Friday, March 16, 2012

I'm On Fire!

The last few days I have been on fire!  Full of great ideas!
Here they are:
1.  After an e-mail from a parent stating they want to get their child on an IEP, my brain started working on this problem.  The student has not qualified before because of good test scores.  But something was bothering me, and I couldn't put my finger on it.  I have now figured it out!  Test scores don't measure cognitive functions. (another problem with standardized testing!)  They can measure basic knowledge skills, but a very important skill is the ability to solve a problem that requires a multi-step solution.  The student can not follow a complex set of directions to complete a task.  I also have concerns about short term memory.  In order to be eligible, it has to be shown that the disability disrupts learning.  If given a clinical evaluation, I'm sure this student would meet criteria to get the help they need for next year!  I've organized my data for a meeting today already, and I think I have a good case!

2.  A colleague was rearranging their room and didn't want the tables in rows.  I suggested she put them in the shape of a hexagon, with students facing in, and room in between to pass through.  This way she could stand in the middle to work with all students, teach dynamically, and encourage whole class discussion and collaboration.  It worked great!

3.  Our school is trying a new thing called reader's workshop.  It is a program that encourages the development of reading skills across curriculum.  To keep track of each of the 12 skills being taught in each subject, the students created a binder with tabs for each skill.  Then, they 3-hole-punched the papers and placed their documents in the appropriate spot.  The problem with this is the amount of paperwork and the logistics of hunting down the right folder, for the right students, in the right classroom.  Then, for each teacher to review and discuss and evaluate what is happening in each class, they have to get their hands on all 110ish binders... what a pain.  So I suggested a move from physical binders to an online portfolio using google docs.  Templates can be shared with each student.  They share documents with all teachers, teachers can give feedback, collaborate with other teachers, students can collaborate together and share with each other, and best of all, nothing gets lost (unless google crashes, but that would be the end of the world anyway, right?).  They will be able to access the documents anytime and anywhere there is internet access.  The teacher I ran it by shared it with another and they are discussing it during a meeting today.

So, there is the remainder of my intelligence for the month, I've used it all up!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A few pics

I've noticed that my blog is a little boring when it comes to visuals.  So here you go...

My 34th 29th birthday (Disclaimer: I am not fat, just preggers!)

Me and my big girl, sporting our hats on Rock Island

Grandma worked her magic and made the girls Hollyhock dolls!

Addie at horse camp... thanks to the other grandma

The girls on Christmas morning opening presents

My brave little one investigating a creepy crawly... not even Daddy would do this!

Monday, March 12, 2012


I was reading this article at the Wall Street Journal Online about How to be Creative.  My husband is the creative one.  He is the artist.  He thinks up weird and unlikely designs to make out of wood or metal that turn out to be beautiful and thought provoking.  Since I have known him he has a systematic creative process.

His favorite is getting started.  He will talk about an idea, sketch it on several pieces of paper that get scattered about, make lists.

Then he begins the fabrication.  He enjoys this part too, and it's hard for him to stop when he gets started. He gets in a groove and just goes with it.  There is a lot of positive talk concerning the speed of his progress and how he doesn't have much to do yet, even though to the average person, the project is just started.

Then he gets stuck.  It happens with everything.  Somewhere in the project he is presented with an impossible problem that threatens to destroy everything that he's done so far, jeopardizing the entire project.  This step is accompanied by sailor talk, schizophrenic actions, toddler stomping, and object chucking.  It's quite entertaining to someone who knows he will eventually work through it and it is just part of the creative process.  However, it can be scary if you don't know that.  You'd think the project was over and he would never make art again!

Then comes the epiphany.  If you're around to catch it you can actually see the light bulb flash on over his head.  This usually comes after he walks away from it for a while, one of those moments of insight as the article states, after he has a relaxing bath or bottle of beer.

Then comes the implementation of the plan.  He likes this because it is overcoming a problem, usually in a clever or crazy way.  It usually merits bragging rights to anyone who will listen, because that's creative genius.

Then comes the almost finished, why can't I just end it now, because it's not cool anymore phase.  He really has to force himself to do this, because once he has overcome the major problems, it's no longer fun for him.  I think he would prefer his studio to be filled with a bunch of minions to complete it.

Finally, he has to call time of death.  If given the option, he will chew and chew and chew on the project, thinking of ways to add, tweak, redo, fix, or make it better.  He sees a rough spot here that needs to be resanded, a welded joint that isn't quite right, spots in the stain, fly poop, wrong angles.   It's a good thing there are due dates, or he'd never finish anything, it would stay in his studio and be done over and over again.  If he has learned anything, he knows now that he has to call a project, but it will go right up to the last minute.

