Apples and Oranges

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I was watching a terrific TED talk by Sebastian Wernicke called Lies, damned lies, and statistics and it brought my mind to two education issues.  One national and one local. 

The first issue has to do with the negative treatment of teacher unions by various entities from Tony Bennett to the White House as if the teacher unions are keeping students from learning.  In the recent issue of NEA Today there is a striking article from Diane Ravitch (a huge figure in the world of education and a former Education staffer for George H. W. Bush).  In the article, When the Conventional Wisdom on Unions and Teacher Firings is Wrong there is a great observation that the states with the strongest teacher unions happen to have the best national test scores.  If teacher unions prevent the firing of bad teachers then this statistic would seem to be counter to the argument.  In the end, Diane Ravitch points out once again that 80 years of research has proven that socioeconomics is the best predictor of educational success or failure.

The second issue has to with the ISTEP score release that causes me to grind my teeth every year.  When you teach in a district with three different junior high schools the natural reaction is to compare the scores and declare a winner.  While we are in the same district the comparison is apples to oranges.  The state of Indiana Education website is a great place for those of us that love research and statistics.  A simple comparision starts with two proven factors that influence educational test scores,  ethnicity and economics.   The below information comes from the 2009-2010 school profiles from each of our junior high schools: School Profile – 2009 2010 – FJH, School Profile – 2009 2010 – HSEJH, and School Profile – 2009 2010 – Riverside JH.

2009-2010 Schools Profile

  Ethnicity White Ethnicity Black Ethnicity Multi Ethnicity Asian Ethnicity Hispanic Lunch Paid Lunch Reduced Lunch Free
HSEJH 85 7 4 3 1 92 3 5
FJH 71 12 7 6 4 83 6 10
Riverside 85 5 3 4 3 87 6 7


The following is the ISTEP scores from the spring:

Spring 2010 ISTEP – 8th Grade

  Pass English % Pass Math % Pass Both %












Declaring a winner based on ISTEP scores seems to be easy.  However, is the comparison valid?  A look at the school profiles provides some insight to the answer.  Beyond the couple days of discomfort that the ISTEP release causes for my school it is minor compared to the public flogging of good teachers who dedicate themselves to teaching in the toughest schools.  It amazes me that even though the socioeconomic link is indisputable; it is shoved under the table for educational pundits.  It is no different than blaming the coach for me not being able to dunk.  My coach could do everything possible to teach me good fundamentals, improving my conditioning, and building up my self esteem.  The reality is that I’m still too short and no amount of coaching will change that fact.  I’m not saying that kids living in poverty are a lost cause, it is just that until a child feels safe, has enough to eat, and has a parent (and hopefully two) that invest in a child’s learning the situation will not change despite the flogging of schools.

The Creativity Crisis

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When Tony and I went to IU for the Armstrong Retreat, we listened to a lecture from Dr. Plucker about the growing intellectual gap in our country which deals not with the bottom academic end, but the higher end.  This struck a cord with the teachers in the room.  One of the things that Dr. Plucker talked about was the dire need for our country to produce job creators–those innovative, risk-takers that have driven our economy since World War II.  Dr. Plucker is referenced in the July 19, 2010 issue in an article called The Creativity Crisis (http://www.newsweek.com/2010/07/10/the-creativity-crisis.html).  The article is pretty thought provoking.  The study that was done in 1958 by Dr. Torrance with 400 Minneapolis children is worth the read by itself. 

One of the things in the article that stood out to me was the need to add creativity (which can be taught) into the classroom to help foster growth; of course, one of things that the article warns about is to not tell kids to be creative (it doesn’t work).  I built a PowerPoint entry task as a model for increasing creativity.  It deals with watermelons:  Square Watermelons  I would appreciate any feedback and ideas.

Leadership Lessons from Band of Brothers

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I’m watching Band of Brothers (again) and I’m struck again by the leadership of Major Dick Winters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Winters).  I think his leadership style translates specifically to what education so desperately needs.  Based on the series and what I read in Stephen Ambrose’s book, these are the traits that made Major Winters such a good leader: (1) he had a clear sense of purpose, (2) he could and would quickly adapt to changes, (3) he put his men in danger, but faced the danger by their side, (4) he got his hands dirty, (5) he always led the frontal assault, (6) he talked to every man on two levels on an officer-to-subordinate and a personal level, (7) he used a dry sense of humor to diffuse tense moments, (8) he could do what he asked his men to do–he was a technician, (9) his presence commanded respect and (10) he was willing to roll the hard six; he did not wait for orders from above, he was willing to trust hisclassrooms where they so need to be every day.  There is no gimmick that is a substitute for walking around.

What Really Matters

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There are times that my teaching focus gets off the real prize.  By my nature I have a need to succeed; so when something or someone is not meeting expectations it can become a near obsession for me.  This can be good as I don’t give up on kids very easy, but sometimes I can get so focused on what is not working that I let it drive my emotions. 

The kids in the photo are a constant reminder for me about how special my job really is; Meghan, Julia, Tiernan, Natalie, Erica, and Kylie (the guy in the grey Tecumseh sweatshirt is my teaching partner Tony Sturgeon).  These kids have become like family to me; I love each of them.  Even now some eight years after teaching them we still see each other.  We have read a book together, The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.   We meet for coffee and catch up.  Each of these kids has grown up into such neat adults.  They have traveled the world and have achieved great success in college.  It means a lot to me that despite all they have going on they think of me once and awhile. 

