21 December 2011

new year, new job, new blog

2011 was quite a year for me. I was selected as Putnam City Schools teacher of the year and made it to the finals for state teacher of the year before I had to drop out of the competition. I dropped out because I took a job at the State Department of Education as the Science Director and that competition is run out of this office.

Boy, have I been missing the classroom! Fortunately, I still have some opportunities to teach and have been getting my fix of student interaction that way. These opportunities occurred at Southern Nazarene University, a small liberal-arts university, of which I am an alum.

About two months after I took the job of Science Director, SNU was awarded a Title III grant to open a new Online Learning Center. This center will coordinate all of the classes as they begin to be offered online. One component of the grant is the need to hire an Instructional Designer; a coach for faculty to enable them to get their course transitioned from face-to-face to an online format. When the grant was awarded, I thought, “Wow! That would be an awesome job!” However, I had only been at SDE and wasn’t sure about leaving so soon. I didn’t really know what the job was all about, but had an opportunity to visit with the grant facilitator and got some more information. I became much more interested.


First a little history, I already said I was alum, but I didn’t mention that my wife is a faculty member there. We are heavily vested in the University community through our work as mentors to students. We do this through volunteer work with Student Government and New Student Institute. Our work with SGA involves meeting with the (this year’s) Junior Class council and advising them on their leadership of the class. It’s definitely one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done (aside from entering the teaching profession). Additionally, we have just become the coach of the Mind Games Team, a quiz-bowl type event run by a local radio station.

Now back to the grant, I went ahead and applied for the position. I didn’t know if I even had a shot or not. All of my knowledge in technology is from practical application, not from my education. However, I AM starting a PhD in Instructional Technology in January. At least I’ll now be getting some theoretical knowledge, as well. I say I have experience in technology integration in the classroom. I have enough that I was named 2011′s Technology Teacher of the Year by the Oklahoma Technology Association. As I said, 2011 was quite a year.

To make a long story short, I’ve been offered the job of Instructional Designer at SNU and I have accepted it. I start work on the 6th of January. I absolutely cannot believe I’ll be working at dear old SNU! It’s a dream come true. For the last several years, my end vocational goal has been to teach full-time at SNU and I think this is a step in the right direction. I’m thankful and blessed beyond what you can believe.

09 November 2011

You want spoonfeeding? Sorry, no can do

I am really struggling to write here. When in the course of my jobs I write something that I feel is appropriate to post, I'll do so.

The following is a response to a student. I'll let you draw conclusions based on what I say (said).
You said "I understand that we are adults, but I am paying a hefty tuition for a professor to teach me." You will probably be sorely disappointed in this class if that is your expectation. I am a facilitator of learning and much of what you do and learn in this class will be a result of independent learning. As a teacher, I hope your other professors will do the same. Knowing the mission of professional studies as I do, that is the intent, although it doesn't always happen in actuality.

Education has changed significantly over the last 10 years. A major change has been that the impetus for learning has moved from the teacher to the student. This is true in MANY progressive universities and it's how I structured my classes in both the university and the high school. I've learned a lot of what I do from other, veteran professors here on campus, so I know you will run across these same strategies in other classes; some of those profs teach in this program.

That said, I recognize that the program is expensive. I just spent over $30k for a Master's. However, I didn't pay for a professor to teach me. I paid for convenience (1 night a week) and for a professor to know how to engage me in the learning process, whether through lecture or independent learning. My philosophy is that you get out of class what you put into it.

It is my job to bring all of my mental faculties to bear on the learning environment so that it is one that is conducive to students being engaged and learning However, it is your job to come prepared to class (which you clearly do) and do your best on each assignment and while you are participating in class. I say things like "You are college students and need to figure things that are not spelled out on your own" because that is what is expected of college graduates. You should be a critical thinker, a problem-solver, and an independent learner.

This week, I was asked to prepare an RFP for a vendor. Prior to that assignment, I had never heard of an RFP and didn't even know what the letters stood for. However, through a day of research and independent learning, I was able to learn not only what it was, but what was supposed to be included in one and I prepared a (very) rough draft. This was done much to the surprise of my boss. She didn't even expect that I would know what it was, no less be able to create one from scratch. I learned that skill through professors putting me into situations in which I had to think for myself. This is exactly one of the skills I am hoping to engage you in. Be sure to check the learning objectives again. No doubt you will see "critical thinking" listed.

This program is not about (at least it shouldn't be) "paying for a degree" or even "paying for a professor to teach you". It is about you engaging in the process of learning. Many students come to SNU thinking the professor should "spoon-feed" them the information, assign them an "A", and get them on to the next class. I refuse! I will point you in the right direction, facilitate learning to the best of my ability, award points where they are due, and PREPARE you for whatever challenge you meet next.

You guys know how these things go. Sometimes you've just got to get these things out of your head before you can move on.

23 September 2011

common core and frameworks

*this was sent to my science listserve and I've cross-posted here*

I've been doing a lot of thinking this week about the Next Generation Science Standards. I've had many emails from folks across the state full of questions about the revised PASS, the Common Core, and how those are related to what's going on in science (Next Generation Science Standards - NGSS). I also had a chance to work on the framework for the Oklahoma Physics Subject Area test. This test is what you take to be certified to teach Physics here in the Great State of Oklahoma. What a great learning experience! I learned so much that will help as we move towards the HUGE task of developing national science standards. It's overwhelming and exciting all at the same time. More on those standards later.

I've been working to get teachers informed about the status of science education here in Oklahoma and what the expectations are concerning standards. Here's an overview:

 -The Common Core Standards (CC) are only for Mathematics and English/Langauge Arts. The CC does not give any content concerning science. There are some literacy standards for interacting with science and tecnological texts, but those are not content standards. Those are standards for having students read and interact with the type of texts we encounter in the science disciplines. There's a ton of misinformation out there about Common Core, e.g. "the only science I have to teach is in the Common Core." Uh, wrongo! That's kinda like using the excuse of "well, they didn't say I had to pay for a refill, so I assumed I didn't need to." Just because it's called the Common Core doesn't mean it covers all the Core areas. (on a side note, I think the name has contributed to some of the confusion).

 -The PASS (specific to Oklahoma) have been revised and should be used when planning science lessons. It might be helpful to refer to the CC to make those critical connections to mathematics and literacy, but the only document that contains content for science is the PASS. The Pocket PASS for science is at the printer and should be ready to be mailed soon, so consider checking the website to order. We'll be on overload getting those out when they arrive, so please be patient! You can download a current version of the revised PASS for science from the website, as well. If you are reading this and you aren't an Oklahoma teacher, the PASS is an acronym for Priority Academic Student Skills. We used to have this for all content areas, but now ELA and Math are under the Common Core.

 -The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are in the process of development right now. When standards are developed, there must first be a framework to guide the standard writing process. This document has been written and can be found by going to http://www.nextgenscience.org. In 2009, the National Research Council brought together a panel of scientists and science educators. This makeup of this panel was split about in half between scientists and educators. The educator side of the panel had K-12 strongly represented. The panel wrote the framework and it will now guide the standard-writing process. I'll give you more information as I get it.

 I'll not bore you with the details, but the framework basically splits into 3 dimensions: Scientific and Engineering practices, Crosscutting concepts, and the disciplinary core ideas (including Physical, Life, Earth and Space, and Engineering and Technology).

Most of those are probably self-explanatory except the crosscutting concepts. These are the ideas that are not discipline specific and are not skills or practices. They are Patterns, Cause and Effect, Scale Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function, and (finally) Stability and Change. These 7 concepts can be applied to all of the scientific disciplines.

The framework includes a plan for integration between the 3 dimensions, a plan for implementation, a discussion of diversity and equity, and guidance for standards developers. They also included some rationale on what the assumptions were when writing the framework and reasoning behind the organization.

It's been about 15 years since we've had any kind of National Science Standards. The last version was done in 1996 by the National Research Council and included many of the aspects of what I imagine will be included in the Next Generation Science Standards. However, because the Common Core already exists for language arts and mathematics, the new science standards will be designed to articulate (or work with) the Common Core. The NGSS will include standards that fit together with grade-specific standards in mathematics. Once this is done, I expect that standards will all complement each other. I also expect when the Common Core is revised, they will make more explicit connections to the Science Standards.

