Monday, April 29, 2013

Regarding Homework...

Why do teachers give homework?

I was a middle school classroom teacher for the first eleven years of my teaching practice. The longer I taught, the less homework I assigned. That's not to say I didn't give students assignments--but they rarely had to do them at home. I'm curious about how teachers use homework, and what role it really plays in students' learning.

It seems to me that teachers generally assign homework because they feel some pressure to do so. They may put that pressure on themselves; they believe that assigning homework for their students will afford the practice they need to master certain content or skills. Others feel pressure from colleagues: "The other 6th grade teachers are assigning I guess I should too!" Others may feel pressure from parents who don't want their kids left behind somehow. Still others may feel pressure from their school or district; there may be school- or district-wide policies in place requiring a certain amount of homework at different grade levels.

The argument often goes that homework will improve achievement--that students will learn more if they have homework.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

PBS LearningMedia

Great online curriculum resource to share with you here: PBS LearningMedia.

A selection, just for examples: (with suggested grade levels)
And this is just the tip of the iceberg! There are thousands of video clips, interactives, games, and lesson plan ideas. You can search by keyword, or browse by grade level, subjects, standards, or collections to find just the right tool to support your students' learning.

You can check out a few items to see if it's the sort of thing you'd use, and then you are asked to create a free account if you want to use more. Totally worth it! (Plus, it's free!)

No matter what grade level or subject you teach, you're likely to find something here that you and your students will find interesting!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thinking about Thinking

The Thinker by Rodin
Those of you who read my blog regularly may have noticed by now that I often include statements like, "I've been thinking a lot lately about <insert topic here>..."

I didn't realize this at first--how often I use this phrase. But I occasionally go back and reread posts and I slowly came to realize that I must think a lot! (At least, my writing here seems to indicate it.)

And as I reflect on this, I really do. Think a lot, that is.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Problem with Averaging Grades

It is common practice for teachers to calculate grades for their students by "averaging." That is, teachers add up the points students have been assigned for their work, and divide by the number of points possible. Mathematically, that's what "averaging" is--computing the mean for a data set.

For example, imagine that a student received the following marks on assignments throughout the term:

92, 84, 87, 60, 88, 89

Calculating the mean (average) would entail adding up these numbers:

92 + 84 + 87 + 60 + 88 + 89 = 500

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Bucket-O-Points Approach to Grading

This year marks my 15th as an educator. Some things about my teaching practice have changed dramatically over that time; I'm the sort who continues to tinker and experiment with my classroom practice, because I'm sure I can get better. My thinking about the meaning and purpose of assessment has definitely shifted over these years. I've been thinking a lot about assessment lately, and I've been having conversations with colleagues about assessment for several years now. It boils down to the fact that I'm concerned with how letter grades are used.

When I started teaching, I was a junior high math and high school computer applications teacher. Being a "math guy," I was all about intricate calculations and statistical analysis of my students' grades. I had programmed a spreadsheet to do my calculations, weighting different categories, and even color coding so I would know at a glance what grades students were getting. ("A" = Green, "B" = Yellow, "C" = Orange, "D" or "F" = Red)

Looking back now, I call my approach then the "Bucket-O-Points" approach to grading.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Oh, Letter Grades...What Shall We Do With You?

The idea of assigning a letter as a means of measuring a student's learning is really kind of crazy if you think about it.

The trouble is, we don't usually think about it. We accept this as a "normal" part of school...because it's such a common practice, it feels normal, right?

But think for a moment about what that letter really represents. Think about report card grades: condensing a whole term's worth of learning into one symbol. Doesn't that strike you as a pretty outrageous reduction?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Rock Star Teachers

U2 Image by Wikipedia Brown CC BY 2.5

Okay, short rant here:

I really, really dislike the term "Rock Star Teachers." If you follow anything education-related on Twitter, you're sure to see this term pop up--and probably on a daily basis. And it rubs me the wrong way, every time. I can't even articulate exactly why it ruffles me so much...probably just because it sets some teachers up as the "big show" with all the lights and noise and paparazzi...with others waiting in the wings, the warm-up show, the ones not good enough to get top billing. Or not good enough to even get onstage.

All right, rant over. But I'm still thinking about this.

Maybe I don't like the term because I (selfishly) want people to describe me that way, and I worry that they won't. I want the adoring fans. I want to be Bono or the Edge...but I think I'm probably more like John and John from They Might be Giants...or more likely, the backup rhythm guitarist of a 4-chord cover band.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Royalty-free Music for School Projects

I've been thinking quite a lot this spring about how to teach students (and teachers!) copyright law as it applies to school. I'm concerned that many teachers don't know enough about copyright and how to model good practices for how to use materials and media appropriately. I've written before about finding good graphic resources that teachers and students can use for projects, but how about other media resources?

Thanks to my Twitterfriend, Sean Junkins (@sjunkins) for sharing this great resource for royalty-free music for school projects.

Royalty Free Music by Incompetech is provided by Kevin MacLeod, a musician who shares music he has written for free on his website. If you read through the FAQ on the page, he explains his philosophy for this sharing. He recognizes the need for high quality media--such as these songs--for students to use, but many schools simply don't have the resources to afford the high costs of licensing music properly according to copyright law. Since the costs for him are very low, he is willing to share this fantastic resource under a Creative Commons license--basically giving away the music for free so long as you credit him as the source. Pretty fantastic, isn't it? (Thanks, Kevin!)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Making Learning Meaningful

Image courtesy SparkCBC (CC BY-SA 2.0)
I went to a great session at the Iowa 1:1 Conference presented by Leigh Zeitz (professor at University of Northern Iowa) entitled "Making Learning Meaningful for Millennials." Lots of food for thought!

He started out by sharing some information about different generations and some generalities about the individuals in these different generations:
  • Gen X - 1963-1980 (Hey, that's me!)
  • Generation Y - 1981 - 1994 (The "Millennials"--my college students are here.)
  • Generation Z - 1995 - 2009 (Kids in PreK-12 today...)
  • Generation Alpha - Kids that have grown up since 2010 (Whoa...this is already a distinct group?)
He noted that he mis-titled this presentation, since he was really talking about Generation Z, not the true "Millenials." I wondered whether this was just a matter of splitting hairs, but the more we talked about this, the more I think he's right.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Teaching Through Technology

I spent the day today at the Iowa 1:1 Conference. Interesting to meet up with several hundred (maybe a thousand?) educators thinking about teaching through technology. I have a lot of thoughts rolling around in my head right now...especially about how a 1:1 program would work in Higher Ed.

One of my biggest questions is about how to teach the teachers for the realities of teaching through technology.

There's a great model for talking about teaching through technology--it gets at how teachers can and should think about this. It's abbreviated TPACK--which stands for Technology, Pedagogy, and Content Knowledge. As a teacher educator, I've been thinking a lot about the intersection of pedagogy (how to teach) and content knowledge (what to teach). And as a technophile and former Technology Coordinator, I've also thought a lot about technology in education. But this model looks at the coordination of all three of these. I'm thinking about this because I'm going to be teaching a masters-level course in Teaching and Learning with Technology this summer, and I'd like to use the TPACK model as a part of the class.