A Huge Loss for North Carolina Education

A few weeks ago, the North Carolina’s General Assembly overruled Governor Perdue’s veto of the proposed state budget.  With that veto overruling, it was a sad day for North Carolina’s educational future.  Many educational budgetary items were cut and some of those are huge losses.  Below are a few the items cut from next year’s budget.

  • NC Science Olympiad    
  • Teaching Fellows
  • Teacher Academy
  • Teacher Cadet Program

Not to mention the hundreds of jobs eliminated throughout the state and the additional $500 taken away from per pupil spending for the next academic year.  It is a tough break for North Carolina’s educational future, its teachers, and its students.  While I do not envy having to make those type of decisions in this economic climate, I have to think there were better/smarter options especially with the national spotlight honed in on education.  We know education is key, but with these budget cuts we are putting our children at risk and doing them a disservice.

Both my wife and I received the Teaching Fellows scholarship, and I have worked closely with a couple of teacher cadets this past year, who even as high schoolers are very passionate about teaching.  These two programs — along with many others — have helped to inspire, promote, and encourage young people to become teachers in an era where the teaching profession has received some bad PR.  The programs were working well and in many places were incredibly popular and successful.  Why cut programs that were directly shaping and impacting North Carolina’s educational future?

Posted in budget cuts, education, reflection | Leave a comment

Guest Blog Post – 3 Challenges of Accessing Online Learning Environments

Teachers are presented with a host of obstacles these days, like overcrowded classrooms and budget cuts. Thus, it’s imperative for educators to create various methods and tools to bring learning into the classroom while staying within their strained funding and predetermined curriculum. Online programs offer teachers the opportunity to provide resources for all grade levels that were unavailable in years past. But these programs also bring with them another set of challenges that teachers must work to overcome.

Challenge #1: Access to Technology
For an online education program to succeed, students must obviously first have access to the Internet. Often in rural and lower socioeconomic neighborhoods, students may not have Internet access at home. While some students may have the opportunity to use the Internet at a local library or alternative location, not all students will have the means or transportation to do so. Teachers are then obligated to provide students with an opportunity to pursue Internet research during classroom time, if they are to follow the principles of Universal Design. Alternative methods of research and completion of assignments should also be provided. Also, paper handouts and books should be made available to students who need them.

Challenge #2: Understanding of Technology
Students and teachers must also have a minimum level of computer knowledge for an online program to work successfully. A student must know how to conduct research online, navigate search engines, and discriminate the increasingly hazy line of reliable and unreliable sources. Time would be taken away from the lesson at hand, if a teacher or facilitator needed to provide a student with the basic skills necessary to complete the program.

Challenge #3: Utility of Technology
Once the student is provided with Internet access and is able to successfully navigate the World Wide Web, the next challenge would be the reliability of the technology itself. When the programs and equipment are running properly, issues are minimized or non-existent. However, breakdowns in equipment or glitches in software can occur that would hinder or even block the learning experience. Computers fail, networks crash, hosting becomes blocked and the Internet connection drops. Teachers must prepare for these scenarios and provide the necessary materials needed to continue with the curriculum sans the technology.

This post was submitted by Sarah Fudin who currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California’s MAT Degree program, which provides the opportunity to earn a teaching credential online.  Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.

Posted in blended learning, e-learning, education | Leave a comment

The Grading Battle: Homework

As my school ends its current year and begins a new one, a major topic of discussion has been grading.  We have been tasked with creating departmental/PLT-wide grading systems.  This way students – no matter what team – will be assessed the same way in any given subject across the school.  While this makes sense in theory, it has generated a lot of interesting discussions regarding best grading practices.  Many questions have been raised such as:

  • What is the most accurate way to assess and grade students?
  • Should homework count? (focal point of this blog post)
  • Do we accept late work?
  • Should we allow students to re-test?

These questions and a handful of others have been discussed over and over again.  While the conversations are great and need to be had, we all know that teachers — myself included — are stubborn and grade sits at the philosophical core of who we are as teachers.  We all think we assess our students in the most fair manner, but do we really.  A co-worker of mine (@mrscienceteach) recently blogged about his thoughts regarding grades on his blog, Scripted Spontaneity, and at least least two other times…one and two (I told you it was a hot topic at our school lately). He and I both share a similar grading philosophy.  In fact I would go as far to say that he helped define my own grading philosophy.

