Category Archives: Education – general

STREAM? Why not STREAMMSSFLPE?

The following article was originally published by Daniel Mares at https://www.mrmares.com/stream-why-not-streammssflpe/.  It is re-published here with his permission.


Full disclosure. I am a former social studies teacher. I have also taught math and engineering. I dabble in computer science with my students as well.

Textbook with highlighter and glassesI recently was invited to a webinar that was focused on STREAM education. Many are familiar with STEM and STEAM. But STREAM was new to me. The second part of the title of the webinar was “R for reading.” Reading. We have to add reading to acronyms for education. When did reading leave the classroom? Did we start to focus so much on science, technology, engineering, and math that reading was left out of our schools!

I understand the initiative to bring more focus to the science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum. Especially when we are forecasting jobs of the future to be reliant on those skills, along with problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, and communication. Reading should be baked into everything that we are doing in our classroom and our schools. It is fundamental to achieving everything else in our classrooms.

Math Equations on Chalk BoardIf we are going to add reading to our STEM or STEAM initiatives, then why not add music, social studies, foreign language, physical education, and everything else that we teach in our schools? STEAMMSSFLPE. Even with a focus on stem education, reading should not have gone away from our classrooms.

I understand with the A in STEAM, but if we continue to add letters to STEM it will lose its purpose. If we are to really begin to focus on bringing awareness to our STEM skills, we need to ensure that we keep it simple with acronyms. STEM is fine the way it is. STEM does not say, “do away with all other subjects.” STEM is just a focus. We can’t lose sight of the other subjects as we want to have well-rounded students that really can read, write, communicate, create, think critically, and collaborate to be successful in the economy we believe is coming.


Daniel Mares is an Instructional Technology Coach in Coloma, Michigan.   He blogs at http://www.mrmares.com He is on the short list of “people I have never met face to face but would love to sometime.”

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“The Chickens**t Club”

The July 11 morning Marketplace radio program featured an interview with journalist Jesse Eisinger, promoting his new book “The Chickens**t Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.” [Amazon link: No affiliation]

I listen to the Marketplace Morning Report because, well, because it happens during NPR’s Morning Edition during my drive to work.  I don’t typically find myself enthralled by the Morning Report content.

This one caught my attention – not because of the content, but because of the story that Mr. Eisinger told about where the NSFW title came from.

Go listen to the Marketplace interview.  (Mr. Eisinger was also the featured guest on the July 11, 2017, episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air”.)

Back in 2002, when former FBI Director James Comey was named US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he gathered his corps of bright, talented, young attorneys.  He asked them to raise their hand if they had never lost a trial.  Numerous confident hands went up.

“My friends and I have a name for you,” Mr. Comey informed them, “you’re the ‘Chickens**t Club.'”  In blistering fashion, Mr. Comey pointed out that the best measure of their job was not about whether they were always winning, but about whether they were standing up for the right causes.

As educators, we have a parallel experience.

I have never met a good teacher who never had a lesson fall flat on its face.  I have never met a good teacher whose students didn’t misbehave sometimes.  I have never met a good teacher who didn’t have a student who failed an assignment, a quiz, a test.

Why?  Because they were willing to try something beyond what they were already comfortable with, something afield of what they had done every year before, something they didn’t already know would succeed.

Those are the best teachers I ever met.  Those are the best teachers I’ve ever had.  Those are the teachers who are willing to try whatever it takes to help all of their students learn to define and achieve what the highest level of success means for them – not just to pass a test or earn a credit.

Teachers: if everything you do in class works just the way you expect it to, it’s time to resign from The Chickens**t Club.

 

Product vs. Process

Do you know who these two guys are?Norm Abram and Roy Underhill

 

The man on the left is Norm Abram, host of PBS’ “The New Yankee Workshop” and “This Old House“.  Norm is a master carpenter.  Norm also has a penchant for using a wide range of common and exotic power tools to create masterpieces.  It is not unusual to see him use a variety of tools, bits, and jigs in his projects.

