If You Don’t Love Our Students, Please, Just Leave

Like most of St. Louis school districts (and the US?), my district had professional development this past Friday, giving the kids a 4 day weekend and everyone else 3 days off. 

For the most part, I always enjoy these days because they give me a chance to present things I love (or at least like LOL), see my equally-passionate colleagues from other buildings in the district, AND go out to lunch like “normal” jobs. 

All was going well Friday – we didn’t get through all of my activities in the 1st session, but we were productive, Bethany won the “Bubblesheet Champion” trophy in the ACT math session, and I was somewhat interested in the session I’d signed up to attend about using our online textbooks with close reading. I’ve come to the opinion that my students generally need a screen BREAK most days, so I purposefully do my readings on paper, but I’m always of the mindset that you might convince me otherwise.

Whatever is best for the kids.

It was in this setting that I wound up overhearing a science teacher from one of our more schools go on for what felt like 15 minutes about how his horrible kids will never read anything, and that they’re all a bunch of gang wanna-bes, who play out the pecking order of the streets by making kids sharpen their pencils and get them pieces of paper.

I have some tough kids this semester, too. I get the frustration of coming to work most days and just praying that today, just maybe, will be one of those days they cut you some slack and you don’t have to feel like you’re throwing the toolbox of tricks at them to get anything back.

I, too, know that frustration of kids just staring at me while I’m waiting for more than 1 or 2 kids to engage in my class discussion. “LET ME TEACH YOU!” is what I am passionately internalizing (and sometimes that sneaks out audibly).

BUT.

Most days, as I’m reflecting on the day’s lesson, I might be frustrated that so and so did this and that, but at the end of the day, this is my job, and these are my kids. You might call it “fate,” or “destiny,” or “your department chair’s wrath upon you,” – I would call it God’s will – but ultimately, something put you and those kids together, so it’s your job as the teacher to figure that out. 

(Yes, it would also be terribly kind and helpful if the students did they’re “job” and exhibited their good “student” behaviors, but as I tell my own children and kids and school, YOU control what YOU can do.)

I thought I was just going to leave the session feeling sad for those students that this man with years of classroom experience could only blame his gang wanna-bes, but as he left the room at the end of the day and several of us found a typo on a website, he left his final impression upon us with, “must’ve been a grad from our district.” 

If you don’t love our students, please, just leave. 

Was there anything objectively wrong with that statement? Maybe not – it’s no secret that our state test and ACT scores are in the bottom of the barrel, but it was the way, he said it. In a “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” kind of way. 

Perhaps this gentleman had just had a particularly tough week, and if I were to see him again next August that he would be filled with wonder and excitement at the coming school year, like the vast majority of teachers. So years we just get more beat down than others. So if he or someone he knows has figured this out and tracked him down, please understand that I know I may be dangerously generalizing his attitudes.

It speaks to the larger discussion coming upon our struggling schools every year about this time, though. “I heard so and so is leaving to go to _______. They didn’t want to deal with ______ anymore.” Sometimes ______ is administration. Sometimes ______ is bureaucratic paperwork stuff we have to do to prove that actually teaching (or attempting as much). Those blanks disappoint me, because those are leadership failures, I think. But sometimes ______ is the students we serve. If you are a teacher who needs to leave for greener pastures because of the kids, please know that I love you, but I’m not going to bemoan your decision. 

If you don’t love our students anymore, please, just leave. 

I would much rather be in the trenches with someone who (still) has their heart in the fight. Together, we can cry together. Together we can try plan B, C, D, E, F, G, etc, because our love for these God-ordained students is too much to have tried “everything.”

Our students can be troubling, they can be apathetic, but they can also be inspiring, and passionate, and brilliant, if you know where to look and never stop seeking that out.

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EdTech, Valuing Culture and Fulfilling “Every Tribe and Nation”

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The critical nature of building relationship with students has been an overarching theme to my identity as a teacher this school year. My heart felt burdened with an insurmountable task as the first day approached in August, and it continues to dominate my end-of-the-day reflection into the spring.

No, you can’t just go sit in the office today.
Yes, I hear everything you say. Even under your breath. (Because I think its important to hear more of what you’re saying than just x=4)
Yes, its breaks my heart that its not even halfway through the quarter and you’ve already decided you won’t try.
No, I won’t just go away because you obviously have enough people in your life that just ignore you because its easier.

