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,

Back in the game, again.

November 2, 2007

So I am coming to the slow and unfortunate realization that time is against me.  First, I do not recover physically as fast as I once did.  I recently completed my fourth marathon and not only thought about, but actually did ice my knees this time.  Additionally, I have not created the time to keep the three readers of my blog up to date with my recent ideas and implementations.  While this appears to be an abandoned blog, I assure you it is not.  While my posts are slowly becoming monthly, I pledge to work on it.  With the start of a new quarter and a new season, I am not behind, yet.

This past Sunday I recieved an invitation from my school’s tech director to join him in attending the Tech Forum in Austin.  I have been recieving the emails about this event and knowing the cast of presenters I jumped on the chance.  With Wes Fryer, David Jakes, and Miguel Guhlin how could I say no?  I have already posted my noted from the first session and will be posting my notes from Wesley Fryer’s keynote and the afternoon session later today.

Empowering and Protecting Tomorrow’s Digital Citizens

November 2, 2007

My notes from the Tech Forum 2007 in Austin.


Miguel Guhlin and Wes Fryer

Miguel begins:

Change is Inevitable going from school 1.0 to school 2.0
–image cited from Brian Grenier’s Bump on the Blog

Change is what makes being an administrator fun.

When speaker of fear and what qualifies as safe Miguel notes a loss of control
—what is safe? Home w/ or w/out parents. School w/ or w/out teachers. Internet???

  1. Technology is Indispensable from 21st Century Education

    1. “walkthrough” from TeacherTube.com (still looking for the url)
      –Apparently this video is from Mesquite ISD, someone involved in this video is in the audience
      –Response to did you guys realize the power of YouTube at the time, “No we did not”

  2. Nurturing Parent Frame or Lecturing Father Frame
    1. showed two powerful cyberbullying video clips
    2. what is the response
    3. These ideas of cyberbullyng are not new
    4. No one says, “Take away then pencils”
    5. You have to know appropriate behavior, and the result that come from bad choices (accountability)
    6. There are new things, easy for an impulsive response can be read and exposed to many, no longer a few
    7. We are shocked when Kids say inappropriate things about kids, what about when Teachers say inappropriate things about kids
    8. We need to model proper behavior
    9. My point, Michael Moore WANTS people to see his comments, students do not want EVERYONE to see theirs.
      1. –noted by another audience member, students may not want you to see them as a hateful person
    10. Another audience member on Michael Moore, Intent. Our students are naive and may not understand the full ramifications of the intent. The student’s intent is to vent, the ramification of the venting is to hurt another’s feelings.
    11. Miguel asking the question why are we blocking this
      1. My response is the ostrich theory
      2. If I cannot see it, it is not happening
      3. Also, if I prevent it at school, then it is not a school problem it is a home problem
        1. Whom then are you teaching?
    12. What is the student response to cyberbullying?
      1. It is either bully first or be bullied
    13. How to stop cyberbullying?
      1. Connect with students
      2. Connect at the freshman level, if the student can connect at the freshman level, then someone is at school cares.
      3. This can reduce alienation, bullying and attrition
        1. Wes notes the difference between dropout rate cited by schools and the actual number.
        2. He refers to a presentation by Dr. Allan Beane

“Hero in the Hallway” Great video to visual the reality of cyberbullying and the potential for teachers to mediate this action.

3) Conversations, not consequence, need to be our focus

My reflection on this session is good. I am a tech heavy teacher. At the start of each school year I have to wait a few days for my freshman to get network ID log-ins, school provided e-mail accounts, and all the necessary user IDs and accounts. What do I do with this time? This year I walked my students through an information literacry unit I based on Alan November’s resources. My students sat while I showed video clips and explained the potential. As they got their log-ins we explored the web and how to evaluate site. We discussed what should be done in class and what should be done at home. I mentioned the beauty pagent winner who made the news by posting and attempting to remove photos from her Facebook account. Why did she remove these pictures? Why did she post them in the first place if she felt they needed to be removed later?

I designed this introduction unit to be presented with my SMART Board, so attached is the PDF export of that presentation. The citation is not in proper format, but the URL is there.

Information Literacy Presentation

What do we do during the first week or two of school? What not take advantage of this time to teach the ramifications of the internet?

Miguel and Wes began the presentation stating we need to have conversations. Begin the school year with a conversation among your students. Continue the school year with a conversation with your parents. End the school year with a conversation with everyone, celebrate and promote the work of your students.

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,