It’s about learning, not memorizing.

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As always, the people I follow on twitter always get me thinking and this is what it is this morning. I saw this link from Steve  Johnson, @edtechsteve ,  from an article in the Charlotte Observer about teacher evaluations and tying pay to student performance. http://bit.ly/gXIRkE. There is much talk about tying teacher salaries, bonuses, and even re-hires into student test scores. The general public that I have access to and talk to about this usually agree that teachers should be paid, fired , promoted according to student test scores as they haven’t been in a classroom or they are going with what they grew up with in terms of what a classroom is/should be today. “It was good enough for me, it’s good enough still.”

As a Geography teacher, and one who doesn’t have a standardized test at the end of the course, it is getting beyond upsetting that most in the United States don’t understand how education has changed (or should be changing) as our children today will be dealing with all the current events in our world more than ever before. It is a global, interconnected world that only a person who understands all the nuances of those words will be able to work and live in this world. Our students are the future, and as cliché as that is, I have not seen a time when we need our students to understand cultures, geography, economics, science, art, business, communication, government, community, and global awareness more than now.  It is not enough for young adults to come away from high school only being able to pass the standardized tests, to memorize information and not have an understanding to why they need to know that information. When will we wake up and get our students connecting? Understanding? Creating? Learning?

I know there are many great educators out there, but when major newspapers run stories like the one in the Charlotte Observer, it is what the public comes to expect. And all I see in most schools now during spring is standardized test practice because – let’s face it – teachers are judged on who “learned” based on those test scores  (as much as we don’t want to admit it), there is a serious gap between what is important and what it is. As much as my school says they don’t put emphasis on test scores, we still have a faculty meeting about the results of those tests when they come in.

Students need educators who are willing to stand up and adjust the curriculum as world events happen. Students need educators who are willing to get out of their comfort zones and create deeper learning spaces. Students need educators who understand that learning is not memorizing. Students need educators who are willing to help students make connections to the world. Students need educators who are willing to step out and be the change.

The future is at stake.

Be The Vision

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After having a few weeks of frustration with others in my building about engaging students in meaningful learning, it is through my conversations and inspirations on Twitter that have made me realize that I must press on. It is important for all of us on Twitter to press on. If I can re-charge (change is difficult) two while everyone on Twitter does the same, to shift learning from teacher model to student model, imagine the influence. And those two re-charge two more and so on. I’m not a math teacher, but it would create a seismic shift. Many of us are the lone student centered educator in our buildings but I am here to stand with you. Let the Twitter community help change our school community. And keep sharing the inspiration!

A Long Road

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In celebrating a “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted” letter my son received today, I am reminded what a long road it’s been in his education and it is part of why am a compassionate teacher. My son’s school journey began 20 years ago and from the 1st day of Kindergarten, he was a square peg in a round hole. He did not have one year in 12 that education inspired or challenged him. It took me until his 9th grade yr to get special ed services. We lived in a Blue Ribbon school district and he had wonderful teachers.  It wasn’t the teachers, it was the system. His teachers gave him extra time, modified tests, and other supports that helped him graduate high school. He even went to college for a semester back in 2003.
Just let me say, also, that technology would not have made a difference. What he needed is what most schools are still doing- NOT creating learning spaces that educate outside the box. He needed less structure, more student centered learning. He is smart, articulate, and has now finally (at 26) gotten “the letter” from his dream school. He is still a square peg in a round hole but has the maturity to figure out what to do with that.
When will we be able to educate those who don’t fit into our “good student” model? Get rid of schedules, desks, bells, and help students unleash their passions! Within the curriculum, of course (jk). 

You Say You Want A Revolution – John Lennon

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Watching the events unfold in the last few weeks with Egypt and trying to help my 8th graders understand this history-making event was incredible! It hit me on many levels and, of course, Twitter helped me with links, videos, etc. to use in class. But what really was an ah-ha moment was the fact that as I tried to help my students understand the “social revolution” piece of the history, they didn’t quite get that or see it. It struck me because that while I knew on an intellectual level that my students are 21st century kids and are growing up with technology, they are as immersed in this as I was in the late 60’s with the Martin Luther King civil rights and social unrest here in the U.S. The other amazing piece of this was that I could have a conversation on Twitter to solidify some thoughts. I thought it was just me who thought it strange that the kids were not impressed that the Egypt revolution was bolstered by social media. Thanks to my #sschat educators, I was able to get some thoughts together.

