Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thank You For the People That Helped Me Along the Way

       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 or required; so I particularly appreciate it when people have gone out of their way to do so; be it in person, via a written note, or via email or a phone call.
  • Thank you to the people who have disagreed with me; sometimes kindly and sometimes with great anger.  You made me think about my decisions and you helped me to be well prepared for future decisions.  You'll never know how long I've thought about these exchanges; long after they ended.
  • Thank you for my family who are not educators.  It is so very helpful for me to hear the thoughts and ideas of non-educators.  You've been influenced by your experiences and the people you are surrounded by; and your opinions help me to think about my opinions.
  • Thank you to the speakers I've heard at venues great and small.  Your willingness to share your expertise is a valuable part of the learning process for me as an educator.
  • Thank you to my Twitter educator contacts that I have come to know via the miracle of the computer who live all over the world.  It's amazing how a few words can lead me to an hour of research on a topic.
  • Thank you to the dedicated professionals and to the folks that have been counting down the days until retirement for the past ten years.  Every voice is valuable; every point of view is a piece to the puzzle.  Every idea helps to shape my thinking.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Few Laughs is Always a Good Thing

       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)?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

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


       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 and every teacher's list (after Learning) when it comes to our public schools.  Regardless of your home situation, school is a place for students to feel safe.  This is important because every needs someone to talk to when they are anxious or worried or scared.  When their world is uncertain and the TV and internet is filled with violence and horror and sometimes hate, students of all ages need a place to feel safe.
       Safety is a source of pride for educators.  Protecting students and giving them the tools to make good decisions is our goal.  We strive to be a place of solace; a place with people you can talk to; a place with people who will help you no matter what problems you may have.

       We welcome students everyday.  

       We protect students everyday.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Always Looking Toward the Future

       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 contain a lot of "steps".

  • 14 years of school
  • 2,520 school days
  • 16,380 hours of school
  • homework, classwork, books, notes, pencils, laptops, studying
Just as children physically grow a little bit each day, they should also learn a little bit each day.  In the end, the actual ability to learn will be their most valuable asset.  In the end, we want all of our students to continually look toward their future.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

High School Students are Learning Much More Today

       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 up from 17% to 21%.
    • For women this number went up from 14% to 27%.
  • Math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have increased for 9 year-olds from 1973 to 2012.  The same is true for 13-year-olds.  
  • Reading scores on the NAEP have increased for 9-year-olds from 1971 to 2012.
       I was at a conference recently in which the speaker said that the average poor student today is two-and-a-half years ahead (in terms of learning) than poor students from a generation ago.  I can't find the source for this statistic, but if it is true then it tells me that making this sort of comparison can help us to gauge increases in student achievement.

       We always hear stories about failing schools and failing students and failing this and that.  Of course we can do better; and we are always going to have students that struggle academically.  But by raising the bar again and again over time, we have pushed students to learn more and more.  The world has changed and our schools need to change if we are really meant to prepare our students for this new world.  I think it helps to take a step back from the constant negative stories about education and take some time to think about the improvements that have been made.

       We are always improving and this improvement must come while simultaneously moving forward.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

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

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 math problems for grades Kindergarten to high school mathematics.  They are great for getting students to use recently learned math in novel ways.  And when students have a chance to talk about the way they went about solving the problem, they gain an ever stronger grasp of the mathematics by hearing from their peers--a strategy known as Number Talks.  

       Students learn that it is OK to think about solutions differently.  One student may have a very complicated solution that makes sense to her.  Another may have a clever solution that no one ever thought of--not even the teacher!  Learning from each other is a great way to experience math and to understand that math is vibrant and alive with many possibilities.

       Students may think of Open Middle problems as puzzles, but listen to the math vocabulary that they use when the work on their solutions.  Students who are bored with the typical math class are excited to spend lots of time working on Open Middle problems because they are relatively easy to start.  Every attempt at an Open Middle problem helps students to learn what to do and (perhaps) what not to do.  They don't view wrong answers as failures but instead as a closer step toward the final answer.

Directions: Using the whole numbers 1 through 9 no more than once, create 3 equivalent fractions.

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

       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:

  1. We are not happy with the state of schools in the United States.
  2. 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 quality of education that their children are receiving.

       So here's my plan:  

Let's just do everything we can do improve the school(s) our children attend.

       The U.S. is too big.  17,000 school districts. 100,000 schools.  50,000,000 students.  Who can even comprehend the immensity of such a huge system???

       If we all just concentrate our energies on the schools in our community, we have a much better chance of seeing real improvement.  Better teachers, better students, better learning.  It can be done if we all do our part for our own schools.  And when the community disagrees on something, let's listen to each other and compromise on a solution that is best for our students and best for our community.  Every wins when we work together.

       (And isn't "working together" a lesson that we want all of our children to learn?)

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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