Monday, October 29, 2012

We Sit'n here talk'n bout practice...Not a game, not a game, Practice!

Our district is currently doing a book study on the Art and Science of Teaching.

See other posts here:

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 6
Chapter 8

This chapter is on giving students opportunities to deepen their understanding.

Or as Allen Iverson would say, We're going to use the Blog post to talk about PRACTICE!

Deepening your understanding does not mean doing the same thing to the same depth that was done before.  That is just practicing, which is fine for somethings.  Deepening means going to the next depth of knowledge.

My take-aways are:

  • Students need opportunities to practice new skills and deepen their understanding of new information.
  • Students need time to extend their thinking
  • Part of this process is students recognizing their own misconceptions
  • "Students need a sound foundation to build new awareness."
  • Determine what kind of learning they need it is skill based (procedural) or knowledge based (declarative)
  • Assign tasks as determined by kind of learning they are doing...
Building new awareness:
  • Schema Development
    • linking old learning and new
    • challenge existing perceptions
  • Procedural knowledge
    • the "do" of a learning goal
    • develops from declarative knowledge
    • involves adding, editing, and delting steps
    • fully developed seems automatic
    • also termed as "fluency"
    • Need for practice to make this automatic
    • guided practice involves "gradual shaping of a procedure facilitated by teacher guidance"
  • Developing Declarative Knowledge
    • reviewing and revision are key
    • Students need at least 4 exposures to integrate something into their existing knowledge base. (Rovee-Collier, Nuthall)
    • No more than 2 days between exposures (Think about this as it relates to Professional development)
    • Ways to improve declarative knowledge
      • revision - as in writing
      • error analysis - revising ones own thinking
      • Similarities and differences - think Venn Diagram, classification also work
      • homework - extends learning opportunities that are limited byt he school day
Facts about homework (Don't shoot the messenger, I don't like homework either)
  • Relationship between amount of homework students do and their achievement level were found positive and statistically significant.
  • No clear benefits of homework at the lower levels (below grade 6)
  • Homework should:
    • Foster good study habits
    • foster positive attitude toward school
  • There is no correlation between time spent on homework and student achievement
  • For secondary students there are benefits to homework up to one to two hours a night, after that it diminishes greatly.
  • It's not the time spent on homework but the proportion completed that impacts achievement
  • Parent involvement with homework is positive when:
    • There are clear roles
    • Parents are not experts
    • Parents can ask clarifying questions to help students summarize
  • Give students practice, but make it focused, and meaningful
Action steps for your classroom:

1.  Let students find similarities and differences often (compare, classify, create metaphors, analogies)
2.  Help students identify errors in thinking (faulty logic, attacks, weak reference, misinformation)
3.  Practice, Practice, Practice.... Structure practice, gradual release, develop fluency)
4.  Use Cooperative groups with a focused intent
5.  Assign PURPOSEFUL homework
6.  Allow students time to make corrections in their notebooks/journals/blogposts/googledoc files.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Textbooks: They Just Don't Add Up

I'm going to be blunt: I hate textbooks.

I've been in my new position now for a couple months and I have heard so much discussion about textbooks that really frustrates me.  I'm working on how to have this conversation and here are my selling points:

First off, I read a Genius post by Tom Whitby @tomwhitby:

Second, I borrowed the technique of the math from Tony DiLaura @anthonydilaura

Now, here's some math I'm going to use to have conversations with my colleagues:

Buying 40 books per 4 teacher team:

$67/book x 160 books =

So let's work with that budget:

What if teacher’s made the “book”?

4 teachers = $100/day (for subs) = $400/day

At $400/day we could take 4 teachers out of the classroom for 26.8 days and create a textbook of our own.

Can we make a better book in 26.8 days?

That's not ideal AT ALL, but at least it seems doable.

Now imagine if we "paid" teachers to do it outside of the work day.....

