5 Questions Day 2

1fddadadSDIf you did not read yesterday’s posting, please do so before reading this one.  Otherwise you may think I’m a little off my rocker.

So today I want to focus on question #2.  At what level does the change need to take place?  The simple answer is all levels.  Of course, to be successful, the change must be embraced by everyone involved, at all levels.  But what does that look like?  How can we identify the levels, is there a flow chart that outlines the levels that need to be involved?  Well in my opinion, there does not need to be a flow chart because the “levels” are easy to identify.  Simply stated, EVRYONE must be willing to change.  Students, teachers, parents, administrators, legislators, book companies, schools, school districts, even corporations need to get on board.

Consistent with Elon Musk’s theory of education, we must address the problem.  The problem is we are teaching with outdated methods.  By the time our students reach the 12th grade, the problems the world faces will look very different.  They will need new skill sets and they will face different types of challenges.  We must prepare them to face these challenges…but, how can we prepare them, if we ourselves, do not know what these challenges will look like?  Unless we are Nostradamus…we have no idea what problems these kids will face.

So is it doom and gloom?  No, the key is to build flexibility into the education program.  Currently we address a set of standards for each grade level.  These standards are “laddered”, increasing in complexity as students’ progress through their academic career.  One skill builds on another.  We spend much of our time on the “core” standards in reading, writing and math.  These core subjects will always be required and should continue to be the cornerstone of any education system.

The change that needs to be made is in the “extra” material being taught.  Why shouldn’t we teach students to problem solve?  Why can’t problem solving be incorporated into our academic day.  I’m not talking about problem solving that involves a bus leaving a station at 9:36 AM.  I’m talking about solving problems like how to lower a school’s energy bills or finding an alternative to wood products, saving the honey bee, or overcoming cyber bullying.  All too often we are guilty of saying “kids can’t do that”.  Why not?

The natural way for most kids to solve problems is to take the easy way out.  Given the choice between fixing a broken engine and buying a new one, most kids would select option B.  We need to motivate them to take choice A.  To do this we must have buy in from all levels.  Take a second and imagine this.  You’re in a classroom with 18 sixth grade students.  One the screen, via Skype, is a representative from Boeing.  Boeing is having a problem getting widget A to work properly.  The Boeing rep asks the sixth graders to solve the problem.  Well, because the sixth graders spent a lot of time problem solving with Legos and a 3-D Printer, they come up with a printable solution that fits tightly together and solves Boeing’s problem.  Does this seem a little extreme?  Well, in all honesty, yes.  But why not?  Why can’t students be given a problem to solve and just asked to solve it.  No instructions, no restrictions, no outside interference?  Why not?

To accomplish something like this, everyone must buy-in!

Come back tomorrow as I take a look at question 3!

5 Questions…

zzzzzzzzzzzzIn my mind, I have written this blog many times; editing as I discover more about the process of education.  Yes, education, like it or not, is a process.  As with any process, there are many parts.  Perhaps education can best be described using a simile…education is like Eastman Kodak or education is like the record industry.  Confused or intrigued?  Well, as my 3rd grade students so appropriately put it…read on to find out more!

Eastman Kodak Company, commonly referred to as “Kodak”, is (was) a company that produces imaging products with its historic basis on photography. It is best known for photographic film products. Kodak was founded by George Eastman and Henry A. Strong on September 4, 1888.   Those of us that are a little older remember taking our film canisters to the little shanty in the middle of the mall parking lot.  Then, we waited, sometimes for days, to get our pictures back.  Often, disappointed in the results, but unable to go back in time, we posted our images to a photo album (that’s the paper kind) and called them memories.  Kodak was an important fixture in American Society.  Then came the digital age.

Refusing to recognize the shifting tides, in January 2012, Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Kodak failed to embrace the digital revolution and thus they are now but a footnote in world history.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the recording industry.  Some may argue that I am comparing apples and oranges but just stay with me.  The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is a continental North and South American trade organization that represents the recording industry in the United States. Its members consist of record labels and distributors.”  The RIAA was formed in 1952. Its original mission was to administer recording copyright fees, work with trade unions, and do research relating to the record industry and government regulations.  Much like Eastman Kodak, the RIAA produced media that people could touch and feel, all be it a different sense than pictures.  However, the recording industry saw the writing on the wall.  In 2004, the RIAA added a branch of certification for what it calls “digital” recordings.  The RIAA went digital and is therefore still relevant today.

So, what does this have to do with education?  Well, it all comes down to direction.  To tie things together I (we) must ask some questions.

