# The Classroom I want to Visit (and someday have)

You walk in and are immediately taken by the number of students either focused and working independently (often with ear buds in) or quietly collaborating. The teacher is difficult to find at first but then you find her, huddled around a whiteboard working out a few different ways to approach a problem involving polynomial equations. The furniture is easy to move and comfortable. Small tables for small groups, single desks scattered around the room, with oversized chairs scattered around as well. The walls are neutral colors, not the standard white that bounces fluorescent light almost as well as a mirror. As you look around a brief, friendly, argument erupts in the corner over why long division of polynomials is more pure than synthetic division. The teacher then stands up, walks around the room checking on students, snapping pictures of student work with her iPad. She then projects some mistakes she found students had done and the class discusses the thinking that led to them. There are rugs, art on the walls, a laptop cart in the corner, and a projector screen towards the front (or what you assume is the front) of the room.

I read an article recently called “Why the 21st Century Classroom May Remind You of Starbucks”. This got me thinking, again, about learning environments. This topic sparks a few questions in my mind:

• What are environments that I prefer to learn in?
• What makes an environment conducive to learning?
• How do you develop an environment that can be easily transitioned from independent work to collaborative work to whole class work and everything in between?
• How much is my classroom layout getting in the way of learning?

To at least partially answer these questions I don’t think Starbucks is a bad model, in some respects, for what a great learning environment looks like. Obviously Starbucks is more conducive to independent learning, but I like some of the big ideas.

### Learning environments should be comfortable

I can see that if you wanted kids to avoid falling asleep you would make the seating uncomfortable. I’d rather make the classwork engaging enough that students don’t fall asleep. I’m not saying we should all work in bean bag chairs. I’d hate doing real work in a bean bag chair. But I’m not everybody and I don’t hate the idea of having options like that for students that do prefer to work in the type of seating.

And comfortable learning environments go beyond just the furniture. Rugs, art, music, lighting, and the teacher’s attitude all contribute significantly to the environment.

### Learning environments should be flexible

As technology changes the way content is delivered and the way that students interact with content, the classroom should change. The amount of time a teacher spends lecturing to the entire class should probably be decreasing. This means that the work done by students in class will be more fractured. Some students may need to watch instructional videos. Some may be writing blog posts. Some may be working on a group project. Some may be using computer graphing technology. The teacher may need to work with some students that have been absent. The teacher may need to give a lecture to the entire class.

This is the future of learning. The class setup needs to support this.

### Learning environments should be safe

I don’t mean that students shouldn’t feel like someone is going to physically hurt them, although that is obviously true. I’m saying that students shouldn’t walk in and feel like they’re in a place where mistakes are not valued, their opinion is not wanted or their thoughts are better kept to themselves. This doesn’t have much to do with a “Starbucks classroom”, but I thought it worth noting.

In all seriousness, I want to visit a classroom that has these characteristics, so if you teach in Michigan and have a classroom environment similar to the one I described, then I’d love to observe a lesson!

Any other thoughts on classroom environment? Anything I missed? Drop a comment below!

# It’s Not the Test – 4 things teachers actually hate about testing

One of my good friends, a recently retired teacher, and I were having coffee a couple weeks ago. As we caught up on the recent happenings in each others lives he told me about his experience in helping administer standardized testing to kindergartners. He described the kids’ frustration as students who were unfamiliar with using computers, and couldn’t read, attempted the test. He mentioned that students didn’t understand what questions wanted and described a test that frequently wasn’t testing the skills it was intended to test. All this would’ve been maddening enough on it’s own, but then he told me that a couple students were so upset they were in tears.

Five year olds. In tears. In school. Over a test.

A great deal has been written about the amount of testing in American schools and why it’s so problematic. Over the last decade I’m certain people have said, “we are at a breaking point with testing”. I’m going to avoid saying that mainly because I don’t know that we are. I do know that almost every teacher I talk to is frustrated by the amount of testing we put out students through. I know that many administrators I know are also frustrated by the amount of testing. Most parents I talk to, you guessed it, are also frustrated by the amount of testing.

