Really? More Test Scores? Is That All There Is?

I attended the Model Schools Conference two weeks ago. It was quite a gathering and there were a lot of challenging and inspirational speeches. The sessions are led by one of four groups of people, Model Schools Consultants, school employees of found model schools, school employees of created model schools, and corporate conference sponsors (these were noted in the program).  

The conference impressed me in a lot of ways. Presentations across the days and topics had very similar formats. It was obvious to me that behind the scenes all presenters had been given tips and tricks and encouraged to follow them. Presentations started with objectives. Many worked off the same template, even if they were not a consultant. Presenters referred to research, although they could have cited it more often. Finally, and to me most noticeably, presenters gave evidence of success. 

The success is what made me scratch my head. It was test scores. A few places here and there were stories, but the exciting results were better test scores. If education reform is going to succeed at anything but standardized students it needs to figure out a way to simply present success without showing test scores. If that is all we show off computers will replaces teachers completely. 

Teachers are important. Caring people do a better job of bringing out the individual strengths of others than bland technology. Relationships welcome new members into the club of readers and writers and physicists better than any computer can. Interested people bring out the strengths in others quicker and better than disinterested technology. 

If we want education to look truly different, which many of the people at Model Schools did, we have to stop reporting results in the currency of old schools education: test scores.

Can you really become fluent in something you do not want to be fluent in?

One theme of the model schools conference this year was the uptake of schools on game based learning. Their definition of game based learning is drill and kill made fun. I think the exact quote is, "Games make repetition and volume fun." There are other definitions of game based learning that I am more excited about, but I became much more impressed with the underlying ideas as the conference went on.

Two advantages of computer based games really caught my attention. Return to areas of safety and detecting the use of working memory for basic facts.

Back when I first played video games, which I do not do hardly ever anymore, when your lives were up you set back to zero. That is not the case anymore. Good games take you back to your spot of safety, the place that you can confidently conquer. One of the reasons I gave up on games was the infinite boredom of reconquering levels. 

The argument in education goes like this. If a teacher knows you do not have your multiplication facts down you get a worksheet with all of them. A computer only gives you the ones you need and enough others that you have success and stay interested. This makes for more targeted and more efficient use of student time, something I am in favor of. 

The speaker also went on to say that based on time to answer games could make decisions about whether or not a student was using working memory or long term memory to solve a problem, long term memory being the goal. If a student is pulling necessary information, like a math fact, our of long term memory then they are fluent and can solve more complicated problems. If we know this has happened we can stop wasting their time with practice they do not need. This is a good thing.

I wonder if, when a student wants to overcome a barrier, a teacher could hand them the right game based tool to really advance their fluency in an area. The argument goes that this frees the teacher to focus on making the classroom more rigorous and relevant and it also frees the student from tons of monotony and exchanges it for focused targeted learning. 

More time on the not boring stuff seems good to me, and if a teacher can increase the amount of relationship in their class because basic skills are effectively and efficiently taught, that also seems good to me. What seems bad is the likely unthinking application of these tools upon kids that have not found the hook to learning a skill yet. Then it will be just as boring at the fortieth game of Pac Man, or in today's case Fruit Ninja.

Getting the student to want to be fluent seems to be the big hurdle to using the tools well.

Measuring the creative use of laptops in the classrooms.

On Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 5:39 PM, Nancy wrote:
Jim, we are working as a big committee on measuring out digital classroom initiative and
whether or not it is going well.  One of the things we want to
measure and create a metric for is creativity and creative expression.
 You mentioned at our most recent meeting that you have ideas
regarding this already.  Are you willing to share any?  So far we
thought a good way to keep track of what is being accomplished is to
archive via a digital portfolio.  I saw a great tool for this that
works with Moodle called Mahara, or maybe it was Mahoodle....or even
both.  Right now we are using Google Docs/drive.
If you are willing to share a paragraph about how you might measure or
have a metric to show the increase of creativity because of computers,
that would be great.



