Tag Archives: iowa

That’s not a given

Discard an axiom

I loved hearing Will Richardson say at the Iowa Association of School Boards conference last November that ‘curriculum is a strategy.’

Because he’s right. Standards are a strategy. Bell schedules are a strategy. Bubble-sheet testing of low-level recall is a strategy. School calendars, grade levels, siloed content areas, instructional methods, grading systems, discipline policies, and sit-and-get, one-and-done professional development sessions are all strategies. All of them. None of them are given. None of them are essential, handed-down-on-a-stone-tablet components of schooling. They are all voluntarily-employed strategies that can be modified. Or deleted.

If we’re going to change learning experiences for students, we have to stop thinking of legacy strategies as givens. We have to put things back on the table for consideration. We have to move from ‘yes, but’ to ‘why not?’ and ‘how can we?’

Or we can stay stagnant, content to tweak around the edges of mediocrity.

[practice saying with me… “You know, that’s not a given. We could change that.”]

Image credit: Oblique strategies, Bastiaan Terhorst

How does losing 1,000+ teaching positions make Iowa schools better?

#PinkApril30

Patrick Kearney said:

I had a Republican legislator [in Iowa] reference me saying that I was “wrong” in my writing on school funding. Yet, after saying I was “wrong” he admitted that Republican legislators are using large amounts of tax dollars (80% of next year’s state revenues) for corporate property tax relief. He wrote that the state simply couldn’t afford more than a 1.25% increase in K-12 school funding, yet state budget experts say that we have $717 million in state reserves and don’t even need to touch our state surplus in order to support education spending and still balance the budget. He said he didn’t have any problems with teachers, but it sure seemed crazy that those darned teacher unions were asking for 4% salary increases (although Iowa teachers make at least $5,000 less than the national average). He admitted that the 1.25% growth included money from the governor’s Teacher Leadership Compensation plan that was never intended to be included in SSA (what used to be allowable growth). I was perplexed as to what I have said that is wrong. I’m not even saying Republican legislators are “wrong”, I’m simply saying that I disagree with their priorities. I disagree that losing over 1,000 teaching positions in Iowa make Iowa schools better. I disagree that our money is better spent on corporate tax loop holes and corporate property tax relief than on education.

via https://patrickjkearney.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/april-30-2015-in-iowa

Image credit: ISEA

If you’re an Iowan, wear pink tomorrow

Pink slips tweet

Tomorrow is #PinkApril30, so named because of the unfilled teaching positions and educator pink slips that Iowa school districts will have next year because their operational funding won’t be enough to keep up with inflation despite our state’s strong economy and full reserves. It’s been an extremely disappointing year as we’ve watched our House propose to cut funding from both our public schools and our public universities. We’re already underfunded compared to most states and we know that investments in our youth are critical for current and future success, yet we are disinvesting in our children and instead finding new ways to reduce state revenue. It looks like we’re trying to be Kansas (sorry, Kansans).

Will wearing pink do anything to break apart our legislators’ intransigence? Will wearing pink do anything to force our policymakers to compromise? Will wearing pink do anything to give our schools what they need to keep the lights on and the buses running? No, probably not, but it might at least make you feel a little solidarity with the rest of us who are so dang frustrated…

Said No Iowan Ever

Notes from the 2015 Iowa STEM Summit

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad

Here are my notes from today’s 2015 Iowa STEM Summit

Welcome, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds & Mary Andringa

  • STEM should be a catalyst for active learning
  • Launching a STEM Council Seal of Approval for programs (e.g. Exploring Iowa Archaeology)
  • Over 5,100 applications were submitted for STEM Scale-Up Grants
  • Numerous STEM externships are available for teachers
  • Peek Into a STEM Classroom: Sioux Center High School
  • Peek Into a STEM Classroom: Davenport West High School
    • Design a lunar space station

Opening Address, Kwizera Imani

  • Used to live in Kigoma, Tanzania
  • Family fled genocide and was chosen by the U.N. to move to the U.S.
  • Learned enough English to transition into regular classes in 8th grade, finished all high school coursework by 11th grade, now taking 5 AP classes as a senior
  • Will attend Iowa State U. this fall, majoring in Aerospace Engineering
  • In 9th grade, participated in an aviation program at the Des Moines International Airport

Iowa’s STEM Teaching Endorsement Partnership – Higher Education Plan, Jeff Weld & Kris Kilibarda

  • What does best practice for integrative STEM pedagogy look like?
  • How do endorsement seekers get engineering experience if the university doesn’t have an engineering program?
  • Can we graduate preservice teachers that come out of the gate with interdisciplinary STEM competencies?
  • Is ‘STEM pedagogy’ just layering applied PBL and inquiry lenses onto STEM subject areas?
  • There are many questions about these endorsements that still need to be answered