In fact, its difficult for me to find a person that thinks it’s all a great. Even I were to find this person, it seems the results of emphasis on high stakes testing is all for not. Despite this, we continue to test our kids more. In my school we are now testing our ninth and tenth graders four times a year in at least three subjects. We test our eleventh graders twice a year, the second time is the main state assessment. I know that there are other schools and districts that test more than ours and have more focus on test prep. Much discussion revolves around how we can improve those test scores.

I want to avoid simply arguing that enough is enough. There’s plenty of people that have argued that. If we are honest with each other some tests are helpful in showing major trends and illuminating achievement gaps between race, socioeconomic status, and gender. I want to explore what we really hate about testing, and maybe pose a couple ideas for solutions.

### It’s not the test, it’s how you use it

When I was in school, oh so many years ago (I graduated high school in 2007), we basically took a test every couple of years, called the MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program). It didn’t seem particularly intrusive, it was given infrequently, and I don’t recall any teachers “prepping” us for it. Now, I was a young kid and I’m sure they probably did to some extent, but it was unobtrusive enough that I didn’t notice it.

I’m not aware of how the scores from those tests were used, but I’ve witnessed an evolution in the last decade that’s seen data from tests become a major part of teacher evaluations. The accountability movement puts pressure on teachers to explicitly teach to a test. These tests, generally assessing lower thinking skills, frustrate teachers because they spend getting students “ready”, they get stressed from the pressure, they get evaluated based on the scores, and the cycle continues.

Oh yeah, and sometimes they quit .

Standardized tests provide a brief glimpse into a child’s understanding of a content area. You can only extrapolate that data so far. Take Pernille Rip’s experience with the STAR reading test and you’ll see the problem with making decisions, both financial and pedagogical, based on standardized tests (you may notice that test is not one the public frequently thinks of when discussing test scores).

### It’s not the test, it’s how intrusive they are

There are obviously ways to limit the intrusiveness of tests. But the more frequently they occur the harder it is to make them not disrupt learning. For instance, we have adopted the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) test which occurs three times a year in reading, math, and science.

These tests are computer based so during the testing window it’s difficult to find time in the computer labs. If you teach a class of all freshman in math, for instance, then you take your whole class to test on one day. In theory this works great, but there are many freshman that aren’t in the typical math class most freshman are in (algebra I). This means that students are pulled from other, non freshman, classes. I’ve thankfully only seen the bookkeeping on tracking these students from the outside, but the word “nightmarish” comes to mind.

We spend time reading emails with instructions for administration of them. We discuss them at staff meetings, department meetings, and lunch. We spend time explaining the tests to students. We change up lesson plans to account for the lost day.

This goes on for a couple of weeks and then there has to be a week for make up tests for students that missed the first round. This doesn’t take into account the amount of time administrators put into this process. Even when they run smoothly, they undoubtably create an intrusion into the learning environment.

### It’s not the test, it’s that teachers aren’t trusted

The reason many support these tests is so that we can ensure students make “adequate yearly progress” as gaged by said assessments. It’s so that we can tie teacher evaluations to the scores. This all stems from the overall lack of trust of educators. The increaseed emphasis on tests sends a strong message to teachers that they aren’t trusted, and this contributes significantly to their frustration.

### It’s not the test, it’s the fallacy that comes with test prep

Test prep is silly. It’s silly for so many reasons, but the one that comes to mind first is that if students can understand concepts deeply than they should be able to answer lower level questions on standardized tests. James Paul Gee’s makes this very argument in his book The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. I recommend watching the video below that summarizes the chapter on this idea.

To this end we shouldn’t prepping students for tests. We should be helping our students reach a maximum level of understanding and they will in turn be able to do better on standardized tests. I’m not saying doing a practice SAT or Act test should be avoided, but we need to be careful to not devote countless hours of instructional time to it.

### Okay, it’s kind of the test…

Maybe my title was off the mark a bit. There are certainly aspects of the tests themselves that are problematic. If you’ve made it this far in the post then you already know the kindergarten example that I cited earlier. But beyond that many students put an incredible amount of pressure on themselves to perform well on them. They are some times written poorly and are not at correct reading levels for every student.

