Saturday, April 27, 2013

Of Tests and Projects

Next week I will be at both ends of the educational spectrum.  Each morning I will be a prison guard (ie. proctor) for the high stakes NJ ASK testing (high stakes mostly for teachers, since they are the only ones that have any real consequences if students do poorly).  In the afternoons, the 7th grade team (of which I am a part) will be monitoring student group work for the 9th annual Biome Zoo Project (an interdisciplinary biology/geography project).  Every year I am amazed to see the creative solutions developed by the students.

My classroom has become a “sterile environment” as papers are now covering up the many quotes and pictures I have around my classroom.  The state doesn’t want students to be able to gather information from the wall so all educational posters (ie. “How to write an Essay”), must be covered.  I understand that and declared to my team, “That’s OK, I don’t have anything educational in my room” (my room is covered with things like a Beatles Yellow Submarine poster and an old Napoleon Dynamite poster).  And then one of my “teammates” advised that we should take down or cover ALL posters because he said they might give kids ideas on the essay, thus educational (I wondered if we should cover the clocks too because the numbers could give the kids help in math).  

So when testing begins in my classroom next week, the walls will be covered with paper, you know, kind of like when you see those black lines or blurred pictures.  As I walk up and down the straight aisles of kids working diligently on circling dots  in their desks with the blanks walls, my lively, energetic classroom will be reduced to something more resembling a prison block license plate making facility.

And I am still not clear how the heavy emphasis preparing and taking standardized tests is going to improve students.  The only conclusion I can draw on an increase in score on a standardized test is that student improved on their ability to take tests.  It may help them on their SAT's, but not much of any use in real life.

I have always found developing interesting and creative classroom experiences drives students to learn and that test prep lessons work against that and alter schools into child labor factories.

After the testing is over, students will gather in their biome groups and create a 15 minute presentation “selling” their idea of a zoo the combines a specific biome and culture in the world.  Before they got together with their group, they spent the previous 3 weeks researching and then creating an individual project based on their topic.  Groups come together, share what they learned in their individual preparation, and then make a plan for their presentation.  The end results are filled with entertaining skits, elaborate 3-D models of their zoo, and choreographed dances and songs.  

Teachers are being told that the many of the jobs we are preparing students for do not even exist yet due to constant upgrades in technology.  We are told to best prepare students, we need to design lessons in a framework for 21st century learning skills that include creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

Looking at the two educational extremes this week, state mandated testing and teacher  designed projects, which one allows the students to show their preparation for the 21st century workplace and which one is locked in a 19th century mindset?

(But what do I know, I'm just a teacher with over 20 years experience, not a politician making the educational decisions)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Education--The New Growth Industry

Have you bought stock in Pearson Education?  Maybe you should, because with 40 or so states taking part in the PARCC assessments that will be created by Pearson, your tax dollars are going to be flowing into their coffers like never before.

I'm not an expert with all the facts, but lets just simply think through the costs:

Testing is to begin in kindergarten and take place three times a year.  In my state, a child will go from being tested 9 times in their public school experience to THIRTY NINE, 4 times greater than what they have now (and when I began teaching in my state, I believe there were only 3 times students were faced with a state test, all others were local choice such as the Iowa Tests I used to take).

Where is your school going to get the money?

In order to read the responses on short answers or essays, they are going to need to employ more evaluators or pay their current evaluators for more hours (remember, its going to be four times the work)

Where is your school going to get the money?

Tests are going to be taken online.  Do your schools have a computer to accommodate every student taking the test?  Can their servers handle it? Can the testing providers servers handle it?

Where is your school going to get the money?

Already schools are buying workbooks and online test prep sites to prepare the students for the tests.  I wonder who are creating these workbooks and sites?

Where is your school going to get the money?

When have you ever heard anyone one said, "Wow, if it wasn't for those standardized tests in school, I don't know if I ever would have succeeded in my career"?

It's funny how the anti-corporate Democrats don't seem to mind all these tax dollars flowing to a private corporation.

Funny how anti-regulation, pro-local authority Republicans don't mind the extra regulations and usurpation of local school board control.

If you think testing is all about children growing intellectually and teacher evaluation, think again.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Man Caves (Dear Katie V1 #13)

Dear Katie,

My fellow David Brearley H.S. Class of ’85 alum, Tony Siragusa (the guy who the weight room was named after at  your high school), has a television show where he and a contractor come in and build a room designed specifically for the man of the house called “Man Caves”.  Until his show premiered, I never knew that was an actual term, but have enjoyed an out of the way place in my house since I got married.  (My current house does not have a Man Cave since those rooms have been taken over by your cousins and I don’t think my basement would be suitable, maybe if I move).

My first man cave was the computer room in our first apartment, an above ground basement of a house.  The house was a 5 minute commute from work, and your aunt used to be annoyed as I walked in the door after a day of teaching, kissed her hello, and retreated to the cave (which was the only room underground so cave was appropriate) for about an hour.  With all the talking of the classroom, the bells to switch classes, the noise of the hallway, I just needed some silence to process and think.

Now a days, I have a mobile man cave.  It is the relaxing 40 minute ride (27 miles of country driving) I have coming home from work.  When I drive to work, I have the radio playing, but more often then not silence on the way home.  As a teacher, I have found this time of silence beneficial for many reasons.

First, it de-stresses me from the events of the day.  I love working with kids, but to keep over 100 under control, working on task, and not annoying each other and me is hard work (and teach a lesson on top of that).  You need time to unwind on frivolous tasks.  Shooting baskets is a great de-streeser for me.

Secondly, and perhaps most important, it is a time to think new things. In order to create new lesson ideas, we need time to think.  As a teacher, I rarely get this time during the day.  Prep periods are filled with grading papers, addressing student concerns, paperwork, etc.  

Every great thing ever built started out as a dream, but you need time to dream.  

Those dreams of how to make my classroom better begin from my man cave.

Katie, as a teacher, never forget to plan time in your day to dream.

Just My Opinion,

Uncle Kevin