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More on the team! [guest post]


This is the team! I am the girl in the back, 7 people in counting from the left.

The order of people are (From back to front, left to right): Mrs. Haage, Mrs. Eveland, Cory, Kazuki, Collin, Logan, myself, Jeremy, Ben, Mr. Dixon. Front row: Kodi, Nick, Caleb and Adam.

Mrs. Haage is pregnant in this photo! Sadly, she was not able to make it to the World Championship due to her pregnancy. She is filling in for Mrs. Eveland while she is out due to sickness! Mrs. Eveland has been diagnosed with breast cancer so she had to take some time off of school/robotics. She is always there to say goodbye and there to say welcome back. She still comes into robotics. She is doing really well though. :) Cory is a sophomore, Kazuki is a senior – our only one this year! Kazuki is also 1 of 2 drivers for the robot. Next is Collin. Collin does a lot of programming for the robot with Kazuki. He is the “Coach” while the boys are driving the robot and he is a sophomore. Next is Logan. Logan is the other driver and a junior. Then there is me (Molly). I am a junior, and I am community/outreach and I am the group’s PR. Then there is Jeremy. During Pre-Game (before competition) he scouts out. Basically scouting going around to other teams and asking them about their robot and what it can do. Jeremy is also a junior. After Jeremy comes Ben. Ben is a sophomore and does the same thing he does! Then there is Mr. Dixon. He is the only coach we have that is NOT also employed at our school. He works at Paslode and helps us out a lot with the building process and such. First on the bottom is Kodi. She is a junior and she is our team mascot! :D She made the whole thing from scratch and she also helps with what I do. Then there is Nick. He is a sophomore and he fixes the motors, etc. that break on the robot. He is extremely helpful in the process of making sure the robot is kept up. He also helps ease the tension between us and a team! He makes introductions funny and is good at socializing. Then there is Caleb! Caleb is a junior and he does the odds and ends of stuff. He helped make trifolds and stuff like that! And finally there is Adam! He is a sophomore and he helped us with the robot building process also. He helps stay in contact with our sponsors and likes to show off some of our 3-D printed parts. :) So that is the team for you! :D

Team 4443: The Sock Monkeys! [guest post]

Hey guys! My name is Molly Bleything, I am 17, from Oskaloosa Iowa and I am on a robotics team. I don’t know how much all of you guys personally know about us or what we do, but you’re going to find out extremely quick! :D Lets start with top 5 most commonly asked questions:

1. Does your robot shoot lasers and fight? – No. Our team runs through the FTC. FTC stands for First Tech Challenge. The FTC is just a branch for the overall First program. There is also the FRC, FLL, and Jr. FLL!

Check out the website to get more information on us, and the other teams!

2. Are you guys only in robotics? – No! We are not all “nerds and geeks.” Many of us (including myself) are involved with many other things. A lot of us are in soccer, choir, band, art, cross country, orchestra, etc.

3. Are you guys the only team where you live? – No! There are a lot of no’s here, but that is a-okay! Our team – team 4443 – is the younger of the two. The other team we have is Team 3608 the Ninjaneers. They consist of freshman (9th graders) and younger! Team 3608 was the original team at our school.

4. Do you guys do cool stuff? – A lot of times, everyone has a different example. Yes, we do get to do cool stuff. We build a robot, go visit other engineering companies, meet up with other teams, and spread the word about the FTC program.

