Thursday, June 30, 2011

Simple Truths from Clearing Brush

Right after ISTE, I drove straight to western PA, (Champion, to be exact), to help my Dad get ready for our yearly 4th of July family reunion. My Dad bought 70 acres of land for $20,000 before he went to fight in Vietnam, over 40 years ago. He, my Grandpa, and uncle built the pond and the whole area has been his baby ever since. Every year he adds another layer to the area, something fun for the kids, something fixed that needed fixing, some amenity that will make people more comfortable...

Each year I try to get here a day or two early to at least lend a hand in the last 5% of prep work. This morning I spent a couple hours clearing brush from the edges of the pond so people will be able to fish easier and so the area would just look cleaner. As I did, some simple truths occurred to me:

  • "Work smarter, not harder" is not something you should say, it's something you should show
  • If you try to rake everything in the pile along at once, you'll lose a lot. You have to go back a 2nd or 3rd time to make sure everything gets pulled along
  • Seeing tangible results of your work is really motivating
  • Your eyes will deceive you. Have someone else look at your work
  • Work should result in something useful or beautiful. Or, ideally- both
  • Meaningful work is never "done"
I hope all that read this have a chance to move, improve, and reflect.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Teachers know assessment. Policymakers don't

I had the outstanding opportunity for three days last week to join our STEM staff in problem-based learning training. It was provided by Wake Forest Medical, who utilize PBL extensively to prepare their medical students to become highly effective doctors. Their approach has produced incredible results and they now share their strategies with schools, as it has been shown to be effective with students of all ages.

At the end of the 3 days, they asked us to create the ideal assessment system. There were about 40-50 teachers and we worked for about two hours. We worked in small groups and then came back together to share out.

Here's what I saw: In 2 hours, 40-50 classroom teachers came up with a more robust, authentic, powerful assessment system than any policymaker could ever DREAM of creating. Some of the features:

-Portfolio/WORK driven
-work as a conversation starter for reflection
-students able to justify their decisions when self-assessing
-no zero's.
-assessment shows mastery and if students have not obtained mastery they're given choices and options of different ways they can prove mastery of a concept.
-Ongoing, both informal and "formal"- in the sense of sitting down and reflecting and thinking of ways to improve.

There were other features built in, some of them nuts and bolts stuff about how to fit a good assessment system into the mess we're required to do by state and federal policy.

The more time I spend with other teachers talking about assessment, the more I'm convinced they know this stuff. Policymakers just don't seem to(and they're willing to spend millions of millions of dollars coming up with systems that teachers working together could do for free in a few hours).

We need to give this back to teachers!