Chicken or the Egg – Whose Learning Should Schools Prioritize?

20140301-150537.jpg

The topic for Thursday night’s #moedchat was “Out of the Box PD”. I guess the first question was my favorite, because I’m still thinking about it.

20140301-162332.jpg

MY RESPONSE:

20140301-180640.jpg

I didn’t get the feeling that it was a very popular answer – maybe only because the focus of Thursday’s chat was on TEACHER learning – but the more I reflect on it, the stronger I’m convicted. Wrapping it as a chicken/egg paradigm instead of front burner/back burner makes it a slightly different question, but the principle remains.

Student learning should be the primary focus of a school or distict over teacher PD because teacher learning would have to be a part of the discussion to serve that goal.

What happens when teacher learning comes first? Reflecting on my own career gives me a few things to consider.

1. Saying the right thing and having an instructional plan that LOOKS good takes precedence over evidence and results.

We can have high-quality PD and high-five each other for the great conversations we have at edcamps, other conferences, or on Twitter chats, but there’s a big step between knowing best practice, attempting best practice, and ACHIEVING best practice. In my own experience, when MY learning is most important, its tempting to blame anything that is unsuccessful in my classroom on various student factors.

2. PD that does not focus first on the impact of a strategy or tool on students serves only the people in the room.

I am not a fan of “cool tool” sessions at conferences or PD trainings that focus on one particular tool, because in my own experience, my excitement to squeeze that tool into my own classroom sometimes results in a negative impact on learning as students hurdle the tech to learn the content or demonstrate their learning. If “how will my students use this” or “what challenges will my students face” is the first question, we risk complicating an environment that is already difficult to navigate for high-needs students.

The first semester I had iPads in my classroom, I tried giving a final exam on the Socrative “clicker” app. From my perspective, this was a slam dunk. My students had already used the app several times, so I knew they liked it, and while you could not put images into your Socrative quizzes at that point in time, I had gotten around it by printing copies of the exam with Socrative setup as a bubblesheet. What I thought was the big advantage for me and the kids was that Socrative was going to score their responses as they worked, making the feedback immediate – they would not be stressing for hours to find out how they did on the final. There was only ONE problem – Socrative forces the students to work linearly through the exam, so anyone that would normally skip around and do the work they were most comfortable with first could not. On top of that, if a student accidentally pressed a response different than what they wanted, there was no way to go back and change it. Bottom line: for as much added benefit as Socrative provided with its immediate results (and easing my grading burden) the times kids were penalized for an errant finger resulted in a net impact of ZERO at best.

3. Focusing on teachers’ learning needs FIRST ignore the needs of the students in their context.

Instructional design 101 demands that before you prepare any instruction (or in this case, provide training for teachers to better teach the students), you conduct a needs assessment to meet the students where they are culturally, and what they bring to you in prior knowledge.

The students’ learning must come first because they are the school variable that is always changing! Yes, there are circumstances for which meeting a set of students will require more training for a teacher, but that is in response to the student context.

20140301-204354.jpg

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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┬ásummer 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. ­čÖé
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.

(Effective) Teacher Technology Use Is Growing (INFOGRAPHIC)

A buddy of mine, +David Hallmon, forwarded this infographic from onlineuniversities.com to me today and it had some points that really grabbed my interest.

1. 68% of students reported in 2012 that their teachers used technology effectively.

It doesn’t go into what technology proficiencies made for “effective,” or at what level, but that seems like an encouraging number.

2. Of teachers surveyed, 90% have a laptop or PC in the classroom.

This astounds me that is NOT at least 99%, but good for perspective, I guess. Even on days you’re upset that your favorite tech tool isn’t behaving, it could be WORSE.

3. 3 in 4 teachers say that tech allows them to reinforce and expand on content, motivate students, and accommodate multiple learning styles.

Is it statistically appropriate, then to link my first point, and this one and assume that of the ~75% of teachers that report these benefits, only 7% aren’t doing it well? (Probably not, but it would be an interesting test of significance to run)

4. In a study of AP Calc students, the half in a #flipclass model scored an average of more than half a point higher on the 5 point AP exam scale

I feel like my most effective days teaching in AP Stats are the days we clarify misconceptions and reinforce what is understood. Giving lectures, which is something my kids DID ask for more of, seems like a bit of a time waste for kids that I know can and will mostly read/watch when I tell them to.

I have a hunch that at least a segment of these higher AP scores are because the brighter kids benefited more from the self-paced learning afforded by the video model, but it’s significant enough for me to give it a shot next week when we return from Spring Break.