What’s the Point?

As a family we recently started watching the television series “The Walton’s.” I remember watching the series back in the days of three analog channels. The show takes place on a mountain in West Virginia during the depression. At the time, a person could buy a bull calf or a new drive shaft for $9.00. Radio was the only form of electronic entertainment and some houses didn’t even have telephones. Work was hard to find and those that could find it worked hard

.waltons

So why the history lesson? I get nostalgic whenever I watch shows like this. Shows that put our humanity into perspective and the values of life, love, journeys, family, and relationships. I ask myself at times if, with all the technology we have at our fingertips, have we lost some of these values? Do we not need these values anymore? Are the old days and old ways no longer applicable?

On “The Walton’s” John Boy is the oldest son and he processes his thoughts by writing pen on paper much like I process by typing on my blog. He was more diligent than I have been the past few months. Yet, there is still something about taking pen and paper to process thoughts that resonates with the human psyche.

I have noticed a number of news articles lately stating that using computers for notes and discussion in class leads to less retention by students. I try constantly to get my students to understand that by taking physical notes they will have better comprehension and retain information longer. Jesus taught by using parables and through example. He constantly challenged the conventional wisdom of the day. See, parables were intended to get people to stop and think. Isn’t that the point of a high school theology course?

Aha! We need to stop and think, we need to discuss Church teachings, we need to explore the values of life, love, journeys, family, and relationships. This must be face to face not device to device. If I didn’t sit with my students and process what they read in their textbooks, then good questions and relationships would not develop. If I didn’t introduce my students to the four types of love as put forth by C.S. Lewis, How could we have a discussion about family, love, and relationships?

Catholic theology teachers also need to teach students how to look references up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, and various papal encyclicals. They also need help knowing how to find the answer to the various questions that invariably come up in a teenagers life. Of course, getting them comfortable with asking their parish priest for guidance should be practiced also. How do they get to practice this if they either don’t go to mass or if they don’t have some sort of relationship with their parish priest? I have made it a priority to invite priests and other religious into my theology class so that my students can become comfortable in knowing these people at a personal level.

Nothing has really changed from the times of the Walton’s. The things around us might change, our modes of entertainment might change, but humanity has not really changed since our beginning. Values matter, relationships matter, love matters teaching our students with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and a Christ like spirit of charity is necessary in every generation.

Good night John Boy!

 

 

Teaching Strategies: Are They Worth It?

img_0384Teaching strategies is a topic I give a lot of thought to. Hattie’s Visible Learning and effect size is getting much of my attention as of late. The FIT teaching approach as a framework for growth and leadership piques my curiosity. Carol Dwerks’s Mindsets make mind sense. And, the teachers throwing out grades (#ttog) movement has me focused on feedback versus letter grades.

Finding effective teaching methods has been a goal of mine for the past five years. I have to admit that I go into most teaching situations with an idea and content that has to be covered. Rarely do I have time to think about how to best help students learn the concepts, ideas, and content with a scaffold that helps provide structure and support in order to move learning forward.

So, I hunt for the elusive silver bullet that will help me make a difference for my students and colleagues. Recently, I purchased a book of strategies that had examples and processes for over 50 types like anticipation/reaction guide, discussion partners, mind maps, think-pair-share, jigsaw, etc. I know that I will be able use many of these with success in my classroom.

One of the problems I’m trying to solve is how to effectively teach vocabulary. img_0383I teach three sections of 9th grade theology and there is a lot of new vocabulary that then represents ideas or concepts that are highly elusive in the best of times. So, I was searching for strategies and came across a website for Marzano research that offers access to over 300 teaching strategies for $30.00 per month yearly subscription. I was wondering if anyone has used this subscription service and whether it is worth the price?

You Might Be A Teacher If….

Happy Birthday to the world’s newest teenager!


I have been working on my theology 9 curriculum a lot this summer. So far no vacation yet nor in the near future. Maybe next year. I really enjoy writing curriculum so this is by no means a chore. However, it does take humongous blocks of time to think through and process the sequencing of learning experiences and aligning them to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops Framework for high schools.

