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Changing Education One Post At A Time


Here’s Hoping For More

Posted by Tim under Personal

Yesterday was International Women’s Day.  To my surprise, a few people seem not to know anything about this day, its history, or its significance. You can catch up on some reading here.  (No, Wikipedia is not Wikileaks).

To sum it up, it started in 1909, and was officially listed as a “day” in about 1914. Begun by the Socialist Party, the day was offered as a way to emphasize the importance of women in society.  The right to vote was a priority for the movement.  In 1917, women helped bring down the government of Russia with their efforts on this day (although it was on March 8 in the Gregorian calendar…which was in February for the rest of us).

Like Christians taking pagan holidays and making them religious (Christmas, Easter, etc), I don’t lend any credence to an argument that International Women’s Day is a socialist movement attempting to overthrow democracy.  It has morphed since that time, and, in my mind, probably become so diluted as to be nearly meaningless on the world stage.  (But that’s just me).

Yesterday, I posted a question, a very poorly worded question, to teachers on Facebook about involvement in the Day Without a Woman strike. A small handful of school districts across the country were closed yesterday because such a large part of their teachers and substitute teachers were not coming to work. The numbers were small, but I still found it significant. And so I asked a simple question: at what point do teachers decide they cannot participate in such protest activities because the livelihood of children often depend on the schools being open.

What I found was intriguing to me. And here are my takeaways from that conversation:

  • First, not all women even know about International Women’s Day, let alone A Day Without A Woman.  No, this did not come up in my discussion, but from reading through posts of other teachers who are women. I found that to be quite sad. I am a believer in equal rights for all, and a day with this kind of historical significance should be known, especially by those who it seeks to empower.
  • Second, not all women agree with the strike movement. I haven’t done a geographic detail of who responded, so I don’t know if it is mostly based on the local culture or not. I’m in a Right to Work state, so strikes in the public sector are not allowed. We have found other ways to make our voices heard.  Regardless, the small group discussion on my post appeared to be about half the women in favor of the protest (and participating in some way) and half thought it more important to make sure they showed up at school (some wore red to participate while others did not participate at all).
  • Third, the disagreement on staying out of work as teachers was not divided down Liberal/Conservative lines.  That surprised me slightly. International Women’s Day is, in large part, a Liberal women’s movement, as was the march in DC recently. And yet, several thought this was not the protest for them.
  • Fourth, while men participated in the conversation, our voices were sometimes politely rebuked because we can’t possibly know what it means to be a woman in America…or the world. True. But I was extremely happy to see that men were not attacked. I wasn’t really sure how that was going to go. The only thread I had to delete (so far) was between two men, so there’s that.
  • Last, the discussion renewed my faith in  Facebook as a platform for social discussion. People made their points, some more forcefully than others, but everyone seemed to truly read the comments before posting a response. And, if they mistook someone’s meaning, the listened when clarifications were posted. That meant more dialogue and no shouting or anger. It doesn’t happen as often as I would like on social media, but it does happen.

I’ll save my personal thoughts on International Women’s Day for another post. Not that the thoughts of a white male administrator are going to carry much weight. But it’s my blog and I’ll post if I want to (or however that song goes).

The one thing that I will say is this: It is crucial that those who govern, as well as those who lead, represent all of the people of this great country. We will not survive if we maintain the status quo of white male administrators having control of the government, the businesses, the stock market, the school systems, and more. Days like the International Women’s Day can help. It has helped in the past. It can help again.

Here’s hoping for more.


EdTech is Dead. Long Live Tech

Posted by Tim under Personal

There are a lot of words and phrases in the educational lexicon from which I wish we could move away. RigorGrit.  No Child Left Behind21st Century Skills. 21st Century Classrooms. And EdTech.

We’ve been using technology in the classroom since we’ve had an abacus.  And, if you don’t know, the abacus was in use long before we had a written numerical system. The biggest difference is that modern EdTech seems to denote only digital tools.

It seems to me that we have moved beyond the need to differentiate between EdTech and every other kind of tech. After all, if we are truly firm believers in STEM education for all, Problem Based Learning anchored in real-world scenarios, and equity, then we just need tech. Real-world, honest-to-goodness, what-everybody-else-is-using tech.

