Sunday, March 30, 2014
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Five years and almost 200 posts later and I still only have a handful of regular readers. You know what? That's ok. I'm not in it for the money. I don't plan my post titles to maximize SEO. I don't spend time on the captions under my images to get google juice. And, I don't link bait.
Actually, that last paragraph should place some great bait, boosting my juice, and maximizing the SEO. This post could be worth BIG bucks!
I write for me. I reflect on things I have done. I think about things I would like to do. And I write about things that are happening in the real education world. In the first year, for example, I wrote about Twitter safety, co-teaching a class, and assessment in a PBI environment.
Looking through my second year (2010) I can tell that I was going through a transition time in life. I went from teaching math to teaching engineering classes. It was also a transition time in our state and district with budget issues causing all kinds of job eliminations. The beauty of having a blog over a long period is that you notice how these life changes affect you. I didn't write many posts in 2010 and none were that good. But one post did get some good traffic. It was a link-post to steer my summer reading.
When you write a lot of posts over a long period of time, not all posts end up being profound. That's something new bloggers need to realize. We can't be writing Pulitzer-Prize-winning posts every time we sit down at the computer. Some posts, however, end up getting legs. My most opened post (from April, 2013) - "What Should a PBL Classroom Look Like?" - has been opened nearly 1000 times! I say "opened" because the stats we get can't state whether the post was actually read.
My next two "hot" posts were both in the three hundreds with numbers of time opened. One was in 2011; my third year. These posts "PBL Should Not Be Done in a Vacuum" and " Four Posts to Get You Ready For the PBL New Year," are posts I am pretty proud of writing.
My stats also show that the posts have been opened nearly 40,000 times! If you divide that amongst, roughly, 200 posts, then I can expect around 200 openings of each post. But looking closer you'll see that about 3000 of the openings were in France and Russia. Blog post scraping is a real thing and can really pad your stats. That's why, when you look at my last 9 posts, you'll see anywhere from 15 to over 200 times that each one has been opened.
Enough on the statistics from my blog - sorry, I'm a math guy and it's interesting to me.
I am a reflective person. I am a reflective teacher. Writing blog posts can help you be more reflective. To perfect our craft we need to be able to critically analyze our work. I really believe that all teachers should take time to reflect. Whether this reflection is kept in written form (a blog or a "diary") or orally (a podcast or recorded memo) doesn't matter. I chose to record my thoughts in this manner - it works for me.
Thinking about a blog? Check out Edublogs (I LOVE these guys. I have an account and would shift over but I haven't had time to figure out how to set up a landing page to connect the two.), Blogger (where I have this blog), or Wordpress (the gold-standard of blogging platforms). There are many, many more platforms out there but these are the ones I think of first. Ask your friends for recommendations. It seems everyone knows someone blogging.
Finally. You are reading a post. I wrote this post. You did not just read a blog and I didn't write a blog. The blog is the platform where all of my posts are kept. When you write about this on Twitter, say "Read a great post today." Or, you could say, "@cfanch has a great blog. Read this post today." I just want you to sound like you know what you're talking about. And thank you for reading this post today. This is one of my first posts of my 6th year of blogging. It feels good - come join me.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Sunday, March 23, 2014
Sunday, March 16, 2014
As pbl (project based learning) becomes the "cool" thing to do in education, I see more and more references to "great projects," and "awesome student presentations," in #pblchat. But are these projects really pbl? Do they meet the 8 "Essential Elements of PBL" that most practitioners require in their projects? Sometimes the answer is yes. But more and more the answer is no.
I do see a lot of projects with evidence of student-led deeper learning. But I also see cute project presentations that make me wonder if there was any learning going on during the course of the project.
Twitter isn't the only place this is happening. At the last 2 edcamps I attended there were several people talking about the great things they were doing in their classrooms with pbl. At ISTE, last Summer, and at TCEA last month, there were people talking about the great things they were doing in their classrooms with pbl. At SXSWedu there were not many sessions with pbl in the title but the term was used by presenters in many sessions that I attended.
It seems that everyone gets excited about doing pbl and a lot of people want to share what they are doing in their classrooms. All I ask is that we hold these people to high standards. If they are just doing projects and NOT doing pbl, then they need to hear that from people who know a thing or two about the process - because it is a process.