If we assumed $15-$20 per hour in the summer/after school time x 4 teachers/grade level for a total of $60-$80 per hour....

the $10,720 budget to pay teachers would mean we could have anywhere from 134 to 178 hours of work to pay (dare I say invest in) teachers to make their own book.

Can we do it better? Can we do a better job of keeping it updated? Allow it to be ours?

What if we "OPEN SOURCED" our learning?

Can you believe that video is from 2006!!!!!!!!!!!! And we are still having this conversation.

I mean let's be crazy:

What if we published it and sold it online? To schools and homeschool organizations?

I know I drank the "apple Kool-Aid," but
Let's be honest, they do it better...

There are many pieces of technology available to help us.  What if we purchased 4 Macbook Airs ($4000) and downloaded the iBooks Author Software (FREE) (Tony's How to) as well as the pages app ($40) that leaves us with over $6000 to pay teachers or subs to make our own book....

I just don't get it, let's just face it, purchasing textbooks just doesn't add up...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Overcoming Apathy

One of my favorite shirt on Mental floss is

As I have been learning and growing in my new position I have noticed an interesting trend.

One trend of interest to me is complaining.  Now I have been lucky that being the new guy nobody complains to me, yet....

Here's my thinking about complaining:

We all experience problems through out our day.  Being able to have the initiative to overcome that problem and make the decision to find/provide a solution in not natural to everyone.  A lot of this relates back to chemistry and activation energy required to begin a chemical reaction.

I realize that some teachers just need to vent and complain, getting from problem to solution is not easy:
Some teachers complain because they just need help getting from point A to point B:

Many teachers see a problem and immediate begin working toward solutions, they are always the "do-ers" and immediately work toward solutions.
People are much like reactants in a chemical reaction.  When I work with teachers I am striving, in my new position, to get from problem to solution and to be that catalyst:

I very much see my job as being the person to lower the activation energy.  Helping teachers to solve problems and achieve their goals.

How can we all see ourself as catalysts and work together to overcome the activation energy?

At the beginning of the year I show my students this video:

I use it for the remainder of the year when a kid sees a problem, I ask them if they are stuck on an escalator and if they are working to solve their problems.  Sometimes they just need me to lower that activation energy and help in any way I can to assist them in achieving their goals.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cornerstone Tasks

I've been working hard at Understanding the CCSS and it's implications for Curriculum development in my role as facilitator (coordinator).  People ask me questions everyday about how it will impact our curriculum.  

I've been saying in a nutshell it will cause us to rewrite and rethink.

Read my post on CCSS here then check this out:

Cornerstone tasks are opportunities for student to USE knowledge and skill they have learned throughout a unit or duration of study in order to INDEPENDENTLY demonstrate their learning.

These tasks are REALISTIC in nature.  Have an authentic audience (See Ron Berger, An Ethic of Excellence)

Cornerstone Tasks involve MANY:
  • CCSS
  • Content standards
  • 21st century skills (creativity, technology use, teamwork, etc.)
These cornerstone tasks "honor the intent of the standard within and across subject areas."

This SCREAMS Project, Problem, Passion and Game-based learning. 

See my post here on Curriculum Models throughout time....

Cornerstone tasks are designed to reoccur from grade-level to grade-level progressing from simpler to more sophisticated.  From more scaffolded to more autonomous in nature.

As we continue down the road of learning about the CCSS and begin looking at other standards, outcomes and expectations from areas such as NCSS, NCHE, NGSS, and others we MUST be so moved to revision items that impact our alignment:

1.  Our grading practices from points to standards based
2.  Our summative assessments from paper/pencil to something more authentic
3.  Out schedule from math only happens from 8:47 - 9:33 to when it's needed for the project
4.  Our role as educators from holder of knowledge to advocator of learning
5.  Our training of new teachers
6.  Our model of checklists and scope and sequences to Cornerstone Tasks

We will not be able to meet the myriad of tasks and performance outcomes simply by making a list and checking it off.  We MUST throw the goals and outcomes off the table, start fresh with these cornerstone tasks (project, problems, games, and passions) and pull in standards when and where they fit.