If it's not a pressing problem, he puts a gerbil on it.  They reside in his brain, along with wheels, and they hop on these wheels when a problem needs to be worked out but can be put on the back burner.  They are handy little rodents, allowing him to walk away from the problem but still be working on it.  Their most impressive feet recently was figuring out how to install a shower in a tiny attic bathroom we put in.  He kept saying no way, but the gerbils thought otherwise.

I had always thought of myself as being creatively challenged.  I remember this especially in college, as I had to create lesson plans from scratch, having barely any class time under my belt.  I used the educators' creative license and begged, borrowed, and more often stole ideas to add to my lesson plans.

But after teaching and living, I've come to realize that when it comes to motivating some students, or thinking up projects to help students understand a concept, to connect current events with history and make it relate to their life today, and connecting concepts between curriculums, I can really pull things out!  And I love doing it.  Most of those are the moments of insight during teachable moments, but also come from chatting with colleagues or others that can open my brain to more possibilities.

I think creativity in the classroom is so important.  I can't draw, paint, or sculpt, but that's not all there is to being creative.  Right now I can only offer ideas to colleagues with classrooms, or use them with the students I help, but I can't wait until I have my own classroom to give more things a try!  Being out so long, I just hope I haven't gotten crusty!

The article points out what I've been thinking too.  That to stay sharp I should expose my brain to many different things, in order to make connections.  That's why I read lots of blogs and articles, and still read brain flushes like the Harry Dresden novels (excellent Sci-Fi!).  I do try different things, talk to many different people, and diversify my life, because answers and ideas can come from anywhere.  I've called it "putting it out to the universe."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Who else opposes standardized testing?

The following is a comment I posted on another blog, A Principal's Reflections, in response to a letter he posted from a mother to NYCDOE, and his call for other's thoughts.  He writes:

"With all of this being said, what are your thoughts on standardized testing, it's role in education, impact on students, and the data being used to evaluate educators? Is this the direction that educational reform should be headed in? As a parent of two young children my response is a resounding NO!"

My comment:
I am an educator and mother in Iowa.  They are currently considering legislation to put in place end of the year assessments to decide whether a student should go on or not.  I am vehemently opposed to this!  The time, energy and resources used to administer, grade, and assess the tests would be better used to teach my children.  Is it not the professional teacher's job to assess my child in their class?  Is it not the professional, well trained teacher, who knows how my child learns in their classroom and whether or not they have mastered the skills necessary to pass on to the next grade?  When it comes down to it, I intend to be a thorn in the side of my school district, as I will do everything in my power to keep my children away from these pointless, time and money wasting, damage inflicting tests!  Even if it means risking my job.
Because schools are given federal and state funding, there are strings attached.  The government needs to make sure the schools are being held accountable, and they see testing as the most effective way to do this.  But they miss the trees (the individual student, who learns differently and at different rates) for the forest (the general overall achievement of a school district that is receiving the money).  I feel part of the solution is to give control back to local authority, and let teachers just teach.  The job of the principal, administrators, and local school board is to evaluate their teachers, and help them be the most effective teachers for their students.  I see this as getting into the classrooms more, working closely with teachers, offering effective criticism, and not assigning curriculum based on what is on these tests.  Effective teaching cannot be evaluated with these tests, it takes getting into the classroom and knowing the students individually, to determine if it is happening.  To judge this, they need to see the "aha moments", the connections, the creation, the higher level thinking being demonstrated in the actual classroom (and sometimes out of the classroom).  This requires smaller class sizes, a professional learning community of expert teachers and active administrators working together and communicating.  It also requires trust that all these people are actually going to do their professional job.  That is up to the boss to determine if this is happening.
And finally, school is not just about mastering a set of knowledge based skills in each class.  The most important life skill a student can take away from k-12 education is learning to learn.  This is a skill that will last a lifetime.  Knowing how to regurgitate information for a standardized test is perhaps a skill that may only be used by statisticians and politicians, who unfortunately seem to be the ones in control of reform.
A question for you: Why do I see so much resistance to standardized testing from the teaching profession in my own community, in the media, and online, and yet this is still the direction we are going in?  Why are we not being listened to?

So if you feel like passing these thoughts on to our legislators in the great state of Iowa, feel free to send them my link.