The other side of this argument are the independent schools and schools that have unique circumstances that allow teachers and students to have access to community members and academicians who create opportunities for exceptional projects. I worry that too many of the "regular" teachers in small town America will say that they could "never do that in our town." These projects and their products not only meet all of the 8 Essential Elements but their student "voice and choice," is seen as being something "my students" would never be able to obtain.
If you are in this last category, all I can say is get over it! You have to make connections in YOUR community. There are people out there who would love to be part of your students' learning experience. Take the time, now, for next year making connections. Start right now and look back at projects you have done this year. Where could you have given your students more choice in how they attacked the driving question? What projects didn't start with enough student inquiry? How might you change that for next time.
Most importantly, what project wasn't a PBL project at all? Look at each of your projects and examine them next to the 8 elements:
- Did you have enough (or too much) content?
- (and 3) Did you have a great driving question, and, did it create enough need to knows?
- What voice and choice did you give your students?
- Did you teach and assess 21st century skills?
- Did you give your students a chance to be innovative?
- Did you allow for revision and reflection?
- Were the products shown/demonstrated to a public audience?
There are so many places in a project for improvements. That is where the "real" pbl teacher and the teacher who assigns projects diverge. PBL teachers are rarely 100% happy at the end of the project. There are multiple places where improvement can happen. February and March are the perfect time to take a reflective look at the year and see where changes can happen for next year.
Take an honest look at all of your projects. Do they meet the eye-test? Look at projects you may still plan on doing this Spring. Do they meet the eye-test? Why not pick a project you have planned for this Spring and tweak it a little.
Sit down with friends and/or co-teachers and see if you can improve the driving question. See if you might have a connection in your town that could be a natural for the information yours students are expected to learn in this project. Select a 21st century skill and break it down to skills you want to have your students learn. Then assess those students on the skills.
What part of project management could you improve? Ask your students? They know what works and what really sucks. Have them design a better group contract for next year. Have them design your classroom for better collaboration. Have them design a project that helps them review for the final exam or for that state test. Do something. Change something. But when you change something, take time to determine whether the change was constructive or destructive and then change it again.
I want to hear all about your successful project in the twitter stream with the hashtag #pblchat. But when you do, don't be surprised if one of us asks a tough question. We want to know if it really meets the eye-test. And, sometimes, that is hard to do in 140 characters.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
I am careful with what I say. It seems like I have ALWAYS been careful with what I say. I know there are people who can relate times when I have said some outrageous things - but I usually am aware of my surroundings so I can minimize the damage.
I spent 20 years in the military and as a military officer you are always representing the military. You have to be careful with the things you discuss with others. There's the obvious Secret and Top Secret things you see and talk about, at work, on a daily basis. But there are the other things that "a good officer" never talks about in public. That is if he or she wants to be promoted.
I can remember, in the early 80's, when a friend and I were both getting our Top Secret clearances. I still joke about my first question being about my drinking habits. I answered with a severe hangover and a blood alcohol level that would have been close to being legally drunk. But when my friend went in for his interview, they had a picture of him at a rally in Boston as a college student. Where had they gotten that picture and how had they picked him out of the crowd? Creepy stuff but it got me to thinking that I needed to keep my nose clean and my lips tight.
When I turned to education I didn't realize that I was entering a profession that was equally as limiting, as far as being able to speak my mind. In my second year I said the word "damn" in first period and by the end of the day my principal had called me in because he had been called by the Superintendent and 2 school board members because there was a teacher using profanity in the classroom. Even in my latest school district I was told, in teacher orientation, not to drink alcohol or be seen with alcohol in the town limits.
I have been on Twitter over 6 years. I have had a blog for 4 years. I used to be on Facebook (quit that space because too many people are NOT careful with what they say, ironically). Before I hit "send" or "submit" or "tweet" or any of the other things that send my thoughts into the ether, I pause. I re-read every word. I check for spelling. I check for typos. And, I check for how it will be taken by others as they read it.
As I am going through this post I am carefully determining whether I might offend someone by my words. And, if I do, will that person find reason to get me fired from my job because of what I have said. Some may say this is paranoia. But, losing my job is the biggest fear I have in life (other than dying and not being able to provide for my family - but, then again, I do have pretty good insurance), and I take the possibility of someone taking issue with my writings seriously.
