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Showing posts from 2016

College Not For All

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I'm going to start by saying that I went to college, my wife went to college, my siblings went to college, I want my children to go to college, and everyone I work with went to college.  I'm a big fan of "going to college".  College provides specialized knowledge in a specific field of study; often by people who are experts in that field.  There is a benefit to going to college, but since this post is about "not going to college", I'll just say that the benefits of college are well documented.


       So why am I (a lifelong educator) writing about not going to college?  Because public school desire to teach ALL students.  All students are welcome in our public schools.  We take all students.  We don't have some sort of litmus test that permits some students to enter our public schools and denies others t enter; we take everyone.  And in doing so, we have an obligation to teach all students.  This means that we teach the students who are colle…

Do Our Brightest Students Get What They Need?

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Public schools are good at educating the average student.  We are good in the education of above average students.  We spend a lot of time, money, and energy on the education of below average students; and while this is a difficult population in terms of bringing them up to grade-level standards, we've made numerous improvements over the years to help these students.

       This leaves the most limited students and the very brightest students.  For the purposes of this post, I'm defining the very limited as the academically weakest two to three percent of our student population and the very brightest as our top 1% in terms of academic ability.  We have laws and programs and policies to help the most limited of our students.  They may not receive a high school diploma, but we help them to learn as much as possible during their school years so that they can have a full, happy, and satisfying life.  We help them to go as far as they can in terms of skills and abilities.  B…

Is It Possible to Help Students Too Much?

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How much is too much?


       Can you care too much?  Can you love too much?  Can you help too much?  When it comes to students and learning, sometimes teachers and parents help too much.

       Their hearts in the right place, but goals are short sighted.  Teachers and parents help too much when they tell students the answers in an effort for them to complete the classwork or the homework.  They seek the short-term goal of compliance with an assignment.  But they don't see the longer-term goal of helping students to learn how to learn.

       Educators have an expression for the results of too much help.  We call it, "Learned Helplessness".  It's when students learn to purposefully not try too hard because they know that a parent or a teacher or someone will eventually give them the answer or do the work for them.

       Since most students (and some adults) don't see or understand the benefits of learning, they believe that school is only a series of ass…

Teaching to the Test Is Not a Bad Practice Anymore

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Education has this phrase:
Teaching to the Test In the past, this phrase was a derogatory phrase that meant (at the extreme) the only thing we do during class time is to prepare students to take a test.  This implied that we never taught additional topics that weren't on the test, and that we never taught at a higher rigor level than what was required on the test.  The other (more broad) implication was even worse; We didn't concern ourselves with whether or not students actually learned anything, our only concern was that they got a high score on a test.
       This sort of Teaching to the Test probably did occur at many public schools, but I would hope that teachers (and schools) never lost their desire to encourage learning over mere test grades.  Indeed, teaching at a higher rigor level than was required on a test would serve the dual purpose of (1) helping students gain a higher level of conceptual understanding, as well as (2) helping students to score well on a …

Changing Math Attitudes

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I'm borrowing the title of a Facebook group to use as the title for this post.  The group called Changing Math Attitudes is composed of math teachers and other educators and (I suppose) other folks that seek to share experiences and expertise in the effort of helping students (and adults) to see mathematics as something beautiful, sensible, and doable by everyone.

       The first step in improving abilities in anything is to believe that you can do it.  We want students to understand that mathematics is not a secret code to which only a privileged few have access.  There is no "math brain".  Everyone can understand mathematics and it will take a group effort by many people in many circumstances to effectively change the view of mathematics that so many people hold.  This is the view that says "I'm not good at math."  (And so many people freely say this out loud when they would never say that they can't read or that they are bad at Science or His…

Thank You For the People That Helped Me Along the Way

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Now in my 29th year of education, I'm so thankful for the people who have helped me to improve and to grow into the educator I've become so far.