Also, as Kathleen Rhoades & George Madaus from Boston College point out in their study Errors in Standardized Tests: a Systemic problem “Like any measurement tool that produces a number – whether a simple blood pressure reading or complex laboratory test – tests contain error.” Although this is from 2003, the types of errors and problems they describe persist today.

Last, standardized test, when highly emphasized, limit the teacher’s freedom to teach and emphasize what they deem important. Obviously this has pros and cons, but much of it comes back to the lack of trust mentioned above. The vast majority of teachers are working incessantly to provide the best education for their students. They have an incredibly difficult job and should have freedom to be creative and innovative. In the current testing culture, many do not feel they have that freedom.

Sir Ken Robinson sums this up better than I could. (Check out his TED talk if you never have, it’s the most view TED talk of all time.

“Education can be stifling, no question about it. One of the reasons is that education — and American education in particular, because of the standardization — is the opposite of three principles I have outlined: it does not emphasize diversity or individuality; it’s not about awakening the student, it’s about compliance; and it has a very linear view of life, which is simply not the case with life at all.” – Interview with Etsy Blog

### What to do…

This extensive national poll done by Phi Delta Kappa international and Gallup provides a light into how different parts of the public view standardized tests. You’ll notice, as seen in the images below, that the majority of respondents don’t think standardized tests are helpful (54%) and the percentage is even higher when public school parents are asked the same question (68%). You’ll note high support for certain tests, like college entrance exams and AP tests. These aren’t generally the tests that most educators take issue with.

People can do a few things to help reverse the trend. Simply getting informed about the tests that are being used to make decisions in your local school district is a great step forward. The major state assessments get the press but the vast majority of schools give more than just those. Ask a teacher how standardized tests impact their teaching. Phone your local representatives, talk to your school board members, spread the message on social media, and take a long hard look at opting your student out of them. Get on whatever soapbox you can find and shout about everything negative that comes with administering a standardized test.

### Cycles in Education

I frequently hear experienced teachers talk about cycles in education. In five years of teaching I’ve only seen testing become more ingrained. Once schools start relying on the data from these assessments for more and more of their decisions it’s unclear how they could reduce the amount of testing. If there’s one thing you take away from this piece it should be that as tests are used for more and more decisions and more and more data is accumulated, it will only breed more testing and test preparation. This is the scariest part of the testing culture, the more ingrained it becomes the more it is likely to stay.

And I want to be clear. I’m not against all standardized tests. I’ve linked to a couple of articles above that highlight the positive side of giving a large, diverse, group of students the same assessment and analyzing the results. But for all the reasons I’ve laid out, this has gone too far.

The parties that benefit the most from this indoctrination of testing are clear. Companies that write the tests and those concerned with teacher accountability (because a standardized test can nail down everything you do in a classroom to a data point).

What could be better for a company that makes tests than having every school in the country absolutely dependent on your product for the foreseeable future?

Once vital decisions about a school are made based on this data, how do you remove them?

I posed these questions to my friend. He has decades of experience in education and echoed my concerns. We arrived at the possibility that this may not be the typical cycle. Some sort of uprising or populace rebuke of over-testing and testing dependence in our schools may be necessary.

It certainly seems that without the people standing up for what’s right there will be little change.

We need an uprising. We need citizens to get informed about the benefits (or there lack of) of testing, the negative consequences, and the primary beneficiaries. We need citizens to see that the decisions of the powerful in education have serious impacts on their kids and their teachers. We need a movement. We need people to get angry, because they should be. We need students to stand up like they’ve done in Boston and Detroit. We need to teachers to get on their soapboxes about the reality in their classrooms. The longer we passively let testing permeate our schools the harder it’s going to be to undo.

I almost forgot to mention how many of the skills we want our students to graduate with cannot be standardized. Watch Mike Kaechele spit hot fire in his MACUL lighting talk entitled, “Standardize that”.

Please share this widely with people that may not realize all the repercussions testing has on kids. The press never explains how testing permeates our professions in the ways I’ve outlined above. I also have a post coming soon on how the future generation needs to be better at developing questions than finding answers. I’ll link it here once it’s up

“Nah, you could do something great” – A commentary on how the teaching profession is not respected by a growing portion of society.