Technology in the classroom is at its peak when it disappears from view and becomes at one with the learning environment.

As long as we focus on the “Ed” in EdTech, it will continue to change on us almost daily. It wasn’t that long ago, for example, that interactive white boards were all the rage. Every classroom had to have one. And with the expansions of interactive white boards we realized we didn’t just need a smart board. We needed a projector. And that projector sat on a cart or hung from the ceiling. And every time we stepped in front of it, we couldn’t see what we were doing. So we had to buy short throw projectors.  Then ultra short throw projectors. Then higher lumens bulbs in order to see the board and still have the lights on.

Then, just as we were finishing up our investments into interactive white boards, we discovered iPads and Apple TVs. Suddenly, the need to walk to the board and manipulate data was no longer necessary. We could do it from our seat in the back of the room.  How 21st Century that was!

I could go on, but I’m sure I’ve bored you by now. The only tech we need is the tech our students need to play and learn in a real-world environment. Now that mobile tech is incredibly cheap compared to 10 or 15 years ago, we’ve realized that we don’t even have to buy it any longer. Kids have it. Most kids anyway. And so, now, we are grappling with what Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) looks like and how we create a level playing field between those that have tech to bring and those that don’t.

But, perhaps the biggest reason we need to stop using the phrase EdTech is because it makes our students feel like there is still a dichotomy between what they do with their technology at home and what happens in the classroom. And with that, they feel the “Ed” part is unnecessary to them. After all, most of what they want to do from a real-world perspective isn’t allowed inside the classroom. YouTube is blocked in many places. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are also blocked.

I am aware we cannot simply open the floodgates and allow anything and everything into our schools over the Internet, but we can work to make our learning experiences with technology much more realistic.  After all, we are teachers. If we can teach a student to read and write, we can teach them how to use the Internet appropriately in varying circumstances.

The use of technology…in fact, the very presence of technology is now a forgone conclusion.  It is a necessity for our students if we are truly planning to prepare them for something more than filling out bubble sheets or doing worksheets as practice for life skills.  But we’ve grown beyond EdTech. We just need….Tech.

EdTech is dead. Long live Tech.


I use Klout to judge my social media presence and engagement.  Yeah, I know. I’m just narcissistic enough to care.

For those that do not know, Klout is a social media tool that measures engagement across several social media platforms and gives you a score from 1 to 100 that shows the “value” of your online presence. I’m sure it is more like TVAAS than I would like to admit (I hate TVAAS, I’m addicted to Klout), but it is fun and harmless.

For the longest time, my Klout score stood about 67 or 68.  I was measuring engagement across Facebook and Twitter. Since then, I’ve added Pinterest (don’t judge me), Instagram, and Tumblr. Today I disconnected Flickr.  I’m just not using it much right now. Klout gives me that flexibility. I’ll add it back later when I get ready to do more on social media than I’m doing right now.

At one time my goal was to get above 70.  I finally hit 71, then 72, and a top score of 73. After that, life happened, and I didn’t get to post as much to Instagram as I wanted.  My score started to slip. Then, Instagram took off, but my score dropped again.  Down to 68.  As I write this, it stands at 69. And guess what? It isn’t Instagram that’s the culprit. It’s Twitter. How do I know? Because I have a continuous feedback loop of analytics that show me exactly what’s happening on each social media site.

This is what I like about Klout. It updates my statistics daily. I can know, almost in real time, if I’m doing something that makes a difference. I can look at the analytics and see that, while I am posting a lot to Twitter, it isn’t garnering much discussion, likes, or retweets. So, I need to analyze what I’m doing, make some adjustments, and see if the score changes for the better.

In addition, I am just now starting to get followers and re-pinners on Pinterest, and my Tumblr account is just sort of laying there.

My point is this. I have continual, meaningful feedback directly related to the algorithm that drives this score. I can make minute changes and see, in nearly real time, if I’m on the right track or not.