Okay. I lied. I bored you the details. Here's the abbreviated version: the Framework will drive what is in the standards and the organization of them. It is not a standards document. It is the shell of the house around which the standards will be built.

So where does Oklahoma fit into this process, you ask? Well, we could sit idly by and let other states decide what we should be teaching or we can work toward getting into the Leadership Consortium of states and help write the standards. I'm kinda leaning toward the latter!

Achieve.org (the bi-partisan education reform organization) sent out a press release last week a list of the states that would be leading the standards development and Oklahoma was not listed. I'll take the heat on that one. I was not aware of the process to get us into the leadership consortium. However, the news isn't all bad. I'm now aware and in contact with Achieve to get this fixed. They still want us to be a part of the leadership (my predecessor worked really hard in this area) and we want to be a part.

I'm thrilled at the idea of helping construct this. Talk about something a person could be proud of and take ownership in! We are going to drive what the majority of students in the United States are studying in science! That's exciting!

In case you are wondering (and can't tell) I'm loving the new job. I miss my students, but I get to interact with my SNU students, so the sting isn't quite so bad. I miss my colleagues at PC High, but I love meeting new people here at OSDE as, well. There is so much transition going on, both here locally, and nationally in science education! It's a great feeling knowing (or at least hoping) that you are having an impact on what students are learning in the classroom and I still feel very much a part of that. I'm thankful and blessed beyond belief to be afforded the opportunities I've been given.


07 September 2011

earth's natural disasters

I'm so thankful I have the student contact during Earth's Natural Disasters. That class continues to be meaningful. We talk about Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Volcanoes, Floods, Wildfires, and Tornadoes. It's a bit scary when these kinds of events continue to happen regularly, especially when we are discussing them in class. 3 weeks ago we talked about earthquakes and there was a 5ish magnitude in Northern Virginia. 2 weeks ago our topic was hurricanes and Irene hit the Northeast. Last week we discussed wildfires and you have probably seen that Oklahoma City has been hit along with Texas, Arizona, and California. I think there have even been some in Oregon. It is one of those instances when you wonder if you are noticing the news more because you are teaching the class, or is there really some correlation to the topics discussed in class and the cause!

Either way, I love teaching the class and one of my favorite things students do is to reflect on their learning over the past week. One student did some great reflecting this week and I thought I might share her reflection and my response. Nothing groundbreaking, but I can't help sharing when I see that students are taking what they learn and applying it to everyday life.

Class was very interesting this week. The information about Yellowstone Park stood out the most. I have been talking and thinking about the devastation it would cause if the volcanoes there erupted. I have asked myself if I would try to escape to Canada or if I would stand still and let the first wave of destruction take me out? I haven’t answered that question yet.

The video we watched was useful in gaining a perspective about super volcanoes. I don’t think that I could have fathomed the mass destruction one would cause had it not been presented in that way. I had thought that Mt St Helen’s would be considered a super volcano because of the amount of damage it caused but the reality is that it does not compare.

I feel like I am learning a lot in this class about science which is causing me to observe nature more. My family and I took a 12 mile trip down the Missouri river a few weeks ago and I couldn’t help but examine the rocks and the layers of earth pondering what I have learned in class and attempting to guess the age of each layer. I’m sure that my family would have liked me to just row the raft and enjoy the trip more but I was totally fascinated by different colors and types.

 It is interesting to me how the scientists get their data. How do they know their methods are correct and what do they use to back up their findings? Carbon dating for instances, how do they know that something is as old as they say? Can they be absolutely positive that the rocks that they study are as old as they claim? I’m sure the answer is more complicated then I can understand but I would love the abridged version if there is one.

Here's my response:

What a great question. We need to discuss this in class and I'd be happy if you would raise the question when I give time for that.

Just in case you don't ask in class, the short is answer is this: Scientists don't know whether their methods are correct. At least they don't know any more than you can know whether or not your car will start in the morning. You go out, turn the key and expect it to start based solely on past experience and your faith in the person who built/maintains that vehicle. Science is very similar in that it relies heavily on past experience. We also make inferences in science using logic.

Take your rocks for example. How do you know the rocks on the bottom are older than the ones on the top? You have some knowledge of the Principle of Superposition, even though you've probably never heard it called that. Logic and past experience tell us that the layers that are below were "laid down" BEFORE the ones above. This is called superposition.

So I'll answer your question with another question. How do you KNOW that superposition holds true? Can you be absolutely POSITIVE that you are correct? To tie our classroom activities in to what we are talking about...I suspect there may be some checks left in your envelope. You'll never know the whole story. You just have to keep rolling the die and check that your hypothesis still fits the data. :-)

I hope this helps. I tried really hard to make that the abridged version!

This exchange shows why I love teaching science - We never know the entire story. We never know whether we are 100% correct. We only know what the data tells us (assuming we are listening) and we can only look for patterns once we have some experience. It's like having built-in job security. You can never know everything, because it is constantly changing. It is a dynamic system!

That's why science is better than fiction. In fictional writing, you can make up some wildly fantastic stories. But in science, you don't have to make it up. It is wildly fantastic while being utterly true and accurate!

21 August 2011

why students should go to college

Today we drove away from SNU (although only 1.5 miles down the road) and left our daughter on campus to begin her freshman year. During the month of August, I'm sure there are millions of other people doing the same thing some time this month. While I don't think my experience is any different than any other parent, I had some thoughts this morning and thought I might share them with you.

In 1949, Charlie Edgar Jones, Jr. was born. He grew up in the Amber-Pocassett community of Oklahoma and graduated from the high school there in 1967. He never missed a day of school and even drove one of the school buses while in high school. (Can you imagine if we had high school students driving buses in this day and age?) Shortly thereafter, he entered the Marine Corps and went to Vietnam as a mechanic on the A-4.

I suspect (I've never asked) that he took a few college classes from time to time while he was in the military. Once he left the Marines,  he and his wife Linda went back to Oklahoma with their 2 year old daughter, Michelle (who is now my wife). I'm not sure when, but at some point he made a decision that has affected my family's life (and mine) in a really significant way: he decided to go to college. Dad was the first in his family to do so. He finished his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (without an undergraduate degree*) in 1980. He continued his education by doing a Master's of Public Health at the University of Houston, after re-entering the military, this time the Army, as a veterinarian.

I've never asked if he knew during high school that he would go to college, but I know that he believes in the power of education. Michelle and I married young and both dropped out of college when the strain of a new baby (or two) came quickly in our lives. Dad (I'm sure) was disappointed that we weren't continuing our education. I remember him asking me (as I was leaving for the Army) "Don't you just want to go back to school? We'll do whatever we can to help." I continued to resist, thinking I was taking the right path in my life at the time.

If you've read this blog for long, you know the rest of this story: Michelle finished her undergraduate in 2000 and then quickly a Master's in Education in 2002. I went back in '04 for my undergraduate and just completed my Master's this past May.

This morning, we spent our Sunday not in church, but in the dedication service at New Student Institute. We were there not as faculty mentors, but as parents. We were dropping our daughter, Jessica, off for the beginning of a new chapter in her life. During this service, Dr. Gresham asked all of the students who are the first in their family to attend college to stand and be recognized. I've never attended Oklahoma State, so I have no idea if they have anything like this for new students, but I wonder if Dad knew the powerful impact this would have on his family when he began his studies there back in 1974?

Over the past several days, I've been talking with people about beginning to work on a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) plan for the State of Oklahoma. One of the things we have discussed is that not every one needs to go to college. There is some sentiment that we do students a dis-service when we expect every single one of them to go. I wonder if people, back in high school thought Dad was one of those people who needed to stay in town and work in a blue-collar job? I wonder what it was that got him interested in the science of animals? I wonder what teacher first lit the fire to inspire him to go beyond what the "normal" expectation was?

As a result of his decision, all three of Dad's children and each of their spouses have an undergraduate degree and half have Master's degrees. The first of his grandchildren is starting college this weekend and I imagine the expectation for the rest of the grandchildren is that they would attend college and pursue a vocation which requires at least a bachelor's degree.