The ethnicity of my students has not really changed since I started 6 years ago, but this year I perceive that many of my students see me as a the white guy that cannot or will not understand them.

Do you ever feel that?

I don’t believe its an accident. The title of this blog, Evangelizing the [digital] Natives, is really about the importance of teaching and training technology use even to the generation often perceived as “getting it,” but tonight I do want to talk about Jesus, ethnicity, and mission.

If you’re a teacher that’s a Christian, you must believe that just as He has with your spouse, your family, your friends, and your co-workers, God has placed you and those students together. And its about more than just math. (or English, science, art, history, personal finance, etc). The objective is different depending on the kids you get any given year, but the mission is always about God’s Kingdom.

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John write about a vision of heaven that he receives from Jesus. Sure, a lot of it is symbolic, but surely this is not:

9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

This post is not about prayer in schools or religious freedom. It’s about acting intentionally for “all tribes and peoples and languages” because that’s what God says heaven will look like (And so we should practice the same here).

It’s February, Black History Month, so our student news in the morning is featuring short interviews of local African Americans talking about success. By default, many of my students tune out the Star News and would rather just talk to classmates around them or bury their face in their phone, but I’ve made a very obvious point of emphasis during this month to focus attention on Star News.

Today, I got this question: “Mr. Baker, why do you care so much about this?” [Yes! He noticed I cared!] To be honest, I don’t even remember my answer, but I love that he noticed. It’s more logical for English teachers or history teachers to openly care about race because they must discuss its role in literature and history. It’d be weird NOT to address it, but I think many STEM teachers (and students) view their subjects as transcendent of it.
You can imagine a teacher saying something like, “I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, purple, or green – you’ve gotta solve an equation.”

Yes, that’s a true statement, but the context of that truth is different because of the difference in how my students interact with the general culture. I don’t have any lessons on African number systems, or projects on famous African-American mathematicians, but I think doing “culture” that way would do my kids a disservice. I polled them recently on if they wanted to do a “Black History Month” themed math lesson and the summary of their responses was a resounding, “Eh.”

When we are culturally responsive one unit at a time, or as an obvious add-on, it continues to strengthen a disconnect between my students’ life experience and “real” math.

My students don’t need more lessons on the contributions of Benjamin Banneker to geometry, they need more tools to address, communicate, and solve the problems of their community.

HOW CAN WE USE EDUCATION TECHNOLOGY TO ACCOMPLISH THESE GOALS?
Your use (or lack thereof) of technology in your class can do a lot to sculpt students’ self-perception, their outlook on math relevance and their capacity for future success.

I think schools with high percentage of racial minorities need to be the MOST innovative with their use of technology in the classroom, because I don’t know about you, but the only time I see brown children doing cool stuff in the media with technology is when Bill and Melinda Gates are posing for photo-ops. Schools with high-needs students MUST make bold, creative budget and resource decisions so that kids can stop waiting for the next (grant funded) savior and know that having or not having is often about intentional budget choices

You must be MORE uncomfortable with letting the kids use technology when you are MOST afraid of it getting trashed. You’ll probably be one of many adults that was highly protective of the new technology around them, but you might be the first to let them kick the tires. Show them how to care for it, and have consequences when they aren’t, but let them USE it.

Leverage social media and Web 2.0 tools to give your students an audience for their work. As far as interactions with my students, i think the prevailing attitude is that what they say or do is only important as an athlete or musician – that their only worth to the Internet is highlight reels and music videos. This is true for any kid, but tell a kid that you’re so proud of the work you know they’re going to do that you want to put it on the Internet and watch the pride or shock in their reaction.


You’re in the classroom you’re in with the kids you have for more than just teaching your subject and giving tests. You’re all there to work to the greater glory of God, and you’re there as the teacher to nurture an environment that reflects God’s will for His creation as “all tribes and peoples and languages.” Let’s use education technology as a tool in service to that.

Nix the Tricks – AP Stats Edition

THIS IS GREAT.

“In AP Stats, communication is essential.

Here are some thoughts and ideas to keep in mind:

A strong conclusion has linkage between a computed P-value and a defined significance level (alpha). This is the computation piece. The art of statistical writing is taking this numerical result and using it to reach a conclusion about our population.