Lunch and STEM Education Awards for Inspired Teaching, Gov. Terry Branstad & Chris Nelson

STEM in Iowa’s Re-Envisioned Economic Development Roadmap (2014 Battelle Report), Kathryn Kunert & Carrie Rankin

Northwest Iowa STEM Region Breakout Session, Molly Faber & Mary Trent

  • Created a STEM and Scale-Up Introduction short course on AEA PD Online (explains each scale-up grant in ways that are easier, more accessible for teachers)
  • Wish this wasn’t locked down behind AEA PD Online (with quizzes!) instead of being openly accessible via a blog, web site, wiki, etc.
  • Breakout group questions
    • What’s going well in the NW region?
      • Outreach that Mary’s doing – PD for teachers – STEM day for 6th graders – there’s a lot of outreach occurring right now that is creating awareness
      • We also are seeing more business partnerships, co-sponsorships
      • Scale-up grant impacts have been favorable – are using them well in our district
      • World Food Prize – lots of supportive communities – we believe in making this happen
      • First Lego League – still getting emails about what’s going on – possible grants that are coming up – great communication
      • Girls Scouts – all girl Lego leagues, Engineering is Elementary – girls are empowered – Flying Monkeys prosthetic device patent!
      • Belie-Blank – Spencer CSD is doing math-science extracurricular with 6-8 graders
      • Prairie Lakes AEA – seeing lots of depth with Defined STEM
      • Sioux City CSD – opening a K-5 STEM specialty school in Fall 2015
    • What would we like to see more of in the NW region? What’s missing? What/who/where is the solution?
      • How do we assess student growth / development? Our current assessments aren’t up to the task.
      • Teacher preparation – higher ed isn’t giving us what we need – it could be better
        • Higher ed should be ahead of us, not behind us
      • We need more volunteers / mentors
      • Transportation is an issue – have to get a bus to get home
      • A continued focus on extracurricular instead of curricular – need to get this stuff into core classes, not just after school
      • Ongoing PD for teachers is an ongoing need
  • Rock Valley CSD – student-run manufacturing business?
  • Local college of education just touted this past fall that they had a smartboard that preservice teachers could learn on!
  • Can DE help us align all of these initiatives (e.g., STEM, Teacher Leadership, MTSS) together in better ways?
  • We need to do a better job of attaching learning standards to our STEM activities – we want to see learning progression occurring

STEM Education Award for Inspired Teaching Awardees (Panel), Kacia Cain, Lisa Chizek, Jason Franzenburg, Allison Gregg, Shelly Vanyo, Mike Wedge

  • SV – I no longer think of our space as a classroom – instead, we’re an innovative learning center – no textbooks, we’re a community that solves problems using every resource available to us (including others elsewhere)
  • LC – I try to model learning from mistakes
  • KC – I bring scientists into my classes a lot, but not as talking heads in front of kids – they help with projects – I identify where I could use an extra set of hands, brains, etc. – my kids then send a mass thank you note! – 
  • Jeff Herzberg – why aren’t we giving $20K+ award to a school, not just individual exceptional faculty? – a group of teachers and administrators working together to make this happen?
  • Embrace the chaos, embrace messy learning
  • As a parent of an elementary student, my son has had no science this year – his principal says it’s because of the increased emphasis on reading and math [UGH!]
  • SV – I create opportunities for myself to give up control – I create dramatic chances for other teachers to ‘help me out’ – teachers were getting upset so I had a semester where I pretended that I wasn’t doing SBG – parents are our biggest advocates – I send brown bag experiments home with students to do with parents – homework: teach parents and have them email me what they learned
  • What have administrators done to infect others with your STEM awesomeness? 
    • LC – I lead an annual STEM excellence fair and bring other teachers, community members in that way
    • KC – all of the people at Central Campus are experts in their areas so I had to be sure that I was on my game from Day 1
    • JF – teacher leadership program – we’re doing PBL training for all teachers – I assumed they already knew and were doing it, had to start over and go slower
    • AG – admins just let me set up a science club and I talked a colleague into joining me
  • Differentiation is often easier during hands-on performance tasks – have to listen, keep eyes and ears open to see/hear what they’re doing

Promoting STEM Careers From a School Counselor’s Point of View (Panel)

  • On average, Iowa counselors serve 429 students each
  • Counselors are uniquely trained in career theory and career development and uniquely positioned to bring various resources together to bear for the whole child – when you have 800-900 students, it’s physically impossible to do this, however
  • Most counselors have 60+ graduate hours – that’s a lot of expertise to waste serving on bus duty
  • At no time in my administrative licensure training did I receive guidance on how to most effectively use my counselor
    • Could say this about any role, not just counselors?
  • Local chambers of commerce and economic development organizations are nice resources for career / workforce information, speakers, data, etc.

