Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We're moving

I've decided to shift gears a bit.... I will not be posting to Assessment for Instruction anymore, but have a new blog. I have moved all my posts to the new blog, so you can read any old ones as well.

The new blog is

So, stop on by.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Be Googleable...

I've spent a significant amount of time this summer searching through applications, interviewing both certified and non-certified staff. What's the first thing I do when I get the list of applicants?????

I Google them. 

If you talk to many employers, they say the same thing. 

So my advice to anyone who's looking for a job.. Be Googleable!

Now the question is... how do I become Googleable?

Well, number one. Create an online presence. There are many ways to do that. 

1. You could join twitter using your name as your id... 
2. Blog
3. comment on blogs
4. create a diigo account (again, using your name as your id)

Each of these will create a presence for you. There are other ways, like have the newspaper do an article on you etc...

So, are there other ways to be Googled????

Monday, August 2, 2010

A week of learning

I had the opportunity to attend a 5 day Kagan Cooperative Learning conference. I'll start by being very honest. I was really suspect. We've all been to those conferences that have been pretty drab. I wasn't exactly excited about spending 6 days away from my family either.

Wow was I wrong. This was a great learning time. My district had already had a Kagan trainer out to train some of the staff, so I was sent to learn the ins and outs of Kagan learning. I know that Kagan costs some money to get trained in, but wow what a great way to teach. I can see how I will use some of the structures in my professional development with staff.

I could write pages on what Kagan cooperative learning is, but I'll do some summarizing of key points. If you get a chance to check it out, please do. I highly recommend it!

As they say, Kagan is all about engagement. The trainer we had kept us very engaged in our learning. As he said, the typical classroom of 25 students during a questioning time has only 4% engagement. The student who answers the question... With Kagan structures, 25% of students are engaged, with up to 50%-100% depending on the structure.

Many people (including me before the training) see cooperative learning as dividing the students in the classroom into 3 or 4's. Then the teacher gives the students a task (worksheet or project) to complete. Well, what happens... the high achieving student complete the task and some students just sit and watch.
How is Kagan different??  That's the million dollar question...

The difference is the structures.. The different ways you assign a task to those teams (groups of 4). Instead of giving the groups a question to discuss, with Kagan structures each student is given a part of the task... Each member has a a responsibility to the group. One example is the Round Robin. This structure makes each student share something to the team. You can give each team member a time limit as well for their response.

Another difference is Kagan's focus on relationships. Much of our training time was spent getting to know the people in our groups of 4 (teams as Kagan calls them). This focus on relationships is what I see being useful in my work in professional development. There are many new faces in the building, so early I want to spend time having everyone getting to know each other. Building trusting relationships is going to be KEY!

I know this was a short snip-it of what I learned, I hope you can hear my passion for my learning. I've already planned how I'm going to use some of the structures in PD and want to see staff using the structures in their classroom. Half of the battle of learning is getting students engaged. I see Kagan as a great way to increase student engagement in the classroom.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thoughts on cleaning

I've recently done some purging. I'm moving into my new office. This has given me the opportunity to sort through my "stuff" to decide what's important and what I need. There are things that look good, but do I need them to fulfill my duties at school? No...

I just did the same thing with the tweeps I'm following on twitter. I went through my list and made decisions.

"Does this person tweet useful information?"

"Do I learn from this person?"

These were the two main questions I looked at. I also looked at the last time they tweeted. There were some who haven't been active in months. Unfollow....

Now, why did I do this? It looks good if there are big numbers by my twitter id... but I've decided to follow those I find value in.

I also want to clean up my feed. I want the good stuff. I found myself moving very quickly through tweets... I probably missed some really good stuff..

I also noticed that I got a bunch of new followers in the last week. I engaged in some conversations regarding #iste10 . I imagine that some people started following lots of people who were there, or involved in those conversations. I welcome those followers, but hope they follow me because I provide them with something.

Just some thoughts on cleaning.. Is it a good time for you to clean?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A change

Well, if you follow my twitter feed, you have learned that I will be changing roles and school districts next school year. I have accepted a position as Middle School Principal at South Tama County Schools in Toledo, Iowa. I am really excited about this new adventure! I'm also nervous. I've not been a principal before.... I've been in control of my classroom... not a whole building of 6-8th graders, teachers, counselors, aides, a secretary, nurse etc....

