Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Midterm Season Again

As we head into the craziness of midterm season I thought of an earlier post that was shared on this blog.  Again, I felt the need to question the validity and relevancy of midterms and whether this is the type of assessment strategy / system is worth supporting.

Also, think about the back end of midterm exams and the lack of meaningful conversations between teachers and students.  Where is the time for these conversation to happen?  A midterm is delivered and seemingly the next day a new marking period begins.  An assessment of this magnitude should have time on the back end for students to reflect on their performance, to self-assess growth and to examine personal goals.  This reflection can serve as a conversation starter between a student and teacher as they collectively look ahead to the rest of the year.

From the archives (1-24-11), thought about midterm exams.

Midterms are almost upon us at the high school I work at. The testing period has been pushed back due to the string of inclement weather the Atlantic region has faced, but by the end of the month 1500 students will be required to complete midterms in core academic courses and year-long electives. The stress level at the high school increases for both students and teachers as stakeholders try to balance midterms exams, classes and extracurricular engagements.

I wonder if midterm exams are worth the effort and stress. The schedule is overhauled to find space for the administering of midterm exams. As a result of the weather, this schedule has been reworked on several occasions. Even though educators need to be flexible, their ability to alter instructional sessions is compromised with each cancellation or delayed opening. Additionally, to a certain extent, the schedule continues as if the midterms did not exist. Classes progress towards the end of the marking period. Extracurricular activities are not halted. Students and teachers head towards practices and meetings before, during and after school. The intensity is heightened as classroom participants try to manage academic expectations.

I question the worth of midterm exams. I see value in delivering a final assessment. Students should be placed in a position where they need to synthesize information accrued throughout the year and defend personal interpretations. However, I do not think midterms serve the same purpose. Do classes need to stop in the “middle” of the year to evaluate progress? Educators are supposed to be constantly assessing students both formally and informally. Each day data is being gathered and used to personalize learning. In theory, what are we going to learn on a midterm that we do not already know about a student? This is particularly true if the midterm is uniform across a class or course. We cannot privilege a personalized learning environment and deliver the complete opposite for a midterm exam.

I would rather see classes where students are engaged in a process of continually making meaning. Prior assertions are constantly challenged through guided and organic inquiries. New information is evaluated against existing perspectives. Discovery is an extended process with the learning afforded the time and space to determine truth. As stated before, the end result should be a public exhibition in which the learner can demonstrate understanding and growth.

If we are to have midterms, the emphasis needs to be on the demonstration of skills more so than the regurgitation of content. I was excited to read a post over the weekend from the Teaching Paperless blog. The blog’s creator, Shelly Blake-Plock shared a broad description of a midterm he created for his Human Geography course. I shared the post with several teachers who were struggling to develop a midterm assessment that moved away from the traditional memorization and recall format to a structure that was authentic and skills based. The most recent post on Teaching Paperless shared the actual Human Geography exam. The examination assesses a learner’s ability to actually become a researcher in human geography through the completion of ten different tasks. All of the work is to be displayed on the student’s blog. Students are required to complete a range of tasks that are united through conducting research inquiries. My favorite questions are #5 and #7. The implications of a student being able to accomplish these specific tasks is significant. Learners are challenged to synthesize information, critically analyze a problem and make informed recommendations. A broad range of skills are engaged to meet the exam requirements. The exam has depth as opposed to a narrow focus.

Regardless of whether midterms are assigned, any assessment has to have enduring value. The hope is that over the next two weeks our students will be engaged in meaningful endeavors that represent challenges learners will face in college or the professional world. The hope is that students and teachers will view midterms as time well spent. Teachers can further the accumulation of students data and build personalized learning experiences. Students can hopefully find time to reflect on their performance and either revisit or if warranted, revise personal learning goals.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Creating Community In The Classroom: Student Blogging

MSD Teacher Academy
Creating Community In The Classroom
Session #2: Writing As A Public Act

Today’s session will revolve around the notion that writing is a public act.  This belief pushes students to embrace a greater sense of transparency and see value in sharing one’s thoughts with a class or learning network.  New York City teacher teacher Ileana Jimenez believes writing is a public act and as a result, encourages her students to blog. According to Jimenez, rather than having students write a paper and hand it in only for the teacher to read, waiting for some kind assessment, writing should be public, it should give a sense of urgency and visibility and for students to feel that their writing has a voice in the world.  

Writing for an audience that extends beyond self or just the teacher can lead towards creating a stronger sense of community in the classroom.  Creating spaces where learners can share ideas and offer feedback, threads stakeholders together.  Students come to see themselves as valuable resources and an integral part of a learning network.

