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

A "do now" strategy to 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:

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.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Let's impact kids and others in a positive way!

For the past few days, our teachers have been back getting ready for a new group of students, and the excitement in the building has been incredible! We have committed this year to spend the first two days getting to know students and building foundations for lasting, positive relationships.

We believe one of the keys to our success as our school has grown to almost 3,000 students is the strong teaching staff who build relationships with students. I believe that a person can feel lonely even in a smaller school, but what's important is that each students find a small group (club, sport, even a class period) where they are connected and cared for.  Each teacher has an opportunity to create a community within his or her classroom where each student feels respected and loved. 

Our staff does a great job of connecting with students and connecting them with each other, which is extremely important in our large high school. This year, we are being very intentional about it with our pledge to get to know students on the first two days.

Sometimes our influence isn't apparent right away. Some students don't affirm the teacher that what he or she is doing is making a difference. Sometimes we plant seeds that bloom later on in life. I know that on my "to-do" list for this weekend is to write a thank you letter to my PE teacher from elementary school.

When teachers get messages from students that tell how the teacher has impacted the student's life... it's priceless. 

Below is an actual email that a teacher at our school shared with me this week. (The teacher's name and student's name are left out intentionally.) THIS reminds us why we do what we do. 

Hey Mrs. Teacher (:

I hope your summer is going good so far. If you don't remember me I'm *Student* from your 5th period English class, I'm not sure if you check your emails during the summer but I came across this 6 minute video about self love and self worth, and it really got to me. I've been struggling for a long time with finding the beauty in myself. And this video has inspired me to start working harder in finding self love. I'm sending you this link because you're the most inspiring teacher I've had so far. You'd always show these videos in class from time to time, inspiring videos, and you'd do everything you could when it comes to being there for someone, And I really thought you should check this out and maybe you can use it this year or if you have a student in one of your classes that struggles with self hate maybe you can show them this. It's inspired me. I know it can inspire others.
Enjoy the rest of your summer 😊

To all the educators...
Have a terrific school year!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

THINK BEYOND - Goals for the new school year

August is such a time for renewal for educators and students! Students move on to the next grade, excited about new experiences, opportunities, and content. Educators anticipate the new group of students they will get to teach about their subject matter and so much more! 

Most educators I know reflect on their previous year(s) and set goals for the new school year, and today I want to share mine because 
          1) I'm super excited about the new year, 
          2) as part of my accountability, and 
          3) we're better together. 

What do I mean by #3? My goals may inspire you just as many of you inspire me daily. Also, once you know what my goals are, you may be able to provide support during the school year, just as I want to do for others. Also, there may be goals that we can work on together. (Feel free to reach out to me on twitter or via my contact form!)

My last post was about some of my highlights from summer. As I look back on the summer break, I realized that even the things that didn't relate to education make me a better educator. I did sharpen my problem-solving skills, tapped into my creative side, and had FUN! I hope to take these three characteristics into the new year to make it one of the best for our staff and students.

In May, I had the privilege to travel to Phoenix, AZ where two of our students were competing in the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair. Their teacher and I traveled to AZ for a quick trip to see the awards ceremony, visit the exhibitions, and cheer on our students (who placed 3rd in their category!). 

The theme for the Intel international science fair was "Think Beyond." Those two words say so much about what I try to do as an educator and school leader, so I've chosen to use that phrase to drive my actions and goals during the new school year. 

This year, one of my goals is to think beyond our school walls and nudge, encourage, and facilitate our teachers in collaborating with other classrooms across the country and/or globe. I've reached out to another administrator already, but I will be looking for other schools and content areas where we can collaborate.

Another goal is to think beyond how we honor student voice. Our administrative team has an open-door policy and our student organizations have a heavy input in many of our functions at our school, but my goal is to find other ways to give individual students a way to be heard about their learning experiences. I truly feel like our school is a great place and has many opportunities for students with diverse interests. I hope to find a way for more students to connect in and out of classrooms and feel like they have contributed to our wonderful school. 

I also have a goal to think beyond how to support teachers as they collaborate with each other. Most of our teachers work well with each other, and they value the face-to-face time they have with each other in their Professional Learning Communities. Some teachers are so used to acting as "independent contractors" in charge of their classroom that they don't know how to work collaboratively. I am going to work to break down those barriers as much as I can.

Areas where school leaders can Think Beyond...

Think beyond discipline. Are the consequences working? Are we being consistent? Are we being proactive?

