Monday, August 29, 2016

How can we see inside a teenager’s brain?


How can we see inside a teenager's brain?

This is the difficulty in measuring what students have learned. We can’t see inside their brain. So what if the information in their brain doesn’t make it on the paper for a paper/pencil test? What if this is the only way teachers assess student learning? How do teachers check for understanding along the way? Are there other ways to assess students' knowledge and understanding?

When we ask students to demonstrate what they know, and when we ask them to do something with what they have learned, we get a peek into how and what their thinking processes are. We can look for misconceptions, incorrect information, and cloudy understandings. With this knowledge, it guides us in targeting our teaching so that students can maximize their learning. 

Sometimes it’s hard to find ways for students to demonstrate what they know. Math is one of those areas that is really hard. In this blog post I’m going to share an assignment from one of our math teachers that required students to demonstrate their understanding. I hope it inspires you to FIND A WAY to create opportunities to peek inside students’ brains. 

One of our geometry teachers, Lauren Anderson, attended Laying the Foundation (LTF) training this past summer. There, she learned ways to use manipulatives in her high school math class. She didn’t just hear about great ideas, she implemented them in her classes this year. 



Here’s what Ms. Anderson had to say about the lesson

“At LTF, they just had us get in pairs and model each scenario while switching off. I wanted to create a way to hold them a little more accountable and so I could check to see if they actually understood what they were asked to model, so I incorporated the technology aspect. At first I had students taking pictures on their phones and emailing/uploading to google and then creating the presentation. I then saw some kids taking the pictures with their chromebooks and bypassing their phones, which worked out even better! One of the projects I attached is pictures taken with their phone, the other is with the chromebook. Another reason I liked the chromebook as their camera is it forced the person to be in the picture (maybe not their face) which allowed me to be sure not just one person was doing all of the modeling and that they were switching off.”




Did Ms. Anderson have any “aha” moments from this lesson? 

"The actual 'aha' moment for me was when this activity was presented at LTF. Every year students struggle with thinking in 3 dimensions. They have a hard time envisioning how planes and lines intersect one another. I had tried to think of ways to better model this for them and this project was exactly what I wanted.  

I was really able to see as I walked around while they were working who picked up on some of these things quicker. Some of the scenarios are tricky, and some groups need a little guidance to get them towards the correct model, while others were able to envision it in their head."

Want the instructions for the assignment? CLICK HERE 


How will you ensure that students get the opportunity to demonstrate what they've learned?



Saturday, August 27, 2016

Learning strategies: Physically active does not equal cognitively active


Does test format influence how much students prepare for tests? Does it influence how deeply students learn content?

These are two questions (two of many) that have been circulating in my brain this week as I'm preparing to meet with teachers next week and outline our focus for our PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) this year. 

An area of growth for us as a staff is to examine, discuss, and evaluate student assessments. In our PLCs, our teachers will use Bloom's taxonomy to determine the level of thinking that we are asking students to demonstrate on classroom assessments. We will also discuss how to help students understand how to interact with content to deepen their learning.

One of the articles I read this week is Multiple-Choice Exams: An Obstacle for Higher-Level Thinking in Introductory Science Classes (full article here). The article reminds us that active learning can be used to describe physically active learning and cognitively active learning. However, critical thinking cannot happen without cognitively active learning.

What are some examples of physically active learning behaviors that are cognitively passive?
  • Highlighting notes
  • Reading over notes
  • Making index cards (physical or online)
  • Attending class
  • Listening to lectures
As a teacher and as a parent, I've seen students repeatedly use these approaches to learning. As the administrator for 9th grade for four years, when working with students we talk with them about study habits and strategies to help them do better in class. When asked how they study, they would most often say, "I read over my notes." 

With both of my daughters, they have learned that when trying to learn vocabulary words, they can't look over the list of words or read it on their own. When they make flash cards and I review with them, we discuss each word and definition (and we usually make funny connections), and they are much more successful on remembering the words and definitions. They have come to realize that they have to do more than read over notes or make index cards. 