Good to hear from you. I hope your summer is going well. I have little systematic in place yet. It was always my dream, but there were never resources to give a creativity test of some kind. A commonly used test is the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. I do wonder if it would be easy enough to make your own test that you interpret. You could even administer a fairly simple question to every student twice a year: for two minutes write down all the things that you could do with a brick that a brick was not meant to do. Change the noun every time, or every three years so no one middle school student gets a repeat, or every test so the first month of sixth grade is always a brick. Tag the posts with their grade and graduation year, and allow anyone to make judgements about improved creativity by sorting through the posts. I wonder a little about the power of just collecting the data and allowing the interested parties to make their own conclusions about the data. 

I think that an ePortfolio of work collected by teachers over the years will show the gains you are looking for. We set this up as a group blog that everyone has the ability to write posts for. We use our own internal blog server, but you could use Blogger or Posterous as well. Posterous would be best, but I am not sure what the future of it is as a long term storage place. 

I have looked into Maraha and have not yet had the technical knowledge to make it happen. One thing that has helped me when thinking about ePortfolios is realizing that each student and teacher will be involved in several and there might be more than one best place for all these. For this creative piece you want a portfolio put together by teachers for the three to five lessons a year that they thought produced the best creativity. You then want them to post the assignment, a range of example product without names (making sure that a low and a middle response are included along with several high examples) and some reflective work by the teacher on why they thought these things. Over time you should see the creativity of the assignments go up and the responses, two things you can track qualitatively. In the first part of the answer to this I suggested a student contributed portfolio. Both portfolios have district rather than classroom or personal goals. It will be important in either case to admit that upfront.

What do you think? What would be convincing to your committee? Do they want the comfort of numbers that will always be an incomplete picture or are they OK with the messiness of subjective data?


What do you do for advanced Moodle users in PD?

On Wed, May 16, 2012 at 4:26 PM, Frank
Any suggestions for pd homework so my Moodle high flyers don't get bored?

This is a great question. I have a few quick options off the top of my head. 
  1. Explore the MoodleNews blog there are tons of little articles about the cool features of Moodle there.
  2. Explore features in the Moodle Documentation that are advanced but cool. I would recommend starting with GlossaryWorkshopConditionalSocial Topics Course FormatChoices, and Wiki. Also the Moodle Documentation pages on philosophy and pedagogy are great reading and help you start to understand not only Moodle, but how technology can changes teaching and learning. I put this list from the pedagogy page in front of my staff every year. I ask them to reflect on where they were and where they are now and where they would like to go. I wish I had them write down those reflection every year, it would have been a powerful assessment of the program.
  3. Around The Corner is another good blog with a lot about Moodle. Explore.
  4. Another challenge I give teachers at workshops is to think how it would change their assignments if student had to post the answers in a public forum. This starts to get at the changes we would like to see in student work where they have to write responses to our creative prompts that are unique to them. 
  5. I am not sure I would teach this again, but it is compelling for some teachers. Have them look over the quiz question import tools and experiment with importing questions. Better yet, have them prepare a presentation on importing questions and share it with the faculty.
I hope some of this helps. Moodle has been invaluable in our transition to a digital environment. 

"Beauty does not linger, it only visits"

"Beauty does not linger, it only visits." From Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (rediscovering the true sources of compassion, serenity, and hope) by John O'Donohue.

How much energy is wasted trying to make permanent something that is ruined by permanence? 

The beauty of teaching is in the moment where a student is changed, truly changed for life. Much is written about making students more engaged and certainly an engaged student is better off than one that is not. It is truly impossible to teach a student that is drunk or high or otherwise impossible somewhere else while still being in your room. That said the beauty will still be in the moments, not in the day to day. The better we do the day to day the more likely the moments are to come, but by their very nature these moments do not linger.

Zapd Steals The Day At The iPad Training

I recently gave an iPad training for a school that has teachers with iPads. One of the tools I showed them was zapd, an iPhone app, that creates simple web sites. To this group of teacher, some of whom are relatively new to iOS, this was a really fun and interesting app for them to play with. In the interest of using he tools, I created my presentation for the morning using zapd. It served as a great holding place for links, pictures that went with stories and text boxes with assignments. 

How do I use one iPad in a classroom?

On Thu, Mar 22, 2012 at 10:19 AM, Steve wrote:

Hi Jim,

I have a teacher here at Byron that would like to control his Mac with his iPad so he can walk around the room. I don't remember the apps/setup to do this. Was this the same app that allowed the iPad to be a web server too? Or was that a different app?