My students write, write and write, and my boards are covered with samples, which we critique and revise. I like to randomly assign students to work together (I often use playing cards for this), so that “group think” does not set in. I want students to debate language, and I can see from afar which groups are on-point by having them on boards around my room

My document camera is also a valuable resource here. As an opener, I’ll have students examine a homework problem, and write their conclusion on an index card. Random cards are selected and critiqued.”

via Nix the Tricks – AP Stats Edition.

The Spirit of SBG

This is GREAT advice for anyone wanting to being with standards-based grading. A pseudo-system is keeps the training wheels on and allows you to get your feet wet without changing everything about your current structure.

Action-Reaction

You want switch to standards-based grading, but, for whatever reason, you cannot. Do not worry. All of the strengths of SBG can be done within a traditional grading system:
  1. Shift from tracking by chapter to tracking by concept.
  2. Allow opportunities for students to show growth.
  3. Don’t grade homework and practice.
  4. Provide timely and effective feedback.
  5. Spiral concepts throughout the curriculum and your assessments.
  6. Give shorter, more frequent quizzes.
  7. Assess what you value.
  8. Provide clear goals and expectations for performance.
  9. Encourage risk taking, failure, iteration, and experimentation.
  10. Do what works best for your students and your situation.

A traditional system done in the spirit of SBG  is much, much better than an SBG system done poorly. (Trust me, I’m speaking from experience!)

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Flipped Classroom Primer

Flipped Classroom Primer

  1. @SymbalooEDU Always a good idea about thinking about your endpoint in #flipclass – what are you trying to get to? #symchat
  2. So interesting… Student said flipped wasn’t a big deal. So maybe we think it is? #flipclass #edcampstl
  3. 5 Flipped Classroom Issues (And Solutions) For Teachers | Edudemic ow.ly/211fSP #fliplang #flipclass #edchat
  4. Interesting report. MT @flippedclasss:The 4 Pillars of the Flipped Classroom bit.ly/19nIlJK #flipclass #iste13

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You’re Gonna What?!

My little ones started homeschool preschool this week. So excited to see them learn and watch all of the thoughtfulness my wife puts into her planning. It’s made me refocus on my own role in teaching them once I get home.

hey, beth baker!

homeschool preschool

This week marked our first week of homeschool preschool. Does that surprise you? I feel like it surprises a lot of people. I mean, my husband is a public school teacher. We support our schools. We support a strong community-based school system. The school district we live in isn’t great but we could send our kids elsewhere. The district Chuck teaches in has one of the best early education programs in the state, and it’s within walking distance of his building. It’s not a matter, for us, about feeling like public [or private] schools aren’t good enough.

Our homeschooling discussion actually began when we were still relatively newlyweds, not soon planning for a family. Oh a whim we picked up a book from the bargain bin one day called, “Crunchy Cons” by Rod Dreher. The premise of the book was that there are people who can cross the line between…

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ClassBadges.com and Standards-Based Grading

The badge art I uploaded.

Kids LOVE competing, right?

What I appreciate about the grading reform away from A-F that we’ve seen the last several years is that there is less comparison between letter grades amongst students and more emphasis on “what do you know?” More students have a chance to be the “smart” ones because their failure on Standard X does not always mean they will fail on Standard Y, which traditional letter grades can suggest and sometimes lead to.

However, standards based grading can get a little black-and-white cut and dry sometimes, and kids can get overwhelmed by charts, so why not gamify your students’ standards growth and get your kids to compete with each other than against?

This summer I was “strongly encouraged” to use Accelerated Math, a system we use mainly for intervention during the school year. AM is an adaptive, differentiated learning system that links in with the STAR assessments which everyone in the district uses for benchmarking. I’d been previously trained on AM, but never actually used it myself, but one thing I’d remembered from my colleagues’ feedback was that AM is a great program for kids that can set goals, kids that can pace their work, and kids that can monitor their own on-task behavior. As I mentioned in my last post about summer school, these are not usually qualities I see in my students, so to mitigate the summer being a total disaster for 3/4 of my class, I decided to use classbadges.com to track their objective mastery (and other, more PBIS-type accomplishments as well.)

Above you’ll see all of the badges I created to award to the students. Technically our program this summer is “credit recovery,” so they need only to get 60% or higher (the black token) on the objectives I assign in Accelerated Math, but I knew some kids would work harder to get better badges (just like someone might spend hours getting a certain achievement in a video game), so I made the grey “master” badge for 80%, and the gold “expert” badge for 95% scores on an objective.

