Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Technology Didn't Make the List

by Sean Wheeler

 f/m CC Licensed by

In an all-day district meeting, I heard plenty about "roll-outs", action plans, and "The 5 Step Process".  Luckily, an academic coach next to me had reached the absolute limit of her attention span exactly when I did.  Mid-presentation, she turned to me and asked, "If there were three things that you'd say were the most important things to the work your group is doing in the classroom, what would they be?"  I didn't miss a beat.

1.  "We learn."

The teachers I work with think deeply about our need to model learning for our students.  We share links, discuss what's working, and all subscribe to a wide-variety of blogs and twitter feeds.  Our PLN expands all the time, and our students can clearly see that we are learning all the time.

2.  "We collaborate."

Our LHS 2.0 group 's collaborative model starts with the teachers.  We watch each other teach, jump in on each other's lessons, and work together to help our students regardless of content.  We co-design projects.  And we talk, all the time, about how we can work together better.

3. "We're patient."

Sometimes learning something takes awhile.  It takes some failure, some frustration, before ideas and skills start to set in.  Our natural inclination as teachers is to press for time, to move on because we're falling behind our pacing guide, or because we have to give a common assessment in two weeks and we can't afford to wait around for kids to actually learn the content.  The teachers I'm working with are learning to be patient.  We're not there yet, but we wouldn't be where we are without it.  Real learning takes time.

Of course, that isn't exactly what I said, but it was something like that.  The state "improvement coach" rolled on with his presentation.  "The Common Core = Rigor", or something to that effect.  The woman next to me leaned in and whispered, "But... technology wasn't on your list.  Why not?"

I'd like to say that I told her that technology wasn't the house but the hammer.  I would have loved to have asked her what her three things were.  It would have been worthwhile to go back and forth about the role of technology in the work that we do.  But none of that happened.  Just as she asked her question, the improvement coach broke us into "leadership teams" to make SMART goals.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What We Cheer For

by Sean Wheeler


I applaud things I agree with.  Sometimes I'm the only one clapping and that has it's ups-and-downs, but usually I clap when everyone else does.  Usually, if that many people join in on clapping for something, it's a pretty good thing to be clapping about.  

Not today.

Our first staff meeting was a barrage of "compliance" and "discipline" rhetoric that, though hard-knuckled, had nothing to do with teaching and learning.  We got the new hall pass run-down, policies for tardy students, changes in our in-school suspension process, a reminder about appropriate teacher work attire, and finally, we were told that "Saturday School" was back.  The room erupted in applause.  


How come teachers are pandered to when it comes to celebrating discipline, while any message of engaged teaching and learning is approached with delicate steps, and "pilots", and "roll-out plans"?  While I appreciate teacher frustration in regards to classroom management, the answer shouldn't be to leave the classroom broken and come up with new and better ways to punish kids.  All the hall passes and tardy slips in the world can't help students want to learn.  Why was I sitting in a room full of teachers applauding the effect and ignoring the cause?  Admittedly, teachers have been, and are, continually wrung through the wringer  on all fronts.  It's a tough job and sometimes you just want someone to fix something, anything.  I just wish the first staff meeting of the year could have been about learning.  Or at least it would have been nice if it even got mentioned.

After the applause, of course.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Are we in a fight?

By Sean Wheeler
Stag at Sharkeys - George Bellows. Cleveland Museum of Art

Is education reform a "fight"? 

 I spent the morning with some teacher friends having coffee and discussing how we all felt about the upcoming year in relation to how we're feeling after the end of a relaxing summer.  One of my friends shared that she was working on implementing a more taoist approach to the school year.  And as we talked we found our way into thinking that one of the keys to stay sane in these times is to consider your framework, your approach to things.  I, of course, couldn't help but frame the upcoming school year as a fight.  That's what it feels like, like the picture at the top of this post. It's not really about fighting people as much as it is about fighting against ideas that are incredibly entrenched.  My friend told me that I had the framework all wrong.  She said it was more of a process than a fight.  And that I'd do a lot better, mental health-wise, to see our work as evidence of the change that I think I'm fighting for and then to step back and let the work speak for itself.  I know she's right, and I'm so thankful for such great advice from a great educator.  So why can't I shake this feeling like it's round 7 and I'm down on points?  

I'd be interested in knowing how other people see it.  Is education reform a fight?  Should it be?  Is it a process?  Can/should we "push the river"?  This is one I'd really like to hear back on.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Rose by another name

by Lisa Wiegand
Intervention Specialist

I was just reading one of my many blogs and it struck me....pbl ...we keep calling it project based learning but the other blogger called it problem based learning....hmmmmm sounds a lot more enticing and realistic...let's solve some problems....

Sisyphus Making Waves

by Sean Wheeler

Resistance is a natural response to change, and all too often working in education reform, that resistance takes a toll on those of us pushing for it.  It's tough to walk down the hallways and look in classrooms that have teachers barricaded behind their desks giving orders for search-and-destroy worksheets, knowing full well that the very same teachers will block your every move and cast every nearby stone at the afternoon's department meeting.  It's draining to have your head in all of this new information about teaching and learning and then have to explain it to everyone who asks what is so special about your classroom.  It's lonely, it's frustrating, and it's consuming.

