Monday, October 29, 2012

Curriculum Mapping

So we had in-service this past week and used the time to work on curriculum mapping.  Working on a plan to teach the Common Core Standards (CCSS) through out our K-12 building. Aligning what we are teaching/how we teach to the new national standards.  It seems like time well spent because we finally found some software that allows a teacher to not only plan by unit and topic but also includes the ability to have learning targets (the daily "stuff" of teaching).

Thus curriculum mapping goes from an overall tool to a daily tool, so as I work on lessons I can build them there in the software (BYOC, is the software).  I can store links, sheets, ideas all to a Learning topic (versus a unit).  This then becomes a way for me to create plans that work by learning goals.  I am excited because curriculum mapping at unit and topic level just becomes a way to say you checked against standards, the previous program we used did just unit and topic and I rarely looked at it.  I was always too busy making lessons.  Now I can make those lessons in the curriculum mapping software and then that can be looked at and refined the next year.  These learning topics (the daily lessons) are tied to unit and topic with standards and makes me really focus on the standards.  Tie that standard focus to the new mathematical practices and there is a framework to really become proficient at CCSS.  My hope is to finally have a place to do continuous improvement on a lesson!

This hopefully will be the tool I use to tie daily teaching to lessons.  My goal is to quickly rough in the topics/units into the software so I can really work on learning targets.  Then I can decide the best way to teach concepts for understanding & high level thinking.

Is this "pie-in-the-sky?"  Maybe...  But at least the software has a way to look at it and have it be useful on daily basis....   Because the only way to get better is one lesson at a time....

Friday, October 26, 2012

Teacher Evaluation

Right now there is talk about how to evaluate teachers, about creating systems because "bad" teachers are a theoretical problem.  So we need a system - that is ok, prior to teaching I was judged by performance and I don't have a problem with it -- except our real product is not seen for about 5 years following HS!  But let me reiterate I have no problem with being evaluated and no problem using student results.

In business it was simply profit, did I do my job so we made money.  The problem I have with our educational system is we use age to determine whether a student it meeting expectations (a sophomore should "blank"')  - every student is different and thus every goal should be different.  I have sophomores who find the testing a joke because it is so easy and others who are taking Pre-Algebra and are not ready for the tests.  Then to top it off the students have no reason to perform well, a student can just answer whatever and there is no recourse (take it from me -- I have seen students just answer B the whole way on the entire test...).

But we need to evaluate!  We need to measure and we need to make continuous improvement!  So we need to work hard at data and expectations.  How do we know we are getting good data is a tough one!  And as a math teacher how do I know that the person evaluating me even understands what I am teaching?  These are the type of things running through my head after listening to a presentation about the new teacher evaluation system being implemented here in Wisconsin.  I believe in pre and post testing every year, I think we need to make sure that students move forward every single day.  And the research about poor teachers does require us to make sure they are not a permanent fixture in the school.  But is this rating system really going to get rid of the poor teachers, should it be the evaluation system's "'job."

The thing about "bad" teachers is we already know who they are -- the real problem is administration.  Prior to teaching I worked union and non-union shops --- and when I had a "bad" employee the only difference was I needed to do "special" forms in the union setting to get rid of "bad" employees.  I formed a plan and the "bad" employee either improved or was gone.  In either setting, union or non-union they got "canned."   In education administrators are typically pussies (excuse the language, but it is true).  They complain about the union but really they just don't want to do their job and be the bad guy.  They don't do the observations, don't write the plans and don't do the firing.  And with the standard 2 year probation period that teachers have about 3/4 of "bad" teacher problems should not happen, but again the typical administrator just gives too many chances.  They need to "student-up" and do their job....

So I do not fear for myself or my school.  I feel I will do well and our school's scores are "good."  But I also realize that  government will pick the rules and they do not know or understand the needs of schools; there will be a ton of forms, tests, etc and that will take away from resources for students.  And the worst part is it will most likely not solve the problem, it will make educators feel prosecuted and really that keeps young people from becoming teachers.  So the best and brightest won't teach. (It also puts small districts in a real bind because of the bureaucracy.)

So it comes down to this in my opinion, pre/post test, make administrators jobs dependent on results too that will force them to be the "bad" guy when they must be.  And stop screaming about "bad"' teachers, overall they are small group, just make the "bosses" handle them.  And finally respect educators - so the best/brightest see it as a respected career choice, right now we are making an environment where teaching is not well respected.  And that keeps the best/brightest away, and in 10 years that problem will really show.....

