Monday, May 27, 2013

The Beginning is Near!

As the school year wraps up, it is getting very difficult for me to want to let this year go. Yes, having some vacation will be really, really nice. Getting to do a little traveling will be wonderful. The constant stream of assessment opportunities will be absent. The batteries will get a chance to recharge so I can do things better next year.  However, there were so many great things that happened this year that I really want to keep the momentum going!

I was so graciously offered a chance to go to the SLATE conference in Wisconsin Dells in December, and I honestly think that opportunity changed the course of my educational career. To be seen an valued as an important member of our school district who can be seen as a leader in technology really boosted my confidence. I went to summer camp often as a kid, but usually the "camp high" only lasted a week or so. I believe this "conference high" has lasted me the entire year. I got a booster shot with Edcamp Madison in February, which was an excellent time for networking and learning. These experiences are going to allow me to make a greater impact on students than ever before. I believe I'm making a greater impact now!

6th grade students got to learn about how computers actually work for the first time this year (for most of them anyway).A select group of 7th graders experienced personalized and self-paced learning in a Computer Apps class.  8th grade students in my Technology Literacy and Careers class received more opportunity for voice and choice than I've ever really allowed a class. I believe these learning opportunities for my students are only the tip of the iceberg.

Next year will bring many changes. No longer are students required to take my classes in middle school, and for that fact, I'm seeing 80% less students in 7th and 8th grade. I'm competing against some awesome educators in the areas of tech ed, art, agriculture, and band. However, this will only drive me to do better for my students. My classes will create buzz next year. In fact, this schedule change is going to be an opportunity for me condense my Careers curriculum and revamp things into a term. I'm excited for the ideas making their way to paper, including "The Apprentice" style competition I want to create. Students will, for the first, time, also have an opportunity to learn the basics of computer programming at the 8th grade level. I'm hoping to light some sparks in that class.

There are great things happening in education. Many of these obstacles which has been bumming me out suddenly feel like a great opportunity to do better. Next year, in fact, with the huge changes underway, is something like a rebirth. Starting over. Next year isn't that far away. The beginning is near! And man, it will be awesome.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Playing Catch-up - Reflection on Week 5 of the Personalized Learning Environment

What a crazy week!  A lot of stuff going on both in and outside of school. But, I digress back on topic.  We reached the mid-term and there were some shocking revelations.  10 of the 26 students in my Computer Apps class were on track to fail.  Parent contacts were in order, as well as some very difficult conversations with each student involved. So is it working?

For some students, it really did work. One student went from being in the "F" range to the "A" range, in one week! Other students, who were very far behind, greatly increased their output from the previous four weeks. I take some responsibility for not enacting some changes sooner, but at the same time, the students have access to everything they need to succeed, and I have been teaching the skills each day.  I believe that the age group of the students has a lot to do with the difficulty adjusting to the environment. Many of them are used to being dragged along and doing half-baked work just to get by.  That isn't acceptable here - they need to make decisions, create things, and most of all, demonstrate clear learning of skills.  

There is certainly learning occurring that transcends just academic stuff. They are learning how to justify their work, prove their learning, collaborate, schedule, and revise. Some students are thriving.  I have one student who is going to be finished way ahead of schedule, so I will see how will the "Challenge Standards" I have created keep them motivated. 

After grading websites this week, I'll be able to re-evaluate grades and see where students stand.  My hope is that at least half of the ten students I spoke to have made it to passing, and that the other five have made significant gains towards passing. We'll see.  It is easy at this point to doubt the new model, but after visiting Forest Park Middle School in Franklin Wisconsin last Friday, I saw a lot of similarities between what they are doing in their math classes for 8th grade, and what I am doing here. Hopefully I can help the students who are behind make some good choices the rest of the way to get back on track.

Friday, May 3, 2013

PLE Week 4 - What's in a Number?

Here we are, four weeks in to fourth term.  For all intents and purposes, we really only have four weeks left. What an action packed four weeks that will be!  This blog post will focus on the stats. Where should students be at this point? What pace should they be keeping up to? How many students are at pace?

Taking account of missed classes and the first three days of set up, students are left with 37 days of actual class time. With 50 standards necessary to achieve complete mastery, it works out to students needing to master 1.345 standards per day. Weekly, that works out to roughly 7 standards per week. As of this writing, I have no yet looked over their portfolios for this previous week.  This leaves approximately 12 days of classwork.  So how many students made it to 16 standards mastered?

Currently, 11 out of my 26 students are on pace to complete all 50 standards on time. In other words, nearly 50% of my students are on pace for 100%. Another 4 students are within 3 of the target, putting them in the "B" range (if we need to translate into letter grades, which unfortunately, we do). That is where the drop off happens. 2 more students are a little over half the pace, while the rest or below half there. That means 9 students are on pace to master half or less of the standards.

So what does this mean?  Although this format allows for true differentiation, I can see I need to do a better job of keeping those students on task and providing support where they are at. This means I could spend more time counseling with them during class, I could change the seats to move them closer together, and I could require them to attend my "mini-sessions".  I also could, instead of allowing them to choose their own projects, spur them on to complete the standards through pre-made projects. I would hate to do that because the choice and self-pacing are crucial to my philosophy in here. However, I do have a responsibility to put all students in a successful position.

This week, the rubber meets the road. I need to do more than I have done to this point to support those who are lagging, while still giving the necessary attention to the rest of the students. This is going to be quite the challenge, but I'm excited to see what is possible. Until next week!