Wednesday, February 26, 2014

When's the last time ... ?

I am so angry.

I just got done reading this piece by Michigan Radio's Jack Lessenberry about plans for making up school days missed this year in Michigan because of snow, ice, and cold. Some politicians want to extend the contact hours each day instead of adding days into summer vacation. This is in spite of direct opposition to the idea by the entire State Board of Education, especially by the State Superintendent of Schools, Mike Flanagan.

Here is the response one of the politician pushing for extending the school day gave regarding the opposition:
When asked about the state superintendent’s views ... Potvin said: “He hasn’t signed any checks lately for transportation,” apparently meaning the cost of school buses.
Forget that Rep. Potvin is putting money before learning (Lessenberry addresses this in his piece). I am more angry with how Rep. Potvin seems to believe his business experience trumps Superintendent Flanagan's educational perspective when it comes to running schools. It makes me want to scream.

But instead, I decided to use my words. Therefore, I wrote this post and used this meme to appropriately express my anger.
Ah, that's better. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

How will you make 100?

I heard a math professor share this assessment approach today and wanted to pass it along. The assessment is a take-home test made up of 60 or more questions. Some of the questions are worth five points - fairly simple straightforward items. Then there are the fifty pointers that are open-ended monsters. And all sorts of problems in-between worth points corresponding to their difficulty. 

100 Sculpture
Students have two weeks to complete the test. They can pick to submit any combination of problems that add up to 100 points. One might think that the students would select the easier problems, but the professor has found that given the choice (and the time) the students pick challenging problems. The mere choosing of items provides assessment information to the professor.

I love this idea and want to try it in my classes next semester - maybe  in concert with standards-based grading. Alternative assessment approaches are always of interest to me. And throw in the element of choice - I'm sold.

Has anyone else heard of or tried this assessment approach. I would love to know your thoughts or experiences. Thank you in advance for your participation.

Friday, February 14, 2014

What do you mean we're on our own?

Chapter 4 from Math Exchanges ends by describing why collaboration is important.
Working together with your colleagues is the best way I can suggest to better understand the problem types, recognize strategies children use, and plan appropriate next steps for your students. Team meetings or teacher-formed study groups are a great way to start this kind of collaboration. (p. 81)
The teachers leading the chapter study last night wrapped up the discussion by focusing on this point. One said something like, "Yeah, because we are going to be asked to collaborate all the time: when planning, creating assessments, talking about student work. All the time. Right, Dave?"

I responded, "Actually, no." And the teacher who asked the question made a face. I went on a rant about teachers who shut their doors and "teach in silos." Here's what I wish I had said (with some parts of the rant included):


When I taught middle school, I was on my own most of the time. I was the only math teacher doing project-based lessons. There was no one to collaborate with in my district. It was exhausting and one of the reasons I left to get my PhD.

There are certainly schools that foster collaboration but in my experience they are in the minority. Mostly teachers keep their struggles and their successes to themselves. And that lack of support is one of the reasons teachers give for leaving the profession.

This is why I ask you to spend so much time collaborating on projects like researching the topics on the Landscape, planning math exchanges, and running these professional development sessions. I want you to get used to working together - to asking for and expecting support from your colleagues. It is my hope that with this next generation of teachers, collaboration, not isolation, is the norm.

So I want you to remember the face you made when I said, "No. Teachers often work alone." That face was perfect. I want you to remember that face and use it whenever you encounter any resistance to collaboration.


Yeah, it's still pretty much a rant. But in my defense, I am pretty passionate about teachers needing to connect. It's one of the reasons I promote the use of Twitter.

And the face the teacher made, you're probably wondering what it looked like. It looked something like this.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How are you getting this kid to the next step?

This semester I am teaching two sections of Mathematics for Elementary Teachers II. In an effort to prepare these future teachers to be educational leaders, I am asking them to lead professional development sessions around Kassia Omohundro Wedekind's book, Math Exchanges. Groups of three or four teachers are taking turns developing and facilitating activities and leading discussions related to one of the chapters. I have been impressed with their efforts and wanted to share an example from chapter three: Planning with a Purpose. (Groups are using a workshop format to plan their professional development sessions.)

Schema Activation (10 minutes): Main Ideas
What quotes or big ideas stuck out to you throughout chapter three?

Focus (15 minutes): Workshops
What math workshop did you like the most?
What common ideas did you see throughout the workshops?
What foundational concepts were touched on?

Activity (20 minutes): Creating Student-focused curriculum
Ben has 10 cookies to share between his two friends, Hailey and Anna. How many cookies will each friend get? (p. 52)
With your student (based on their specific characteristics) develop ideas with your group of how you could adjust your math exchange for this particular student.

(Groups were given a list of characteristics and a sheet of easel paper. They were asked to use these to create a poster of their adjustments to present to the class. Below are the characteristics and the final posters.)

  • Easily frustrated
  • Helps when he draws the problem out
  • Counts on fingers

  • Very shy, keeps to herself
  • Afraid to ask for help
  • Observes others while they work
  • Likes using the manipulative kits

  • Confident, fast worker
  • Doesn't remember how she got her answer
  • Often works too fast and doesn't get right answer

  • Verbal in a group setting
  • Second guesses himself
  • Knows material but needs help getting started

Reflection (15 minutes): Class Discussion
How can you use what you learned from specializing your lesson to help you in your classroom?
What are some things you noticed about math exchanges?
(be sure to highlight the following)
  • no two math exchanges are the same
  • always adjust the math exchange for YOUR students
[note: some small edits were made to the plan before posting to this blog]

Saturday, February 1, 2014

NCTQ Yearbook Earns a "D"


Press Release

February 1, 2014 (Michigan) – The STAB1 has released its first annual Report Card on Education Policy Grading, which judges the grades given by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) in the 2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbook: Michigan (report). While many different factors went into the grade earned by the NCTQ for their report, we realize that the media has limited space available to analyze our findings (given all the recent news about Justin Bieber and all) and decided to boil it down to a single grade that is familiar to the public2.

The "D" earned by NCTQ’s Yearbook communicates that it includes some nice graphics but it is incoherent in its analysis3. Furthermore, it appears that their expectations are based solely on opinion with no references provided to support their positions. In fact, some of the expectations seem to be biased by a prior position held by the NCTQ President, Kate Walsh4.

Essentially, the NCTQ’s Yearbook does not match our vision of sound educational policy. If it had, we would have rewarded the report with an “A” grade. Because it did not align with our ideology, we will shame it with a low grade that we trust the public will interpret as unsatisfactory. Once the NCTQ comes to view educational policy the same way we do, then we anticipate their grade will improve5. After all, isn’t the role of grades to manipulate others to match our view6?

1 The Sarcastic Teachers of America Board
2 We all agree on what an "A" means, right?
3 You can’t want higher standards for teacher preparation and more flexible pathways to teacher certification7.
4 Kate Walsh started the first alternative certification program for teachers in Maryland. (see 3)
5 We suggest they keep the graphics – very nice.
6 No, it is not! But that seems to be the idea behind grading schools by groups like the NCTQ.
7 Because alternative teacher certification often means little teacher preparation coursework.
8 Are you still reading this? Why?