25 April 2016

You & Your Students Matter

After reading the article shown above (during my lunch hour), I find it readily apparent that the issues affecting education are much broader and far-reaching than the current situation we are facing in Oklahoma. (I'm sure this is not a surprise to anyone). This article does an excellent job to highlight the myriad issues facing educators today. Even when we have an educator (Arne Duncan) running the show from the Top, it seems that the situation continues to get worse.

So what are educators and education advocates to do? How do we change the system? What recourse do classroom teachers have? How can administrators encourage teachers to stay and keep up the good fight?

I certainly don't have the answers, but I want to send a note of encouragement to my educator friends:
  • Keep working to build deep relationships with your students. That matters. That's counts. 
  • You may be the only stable person in your students' lives. 
  • Your classroom may be the only safe place students have right now.
  • Your students are people. They are more than a number. More than a score. More than a statistic. 
  • You are more than a formula
  • You matter. 
  • You have influence. 
  • You can make a difference, even on the days when you feel like you aren't.
Often attributed to Albert Einstein, others credit noted psychologist William Bruce Cameron with the following quote:
Not everything that can be counted counts.Not everything that counts can be counted.
The love you show toward your students is literally immeasurable.

John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…”

23 April 2016

There's only one solution to fixing education in Oklahoma - VOTE!

As I read this article, I see a strong case against what our legislators here in Oklahoma are doing to education. If you look beyond the rhetoric and look into these issues on your own, you may find that there is some truth to what this article is trying to say. 

Our Oklahoma legislators are being led in the crusade by Sen. Clark Jolley (he's introduced more bills than any other sponsor in the Oklahoma legislature), Rep. Jason Nelson, & Rep. Jeffrey Hickman who are trying their best to change the face of education in OK. From where I sit, that new face of education looks like a system which can hire teachers with no certification, with no limit on how little teachers are paid, and containing no requirement on paying into teachers retirement. How does that draw highly-qualified teachers to (stay in) our state? How does education de-regulation benefit our students? This sounds a lot like a charter school. These are the same exact "benefits" which apply to charter schools.

The real question here is "Why are our legislators NOT considering what is best for students?" While I can't answer that, I do know that something must be done. It seems to me that the easiest way to fix the problem is to remove the factor(s) causing that problem. So we need some new leadership (this also applies to our national legislators. (**Don't even get me started the US Congress! The fact that the vast majority of senators and representatives have been able to make a career out of doing their job so ineffectively it borders on criminal, is absolutely baffling to me.) 

I hope that all of you will look into your candidates and consider their position on education. This is the single most important factor facing our state (and country) today. Without an education, voters are unable to critically think about how his/her vote affects who is elected and how who is elected affects him/her (the voter). Without an understanding of how one's vote affects society, why even vote? A lack of education leads to voter apathy and voter apathy leads to a lack of education, at least at least it seems to here in Oklahoma. 

The fact that many educators in Oklahoma have decided to run for office has been widely reported. Teachers in Oklahoma are tired of negligence on the part of our legislators to properly equip educators to do their job and are taking steps to make a change. It is absolutely ludicrous to think that some people run unopposed in elections. That makes my case for an apathetic electorate even stronger! 

Teachers, remind your high school juniors and seniors that they need to register to vote. Encourage them to look for resources containing candidates' information. Connect the kind of analysis you do in class to real life by applying it to issues. Give them a means to affect change AND practice the skills you teach in class. I know their children will thank you.

Imagine what could happen if everyone who has ever said, "Meh, my vote doesn't matter. I'm just one person; I'm just one vote!" took that civil responsibility seriously? People died for the right to vote; yet here we sit preferring to [insert ridiculous, mindless action verb here] rather than exercising our rights.

"Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting." - FDR

15 March 2016

I think #Trump is GREAT, but great at what?

The man has no concrete plans for anything. It is the absolute MOST empty rhetoric that has ever existed (how's that for hyperbole?). Make America great. Knock out ISIS. We are gonna win. I can fix (insert every broken piece of government) here. Do you even SPECIFIC bro?

