Sunday, August 21, 2011

Thoughts on EdCampSFBay

I went to my first EdCamp yesterday. Here's my review. (Note: Re-reading this, it sounds overall negative. It's not. It was a mostly positive experience. Just keep that in mind)

The Good:
In a Shifted Learning podcast, Jen Orr spoke of the ISTE conferences as foremost a place to connect with passionate people. I'd say the same thing about EdCamp.

I stood around at lunch talking with Paul Oh and Erin Wilkey Oh from the National Writing Project. We didn't talk about the NWP at all, but as soon as I got home I went home and started browsing the website because if thoughtful people like Paul and Erin were there, I want in.

I spent most of the day hanging with Frank Lee and his colleague Karen, who were up from LA. I'd love to be on staff with them.

Anytime you can hear Dave Orphal say anything (and he says a lot) take that opportunity.

I met Tim Monreal, Jeff Silva-Brown, Catlin Tucker, and a bunch of other folks.

Everyone was just good people.

The Bad:

The sessions were eh. They ranged from moderately interesting to downright terrible. I know, I'm supposed to vote with my feet but the other options didn't really interest me either. At one point I tweeted this:
Twitter / @jybuell: I don't think I'm the targ ...
I don't hold this against EdCamp. I'm not the target demographic for anything edtech and I realized this when I signed up. There were sessions on flipping the class, ipads, collaborize, live binders, and all sorts of things like that. Now, collaborize and live binders both look pretty cool, but tech is like 13974th on my priority list. (edit: I'm adding class dojo to the tech list. Also looks interesting) It ranks somewhere below teen pregnancies but above Accelerated Reader. Even if I thought flipping the class was a good teaching model (I don't for most things), more than half my kids don't have internet access at home. I sat in a session with a guy claiming tablets would completely take over education in "18 months to 5 years." My school is still mostly on overheads and we've got maybe 5 LCD projectors for the whole school.1  We're definitely on the far end of his time frame. The far, far end.

Honestly, if I could buy two iPads or a set of new chairs for my class (a reasonable cost comparison), I'd take the chairs in a second. It's not that I don't think tech is useful, it's just that I'm not on the same level of Maslow's hierarchy of school needs as most of the EdCampers.

Although this is something you'd see at any place that attracts the EdTech crowd, the low turnout really made it worse. I'd guess we had 40ish people there and slightly more than half of those were classroom teachers. I had 3-5 session to choose from in each time slot. Apparently EdCamp Boston had 300 people turn up. I don't know the deal with us. Bad marketing? Looser knit community? School just starting for most of us probably didn't help.

There's an Ed Camp for social studies in Philly next year. That could be really cool.

The Ugly:
It's not widespread, but there's definitely an ugly undercurrent I don't like both at Ed Camp and within the blogotwittersphere. There are three parts:

  1. There are some teachers who aren't interested in learning or getting better at all. 
  2. These teachers are old.
  3. I know this because they aren't on twitter/blogs/EdCamp/whatever conference I go to and whenever I show them Diigo/GDocs/blogging/my wiki they're not interested.
Look. I agree with number 1. 2 and 3 are a load of crap though and I need to do a better job of speaking up. I'm not going to address number 2 because we can all think of teachers at our school who are in their second or third decade of teaching who still kick butt every single day. 

As for number three—everyone has a different way of developing. Some teachers use twitter and blogs. I am one of those teachers. Others read books. Others talk to other teachers in...wait for it...real life. Others spend time finding primary sources to give their kids. There are some who spend hours a day reading children's books just in case a kid asks for a recommendation. I know a teacher who just this year has had a baby, finished her PhD, and is teaching two methods classes for science teachers at two different universities and you know what? She's never read my blog. I know. Shocking. At my school I'm notoriously resistant to any district-led PD and I can guarantee you there are teachers in my district that think I'm not interested in getting better. Different methods of access for the same goals. Hopefully that sounds familiar to the SBG people who are reading this. 

Second, just because I showed someone how teh awesome #scichat is and they didn't immediately sign up for twitter doesn't make them a crappy teacher.2 We just don't all have the same priorities. I have no interest in skyping another class. Why? Because I have to work hard all year just to get my kids to talk to the person in the next chair. And if I have to choose (and in school, you always have to choose), I'm choosing developing good relationships with the people they see every day. Just because you see the need to get all the kids signed up for a blog doesn't mean your colleague does too. And that doesn't make them a bad teacher.