As an educator, whether teacher or administrator, we are not so fortunate. Educators under the TEAM model are evaluated 4 to 6 times a year.  However, out of those 4 to 6, only 2 or 3 are directly related to instruction.  The rest cover things like planning and environment. So, a teacher that is evaluated in October, but not again until March, has a long time of floundering in the dark to know whether they have raised that 3 to 4, or if their 5 has dropped to a 2.

And, they are rarely evaluated by the same person in the same year.  For fairness, you know. But one evaluator may be looking as a Constitutional strict constructionist and going strictly by the letter of the rubric, while the next may be more of a “living document” proponent that gives a break on certain things they feel are not really that important. It isn’t supposed to work like that, but let’s just be real about it.

What would it look like if teachers were evaluated more along a Klout-like algorithm? What if they could get nearly real-time feedback on the things they try out in class? We’ve got some models that approach this methodology.  Critical Friends is one that comes to mind.

What if we had the luxury of allowing cross-curricular feedback between teachers on a regular basis? Teachers evaluating one another’s lesson plans, visiting classrooms, sharing thoughts, and learning themselves as they critique others? What if we could go beyond the pettiness of the feeling that speaks to our minds, “What do they know about what I do? How can he help me with this?  He’s got his own problems!”  Because, you know, sometimes teachers get like this.

After all, we aren’t really judging teachers here.  We’re judging learning. What does student engagement look like? Can you see the learning happening in this classroom? Does it matter if the teacher is talking, or not, if the students are learning from one another? How do you score a teacher for just getting out of the way and letting the learning happen? That isn’t really in the rubric.

Educators need feedback.  We need to know how we are doing. We need, I’d go so far as to say we crave this knowledge in order to improve on our own practice.

How do we get there? What do we give to legislators that will make them realize how inadequate our current model is?

How do we get to Klout for teachers?


What Happened to the Bell Curve?

Posted by Tim under Personal

You remember the Bell Curve, right?  The one that says that mass gravitates toward the mean, so in any given data set where answers can range from 1 to 100, the vast majority will center around 50.  1 to 10 will barely be a blip on the map.  90 to 100 the same.  And the more people that answer your question, the tighter the spread will be at 50.  Things start to really pile on top of each other, and the tails, as they’re called, get thinner and thinner.

Politics used to feel like that.  It used to feel like the vast majority of the United States, whether Democrat or Republican or Libertarian, all sort of wanted the same basic things out of our politicians. They might disagree, but they could find enough common ground to pass legislation that  satisfied the majority of the people (those bunched up in the middle).

It doesn’t feel like that any longer.

Let me give you a couple of examples from Facebook in just the last couple of days.

I made a comment on a friend’s post about the picture of KellyAnn Conway sitting on the couch in the Oval office with her shoes off and her feet tucked up under her on the couch. My original comment was just an off-hand, flippant attempt at being funny (as I do). But, once you comment on something, others’ comments get in your notifications until you tell them to stop. And that’s when I saw this exchange. What appears to be someone from the Right made the first comment:

It was pretty clear in this exchange that the person on the Right (I do not know this person) has no love for those on the Left. And when another friend of mine tried to have a conversation from the Center, the first commenter was having none of it.

That’s from the Right. And there was this exchange with someone from the Left.  Again, I do not know this person. A friend of mine on the Left posted a meme that was, in my opinion, rather inflammatory towards every state that voted for Trump. He and I do not agree on many things politically, yet we have a pretty good friendship, because we are willing to overlook those things and find the common ground for the things we love.  So, my original comment was a little snarky.  And it was directed at him.

The conversation went downhill from there. I attempted to explain my viewpoint, and the fact that I have 2 Masters degrees, work at a STEM high school, etc.  It did not change her opinion of me as one of the people she describes here.  Why?  I can only guess it is because I never explicitly stated that I do not vote for Trump.

Somewhere, after the birth of social media, and probably more specifically after the move to Web 2.0 or Web 3.0 (wherever we are now), we seem to be squishing down the top of the Bell Curve until it is now at its lowest point in the middle and the two tails are bulging with people.

There’s plenty of things at which we can point fingers for this.  The 24-hour news cycle that went into Right and Left camps competing with each other for eyeballs is one. Social media is another. Anonymous postings online is there. Watching our political infrastructure in D.C. fall apart. Yes, probably the election of our first Black president caused some of it. The desire by some to see the US as a Christian-only America compared to those who want to see the US be a totally religion-free America.