 Now that may sound like I'm afraid, I'm not afraid.. The administrative team, school board, teachers, and parents who were part of the hiring process saw leadership skills in me they value and want in their school leader. Talk about a humbling thought. These people trust me to move their school forward. To take it to the next level. That's my goal, to take the school to the next level! I've spent the time since I've been hired preparing a plan. I know my summer will be spend learning the ropes of the building, meeting staff, students, and parents, and building relationships! So, if you don't hear much from the blog this summer, know I've not lost my educational passion, it's moved to a new task!

I won't give up my passion for assessment. I'm still teaching a class on formative assessment and standards grading with my brother Matt Townsley this summer. I also hope to introduce the idea to my teachers. Many of them have already visited the blog, so I hope the conversation can be started and we can use formative assessment to guide our instruction and help students have a deeper understanding of their learning. I'll keep posting ideas and experiences about assessment and learning here in the future. I may even throw in a good admin story as well!!! 

Thanks for the visits, and stay tuned in the future!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Thoughts on Summative Assessments... Comments please!!!

Well, as the school year winds down, I have been reflecting on the practice of Standards Based Grading. My current practice is use formative assessments throughout our class time, then give a "summative" assessment at the end of each unit. I then allow students who want to re-learn a standard do some practice/re-teaching and then redo any of the learning targets they want to. I've liked this method, it's more work for me, but I can see the students continue to learn.

My question is... how does this prepare them for the challenges of mid-terms and final exams in college? Is it my job to model the methods of assessment that many colleges utilize??

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Off the beaten path.... #edchat

This post has been a long time coming.... I've participated in various #edchat's on twitter. If you haven't yet, I'd really encourage you to. If you want to to spend an hour watching your computer screen explode with passion for education, then join on in!

Anyway, the real reason for my post is a reflection on #edchat in general. I love conversations about education. My extended family is filled with educators.. My brother Matt, sister Becky, and her husband Russ are all in education, along with myself and my wife. Our family get togethers are filled with talk of education. There are times where we put a moratorium on ed. talk during certain holidays.

Anyway, back to #edchat convo...Sometimes I'm torn during #edchat. Torn in a sense of lack of control, lack of a belief for a real change. Many of the conversations are what I call "out there" The conversation moves to a realm of almost unreachable desires of what education looks like. Many will say that we need people with vision in our world. I totally agree, but what's really going to change and when will it happen? I believe that education needs to change in the United States. Many will say that local control is still important... Really? The students we have are going to compete in a global market, not just for a job at the local mill.. We have to prepare our students to compete with students from India, China, France, wherever....The SYSTEM needs tweaking, but how much? The conversations I've had in #edchat are great and my thinking is always challenged (Which is why I participate!) Who's going to take charge and rock the ship?

My struggle is when is this change going to happen? All this talk about how education needs reformed, how standardized testing is hurting education keeps happening, but nothing has changed. #edchat has given me hope! Hope that there are over 1000 people in Tuesday's 12pm chat who want to create a change... I just hope it happens soon!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Another small victory????

Yesterday, we spent our class time talking about graphing rational functions. This is a fairly advanced topic in Algebra 2, so I planned to spend some time on it. As usual, I had students fill out their self assessment paper before they left class. After school, I browsed them to see how the students thought they did. As I suspected, they weren't very confident in the learning, so I wanted to do another check at the beginning of class.

After our usual fraction warm-up, I put a graphing rational equation problem on the board. I gave them roughly 10 minutes to complete. The students worked diligently for most of the time, but I could sense their struggle (which I suspected and wanted to validate). I collected the papers to give the students feedback. On one girls paper, I saw some work plus this comment, "I'm sorry I don't get this".....

This tore me. I was pleased that the student didn't want to let me down, wanted to do well. However, I wondered what message I have been sending. I always want my room to be a safe environment. Students should feel safe asking questions etc. I really hope that I didn't create a fear of failure with my students..