Like I said, it's a small undercurrent but it surfaces every once in awhile. I hate it and I hate it that I don't speak up enough about it.

Final thoughts:

Now that that rant is done here's where I am. I believe in the EdCamp model. I think that's solid. If there were more diversity in the attendees, I'd be happier, but I'm not sure what can be done about that other than better PR. Since this is still a new thing I assume natural growth would occur.

Dan Callahan led a session on bringing the model back to your school. I was at another session so I don't know what he recommends. Me? I'd definitely love to have something like this instead of a district PD with an outside consultant person. I'd probably modify it a bit.

I teach in a K-8 district. Less than 10% of us don't have "reading" as an official subject to teach. I envision a crap load of reading strategy and ELD sessions. The ability to "request" certain sessions ahead of time would be helpful. You could have teachers each state something they'd be interested in and post them. Then we could all look at the list and hopefully there'd be a lot of, "Oh, I know how to do that." and then start proposing the session ahead of time. Teachers would still be free to move around from session to session if they liked but you'd get a wider range of teachers who'd be willing to lead a session.

There's another benefit to planning the sessions ahead of time. I think if EdCamp was mandatory (which it would be if it replaced a district PD) I'd be a little pissed if I prepped for a session and nobody showed up. Since EdCamp is voluntary, it's no big deal. If I was forced to go? I think that'd be different.

As for my recommendation, I'd go again next year, but wouldn't pay if they charged, nor would I go out of town and stay overnight. There aren't too many conferences I would be willing to pay for so that's not necessarily a knock on EdCamp. It just didn't blow me away enough for me to pay for room and board.

If you go, think of it as going for the people and because you believe in the model.

1: You know who buys iPads? The same schools that bought IWBs for each class. Which were the same schools that bought laptops for each kid 10 years ago and the same schools that had classes full of Apple IIe's in the 80s.

2: There also might be the just the teeny tiniest possible chance that I have done a crappy job of showing it off. That's probably not it though because the first time I show my kids the periodic table they immediately take to it and spend their free time pouring over it. If they don't, well, they're not interested in learning.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bloggy type updates

I'll be at EdCamp SF Bay in Oakland on Saturday.

I'm also going to Dan Meyer's Perplexity Session on September 10.

Say hello if you're at either.

I've also updated my blogroll. I've come to terms with the fact that people actually read this thing so I figure I should use my powers for good. I streamlined the blogroll to focus on a few blogs that I think "Deserves More Traffic." This is the same thing Scott McLeod used to do with DABA except that I'm too lazy to interview people and those people shouldn't expect a traffic spike. My inclusion criteria is that 1) Your blog is awesome and 2) You have less than half the Google Reader subscribers that I do. I'll update it on a monthly-ish basis and will drop a note at the end of a post.

Currently on the list:

Mimi Yang at
Mimi would probably be classified as a resource blogger. Her materials are well designed and she's got some good twists on the old standards. She's also got a really interesting life. After finishing teaching in El Salvador she's now starting a new job in Germany where she's teaching 7th to 12th graders. The post on implementing the mathematical practices in the Common Core is excellent.

Organized Chaos at
Organized Chaos is one of my favorite elementary bloggers. She teaches at a really great sounding school she refers to as the Think Tank. She's got some really thoughtful posts on ed policy but what really stands out for me is how much she loves teaching. Kindergarten Book Club is one of my favs.

Dan Finkel and Katherine Cook at
Go look at the pic here. The money quote,"This picture, to me, is like a little image of what math feels like." You will then spend the next hour reading through Dan and Katherine's archives all the time wishing you lived in Seattle and could attend their workshops.

abrandnewline at
This blogger is a real life friend of mine and it's probably cheating to put her here. But really I love how she writes. She doesn't usually blog about the nuts and bolts but as much as anyone, she really captures what it feels like to be a teacher. Her end of the year letter gives you a good sense of what she's about.

Dan Anderson at
I usually think of Dan's blog as a place to find really cool problems. Going back over it now I realize he's got a bunch of other good stuff too. He's also my Python teacher and the master of Project Euler. So he's got that going for him, which is nice.

