Sunday, July 31, 2011

Include teachers in the Education Reform Discussion

Jim, a middle school assistant principal wrote succinctly about some of my frustrations with "education reform" in his Open Letter to Education Reformers. There is no easy solution and even when teachers have been involved, it is often easier to just do status quo. And what we are left with are 18th century strategies for 21st century learners.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

So New York City's 1700 school's are reshaping how they evaluate their teachers. This is a great start. All teachers in the struggling schools — schools with low graduation rates and low student test scores — will be rated annually as either ineffective, developing, effective or highly effective. In the current system, in place for decades, teachers have been rated simply satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

What they haven't sorted out yet is what the criteria for the four tiers will be. Will they use test scores? Who decides what "effective" or "highly effective" means

I have posted before about using a holistic, 360 degree approach to evaluating teachers. I have a personal interest in this topic for a number of reasons.

First - I am a teacher. I am a professional. I want to be perceived, evaluated and treated like a professional. In my past career (high tech management), a set of subjective and objective criteria were used to evaluate my performance. I did not expect my teaching performance to be evaluated any other way.

Secondly, as a relative newcomer to teaching, I am laid off every year, while teachers with seniority are not. I am a really good teacher. I am creative, compassionate, diligent and a leader. With every year I teach, I do get better. But time and experience are not the only things that make me a good teacher. We read about teachers who stay teaching because "they don't know what else to do". They may not be good teachers, but they get to stay. There are teachers in the classroom who do not want to be there. I want to be in the classroom and I don't get to be. So my second reason for having an interest in evaluation methods is that perhaps if we had a more rigorous method for evaluating teachers, more teachers who should be teaching will continue to teach and teachers who shouldn't be teaching will be finding what else they can do.

Finally, as a tax payer, I want to know that public schools are held accountable for providing the best education they can. Having properly evaluated teachers will help insure this.

I am still not sure how best to 'properly evaluate', but I glad to know that school districts, unions and community leaders are working on this.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BYOT - iEngage

Last year I was telling my fourth graders how I wished that I could afford to buy enough iPads so that we could use them in class. A few of the kids offered, "I could bring mine from home" which prompted a few more to say the same. In an informal poll,So I set about making it happen. I was lucky enough to be teaching in a small, affluent district. I also have a principal and superintendent with a great deal of trust in me and my ideas. So iDay was formed. I sent out a Google survey to find out from parents how many devices we could get, if they were willing to have other students use them and setting out guidelines (devices would be locked up when not in use, only approved apps could be used, etc.) The first iDay we had 23 devices! Students played math games during 'centers' and explored fractions, percents and number sense alone or with partners. One of the centers was also teacher time with groups of 4-5 students. As much as they loved using the iPads and iTouchs, they also loved having small group teacher time, a luxury in a class of 31.

We expanded the program to include language arts as well as other devices such as Kindles. I included IT in plans to make sure they were on board with my unofficial pilot. Like Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, we discovered that students were more engaged and were turning in higher quality work. Teachers also saw fewer discipline issues and better class attendance. What's more, students showed significant improvements in district benchmark tests conducted during the pilot's first year.

Sadly, I have been laid off from the district I was with, but wherever I end up, I hope to continue what I started. Forsyth's program has some good suggestions for starting your own BYOT program.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

So much has been write about standardizing what teachers do and say. I truly believe that evaluating teachers on their ability to be good teachers is key to improving our educational system. Yet how to come up with a reasonable, fair way to evaluate teachers really is a complex issue. Teachers are getting bashed in the press and in movies! It was nice to read about supporting our teachers in the Huffington Post.

Esther Wojcicki wrote, The center of a classroom is not a test, a textbook, or the posters on the wall. It's not a state or district policy, and it most certainly is not a federal law. The heart of the classroom is found in the unique relationships between students and teachers. In the same way that a family turns a house into a home, a physical and emotional transformation takes place when teachers and students work together in community to reach common goals. We see it in the trust, the expectations, the experiences and the knowledge of every person in the class.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

iStuff Apps

My friend Julie is an awesome Special Ed teacher. She got an iPad and wants to use it with her kids. I have a few suggestions. Please feel free to add your own!

First - here is a link to my classroom blog where my kids made recommendations about apps they like.

Probably my top recommendation for special ed is Dragon Dictation - this free app is a simple to use voice recognition tool, useful with reluctant writers. It does take a little getting used to and will require some punctuation editing, but it easily converts speech to text that can be imported to a word processor.

The (free) Kindle app is my favorite for ereading. I like the ease of looking up words while I am reading, as well as the ability to change font size, paper color and brightness.

Adobe Photoshop Express is still free and quite fun for creating effects on photographs. Doodle Buddy (or any similar drawing app) is nice to have for kids with motor issues.

Math Games - I use iPad with math centers. I am all about the free apps. Some my kids really enjoy include: Portion Platter, Mancala with multi-player support, NumberLine, Pearl Diver and Lobster Diver.

Language Arts
apps I use with the kids include Hangman, Grammar Dragon, Bluster

Nicole Dalesio has a whole website set up about Digital Storytelling. She is awesome and has some great ideas.

Google Earth another free app I would certainly include.

Teacher Productivity tools that I use frequently include Evernote, DropBox and Splashtop remote.

Katie Stansberry posted on the ITSE blog, "Special education classrooms are finding iPads to be extraordinarily useful for language delayed students and individuals with communication challenges. Several Montessori teachers have even gotten involved with the new technology by building apps designed to tap into children’s natural observation processes and promote self-directed learning."

Scribd has compiled an extensive list of apps for Special Ed.

iPad Curriculum is a helpful site with some suggestions and useful search criteria.

For a limited time the Everyday Math games are free for iStuff! Get em while they are free!

Googling "ipad special ed apps" will get you about 1,190,000 hit so I hope this helps get you stated.

Finally, Appolicious is an app/website which provides info about Aps! Reviews, notification of sales, etc.