I’m still going to work on more traditional goal-setting with my students, and today’s early results with the Pomodoro Technique were positive, but these badges were a fun way to give a few kids an extra, whimsical incentive.

5 Reasons Why Teaching Summer School is Good for Professional Development

I’m beginning my 6th edition of summer school for my district on Monday. My first summer, before we had children and my wife was still working, summer school was a means to cut my teeth in my own real-life math classroom before the fall semester began and stuff got real.

Teaching summer school is more of a financial requirement for our family now, but there are still several things I enjoy about the summer session that I think make me a better teacher.
1. “Do your worst.”
If you can handle what summer school students have to throw at you, you’ll probably be prepared for the worst you may see during the regular session. Some summer school students are highly motivated (which is what I expected of all of them before my first summer), and they are a delight, but most in my district come to me with one or several of the following: immaturity, frustration, anger, dejection, ambivalence, complacency. I jumped over a table last summer in the midst of what was looked to be a fight brewing. It was awesome.
2. Try new things.
The thinking on this is that for most of these kids, whatever traditional activities you or a colleague tried during the spring or fall were not successful strategies, so repackaging the regular curriculum into a shorter chunk is asking for boredom at best, and more failure at worst. I feel less pressure to have my lessons or activities go perfectly during the summer because classes are smaller and we meet longer, so its more feasible to clarify directions and completely change course if necessary without sacrificing an entire day’s 50 minute period.
I love piloting projects, games, and software in the summer.
3. Motivate, motivate, motivate.
This is for my students, too, but secretly maybe for me the most. 🙂
There aren’t a ton of self-starting, goal-setting 16 and 17 year olds to begin with – you’re definitely not going to find them in summer school. Teaching my summer students forces me to rethink why I teach, and what heights are possible for any of these students.
Morning-grump-Chuck does not fly in summer session.
4. Make new connections with colleagues
Since my district consolidated summer school for our 3 high schools into one building 3 years ago, summer school has meant working more closely with teachers I only see on sporadic district PD days. Collaborating with these teachers during the summer has given me a clearer picture of what goes on across my district and helps me make sense of goals and vision given to us from administration across the street. Most of the trainings on this page were made possible by connections I made during summer school.
5. Prioritize and dump.
You know that practice where you teach some things during the regular school year “for exposure,” just because its in your book, or you like that trick?
Reteaching an entire semester’s worth of content is obviously impossible, so the summer session requires refinement of the curriculum to essential topics and strategies. Fortunately for me, my district already has separate pacing guides for the summer, so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every summer.
This year, to cut costs, our district is holding only “credit recovery” courses, which the state allows for students who were close to passing. My class will be 2 weeks instead of the usual 4, so I’m forced to prioritize and predict where the biggest needs will be amongst my recovering students.
Why does this matter for the regular session? The topics we end up covering in summer school often become the subject of smart goals and data collection from common formative assessments in our PLCs.

DeWALT Mobile Pro iPad Calculator – Demon, or Delight?

Note: I have no affiliation with DeWalt – I just love calculators!

This is either the best thing to ever happen to tech school, shop/engineering courses, and applied mathematics, and maker spaces or it will go largely ignored in education.

You have to choose sides with the DEWALT Mobile Pro Calculator – do you think its necessary and helpful for your students to memorize formulas, conversions, and common reference measurements and values, or would you rather take the memorization time and errors away so you can spend more time doing real (ugly, scary, student-centered) stuff? [I know, like I really gave you a choice, eh?]

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

There is so much loaded in this app! It opens right to the main content screen and you find a scrolling menu on the lefthand side that seems to have all of the calculating options.

“Hmm. Pretty extensive,” you think. “Wonder when I’ll get to the in-app purchases.”

And then you keep scrolling. And keep scrolling. I wasn’t going to list all of the functions you get for FREE in the app because it’s a long list, but look at this!