The man on the right is Roy Underhill, host of PBS’ “The Woodwright’s Shop“.   Roy is a master housewright.  Roy focuses his efforts on time-tested, traditional woodworking methods.  Roy uses no power tools at all, sticking to hand tools and human-powered machines.

If I offered you a piece of furniture that had been made by one of these two master craftsmen, would you care which one made it before accepting it?

No?

Neither would I.  And that’s the beauty of how technology should work in education.  When “use of technology” is seen as the product of our educational efforts, we get unnecessarily distracted from what the real goal should be.  When “use of technology” is part of the learning process, then we are better able to decide when and where it makes the most sense, to support what we are truly trying to accomplish.

For example, “creating a Google Slides presentation” shouldn’t be the goal.  “Deliver a presentation to convince an audience to fund your project” is a much better goal – and if the student can use Google Slides to support that work, so much the better.

Technology can help us do some things faster.  Technology can help us do some things easier.  Technology can help us do some things better.  But, technology should not be the “end game”.

When you consider infusing technology into your instruction, do it for one of the following reasons: 1) technology makes a task possible that wasn’t possible otherwise, or  2) technology makes the task more engaging and results in a better product.   Anything else is just a distraction from the real end product.

It’s an old axiom in marketing: “When you buy a drill, you don’t really want a drill.  You want a hole.”  A great drill can help you make an exceptional hole, much faster and more accurately than a hand-drill would.  But, a great drill is not the goal.

When you start with a great real-world authentic learning goal, infusing technology to support that goal stands far less chance of being a roadblock to real learning!

 

The Opposite of Tech Integration

“Technology Integration Specialist” is the title on my business card.  I like it.  It speaks directly to what the primary focus of my job is – how to use technology to intentionally increase achievement for all learners and close gaps for historically underserved subgroups.

Explaining what that looks like can be difficult.  It’s as difficult as explaining what “good teaching” really looks like, especially once you get beyond definitions that are all about compliance (“students are quiet”, “desks are in neat rows”, “assigned work is turned in on time”) and get to definitions that actually reflect learning (intellectual, emotional, and behavioral advances made by the students).

Sometimes, we can get a clearer picture of what something is by defining what it isn’t.  So, what would be the opposite of Tech Integration?

How about “Tech Segregation”?

“Tech Segregation” separates the technology from the learning process, or relegates it to its own learning path.  Learning to use technology becomes a separate subject, like English, math, social studies, or science.  Or maybe even more like a foreign language.  And anytime learning in one field helps a student make advances in another field, the effect is a happy accident instead of an intentional outcome.  We are misusing students’ time when students in a Technology class learn to create PowerPoint presentations about topics with no explicit connection to the curriculum, and then type or hand-write a book report for Language Arts.

“Tech Segregation” relegates technology to extension activities, only for students who have already achieved the day’s academic goal.  Or, the technology becomes a reward for compliance – something students get to do after they finish the stuff they don’t want to do.  In that system, students have to find a way to perform without the technology before they can use it.  It’s as senseless as making kids prove they can walk all the way to school before they’re allowed to get on a bus.

“Tech Segregation” makes kids achieve a standard or pre-qualify before they can have access.  Access to technology is seen as inherently motivational for students, but that attribute is used as the carrot on a stick to get kids to do things the old way, instead of transforming the way we teach to take fuller advantage of the way we learn.

“Tech Segregation” preserves the rank-and-sort, label-and-identify system that has resulted in significant gaps for students who don’t fit typical socio-economic and cultural norms.  Kids who are “good at school” get the bells and whistles.  Kids who don’t are told to try harder, while we turn away and suck our teeth at the sad state of their homes and families.

Conversely, Tech Integration acknowledges that quality tools in the hands of practiced learners makes amazing things possible.  When that position is paired with the belief that every student can learn, then it becomes unconscionable to keep those tools out of the hands of the very students who need the most support when it comes to accessing the general curriculum.

End Tech Segregation.