I joined the Navy after college and shifted to the Naval Reserve when I shifted to education. I have always worked and I have never been fired from my job. From 1994 to 2006 I moved every 2 to 3 years and I had to find a new teaching position each time. I never worried about finding another job because I was a male, with military experience, and I taught math. I never had to check any of those boxes about having been terminated from employment.
It may be surprising to some that I feel like such a wimp. I really do have opinions that I would love to put out there. But my fear of losing "everything" keeps me from expressing them. I have great admiration for people in the education world who really tell it like it is - even if I disagree with them. I mean they are willing to say what they believe. How do they do that? Do they worry about being fired for saying such things?
At 56 I'll never change my wimpiness. I'm hoping that I get more bold with my writings but I worry about who I represent - my school, my school district, the New Tech Network (NTN), the Buck Institute for Education (BIE.org). [NOTE: When I wrote that last line I never included myself. I write for me, but it is a very limited me. ]
5 years from now I will be retired from teaching. I will have a military pension. Then, maybe, I can unshackle myself from my imagined (real?) restraints and start writing what I'm really thinking and feeling. Just 5 more years. Until then, I'll keep those thoughts to myself.
Monday, March 10, 2014
What I enjoy most is reflecting on my practice and pursuing better ways to perfect instruction in the classroom.
During the last 6 years I have tried to figure out how to best teach mathematics in a PBL environment. As a practitioner I tried differing ways of providing inquiry while including repeated practice. Then I was introduced to problem based instruction where the depth of inquiry was constrained so that the time frame could be reduced from the normal project length. This worked better in math, for me, and yet I have seen teachers who were still able to keep the longer project settings.
In recent years I have been working as an instructional coach and I have started working for the Buck Institute for Education, BIE. Through these I have been able to offer ideas to many math teachers and I have listened to their concerns. The common thread between these teachers is the difficulty of following the guidelines for project based instruction while dealing with students who have math skills that are as many as 5 years lower than the class they are sitting in. This is true whether they were teaching in California or Maine.
In Texas we now have state exams that are "more rigorous" (gag me - hate that word, rigor) and with the common core (CCSS) standards you are expected to think logically and to demonstrate concepts. No longer do we just show basic mathematical manipulation of numbers. We expect that students will read a scenario and then apply mathematics to reach a conclusion about a numerical relationship.
Teachers keep asking me to give them good examples of problems with the "proper rigor" (there's that word again). My answer is that all you have to do is look at any, yes ANY, math problem in any math book and take the root problem and embellish it. The following is an example from a Glencoe Pre-Algebra book. I took it from the 5th chapter and it is question 5 from the chapter test: "Trish bought a CD player for $37.58. The price she paid included a discount of $6.63. How much did the CD player cost before the discount?"
Now let's make it better and bring it up to 2014: "Trish wanted to buy a used iPhone at Best Buy and had saved $50 to buy it. She searched online for savings coupons and found 3 that said they were the "best buy at Best Buy." The first was for $6.63 off of any used phone marked $40 or less. The second was for 15% off of any used phone costing more than $30. And the last was for "any phone in stock" and was for 12.5% off of the list price. Which coupon should she use so that she spends less than her $50. Explain to her why she should choose that one. Also assume there is a 6% sales tax in this state that will be applied to the final cost."
In this problem students still need to look at percent increase and percent decrease, which was the main skill being tested in problem 5. But now they have to do some thinking. And, if you let them work in pairs they can have discussions about which is the best answer. That took me about 10 minutes to get it into the post. I looked at problems on the Glencoe website, picked the problem, and then I upgraded it.
What if you did that with one problem every day? What if every summative assessment had problems like that and your students could work in pairs to get the right answer - but each person had to write the correct answer and the reasoning of why it is correct? Need another example? Here you go...
"You are carpeting a rectangular room that is 3.5 yards by 4.5 yards. The carpet costs $15 per square yard. How much will it cost to carpet the room?" This is from Big Ideas Math. Now let's make it better.
