Monday, August 6, 2012

What ever happened to local Science Fairs?

Science inquiry is important to the development and maintenance of a sustainable society. When critical thinking and critical analysis are placed behind entertainment, the future of the society grows dim.

The skills involved in a long-term investigation project are foundational to building a strong society. Question generation, data collection, data analysis, and presentation of results are skills which translate to the development of people who are thinkers and problem solvers. 

In schools, our students should complete and present age appropriate, long-term investigation projects from 3rd grade onwards. Data collection should be rigorous. Data analysis thorough. The presentation concise and clear. As students get older (or competent in a foreign language) part of their presentation should be in their second language. The project should be interdisciplinary and include assessment from science, math, English and foreign language teachers.

The richness of this experience will equip people with skills who we could expect to become significant contributors to their society.

Reflection: Consider a generational collection of high school graduates each having nine years of authentic investigation experience. What is their potential impact on their society? Could we conjecture a bright future for their society? Why?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Second Day of School

I teach Geometry and according to the curriculum and textbook, I am supposed to begin the course by discussing undefined terms.

Let's look at this from the student perspective. They have been out of school for two months and at some point during that time they were bored. Most arrive for a new school year with excitement and hope. The excitement is to see old friends and meet new ones. The hope is they will learn and it will be fun.

So back to Geometry. Excited and hopeful student arrives for Geometry. The teacher begins the course by telling 'excited and hopeful' the basis for everything they will study during the year is undefined. The student is probably thinking, well at least I was excited and hopeful yesterday.

Stop the madness! Look at your curriculum, choose an activity to begin the course which will actively engage the students. Renew their hope!

Here's what I do. We begin the Geometry course with transformations (also found in the first chapter). We graph a picture on the coordinate plane then move or change the picture mathematically. We use translations, reflections, rotations and dilations. After transformations, we do Geometric constructions with a straight-edge and compass. So after two months of limited learning experiences, students come to Geometry and draw for three weeks (and develop skills we will use the rest of the year).

Let me hear what you do to make the start of your course exciting for the students.

The First Day of School

On the first day of school your priority should be to learn the name of each student. In order to have the time to do this you need to organize the agenda for the day so this can happen.

Here is my agenda for the first day. I provide students with a copy of the class policies and give them an "open notebook" quiz on the policies. Students work alone for 10 minutes, then are allowed to work with their neighbors. At this point, I find even the most reluctant learner is willing to discuss the class policies. The last question on the quiz is an essay question asking students to choose a policy and explain whether they agree or disagree with the policy. While all of this is happening I work on learning names by using a class list and the names at the top of the quizzes. Before the class ends I make eye contact with each student as I practice their name.

Let's review. At the end of the first day of school, I have learned all of my students' names, they have demonstrated an understanding of the class policies, they have earned an "A" in the class and I have a writing sample for each student. Not bad for 35 minutes. Note: At my school we use a rotating block schedule with four classes meeting each day. On the first day of school, we use a modified schedule so we see all of our classes.

What do you do to get the most of out of the first day of school?

What's in a name?

On the first day of school structure the agenda for the class to allow you time to memorize every student's name. Practice saying their names before they leave the class. Ask students to help you with pronunciation. Make eye contact with each student when you say their name.

Learning your students' names the first day of class is more important than any policy, routine, or assignment you have for them.

How do you handle learning student names?

The Night Before the First Day of School

Actually, well before the night before the first day of school consider how you want your classroom to run. What will it look like? What will it sound like? What will it feel like? What will it smell like? What will it 'taste' like? Feel, smell, and 'taste' are used here to focus on the experience of the students. After being in your classroom for 50 to 80 minutes, how will they remember the experience?

What happens when the students enter the room? How will you check attendance? What are your expectations for the day, the week, and the year? How will homework, quizzes, and tests be handled? What will be your routine for class discussions? How will you handle student needs (e.g. going to the bathroom)? How will you handle unexpected interruptions? How will the class end?

Develop policies and routines which will support how you want your classroom to run. Teach and reteach these policies and routines until the students know what to do. Ask for student feedback and be flexible enough to make changes. For example, recently my students asked me to change where I write the day's agenda and to spend more time discussing homework assignments. Done!