 

Supreme Court Renders Decision in Special Education Case

The current eight-member Supreme Court has handed down a unanimous decision in the case of Endrew F. v Douglas County (Colorado) School District.  The decision vacated the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling.  The Tenth Circuit had decided in favor of the school district,  ruling that “the child received some educational benefit while in the District’s care and that is enough to satisfy the District’s obligation to provide a free appropriate public education.”

As the case was argued before the Supreme Court, that standard of “some educational benefit” was a central issue.  Had the district in fact done enough to provide Endrew the legally-mandated free and appropriate public education (FAPE)?  If not, the parents would be able to recoup the cost of tuition for the private school Endrew began attending.

The Supreme Court’s opinion establishes that merely providing “some educational benefit” for a student does not meet the district’s obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

My thoughts…

  • How on earth did every lower court rule in favor of the school district?  This fact shows me that we still face a great number of people, in and out of the education world, who believe “every kid deserves a good education… well, but not THOSE kids.  They can’t handle it.”
  • Even in ruling for the student in this case, the Court left plenty of indication that it’s perfectly acceptable to settle for a lesser level of achievement for students who have a disability solely on that basis.  This is flat wrong.  If the student’s label were one of race, religion, or socio-economic status, there would be outrage about low expectations for the student.  Presence of a disability should be no different.
  • In its opinion, the Court holds that “[t]o meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”  That last phrase will be taken as permission to greatly reduce expectations for students with disabilities, but doing so violates the first part of the statement.  Defining “appropriate” progress is the core of any IEP meeting for any student with a disability.  But, wholly discarding the state’s regular academic standards is not required for developing an IEP.  In fact, the IEP should outline the steps that will be taken to permit the student to reach those standards, not what the student will do instead of them.
  • Even the NEA filed an amicus brief in support of the student, against the district.  Bravo, NEA.  In a case where many typically-vocal proponents of high-quality public education have remained strangely silent, the NEA stood for the student over the system.  I appreciate the political volatility of speaking up in this case (either speaking against a public school district, or speaking in favor of low academic expectations), but silence cannot improve this struggle.
  • The Supreme Court’s opinion in Rowley was that students with disabilities must be offered educational opportunities that are “substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities,” and that standard has not been changed.

The conclusion of the opinion of the Court states, “At that point, a reviewing court may fairly expect those authorities to be able to offer a cogent and responsive explanation for their decisions that shows the IEP is reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of his circumstances.”  And because the Court didn’t (and shouldn’t) define appropriate progress, it is imperative that every parent and every educator strongly advocate for appropriate progress towards the same standard every student is expected to achieve, and not a barely-more-than-minimum substitute.

Ten Best Math Instruction Tools

In his excellent TEDx talk, “Math Class Needs a Makeover”, Dan Meyer affirms some basic truths about math class: 1) anyone can learn to be successful in math, 2) traditional approaches to math instruction have poorly served a large number of our students, and 3) making math instruction practical is the key to making it “stick”.  He never uses the term “UDL” in his talk, but the changes he proposes are all about changing how we represent material, how we express our conclusions, and how we engage with the curriculum – the three principles of Universal Design for Learning.

Here are my ten eleven twelve favorite sites to use to support math instruction.  None of them are procedural guides or electronic worksheets.  They all involve building an environment that the student can manipulate and get immediate feedback on their efforts.  Some of them can be done quickly.  Some take longer.  But, they all make effective use of the “problem-based learning” model.

