My Edu-Hero

This last week I was invited to attend some presentations in one of our elementary schools. The invitation was an opportunity to go and see how technology is being used in schools. On Tuesday morning I made my way over to the Primary Years Academy, pushed my way through a crowd of proud parents outside Ms. Matty’s first grade class, and was amazed. Kids were grouped around their little tables, in teams of two or three. Each table had a bunch of props representing aspects of the country the kids had researched. The kids were in costumes, respectfully representing the traditional clothing of that culture. Each team had a Chromebook the kids were going to use for their presentations. They were getting ready.

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As the kids were getting logged in to the Chromebooks, the problems started. Something had changed on the network the night before, and kids were presented with a screen they had never seen before. They didn’t know what to do. With a crowd of parents outside the room waiting to get in, and Ms. Matty busy with all the details involved in a day like this,  I watched a boy and girl interact:

“Hmmm, That’s not right” the boy said.

“Try clicking here.” said the little girl.

“That didn’t work. I’m going to log out and try again.”

This went on for a few minutes before word spread among the kids on how to solve the problem. It was really impressive. Remember, these were first graders! Six year old kids!  They had run into an unexpected problem, and were doing a fantastic job of problem solving. The kids solved the problem, and went on and gave their presentations to a room full of parents, and then repeated the performance for classes of older kids.

The kids did a great job. I saw really wonderful presentations. Kids were using technology in an authentic way, blended with realia to make a meaningful learning experience. I just wish everyone could see what is happening in Ms. Matty’s room. Great things are happening in that class.  Ms. Matty is my Edu-hero.

 

 

Trying never works

I had the opportunity to spend the last week in Redlands, California, at the headquarters of ESRI  learning about spatial thinking. In the last several weeks ESRI announced, as part of the ConnectedED initiative, a billion dollar donation of software to k-12 education. I spent the week better learning how to use that software in the classroom. It is pretty amazing stuff. For those of you that are into maps, I strongly suggest you look into this stuff. For those of you that are into things other than maps, I offer the same advise. It is not about just what is where, like many people think of maps. It is so much more than that. It is the why. It is big question, higher order stuff. And if you have any geek in you at all you will love it. And face it, if you know about this blog, you have at least some geek in you! And best of all the software is free, all you have to do is ask. But that’s not the point of this post.

One afternoon this week I was working in the auditorium completely immersed in figuring out how to show a correlation between my data points when I heard someone on the stage say “My name is Jack, and I’d like to talk to you all for a little while.” Looking up I saw it was Jack Dangermond, President of ESRI, the guy who just gave a billion dollars to education. He gave a little talk and then asked us, the eighty or so educators in the room, what we thought he should do to change the world. It was a fascinating conversation, but one part stood out.  One member of the audience offered his thoughts, and finished with “…so that’s what I am trying to do.” Mr. Dangermond responded, “Yea, the thing about trying is trying never works. I need people who will, people who do.” That really hit home with me.

Many times my students say “Ima try my hardest.” Or “Next time I’ll try harder.” How many things do I say I am trying to do? I am trying to build a better grade book. I am trying to make more engaging projects. I am trying to provide better feedback. I see that Jack is right. Trying never works. So this year I am making a better gradebook. I am building more engaging projects.  I am providing better feedback.  Because trying never works.

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About those quizes…

Yesterday we held our annual SkillsUSA Regional Competition. For those that don’t know, SkillsUSA is a national student led career and technical organization. Students compete in career or leadership related events. Welding students, for example, are presented with materials and drawings and asked to produce the piece depicted in the drawing. Leadership students might present their student designed and implemented community service project. It is, I believe, a fantastic way to assess what students are learning in the classroom. Which brings me to the point of my blogpost this morning.
The Washington Post this morning ran a story by Valerie Strauss called “How we teach kids to cheat on tests.” The story does a pretty good job of summarizing what happens when we put too much importance on the test score, or the quiz score.

This morning Daniel Ching  @danielpching published a blog post “The importance of process” in which he talks about the importance of providing feedback throughout the process of learning, and grading that process.  Too often we educators put all of the grade on the final test, and the students loose out as a result.

So lets go back to the SkillsUSA event yesterday. I was asked to run the Quiz Bowl event. This is sort of a “Jeopardy” type event where students, working in teams of 5, are asked a variety of questions. Questions include basic math, geometry, science, world and national politics, current events, and career related questions. It was fascinating for me to watch how students solved problems. Yea there were obscure questions where everyone in the room threw up there hands and said “whats a minority whip?” They were 10th and 11th graders after all. But for other questions it was interesting to me to watch the students break off into twos and threes and come up with their own answers,  talk their way through the questions, and come to an agreement on the answer. I could easily see strengths and weaknesses for each student. More importantly the students could see their own strengths and weaknesses. They were arguing for their answers, and providing  evidence to support those answers.

Photo by David Varela. Used with permission.
Photo by David Varela. Used with permission.

