Here’s a recap from Monday’s events:
SIGTE Forum: Adopting Mobile Devices in PK-12
Sadly, this was another pretty low-value session for me. There was a hodgepodge of panelists who covered a very cursory overview of various aspects relating to integrating mobile devices into a curriculum, but mostly from the very high level of a district or county. Then there was a period set aside for peer discussion, which I skipped.
I managed to make contact with the folks at MoodleRooms and they showed me their Joule system, which is designed for K-12 schools. It seemed fairly promising and at least worth having a demo of in the fall.
Standards for Us! The new NETS*C for Technology Coaches
This session was more useful. ISTE has developed a set of common standards that technology coaches (a fairly amorphous term that would apply to my new position) can use for evaluation. I find this to be useful, if for no other reason then it would seem to add credibility to the position. I will have to investigate these further as they get rolled out in the next year.
Unfortunately, there was nothing I could report after this morning session because I was crippled for the rest of the day with a virulent stomach condition that forced me back to my hotel room. Fortunately I recovered for Tuesday.
Here’s a quick recap of the sessions that I attended on Sunday:
Successfully Implementing Google Apps for Education
This three-hour workshop was divided into two parts. The first part gave an overview of the Google Apps migration and setup process, and the second talked abou best practices in using GAFE. Since Hotchkiss had already been through the migration process, the first half was not as useful for me. But I did appreciate in the second half where they talked about different ways that they were currently using Google Apps in the different grades at their school. It was also interesting to see how they were using Sites to create the school intranet. If we abandon Blackboard (or even if we don’t), we will probably look at a similar solution.
Flip Teaching Secondary Mathematics — Best Practice in Action
This afternoon workshop was illuminating for several reasons. One was a fascinating trick with coffee creamers that I can’t wait to use as an icebreaker with my math department colleagues. But more importantly, Jason Roy’s approach to flipped classrooms is very different from the stereotypical “video at night — work during the day” model. His technique does share the fundamental tenet of flipping — getting the lecture out of the classroom — but he doesn’t necessarily reserve out-of-class time for content delivery. In fact, it seemed as if his students spent as much time doing work out of class as they did in class. I was left wondering where exactly they learn new material. I also found it interesting that he uses the Exeter problem sets in his teaching — should we reasonably conclude they are everywhere if they have made it to the American School in Bombay?
This year, unfortunately, I found the keynote to be very underwhelming. After the obligatory 30 minutes of speechifying and public thank-yous, there was only 45 minutes left for what was supposed to be a four-person panel discussion. I don’t know about you, but 45 mins / 4 people = 10 minutes = not a really productive use of time. I would have preferred if they had just chosen one or two of the panelists and had them present to us for the full time period. In the past, I have enjoyed hearing from dynamic speakers who were not necessarily directly connected to education. Malcolm Gladwell and James Surowiecki spring to mind. Sadly, there was nothing memorable about this year’s keynote.
Like last year, my annual pilgrimage to the ISTE conference has been my inspiration to start blogging. Here’s my schedule for this year. You will notice a preponderance this year of sessions about Google, mobile devices, and flipped classrooms. I’ll try to write a recap post for each day. Here’s my weekly schedule:
At long last, I’m attempting to resurrect my teaching blog and start using it again with my job at Hotchkiss. Last year the blog fell into disuse. Part of the blame for that must fall on the complexities of my job, but the lion share simply resulted from lack of effort.
Now in my new job as educational technology facilitator, it seems doubly important that I re-establish my presence on the web in the conversation about technology in education. I’m not sure if I have a lot to contribute right now, but perhaps when I get back into the swing of things I will be a little more prepared to share.
In any case, I found with my family blog that things seemed to go better when I established specific days to blog, so let’s say for now that Tuesday and Friday will be my blogging days for this blog. On Fridays I will try to give a recap of the week’s events, and on Tuesday will be an observational post about some issue that is concerning me at the time.
In addition to restarting my blog here, I am going to try to restart using my Twitter handle, which I have just changed to @rwistar so that it is easier for people to remember. Hope to see you online somewhere!
