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.