We have no idea what Jessica is going to do in college. What we do know is that she would have been much less likely to be attending school if her grandfather had not made that decision to work on his education beyond high school. When you reach for excellence in all things, you have no idea what effect you will have on those that come after you.

This reminds me of one of my favorite Isaac Newton quotes: "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants." Thanks Papa Charlie for allowing us and now Jess, to stand on your shoulders; we can definitely see further.

*While I'm not sure if they still allow it, back in the 70s, at OSU you could go to Vet School before you finished your undergraduate degree. Students started a pre-Vet degree and then could be accepted to Vet School before graduating. At graduation, you actually got both your undergraduate and D.V.M. degree.

19 August 2011

My Final Duty

Putnam City has a tradition in which the previous Teacher of the Year speaks to the district faculty on opening day. Ive got to say, I was really looking forward to this. There's something very exhilarating about standing up in front of a captive audience of about 1200 professionals and telling them what's on your mind. I think my experience at IgniteOKC gave me a taste of public speaking and I like it! I'm not saying I'm good at it, but I enjoy it. When you have people clapping (even if you told them to) or laughing or even cheering, it gets the adrenaline going. It was a great experience.

I talked about the Common Core and I'm afraid I stole some (or a lot) of the superintendent's thunder. I felt pretty bad about that, but much better when several people asked if they could have a copy of my speech. So here you go: (it's long - as usual) I just cut and pasted from my notes, so please forgive any grammar and punctuation errors. I write just like I talk.

By the way, I sitting in Logan Airport in Boston, on my way home from a STEM plan learning lab. I'll debrief on that in another post. It was an enlightening experience in so many ways.

I’d like to start out by saying thank you to Mr. Hurst and the rest of the administration for the opportunity to speak to you all today. I was honored to be chosen as your Teacher of the Year for 2011. Being selected as a State Teacher of the Year finalist made my decision to take the Science Director job a very difficult one. In fact, I can easily say it was one of the most difficult decisions ever. I’m so proud to be a part of the Putnam City Schools family and I wanted so badly to represent each of you at the state level. Thank you so much for the opportunity to do so and I’m sorry I had to drop out of the competition because of this new responsibility.

Now if you’ve never spoken to a group this large, know that it can make you a bit nervous. I’ll just say that if I say something you agree with or that resonates with you, or even if I just mention your school, to let me know you are listening, you can clap or say something like woo-hoo!

15 years ago, I applied to be a bus driver in Putnam City Schools. I was hired and drove off and on for 10 years until I finally finished my undergraduate degree at SNU in 2007. During those years, I came into contact with what I believe to be the greatest faculty in the State of Oklahoma. As a bus driver, you certainly get a different perspective of the students and faculty. My time as a bus driver allowed me to learn what caring about students means and I learned that from you guys. One of the schools I drove out of was Tulakes Elementary (anyone here from there?) Every day the teachers would bring the students to the bus. They would get on the bus with the students and they showed me what an example of a caring teacher looked like. If a student was having a bad day or if they knew of some particular difficulty at home, the teachers made sure I knew about it. I have no doubt that this type of thing continues across the district in other schools and on other buses.  Little did I know back then, that I would get the privilege to join the faculty of Putnam City, a fantastic group of educators and that I would be afforded the opportunity to teach the best students in the state.

Speaking of great students, my own kids, Jessica and JC, have been in Putnam City their entire lives and I’d like to publicly thank each of you who influenced them during their time here. When I first started driving a bus, I applied for a transfer into the district so Jess could begin Kindergarten at Overholser Elementary. About that time, we moved into the district and the kids attended Rollingwood, Capps, and most recently, Putnam City High School. Jess graduated last year and JC will be a Senior this year. We were purposeful about purchasing a home in the district so our kids could attend school in Putnam City because we believed then, and still do, that the district offers the best academic and extra-curricular opportunities in Oklahoma. Because of the relationships I’ve built and the quality of education my children have received, I will always consider Putnam City Schools my home.

For those of you who are new to Putnam City this year, I want you to know that this is a special place. If I were to go into all the reasons for making such a broad statement, we would be here all day and I doubt any of you want that. (that is an appropriate place for applause) I’ll just say that there is a sense of family among the teachers in each building that I’ve not experienced in any other workplace. I’m thankful for the community that teachers and administrators work hard to build. If you don’t feel that in your building, I hope you do whatever it takes to treat your colleagues as family (or in some cases, better than family). It creates an environment of support and makes Putnam City a great place for students to learn.

The faculty members in this district have challenged me to grow and the members of the administration have given me opportunities to facilitate that growth. I have been fortunate to have leaders who allowed me the chance to try new things in my classroom. This led to an enriching teaching experience for me and hopefully a positive learning environment for my students. I hope the administrators in the district will continue to allow teachers to innovate in the classroom. Principals, if you aren’t already doing that, I’d challenge you to give your teachers some slack and see just what kind of excitement they can generate in their classes.

As I have begun to transition into the job of Science Director at the State Department of Education, I am beginning to realize that the change we’ve all been looking for in education is here. I doubt you’ve been able to read any journal or website without hearing about the Common Core State Standards Initiative. I’m not here to tell you that the Common Core standards are the saviour of education, but I do think they are common ground with which we can all start to increase the rigor and relevancy of our classes. If you don’t know about the Common Core, you should get informed. You can find information on the State Department of Education’s website or at corestandards.org. I thought I might share just a little of my understanding of the Standards (I’m talking to you as a teacher as a teacher, not as the State Science Director, give me a little slack, I’ve only been on the job for 3 weeks!)

The major components of the Common Core are this:

Include more reading and writing of informational texts in all content areas. - This isn’t really anything new. We’ve been talking about having students read and write for quite a while. Yes, you CAN have students in an English class learning to read and interpret a historical document. In fact, that is just the kind of thing the core standards encourage you to do. Literacy is everyone’s job. Think about it, if a student cannot read or write at grade level, how can they interact with the rest of their education? I guarantee you can connect literacy strategies to every single subject area in every single grade. If not, you are probably doing it wrong.

Provide opportunities for students to practice the 3 modes of rhetorical writing (narrative, argument, and informational) I can tell you from experience, when students enter college, they are going to have to do each of these three kinds of writing, probably in their first composition class. It doesn’t mean they have to be able to do them perfectly, but they should have already been exposed to this kind of writing, at a minimum. This isn’t just at the secondary level, either. Elementary students should be practicing their writing skills. How about having them write out the directions on how to accomplish a task and then let another student follow those directions?  

Require students to supply evidence and/or reasoning to justify their position. This can be mathematical reasoning, evidence from a text when analyzing literature, or scientific evidence from observation or experimentation. It doesn’t really matter what the topic is, but students must be able to give a reason for why they think a certain way or believe something. In this case, the process by which a student arrives at an answer is just as important as what their answer is. This may mean that you put students in a position in which there is either more than one right answer, or (heaven forbid) a situation in which you, as the teacher, do not know the right answer.
Expose students to grade-appropriate texts (which may be more complex than they have been in the past). The core standards are very explicit in giving examples of the kinds of texts students should be reading and at what level they should do so. Notice I said examples, I didn’t say mandates.

Use student work from each grade level to show proficiency (This is clearly a situation in which a series of GoogleDocs would work great as an e-portfolio!) This is a big part of the Common Core: being able to show that students are proficient at a particular skill. Just as the students should be able to give evidence of their reasoning, you as teachers should be able to give reasoning that supports your assertion that students are proficient in a particular area. We must be purposeful in causing opportunities for students to create artifacts that will demonstrate proficiency.

Teach using real world examples.  I’ll talk more about this shortly. I’m really passionate about this one, and I’ll tell you why in just a minute.

Integrate technology into instruction. Yes, the Common Core is very explicit on this one. The students Quote “use technology and digital media strategically and capably.” end quote. And they are not just using technology just to be using it. They quote “employ technology thoughtfully to enhance their reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language use.” end quote Ha! Some of you thought technology would decrease their language skills! Try having your students summarize a story or a semester-long project into 140 characters or less (maybe using twitter or polleverywhere). You will see some students writing more creatively and being more excited about what they are doing than ever before. Innovation like this will require training for students and teachers, I recognize that. In fact, it will probably require you as educators to begin doing some independent research into the use of technology in your classroom. I won’t lie. It’s not going to be easy. But then nothing worth doing ever is. If you need help with technology, I know of several people in the Putnam City technology department who are more than willing to help, you just need to ask. I’ve also heard there are some new instructional coaches who will be able to provide you with some much needed innovation assistance, as well.