In my spare time I’m taking an online course toward a graduate certificate to teach online (can we see where the future of education is moving?). Oh, let’s not forget professional development via social media along with research about how the brain works, mindsets, visible learning, vocabulary strategies, and FIT teaching. It’s a good thing I gave up all my hobbies years ago. I do love what I do and I know the payoff will come in being prepared with intentionally designed lessons when the kids come back to school.

If all this sounds familiar or you have found yourself nodding along, then you’re probably a teacher. If you’re thinking nope, work begins at 8 am and ends at 5 pm, then you’re probably in a different occupation and I thank you for visiting my blog. I actually dated a girl in college who really believed that teachers could just be done for the day when school got out! If the only time you can go on vacation is when the airlines are charging the most, then you’re probably a teacher. If you have the luxury of pulling your kids out of class for a week or two during the school year (most likely the week before a quarter ends) because you found cheap tickets to Waldo’s World, then you’re probably not a teacher.

I would just love to meet some of those people who say that teachers get to have the summers off. Or, and I love this one, teachers get twelve weeks of vacation in the summer, plus two weeks at Christmas, and a week long spring break. And the always charming, teachers are overpaid.

The old adage, “those who can do, those who can’t teach,” had to have come from someone who never spent any number of years teaching. Now I’m not angry or jealous of those who think these thoughts or those who might even express them, because I truly love what I do and I am blessed to be able to touch the future every day. To those of you that don’t understand a teachers life, I pray for you every day. And to those of you that have been nodding as you’re reading, I pray for you too. Let’s keep the profession classy and never stop being there for one another.
 

Teaching: What Works?

I teach a year 9 theology course where there are lots of new vocabulary, many abstract concepts that need to be made concrete, and students who will doubt the validity of what I teach. Because of this, I have been searching for how to best serve my students and I have run across some ideas that are tried and true. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of change or trying new things, but I do want my kids to have a solid foundation in faith. The guiding principles at my school are “Inspiring Faith and Excellence.”

Visible Learning

Visible Learning, written by John Hattie and Gregory Yates

Earlier this spring I came across two sources that stated what the best teaching strategies are based upon research. Results from small research studies can be posted almost as soon as a researcher has completed a project. Which means they need to be taken with a grain of salt. Personally, I feel as though I was cheated in my teacher education program and that I need to begin teaching with strategies that have been proven through research to work.

The National Council of Teaching Quality (NCTQ) published this work that stated the following about fundamental teaching strategies:

     1. Pair graphics with words,

     2. Link abstract concepts with concrete.                 Brepresentations,

     3. Pose probing questions,

     4. Repeatedly alternating problems with solutions and problems that need to be solved,

     5. Distributing practice,

     6. Assessing to boost retention.

Some of these may seem to be pretty obvious but there were four that were new to me (numbers 3-6). I would think that having been teaching for more than twenty years I would be familiar with all six “fundamental teaching strategies.”

I also have been reading John Hattie and Gregory Yates’s book  titled Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. I was also generally surprised to see that the teaching strategies that had the greatest affects on student learning matched nicely with the NCTQ report. I keep hearing people talk about teachers being facilitators of learning, coaches, or guide on the side. But, in Hattie and Yates’s book, direct instruction, feedback, and teacher clarity had just more than double the effect size as inductive teaching, simulation and gaming, and problem based learning.

I’m also glad to see that scaffolding, as shared in this recent post from Edutopia by Rebecca Alber,  was also mentioned in the Visible Learning book as a “critical instructional component.” Hattie and Yates also state, …”there is little basis to suggest that personal discovery within itself assists a person to actually learn. In fact, additional load (cognitive load) imposed by the need to explore and find things out can detract from our capacity to assimilate the information uncovered.”

