Get the Students Activ and Ready for the New TEIs

Thanks for attending the workshop this morning on how to construct Technology Enhanced Items for the upcoming SOL tests. The handout can be found under “Workshops” and if you have any questions for me, or comments, feel free to leave a one below! If you want to heap loads of praise, or give nuggets of wisdom, suggestions, or an idea for a great Italian restaurant, do that too!

What If School Was Fun–Would Scores Increase?

“What are you doing, son?” the mother said as she looked in her child’s room one school morning. He had a high temperature and obviously was sick by just looking at him, but still he was getting ready to go to school.

“I’ve GOT to go to school mom! I might miss something!”

My student’s mother told me this one morning while I stood at my classroom door greeting students. “What are you doing in this classroom that makes my son want to come, even when he feels so miserable? He’s ALWAYS hated school and I never thought I’d see the day when I would have to FORCE him to stay home!”

NPR’s broadcast of All Things Considered Starting College While Still in School [podcast] on Jan. 6, 2009, asked high school students their impressions of school:

Unidentified Student #1: High school was just boring.

Unidentified Student #2: And I was bored out of my mind.

Unidentified Student #3: Public school was really boring.

Tonight while the family was washing dishes (commonly our time for family conversations–the dishwasher has been hopelessly broken for months), my younger college daughter said, “I was so used to be talked to in high school; our literature teacher actually wants us to share thoughts!” My elder daughter (college in Lexington, KY) said on the phone, with glee, “I love this one professor–he doesn’t lecture from a PowerPoint! It’s GREAT!”

Imagine a world, that as students get off the bus, they wondered with excitement wondering what fun and new surprises awaited them? What about the unexpected? Not only that, but with the economy in a tailspin as it is and home may be experiencing hardship, what if school was a retreat from the stressors of life? For example:

–> Have a big fish tank in the room and add new fish

–> Change seats around unannounced

–> Make your classroom windows a learning tool by painting on them. For example, make geometrical shapes (Math), famous Virginians (Va. History), etc.

–>Use a document camera, turn it upside down, and have an instant “news cast” in your room (of course, you’ll need a data projector)?

–>How about making a book report video? Students scripting and shooting their own movies? Wait! No time?!? Have you asked your TRT for help and assistance in training you?

–>Scour the Internet for free materials:
a) Education World
b) Scienceinquirer
c) Teaching and Learning Resources from the Federal Gov’t.
d) Sites For Teachers [Warning: it’s a HUGE list of links!]

–>All for one and one for all: Not only would this help morale amongst staff, but students would have FUN! For example, during planning, focus on a unit that one teacher is teaching? Let’s say that the Science teacher is teaching the unit on weather, so:
a) the Math teacher could tie in her lesson with story problems about clouds and storms, or use thermometers to review metrics, or make graphs (and use Excel!)
b) the Reading teacher could pull a story from the basal about weather and have students journal about a particularly scary storm that they remember;
c) the Social Studies teacher could tie in how people in the past protected themselves against weather by building shelter (i.e. Jamestown, Indian groups, etc.).

So, imagine, as students change classes and go from room to room, not knowing what to expect, and not only that, but you could keep on target with the pacing guide, make remediation fun, and bring a sense of community to your hallway.

An interesting question to ask yourself is, “Would I want to sit in on my own classroom day by day?” What interesting ideas do you have to spark up the day?

“It’s Not an SOL; Can’t Teach It!” Is the Fun of Teaching Gone?

Education WorldI wonder if my fellow Technology Resource Teachers (TRT) experience this: it seems more difficult getting into classrooms. I’ve gotten the following comments lately:

“I don’t understand how you can help my teaching.”
“Aren’t you the computer repair guy?”
“I can’t take time for technology–I can’t get off the pacing guide!”
and my favorite: “We’ll save you for after SOL testing so the kids can have fun.”