American teachers, more demoralized than ever, are quitting in droves by Steven C. Ward from Quartz

The case Against Standardized Testing by Quinn Mulholland from the Harvard Political Review.

# “Be so good they can’t ignore you” and other things I learned this week

Rough draft thinking – Interesting thoughts here on rough draft thinking. Essentially the idea is that you encourage students to view their talk in class discussions as being in rough draft form. This encourages students to use talk in a way that they don’t feel like they have to have the right answer, especially initially. This encourages students, ideally, to worry less about being right, recognizing that their working towards a better understanding.

My writing – I wrote up this post on How ten minutes on Twitter reminds you that you’re awful and not trying hard enough. It discusses how it’s easy to fall into the mental trap that everyone around you is doing better than you. I also wrote this post entitled It’s just a notebook and it’s stupid. This was a fun piece about how I agonized for months over the best way to use my shiny new notebook.

34 Reasons my Toddler Lost her Shit – by Stephanie Wittles Wachs If you have had, do have, know of, or were a kid then you might appreciate this article. It’s a great 2 minute read that perfectly encapsulates life with a toddler.

Tim Ferris Podcast (again) – As has tended to be the case in the weekly recap, I ended up with a couple revelations listening to The Tim Ferris show podcast. The episode was Marc Andreessen — Lessons, Predictions, and Recommendations from an Icon. Marc said two things that stuck with me. The first was “Smart people should build things”. The second was a quote from Steve Martin which was, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” (Click here to jump directly to that part of the podcast.)

My AP Calc students finished their final projects (In which they had to spend two weeks learning anything they wanted) and there were a few that stood out. Check out this time-lapse video of a student building a card house. One of the most interesting projects was by a girl who’s family is originally from Palestine. She chose to learn two things. First, she wanted to learn documentary filmmaking. Second, she wanted to learn about her family history. She put these two things together and produced the short video below. Have a look!

This is a weekly recap of the major things I learned or have been thinking about this week. It’s primarily for me but I thought other people might find it interesting as well. All these posts have been categorized under “Weekly Recap”.

# It’s just a notebook and it’s stupid

You may not know this about me. In fact, I’m almost certain you don’t because I don’t share it with many people meaning if you’re one of the 5 or 6 people that accidentally stumbled on my writing prior to this post then even you didn’t know it either.

Anyway, I want to be creative.

I work hard at it. I would not have considered myself creative just 5 years ago but once I graduated college I realized that, like most things, creativity was something that could be improved. So I read books, took a class, and gobbled down every article on creativity that came across my feeds. One thing became clear to me early on.

I needed a notebook.

All the creativity gurus and articles said you needed a place to store your ideas. Your mock ups (what the hell is this anyway?). Your designs. Your insights.

And while they didn’t explicitly say the brand of notebook you should buy, Moleskine was clearly the notebook of choice for many.

So I bought one. Well, four actually. Three Cahier journals and one large classic notebook.

I purchased these expecting that once a small one was in my pocket and the big one was in my bag there would be no stopping the flow of ideas.

### wrong

It turns out that simply having a somewhat expensive notebook does not contribute to your creativity. It doesn’t give you fresh, interesting ideas. It’s kind of just a bunch of sheets of paper stuck into a binding.

In fact, I went an embarrassingly long time (months) trying to decide what I should write in the notebooks.

What should go in the big notebook?

Should I put ideas there or should they stay in the small notebooks?

Should I put my ideas in the small one and then move them to the big one?

Should I put ideas in a digital place too?

What about the backs of the pages, should they be used? Maybe for “lesser” ideas or sketches?

Should I write small to save pages?

Should I devote certain pages to ideas?

Should I devote certain pages to sketches?

Should I develop a tagging system to mark notes into different categories?

After months of trying different things I came to a revelation.

It’s a friggin’ notebook and I can use it for whatever I feel like writing and most of it is going to be forgotten and useless anyway.