Grace Chen at
I was talking about Grace with another blogger in GChat and the convo went like this:
Other person: Grace is so freaking smart!
Me: I know. It's like she's always 9 steps ahead and is patiently waiting for me to catch up.
Other person:Yeah, but she's so nice about it.
That's pretty much how it goes. She thinks about education at a different level than I do. This post on pseudoquestioning sticks in my mind.

Brian Carpenter at
Brian started slow with only 4 posts in 9 months and I almost gave up on his blog. Then he started churning out posts in May and has really caught fire. His modeling posts are excellent and a recent one on teaching girls (he's at an all girls school) was full of goodness.

Stephen Lazar at
He's one of the very few non-math/sci bloggers in my Reader and for good reason. He writes about the way history (always my least favorite subject) should be taught in this post. He's also an important voice in the world of (sane) ed reform.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Group Roles

I mentioned in the classroom management post that I liked group roles but I wasn't sure what I'd use this year.

I settled on these four:

Facilitator - This person makes sure that everyone understands what's going on and what they're supposed to be doing.

Resource Manager - In charge of the materials.

Process Recorder - Keeps track of how the group made decisions or arrived at conclusions.

Skeptic -  Looks for alternate explanations, things that might have gone wrong, or things the group might have missed.

The Facilitator is common so I'll skip that explanation.

I have a spot on my board for the Pre-Flight Checklist (Do Now) and materials. The checklist shows the things a student does right away along with the time they have to complete it. Usually it's three or four steps with stuff like answer the question on the board, open your notebook to page 58, process your notes from yesterday, finish the writeup from yesterday, etc. I used to just start with a question every morning but I found that to be too limiting. I like the comfortable routine of knowing what to do when you come in, but I don't need them to, for example, copy down a learning goal every single day. This gives me a little more flexibility while still maintaining some structure.

The materials section lists what students should have out immediately like notebook or portfolio. There's an additional section specifically for the Resource Manager. He or she gets the whiteboard markers, scissors, colored pencils, etc right away but doesn't distribute them until instructed. They get and put away lab materials when it is time and turn in papers. At the end of the period, the Resource Manager supervises cleanup.

The Process Recorder is new. My goal is to have this person record the discussions and decisions of the group. Why did the group make this decision? What particular piece of evidence led to the group's conclusion? I also wanted the disagreements and dissenters to be recorded.

The Skeptic originally started as the Double Checker but I decided that wasn't interesting enough a job. Their job is to make sure the group ruled out other explanations and to make sure the group isn't missing anything important. In my perfect scenario, the group would end up needing to devise an alternate or modified experiment based on something the Skeptic noticed. I'm not sure I have the ability to help them get to that point on a regular basis but you can bet I'm making it a BFD whenever it does happen.

Especially at the beginning, I give sentence frames and question cards to guide them as they're working. The Facilitator and Skeptic will turn in a brief report. The Process Recorder will submit an annotated procedure.

Here is the handout I give them. They paste it into their science notebooks.

Luann Lee posted hers here and has a whole bunch of different ones if you're looking for some variety.

Other odds and ends:

I number (not physically) the seats at the tables like this:


When we go to rows then I use A/B partners but usually we're in tables of four. I rotate jobs on a week to three week schedule depending on what's going on. I use a poster to keep track and the same numbers will have the same role. It's nice because you can quickly determine who is supposed to be doing what. The numbering/letters work well for lots of other stuff as well. "3s go to station 2." "Bs will go first." "Odds start with the timers."


PS - I forgot to include this in my classroom management post for noobs. If you're a science teacher buy a multi-tool and carry it around with you. I have a Leatherman Juice S2 I got from Target. You have no idea how often you'll be doing quick fixes of various lab equipment in the middle of a period. Also take a look at your desks and chairs and see what you'll need to tighten them up. I've got a folding hex key set that can fit my random assortment. You ed program probably didn't mention how much of your time is spent fixing stuff. 

PPS - If you run an ed program, "equipment maintenance and upkeep" would be an excellent class for science teachers. I have no idea what I'm doing most of the time. If it's not a dead battery or a loose screw I'm SOL. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Information about the California Standards Test Part 1

I was going to do a post on questioning routines but I got distracted by a Twitter convo with David Cox and Jennifer Borgioli. It was about how the results of the California Standards Test (CST) can be used. This information is specifically for my California peeps.

