Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Response/reaction to Mr. Krause's Experiment

No, Anne and Karl aren't the only ones reading your posts at AHS. And, maybe surprisingly, you aren't the only one trying this experiment at AHS. I'm going to "Cliff Note" my experiences here, but would love to talk more with you about how it is going. Some of this is for you and some is for me as this seemed like a good place to write out thoughts.
For the last 8 years in Law, an elective 2 day a week course that examines criminal law in Colorado, I have set up the course almost exactly as you seem to have done. The only "real" grade has been the cumulative project that asks students to utilize the processes, procedures, and examples provided through class and apply them to their experiences with law. For some, those experiences are first hand. For most, they come through the experience requirement (insisted on by students about a decade ago) that requires that each student do at least one of the following: (1) act as an attorney in our Mock Trial where they spend eight weeks working with local defense attorneys and prosecutors as they prepare for a trial held before Judge Gerald Rafferty in his District 18, courtroom, (2) go on a ride-along for a night with Arapahoe County Sheriffs, or (3) spend a day at a criminal court sitting in on trials and hearings. Obviously, the first option requires the most time, but it is the one most want to do. Many students do all three. The project then asks them to utilize their experiences to make conclusions regarding our system in Colorado from the perspectives of citizens, taxpayers, teens, jurors, participants in the system, potential victims, etc. Along the way, there are a few other “point moments” so that there is something to be seen by parents and an eligibility quest. But as stated in the course expectations, numerous discussions with students, and at Back to School night and conferences, all we do is geared toward one project of choosing a path and showing what you have learned. Rarely do I have a student who chooses to not do one of the experiences (which counts for 10% of the grade, thus, not doing one is a choice to get a B). Rarely do I have students not step up to the plate with a meaningful project. Rarely do I have anything but As. These aren’t gifts in the end as the students tend to see the positive nature of this challenge. Given that you have juniors, it makes sense that none of your students have yet to have seen this experience and I cannot wait to have students next year that have already experienced your class.

A few years ago, I decided to take my challenge to the A.P. Government course. Unfortunately, my master plan fell on its face in A.P. Government. Or maybe it was just “that” year. Or maybe it was because of some other realities. In my mind, A.P. (at least government) is an old school program that, at its heart, only requires students to regurgitate the info they have explored. At best, they ask for some analysis. In an attempt to do more, create relevance, and find ways to apply what we learned, I had grandiose plans of a class that would see the tests as a means, not an end. They would see learning for learning. And in the end, the AP results would follow. After a decade of A.P. averages ranging from 3.6 to 4.3 and scores that rarely if ever fell below a 3, I felt confident that I could still do the “easy” work getting them ready to regurgitate while they interacted with the political world. The grade was more or less guaranteed as an A due to a reliance on test corrections to relearn material, essay corrections to work on writing, and the “relevance” project that all but a few did very well on. But test results plummeted to an average that was unacceptable and twice as many 1s and 2s in one year than I had seen in a decade. So back to the drawing board with the help of the class that, in my mind, understood politics and issues, but could not do the detail work of A.P. government.

Things like readings quizzes were suggested to get them to read more and better. They suggested note-taking strategy sessions and then point-based tests of how ell they take notes in and out of class. They suggested that laptops ONLY be used with specific focus and not for regular note-taking in class due to THEIR inability to focus on details while they multi-tasked (even when the multi-tasking was positive!). They suggested that the relevance project go away because, for some, it was so good that it took all of their limited time and focus.

Some suggested to me that the real reason for the failure in government was that I had expanded my classes from 24 in one section to 170 in five sections. And while that does mean a wide range of abilities and experiences and probably a smaller percentage of “government geeks” in the course, I refuse to believe that these students couldn’t continue to perform as prior classes had. I had always had non-traditional honors students (ie. students that hadn’t come through our honors/AP classes) in the class and they had done well. Based on the positive changes (tests results bounced back to where I would hope them to be – although we’ll continue to push for better) last year, I have another conclusion. A.P. Government wasn’t the place for my experiment. Not yet. I still believe in limiting the focus on the grade and still do some game-playing with it to help them see it as a means and not an end. Yet the semester grade still occurs half way through a full year course that has a true cumulative test. So for students and parents, that semester grade is more than a means. And they overwhelmingly told me that I had to make it so that the A was not a given in order to push them harder.

I hope your experiment works. I hope it catches fire. Maybe with more of a culture developed around that type of challenge, I will be able to revisit it later. But for now, those well-publicized test results leave me doing it a little bit at a time.

