Category Archives: Uncategorized

2,000 Hours

Through one of the many blogs I read – The Edublogger – I heard about this intriguing new project: 2,000 Hours. A fellow English teacher, Charles Ripley, is going to document his teaching-related hours for the next year, starting with the summer.

This could be a fascinating way to approach issues like teacher pay, and is a creative way to use the blogging platform – I can already picture students documenting their learning throughout the year with a blog…

Of course, after reading Mr. Ripley’s initial post, I cannot help but recall some of the great clips from the Daily Show a couple of months ago on similar issues.

In any case, I’m sure 2,000 Hours will be a fascinating site to follow over the next year.

One-to-One Advice

I recently found out that my English classes will have a set of dedicated netbooks next school year, which is unbelievably exciting for me. I can’t help but think of all the possibilities for reading and writing when students have frequent and consistent computer access in the classroom.

As I’ve thought about next year, however, I realize that I don’t have a lot of experience in this sort of classroom and that there are a slew of teaching/learning issues and management issues that I haven’t faced yet.

So consider this a call for advice – how do you manage a one-to-one classroom environment? How do you ensure that your students continue to learn effectively in a one-to-one classroom? What issues should I expect to face next year?

Any help you can offer would be much appreciated.

A Little Error

A pitfall of maintaining multiple blogs simultaneously that I hadn’t discovered: accidentally posting something to the wrong blog. Subscribers may have received a post meant for my baseball team blog on Edumacation. My bad. 🙂

Just a quick note on that, though: I’m finding that a team blog is a really effective way to communicate with parents quickly and efficiently, particularly if they know how to use RSS feeds. So far I’ve used our team blog to communicate practice schedules, picture information, important team documents (like spirit wear order forms), and now schedule changes.

I’m starting to think that, in addition to our normal class websites, a class blog might be a neat way for parents to get a regular glimpse into our classroom.

Excel for Educators

ilustra-construindo-macro-excel by FelipeArte (on flickr)

"ilustra-construindo-macro-excel" by FelipeArte (on flickr)

I’ve been working on several projects lately and am really engaged in one particular project: Excel for Educators.

In my role as a technology teacher leader, I have been trying to find some training/learning opportunities that teachers can truly benefit from. The lack of attendance at prescribed trainings and the poor response to topics like “Web 2.0 Apps” and “Making Learning Visual” is moving me towards more specific trainings with tools that we already have but may not know how to use.

After polling a number of teachers, I found that learning how to use Excel is one such learning opportunity. As a result, I’ve been working on an Excel for Educators training – looking for ways that teachers can maximize Excel’s more powerful features (you know, on top of making neat, clean tables). In doing this, I’ve been putting together a list of basic functions, basic formulas, and some intermediate formulas that teachers can use for practical, every-day stuff. For example, I’m including how to use formulas like AVERAGE and MIN, or for the more advanced users, using the IF formulas.

I’m wondering, though, what else people are using Excel for in their classrooms, either as a teacher tool or with students. If you have suggestions for teachers using Excel, I would love to hear them.

One additional FYI: As I finish up materials like this Excel for Educators training, I will be creating additional pages to house them, so be on the lookout for some new pages on Edumacation.

A New Philosophy of Blogging

Rodins Thinker by steven n fettig, on flickr

"Rodin's Thinker" by steven n fettig, on flickr

As mentioned a while ago, I’ve been giving some thought to a redesign – both in terms of the appearance/layout of the blog and the thinking behind why I’m doing this. If you’ve visited the site recently, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve hit the appearance/layout redesign and I’m pretty happy with it.
As for the philosophical thought process, I’ve given a lot of thought to how and why I do what I do on this blog. I thought it would be a good time to share my thought processes.

Why do I blog?

This was the starting point for me in redesign. Initially, I think it was purely to get involved in the onlne conversation and try to put in my two bits. Last year, I learned about RSS feeds and started subscribing to blogs, but I felt like I couldn’t share my side of the conversation. Essentially, it was a way for me to make my voice heard. Blogging was a chance to use technology, assess its value, and share information. As I have done so, I’ve become convinced of the power of blogging – the empowerment of having a voice, the encouragement of being heard, and the value of online PLCs.