Most of the information comes from the technical report. It's scary to look at but it's mostly skippable data tables so it's not a terrible read. There's also the API Information Guide. I'll try to remember to cite when I can but if something seems wonky, call me on it and I'll verify.

Part 1 I'll explain the basics of test construction and API results.
Part 2 I'll discuss the few useful pieces of information I've been able to extract from test results.
I don't think there will be a part 3 but if I get enough questions I'll see what I can do.

If you don't feel like reading, skip to "What are valid score comparisons?" That's the part you'll want to know. The more appropriate heading would be, "What aren't valid score comparisons?"

How is API calculated? 

There are adjustments for certain populations (need to look into this more. Adjustments may just be in order to norm base/growth years. Edit again: The population adjustments are just for finding Similar Schools.), but it basically comes down to a straight mean. Your kids either score Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic, or Far Below Basic. Advanced and Proficient are good. The rest are bad.  Advanced earns 1000 points, Proficient 875, Basic 700, Below Basic 500, and Far Below Basic 200. As far as I know, the only weird thing is a student not taking Algebra in 8th grade (the General Math test) get bumped down a level in API points. So if she scored Advanced in the General Math test, she would earn 875 points for the school. (Edit: A ninth grader taking the General Math test gets bumped down two levels) Additionally, 7th graders do not get a bump for taking Algebra in 7th and the same applies for 8th graders in Geometry. After that, each test is weighted and the mean is calculated. The CAPA and CMA follow the same weighting rules as the CST. (edit: added)

From the API info guide (page 6):
Content Area Weights

In high school, the CAHSEE (our exit exam) is also factored in. The arithmetically minded may notice the large drop-off in points from Below Basic to Far Below Basic.

There is an excel spreadsheet to help you estimate your API.

How is the test constructed and scored?

It's a lot. I'll give you the highlights. Tara Richerson has an excellent series on test construction and she's got actual experience at it. Pay attention to how they're anchored to the previous year's test.

There are two things that really interested me. The first was how cut scores for the different levels of proficiency were created. I'm just going to snip and let you read. From the technical report (257):

The Modified Angoff is used for the ELA tests and the Bookmark Method for the rest. Nutshell: A panel reads the questions and estimates what a barely proficient/basic/etc person would get right. Then the median of the panelists is taken. This becomes the cut scores. Science uses the Bookmark Method, so they put the questions from easiest to hardest. Someone then says, "I think a barely proficient person would get it right up to this question about 2/3 of the time and miss the ones after about 2/3 of the time." A bunch of those people are asked and the median becomes the cut scores. ELA works basically the same way except they rate each question and the cut score is computed based on the score. The cut scores and all raw scores are then matched to a table to align the scale scores from year to year (actually they only really align in two-year pairs). This isn't useful to know at all, but I just find it really interesting.

The second thing I'm pointing out is actually useful.  Based on the test results, CA has generated proficiency level descriptors. If I recall correctly, these were generated based on a few years of test results and so are supposed to be things that, for example, a Proficient science student actually knows. These are useful, especially for those of us who need to decide on the level of depth for our standards. It's located here and the good stuff starts in appendix A. 8th grade science starts at A-102. Here's an example:

What are valid score comparisons?

There are two main ways people (teachers, parents, admin, everyone) mess this up. People think you can compare scale score from year to year and that you can compare API scores year to year. You can't do either. This is crucial to understand.

In the example that got this started, Student A got a perfect 600 in 7th grade and a 550 in 8th grade. It's a natural question to ask why the student dropped from 7th to 8th. You can't though. California does not vertically align its scores. A 550 in one year has no relation to a 550 the other. Additionally, a 550 in the same year has no relation to a 550 in a different content area. You CANNOT make this comparison.

Horse's mouth (Technical Report, 6):

You are fine comparing the same year/content to other classes, schools, districts, the state. Anything else, and I mean anything else, isn't valid. Jennifer tweeted this link out earlier. If you take a look at the graph you'll see certain test cut scores are harder than others. MS math scores will be lower than elementary scores because our tests are harder to score proficient on.