Even when I remind folks that I was a classroom teacher for 20 years, their eyes gloss over. It’s as if The Test is looming behind me baring its fangs, sending terror into the classrooms.

And just recently, one of my teachers cancelled his grant project because teachers are unwilling to share their students for a book writing project because instructors don’t want students to miss test reviews. I stood there dumbfounded when I heard this. As a result, I had to cancel a local popular columnist’s visit from the Virginian Pilot from coming back to receive her book from the students’ collaboration project.

Requests for resources lately have focused on test review practice and drill-and-kill sites.

What is one to do?

In a recent article in EducationWorld titled “Has Accountability Taken All the Fun Out of Teaching and Learning?” the author investigates this in an interesting and informative article that you will find interesting. Highlights:

Those of you who have read my past posts know that I enjoy Social Studies and especially hands-on activities, such as a Colonial Fair to reinforce History SOLs. For example, Oklahoma principal Mary Ellen Imbo says, “The tests didn’t stop her fifth-grade teachers from having fun, Imbo says. Those teachers teamed up and brainstormed ways to achieve the goals that testing imposed. Content teachers worked with art, music, and physical education teachers. They created integrated units, such as a colonial fair to meet their colonial period objectives and a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg to meet their Civil War objective.”

Accountability is a good thing, no doubt, but how we do it does matter. I’m reminded of a straight A student in high school who took a trigonometry class (non SOL tested) and failed their first test. Instead of A, B, C, or D, the test was like old fashioned tests: you had to work the answer out. Panicked, they told the teacher, “I didn’t know how to take a test that didn’t have F, G, H, or J on it so that I could do the 50-50 thing.”

Is this how students know how to learn today? Are we preparing them for the 21st Century effectively?

What the Great Computer Challenge Taught Me About SOL Drill & Kill

gcc_logo_small.jpgIn the last millenium (1994 to be exact) I volunteered to be a coach for the GCC with WHRO-TV and CII. Competition was fierce with teams being pulled from the eastern seaboard of Virginia to the Eastern Shore back towards Petersburg. As all good coaches do, I had my teams of three students each stay after school to practice, get critiqued (and slammed, as they would say) and stretched. We’d drill and drill and drill and drill and by the day of the meet, my students were mentally fried.

This routine happened year after year, and year after year, the private schools would win as did the great big city to our east. Being the good coach, I’d say, “Hey, we did our best,” “We’re here to have fun,” ad nauseum. Deep inside, though, I was frustrated. “Why does everybody else win and WE DON’T?!?”

Irritated, the next year our team had only one practice for two hours and they were instructed on the day of the meet, “You guys are to have fun, relax, and try your best–don’t even worry about placing! Just enjoy it!” And truthfully, I did NOT care.

At the awards ceremony on the campus of ODU, the auditorium was standing room only. I sat there with the students, smug, and would say, “See that school over there? They’ll win third.” I was right. Grinning from this prediction, I said, “That private school over there is winning next–they always do.” Bingo–second place! When the judge started prepping and winding up to announce the first place winner, I bent down to gather my materials, pride, and jacket and wanted to exit before the parking lot was full. Tuning the announcement out, I kept on with my mission. Suddenly, the parent beside me whacked me over the head, screamed, and said, “GET UP THERE! THEY’RE WAITING FOR YOU!” I came up fast to avoid the blows, nearly knocked myself out hitting the chair in front of me, and said, “What are you doing?”

You guessed it–my students won first place.

I wonder what we do to students as we prepare for the state tests in May. Are we so frenzied in making AYP, pass rates, and what-not, that we exhaust our students? What would happen if teachers caught their breath and gave some down-time before the Big Week? I tried that the same year as the Computer Challenge, and guess what? My students scored 15% higher than I predicted. We had a week of fun review games, study sessions outside on blankets in the school yard, and other sundry activities that were not drill-and-kill.

It’d be interesting to hear feedback on this. Do we drill students so much that by testing, they’re wiped out and are unable to think?