I don’t know when I got too snobby for a spiral bound notebook or a sturdy legal pad but that will be what I buy next. I know everyone uses notebooks differently, but I’ve reached the conclusion that notebooks should be one tool of many that help get thoughts and ideas out of the brain and into reality.

The absurdity of the nice notebook struck me when I read James Altucher’s post The Ultimate Guide to Becoming an Idea Machine. In this he talks about the importance of ideas, but a main thesis of the piece is to write ten ideas a day. And what does he recommend writing them on?

Why?

Well, mainly because they’re cheap, small and, most importantly for me, you won’t agonize over what the hell you’re going to write down.

I now write whatever I want in my notebooks. Like I should’ve months ago.

And my next notebook won’t cost \$17.

# Never stop learning – Life after my master’s

At the risk of writing too in depth about how much I plan to write, I’m going to explain my plan to write more and the reasons for it.

The primary reason I started a blog early on in my career is that many educators that I encountered on the internet via social media maintained blogs. These were frequently deep wells of resources and insights into the teaching profession from which I gained much. A recurring theme on the purpose of these blogs was reflection, and I see now that this is a form of deliberate practice for educators. It keeps reflection purposeful and useful, going beyond sitting at your desk at the end of the school day wondering what just happened and what the hell you’re supposed to take from it (e.g. how I spent many afternoons in my first couple years).

But ever since I started getting into the Internet I’ve enjoyed putting my thoughts out “there”. I used the “notes” feature in Facebook frequently (which nobody else really used and I’m not even sure exists anymore), including a time that I posted a term paper I wrote in college to see what people thought.

I can’t explain why I enjoy the process of creating something and putting it out in the open. But I guess I do and to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t matter. I like it so I’m going to do more of it.

I could end the post there I suppose. One of the purposes of this post was to pin down my reasons for changing my approach to my blog/site. Having done that, I’ll briefly explain the changes I plan to make.

#### Change

I’ve avoided consistently writing/posting/sharing/reflection for a number of reasons but time is the main one. In the last five years I’ve had a child, got a dog, taught a college class, taught every high school math class we offer, sat on school improvement teams, presented at conferences, and coached quiz bowl. Oh, I also earned my Master’s in education technology. Not that this is unlike many young teachers, but it didn’t leave much time to work on my blog.

Now that I’ve graduated there are a few things I hope to accomplish with my site.

First, I want to increase posting frequency. I want to continue my weekly recap post. I plan on making it a bit shorter but I think there’s value in that post for me and possibly for others (see last week’s here). In this post I sum up a few of the things I’ve been reading, learning, listening to, and thinking about over the previous week. It’s good for my learning and maybe provides a nice curation of interesting stuff for others.

Second, I want to post some sort of reflection/idea/thought once a week. Topics will likely frequently be about education but I’m allowing them to veer away from it as well (you’ll see why in the upcoming post “Not letting my career define me”). I’m calling these “Backpages”. If your curious as to why, you can read about that here. I also hope to explore some more creative mediums for these.

Third, I want to do more researched posts on topics in education. I’ve found that many of the things I believed, especially before getting my master’s, I didn’t know that much about. Too much of the information that contributed to my beliefs was from sound bites on Twitter or short blog posts. I learned a great deal from the in depth research I had to do for my master’s. The purpose of these larger posts is to help me more deeply explore topics, but also to provide a post to other people that goes deeper than the typical reflection blog.

Ultimately I hope to more effectively contribute to the conversations around education. I want to be a resource for other teachers that are trying to navigate the noise that is social media.

Also, I love writing. On mornings that I know I’ll be writing I wake up before my alarm. So, I’ll also be writing more because I simply love to do it. I view this as a form of deliberate practice to improve my writing.

I’d love to hear feedback, positive or negative, from you as I begin posting with more frequency. That’s the only way that I’ll get better.

# Three Arguments for a Mathematical “SSR”

I’m sure that at some point in your life you’ve either heard of or participated in sustained silent reading in school. The idea is that students simply spend a set amount of time reading anything they enjoy for an extended period of time. I remember doing it in middle and elementary school. Every English student in the high school in which I currently teach does it as well. In fact, since it’s implementation there has been a notable increase in our reading scores. This got me thinking….what would the mathematical equivalent of this look like and would it be valuable?