Think beyond PD. Administrators have an opportunity to model for teachers what they want to see in classrooms. Are PD sessions interactive? Are they sit-and-get? What messages are you sending to your teachers? Is there a more effective or creative way to deliver content? Do you value teachers as adult learners?

Think beyond your office. Are you making time to get into classrooms? What messages are you sending to teachers when your office work has priority over visiting their classrooms where teaching and learning is taking place?

Areas where teachers can Think Beyond...

Think beyond traditional hierarchies in the classroom. The teacher can be a facilitator of learning in a partnership with students, not just a content expert who delivers information. 

Think beyond learning as a race. Do we want students to learn content by a certain date, or want them to learn it? Period. Teachers will also have to think beyond traditional pacing guides and lesson design in order to honor this mindset.

Think beyond what has always worked. Kids are different every year, with different influences and cultures. Teachers must grow with the times and stay relevant. This includes trying new strategies and deepening their knowledge of teaching and learning.

How else can we "Think Beyond" as educators? I would love for you to share your thoughts in the comments below or on twitter.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Summer Slacker. Time to Forgive Myself.

I’m pretty hard on myself. My friend Katie reminds me of this a lot, and she helps me to basically get over myself. She tells me, "You're such a typical older sibling!" I've been hard on myself the past couple of weeks, thinking to myself, Have I done everything I needed to do this summer?

I titled this post “Summer Slacker,” but as I started putting it together I realized how much I had accomplished this summer. BUT, there is something that is keeping me down right now, and that’s  the lack of blogging in the last two weeks. (Bloggers are the only writers who write about not writing.)

As we start August and it’s time for back to school, I thought I’d share what I did this summer in this post, and in another post this week I’ll share my goals for the 2016-17 school year.

The summer started with a family lunch. We headed to a community “wing ding” - a barbecue/block party. The place was packed, so we went to a nearby Buffalo Wild Wings and had a great time watching SEC baseball and enjoying each other’s company. 

Next up on my list for summer was to do some home maintenance. My husband and I painted all of the trimwork on our home exterior, including all the windows. Talk about tedious work!

This summer, I put together all of our school's professional development opportunities, which are being offered as online courses (except for one of the book studies.) Throughout the summer I've been reviewing submissions to insure completion by our teachers. Teachers have been loving the option of working "whenever, wherever," and they've learned strategies and tools they will use in their classrooms this year. 

I did read 3 books after school got out at the end of May. 

One was a book about leadership, and the other two were fun, "beach books." I love indulging in the easy reads as I lounge by the pool or spend early mornings on my deck. (I highly recommend all 3 books!)

My key lime pie recipe is so easy - and the pie is delicious and perfect in the summer. I've made it 3 times this summer, and it's been the perfect compliment to our hot evenings in Alabama!

I got my book published to Amazon! It is an amazing feeling to know that I can share my experiences with others who may need or want encouragement and support to tap into personal courage. If you download it and read it, I would love to hear the part that is most meaningful to you. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you've seen the pictures of the retaining wall that my husband and I built this summer. The last picture on the right is the almost final version. We still have to treat it with clear weatherproofing, but I'm in love with the new wall. It will help keep the basketballs in the court, and it looks beautiful. 

I was part of the planning team for Edcamp Leadership Alabama that took place along with other states' Edcamp Leadership on July 11. It was a fantastic day of learning and meeting leaders from across the state. Many were attending their first edcamp, and the excitement in the air was electric! We had a good turnout, and we got terrific feedback and comments from school leaders who got tons of ideas to take back to their schools.  

Another highlight of my summer was getting to visit my older sister who lives in Nashville, TN. I try to visit her a few times a year, but the last time I had been to her house was last October. We hung out at her friend's pool, laughed alot, and enjoyed our time together. 

I do feel offically old now that I've celebrated my 30-year class reunion! It was a blast to catch up with friends I haven't seen in years, and we made promises to get together regularly. I can't wait to see them again!

We also celebrated my oldest daughter's 19th birthday. I just can't believe I'm old enough to have a daughter that age. I don't know about you, but I still feel like I'm 19 years old sometimes. Working with high schoolers keeps me young at heart!

I know this blog post didn't have anything to do with educational theory or pedagogy, and if it seems too off-topic (besides the summer PD opportunities) for an educational blog, I'm going to have to stand up with Heidi Veal and her question on twitter this summer...

What was my response? I bet you can guess...

I guess maybe I should forgive myself...