If you go back up to how the test cut scores are created, you'll noticed they're defined for "Proficient Algebra student" or "Proficient Science Student." They are not scored based on growth from the previous year. Some states do that.1

The API results are similarly misleading. You'd think you can just look at your school's API each year and see if it goes up. Turns out, you can't. That's because how the API is calculated varies each year, for example the weights of different tests and which tests are included. So a 2006 API score can't be compared to 2011. It makes sense when you think about it but it's completely unintuitive and everybody in the entire world thinks you can create a line graph and see how your school is doing.

You CAN compare between base and growth APIs. These will be matched (page 14 of the Info Guide)

and you CAN compare the growth from year to year. Take the Growth API and subtract the Base API. Also on page 14.

Repeating myself in case you missed it: Base and Growth scores in the same cycle compare different year's test scores with the same calculation method. If they are not in the same cycle, they could (and likely do) use a different method for calculation. It is not valid to compare API scores in different cycles.

Does anyone know this? No. Everyone, understandably, compares scores year to year. This is important to know though because if your scores take a dip, it might be because the calculation methods have changed. For example, until the 2010-2011 cycle, high school APIs didn't include the CMA, which is the modified test usually taken by students in SDC.

Summary: You can compare your student scores only within the same grade level and content area. You can compare API scores within cycles (Base to Growth) and you can compare growth between cycles. THAT. IS. IT.

In part 2, I'll write about what useful (for me) information you can get out of it.

1: Vertically aligned scores usually come in 2 flavors. Either the same score indicates the same equivalent level. If you score a 550 one year and 550 another, that means you made the equivalent of one year of growth. Or the score is like the "Reading Level" reports we get and all students are scored on the same scale. One year you get a 400 and the next a 520. You've made 120 points of growth that year. Smarter states will make one year equal 100 points so you can easily see if you made a year of growth. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Classroom Management Stuff for New Teachers

Warning: If you've taught more than 3 months, you should probably stop reading. This is going to be very boring. 

I participated in a twitter chat for David Coffey's  Facilitating Learning Environments (#FLE11) class about the first day of school. While it's in my head, I figure I can leave some advice for new teachers.

Remember, context is everything. So my advice is based on 6 years of teaching 7th and 8th grade science in a school located in an urban area. I'm going to focus on classroom management stuff because that's the only reason my school doesn't renew a new teacher. I attribute that more to admin focus than any particular deficiency in our new teachers but that's a conversation for another day.

For most of you this will be entirely obvious. For me it wasn't. I (am still) not a "natural."

Most of this stuff I use because it allows me to be even lazier. Of these, I'd say #3, #5 and #6 save me the most time during the day.