Describe the look, sound, feel, smell, and 'taste' of the perfect classroom. What will you teach your students in order to achieve what want your classroom to be like?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Millennials Are Here!

The "millennials" (people born late 1970's to early 2000's) "are the first generation in human history who regard behaviors like tweeting and texting, along with websites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Wikipedia, not as astonishing innovations of the digital era, but as everyday parts of their social lives and their search for understanding." (Keeter and Taylor 2009) Do they Google "learning" as they need it? Are notebooks and textbooks obsolete? How should education adapt to meet their needs?

The infographic from the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Youth Entrepreneur Council points out "this generation prefers on-the-spot recognition to traditional performances reviews." I see the residual effect of this in my classroom. The online assignments I use provide instant feedback as well as multiple tries. In the classroom, though, I am unable to provide continuous individual feedback. Students work for 80 minutes in the computer lab whereas in the classroom their effort level is less intense. The infographic goes on to say, "millennials are natural collaborators, particularly when the group's purpose and goals are understood." [I pause here for effect.]

Technically savvy, desire instant feedback, prefer collaboration, and need a clear purpose, hmmmm, this is not rocket science. The students of this generation are telling us how to help them succeed. With our eyes open and creativity in place, we must produce quality assessments which remain reliable and valid to a clear purpose. We must provide efficient feedback which strikes at the teachable moment. We must involve technology and support collaboration within our assesments. The tools are available to support these things. "Millennial" education must now be real in our classrooms (face-to-face and virtual).

As for cheating (the elephant in the room few wish to talk about), I can only offer an opinion based on a Keeter and Taylor observation, "They (the millennials) are the least religiously observant youths since survey research began charting religious behavior." Yes, I assume a lack of sincere 'religious' behavior can negatively impact ethical behavior. I am open to hear other views on this, but I find it difficult to avoid that connection when I hear of students who do not think cheating is wrong.

Keeter J. and Taylor P. (December 11, 2009). The Millennials.

Buck, S. (June 28, 2012). Managing Millennials: Why Gen Y Will Be Running the Country by 2020. Retrieved June 30, 2012, from

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Instructional Design

Consider the enthusiasm demonstrated on the first day of school (any first day of school regardless of age). There is a mixture of excitement and hope. In the individual child there lies a burning question, "What will I learn today?" Buried under the social layers of seeing old friends and making new ones, children truly want to learn. "The real motivation to learn," says David Merrill, "comes when students are able to do something they were not able to do before." 

I say, then, instructional design is the process of sustaining positive learning memories directly related to the learner being able to do something they were not able to do before. I conjecture the accumulation of such memories will support learner growth and development as well as encourage them to want to learn for a long time.

As for the disposition of instructional design, I say it is the combination of the art of teaching and the science of design with measures of common sense, compassion and care. Why? Simple, the perfect lesson plan does not guarantee success as does not an overdose of sensible love. There must be an orchestration of events, interactions, and results which move the learner along. Instructional design is this orchestration.

Merrill, D. (2008, August 11) Merrill on Instructional Design. Retrieved June 11, 2008, from 

Monday, May 7, 2012

The End Of The School Year

The end is near.

Most teachers are tired and have classrooms full of students who are ready for vacation. Yet in this moment we have an incredible opportunity to determine if mastery has been achieved. All of the work up until now has been pointing to a meaningful understanding of the subject matter. The students should be producing their best work of the year. Teachers should be tying together the loose ends of the current course and encouraging initial interest in the next course. 

This is also the time to evaluate the effectiveness of your classroom management routines. If your routines are working under these conditions, then they can be deemed effective. If not, fix them. 

Challenge yourself and your students to exhibit excellence and finish the school year strong. 

Even though the end is near, there is always one more thing to do. Help students to see the end can easily represent the next beginning.

Resource: See also Lifelong Learning, Teacher Health, and Tips For Success In School.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Lifelong Learning

Consider the 15 year old human sitting in your classroom. What will they really remember from your outstanding orations, alarming activities, and tremendous tests? Not much really. Or at least not as much as you might think. Oh yes, there will be those moments from your classroom that will forever be etched into their brain. For example, I remember the day a bird flew into my high school English class. Unfortunately, we were not reading a Dr. Doolittle story. I am pretty sure the teacher's lesson plan did not include "bird enters stage left". 