Closing Remarks, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds & Mary Andringa

  • A book for everyone who made it to the end of the day, courtesy of DMACC

[As is typical for these statewide summits, the day was heavy on sit-and-get with extremely little interaction… As I’ve said before, can’t we figure out some way to tap into the collective wisdom, expertise, and experience of the 500+ people here?!]

It’s been a tough year to feel positive about Iowa education politics

Storm cell

It’s been a tough year to feel positive about Iowa education politics. For example…

Our governor wants Iowa schools to return to the top of the NAEP rankings and reclaim their ‘world class’ status but is endorsing a 1.25% budgetary increase that doesn’t even keep up with inflation (while requesting a 9% increase for his own office). As a result, most schools will have to cut people just to keep the lights on and the buses running. We can expect teacher layoffs, crowded classrooms, and other disinvestments in the needs of students, despite a solid state economy and a healthy reserve. We may fall as low as 40th in per-pupil spending. So much for being a state that allegedly cares about education.

Our outdated school start date legislation clearly fails to meet the needs of schools (336 out of 338 school districts asked for a waiver last year) but suddenly is being tightly enforced. Our state department of education says that it believes in principles of ‘local control’ but then this year notified districts that it no longer would automatically grant school start date waivers and that essentially every reason they might give for an earlier start date will not be considered legitimate. The school start date consternation is apparently being driven by the tourism industry. Educational needs are being given short shrift.

Of course we’re seeing lots of posturing from both sides of the political aisle (e.g., polarizing comments, Twitter wars, and ‘public’ hearings in rooms that are too small for the public to attend). And we’re seeing some really goofy stuff occurring during what should be important discussions and debates.

We’ve got a superintendent who’s decided he must break the law just to meet the needs of his district’s students. He’s being condemned by some legislators, despite the fact that they themselves break the law year after year when it comes to meeting deadlines for setting school spending authority.

Last week we were notified that our state department of education has now chewed up and spit out its second talented director in less than two years. We’ve got a misbegotten student retention law that’s about to go into effect. Our state assessments don’t align with our state standards. Budgets for our regional educational agencies – which provide essential services to our districts – keep getting reduced. And we’re starting to see proposed legislative attacks on teacher unions that are inconsistent with our rhetoric that we honor and develop teachers. I don’t know if we’re one of ‘those states’ yet when it comes to education but it sure seems like we’re getting closer.

After last year’s legislative session I said to several folks that I was glad it was quiet and positive compared to years past. Apparently last year was just the calm before the storm… [sigh]

Image credit: Storm cell, Tom Gill

Nostalgic for factual recall

The memorize cassette

Two quotes from today’s article in The Des Moines Register, Iowa Poll: Common Core not so radioactive for Iowans:

Ah, the good old days

When Iowa Poll respondents opposed to Common Core standards were asked about their objections, some lamented the shift from traditional teaching methods such as rote memorization of facts and formulas to a focus on more critical thinking.

Because we’ve learned nothing about teaching math in 50 years

Civil engineer Jack Burnham Jr., a 40-year-old independent voter, also has a “very negative” view. “I’ve got a math primer from the 1960s,” he said. “That math worked just fine.”

Shifting the public’s conceptions about learning and teaching is an ongoing, uphill battle…

Image credit: the memorize cassette, Robert Oxford

Iowa school start dates and Photoshop

Just having some fun… Feel free to use as desired!

Schools start late

Our liberties we prize

Tourists unite

A vote for the state fair

#IAedchat LIVE

I had the privilege of being the guest for #IAedchat LIVE last night. Here is the video if you missed it. The conversation really gets started around 2:50. Happy viewing!

Technology grants for Iowa teachers

Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency is working with the CenturyLink Foundation to award technology grants to Iowa teachers. As we said on our web site,

The goal of this grant program is to fund INNOVATIVE uses of digital learning tools by students and educators. Don’t just tell us you ‘need some iPads.’ Dream bigger than electronic worksheets. And please, please, please don’t send us a proposal describing how your students need drill-and-kill apps or software.

We’re looking for visionary, not replicative. We’re looking for 10X thinking, not 10% thinking. Tell us what your students are going to do with the digital learning tools and why it will be incredible. Describe for us why your students can’t make a difference in their learning and the world around them without these funds. Speak to our hearts as well as our minds and sell us a vision of learning and teaching that’s inspiring and amazing! What will your moonshot be?

Got a great idea worth funding? Visit the CenturyLink Teachers & Technology Grant Program web site to learn more. The deadline is January 2, 2015.

CenturyLink logo

Prairie Lakes AEA Logo

Live blogging Oskaloosa High School’s experiences at the FIRST Championships

For the next few days I am turning over my blog to a high school student!

Molly Bleything is a student at Oskaloosa High School here in Iowa. Her after-school robotics team, the Sock Monkeys, was one of three from the state to make it to the national FIRST Championships this week. Molly will be sharing her team’s experiences in St. Louis.