"Mr. Smith wants to put carpet down inside of the doors that lead out to the playground so students can wipe their feet when they come in. He wants the area covered to be rectangular and be as wide as the doorway but extend at least 3 yards into the room. Explore 3 stores for prices of carpet and determine how much it will cost to buy the needed carpet. If you can not measure the width of the doorway assume that it is exactly 2.5 yards wide. Be ready to explain to Mr. Smith which store has the best price and why it is the best price"
It's time to take back your classrooms. Give your students opportunities to work together and analyze situations. The infamous "they" want your students working on rigorous math problems. You have math problems all over the place! Use them, improve them, and then let your students get to work on them. It's not rocket science - but with the right guidance your students might just become rocket scientists.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
The first post I read was from Stephanie Sandifer, entitled #SXSWedu 2014 Brain Dump . She and I spent a lot of time together so most of what she wrote, she and I had already discussed. But the call to arms line in there was "if you think there is a lack of teacher representation"...(then)..."organize and submit your own proposals..."
Next up was a post from Stephanie Cerda (yes, it seems I know a lot of women named Stephanie), "Hacking #SXSWedu." Her call to action was more direct since the post was primarily about taking control of the conference. As she said, "Take it as a call to action, and help to make a difference in subsequent years." I"m ready! Where do I sign up? Well she has an answer for that. She's already started a spreadsheet for SXSWedu 2015 that you can take part in.
A large presence in @ms_cerda's post was someone who became a large presence in my SXSW life. That would be Lindsey Own. She also wrote an excellent post with a call to action. Her post, "Myths, Reality and Relationship-Building in the Edtech Community at #SXSWedu" gives some ideas, as the title states, on building relationships between the Edtech entrepreneur and educators. It's a must read as you start planning on how you will put together your plan for SXSWedu 2015.
You ARE going to SXSWedu 2015, aren't you? Find other posts on SXSWedu 2014. Sign into the spreadsheet for next year and offer an idea or offer to be on a panel. Then stay tuned for information on submitting panel proposals followed by the all-important panel picker season when you get to pick panels that you want to hear. We need you. And if you are like me all this thinking about next year will be hurting your brain - and that IS a good thing!
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Four years ago, like a tween, SXSWedu wasn't sure what or who it was. At times it wanted to play with it's big brother SXSWi and at other times it demonstrated that it had no clue what it wanted to be when it grew up.
This year we can see the refinement in its style. It is starting to get its own character. Yet it is still treated like a junior statesman by its much senior SXSW brethren. Wouldn't it be cool if it were included on the "official" posters (see image at top)?
So what was it like this year? The first thing that comes to mind is that there were a lot of people who I knew were here, but I rarely saw them because they were is sessions. For example, I saw one of my friends three times - while I was transiting on escalators. She was in one or two of the sessions I attended but only realized that from her tweets. Were we avoiding each other? No, we just both had options - definitely a first for this conference.
There still weren't enough K-12 educators here, though. Why? Well, this is a terrible week for teachers in Texas because it comes right before Spring Break. Schools won't let teachers take off and teachers don't want to take the vacation days when they have vacation time coming up. For those outside of Texas, the conference is fairly expensive because of the cost of lodging and flights. Teachers and school districts have to be careful with their finances.
That isn't as true for education-related businesses and academia. There were plenty of these folks in attendance, yet it didn't feel as vendor-heavy as it did in 2012 or 2013. There really was a nice blend of topics for both educators and entrepreneurs. And many of the panels had a mix of education people and business people on them.
I think SXSWedu is now a conference worth promoting in the education world. Prior to this many (most) of those I had talked with were hesitant in recommending the conference to their peers. I fully intend to promote the heck out of this conference when proposal time arrives. I am hoping that we can move to a situation where greater than 50% of the attendees are from the K-12 arena. Or, worse case, greater than 70% are K-12 or higher ed.
I saw a lot of friends at this conference. The parties at night were fun and were great for networking. And I learned a lot in the sessions I attended. SXSWedu is an education conference. You are able to mingle with other like-minded educators and you can exchange ideas with education entrepreneurs (or edupreneurs).
If you came during the first three years and you hated it. I can relate. But now, after year four, it is time for you to come back. If, on the other hand, you hadn't thought about attending this conference, then 2015 might just be the year. First step? Listen up for announcements about submitting proposals - we need you here.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
As I said in part one of this post, I have found many sessions that I want to attend and I have found myself wanting to leave school and get over to the convention center as soon as possible each day because there really is a lot of stuff to learn. And I've tried to keep my guilt low - but it's getting harder to even feel guilty because I'm learning so much.