I worry about students whose parents aren't there to help kids see a connection between learning and strategies for learning. I also worry that sometimes as high school educators we assume that students already know how to use cognitively active learning strategies. Or we don't feel like we have time to teach such strategies. 

Providing a list of cognitively active strategies is in no way meant to oversimplify the process of deep learning. But it can be used as a starting point for students. 


Here are some examples of cognitively active learning behaviors for students:
  • Anticipating results before reading
  • Creating quiz/test questions
  • Rewriting notes to see how much was remembered
  • Organizing notes into charts, such as Venn diagrams or other flow charts

From the article Multiple-Choice Exams: An Obstacle for Higher-Level Thinking in Introductory Science Classes, the purpose of the study was to determine if a multiple-choice test might hinder higher-level thinking skills. Can you predict the results?

Students who took multiple choice + short answer tests did not study more than the group who took only multiple choice tests. However, students who were taking multiple-choice + short answer tests used their time more effectively and used higher-level learning strategies.

Did students like having multiple-choice and short answer tests?



"But even though many students in the MC + SA section disliked the experience, they learned significantly more, including critical-thinking skills, than the students in the MC-only section."

While the resistance and practices that are researched in this article are for college students in introductory science classes, I think there are some insights we can take away that are applicable to high school students. In working with high schools students for over 20 years, I know that students don't change in the months between high school and college. The study skills they are taking to college are the ones they learned and used in high school. 

Let's teach students the difference between cognitively passive and cognitively active learning strategies. Let's ask more short answer questions and questions that require written responses. Let's stretch students out of their comfort zone and into the zone of proximal development. 

I would love to hear how you're doing this at your school. Please leave me a comment or reach out to me on twitter and share. We're better together!




Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How to create an online PD course that will help grow leaders in your school or district


Our administrators at Hoover High believe it’s important to develop leadership in our faculty. We try to provide a lot of opportunities for teachers to take on leadership roles, and we’ve worked with many teachers who are working on their administrative certification by answering questions, giving feedback, and having them shadow us on the job. 

This summer, we took it another step further, and created an online course that any staff member could complete for professional development hours. It was modeled after a leadership course by Seth Godin that my friend Jason Markey introduced me to. It ended up being one of the more popular PD courses, and it’s something that can be replicated in your school or district. I hope you’ll take this idea and run with it! Just be sure to let me know of the improvements you make so that I can adapt ours as well! 

The first thing I did was create a Google Doc with a table of leadership topics. I shared the Google Doc with our administrative team and asked them to choose a topic or add one that was on the sheet. 



Once they each had a topic, I then asked them to create a 5-7 minute video about the topic. They had the option of being on camera, or they could create a slide show and do a voiceover recording. I also asked them to send me the link to video once it was uploaded, which I pasted into the Google Doc.

**I also promised them that the videos would be made unlisted so that only our staff would have access to them. :-)



Once the videos were completed, I created a short quiz for each video in a Google form. I pasted the links to the post-video quizzes into the Google Doc so that I would have everything in one place. 

I then created “Flash writing” prompts for each video. Here are the instructions for a flash writing assignment:
How to do flash writing: Open a new Google Doc and set your timer for 10 minutes. Include your last name in the title of the Google Doc. Copy and paste the following list of questions at the top of the Google Doc. Set your timer for 10 minutes. Write your reflections and responses to the questions, but do not write for longer than 10 minutes.


Click HERE to view the writing prompts I used for the videos: http://bit.ly/HHSFlash


In our learning management system, I organized the topics into modules. Each module consisted of watching the video, completing the post-video quiz, then completing the flash writing assignment. Each module was a prerequisite for the next module. 

Of the 9 online summer PD courses I created for teachers, this was the most popular course. I hope that you are able to use these ideas to create your own leadership course in your school or district. 

Feel free to email me if you have questions or need help!





Sunday, August 14, 2016

What do "fight or flight" moments teach us?


Yesterday on my morning run on the local trail near my home, I ran into the father of a softball player I coached a few years ago. We caught up with each other on what our kids were doing, and a story about his oldest daughter came back to me as we parted ways.

