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.