I’m talking ’bout practice

May 11, 2008

Last week I read a blog post on the Freakonomics blog previewing an upcoming article on stats and the Celtics. While I am not an avid fan of the NBA, do not like the current style of the game preferring instead the team aspect of college ball, I do follow certain teams and players. Historically, I have been a fan of Boston and since they drafted KU standout Paul Pierce I keep track of their progress.

The internet being what it is I quickly found myself following links and began reading a post detailing the debate on practice versus talent. As both a teacher and a coach I enjoyed the message of the article.

“In other words, whatever innate differences two people may exhibit in their abilities to memorize, those differences are swamped by how well each person “encodes” the information. And the best way to learn how to encode information meaningfully, Ericsson determined, was a process known as deliberate practice.”

This statement supports several of my beliefs. One is that there is no such thing as luck. I feel that good preparation allows people to take advantage of situations. I have several examples from my coaching , but since you will have take my word for those instances I will cite a recent event familiar to those who follow college basketball and one in which I was able to witness first hand. Mario Chalmers game tying three point shot at the National Championship was dubbed by many in the media as a miracle.

While I admit that the shot was not textbook form, YouTube proved that the play itself was not a first time attempt. It is clear that this play, and thus the victory, was the result of practice as much as it was talent.

Aside from once again plugging the glorious year of sports that fans of the University of Kansas were able to enjoy, my athletic reference come with reason. There are multiple reasons why sports are so prevalent at educational institutions. It is because that many of the skills that enable students to become successful student-athletes are transferable from the sporting world to the classroom. It has become cliché to call these transferable lessons “life skills.” Personally, I feel I starting becoming successful in the classroom when I realized that I could take my coaching philosophy into the classroom to make students successful. While I realized that teaching history and English would be slightly different than teaching wrestling, I also become conscious that all three subjects were simply different disciplines. The bottom line was that my students needed practice, repetition, and active learning to improve on the skills in the classroom.

Think about it. If I tried to teach my student-athletes how to wrestle by lecturing for the majority of practice and then give them a multiple choice exam would they really master the skills required to improve? We structure our practices with a short demonstration (guided lecture) followed by longer sessions of drilling (active group work). In addition to this, after several weeks of nothing but practice we begin weekly competitions (assessment). So why is it that many in education feel that it is necessary to conduct their class by controlling the information?

I admit that I do follow some of the old school means of teaching. I administer one multiple choice exam per quarter. I think that every course has to do this as students must be familiar with the style of this type of assessment due to state testing and SAT/ACT exams. But I also feel that this type of assessment is a poor channel for gagging student understanding of information. However, I feel that if my students can master the “messy assessments” that people such as Wesley Fryer advocate then my students can pass a standardized exam once they understand the methods to taking such exams.

The bottom line is that students cannot truly understand the content unless they are active in the learning. If you simply teach students how to pass an exam then you are doing nothing more than teaching them how to memorize information. True learning comes from understanding. While I was an average wrestler, I feel that I understand the sport as proof from my coaching record. As you end this year and begin to reflect on your lessons and courses for next year I challenge you to make a change toward active practice. During wrestling practices I often walk around the room and make adjustments to technique on an individual basis while the rest of the room proceeds without someone looking over their shoulder. In the classroom, I walk around drinking my coffee and individually guide my students in the same method. My challenge to you…drink more coffee and lecture a bit less.

Enjoy your day,


Making Decisions

October 7, 2007

So I was all geared up for the school year. I had roughly outlined my lessons for the semester, pretty happy about this since I have two new classes this year. I had outlined several blog article topics. I had also help several new teachers set-up ClassBlogmeister accounts. My summer of planning new ideas and learning new methods was ready to unfold. Then I logged-in to my school computer.

Blocked. Website Problems

In reviewing many of the sites I used last year and some of the new sites proposed for this year this is what I saw. I do not mean to add to the growing list of educational blog articles complaining of filtering; however, I must express my frustration and plan for this school year. I spread to many people at NECC this new blog site because I was frustrated with not being able to update my EduBlogs site; a problem since corrected by the addition of a new server. I choose WordPress because it is what my wife uses and I previously could read her blog at my school. This is no longer the case.

My dilemma is two fold: blogging and wikis

What to do about my blog:
I like the use of both sites, especially since EduBlogs has upgraded with the addition of a new server. However, I shared with many people my WordPress site. I also transferred my postings from EduBlogs to WordPress. Unfortunately the WordPress site looks horrible at school. I am trying to demonstrate the advantages of such applications, but the site looks bad. But if I transfer back, then what about those readers outside of my school? Will I loose readers, all twelve of them, if I just back to EduBlogs?