Currently, I do not grade homework (nor do I rarely assign it for that matter) and if I do, my homework is almost always something I have asked my students to do in preparation for class the next day.  And even then…I don’t grade it.

I view homework (in any content-area) as a tool to practice what was just learned in class and a part of the student’s learning process.  Just as it would be unfair to release a musician’s first attempt at a song, it would be unfair to assess a student’s knowledge of a particular subject based on their completion of one homework assignment.  Many teachers do it and will continue to do it, but I truly believe that homework is for practice and should not factor into a student’s final grade.  We do not define championships by watching the Dallas Mavericks practice.  We do not define success by looking through Bill Gate’s trash can.  We should not assess our students mastery by looking at 20 random assignments throughout the year.  Grading should be a bigger picture.

What type of message does it send to our students to say, “Go home and practice this material. Yes, you just learned it in 45 minutes and you may or may not understand.  Complete #1 – 22 on page 224 for homework. This will be graded even though you had questions that I couldn’t answer due to time constraints. I will be collecting and this will count towards a homework grade. Yes I already said I know you have questions. Just give it your best shot and I’ll grade it anyway.  Absolutely no excuses and I do not accept late work. Forget after school activities, all of your other subjects, or even dinner.”

Think about this:

Most teachers grade homework for a fraction (10% – 15%) of a student’s overall grade. Is it fair to give a student a B in a class who has routinely aced every test you have given this year? Or maybe a student has received a C on every test, but since they did their homework, they got an A or B for the year?

Do either of the above scenarios accurately portray how much either student understood about the particular subject matter?  More than likely not.

I’m not saying, “DO NOT GIVE HOMEWORK.”  Instead, try and find a way to assess a student’s understanding other than assigning 20 problems or reading a passage and answering a few questions.  Homework is essential for math reinforcement (and many other subjects), but we, as teachers, can create better ways to hold our students accountable for doing homework other than assigning a grade.  It may require more work, but to be fair to our students, it’s necessary if we want to assess what our students truly know.

Posted in educational reform, grades, reflection | 1 Comment

New Home for Minithoughts/Proofread

Well my blog has officially moved.  I have shut down http://minithoughts.com/lhmiles2 due to growing expenses.  It will remain visible for awhile, but will no longer be updated.  I got tired up paying for hosting and server space and decided to go the free route.  I will begin to blog only at my new blog spot, https://coolhandeducation.wordpress.com/.  I have moved over all of the posts and comments from my previous blog.  However, I want to re-direct and re-focus my purpose for blogging.  Enjoy!

Posted in reflection | 2 Comments

Teaching Paperless

Blogging rule #1: Never apologize for your lack of blog updates. So I’m not apologizing for not updating about my paperless crusade.

Here’s where I’m at with Teaching Paperless:

1) It’s almost impossible to teach paperless 100% of the time given the limited resources I have in my school (Our administrative team and PTA are working very hard on that by the way).  I spent 9 days in the computer lab off and on doing various activities that were awesome and engaging, but justice set in, and I had to relinquish my hold on the computer lab for other teachers.

2) Some paper things I will just not be able to get around.  Since I have started this venture, I have had to make copies for the following things:

~Student Led Conferences – We create a script for our students to follow during a conference they conduct with their parents to instill leadership and personal responsibility in our students.

~Interims and Interim Cover Letters – Our school requires that I send home paper interims and cover letters every 3-ish weeks.

~A Unique Project Opportunity with my Administrator – Unfortunately, this was a paper-driven project, but man was it good.  Read about it here. My asst. principal and I have already devised a plan to make it paperless the next time around when we begin studying Asia.

3) I gave a short 10 question test the other day, and almost made a copy for every student.  I had to make a few copies given special accommodations, but instead of making a copy for every 7th grader, I displayed it on the projector and had them use their own paper.  Yes, I realize they still used paper, but it wan’t coming from me.

And then it happened.  I was talking about my personal paperless crusade in class with my 8th period just after they finished taking the test the other week.  My students have somewhat taken this one as their personal mission to make sure I don’t use paper.  They sorta act as my gut-check.  I was complaining about how hard it was to continuously  come up with ways to not use paper.  I was close to admitting to them that I might give up after this semester.  Then one student raised their hand and asked, “What about Google?”  I thought she was making fun of me since they are always hearing me say, “Don’t know? Google.”  I assumed she was recommending that I google ways to teach paperless.  But once she explained it, she gave me a great idea!

