Sunday, December 27, 2009

Relationship...the most important "R".

My nephews are huggers. At Christmas and other family gatherings they want a hug, they expect a hug, maybe they need a hug. They are about relationships, much like most of the students in our classrooms today.

I'm either a late Baby Boomer or an early "Gen Xer". I have a lot of "whatever" in me and I expended a lot of energy avoiding my teachers, parents, any adult who wanted to get closer to me. YET, it were those adults that engaged me and prodded, poked and insisted they try to break through my shell that I remember and who influenced my life the most.

Today's students are more open to involvement and engagement for the most part, but are in a lot of cases being taught by teachers who are not. Out of the old three "Rs" - Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic (Kinda says something that two of the three do not begin with R) and the new "Rs" - Rigor, Relevance and Relationship, I feel the last (Relationship) is the most important. And maybe we have data to support that statement.

A year ago we were both happy and concerned after breaking down our ITED scores. We had jumped above state-set trajectory levels in all three of our subject areas, Math, Reading and Science.

So initiatives in Reading and Math were either tweaked or created. Although I was pleased with the ideas (Not relevant to my post today) they were only going to have 2-3 months under their belts with them before the next round of high stakes testing.

I had requested our counselor develop and administer a survey to students on ITEDs and organize the homeroom teachers to review past scores, set goals, and talk to students on how to effectively take the ITED test and why it was important - "to them".

We showed them we could project ACT & SAT performance, but only if they relaxed and tried their best. Our counselor effectively developed and worked with our teachers to administer this right before testing time.

Our Juniors came through. Our reading landed 20 points above the projected mark, at 82; Science was a gaudy 86; and Math was eight above the projected, coming in at 73.

Research would back that our initiatives hadn't had the time to effect the scores that much. With a school our size I feel I can infer that our increase was due to the fact more kids took the tests seriously and gave their best effort.

It's my contention we can draw a line between students trying harder and the relationships and engagement they were receiving from our teaching staff in homeroom and in the classrooms.

We didn't look at it from a "school" perspective, rather a "student" perspective...which is was these dang tests are supposed to be used for in the first place.

We took the time to engage the students and tried to help them frame it from their perspective.

Relationship...the most important "R".

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Stepping towards better classrooms

In the span of the last two weeks I have rapidly increased the development, and more importantly cultivation, of my "Professional Learning Network" PLN.

Next is getting my staff going with PLNs. You see we took technology, and provided staff with quality staff development. They received the computers months ahead of the students, they were giving over a year of staff training, guided by a very skilled AEA13 Technology consultant, Judy Griffin. We did it right by the "old model of Professional Development".

Guess what? Our results are not where I would like them to be despite doing it right, despite educating teachers first, despite old model quality support.

"When's Judy coming?" a teacher would say. Another, "Is Judy coming on the 14th?"

The "obvious" thought that came on last week during the Will Richardson day at Ames is - "Judy's available EVERY DAY!

Via email, Skype, Twitter, Yahoo and Blogger, Judy's out there and probably available. That's the theme or point I will repeatedly make, along with "I'm available", when moving my staff towards their own development of a PLN.

At the beginning of next semester, I am going to roll out some PLN information and show them what I am doing. They will be exposed to many of the things you all are exposed to and given a re-energizing plea from me to re-tool their blogs and work to keep them, and their websites, updated. But central, and first, develop a PLN.

And most importantly ... why am I asking them to do this. Why?

Because they need to understand the power of the PLN so they can look at how to expose our students to the power of the PLN.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My day of transformation - "Networking the New Literacy"

I was feeling pretty good about our technology integration during year two of our one-to-one initiative. Then yesterday's session with Will Richardson went down. I now have a clearer vision of where we're heading.

While I'm more inspired today, by his words and the work going on in several district's in the state, I'm reassessing where CAM High School is as a building. You see we may be falling short in the area of teaching students how to access the learning communities in "the cloud".

Personally, I'm just starting to establish a learning network and my eyes are opening wide to the possibilities. I now see how several colleagues can wax on so eloquently about their vision and where their districts are heading.

My biggest take aways from yesterday.

The Shift - Education will change. How and when is uncertain, but the facts are the abundance of learning tools online, and the networks you can join and become a part of, means it will either change willingly, or kicking and screaming. My bet is on the later. Allowing students to network with "anyone" is inconceivable to many people. Even though outside of the school day they will be doing that anyway.

We need to unblock everything and teach everything - If not us, then who? 'Nuff said. Get it done, address patron's fears, teacher's fears, everyone's fears head on. Teach Digital citizenship, how to use social networks for learning and that's for everyone.

Bring everyone together - Sure we got everyone on board for one-to-one computers. That wasn't that hard of a sell. The problem is until 24 hours ago, I didn't exactly know what I was selling. This conversation will be different..vastly different.

We/students need to be Googleable - Student's need to be found in the cloud and their work needs to reflect positively on their new literacy skills. This goes against many people's ingrained mis-conceptions.

We need to dive into the CLOUD head first - Get your PLN set up, get your teachers involved in setting up a PLN and get your student's work out there for everyone to see and then promote it!

We need to get moving now, get teachers involved and get everyone to the table. These are exciting times, but we have to be ready to empower patrons and faculty to overcome their fears.

The students don't have them.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow days - just another school day?

If we take our essential skills, create a student-centered classroom, create and embed authentic assessments, create and maintain online learning environments - then snow days would be more like a typical day - not a complete and total stoppage of school.

We are mired in a "blizzard" in Iowa and most schools have canceled, some for the second day in a row. Teachers who have till Christmas to wrap up their semester just had their plans condensed, fine arts programs preparing for holiday concerts are scrambling and looking for times during the day to practice.

Students are connected via internet (75% of our students have access at home) or most have cellphones that have apps if not browser access on their phone. If we made these tools part of our curriculum delivery then physically having the student's logging seat time would be unnecessary.

Regular days and snow days could be administered to anyone and everyone, whether they were at school or not.

The questions are limitless and are often stumbling blocks for reform in education by using technology. A total shift to online curriculum looks impossible.

But is it? We have two classes that have 60-90% or their curriculum online and if they had too, they could have instructed students to refer to their sites these past two days. Definitely something I'm going to bring up at the next leadership team meeting.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"You Tweet???"

I'll admit. Twitter was a just another one of those Web 2.0 applications that I just didn't want to deal with. After all it was getting athletes and celebrities in instant trouble. Sarah Palin Tweeted...It just wasn't for me.

Folks, we live in a world where you need to embrace and at least try EVERYTHING that comes out new and gets buzz. Yes, everything has their trivial and meaningless side. But EVERYTHING has it's beneficial and productive side.

And the beauty is ... you can do both ... alternatively at the same time. As I check email, facebook or edit personal pictures, Tweetdeck (a twitter application) buzzes me with education posts that my professional network is tweeting.

Most of the Twittering I do as to do with Technology in education. There is a nightly discussion on education issues at "educhat". The information that I read and see is relevant, interesting and mostly backed with real data.

What if we did that with students in our district with students across the country?

Twitter is amazing. Twitter is trivial. That can be said for a lot of Web 2.0 applications.

I was just invited to check out Google Wave...the next new thing from Google.

It just keeps coming