As I’ve continued to blog, I think my purpose for doing so has evolved. At this point in my blogging life, I think there are three purposes for maintaining this blog:

  1. To ask questions and seek feedback regarding teaching, technology, and/or education in general.
  2. To share stories, links, and other resources that might benefit other educators.

How Do I Blog?

In rethinking what I do here at Edumacation, this was a more difficult question for me to ponder. When looking initially at successful blogs and “blogging tips” websites, there one consistent message that I heard: posting frequently is vital. In fact, I believed this to such a degree that I wore myself down trying to post at least a couple of times a week. Amidst planning, grading, coaching, mentoring, and everything else I had on my plate, I was forcing myself to crank out good content every couple of days.

As I’ve read more and written more, however, I have come to one significant realization: posting frequently is not a necessity. Very simply, it’s the old adage of “quality over quantity” that makes a blog successful. As an exemplar of this, I point to one of my favorite blogs to read – Smart Football. At times, I get very frustrated with this blog – Chris, the blogger, posts fantastic content, but posts are infrequent and sometimes sporadic. But here’s the thing: I am almost craving his next post, simply because all of his other posts are of such high quality. I find myself checking my reader regularly, hoping that his next post will be up. The quality of his posts become far more important to me than the quantity. Does this mean I post once a month? I certainly hope not. I think, as a practical goal, I want to post at least once a week. But it makes sense to me that, if I don’t have any good resources to share or questions to ask, posting for the sake of posting seems silly.

The Upshot

This seems pretty simple to me – write fewer, higher quality posts. In my mind, “high quality” posts are those that meet one or both of my purposes for blogging (see above), particularly #2 – sharing resources that benefit educators. It is with this in mind that I am going to be posting less frequently, but focusing my efforts on bigger “project” posts. An example would be this post – something I spend a couple of hours composing and refining. Another example is a resource page and corresponding post I am working on (something for all the busy teachers out there to look forward to).

So there you have it – a little explanation of what you’ll be seeing here at Edumacation for the forseeable future. If you have suggestions or would like to see something, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment – I’ll be sure to respond to everyone’s comments. Thanks for reading.

Standards-Based Grading with Traditional Grading Scales

I’m slowly becoming a big believer in the concept of standards-based grading, particularly as it applies to writing. Throughout my own education (which wasn’t all that long ago), I often had no idea what went into the grading of my essays. Though I was an honors/AP student, essay grading often seemed subjective and, while I learned a lot from the comments, I didn’t know what separated an “A” paper from a “B” paper.

When I started working in my current job, our department used a standards-based rubric to score essays. At the time, we used a 10-point scale to grade the essays, which was quite simple. As we have progressed in our movement towards more standards-based grading, we have evolved into using a 4-point scale, which is simpler and easier to understand.

The inherent problem with this shift is that a 4-point grading scale does not convert neatly to a 100-point grading system like that used in our school. One of my biggest stressors over the last year has been trying to figure out how to solve this problem – how to convert the 4-point rubric to a 100-point grade. For example, if a student earns a 3 on our rubric  – which we label as meeting standard – she earns a 75%, which in our normal grading scale is a C. A student who does not quite meet the standard and earns a 2 has just failed with a 50%. Even a student who worked hard on the paper but simply lacks the proficiency to do well on an essay will fail miserably by getting a 1, as that is only a 25%. The problem is obvious to anyone who looks at it, and we’re not even dealing with the dreaded zero (for more on that, check out “The Case Against the Zero,” by Doublas B. Reeves – it’s something of an eye-opener).

Lately, I’ve been working on finding an adequate solution for this problem that is both fair to the students and easy for the teachers. Obviously whatever we do will add some work for the teacher, as we have to convert one scale to the other. But the methodology we choose could minimize that work or make it daunting. After doing a little online research, I came up with a couple of ideas, all of which employed Excel.