  1. NLVMhttp://nlvm.usu.edu
    A vast array of math manipulatives, indexed by grade band and by sub-topic (Number & Operations, Algebra, Geometry, Measurement, and Data Analysis & Probability). This is a long-time favorite of mine.  Most of the applications are built on the Java platform, which unfortunately means they will not work on a Chromebook.  If you have a teacher station with a browser that still runs Java, some of the manipulatives work extremely well with an interactive whiteboard.
  2. iSolveIthttp://isolveit.cast.org/home
    CAST provides two iOS apps that keep the goal of developing logic and reasoning skill at the focus, beyond simply providing a right answer.
  3. Interactivatehttp://www.shodor.org/interactivate/
    Interactivate includes the standard fare of manipulative activities and stock lessons, but goes the extra step of providing ideas and material for Class Discussions.  Also has an associated iOS app.
  4. Illuminationshttps://illuminations.nctm.org/
    The National Council on Teaching Mathematics provides this set of manipulatives, titled “Illuminations”.  Searchable by grade band and sub-topic.  Includes Common Core and NCTM standards.
  5. PhET Interactive Simulationshttps://phet.colorado.edu/
    Colorado University provides this set of modern HTML5-based manipulatives.  Math is the basis for some, and is a strong undercurrent for many of the science activities.  Because of the modern platform, these work well on just about any device or screen size.
  6. NRichhttps://nrich.maths.org/students
    Includes printable support materials for class and teachers.  And, it gives you a chance to explain to the class why the word “maths” shows up all over the place!  Don’t get thrown off by the UK terminology, the activities are indexed for US grade levels as well.
  7. SolveMe Math Mobileshttps://solveme.edc.org/
    Without using the words “equation” or “algebra”, this interactive puzzle game provides a great introduction to those concepts, while reinforcing number sense and application of basic operations.
  8. Cargo Bridge from Limex Games – http://limexgames.com/games/cargo_bridge/
    The guy has to push the box home.  But, there’s a chasm in the way!  Build a bridge to support the guy and the box, with the limited supplies you have available.  You’ll never hear the question, “When am I ever gonna need to know about triangles in real life?”
  9. “Full Steam Ahead” gamehttp://www.ssgreatbritain.org/full-steam-ahead
    Math abounds in a set of physics and engineering problems based on the real-life advances designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  As you progress through the early tasks, more types of challenges are unlocked.  Build, Test, Tweak, Repeat.
  10. Math Playgroundhttp://www.mathplayground.com/math_manipulatives.html
    Somewhat limited set of resources, but the ones that are available are very useful.  Geared more for upper elementary.  Should work well with modern browsers.
  11. Desmos Graphing Calculatorhttps://www.desmos.com/
    A graphing calculator for your browser!  Powerful save, overlay, and editing tools.
  12. Geogebrahttps://www.geogebra.org/
    Online graphing calculator, and a host of additional tools for math instruction, including geometry, algebra, calculus, statistics, and more.  Downloadable materials as well as online activities.

ECET2 is Still Amazing

This year was my 3rd straight year attending the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative regional convening of Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (ECET2).  I have been honored to be invited to present breakout sessions at each of the events.

This year’s convening was once again held at the beautiful Salt Fork State Park Lodge, near Cambridge, Ohio.

ECET2 is special for several reasons.  The premise for the event is, as the title suggests, celebratory.  The ECET2 format prides itself on opportunities for teachers to learn from colleagues, and that is the “secret sauce” for ECET2.

What did I take away from the 2016 Ohio Appalachian Collaborative ECET2?

