Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Standardized Tests and the World We Live In

During teacher professional development this week we were discussing how the new instructional philosophies and strategies we were there to learn would actually look in the typical teacher's classroom. Inevitably the discussion of tests and how federal, state and local accountability impacts how we teach.  It's a tremendous concern and one that can't be taken lightly.  How do we make change and how do we make that leap of faith to do what is best for children and not necessarily what our current accountability systems want?

As I sat there and listened to the discussion I received a link to the finally released versions of Texas' STAAR tests.  This is our first look at what this test actually looks like after two whole years of delivery!

I was interested in the 5th grade tests since my little boy just finished that grade so I pulled up science and math.  We had all heard about how the tests were going to be different and how the questions were going to need higher order thinking skills to answer.  After looking at the tests I suppose that is true to an extent. There were a few "aha" moments when you could understand what they meant, but that wasn't what I found myself thinking about.

I was in a room with a group of teachers where we were trying to gain buy-in for student-centered learning.  We were scaffolding them with new ideas, strategies and skills.  And most of these teachers had to go back to a classroom where they had to make a choice: survive the teaching profession in the world of accountability or do what is best for students. Survival is a natural instinct.  Project-based learning or flipped instruction is not.

What I realized looking at the test was that there were some questions I couldn't answer by just taking the test in a room with 20 others and none of my tools that I use every day.

When adults have problems to solve, when we have something to accomplish, when we have to have the answers to our questions, we have access to our tools.  Tools we depend on to survive. Tools like the Internet, books, measuring tools, dictionaries, calculators, etc.  On today's tests, students are only given access to a few of these tools.

In today's world it is natural for us to use digital tools to help us solve our problems.  It is natural like indoor plumbing. It is natural like electricity.  We take these things for granted because they are always there and today, the internet is always there.

We want to give our students great learning experiences and we want them to have access to great tools for learning but then we throw them into the wilderness(standardized tests) and expect them to survive. We no longer teach our kids to live in a world without planes, trains or automobiles. We no longer teach our kids to live in a world without books, telephones, indoor plumbing or electricity.  These are all tools we have come to rely on and are part of our lives.

A Generation of Geniuses?

by Lorna Franke - McCarroll Middle School, 7th Grade History

This is food for thought. Fortunately, our school district, Decatur ISD, is already making the move to revolutionize our teaching methods. This article just shows that you don't need internet access and fancy devices to teach your kids how to think globally and learn how to change the world. Our kids are desperate to be inspired to do something great.

Needing a Champion

by Lorna Franke - McCarroll Middle School, 7th Grade History

Since I can remember, I have wanted to be a teacher. Some of the main reasons for my wanting to be a teacher were actually not because of great teachers, but the teachers who were awful to me. That human connection and those bad relationships inspired me to be a teacher, because I wanted to be different than those teachers. This is my dream…to be this teacher that Rita is talking about. The teacher that kids remember, because I cared about them. Of course, I am not perfect, and I am sure there are kids who have left my class not knowing how much I loved them, but I strive to love every kid. To let them know that I am human and that I make mistakes. I want to be real with them. I want them to know that, sometimes, we learn together.

'Reshaping Learning' isn't always about amazing technology. It isn't always about amazing lessons. Sometimes, it is a connection with a kid, a relationship with a kid that makes the difference. Being the drill sergeant, like many of my teachers didn't work. It is letting kids know  that you REALLY CARE about their future success that really makes the difference.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Twist on Professional Development

By Stephanie Quarles
Stephanie Quarles is the principal at Carson Elementary in Decatur ISD in Decatur, Texas. 

While getting ready for the summer break, I thought through what my goals were going to be for the upcoming school year. I wanted the focus to be on continuous improvement and goal setting. I wanted my teachers to understand and put into practice the use of formative assessments as a tool to guide instruction. Malcolm and Me: How to Use the Baldrige Process to Improve Your School by Richard E. Maurer seemed to be the perfect book to wrap this goal around.

Once the book was decided upon I needed to figure out how to conduct a book study where we didn’t actually have to meet in person.  One of my colleagues introduced me to Smore. Smore.com is a service for quickly creating great-looking webpages. Smore markets itself as a service for creating online flyers, but it's a little bit more than that. Smore's flyers are dynamic and changeable, they're not single-use PDFs. I decided on Smore.com as the format. Plus, I am always looking for ways to encourage my teachers to explore new technology: new websites, apps, and tools that could be used in the classroom.