In an act likely motivated in equal parts by inspiration and desperation, I have agreed to take on the role of Educational Technology Facilitator at the school where I am working. In many ways, this is a fantastic move for me. It allows me to jettison some of my other non-technology responsibilities and crystallizes my job into something approaching a coherent whole. I will still be responsible for teaching all of the computer courses, which was something that I insisted on so that I could stay in the classroom. And I also get to keep my job as the school’s sports information director, which is something that I really love to do.
The majority of my job role, however, will consist of this new position. What exactly my responsibilities will be remain to be determined. In a nutshell, my job will be to start pushing the school’s use of technology a little further down the field again since the last person to hold this job left 18 months ago. In what areas will that manifest itself? That’s a good question. I hope that I can make meaningful changes both in and out of the classroom.
I am excited about this new opportunity and also somewhat terrified. The fact that the job remained unfilled for nearly two years makes me nervous that the position (or me) could be judged to be expendable when the initial two-year appointment expires. I’m worried that prevailing faculty attitudes about technology might be difficult to budge much during that short period of time. And I guess I’m just worried about my ability to get up to speed quickly enough to be effective in the job.
But it’s a great challenge and, if it works, should be a great career move. Being a successful technology integrationist is actually something tangible that has some street cred, much more than the extremely valuable but largely unrelated hodgepodge of responsibilities that has been my job for the last five years.
Yesterday I issued a minor patch to my new SBG rubric for programming. My students were complaining about how it was impossible to get a 4.0 through computer work, and I knew deep down that the system was flawed and antithetical in some way. So I decided to modify the rubric to allow 4.0 work on labs if the students completed a “challenge exercise” for that standard that I established ahead of time. As I told my students, I was going to make these challenges very hard, probably as hard as I could think of. I want the students to really feel like they had to sweat to earn that extra point. This will still end up being less work for me, as now I only need to think of a bonus challenge for each standard that I grade. So far on my first lab project, two of the three students in my class have elected to do the challenge. We’ll see how their efforts turn out.
I’m a big fan of standards-based grading. In fact, since I switched to it midway through the first semester of last year, I can’t imagine going back. Escaping the shackles of a point-grubbing culture and refocusing my assessment on standards performance has really changed the way I teach — for the better, I hope.
But the implementation is still a work in progress. This year I decided to switch from a 1-10 scale to Marzano’s 1-4 scale, as detailed in his book. I even went to the trouble of creating a differentiated rubric that listed Level-2 skills and Level-3 skills. It was a lot of work and I’m not sure that it improved things very much.
The problem is Level-4. One of the reasons why I wanted to move away from points-based grading was to reduce grade inflation in my class. I wanted to make it really hard to get a top score. But the problem I encountered was, especially with take-home programming assignments, it was too easy for students to produce “perfect” work that satisfied all the requirements of an assignment.
Does a working program equal a 4.0? I don’t think that it should. In my mind, students need to go above and beyond the basic expectations to earn a 4.0. But it’s a bit like that old paradox: once you define what constitutes a 4.0, then that becomes the new literal benchmark that students will strive for. Marzano says that a 3.0 is “proficient”, so shouldn’t a 4.0 require students to exceed expectations.
Last semester I tried requiring my students to write me a narrative argument for why their work should earn a 4.0 if they felt they had exceeded the basic requirements of the assignment. That didn’t really work, because their explanations were really just facile restatements of the 3.0 proficiency standards.
Maybe my standards just need to be reworked so that I establish a new top tier. I can’t really figure out how to do that, but maybe other people in CS who are using SBG can help me with that. In the meantime, I am using a new rubric in my AP-level class:
|Concept can be implemented on paper.|
|Concept can be implemented with no logical errors|
|Concept can be implemented with no runtime errors|
|Concept can be implemented with no syntax errors|
In other words, to get a 4.0 you need to be able to do this stuff correctly on a test. I think this sort of fragmented rubric would get an angry letter from Mr. Marzano. But it’s the best way I can think now to reduce the “soft bump” that students get from doing their work at home with the benefit of compilers and other resources.
What do you think?