Enough of what the Common Core is. Let me tell you what it is not.

The standards are NOT a national curriculum. They do not tell you how to teach your content. You should rely on your own professionalism, your district curriculum directors, and the collective wisdom and experience of your colleagues to help guide you in this area.

PThe Standards are not a comprehensive guide as to what should be taught, they are the minimum of what students should know and be able to do. However, those minimum guidelines are pretty explicit. For example, if you have students who cannot use the words their, there, and they’re correctly, they haven’t shown proficiency for what they should be able to do by the end of the 4th grade. Yes, I did choose that one because its a pet-peeve of mine.

The Standards do NOT include interventions for students below grade level and English Language Learners. However, PLCs can provide assistance with below-grade level interventions and I’m sure the ELL teachers are happy to help, as well. You have resources, but you have to ask for help!
Finally, the Standards do not define every single thing students need in order to be college and career ready. Teachers, districts, and states have some leeway on considerations as to what else is needed for students.

After stepping into the shallow end of the pool with the Standards I can tell you this: As an educator, there’s nothing in the Common Core I have seen that we shouldn’t already be doing.

My wife teaches at a local university, so you can imagine that we spend a significant amount of time talking about students, about teaching, and about our own learning. There is one thing she talks alot about that is a common struggle for many students arriving at college: the ability to think critically. The skill of analyzing a text or a situation and being able to cite specific evidence to support their position is something with which many students struggle. That’s a significant part of what Common Core is about: critical thinking. At the college level, students can still learn new content, but if they come in without the ability to think critically, they have a significantly smaller chance of academic success, no matter what their major is. Additionally, when students enter a workplace, they can learn how to run a cash register, but the ability to deal with a new situation requires problem-solving!

As a science teacher, I get really excited when I read anything that says students should be able to quote “evaluate the argument... including the validity of the reasoning... and sufficiency of the evidence”! end quote.  I heard someone on NPR the other day talking about gas wells and how they have a new method of getting more gas out of those old wells. If you were my family, I’d explain exactly how they do that, but suffice to say, there is a large group of people who are concerned about the contamination of ground water because of this new practice. The group is pushing for full disclosure of chemical levels in ground water before and after the drilling process. The host said, and I quote “The public needs some evidence so they will know the practice is safe.” end quote.  Really? How many average people in this country would be willing or capable of looking at evidence and drawing a reasonable conclusion? I suspect the average person would be willing to let some reporter interpret the evidence and tell them what to think. Consider that when you would rather let your students memorize facts instead of putting them into critical thinking situations.

I give this example because another significant part of the Common Core is relevance. I told you earlier I would get back to “Teach Using Real Life Examples”  As teachers, we owe it to our students to show that what they are required to learn is going to be useful later in life (or at least in a later class). In my physics classes, you cannot imagine the excitement on students’ faces when we would take some algebra or trig function and leverage that to actually learn about the position of an object or some force being applied! If you can’t make your subject relevant to students, you should reconsider what you are teaching. I’m not saying its easy to make your class relevant to students’ lives (unless you teach physics), I’m just saying you owe it to them to be explicit in that relevancy. This is especially important as students get into late elementary and middle school and begin to wonder, “What am I even doing in school anyway? What’s the point of all of this?” If we wait until students begin their high school years to introduce the relevance of learning, school may be so irrelevant by that point, they won’t be inclined to listen.

I’m so proud of each of you and I know this year is going to be better than the last. I hope if there is anything I can do to help you, (especially in science) that you will contact me. I’ll be looking forward to hearing about the exciting things going on in Putnam City. I hope you have a great year and I appreciate you giving me the chance to speak today.

03 August 2011

master teacher summer institute

This week starts a new beginning in my journey. I checked in through Human Resources at the State Department of Education as the new Science Director. As soon as I got done, it was off to the National Center for Employment Development in Norman, OK to begin the Master Teacher Summer Institute.

This program is an exciting one in which teachers work in their content area for part of the time and in their geographical region for the rest of the time. There is a strong focus on building relationships and that is something I appreciate the most. We spent most of yesterday with Tina Boogren from Solution Tree (Richard Marzano's company) working through the book, "The Highly Engaged Classroom". Tina is a fantastic speaker and educator who has something to share with teachers from all content areas and all grade levels. I really enjoyed learning some new strategies on how to "hook" students and then keep them engaged in the learning process.

This morning, several of the other Curriculum Directors presented on the idea of Multiculturalism in Education. They worked through about 3 hours of information, sharing strategies for building community in a diverse classroom throughout. The most interesting to me was Bafa' Bafa', a simulation in which learners engage in role play as people from different countries. This simulation really magnifies the cultural clues and hidden meanings that exist within different cultures. It's quite enlightening and I recommend it highly! (Good Lord! I just realized I've linked to the site for purchasing the program. Expensive, but worth it.)

Finally, this afternoon, we were able to work as content areas and Tiffany Neill brought some great inquiry lessons to us. Not only did we do some inquiry, we spent time taking it to the next level and thinking about what everyone else did with the data we gathered. Everyone collected data (a skill on which every student needs to work) and then we were told to create a representation of the entire class set of data to share. 4 different groups = 4 different representations. We spent time going around looking at what each thing represented (or at least what we thought it represented) and giving a critique, as well.

Here's where things got interesting. Groups went back and read what had been said for a critique and had the chance reflect/modify or to defend what they had done. This part of the process is SO important! We have to work on more opportunities to give students the chance to take a stand and argue their point. It is almost like debate. They present evidence to support their position. This is the next level of learning; it is beyond the content and takes students to a higher level of thinking and a deeper level of understanding. This is where the Common Core will take us: increased rigor at a deeper level. Remember the Sunday School song "Deep and Wide?" That is not the Common Core, its only deep, not wide.

Tomorrow, we will finish up our content time and then work together as groups for Regional Conferences. I'm interested to see exactly what that Regional Conference is going to look like. I'm definitely learning something everyday. I might even be beginning to wrap my brain around bits of this job.

27 July 2011

new beginnings

This has been a week of transition. I have accepted the position of Science Curriculum Coordinator for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. I've said for a long time that teaching physics at Putnam City High School was the last job I would ever want, meaning it is literally the last job I ever wanted to have. However, sometimes opportunities present themselves and you feel like you cannot pass them by (lest they do not return!)

In my next to last Master's class, I was working with a group of people and one of them said, "You know that the Science Curriculum Director position is open? You would be awesome at that, you should apply!" I said, "No, I didn't know that. I'm not sure that's something I would want to do. I mean, I'd have to leave my classroom!" So I went down home that evening after class and talked to @mishelleyb and we decided that the only way I would know if I wanted to do that job was to apply and interview. So, in April I applied. Knowing how little experience teaching I have had, I did not think I had any chance at even interviewing for the job. Honestly, once I applied, I totally forgot about it.

I moved forward with the State Teacher of the Year application and focused on teaching to the best of my ability. I didn't give Science Director another thought. As we were on our way to Philadelphia for the International Society of Technology in Education Conference, I received a phone call from the Asst. Superintendent of Curriculum about presenting at a conference in Oklahoma City. In the course of that conversation she mentioned my application and assured me that I would be called for an interview. This was completely out of left field as I was so nervous about making the finals for State TOY. At that time, I was informed that there might come a time when I would have to choose between TOY and Science Director. Uh, can you say no-brainer? TOY is a big honor. In fact, for me, its been huge. However, to be able to influence teachers beyond my district and to be able to affect change in science education versus being a spokeperson for the vocation of teaching? Yeah, not really a difficult decision.

What was a difficult decision was leaving my classroom. It was incredibly hard to think about leaving my students to be taught physics by someone else. However, knowing I would have some influence on that teacher and others who teach science across the State of Oklahoma helped make this much less difficult. In the course of the interview I learned that a significant part of this job is focused on teaching teachers, e.g. conducting professional development. This is something about which I am passionate. In fact, I'm as passionate about that as I am about teaching physics and earth science, so how could I say if they offered?

