Image

Yet Another Example of Great Professional Development

 

Yesterday I had the wonderful fortune to be able to attend an Edcamp. It didn’t take much to convince me to go since it was held at the little elementary school in Yosemite Valley. Yes, THAT Yosemite, the one that also happens to be a national park, and one of the most beautiful places on this earth! It never takes much to get me to take the drive to Yosemite. But give me the chance to go there and hang out for a few hours with other educators who want to talk about how we can all get better at what we do, and I am in! Throw in an Instagram pre-session, and I don’t know how to stay away.

View this post on Instagram

#edcampyosemite

A post shared by nallstedt (@nallstedt) on

The edcamp model is  something fairly new to me. You do not have to sign up months in advance and walk a stack of paperwork through the school district system hoping it does not get misplaced. Once the paperwork is done you find yourself going through the program and figuring out the schedule for the event. Nor do you have to submit a proposal for a presentation for the conference to get a free admission. All you have to do is sign up for a ticket. They are free, and usually on Saturday (at least in my limited experience) so you don’t have any district paperwork! Can I get a woot for no district paperwork? You do have to sign up, because they often sell out! But that is not the best part. The best part is the way the sessions are scheduled.

When you check in at an edcamp you are given a pen and a piece of paper and asked “what do you want to learn about?” You write down a topic and it is placed on a schedule board. All of the different topics are clustered into logical groups and assigned rooms and times. Yesterday several people wrote that they wanted to learn more about Minecraft, so a Minecraft session was held during the first session in the multipurpose room. John Miller, @room162 on twitter, was on hand and is a passionate user of Minecraft in the classroom and attended the session to lend his expertise.  Other people had heard of “App Smashing” and wanted to learn more, so a session was held on that. A session called “Things That Suck” was a big draw, and a lot of fun. The great part is that the schedule is built that day, based on the needs and interests of those there that day, not months ahead of time! You get to learn about what you want to learn about.

I really wanted to learn, as Jon Corippo says, to “Avoid the Suck.” (Jon is on twitter @jcorippo) The suck is that time in the middle of an assigned project when the enthusiasm has waned, but the work isn’t done. Jon says when the teacher says “I am going to give you lots of time for this project” students hear “I don’t have to start this for a long time!” There was a session about avoiding the suck. I don’t think I found a silver bullet on this topic, but I am thinking about it a little differently.

Because I often present at conferences to “pay my way” I am often stressed out going in. I am worried about my presentation; have I prepped enough, am I going to have network issues, what if no one comes… Traditional conferences are all about sage on the stage. If you know me and my classroom style it is anything BUT sage on the stage. I don’t do direct instruction well or often. I do not like being the expert in the front. At an edcamp there is no sage on the stage, just a group of people talking about a topic they are all interested in, and that, in my book, is great professional development.

From here on out, if there is an edcamp in driving distance, I am in!

Image

Breaking Stuff and Other Problems

I have a problem. My students are doing great work. So great they are working on projects and doing things none of my classes have ever done before. They are taking the projects we do  to places I have not seen high school students do before. It is a great problem to have, but I am not sure what we are going to do next week, let alone later in the quarter. I will have to come up with more advanced projects, or at least ask better questions.

When I ask myself why this year is so much more productive I can only come up with a few ideas. The students have not changed much. Sure they are older because I do not have freshmen anymore, but I do have a lot of sophomores. So they are older, but not by much. My classes are a lot smaller. In some past years I literally had to step over kids who were sitting on the floor for lack of anywhere else to sit. All the seats were taken, and if there was an empty space on a table you can be sure a kid was sitting there too.  Now I generally have an empty seat or two, and that counts for a lot.

But I think the biggest reason for the change is that I stopped focusing on the end product and instead focus on the process. More specifically, I began encouraging kids to to “do it wrong.”  I encouraged them to “see what happens if…” When they asked “should I click this” instead of a yes or no I respond with “if ya want.” I asked them to turn in not only the finished project, but evidence of all the mistakes and problems they had. I no longer hear “my computer broke, I can’t do it. You better not give me a bad grade ’cause its not my fault.” I get “Hey let me take a screen shot, no one got THAT error message before.” I even had a student ask a friend record a video so she would have evidence of what was going wrong. She thought it would be better that way than taking a series of screen shots. It is really fun to hear them talk about problems they are having and come up with theories as to why.

So what’s the problem?

I have been taught to think that all of the students in the class should be getting the same education, they should be learning the same things. I remember early  in my teaching career having “terminal measurable objectives” drilled into my head. At the end of the semester all students will be able to (fill in the blank with some task students will learn to do.) I can’t do that anymore. In this new environment, where I am expecting students to take risks, to make mistakes, and to even break stuff, I can’t say all students will be learning the same things. Some students are not finishing anything, but are learning tons! Other students churn out finished products, but are learning very little.  Finishing a project or assignment is not necessarily synonymous with learning. Similarly, not finishing an assignment or project does not mean no standards were learned. It might mean we ran out of time. Or it could also mean the idea/project was a bad idea to begin with! It doesn’t mean we didn’t learn!

I have a team of students right now working on building a Remotely Operated Vehicle; an underwater robot, as their SkillsUSA project. They decided they would design it on the computer then print out all of the parts on the 3D printer and assemble them. Yesterday they thought they had some parts designed just right, the first one came out perfect, so they sent five of the parts to the printer and went home. This morning they came in to find the parts done, but it was clear there was a problem, something had gone wrong and the parts did not fit in the housing they were designed to go in. There was some discussion as to what went wrong and why, and they set about to solve the problem- redesign the parts. One of the kids was gathering the defective parts and I asked what he was going to do with them. He said “I am keeping these. They are evidence that we redesigned them!” I had to smile, but I still have a problem.

I really like what is happening in room 17 this year. I see lots and lots of learning. Lots of really cool stuff. But how do I sustain it? How do I replicate it next year, and the year after? Projects we do this year aren’t going to work next year. There will be different kids, different interests, and different times. Tools we use now will be obsolete. There will be websites that easily do things we now spend lots of time on. I guess that is one way teaching is different now than it was, say 20 years ago; you have to move a lot faster just to keep up with the times!

Image

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.

Image

3 and Out

Photo CC by Paul Keleher of flickr

I just finished the coursework for a Preliminary Administrative Credential at Teachers College of San Joaquin. In California prospective administrators have two options to become credentialed; take a test or take a year long series of courses. The test takes a Saturday and has a relatively small fee. The coursework option is several thousand dollars and is just shy of a masters degree. Seemed like a no brainer to me- I took the coursework!

One of the ideas that kept gnawing at me through all of the coursework was that it is a good thing to stay at a school for a short while and then move on. I was told that I should plan on being an Assistant Principal for three to five years and then move on to something else. And then repeat. It seems like the old football saying, “three and out.” The three and out thing is generally not a good one. Unless you are on defense. I don’t think schools should play defense.

One of the things that make good schools effective learning places is the environment. Effective schools have a positive climate where everyone feels included. Students, staff, teachers, parents and all the stakeholders feel they have an important role in the school. I think of that as a sense of ownership. It is our school. As an administrator I think it would be difficult to accomplish this climate when your tenure is shorter than the tenure of the students. Especially in high school.

I think if we truly want to transform schools we have to be a part of the learning community. We as educators have to be a part of the community as much as the students and their families. We really are in this together. You can’t do that if you are going three and out.