Good Luck.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I've been thinking...about 21C

I’ve been thinking a lot about 21C. I’ve looked back on a number of great conversations, some cool new tools that were learned, some incredible teachers that I’ve watched and listened to, a couple of great opportunities to discuss the potential for education with peers outside of AHS, and the application of much of this into my classroom. And, for the most part, I look back on a positive three years. With everything good comes struggle and frustration. Otherwise, how would we ever know what was really good?

After Friday’s 21C conversation and some follow-ups with a number of people, I have found myself with lots to say…so I returned to the blog. Before I address the issues and concerns I have, I suppose that I should start with the belief that I am a natural optimist, usually able to find my glass at least half full (of what, others can debate). I try to find the positive in situations that sometimes aren’t. Even if the whole is not positive, I try to fond the pieces that are.

Many people I admire and respect (and some others I know little about) are choosing to not continue with 21C for a variety of reasons. As I listen to their reasons for doing so, I find some things I with agree, some that I understand, and some that I personally have a little trouble with. What I do know is that their reasons are real. It is what they feel, believe, and think. Failure to acknowledge the value of those thoughts might minimize their decisions in a simple manner, but will lead to far greater trouble down the road.

So what have I heard?

  • People are tired and/or worn out. Why? For one, many of those who are part of 21 C are involved in many things. Many are leaders in their PLC. Many are coaches and sponsors of numerous activities. Many are parents. Many are leaders of other groups at school or in life. Some even have a social life AND work out. Our plates are full. And many are prioritizing so that they can be better in fewer commitments. But not all. Many of those people will still implement ideas and tactics in their rooms. Many will continue to have conversations that reflect the philosophies and tactics they liked from 21C as they influence their PLCs, curriculum revisions, etc. Maybe those avenues are actually an appropriate next era for 21C.
  • People are struggling with the 3 hour meeting commitment that has asked them to leave their classes on a somewhat regular basis and sometimes give up a free day. Agreed. Most of us don’t like leaving our classes (which is not necessarily the norm across education if you have friends in many other places). And most of us could probably list the places we wanted to be rather than back at school last Friday after conferences. But few of us were willing to commit to ongoing sessions that met after school either. And few of us have common off-hours. So what were the options that gave the time that many beg for? One of the loudest issues I hear as a negotiator for LEA is “We need time to do things well.” 21C people were some of the few people in this – or any – district that were given time to become better. It was my hope that we would not create a format of 3 hour meetings next year. It seemed as if our conversation ended up proposing 3 hour meetings with 2/3 devoted to an area of interest (a positive move) and 1/3 devoted to whole group or something along those lines. I had hoped to do something with a little more flexibility for individuals to create “projects” around those areas that might allow the 2/3 part to happen at different times, depending on the group they are committing to. I still think there is some value in large group time also. Do I fully understand what this would look like for 30-45 people? No. That would have taken more work. But for some, it might have been a preferred option that would free them up to the larger commitment.
  • People felt that if they were going to miss 3 hours of class, then they needed to leave the 3 hours with “take-aways.” And many felt that there were fewer take-aways this year. Why? Mission-Vision-and-Goals, oh my. I try to see both sides on this one. On one hand, I, too, was completely burned out by the conversations surrounding the DuFour book. To have them in one group is tolerable and usually useful. To have them in multiple groups, often in the same week, became tedious. On the other, 21C needed, in some way, to develop the ideas. Some have said, “Why didn’t we do that in year 1?” Good point, but it was stated very clearly during Year 1 and even into Year 2 that the mission was not yet clear, that the groups would need to develop their mission, vision, and goals rather than just blindly follow Karl or CIT. We had some ideas, but really didn’t know what direction things would go. Year 3 was probably the right time. It was poor timing given PLC work. It probably took too many days. But it produced some good discussions and work. And it did finally put words to what, I think, most felt we had become and where we might go.
  • People seemed to suggest that this year lacked the personal relevance – especially as compared with Year 1. I don’t disagree. Almost everyday during our first year, I felt connected to the topics at hand. I felt the conversations could be directly applied to what I was trying to do. Often, the conversations put words and titles to things I felt I had been trying for awhile. They gave me permission to continue to try things, usually with support from people who study methods. I get frustrated some with this complaint as there have been attempts for two years to try and place some of this responsibility on the whole group (at least for Cohort 1). Yes, people did take on responsibilities of presenting topics or ideas. But rarely did Cohort 1 members demand or request conversations, topics, or tools. Rather than say “this would be valuable to me…can we do it?” it seemed to be easier to let Karl or CIT make the plan. A couple people have said that they tried, but felt shot down when they made suggestions, therefore they stopped. I hope that I never gave anybody that impression if I responded to their ideas. I might not always agree or want the same things, but I hope that I valued their suggestion. I do think that the whole group deserves to share the blame if the year lacked relevance.