At times, Sisyphus looks like he had it easy.

Whiny enough?  While those feelings are very real, they're also self-defeating.  Sisyphus was doomed, we're not.  I'm learning that change will never happen because I made it happen.  It will occur only when we get together online, in public, and at school, to each chip away with the same tools, ideas, and solutions wherever we are.  While tidal waves happen once in awhile, it's rarely a single wave that changes the landscape.  Sure, we all get flack for creating waves, and it is taxing, but let's not forget that making waves is part of something bigger; erosion.  As I connect with more and more educators, I'm certain that I'm beginning to see a new shoreline.

Monday, August 15, 2011

SBG and Feedback

Ken Kozar - Biology Teacher 

One of our goals this year to provide better feedback for our students.  Since we have moved away from a traditional grading system to one where we focus on learning, I believe we also need a vehicle to provide feedback to both students and parents WHILE that learning is taking place.  Far too often we report out to parents after it's too late which leaves them very frustrated with the current model.

Enter Blue Harvest created by Sean Cornally.  Sean teaches physics in Iowa and was tired of how his district reported grades so he made his own.

Using traditional grade programs to report out just isn't providing enough information to our students and parents.  This program allows teachers to leave comments, add links to projects or other evidence of learning, and instantly have feedback sent out to parents via email or text message.  Is it finally time to move to a more flexible grade book?  Take a look at let me know what you think. 

Google Doc - Rough Outline of Wkiseat Project

By Sean Wheeler

I've put the early plans into a Google Doc and I'd love any suggestions.  If you'd like to be included as an editor of the document, please leave your email in the comment section.  Thanks.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

New Teacher Orientation

Karen Wheeler, Instructional Coach

So my first assignment as we get ready to start the new school year is to introduce the 20 or so new teachers to the Division of Teaching and Learning which I happen to work out of.  We have 2 1/2 hours, the first morning of their 3 days of orientation.  I started thinking about when I was first hired.  All I wanted was to see my classroom and get a copy of my textbooks (It was a long time ago, so forgive the need to get my hands on the textbook).  After much debate, my colleagues and I have settled on doing a sample lesson with these new teachers.  The lesson introduces some technology, uses some of Marzano's strategies and uses all 4 of the C's of 21st Century Skills.  It took me a long time to settle on something that I felt truly represented what I wanted new teachers  to know about teaching and learning.  How do you show that every decision that is made needs to be about the kids soon to be sitting in front of them?  That their grading policy needs to accurately tell what the students know and not how compliant they are with the rules?  That they need to lose the textbooks and embrace the internet?  That they should not be afraid to try anything that might hook in their students, even if it is out of their own comfort zone?  That asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength and courage?

Friday, August 12, 2011


by Ken Kozar

I've been thinking a lot about documentation over the last few days.....hence the creation of this blog, and got to thinking about ways our students should be putting together a collection of their own creations.  We just recently moved to Moodle 2.0 which gives students the ability to move their collection of work in Moodle directly into third party applications such as Google Docs,, and Mahara. 

Currently, I am kicking around a few ideas on how my biology students can present 21st century e-portfolios.

Portfolio categories (per semester):
  • Best example of you using experimental evidence to arrive at a new understanding of something.
  • Best example of you designing an experiment to test a hypothesis.
  • A lab investigation that did not work well.  Include thoughts on how it could have been improved.
  • A sudden insight.  A time during the year when "a light bulb went on" and you suddenly understood something that you previously did not.
  • Two things that you studied but did not fully understand (2 reflections).
  • Choose two labs/activities/lessons/topics from different parts of the semester (not the same unit).  How were the biology topics in these two things connected/related?
  • A lesson/assignment/topic/class discussion that reveals the impact of biology on society.
  • A lab/activity/topic/discussion that reveals the impact of biology on society.
  • A topic you most enjoyed learning about.
For each of the categories listed above, the students will (a) choose an artifact and (b) an oral, text, or video reflection explaining how and/or why their artifact represents that particular category.

Right now I am learning toward Google Sites as a place for them to upload their artifacts and reflections.  What are your thoughts regarding e-portfolios and where do you think we should have our students upload their artifacts to share with the world??

Makers vs. Scholars

by Sean Wheeler

Mark Frauenfelder is the editor of Make Magazine and a co-editor of the blog, BoingBoing.  In the talk below, Frauenfelder suggest that we should be teaching students to be makers instead of scholars.  It's a provocative idea.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

by Sean Wheeler

I'm in the initial phases of planning a unit involving student construction of WikiSeats.  Here's what WikiSeat's creater, Nic Weidinger,  posts in the comments section of his WikiSeat Instructables post:

"So when it comes to marketing, one target audience is students and shop teachers. But the real opportunity starts when students – seeking to learn new skills – can work along side master craftsmen who have perfected their skills. This seems like a great way for people to collaborate and learn from one another. “Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.” The WikiSeat project is a medium that span across generations and professions by allowing anyone to create something useful within the framework. Every WikiSeat has the same basic elements, but every detail is ultimately up to the builder."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"If youth are our future, what of the future of youth (leaders)?" - Tessa Finley

Open Question:  What can we get from this?  The story is powerful.  What can it teach us about our students, their role, and our responsibility?  What can Kenyan kids teach us and ours?

