Ending the Year on a Positive Note


In my most recent Edutopia post I challenged my readers to make a list of at least 5 things they've done better this year.

Here are mine:

1) Assessment 
I have taken a lot of time this year to work on my methods and purposes for assessment. While I am still stuck with a numerical gradebook system, I feel that I have a better grasp on what and whether my students are learning and I am able to focus my lessons more on specific learning outcomes.

2) Choosing the Right Tool
This year I stuck to only a few tools with my students. Some of this is because of the slow Internet speed at my school, but some of it is due to my realization that it's about depth not breadth.

3) Allowing for Re-dos
For the first time, I allowed my students to revise and resubmit their work. Rather than handing back their grade as a 'done deal,' I handed back their graded rubric with places for improvement. 90% of my students worked to revise their work and I am 100% sure they learned more through the revising than they did creating the project.

4) Making Sure that Everyone is Done
As a 'prep' teacher, specialist teacher, whatever my title may be, I am stuck with a limited amount of time with my students. Some classes I see only 45 minutes once a week and, should there be a holiday or trip, even less than that. In the past I have felt forced to move on once we have spent a certain amount of time on a project partly because of the requirement that I have a certain number of grades in my grade book each marking period (ridiculous) and partly because I felt that we just couldn't spend a month on one project. This year, however, I allowed my students to spend a month on projects. I tracked student progress and made sure that every student completed their work, even if it meant pulling them for a small period of time outside of their scheduled time with me. This has made a huge difference in how my students have progressed as well as giving both them and me a sense of accomplishment.

5) Collaborating with My Colleagues
This year, as many of you know, I started at a new school. I was so excited to collaborate and learn with my new colleagues, many of whom are enthusiastic about technology.  This year I have done more collaborating, whether it be team teaching or doing a model lesson or bringing technology into a classroom to enhance a unit of study, than any of my previous years. I hope that next year will hold even more possibilities for teachers to bring tech into their classrooms.

What are YOU most proud of this year?
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Should We Still Be Teaching Keyboarding Skills?


keyboard photo from Flickr

So I've been talking with my former college professor about keyboarding skills, how kids learn them and whether we should still be teaching them.

Part of me looks down at my swiftly moving fingers (I don't look down that often) and thinks "Yeah!" being able to type fast is awesome!

Another part of me remembers the first time I rotated an iPad and tried to use both hands to type on the screen. It was not very successful...I kind of made up my own new system.

As a lab teacher, I spent very little time on keyboarding skills. This is for two reasons.

1) My students have already taught themselves how to keyboard on their phones or at home.

2) Were I to focus on keyboarding instruction until my students had mastered Home Row, there would be no time for video editing, music editing, teaching Digital Citizenship, web design or learning programming skills.

Part of me wonders if I am doing my students a disservice. Will they end up in college or high school unable to type fast enough? Will they sit down to take that online GRE or writing test and fail because they have run out of time?

Then the other part chimes in: "Are your students entering a world that rewards fast typers or a world that rewards innovative thinkers and creative minds?"

What do you think?

If you have any research or articles pertaining to this topic, please share them in the comments!
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The Falsehood of School Choice


Pennsylvania's new Governor, Tom Corbett, ran on a platform of school vouchers. He and his neighbor, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have been pushing for legislation to bring more of them to their respective states.  Most of the arguments I have heard supporting school vouchers is that they support school choice.

This idea that being able to choose from a traditional public school, a public charter, a parochial school or a private independent school is true 'choice' is a huge falsehood.

When we talk about school choice, we should be talking about choices in instructional models. We know that not all students learn the same. We know that some students can succeed in the traditional model. We know that many do not. We also know that there are a variety of alternatives to the traditional model.

I recently went to a public gathering focused around the new independent school opening here in Philadelphia called Philly Free School. The founders of the school have spent a lot of time visiting similar schools which are based off of the Sudbury Valley School in Massachussets, a democratic school in which students direct their own learning and make all the decisions in the school through a democratic process.  In the informative literature from the Fairhaven School that they distributed at the meeting, there was a sheet for parents to help them understand and explain the school's model to others. It was called, "OK, so you're sort of like..." followed by a list of school models and a comparison between them and the Fairhaven model. Some of the school models on the list were a Montessori School, a Waldorf School, a Progressive School, Homeschooling and Student Governments in traditional schools.

This list shows what true school choice really looks like.

The Philly Free School is an amazing model. It takes a certain kind of student to be able to function there and it takes even that kind of student time to adjust when coming from a traditional school setting. It is not for everyone. Similarly, a Montessori School model might be too open and free for some students (though I would argue it would be too open and free for the parents rather than the student), while another model might be too test-driven for a family.

Recently, I have been reflecting on my own education. I experienced a variety of school models over the course of my K-12 education career, some of which fit me well and some which did not. I started my schooling in a Montessori school. I then entered Kindergarten at a small private school that stressed project-based learning. I spent K-3rd grades tackling a huge, multi-layered project each year.  I also spent my summers exploring beaches, marshes and reading tons of books of my own choosing (some might call this self-directed learning).

As I entered 4th grade in the new district that my parents had chosen to move to due to its high-performing schools, I began my first experience with traditional public schooling. Needless to say, I was miserable. I was placed in a Talented and Gifted program (TAG), for which I was pulled out of class, but school was much, much different. Timed tests, bullying and few projects or student-centered learning.

I spent the rest of my school years in the local public schools until senior year when I applied to Walkabout, an alternative program for high school seniors. During my senior year I completed a 4 week community service project during which I only went to school once a week, went on two week-long backpacking trips, and completed a 6-week internship in NYC that I landed on my own. During my internship I also only attended school once a week.  That year was one of the best years of school I can remember.

One aspect of Walkabout and the private school I attended was that they were selective. There were a limited number of slots in the Walkabout program and the director of the program hand-selected students from the applicants, choosing only those for whom the program was a good fit.  To enter the private school I took a series of IQ and other tests (some which helped me earn scholarship money) as a sort of screening process.

I'm not sure that this means that traditional public schools should be selective, but I think that were there more diversity among public school models, not just climates, resources and performance then school choice would make more sense.  Not all schools work for all kids, so why are we pretending that they do? Rather than offering boot camp 'reform' schools for 'problem children,' perhaps they just need a school that is more geared toward self-directed learning? Maybe those students who constantly get in trouble would benefit from the opportunity for more flexibility in their day. What about those students who are successful in traditional school but leave without any sense of what their true desires are?

We need to stop thinking about school choice at face value and begin to think more deeply about the choices we are really giving students and their families.
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A Tribute to My Mother


I'm not usually one for Hallmark holidays, but I felt the urge to celebrate my Mother, Nancy, in all of her awesomeness.

My Mom and I at The Barnes Foundation April 2011

I am thankful for having a Mother who never told me what I had to do or who I had to be as a child, who let me be myself (pink hair and all), who believed in me and still does while peppering in motherly advice whenever she can.

As grown woman I now can appreciate my Mom's independence, her strong will, and her intelligence. She has become a good friend and I love that we can laugh, reminisce and hold deep political conversations all in the span of 20 minutes.

Thank you Mom for being who you are and for helping me become who I am today.
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Save Trees: Don't print me!