During this session, teachers will be introduced to sample blogs from classes throughout the district.  Teacher initiated blog assignments and students posts will be shared.  A few teachers from the high school have been invited to explain how/why they infused the use of blogs into their respective classrooms.  This will eventually segway into a discussion of Kidblog.  Kidblog is a blogging platform currently being used by over a million K-12 students.  Several teachers in district employ Kidblog.  It is a secure site and students can develop accounts without the need for an email address. 

After the Kidblog discussion, the session will end with the Moodle pilot program.  Next year, the district will pilot the use of Moodle in several elementary school classrooms.  This will introduce, at the elementary level, a course management system to students.  Additionally, embedded into Moodle are tools such as discussion forums that promote the publication of ideas and transparent learning.  Moodle like Kidblog is safe and secure and student accounts can be generated by a teacher or administrator.   In an attempt to support the fluid integration of technology K-12, elementary students need access and experience playing with what is often considered tools of the 21st Century. 

Resources for Today’s Session


Blogging Resources

Thursday, January 10, 2013


I might have posted about this in the past, but I felt the need to share a few thoughts about scheduling.  We are in the process of hosting scheduling meetings for students.  9-11th graders are being called down to meet with their counselors to determine a schedule for next school year.  I'm sure a similar process unfolds at high schools across the country.

I always wonder during this time if students walk into these meeting well informed about what is available to them.  We have for students a program of studies and our curriculum is part of the public record.  Additionally, counselors provide insight into courses and I would also assume students reach out to peers as a source of information.  However, I still believe that this falls way short of what could be presented to students.

I think about access and the extensive amount of research that can be accomplished online.  Who does not turn to the internet to conduct research before making a decision to purchase a product or plan and book a vacation?  Before deciding to buy a car I could tap into a sea of online reviews and forums discussions.  I shared in a prior post What Do I Want For the Holidays how one of my daughters was researching shoes online.  I sure she did not tap into forum discussions, but she checked out several sites and images before sharing a request with her overwhelmed parents.

How can these experiences be manifested in the scheduling process?  With the access we have, a school should be able to mirror the process any of us would follow when rendering a decision.  Would it be unheard of to compile reviews about a course or post student surveys on a school's website?  Also consider the power of video.  Could we encourage teachers to make a short video about their class?  Do we provide enough opportunities for students to observe class they are not enrolled in?  Before walking into a scheduling meeting I could have done some extensive research.  I could have accessed a program of studies or peer reviews.  I could watch a series of videos about an elective or ask to observe an AP class.  These are just some potential measures we could take to position students and their families to make truly informed decisions.

Any ideas???  How is the scheduling process approached in your school?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Worth Reading...

Sharing some articles and videos from the past few weeks.

 1. 3 Principles for the Future of Gaming, From A Google Game Designer (Fast Company)- ideas about the future of gaming from John Hanke, the man at the helm of Google’s experimental game, Ingress.

Video games have long been the province of the sedentary. But Hanke sees that more as a consequence of the limitations of technology than something inherent in the medium. "The game console had to be hooked up to your television and a power outlet," he says. "After that you had to have your connection to the Internet." But now, with devices that keep us connected no matter where we are, Hanke believes that gaming and the real world are ready to mingle. If Wii and Kinect were designed to get us up off the couch, Ingress aims to get us out the door entirely.

2.  School Design, Classroom Layout Can Heavily Affect Student Grades, Learning: Study (Huffington Post)- demonstrates the impact space has on learning.  Samples included of innovative school designs.

It has long been known that various aspects of the built environment impact on people in buildings, but this is the first time a holistic assessment has been made that successfully links the overall impact directly to learning rates in schools," Peter Barrett, a professor at the University of Salford, said in a statement. "The impact identified is in fact greater than we imagined and the Salford team is looking forward to building on these clear results.

 3. Philosophical Teaching Will Get Students Thinking for Themselves Again (Taylor)- guard against teaching to a test, and continue to push students to be reflective critical thinkers

As an antidote to teaching to the test, I recommend a philosophical approach. This means teaching students to be critical, reflective enquirers. It is all about putting in their hands the tools they need to find answers for themselves, and stimulating them to begin thinking more deeply and critically about ideas and arguments.

4. Our New Value: Making Stuff With Kids (Richardson)- discusses problem-solving initiatives with 6th graders at the Marymount School in NYC.  

We have to become the places where we help kids make interesting, meaningful, useful, beautiful artifacts of their learning that they can share with the real world. That’s our value moving forward. That stuff that can’t be “Khanified.”

5. Got A Problem?  Students Can Find The Solution (MindShift)- examples of how schools can be breeding ground for fostering students’ questions, a place to spark students’ interests and ideas for designing innovative solutions to real problems.

Issues like these arise every day in schools. For educators, the key is to listen to students, enlist them in looking for and building solutions, and empower students to become change makers and innovators. It all comes down to listening to the questions.

6. 1 90 Metacognition Dylan Wiliam Learning and teaching 

7. Meet the YouTube Next EDU Gurus