Sunday, January 27, 2008

SLA = Something Special

Imagine a school were students actually have a voice. Imagine a school where students love to come to take part in something special. The day to day operations are ran by the students. Important decisions can be made by the students. The school is a community, not just a place where the students come from 8 to 4 Monday through Friday. Collaboration between staff and student is done on a daily basis by any means possible. If one student is falling behind, they are picked up by the community, for the community. Teachers are more like mentors and moderators rather than facilitators and instructors. Ideas are introduced and discussed, then questioned and debated. Assignments are open ended for the students to decide what form the final outcome will take. Outcomes are not graded or scrutinized, but questioned for purpose and relativity. Students have full access to learning and social networks. These networks are collaborative and reach globally. Students start to have a sense of purpose in the world. They realize that they can make a difference… in fact, they already have. They are a part of something special, and it shows in their faces.

I just visited this school... The SLA (Science Leadership Academy) in Philadelphia, PA. What a wonderful opportunity for about 200 individuals that went to EduCon 2.0 this weekend. I just spent the 4 hour drive home reflecting and regurgitating (in my head) everything that I heard and witnessed this weekend. Now, I have the ultimate task of getting the word out in my own neck of the woods. I already have a plan... I think.
Meeting of the minds during lunch
Will Richardson, Chris Lehmann and Gary Stager discuss life

Putting faces to names and voices to Tweets was all overwhelming and refreshing at the same time. Many ideas and keyboard strokes have faces and voices now and many more connections were made.
student at educon
Student UStreaming a session at EduCon 2.0

A variety of people attended EduCon 2.0. I am sure that when today's last session was over, everyone took with them something different. I know what I took away from this conference... HOPE. I have hope that this can be achieved, that the student voice can be heard as an equal in the educational system. I would like to thank Chris Lehmann and the students of SLA for an experience that I will always remember. Thank you for opening the SLA doors this weekend. I hope to hear more from you in the future.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

EduCon 2.0 Social vs. Learning Networks

Great Seesion with Will Richardson as the moderator. There was variety of backgrounds present... from seasoned bloggers to people that never heard of Twiiter and RSS. I would urge you to listen to the whole session. Fun times, but also somewhat depressing knowing the leaps my district will have to take to catch up.

EduCon 2.0: First Session

Tom Hoffman was the moderator of the conversation... he had to keep everyone on track. The discussion was on the connectivity or unconnectivity of "The 10 Common Principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools" with "School 2.0". The conversation then lead to a discussion of what should be acceptable in schools... What is the role of the student, what is the role of the teacher, what is the role of the administration, and why do we teach what we teach. It was an interesting conversation, and I am hoping to have some more, but time to eat lunch.

Friday, January 25, 2008

America: Falling Behind

Reading Scott Mcleod's blog, he posted about a documentary that looks as if it describes a reason we Americans are falling behind in a global economy. I am definitely ordering a copy.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

EduCon 2.0

Not knowing what to expect while I'm packing to head north for the weekend. I'm a little nervous actually. I've been in the blogosphere for less than a year now... I'm not what you would call a seasoned veteran. Hopefully, a few people will know me from my blog... maybe not.

I am really going at it alone. I believe the only person that is attending that I have ever talked to f2f is Will Richardson. I asked him a question after a session he did about digital literacy and RSS. I loved it so much, I sat through it a 2nd time. David Warlick was there also. He was the keynote with a "Flat Classroom" theme. I didn't get a chance to talk to him though. What great speakers and motivators they both are. I am feeling lucky that I may be involved in some conversations with them this weekend.

I believe that this will be a great meeting of the minds when it comes to reforming the education system. I'm looking forward to great conversations and debates. I will be live blogging from the conference if there is time. Twitter will see some action also. I am really planning on just taking it all in and adding to conversations that tweek my buttons. Until next Blog...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Building Walls

The Wall, Andy Goldsworthy, originally uploaded by wdelauder2002.

Being a teacher really gets me worked up. The teaching part I love. I was in a great mood all day today. We started new long-term projects in 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. The students were excited to get started and I was looking forward to the ideas they would present. However...

Tuesday is faculty meeting day. The agenda stated that we would be over viewing the new "Gifted Education Program". I had questions before the meeting even started, but I waited until they did their dry Power Point Presentation (When will this get old?) while I yawned.

My beef...
1. The whole presentation was a justification for why we can't label students. Am I going crazy here. Through the whole presentation, they did nothing but label students. This is what we do. We put students into categories based on learning levels, economic status, color, gender, MSA scores etc. Students are a number.
2. I asked the question... What will happen to students that may be a discipline problem, but are extremely gifted in certain areas? The answer was political. I received answers that bounced around the actual point and seemed to mean... they don't have a chance.
3. I asked another question... What will happen to the students that are labeled average, but are extremely gifted in one or two areas? The same political answer followed by... "We don't know yet".
4. The first criteria used to "nominate a student" is their MSA (Maryland State Assessment) scores. The top 10% in the County will be considered for nomination. What about the students who don't care about their scores on this dry test, but are extremely gifted?
5. There will be a maximum amount of students selected from each school for this program. What happens if the school has more students that are gifted than the number allotment?
6. There was no mention of how technology/ Web 2.0 literacy's will play a role in these students altered curriculum. They mentioned "Junior Great Books". Man, I read these when I was in the "gifted program" in elementary school 20 years ago. They have nothing better than this today?

