Well Said

(UPDATE: 4/24/2012 – see the update below-)

Mary Broderick, President of the National School Boards Association, wrote a heartfelt letter to President Obama about the sorry state of education in the US after years of “reform.”

I especially appreciated points she made like:

“We want for each American child the same things that you and Michelle want for Sasha and Malia—inspiration, aspiration, creativity. I know you don’t want an overemphasis on testing. I have heard you say it.  Experience in schools and communities, supported by research, tells us that relentlessly focusing on standardized tests erodes our national competitiveness and deadens curiosity and drive. Clearly, we need some testing to gauge student learning, and we have no problem with appropriate accountability. But we have swung to a far extreme that is significantly hurting children. “Students are numbing over testing for testing’s sake…. We can’t test this country into excellence.” (Sonny Savoie, LA)”

As well as:

“The focus on strict quantitative accountability has never worked for any organization, and it has not worked with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Teachers are trying to meet the mandates of those programs and consequently “our children suffer and are not getting educated to their individual potential.” (Carolyne Brooks, IL) Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it more difficult to share a love of learning with their students.”

It is a strong letter that is well worth your time.

4/24/2012 UPDATE: Tim Holt left this comment on the School Board News blog where my link above takes you. Tim makes a great point!:

“Madam President,
While I applaud your letter, especially the idea that your organization has finally taken a stand after only two decades of standardized testing throughout the US (we have been living with it in Texas since the mid 1980?s), may I suggest a follow up letter:

How about a letter to each school board that is a member of your organization asking that they stop the practice of hiring superintendents with the sole purpose to “bring up test scores?” This would do more than anything that President Obama could do; if your members would stop the insanity at the district levels.

Imagine what would happen if your organization members all of a sudden stopped hiring district leaders based on what a superintendent can do for test scores.
Stop approving purchase orders for materials whose sole purpose is to remediate for test.
Stop paying for consultants to help teachers teach to a test.

I would love to see that letter as well.

Tim Holt”

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Education, Reform | 8 Comments

What Happened To My Pedagogy?

Several classroom teachers in my PLN have decided to share out our experiences this year with “educational reform”. Here’s one that published so far. And I’d encourage others to share as well (let’s hear the “Good” too!)

I’ve continued to come to terms with my lack of blogging and other writing/sharing this school year. In the past so much of my blogging was motivated by what was happening in my classroom and the classrooms of others that we were collaborating with. As we continued to develop this new pedagogy around connecting and becoming active learners, excitement continually built and collectively we felt part of a community that was onto something very special.

We had moved even further from the “sage on the stage” kind of teaching and learning, to becoming what could be described more as “co-learners” or maybe “learners-in-chief” … still in charge to keep things running smoothly, and to be there when guidance was needed or it became apparent, through observation or other assessment, that a lesson was needed on a concept or skill for a small group or the whole class. Learning involved every subject and students were more self motivated to do quality work because the work was more creative and was usually published online for all to see … so it better be good. (And note that direct instruction was not and never will be abandoned, just more opportunities for students to build knowledge, use and share what they know and learn in creative ways).

A few things have happened recently in my classroom that brought this into focus for me. One is that we have been involved in a project we mostly had to “sneak in” around required programs and policies. I saw the magic again as my students collaborated using Skype and Google Docs to write non-fiction pieces with a class across the country. Their excitement, focus and requests to work extra outside of school on their research reminded me what we had been onto previously. We didn’t have this new pedagogy down to perfection, but we were well on our way, and with some support we would be even closer to being there now (not that you would ever get to perfection mind you).

Another situation that has happened has been that my students have become excited about several topics that have come up because of reading about a subject or a current event and they have wanted to learn more about them. In the fairly recent past, because we had learned to research in more focused, safe ways, those self guided learning opportunities would have been embraced. But because we have done almost none of that kind of work this year, AND because thankfully my school district leaves the web pretty wide open, I have not felt safe letting them do searches for information, photos and video when there has been even a smidge of time to do so.

Why? For years now, part of using these powerful learning tools has involved lessons and projects in their safe and ethical use. There is no time or real support to do that now. Therefore it would be like setting  your class loose in woodshop without teaching them safe use of the power tools. I’m not doing that- I’d be setting my students, parents, myself, my school and my school district up for a load of problems.

The upshot is I have few examples or experiences to share from my classroom this year. The almost total lack of autonomy because of a daily schedule designed by my administration that only includes reading, writing and math … and most taught with prescribed programs or specific direct instruction pieces that MUST be included literally leave no time. I have managed to begin squeezing things in here or there, but “squeezing in” means things are not done comprehensively and there is no time to learn from mistakes, redesign, or even just re-editing well to improve. I have to work hard to keep an enthusiastic face on things and my students aren’t developing as deep an appreciation for and enthusiasm for learning.