So here goes my Wednesday: As I start my day I will orient the day around making the "An Ecosystem Model to Scale Education Innovation" session. The title might be scary but the panelists are people I want to hear from. That starts at noon so I'll need to work in things prior and that will depend upon when I actually get here.
If I get here by 10:30 I'll be going to one of three sessions. The one that sounds the most entertaining will be "Startups Should Talk With Researchers and Educators" with the self described trouble maker Audrey Watters. Then there is "Education Equality: Is Common Core Enough?" and "ConnectED: The Future of Learning."
After the noon session I'll be hitting one or two sessions before I see Wendy Davis, who is speaking on "Great Schools: A Vision for the Future." Possibilities include "Teacher Level UP! Gamification of PD" and "Reverse Engineering to Teach Design in High School."
Thursday is the last day, so I'm not sure what I'll get to see but some things I'm hoping for include: "Making BYOD Work For Not Against You!," " Blurred Lines: Seamless Competency Across Grades," and " Competency-Based Learning: Lessons From the Field."
At Noon I'll be heading to see Jeffrey Tambor at the closing keynote: "Performing Your Life in The Classroom," and then there's the closing BBQ.
I look forward to writing my reflection post this weekend. It will take me a few days to wrap my head around all of the great things I've seen and learned.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
The first thing I noticed (about myself) is that I am planning times each day that I want to make sure I am there for and I want to attend lots of sessions. I am not able to take entire days at the conference without taking vacation days but I'll try to maximize my time.
I will still be going to school every day before heading into SXSWEdu. But I'll be getting there as early as possible. I told everyone that I will not be at school in the afternoons and I won't be back for after school meetings or helping students - not like previous years. Nope, I'm going to be in Austin every day and I'm going to stay there until I'm ready to go home. Goal number one will be to minimize feelings of guilt for not being at work. That's an impossible task - but I hope to be as guilt free as possible.
As I looked over the schedule I decided to look for specific people first. Then I went through and looked at the Session Themes. Themes that struck a cord included "Achievement Gaps and Educational Equality," Cognitive Process and Design Thinking," "DIY, Maker and Hacker," and "Gaming & Virtual Learning." Using this process I ended up selecting 52 sessions. During some time slots, I had as many as 5 sessions at the same time! A nice problem to have.
I can remember the first year of SXSW, there were only about 5 sessions that weren't during the time I was presenting that interested me. That's another nice thing about this year - I'm not presenting so I can see whatever I want. I also consulted EdSurge and their SXSWEdu Cheat Sheet. The main thing I found out on their site was that I was too late for signing up for their get-together on Monday night! Definitely blew it with getting signed up for social events at night. Next year, sigh....
Monday afternoon I'm focusing on Design Thinking. I've chosen to see either "Liminal Learning: Challenged-Based Design-Driven" or "In the Trenches With K-12 Design Thinking," which are next door to each other and at the same time, unfortunately. Then I'll end the afternoon with "Getting Students Out of The Box to Redesign It."
Tuesday morning I'll be hitting sessions on gaming, cognitive processes, and closing the achievement gap. First up: "Small Town HOMAGO:Build, Make, Do, Play" which is opposite my friend Carl Hooker and his Zombies, unfortunately. It's a short session so I may have time to get over and play with the zombies. It is also in Salon C which is featuring short sessions throughout so I may just stay and see "Does Engagement Really Matter." Either way I'll just hang out, mess around, and geek out.
Tuesday afternoon I'll start with 2 hours of "Probing Needs and Prototyping Solutions: DT4EdTech ." It is opposite another design thinking session that has a summary that is incoherent - not sure how it made it through the panel picker! The folks on the "probing needs" panel can tell me what they are going to talk about and I know one of them.
At 1:30 I am really torn. There's "Saving America's Black Boys"and "Failing to Learn: Building Resilient Mindsets." Both resonate with me and so it will probably come down to which one has a seat for me. But I'll end the day with "Playful Calculation = Design Creativity."
Tuesday night I'll be attending the Advisory Board Mixer - one of the perks to being on the advisory board. I know I'll be exhausted heading home that night but there's still Wednesday and Thursday to go. More about that in part two.