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Setting the table. High Expectations, High Returns

Students are just like me.  They (typically) will do what is expected, the minimum expected.  Let me explain through an example from my life.

My example at home is my wife and I have a fairly clear set of chores that we each "own."  But when I am really busy with school some of those things slide to my wife, mainly setting the table for dinner.   I am suppose to set & clear the table, but sometimes I "let her" cause I am grading quizzes or whatever (and she is super supportive).  And these busy times usually run in 2 day sprints, so I won't set for 2 days -- then even though I know I should set the table for supper for some reason I don't.  My wife then has learned to ask.  Cause I am a space-case?  No!  Because I quickly adjust to my new expectation -- I really appreciate the help she gives when I need it , but I quickly revert to the minimum I can "get away with."  (And I really appreciate when she asks me to set the table once I am through my busy spot).    Students are exactly the same....

I can talk about why math and understanding is important, but that does not drive many students at all.  But the consequences of not learning the material is what keeps the average student going, translation they want to pass.  They will learn whatever the minimum needed to survive, to get their minimum grade overall (whatever they set for themselves).  So as long as they want to pass they will work only hard enough to meet their minimum letter grade (not try-ers require different things, their learning cannot be about a grade, their consequences need to intrude on what they want).

So I have to remind students to "set the table" often -- to learn the material, I never talk about grades - my favorite saying about grades is that they take care of themselves.  Thus my courses must require knowledge and application of that knowledge so that every student who passes actually knows the math.  Meaning a D student must have enough knowledge to be ready for the next class without a lot of remediation.  I believe too often math teachers don't get their C and D students ready for the next course in math sequences.  Heck, if 40% of incoming Freshmen in most UWs need remedial math (9th grade Algebra), and they had to take Alg 1, Geometry & Alg 2 to get into any UW; how could we say that our D, C or even B students really understand the material.  I am really proud of my results at Juda the last 2 years.  Any student that has received a D- or better has not been remedial at college the last 3 years.  (Confession: During my first 3 years I had students who earned Cs and Ds but could not really do the math.) 

The above statistic is why I often remind my students and myself that they want to have me be their toughest math teacher.  And since I work for them (their future-selfs, I work for the student when they are 28) I don't let them get away without the knowledge.  By doing that I don't have to care about grades, cause grades prove little.  It proves knowledge at a time, it may show the ability to plan but not too much.  But often it only shows the students who best "play the game of school."  I have had many A students that I would not have wanted in my machine shops prior to teaching but plenty of D and C students I wanted (I miss ya - Tim).

Effort is more important than the ability to "play school."  Drive to learn is more important than grades.  Understanding more important than speed.  I use these thoughts every day, I remind myself to make sure the students understand math, I encourage, I push, I dry tears and then encourage some more, but I do give grades without skills.  I remind myself that once they leave Juda I am no longer there - so I must follow my cliche "Be less helpful" during quizzes/tests (which means I offer no help on assessments - I always say "Don't worry come in before/after school we will review and work through so you understand so you can do on the next one.")

So as I sit here on an early Sunday morning planning my week of courses I remind myself::
Make the students set the table....

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Career Day Speaker

Had our first career day speaker at my school this past week.  It went well and I am excited that we are tying what we are doing to the world.  The importance of the skills learned in school and what happens after school.

We made a leap of faith and got some help from a retired teacher from our school to help set up the speaker and details, because when you work at small school you are just too busy for 1 more thing.  And we decided not to over-think it with the first speaker -- find someone willing and simply start.  Then modify -- get momentum, because if you wait for perfection you never start.

We learned to make sure that the student are well advertised about the event prior (allowing thoughts about the career), make sure to provide an outline format stressing what you as a school want the speech to high-light (things that interest students) and finally have a dedicated person to work with the speaker the entire time (do not hand off between a couple of teachers even).

We also learned that students can and should be doing the introductions, tours, "small talk," etc.  And that a room of 40 is ok - but it needs to be kept small (a classroom with extra chairs versus a lab).

So we have started!  And it is exciting....  Now to line out the process using students and our website to make it "easy."

Friday, October 19, 2012

When am I ever gonna use this....

Got asked about my answer to this eternal question to all math instructors today, "When am I ever gonna use this?"

My experience as a second career teacher really helps with answering this question.  I was an engineer for ~12 years prior to teaching.  I have seen how the economy has changed from the late 80s to now and what has been working.

I always tell them how the world has divided into those that can solve problems and make a good living - skills learned from math.  And those that cannot solve problems, and typically don't make big money.