5. How many kids are on your team? – 10. There is one senior, four juniors, and 5 sophomores.

I encourage you to check out our website at It has a lot of information, updates, and pictures of the team. I also encourage you to follow us on Twitter at:

Now, back to robotics. Every year the FTC sends out a new challenge. This year the challenge is called Block Party. There are rules and regulations for you, your team and, most importantly, your robot. They call it the block party because well… it involves blocks. Your robot should be built and designed mainly to pick up cubed, yellow blocks. You are only allowed to pick up 3-4 blocks per scoop. The blocks are placed in opposite corners of the arena. After you get the blocks picked up, you and another driver steer the robot over to the ramp. The ramp sits in the center of the arena and has a bar across the top of it, and off the sides of it, it has a wooden crate with boxes put on it. You get x amount of points for certain things… anyways, the goal is to put the blocks in the pendulum. This is called Tel-op. Because of tel-op, there is autonomous. Autonomous is when the robot drives itself because the students programmed it to do so. The goal is to take a block, drop it in the box and then the robot will drive itself on the ramp. Some teams do not have autonomous at all… Anyways, after autonomous and tel-op comes the end game. The end game is the last 30 seconds of tel-op. In end game your robot should be able to raise a flag, hang itself. The robot can also keep scooping blocks into the pendulum if it so pleases. That is the Block Party this year! As a bonus we can do all of it! :D

So now that you know everything there is about the block party, lets get blogging!

Responsible educational journalism

Leslie and David Rutkowski say:

simply reporting results, in daring headline fashion, without caution, without caveat, is a dangerous practice. Although cautious reporting isn’t nearly as sensational as crying “Sputnik!” every time the next cycle of PISA results are reported, it is the responsible thing to do.


This holds true, of course, for all other assessment results as well. I am continually amazed at how many press releases become ‘news stories,’ sometimes nearly verbatim. Too many educational journalists have abdicated their responsibility to ask questions, to investigate claims and evidence, to cast a skeptical eye on puffery, and to try and get to the truth…

Here’s to school spirit videos

Okoboji (IA) High School is having fun with video…

Do these kinds of videos directly improve student learning outcomes? Nope. Do they foster positive school climate, culture, and spirit? Absolutely!

Learning environments should be fun. Kudos to the Okoboji folks for remembering that. Happy viewing!  #eduboji

Okoboji High School Roar

Livin’ the Dream

Nice work on the teacher appreciation video too!

Did you know they add sugar to your fish sticks? [VIDEO]

Some of the wonderful folks who helped make the Did You Know? (Shift Happens) videos have a new company, The Tremendousness Collective. One of their first projects was a video highlighting what sugars do to us. I’m late blogging this but thought I would pass it along. This video has absolutely nothing to do with schools or technology or leadership but these people are truly remarkable to work with and I want to support them any way I can. If you ever need someone to help you tell a story or get people to care, get in touch with them right away. They truly do “turn your ideas into absurdly great visual communications.”

Happy viewing!

Farewell, Dr. Glass

Des Moines to Eagle County

Regular readers of this blog know that I don’t always agree with Dr. Jason Glass, Director of the Iowa Department of Education. But I’m going to be one of the first to say how sorry I am that he’s leaving Iowa for his new position as Superintendent of the Eagle County (CO) Schools.

I have ongoing concerns about some of the directions that Iowa educational policy is heading. Like in other states, we have seen policy proposals in recent years that hurt kids, schools, and our state. From teacher ‘accountability’ to third grade retention to assigning schools letter grades, these policies play well to certain fringes of the ‘ed reform’ crowd but have nothing to do with transforming education in ways that facilitate deeper thinking, student agency, or relevance in a digital, global world. Unfortunately, our policymakers also are not immune to the influx of outside monies. When the Governor is a founding member of ALEC and the largest political donor in the last legislative race is StudentsFirst, Iowa can expect to face some significant issues regarding inappropriate outside and/or corporate influence on policies that affect its children, teachers, and schools. In a state where most educational professionals either don’t have an online voice or aren’t willing to use it, I have felt the need to sometimes speak against some of the lunacy.