  1. Create a spreadsheet for the entire class that allows me to input the scores from each writing category (content, organization, word choice, etc.) and have it calculate the 100-point grades. This seemed to be an effective, but also somewhat time-consuming choice.
  2. Create a table (to print out) that converts a total score on our 4-point, 6-trait scale (basically a 24 point scale) into a number that can be entered as a percentage. While this seems to be the most efficient way, it also lacks the ability to weight categories or eliminate categories – basically we’d have to have a scale for every imaginable situation.
  3. Create a grade adjustment calculator that gets used and reused. Have spaces to input the scores for each trait on the rubric, weight those scores, and have the spreadsheet calculate the adjusted point total for an accurate percentage. This seems, to me, the best balance of efficiency and effectiveness. It acts like a calculator, only you have to switch between windows (unless you’re using dual monitors…*drool*).

As I’m continuing to ponder/debate this difficult issue, I’m hoping for input on a couple of things. If you’d like to provide some feedback, please click a response in one of the two polls below, letting the me the world know which of the above options is best, and what grade you think a 3 (meets standard) should earn . I’d also, obviously love to hear comments on what you’re already doing or what you think might work. Looking forward to seeing some ideas bandied about. 🙂

Apple’s Counterculture Movement

Apple. Your counterculture headquarters.

Apple. Your counterculture headquarters.

I’ve long held a grudge against Apple’s iPod. There’s really no particularly valid reason (at least, apart from using totally different formats to play music), but I just can’t stand the things. Even when I came into a 2 GB 2nd Gen Nano, I refused to buy into the greatness that is, purportedly, Apple. More specifically, I refused to wear the white earbuds. And I make sure to share this information with anyone who will listen.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was in college and the iPod was just reaching its first apex. Everywhere you looked, people walked around with white earbuds. Even those who had “other” MP3 players wore white earbuds. The white earbuds were symbolic of something different, something new and unique. I quickly began to see it as a style-over-substance product, and dismissed it as such.

Fast forward to today and not much has changed – white earbuds are still something of a status symbol (though not nearly as much so), and the iPod continues to dominate the market, largely because of creative, teen-focused marketing. White earbuds are now the standard – being different requires something newer (typically, DJ headphones). I watched an interview on the local news recently, and the woman being interviewed about potentially losing her job at Microsoft was wearing her white earbuds as she talked. A Microsoft employee caught red-handed using an Apple product.

All of this leads me to my main observation: what began as a counterculture movement (white earbuds as opposed to those black, over-the-head headphones) has quickly become the cultural norm. Apple has long been the company espousing “different;” so much so, in fact, that it became their slogan – “Think Different.” As time has worn on, however, it has become clear that Apple is no longer countercultural. They are just cultural. The advocates of Apple being different (and consequently better) than PC’s still make this point. Case in point: their marketing campaign built on characterizing PC’s as the stodgy business geek, while the Mac is characterized as the “cool” guy in town. But if it’s the cool guy that is the Mac that would make him mainstream, wouldn’t it?

As is nearly always the case, the phenomenon of counterculture fades. Either intentionally or unintentionally, the counterculture becomes the mainstream. Look at the hippie movement (now called the “green” movement). Look at the mainstreaming of hip-hop. And look at Apple. In order to be “different,” now, one has to move away from the white earbuds. Being different in 2009 means wearing something other than the white earbuds – black and gold DJ headphones, perhaps.

When something becomes mainstream it also loses it’s cachet with the “different” crowds. Though the majority of the culture now accepts what used to be “different,” not everyone approves. Hip hop is a perfect example of this. It used to be that hip-hop was the devil’s music (like rock and roll before it). Then, it grew in popularity until hip-hop was embedded in mainstream music. Now I often hear students (and peers) point out that they don’t listen to “mainstream” rap; they only listen to underground. This is different, this is unique, this is countercultural, and therefore more desirable.

At least, until it becomes “mainstream” and the next counterculture movement grows…