I suspect that my normal silence in the area of national politics may cause some of my friends some surprise at this rant. It was a comment to a discussion on FB and I started and couldn't stop myself. Sometimes things clear up and I've gotta get a few things written down. This was one of those times. All of the time periods listed are from memory, so please be gentle if I am off by a decade or three. 

I think Trump is great. Yep. He's great. Great at being vague and talking, while not really saying anything at all.

I will agree that change begins with Congress. I find that very few career politicians, who talk about a "restoration" of the (insert constitutional republic component here) is pretty much the opposite of what the slave-owning, bigoted, adulterer "Christians" aka the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the constitution and began what we they, and every generation since, have failed at creating - a constitutional republic. Rather, we have an oligarchy, run by the people with the most money. NOT the ones who can do the best job or even the once who say the can do the best job. Congress should be servant-leaders. They are not. Our system is broken and the only way to fix it is to do the one thing Oklahoma has done right: TERM LIMITS.

But back to the issue at hand: Trump is great at bringing a group of people together. He is full of a lot of language which makes people more afraid of the "others" whom they already think are "the problem". He's good at playing one side against another. Playing one class against another. Playing one viewpoint against another. Pandering to the extreme right who think he will Make America Great Again! The real question though is this: Just how far back does he want to take us in history? Pre-civil rights? Pre-civil war? Post-civil war aka anti-immigration? The 10s and 20s when we hated the Hun? The 40s when we hated the Japanese and the Germans? Any time in history when we hated the Jews? Between the World Wars when we hated Mexico? (Wait, isn't that now??)

I'm sensing a pattern here. A pattern of fear and hate. It's the same song every politician has been singing at one time or another post-9/11 (when we just hate anyone with brown-skin, no matter their religious views). There's a HUGE difference between Patriotism and Nationalism and I'm afraid too many in politics are pressing for the wrong one.

23 February 2016

The case for the elimination of high-stakes testing

Our legislature in Oklahoma is considering eliminating the EOI Tests. To be clear, this would not get rid of ALL tests, just the end-of-instruction exams (EOI). Currently, there is SO MUCH legislation, i.e. Big Government, that teachers are not allowed to be professionals. By that I mean the government is telling teachers (like me) that the 4 years of educator preparation we did in college, does not qualify us to assess whether or not our students have learned the standards adequately. What if I have a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction? Nope. “We still don’t trust you to judge whether or not your students learned what they should in your class.” Okay. How about a doctorate? Nope. We, as legislators (NOT EDUCATORS) feel as though our system will be a better judge of your students’ learning. High-stakes testing is simply another way for the government to dictate what I can and can’t do (as a teacher). It always makes me laugh when the very people who are against big government are the same ones who want to legislate students and teachers to death with unfunded mandates for any number of issues in education.

Additionally, these tests effectively cease all instruction in Oklahoma schools by the first week of April. So we are using the last 8 weeks of school just for testing. While this may sound absurd (it is) and incomprehensible, when you have half of your class pulled out for 3 days in a row to test on an EOI for one subject (remember there are 7 of these exams for each student) and then they need to use your computers to administer those tests during the next week, and then the other half of your class is pulled out the following week, you have lost 3 weeks of instruction and that only accounts for 2 tests out of 7. Fortunately, I was able to work around that because I taught a non-testable subject, but the strategies I employed to continue instruction would not work for everyone, so what ends up happening is no instruction.

If we are testing for about 8 weeks, out of 180 instructional days in the school year, we are taking 40 of them (5 days x 8 weeks) - which accounts for almost 25 PERCENT of all the instructional days we have - to administer high stakes tests.