For the most part I think that Jason has been a moderating influence on much of this. Despite the policy positions from above (or outside) for which he’s sometimes had to stand behind, he’s pretty middle of the road on most things. Every conversation that I’ve had with Jason has been nothing but congenial and respectful. In addition to his advocacy for strengthening the teaching profession, he’s been a strong supporter of competency-based education (which, along with technology, I believe has the greatest potential in our state for upending school as we know it). He has tried to help us learn from high-achieving school systems and he’s facilitated the expansion of online learning. He fostered the #iaedfuture Twitter hashtag (which has become an important channel for conversations about Iowa school policy) and has been exceptionally accessible to the larger public via his blog and Twitter. And he always, always is proud of and talks highly about the work that Iowa educators and schools are doing. One of our greatest strengths in our state is the tremendous interconnectedness and mutual support that Iowans and their educators give to each other. We have a long history of caring about education, we are small enough that everyone seems to know each other, and it’s relatively easy to get positive movements started. Jason has always understood this and, in his way, tried to leverage these strengths to do good things for kids and schools. Although I have expressed occasional concern about the possibility of Iowa becoming one of ‘those states’ (yes, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, New York, Tennessee, etc., I’m talking about you), we have a number of fantastic things happening here when it comes to education. Some are a direct result of Jason’s leadership. For others – such as the grass roots 1:1 computing movement or the burgeoning standards-based-grading awakening – he has known when to stay out of the way (a much less appreciated but critically important characteristic of effective leaders).

So I’m going to miss you, Jason. Thanks for taking the ACT with me. Thanks for the public Twitter exchanges that everyone saw and the private email exchanges that everyone didn’t. I hope you have a smooth transition back to a place that was once home and wish you the very best in your new role. And if you ever want some help or support on the technology front – particularly with your building- and district-level leaders – please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Techno- and edu-babble

This video is making the rounds. It seems like you ought to understand it, but it’s complete gibberish. Watch a minute or two…

How often do we techno-enthusiasts sound like this when we proselytize to less tech-savvy educators?

See also the educational jargon generator (“unleash synergistic infrastructures,” “engineer innovative convergence”). Spot on…

Congratulations, Drs. Cox, Grundmeyer, Sauers, and Urich!

It’s highly possible that my favorite thing about working in higher education is Commencement. I’m a sucker for the pomp and circumstance, the medieval regalia, the joyous singing of the alma mater, etc. So while graduation ceremonies can be quite long, the smiles on students’ and families’ faces are worth every second of sitting in uncomfortable chairs and bleacher seats.

Last night I had the pleasure of ‘hooding’ my final four Iowa State University doctoral students:

  • Dan Cox is the principal of Hoover Middle School in the Waterloo (IA) Community School District. His dissertation was titled School communications 2.0: A social media strategy for K-12 principals and superintendents.
  • Trent Grundmeyer is the principal of Indianola (IA) High School. His dissertation was titled A qualitative study of perceptions of first-year college students regarding technology and college readiness.
  • Nick Sauers is a former Iowa principal and currently is a Lecturer in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky. Nick also blogs at 1 to 1 Schools. His dissertation was titled 1:1 laptop implications and district policy considerations.
  • Jill Urich is the principal of Northview Middle School in the Ankeny (IA) Community School District. Her dissertation was titled Implementation of standards-based grading at the middle school level.

Please extend hearty commendations to Drs. Cox, Grundmeyer, Sauers, and Urich for successful completion of their doctorates. Ph.D. programs are long, arduous journeys and they made it through with smiles on their faces!

Pictures are below (apologies in advance for the lighting and my poor photography skills). Dan, Trent, Nick, and Jill, it was wonderful working with you!

Dan Cox

Dan Cox

Trent Grundmeyer


Nick Sauers


Jill Urich


Taking the ACT a quarter century after high school


[Warning: Long post ahead]

Yesterday I took the ACT college entrance exam for the first time. At age 44.

It all started with Ira Socol’s blog post, which argued that if politicians think that the standardized tests they are espousing are so important, they had better be able to pass those tests themselves. I then sent these tweets:

Neither Iowa Governor Terry Branstad nor any state legislators responded (surprise!) but Dr. Jason Glass, Director of the Iowa Department of Education, said that he would take the ACT if I would too. The good folks at ACT said that they would be happy to administer a retired test. And that’s how I ended up in a small room at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines with Jason and 8 students who took the exam for practice.

