Saturday, December 8, 2007

Cross Curricular Planning Professional Development

I had the opportunity to work with one of the teacher specialists for staff development in Frederick County, Liz Stiffler. She is the one who is assigned to us because we have not made AYP. She must have a pretty fun job but I can see how some staff may view her as a threat since we are required to attend. So I offered to collaborate with her on one of her sessions. Once again, I am always looking for opportunities to showcase how technology can be used for instruction, even for professoinal development.

The first couple sessions that we attended had some really great ideas for getting students motivated and appeal to different learning styles. I generated several ideas for including technology in those sessions. So when I approached Liz about working together to include a technology componenet, she was more than willing to work together on the idea.

The topic Liz wanted to do was "Cross Curricular Planning." At the beginning of the year, the staff brainstormed ideas of what sort of support the staff development team could give them. One of the ideas was to demonstrate cross curricular planning. So Liz and I brainstormed how to present this in only a 45 minute session. I suggested we make a movie of a sample team meeting where teachers were doing cross curricular planning. This was an exciting idea.

Liz generated a script and we used Inspiration to create a cross curricular planning guide which we would give to teachers are the professional development session. Liz recruited some of her colleagues at Hayward Road and we met to film the video. Later we went back to TJ Middle to edit the video with Windows Movie maker. Finally, Liz 'hosted' a professional development video which we made with VlogIt! software.

We presented the video to the staff on a wintry day when snow was falling. Unfortunately, the snow forced the closing of school early, so we only had time to present to two teams. The first group, made of the sixth grade team did very well. I heard lots of great ideas of how to incorporate skills from other content areas into lessons. The staff seemed to really "get it" and seemed to see the value in it. I am sure many of them already did some cross curricular integration in the lessons on their own, but having a structured time to plan with other teachers usually helps improve a lesson.

As an elementary trained teacher, I firmly believe in the value of cross curricular planning. Students need to see and use skills outside of the content area before it begins to sink in as important to know. Otherwise, they use the skill in math class and walk out the door, never to think about it again. Children need to use a skill 25-40 times before it becomes part of their though process. I know that if I don't do something with great frequency for a while, I will always forget what to do. That's why we can't expect students to divide fractions on Tuesday, take the test on Wednesday and be able to recall that information if they never divide fractions again before the at MSA.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Inspiration Part 2

The second month of Inspiration focused on more advanced ways to use the software to modify paper organizers and adapt lessons for special education students. The goals were to

  • Modifying classroom organizers for special education

  • Using Text-to-Speech features

  • Adding voice and sound to the diagram as an adaptive strategy

  • Adding images from the Internet to the diagram

  • Adding videos to the diagram

  • Using/Creating templates

  • Transforming a paper organizer into an Inspiration diagram

When I presented these topics to the teachers, they were very excited about the possibilities. When teachers tried using Inspiration they found the results very encouraging as indicated by some of their reflections.

They were told that they could use this program to help them organize their thoughts - just like the graphic organizer. After doing a few examples with them, they caught on quickly and began to work independently. One student was having difficulty with generating ideas, so I sat with him and asked him some questions to get more details. He said, "Oh, that's right! I almost forgot about that. This is what happened next . . ." By the end of the period, all three students had a completed/nearly completed graphic organizer with extra supporting details. One even thanked me for helping him remember the events to his story so that he was able to create a very detailed organizer for his letter.

It went very well. As a matter of fact, I saw some other special ed students in resource using Inspiration independently to complete an assignment for their LA class. Seems like this software program is catching on!
These are encouraging reports which show that when students are given tools that are closer to their "native" habitat they are more motivated and willing to stay on task. It gives me encouragement to hear success stories such as these and make me want to continue sharing the information I have with others who will take the challenge to engage students with technology.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Flexible Evening High Experiences

The Flexible Evening High program has expanded to include satellite locations instead of the single meeting place in Walkersville. That allows more students to access courses since there is a bus stop next to my location at TJ Middle. I was asked to be the acting administrator for FEH at TJ Middle. Being the acting administrator for Flexible Evening High has been a good experience of the little details that administrators deal with on a daily basis. This is a change for me because most of what I do is professional development and not a lot of "administrivia." Some of my duties include entering students into the server at TJMS, troubleshooting log ins, assisting teachers with collecting necessary supplies, addressing discipline, monitoring the school to ensure the other groups using the facility are not interfering with FEH instruction, and making sure all students are safely picked up from school.