Oh, and best advice? Get comfortable shoes. Actually get a few and rotate.Trust me.
    Classroom Management Stuff:
    1. In the first few days, reading the rules and expounding your philosophy have a (small) place, but really what you need to do is get the kids doing something so you can walk around and learn their names. I get their names when they come in. I get them going with something and then I walk around the class and keep practicing out loud. Guess and let them know it's ok to correct you because how else will you learn. Use a mnemonic or some other memory technique. For the hard ones I ask them a question and picture them doing it. "What's your favorite sport/movie/book/etc?" Then it's, "Jesus who likes the Raiders" and I picture him dressed like fans in the Black Hole. My school starts on Wednesday. I can learn 150 kids by Friday, although I usually forget a few on Monday. Trust me here. Nothing will pay bigger dividends for a tween than you knowing their name.
    2. Don't make gloop and air rockets on the first day of school and then it's worksheets and notes the rest of the year. The first few days should be a snapshot of the whole year. They need to understand what you're about. If you're about worksheets and taking notes, then do that. Well, do that and then talk to me. We have some soul searching to do. My first days are here.
    3. Make sure you establish signals. Everyone talks about procedures but it's signals that will make them work. You'll definitely need a "stop, shut it, look at me" signal. Teach it like a routine. I raise my hand. They raise their hand. Get others attention. Turn your body. Quiet. After they're quiet, you need to keep the silence for an extra beat or two. That's the big one. You'll need to stop kids in the middle of busy and noisy labs. Sometimes it'll be for safety reasons. No matter how open you want your classroom to be, you'll need something like that. The hand raise is (theoretically) my school's universal sign for quiet. If you can get the rest of your teachers on board for a universal quiet signal, your life will be sooooooooo much better. I've tried a few other signals for this (counting down, squeaky toy) but the hand raise is good because it requires them to physically respond and doesn't require you to shout over anyone. I'm not a fan of clapping or chimes but some people really like them. I play a song for clean up (So Fresh, So Clean). Before giving instructions I start with "When I say go..." because whenever I would say "Everyone is going to need a ruler" half the class would stand up and walk over to get it before I was done.
    4. Find your sweet spot for procedures and routines. I know admin go crazy for them but in my first year I probably spent more time teaching procedures than I did actually using them. Stupid Harry Wong. Turns out I don't really care how a kid gets water or goes to the bathroom. Go with a few high yield, frequently used procedures and do them really well. Opening the class, cleaning up labs, and turning in work are good starts. I also teach my kids how to move the desks to get in and out of groups.
    5. I give my students numbers. 3 digits. The first digit corresponds to period number and the next two are unique. So first period goes 101-130, second period 201-230. Kids get them assigned alphabetically. That goes on everything. During random in-between times (like a group finished cleaning up early), give a stack to a kid and have her put them in order and paperclip. Have her put a post-it on the front of the stack with any missing numbers. Especially for the first few papers turned in, try to get this done immediately so you can track down the kids who don't turn in anything right away. They need to know you noticed these things. When you're putting stuff into your gradebook, your papers are already in order so you can just go right down the line.
    6. I do ROYGBIV color coding for each period. Actually OYGBP because red is too inflammatory and I have no idea what the difference between indigo and violet is. Each kid in first period has an orange portfolio and for calling on kids I use colored index cards. I like them better than popsicle sticks because you can put little notes on them.
    7. Teach students how to work in groups. Walk around and comment on how people are working together. Sam's post on participation quizzes is interesting although far too organized for me to ever pull off. Read Sue's post on Complex Instruction and work on assigning competence. I was too structured my first year. I took the reins off too much my second. I'm finding a good middle ground between Kagan and chaos.
    8. I've gone back and forth on group roles but I've decided overall they're a positive. My first year I used Facilitator, Materials Manager, Recorder, Presenter. I wasn't happy with the Recorder or Presenter roles because they were things I wanted everyone to be doing. I liked the Facilitator a lot. It came through especially when I'd need to give mid-course instructions. I could just call over the Facilitators. The Materials Manager is good for a science class. Those middle school kids love to pile around the supply table. I've changed the other two roles a few times and also gone without roles. I've wanted to try these Thinking Roles but I just never get around to it. Riley posted his here.
              Update: The ones I use this year are here.

    Non-classroom Stuff:
    1. Get to know your school secretaries, your custodians, the tech person, and whoever works in HR in your district as soon as possible. Everyone gives you this advice because it's true.
    2. Every principal has a "thing." Figure out what that is. I've had a principal who was big on bulletin boards and classroom look, another who was big on EL instruction, and another who cared mainly about classroom management. I'm not saying compromise your values, but it won't kill you to spruce up the room (my principal would laugh if she read this. My room is always a mess).
    3. Find allies. You've probably heard "avoid the lunchroom" talk. I used to do it. But truthfully teaching is lonely. Between yard duty and working with kids at lunch and after school, I can go days without talking to another teacher. Don't do that.
    4. Committees are a huge sucker of both time and soul. Sports, while more fun, will take at least double the amount of time you predict. Unless you were specifically hired to coach a sport, it's totally OK to turn down all committees and sports. I know a lot of new teachers feel they have to impress the admins, but I have never seen a teacher denied tenure because she didn't volunteer for PTA or coach the soccer team. I was elected (by the other teachers) school site committee president my first year. It was like hazing the new guy. Some contracts say you need to agree to X amount of committees or extra duties a year. First, find out if that's enforced. My unscientific sample of twitter teachers says that it's usually not. If it is, volunteer for things with set time limits and no chance of spilling into extra work. Extra yard duty, scorekeeping, dance and other event chaperoning are all good choices because they have a set start and end. Committees, coaching and anything that involves "organizing" will take up much more time than you expect.

    If you've got any other good classroom management advice let me know. I'll be happy to steal it. 

    More info:
    Zach Shiner has a really cool thing going on here. It's got tons of practical stuff.

    The MS Math Wiki has got a few things as well.