Activity: High Tech High and ‘Why PBL?’

Here’s an activity to do with your educators…

  1. Watch this video (maybe 3 times?)

  1. Try to answer the following questions about the video (one focal question per viewing?)

What are students doing? (e.g., they’re building something, they’re cooking, they’re designing)

Where are the settings in which they’re doing it? (e.g., they’re at the beach, they’re in an art room, they’re out in a field)

How are they doing their work? (e.g., they’re collaborating around a screen, they’re talking to people on the street, they’re cutting boards)

  1. How is this learning similar to or different from the learning that our students experience locally? How often do our students get to learn this way and in which classes and settings?
  2. What are the benefits of this kind of learning for students and do we want more of this locally? Why or why not?

Thanks for the resource, High Tech High!

Sad news out of Palm Coast, Florida

Sad news out of Palm Coast, Florida… 

Over 500 students at Flagler-Palm Coast High School protested the state’s anti-LGBTQ ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill yesterday by walking out of school for 20 minutes or so. The main organizer of the event was suspended ‘until further notice’ (which is illegal under U.S. Supreme Court precedent) by the high school principal for bringing and distributing pride flags to students. The principal told the student that he was ‘disrespectful and openly advocating against staff.’ Before the protest, the principal pulled the student aside and ‘voiced his opposition’ to the pride flags. 

As the article in the Daytona Beach News-Journal notes, “students who showed up to the stadium with flags and other pride-related merchandise were blocked by administrators attempting to confiscate them.” Additionally, “students at the event said administrators circled protesters in the stadium, threatening them with discipline if they didn’t turn in their pride and LGBTQ+ flags.”

The school district spokesperson said that student leaders were told no flags prior to and at the beginning of the event “so as to avoid undue safety concerns and campus disruptions.” Here are the flags in question that apparently were a disruptive safety concern:

Gay Pride Flags

The school district superintendent also has banned the book, All Boys Aren’t Blue, from school libraries so there appear to be ongoing issues in the community regarding equity, acceptance, and inclusion.

As student bodies continue to become more diverse – and as LGBTQIA+ students and their families continue to advocate for greater acceptance of their human rights and dignity – it is imperative that school administrators figure out ways to move their school systems forward, not backward.

We need to do better than this.

Doing the same thing over and over again…

WincingHechinger Report just published an article on how having teachers study student data doesn’t actually result in better student learning outcomes.

Think about that for a minute. That finding is pretty counterintuitive, right? For at least two decades now we have been asking teachers to take summative and formative data and analyze the heck out of them. We create data teams and data walls. We implement benchmarking assessments and professional learning communities (PLCs). We make graphs and charts and tables. We sort and rank students and we flag and color code their data… And yet, research study after research study confirms that all of it has no positive impact on student learning:

[Heather Hill, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education] “reviewed 23 student outcomes from 10 different data programs used in schools and found that the majority showed no benefits for students” . . . . Similarly, “another pair of researchers also reviewed studies on the use of data analysis in schools, much of which is produced by assessments throughout the school year, and reached the same conclusion. ‘Research does not show that using interim assessments improves student learning,’ said Susan Brookhart, professor emerita at Duquesne University and associate editor of the journal Applied Measurement in Education.” 

All of that time. All of that energy. All of that effort. Most of it for nothing. NOTHING.

No wonder the long-term reviews of standards-, testing-, and data-oriented educational policy and reform efforts have concluded that they are mostly a complete waste. We’re not closing gaps with other countries on international assessments. Instead, our own country’s achievement gaps are widening. The same patterns are occurring with our own national assessments here in the United States. Similarly, our efforts to ‘toughen’ teacher evaluations also show no positive impact on students. It’s all pointless. POINTLESS.

The past two decades have been incredibly maddening and demoralizing for millions of educators and students. And for what? NOTHING.

Are school administrators even paying attention? Or are they still leaning into outdated, unproductive paradigms of school reform?

This was the line in the article that really stood out for me:

Most commonly, teachers review or re-teach the topic the way they did the first time or they give a student a worksheet for more practice drills.

In other words, in school after school, across all of these different studies, our response to students who are struggling is to… do the same thing again. Good grief.

Make school different.

MARCH 8 ADDENDUM

Here are some additional paragraphs from the Hill article:

Goertz and colleagues also observed that rather than dig into student misunderstandings, teachers often proposed non-mathematical reasons for students’ failure, then moved on. In other words, the teachers mostly didn’t seem to use student test-score data to deepen their understanding of how students learn, to think about what drives student misconceptions, or to modify instructional techniques.

 

Field notes from teacher data-team meetings suggest a heavy focus on “watch list” students—those predicted to barely pass or to fail the annual state reading assessment. Teachers reported on each student, celebrating learning gains or giving reasons for poor performance—a bad week at home, students’ failure to study, or poor test-taking skills. Occasionally, other teachers chimed in with advice about how to help a student over a reading trouble spot—for instance, helping students develop reading fluency by breaking down words or sorting words by long or short vowel sounds. But this focus on instruction proved fleeting, more about suggesting short-term tasks or activities than improving instruction as a whole.

 

Common goals for improving reading instruction, such as how to ask more complex questions or encourage students to use more evidence in their explanations, did not surface in these meetings. Rather, teachers focused on students’ progress or lack of it. That could result in extra attention for a watch-list student, to the individual student’s benefit, but it was unlikely to improve instruction or boost learning for the class as a whole.

I think my takeaways from all of this are that:

  1. As would be expected, analyzing student data alone doesn’t do much for us. We also need to have effective interventions.
  2. Despite our best intentions and rhetoric, the research indicates that most schools don’t actually engage in effective interventions.