  1. “because i said i would” – Our opening keynote was from Amanda Messer, CTO of because i said i would, an “international social movement and nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity through promises made and kept”.  Amanda did two important things: 1) She reminded us that we are, first and foremost, humans who are designed for relationships and interdependencies; and 2) She modeled vulnerability (and the opportunities for growth it brings) when those relationships and interdependencies spit in our collective face.  Teaching is, after all, about relationships – with our students, with our colleagues, and with our communities.  At the heart of every meaningful relationship is a factor of trust, and personal responsibility for one’s own word is at the atomic level for building that.  Many years ago, I read Steven Covey’s “Speed of Trust” as part of a work-based book study.  I enjoyed the book, but I kept finding myself getting knocked off-balance by what felt like relegating trustworthiness to “means” status, rather than “end” status.  In other words, if “being trustworthy” is your strategy for increasing market share, or profits, or stakeholder dividends, you’ve already lost sight of the real reason for being trustworthy, and you’ll abandon it when it doesn’t feel like (or when the data suggest it no longer to be) the most productive option.  “because i said so” restores that simplicity and genuineness to the power of a kept promise.  Watch Alex Sheen’s TEDx Talk.
  2. Colleague Circles – As I tweeted to one of the participants this year, Colleague Circles are “the most dangerous, and the most valuable” part of ECET2.  At other types of conferences, learning from colleagues happens in the margins.  Some participants have learned to seek those interactions out and harness them.  But at ECET2, significant formal time is set aside for participants to gather in small groups to discuss pertinent questions and reflect on what they have learned so far.  Building these relationships, and sustaining them through the use of communications technologies like a shared CMS, social media like Twitter, or even just good old-fashioned e-mail, keeps the fire burning to put into practice what has been learned.
  3. Problem-based Learning – For my second presentation of the event, I wanted to breakoutedu-collaborating-on-cluesmodel an innovative strategy that teachers could take and use in their classrooms.  Back in May, I was introduced to BreakoutEDU by my new boss, Katie Siemer.  BreakoutEDU replicates the “Escape Room” experience without actually locking anyone in a room.  Our workshop participants had thirty minutes to decipher the clues and unlock the box.  They did so with about 5 minutes remaining!  BreakoutEDU is a great example of “The Ill-Defined Problem,” in which participants are actually given as little information and direction as possible, and are then allowed to interact and collaborate on their own to come up with possible courses of action and try them to find out what works and what doesn’t.  This type of learning often feels messy, disorderly, slow, and risky.  Learning that really sticks is usually all of those things.
  4. Animals, Artifacts, and Archery! – A regional convening of ECET2 has the advantage of incorporating local interests for the participants.  Two years ago, Ohio State Parks Naturalist John Hickenbottom was at the inaugural ECET2 at Burr Oak State Park, and he brought along a rat snake that I got to hold!  On Monday morning at this year’s ECET2, John was at Salt Fork along with a large display of animal artifacts, some live animals, and some nature-based educational resources.  It was great reconnecting with John and talking with him.safe-archery-station  He loves his work, and he’s very good at it – much like the teachers attending the conference with me.  In the same space where John was talking about the animal artifacts, there was an indoor archery setup, called SAFE Archery.  I haven’t shot a bow in ages, and I really wasn’t sure I’d know how.  But, I was fairly convinced I wouldn’t do much damage from the seven-foot range we were shooting plastic balls hovering on a column of air.  So, I stepped up.  Bam!  Four for four!  If I ever have to hunt plastic balls with foam-headed arrows for food, I won’t starve!
  5. The world is really a pretty small place sometimes.  One of the organizers for OAC ECET2 in 2014 is a rockstar teacher named Sara Beardsley.  I have known Sara since we were kids, but neither of us figured that out until after I showed up at Burr Oak to register for that inaugural event.  The next school year, Ms. Beardsley wanted to conduct a book study with her class using the book “A Path Appears”, but she didn’t have access to enough copies for her entire class.  So, she did what any 21st Century teacher might do… she crowdsourced it!  As one of the contributors, I received a collection of original (not photocopied) thank-you notes from the students, many of them hand-written.  I have carried those thank-yous in my backpack with me ever since, and anytime I am having a pretty rough day, I pull them out and read through them.  It doesn’t take long for me to remember more important things than whatever temporary ill has befallen.  One of Ms. Beardsley’s colleagues, Mr. French, was one of the organizers this year, and I was more than happy to show him the collection of thank-you notes.  He knew each of those students personally as well, and we had a great time looking through them over breakfast.  The book and the project hopefully made a lasting difference in those students’ lives.  Their kindness to me has made quite a difference in mine.

I have posted blog articles with my reflections on the 2014 and 2015 convenings previously.  [2014 ECET2] [2015 ECET2]  If you would like to bring an experience like this to teachers in your region, check out the National ECET2 site for more information.