My question is this: As educators, how are we combating this in our classrooms with our children, or our children’s parents. I see so many posts from educators online that fall into the “I’m with the Far Left” or “I’m with the Far Right.”  That discourages me.

As you ponder my question, and consider making a comment (please do!), I’ll lay out a brief outline of where I am from the Centrist-Slightly-Left middle.

I am a Christian. More than that, I am a Pentecostal Christian. While Christian principles helped ground this country as one of religious freedom, Christianity is not our country’s religion.  It is mine. I believe equal rights belong to everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. I believe gay couples should have the right to marry. I believe the vast majority of the Muslim faith are peaceful, law-abiding people who want to get along with everyone in their community regardless of religious beliefs. I believe life begins at conception, but I also realize that legalized abortion has saved the lives of countless women who would have died from botched abortions in back alleys somewhere. It is an internal battle I have not yet satisfied for myself. I believe that science and faith are intertwined. One should not lead us away from the other, regardless of your starting point. I believe I have a moral obligation to help those in need, whether they are represented in Scripture as a man left beaten on the side of the road, an adulterer about to stoned (metaphorically I hope), or an outcast woman who can’t go to the well to get water with her neighbors because of what they will say about her.

And I believe I have an obligation on social media to try to stay in the middle. I use humor to attack the insanity of both sides of the political issue.  It is my sanity.

I’d love to hear from you.  Whether you are Far Left, Far Right, or Firmly Middle. Let’s see what happened to the Bell Curve.


Sincerely, Me

Posted by Tim under Personal

Dear Colin Kaepernick,

Well, your decision to sit out the National Anthem at the beginning of your last game certainly garnered media and national attention. I understand that you are frustrated with what you see happening to people of color in our country. Many of us are outraged right there with you.

I’m afraid, however, your protest was ill-conceived. Let me explain.

First, it took a total of 3 games before anyone even noticed that you were protesting.  You sat out the National Anthem in two other events as well, but because you weren’t dressed to play people either didn’t notice you, or they thought you were sitting down because you are a spoiled brat who didn’t get his way.  It seems it was the first, and that leads to the bigger problem. People didn’t notice.

Its not much of a protest if no one knows you are protesting.  So, thank you for suiting up and continuing on.  We finally saw you.  Well, some did.  I haven’t watched the 49ers since Montana retired. And I haven’t cared about a California football team of any level since Lane Kiffin went to coach college ball there. So, I didn’t see you.  But others did, and thanks to social media, they let me know about it.

After looking at Twitter, it seems there are lot of people letting others know about it.

First, let me tell you that I wholeheartedly support your right to protest peacefully in any way you see fit, for any cause you feel is worthy, at any time, anywhere. That’s what makes this country great.  If you had refused to stand for the Egyptian or Russian anthems, you might be in jail right now. They kind of have that going on at the moment. If you were protesting how minorities are treated in some other countries, you might be dead already.

It appears that this flag you cannot respect is the very thing that protects you to protest it.

You see, it doesn’t matter that individuals on Twitter are calling you every bad name they can muster. Their small mindedness is irrelevant. After all, you were expecting that. They don’t represent the flag you cannot respect. They are just protected by it like you. And it doesn’t matter if endorsement contracts disappear (they probably won’t) or if you get fired from football (you definitely won’t). If you go out there on the field and show us the spark of your rookie year, your place in football is secure.

And I understand that this year is different from last year, or the year before.  We have much more injustice being played out before our eyes in the media. Sometimes that injustice is aimed at a person of color who has been arrested, detained, or even killed for no apparent reason whatsoever.  And sometimes that injustice is aimed at the men and women in blue who acted appropriately under the split-second circumstances of their lives, but early reporting tried to paint it as something different, and even after all the facts are out people still live in the early days of half-truths or untruths. You see, the injustice sometimes floats both ways.

And neither of them are represented by our flag.  A country song that still brings tears to my eyes at times says, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” I realize some interpret that as “I’m proud to be a white American.” And sometimes, that may be the truth of the song in day to day living.

