Sunday, December 11, 2011

A more introspective Big Ideas

I really meant to blog during the fest this year and record impressions as they occurred but it didn’t happen. My desire to observe and participate won over my need to document. This year’s fest was more introspective for me than last year's. Last year almost every speaker made me think “Oh I want try that” or “what a great idea, let’s do that”. This year it all was a bit vague. I really love Bill Ayers. I love what he says. I love his point of view and I also love how sort of twinkly he is. I know that sounds ridiculous but he truly is charismatic. The advice to pay attention, be astonished, and do something was a bit vague. I guess it is better than to observe, be pissed off, complain and alienate everyone. I have to say, though, his speech did make me think that and just thinking about it was helpful.

Last year I really tried to implement ideas, some successfully and most not. I realized that my method of being on every committee and arguing my point was seriously not effective.

Monday, December 5, 2011

First day big ideas 2011

Big ideas is on. . Yesterday was great. Met a ton of interesting people. I thought of a friend of mine who wants to be a science educator outside of the classroom. Sometimes it really does seem like sitting in the classroom is part of the problem. We did an exercise where people wrote down a moment as a learner, any time at all in their lives, that had a big impact on them, and for many people it wasnt at school. It might have been running around an estuary, building something with friends, or making a discovery on your own. Maybe as teachers we could find a way to facilitate and then step back.mthe classroom set up itself isn’t so conducive

Thursday, March 17, 2011

war on teachers is getting me down

I wanted to write an entry because it has been a while but I am finding it hard this week to be positive. The earthquake and its aftermath, the continuing and escalating war, the siege on teachers and public employees, all seem very close to home. I attended some rallies in support of Wisconsin and that was heartening (there were a lot of people and many moving speeches) and depressing at the same time. I can't imagine anyone choosing to become a teacher right now. I read that article in AFT by Paul Karrer, Castroville Teacher's Reality Letter to President Obama. I must really be feeling sorry for myself because it made me cry. I'll see if I can put a link to the letter on this page but you can google AFT and the title of the article and it will come up.

Our school is meant to be run by a teacher collaborative but egos aren't being checked at the door. I'm doing some soul searching myself and trying to refrain from blurting out what ever good (according to me) idea I have. I don't mean it to seem like oneupsmanship so I'm trying to watch it. We (myself and a couple of colleagues) are picking up some hostility from coworkers. We had an endless meeting last night where nothing at all was accomplished. Someone told me once that there are people who don't want success but we have no idea what to do. I believe in compassion and I think we are compassionate but how do we move beyond this? I'm staying positive and friendly but someone actually complained that I was happy. Just writing that just made me laugh and feel better.

On the upside, I have convinced the admin to get class sets of iPads and more mac carts, and even a class set of Ipods so that students can easily do research. Everyone is into the groups of four idea. It fits with SIDAE (I'd write what the acronym stands for but I can never remember. I worked first on teaching the students how to write research papers in collaboration with the science teachers and now we are beginning to do research for their persuasive essays and speeches. My class was visited by the district supervisor and luckily the little groups were all functioning and working well. I have some classes that function well and others that don't, so I can't make any sweeping generalizations about the success of the group work. I have 40 or close to 40 students in my classes. The noise level during group work can be pretty high. Next year class sizes are supposed to rise. Hard to imagine.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Other Big Ideas - Los Angeles Town Hall STEAM Conf.

It wasn't quite the Big Ideas Festival but the Los Townhall Steam Conference was full of interesting people. Los Angeles Townhall put on a STEAM conference, the A wa stuck in to include arts in the science, technology, engineering, math mix.

There were about 30 speakers in about 6 moderated discussions with some audience response over an afternoon/evening and a day. There were none of the collaborative laboratories that we held at Big Ideas Festivals. Not having the COLAB made me see the importance of them. It's not enough just to hear people speak you need to use what you hear to collaborate on problem solving.