How was the experience?

I took the SAT when I was a kid so the ACT was new territory for me. I’ll break out my thoughts by test area…

English. The English test was primarily a test of grammar, sentence formation, and paragraph flow and structure. I was asked many questions about punctuation and phrasing and word choice (e.g., who or whom or whose or who’s). Occasionally I was asked about spelling (e.g., its v. it’s) or whether a particular sentence or paragraph should be inserted, deleted, and/or moved elsewhere in a reading passage. The focus was primarily on writing composition. At times I felt like I do when I’m helping edit one of my students’ doctoral dissertations! With the caveat that I’m not a writing expert, I felt that this test did a fairly decent job of assessing whether students could identify grammar errors, poor wording, stilted sentence flow, and other technical mistakes in written passages.


Math. I know how to do a number of advanced statistical procedures, including linear regression and hierarchical linear modeling. However, I still thought that this would be the hardest test for me since I haven’t done any geometry or trigonometry since I took those high school courses almost 30 years ago. Most of the test focused on algebraic and geometric concepts. There were a handful of trigonometry questions, plus I was surprised to see a question on logarithms. I correctly completed more problems than I thought I would but – probably due to lack of day-to-day immersion and practice – was correct about the pacing. I had to pencil in last-minute random guesses for several questions because I simply ran out of time. My biggest concerns about the math test relate to the fact that much of what is assessed is math that – and I think I’m safe saying this – most of us will never use again (how many of you have needed to calculate the cosine of an angle recently? how many of you have needed to determine the formula of a circle on a standard coordinate plane?). This is a curricular issue more than an assessment issue since the ACT draws off of the math courses that most high school students take. Smarter people than I have weighed in on what math courses high schoolers should take and I’ll defer to them before I reveal too much of my ignorance. I know some of the arguments about ‘inculcating habits of mind’ and ‘more students might be turned onto higher-level math and science’ and so on. It just bothers me a great deal that we’re herding many, many students through math classes that are largely irrelevant to their future life success (most high school students don’t get much probability and statistics, for example, even though that’s what I think they’ll need most often beyond foundational numeracy). My other big concern about the math test was that the problems generally were either decontextualized pure math problems (students: who cares?) or pseudocontextual word problems (students: who cares?) of the type that Dan Meyer rails against regularly. There wasn’t much on the math test that I think would be of interest to typical high school students outside of the artificial environments of classes and testing. [Note: I’m happy to be proven wrong on any of these concerns, so have at it in the comment area.]

Reading. 4 multi-paragraph reading passages pulled from 1 fictional novel and 3 non-fiction essays or books; 10 questions per passage. Could I pull out essential details from what I read? Could I infer authors’ intent? Could I decipher meaning and voice? Could I make reasonable conclusions based on the text? A classic test of reading comprehension. Yes, I could do these things. This was the test on which I scored best.

Science. This test had 7 passages, each of which contained one or more often-interconnected tables, charts, graphs, maps, or diagrams. Most of the passages described various scientific experiments and most included additional narrative text. This was the hardest test for me, despite having taken numerous advanced science courses in both high school and college. I am comfortable with electrical, genetic, geological, kinetic, chemical, and other scientific terms and concepts and, as a professor, regularly spend time deciphering research studies and policy reports that present information in complex ways. The challenge for me was not understanding the material but rather navigating the sheer amount of information presented and answering the questions within the time given. I easily could have used another 10 to 15 minutes. Like for the math test, I had to hastily pencil in some random guesses and did worst on this test. I am very impressed by any high school students that score well on this test. I’ll also note that ACT admits that the science test doesn’t directly assess scientific knowledge or skills (although some familiarity with scientific concepts and terminology helps for comprehension purposes). Instead, what the test assesses is the ability to decipher various ways of presenting scientific information and to then make appropriate inferences and conclusions. That’s a worthy goal but I wonder if renaming the test to something like ‘Information and Data Analysis’ might be more accurate.

