Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Productive Day

My organizational and first week planning began in earnest today. I have revamped my procedures and policies and had put the finishing touches on those documents for presentation to my new students on the first day, just as I have done every year before. Even with the changes, it just did not feel right this year.

And then from a Twitter link, I read this post about first day plans. In particular the emphasis on the 100% sure "NOT going over rules and procedures" part caught my eye. Shortly after, another link on my Twitter feed lead me to this. How awesome were all these first day ideas!

That is what did not feel right. If I started with procedures and policies like I have always done, things would not feel different to me. I do not have a lengthy list of policies but it takes enough class time each year that anything mathematical that I planned either ended up being rushed or not completed. That was no way to start.

My class time on the first day this year will be somewhat limited so the great ideas that I read about today are not quite practical for me. But with the freedom from the burden of my usual plan, I can come up with something that will fit nicely. The important parts of the procedures and policies can be woven into class time during the first week. This will allow me to start with something math-related, right from the very beginning. And the message will be delivered that mathematics will be the topic every day. And my new students hopefully won't be bored from the start. A very productive day indeed.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Comfort in Numbers

Once I start waking up in the middle of the night with worries about school, I know the start of a new school year is not too far away. (Sept 4th is first day with children for me). While I am not happy for others that have this affliction, I was comforted to discover today that there are many other teachers that this happens to as well. Another unexpected benefit of developing a PLN through Twitter it seems.

There was a blog post regarding beginning nervousness which was helpful for me to read this morning. Then there were at least a half dozen other references to the "dreams" beginning on individual Twitter feeds that I read during the day. Many teachers in the East face the beginning of school soon too it seems.

For me, I think the worries start because of the excitement and uncertainty of the unknown of a whole new set of students. How will things unfold? Will my plans for teaching this year work? What new version of adolescent behaviors will crop up this year? Can I handle them effectively? My most common dream is to wake up in a panic thinking it is the first day of school and I am late and have not planned a thing.

So, I was sorry to hear that so many other teachers are having their sleep disturbed as the beginning of the new year approaches. But it was comforting to know that I was not alone.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Adding Value

I have been here before.

One of my careers before becoming a teacher was that of a meteorologist with a specialty in weather forecasting. I worked for a private weather service. Most of the clients we forecast for were electric and gas utilities who needed very specific information regarding temperature, wind, and dew points, and municipalities who needed specific information about the timing of weather events that impacted travel, especially during the winter season.

When I started out in the mid 1980's even though in some ways, our competition was free, (the National Weather Service), numerical models were not that accurate and it was fairly easy for a forecast to be considerably more accurate than the typical NWS forecast. By the early 1990's, the advances in computer power and accuracy of numerical models made it much more difficult for our forecasts to consistently beat the NWS forecasts. This meant, that my company could only charge about 50% of what it charged when I started. So we had to have twice as many clients just to keep steady state. The trend of improved accuracy of computer guidance continued through the 1990's and to keep pace, we had to take on ever more clients and automate more of our tasks, pretty much to stay even. The job became more of a monitor to check when a computer model forecast was going bad rather than that of an actual weather forecaster. The value that we added in terms of customer service and specially designed forecast formats kept us in business but became harder to truly deliver on because of the increased client base. The premiums we could charge to an individual client continued to decrease, a race to the bottom if you will.

I feel that in many ways, what the private weather forecasting industry faced in the late 1980's and 1990's, the public schools are going to be faced with now. We have some advantages over the private forecasting industry - our competition will not be free for one and a teacher has the ability to add significantly more value than a private weather forecaster had.

That is the rub though. We as teachers have the ability to add more value but it is not clear to me if we will take that opportunity. I do know that if we do not become more responsive to our students needs to learn and create through the use of technology that they already use at home, are not increasingly receptive to communicate with parents and students in "off" hours through the use of e-mail and other social media, and instead focus more on the preparation for and what the results of standardized tests are, it will be harder to justify the need for many of us. It is a fools errand to be preoccupied with standardized test results to the exclusion of the development of inquisitive and creative learners. I know this runs counter to the trend of Race To The Top requirements of attaching valued added test scores to teacher evaluations. But with each year of test data that becomes available, the private testing companies that are already chomping at the bit to enter the public school market in a big way, will have better and better data to use to improve their adaptive learning modules. From a standardized test score perspective, this would effectively be able to close the gap between the value a teacher adds and what a computer learning module could "teach" a child. Without the demonstrated impact we as teachers had at fostering creative and inquisitive learners, there would not need to be such a large teaching force. Those that remained would be reduced more to tutoring, data monitors really, rather than teachers

Of course, we as teachers can do much better. But we have to start in earnest and soon so the case can be made for our worth; our addition of significant value. Over the next several years, the financial pressures on municipalities to reduce their outlays are going to increase exponentially, especially with the municipal pension obligations coming due that most communities have no real way of paying for. And those private testing companies are counting on us to come up short.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Taking Shape

August 1st has come and the planning for the upcoming school year is starting to take shape. Next year, all students in my school will have a school g-mail account. This has helped me decide on some of the technology tools that will be used. I have decided that I will integrate the use of Socrative and Google Forms into the class routine as much as possible to help with getting feedback from a much greater cross-section of my classes. While, I do not think it will be possible to be fully paperless, my plan is to go as paperless as possible and use Google Docs and Google Forms for classwork and homework whenever practical and possible.

During the summer, my district has been sponsoring EdTech Tuesdays, (#edcampsummer), based on the edcamp model. As I decide in what ways I will alter my teaching style and incorporate more technology into the classroom, I have found the topics introduced and interaction with other teachers at these gatherings very helpful. One of the most useful observations shared with me was from two high school teachers from my district. They told me that along the path of increased use of technology in their classrooms this past school year, there were many days of failure. I needed to hear that and on days when my plans bomb, will remember their observations to help me keep the faith.

There is plenty of work to be accomplished on the lesson planning front. To give the year a better flow, I need to give much more thought than I have in previous years on the sequencing of individual lessons in each unit. Specific technology tools and Apps to be used in the lessons will have to wait until I have a better idea on the sequencing. I also need to restructure my class website a bit to make it more useful and accessed by my students. It will be a busy month of preparations.