The song also says, “And I’ll gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.” And you know what? That’s not just white Americans feeling that way.  It isn’t just white Americans who died in the many wars, both just and unjust, in which our country has engaged over the years. People of color have gladly stepped up and given their lives in defense of this country, at least the concept of this country, where “all men are created equal.” Yes, I realize when that line was written, not all men were treated as equal.  And women.  Well, let’s just not discuss how women are being treated in this country right now.  And religion.  OK, I won’t talk about religion either.

The great thing about this country is that we wrote things about it as a vision statement. It is a statement of what we visualize our country to be.  It is a future statement written in the present. We aren’t there yet. Even after electing an African American president, we aren’t there. Some have seen his presidency as a way forward for all people of color.  Others have silently, or not so silently, said to themselves, “OK, we did that. Now we never have to do it again.”

We aren’t there yet. But as a nation, I have to believe that we are slowly (too slowly for certain) working our way toward equality for all.  We’ve passed laws to try to make that happen.  In recent days we’ve expanded those laws to include others that weren’t allowed to be included the first time. Not everyone agrees with them. Not everyone obeys them. We’ve got laws about how to drive that are not followed. And laws about gun control that aren’t followed. And laws about…well, you get the idea. We are a nation of laws, and our laws are constantly trying to make this country better and safer and stronger. But we aren’t there.


So, Colin, its ok if I call you Colin, right?  So, Colin we are the grand experiment of personal freedoms living in the not yet. Every day we inch our way closer. Every day the light becomes a little brighter. Every day more people become educated and find their way out of intellectual poverty.

There is a lot wrong with this country, Colin. Our political system is in shambles and quickly becoming the laughing stock of the world. Our best and bravest are dying on foreign soil even while we are not at war with anyone. Big corporations and the one-tenth of one percenters have too much clout and control over our lives. We have greedy people sucking the very existence out of some who struggle to eat from day to day.

And none of that can be laid at the feet of the American Flag. That’s on individuals who don’t believe as you and I do, Colin, that all men (and women and others) are created equal and deserve equal treatment.

Protest, Colin. You have the stage. You are privileged to have both the money and the spotlight. Make it count. Make a difference. I’ll even join you if you’ll have me. I don’t like how people of color are treated by others either. I don’t like how the LGBTQ community is treated either. We need change. There is no doubt about that.

But understand this. Refusing to stand for the National Anthem because you can’t respect the flag does not equate to a raised fist on the gold medal stand of the Olympics. Different times require different actions, Colin.

The nation is watching you, Colin. And right now, most of what I see is that the majority of people don’t care about your protest. You’ve made the protest about something its not.  Find a way to make a difference, Colin. Find a way to matter to the world. I, for one, would be a fan again if you do.

Sincerely, Me.


Practice What We Preach

Posted by Tim under Personal

Yesterday, in the midst of working on Genius Hour schedules, Digital Lab changes, and tutorial videos for the MacAirs our students are using this year, I decided to go back to the nondescript room behind my bedroom to work on my “recording studio” (of sorts).

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 6.57.26 AMIt’s a cinder block walled room with little light and less space, but I’m making it work for some close-up photography projects and green screen video.  I bought 2 umbrella lights and 2 soft lights along with the stand and assorted curtains for green screen.  When lit, it doesn’t do a half-bad job.

I set up my Swivl on a tri-pod and placed my iPhone on to do the video recording.  I plugged in the audio jack to use the Swivl remote as my microphone and set about recording a 5-minute video on the process and why we use it at our school.  Its part of a project I’m doing for parents this year.

I uploaded the video to Google Drive and pulled it into Camtasia.  The video didn’t look too bad, but the audio.  Ouch! The Swivl microphone was spiking with packets of really loud sections that sounded like I started yelling for some reason.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 6.57.15 AMI decided perhaps I had hung incorrectly, so I went back to the studio.  This time I set my Canon DSLR up to record. I talked my way through the entire thing. Ported the video back into Camtasia. I forgot to turn the Swivl on.  No sound at all.

I did it again. The same audio problem occurred, so I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to get this video done that day.