What does this mean for teaching? For me it means that education MUST become what the kids live. They cannot keep coming to school to “power down.” When they walk into my building they have to turn off all devices – the very things that are an integral part of who they are. It is not just music or phones; it is connection, completion, just… them.

When we will have our own revolution for education? What if students were to really understand the power of what it would mean for them to be able to learn the way they want? What if we really teach the way they learn? What if we really want to know how best students learn? What if we… shhh, take away standardized testing?! I believe that we could unleash the power of the next generation of leaders in this country. How can we have a revolution? I am amazed by the amazing educators who have unbelievable ideas and I want a true revolution… reform isn’t enough. Time is of the essence! Who’s with me? Maybe it’s time to get students involved in the revolution. I think I will invite some of mine to the next school board meeting and take them to the office of the superintendent.

Lessons

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I am saddened, as we all are, by the tragedy that occurred in Arizona. Of course, I am especially saddened by the death of Christina Green, a 3rd grader. I also grieve for the 22 year old who shot the people. What to make of this tragedy? How do we talk to students about it? What are the lessons?

I cannot explain this, but one thing I know is that this isn’t about the guns. It isn’t about the 22 year old who went on a rampage. It is about society. It also takes me back to other trageties, such as Columbine High School, and all other school shootings. We as a society need to become better at making connections with our young people. Kids need to feel they belong to something – a class identity, a sport, a youth group. It seems to me that as more information is locked down,  private, we have less opportunity to help. When I began as a teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio, I was told about students’ home life, had to make home visits, etc. Now, we cannot even know why students get suspended from school. I understand the privacy, believe me, but as the information becomes more private, more teachers don’t get involved in kids lives. It is in this indifference that we miss the moments to become the connection. Our students need our academic attention, but more importantly, they need our believing in them, that someone is in their corner.

When will we get back to community? So, when kids get off track, there are people there to get them back on track. We have been talking about this since Columbine all these years ago. When will we in society learn that we will only get out of kids what we put in?

It’s Not About The Technology

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Many in education, politics, policy-makers and anyone else talking education reform are missing the point completely. I divide people into two categories: those who “get it” and those who don’t.  It’s not about the technology. It’s about deeper understanding,  critical thinking, and writing. Yes, writing is required for tech projects as students write storyboards for voicethread, scripts for animoto, outlines for prezi, notes to send to their Dominican Republic partners on Google Docs and anything else we do in Geography class. Students are collaborating, making decisions, and designing. I wish those who don’t “get it” would come into my classroom and talk to the kids. But don’t talk to them about the tech, talk to them about what they are learning. Ask them where they did research, ask them to defend their learning.  They can! They own it.

It’s not about the technology and as I post this I know those that will read this “get it.” But as states and districts grapple with what to do with the technology, these examples are critical. Let’s talk about the final product but let’s also talk about how students get there- researching, writing, editing, and real learning.

The Door

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What an image to give words to what has been mulling around in my brain! It’s hard to see but there are 45 records (I actually had 45 records and can still hear my father yelling to turn down the music) glued to the door with chains and a lock. I was blown away at the symbolism and beauty in this door.  This photo perfectly represents what is happening in education today – locking down student learning, putting technology behind the bars and calling it innovative. Unless students own their learning, contribute to their learning, and create their learning, they are still like the old 45’s – great, but not brilliant. I am hopeful that some educators are finding ways to unlock student learning. Why am I hopeful?

As some of you know, I have discovered twitter. I have been “lurking” (as it is called) there, slowly getting my feet wet. Over 800 posts later, commenting on linked blogs, and learning to “RT” the good stuff, I am feeling the locks coming off about my frustration of feeling alone in my own school. I am even tweeting within #sschat, #edchat, and participating on eliminate with peers around the world! The coolest thing for me is that I am confident that I can contribute as much as any other educators on twitter. I am one of “them” and every follow is like an affirmation that I can make a difference; I can help unlock what education needs to be about – student learning. I have a renewed enthusiasm to blog, share, and get my students in the conversation.  After all, it’s about them!