Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Adventures in Civic Duty!

Life has a funny way of telling you to shut up and slow down. For me, this message came in the form of six days of jury duty over the course of two-and-a-half weeks. Aside from feeling like I was trapped in a strange version of The Breakfast Club ("The lawyers saw us as they wanted to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions..."), it was surely an interesting and informative experience.  As an alternate juror I did not get to deliberate and was dismissed early. In all honesty, I'm a little bummed about that because I'm a person who tends to process things by talking them out. But, as I walked back to my car I reminded myself about the post I wrote on closure and decided to be okay with it. :)

Overall, jury duty was rough on me, despite a lovely view of Commencement Bay and 1.5 hour lunches. I'm not used to sitting all day or keeping quiet when something perturbs me. One would think it'd be a relaxing change of pace - and it was, for about one day. I found myself feeling stressed and anxious about being away from my classroom and generally annoyed at the slow pace of the trial. Needless to say, I'm thankful I could return to work today and get back to business as usual.

And, because I love to turn any experience into an educational one, here's a list of skills and strategies that I routinely teach and also observed in court:
  • walking in a straight line
  • telling the truth
  • letting one person talk at a time
  • being patient
  • listening to both sides of an argument without judgement
  • inferring
  • summarizing
  • drawing conclusions
  • determining an author's purpose
  • cause and effect
  • supporting an argument using text-based evidence
  • using persuasive writing techniques
  • SO MUCH MATH (addition, subtraction, multiplication, estimating, fractions, measurement, area, perimeter, constructing tables, elapsed time)
  • Measuring and recording data
  • Observing and describing results from an investigation
My case was about a large corporation upholding a warranty agreement on a failed product. In a nutshell (because I know you're curious), a local apartment complex sued Louisiana-Pacific for failed exterior siding. Thrilling, I know. The major points of debate were (1) the percentage of affected siding to the buildings, (2) whether or not an objective test was needed to determine if the siding was failing, and (3) should the Plaintif be awarded damages for having to replace the siding, which was still under warranty. Expert witnesses on the Plaintif's side used subjective tests and visual observations to determine the percentage of siding that was affected. As a counterpoint, the Defendant's witnesses used an objective and measurable test with strict criteria.

Around the third day, I realized how similar the arguments were to those currently being debated in education reform. Was the test subjective or objective? Who made the test in the first place? Could the results be measured over time and replicated? If one board was damaged, did that mean all of the boards were damaged? How did the outside environment affect the conditions of the siding? Did the witnesses possess enough knowledge and/or training to effectively state their opinions? Was there room for interpretation on the warranty? And so on...

If anything, six days of jury duty got me thinkin' out the current state of our educational system. When does a teacher's professional judgement overrule a students' measurable data on a test? What amount of training does a teacher need to have in order to be considered "qualified?" Does it make sense to look only at the measurable data of a standardized test when other factors are obvious to the naked eye? If a small group of students fails, does that mean the rest are doomed, as well? What role does a students' outside environment play in his or her outcome on a test. How much money is being spent on all of this?

I don't know the answers to these questions, nor am I even going to try to answer them. Clearly, you can see my brain was busy during my forced vacation civic duty. But, hey! At least I got this cool certificate:

Monday, November 19, 2012

EdCamp Seattle Recap

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Mead

The very first EdCamp Seattle was held at Seattle Pacific University this past Saturday. Not only did I have the pleasure of attending, I was fortunate enough to be a founding organizer with David, Jac, Anthony, Janiess, and Shannon. Initial planning started in late August through a series of tweets, and before long we were hashing out details using Google+ hangouts and shared documents.

G+ and Doodle made it easy for us to collaborate and plan.

You can read tweets and see pictures from the event here.

Having never attended an "unconference" before, I wasn't sure what to expect. Remembering my takeaways from ISTE '12, I knew that it was important for me to approach the day with a positive solution-oriented minset and a willingness to step outside my comfort zone. I attended sessions on design thinking and integrating math and literacy, and co-facilitated a conversation with my friend Jake on using Google Apps for Education in an elementary school setting. The day ended with a "smack-down" of resources shared by participants and a raffle in which I won a sweet new Microsoft backpack!

 Winning! Photo courtesy of @mshoughton
All in all, it was an incredible day of learning and connecting. I left feeling inspired, motivated, and energized. The conversations I had with others not only broadened my thinking, but encouraged me to deepen my practice and reassured me that there are other educators like me out there.  Like many others, I left wanting more. Even though I'm still trying to process everything, I'm pretty sure that this past Saturday was just the beginning of a really great organization of connected and forward-thinking educators.

Thank you to all who made the first EdCamp Seattle a smashing success! Perhaps we won't be able to totally change the world, but at least we can try to make our own significant impact.  

 Photo courtesy of @jcurtis4082

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In It For the Long Run: Thoughts on Student-Led Conferences

Preparing for student-led conferences is like training to run a marathon.  Both require weeks of preparation to endure the physical and mental demands of the experience, and there is often quite a bit of let-down when it's over. Having just finished our fall conferences, I'm feeling a mix of many things- proud that my students did a fantastic job sharing their learning, relieved that progress reports and Highly Capable Plans are finished, and energized by the conversations I had with parents regarding our program and classroom activities. The marathon metaphor keeps returning as I reflect upon my experiences. Here are some thoughts as I start to plan for the next round in Spring:

Wear the right shoes. You know that saying about walking a mile in someone else's shoes? This is an especially important reminder during conferences. Having the right perspective can make all the difference between a successful conference and an uncomfortable one. For me, I strive to make sure my "conference shoes" provide the right balance of support, professionalism, understanding, and humor for each family.

Each mile is a different experience. I have twenty-five wonderfully unique students in my classroom this year. Talking with my students' families (rather than at them) about successes and concerns continues to be one of the best and most enjoyable decisions I can make. Remembering each child is an individual with their own needs and passions makes conferences much more meaningful and productive. The journey is the reward, so take time to look around, appreciate your surroundings, and keep the conversations moving forward.

Don't focus on the numbers. While there's a time an place for student data, making it the primary focus is (usually) a bad idea. I give students the first 15 minutes to share anything they want in the classroom related to their learning. This year, every single student mentioned Dot Day, Mystery Skype, Google Apps for Education, and calendar math as activities in class that assisted in their learning. Students shared the book we created on our field trip as writing evidence, explained where their plant was in the life cycle, demonstrated how to record their fluency using an iPad, and showed how their art piece was related to geometry principles. They were excited about school, and you could tell! Rarely did we discuss AR points or the number correct on their last math quiz. Kids are not numbers, and it's important to keep the focus on student learning during conferences.

Be prepared for anything. I've had some strange things happen over the years. I've learned to keep the tissues nearby, call for help when you need it, know what to say if a student overshares, and have a few tricks up your sleeve to get nervous kids talking.

It helps to have people cheering you on. Take time to check-in with your colleagues and debrief. Remind your friend to eat lunch. Remind yourself to go to the bathroom while you can. Walk past a colleague's room to make sure things are going alright. Share a funny story that came up, or even talk through a conference that may have not gone so well. Similarly, when a parent tells you that you're doing an awesome job, say "thank you." Take the compliment because you're a rockstar. Finally, don't be afraid to tell a parent you think their child is wonderful and appreciate their support. Ask about a sibling you had years ago. Find out what their weekend plans are. Families need encouragement, too. When we all cheer each other on, the day seems a bit more bearable.