The worst news is that I’m hearing a similar story from other teachers I used to collaborate with and from others in my PLN that work with teachers. I have refrained from sharing this woeful tale during the year beyond a few Tweets, because I hoped to find ways to overcome the restraints and did not want to discourage others by my experience. I’m reporting out now because we need to get these stories out there. I would say even more, but don’t feel safe in doing so in a public space.

Things are not all lost however, I’m optimistic. We blog some and I will be writing about a recent project we are finishing up soon. I have learned some effective direct instruction pieces I will use in the future. Most of all I’ve learned that this new pedagogy that many of us have undertaken really works, and not being able to access it much has been a real detriment. I keep hearing that the pendulum is past due swinging back towards teacher autonomy and less testing and test prep pedagogy. I keep hearing  (but I’m not totally convinced yet) that the move to common core standards implementation will drive us back that way as well. Perhaps, we’ll see.

At the end of the year I’m hoping to have made some changes that will help get things back on track, and I’ll report back if those things happen.

Learning is messy!
Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Should kids’ grades call the shots on who teaches and who goes home?

I was interviewed awhile back for this article on “TAKEPART” about teacher evaluations. My school district is struggling with this issue right now since our legislature jumped on the bandwagon to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores.

In the article I’m quoted saying:
No one says that poverty means that these kids can’t learn,” he added, “but that is the meme that is promoted. Instead, we need to recognize the problem, and like America has always been admired for, take it head on and solve the problem.”

Check the article out and leave your feedback.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Digital Learning Day

Here is my contribution to Digital Learning Day. From the web site:

“Digital Learning Day is a nationwide celebration of innovative teaching and learning through digital media and technology that engages students and provides them with a rich, personalized educational experience.”

In this video from TEDxDenver 2 years ago (which has been posted here before) I give examples of what this new pedagogy can look like and how it changes pedagogy.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Anyone Home Here?

So … where the heck have I been? Why no posts here in almost 4 months???

Well it hasn’t been for a lack of wanting to. Along with “issues” at my school that have something to do with “school reform” that have sucked my time in a major way (see my Twitter feed) I had a major nasal infection that became “anti-biotic resistant” and then surgery on my nose at Thanksgiving that I was expected to bounce back from in 3 to 5 days … but last week my surgeon informed me I needed to expect things to be good in a month or so (3 months after surgery). Needless to say my usual “high energy-ness” was compromised and is only now reviving. Apparently I broke my nose 2 or 3 times and once “really bad” many years ago – must have been in my high school hockey playing years in the suburbs of Detroit and LA … but I never remember even being hit in the nose (maybe that’s part of the problem).

Anyhow my intention is to get back in action here and elsewhere soon … and more consistently as well.

Learning is messy! (and you should see the photos inside my nose … well probably not)

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Leaving Their Mark – Redux, Redux

This is a first I think, a second repost of a post on my blog. I’m doing so because of my appearance on NBC’s Education Nation Teacher Townhall. I talked about things my students have done and an innovative pedagogy, and although this post is 2 years old it shares many examples of that innovative pedagogy.


The end of the school year is always tough. Lots still to do, lots of emotions, lots of memories. This one is tougher than most because not only are we closing in on the end of another school year, we are coming to the end of 3 years together. As I was reflecting upon this the other day it occurred to me just how large a legacy this class is leaving behind.

This has been my first experience in a 1:1 laptop classroom. It certainly isn’t all about the technology, but the technology really has leveraged what they have accomplished because it has connected them easily to so many and allowed them to share and archive those connections easily along the way.

It started in fourth grade when we began blogging and learning about being understood and being careful with language so it meant what we meant and was clear to the reader. Their blogs became a way to share their stories, but also what we did and learned and what we accomplished- and we accomplished a lot. When I broke the news to them in December of 2006 that we had a student that showed up on my attendance over a month earlier and that we had never seen her … but that there might be a way to include her in our classroom using Skype video-conferencing, they were intrigued and awed that we might do that. After our first experience we decided to share it with the world and in just a few short weeks the students had designed and produced a video that taught the world just how powerful these new tools can be.  Their video has been downloaded thousands and thousands of times. (Update – about a million times now)

Not only did we use Skype most days to include our classmate, we also began making connections with others. We were interviewed over Skype by Lee Baber’s class in Virginia about our experience and made connections with other classrooms about science and other topics.