After weeks of debate I have decided to post on both sites. I realize the time I will waste, but until a proper solution can be determined this is what I have resolved at the best action.

Wikis:
I have grown to find several applications of wikis in the classroom. Since this type of site is often new to my students I must demonstrate its use. I also had a grand idea of using wikis to share lesson plans between teachers at not only my school, but other schools. Unfortunately Wikispaces and PB Wiki are blocked. I found it interesting that while I began debating my options I stumbled upon an article in Today’s Catholic Teacher an article specifically siting these sites as preferred wiki sites. Nothing against Susan Brooks-Young, the article is great and she is clearly educated in this topic, but I found it interesting that a site devoted to Catholic teachers, I teach at a Catholic school, notes for use the sites I have been told are not appropriate for education.

I have looked into creating a new wiki on a different website; although I feel that Wikispaces and PBWiki are great sites and hate to leave. Then in browsing various wiki sites I noticed that in over thirty wiki sites the only ones blocked are those I made popular at my school. I wonder if our filtering service would even know they exist had it not been for my students. I know they do not know the power within these sites. At least Susan knows and I trust that someone is able to enjoy the sites.

I am working without webmaster to integrate wiki technology within the schools web server. He tried MediaWiki and the requirements exceed our current system. However, Miguel Guhlin recommended to me PMWiki. You will know if this works because I will be ecstatic.

This is where I am. Now back to sharing the ideas from my class.

Preview of posts to come:

iPod magic–students actually reviewing vocabulary
SMARTBoards–I get to play with some fun new products and so do my students
NECC 2008–proposal is in, now we wait

Enjoy your day,

Kyle


Wikis: Why Sharing Makes Sense

August 12, 2007

As July turns to August the temperatures continue to rise and the time to reorganize for the start of school is upon us. Since my first year of teaching I have always declared that I would spend June re-organizing my syllabus while everything is fresh in my mind. 0-4. At least this year I wrote down my ideas so I can continue my progress in mashing everything together.

The first task in my summer cleaning involved deleting duplicate files. Over the past four years I have adjusted most every document I have created. Technological improvements what they are, I have acquired a new storage device about every six months. While this is great as the number of files I own increased, I never properly took the time to update my files choosing instead to simply add to the files.

As I am now nearly complete in my task of eliminating duplicate files, I look to share my ideas and documents with my fellow teachers. The past few years I have copied my files onto CDs for new teachers who shared my courses. Not professing to have all of the answers, just looking to help a fellow teacher out and possible save him or her some time in reproducing a document from scratch.

While these new teachers have confirmed to me that this is helpful, eventually the CDs disappears. So for this year, how about a wiki.

Last year while answering the request of a teacher on an English list-serve I loaded up a Julius Caesar unit to my Wikispaces blog wiki. Over the summer I realized that this could be useful if our entire English department or possibly the entire school did the same. Coincidentally Miguel Guhlin wrote about the power of sharing around the same time. I must say that I agree with this idea.

As part of my summer reading this summer I finished Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. While I will present a more formal assessment of the book later, the most outstanding item from the book to me is that while business is embracing collaborative technology, schools are typically slow to respond to the same stimulus. One day the education field will realize that when we stop wasting time by holding on to the information, we can address more important tasks. Who cares about the credit as long as you get the job done. If we share our ideas and the grunt work of creating files, then we can use the time saved to improve the education of our students. If we can share our ideas with another school who is trying to figure a new way to teacher Julius Caesar, then someone else will help us in the future.

Enjoy your day,

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July iPod session

July 13, 2007

Earlier this week I presented to some faculty member at my school the various ideas on how to use iPods in educational settings.  I shared some of the ideas from my classes and ideas that other teachers used in the Freshman courses last year.  I also showed off the iQuizmaker that I learned about at Tony’s presentation at NECC.  While I have not created any quizzes yet, I love the idea.  This is definately an application that I will use in my courses this upcoming year.

To further promote what we are doing and to document some of the lessons and ideas I created an iPods in Education wiki.  If you are curious about how you can use an iPod to enhance your class take a look.  If you have ideas that you want to share, log-in.  The password for the wiki is education.

I am off for an anniversary trip with my wife.  I will check back after our trip.

Enjoy your day,


iPod as an education tool: year one reflections

June 13, 2007

Our school has recently finished the first year of our iPod initiative. This program issues iPods to students for use in classrooms and for educational purposes. I had my perceptions and observations of the program, but felt that it is important to get the perceptions and observations from the students. As the first year of the program we only issued the iPods to Freshman students and during their English classes the Freshman completed a survey I created with the recommendations from others in our technology department. The survey has multiple goals; primary of which is to assess the students ease of use and type of use. This is because the success of the program is for the benefit of the students. The second main goal was to understand the level of use by the various disciplines. After all, the success of the program is dependent on teacher incorporation. In general the results were positive, reassuring, and helpful in planning for next year.