In Oklahoma, the mandate is that students must pass 4 of the 7 EOI tests to get a diploma, meaning if they only pass 3 tests, instead of a diploma, those students get a certificate of completion. This dooms that student to a minimum wage job. To be able to live and pay your bills in Oklahoma City, you must make approximately $13.00/hr. So these students will be making about ½ of what they need to make to just to live minimally. Where is that other ½, needed to augment their earned wage, going to come from? It comes from government assistance, e.g. food stamps, welfare, etc. If our education system fails these students - students who may already be predisposed to failure in education because of the low socio-economic level they have grown up in - what then is the choice for them to make a living? Get that minimum wage job and take government assistance, thereby placing their children in the same cycle of poverty? It is possible that could be the only option they have.

We are better than this. As someone who trains teachers, I remind teachers (and myself) that teaching practice can ALWAYS be improved. If we don't improve our schools (and I'm saying that ONE way to do that is to eliminate high-stakes testing), we are condemning ourselves to a continuation of generational poverty - meaning we spend more and more of our taxes to augment the income of people who live below the poverty line.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, pass laws about teaching.” That’s pretty much sums up my feeling about my state’s leaders.

25 February 2015

#gafesummit Oklahoma 2015

I decided to spend some time at lunch today thinking about the things I thought about a conference this past weekend at which I was with the 'cream of the crop' of educators here in Oklahoma. It was a valuable conference and worth every penny spent on attendance. The conference was a Google Apps for Education Summit (#gafesummit)

I was privileged to attend the pre-summit which began the process of preparing me to become a certified Google Education Trainer. This was some very valuable training and helped to further conceptualize how you can integrate SO many different apps/programs/sites with GAFE.

I think initially when I thought about attending the pre-summit, I thought it would be good for some 'on-the-side' consulting work as more and more districts/schools will be moving to GAFE in the coming years. However, after attending, I realize that I have more than I can handle to get my own faculty ready to meet the coming challenges of the Digital Education Environment.

I learned some new things, such as croak.it and some more innovative uses of socrative.com. The pre-summit was a great time of thinking about the challenges we face in education with our students and how to overcome those challenges.

If you aren't a teacher, you may not know the wide variety of access many of our students (don't) have. Some students have some access at home (desktop, wireless internet, etc.), some have smartphone access only, some have both, while there are some students who have no access to the interwebs at all. One of the primary questions I have (as a teacher) is: "How do I get each of my students equal access?" (at least while they are in my classroom) As an instructional designer, that question changes slightly. Rather, how do I get my faculty to (1.) allow their students to have on-demand access? (2.) How do I help those faculty create a culture of trust for technology use in their classrooms, especially when we aren't modeling that culture of trust? (3.) What are the pre-requisite issues I need to solve/change with my faculty in order to empower them to innovate in their classrooms? In other words, just because I am not married to ANYTHING I do in the classroom, my faculty may not be quite so willing, so how do I sell innovative practice to them?

Often, when I attend conferences, I may not learn a ton of new things (beyond the new webapp or add-on for browsers), but I am pushed into thinking about my faculty and how we can move their student engagement up a notch, how to deepen their understanding of difficult concepts (through on-demand remediation) and/or how to push their students to be learners who (1) enjoy learning (2) are motivated to learn (3) and are able to see the relevancy of what they are learning. This conference really did that for me.

I had an opportunity to meet some great folks and expand my PLN, both here in Oklahoma and throughout the US. I heard some great keynotes by Holly Clark, Mark Hammons, and Lise Galuga. We thought about the adjacent possible, moved toward future-ready, and decided that an elephant is best eaten one bite at a time. Overall, the weekend was a total success.

Thanks @edtechteam for a great learning experience, thanks @bmchs1 for hosting, and thanks to @BekahHightower for your hard work in coordinating the entire thing.

One more thing, I did present a couple of sessions, but my favorite was the new presentation I did about the great work we are doing here at Canadian Valley Technology Center using Google Scripts. I had a full session so I broadcasted/recorded on YouTube so others could attend virtually.