I also stress that time is not the factor - so taking time is ok - it is tenacity, and conceptual understanding.  I also take the time to talk about the need to learn because no one asks for your Algebra 2 grade, but if you cannot solve problems you are the first to get by-passed for promotion, first to get stuck with the crap jobs, and the first to be laid-off.

I take time to talk about how the world has changed from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.  How the world has become small and the economy global.  Meaning every job can be done everywhere (almost) and a lot of the world wants what we have here in the USA, and will work really hard for it.  So we have to work hard and smarter, we have to be good problem solvers, thus we need the math.

Finally I talk about a couple of my courses in engineering, where I spent the entire semester learning how bolts broke and sheared.  Then I came into the world and always looked up bolts instead of calculating the size.  I explain it is understanding how the world works that makes us ready to tackle the tough problems, so the engineering courses are showing I could learn, adapt, those are the skills I needed. It gave me context for the problems I encountered!

I tell them that one of my first jobs was at Hormel working with SPAM - engineering/college did not teach me how to seam SPAM cans -- but those engineering courses and MATH courses helped prepare me to solve problems.  So when the machines did not work I knew how to THINK about the problem.  I also made a good living!

It does not matter the students eventual career, the better problem solver they become, the more employable they become!   "The more math you take, the more money you make!" (an SA catch-phrase at school)    I really do love when my students ask "When are we are gonna need this?"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Math Team Season

So I am really excited, the first (and only in this area) math meet is happening at UW-Platteville in a couple of weeks.  I am big believer that everyone can be part and this year over 1/2 of the High School has signed up.  Right now it is 52 out of 92 about 56%.

We practice during lunch as a group and support each other on the team; all the while setting individual expectations and experiencing a great, fun, off-site math day.  Some students are there to do their best and hope to get 1 out of 10, while others are going for a perfect score.  We all go -- I have a "lead" team but everyone works and plays together and we celebrate the day together.

And this works, I am actually able to use the math meet as a carrot for students not completing work or struggling.  (Can't take a student on math team that cannot finish homework, etc.)

Students will follow their leaders, so I get the student leaders on my side.  It is slow process that has taken years...  But I really feel we are reaping the rewards now.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Trickle down Training?

"As principal of one of the highest poverty schools in the area, Sherlene McDonald knows the value of professional development training for teachers.
School leaders and district leaders, such as principals and superintendents, also benefit from training as that trickles down to the classrooms, she says."   October 9, 2012

Really trickle down training?  Coming from industry to teaching I believe in train the trainer, leadership training, and other professional growth things, but come on - trickle down training may be the worst phrase I have every heard.  It sounds like it comes from someone who has a really high opinion about what a curriculum leader, a principal, a director or whatever title you want to use can really accomplish in changing teaching.   In fairness I included the phrase about it being important for teachers to get training but talk is talk - the average school does very little to nothing to protect professional development time and administration is usually the worst offender for chasing big changes.  What we (schools) need is incremental change - we need a 2% continuous improvement attitude!

We really need to step back and realize that to affect student learning we must train the teacher -- relying on trickle down means money spent and little changed.  It is the lessons that the teachers need to work on; so have the principal cover a class, correct a test and make that time for the teacher to make a good lesson. Hold that teacher accountable but give the teacher the tools and time and expectations.

But as a teacher I am unwilling to let a phrase that training an administrator really works.  It most likely means a shift in the pendulum (chasing the next big thing), time wasted chasing a big dream and no real measurable improvement.   We need to stop the idea that we can change overnight and just continually change for the long term.

Continual Improvement is the best for the students today and tomorrow....

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jim Wright -- Response to Intervention (RtI)

So a couple of days ago my district sent me to see Jim Wright present in DeForest Wisconsin on RtI (response to intervention).  It was a good day, though Mr. Wright had a ton of material to cover meaning it was a lot of "lecture" versus time working on the concepts he showed.

The best thing was his website  It gives many tools for RtI from assessment to checklists to....  many things.  The site requires some time to work thru but the list generators are quick and fairly intuitive

Overall I felt like RtI is a lot of things I do and some things I didn't, but I did not document anything.  Now the goal is to document and follow thru, which is a good thing (gut-feel is no way to do anything)!  Because if we are not documenting and measuring are we really doing any long-term good?  It is a tough thing cause it adds another thing but I think once I get a "system" figured - how I attack, how I follow-thru, etc that things will be easier to manage.

And as I work at it - I remind myself - to help each student on their individual journey.