To make a long story short, I interviewed for the job last week and they offered the position to me on Monday and I have accepted.

I start next Monday and I believe I am going to hit the ground running. We are conducting Master Teacher Academy 3 days of next week and then I am going to a workshop to begin assisting in the process of developing a STEM plan for the State of Oklahoma. I mean, really? That's the kind of responsibility I have now? Oh, my. What have I gotten myself into? I've certainly moving out of my comfort zone. It feels like starting over in teaching. I feel like I'm about to start my first year again.

I do know this, I am going into an office in which there are other Directors who are experienced and are excited about me coming to work with them. We are moving towards the Common Core and we have already re-done our science standards and I'll be helping to implement those. The team I am going to work with is awesome from what I hear.

I'll be continuing this blog in its current format. I'm continuing my education and this will simply be a place to share what I am doing in my teaching (I'm still adjuncting 3 classes for SNU) and my learning (I am beginning to understand just how much I don't know). If you enjoy reading, I hope you will continue to do so.

13 July 2011

the common core - my thoughts

The last few days have found me researching the Common Core. I am about to attend my final class for my Master's program and I had to do a research paper for class. I was allowed to choose the topic, as long as it related to education administration in some way. I decided early on in the class I would do my paper on Merit Pay. I'm the only student in the class with no aspirations of being a principal. I would like to move into Curriculum Administration one of these days and I felt Merit Pay might be something I would have to deal with at some point. However, for reasons I might get to here in the next several months, I decided to change my topic to The Common Core.

Most of what I have seen about the Common Core Standards has been negative. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I am vehemently in support of the Standards now that I have done some research and read them myself. Critics say teachers had no part in writing the current standards (so far, only English/Language Arts and Mathematics). All I can say to that is the Common Core Standards Initiative rebuts that with some very well written standards. As a professional educator, I recognize a well-written objective/guideline/standard when I see it and that's what I see when I read this and this.

Others say the standards amount to a national curriculum. Teachers who buy into that rhetoric are a big part of the problem with today's educational system. If you can't recognize the difference between being told what students need to know and what you can teach to students, you might talk to your district about some professional development. It should be something akin to your Methods Class from your undergraduate degree because that's where you should have learned to distinguish between objectives/standards and curriculum.

Rigor. That's what I got when I read the Standards. When I read them I thought about problem-solving, persistence, analysis, pattern-recognition, evaluation, and application. Students who meet these Standards will be able to not only find information, but use that information in an unfamiliar situation. If you memorize how to solve a puzzle, are you really problem-solving? No! You have to be able to take what you have learned and apply that to another, new situation. Sounds a lot like the upper levels of Bloom's Taxonomy to me.

Here's a piece of advice, before you start thinking or speaking negatively about this, go read them yourself. Don't believe what you hear or read. Not even what I've said here! If you are reading this, you are likely a trained education professional. Go read the Standards, think critically about them, evaluate whether or not they can be useful to changing the face of American Education and make your own decision. Just because I like them doesn't mean you have to.

However, know that the Common Core Standards are likely coming to a state near you. Depending on what you read, somewhere between 37 and 48 states have adopted the Standards or are beginning the process of adoption. Why not embrace them and find a way to be successful within that framework? You can whine and moan about it all you want, but at some point you have to ask yourself, how can I learn to be happy about this? Because it is coming!

11 July 2011

my sharpening stone

[caption id="attachment_620" align="alignright" width="187" caption="image courtesy of flickr user David Davies"]image courtesy of flickr user David Davies[/caption]

When I was a kid, my dad had a whetstone and he used it to keep his kitchen and pocket knives quite sharp. I was always fascinated by the ease with which he seemed to be able to put a very fine edge on my pocket knife after I had tried to chop a tree down or some other ridiculous task. He clearly had learned the way a whetstone and a knife are meant to interact. He understood the amount of pressure needed to make the knife sharpest. He also knew the correct angle to hold the knife against the whetstone to make a long-lasting edge.

I'll be honest, even at 42 years old, I still have not mastered the use of a stone for sharpening knives. I've tried and tried, but I cannot seem to get the method down. I've not given up, but my little v-shaped knife sharpener does the trick for me, at least for now.

During a recent road trip, sans kids, @mishelleyb and I were vehemently discussing teaching methods and technology integration. We both got a frustrated at times and maybe even a little upset. Now if you know @mishelleyb, you know she is someone who is not afraid to share her opinion. Additionally, she always has evidence to back up her claims and she shares that as well.

During the course of our discussion, I said "Technology is Just a Tool." I further stated that there was nothing I could think of that would indicate that student learning has been or can be increased by using technology. My platform for education reform is "Increased Student Engagement" and I connected tech as a tool for that purpose. She just about lost it. I thought we were going to have to pull over and result to fisticuffs. She was incredulous that the Oklahoma Technology Teacher of the Year would make such a statement. (In retrospect, I'm surprised I said it, too.) Incredulous is the only word I can think of to describe her reaction.

She began to ask me questions about the purpose of our wiki project. She expertly helped me realize (or remember) that I use wikis as a form of problem solving. I require students to analyze resources and evaluate whether they should be used for their research. But more specifically, I finally articulated that students learn to embed and format on the wiki using wiki code. I don't teach them wiki code. So they have to work things out on their own and do some independent learning to get their page to look the way it should. They also collaborate with one another to find answers.

Through our discussion, I realized that as someone who may be required to speak to and for other teachers, she was helping me to sharpen the edge of my position. She was being a whetstone and helping me to sharpen what I had to say. We discuss issues and methods pertaining to education on a regular basis. I always come away from these discussions more firm in my ideas and clear in my thinking. That is not to say that she tells me what to think, she simply asks the right questions to guide my processing of ideas.

When you use a whetstone, it actually takes part of the knife away in the process of sharpening. Discussions with Michelle occasionally do the same. Faulty ideas and unnecessary thoughts generally get whittled away through logical, critical thinking.

My strong desire for each of you is that no matter whether your discussions are about education, religion, relationships, or life in general, I hope you find a sharpening stone for your ideas. As life-long learners, we make each other better. We sharpen each others thoughts and positions. Do not shy away from heated discussions with colleagues, instead, seek them out but remember to be willing to hear what the other person has to say.

In fact, I'll get political for a second and say that calling for the removal of someone with different ideas than your own is counter-productive, not to mention the example it sets for others. Shouldn't we have a respectful discourse and look for common ground to make things better? If you simply focus on your differences, how will we affect change? All we do is stir the pot.

I suppose my journey towards knowledge nirvana is much like my prowess with a sharpening stone, I need a lot more practice and I have a lot left to learn.

27 June 2011

ISTE Day 1 and 2

I've been here at ISTE 2011, in Philadelphia, for a couple of days now. It's been quite an interesting journey. I love following the tweets at #ISTE11. There is an overload of information with which to keep up.

We started the day yesterday by just hanging at the hotel and not really getting out until after noon. We took a very short walk to Penn's Landing and had a Taste of Philly, part of the events leading up to the 4th of July.

We got over to the Convention Center and checked in just in time to hear the opening keynote speaker. He was a molecular biologist named Dr. John Medina. A molecular biologist? Yes. He was really great. A very dynamic speaker, in fact. He talked specifically about how the brain process information, a terrific topic for a room (gigantic room) full of teachers interested in how to be more effective. I guess I'll have to read his book, Brain Rules.

Before I knew it, 7am arrived and I had to be up, have some breakfast, and get to the convention center by 0830 to hear Dayna Laur talk about "Meeting the Common Core: Rigorous, Relevant, Project-Based Learning." The presenters talked at length about this site, the Buck Institute for Learning. I was afraid it was going to be about how we needed to pay for their stuff, but it wasn't. In fact they talked about some free resources we can use for PBL stuff, in addition to the fact that all of their stuff if free. I am working to move my class more toward a PBL model. I think my students would all benefit from the model as they are mostly honors students who "just want the answer." This particular demographic is one that has been taught to value the "right answer" above the method by which that answer was ascertained. In PBL, the goal is to have students show their mastery of skills instead of arriving at a pre-determined answer. In fact, in a good problem-solving environment, the teacher won't know the answer since it hasn't been solved yet! A great strategy they talked about was one in which a class is connected (via Skype) to a professional in the field (pertaining to the problem) to give critique and expertise throughout the process.