We did have the opportunity to talk to people though. The science teacher (from my school) and I met Tara Chklovski, her group is called Iridescent Learning. Their mission is to bring the beautiful side of science to students. They work closely with students and their parents. We hope we can begin working together on a project. They have a group of mentor engineers that are able to communicate to students. One of the things the students can do is design t-shirts that explain scientific concepts with diagrams. In English, we will design the research project, work in science to develop their question and do the reasearch and then we will work with Iridescent to develop their understanding of the scientific question, understand applications and create the t-shirt. And their parents will be there as well. Or somehting like that, it's still early.

I also met a woman who works at the Fashion Design Institute and talked to her about the t-shirt project and she is going to arrange a field trip to a large (hip) apparel manufacturer and the students will see the manufacturing end of the t-shirt production.

The conference gave us lots of ideas. The big bummer (it was so depressing) was the speech from Anthony Wilder Miller, Deputy Secretary of the US Dept. of Education. What a clueless politician! His big idea is that what we need are higher standards and longer days, shorter vacations. Let's do what isn't working for longer!

One woman came up and said, she didn't mind having standards but it wasn't realistic. She used the analogy of going up to a buffet table and putting so many things on the plate that food was falling off. The problem isn't with the height of the standards (make them as high as you want) but with the sheer number.

And what is falling off the plate is science, history, all the arts, and all the language arts strands that aren't reading. With such high stake testing, not everyone feels they can afford to concentrate on oral language skills (very important life skill) because they aren't tested.

Kids come out of school without basic skills because they have just spent years sitting on their bottoms, bored out of their minds, uninterested and unable to see the point. My students go in to large urban high schools with a drop out rate of almost 60%. Teachers go in an at least hour early and we mostly tutor for an hour (at least) after school. We could spend the night and it wouldn't solve the problem.

If you took away the vacations of middle school teachers, I think they would go insane. No one could do the job without a break.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Change isn't Easy

Two steps forward and then it isn't really two steps back, it is more like we never moved. Earlier I said I was really excited because we were looking at new models for intervention, inspired by School of One (individualized instruction catering to different learners), The Hole in the Wall Project (peer led learning using technology). Well, it looks like our intervention will be using worksheets that are basically test prep.

We had also decided that community building among the staff was a priority but now it seems it isn't, (I really think it should be) because we are doing 6 hours of SIDAE training instead that will be led by someone from the district. Hopefully it will be interactive. It could build community if it includes role playing... We'll see.

We had also decided that whole staff would read the same book on having a productive work place, where people get along and then that didn't happen either. We are no longer reading a book together. Our last meeting was a disaster. At the rate we are going, we will need a professional mediator. We are a small school, we need to find a way to agree and move forward. We are supposed to help students learn to listen and respond to each other. How can we teach what we can't practice?

Unless we have the community building part down I don't see how we can move forward to really be a school that lives up to its vision of a collaborative teaching model that is interdisciplinary, project based, and student centered.

Making Schools Safe

Two days after my last blog, about addressing bullying, there were two shootings within a couple of miles of my middle school. One student had a gun in his backpack and it went off and shot a boy through the neck, that same bullet hit a girl in the temple. I think that yesterday she opened her eyes for the first time. In addition, one of my students died of meningitis. Her funeral was last Sunday. Everyone is sad and everyone is concerned.

Some teachers were concerned about parent reaction to the fact that we now have a Gay Straight Alliance chapter at our school but I'm not. Some students are gay, some students are accused of being gay, students are harassed. This group of students, gay and straight, are willing to step up and take a stand against bullying and intolerance and I hope the school will do everything to support them. We can hold discussions with parents and hear their concerns but the GSA will remain at our school.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Having an Impact

At the conference, one of the questions was how do we help teachers have a greater impact on students. The three areas we looked at were building community, having a more student centered curriculum that includes technology, and imagining a different, and more flexible, learning environment.

When we speak of community, we turn to issues of trust and safety. There aren't a lot of mental health resources available in our society and sometimes issues seem way bigger than our ability as individuals to deal with them but you have to start somewhere. Bullying is a real problem. It is serious and awful and if I described recent incidents, you would think I was exaggerating. Every now and then something is on the news and we are all horrified but it isn't happening now and then, it's happening all the time.