My response to her comment hopefully made my point. "We're learning, it's okay not to get it yet!"

Monday, April 19, 2010

Guest appearance: With Students in Mind

I had the great opportunity to have a guest appearance on the Podcast: With Students in Mind co-hosted by Russ Goerend and Matt Townsley.  I had a great time and wanted to create a link to the podcast from the blog!

With Students in mind episode #4

Monday, April 12, 2010

Reflections on the 1:1 conference, where's math fit in?

First I want to take a second to thank the CASTLE group for putting on a great day! Scott Mcleod, Jamie Fasth, Nick Sauers, and John Nash; I much appreciate the efforts you put into the day.

It was a great day for two reasons.

1: I thoroughly  enjoyed connecting with so many people who I've "known" via twitter: Deron Durflinger, Mike Sansone, John Carver, Jeff Dicks, Evan Abbey, Brad Fox and many others.

2: The conversations and presentations really got me thinking. (This was almost as important as number 1.) There were two conversations in particular that I'd like to focus on.

The first conversation happened during one of the "un-conference" sessions that went on in one of the rooms. The leaders decided to leave a room open for discussions and spur of the moment topics. Russ Goerend and Matt Townsley led a session that got some great conversations going about we're 1:1, now what. What more can I do as a teacher, how do my students learn better with the computer in their hand? There were a couple of teachers who taught in 1:1 schools who struggled being forced into using the Macbook with their students. They didn't see the power it could bring to their classroom. To me, this showed a failure in two areas.

1: The school leadership at this school didn't go a good enough job of showing, helping and leading this teacher forward in their thinking.

2: The teacher had wall of sorts built, i.e. didn't want the technology or was afraid the students would know more about the machine then they would.

This saddened me as there were many teachers walking around who would jump at the chance to implement the changes these computers could have in their students learning!

Conversation number two that really sparked my interest was with Kim Carey and Deron Durflinger, both from Van Meter Schools. Deron had been wanting for Kim and I to connect and really work with some math stuff in their 1:1 setting. As we met, our conversation went to the difficulties she was having really utilizing the computer in the math curriculum. I've been struggling with this for quite some time. Now, I don't teach in a 1:1 school, but I've been reflecting on what that would look. I know about the Geometry tools that are available, but I want something more. How does a Pre-Algebra classroom really use a computer in all their activities?

If you have some great ideas, please share away!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Reflections on the grading conversation

First, I want to thank all the visitors and contributors in the grading conversation. I was overwhelmed with the responses. Obviously, I hit a chord with many of you. I want to spend a few minutes adding my few cents.

I see grading as a necessity in our current education system. Now, before I start an uproar from shaggyhill or others, I want to reiterate in our current system of total education. For our students to get into college and qualify for a majority of financial aid students need a good GPA.

Secondly, I do see a major distortion in what grades mean from school to school, or even classroom to classroom within a school. I'm utilizing standards based grading in my classroom, while other teachers in my school and even in my department grade on points or other methods. Our current education system allows teachers to have significant control of how they assess and grade students in their classroom. As a teacher, I enjoy that freedom and would struggle working in a district that would really restrict my choices in that sense.

Do I dislike other methods of grading? No, I can see the perspective of grading student work for points, using accountability as an emphasis in the classroom and grading. My personal perspective has changed over the last couple of years. I believe that grades (if we must have them) should reflect what a student knows. When I report to parents, I want an easy way to show them what their child knows and doesn't. Standards-based grading does that for me. It may not be the choice of many others, but I see the purpose and believe it works best for my teaching style and how my classroom operates.

I'll be interested to see how education changes over the next few years. I sense a change a coming, but I'm not sure when it will happen.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What are we grading? (A hopeful conversation)

This post has been a long time coming. I've spent time in the teachers' lounge and on twitter having conversations about grading. Here's my struggle with grading... 

What does a grade mean?

Is a grade the way of ranking of what students know?

Should completeness of homework be a portion of a grade?

Should a student who learns "faster" than another student get a better grade than one who may learn "slower"?

