Sunday, July 28, 2013

My Blog Is On the Move!

Alas, it is time to say farewell to Blogger...

In the next month, I will be migrating my Blogger education blog to my new website, This website will serve as my Michigan Teacher of the Year hub for the coming year and will be the new home for blog posts, resources, and up-to-date information about my work in Michigan education. The new website will provide me more breathing room for housing all my content in one place. I will have resources for education, blog posts, media related to my classroom and presentations, books I'm reading and have written, as well as a place to contact me directly or request staff development, speaking engagements, or presentations for your organization or school.

While I have loved my time with Blogger and Google Sites, it's time to consolidate and have everything in one place for me. Thanks for following this blog all these years, and for your support of best practices in teaching and learning.

This blog will remain available, but will no longer house my latest posts. It will be a legacy blog, and serve as an archive. You can proceed to the blog page on my new website to subscribe and follow my latest posts about classroom teaching, educational technology, or my time as Michigan Teacher of the Year.

Again, thanks for following, reading, and supporting. Wish me luck as I try my hand at web design from scratch and kicking off the blogging training wheels!

Have a great rest of your summer and an awesome start to the school year!!


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Reflections On Performance Pay For Michigan Teachers

Since the passing of House Bill 4625, it has been brought to my attention by Tom Gantert at the Mackinac Center that the Michigan Teacher of the Year earns a salary that ranks less than nearly 80% of the other teachers in the same district and that this is based primarily on years of experience or educational degrees earned. The Michigan Capitol Confidential article inspired in me some serious reflection on how teachers are compensated and whether a better model could loom in the midst of new legislation.

Though some teachers' work is in a different specialty area than science, my area of expertise, we are all working for students first and foremost. I am privileged to work with other award-winning, nationally and state recognized teachers in Grosse Pointe, all of whom have the best interest of students at heart, and many of whom have mentored me to become an exceptional teacher. There are many outstanding teachers in this state, and more needs to be done to keep them in the profession for the best interest of our students. In Grosse Pointe, I feel exceptionally supported as an educator and provided with some of the best opportunities to develop as a professional and hone my talents. Not all teachers are privileged to work in schools where they attract and grow top talent. Often, the lack of support and development for teachers is a strong turn-off to educators entering the profession. 

Teacher attrition is at an alarming fraction in our state, especially among newer teachers, and that is unacceptable; however, extrinsic motivators such as compensation are not the only way to keep great teachers in the field. It is not what goes into a teacher's wallet, but what comes from their heart, that guides their decisions about classroom practice. Excellent teaching is something that has to first come from the heart, and the heart must be supported in order to thrive. Supporting teachers in a variety of ways, including compensation, will contribute to reducing the attrition in the profession and keeping the top talent in front of our students. Blows to the hearts of teachers, such as negative public rhetoric directed toward Michigan teachers will propagate a seemingly hostile professional environment that discourages the best and brightest from entering and remaining in the field.

My heart, like the hearts of many educators, drives me to implement innovative teaching methodologies and best practice approaches to working with a wide range of student learning needs. These learning needs go well beyond that of content knowledge facts, which can be searched easily online in the digital era. What I provide for my students each day is a learning experience that goes beyond mere information about science to the application of science knowledge to career world situations, such as engineering projects, digital collaboration, and design thinking. What has earned me state-level recognition is more than having high test scores, it is providing a stellar learning experience that develops students into career-ready young adults who can communicate, collaborate, create, and critically think. My own professional practice has been heavily influenced by what I learn from other educators, mentors, advanced training, and conferences, but importantly it has also taken time and experience for me to hone my talents. Additionally, working in the medical research field prior to entering the teaching profession introduced me to some of the career skills that need be infused into classrooms, but are not explicitly part of our state's curriculum. I have had the support to integrate career skills into my classroom so I can strive to make a robust learning experience for my students where they learn by doing.