My advisory class discussed bullying and they decided to form a group at our school "We are All Against Bullying". The students want to create a website with interviews, information, and surveys. They want to start a campaign. They are really into the idea of the raising money but they don't know what they need the money for. It makes me laugh but it gets to the heart of the matter in education: the students want to do things; they want to create (even if it just a cake).

After the meeting, a couple of students came to speak to me. They said they weren't comfortable bringing it up but could we create a Gay Straight Alliance at the school and have that be part of our anti-bullying efforts. They said there are a lot of gay students at the school but they don't feel safe.

The next advisory period I asked if students wanted to specifically link issues surrounding sexual orientation to bullying. The first response was that we don't have any gay students at the school but someone said maybe that wasn't the issue because a lot of students accused of being gay weren't. The question was asked if you had a friend who told you they were gay would you still be their friend. Everyone said they would but some people didn't look too sure. It was a great discussion. Someone brought up the Gay Straight Alliance and they all agreed it would be powerful if we publicly stated we were not in favor of using gay slurs and were not homophobic. I think they might be a little nervous but everyone agreed to be part of this group. My advisory has 21 students.

Afterward I was in the hallway and told a teacher who is the webmaster that I needed a page on the school website for our Gay Straight Alliance. She was with some visitors. The visitor overheard and came to see me later, it turns out that they are members of the Gay Straight Alliance from the nearby high school. They want to come and talk to my advisory next Tuesday. A community can start to build very quickly it seems.

I registered our school with the national group of the Gay Straight Alliance. I ordered material about bullying.

While I was on the site I also ordered material about the holocaust from I think we will broaden our outlook and include some history. It looks like we will get buses to visit a new holocaust museum in Los Angeles for all the 8th graders. We have other resources in Los Angeles and community members willing to help so we should be able link our efforts to stop bullying in our schools to civil rights. I can't believe this all came together in two days (and it seems a great way to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.)

During the next meeting of our teachers, I'll present these developments. Hopefully everyone will be interested.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Implementing Big Ideas

I am going back to school tomorrow after the winter break and it looks like ideas inspired by the conference will be implemented. We had an Instructional Committee meeting over the break. 5 teachers and the principal attended. All teachers were invited and we get paid but I guess it was difficult to come in during the break. One of the teachers said afterward that she thought it was amazing that teachers (with the principal) were actually developing our professional development together.

One thing that stayed with me from the conference was when Alesha Daughtry said that sometimes people don't know they can just discuss issues and change direction. Sometimes teachers just expect to hear "no" or not to be heard at all so they just vent to each other instead of trying to institute change or to come to some kind of compromise.

We went over what we thought were the three big areas for PD to always revolve around and these were: building community among the teachers and staff, helping all students succeed, developing curriculum specific to our school's vision. "Helping all students succeed" sounds like the task of any school but we need to look specifically at the students in our school who are not successful and maybe haven't been for many years. Our students go into large urban high schools with probably some of the highest rates of drop out in the country.

So we discussed new models for remediation, using technology, some ideas from Hole in the Wall were discussed (groups of four using an ipad), using ideas from School of One
(individualized remediation that used different modalities).

We are going to have a tech advisor from the district come in and do a workshop with all the teachers on using iPADS. We are using a model for the workshops that are project based and have very little lecture. Not everyone is comfortable with this but it is supposed to be at the core of our school endeavor (collaborative, project based instruction that offers and opportunity to both learn and show understanding using different modalities) so we need to do it anyway.

We divided our professional development into sections:

1 - all reading the same book together ( a book about effective workplaces and how to talk to each other) and we will set aside some PD every week to discuss the book.

2. Learning new technology together (in groups of 4) with some activity (we thought we would combine VoiceThread with the bookclub for the first tech pd).

3. Returning always to our school's vision and linking this to ways to help all students achieve success (we haven't yet developed this plan - this will be a work in progress but included interdisciplinary projects).

I'm uploading some of the picture I took during the conference that were topic the labs worked on because I think they are relevant to our professional development.