I look forward to your responses and the conversation we can create!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Off the beaten path: Leading PD

Well, it's been a while since I've had the time to post. Basketball, a new child, and teaching have really gotten in my way... :).  Now that things are settled down, I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to lead a Professional Development session at my school about Creating a Professional Learning Network (PLN).

One of my main goals for this PD session was not to use PowerPoint. I've been to too many PD's where we get a copy of a PowerPoint that's read to us by the leader. I wanted this session to be interactive and get the participants involved. My plan was to show the staff different tools I use in collaborating with people throughout the world. Each staff member had a laptop or netbook in our Media Center which made it nice to work in groups if someone had an issue. We got started and it went pretty well.

In cooperation with my administration team, I created a Ning for our staff to join and use as an online collaborative place. We're not ready yet to throw the site out to the masses, but we're getting started sharing and collaborating. I first showed the staff the Ning and we had everyone join the site and gave them time to play around and see the tools Ning has available to collaborate.

Then, our tech director showed a couple of tools, TipCam and quizlet . We then sent staff members back to their rooms to break and try any of the tools on their computers in their room.

As they came back, I had Milli Vanilli's Blame it on the rain. The purpose of showing this video was to remind them of the one hit wonder. The tools we were showing weren't going to be useful or helpful if we learned about them and then put them away. People need to participate for learning to happen.

After the music, I showed Google Reader. I also gave them Scott McLeod's sources on Reader. I gave them some time to play and also gave them some sites to add to their feed.

I saved the best for last. There was a reason for this too. I saved Twitter for the last part of the day. I did this for a couple of reasons. 1- Twitter won't allow numerous new accounts from one IP address. I wanted this to be fresh in their minds as they went home, hoping they'd create an account. 2- What I thought to be the most powerful tool I wanted to save for last.

You'll as why do I think Twitter is the most powerful, well...  Twitter allows educators to connect with so many educators and other resources from around the world. To demonstrate this to the staff, I asked my PLN to do a shout out with the #bcschool tag. We got numerous responses and many of the staff commented on how people from all over the US, Canada, and from across the pond in the UK would  say hello to our school.

Overall, it was a great day. I received many comments how staff liked being given time to work with the technology. We've had a great turn out and conversation on the Ning, and also have a few staff joining Twitter. We're taking baby steps, but our conversations are gaining depth and also increasing in frequency.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Journaling in math????

Yes, as weird as it sounds, we've been doing some journal writing in math class. This may seem strange, but....  Why do teachers in other disciplines journal? For reflective thinking! Should we reflectively think in math class?  I think so. Students need time to process the content we're covering, a place to ask questions that they may not be willing to ask in a group setting.

My brother-in-law Russ Goerend has a great post about a standards based journaling approach.  (Good journaling article, and a plug for family!) Now, I've chosen to not grade the journals. I've written before about my grading practices here. I started with paper journals. Students many times forgot to bring theirs or such, so it was a paper mess for me to follow up with them etc.

But...., I made a transition. I created an edmodo group for my students. This has allowed me to give the students a reflective question and they can answer. What I like about it is the ability of other students to respond as well. This does take some of the protectiveness out of the conversation, but they can also just send me a direct message and it's not viewable within the whole group.

I also really like it for the ease of feedback, I can just click reply and send the student some feedback on their writing. This has allowed us to reduce the paper usage in our classroom as well as stimulate collaboration 24-7 .

I know there are other sites like edmodo, please share them so I can compile a list to share!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Off the beaten path.... Proper use of Social Media

I've had this question stewing in my mind for the last couple of weeks, so I thought I would write about it.  Now, I know this isn't about formative assessment or standards based grading like my blog is supposed to be about, but hey... this is my space, so I can write what I want!  :)

Anyhow, back to my thoughts on the proper use of social media in education. Much has been written about using twitter as a collaborative tool: here and here thanks @plugusin.  I can't agree more! Twitter is a great place to share, collaborate, and learn about numerous things. There are so many resources, ideas, and challenging questions shared daily. For me personally, I have learned so much about teaching, learning, and leading from the various people I follow and collaborate with.

My dilemma, if you call it a dilemma, is the different ways people treat twitter. For some, twitter is a strictly professional tool. Their tweets are all about education. Others see twitter as a very social tool.  A place to kid, jab, and have a good time with each other. Many more, fall somewhere in the middle, they like the professional learning, but also develop relationships with people from across the globe that they would have no other connection with.