My next step was to go to Amazon and order a lavalier lapel mic to plug into my phone.  I can record the video with the DSLR and the audio on my phone, then edit them together in Camtasia.  The mic will be here on Tuesday.  That gives me time to actually iron the green screen (the wrinkles will cause me problems) and reset the lights.

The irony of this situation hit me while I was on my 3rd iteration.  Here I was trying to tell parents that our PBLs, marinated in the process encourage failure. As kids go through the 5 steps of empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping, and testing, we tell them up front that nothing works as planned the first time. Or the second time. Or even the third, fourth, or fifth time.

It didn’t make it feel any better, but these iterations of failure certainly gave me a chance to practice what we preach.


Culture Trumps All

Posted by Tim under Personal

By now you have probably seen the picture of the little boy wounded in Aleppo, sitting the back of an ambulance after another brutal round of air strikes in this Syrian city.  It is heartbreaking. Captivating. And totally unconscionable.

It is war.

I listened to an NPR article a couple of days ago (I seem to be saying that a lot these days) that really caught my attention.  You can find it here.  It was an interview with the last remaining female OB-GYN in the city.  A particular question stood out to me.

MONTAGNE (NPR): Are fewer women getting pregnant now, there in Aleppo? Or are fewer women looking to have children, given that things are so difficult and even deadly in Aleppo?

FARIDA: (Through interpreter) Despite the siege, you will find that almost every day in the neighborhood, there’s a wedding, and women are getting pregnant. Today, maybe, I treated 10 to 15 women because they want to have kids. In Aleppo, in our culture, we love children. If a woman has seven or eight kids, it’s as if she doesn’t have any kids.

I have one daughter. And people are surprised and ask, do you really only have one daughter? And there’s a percentage of women that are afraid that their husband will remarry. And so it is very important to have kids so that they can prevent a second marriage from happening.

Did you catch that? “There’s a percentage of women that are afraid their husband will remarry” if they don’t have several children.  “If a woman has seven or eight kids, it’s as if she doesn’t have any kids.”

As an American onlooker it is easy to be an armchair marriage counselor.  It is easy to say, “That’s nuts.” It is easy to say, “But you are in a war, do something different!” It is easy to blame a religion that isn’t ours.

But this misses a larger, necessary piece that social media has helped eliminate from our worldview: empathy.

News can show us the what, but they rarely delve into the why.  Religion is not a why. Fear is not a why. Third-world country is not a why. War is not a why.

These are the bandaids of why that cover up the depth of why.

Culture is the why.  Culture is deep veined.  It is the limitless cavern that scares us. It is a room with a door in each wall where every door opens into a new room with a door in each wall.  It is undiscoverable.  It is misunderstood.

The only way to make any sense of any of this is to come alongside someone and attempt to understand their worldview based on their cultural heritage.  You simply cannot overlay your own system of beliefs on top.  You have to set them aside.  Suspend your own thoughts and ideas and well-this-is-what-I-would-do’s.

And that’s hard.  It’s incredibly hard.

And scary.

Thankfully, as part of our own school’s culture at the L&N STEM Academy, empathy is built into many of our lessons through the process. The understanding of why will take you much farther in life than the knowledge of what or how or when. You can memorize facts until your eyes bleed.  You can write essays that score 5’s until the cows come home. But if you can’t figure out how to find the why you are lost.

  • Your family has a culture all its own
  • Your office has a culture all its own
  • Your school has a culture all its own
  • Your classroom has a culture all its own
  • Your country has a culture all its own
  • Your state, town, and neighborhood…

Need I go on?

You can’t win at Rook or Spades without a trump card.  And in the game of life, culture trumps all.


There are many reasons why we do what we do.  The way we do them. When we do them.  When we started, it all made sense.  There was a need, sometimes an urgent need, that caused us to change what we were doing and do this new thing.