I learned much more about what these students knew by standing in the room and listening to them talk to each other than I ever would learn from the results of a test. Just as I learn more about what my students know by listening to them as they prepare for their presentations.

My students typically participate in the Career Pathways Showcase. In this event they prepare a presentation where they demonstrate what they have learned. On Friday a group of students was preparing their presentation and one of them said “We should bring the books we read as evidence of  our learning. We could talk about the books.” Another group decided to bring a stack of their mistakes, and talk about what they learned from them. I didn’t tell them to do these things, they decided it was the best way to demonstrate their learning.

I think these SkillsUSA events are much better assessments of student learning than any test. So no, there is not going to be a quiz on this on Friday.

Being proud and actually saying it.

I was able to attend Fall Cue this year again.  It was, as usual, a great experience. It was a little different this year in that I didn’t come home with a great new tool. Usually I learn of a great tool that is new to me; an app, a web site, or a gadget. This year there was no such discovery for me. The learning for me seemed to center on attitude. Mostly my own. I really wanted to refine my thinking about the maker concept and design thinking, and I was able to do that, but it wasn’t really new.

The opening keynote by Ramsey Mussalum, which can be seen here, was great. Does Ramsey do anything not great? (Why do they call it the opening keynote when it is delivered at the midway point of the conference? But that is an aside.) Ramsey talked about why so many kids hate school, and to combat that we, as teachers, need to love our jobs. If you don’t love your job it shows, and you make it all the more likely that your students will #hateschool. Fortunately, #Ilovemyjob.

The closing keynote by Angela Maiers was equally powerful. She talked about how kids just want to be acknowledged and valued. Call them by their name Angela said. All of them. Make them know you notice them. In a good way.

One of the reasons #Ilovemyjob is because I work at a small school where I can know every kid’s name. We have less than 250 kids. I need to do better about knowing all of their names, even those who don’t hang out in Awesomnesity Central, or for those who don’t know, Room 17. I came back to school with the plan that I was going to seek out those kids who think #Ihateschool and say hello to them, by name. It seemed simple enough, and sounded like a pretty good idea.

It was Tuesday afternoon, the last period of the day. I spent most of the day honestly amazed at the work my students were doing. We were doing some pretty complicated GIS stuff on a school network that doesn’t like GIS stuff. We had lots of issues, and the kids were just plowing right through them. They were almost finished with a project and I was just beaming with pride. I said it.

“You guys are really doing amazing work, sticking to it, working through problems. Its amazing to watch. I am proud of you.”

One girl turned around and asked “Me? You are proud of me too?

“Yea, you. Everyone in here. You guys are doing amazing stuff.”

“But you mean me? You are proud of me?”

“Yea. Of course. Your data was gone, you got it back, like it was no big deal. You have been doing great work. Why are you acting surprised?”

“Because no one has ever said that to me.” Long pause. “No, no one. No one has ever said they were proud of me.”

I am glad I went to Fall Cue.

Student accomplishments



Last weekend I took some of my students to the SkillsUSA California Regional competition. I was particularly confident in my students’ abilities. A few students were in individual competitions, but most were in team events where they were presenting the different projects they are working on. I brought 21 students, and all 21 advanced to the state conference in April. Thats the largest number of kids I have brought to regionals, and thats the largest number I will have brought to state. 


After the event one student commented that was the first gold medal she had ever won in anything. Another asked if they get to keep the medals, or do they have to give them to the school.  Some students wore them to school all week. I am very proud of the work and accomplishments of these kids, and I am really looking forward to the state conference.


During the event one of the students told me “Mr. Hall I’m not going to lie. The only reason we took this project on is because we didn’t want to do all those other stupid projects, we’d rather do this. It’s easier to do something real.”  I told him that I knew that. One reason I do Skills is it is a lot easier than grading all those other silly projects. It really is easier to do real world projects than “busy work” projects designed to “fill the year.” It is way more rewarding to.

Astonishing Kids




“If you’re not astonishing the kids, they won’t be astonishing you back!” -Stephen Heppell


I came across this quote a few weeks ago on Twitter. It made me think about which of my kids are doing astonishing things, and which are not. The picture with this post is of my students giving a presentation to the school board. In the summer. After grades were turned in. They were finishing their project. I think that was astonishing. I have a bunch of kids doing astonishing things. 

But I have also been counting the number of kids who I am clearly not astonishing. Lets just say I do not have enough fingers to count that high. Even if I use my toes I come up far short. So I guess I need to, as my students would say, step up my game.

I teach a technology class, and am fortunate that I have a very wide range of curricular choices. I can really take the class in directions that most teachers can not. I do not have a district mandated pacing guide. I do not have an end of year standardized test. So I really have no excuses, no road blocks. I have a very supportive site and district administration- they will allow me to do what I think best. They trust my judgement. But still, looking across my room I see kids who are not doing astonishing things. 

I guess that means I have room for improvement. I need to be more astonishing.