How To Add The Amens

This page, photographed from the Trinity Hymnal, struck me as funny when I first saw it, then eventually I thought it was sad. Since then I have rested on this page as a reminder. Someone thought adding Amen to the end of every hymn was good, and that it needed to be done well, so they did research and found best practices on how to add amens. This page reminds me that there is always going to be a tension between pure creativity and pure, structured, research based, strategies. To hold this paradox we need occupy, at times, both worlds. The option that strikes me as least interesting and effective is ignoring both ends of the paradox and trying to walk the middle. 

PeteSearch: What the Sumerians can teach us about data

Please read the post linked and think about the data we collect on students.
How can we make grading a more neutral act?
How do we convince others that they do not have the power or should not have the power?
How is the data I collect corrupting me?
How is the data our schools collect corrupting them, and in the process making them less valuable?
How do we be more open that all data collected has it base in subjective humanity?
Do we regularly look over the data we collect and try to find where it is giving us bogus information?
(Via Nat Torkington )

Experiential Exam Question

Today a question on the exam in my class was experiential. The best part of this question was when a student called me over after the lab and asked if when he was done with the exam he could try a few more scenarios to make his results better. I have to give an exam. I love that for at least one student the exam itself inspired new questions about this amazing world.

Using Google Docs in 3rd Grade: A Road Map To Curriculum Mapping

I love this post and it reminded me to put in print some thoughts that have been floating around in my head. To me this post is what curriculum reporting and mapping must look like in 2011. It is an example on two levels. First, Jeff's post is reporting. He has gathered curricular data, commented on it and published it for any interested party to see. Second, and perhaps most important, the teacher by having class has produced both a map of her curriculum and a transparent ability to see what is happening. All this and the map and transparency were done by the students.

I have done a lot of work over the years in the name of curriculum. Some of it has remained unused by anyone. For years my map was a list of topics with chapters and investigations hand written on one sheet of paper. I feel like in 2011 our curriculum maps need to be open, transparent, available, flexible, and living. Most importantly they need to seem useful to all participants: students, teachers, administrators, parents, politicians and the public.

Physics Teaching Lessons From The Band Director

Part of my tech role is to be a coach for the other teachers in the building. Today I had a meeting with the band director. I learn a lot about good teaching when I talk with people from the arts. I asked him what kinds of questions a students would use to reflect on a piece of recorded music that the students might put into their digital portfolio. Here was the list:

  1. What do I think I am adding to this piece of music?
  2. What is my unique contribution to this piece of music?
  3. Who informed my contribution and how do I compare to that?
  4. What are my artistic influences?
  5. How does this recording make me a more confident artist?

I would like the product of everything I teach in physics to have the same questions at the end. What is my contribution? Who informed my contribution? How was I influenced in the making of this contribution? How am I different today than before this project? I need to think when I design a physics lesson or unit, will the students be able to answer these kinds of questions when they are done with the unit.


All year I have struggled with presentations not being up to the quality I would like them. They hit all the requirements, but zip and originality were uncommon. They have been slowly improving. Today in a meeting another teacher described taking a day with her students and instead of telling them what their presentations should look like asking them what they wanted to see. Genius. Why didn't anyone tell me before now?

Bots For Cows

This week our school is raising Money for Heifer International. I am not sure how this goes in other schools but when student council has a fundraiser for an organization you collect money in your first hour class and turn that money in at the end of the week. Then the student council takes the dollars raised by your class and divides by the number of students and that first hour class gets breakfast. In seventeen years of teaching my first hour class has never won. The main reason for that is that for about ten years the idea of competition for fund raising repulsed me. I am less hoity toity now, so game on.

When we got the email about the fund raiser I forwarded it to my students with an email saying, we are going to win this. I had no plan. I Wednesday I asked the Holy Spirit into our class here is the result.

Right now we are building simple bots in class. This is inquiry for our DC Circuit unit. As I have been trying standards based grading this year I have looked for ways for students to totally control demonstrations of learning. So the simple bot project has them build a bot, and demonstrate with modifications to the bot any standards that they feel they know but have not gotten credit for. I like quite a bit how this final challenge of a unit has works out.

Wednesday when I looked around and asked the students how we could fund raise, the conversation led to auctioning off our bots to buy cows for people that need them. Here is the very quick Google site that my students put together to show off what they have learned and what their bots can do. Watch the movies, there is at least one funny one. Suggested donation is $100. If you want to give more or less add a comment to the page and I or a student will contact you. The bots are in some sense worth $3. But the learning and excitement in first hour has been priceless. It has been some of the funnest conversations of the year. And the worst thing that could happen is my kids have been excited about the donating and have given deeply out of their own pockets.

Are we educating for now or later?

I have read two articles in the last 24 hours that ask the same question, I think from possible completely unrelated sources. Read them both.

To me these article articulate so clearly a question I have struggled to put words to. What is the best education? Does it prepare kids for now with standards written by older people who know what made them successful or does it prepare them for the future that has unknowable standards other than it will be filled with creative, broken, and communal people?

A theologian I follow was evidently a Teach For America participant. I did not know this. He was at their 20th Anniversary Conference and picked this quote out of the opening session from Wendy Kopp,
In aggregate, we have not seen a meaningful closure of the achievement gap. Where a child is born still very accurately predicts whether she’ll ever have a shot at college…there are still whole neighborhoods that put more students in prison than college.
Perhaps we need to rethink what we are educating for?

Each student, in fact everyone we meet, has some unique piece of the image of God in them, that will be lost until time ends if it is not brought out. As a teacher I help students explore what that piece might be and express that to the world. I think this is educating for the future.

I have to admit that when face with a room full of student who are not getting some concept the first instinct is to make it more basic. Instead perhaps we need to make it more life like, more of an exploration, more likely to reveal the unique people in our classrooms. This is messy, but so is life.