My lesson from these kids is that the 12 and 13 year olds I stand in front of every school day are someday going to grow up and in some cases become people that matter…that matter to me and matter in the world.

Lambs to Lions

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It is funny how weird things have become traditions in my class (e.g., pushing on the pull door, Winnie-the-Pooh, “Doctors”).  One of the most enduring class icon is my lamb card. 

It started innocently enough about 12 years ago when I grew frustrated with the lack of thinking going on in my class during a Socratic inquiry.  I happened to have a stack of notecards on the corner of my desk, that I probably found on the floor, and in a moment of frustration I passed one out to every student and had them write “I am a lamb and I live in box” as the first step on the road to “thinking” recovery–I borrowed liberally from AA’s 12 step recovery program; Step 1 admit you have a problem.  I collected the confessions and put them in a box (also on my messy desk) with great flourish.  I told my “lambs” that when they started to think I would take them out.

Well pretty soon as students began to push their thinking I would grab their cards (I really needed to color code by period) and I would tear the card, draw a pitiful lion (it looks like a daisy with eyes and a mouth) and I would write “I am proud of you”.  These cards would make their way into small frames that students would put on their desks, into assignment notebooks, and inside lockers.  I have seen many of these cards at graduating senior open houses.

I tell my students that they are “academic” lambs because while they are cute and fuzzy they are not capable of defending themselves from “academic” predators (me) that seek to devour them.  Their goal is to become an “academic” lion that does not fear the challenge put forth by the predator and is armed with the skills and tools to survive the “academic” jungle.

Part of the reason for my blog is to provide myself with a vehicle to become intentional in my actions and hopefully receive feedback on my progress and growth. 

The blue box that now holds my cards was built for me 10 or 11 years ago by one of my favorite students, Sarah Ax.  Sarah and her family are very dear to me.

Making Curriculum Pop

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Ryan Goble is a technie educator who has some interesting ideas to making curriculum pop through the use of pop culture.  His Ning site is interesting and offers interaction with other folks based on discipline and age group.  Your Ning userid/password is all you need.  http://mcpopmb.ning.com/

Ryan also wrote a techie column on the New York Times – Learning Network (a worthwhile favorite at http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/).  He wrote an article on techie, free and easy (Heiniger) tools.  It is well worth a read.  Below I have summarized the five areas (with links).  The article descriptions of each is worth a look at:

 1. Visualize Texts–Tech Tools: Wordle, Tagxedo or The New York Times Visualization Lab 

2. Make Content Comic–Tech Tools: ReadWriteThink’s Comic Creator, Professor Garfield’s Comics Lab or MakeBeliefsComix 

3. Create Interactive Timelines–Tech Tools: Xtimeline, Time Glider or Timetoast 

4. Design Interactive Presentations–Tech Tools: Glogster.edu and Museum Box 

5. Map and Brainstorm Ideas–Tech Tools: Bubbl.us, CoSketch.com and Cacoo 

Full article: http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/09/tech-tips-for-teachers-free-easy-and-useful-creation-tools/#more-26619

Collegiate Learning Assessment

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Tony Sturgeon, my teaching partner for the past 14 years, introduced me to the Collegiate Learning Assessment.  First off an unpaid political diatribe.  Our country’s education system has become indifferent to what really should matter to our schools…creating students that are capable of creating jobs through four positive traits: (1) the ability to work with others, (2) creative problem solving, (3) the ability to write with thought and purpose, and (4) the ability to be responsible for a deadline. 

I am merging the CLA model found at www.cae.org with a SPICE unit about hunger in Africa.  The CLA model requires that the students make an informed argument based on sources of information given to the student, but more importantly, the students own thinking ability.  This is something like a DBQ, but it is cleaner process that better balances the information with the thinking.  An example of the requirement is fournd at http://www.cae.org/content/pro_collegiate_sample_measures.htm.  The grading rubric focuses heavily on evidence evaluation, synthesis of evidence, drawing conclusions and the argument itself.  Of course, this is so Bloom. 

The part that makes me like this is the dedication to thinking and problem solving.  I know my prompt will be geared around solving the problem of hunger in Africa based on an analysis on the disconnect between Africa’s resources (plentiful) and poverty (rampant).  One key is to offer a way for the students to extend the process through involvement; of course, trying to develop an involvement process that is not just collecting money. 

This process will be part of my first nine weeks Social Studies Workshop and will be expanded to include geography skills.

Pray for my Heart

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“Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”  Buddha wrote these words many years ago and I feel the pull to them.  So many of the shows of television, words to popular songs, and just in the day-to-day conversation there seems to be a rush to tear down as if it was a sport meant to be won.  I want this year to be the year that I show the heart to be a builder of children.  I will pray for this, please feel free to join me in praying for my heart.  Thanks, Mike

It is only funny because it is true

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It is not just my students that suffer from the lack of knowledge.  I’m sure most adults would not even know this much.  Very few people would realize that Sudan is in the wrong place.

No explanation needed.

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