Sunday, November 28, 2010

Edublog Awards

I wasn't going to do Edublog Awards, but it's Sunday night after Thanksgiving and I'm trying to procrastinate in every way I can. So here we go:

Best individual blog: Think Thank Thunk
Shawn has a special place in my heart. Most people around these cyber parts think I'm a math teacher. I actually teach science. I just hang out with the math folks. Mainly because when I first started looking for blogs to call home I found a ton of really good math blogs and....umm.... Michael Doyle and Ben Wildeboer for science. He came out and started blogging about the redunkulus things he was doing in his physics (and math and comp sci) class. Oh and standards-based grading. Lots of that.

Best individual tweeter: Sam Shah / @samjshah
Like his blog, his tweets are a nice mix of personal and professional. He created his own tshirts and a map of his twitter friends. I look forward to his favorite tweets every time he posts them. He also gave a great presentation on the joys of the blogotwitterversphere that I always send people towards when they ask me, "Why blog/twitter?" Basically, Sam has become his own meme.

Best group blog: InterACT
I generally stay away from education policy. It's just not a rabbit hole I want to fall into. However, the InterACT blog is a collection of California teachers (huge emphasis on teachers) that blog about the state of education both in California and in the rest of the nation. Always a good read.

Best new blog: Educating Grace
I could also have gone with two great new bloggers - Frank Noschese and John Burk. But like American Idol, these two physics bloggers are going to split the vote. I also don't double nominate, otherwise Cornally is a shoe-in. Instead I'm going with Grace Chen's blog. The best compliment I can give her is that I hardly every comment. Usually when I comment it's because I can quickly shoot off a response. With Grace, I need a few days to think it over. Then I realize I don't really have anything to add because she's so much smarter than me and has already thought things through. She technically had one post in 2009 but I'm not really counting that. It's like a redshirt year right?

Best resource sharing blog: Science For All
Obviously, this is a science resource site. I'm not big on the dozens of sites around that are just post after post of things like the Top Ten uses for Animoto. Kirk does a good job of finding and posting a balance of resources. I trend more towards the reports he finds but if you need to find cell animation videos he's got that too.

Most influential blog post: Without Geometry Life Is Pointless - Habits of Mind
It went viral and got picked up in random non-math and non-teaching places. Up until this post I felt like a super cool hipster guy who knew about this secretly awesome blog and if you guys new about it you'd be jealous of me. It turns out Avery and I are practically neighbors so you can continue to be jealous of me.

Best teacher blog: f(t)
I won't say too much about Kate's blog, mainly because there's close to zero chance that you haven't read it before. It wasn't the first blog I read, but it was the one that got me hooked. It's great. Kate's great. Her skin is great. Hugs all around.

Best educational wiki: SciDo
Perhaps technically it's more of a GDoc but there's a wiki for it so I'm counting it here. I've blogged about it already.

Best educational webinar series: Math 2.0
A lot of good stuff on math and math education. If they put the archives into a form I could download to an iPod it would be even better (hint hint). 

Best use of a PLN: Virtual Conference on Soft Skills
Riley put together a murderer's row of presenters and I still find myself going back and checking old posts. It also got many of us to blog outside of our comfort zone which was cool to see.

Best educational podcast: Math/Maths
This is an enjoyable weekly podcast about what's going on in the world of math.  It's a show about math current events rather than learning about math. Hosts Samuel Hansen and Peter Rowlett include a list of links to go with each show and you can find good resources to use in class.

Runner up: A History of the World in 100 Objects
I just wanted to link this because it's so awesome. I've never had occasion to use any info from this in class so I didn't feel I could nominate it. It's great though and currently takes up over half of my iPod space.

Lifetime achievement: The Science Goddess
Over 1500 posts is an achievement by any standard. The Science Goddess was the first blogger I read regularly. Her blog roll served as the source of all my initial Google Reader feeds and in her comment section I was first introduced to a newly National Board Certified Teacher named Frank Noschese.  She's been through controversy and career change and still manages to publish quality posts each time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Belated Blogoversary

Today is my birthday. Thinking about it I realized I must have missed my first blog birthday. It was back in September but I didn't really take this thing seriously until the spring and it didn't even occur to me that I'd been blogging that long.

I went back and read some earlier posts. Your first few posts are like looking at what people wrote in your high school yearbook. It's embarrassing and you're a little ashamed but you can't help but smile when you read it.

Blogging itself has been valuable. I recommend it even if you just want to keep it private.

But more than anything, blogging has brought me into a wonderful community of teachers. Through blogging and Twitter I've interacted with more good teachers in that last year than I thought I would in my entire career. My computer is full of saved conversations and blog posts I reference when I'm struggling through planning a unit or helping a particular student. Not only has it accelerated my own development, but I've had to knock down and rebuild (multiple times) my image of what being a great teacher looks like.

Originally, I went online to get help. I was, and still am, frustrated with my pace of professional growth. This community has certainly helped in that way. But there was another unexpected outcome.

At some point, these people who are miles and miles away, become your actual friends. I've had dinners with Sam Shah, the pseudonymous Sophie Germain, Dan MeyerAvery Pickford, and Bree Murray. I've joyously celebrated a few recent births.

This community has filled a need that I didn't know existed. I run a Lego League team, a MATHCOUNTS club, and an after school boxing program (sequentially, not simultaneously). I've got kids in my room before school, at lunch, and after school so I never have time to socialize with other teachers. When we actually are together, I'd rather talk about vocab strategies than go through the typical teacher chitchat. At staff meetings, I can be harsh and impatient with my colleagues. Sometimes fairly. Sometimes not. 