Writing. We didn’t get to take the writing assessment, primarily because of ACT’s desire to do same-day scoring of our results.


How do I now think about the ACT?

Jason and Governor Branstad have proposed legislation requiring every Iowa high school student to take the ACT. Here are some of my thoughts about the exam and its desirability as a statewide mandate…

The issue of time. Time is an issue for any assessment. Students shouldn’t have unlimited time to finish but neither should they have inadequate time. The ACT is intentionally designed to be an assessment that sorts, sifts, selects, and ranks participants. Having now taken it, I wonder how much of that sorting and ranking function is accomplished by benchmarking time of completion to those students who are quicker at computation or faster readers. This is different than benchmarking to difficulty of task. I have a feeling that many students might be more successful if they simply had more time to navigate the assessment and show their understanding.

Cognitive complexity. I confess that the exam often was more difficult than I thought it would be. Despite being exposed beforehand to some practice questions, the overall experience was more demanding and draining than I expected. I didn’t take any practice exams (which might have helped with my pacing) but did spend a few hours reviewing some math formulas and familiarizing myself with the other tests.

Content of the tests. With the exception of the math concerns that I expressed above, it’s hard for me to contend that the skills tested on the ACT aren’t worth knowing. Students and citizens need to be technically-competent writers. Students and citizens need to have knowledge of at least some more-than-basic mathematical concepts. Students and citizens need to be able to comprehend complex texts and information displays. And so on.

I think we can do better. Despite being more impressed with the ACT than I anticipated, I still left the exam wanting more. Although my overall experience was positive and I learned a lot about the exam, I still have the same disposition toward it that I had before. Unlike many school and university assessments, the ACT doesn’t assess too much factual recall. I think that’s good. The exam does, however, focus heavily on procedural knowledge (and provides a variety of contexts in which students can show that knowledge). Occasionally it assesses – in a fairly-limited bubble test way – some application, synthesis, analytical, or inferential skills. But for the most part, the exam does not get at higher-order thinking skills in any substantive, applied, hands-on, performance-based way. Even the writing assessment (from what I can tell from ACT’s materials and what I’ve read about it) can be successfully completed in fairly rote, formulaic ways. If we’re going to ask every student in the state to take a college- and career-readiness exam, it should be an exam worth taking. Despite its long history and deep roots, I’m not convinced that the ACT is it.

What might be some alternatives? Although I’m fairly statistics-savvy, I’m not a psychometrician. And although I know a lot about incorporating data-informed practices into schools, I’m not an expert in large-scale and/or high-stakes assessments, particularly those used for college admissions. I have a generalized interest in these topics but do not live in this space on a day-to-day basis. All that said, I look at learning environments like those provided by the New Tech Network or the Big Picture Schools or the Expeditionary Learning schools or the Science Leadership Academy and I want to see more of that for our students. Those schools – and states like New Hampshire – are working hard to assess students with performance-based assessments rather than (or at least along with) bubble tests. Students have the chance to be innovative and creative. They have the chance to do inquiry-based, interest-based, hands-on work. They are able to show that they are critical thinkers and problem solvers. And then I hear about tests like PISA, the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA), and those given by other countries - tests that purportedly focus on higher-level cognitive skills and give students opportunities to show not just what they know but what they can do with what they know. And I want that for our students too. As it’s currently designed, does the ACT get us there? Nope. Might the ACT be part of a more holistic, multiple-assessment strategy for getting at college- and career-readiness? Perhaps. But it’s not enough by itself. Many hopes are riding on the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments that are being created right now. We’ll see if they can fulfill their promise.