So what does all this mean for me as a teacher? It means that I need to build solid relationships with my students, use fundamentally sound research based teaching strategies that have been proven to work, scaffold learning, and make sure my kids get timely feedback. I also see a disconnect between what teachers are saying works (teacher as facilitator) and what research has proven to work (teacher as activator). Thoughts anyone?

Teaching is my Life

I know the I have been negligent in keeping up with my blog, but (you knew a but had to be coming) I have been spending the time with my family, my students, and my curriculum. Some of you may have even wondered, where did he disappear to?

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cc0 Public Domain

While at my son’s baseball game last night, I was able to jump on Twitter and interact a bit and to look through my Flipboard aggregator. I had to step back from Twitter chats for a while because, well, I was buying too many books and trying to filter through and process too many great ideas. Gamifying classrooms, eXPlore Like a Pirate, blended learning, Ditch Textbook, Learn Like a Pirate, grading, not grading, feedback, badges, personalized learning, embedded assessment, formative assessment, summative assessment, project based learning, innovation, HyperDocs, and mindsets in the classroom are all ideas I am trying to wrap my mind around. Oh, and let’s not forget that I also teach high school theology, college and careers, computer science principals, and junior high religion!

So, I’ve been busy. Such is the life of a teacher and teaching is my life. Being a teacher and building relationships within a classroom is something that God has hardwired into me, but being a stereotypical guy, I pour my all into it. I mean, how many people are at their son’s baseball game curating articles into magazines?
My Twitter PLN is great and I love everyone who is in it. I sometimes feel that I don’t contribute enough or I feel jealous that many of my peers have had the focus to publish a book, present at or attend conferences, teach webinars or create podcasts. Meanwhile, I am all over the place with these ideas and not really incorporating any of them into my classroom or my professional development.
So what might I do to rectify this situation dear reader? I am going to take a statistics course this summer and begin my doctoral studies in the fall. In the past I have written about trying to work out a doctorate online with a board of directors and badges as credentials. Well, I’ve decided to go the traditional university route. I know it will be expensive, but I need the deadlines, a system, and a mentor to hold me accountable. What might I research? Curriculum, assessment, and motivation. Stay tuned for more. My goal is to try and post at least weekly throughout the summer.
Pax Christi

Is High School Theology Just About the Content? 

For about a year now I have been searching. I have been searching for ways to engage my freshman theology students. I go between the USCCB’s “Framework,” my school’s textbook, the Bible, etc. I often feel like Moses wandering through the desert. I have learned from the National Directory of Catechesis that there is a different way to teach theology.Alpha and Omega

I am not a creator of teaching materials, I am a searcher for the best materials for my students. I have searched for any freshmen theology teachers who have developed standards that augment the bishop’s “Framework.” The “Framework” does a good job of outlining the content that should be included in high school theology courses, but it lacks what the students should be able to do or how they are to show what they have learned.

Do I decide what it is that my students should be able to do? Am I the one to decide how my students show their learning? What are the best ways for students to show that they understand, that they remember, that they can apply, analyze, evaluate, and create? The Church is the authority on many things, so who is the authority when it comes to theological pedagogy?

I guess that I feel I rely on the Church for so much that when it comes to something that is so extremely important like preparing the souls of adolescent learners, I need more than just my feelings, prayer, and approved textbooks to guide these decisions. I do have textbooks that have suggestions but that’s the rub, they are just suggestions. Can I make those learning decisions? Yes, I can. Do I know why I would choose an essay to express the four senses of scripture or an album cover with liner notes, or are the senses of scripture not really that important? Where should I be expending my efforts?

To me, it appears that there is a disconnect between what research is showing in education in general and the specifics of what is to be known in theology. What should freshmen theology students be doing? What should they be producing and creating? How do they show that they are making the connection between knowledge and the heart? How do we help them come to know the goodness, richness, and Tradition of the Catholic Church?

25 Books to Gnaw on Over the Summer

Games 65986_Barnes_Assessment30 3D-LLAP-254x300 The New Teacher Revolution

Looking to up your game, keep up to date with current trends and research, or develop professionally? Well, look no further because these 25 books are on fire. Quick reads with a plethora of opportunities to step out of your comfort zone into a world of meaningful learning. All of these authors practice what they preach and every one of them is personally approachable and helpful.

Don’t wait for the beginning of next school year! Add some personalized PD to your summer months. You cannot go wrong with these 😎 Please add your summer books to the list in the comments!

Anderson, Mark, and Jackie Beere. Perfect ICT Every Lesson. New York: Crown House, 2013. Print. Save to EasyBib

Barnes, Mark. Assessment 3.0: Throw out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning. Print. Save to EasyBib

Barnes, Mark. Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-centered Classroom. Print.

Bender, William N. Project-based Learning: Differentiating Instruction for the 21st Century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012. Print.

Bonk, Curtis Jay. The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.

Clarke, John H. Personalized Learning: Student-designed Pathways to High School Graduation. Print.

Davis, Vicki A. Reinventing Writing. the 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing, Learning, and Living. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.

Dueck, Myron. Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Assessment Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn. Print.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:. New York: Ballantine, 2008. Print.

Ferlazzo, Larry. Building a Community of Self-motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and beyond. Print.

Gee, James Paul. The Anti-education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. Print.

Grant, Peggy. Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology. Print.

Gray, David, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo. Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly, 2010. Print.

Hirumi, Atsusi. Online and Hybrid Learning Trends and Technologies. Print.

Horn, Michael B., Heather Staker, and Clayton M. Christensen. Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. Print.

Keeler, Alice and Miller, Libbi. 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom. Print.

Miller, Matt. Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom. Print.

Meloy, Judith M. Writing the Qualitative Dissertation: Understanding by Doing. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print.

Ricci, Mary Cay. Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools. Print.

Solarz, Paul. Learn like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed. Print.

Stumpenhorst, Josh. The New Teacher Revolution: Changing Education for a New Generation of Learners. Print.

Terrell, Shelly Sanchez. The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small Steps to Transform Your Teaching. Print.

Tucker, Catlin R. Blended Learning in Grades 4-12: Leveraging the Power of Technology to Create Student-centered Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012. Print.

Wettrick, Don. Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level. Print

Please add your summer books to the list in the comments!

YAY! School’s out for Summer ;)

You have probably seen the teacher countdowns to the end of the school year. You may have seen or discussed plans for summer vacations. Now taking a break in the form of a vacation is important, but recognize that teachers don’t get the summer off!

IMG_0136

For all of you new teachers or pre-service teachers, let’s hope you aren’t joining the profession for June, July, and August. I will give you a little insight into this teacher’s plans for summer. A little backstory here, I have taught off and on since 1995 and my background is in the social sciences. I was hired this past school year to teach theology, religion, college and careers, and mobile computer science principals (MCSP).

Every content area was new to me, the building and staff were new, and the culture/traditions were new. Needless to say, it has been just like being a new teacher again.

At my school we have finals next week and the school year officially ends May 28th. Woo Hoo! Schools out for summer……. Not really.

I have already been researching and planning differently for next year. One of the online summer courses I’m taking is already running with assignments due NEXT WEEK! I also have a six week online course to help me prepare for the mobile computer science principals class. There goes 1/2 of June and all of July. If that isn’t enough, I will spend another four weeks online from the last week of July until mid August. So that’s six credits over the summer and I will get a stipend instead of credits for MCSP.

What time is left? Time for moving my family to the area, setting up accounts, and maybe a day or two at a water park. I’m not complaining either, I just want people (especially people outside of education) to know that all summer is NOT a huge vacation in the life of a teacher!

What Would Happen if the Lights Went Out?

What would happen to society if all our electronic devices failed? I’m not talking about just for a few hours or days but what if it was months or years? What if our electronic infrastructure was attacked, or began to fail as rapidly as it arose? No, I’m not a defeatist or a doomsayer. I genuinely wonder what would happen?

A single candle burning in the darkness

Without Electricity

 

I’ve talked to more than a few teachers recently who have used this argument as justification for supporting the argument that kids need to know some basic information in areas like history, English, math, and science? What happens if we throw out the textbooks and we put our faith in web based or cloud based materials?

I think that these are reasonable questions and I confess that I don’t have a good answer to them. I also remember an old saying, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

TWITTER STRUGLES

I’ve been trying to get people to join in a new Twitter chat that I started a few weeks ago and I have heard all kinds of excuses.

“I don’t tweet.”
“But, it’s the best free professional development  around.”
“That’s nice, but I’m okay with that.”

Here’s another, “You want to get together and talk, let’s pick a night and do that instead of banging some keys and staring at screens.”

And another, “here comes that techno geek who doesn’t even know what’s going on in the world.”

TECHNOLOGY ISSUES

Because I use technology to try and become a better teacher and person, I have to put up with quite a few snide remarks from colleagues that have it all figured out. Sometimes I wish I had it all figured out. Sometimes I wish I had no knowledge of the impact that technology can have on teaching, learning, and connecting myself and my students to a global audience.

I have even been told to just be myself, to forget  what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. Quit reading “Teach Like a Pirate.” Quit reading blog posts. Quit Tweeting, Googleing, and all that social media stuff. Just quit trying to be someone you’re not.

The thing is, I’m not trying to be someone else, I’m trying to become a better teacher and person by learning from others successes and failures. And I’m trying to transcend mediocrity. I feel that if I’m not learning then I’m not improving. If I’m not engaged with what’s happening in the field of education then I will have to work harder to catch up in a few years.

PEDAGOGY

What would happen if I just closed my classroom door, assigned textbook readings, lectured, and then threw in a quiz here and a test there? What if I closed my classroom door and did whatever I wanted because, “unless parents or students are complaining you can do whatever you want.”

What if I bought into the philosophy that I’m going to do what’s best for me because the students and parents are ungrateful toward teachers and I don’t get paid enough to put up with this crap?

Would anyone really care as long as I kept out of their hair and didn’t ruffle any feathers?<p/>

I would care.

What would we do if the lights went out?

We Have to Stop Pretending…#MakeSchoolDifferent

Inspired by Scott Mcleod’s challenge at http://DangerouslyIrrevelant.org and Tom Whitby’s http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com  Scott originally challenged 5 educators to enter 5 ways that we can #MakeSchoolDifferent and the blogs were to be posted on twitter using the hashtag #MakeSchoolDifferent challenging five more educators to offer their contributions. I will enter my own contributions to the conversation.

makeschooldifferent21

We have to stop pretending…..

1. That practicing short term memory skills equates to long-term learning gains. If it is not important to a student, then it will not be remembered for long. You are only fooling yourself if you believe that these skills are important in today’s world.

2. That content is important. Being king of your content is nice, but if you are familiar with the content you teach then you can lead others to sources of rich content that can be mulled over, chewed on, and reshaped to form a learning experience for students versus a teacher controlled information dump.

3. That grades matter. The marks I received in school at any level do not make me who I am. I naturally do “old school” well, but I push myself to not care about the grade. I want my kids as well as myself to be in an always beta mode. Always learning, always curious, always pushing the boundaries of new experiences and new technology.

4. That traditional brick and mortar schools are better than other forms of learning. Blended courses, online courses, YouTube, Apps can all contribute to effective learning. Kids want to hear and see things that are authentic and relevant to their lives. They don’t want to waste time learning something that they may need sometime in the future, because the future is changing too rapidly.

5. That all students are the same. We are on the cusp of personalizing education for students and we should all be moving in the direction of learning how to make that happen, make it real, and improve it to the point that it is useable for all.

I am challenging the following educators to add their voice to the conversation #MakeSchoolDifferent:

1. Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy

2. Paul Solarz @PaulSolarz

3. Shannon M. Miller @shannonmmiller

4. Jake Duncan @jkdncn

5. Joy Kirr @JoyKirr