Now, you may be wondering what the dilemma is... well, let's say that I'm demonstrating the powerful resources of twitter to a room full of teachers at my school (On a side note, I'll be doing this on Friday February 12th if you'd like to shout out! @EricTownsley). This may seem like an easy task, but imagine the embarrassment when across the screen of my Tweetdeck feed a tweet with foul language appears. This wouldn't be good, but I can't control what others are saying. My admin goes into a tizzy and shuts down my presentation and the possibility of numerous teachers joining the conversation is ruined (hypothetical situation here, hasn't happened yet).

The tweeter (is this the right term here?) that sent the foul language tweet has no idea that I may be showing this tool to the staff at my school. I follow this person because at times, they share some great resources and we have some great conversations. However, at times, they share things I don't want to know or care to hear about.

How can I distinguish, how can I filter? Now, this hasn't happened to me. I haven't been embarrassed in this way, but I could, and so could you. But I can't control what others are saying, so do I stop following and learning from someone just because of the risk they may say something I don't want to read?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

After the first unit

Well, we've just finished our first unit of the new semester.

We've taken the unit assessment and I'm going to give them their feedback and Learning Target scores! Unlike this picture, the assessments aren't all multiple choice.  I did have some multiple choice problems on this particular test.  I did this because we're taking the Iowa Test of Educational Development (ITED) this week so I thought it would be good to talk about taking standardized tests. Some things I've learned during this time...

1. Taking time to provide feedback and define scores on Learning Targets is more time consuming than grading tests my old way. 

2. I don't have to grade each assignment, so I save time during the course of the unit.

3. Instead of just identifying right or wrong answers, students seem to respond better to "feedback".  I provide them with a response to their answers, what they did wrong or some positive feedback if they did it correctly. 

Is everything going as planned with the new grading system?  I can't say that it is, I've got some students who aren't turning in the practice, but what does that mean? Are they not finding the meaning in learning or are they taking the easy road? I plan to have conversations with them, encourage them to really get involved in their learning.  It's a process, not an event.  I must keep remembering that!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The journey begins

Well, the journey has begun. Monday started a new term for my students. I've implemented a new grading system with this group, a standards based approach. Without going into too much detail, I've gone through the standards to create learning targets. I'm grading students on those learning targets.  Each learning target is worth 4 points.

It is important to understand that in the standards approach I'm choosing, daily homework (I call it practice problems) are not graded. I have chosen to put the practice problems into the grade book, but not score them. I only put a check mark in that position to show parents, students, and myself that the student completed the assignment.  I'm giving all of the answers for the practice problems. I've got an extra table in my room that I will put all the answer keys on so students can see if they're doing the problems correctly.

One really awesome part of this whole process I'm embarking on is that I've got a colleague who is doing this with me.  A math teach who teaches Pre-Calculus and Calculus has chosen to come on board with me in implementing the change in grading system.  She is doing things a little differently, but it's great to be able to share both joys and concerns that we have together!

So, enough with background information. I wanted to take some time to talk about the great discussions I had with students about the new system. As I went through the syllabus, the students spent much time just absorbing what I was saying.  I'm teaching 3 sections of Algebra 2.  My first two sections we're pretty "okay" with what they heard. They didn't ask many questions and were just going with the flow.  My 3rd and last class of the day really questioned the grading process. It was new to them and they wanted to make sure what was going on. After we clarified and answered questions, they seemed pretty excited. I did have a couple of students who voiced that they didn't do well on tests, so they felt they weren't going to do well. I reminded them that they will have the ability retake any of the learning targets if they show that they have made attempts to re-learn the material. This eased their mind and they said they looked forward to seeing what they know.

As many of you know, standards grading puts a major emphasis on formative assessment. I explained to all my classes that we'd be having many formal assessments that wouldn't be graded, but they'd receive feedback as to how they were doing.

The next couple of posts will be discussing many of the different types of assessments that we're utilizing in my classroom. I look forward to the conversations that we will have about different practices you use as well!