### Choice

I think it might have a few components. One of the main premises of SSR is you get to choose what you read. In the realm of mathematics I don’t doubt that many students would need guidance in this area for a couple of reasons. First, many students see mathematics through the lens of their math books and previous math books that led to their current math book. This means that they are sheltered from a lot of math they might find interesting. Second many don’t know what doing math is like. For instance, have a look at this video by Vi Hart (who has one of my favorite Youtube Channels) in which by doodling she makes parabolas incredibly interesting. This is an exceptional example of where simply playing with mathematics can take you. Now, I understand that her mathematical background allowed her to draw and discuss parts of the video that would be over many student’s heads. The point is that there are many access points to mathematics that are both playful and creative. The teacher would have to front load some of the explanation for what constitutes mathematics, to broaden their horizons.

Being able to choose the mathematics students work on gives them some ownership of the content, even if it’s only for a small part of the week. Math catches a bad rep. Even certain students in my AP calculus would hesitate to brag about their love of math and a number of them don’t like math. I’m not contending that after implementing some sort of mathematical SSR that everyone will be running around jumping up and down about how great math is. I’m simply contending that if students view of mathematics broadens into something they think is enjoyable, the subject in general might be viewed in a better light. I would also hope that there would be a “spillover” effect in math class. This would stem from the notion that, although “what you’re telling me now isn’t particularly interesting, I can see that there are parts of this subject that are.” The goal would be that students would be (even slightly) more motivated to learn other mathematics.

### Thinking

I constantly preach to my students that if you want to get better at something you have to work at it. No one wakes up one morning with the ability to shoot three pointers at 60%. Likewise, no one wakes up one morning with the ability to do and fully comprehend integral calculus. To this end, if we can get students thinking mathematically for a short period each week I believe that ultimately students would become better mathematical thinkers and problem solvers. Two of the critical components to the success of this is that a) students have enough time each week to make it worthwhile and b) students engage in activities that make them reason and use their logical thinking skills.

### Focus

I don’t think I’m alone when I observe that many students in my class are trying to do math with a computer sitting next to them, lighting up every 15 seconds. This makes any kind of extended focus and concentration difficult. How are students supposed to “make sense of problems and persevere in solving them” if their phone is constantly distracting them from what their work? To this end a mathematical SSR would be phone/distraction free. I’m not sure if English classrooms implement it this way, but I imagine they do. One of the goals of this would be that students get better at concentrating on problems for longer than a minute or two. My hope is that students would begin to see value in distraction free work. They might even increase their ability to focus.

#### Nuts and Bolts

A few things remain to be worked out. For instance, what are the guidelines for something mathematical. Vi Hart spent a bunch of time drawing parabolas but the result was much more mathematical than if most of my students did the same. Here’s a list of activities that, I think, would be fit this time nicely.

• Logic Puzzles
• Creating Desmos Art
• Sudoku, Kakuro, etc.
• Reading and playing games on Math Munch
• Something they find interesting from (gasp) the textbook
• Watching Youtube videos from approved Youtube channels (I’m not sold on this one…)
• Maker Stuff (Little Bits, Arduino, etc.)
• Logic Games
• Games (Chess, Guillotine, etc.)
• Coding
• Others (If you shoot me ideas then I’d love to add them to the list…)

This time would be explicitly not for remediation. I can think of no worse way for a student to spend this time than being forced to do math they don’t find interesting and are already struggling with. I can see the temptation for a teacher to fill this chunk of time with remediation but that completely misses the point.

#### Results

I have to believe that the end result would be better mathematical understanding in general. I also think that (another gasp) test scores would go up as a result. Many standardized test questions test reasoning more than given math skills anyway. I have no research to prove this, I just think that if students do more mathematical thinking, their math skills will improve. And to be quite honest, if the results are simply more students improving their reasoning ability and gaining a new appreciation for mathematics then I’d deem it a success.

On a final note, I think it’s important that the teacher does this with the students. This models what is expected and gives the teacher some time to explore the subject that they love. It would contribute to a culture of mathematics in the classroom and sends a message to the students that this time is valuable to the teacher as well.