Student previous technology experience and growth of knowledge:

In breaking down the program the first item of my concern is student technology knowledge. Prior to the start of this program my assumption and perception of student technology knowledge is that students already know how to use such technologies and can figure out programs through repeated use. I based part of my assumption on my perceptions of the students in my classroom. I began using podcasting and blogging as a tool for education two years ago. I consider myself a digital native, I grew-up with Apple IIe, Oregon Trail, and the original Nintendo. I taught myself how to use the websites and software commonly included in Web 2.0 applications. When I introduced these applications to my class, it never occurred to me to teach the students how to use the websites. It took a short time for my students to became proficient in these application and shortly after that other teachers became curious about how I my students used such tools. I noticed that with many teachers the first question was how long it took me to teach my students how to use the sites and applications. It was only then I reflected on my assumption and actions, or lack of.

Based on these experience I held the same assumption with the iPods: students know how to use such technology and with time they will figure out more practical uses through experience. The results of the student survey supported my theory. The average student response was in agreement or strong agreement that they previously have used an iPod or MP3 player. While not as high statistically, student response was also between agree and strongly agree for comfortable using various technologies and instant messaging. Students also supported my belief that repeated use allows for comfort in applications. It is no surprise that the viewing and downloading of video and audio files received a high comfort rating. What is encouraging is the increase in comfort in using the flash drive component of the iPod. Previous technology experience identifies flash drive use with a 3.81 rating our of 5. In the growth of technical knowledge category using the iPods as a portable flash drive earned a 4.18 rating out of 5. While this is not a statically substantial increase, it shows that positive growth occurs. As a school that prides itself on the student technology use, the growth of student technical knowledge in the Freshman year is a step in the right direction.

Types of use in the classroom:

More important to me was how students use iPods and in what classes. The top five uses, according to the ratings, are 1) viewing presentations and/or images, 2) portable hard drive, 3) view text or written documents, 4) listen to audio for foreign language classes, and 5) as an audio recording device. All of these scored above 2.75 out of a 5 point scale demonstrating regular use over the course of the grading period. The use of the iPod as a portable hard drive and to view presentations, such as Power Points, scored on a regular monthly use. These results mirror those aspects the students feel are most beneficial. An overwhelming majority felt the using the iPod to view presentations and as a portable hard drive is a benefit. A majority of students also felt listening to educational audio and viewing text is a benefit. Surprising to me, recording audio did not meet a majority level as a benefit, but I feel that is because of the lack of awareness by teachers on how to use this tool rather than anything else.

Year two:

Our school has already taken the steps to prepare for the program next year. While the students demonstrated how they feel an iPod is best used in education and that they are comfortable with the technology, they also relayed to us that not all of the teachers are comfortable. To educate the teachers and increase a comfort level for them our school is offering two training session this summer. I will present the first workshop next week, before NECC, and one after the conference in the middle in July. I feel that summer training sessions are great for several reasons. The first is that excuses are more difficult to form when the stress of lesson planning and grading are absent. Another is that optional, summer sessions allow those willing to take the time to prepare for the success of such programs to demonstrate this desire. I hesitate to require such sessions, because then you often get people who do not care about the program. We will be following up on these summer sessions during our in-service week prior to the start of school and with sessions through out the school year as well.

I have created a wiki, password is education, to aid these workshop and I will keep you updated as to the results of these workshop. I would love to hear your comments on using iPods as an educational tool and invited you to contribute your ideas to the wiki.


Do not Blame technology

June 6, 2007

I previously read an article reporting that schools have began banning iPods in an attempt to outsmart cheaters. The article published on eSchool News Online and redirected to Yahoo News (unable to locate orginal article, but located a copy published by USA Today) stats that schools are aware that students are now using this technology to cheat on exams in a variety of fashions. Among the list of methods include playing audio that provides the student with test answers, and saving the text so students can view the information on screen. Considering that cell phones have provided similar concerns, I am not surprised that some schools have to resort to these actions. I am surprised that this is news worthy. To me the fact that this is news worthy raises a few concerns.

My first concern is with the types of assessments that teachers administer. While I understand that until the College Board, ETS and other test companies find a better format to assess students; or until school districts actually spend time creating assessments that demonstrate actual knowledge teachers will continue to administer multiple choice exams. I admit it, I give one a quarter. I hate them. Personally I think that multiple choice exams dumb down the information and do not allow students to demonstrate actual knowledge. Whenever I think of a multiple choice exams I recall the lesson prescribed by my fourth grade teacher. “When in doubt, pick C.” Unfortunately there is a science to passing such exams and by not providing my students an opportunity to practice these skills I am hurting their chances to perform. What is the answer? Simply: spend more time organizing projects. Project allow students to prove actual knowledge and eliminate students from sneaking by on guessing. Until the society begins to challenge the industry that has become educational testing, and do not fool yourself it is an industry, this will not change. I am not going to spend the time detailing how mind numbing multiple choice exams. For more information on this topic read an article by my wife or Wesley Fryer.