Concluding thoughts

I’ll close with a few additional thoughts about the experience of taking the ACT as an adult several decades removed from initial college entry and the proposed participation mandate for all students…


Try it (again). I think it behooves us as adults – particularly those of us involved in education delivery, educator preparation, or educational policy- and decision-making – to be fairly familiar with what we’re asking our youth to do. Many of us still think that schooling and testing and learning and being a child or adolescent are like they were when we were young. They’re not. Despite our general inclinations to believe that our own time in school was the educational golden age worth returning to, we must recognize that the scale, scope, complexity, and demands of course content, curricula, assessments, and culture all have increased dramatically over the years/decades. If you’ve never shadowed a high school student throughout her entire school day, try it. I think you’ll be surprised. Similarly, I encourage you to retake a college entrance exam like Jason and I did. I believe you’ll find it worthwhile and illuminating. And then see if what we’re asking of our youth is what we really want as parents, communities, and citizens.

You’re so brave! I was struck by the sheer number of comments that Jason and I received that expressed disbelief that we would do something like this. Typical statements included variations of ‘You’re so brave! I could never do that!’ and ‘You’re willing to report your score publicly? Really?’ and ‘There’s no way in hell I’d ever take that exam again!’ and so on. I’m still mulling over what it says about us, our schools, and our society when we’re willing and even eager to have our children submit to experiences that we’re not willing to engage in ourselves as adults.

Mandated participation. Like some states, the Des Moines Public Schools has all of its students take the ACT. I asked Roosevelt High School’s principal what that experience was like for lower-achieving students. She said that a great many of them left the exam utterly humiliated. Jason was less concerned about that statement than I was, saying to the press something along the lines of ‘Far worse things will happen in life to those students than sitting through a 4-hour exam for which they’re unprepared.’ I, however, am greatly empathetic toward those adolescents. Do academically-disengaged students really need yet another formal reminder – this one with state and/or national, not just local, weight behind it – that they’re not up to snuff? How is kicking them while they’re down an incentive toward college or career readiness?

Still searching. Jason and I received a very kind offer from the Council for Aid to Education to also take the CWRA. I’m going to take them up on it and am excited about the opportunity. I wonder if I also can take PISA? I’m on an assessment quest. What else should I investigate or take?

The media. Lesson learned: No matter how much you emphasize that you’re focused on learning about and better understanding the substance and process of the college entrance exam that you’re publicly taking, the media and others will inevitably focus on your results. Jason and I both scored better than we anticipated. If you really must know, Google it.

If you’ve read all the way down to here, I appreciate your engagement and will await your comments and feedback. Thanks!

Image credits: Iowa Department of Education

[cross-posted at Education Recoded]

5 minutes and $25 for a good cause. Will you join us?


In 2005, Kiva had a brilliant idea: crowdsource microlending to benefit people in developing countries.

In 2008, Karl Fisch had a brilliant idea: ask his online network to join a Kiva lending team.

In just the past week alone, Kiva has loaned more than $900,000 to over 2,000 borrowers. Since its inception, Kiva has loaned over $300 million to 765,000+ entrepreneurs in 60 different countries. The Shift Happens Kiva lending team that Karl started is doing its part. It now has 122 members who have made 762 loans totaling $22,775. The team is #6 all-time when it comes to enlisting new group members!

Today I’m asking you to do one of two things:

  1. If you’re already a Kiva member, please add yourself to the Shift Happens lending team.
  2. If you’re not already a Kiva member, please join Kiva, add yourself to the Shift Happens lending team, and make your first loan (it can be as small as $25!).

Can we make it to 150 team members? 200? 300? Can we get our loan totals up over $25,000? $30,000? $40,000? I bet we can.

Kiva is literally the gift that keeps on giving. When your loan is repaid, you can lend it right back out again and help someone else. Repayment rate is nearly 99%.

I know that money is tight for many right now. But just a small amount can go a long way when aggregated with others’ contributions. I just added a birthday check to my Kiva account and will do the same from my minuscule tax refund this year. I figure every little bit helps.

Thanks in advance for joining us. Thanks in advance for spreading this message (hint, hint).

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