What then should we do? We must help create a series of positive learning memories for our students which will drive them to want more. Creating a classroom where this occurs must become our passion. Learning must regain its place next to 'exhaustingly fun', 'rigorously exciting', and 'lifelong'.

Note: Strategic placement of commas and periods have been used in this blog post. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

No Busy Work Please!

When we plan for instruction, we need to choose relevant and authentic tasks. In most classes there will be students of different levels of ability, none of whom should be burdened with busy work. Structure your classroom in such a manner there is always one more thing to do. Just ensure the 'one more thing' leads the student to a deeper understanding of the current objective or prepares them to enter into an understanding of the next objective.

This should also remain true when working with teachers. If you find yourself working with pre-service or in-service teachers, ensure the artifacts they are asked to produce can be used when they return to their classroom. If the artifact cannot be used in the classroom, then why create it?

No busy work please!

Resource: Surface Area and Volume module recently produced for an online course. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

There Has Always Been Three

As we look to educate, there has always been three critical components: authentic planning, clear expectations, and valid and reliable assessment. Even though these components should be readily assumed, when one or more is missing the learners will become agitated.

Authentic Planning

Failing to plan is planning to fail. As the development of lessons, modules, units and courses takes place, there must be an authentic planning phase. Classroom action must be designed to support learner obtainment of the intended objective(s). The most effective manner in which to ensure effective classroom action is for the instructor to complete the activities prior to using them with the learners. Of course, in the current educational era, giving learners the opportunity to provide input into the classroom action planning is popular. Include this technique as the maturity of the learners allow.

Clear Expectations

As a result of authentic planning, clear expectations should be easily developed and delivered to learners. Since the classroom action has been pretested and polished, the instructor should be well versed in what is expected and have the confidence to allow for individualized (read "constructivistic") pursuits beyond the content expectations. There must be attention given to classroom management as well. Students need to understand how to actively participate in self-determined learning, peer-to-peer interactions, and whole group discussions. Note: The perfect lesson plan does not guarantee classroom management. Classroom management must be addressed. If not, then the behavior of the learners can interrupt learning.

Valid and Reliable Assessment

Formative or summative assessment? Rubric, fill-in-the blank or essay? Terra Nova or SAT? There is no difference when we examine these instruments through the lens coated with validity and reliability. If authentic planning has occurred and clear expectations communicated, then valid and reliable assessment should follow. Again, I strongly recommend the instructor complete the assessment instrument before using it with the learners.


Regardless of whether you are using the constructivist learning model, objectivist learning model, or a combination, the instructor is responsible to ensure authentic planning has occurred, clear expectations have been communicated, and valid and reliable assessments are used. The tools (online or not) used to accomplish these actions are of secondary importance to the actual classroom action.

With respect to how I might adjust a course to reflect what I found in recent readings, I will analyze and evaluate the current course design, complete the activities myself, and adjust as necessary to match the intended outcomes. In addition, I will plan to support individual interest in going beyond the intended outcomes.   

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Cheating happens. 

With technology, cheating has become more efficient. 

Cheating coupled with a poor work ethic undermines our efforts to ensure a quality education for all. 

As teachers, we must look at our assessments for learning and examine the validity, reliability and, now, security. Ask yourself, "Have I developed a set of assessment tools which will maintain a secure judgement of student growth and progress?" If not, change the way you conduct assessment.

I suggest you combine online work with formative and summative assessments in class. Get to know your students and their work. Listen to their questions and provide guidance. Promote organization, model a strong work ethic, and prepare students for success. If a student then makes a bad decision, discipline appropriately. 

Cheating happens so be prepared to be completely disappointed. Confront, discipline, and move forward.

Behavior Modification

As we consider the rules of our classroom and objectives for our lessons, residual behavior modification is the end goal. We want our classrooms (physical, hybrid, or virtual) to run efficiently and our lessons to be effective. Understand, though, the success of both depends heavily on behavior modification. Will the learner behave or act differently as a result of taking part in the course?

Failure to invest time in planning and implementing classroom management and instructional design will result in a set of unwanted time-absorbing issues.

As we address of the needs of the individuals who enter our classrooms, expectations and objectives must be communicated clearly. For if the learner is to become different they must fully understand what different means. 

At the end of the day when our students leave us, we want them to think, reason, calculate and communicate better than when they arrived in our classrooms. Modified behavior which they can take "back to the streets" and use to be productive.

Resources: In continuation of the focus on Bloom's Taxonomy, check out Graeme Eyre's blog showing prompts for questions and Kathy Schrock's Guide to Everything: Bloomin' Apps.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bloom's Taxonomy

In 1956 Benjamin Bloom and a group of cognitive psychologists produced a taxonomy for the development of intellectual behavior which became deeply embedded in our thinking on the process of education. Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation are an integral part of the pre-service and in-service training of teachers.

In the 1990's Lorin Anderson (a former student of Bloom) and a group of cognitive psychologists "updated" the taxonomy to Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating and Creating. Note: By seeing "updated" in quotes, you can safely assume my thoughts on the whole update concept.

The issue here is NOT nomenclature! Many of us in education are "stuck" teaching our students at the lower levels of the taxonomy: knowledge, comprehension and application, while students thirst for learning at the higher levels: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

I'm talking to myself here as well! The new online tools combined with time-tested techniques create endless possibilities for quenching that thirst.

How do you embed Bloom's Taxonomy into a learning environment? How can you mentor me to do a better job?

Checkout Samantha Penney's adaptation of a few new online tools to Bloom's Taxonomy.

What tools would you add to each level?

When Are We Ever Gonna Use This?

If you are or have been a classroom teacher, most likely you will have heard a student ask this question. Instead of being annoyed, understand the student is doing you a favor. They are letting you know your lesson plan is not working for them. They are giving you feedback to be used in formative assessment. They are telling you exactly what they need in order to learn. Listen and answer their question.

This question can also become relevant for teachers when evaluating online resources. Questions arise. Does the online resource actually work? If the resource works, does it satisfy a need? How much time will be involved with effectively using the resource? Does the resource enhance student understanding and retention?

Honestly, at the end of the day, the last question is the one which matters the most.

Resource: Online assessment tools: A sample of each of the following tools has been reviewed: quiz and test builder, peer-to-peer interaction, course tracking, and reflective assessment. Your feedback is welcome as well as suggestions for other tools available in these categories.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Augmented Realities

Ok, so I am several years behind this trend. I have been busy climbing things, improving my golf game and ensuring I am healthy outside of school. However, I want to learn how to program augmented realities and I want my students to learn how to program their own augmented realities (especially with items they have created in Geometry class). Obviously, there is a fascination with the 3D image. What attracts me most, though, is the complexity of making the 3D image appear wherever you want. I want students to wrestle with ideas of this magnitude.

The Perfect e-Storm Survival Guide

The movie, The Perfect Storm (2000) recounts the story of the Andrea Gail which in 1991 while at sea encountered three storms (including Hurricane Grace) which combined to create the perfect storm. The boat and crew did not survive.

In 2004, Dr. Curtis J. Bonk made an analogy to the story of the Andrea Gail and the collision in education of emerging technology, learner demand, enhanced pedagogy and budget issues. Hence, The Perfect E-Storm, Parts 1 and 2.

The inevitable will happen. Actually, the e-storm is already happening. How can we survive this deluge of intense want from so many different directions? Survival will not be easy, but YOU can do it! Consider the following suggestions:

[1] Never become completely satisfied with your teaching. Always seek to improve the delivery and assessment techniques used in your classroom.
[2] Unite with others to weather the storm. Form a study group with colleagues, take an online class, and ask your students to demonstrate the new technologies they use outside of school.
[3] Enjoy the journey. Walking in the shoes of a student can make you a better teacher. Find ways to make the experiences fun.

Here's a sample of what's out there...

Augmented Reality: GE's Ecomagination
Digital Libraries: Oxford Digital Library
Games and Simulations: Shodor's Interactivate
e-Learning: Michigan Virtual University
Reusable Learning Objects: Texas A&M Repository

Bonk, C. J. (2004, June) The Perfect E-Storm. Retrieved March 26, 2012 from

Resource: Concept Map for teaching surface area and volume of Geometric solids.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Just Say "No" To Blogs

What do I mean by posting Just Say "No" To Blogs? on a blog. Has 'the simple teacher' guy lost the plot? Probably, but that post is for another day.

As we manage the dynamics of a Web 2.0-based classroom, the integration of the tools available to us must not overshadow the development of the learner. If a blog will enhance the learning process, then blog. If not, then choose a different tool or, better yet, let the students choose the tool. Remember "You do not need to bring in an elephant to teach the color grey." (Liz Dunham, c.1990)

We must also make the permanence of the Internet very clear to users. Once comments, pictures and videos are posted, they are in cyberspace for anyone and everyone to see. Check out the Once Posted You Lose It video which brings home the point of permanence.

As with any tool, its effectiveness is determined by the users. Choose your tools wisely, provide a structure for safe usage, and support authentic learning. 

Resource: Teacher Challenge: Setting Up Your Own Blog is the first lesson in a series to help set-up and run a blog for your classroom.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Emerging Practices of Online Assessment

The virtual modality is a reality.  As with the auditory, visual, and kinesthetic modalities, learner participation and satisfaction is grounded in stimulation. As more and more online resources become available to both students and teachers, the selection and use of these resources to support a student-centered classroom as well as authentic assessment are paramount. The tool, whether crayon or computer, is but a vehicle to stimulate the learner to pursue knowledge and understanding. Its proper use, though, is the fuel which will actually ignite cognitive growth.

Resources: Blogger allows users to create a blog while PBworks supports users with creating a wiki. Wiki example provided by University of Wisconsin-Stout Assessment in E-Learning course.

Chariots of Fire

The opening of the movie has a group of British athletes on a training run along the coast. The theme song, written by Vangelis, draws from the runners the very emotion and passion of what lies ahead. The lives of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams are highlighted in the movie as they journey to glory in the 1924 Olympics. It is their passion, though, for a complete life which makes this movie relevant. Listen if you dare to be inspired...Chariots of Fire.

What "music" or "stories" from your classroom will inspire learners to glory?

Why Is Assessment Important?

Assessment is important because the process of knowing allows one to become a better provider. As we learn what our students know and do not know, then we can better facilitate for them what they need. The learner becomes more interested because their needs are being met on a regular basis. The class dynamic improves because the group of learners become interested in participating in what happens next. Classroom activities should be designed to satisfy assessment for learning. These activities, both formative and summative, should not represent the end but the beginning of the next adventure.

Resource: SurveyMonkey allows users to create an online survey

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Teaching is decision-making. As teachers, we make daily decisions about course content and management with the purpose and intent to create memorable learning experiences for our students.

Take a moment to reflect on your classroom. Is there any event which negatively impacts student learning? 

Take time to teach your students how you want the event to be managed and you will begin to "buy back" time. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Inspiration...A Different Kind of School Field Trip

When the thought of inspiring our students is considered we often think about special events: guest speaker, special project, or field trip. 

For a moment, let's play out the dynamics of a field trip. 

The teacher selects a location of value to supplement the curricular program of study. Students seek permission from their parents to attend because they want to go. On the day of the trip, there is great excitement because students feel they are "getting out of school". Students often wear their coolest clothes, put their favorite snacks in their backpacks, and get on the bus smiling. They are genuinely excited.

What if we were able to duplicate that excitement, desire, and inspiration at our schools? How would education be different if each morning our students got off the bus with the feeling of arriving for a field trip...wearing their coolest clothes, having their favorite snacks, and smiling with genuine excitement. Students would be eager to start their day. Learning would be an adventure. And, yes, when their parents ask, "What did you learn in school today?" there would actually be an answer different from "Nothing!"

What will you do today to create such a classroom, such a school, and most importantly, such a child?

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Virtual Modality

The virtual modality is just as much a reality as the auditory, visual, and kinesthetic modalities. Some of our students learn best in the virtual environment because they are more engaged there than anywhere else. The catch is the assumption that the virtual environment and its independence provides an easier path to knowledge. It does not. Online courses certainly have their place and make the world smaller. The net value of any online course, though, is whether or not the learner brings a new skill set to their face-to-face interaction with other humans. There needs to be a balance. Online courses are a tool just as a hands-on lab or a Socratic seminar. There is no easy path to knowledge. The work must be done and self-discipline must be present.