Here are a couple of videos chronicling the Sock Monkey’s early successes:

And here is a short article that Molly wrote a few days ago:

Hey guys! We are Team 4443: The Sock Monkeys. We are from Oskaloosa, Iowa and we are part of the robotics club at our high school. The other part of the club is Team 3608: The Ninjaneers. The Sock Monkeys team consists of sophomores (10th graders) and older. The Ninjaneers consist of freshman (9th graders) and younger. We do not have an official team sponsor. What makes our team unique is the different ideas, logic, and people that are on it and contribute to it. All of us see things differently, so the amount of opinions/ideas is massive! A big challenge that we had to overcome is our scoop design. At competitions, one of our tables in the pit has all of the scoop designs we’ve used throughout this season. The team has changed the design three or fours times since we made the first design out of cardboard. The continuous improvement is awesome and we are now done re-making it. It’s painted blue – like our shirts – and ready to go for competition.

We as a team have done several unique things. For starters, one of our present seniors and a 2013 high school graduate made a Rubik’s cube solver over the summer. And yes – it does actually solve the cube. We have also made a balancing “segway” robot. It balances and keeps itself upright by driving forward and backwards in tiny amounts. Often times during competitions, you can find the guys in the pits putting stuff on top of the NXT to show how much it can actually hold and stay upright. It brings a lot of attention and people often get a good laugh out of it! None of our team members have had any serious injuries during the robotics season. At least, none that have happened that involve robotics. At the end of the day, we are pretty regular nerds.

One story about our team this season…I have a great one! At the 2nd qualifier (for us, it was in Ottumwa IA), we were not supposed to continue on to state. After a lot of emails, a written letter, and the coach having a conversation with us, we were offered the opportunity to go and compete at state. All of us were really surprised and happy. To be honest, no one was expecting to get anything out of state, or to be one of the greats, but during alliance selections, we were picked.

All of us started clapping, cheering, and we were really excited. After what seemed like thousands of matches, we had won state by alliance! Afterwards, we got back and everything was crazy for a while. We had a lot of meetings, where a LOT of to-do lists were made and we set a lot of goals for ourselves. A big concern was money and how we were going to be able to pay for the trip to state. So, the Sock Monkeys hosted a bake sale during parent teacher conferences. The bake sale went over really well and with that money, and the money that was donated to us through free will donations and other various ways, we were finally ready to go.

Super Regionals arrived. The team had figured as a whole that we weren’t going to come back home with anything to brag about… but while we didn’t win any trophies, we came home with an invitation to the World Championship. Although all of us were really excited and happy, Super Regionals was a reality check for us. At Super Regionals we made it to the semi-finals and right before lunch break, we competed in a match. During the match, a rule was broken. The team that we played with and the third team in our finalist alliance stood in the question box. After lunch break and a twenty minute delay, we were granted a rematch. Sadly, we lost the rematch, but this time we lost fair and square. Super Regionals was a great experience for us.

We and another team had scored the highest at the event with a total of 389 points. We were six points away from beating the all-time world record! We (and another team) had also scored the highest in our division with a total of 353 points. We knew that we had done our best, fought for what was right, and enjoyed every second. We were prepared to go home that day. All of us had said good job to one another and to the other teams. Right before closing ceremonies started, they called out four team members to go down on the floor. Logan, Kazuki (both drivers), Collin (coach) and I ( ___) went to the floor.

Rebecca Whitaker was the one who made the announcement as to who was moving on and who wasn’t. She got up on the podium and started off by saying, “Twenty-five teams will be moving on today!” The crowd went wild and then Kazuki turned to us and whispered, “We have a chance.” The whole arena fell extremely quiet and, let me tell you, you could almost feel the intensity. I swear that you could’ve heard a pen drop. She had gotten to the twentieth team advancing and all of us were eager. I kept checking the stands to watch my teammates there. They were all so still. Then she said, “….team number 4443, The Sock Monkeys..” All of us screamed and went crazy! It was all absolutely amazing. Immediately afterwards, our teammates ran down the stairs and we all hugged and high-five’d one another.

We loaded up our gear and went home after that. We were greeted by family members, teachers, friends, reporters for the paper, and Mrs. Eveland. There was confetti, signs, laughs and lots of pictures. The picture above is the one that our local news system took. The dots all over us are pieces of confetti. Kazuki (our only senior this year) told a local news source that this was one of the best days of his life. Now, we are eight days away from the World Championship. Considering we weren’t even supposed to make it to state, I would say we are doing great! This is honestly one of my favorite stories to tell about this season and it gives me goose bumps writing it. I am so happy and so proud of all of us.

I hope that you will wish the team good fortune and will interact with Molly as she blogs here. You also can follow their Twitter account, @4443SockMonkeys. Go Sock Monkeys!

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