The CCSS will eventually cause us to change our thinking from:

Scope and sequence/step by step/1st hour, 2nd hour, 3rd hour

to this:

Theme/Project/Student-Centered/Passion-Driven/Cornerstone Task centered

Support and resources:

Images from:
Cornerstone -
Dominos -

5 BIG ideas from CCSS

This post is a summary/adaptation from Wiggins/McTighe article on 5 big ideas.

1.  Read carefully
AH-HA Moment: DON'T turn directly to YOUR grade level.  You'll miss the point.  READ THE WHOLE THING!
  • Long term outcomes are in mind so the components are intended to work together.
  • Educators need to understand the internt and structure of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
  • Read the "front matter"
  • What is the instructional emphasis?
  • If you don't read the CCSS and don't understand the CCSS, you'll think it's the same old stuff, IT'S NOT 

2.  Standards does not equal curriculum

  • "A Standard is an outcome, NOT a claim about how to achieve the outcome."
  • "Standards are like building codes.  Architects and builders must attend to them but they are NOT the purpose of the design."
  • "Development of important capabilities in the learner as a result of engaging and effective work."
  • Keep long term educational goals in mind
  • Standards are ingredients to a recipe more than they are the final meal
  • Standards are rules to the game rather than the strategy

ASIDE:  We are looking at "curriculum" wrong.  
We are looking at it as what is to be "covered,"
 as opposed to what is to be LEARNED.

3.  Unpacking required

  • Read the document!
  • Unpack the standards into categories:
    • Long-Term Transfer Goals - "effective uses of content, knowledge and skill both inside and outside of the classroom"
    • Overarching Understandings - Key needs for students
    • Overarching Essential Questions - Key skills or behaviors of how students interact with new problems
    • Cornerstone Tasks - curriculum embedded tasks that are intended to ENGAGE students in applying knowledge and skills ON THEIR OWN.
AH-HA MOMENT: This understanding of "cornerstone tasks" inspired me to write the next blog post pending.
  • This "unpacking" is intended at a district or "macro" level as they call it.  Using the whole span of learning for students or within a specific program (in my case science or social studies).
  • Unpacking DOES NOT mean make a checklist

4.  Backwards design is essential

  • Curriculum in Latin means: Course to be run...
  • Ralph Tyler purpose for standards: "to indicate the kinds of changes in the student to be brought about....thus... standards provide content headings"
  • Don't think about what we teach and when we teach it but through the lens of "having learned the key content, what will students be able to do with it."
  • Curriculum is designed to develop INDEPENDANT transfer in students
  • To "assume the layout of the CCSS implies a chronology is flawed thinking"

AH-HA MOMENT: Thinking of standards as discrete skills or concepts leads to "coverage mentality" and reveals a misconception that teaching bits in a logical and specified order will somehow add up to the desired achievements called for in the standards."

  • "a curriculum envisioned and enacted as a set of maps of content and skill coverage will simply not by itself develop a students's increasingly autonomous capacity to USE learned content effectively to address complex tasks and problems."
  • Math CCSS say: "just because topic A comes before topic B doesn't mean" it has to when you teach
AH-HA MOMENT: "You can only say you have fully understood and applied your learning when you can do it without someone telling you what to do."

5.  Assessments are key

  • Standards don't specify learning goals
  • Standards qualities of student work
  • Standards tell us the degrees of rigor that is assessed
  • The appendices are the most important part of the CCSS
  • Cultivating and curating examples of student work will help illustrate qualities of performance
  • Design Backwards:
    • Develop Cornerstone tasks influenced by Content and CCS Standards
    • Use Standards-based assessments
    • Develop rigorous rubrics
    • Use annotated work samples

In Summary: This is not your same old grade level expectations, there are new ways of looking at and thinking about student learning.

Images from: