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Flip a Coin

I heard two interesting statements today around teaching, learning, and assessment.

Statement 1:  If a teacher does not have 80% of his/her students at or above goal then they are not teaching.

Statement 2: When looking at test scores look at the teacher who has the lowest and you’ll see who had the most challenging class.

I have some definite thoughts on both these.  Personally, I find them both to be false.  Neither is based on anything that proves or disproves whether a teacher was teaching or had a difficult class.  I would love to hear what you think! 



Last summer I came across this activity on Twitter called ‘The Smarties Game’.

  1. Each person gets a roll of Smarties.
  2. Display the color code so that everyone can see what is required of each color.
  3. Participants find a partner and talk to them, using the color code as a guide.  
  4. Each participant shares and eats their Smarties as they go their separate ways to meet a new partner.
  5. Participant/student repeats with a new partner.
For example, I would get up and find a partner.  If I pulled out an orange Smarties I would tell my partner about a time that I tried something new.  My partner would then tell me something about him/herself based on the colored Smarties s/he pulls out.  We then eat our Smarties as we leave each other to find a new partner and repeat with the next color we pull out.  
Although a game I typically use with adults and adolescents to establish connections and build community, today I played this game with my third graders.  To kick off our integrated unit on Animal Adaptations we read from The Great Kapok Tree, Rain Forest posters, and a brief article about the Rain Forest.  After reading the article the children mingled, via Smarties, to share facts from the article.  The color Smarties on top determined how many facts to share.  They had to share with at least three people.  I really enjoyed using this game in this way with my students for a few reasons.
  • it held them accountable for the reading they were to do
  • it required they talk to a variety of people including some they may not typically talk with
  • it helped them process the information in multiple ways: reading, hearing, and speaking
  • I can use this as a baseline activity to do again with more complex thinking
  • they had fun
I’ve ‘played’ this game with Smarties, Starburst, M&Ms, and cubes.  
Each helps you reach the same goal. 

Maybe You Can Relate

I’ve noticed over these past five years an expansion.  Not in my class size; this year’s class will be the smallest I’ve ever had.  Not in the amount of work I have to do…yet.  Nor have I noticed it in widening the circle of collaboration in public schools (things are still pretty top down). 

The expansion I’ve noticed is in my weight.  It could be because I’m aging. And as you know our metabolism decreases as our age increases.  It could be because my food intake doesn’t quite balance with my physical output.  There are a couple of other factors that could come into play as well like stress and time.  Whatever it is, inevitably every year I pack on another 10 – 15 pounds. Which isn’t good for my rather short frame. 

As teachers we have the tendency to put others ahead of ourselves.  We forget to eat and then become so hungry that we then over eat.  Or we cram as much food into our mouths during a 15 minute lunch. And then we wake up early and/or stay late to get things prepared for the day making it difficult to find time to exercise. 

Do we sabotage our health?  Are we making martyrs out of our bodies?  And if we are how does that benefit our end result of impacting the lives of children and ultimately impacting our global society?  My question to you is…How do you take yourself? How do you make sure that you are eating healthy?  How do you find time to exercise?  How do you balance / reconcile all of that with the stress and pressures of teaching?

More of the Same

While at a conference I had an opportunity to speak with an elementary educator who had just returned from teaching in Japan. I was fascinated by his experience and curious about the Japanese education system. There is a lot of rhetoric currently occurring around how to improve the American education system and in particular striving to be like Asian or European education systems. I found what this young educator had to say fascinating.

Let’s first clarify a common misconception. This is a common remark made when the comparison of test scores comes up, “Of course they are out-achieving us academically. We have to teach all children and they don’t. They don’t include the text scores of their students with special needs.” Based on this young educator’s experience, YES. All children are educated in Japan.

This clarification lead to how the Japanese education system is set up. My understanding was the following.

Japanese schools are rated. They are rated based upon which future institution their students attend. In America this would mean that high schools would be rated higher for their students attending ivy league schools like Yale than they would if their students attended a community college. High schools are not the only educational institutions rated. Middle level schools are rated based upon the high schools their students attend and elementary schools are rated on the middle level schools their students attend.

Japanese students partake in exit exams. When leaving any school to move onto the next one, the children take a test. This test determines which school they will go to. What this means for say a middle school child is this. A middle school child does exceptionally well on the test and because of this then attends the high school that is top rated. In other words, goes to the high school that will get them into Yale. The same is true form the elementary child who tests well. They will attend the middle school that will get them into the high school that will get them into Yale. Which means the reverse is also true.

Sound familiar? It should. Because it’s exactly what happens in the United States. High schools, private and public, publicize which colleges their students have been accepted to. And so they are ranked as a top achieving school because of this (or standardized test scores). Poverty stricken schools are often ranked as low achieving and this is in large part due to their students not passing the standardized tests, graduation rates, and college attendance.

Here’s my question. If our education system is already like the Japanese education system why are we striving to mimic it? Particularly since it’s apparently not working for us. Instead of chasing a dream that we are already living why aren’t we looking to do something completely different instead of more of the same?

Sound slightly familiar? It should because our education system is similar.

What Do We Really Need

As soon as I got on to the back roads approaching the conference I was attending today, I began to think about staying. Immediately, I could smell the sea air wafting in through my car AC and had to roll the windows down to get the full effect! And the quaintness of the town struck my heart.

Which got me thinking…what do we really need? As I fantasize about calling my husband and telling him to pack the cat & sell the house to meet me up here, I wonder…Is there anything else in my home that I would need? Not really. There is very little in my home that has sentimental value. Or that could not be replaced.

Imagine if we approached teaching in that way? Having only in our classrooms that which could not be replaced, regardless of how much it cost. What strategies would we rely on? How would our pedagogy then be defined?

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Could I Go Back?

About five years ago I began integrating technology into the classroom.  Each year I increased my integration, and this past year, my integration has exploded.  I have had a few stumbling blocks along the way and even more ‘aha’ moments.  As I continue to increasingly integrate technology, I had to stop and think a few weeks ago.  As I move towards eliminating paper in classroom what would happen if I had to decrease the amount of tech integration?  I just don’t know if I could go back in time.  A time when all children were expected to write with pencil and paper.  A time when all of my students could only express themselves in one way: on paper.  A time when multi-media just doesn’t exist.  A time where my students’ voice diminishes.  So, could I go back?  I don’t think so.  How about you?

Waiting for Superman

I am unsure of the controversy surrounding the film Waiting for Superman.  The heart of the movie’s message, the current public school system is broken, is what many of us think. 

Does that mean that I agree with everything in the film?  No.  It really bothered me that every school that the director included had the children sitting in rows and/or the teacher was lecturing at the front of the room.  The image of the teacher dumping knowledge into a child’s brain bothered me as well. 

Does that mean that I don’t have questions?  I do.  I wonder how much time is spent teaching to the test in these successful schools.  I wonder how they engage their students so that they do succeed.  I wonder what criteria made these schools be labeled successful. KIPP schools use music.  That is one fantastic way to reach and teach students. 

And if you pay close attention you can sift out what makes one school more successful than another.  I believe it was Bill Gates who had said it: culture.  What makes charter schools, private schools, and magnet schools appealing to students and families?  Culture. There is an agreed upon culture by the staff that works there.  They have an agreed upon set of educational values that everyone strives to work towards.  And whether or not you believe in the methods used in that school, I can tell you this.  When you walk into the school you can sense it.

I make it a point to visit at least one school a year.  I do this to see alternative teaching methods and strategies with the intention of incorporating them into my classroom.  If a school has a culture, you can sense it as soon as you walk in the door.  I have been in schools where I immediately knew that children were respected.  I could see it in how adults spoke to them, looked at them, worked with them.  I could see it in the way student work was displayed.  But more than that there is a positive energy in the building that washes over you.

This is what makes schools like KIPP and Ron Clark Academy a success.  Because the staff took the time to establish how they wanted their school to be, the children who attend there do well because they feel valued.