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Showing posts from February, 2017

Great Teachers are Constantly Improving

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       The best teachers are constantly improving.  "Good enough" isn't good enough for them.  The world is changing and teachers need to change as well.  The traditional classroom that your parents had when they were in school should not be the classroom of today.

       Here is a short list of characteristics of teachers that work to be their best for their students:


The student is the center of the learning experience; not the teacher.We want students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do.  It's not enough for students to merely sit and listen and take notes.Learning new tech resources for use as instructional tools in the classroom and as learning tools for students.Less paper and more use of digital resourcesUsing Twitter to connect with other educators and to learn with other educators.Learning about and implementing student engagement strategies in the classroom.        The need to improve is necessary because students learn differently.  Teaching i…

When Students are Engaged, Grades Don't Matter

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       My daughter's girl scout group had their annual Thinking Day recently.  Thinking Day is a special annual day when Girl Scouts around the world think of each other and express their thanks and appreciation for the International Girl Scouts organization.  Since my daughter is in high school, her group was tasked with creating a game or activity for the younger girl scouts to do.  They decided to do a Lifesize Hungry Hungry Hippo game.

       The game has four competitors who begin the game in one corner of a square floor space with lots of small balloon in the middle of the square.  Each competitor is on a scooter facing the middle of the square and holds a laundry basket.  An older girl pushes the competitors towards the middle of the square and their job is to capture as many balloons as possible with their laundry baskets.  A jump rope is tied to each scooter and the older girls pull the competitors back to their original corner and collect the balloons they have captured…

Let's Hear It for G.L.A.M. - Girls Love Advanced Mathematics

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      One of the elementary schools in my district organized a lunchtime group for their Math League.  After a few meetings, the adviser for this group received an email from the parent to say that her daughter didn't want to participate anymore.  This was the fourth girl to drop out.  Yikes!  This was a problem and while the teacher didn't want to require students to miss their recess and lunch to attend this voluntary group, she also had a concern that her girls (and only girls) were leaving.

       The teacher held a special meeting with the girls that left the group and the girls that remained in the group.  She asked them why they thought there were fewer girls than boys in the Math League.  This is what she heard:

Girls might not think they are smart enough or able to do the math work.Girls were concerned that the boys would say that they aren't smart enough.Girls start to believe it when they constantly hear that they aren't as good as boys in math.        The te…

High School Should Not be a GPA Competition

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       You may need good grades to get accepted to college.  But what you really need is good learning (and a good ability to learn) to graduate from college.  Lots of people go to college, but not a lot of people graduate from college.  A study completed in 2015 found that only 52.9% of students who began college in 2009 had earned a college degree by 2015.  This means that even if we allow students an additional two years to complete a 4-year degree, we are still have only barely half of the students graduating from college.  (Imagine the outcry if the high school graduation rate was 50%!)

       Another study has found that one reason for this dismal college graduation rate is a lack of preparation in secondary schools.  As a educator with 30 years of secondary school experience, I would suggest that it isn't so much that we don't prepare students well, but instead (perhaps) we struggle in our communication with students (and with their parents) when we talk about their ac…

The Value of Reasoning in an Era of Fake News and Alternative Facts

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       What do you believe?  Why do you believe it?  How do you decide what you believe?  Is there a difference between your perception of something and the actual truth?  Have you ever thought something was true for a long time only to discover what you thought was true (for months or years) turned out to be false the whole time?

       The old adage is "Don't believe everything you read."  This is valuable advice today just as much as it was in the past.  The Information Age not only increased the volume of information coming at us on a daily basis, it also increased the sources that create and publish this information.  Ordinary individuals can write blogs (case in point: me [!]) as easily as large institutions.  Information may or may not be vetted and fact-checked before being published.

       Another common source of information is friends and family; people you trust.  But what if your circle of friends and family is composed of lots of people that are just like …

Learning and Thinking - (getting the right answer isn't good enough anymore)

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       Learning and thinking have always been closely linked.  But sometimes, in our schools, we only achieve the appearance of learning--often accompanied by very little thinking.  This problem has been recognized by educators for a long time.  In recent years, however, we have been addressing this issue on various fronts.

       Let me begin by explaining what I mean by the term Appearance of Learning.  This is when students get good grades, but their actual learning is very low.  The grade to the students and to their parents makes it appear as if they have learned a lot, but the attainment of those grades may have been based partly on non-academic measures such as good behavior or mere compliance with rules such as turning in homework on time.  This is a problem because when students move on to more complicated coursework that requires previous knowledge, they struggle due to never actually learning the earlier content in the first place.

     Over the past few years, there has b…

Evaluating Teachers

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       Learning is highly dependent on the skills and abilities of the teacher.  According to Hattie, the following influences rank very high in their ability to raise student achievement:
teacher estimates of achievementcollective teacher efficacyteacher credibilityclassroom discussionteacher clarityimproved classroom instruction        Since we know that teachers influence student outcomes, we want to be sure that our teachers are the best that they can be.  Hence, teachers are evaluated on a regular basis to be sure the they are effective and (hopefully) are improving.
       A common tool that some school use to evaluate teachers is the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching.  This tool, updated in 2013, looks at the job of teachers in four different domains:Planning and PreparationThe Classroom EnvironmentInstructionProfessional Responsibilities Each of these four domains are further divided into five or six components that zero in on specific factors that influence effective …