07 February 2015

Using Scripts with Google Drive to Track Student/Teacher Progress

I've been at a conference for the last couple of days and had an opportunity to share some of the great things we are doing at Canadian Valley Technology Center, specifically in using scripts to create calendar events (like a bus request), automated progress reports, professional development transcripts, and teacher evaluations (coming soon).


The first script I ever used was one which would send the results of a form to someone other than the person submitting it. I found it online, changed the email address, and made it work. That looks pretty simple now, but it started me on a journey which has led me to my current place in learning programming.


We have started using scripts (which are bound to Google spreadsheets, calendar, forms, etc.) to take the results of a form (set up as a way for instructors to enter their professional development for the semester), create a copy of a template, replace all information in <<>> with information from the form, move it into a shared folder (one shared with the teacher's supervisor), share the document with the teacher (view rights only), and email a link to the document to the teacher. 

This was the first project we used to integrate the automation power of Google Scripts. We have since created an automated transportation request (auto-creates) an event on the bus/van/etc. calendar. We have also moved to a Google Sheets gradebook (from an Excel template), with automated progress reports. 

We are on about the 4th iteration of each of these as it has been a somewhat large learning curve for someone like me who had zero programming experience. I have done about 1/2 of the codecademy.com Javascript course which has enabled me to begin to conceptually understand Scripts within Google. 

But it takes so long!

Like every other kind of technology I have ever used in the classroom, yes, it takes a lot of time. However, all of the time you invest on the front side (development) you will get back probably two-fold on the backside. Time spent doing paperwork is reduced to nearly nothing. I remember the first school I worked at had a person who taught part time and the other part of her job was tracking professional development. This first script would have eliminated that entire part of her job. Not that I am in favor of people losing their jobs, but maybe that person could focus more on instruction? Or remediation? 

Next Steps:

If you are a Google District and you have someone who is willing to learn or already knows Javascript, I would highly recommend giving someone the autonomy to begin integrating something like this. There are scripts already written which people will/can share (I'm glad to share any I have done) and if you need help, some great resources are the Scripts documentation and stackoverflow.com. I do a lot of searching for help. 

If you would like to connect more about this topic, I'm happy to do so. You can connect through about.me/jbowie. If I can help you with anything, please let me know!

22 January 2015

Google Summit

I registered for a Google Summit, which is happening in February, here in Oklahoma City. These events are held world-wide and one is coming to Oklahoma City??

Additionally, I submitted two different presentations. Here is the information for the first one and the second one. I have given the "Google Apps will Change Your Life" on many previous occasions, so I have many resources for that one. However, the "Use Google Scripts without being a Coding Expert" will be more of a challenge. I have only been using the program for about six months and am fairly new to programming. I will definitely learn something while I get ready for it, though. I usually do.

I will have to gather a significant number of resources for programming, such as stackoverflow.com, codecademy.com, and w3schools.com. I use those resources a lot when I am working on Javascript and they have helped me tremendously in the last several months.

I will also get to attend a bootcamp specifically for trainers of Google Apps. Here's what the website says about it:

Google Educator Trainer (GET) Train the Trainer (T3) Bootcamp serves two purposes: to raise awareness about how Google tools can be used in education to; ignite inquiry, promote collaboration, and allow for authentic publishing and sharing, (with students and among colleagues), and to prepare participants to pass the Google Educator Test and submit their certification application.
Become a Google Educator to be recognized for your mastery. Each session includes an interactive overview, top tips from the Google Educator Training Center, hands-on activities, and inspiring ideas for how to use Google for teaching, learning, and professional collaboration. The activities are flexible, designed to help new users quickly understand the "core magic" of each app - and to challenge veteran users by revealing features and innovative uses they never imagined. The experience is grounded in Google culture, complete with high-energy fast-paced demonstrations and challenging activities that can truly be called "hard fun." There is no better preparation for teaching and learning with Google Apps - or for passing the Google Educator tests.
So if you are reading this and need a trainer to consult with your district about integrating Google Apps for Education, consider contacting me and letting me work with you!