I spent my Veteran's day evening at a math circle. For my birthday? My family members all chipped in for a ticket to the ASCD conference. (If you're going, let me know.) Basically what I'm saying is that I'm crazy, but you guys get me. I'm not a people person by any stretch of the imagination. But teaching is lonely, even for me. And I didn't realize how lonely I was until I met you. Thank you. You've helped me more than you can imagine.

Facts that only interest me:
  • Frank Noschese was the third commenter ever, followed by Matt Townsley. Sarah rounds out the top five. Stacy Sidle was six and Shawn Cornally was seven.
  • Mrs. L and Nancy were the first two but unfortunately I don't have any information about them. If that's you, leave a link to your blog or Twitter if you've got one.
  • According to the blogger stats thing, the most popular posts were SBG Gala #2 and SBG Implementation: Topic Scales with over 1000 pageviews each.
  • Most posts will get something like 300-600 pageviews. The number of views is only moderately correlated with how good I think the post is.
  • I get the third most hits, by country, from South Korea. I can only assume that's spam or some kind of bot. That is, unless teachers in South Korea are super interested in standards-based grading.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Quick Math Teacher Survey

Sean Sweeney and Kate Nowak are collecting responses for a "Welcome to the internet" page for math teachers. The survey is fast and you'd be helping everyone who is new to this whole online community thing. Here's Sean's post and the direct link to the survey.

PS - It's my birthday on Sunday (my wife, the kindergarten teacher, constantly brings up that being a November baby explains my lack of maturity) so be prepared for a little self-indulgent navel-gazing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Followup Post: SET

This one I enjoyed and it was surprisingly successful. I've had numerous occasions now where I've asked a kid to compare/contrast something and he/she has given me a blank look. Me or another student will saying, "You know, like in SET" and it'll click and they'll get going.

I was just looking for some sort of anchor and I got it. Also, a bunch of the kids really liked the game.

Notes for next time:
  1. They caught on pretty quick to the simpler version. I went home and made the full deck (keynote and pdf). The full deck was too hard for a few of the kids but most of them had more fun with it.
  2. I explained the rules but nobody got it. Like nobody. Then I showed a few "This is a SET" "This is not a SET" examples and they caught on pretty quick. The final example was a group of 12 cards on the screen and we found various SETs as a class. Easily creating sample slides was one of the nice things about having done it in Keynote.
  3. It turns out that the right margin is too big so the cards are uneven when printed. However, my cutting skills are actually the limiting factor so it didn't matter in the end.
  4. If you make multiple card sets, just scribble a different color crayon or marker on the back of each group. You'll find stray cards on the ground or mixed in and matching the color is much easier than numbering or having to count up the cards.
  5. I didn't get a chance to take up Sue Vanhattum's idea of generating their own cards, but put that one on the wishlist.
Other stuff that might interest you:

The blogger known as Sophie Germain uses the SET daily puzzle with her math kids at the end of class. She says they really dig it.

Bree also has an interesting post about looking at solved deductive puzzles and using those to figure out the rules of the game.1 SET can definitely be introduced in this manner.

1: This is a good time to point you towards a fun, and totally free, game called Zendo.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Nobody Fails...Almost

For three, almost four, glorious weeks I had no Fs. And then life got in the way. Let me explain.

One of the nice things about the benchmark is that it gave me what Robyn Jackson referred to as a red flag early warning system. I had a simple cutoff and everyone below that cutoff had automatic actions to take. I could definitely have done that with my standard assessments but I'm pretty relaxed about their progress. For better or for worse, I'm not the type of teacher that's constantly pressing kids to maintain a certain pace. The benchmark forced a deadline.

Because of the common assessment plan, I'd been doing lunch time and after school tutorials. The groups were small, 3-8, so I'd still had time to eat. All I'd been missing was the lunchtime socialization with other teachers. To paraphrase Peter Gibbons, I wouldn't say I'd been "missing" it, but that's another story.

The kids were coming until they learned whatever it was they needed to learn. Some of the kids made it out in the first fifteen minutes. Others spent nearly every lunch with me for two weeks.

What I realized midway through the tutorial sessions was that if they had learned it now, I should have been updating their grades. For some reason it didn't really occur to me that learning stuff from the benchmark wasn't any different from learning stuff from my class. It's the same stuff. Ok. I had to sneak in a little bit extra that wasn't on the benchmark, but it was basically the same stuff. I had forgotten one of the fundamental tenets of standards-based grading. It doesn't matter when you get it and it doesn't matter how you get it as long as you get it in the end. Once they made it out of tutorials, I updated their score to passing (2.0 in my case).

What was nice was that I didn't plan to do this so it wasn't like, "Come to tutorial and you'll pass the class." They came because I told threatened politely asked them to come.

And then?

In a comment, Bill Ferriter mentioned the problems with sustainability if planned intervention isn't a schoolwide thing.

Shortly after that comment, a couple of off-campus gang incidents made their way onto campus. The members of the smaller-in-number gang started hanging out in my classroom during brunch and lunch. They act cool, play music off my computer and pretend like they're setting up shop in a teacher's classroom, but truthfully I'm protection.

Lunch tutorials have been canceled for awhile and so tutorials just aren't available anymore for a good amount of kids. Not coincidentally, the kids who just can't come after school (safety reasons, have to babysit siblings, have to work, secretly live out of district) are the kids who are most in danger of failing.

This might not be a specific problem at your school but it's a good example of "something always comes up."

Like Bill said....frustrating. Systems to prevent kids from failing need to be built into the school day. We need to allocate time, resources, and people - from bell to bell - that we can use to catch our kids before they fail. Failing kids is easy.  Guaranteeing learning is not.

Postscript: Today I checked out It's Being Done and How It's Being Done [Amazon links] by Karin Chenoweth from the library. It's really interesting to read about different schools and what they're doing to guarantee an education for all. She's picked a variety of schools that have differing approaches.