Here is our list:

  • Most success, easiest setup, cheapest, but does not control the computer: AirSketch.
  • More expensive, controls (but not a lot of teachers use that part), has awesome presentation mode: Doceri.
  • Like Doceri and very promising, but for us has been buggy: Splashtop. This was also the one I heard about the most at MACUL.
  • True control but no integrated presenter mode: MobileMouse.
  • Interesting with an iPad 2 or 3 and an Apple TV: Skitch. I have used Skitch on my mac with a Bluetooth tablet as my sole presenting tool for years. With AirPlay it could be awesome.

My dad asked me about Kahn Academy.

On Sun, Mar 11, 2012 at 8:49 PM, Dad wrote:
We saw a segment on 60 Minutes on Khan Academy.  It's an organization that puts teaching segments on the internet for anyone to use.  They are on all kinds of subjects.  It could be something to look into especially with your unhappiness with textbooks.

I have used some of his videos in class for review and the like. I struggle sometimes with what the role of a teacher is in the new world that is unfolding before us. I also wonder what the difference between Kahn and a textbook is. All the same stuff is in a textbook, but if you are not motivated to learn and express your learning you won't. Here is an excellent blog article on the Kahn Academy that has a lot of links to articles critical not of the videos but of how they are likely to be used and all the attention he is getting. Frank is a excellent physics teacher.

If you want an interesting read that goes much deeper into the education issues that Kahn Academy brings up I would encourage you to check out this free eBook called Stop Stealing Dreams [PDF]. There are other versions for downloading and printing. It is an easy to read summary of why Kahn Academy is just the last of the old way of schooling while still being an important but tiny piece of the future of education as well.

Ideas for short tech PD, then give teachers time to brainstorm and explore.

On Sat, Mar 10, 2012 at 11:21 AM, Mike wrote:
Hi Jim,
I sat in on your session at MACUL and it was a good start to the
convention for me.  I tried to avoid the "how to use this tech tool"
sessions and I wanted to get beneath the surface a little more.  Your
talk gave me some things to explore and will help with planning.  I
like the idea of the 15 minute sessions each week with staff.  Can you
send me three or four topics that you recently used in those sessions?
 I'd like to give it a try in my district before the end of the year.
(Better late than never!)

Good to hear from you. If I can be of any other assistance please tell me. To answer you question about Tech Tips and Treats, here is my list straight out of my notes. We have moved to more of an every other week schedule this year. We also do celebrations of awesome student work. 

Full Tips
DONE - socrative
DONE - New/Updated blocks, including the drag and drop upload and comment block.
New conditional assignment options.
Moodle 2.2 Workshop Module: all the same goodness with more stability.
Moodle Blogs
Moodle Wiki.
The lesson module.
Download all assignments.
DONE - New Google Presentation 
DONE - New Power Teacher
PowerTeacher App
Google Doc Templates
New Features in Google Forms
New rubric feature in Moodle
Google Drawings

Short Tips To Add Into Others
Activity cloning
email with a +
click on name on side of email to get details

I also picked up a few at MACUL12
Jetjaw like poll everywhere but cooler
Wufoo. Like google forms but easier
Gosoapbox google moderator on steroids.
CollabraCam app
Action Movie
Green Screen FX
Coaches Eye
Voice thread has an app

Presentation: Creating A Culture Of Learning

Today I did a presentation entitled Creating A Culture Of Learning. The slides should be posted below. I thought it went well. If you look at the slides you find that I tried to set up a situation where I grounded some of our initiatives in a theory I am working through called conditions of the 21st century. I hate the buzzword, but I think there are some things that are different and am trying to base some of the things that we have found successful in the changing landscape to the world. I will gladly talk to anyone about the presentation, leave a comment.

If you were at the presentation and have not already please leave me some feedback, either in the comments here or in the form. Also, if you were there I gathered a lot of other ideas about conditions of the 21st century from you and the link timed out and I lost them, so if you remember yours add it to the comments here. Thanks a ton.

There are a lot of links in the presentation and I think that maintains those.