  • Loan Compare
  • Notches/Holes, Joists
  • Notches/Holes, Studs
  • Wall Opening
  • Rough Opening
  • Studs
  • Volumes, Various Shapes
  • Areas, Various Shapes
  • Perimeters, Various Shapes
  • Pythagorean Theorem
  • Gross Profit Margin
  • Cost of Acquisition
  • Marketing ROI
  • Trim, Casing
  • Trim, Crown Molding
  • Trim, Running
  • Odd Shape, L
  • Odd Shape, U
  • Odd Shape, Multiple

The calc has templates AND overviews built in – Your students can pick up the concepts behind the templates along the way

  • Roof Gable
  • Stairs Landing Height
  • Baluster Spacing
  • Common Differences, Rafter
  • Rake Wall
  • Roof Underlayment
  • Rafter, Common and Jack
  • Roof Hip/Valley
  • Deck Footing Size
  • Roof Conversions
  • Deck Boards
  • Deck Load
  • Roof Shingles/Square
  • Roof Dormer Ridge Board
  • Stairs
  • Ohm’s Law
  • Floor Joist Span
  • Total Gross Wages
  • Deck Post
  • Calculator
  • Concrete Slab
  • Drywall, Total LF
  • Paint
  • Area Conversion
  • Auto Lease
  • Auto Loan
  • Concrete Bags
  • Date Conversion
  • Discount
  • Fuel Efficiency
  • Gravel/Stone
  • Length Conversion
  • Mass Conversion
  • Mileage Reimbursement
  • Mortgage
  • Compound Annual Growth
  • Percent Change
  • Sales Tax
  • Savings

[You can do it! Almost there!]

  • Seller’s Net
  • Temperature Conversion
  • Volume Conversion
  • Energy Conversion
  • Force Conversion
  • Power Conversion
  • Pressure Conversion
  • Velocity Conversion

This list does not even include the more specialized electrical, business, concrete, carpentry, landscaping, etc packs that you can add on.

VERDICT

Much like when students still need to know what to put into formulas on exams when they have formula sheets (statistics, geometry), whoever uses this calculator must still have a brain and know what they’re entering into the template and why.

If your goal is to assess students’ memorization of facts and figures and hand calculations, then this app isn’t for you. I were teaching engineering, electronics, or technical courses, I without a doubt would want my students to download this calculator to their favorite devices. If you are a math or science teacher that wants to explore more project-based learning, this app would answer a ton of your “what do we need to know” questions. If you aim to get your students solving real problems and applying real principals to their problem-solving toolbox, you should give this a try.

At the very least, download it for yourself! (or your favorite tradesman, handyman, or do-it-yourselfer)

Jeff Bliss, Luddites, and Graduation Credits

Just happened upon this editorial from Trinidad and Tobago (you know, that country with the TieDye hockey sweaters in D2: The Mighty Ducks) calling for a new Luddite movement, and I’m not quick to disagree.

Wait, what? 

What’s wrong?

This is a math and EDTECH blog. Why are you trying to champion the Luddites?

Do you KNOW about the Luddites, or do you only use the word synonymously for tech haters that make your job training and collaborating more difficult (depressing?)

Luddites were about quality. Is it in your life? Is it in your classroom?

All the championing of teacher-teller-offer Jeff Bliss this week has been largely about his passionate plea for impassioned teaching. I get it. The kids our one-size-fits most educational system hurts most are the ones who burned out once, realize they really want it for themselves, and then remember the whole reason they left in the first place. Sometimes school sucks.

Enter the machines to save the day! Flipped class! Online courses! Blogging! Differentiated objectives!

These are great strategies to turn the industrial system on its head – in the right hands. Online courses are wonderful for students who cannot participate in the time or space of the local traditional school. I love how the flipped class gives more time for peer discussion and productive struggle. Mastery systems that deliver differentiated objectives for individual students and groups lead students in goal setting, self pacing, and reward students who want to work ahead without punishing those that need more time.

None of these matter, however, if teachers and admin just go through the motions, gaming the new systems, getting kids through their new technology-enriched courses while patting themselves on the back with the credits they’re rewarding. The teenager in front of you is more than willing to get his credits (that word has me thinking about arcade tokens, which is all I feel like they’re worth sometimes) from “passing” that course. Are you REALLY helping them? I’m not sure.

Does Jeff Bliss just want to get through high school? I’m sure he wouldn’t hate it, but is that what he deserves? Jeff Bliss wants to star on the movie about his life where he made the choice to return to school and in return found teachers who shared an kind of passion with him.

I don’t think Jeff Bliss wants his math teacher to be his best friend, but I do think he wants to know his math teacher isn’t counting down the minutes until he’s out the door. It doesn’t matter how shiny and differentiated our systems are if the teachers (even in online courses) are bland robots going through the motions.

Technology is great, but remember, you’re also a craftsman.