After all was said, the presenter stated that this plan is not final, and it may change. Thanks. You mean to tell me that I wasted valuable time to learn about a plan that may not even be initiated? I could have spent this hour doing my actual job... Preparing to teach my students. With all of this spatter, I still do love my job... the teaching part anyway :)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Why attend EduCon 2.0?

George Washington close-up, originally uploaded by wdelauder2002.

I am looking forward to traveling North to Philly this weekend. I was in Philadelphia in July, 2007 on my way to Maine. Had to stop to get a Cheese steak at Pat's. Needles to say, I love Philadelphia.

It will be encouraging to get away from the stagnate teachers to hang out with teachers that are practicing what they preach. It is ironic that I will be missing the Pre-Conference on Friday to attend a training on the new Computerized MSA (Maryland State Assessment) Science Test we will be giving in April. Works out good that the training is in Bel Air, Maryland about 20 miles north of Baltimore... pretty much on my way to Philly. I wish I could be there to tour the SLA and have good conversations. Looks like the conversations will have to start on Saturday morning for me.

Here are a few reasons I will be attending EduCon 2.0...

1. Real conversations with real innovators that don't blow smoke.

2. Communication with educators that have similar thoughts about the future of the education system.

3. Having my voice heard in the process of change. Sharing some ideas that I may have for classroom/web 2.0 integration.

4. Making connections with those that I admire in the realm of education reform.

5. Making new friends, finding new avenues to explore.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

How It All Ends

Great attempt to discuss climate change found on Chris Lehmann's blog.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

W.E. Revolution Part 2

Woody's Pictures 260, originally uploaded by wdelauder2002.

The revolution is working without many hiccups. I know that many teachers across the world use limited worksheets. However, I am trying to prove a point. Students and Teachers make more meaningful connections to the world by "doing" more meaningful assignments.

3rd grade assignment. Create an accurate map of the United States that will be used to show landforms and bodies of water. Once the maps are created, they will have a totally student created topographical map of the United States. Other additions to the map will be student driven... fault lines, tectonic plates.

Students have become perceptive to the changes I am making. I discussed everything with each class. I talked to them about the importance of making meaningful connections to the curriculum. I discussed with them that the products we will be creating will be completed by them alone. They will have stake in the final product. Most information will be presented online using programs such as Google Earth and Wikipedia.

I explained to the students that these changes are not going to make their school day easier, but will allow them to actually learn and retain the knowledge easier. Most students are all grins. Most students love a challenge. I say "most students" because there are always a few students that take a little longer to jump on board at no fault of their own.

By the way... the idea of tracing the map from the LCD projector was student generated. Yes, 3rd grade students (8 year olds) do have a decision making voice here.

More to come about this assignment, as it will probably take a while to complete.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"Help Make The Network Real"

Add to the wiki. Will Richardson, Karl Fisch, and Anne Smith will be presenting outside of Philadelphia tomorrow at "21st Century Education:20/20 Vision for Schools". Planning on making it a global event and proving their point, they have created a wiki for us to add our info too. Good luck Will, Karl and Anne. Hopefully you will make some new friends:)

Are we Actors?

Today, just like many days, I spent about 2 hours completing tasks that had little to do with student learning. These are days that I do not enjoy. I am due to be observed by one of our administrators. The lesson needs to have a focus on Math. I am a Science Teacher, so this shouldn't be a difficult task to pull off. However, at the present time, I am teaching the Earth Science Unit to all 4 grade levels... landforms, weather, erosion, global warming etc.

The timing is not good. Rather then staying on pace (suggested order of lessons), I was asked to stray away from the focus with one class so that I could be observed. I was told... "See what you can do about adding Math skills into this lesson". Needless to say, I had to write up a completely different lesson that has little to do with the curriculum just to get observed.

In the words of Will Richardson... Aaaarrrggghhh!!!!! (I hope he doesn't have the copyrights to that expletive)
This gets my blood boiling. I would rather be observed unannounced. Isn't this the point. Observe the teacher and the students in a natural, uncontrived(not a word) environment. Why would an administrator want to see a Dog and Pony show? Why do I feel the need to put on an act for the administrator? This is what they want, right? Are we actors that need to put on a show for the administration? Many questions, but no answers.