  • We’ve established expectations for behavior in our classrooms
    • Sit down
    • Stay quiet
    • Put your phones away
    • Get out your textbook
    • Sharpen your pencil
    • Buy a 3″ wide 3-ring notebook
  • We’ve established expectations for our faculty meetings
    • Be on time
    • Take notes
    • Listen. To everything. I mean everything.
  • We’ve established expectations for teacher observations
    • Here is the 12-point rubric with 128 separate things that have to be observed.  Every day.  Every period. In 45 minutes. Or 90 minutes.
    • Unpack the standards
    • Do the deep dive
    • Make sure every single student grows. Here, we’ll use this totally arbitrary number that has been shown to be false and misleading, but we’re going to keep using it anyway.

All of this made sense when we started.  Tech wasn’t much in the classroom at the time.  But now, nearly every student from 6th grade on up, has a miniature computer in their pocket that can search the Internet, take pictures for evidence in a science experiment, or run an app that will calculate the velocity of a coconut-laden swallow. It doesn’t make sense to put them away any longer.

All of this made sense when we started. Faculty meetings couldn’t be placed online.  Meetings couldn’t be honed down to an email. Video wasn’t readily available. And you’ve created a PPT, a PDF, and an email with all the stuff you were going to say anyway.  It doesn’t make sense that everyone has to listen to everything any longer.

All of this made sense when we started. OK, no, it didn’t. Teacher observations are not the salvation of education. Growth scores are arbitrary and capricious. Even harmful and debilitating. Expecting teachers to “do it all” all the time is an impossible standard that no teacher evaluator can do for themselves. Expecting teachers to take the blame for poverty, lack of parent involvement, abuse in the home, hunger, the fact that you arbitrarily raise the mark for what is deemed proficient, or the fact that your standards are just no longer interesting or necessary at times, is criminal.

Some of it never made sense.


What We See Matters

Posted by Tim under Personalized Learning

Last night, after our school’s very successful Open House, I went to the Preservation Pub on Market Square.  A friend of mine had mentioned it was open mic night.  I hadn’t been to an open mic night in years, so it seemed like a good way to relax after a very long day.

Open Mic at Preservation Pub

My first impressions of the four acts I saw went something like this:

  • The first guy had a nice Amos Lee feel with a Harry Chapin tone to his lyrics.  But his three songs all sounded very much alike, and one impression I got was that he wrote 8 minute songs in order to stay on the stage longer.
  • The second guy was a song writer that couldn’t sing.  There are plenty of them.  Willie Nelson. Kris Kristofferson. The lyrics were nice.  They told sad stories.  But the feel was overshadowed by the vocal.
  • The third guy seemed to sling his guitar really low, like Slash for instance, for the sole purpose of looking cool.  It seemed like it made it harder for him to play.  He had what looked like a blanket on his shoulder where the guitar strap was located.  It looked silly. His songs were bluesy. Not much vocals. A lot of guitar riffs. Not bad. But very unpolished.
  • The fourth guy didn’t play anything. He sang a cappella.  Not a good choice for him. His man bun, rolled up capri pants, scruffy Millennial beard, and a 3 foot walking cane that wasn’t really long enough to use as a walking cane so it looked like a really silly accessory, made me cringe from the outset. But when he sang, it only got worse.

Somewhere in the middle of the second act, that guy who wrote good songs but really couldn’t sing, made me realize that I was being horribly unfair.  After all, they all were on stage. I wasn’t. It was about then I decided to look at the performances through an educational lens rather than the “I’m attending a concert” lens.

The first thing that came to mind looking through my educational lens was that I had an entirely wrong rubric. My rubric was based on the scale of: plays guitar (how well), sings (how well), writes songs (how well), performs to the audience (how well).  Do you see the common denominator?  Nearly all our rubrics gauge our students on the “how well” aspect of what they are doing.

I tried to think of other ways to judge these men (no women when I was there, but there was at least one waiting to perform) and their performances.  I started thinking about these:

  • How much courage did it take this individual to get up in front of his peers and perform?
  • What kind of story do the lyrics tell me? Do they engage me on a personal level? Are they about real life?
  • How much of the performer’s life is wrapped up in these songs? Do they appear to be intentional? Do the feel “real” to me?
  • What has this person sacrificed to be on this stage?  What is his personal investment in his art?
  • Is he a one-and-done performer, or does he have the grit, determination, and drive to get back up here again tomorrow?  And the next day?  And the days after that?
  • What does this performance reveal about the performer?