I then moved on to "Technology to Improve Staff Morale" with Rushton Hurley, a Japanese-language teacher from California. He had some great tips for sharing technology and moving into a true collaborative model with colleagues. The "take-away" for me from that session was to try and share something with my colleagues and let them come ask questions if they want to move beyond just an introduction. My vision for this is to share a 2 minute tech tip during faculty meetings. I can start it and then see if I can get my colleagues to start doing it as they find something they like and feel is "share-worthy." I'll then become the facilitator. I could even begin to video these and post them to "Tech Tools for Teachers."

During lunch, I got to go to the OTA Affiliate booth and sit for an hour to "pay" for my trip here. I am here as a result of being named Technology Teacher of the Year by the OTA. However, it comes with a price. I have to work our booth for two full hours. I say that with a smile on my face, because I would gladly work that booth for an entire day or two to get to come. I met several folks stopping by to say hello. I got to tell them about the OTA meetup at the The Field House from 1630 to 1800 on Tuesday evening. It will be lots of fun, so if you are around, stop in and say hello.

After lunch I had some free time so I went down and sat in the blogger's cafe and tried to process some of what I had learned.  As I was doing this, I began to realize that this conference would benefit so many people who are not here. For someone like me who has been to technology conferences before, I am able to get a few ideas to use tools I already have to be better, but there are people who aren't here who would be much more willing to use this stuff in their classes after hearing success stories. If you are reading this and have never been to ISTE, go ahead and plan to go to San Diego next year. It's overwhelming and one of the best things a technology adopter can do to get out of their comfort zone. During this time, I also got spend some time with @mishelleyb since we both had a little time with no sessions, this was clearly one of the best parts of the day.

The last session I attended was #teach with #tweet. These 3 guys (@joebender, @crafty184, and @brueckj23) shared how they have used twitter in elementary/secondary/higher ed classrooms. They had some great ideas and I was able to think and process about how I would like to integrate it into both my high school physics and university geography classes. I got to attend the session with a colleague from SNU and we talked about online classes over the summer. I'm stoked to collaborate with her (and @mishelleyb) while I teach online during the upcoming summer session. I'm a little nervous, but it should be fun! I almost forgot, there was also a flash mob during this time. A little crazy.

Finally, the kids came in from the hotel and we walked over to the Reading Market. @mishelleyb had been wanting to go and sample the Amish stuff in there and we were all pretty excited about the eats we had heard about. If you want to see what we experienced, click here. We had a great culinary adventure. It seems that much of our travel is driven (no pun intended) by food. We are a foodie family and have some of our best times around the dinner table, whether ours or some restaurant.

The fact is these two days have been a tremendous amount of fun, work, and learning. I'm sure many people think "Who in the world wants to go to Nerd Camp for 4 days? Especially with your own kids and wife?" I do! These trips are some of the most rewarding of my life, both professionally and personally.

22 June 2011

360 Leadership, Part 5

Section 5 of the book discusses leading down. This is where my interactions with students come into context. The very first principle in this section is “Walk Slowly Through The Halls”. As teacher-leader, how in the world can you get to know your students if you never leave your classroom? Great relationships are the key to great teaching. Our administrators constantly tell us to “stand outside your door between classes.” If teachers are being excellent (refer to section 2) that should not have to be said. Teacher-leaders need to learn who their student are outside the context of a single classroom.

Also in that section, Mr. Maxwell says we need to “Model The Behavior You Desire.” Whether you are a teacher, parent, or account executive, that is great advice. No one will follow someone who says one thing and then does the opposite. Our actions speak much louder than our words and this is especially true in education when students are watching what do and learning from our actions. They are not only learning our content, they are learning how to interact with people through their interactions with us.

Finally, Maxwell is explicit in the way 360-Degree Leaders are valuable. This part of the book was the most redundant for me. I felt like it was a summary of the rest of the book, or maybe it is just common sense. The main point here is that leaders are needed at every level of every organization. Experience at one level of generally leadership prepares us for leadership at the next level. In fact, the opposite should also be true: if you cannot lead at a lower level, why should you be trusted to move to the next level? He points out that every organization needs the qualities that 360-Degree leaders possess.

The take-away idea from this entire book is the concept of teamwork. People who want to see an organization or idea succeed will put the needs, wants and desires of others above their own. We certainly need more of those kinds of people in education. Without them, we will never see any change. We will keep stagnating in an out-dated system of educating our youth instead of moving forward toward returning as a world leader in education. Everyday I need to ask myself, what can I do to support the mission of my school, my leader, and my colleagues? That will drive my decisions.

360 Degree Leadership, Part 4

Section 4 deals with leading across. To me, this means leading other teachers while still a teacher. Because of my experiences in my building, there are three points that really stood out in this section, “Put Completing Fellow Leaders Ahead of Competing with Them,” “Be a Friend,” and “Let the Best Idea Win.” I really dislike competition. I was never an athlete, not matter how hard my parents tried. I prefer to lift others up and remain hidden. That is just a personality thing for me. I am not saying it is a better way of doing things, it is just how I work. However, Mr. Maxwell believes this is the best way to go about leading across. Thank goodness I already do that!

I am a non-confrontational person. I really dislike conflict, so being a friend to my colleagues works well for me. If someone needs a good listener or a helping hand, that is me. These actions build relationships with people. They go a very long way toward investing and being able to draw on that investment when you need it. Everything in this book points toward good leadership being a two way street, not so much a “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” as it is a “make a deposit, make a withdrawal” situation.

I have never been the type of person to think I have all of the good ideas. Occasionally, I do come up with a great idea, but usually that is the result of teamwork, not me as an individual. I only point this out because I freely admit others are capable (and do) come up with better ideas than I do. I firmly believe that as teachers, we need to buy-in to whatever the best idea is. The best idea is the one that benefits as many students in the most positive way. In education, if that focus is lost, we have lost. When teachers or administrators begin to put their personal agenda ahead of student learning, everyone will lose.

360 Degree Leader, Part 3

I only have 2 more sections, so don't worry, this is almost over. Its a great book and I highly recommend the read, whether you are a teacher, pastor, account executive, or whatever!

Section 3, “The Principles 360-Degree Leaders Practice to Lead Up,” impacted me the most, because I could see how I was already doing what I was supposed to be doing. It is funny because most of these strategies are accomplished through my interest in technology and reflection, two of my “soap-boxes”.

I am supposed to “lighten my leader’s load, be willing to do what others won’t, and become a go-to player”. When I see something needing done, why go ask to see if I should do it? I would rather just get in and do the job. This year I implemented the use of Google Calendar for scheduling the computer labs in our building. This lightened the load for one of my leaders because she did not have to worry about it. It also was a job no one else wanted to do but needed to be done. Additionally, it made other teachers begin to come ask questions about integrating calendars either on their phones or websites.

This idea goes right along with my work ethic. If there is something needing to be done, I would rather just do it instead of waiting on someone else to do it. This is especially true when it will streamline a process. I tend to be an “ask forgiveness” instead of “ask permission” kind of guy. The risk involved here is finding yourself in a place where you do not have enough hours in the day to get everything done you have committed to do. Once you start doing a job, then it becomes an expectation.

20 June 2011

360 Degree Leadership, Part 2

The second myth was the very next one in the list, “When I get to the top, then I’ll learn to lead.” This reminds me of the parable of the talents when the worker who is given a single talent decides to bury it so he will not lose it. As a result, the master is displeased with him. However, the others who had a little more, made their talents into even more. The master says to them, “You have been faithful with a few things, now I’ll put you in charge of even bigger things.” Leaders must learn to lead before reaching the top. Experience teaches best of all. Who is going to make the decisions concerning curriculum? An inexperienced “yes-man” hired by the Department of Education? Rarely will that happen. The best person for the job would be someone who has a little bit of experience but has the capability and ideas to affect change on a wider scale. That describes someone who has been leading from the middle.