My student was actually suggesting that we take our tests using google docs similar to how we start each unit.  Every unit, we start by taking a google docs pre-test just to see how much everyone knows.  The results help to guide my instruction and let me know if I need to start with the basics or I can skip to heavy stuff.  However, those pre-tests are always multiple choice, and I refuse to give multiple choice summative assessments.

But that’s the beauty of using google docs, as I soon realized after class was over.  The google forms allow you to create open-ended questions, which still generates the same spreadsheet on the back end albeit a little more cluttered, but it’s there and grade-able.  I am definitely going to try this out the next time I am assessing my students.  Thank you student who I thought was making fun of me!  You inspired me to teach paperless just a little while longer.

Posted in paperless, reflection, technology | Leave a comment

Leaders are Visible

We just recently had the opportunity to “grade” our administrative team on how we think they are leading the school.  It was a unique opportunity that takes a lot of courage.  Imagine opening up yourself for anonymous feedback from the masses.   That’s scares me (which may be why my blog has never really gotten off the ground).  I’m even sometimes afraid to tell my students that I won’t be there a certain day for fear of the inevitable “YAY!” But of course, that never happens 🙂

The survey consisted of about 20 statements that required us to circle “almost always, frequently, occasionally, rarely, or never.” One of the first statements was:

“My administrative team is visible around the school.”

What a strong statement.  Visibility really is key when you are considering the qualifications of a leader in a school.  Administrators and teacher leaders alike, being a true school leader is not possible unless you have a positive, visible presence.

All of the good, instructional, and qualified leaders in your school are the ones who are heavily involved.  They may coach sports, they may be an instructional leader, a mentor, a principal, a motivator, etc. Some of the best teacher leaders in my school are the ones who I can approach for guidance, ideas, mentoring, or any problem.  They are easily accessible and have a positive, enriching presence in the school.  There may be some good teachers and admins locked behind their doors, but the best teacher leaders and admins are not out just to be seen but to be awesome (to steal the motivational word of choice from @web20classroom).

Do you consider yourself a teacher leader in your school?  Do you support your athletics?  Are you serving on committees or providing instructional support?  Do you mentor new teachers like myself?  Whatever the case may be, I promise you that with leadership comes a visible responsibility.  Effective leadership is about establishing meaningful relationships with students and teachers while providing them with outside connections that bring about a support system, ideas, and resources. No one can be an effective leader sitting in an office behind a closed door.  Being visible is easy, but you cannot be a leader without doing it.  How visible are you in your school?

Posted in education, reflection, teacher leaders | Leave a comment

I'm Teaching Paperless (for as long as possible)

I finally have a direction to take with this blog.  I never really knew what to write, and I always struggle with writing something original.  Many times, I felt I could have just posted  “Ditto” and linked to one of the many great blogs that I follow.  It’s hard trying to come up with content for my blog, but then I got it!

The other day at my school, I was sitting in on a budget meeting.  And just like any other business (and most schools), we have to cut our budget by a sizeable amount.  It was overwhelming to see how much we have cut over the past few years.  One budgetary item that stuck out to me was how much money we spend on paper each year.  Last year, we spent roughly $15,000 on paper.  Now that is a lot of money, a lot of trees, and a lot of paper.  To justify the amount just a bit…we are a year-around school with 25% more students than most middle schools.  However, I acknowledge that $15,000 is a lot of $$$$ that we could be spending elsewhere. 

So I am on a mission!

I am going to teach paperless and blog about my successes and my failures.  Let me lay out for you guys how I see this mission unfolding…

1) I vow to try and use ZERO paper for as long as possible unless certain modifications, legalities, and special needs arise.

2) I vow to blog about my expedition every week and share my findings (both good and bad) with my PLN.

3) I vow to not let my new found mission interfere with my students willingness to learn.  (Meaning…if I can’t figure out a way to teach without paper, then by golly, I’m gonna use paper).

4) I vow to keep a running count of every piece of paper I use in the classroom even the ones that I have to use for special circumstances.

Well here I go.  One less ream of paper at a time…


Posted in education, educational reform, paperless, reflection | Leave a comment