Sunday, March 30, 2014

We Teach All Students

     A business executive comes to a high school to say that students graduate without the skills they need to succeed in the business world--the World of Work.  He says, "If I had employees that didn't do their job, I would fire them."  "In fact," he says, "I would only hire the best people in the first place."  And the school responds, "That's the difference between public school and business; We take all students; We teach all students."

     Public schools don't pick the best students or the students with the most potential to enroll in their schools.  Public schools take all students.  As the old commercial used to say:
Big kids,
Little kids,
Kids who climb on rocks.
Tough kids,
Sissy kids,
Even kids with Chicken Pox.
And public schools are proud that they teach all students.  We are not a business.  And while we often compare our student achievement data against other schools and other school districts, as a national public school system we are united in our efforts to teach all students.

     Of course, allowing unlimited access to our schools comes with challenges.  Most notably, a recent report has informed us that half of the students in our nation's public schools are poor.  Poor students (as a group) often struggle to succeed in their academics due to limited supports at home compared to non-poor students (and many other factors).  Also, students with identified learning disabilities are often below grade level in reading and mathematics.  Finally, even students without the handicaps of low socio-economics or learning disabilities sometimes graduate with low skills by only striving to do the minimum that is required of them.

     There is no question that public schools can do better in graduating a higher percentage of students that process the skills they need to succeed in the world of work.  But we are not going to artificially raise graduation rate by only enrolling the brightest students.  We take all students; we teach all students; we help all students.  And if some students require more of an effort on our part, we are glad to take on that challenge.

     What's so good about public education in America?  We teach ALL students.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Teachers and Parents Working Together

     They say, "It's takes a village to raise a child."  And it is certainly true that we want our children to have many experiences with many different people as they grow and learn about the world.  Teachers will tell you that when parents are involved in their child's education, the child tends to do better in school.  I would go a step further and say that it is very necessary for parents to be invested in their child's Pre-K to Grade 12 education if we want the child to be very successful.

     Teachers spend 7 or 8 hours a day with the child and the parent spends the rest (or most of the rest) of the waking hours with the child.  It is beneficial for teachers and parents to work together to help children to learn and to grow with confidence.  Public schools understand this very well and the best public schools actively seek ways to get parents involved.

     When I taught middle school children, some parents would tell me that they planned to "back off" and allow their child some freedom to complete assignments and to study on their own.  I would gently tell them that their child needs them in middle school every bit as much as they needed them in elementary school.  The same is true for high school students.  Children need their parents for encouragement and assistance throughout their school career.  And teachers need parents who are involved in their child's schooling.

     Teachers in public schools do all they can to help students to be successful.  It is a difficult job. Often it is the students who don't have support at home that have the most difficultly in school.  When parents aren't available to their children, it is hard for students to do well in school.  And it doesn't have to be that the parents are "teaching" them at home.  It is enough to provide a safe place at home to do homework and to have rules about study time vs. play time.

     Public schools always want parents to be involved.  When teachers and parents work together, students succeed.  It's that simple.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Science Fairs

     Another great thing about public schools in america is the Science Fair.

     The science fair has been part of public education for generations.  Parents and grandparents come to see their child present his/her project and to have fun seeing other project displays.  Students get the chance to proudly show their work to an audience and to explain their findings.

     Science Fairs are fun, exciting, educational, and often community events.  Kids get to see experiments and they get to do experiments.  PlayDoe, slime, volcanoes, hovercrafts, popcorn--it's like an amuzement park in your very own school for a day.

     Science Fairs are great.  Everyone loves the Science Fair.

     Have a great time at the Science Fair!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

This is How We Learn in the 21st Century

      We know that good teachers become great teachers when they collaborate with other teachers.  No matter how good you are, you can always improve when you share ideas with other teachers and listen to ideas from other teachers.

     Today "other teachers" doesn't only mean the teachers in your building.  It could mean other teachers in your school district, or other teachers in your state, or (really) anywhere.  Social media makes it possible to communicate with teachers virtually anywhere and virtually at any time.  And when we do, we improve.

     Yesterday, the middle school math specialists in my school district met with their counterparts in a neighboring school district--along with math specialist from other surrounding districts.  We call ourselves the Mid-Maryland Math Specialist Group (Twitter hashtag #M3SG).  The theme of the day was Preparing for a 1-to-1 Learning Environment.  It was a great professional experience in which we got to hear ideas and plans from people in nearby school districts. 

     The highlight of the day was a virtual panel discussion with help from Google Hangouts.  The people on the panel were from Arkansas, Illinois, and Utah.  One principal, one middle school teacher, one technology resource teacher, and one school-based technology coach.  All but one of the panel members were people that I "met" on Twitter (never in person) who have had some experience with a 1-to-1 learning environment.

     We were in a big room with a large screen in the front of the room.  The panel members were visable on the screen.  We could see and hear them and they could see and hear us.  This isn't "cutting-edge" technology, but it is a new way to learn and gain professional knowledge in a very "21st century" fashion!