This is just an idea that’s been pinging around my head for several months and I’m finally getting it out. I’d really love to hear feedback on this, including but not limited to “this idea sucks because…”.

# The Testing Phase of Design – Education Edition

In my current grad class at Michigan State, Learning Technology through Design, I was asked to create a video describing the testing phase of the design process, especially in regards to how it applies to education (and my problem of practice). The testing phase is important because, as I like to think of it, it’s like a soft opening for your solution(s). It gives you an opportunity to get feedback on your big ideas and designs. This feedback loop will then drive future iterations of your prototypes to something polished and worthy of being fully implemented. The video below describes the testing method I used to test my prototypes and also explains why I think this phase is so important in education.

# A Call to Innovate…Now

If you can be replaced by a video then you should be.
If you can be replaced by a computer program than you should be.
This post is not designed to incite anger. It is not to suggest that technology is a better job at teaching that most educators. The purpose of this post is to get some thoughts off my chest (starting with the above two lines).

# Lot’s of Ideas…Still Lot’s of Problems

I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to generate as many ideas for my current problem of practice as possible. I brainstormed, incubated, and recorded every idea that popped in my head for a week. Although I’ve come up with lot’s of ideas, nothing has shown through as the glaringly obvious solution. But I’m keeping those lists and continue to check them. I think each one of these activities was valuable because in each one I found some new insight or aspect of my problem (even if the insight felt like a step backwards). Although I’m not really to this phase (this module was really about idea generation, not worrying about right/wrong) I think a few ideas are starting to show themselves as more likely to work.

One of the first big themes was messaging. In each activity I found that the fact that our profession is not viewed favorably by society and that we don’t feel trusted is a big problem. I think we as a profession need to take steps to control the narrative. We need to blog and share the great things happening in our schools and classrooms. We need to show society that we do good work and that if they give us freedom to innovate (and time to do so) that not only can they trust us, but we’ll blow them away.

Another theme that kept popping up and I’ve noticed in school where teachers seem to have a more favorable opinion of their work environment comes down to leadership. This came especially through in the brainstorming session. Administration needs to recognize the importance of giving teachers freedom and time. They also need to recognize that the time they currently have is lacking and that it needs to be respected. Whatever teachers are engaged in during meetings or district provided PD needs to be meaningful to as many teachers as possible.

There were a few other sub themes and ideas that might end up in my final list of solutions, not the least of which is to have Taylor Swift write a song about it. (I know, I know, there was a chance when she was country but now that she’s gone pop it’s really unlikely to happen.) Overall  really enjoyed this module as it’s less about the right idea and more about the possible ideas. We are so frequently looking for the right answers and the silver bullets in education that we rarely are given a space to simply generate ideas regardless of how off the wall they are.

# Reflection on my Brainstorming Session

For this assignment in my Learning Technology through Design course I had to do a brainstorming session on my problem of practice, the lack of time in education. I did this with one of my colleagues one day after school. It didn’t take us long to bump into the problems I’d been dealing with for some time. After I caught him up speed on where I was at with the problem we began jotting down some ideas on a whiteboard. Below are a few images of the thoughts we recorded. We ran into two major problems. The first is the problem of culture. We currently don’t have a culture that really respects the teaching profession. He seemed convinced that this was a problem not worth tackling because who can really change society by themselves. Neither one of us is in any  position to give an “I have a Dream speech” any time soon. Although I’m less pessimistic about this path, he does make a fair point. The second was that teachers, although they may want more time, are unlikely to want to make significant changes to the current schedule. For instance, one solution we came up with was to shorten summer break, maintain the number of contact time with students, and free up more time on a typical school day for planning, collaborating, etc. This way teachers would bring less work home during the busy parts of the school year and would have more time to innovate. He pointed out, and rightfully so, that many teachers really like their summers off. They like that long break. Now I might contend that if the school year was less stressful and we felt like society and the legislature respect our opinions and our work that we might not need 3 months to recover from the school year.

In my next post I’ll lay out what I gained from this ideate module and give some idea as to what solutions might be the most feasible.