I wanted my teachers to reflect on each chapter of the book and apply their learning to the students of Carson Elementary.  I began reading the book the day I arrived at ISTE, The International Society for Technology in Education Conference. I was blown away by all of the awesome tools that I was learning about, and I wanted a way to share them with my teachers. The idea of merging a few of these newly discovered tech tools and the Malcolm and Me book study into the Smore was born.

I started each section of the Smore with a summary of the chapter. I then gave the teachers a reflective question or a task and a tech tool in which to respond to that task. I was surprised at how easy Smore was to manipulate. You can embed pictures, videos and links to websites with ease. I sent the link to my newly created Smore to my faculty and sat back with anticipation.

Setting up the book study this way cause me to read the book with a different mindset than I might have otherwise. It forced me to tryout many technology tools and really get to know them instead of just sharing a list and summary with my teachers. Plus, now I excitedly check the Smore and each website everyday to see what new reflections my teachers have posted there! I can’t wait to see if my teachers enjoyed participating in this style of professional development as much as I enjoyed creating it! Visit

My Smore Book Study HERE

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

ADE Class of 2013 - We were on fire!

As I finally find time to reflect on the ADE Institute a few weeks ago, I find myself filled with pride and a sense of belonging.

I do have to admit that at the beginning I felt like I was at summer camp.  That feeling of being alone and lost. I didn't have many friends there.  I didn't know who I would be "stuck" with.  I didn't know what I might do that might embarrass myself. I felt in awe and a little intimidated by the amazing talent of the other ADEs.  I didn't know my place.

Let me tell you, Apple has the best camp counselors around! From the first person I met in the registration line through the end of the week I have rarely felt more supported and encouraged.

My fellow ADEs are incredible.  I felt overwhelmed to be in their company.  Their contributions to education give me an incredibly bright outlook.  They are truly amazing people.

So, when I returned to work I was asked several times about what it was like and there is a lot I can't speak about.  It's hard to describe anyway because it was all an experience and it is hard to describe experiences.  Besides, describing individual activities or events doesn't do the Institute justice.

The Experience
Lets just say the week was a well-designed learning experience that provided all the necessary ingredients for learning.  There was a driving question, there was scaffolding, there was team-building, there expert resources if needed, it was comfortable, it was safe, it expected results and it authentically gave us the motivation to deliver results.  

Wrapping It Up
I can't describe the whole week in a single blog post but I do want to sum up what this experience means and how it translates to today's learners. In our district we use the HEAT Framework for lesson design so I wanted to rate it on the HEAT Scale and see how "hot" it was.

Higher Order Thinking
We were a level 6 - Student learning/questioning at evaluating/creating levels. 
We, as learners, were expected to create. Creativity at the highest levels of Bloom's was encouraged, expected and cultivated. We were encouraged to not just create, but curate great resources for our audience.  
Engaged Learning
We were a level 6 - Students collaborate to define the task, the process, and/or the solution; collaboration extends beyond the classroom. 
The whole week was centered around collaboration and working in our PLNs to accomplish our individual tasks that will ultimately complete our project. 
Authentic Connections
We were a level 6 - The learning experience is directly relevant to students and involves creating a product that has a purpose beyond the classroom that directly impacts the students. 
Our project was very authentic to us, especially for our PLN.
Technology Use
We were a level 6 - Students use self-selected digital and/or environmental resources to accomplish learning outcomes beyond the use of conventional strategies. 
We had access to so many tools and learning resources designed to deliver new content for our audience. Tools like Keynote, GarageBand, Final Cut Pro, Motion Graphics, iBooks Author, iTunes U, etc. provide new ways to create and deliver content.

Final Thoughts
Despite the unusually cool weather for mid-July in Austin, Texas, the learning was HOT. Obviously Apple and all the attendees were on FIRE last week.

I am sure I will be analyzing this week for months to come and trying to incorporate what I learned into my own position.  I thank Apple, Maxx Judd, Don Henderson, Rebecca Stockley, Maria Henderson and all the other Apple employees that made this one of the greatest educational experiences of my life.

I also want to thank my new friends in my PLN. It is an honor and a privilege to get to know you and I look forward to learning from each of you!

Friday, July 12, 2013

About being an Apple Distinguished Educator

I have been very blessed this year with a few great opportunities that have been very reinvigorating for me.

About a year ago I did some serious reflecting over my 23 years in educational technology and how I got to where I am. It was an unintentional career(see the bottom of the post for background).  

I decided that if I was going to try to accomplish more and have a fulfilling second half of my career that I was going to have to go against my natural inclination of being too shy and having a lack of confidence. So, I decided to step out there and here we are.