  • Which direction do we, as educators, want to go? Do we want to be Kodak or the Recording Industry?
  • At what level does the change need to take place?
  • What does change look like?
  • Should we, as educators, be worried?
  • Does change mean educators are a thing of the past?

Let’s start with the first question.  I have no doubt we all want the same thing, what is best for each student.  The issue comes when we try and define what is best for every student.  Some want to push students, making them think deeper, challenging them at every turn.  Some want to eliminate stress, making the curriculum hit the required elements, letting students guide themselves to their future.  Both sides have their pros and both have their cons.  As with any higher order question, there is no simple answer.  One thing for sure, we must look forward to the short and long-term future in mind.

Personally, I subscribe to the Elon Musk theory of education.  Of course, we all know the quote: “It’s important to teach problem-solving, or teach to the problem and not the tools,” at the root of Elon’s Ad Astra School.  Teaching students to problem solve is radical and I do not understand why.  Life is about solving problems, why wouldn’t our education system mirror that?  I can see the other side of the coin.  Education should be about what is best for every student and not every student is good at solving problems.  These students need structure; they need to learn about the tools before they solve the problem.  Hence the true issue.  There is no single way to solve the education issue…regardless of the method.

Tomorrow I look at the other questions…stay tuned.

One Blog at a time…the power of reflection.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzSo, it’s Saturday, 7 days before Spring Break…I will admit, I feel the strain a little more this year than the last 4.  I’m not sure why.  There is nothing different this year than the last few.   One thing I try to avoid (especially this time of year) is negativity.  I find it easier to stay motivated if I maintain a positive attitude.  And so I write…

This blog, while only in it’s infancy, has served as a motivator.  Reflection and looking forward has allowed me to focus on the positive.  Reflection makes me proud and that pride pushes me to a strong finish.  Looking forward serves to motivate me, pushing me to a bright future.  Here’s to the future…one blog at a time!

Tick Tock…Hit it Mick!

zvcdToday I wanted to talk a little about time.  As Mick so eloquently put it, time is not on my side.  Or at least I think that’s what he meant.  Well maybe in his case time has stood still…but in the real world time is not on our side.  Time slips by never slowing, never pausing, and never ending.  No matter what we do it never seems to be there when we need it.

For me, as I sit here in my classroom, waiting for time to run its course until the next big life event, I ponder the age old question “where did the time go?”  Every year, about this time, I reflect on what I have accomplished, what got done and what went undone.  Coding, Mystery Skypes, more Virtual Field Trips, and a better writing plan are some things that father time would not allow.  Sure, I can usher out the book of excuses and tell you why these things (and many others) did not get done, but excuses are just that EXCUSES!

But, as my growth mindset whispers in my ear, there is always a positive side. As far as professional development goes, I had a pretty good year.  I am now more confident gathering and using data, my classroom management technics have improved, and I tried some really cool/new things that help me improve professionally.  Then of course there is the irreplaceable time spent with my kids, my students, my confidants, my alter ego(s), my little buddies.  Sure many things went by the way-side this year, and many things will go the same way next year.  I wouldn’t trade it for all the time in the world…that time I spent with this group of kids (and every group before that) is, was, and shall be irreplaceable!  So, that being said, maybe time truly was on my side!

A Little Validation Please and Thank You.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzMy blog today focuses on an article about teacher read alouds in Today’s classrooms.  The article title is “Using Read Alouds in Today’s Classrooms Read Alouds Benefit Children of all Ages and in all Subjects” from Leadership Compass, Vol. 5, No. 3, Spring 2008 by Reba M. Wadsworth.

Why this subject?  Well, aside from the obvious reason of sticking to my blogging goal and writing what comes to mind, this is an area I have struggled with since becoming a teacher.  I will say that I have done a much better job this year, having read 5 chapter books (working on #6) and countless storybooks.  As I did some advanced reading of the book we are currently reading (Honey, by Sarah Weeks), I pondered the question…is the time spent reading a book aloud worth it?  I really wanted something to validate the time.  So I went to my old, wise, sagely advisor…Google.

As I normally do after I have such a deep question, I did a little research.  A quick Google Search turned up the above mentioned article.  This quote from the article served to highlight my concerns: “This increased focus on assessments might cause classroom environments to become increasingly more stressful as teachers work to help students meet (common standards) requirements.”  After all, there are no read alouds on Florida’s FSA.  So how can I justify the time?