While I understand that the current model on which salaries are determined for teachers in public schools has relied heavily on experience and completion of higher education, this model does not accurately reflect, without more information on actual classroom practice included, the complete picture of effective teaching practice. Effective teaching practice resembles effectiveness in other professions, such as medicine, art, music, and journalism. We know that a journalist with more experience covering complex issues will likely have a more sophisticated voice when they write in a story, but that does not mean that a less experienced journalist cannot emulate the same practices as their experienced counterpart to achieve high quality writing in their work. Standards and best practice guidelines exist for many professions, including medicine, news media, and education. The best practices in education need to be modeled by veteran teachers for new teachers and required of all in the profession.

Although I recognize that, with experience, all professionals can improve in their field, I do not believe that seniority or advanced degrees are the only factors that should be considered in determining a teacher's effectiveness and compensation. Performance pay could have a place in education if it is not conflated with incentive pay or used as an 'if-then' extrinsic motivator. Incentive pay goes against the conclusions of behavioral science when it comes to cognitive work like that of teaching, medicine, or journalism, (Pink, 2011). Furthermore, a Springer, et. al. (2011) study of incentive pay for teachers found teacher incentives had little effect on student achievement. Performance-based compensation is not the same as incentive pay nor commission, and this distinction should be made very clear to all Michiganders, because compensation-driven decisions are not what is best for Michigan's students.

Despite some common misconceptions that districts are clinging to traditional seniority-based models for compensation, consideration of incorporating teacher performance is happening in schools across Michigan. Michiganders know that major paradigm shifts happen gradually, and the shift in education to focus on performance is taking place. As you know, recent legislative changes precluding seniority from being a significant factor in staffing decisions for teaching positions has influenced classrooms to be staffed for the best interest of students. This is an important milestone and is evidence that the conversation embracing performance over seniority has begun. As long as local school districts are given the control to make decisions about the performance evaluation model that best serves their students ability to grow and achieve, then you should see this conversation continue around the state. The recent passing of House Bill No. 4625 is going to continue moving the conversation along as well.

With regard to House Bill No. 4625, the language of the bill outlines a change in the framework for compensation models, specifically that they should "[include] job performance and job accomplishments as a PRIMARY factor" and performance should be, "at least in part based upon data on student growth as measured by assessments." The current language of the schools code is nearly identical, except that the performance and job accomplishments are (currently) "a SIGNIFICANT factor." This subtle, yet monumental, change according to the language of the bill, as is written, still does not seem to endorse any particular assessment, but rather "objective criteria," as the yard stick of student growth. The bill also would make it so that years of service and certain advanced degrees (non-subject area specific degrees) could not be included in the determination of compensation. 

The bill also emphasizes using a fair system. Key to making performance pay serve the best interest of students across our state, a compensation model will need to be fair. To maintain the integrity of the term "fair" (line 8) of House Bill No. 4625, it will be critical that two things occur:
  1. Educators are part of the conversation of developing models at the local level to implement performance compensation
  2. The performance compensation models should not have to be identical for all districts, because students achieve growth in a variety of ways that match their learning needs
With further regard to advancing the conversation surrounding performance pay, it should also be noted that:
  • Michigan School Code Sec. 1250, which is locally determined, already included performance pay language similar to House Bill No. 4625. This was part of the "Race to the Top" legislation passed in December 2009, signed by Gov. Granholm in January 2010. 
  • The tenure reforms signed into law by Gov. Snyder in July 2011 make performance pay a prohibited subject of collective bargaining by teacher unions.

Ultimately, effective teaching should be evaluated and compensated using a multifaceted approach determined at the local level with educators at the decision-making table. Though professional experience and level of education can contribute to the effectiveness of classroom teaching, these should only be part of the whole teacher compensation picture; instead, a comprehensive model that includes implementation of best teaching practices, professional accomplishments, continuing professional development, teacher leadership, contributions to the student learning experience, and student growth on assessments should be developed to utilize in schools.

Friday, April 19, 2013

ConnectedEDU Conference Learn By Doing Session on BYOD

At the inaugural ConnectedEDU Un/Conference, a team of teachers from around the state of Michigan will be presenting on something powerful from their classroom instruction toolbox. Each teacher had their classroom featured as part of the REMC of Michigan's Connected Educator Series Project. My classroom was featured in this series because of our use of mobile devices in the classroom. We run a Bring Your Own Device classroom, where students can participate with classroom activities using any device they choose. I have written about how this topic deserves more attention and consideration before, and my students have presented at the state capitol to legislators about the topic on our school's behalf as well.

Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD/BYOT, initiatives come in many forms, and have gained a lot of support recently, and I personally am looking forward to see where this movement goes in the coming years. The hands-on work session I will be doing at the conference focuses on 5 ways to incorporate mobile devices into your classroom.

These include:
  1. Facilitating class discussions
  2. Creating digital notes and notebooks
  3. Interacting with instruction
  4. Digital collaboration
  5. Assessment
For more information, check out the full presentation slide deck. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Using iPads in the High School Science Classroom

Using the iPad in High School Science

When I first got an iPad back in 2011, I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with it; however, I knew that it had potential. Within a few months, I began to find uses for it that helped my teaching and student learning. It took nearly 6 months for it to fully integrate into my classroom teaching workflow, but I now realize that I could never go back to anything less. There are a number of great things about other classroom technologies, as well, and I'm not saying that the iPad is the best for everyone, but there sure is a lot of compelling evidence that suggests it might be.

Here are my top 50 uses for the iPad, as a teacher, from my first year using it to teach high school physics and chemistry. This list was compiled in 2012, after exactly one year of using the iPad in my classes to teach. Some of these uses are apps, many of them are free, and others are functions of the stock iPad system or built-in device actions. This post will soon be updated for 2013 to a version 2.0, but in the meantime, there are many great ideas for teachers who have an iPad to use with their classes. 

Bracket Maker App - to run and keep track of mousetrap car race tournaments
o Touch Sounds and Tone Generator - to create different tones and waveforms of varying frequencies to display using the laser or Ruben's Tube visualization
o SoundCloud, Meta DJ and Wave Pad - to show how waveforms graph the sound waves over time, and how waveforms are used in music production to visually cue the different sections of a song
o Meta DJ and GarageBand - to teach students about frequency modulation and effects production in music as it relates to modifying the equation for the sound waveform
o Camera and Photo Booth - to capture images and video from class to then post on Google+, Twitter, display on the board over AirPlay on the Apple TV, or to share using other applications
o Camera - to function as a mobile document camera or live feed camera to show what is happening in a lab experiment or demo on one side of the room to students on the other side of the room using AirPlay
o CloudOn - to manage, access and edit documents in a DropBox account using the Microsoft Office suite controls --> to edit and manage the standards based grading spreadsheet gradebook
o Numbers - to collect data on student performance, completion of tasks, field trip payments and permission slips --> allows for a star rating to collect data easily; spreadsheet can then be exported via email to merge with data master gradebook spreadsheet
o Paperport Notes - to write notes and create answer keys for in class use live over AirPlay or to export directly to Google Docs where class files are stored --> can open and edit a PDF document, uses graphing, lined, or blank paper
o Tuning Fork - used to teach about musical pitch and frequency of sound waves as well as to demonstrate the concept of beats
o Evernote & Evernote Peek - to create a Smart Cover flip quiz for chemistry vocabulary terms
o Splashtop Remote Desktop - to remotely control my MacBook (before I had an Apple TV) to use the iPad as an Airliner for the Smart Notebook software as well as control web apps such as physics simulations
o iMotion HD - to make stop animation videos of things that happened in the lab or in class (kind of for fun) and to post them on Google+ or Twitter
o Cinemagram - to make cool GIFs of things that happened in class and to post them on Google+ or Twitter
o Protractor - to measure angles in experiments, particularly ones done outside, e.g., rocket launching or banked turning angle of lean
o Video Physics - app for capturing video footage of objects in motion and analyzing their motion for its speed, direction, acceleration, and path
o SimplePhysics - a challenging problem-solving game for students to use their knowledge of various physics concepts to accomplish a building task, such as constructing a roof, staircase, or treefort, which has to accomplish a certain task (such as support a load of weight.)
o Mr. AaaaHh! & Angry Birds - an app for teaching about projectile motion and calculating acceleration due to gravity in a video game world
o Underground Basketball - a fun game to challenge students' knowledge of projectiles and motion in two dimensions. Students have to make baskets by changing the angle of trajectory for shooting a basketball
o Newton's Cradle - an interactive app that shows the conservation of momentum and transfer of energy in the Newton's Cradle toy
o Refractive - an app for calculating the angle of refraction and visualizing the refraction of light
o Quick Graph - graphing functions to help students visualize relationships in their data from lab experiments
o Calculator - calculations for lab data
o GoSkyWatch and Planetary - uses the movement of the iPad to match up to the star map and information on constellations in the app to view the stars that the iPad is facing. Planetary takes your music library and translates it into an outer space analogy display. Used to help students to think about the motion of the heavenly bodies.
o Skype, Google+ Hangout, and FaceTime - video chatting in real time for 1 on 1 or up to 20 persons (G+ only) -- used to allow absent students to view class, students communicate with project groups when they cannot arrange face to face meetings. Send students to collect lab data outside the classroom and report back to students in real time with lab partners in the classroom, or project on screen with Apple TV (like a roaming camera)
o TourWrist - 3D virtual tours of panoramic views from around the world
o Stick Pick - randomly select students to ask questions of in class; generates prompts for questions based on Bloom's taxonomy and keeps track of teacher ratings of students' responses.
o iReview - to make flashcards and quizzes out of Quizlet flashcard sets
o ShowMe - to create narrated whiteboard-style videos of explanations of homework or of class concepts. The videos get posted on the ShowMe website and shared via Google+ or Twitter
o Foursquare (with the mobile hotspot) - to run and manage a scavenger at Cedar Point
o Socrative - polling and quizzing application for audience (student) responses using devices or any web browser. Students can vote on surveys or polls, answer quiz questions, share ideas/hypotheses, or take a graded quiz. Works on any web browser and also has mobile device based apps (teacher version and student version)
o Skyfire and Puffin - web browsers that make web browsing more fully functional, e.g., to show flash animations, SlideRocket presentations from students, interactive applets, or embedded videos from a website. Also, to show YouTube videos that would be blocked on the school wireless, because YouTube is blocked on the school wireless entirely
o Music - to power the Ruben's tube, laser for music visualization; to power styrofoam plate speakers made by students in class.
o Web-Browser (Safari) - take attendance, reference information online
o Lino - an app for creating bulletin boards and sticky notes that can be collaboratively written on. Teacher can create a prompt and students can post sticky notes responding to the prompt. Students can take photos of something from their lab experiment and post the photo on the board. Accessible from the web or device apps. Saveable boards can be published. Can use like a display board for student work.
o DropBox + iBooks - storing, viewing and sharing documents from a scavenger hunt
o SyncSpace - students can collaboratively create a whiteboard to then display using the Apple TV AirPlay