  • Our timing of the conversation was bad. Not just because it came the morning after conferences. More because we are in that time of year that I’ve been alluding to in my classes. The school year is like a marathon. Some start fast, some don’t. Some end fast, some don’t. Some compete throughout the race, others choose their moments. Some fail to even start. But all who start tend to hit a wall. While my knees don’t allow me to train long enough to try, I’ve heard that all marathoners will hit a wall (mile 18 or so?). We had this meeting at a time of year where we (like our students) have hit that wall. Some let the pain win and stop or struggle to the end just begging to finish. Others fight through it and finish strong. Many of us are in a fairly negative mindset anyway and spring break can’t happen soon enough. Would discussions and choices be different at some other time?
  • Some have said that they simply want a year to step back, think about what they learned, and try stuff in their rooms. Good. But I do wonder how much easier that can be with a group to help you fight through ideas, figure out the technology, understand the problems, and offer alternatives. Multiple heads tend to outthink the one. What if this intent was honored in the set up we create next year? Unless people intend to completely shift away from 21C ideas in their classrooms, isn’t there some way to get people the opportunities for collaboration that allow this individual need to be honored while maintaining the integrity of the whole?
  • I saved this one for late in the post as this is the one that I’ve had to rethink and am wary of interpretation. But… Some people have expressed the sentiment that 21C has become elitist and arrogant. This seems to be based on the perception that 21C is moving ahead while others are going to be left behind and that, at times, there might be less tolerance for those not willing to move into the 21 century. Some will say that it seems like we are discounting the very good work of those who came before and are insinuating that they were no good. On one level, I find it hard to not conclude that those who fail to change with the times in any arena get left behind and no matter how hard individuals might fight to stop change, change happens. And, therefore, any of us who are still teaching owe it to our students to change with the times. CSAP might not require that our students move into the 21st Century, but life will. Old skill sets that most of us mastered as students and teachers are not the same skill sets needed today. A focus on information (which is quickly becoming trivia) is being replaced with a focus on skill. Methods that were effective for me as a student at Heritage in 1985 reach an increasingly smaller proportion of students. Some say it is the student to blame? In my mind, that only attempts to excuse us from accepting the responsibilities we have as teachers. And in my mind, this discussion does not lead to the conclusion that those methods, tactics, teachers were bad. They were right for the time. Legends in this building were legends because they were the top teachers in the eras they taught. My hunch is that many of the teachers that weren’t legends (or were legends for negative reasons) were probably still teaching to the era that proceeded the one they were teaching in. This is no different from other professions. Would great presidents of other eras be the right candidates today? Would the talents of athletes from past eras translate equally as well into the current game they played? Would an individual like Martin Luther King be as effective if the “perils of CSAP” was his focus? I hope that people interpret this as valuing the teachers of the past. I bet that many of those legends would have relished the opportunity to lead into the next era. My Dad was one of those, but he will be the first to tell you that he would have to be very different today and because of how much work that takes, he is happy to leave it to the next group. Too bad we age and seem to always get replaced by younger people with new ideas. New ideas might be better. And sometimes they aren’t. But new ideas are always needed in order to keep up with change.

This post is probably longer than all of my posts this year combined – maybe even over three years. Many have probably stopped checking to see what I think. I am fully committed to the ideas and goals of 21 C. But I also recognize the very real problems people have with continuing. I hope that those that leave carry some of the ideas forward. I hope they continue to examine whether what they do for students is as good as it can be. I hope their sentiments do not stop new people from jumping in. Most seem to speak of the value of the first year and the challenges that get presented. I hope those that leave will share the value with potential joiners and not just complain with them. And I hope that whatever we create for 2008-09 will give us what we seem to be looking for.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Are all roads actually leading to the same place?