This scenario changes from school to school... I know. Some administrators do come in unannounced. I would like to hear from other teachers that have been put in a similar situation. Or maybe hear from some administrators that would have given me some better options. I feel as though we do not have the best interest of the students in our sights when these types of situations occur. This is a confusing message being sent out to teachers and students.

Friday, January 11, 2008

EduCon 2.0

I just firmed up my ticket to the first Educon 2.0 hosted in Philadelphia by Chris Lehmann and his Science Leadership Academy. I'm starting to get a little pumped to meet some of the people that I have been following digitally. I can tell a few other bloggers are getting pumped also...

Will Richardson writes...

"Last I heard, registrations were nearing a couple of hundred, which means this is going to be an awesome opportunity to wrap our collective brains around some of the most important questions facing us as educators (and to carry those conversations late into the Philadelphia night.)"

Cathy Nelson writes...

"I am so looking forward to arriving in Philadelphia for the Educon2.0 so graciously hosted by Chris Lehmann and his school, the Science Leadership Academy. As the weekend draws closer, all I can think about is all the f2f meetings with fellow friends from my network! While I have met some f2f (back at EdubloggerCon in Atlanta, GA June 2007) I know many of them do not remember me."

For me, this is about as good as it gets. I have been following many of these bloggers for almost a year now, and can't wait to add to conversations f2f.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

W.E. Revolution

W.E. Revolution refers to what I like to call the Worksheet Elimination Revolution. This has been a topic brewing in my mind for a while now. Schools seem to use the "Worksheet" to save time and make every ones job easier. There are many problems with the use of the simple worksheet.

The use of worksheets...

1. Uses an unspeakable amount of paper. Most of the paper goes unused and is discarded in the trash or recycled.
2. Creates teachers that begin to rely on a 1-dimensional teaching method. Introduce... teach... have them fill in the blanks.
3. Creates dependent learners. Students depend on the teacher to direct their learning. Discovery and reflection are put on the back-burner.
4. Creates a sense of monotony and boredom amongst most students. Pass out the paper, put your name and date on it, read the directions, answer the questions, fill in the blanks, pass your papers in.
5. Dilutes creativity. Students begin to lose the creative aspect of learning. They start to feel comfortable filling in the blanks. It's easy!
6. Creates a stack of graded worksheets that is taken home and thrown away. Why should the students care about the worksheet? They didn't create it. They don't own it. They have no stake in it except for the grade.
7. Creates teachers that don't want to grade the worksheets and end up throwing some of them away, meaning that students did the work for absolutely no reason.
8. Creates teachers that share worksheets and just use ones others have created. This results in teachers using worksheets that don't truly match what they are currently teaching or can even be at odds with the learning.
(#'s 7 and 8 were added by Jenny)

I could probably continue to write the ill effects of worksheets until Monday morning.
I am not claiming that I don't use worksheets. I do sometimes, when I feel it's necessary. My point is... it is easy to fall into the worksheet rut.
I am making an effort at the present time to completely eliminate the worksheet from the classroom. I feel that our time can be spent doing more meaningful activities. When I say "our time", I mean my time and the students time. The plan for this effort has been a creeping turtle. I have been thinking/planning this type of reform for a while now. I will follow this post up with a few ideas for engaging activities, but for now, until next blog...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Lost with Freedom

I have written many posts on this subject. Offering freedom to students in the classroom tends to lose most students. By losing students, I mean many students completely shut down and refuse to do the critical thinking involved in completing the assignment.

One of the greatest teachers I have had the privilege to work with gave me many ideas to open the minds of students. J. Jones was the Reading Resource Teacher at the school in which I began my teaching career. After listening and borrowing many of her ideas, students began to be more engaged. The students also began walking down the path to being life-long independent learners.

Great Independent Learner Activity: J. Jones (Thank You)
The Free-write or Focused Free-write

I still use this at least once a week with my students in different forms. Being a science teacher, the lessons can be engaging, but soon you find yourself in what I like to call the "Fill in the Blank Rut". I don't like going to that place. This activity has a broad range. I had the 4th graders write a focused free-write as if they were a meteorologist. There are not many rules to this activity. This can be challenging. Students are used to rules.

The rules:
1. They must discuss the terms and ideas that we discussed about weather
2. They can write no more than 1 page.
3. Time limit of 15 minutes

I like giving the students a Maximum amount to write rather than a minimum... another J. Jones idea. This tends to allow their writing to be a little more meaningful and directed.
There are no other rules to mention. They can write any genre as long as they use the point-of-view of a meteorologist.

I like to give the students a chance to show me how much they are learning on their own terms.
Examples (Titles) of their work...
1. The Rapping Meteorologist
2. The Mystery of the Missing Anemometer
3. The Angry Low Pressure System
4. The Confused Weather Vane

This is a great activity that most students love to do... especially when it's time to share. Some students shut down and say that the activity is too hard. They do eventually come around and grind away at writing with a little coaxing from their friends.