On February 19th I received an e-mail from a friend telling me congratulations on becoming an Apple Distinguished Educator. I hadn't received anything official.  How did they know??  I checked my spam mail and there it was, the official notice from Maxx Judd, ADE Worldwide Program Manager. I was so excited, nervous, proud, honored and a dozen other similar feelings all at once.

About a week later I got the icing on the cake.  I was named a New Media Consortium K12 Ambassador, one of 22 from around the world.  Another great honor!

Now, I was raised in a little bitty town with a very typical protestant upbringing.  I jokingly say my mother used to tell my brothers, sisters and I that we "weren't so special and we didn't have to act like we were". Now that I'm older I know what she was trying to say. It was her teaching me to be a humble person and I think that contributes to my insecurities about trying to step out of my comfort zone. Because of this, self promotion is hard for me. I try to be a humble man.

After I got the notice, I didn't want to tell anyone. I never told my staff. They know now somehow. I tested the waters on Twitter. Built some confidence and posted on Facebook but didn't make a big deal.

Applying to be an ADE, for me, was more about opportunity. It was also about validation. It helped validate in my mind that what I believe about education is shared by others.  

That being said, next week I am attending the North America 2013 Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Austin. There will be over 100 educators from K12 and Higher Education from Canada, Mexico and the United States.  

I hear that it will be one of the best weeks of my career and I have no doubt that it will probably exceed my expectations. I look forward to meeting new friends, new co-learners, new mentors, and new leaders.

What new opportunities are in for me next?  I don't know today, but I bet I have some ideas a week from now!
I was in my senior year at the University of North Texas in Denton completing my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting and Drawing - 1990.  It was a big year.  Met my beautiful soon-to-be wife and got engaged. Immersed myself in the art world.  Worked as a welder for a sculptor for a few months.  Got a part time job at the Texas Center for Educational Technology in the UNT College of Education.

I didn't even know the term "educational technology" before I got that job.  I was a clerk, which I think was the male title for a secretary.  I answered phones, ran errands, made copies, stapled, collated, and used my first Mac.  Here I am today.

It wasn't that I had not used computers much.  I bought my first computer when I was a freshman in high school - a Commodore 64.  I got the money by selling my first place countywide broiler chickens at the Bee County Livestock Show in Beeville, Texas.  That is how I got started with computers.  After that I was president of the first high school computer club in the very first computer class at Pettus High School in Pettus, Texas.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Week of May 6, 2013

TED Talks Education - Everybody loves a good TED Talk so it's especially exciting when it is on good old regular TV and that is what we got this week.  I hope you have had a chance to watch it but if not it is currently online HERE.  There were several good speakers including the great Sir Ken Robinson who is legendary for his TED Talk.

True Grit - The one talk that got me really thinking during the TV show was Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth's talk about "Grit".  If you would like to know how "gritty" you are you can take a little survey on her website. Apparently I am grittier than at least 70% of the population.  

Self Directed Learning - Before seeing Dr. Duckworth's Talk on "grit" I have been thinking about and researching the key traits of being a successful self-directed learner.  Grit is one of those those traits.  During my research though I found the following pitfalls to being a good self-directed learner:  bad time management, procrastination, laziness, lack of motivation and misguidance.  I don't know about you, but these seem to be the same complaints I have heard about students from our teachers for the last couple of decades and we still haven't resolved them.

I truly believe we need to have less talk about online classes, virtual learning, MOOCS, gamification, anytime, anywhere, and all these other hot topics and seriously think about how to address these pitfalls.

Capital Factory - On Thursday, May 9, President Obama visited Austin, Texas where he visited Manor New Tech High School and several other startup and tech business.  First, congratulations Manor New Tech, you give great learning!

But, what I thought was cool was his visit to Capital Factory.  Capital Factory is a "factory" of startups located on the top floor of the Omni Hotel in Downtown Austin.  I had the privilege of going to a short meeting and getting a tour during the week of SXSWedu.  It was so cool and is a great example of how work will be different in the future.  What struck me was how much it made sense.  It just. made. sense.

If you go to their website be sure to notice the three menus at the top of the page: work, learn, accelerate.

Google Hangouts is one of my current favorite things - I've had a couple of meetings with fellow NMC K12 Ambassadors over the past month using Google Hangouts.  It has proven to be a great experience.  I have never had the opportunity to work in a group with members from all over the world and I have been worried about how we will build personal relationships with each other but the interaction you can have using Google Hangouts has really shrunk that distance.  I have really enjoyed speaking with and seeing the members of the group at the other end of the line as we discuss and collaborate on our work. The Hangouts are probably some of my most favorite interactions with colleagues in years and I look forward to many more!

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