We were very fortunate that our classroom was chosen to have a special guest. Grace Corrigan, the mother of Christa McAuliffe, the  “Teacher in Space” who died tragically when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch, visited our room, and we Skyped out her visit to classrooms in Virginia and New York and they were able to take part in the question and answer period Grace agreed to.

To finish off that year we visited a local animal park, Animal Ark, and afterwards designed a wiki page to help further anyone’s learning about the animals there and included a lesson and video about designing your own animal.

In fifth grade as we continued to blog about our experiences, my students’ exploits became known to others and so we would get contacted by schools to participate with them – usually because they didn’t know of anyone else that knew how. One such experience was Skyping in George Mayo’s middle school class from Maryland. They had made some short videos and wanted us to watch them and give them feedback. It was easier for them to have us do this than the elementary school NEXT DOOR because they were at lunch when this class met and they couldn’t work out the details. We watched  and wrote our reactions to their videos and gave them feedback when we Skyped, and they asked us questions about including our classmate.

I was contacted by Skype about making a short film about our “Inclusion” experience. They sent a film crew to our classroom to shoot a mini documentary about how we did it. Even though our classmate was now with us in the classroom, they had her stay home one day and do school from her computer. They hung lights in our room and shot video all morning as we did what we usually do. They interviewed students and then packed up and shot in the afternoon from our classmate’s house. They produced 2 versions of the video. Here and here.

We continued to blog almost every day either writing new posts or reading and commenting on others. We built relationships with a number of classes around the world and to help keep track we began adding links to them on our class wiki page. Most of my students are second language learners and when we started blogging it would take most of them a week to edit a post into publishable quality. I don’t require my students to have zero errors on a piece before it publishes, but my students’ writing skills were very poor in general. They used poor English and grammar, and punctuation was almost nonexistent in some students’ work. They left out the details that made meaning for the reader, and we won’t go into spelling. At first students would write their posts by hand on lined paper and edit them several times before word processing them. Next they would print them out in a large size, double spaced to have room for editing. Many students would have 5 or more copies of their story all marked up by me in 1:1 meetings with them before their work was “publishable.” That’s why it took a week. By the end of fourth grade about half the class would publish in 2 days. And by the middle of 5th grade some students were publishing the same day as the assignment was given, and almost all were publishing in 2 days. We killed a lot of trees the first year, and I (and they) felt bad about that, but the impact it had on their English, spelling, punctuation, style and more was worth it. And the students continue to write and write and write (but we don’t print very often anymore).

During fifth grade, I believe initially over Twitter, but then in email, a fifth grade teacher in New York, Lisa Parisi, mentioned to me how much she liked the comments my students left on her students’ blogs. I explained that we had really been working on the quality and substance of our comments, not just saying, “Nice post” or “I liked your post” but also explaining why. Our students began doing more reading and commenting on each others posts.

Lisa and I wanted our classes to do a project together and so the “Mysteries of Harris Burdick” writing project was bornThis book, written by Chris Van Allsburg, is the ultimate writing starter I’ve ever seen. After reading and discussing the book in class our students wrote collaborative stories using Google Docs so they could work at the same time on their stories even though they were thousands of miles apart. They even discussed things over Skype so they could meet their co-writers and have discussions about where their stories were going. Other teachers joined the project and paired their classes. The project won an award.

This year we participated in 2 projects that stressed being safe online. We talk about safety fairly often, pretty much anytime we use a new application – blogs, wikis, Flickr and so on and anytime it comes up in the news we tend to review the issues and what the people involved did right or wrong that caused or helped the problem that came up. We participated with a bunch of schools all over the world in the “7 Random Facts” project … sharing seven random facts about yourself without revealing any information that could identify you. By request we followed that up by participating with another class in another safety project where the students wrote vignettes about someone NOT being safe online and then wrote a moral to the story. We shared them in a Skype session with the other class. During this time students in my class shared that they had MySpace and other sites that they were really too young to have and that they had taken down inappropriate information about themselves.

The “Around the World with 80 Schools” project this year has been incredible in how it has made my students more aware of world geography as they met and talked with students on almost every continent.

Most recently we are finishing up our Reno Bike Project, project where we are helping a local non-profit organization that rehabilitates old bikes and sells them inexpensively, spread the word to get people to donate bikes to them. The Public Service Announcementand web pages they designed were just published and we are doing some other activities to help get word out.

I’ve left plenty out here to save space, but the point is these students have left a mark, a legacy that will survive their graduation to middle school and beyond. Not only have they done community service that effects their community, but they have participated globally and left the archive for others to ponder and I hope improve on. Most importantly they have vastly improved their writing, research, communication and numerous other skills along the way. They were only held back by my limitations and the limitations of the system.