Thank you to my colleagues who have taught me through the experiences that they have been willing to share.Thank you to my students who have smiled with me and frowned with me; questioned me and responded to my questions.Thank you to the parents who have worked with me and worked against me.  I've adjusted my actions with every contact I've ever made with a parent.  And (I hope) I've become a better parent to my own children through these interactions as well.Thank you to my superiors that have guided along the way.  Some were strong leaders and some were less strong.  I appreciate your efforts and continue to appreciate the difficult job you have had and continue to have.Thank you to those who have complimented me for my efforts.  Sometimes I deserved it and sometimes I didn't.  Compliments are never necessary …

A Few Laughs is Always a Good Thing

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Ok.  I'm constantly seeing posters in teachers classrooms that make me laugh.  So here's my post from the lighter side of education--filled with cute, funny, maybe inspirational posters and sayings that keep me grounded and remind me that education is (of course) important, but it's OK to laugh and chuckle and even laugh at myself from time to time.
       What are your favorite education posters?  What makes you laugh?  What do you want your students to see in your classroom (when--perhaps--they should be listening to you)?

(When the World Can Seem Scary,) School is a Place to Feel Safe

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Sometimes the world can be a scary place for children.
       Teachers understand that their students come from a multitude of home experiences.  While many students come from safe, loving, supportive homes; an increasing amount of our students come from households that are stressful, intimidating, and maybe even dangerous.  Single-parent households have risen from 16% in 1980 to 26% in 2014.  Five percent of households have no parent.  (source)  Child abuse (including child sexual abuse) unfortunately continues to plague our nation with 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys being sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.  16 million adults and nearly 700,000 children (12 - 17 years old) have Alcohol Use Disorder.  3400 children are killed or injured in 2015 due to a gun crime.
       When our students walk into our schools, we want them to know that school is a safe place.  We will do everything we can to keep you safe.  School safety is at the top of every principal's list an…

Always Looking Toward the Future

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School is about learning.

       Although we "do" a lot of things in school: sitting, listening, following rules, writing, reading, playing sports, eating lunch, seeing our friends, joining clubs; the primary goal of school is learning.  If we're not learning, we're wasting time and we're losing an opportunity.  If we're not learning, we're planting the seeds of lifelong struggles to support ourselves and our families; we're risking our dreams.

       This is why schools are always looking toward the future.  Elementary teachers are preparing their students to be successful in middle school.  Middle school teachers are preparing their students to be successful in high school.  And high school teachers are preparing their students to be successful in college or in a career.  There is always a "next step"; another mountain to climb; another goal to achieve.  Schools understand this and teachers understand this.

       Pre-K to grade 12 …

High School Students are Learning Much More Today

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High school students are learning much more today than they did in past generations.  So often we hear about students who are not succeeding--and we certainly have too many students who struggle to succeed in our high schools.  But compared to past generations, our schools have done a good job at increasing student achievement.  Here's my short list of some of these accomplishments:


Course taking in high school for math and science has been rising from 1990 to 2009 according to the Condition of Education from the National Center for Educational Statistics.76% of HS students took Algebra 2 in 2009 compared to only 54% in 1990.70% of HS students took Chemistry in 2009 compared to only 49% in 1990.taking Physics and Calculus have also increased dramatically in this timeframe.People in the Millennial generation (born from 1981 to 1996) have a higher percentage of earning college degrees than people in the Baby Boomer generation (born from 1946 to 1964).For men this number went u…

Math Problems with Lots of Paths from A to B: Open Middle

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Directions:  Fill in the boxes using the whole numbers 1 through 6 to make the largest (or smallest) possible number. Use each digit at most once. Who ever said that there is only one way to get the answer in a math problem?        OK...(unfortunately) lots of people say this.  But, guess what, the best math questions don't have just one way to be solved.  Because the best math problems don't have the simplistic goal of merely following the steps you are told to follow and getting an answer.  The best math problems have much broader goals: Thinking, Reasoning, Problem Solving, Perseverance
       I've recently been introduced to a great source of these math problems called Open Middle.  Open Middle math problems start the same and end the same (with one particular correct answer), but they have an "open middle"; there are many ways to approach and to ultimately solve the problem.  The above problem is a sample of an Open Middle problem.  
       Open Middle has mat…

Students, Teachers, and Parents: Working Together to Improve Education

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Education, as with most things in life, works best when everyone works together.

