Monday, August 11, 2014

Qualitative Data in the Classroom

Like most teachers, I don't have much time to care about standardized test results. Like I'm pretty sure they're killing education and making it harder for teachers to do what is best for kids in their classrooms.

Okay, I'm more than pretty sure about that assessment - I know that to be true.

But this isn't a rant about standardized testing. Or about quantitative data in education.

I know that there are a lot of educators out there who are pushing hard to try to redefine what a school is and can be, or what a classroom is and can be. That's one of the biggest reasons I'm on Twitter: to steal ideas and inspiration from these people.

But as we make changes that we believe are in the best interests of our students, quantifying why things are better for our students can get tough.

I know that as I've embarked on my personal journey to redefine what a history classroom is, I've run into this quantification problem. If pressed, how could I prove that what my students are doing in my class is better now - as I bumble my way towards this goal of a better history class - than what I was doing before?

Because I can promise you that if my kids had to take standardized tests - or tests of any kind for that matter - they'd do far worse than they would have done a couple years ago. (I say somewhat proudly.)

So as we work to redefine what a classroom and a school can be, what are we to hang our hats on? What can we point to as a sign that what we're doing is working?

I can speak about grades (they've gone up - far fewer Fs, and a higher percent of students are getting a C or higher) and behavior issues (they've gone way down) but what else can I point to?

I believe that my students collaborate better. How do I prove that? I know my class FEELS nicer too. But how to I quantify that? I know my kids better. I get to talk to every kid every day. I think my kids are happier in my class. How do I show that is true?

Should I even care about quantifying this stuff? I'm not even sure. I think it’s important to do that though - to show that what I’m trying is working.

But as I've thought about this issue more and more - non-test data from my classroom - the more I realize I don't know. That's why I'm really looking forward to this week's #caedchat: I think I'll leave with a lot of ideas for what I can be on the lookout for this year.

So I can better understand how my classroom has changed. So I can assuage students and parents that aren't always comfortable with different.

Thanks in advance for the ideas. Hope to see you at #caedchat on Sunday at 8pm PST.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

#cuerockstar Reflection: Gratitude

As I drove home from #cuerockstar Manhattan Beach on Thursday, a few thoughts started percolating around in my head. Nothing like a 7.5 hour drive to do that...

Two years ago, I applied for a National Endowment for the Humanities trip to South Africa. I would have spent several weeks in South Africa learning and studying. I considered myself a good bet for the program. I teach a six week South Africa unit - classroom application for my work in the program - and I served in the Peace Corps in Namibia, so Southern Africa is near and dear to my heart.

Well, so much for that: I didn't get in.

And it was the best thing that could have happened.

Instead, I spent the summer edtech nerding. I went to the national flipped learning conference in Chicago. I went to #cuerockstar at Minarets High School. This blog was born two summers ago.

My introduction into edtech actually happened the summer before that, the summer of 2011. This was the year I did the MERIT program at Foothill College. MERIT gave me some ideas and was the beginning of my edtech journey; it was my toe into the water. However, I was in over my head at MERIT: I had too much to learn. It was in the summer of 2012 - after I had spent a year tinkering ni my classroom and learning - that I took the next steps and really sent my classroom and my learning into overdrive, into a place that is always evolving and changing.

And as I was flying up I-5 in the Thursday dusk, it struck me how much had changed in two short years. I had the honor of attending a myriad of awesome PD opportunities this summer. I even was able to present/facilitate at a few. Two years ago, I never would have guessed that this might be the case.

As I was thinking about this, I was also struck by how important a few people had been on my journey these past couple years. Clearly there have been a lot of really crucial people over these last two years - many names could get mentioned. But three stand out as being crucially important.

Diane Main has been my lead cheerleader and encourager from day one. Diane was the assistant director of MERIT when I did the program in 2011. I've had the privilege of serving on the MERIT faculty under Diane's direction the last two summers and have had a blast being part of that process. She is the person who encouraged me to go to my first edcamp and who told me I should get involved organizing edcampSFBay. She pushed me to attend events and do things that I wouldn't have been comfortable doing. More than anyone else, Diane is the reason my students do the weird things they do in class and the reason I've spent an exhilarating summer kind of conference hopping across North America and seeing awesome educators I'm lucky to call friends.

In addition to Diane's influence, I received some crucial encouragement in the summer of 2012 at the end of #cuerockstar. I really looked up to the folks that presented that summer at Minarets. (I still do. And I feel lucky to call many of them friends now.) However, at the end of the conference, Jon Corippo and Lisa Highfill both reached out and said some incredibly kind things.

Yeah, I've changed my Twitter handle since then :)

My mind had been scrambled by three great days of learning at Minarets. To have two people of Lisa and Jon's caliber reach out to me boosted my confidence in my ideas and my practice immensely. Like so many teachers, I felt like I had nothing to share with members of my PLN. To get that encouragement from Jon and Lisa meant the world to me.

I'd love for there to be some sort of smooth transition here, a way to connect an explanation of an immense chunk of gratitude to Diane, Lisa, and Jon to my concluding thoughts. However, I'm not sure there is. So I'll just get to the conclusion.

Who were the crucial people at moments where you made great change in your practice? Do they know the impact they made? Maybe equally importantly, who are you helping to grow? Who are you helping to stretch their wings?