NST12 ) and its sister conference NewTech Annual Conference (NTAC12).  This past week was NST12 which is where school districts, who are about to open New Tech schools, send their teachers and administrators for training on what it means to be a New Tech school.

     I attended as a District Trainer who will be helping a school as it becomes a New Tech Network (NTN) affiliated school.  We will be converting an existing middle school (Decker Middle School) by converting the 6th grade this year and by adding additional grades in the ensuing years.  I was not able to bring the teachers or any of the district staff with me but we will be bringing them to NTAC12 next month.

     When people hear about New Tech schools they immediately think of Project Based Learning (PBL) and therefore a significant part of the week is based around PBL.  Teachers plan their first PBL project during this week and the staff (teachers included) plan their school as they experience PBL as facilitated by NTN trainers and staff.  That is one of the most powerful parts of this week.  Not only are teachers who are new to PBL learning the framework of PBL but they are living the framework of PBL.

     But NTN schools have something else besides PBL that makes them different.  The underlying (actually much more overt than that) theme was the importance of building school culture.  The culture of NTN schools is based upon Trust, Respect, and Responsibility.  These concepts, individually as well as together, must be examined, defined, and put into the mindset of everyone's daily habits.

     As we work as a staff we must trust each other to do the right thing.   We must respect each other, the school culture, and ourselves.  And, we must take on responsibilities that other teachers never have, as we flatten the leadership.   When we work with students we must trust that the majority of students are going to do the right thing.  We must respect them, the school culture (yes I said that again), and we must teach them to respect the school culture and themselves.  Finally, as we trust and respect our students we must be willing to give them additional responsibilities.  At the same time we must encourage the students to take on more responsibility for their learning.
     All of this requires individuals and school teams to do something that we often say and hear while being at a NTN school - take a leap of faith.  Some will joke that you must drink the cool-ade.  Others will say trust the process.   But what we all are referring to is the change in mindset that an educator must endure as they start on this adventure.  And change is hard and can be painful for some.  That is why the leadership trainers spent so much time examining change - the change we are going through and the change we must be willing to experience as we create a successful NTN school.

    The most remarkable thing about this training is the daily reflections of the facilitators.  Obviously they ask each of us to reflect each day on what we have learned and experienced.  But then they get together and reflect on what they have seen and heard from their students.  They, then, tweak the next day's plan based upon the needs of the students.  How often have you been to a training where the facilitators take the time to adjust their plan based upon your needs?  Never, I would venture.  And, this models what they want from us - to become reflective teachers who are not afraid to change where things are heading based upon the needs of the students.

    And so from the 1st year teacher about to teach her first class to the seasoned veteran administrator who taught for 25 years before getting into administration, everyone at this training is a rookie.  They are rookies in teaching with PBL in a school with flattened leadership and a culture of trust, respect, and responsibility.  They are experiencing change and they are being told that this change will be worth it.  Those who survive the week will be changed.

     Some will go to their school, will feel the struggles, and will ultimately choose to go back to a traditional school.  The pain of change, for them, will be too much to bear. But nearly all of those teachers who complete this week will work through the pain.  They will do this because of their NTN coach, their fellow teachers, and their internal desire to make this change for the good of their students.  Because, ultimately, meaningful change is what we need in education if we want our students to succeed and be change agents for the world around them.