Growing Pains

This is a repost of an article I wrote for Brett Clark’s 12 Days of Dreaming series.

f you have kids, know people with kids, or work with kids, you know that they will face some painful days as they grow. First comes teething, which I’ve heard is a nightmare. Then, the awkward pubic years when bones are stretching faster than the brain’s balance centers can keep up. Years pass, our joints begin to ache when the weather changes, and we can’t heal up from injuries as fast or as completely as we used to.

The business of growing is difficult.

But, through all the pain, we learn a valuable lesson: pain and growth have to come together to be meaningful.

I don’t know many cyclists that learned to ride a bike the first time their parent let go of the seat. A scraped knee from falling off of a bike helps us learn that balancing is much easier when we’re moving forward. As we move through the pain of growth, we come to expect better things when it’s over.

Schools are a prime example of pain and growth. Students, you have stories about working through very difficult classes. Teachers, what about the student that tested you every day of class? Administrators, you can tell us about the first year teachers that have come through your building.

Pain is an indicator of growth.

Education is in a painful place right now. Schools and governments are polarized against one another over education. We are being blamed for many social problems, and there isn’t much trust in the state or federal leadership. Teachers are fearful for their jobs and the role testing will (or won’t) play in how we are evaluated.

Within the frustrations and the stress, though, we have an opportunity to implement better schools.

It is our responsibility to model growth to our students. Brainstorm with your colleagues on how to implement changes. Work with student advisory groups to solve problems. Encourage someone more frequently than you complain about a particular circumstance.

The attitude shift begins with recognizing that if there is no pain, there is no growth..

Don’t be soured by painful situations. Recognize the opportunity for growth and focus on the goal rather than the immediate. There is no silver bullet for any single problem. But, we can turn a lot of silver BB’s into a comprehensive solution.

Let us know in the comments what growing pains you’re having and what you’ve learned as you’ve worked through them.

Avoiding Burnout

Today, I came to the realization that I’m approaching burnout, and that I need to do something to stay healthy for the break and the second semester.

I’ve also learned this year that I need a creative outlet to stay healthy, which is problem numero uno. I haven’t taken time to truly be creative since the summer. So, I’m turning my needs around to help push the creativity of my students. (I don’t think this is unethical, but if you do, please let me know in the comments).

I have a split elective class: one half is working on web design, and the other is working on photo editing. Both groups are doing a similar assignment, pulled from the Digital Storytelling: 106 archives. The web design side is hijacking the HTML of a website to tell a different story. The photo editing kids will be redesigning an existing website’s logo using GIMP. I will be doing both projects along with the kids so we can continue to learn together.

The final deadline is January 12, but I’ll begin posting finished assignments as they begin to roll in from the students. I’m hoping that as I dive into working with students, I’ll begin to feel a little more relaxed and less burnt out. If you have other ideas on how to beat burnout, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Featured image photo credit: Skley via photopin cc

Full Immersion

My wife showed me this video the other night. If you haven’t seen it, consider taking thirty seconds to watch it. I’ll wait.

At the time, I was entertained. The ending really surprised me, and the video itself was engaging. But, as soon as it was over, I wasn’t thinking about buying a refrigerator or dishwasher any more than I had been before the clip.

How often are our classrooms like this? For me, I’m constantly asking myself whether or not a particular tool or activity is a gimmick (edutainment, if you will) or if it really has substance. There’s a very fine line between the two, and I’ve definitely been duped in the past.

To determine if its going to make a long-lasting impact, I have to be able to connect it to the unit-at-large. How will the tool or activity come full circle from the initial hook? I think Dan Meyer does this better than anyone I know with his Three Act Math website. He begins with a short video or image that prompts a question from the students. Teachers then work to scaffold through the questions to help students build meaning. I’m amazed at not only how thorough his work is, but also that he shares it for free. (For proof that these aren’t gimmicks, check out Dan’s post from December 12.)

In science, I need to make the move to labs before instruction. Terie Englebrecht wrote a short post earlier this week about how she’s moved to labs before instruction. Students move through the unit having been exposed to the “real” part of the content. I stink at this, and as I work on bring labs to the front of the cycle, I need to really make sure to build a program that feeds back on itself.

If you have ideas or suggestions on how to accomplish this, I’d love to hear about them.

Twitter, We’re on a Break

I’m going to take a hiatus from Twitter.

I love sharing learning with my network. Lately, Twitter has become somewhat of a frustration for me. Being involved is great, but I think it also narrows my vision and I begin to focus on fitting a particular mold or norm based on what my network is doing at the time rather than trusting my own decision making and direction.

In all honesty, some of this has to do with a lot of the discussion surrounding Flipped Learning. With so many ideas, arguments, and questions flying around, I feel like I need to take some time and personally reassess what I do daily in my room. I need a working definition, and to do that, I need time to myself.

I will still be writing email and possibly a blog post, so you can still get in touch with me. But as for Twitter, we’ll talk later.

Photo credit: mfilej on FlickrCC

Communication in Grading

I want to preface this post by saying that in my perfect world, we wouldn’t grade at all. But currently, that isn’t my reality. I will continue to do the best I can with the rules and requirements placed on me.

My ever-present clipboard

We have progress reports coming up this week and as I was sitting and staring at my spreadsheet, I began to think about grading again. Let’s get deep.

One thing I love about my teaching is that I’m committed to Standards Based Grading as part of my Flipped Learning implementation. It communicates ideas and progress much more clearly than traditional grading practices do.

Essentially, there are two kinds of students in my class: those with an A and those with an F. Now, without getting too political about grades, I want to say that I really like the way my book plays out. Here’s why.

First, I don’t have to rationalize all of those middle areas. SBG eliminates point-grubbing because you’re marked on your ability to demonstrate your understanding in any way you choose. It is a binary system (for me, at least)…you know it, or you don’t. Therefore, any student who can demonstrate their understanding of a concept automatically is marked with a 100%.

Second, as the teacher, I do not feel like I have the right to assign a letter that describes a student’s learning other than a simple yes or no. I want my students to be able to explain the nuances of their learning, not hear it from me. This happens with reflection and discussion as we go through the problem-solving and application process in class.

Third, it simplifies my life. I’d rather not focus on grades at all. When I’m constantly hunting for points for students (“Why did I get an 18 instead of a 19?”), I cannot focus on supporting their learning. The student is also not focusing on learning. Grading with a binary system helps keep the conversation on skills and demonstration, not completion for points.

Finally, the conversation about grades changes with parents. We don’t discuss which assignments their child can turn in to improve their grade. We can focus on what learning strategies might work best for their son or daughter. School becomes a place where teachers are supporting learning rather than just somewhere to go and work for the day.

How do your grades communicate learning to parents? I’d love to hear more examples in the comments.