My second concern is with the daily actions of the teachers. I trust that this is not a news flash, but people cheat. Not students, but people. People cheat the laws with they do not regard them as necessary and do not feel a high level of concern for being caught. Ever speed? That is cheating. I speed…a lot. If I am trying to make up time and do not perceive a threat to others or myself based on the environment (weather, knowledge of location, type of neighborhood) and I do not feel high odds that I will be caught (never seen a cop in this neighborhood) then I cheat. In fact cheating is such a negative word. Efficiency is a better word. The philosophic Uncle Scrooge often told his nephews Huey, Dewy, and Louie that one should “work smarter, not harder.” As a teacher and coach I teach this to my student-athletes. These are not short cuts, buy why waste energy doing something when a more efficient way exists. Why spend hours cutting your yard with a reel mower when you can use a riding mower? Why spend hours studying from a test when the teacher uses questions straight from the review and sits behind a computer or pile of papers during the entire exam? These actions are not new. I know people in college who spent the time typing the Algebra review into their calculators. They did this because the equations were exactly the same as in the review and none of the proctors paid attention during the exam. In high school, back when pagers were the new technology, I know students who typed crib sheet with vocabulary and spelling answers, reduced the size of the font, then handed them outside the door before class. The questions came from the workbook and the teacher never left the desk. People looking for an efficient way to accomplish a task is a part of our culture.

If you want to stop students from cheating banning iPods will not work. You have to change the exam and your actions. Create authentic assessment that does not allow for cheating. Make the students do something with the information rather than recite the information. I have found more success in the attainment of knowledge by my students creating a digital story demonstrating the different parts of speech than taking a multiple choice exam. I challenge someone to define how my students in creating a video that teaches and demonstrates the parts of speech know less than those students taking a multiple choice exam. In fact, I believe just the opposite because my project requires high level thinking and creativity. I am willing to bet that they will remember that video down the road, not forever, but next year. Any takers on your multiple choice exam?

Additonally you have to be active. If you are giving a multiple choice exam, be active. I clean during such exams. While I clean I can see what is going on during the exam. After my high school graduation a couple of students told our English teacher about the crib sheets that had been entering her classroom for several years. I heard from students in her class the next year she changed her quizzes and started walking around during them. Guess what declined? Both the scores and the cheating. After the risk increased, students began to actually learn the words rather than complete the task. Proof that if you have to give such an exam, you can prevent cheating by being active. Banning a iPod would not have worked in our class, why do people feel that it will work in these cases.

My closing concern is brief. Why is this newsworthy? My only thought in this is to demonstrate the low standards of some schools. To me this shows their goals are not to educate students, rather to make their jobs easier. My guess is that if the exams remain the same the students will have a new system of efficient test taking by the end of next week. That is unless the need for such assessment ceases to exist. We will have to keep working on that.

Enjoy your day,


Motivation for another year

August 20, 2006

As I sit at home editing, once again, my semester and quarter plan for my courses this year I am reminded of a podcast from Wesley Fryer’s Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog. The podcast is from a presentation by Marco Torres that Wesley originally aired in May. As Wesley notes Marco is a passionate teacher and points out several things that sometimes we assume are obvious. The main item I took from Marco’s presentation is that you can not fake teaching. As I told most of my classes during these first couple of days, I have not worked in four years. I have friends who work, and they sometime complain about getting up and going to work. Me, I go to school in the morning and practice after class. Sure some days are difficult, but I feel that many people forget how hard life can really be.

Last night I watched an episode of Thomas L. Friedman Reporting on the Discovery Times channel. Actually, I recorded it on my Tivo. Yes, I am an admitted nerd. Mr. Friedman was researching a wall the Israeli government is building to deter suicide bombers. At one point during the episode Mr. Friedman talked to both Israelis and Palestinians who had to either climb an eight foot tall cement wall to get to class or walk around the walk. Obviously walking would seem easier; however, the walk around is a twelve mile trek. I wonder if we had to face such difficulties in our daily lives would we stop complaining about reading assignments and traffic jams.

If you missed Wesley’s podcast it is worth going back to hear. At the minimum check out the commercial Mr. Torres’s group produced. It is a parody of the Monster.com commercial from the 1999 Super Bowl and it should give you a new look as you finish planning your lessons.

Enjoy your day,

Kyle