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Look Into a 'Bring Your Own Device' (BYOD) Classroom

Students using their own device in the classroom? It sure is!


Recently, I discovered that I am part of some "73% of teachers," according to an article published by Mashable, who are using cell phones in the classroom with students for learning activities. Leveraging mobile devices for learning is nothing new, and many classrooms have invested in 1:1 device initiatives, such as iPads, for students. Despite its apparent benefits, this can be costly and not always the most beneficial route. Though the jury is still out on iPads for every student in the classroom, a much more accessible alternative exists--allow students to use the devices they already have. Of course, this approach is not going to look the same everywhere, nor at each grade level, yet it is still one worth exploring.

Many students are walking into classrooms each day with mobile technology, and often that technology is more powerful than the technology available to them at school. The potential for using devices in learning to collaborate, communicate, and create content is endless; however, policies currently in place in many schools make it challenging to allow teachers to explore device use in classrooms. Nonetheless, there are many aspects of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) that can inspire schools get started in considering policy changes that would allow device use for learning. What is the potential for BYOD in the classroom? Seemingly, the possibilities are endless. The REMC Association of Michigan put on a showcase video, entitled the Connected Educator Series, featuring the BYOD teaching and learning that takes place in my classroom this year.

Students can engage in what is referred to as 21st century learning, create digital notes or portfolios, collaborate in real-time, journal and reflect on their own learning, or participate in blended learning opportunities. In my own classroom, we use devices for so many different aspects of science class, that it has rendered us nearly paperless. The basics of a BYOD policy for students should be not all that different than a policy for employees and adults in the workplace or higher education. To introduce some of the basic elements of BYOD, put together this infographic illustrating what it is and some ideas for use. Getting a sense of the BYOD realm is the first step toward considering how it can function in your classroom.