One of the lessons I've learned is that teachers will frequently look to you to take care of their problems. Most of the issues that come up are simple procedural or technological. But every now and then we have something interesting come up.

So far, the most excitement we've had at FEH is the night when one young woman who is working toward her HS diploma began to have labor pains. She gutted it out through most of the night but called a friend to come pick her up to take her to the hospital. Since this could have been my first "medical emergency" I needed to decide if an ambulance needed to be called. My first thought was why a "friend" was called and not the father or a parent. I figured it would be a question that didn't need to be asked if she was over 18, so I asked and it turns out she was over 18. So that precluded the "locus parenti" hat I wore as the administrator. She had to wait only about 10 minutes for her friend to arrive and I walked her out to the car. She was in class the next week, still pregnant. It was a false alarm.

The only discipline problem I've had to address so far is a student who was on instant messenger when they shouldn't be. According to the FCPS Acceptable Use Policy, high school students can use instant messaging services for educational purposes. The girl claimed she was chatting with students about the work they were doing. I didn't buy it and simply asked her to turn it off and use the built in pager system on the course site if she needed to chat with students in her class. As it turns out, the girl was suspended from her day school for violating the Acceptable Use policy and other infractions. I didn't learn of this until after school was over and she was talking to some friends of hers outside while waiting for her ride. Suspensions from the day school carry over to FEH as well. I explained that to her and she said no one told her. That's probably true since we had a similar situation two nights before with another student. I emailed the assistant principal for night school to find out if there are procedures for letting the FEH satellite locations know that a FEH student has been suspended. It would make sense to have one point of contact at FEH and that contact person would notify the relevant teachers and administrators. I will suggest this to the assistant principal when I meet with her next.

UPDATE 11-13-07: One student left school one night and announced that her ride went to the high school instead of coming here and didn't know how to get to TJ Middle. I thought that was odd since the middle school is about 500 yards from hte High School. She was planning to walk to the high school. I grew concerned because there was once a known sex offender living between TJ Middle and the high school and I wasn't comfortable with a young lady walking at night where there could be a predator. So I asked her to remain on campus. She was very upset with the restriction and I asked her to call her sister, who has gaurdianship of her, to get permission. I spoke with the sister on the phone and got permission. I also asked her to write a note granting permission in the future for the student to walk home. As it turns out, that was not necessary. Since she is classified as a walker on her emergency card, the permission is assumed. Still, I wouldn't want my teenager walking near the house of a registered sex offender.

Update 12/4/07: I have been concerned about students from FEH walking down the street and being picked up on the corner. Since it is dark out by the time class lets out, it's hard to see if the student is a FEH student or one of the students in another program. So I felt it necessary to remind the students to stay in the cement area in front of the school and have their rides pick them up there so we can account for all FEH students. I don't know every student because we have a rolling enrollment policy so we get new students every week. That adds to the confusion so it is best that all FEH students stay where it is lit and where we can monitor their whereabouts.

Update 12/6/07: The FEH courses are in all four computer labs. The Tech Ed teachers have been hiding their printer toner cartridges because they don't want the supplies that are purchased from their operations budget to be used by outside groups. That is a reasonable stance. So I mitigated the situation by asking the Assistant FEH principal if FEH could purchase some paper and toner for the Tech Ed teachers. The answer was very quick "yes." So that made the tech ed teachers happy and FEH teachers will be able to print. We're still waiting for the supplies to come in.

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Processing Office Referrals

Through the regular course of my job, I have many opportunities to work with teachers and present staff development opportunities. If you ask most admininstrators, that is one of the key reasons they would state for becoming an administrator. That is true for me as well. One of the less glamorous tasks an administrator has to do is handle discipline problems. TJ Middle has its share of studens who get into trouble and that must be dealt with in a timely and judicious fashion.

I had a few opportunities to process discipline referrals to the office and they weren't for any major offenses. There were a couple for not serving a teacher's detention and a couple for continued classroom disruptions. Those are the types of referrals that are pretty cut and dry. I didn't have the opportunity to process students with major "drama" such as harassment or bullying, or something like a fight. Those usually require more time to sort out because there are two sides to every story ... and then there is the truth.

The law requires an administrator to give due process to all students who are in danger of losing their property - i.e. their educational opportunity. Discipline must be maintained so that students can have a safe and inviting climate for learning. One of the many observations I have noticed is that a lot of the "little things" go uncorrected. It's always been my belief that is you demonstrate a lack of tolerance for small infractions, then it is less likely to escalate into larger infractions. This is something I would need to study more, however, there has been precident here at TJ Middle for this.