     This is how we learn today.  Blogs, twitter, edmodo, and lots and lots of other similar venues are the new "teacher lounges" of today. We still learn from teachers at our school, but we are no longer limited to such a small group of professionals.  Today we learn and improve by communicating with everyone and anyone who has knowledge to share.

     This is how we learn today.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why Do You Blog?

     Recently a number of people have asked me, "Why do you have a blog?"

     I have an answer--that I will share with you below--but it got me thinking about why other people blog.

     In my case, my blog is about my thoughts and ideas about my profession of education.  Additionally, I blog because I believe that my own professional development comes from reading and listening to other people in the education field (and outside of the education field) who talk about issues that I care about.  I blog because I want to contribute to this professional conversation.

     In the 21st century, learning comes from a large number of sources.  Ordinary people who are passionate about something become experts at that something.  People like me hear about these self-made experts and seek them out for their knowledge on the subject.  To me, blogging and the associated contacts that I make via blogging help me to gain a much wider perspective on the issues that I care about.

     What about you?  Why do you blog?  Send me an email ( or a tweet (@cincottapeter) and tell me why you blog.  I may compile your answers and share (in a general way) the responses I receive in an upcoming blog post..  I will not share anyone's email or other contact information.

Education Adjusting to Change

     So, the story goes like this...

     Rip Van Winkle sleeps for 100 years.  Then he wakes up.  He walks around town and sees a supermarket and says, "Wow, this is very different from what I remember before I slept for 100 years." Then he walks a little further and sees a neighborhood of houses and (again) remarks about how different everything is.  Then he walks a little further and sees a school.

    Rip Van Winkle walks into the school.  He walks down the halls; he walks into classrooms.  He sees the rows of desks; the teacher's desk in the front of the classroom; the board in the front of the classroom.  He smiles and breathes a sign a relief.  "This", he says, "looks familiar to me."

    Of course, this story is not a compliment to our public schools.

     This story illustrates how difficult it has been for our public schools to change over the years.  While some people find  comfort in this "sameness", many public educators are greatly bothered by the fact that public schools has difficulty keeping up with the world around us--the world (by the way) that our students will enter when they leave formal schooling.  And the world that our students currently live in!

     But this IS changing in some places and (sometimes) the change is one class at a time.  Our younger teachers are all-too-ready to use technology in the classroom and to engage students in their learning with fun activities that require them to get out of their seats and to interact with other students.  And it isn't just our newest teachers that are leading this change; our veteran teachers that strive to improve every year are also anxious to embrace educational technology and Student Engagement strategies.

     This change is taking place right now.  But we accept that public education will constantly change to mirror society.  This isn't a one-time-thing.  Change is constant in public education from now on.  And isn't this what we want from our public schools?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Value of National Testing

     Chapter tests, unit tests, and final exams have been around (seemingly) forever.  These are tests that happen in school.  But what about the nationwide tests that students take?  I'm talking about the SAT, the ACT, the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), and the new PARCC and Smarter Balance tests.  What is the value of these tests?

     Let's start with the SAT and ACT, because most people know about these tests.  The purpose of the SAT test is to reliably predict an individual's success in their first year of college (see report here); and the SAT does a pretty good job of doing this--particularly for mathematics.  The stated purpose of the ACT is:

     Your ACT composite score, together with your high school grades, indicates how prepared you are for   college. In addition, the scores from the various sections of the ACT will help your college place you in the right classes, matching your skills with course requirements. (citation)

     Of course, aside from these "official purposes", we know that lots of people attribute much more importance to these two tests.  And, to be fair, some colleges have "cut-off" scores; if you score below a cut-off score, then you won't be considered for admission.  Still, my feeling has always been that there are plenty of colleges in the U.S. and unless you are determined to go "ivy league", there is a college out there ready to accept your money...uh...uh...I accept you.  Also, I believe that the SAT/ACT do a good job of showing what you know and are able to do.  Let's face it, a lot of students are good at "playing school".  They know what to do to get an "A".  But some student get an "A" because they understand the material and other students get an "A" because they are good at "playing school".  The SAT/ACT helps to separate these two groups of students.

     The NAEP, on the other hand, probably does the best job in determining what our nation's student know and are able to do.  This test is given to a sample of students in every state.  Colleges don't look at this test and parents don't get individual scores from this test--so it is a "low-stakes" test.  Students don't feel external pressure to do well on this test and nobody hires a tutor to do better on this test.  The PARCC and the Smarter Balanced tests--the new tests to be used to assess the Common Core standards--are supposed to be more like the NAEP tests.  Colleges aren't asking "What did you get on your PARCC Algebra 2 test?" yet, but I believe they will in the coming years.

     The value of these new tests are really the same as the value of the old SAT/ACT tests; they are supposed to show what students have actually learned in school.  We have to brace ourselves for students who get good grades in school and bad grades on PARCC and Smarter Balanced.  It will happen to the students who are good at "playing school" but not so good at learning.