       Of course, parents and students and teachers don't always agree about what's best for education.  So I've devised a plan for systemic improvement:
Concentrate solely on the school that your children attend.
      You see, we view education in the entire United States differently than we view education in the schools our children attend.  For years Gallop has polled parents about their views of education; and for years they have received essentially the same results:


We are not happy with the state of schools in the United States.We are happy with the state of the school in our community.        It happened again this year.  In 2016, only 43% of those polled said that they are Completely Satisfied or Very Satisfied with quality of education in the United States.  Of these same people (same poll; same year), 76% said that they are Completely Satisfied or Very Satisfied with qualit…

When Students are Thinking, Students are Learning

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I was recently introduced to a fantastic list of 100 questions that teachers can ask in mathematics class that will encourage students to think and reason and share their thoughts with each other.  A portion of these 100 questions are in the graphics in this post.  The rest can be found here.

       The questions are separated into categories that help students to:
Work together to make sense of mathematics.Rely more on themselves to determine if something is mathematically correct.To reason mathematically.Evaluate their own processes and engage in productive peer interaction.Gain a better understanding with problem comprehension.Learn to conjecture, invent, and solve problems.Learn to connect mathematics, its ideas, and its applications.Persevere.Focus on the mathematics from activities.        Every parent that has ever received the unimaginative response of "Fine." to the question, "How was school today." understands the frustration of trying encourage a…

The Time Has Come to Question Everything We Do in Education

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Why is the school day six-and-a-half hours? Why is the school year from September to June? Why do have to use Carnegie Units in high school? Why are grades so important? Why does every class have to have a textbook?Why do I have to use a pencil in math class? Why does high school start so early in the day? Why do schools compare themselves to each other? Why do I have to memorize things that are easily found online? Why does the teacher do most of the talking in class? Why do we rank students in high school? Why do we brag about high grades and not about high learning? Why do have student desks and chairs? Why do all of the chairs face in the same direction? Why is there 14 years of schooling from Pre-K to high school graduation? Why?
       Cars change; buildings change; clothes change; planes change: people change; the world changes.  Why don't schools change?  
       Why?

The Struggle for Change in Our Schools

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This sign hung at the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts this week during the annual MassCUE conference.  "MassCUE" stands for the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators.  The conference was also sponsored by the M.A.S.S. (that is, the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents).  The sign begs the question, Why is it that schools (education) is not changing if everything around the schools are changing?  I think I know the answer...

       The sign reminds us that the world is changing.  Indeed it is.  The changes that have occurred in the world have been driven by market forces such as efficiencies in manufacturing.  They have been driven by technology such as computers and cell phones and the capacity of these technologies (and others) to accomplish tasks much faster and easier.  The sign says the workforce is changing.  One big factor is the lower demand for low-skill jobs.  Less workers are needed to do a job that took more workers a few decad…

High School Graduation Rates Continue to Rise

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In the 2014 - 2015 school year, the high school graduation rate rose to 83.2% according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  This is modern day, national success story.  Twenty years ago, the national high school graduation rate was only 71% and it only rose a couple of percentage points from the 1998 - 1999 school year to the 2005 - 2006 school year (to 73%).  In the past ten years this important statistic has risen ten percentage points.  This is an amazing accomplishment!

       Our educational system is big.  17,000 school districts; 100,000 schools; 50 million students; and 3 million teachers.  This accomplishment isn't due to the effort of just a couple of school districts; or even just a couple of states.  This incredible increase says that we as a country have made it a priority to do everything we can to see to it that students graduate.  We understand that the world that our students will inherit requires an educated mind if we want these future adult…

Schooling Isn't a Game to be Won

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Americans love competition.

       We follow sports teams.  We compare our Olympic medal count with those from other countries.  We brag about having faster cars and the newest cell phone, and the whitest teeth.  At times (it seems) everything is a competition; that we are always trying to surpass what our neighbors have or can do.

       This sense of competition (unfortunately) extends into our schools as well.  Our students want to know who got the highest test grade, who takes the most Advanced Placement courses; who got the best report card grades.  We are constantly comparing ourselves to each other.

       When it comes to schooling, I have a statement for our students (and their parents):


       School isn't a soccer game, it isn't the Olympics, and it isn't a Reality Show to be won.  School is about learning.  Some students will excel in some areas, some might excel in all areas (or appear to excel on all areas), and most will probably be average.  The go…