When the building opened in 2000, there were several rules that some teachers thought were childish but I felt were effective in maintaining order. First, all teachers would walk their classes to lunch and pick them up. This is a typical arrangement in elementary school. To me, middle school students are still learning how to be independent and require even more structure at times. I do 7th grade recess duty. It used to be that I would follow the students in from outside and I would see them running and pushing down the hallway. Now, when I bring the 7th grade students in from outside, I require them to walk behind me and don't push. Then I stand outside their lockers. Whomever I see pushing or running I pull aside and they will be the last 7th grader to go to their locker. At first I wasn't sure if I should just write detentions, but I think that being last is more of a deterent that being given a detention because being pulled out of line and kept until last is an immediate consequence. Too often students shrug off a consequence that isn't applied until days later.

The other thing we did was to assign seats in the lunch room by homeroom. It was originally done as a way for students to get to know each other. But it can also provide the structure and routine that students need in a mostly unstructured environment. In recent years, we implemented assigned seats as a disciplinary action. I don't see assigned seats as a disciplinary action but a way to keep caos from insuing. Some will argue that students need the unstructured time to blow off steam for the day. I agree but that is why we have recess. Fewer and fewer students participate in recess because a lot of their day is still unstructured and in effect, a mini recess of its own. There is an old adage that if you give someone an inch, they will take a mile. This is often the case in middle school where students are constantly testing the boundaries of what they can and cannot do.

I'm a person who believes consistancy and routine are good for setting high expectations. If students don't know what the expectation is, then they don't know what they need to do to be successful. That doesn't mean the rule are inflexible, just that it is easier and more effective to grant more independence than to take it away. In the end, fewer discipline problems and behavior issues means more time on task and more learning takes place.

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Professional Development Update - Term 1 Recap

Facilitating professional development is always challenging, especially when your school hasn't made AYP. The increased pressure to provide new ideas for meeting the needs of a diverse student population is felt all around. Many times teachers feel professional development doesn't lend any benefit to their teaching repetoire. Other times they feel as if it is "just one more thing to do."
Time is always the biggest objection to meaningful professional development. This year our school has chosen to use an electronic learning community to facilitate the professional development. It was my task to set up and structure the Moodle software we use for an ELC. I've already described the structure of staff development in an earlier post so I won't rehash it on this entry.
Although spirits started high at the beginning of the school year, as they usually do, they inevitably began to sink as the school year progressed. I overheard two teachers talking in the hall how this year they have had more "exta work" to do than ever before. I was also surprised to hear how many teachers felt the Moodle course we are using is not as user friendly as the county provided Blackboard LMS. So what's happening? As an instructional leader, it will be my job to be aware of the attitudes and perceptions of the staff as I guide them to the vision I see.

Initially, spirits were high because teachers were able to choose their professional development strand. Differentiating teachers' choices is just as important as differentiating for students. Each teacher needs to have some ownership of their own professional development. Shortly after the big "kick off" meeting, things began to change.

One of the possible reasons for the change is the decision that teachers will need to demonstrate in some way they have incorporated the professional development into thier teaching. In the past, teachers attended sessions, listened attentively, and then walked away never to think about the topic again. As a response to this, the professional development team meeting the team recognized - and I advocated for it as well, the need for an additional reflection piece. I proposed that teachers would post a discussion message about their experience in the classroom using the new information they learn at a professional development session. I did ask for time to work with teachers to help them learn the new system. But the training schedule was packed and I had to resort to a simple tutorial. In addition to that, I was not able to schedule time with the facilitators of the ELC to help them understand how to use the software effectively. But I was able to meet with them to show them the basic elements of the software so that teachers could participate. Though this allowed the ELC to procede, it didn't give the facilitators any foundation for online teaching pedagogy. I again had to resort to publishing a paper tutorial.

The lack of hands-on training which would have taken about 45 minutes per topic is an example of how initiatives are thought out and well conceived but are ultimately only as effective as the knowledge and experiences of those carrying out the training. Since most of the ELC facilitators did not get the training they needed, they are doing the best they can but are overall ineffective. I can't say I'm a steallar online facilitator but there is a clear difference between how the technology reflections are working and the others. In some cases, no reflections are being done. This could be so if the facilitator simply chose not to use the online piece. But then one of the advantages of using online professional development - the 24/7 availability, is gone.

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