I’ve learned at least as much as they have and I believe I’m a better teacher for it. I’m chomping at the bit to take what I’ve learned and share it with my new class. As of this writing I’m being moved down to 4th grade again to begin a roll up to 5th and hopefully sixth grade again. I’m really going to miss this class and I want them to know that and to know they have made more of a difference in this world than they realize. They can be proud!

Learning is messy!

Posted in 1:1, Blogging, Brian Crosby, Change, Cooperative Learning, Education, Field Trips, Grace Corrigan, Inclusion, Literacy, Podcast, Project Based, Reform, Skypecast, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology, Video Skype, Web 2.0 | 10 Comments

My “New York Minute”* Continues

*In a New York Minute – Definition: “Equates to a nanosecond, or that infinitesimal blink of time in New York after the traffic light turns green and before the ol’ boy behind you honks his horn.” (World Wide Words)

I just got off the phone with the producer at MSNBC that is my contact with The NBC Education Nation Teacher Townhall, and she informed me of the following: I will be onstage with Brian Williams and John Hunter of  The World Peace Game Foundation in the second 1/2 hour of the 2 hour Teacher TownHall talking about innovation (It begins at 12:00pm EDT). There will be 3 sections to our time: 6 minutes, 7 minutes and 6 minutes long that will include Brian Williams asking us questions – and questions and comments from the teachers in attendance. I’m considering how to make my opportunity valuable, hoping I learned something from my short panel yesterday on how to be more concise (yeesh).

Yesterday I had an enjoyable time at The New York Times – Schools For Tomorrow conference, and I want to thank them for their hospitality and for running an informative and generally wide ranging conference with differing points of view. There seemed to be a good balance of opinions (I did not see every panel discussion, but close to it). “The Teacher Perspective” panel I was on with AFT President, Randi Weingarten and Jeff Piontek, was an “add-on” panel that they set-up in response to complaints of a lack of teacher voice – therefore it was a frustratingly short panel discussion. We each got to make some short comments and the time was up. They assured me that this was their first attempt at this, that they do plan to do it again next year and they have learned from this initial production.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Brian Crosby, Change, Education, Inclusion | 2 Comments

When It Rains It Pours

Just a quick post before I’m off for New York. I’ve been contacted by NBC and they have asked me to stay a few days longer in New York after the New York Times Schools For Tomorrow conference to be part of an on-stage panel talking about “Innovation” in education during their Education Nation Townhall this Sunday. I’ll be on-stage with Brian Williams and others to be named that day.  This year the Townhall is the kickoff to their Education Nation week of focus on education.

Readers of this blog might note a bit of irony here in that I took NBC to task last year for their this same Townhall. Watch this space. : )

Learning is messy!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

My Panel @ The New York Times “Schools For Tomorrow” Conference

I’ll be participating in New York Times Schools for Tomorrow Conference next week. From the web site:

” …  we’re bringing together 400 of the most influential leaders in teaching, government, philanthropy and industry. The goal: to harness the power of technology to improve the learning experience. Democratize access to quality education. And elevate the American student to a higher level.

It’s not a question of “Can we do it?”

It’s a question of “When?” … “

The updated agenda came out today. This conference is not in the typical presentation style, but mostly a series of panel discussions. The panel I’m on is:

Brian Crosby, Elementary School Teacher, Risley School, Nevada
Jeff Piontek, Head of School, Hawaii Technology Academy
Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

My first reaction was to wonder how this panel represents “The teachers’ perspective” with only one teacher, from one level of K-12 education (and no higher ed?). My understanding is that the audience will be well represented by teachers, but this seems to illustrate  one of the issues education is facing – a lack of teacher voice.

The conference will be streamed live.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Brian Crosby, Change, Education, Literacy, Reform, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | 1 Comment

New York Times: Schools For Tomorrow

I was informed recently that I am a speaker (a member of a panel) at the New York Times sponsored “Schools For Tomorrow” – Bringing Technology Into The Classroom Conference. They bill it as: “Technology is transforming how we live. This conference will transform how we learn.”

This ultimately came about because of a number of tweets about how here is yet another education conference upcoming that involved everyone but actual teachers (other than audience members with a chance to ask questions – perhaps a somewhat unfair description, but … one of my major peeves about the non-discussion happening about education). So I shot off an email pointing out this obvious error (spurred on by several friends) and lo-and-behold the sponsors got back to me and after a conversation via email I was invited to participate. This, of course, coincides with the start of the school year, not a perfect time to be missing a few days of school, but on the other-hand I better be willing to put my “money” where my mouth is.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Education, Messy Learning, Reform, Technology | 3 Comments