There are many challenges faced by someone leading from the middle. Colleagues may be intimidated by a young (or just new) upstart coming in with new ideas, affecting change. Being aware of these challenges ahead of time can save a lot of distress and angst a less informed middle-leader might experience.

One of these stood out to me the most: “The Ego Challenge, You’re Often Hidden in the Middle.” As a teacher, it does feel easy to be lost in the middle. It is kind of a squeaky wheel situation. You begin to wonder, “Will I ever get noticed for my hard work?” Honestly? Who cares? I am not in this job to get noticed by anyone other than my students. I was selected as Teacher of the Year by my colleagues this year. That was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I am not the kind of person who enjoys being in the spotlight. I tend to be a behind-the-scenes person. However, when my many of my colleagues told me they voted for me because of what they heard students talking saying, I began to feel as though I was doing something right. Honestly, it gave me a huge boost in self-confidence, although it took my “self-pressure” to a new high, as well.

If teachers are teaching for the right reasons, they should be “leading down” to their students and not be worried about whether or not they are being noticed from above. Mr. Maxwell gives several strategies for dealing with this challenge, the most important being to appreciate the value of your position. As a teacher, I am given the opportunity each year to affect change on the future by helping shape the way students view the world around them. I really appreciate that.

360 Degree Leader, Part 1

As a teacher, I have often wondered, “How do I lead others if I am not going to go into administration?” During my four very short years of teaching, I feel as though I have become a leader to my peers. Specifically in the area of technology integration, but to a lesser extent in the area of curriculum and even organizational skills. In the book “The 360-Degree Leader,” John Maxwell offers some much needed guidance in the area of leading while not at the top of an organization. There are three main goals I now have as a result of reading this book: I want to support my leader (no matter who they are), I want to add value to my school (by doing so I add value to myself and others), and I want to do my work with excellence (that is a biblical work ethic).

Mr. Maxwell has packed so much into this book, its very difficult to summarize it in just a few pages. However, there were several points that really stood out to me. The first was covered in section 1 and dealt with the myths associated with leading from the middle. There were seven myths in all, but I picked the two that applied the most to me.

The first, and for me, most important, is “I can’t lead if I’m not at the top.” Impossible! Good leaders emerge and generally move to the top, but where would we be in education if we did not have teachers who are good leaders? I mean are we not leading students? Students look to me as the instructional leader of our classroom. I am making decisions that affect how well prepared they are (or are not) to meet the demands of college and the workforce.

15 May 2011

the end of the beginning

Yesterday, there were two commencement exercises at dear old SNU. In one of them, I was able to walk with the faculty and be the proud parent of the Class of 2011 of SNU as they received their undergraduate degrees. In the other, I was walking as a student participating in the act of finishing my Master's degree. I say the act of finishing it only because I have 6 sessions of class left standing between me and the coveted piece of paper saying I have completed all the assignments, passed all the tests, created all the projects, and jumped through the inevitable hoops.

I cannot say it has been an entirely unpleasant experience. I certainly can see that I have grown over the past two years. I've written more regularly on this blog as a part of the reflection piece of the program, although not as regularly as I'd like. I've certainly learned to multi-task a lot better than in the past (if you know me you know that I have difficulty focusing on more than one task at a time, plus there is a bit of OCD mixed in just to make life interesting). I have made some connections with people who believe in education and that every student can learn (although some more than others, see? there is this thing called genetics and we don't all have the same ones). I have changed the direction of my career goals and feel that I may in some ways be able to affect change with more students if I am not in a High School Physics class for the rest of my life (it's kind of that whole give a man a fish vs. teach a man to fish).

I have learned a tremendous amount of information, strategies, a skills to work in the field of curriculum design and technology integration. Much of that information came as the result of research projects for class which piqued my interest and caused me to go deeper or even in a different direction to find the nuggets of information which really were worthy of my attention. I think I have been a positive influence on many teachers and I KNOW my colleagues have been a positive influence on me.

I've learned that I have abilities which surpass those I previously felt did not exist in my toolbox. My confidence in myself has increased exponentially (check out a class on quantitative analysis if you don't know what an exponential increase looks like on a graph) :-). It seems that the more I lear, the more desire I have to learn. It's almost as if I have begun to realize that there is so much more I need to learn to affect the kind of change in education I am looking to implement.

The most important thing I have learned is that I like to help other people. I am a fixer. A technical kind of guy. I have creativity, just not in the sense that I could take a blank canvas and create something someone might call art. I had the chance to see some of the senior graphic design students from SNU display their work. Yeah, not THAT kind of creativity. Those folks are amazing. (just like all of the rest of the faculty at that University). I am creative in the sense that if you can help me catch your vision, I can make that show up somewhere else. I did a group project with in my previous class and I got a chance to build a website for a fictitious bond issue. Now, that is by no means my best work, but I learned, through that project that with some input from others I can create something of which we can all be proud.

I have learned that getting to know your students and building relationships is more important than any content I could ever teach. Students won't be willing to buy what you are selling if you don't build some trust with them, first. Taking the time to invest in students OUTSIDE of the classroom is far more rewarding than anything we do inside the walls of learning. For the biggest part of this degree program I was (along with my lovely wife) the class sponsor for the Class of 2011 at SNU.

We attended Senior Celebration this past Friday night. The theme of this event was "Why Not?" I was privileged to speak during the event and there has been a defining moment in my life and educational career and that was becoming the class sponsor for these guys. We had so many parents come up to us and tell us how much they appreciated our involvement with their students but honestly when you lose yourself in building relationships, its so easy. And honestly, like any really good investment, you get so much more out of it than what you put into it. Michelle and I were so blessed to be a part of those lives (and will continue to be). That has really impacted the way I view relationships with my own students. It helps me realize that we have to meet students at their point of need (just like Christ does for us) and find out what they are going through before they/we can focus on what they need to get out of our classes. Now, I mentioned Jesus Christ there, so if you are uncomfortable, you can check out the writings of Abraham Maslow for the education perspective of that idea. (FYI, I'm somewhere right around the top of esteem, moving into self-actualization.)

I was visiting with Michelle (as we do often) about the things I've learned through this program and recent events in my life. I am truly beginning to see that if we focus on something other than ourselves and beginning to look around us for the needs of others, our faults/deficiencies/problems begin to pale in comparison to the problems being dealt with by others.

As much as I'd like to wrap this up with a bow and call it "done", the truth is I'm not done. I one class left (starting this next week) and it is with one of my favorite educators, my (soon to be former) principal. I wish I had a trite saying or quote from some great author or educational philosopher to summarize the events of the past 2 school years, but sadly I do not. I do have a quote that will hopefully help you realize where I am in my journey (I've used it before)
"There is a difference between knowing something and knowing the name of something" - Richard Feynman

I think I am finally at the point in my educational journey to know enough to know that there is a lot I don't know, but that I want to know more. That is what I got out of 36 hours of Master's level Educational Curriculum classes. It was expensive, but I suspect the payoff will be far richer than the (itty-bitty) raise in pay I'll get from the degree.

Thanks SNU for a great program. Now its time to take the first step towards a terminal degree; one that isn't in a very small, very conservative, christian University. Oklahoma State, here we come, see you in the fall!

02 May 2011

that time of year - an open letter to SNU's class of 2011

My amazing wife (@mishelleyb) is speaking in senior chapel tomorrow. One of the great things about being married to a great public speaker is that she tries all of her stuff out on an audience of one (that's me) before anyone else gets to hear it. I get to hear the raw emotion she shares before she becomes the professional speaker as she steps on stage. All of that to say, SNU Seniors (Class of 2011), if you haven't attended chapel at all this semester, you don't want to miss Senior Class Chapel tomorrow. BTW, its in Cantrell Hall at 10:50am.

She's going to share some things that will run the gamut of emotions:

  1. Tears - this is a new beginning and we'll be saying some (at least short-term) goodbyes in the next few weeks.

  2. Tears - the pride that we as your class sponsors feel at seeing you walk into the world as some amazing adults.

  3. Laughter - sharing some fun times we have spent over the last 4 years together.

  4. Reassurance (is that even an emotion?) - even though some things are in doubt in your future, we are sure you are fully prepared to meet the challenges that lay ahead of you.

  5. And finally, Joy - you have come to the end of your undergraduate career (except for those couple of folks who are taking a victory lap, you know who you are).