  Going BYOD

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What Exactly Is Standards Based Education?

When students, parents, and educators alike hear the word "standardized" most think of a fill-in-the-ovals multiple-choice test that is viewed as a judgement of a student's academic worth. Though standardized tests have become a staple of U.S. education, they are neither the end, nor the means, of standards in education. The education reform of the past twenty years in the U.S. has sought not to implement standardized tests, but to ensure a standard education is accessible to all students everywhere. A standard, such as the gold standard in currency, is merely a frame of reference for comparison. It is an established norm against which other things of similar form can be equitably compared. In the case of currency, paper money was manufactured and could hold any denomination of the maker's choosing; however, comparing currency to a designated amount of gold ensured that a similar amount of paper or coin would always be the same no matter where it was tendered. For education, a set of curriculum standards assures that students are learning the same content in the same way, but necessarily with the same lessons. The idea is to ensure students all achieve the same academic end from their education independent of the instructional means. More simply, standards-based education is an agreed upon doctrine of what to teach and not how to teach. 

The idea of standards in education is nothing new. The Society of Jesus, e.g., the Jesuits, back in the late 16th century created a document called the RatioStudiorum. That document served as a set of standards that defined what teaching and learning would look like at all of their Jesuit schools around the world. Montessori schools followed a similar effort in standardizing education in the late 19th century. The purpose of standards for the Jesuits and Montessori was, and is still to this day for all standards-based schools, to ensure that all students are getting a similar educational experience in what they are taught.

U.S. schools began to undergo widespread standardization in the 1990s an effort to respond to a 1980s report that the U.S. schools were falling behind those of other countries. This process underwent three major iterations: America 2000 (George H. W. Bush administration,) Goals 2000 (Bill Clinton administration,) and in 2001 the most recent No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of George W. Bush’s administration was adopted. Following from inspiration overseas in France and Great Britain, the U.S. NCLB Act sought to ensure that all students were receiving a high quality education in public schools by highly qualified teachers. School performance would be measured on students’ success on standardized tests, and the results of student testing would be reported to serve as basis for school improvement. Ultimately, the nature of the NCLB Act, and standards-based education in general, is well intentioned and seeks to provide all students a great education.

The education reform of the standards-based movement in the U.S. seeks to provide more detailed feedback on student, teacher, and school performance to all the stakeholders. This can better inform decision-making practices from all areas of a school district and community. Additionally, at a larger scale, regional, state, and national results from performance with standardized education can be used to inform policy and funding decisions. All around, the intention of standards-based education seeks to provide more information to help everyone involved in students’ education to do the best that they can. 

An approach to instruction, assessment and grading known as the standards-based learning approach can help all parties involved in a student's education achieve success. By outlining what the learning objectives are for students, e.g., standards, and designing instruction to help students reach those learning outcomes, students can be guaranteed to get a standard education anywhere. Traditional grading, however, does not provide quite the right amount of feedback for students, parents, and teachers about a student's performance with those content standards. When you think of a grade of "C," "B+" or "A," it may mean different things in different places to different individuals. This necessitates an assessment system that directly measures student performance with the learning objectives, but also a grading schema that gives more detailed feedback about the level of mastery a student has achieved with the content. In this way, external behaviors and any non-assessments of learning are removed from the grade, thus a student's grade in a standards-based system can more accurately reflect what they know.
Just as schools need more detailed feedback on their students’ performance to improve their teaching practice, students at the classroom or individual level need more detailed information on their own performance to improve their learning. Standards-based assessment and reporting is a reliable and effective means of obtaining and communicating meaningful feedback about student learning. It helps to keep students focused on learning and makes their own learning more transparent, accessible and attainable. With the right feedback, students can be empowered, just as educators are by data, to self-reflect, change and improve. Ultimately, implementing a standards-based approach at the classroom level can positively impact schools in a trickle-up manner. Students begin to connect what they learn with success and not merely what they do. This leads students to become better self-advocates, develop a growth mindset toward their own education, and work with educators to be more successful.