Over the last 15 years, how many conversations could have been overheard in this, and probably any other, school that revolved around the multiple philosohphies that pushed our work and how often they seemed to be in conflict? At any one time, we seemed to be following many roads that rarely converged at any point. And sometimes the road we went down one year was quickly replaced the next just as we were ready to implement something of potential value. This, at times, created a culture that said, "So why care? Let's just keep doing it how we do it because it was working already." But I look at the last 10 or so meetings I have been in PLC, Department, Department Chair, 21C, Mentor, Mentee, Faculty, Negotiations - and other than realizing that I have too many meetings, it does seem that there is commen focus, common theme, common questions, and common purpose. Certainly, each are at different places on the road, but they seem to be on the same road. CSAP and NCLB might be standing alone. (Maybe we are becoming a highway rather than just a road and they are more speed bump?!) Essential Learnings, Skills vs Content, Curriculum Revision, Daniel Pink, Constructivist Teaching, Mission and Vision and Goals, the Meaning of the Grade, Collaboration, 21 Century Learners, Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my. All seem to build on each other rather than in opposition with the others. After some of my time with people from other LPS buildings, not all schools are in this position. Other pressures, like enrollment and CSAP problems, get in the way. With others, their perceived success might blind them. Are all here on board? No ... not yet. Are there growing pains and disagreements and "issues?" Always. But are there discussions of value, opportunities for risk, changes for the better, and most importantly, students who benefit? Certainly. And, of course, there will always be the Ollivettis (Sorry for the spelling of it!) who refuse to move with the times, questioning progress, believing that the old way fits always. I hear that Ollivetti made great typewriters.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


So here we are, November 1. In my mind, the "Constructivist Culture" should be in place. Students should be taking ownership of their learning. Students should be helping to create the relevance. Students should be directing my teaching.

So are they? Yes and No.

Students, at least overtly, do not seem to be grade focused. They seemed to take the test wit the corresonding work on corrections as a learning tool rather than a proving tool. Our discussions have been generally positive. Their blogging, for those who are doing it (not a requirement) has been powerful at times. Some are asking questions to direct me. Some are finding new items for me to discuss. Some are creating their learning in a way that also will have AP success. They seemed to take self-evaluation on essays seriously and as a learning game, not as a grade game. Some struggled with my request to tell me what they wanted me to look for in their essay, but we'll develop that.


I just had a conversation with a student who started by discussing the week she had just missed to visit colleges. She mentioned that she sat in on a class, Poltical Science, and said that they seemed to be doing what we were, but the professor was different than I am. He lectured more. She thought it was easier to know what he wanted the students to know. I asked if she thought the students were addressing the questions they had. She felt that it was more important to focus on what the teacher wanted. We discussed how and why I differ with her perception of education. I think I failed to sway her.

The student had not done well on her first test. She struggled with understanding the vocabulary (AP Government tends to have an exam that relies heavily on the vocab) and then applying the vocab. She struggled with seeing the trees and the forest. She admitted that she (like far too many of her 17-18 year old peers in the class who will be voters next fall) pays no attention to current events. When asked if she watches any news, she alluded only to a story about masked thieves in Arapahoe County. It was a story that had obvious relevance to her, but had no connection to our course. She admitted that English was more of her thing, partly because she could relate to the books. I asked if paying attention to current politcal events might help her do the same in Government. Maybe.

I'll be starting a new experiment soon to somewhat foce this relevance building. Students in the first unit, one that is largely philosophical and lends itself to discussions about their ideologies and issues they are passionate about, seem to build their relevance. Once we start talking institutions and processes, they struggle with it. So...each student will choose a domestic issue that they have interest in watching (environmental policy, education, welfare, military spending, etc). They will research it a bit to see where their issue sits at the moment: what are the major issues and what are the developing issues. Then for the rest of the year, they will use their issue as the base for their analysis of all institutions and procedures. Thus, the issue is their tree that they will be able to hang all other information. When we study interest groups, they will examine those that address their issue. When we study media, we will see how their issue has been portrayed. We will look at the party platforms on thie issue. We will track how voters tend to feel about and respond to their issue. We will watch Congress to see how they are addressing the issue in subcommittees, committees, and floor votes. We will look for evidence of the president's position and tactics with the issue. We will examine the bureaucratic agencies that enforce the lawa regarding their issue. We will track how bills become laws by tracing a bill on their issue. We will see how the Supreme Court has ruled regarding their issue. The risk is that students will be very competent on their issue, something that will not be tested by the AP Exam which will test to see if this methods works to aid in understanding everything else.

Am I frustrated? No. I have four sections, twice the number of last year, and four times what I had for the previous ten years. I have a wide range of interests and abilities among the 115 kids. I have have very passionate participants, quiet observers, and a few distractors - who at times make me laugh and at other times... I don't have to divide my planning between US History and Government, I can focus my efforts. And while I miss teaching certain history topics, I love the time I have for government (and law) to make changes I have wanted to make. I have more time to think about ways to develop a department schedule that will help others to do what they want or need to do. I've had time to discuss interesting cross-curricular posibilities (having 1 section of students take me for government and then Gaffney for English so we could teach a governemt/political themes duo course...hmmm).