Well it didn’t take much reading to find my answer Wadsworth says “We must constantly remind ourselves that read alouds are an irresistible invitation to welcome children into the exciting world of literacy. Read alouds are powerful because they serve so many instructional purposes—to motivate, encourage, excite, build background, develop comprehension, assist children in making connections, and serve as a model of what fluent reading sounds like.”  Wha-la…in a nut shell, yes Mr. Hattal your perplexing question of the day is answered with a resounding yes!

All along, I’ve known the answer to this question…but the validation is very comforting.  After all, my kids LOVE to be read to.  They can’t wait to hear what happens next, they talk about the book, they express emotions as we read.  They want to know more, they are motivated and inspired.  It builds classroom unity when they rally for the hero or heroine.  It inspires me and I find myself asking myself why haven’t I read some of these amazing books?  My increased focus on reading books aloud has changed my classroom, dare I say, more than anything else I have done this year!

Well…maybe I didn’t really need to read Wadsworth article…but a little validation, to start the day, never hurts!

Mom always said…if you can’t say anything nice…

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzSo, today, I really wanted to talk about testing.  As we enter our second and final day of 3rd Grade ELA FSA testing, I thought it would be nice to take a second and explore a side of testing that is rarely talked about…the benefit(s?).

As we all know, most leading authorities (what does it take to be called an “authority” anyway?) say that high stakes testing is not the best way to evaluate student performance.  Some call it bias, some say it is too stressful, and some say it is outright mean.  Well, here’s a wakeup call for you…the world is bias, stressful, and outright mean.  So why should testing be any different?

Testing performs one huge task.  It gives teachers and administrators a tool to evaluate their processes.  It gives them an idea of where they were successful and where they failed, where they did great and where they need to improve on.    It also provides students a chance to shine.  Too often we talk about how it puts a lot of pressure on the students who struggle, which no doubt it does.  However, high stakes testing gives the over achiever a chance to shine.  Those students that excel during the year have a chance to get their names in lights for once.  It can be especially gratifying for the students that flew under the radar for most of the year.

Sure, the prep time, the stress leading up to the test, and the stress of the actual test are all things that facilitate extra attention.  The time spent analyzing the data, especially for students in the lower grades, can be (dare I say) wasted due to the fact that the scores may not be accurate.  And sometimes, when teachers receive lower than anticipated scores, it can be a dent in their ego.  That all being said, as with anything in life we must look at the upside.  Standardized test does provide a good snap shot of the overall health of a school.  Right???!!!???

BRING ON DAY 2!!!!!!!!!!!

Wait…am I doing this right?

fdfdWell, I missed yesterday…sorry.  Promise broken, I think not!  I never promised to blog every day, I just promised to make a more concerted effort to do better at blogging…but I digress.

Today I want to talk about an article I read on the TES website.  The article was by Carol Dweck and it was about growth mindset.  Not just growth mindset, but how we don’t really understand growth mindset YET! (Like what I did there) The article went on to say that unless we truly understand the concept of growth mindset, it, like so many hot education methods, will become a flash in the pan.  It seems having a growth mindset is NOT just telling kids “you can do this” or posting graphics to our classroom walls.  Growth mindset is a way of life!  So I have a question…do you think I am doing it right?

Last year was my first full year of teaching 1:1 with laptops.  I eagerly dove in to the tech-educator role with both feet.  I tried to do something with the computers every day.  We Skyped with other classes, we went on virtual field trips, we became familiar with google forms, docs, and slides, we used educational tools, we did it all.  For a while, I loved it.  The students were engaged and I felt they were making very well rounded gains.   However, as with every journey to paradise, there was one issue I found very difficult to overcome.  My students did not know how to “fix” minor computer issues.  Cries of “Mr. Hattal, my computer won’t connect” or “Mr. Hattal, this webpage won’t open” echoed off my classroom walls.  I would run from student to student putting out minor fires.  I was exhausted after using the computers.  I began to dread getting the computers out!  So, with a firmly entrenched FIXED mindset, I started using my computers less and less.

This year I wanted to get a handle on the issue very early.  So I devised a plan, based off of what I learned about the process of developing a growth mindset.  Ok, so I started with some tough love.  I told the students that I will not fix their computer, in fact I will not even look at their computer, until they can tell me at least three steps THEY have taken to resolve the issue.  While painful at first, the results were almost instantaneous.  My students became the computer repair experts, and I have regained my appreciation for this powerful tool.

So what do you think, growth mindset?  Or just a lazy teacher…?