A couple ideas from a PD class I'm working with on Moodle

by Sean Wheeler

"As for the curriculum requirement, I teach the standards. As Language Arts teachers, we are lucky enough to have all of our standards assess skills over content. Nowhere does it say that we have to read "Romeo and Juliet" in the standards. They do say that our students need to be able to recognize plot structure, character, setting, and other conventions of literature. Nobody tells me how to teach those things, or even what content I need to use to teach those things, I'm only required to make sure that students know those things. With that mission as a background, I work really hard to design lessons that are based on what skills my students need instead of what content I think they should be exposed to. I've found that teaching students about irony is much better when I use a Youtube video of Wile E. Coyote vs. Roadrunner (What Wile. E Coyote expects to happen vs. what actually happens) than when I taught it using something like Chopin's "The Story of an Hour". At the end of the day, the stupid tests assess whether or not my students learned what irony was and not what story was used to teach it to them. (btw - the Looney Tunes lesson only uses a video projector, one computer, and the internet. It could also be taught using only a dvd player and a Looney Toons dvd.  Super lo-tech.) Does this sometimes bring me into conflict with other department members who feel that we should be teaching certain stories and books? You bet."

"Online forums can't replace the classroom by any means. But they do provide a place where teaching and learning happens in a much more conversational climate. You'd be amazed at how much writing I get from the quiet kid in the back of the class that doesn't ever say anything. You'd be happy to see that the kids that blurt out responses without much consideration are finally able to consider what they write before they write it and to revise their thinking as they learn. 

Continue the Ideas

By Foyn McDevitt 12/11 I am really energized by the creativity in this idea. I never fully realized just how education is going this way and how many people are already doing amazing tech learning and really helping the students, really AMAZING! I am going to a seminar on motivating unmotivated students, why because our 9th graders need a shot of energy and desire to start doing the kind of work they are capable of producing and I am not pushing the right buttons. Maybe we can learn and grow together instead of them wanting to be told what to do. There is so many new concepts to learn and apply. I believe in this appraoch and it does work. Let's hope for the best and keep plugging away


By Foyn McDevitt 11/11: I want to ride this wave of work and fun. The students for the most part are more energized to work. Some of the students, ninth graders, need to push the limits but we have to remember they are fourteen and fifeteen years old. We are going to learn at a higher level if I can stay up with them and guide them to the learning they want. The hard part is when the frustration that comes from not getting exactly what they want on the internet or are forced to use another site other than Wikipedia (This is a good site but not the be all to end all). I have waited for this opportunity for years now that it is available it is exciting and rewarding.

The Flip

By Sean Wheeler

borrowing and stealing. a reflection on why homework and classwork should be flipped.
1. Present info in class (lecture, presentation, sage-on-stage, reading the chapter, taking notes, etc.)
2. Send students home to practice. (do the problems, answer the questions, write a response, reflect.)
3. Work with students' work. (grade the practice, fix corrections, have the discussion after the work has been turned in.)
4. "The Test" = Summative Assessment.
1. The teacher creates or finds info to present to the class. Posts it on the web or provides a link to the information. Send kids home to view or read a short introduction to the key concepts. I like to tell my students that I promise them that homework will only take 5:12 seconds tonight. (Because it's a Youtube video that I found and all I want them to do is watch it.)
2. Students come to class with the info already in their head. If they didn't do it, it only takes 5:12 to catch up! We then "do" stuff with the content. We ask things like what use the information is, why it might be important, what questions do we have? We might practice using the concepts, start a project, create a reflection or response on the topic, etc. The key is that the actual doing is taking place in the classroom. Since the teacher isn't presenting the information in class, there is way more time for the teacher to roam and help out on a 1:1 basis, group students together for further explanation or help, and to provide feedback while the learning is occurring. The teacher is there to immediately fix issues, and students who are "getting it" are there to help the students that aren't. The culture changes significantly when your classroom becomes a lab. Help is everywhere and the whole demeanor of the room changes to something dynamic.
3. Students continue work on projects. They get help when they need it, start to ask bigger questions, and work collaboratively to achieve classroom goals. They eventually come up with some kind of a product to show what they've learned. We then have class critiques and general feedback.
4. Final projects =Summative assessment.
It seems almost counter-intuitive, but the main thrust is that the teacher changes from the presenter to the collaborator and things become much more interesting for everyone.
Most of the ideas in this post aren't mine.  The experiences were, and I think we're on to something. 
Here's a site that contains source material.

Here we go...

We've been dipping our toes in the water for about two years, and we've decided it's time to dive in.