Life is Good.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Rome fell apart.

As Karl said in his response to my last post, "Rome wasn't built in a day." No, but it fell apart on Monday. I do think that I am up to 3.75 out of 4 buying in to culture, but .25 finally caused the vein-in-forehead-bursting moment.

Building culture: something I spoke about in Atlanta and at Copper Mountain, something I said I do well when we asked C1 what they were good at. And something I continue to struggle with all of the time. Cultures sometimes conflict. Right now the conflicting cultures are one of being interested, driven, questioning, constructive collaborators with the other being one of fancy notebook coloring, shoe decorating, giggling, uninterested, I-want-people-to-notice-me middle-school-lunch-behavior creatures. So what do I really think?

Well, because of an expereince my son had, I was giving the latter group the benefit of the doubt even though their issues were beginning to get in the way of the rest (and their culture was spreading). My 1st grade son loves to draw. One of our phenomenal art teachers at Arapahoe told me that he seems to see the world through the eyes of a visual artist. He has a great attention span and a strong recall of details. One day last week, his class was watching a video of Johnny Appleseed. During the movie, his teacher asked him to stop drawing. Being the 1st grader wanting to please his teacher and being worried that he would be a yellow light (or even a red light) as opposed to the desired green light, he stopped drawing and felt he had gotten in trouble. As he told me his story, he showed me the picture he had been drawing. He had drawn the movie. As he described his picture, it was obvious that he had simply used the picture to take notes. Is this a gender difference? Is it a style of thinking? Is this a young mind creating their learning - soon to be fixed by those who say stop? Is this the moment he stops drawing like my expereince with an un-named teacher at Newton who created a strong dislaike of doing art in her art class? When I discussed this with his teacher, who is part of a group of elementary teachers who seem to be adopting some very constructive approaches, she was surpried by my find and open to the potential that maybe we should foster this type of thinking rather than squelch it.

So I go back to my classroom and thought, gee, maybe they are still creating their learning and I failed to stop bad culture that was upsetting classmates as it was tough to focus beyond the goofy corner. So I took the chance and determined that my son's issue was not the issue in my AP room. The students might not last the week in an AP program that is still a privilege, not a guarantee. Hope I haven't turned into my 7th grade art teacher.

Maybe I should take up drawing again.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Creating the culture

Last year, I felt that a culture of learning developed over the first three weeks in my A.P. government classes. I had two classes of 36 and 38 and, for the most part, the "What do you believe?" discussions helped lead to a class culture of participation and analysis where we felt comfortable asking the next question, opening new perspectives...in other words, we were students.

So how do I feel today? I have 4 classes, none as big as last year. I thought this would make this easier to accomplish this year. And I feel half right. Two sections are there - willing to share, listening as well as talking, taking arguments to new areas, allowing me to explain when they are unsure. One is close. And one section isn't in the ballpark. A student from that class approached about changing sections as she feels it, too. The culture is instead one of "Nothing said by others has any relevance to me." Some of this is ceretainly led by two girls who seemingly have no interest in anything but their personal discussions and lives. This, like a cold, has spread to neighbors. I know that I am supposed to recognize the multitasking abilities of our students. But this class isn't going to "see the gorilla." Not unless I allow them to leave class and go to the zoo! It is early and I realize I'm close to 75% success at building the culture. But seeing what their peers are capable of doing, it still frustrates me. Guess it is time to find a new tactic.

Monday, August 13, 2007

New and Improved...or Just New?

As I sat with my leg propped up on ice, with a laptop actually sitting on my lap, I started formulating what my classes would look like this year. And like most changes, I am left questioning whether the changes are new or do they start to get the students and me to new AND improved places.

Given a need to still prepare AP Government students for a national exam that is based on simple vocabulary, will they be ready for that exam if I am much more concerned with them becoming political participants and contributors. I'm not as concerned that they know the title of a concept - yet AP is. I'm not as conerned that they have memorized key cases, but can they use any case to help them build future arguments? SO how do I merge the two and still be effective with the more "old-school" AP requirements as I hopefully push/pull them into the 21 Century lifelong, continuous learner in a world-wide Personal Learning Network?

Blogs, Wikis, and Podcast Oh My. Should be an interesting year!