Graduation will be bittersweet this year in a way that is exponentially more meaningful for me than in years past. I have been blessed (as I know Michelle has, too) to be allowed to be the class sponsors with you guys over these last four years. I have learned what it means to live a life committed to Christ through the example of many of your lives.

I remember thinking about whether we should become sponsors for this class back in the summer of 2007. I didn't really know what it meant to be a class sponsor, but I can't think of a group of people with whom I would rather learn than all of you. We've been told we are great class sponsors, but I would say we have been fortunate to have the right group of people with whom it is so easy to build a relationship. Rest assured, deciding to become your class sponsors was one the most-rewarding things I've ever decided to do.

We've spent some late nights in class council meetings trying to figure out what to do when the class president decided to leave SNU in the middle of the year. Finals Fling during freshman year, did we really even plan anything for that? I don't recall. I've slept since then.

We've spent some REALLY late nights working to put together a totally new event, "Who's the Man?" What a blast that has turned into!

We've had what amounts to a high school prom for a bunch of Juniors and Seniors in college at a high school! (no dancing, not even Linda G!) Making the promotional video for this event was more fun than I have had in a long time! I love getting to play the "mean teacher", it wasn't much of a stretch, I suppose.

And just 4 short weeks ago, we made a mad dash to Colorado where we rode an uncomfortable bus all night so we could sleep in even more uncomfortable beds so we could have more fun than Christians should be allowed to have doing things like rock climbing (for the first time ever!), rappelling, zip-lining (is that a verb?), and running all over town, only to end up at the oldest Pizza Parlor west of the Mississippi so we could laugh so hard I nearly peed myself.

What a great life I have been privileged to live so far with the students of SNU. I can't wait to see what the next opportunities bring. I have met some of the most amazing people: marketers, managers, musicians, artists, designers, lawyers (to-be), ministers, teachers, athletic trainers, mass communicators, researchers, and all around non-specialists (you know who you are). If those of you reading this have lost faith in higher education, rest assured, the class of 2011 has some people who are going to do great things. I'm blessed to have been a part of your life for 4 years. Here's to the next chapter, its just the beginning!

Hey, Redwine, there ARE going to be other opportunities aren't there?!?

29 April 2011


Not great circumstances, but at least I have something about which I can write. I've not had much to say over the last couple of months, but this needs to be said.

Don't you hate change? I mean I REALLY DISLIKE IT.

We usually all have our faculty meetings in the mornings, on the first Thursday of the month. We never have them in the library after school. The last two times we have had them in the afternoon, in the library, it was because a faculty member had passed away or had gone missing. So, when a meeting was called, we thought, "Nah. Not again. This is just going to be the debrief of the first week of testing." We'll just do some good things, have a few positive comments, and start the weekend. Wrong.

Our head principal informed us that he will be leaving to become the head principal at another school. Let me remind you, I HATE CHANGE.

I have been teaching for 4 years. I have been at Putnam City High School the entire time. I did my student teaching at Putnam City High. I had the head principal as a professor for one of my undergraduate classes. He is the only principal who has ever interviewed me. He is the only person who has been the example a head administrator for my entire teaching career. He's even going to be my professor for the final class of my Master's program. Maybe there is a little irony there or maybe it's just coincidence.

Publicly, I would like to say, Thanks Dr. Wentroth for your leadership of Putnam City High School. Thanks for being willing to take a stand to support students, even when it wasn't popular or got you into trouble. Thanks for being willing to encourage the legislature to change the law regarding the amount of time we have to be in class so we could institute Friday tutoring. Thanks for being a leader and sometimes letting your anger show when parents act like idiots concerning their kids. (I personally think kids need to know that educators support them when parents are stupid, but that's just me.) Thanks for being a mentor and believing in my abilities even when I didn't think I had what it took to accomplish my goals and dreams. Thanks for encouraging me and always being there with a smile and a kind word. Thanks for your words of encouragement when I did something you thought was special or "over and above". Thanks for being the captain of our ship when we were in rough waters or fair. Thanks for being someone students (especially my own children) could talk to and know you would listen. Thanks for being someone who recognized that even though you can't make everyone happy, doing what is best for students is always the right answer. Finally, thanks for being someone who helped me to see what being an educator looks like.

Bethany High School, you need to know you are getting the best principal in the State of Oklahoma. I just hope you guys can convince him to wear your Purple Broncho clothing because he will always be a Black and Orange Pirate to us!

21 April 2011

Student Engagement vs. Teacher Engagement

One of the issues I've been struggling with over the last month or so is student engagement. However, at this time of year, I think it only fitting that we ask the question, is student engagement related to teacher engagement? Are my students less engaged as a result of something I am doing? Am I really giving 100% to ensure that students are learning at the highest level? I recognize students bear a significant responsibility to meet me in the middle and engage in the learning process. But what if they feel they are having to walk the extra mile to make that happen? What if they feel that we are so distracted by testing that they refuse to even get on the dance floor?

I'm fascinated by the idea that we are in a relationship with our students. We have a responsibility to design lessons that will draw students out, to give them some cognitive dissonance, and challenge what they have been taught and think they believe. Some students will not even pick up the bat, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't give them a little bit of chatter from the outfield.

04 April 2011

computational thinking: a digital skill for everyone

I grabbed the first periodical I could find for this article review. I wish I could say I headed directly to a journal I knew I could connect to the learning objectives for our course, Long Range Planning. I ended up finding Computational Thinking: A Digital Skill for Everyone, (Barr, Harrison, & Conery, 2011). Since my focus of education is technology integration, I am very interested in objective number 4, “Understanding the Characteristics of a 21st Century School.”

The article summarizes Computational Thinking as a way of “solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior by drawing on the concepts fundamental to computer science,” and refers to an article by Jeanette Wing from 2006 in the Communications of the Association of Computing Machinery. The ideas in this article are even more interesting to me because I am fascinated by the idea of computer-human interface and how we interact with machines. But I digress.

If there is going to be a fundamental in the way we do business in education, our spaces are going to have to be conducive to some informal thinking in the ways described in this article. Students will have to have spaces in which they can think, draw, sketch, collaborate, and analyze. Many of the problems described in this article are open-ended and very difficult to solve. In fact, some of these problems may not have known solutions. This means students will have to have the ability and confidence to deal with complex problems, be persistent in finding a reasonable solution, be able to tolerate ambiguity, and the capability to communicate their solutions and ideas to other students. This may be over the web through web 2.0 tools such as Skype, GoogleChat, or through a wiki. This means they will need a space with wired or wireless access, whiteboards for face-to-face collaboration and tables on which they can spread out their work.

Nothing in this article alludes to a classroom in which students sit in rows, face the front, and have information delivered from a lectern; the article talks about skill development, specifically collaboration, communication, and analysis. When I read about this kind of work with students, visions of a casual, informal space come to mind. Students are free to work, research, experiment, and communicate in the same space. There is not a separate lab in which they work and a separate room for lecture. Students would also need a small space for presentations. Maybe something with a few chairs situated around a Smartboard on which their information could be projected and used for brainstorming activities. This ideal classroom would encourage decision-making. It would allow teachers to differentiate learning, and encourage analytical thinking.

A change in education is going to require a re-design of where students work. They will expect to have information “talked-down” to them if we continue to have rows of desks facing the front. Multi-use spaces should be considered if we are going to expect students to use multiple skills. Actually what I have just described is my ideal classroom. I have moved away from the rows this year. I am resistant to that change (or any change) because my personality loves rows, but it was a conscious decision to begin to move towards a student-centered classroom. Our classroom now has 7 small groups of desks arranged facing each other instead of rows facing a Smartboard. As I tell my students, you cannot eat an elephant in one bite, you have to take tiny bites. My re-arrangement was a very small bite. A classroom as described above would be the entire herd of elephants!

It's nice to think about what you would have in your ideal classroom. What would you do?


Barr, D., Harrison, J., and Conery, L. (2011, March/April). Computational Thinking: A Digital Age Skill for Everyone. Learning and Leading with Technology, 38 (6), pp. 20-23.

Wing, J., (2006) Computational Thinking. Communication of the ACM. 49, pp. 33–35.