     Students who do well on these tests should do well in their college courses.  Students who don't do too well will know where they stand and will enter college (I think) with a better idea of what they need to do to succeed.

     Sometimes I worry that the reason more than 50% of students that start college and never finish is because their teachers and school counselors and parents made them feel that their good grades in high school meant that they would be academically successful in college.  Their PARCC and Smarter Balanced grades may give them a different point of view--and that's OK.

     The value of national tests is an unbiased view of a student's academic ability.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Great Learning Products in Public Schools

     Let's face it, for some people, public schools are Big Business.  Sixteen thousand school districts; 100,000 schools; 3 million teachers; and 50 million students.  The U.S. is a big country and we have a lot of public schools and public school students.  When you throw in parents and relatives and neighbors and siblings you get a large percentage of the U.S. population that has a connection to our public schools.

     This leads to great competition among makers of educational products; which (in turn) leads to great learning products for our students.  I work in the field of middle and high school math and practically every day I get an email or a tweet or some communication about some new educational product.

     Just as a quick example of such a product, I really like Desmos which is a free graphing calculator that is great for class presentations to students.  It was created with middle and high schools in mind.  It is a great tool for teachers and students.  Another product is Moving With Math which is targeted toward students who are below grade level in mathematics.  Again, this product is purposely made for middle and high school students.

     Public school students get the benefit of lots of great education products and tools that are created just for them.  One more thing that makes our public schools great!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Learning about People with Disabilities

When my daughter was in kindergarten, she had a classmate named Jack.  Jack was (and is) developmentally delayed.  Jack has an adult personal assistant with him all of the time when he is in school.  Jack doesn't talk.

My daughter's welcomed Jack to class in kindergarten in the same way that she welcomed all of her students.  Jack participated in all activities--as much as he could--just like everyone else.  My daughter and her classmates viewed Jack in the same way they viewed everyone else.  "He is a student just like me."  "We have the same teacher."  "We all do the same things."

My daughter is in eighth grade now, and Jack has been in her grade all along the way.  My daughter and her peers view Jack in the same way they did in kindergarten.  "He is a student just like me."  "We have the same teachers."  "We all do the same things."  Of course, as my daughter grew, she also grew to understand that Jack has learning difficulties that other students do not.  But since she knew him since kindergarten, she didn't view his "differences" as a negative thing.

Public education exposes our children to different people and it shows our children that differences are OK.  Students see how the school and the school system helps students with varying abilities.  I think that this helps our children to grow with a good understanding of the world that they will enter.

We all have disabilities of some sort.  Our students' experiences with peers that are learning disabled helps them to see the differences and to see how these differences can be addressed by caring adults.

Jack is part of our public education family and we are all so lucky to know him.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dedicated Teachers Love What They Do

     What's so good about public education?  Answer: Dedicated Teachers

     Dedicated, caring teachers make school special for students everyday.  Students want to make their teachers proud--especially when they know that their teachers really care.  Dedicated teachers make school fun and they make students believe that they can do things that they didn't think they could do.

     Dedicated teachers make parents very, very happy.  Who doesn't want their children to have great teachers??  Parents always worry that their children might get a teacher who is uncaring or mean or unwilling to help their child.  When our kids get a great teacher, we are relived and very grateful.

     Anyone who doesn't work in education is always amazed when their friends or neighbors who are teachers spend so much time talking about their students and working on ways to make their lessons engaging.  So many people come home from work and never think about work until the next day.  Dedicated teachers think about teaching all of the time--or so it seems.

     Teaching is such a challenge--teachers are always striving to improve.  Dedicated teachers work hard to improve all of the time.  Dedicated teachers make our public schools great!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Learning From Experts - Wherever They May Live

     In a couple of weeks, the middle school mathematics leaders in my district will meet with their counterparts in a neighboring district to talk about and think about and make plans for the day when every student will enter school with their own device for learning.  We are calling it a 1-to-1 Learning Environment.

     Part of the day will include a panel discussion with four educators from around the country who will join us via Google Hangout.  A principal, a teacher, a technology specialist, and an education technology coach from four different states in the U.S. will make up the panel and will share their experiences with our group.

     I believe that this is what we mean by 21st century education.  We want to learn from the experiences of others who have "been there".  This discussion--in real time--will help us to think about the things we haven't thought about yet.  It will help us to plan for the rollout of 1-to-1.  And we will make connections with other educators from far away who don't have to be so "far away" given the tools we have today.

     Also, the people participating in this panel discussion are all people I have "met" on Twitter--I've never met them in person and I probably never will.  Yet I was able to contact them and tell them what we are planning to do and they were able (and very much willing) to be a part of it.
  I can't wait; it's going to be great!  We even have a Twitter hashtag for the day: #M3SG for Mid-Maryland Math Specialist Group.  I hope this event will encourage others to do the same--and more.  If I can do (with a lot of help [!]), anybody can do it.

Public Schools and Choice

       Is it true that public school kids and their public school parents don't have choices?  I'm sure that I will expose my igno...

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