So all of our data-driven, PLC, RTI, etc. work isn’t actually doing much for us, at least in terms of student learning outcomes. Learning gaps continue to persist. Teacher instruction isn’t changing. And so on…

Image credit: Wincing, Frédéric Poirot

Quick thoughts on vertical discussions

A school leader in one of my Facebook groups asked if anyone had a discussion guide for the next time their teachers held vertical discussions across grade levels. Here was my response:

I’ve done this with schools before. Not exactly sure what the desired outcome of your conversations is, but I’ve seen really powerful discussion arise from the simple questions of “What do you expect students to know and be able to do by the end of their school year with you?” (to the lower grade team) and “What do you expect students to know and be able to do when they enter your classroom at the beginning of the school year?” (to the higher grade team)…

Small group conversation around those two questions can easily fill most of an hour (be sure to have them take notes!). Also helpful to have some debrief time at the end where you just ask folks “What did you hear today? What does that mean for our practice? How can I be of support?

Good luck and have fun!

What do you like your educators to talk about in their vertical discussions?

ISTE Certification 02

[Sharing my ISTE Certification journey…]

ISTE logoISTE Certification has kept me busy! Despite my familiarity with all of the ISTE Standards, I have found that I am thinking much more deeply about the ISTE Standards for Educators as I go through this process with my cohort (which I appreciate)…

One of our activities asked us to reflect on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines. Here’s some of what I wrote:

ENGAGEMENT
UDL Guideline(s): Recruiting Interest, Sustaining Effort & Persistence, Self Regulation
Tool(s): Blogging platforms such as WordPress or Squarespace

I believe in technology tools that have low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls (i.e., they are relatively easy to learn but have extraordinary, open-ended, and wide-ranging power). One such tool for me when it comes to the UDL principle of Engagement is a blog. Blogs allow learners and creators to do almost anything, particularly if they use a more powerful, self-hosted platform such as WordPress or Squarespace. The ability of blogs to host almost any kind of media that we wish (text, audio, video, images, charts, tables, diagrams, hyperlinks) in almost any configuration that we wish (see, e.g., the wide variety of blog templates) means that they are infinitely customizable. Accordingly, learners and creators can make their blog anything that they wish. This capacity taps directly into the Engagement guideline of Recruiting Interest because it ‘optimizes individual choice and autonomy.’ Similarly, the interactive nature of blogs (e.g., hyperlinks, pingbacks, comments, embedding of social media feeds, RSS subscription) highlights the Engagement guideline of Sustaining Effort and Persistence because it ‘fosters collaboration and community.’ Blogs can be deeply reflective tools that also foster visibility, sharing, contribution, and connection, which aligns directly with the Engagement guideline of Self Regulation and its emphasis on self-assessment, reflection, and motivation.

 

REPRESENTATION
UDL Guideline(s): Perception, Language & Symbols, and Comprehension
Tool(s): Presentation software such as Apple Keynote, Microsoft PowerPoint, or Google Slides

I believe in technology tools that have low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls (i.e., they are relatively easy to learn but have extraordinary, open-ended, and wide-ranging power). An underutilized tool for the UDL principle of Representation is presentation software such as Keynote, PowerPoint, or Google Slides. As I work with my graduate students – some of whom are differently abled than their educator peers – I have found that presentation software creates an open ‘green field’ of possibility. Students can use text. They can use images. They can create lines, diagrams, charts, tables, timelines, and concept maps. They can embed audio or video. They can tap into various color schemes, fonts, and transparency. They can tap into the power of layering, grouping, animations, and transitions. Together, these simple-to-learn capabilities that we often take for granted in presentation software can be used in incredibly diverse ways to represent any topic, idea, or concept that we wish with as much complexity as we wish. Recent examples of this in our own cohort include our introductions and our ISTE Standards for Educators jigsaw activity. These examples illustrate how a simple set of tools can create phenomenally-powerful and divergent opportunities to share what we know, can do, and have learned. The capabilities inherent in presentation software allow us to check off the boxes in essentially every subcategory of Representation (i.e., Perception, Language & Symbols, and Comprehension).

 

ACTION & EXPRESSION
Guideline(s): Executive Functions
Tool(s): Google Sheets

I believe in technology tools that have low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls (i.e., they are relatively easy to learn but have extraordinary, open-ended, and wide-ranging power). For the UDL Principle of Action & Expression, I chose to focus on one particular guideline, Executive Functions. For the past few years, I have been making my own interactive templates in Google Sheets. My students – or workshop participants – can go directly to a template that I have made and interact in a variety of ways with content, questions, or each other. I like that Google Sheets creates a different URL for each tab, and I can configure and merge the rows, columns, cell entries, formulae, auto-calculations, and conditional formatting into almost any format I wish. My principal licensure students and I use them routinely to work on thorny leadership problems of practice and systemic school and district redesign concerns. I also like that with a quick mouse click students can see each others’ responses as well if they are on a different tab rather than a shared one. I can even hide sections of the template and reveal them later for additional consideration. The possibilities are nearly endless for individual or small group, collaborative work, and the shared, online nature of the tool allows for easy access and easy archiving of our thinking work together. All of this connects directly to the Executive Functions checkpoints related to goal-setting, planning, strategy development, managing information and resources, and monitoring progress.

Nothing earth-shattering here, but I enjoyed the opportunity to think a little more about this!

Books I read in January 2022

Escape PodBooks I finished reading (or rereading) in January 2022…

Hope you’re reading something fun too!