If I rated these guys on the “how well” scale and asked myself, “Would I pay money to see them perform?” the answer is a resounding no. But if I look through my educational lens and ask, “Would I come back to open mic night to hear them again?” the answer is most definitely yes.

And that leads me to assessing the work of our students.  At our school, we expect our kids to get up in front of their peers and give oral presentations from nearly the first day.  We know they may not have a natural talent for it. They may be brand new at it. We don’t expect as much from our freshmen as we might from our seniors. And yet, we are still using a “how well” rubric.

And I’m not saying we need to abandon it.  But perhaps, just perhaps, we need to expand it.

  • Do we know enough about this student to assess the courage it took to do this presentation?
  • Do we know enough about this student’s home life to understand what obstacles have been overcome to do this presentation?
  • Did the personal investment of the student in the topic seem “real” to me? Or was it just rote memorization of facts regurgitated on all his classmates?
  • Did the student know enough about this material that she did not have to read her bulleted slides to the class? Was she able to create meaningful slides that included no words, but help tell her story?
  • What was my level of engagement with this presentation?   Did it win me over? Did I walk away wanting to learn more?

If we are going to emphasize personalized learning, we also need to emphasize personalized assessment.  No two students share the same path to their work. What are we looking for when we assess student performance?

Like open mic nights at a local pub, when it comes to assessing the work of our students, what we see matters.


I have a routine.  I follow it pretty closely 5 days a week. I get up around 4:50 and shower. I get dressed and catch up on things like email, Twitter, Facebook, and my Feedly feed.  Around 5:30 or 5:45 I make breakfast.  Then I leave the house at 6 and go to the Starbucks just 3 minutes from my house.  I sometimes write blog posts (like today), or just troll Facebook, but I drink coffee and let my soul be still for a while before I head to work.

It’s great.

imageMy routine is routine enough that the baristas at Starbucks, although they don’t know me by name, anticipate my arrival.  It isn’t busy at 6 AM.  When they see my car in the parking lot, they go ahead and pour a Tall Pike Place and have it ready for me to place my Strabucks app in front of their infra red scanner.  We exchange good mornings, and I find a place by the window at a small table to work.

It’s great. Until it Isn’t.

Occasionally, I’ve been trying some of their Reserve Roast.  It’s a little more expensive, so I often wait until the weekend for a treat, or until I’ve earned a star reward to get it free.  On a few routine mornings, I’ve stepped out of the car thinking I’ll splurge on a Reserve East Timor Peaberry (a favorite) only to find my Tall Pike Place sitting on the counter in front of a smiling, well-meaning barista who has just helped me out by anticipating my desire. Out of respect for their generosity and kindness, I settle back with my Tall Pike and enjoy my quiet time. But I am slightly dissatisfied with the morning.

And then there are the total disasters.  I came in Sunday and decided to use my reward points to get a Grande Reserve coffee.  A flavor I had not yet tried.  I gave my order to a new girl behind the counter, and before she could ring it up, one of my regulars stepped in front of her and rang up my order, including charging it to my reward stars.  What did I get? A Tall Pike Place.

Personalized service is great, until it become rote standardization.

And this is the trap we risk in personalizing learning.  To personalize means to allow the student the autonomy to choose for every single assignment.  The moment we limit the choices a student has, we take personalization away.

Billy Bob, here are three ways you can show me what you know.  You can write a paper.  You can create a video. You can make a podcast.  You get to choose!

Compare that to the following:

Billy Bob, here are the things I need to see in order to know that you fully understand this material. If you could choose any way in the world to demonstrate that knowledge to me, what you choose?  Why that? Can you show me a plan on how you could get that finished by the due date? Can you do this alone, or would you like to work on it with a partner or small group? What will you need from me in order to help you? What technology do you need? Would it help if I gave you a couple of extra days?

In the first scenario, we are still concentrating on making things easiest for the teacher.  We’ve given some choices, but limited it enough to make grading as simple and easy as possible.

In the second, the concentration is on the student.  She gets to figure it out.  He gets to struggle.  They both get to take ownership.  True ownership.

Standardizing personal choice is great.  Until it isn’t.

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