I met his oldest daughter when she was a freshman in high school. She was a student at Hoover High School (where I currently work), but at the time I was working in a different school. I met her because she was a pitcher for the high school team, but she and the pitching coach were not working well together. The pitching coach, a personal friend of mine, called me and asked me if I would work with her. (I was a private pitching coach for over 20 years.) He was frustrated and didn’t feel like he was able to help her. At the time, he knew that I had stopped giving lessons due to time constraints, but he asked if I would meet with her and her dad and give share my observations. 

I met her at the field, and I put her through an hour-long pitching workout. She was a natural. She had good form and technique, as well as a good attitude. She was nervous, though, and I could sense that she thought I was going to harshly criticize her. She listened to everything I told her and tried everything I suggested. She was the kind of athlete that made it hard to give up giving private lessons, but I knew that there was no way I could take her on as a student.

Fast forward a few years to her senior year in high school. I had just left my administrative position at another school to return to Hoover High School as a classroom teacher and pitching coach for the softball team. The young pitcher I had met was now a senior and I would be able to work with her in her final year of high school. She had basically given up on pitching her sophomore and junior year, but she was willing to pick it up again to help the team any way she could during her senior year. I was excited about the prospect of getting to develop her as a pitcher as much as possible in a single season, but I knew that there would be hard work ahead for her. 

She was our starting shortstop and one of the back-up pitchers. We had a pitcher on the team who was a strong, dominating pitcher, but we knew that we would need to give her some relief and be able to strategically pitch other pitchers in some key games in order to prevent our opponents from facing our number one pitcher too many times (if at all) during the regular season. We wanted our opponents to face our number one pitcher for the first time in the post-season play. 

While our shortstop knew that her time on the mound would be limited, she was still a part of our pitching staff. The pitchers and catchers had to come in for a pitching workout before school most days per week during the season, and she was always there and worked hard. 

Then the time came where we put her in against a team that we decided as a coaching staff would not face our number one pitcher. It was a good team that we would face in the post-season. We started another pitcher who had trouble against our opponents. It meant that we would put our senior shortstop in the game. 

When she went in, she looked confident. Attitude on the mound was something I emphasized with pitchers and demanded that they maintain whenever they were in the game. They needed to be in control of their emotions and never appear as if they weren’t confident. Our shortstop was a senior with experience in the field and offensively, but in the role of pitcher, she was still at the experience level of a younger player. Her confidence began to wane as the game went on. She walked several players, and she had  tough time finding her “groove.” She would look at me from the mound, her eyes pleading to be taken out and end her misery.

I knew she wanted to come out of the game, but I also knew that she needed to stay in. It was part of her growth… a defining moment… a strength builder. She had not experienced the situation before. In the past, she would have been taken out and replaced. In her current situation on the mound where she was walking players and throwing wild pitches, she was forced to face her circumstances. She had to maintain composure and keep working to focus on the skills that she had spent so many mornings sharpening.

From the dugout, I encouraged her. I reminded her to stay focused on one pitch at a time. I ached to end her embarrassment, but I also knew how important it was for her to stay in. I talked with her when the team came in for offense after a long time in the field. I used phrases I had used during practice... Focus on one point inside the catcher’s glove. It’s you and the catcher and no one else. You can do this. 


My pitcher had to fail to succeed. Whether or not she ever went on the mound again, she needed to stay there at that time and not be “saved” or relieved from her discomfort. It was a “fight or flight” moment that would teach her that she was stronger than what she believed. That lesson is one that I hope that all students will learn. The lesson goes beyond athletics, it’s about life. When we’re faced with tough times as adults, where does the courage come from to face our challenges? How do we know that we have the strength to get through the tough times? 

Young people are all the time asked to do things that are uncomfortable for them. As adults, how often do we do things that are uncomfortable? We must continue to remind ourselves that we are stronger than what we believe. How do we do that? By doing something each day that it outside our comfort zone.


What have you done lately that is outside your comfort zone? Share in the comments below or reach out to me on twitter.





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