Coping with Mediocrity

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Lately, I’ve been very disappointed in student work.  Not all student work, but lots of student work.  Not because it isn’t done (that’s a whole other can of worms) but because it just isn’t great.  It’s “good enough.”  It’s “a pass.”  It’s “the bare minimum.”  We at the secondary school level especially (I can’t speak for my intermediate or elementary colleagues) have been running into mediocrity at ever-increasing rate in recent years, and boy, it is a hard hit to the teacher-ego.  We sing, we dance, we give inquiry opportunities.  I find that in my classes I have a sliding scale: 15-20% is AMAZING,  15-20% is done well,15-20% isn’t done,and the remainder falls into the bare-minimum, or “mediocre” category.  The question is…why?

Is it my teaching?  Assignments?  Length of time given to complete work?

It is school culture?  Student apathy?

Is it lack of consequences?  Is my rubric allowing mediocrity to become the status quo?

Galit Zolkower and Debra Munk, in Educational Leadership, wrote an article (http://bit.ly/1oWqTGb) disseminating ways to get beyond mediocrity, with a school out of Maryland. They talk about three major areas that required addressing by their administration team in order to push their school “out of mediocrity.”   They looked at instruction, rigor and school culture, all of which fit my above questions. It is through those three areas that I am currently examining my own classroom and determining how to also move out of mediocrity.

In terms of instruction, I’ve changed my assignments a lot in the last 6 years.  I expand on big ideas, and give students more individualization opportunities.  In visual arts and computer science, this allows for students who aren’t necessarily in my class because they love computers to use topics or visuals that they are interested in to complete the assignment.  I find that even the most interesting projects (I use Sphero robotics in two programming classes) still don’t motivate my most apathetic students.  This has been incredibly frustrating (hello, ROBOTS!?).

I will say that there doesn’t seem to be many ramifications for mediocrity, or even failure in today’s schools.  Incomplete Packages are offered to students who don’t pass, late work is always accepted, and as long as we get something (anything) we are usually okay.  I get that its hard to push students, and I also know that it is hard to find time to push 100 students + to redo work that technically is handed in, and already marked.  One thing that I know will help with finding time is the revised curriculum–it will open up opportunities for me to individualize assignments and projects more (I am already doing this with my Grade 12 classes) but it may also give me time to figure out why students are apathetic about their work in my classes, and meet one-on-one to determine what will motivate them.  I know I am not alone in this, so to those who also struggle with mediocrity in their classrooms—take heart.  It won’t be an easy fix, it will take time but also, it’s not only up to you…students need to confront their own mediocrity in order to overcome it.

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Coding, Curriculum and the Classroom

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1108_classroom_tech_630x420Have you heard the news about “coding in the classroom” as a part of British Columbia’s new curriculum?  If you are a parent or a teacher of a student in K-12, this news should have caught your attention.  As a Computer Science teacher, I want to reassure everyone that coding, at any grade-level, is possible (even without years and years of teacher training!).

Coding is different than programming.  Programming is intensive, time-consuming and tedious.  It is infinitely more complex than coding.  Coding is about having an understanding of how certain programming languages function, and then using those languages to create something, be it a game, function or otherwise.  The great news is that there are TONS of awesome resources available for a variety of age groups to help them learn to code.  ALL of these resources require technology, which unfortunately is not readily available to every student, in every classroom.

(Unless, of course, we are all going to be the subjects of some technology windfall!)

This is what you need to know about teaching coding: coding is all about “cause and effect,” and about “variables.”  For example, if A happens, then B happens.  If I press this button, the light goes on.  Variables work the same way, but with more options.  Choices are A and B, and depending on what option is selected, either C or D will occur.  You don’t need to have a computer or iPad to teach these ideas to students.  Coding is also about critical and creative thinking.  Students who know how to code should also know how to be innovative and how to problem solve.

Coding is also cross-curricular.  It can be used to demonstrate mathematic concepts, to teach storytelling, even for physical education purposes (my students and their robots get a lot of exercise!).  In British Columbia’s new curriculum model, there is a place for coding. It is by far one of the most powerful 21st century learning/teaching tools we have available–as intimidating as it might seem–and it is time to learn how to use it for the sake of our students.

Want to hear the good news?  It won’t be nearly as complicated as programming the VCR.

In the next few weeks, I will take the time to post resources and options for teachers interested in learning more about coding in their classrooms, with a variety of platforms, to demonstrate that coding can be accessible to all classrooms, despite whatever technologies are available to utilize.  

Digital Projects

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Digital Projects are a great way to help learners achieve core 21st century learning competencies. Just what should you consider before planning on utilizing a digital project in your classroom?

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 3.49.54 PMTo plan digital projects, there are two main things that should be considered:

Class Outcomes: Individual and group “take-aways,” impacts on classroom atmosphere and future benefits of the digital project.

Curricular Outcomes: The new curriculum makes digital projects a perfect way to incorporate key competencies into student learning.

Questions to ask when planning Digital Projects:

1. What benefits should students derive from this project?

2. What types of skills and abilities are most important to achieve?

3. What degree of challenge should the “digital” element of this project impose upon students?

Want more?  Click here: DIGITAL PROJECTS: 21ST CENTURY READY

 

 

 

 

My Sway: Teaching with Technology

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Check out this recent SWAY:

https://sway.com/leaSGlMeX07gx5NP

TEACHNOLOGYI made this SWAY with both inspiration (for educators) and practicality (for the real classroom) in mind for those teachers/schools who are looking into furthering their use of technology.  Be it elementary, middle or secondary, it is difficult sometimes to step back and look at the integration of technology into our classrooms from a practical (and realistic) perspective.  In the last few years, technology in education has been a passion of mine, especially when its comes to educating teachers on its use in the classroom.

Please enjoy!

-Michelle

 

 

Mac & PC: Effective Use of Technology Tools

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I went to an amazing Microsoft conference this past weekend, and by the end of the last session, just after the group photo, I realized that I could no longer call myself a “Mac person.”  This self-labelled title has been a big part of who I am as an educator for a number of years; I now have a good reason to toss the title aside: the greater good of education.

Both Apple and Microsoft (and other companies) have teams dedicated to making their products work for education, but when we choose to stick to just one or the other it becomes a detriment to our students.  This weekend really opened my eyes to an entirely different world of applications, hardware and learning tools for a variety of learners.  Obviously, I’m not in purchasing, nor in a position that allows me to make those “big decisions” for my school, or my district; however, I want to call upon those who are to really think about the tools they’ve chosen for our students.  Did they choose iPads because of the prestige of being labelled an “Apple District?” Do some of our schools run Chromebooks because of the cost?  Are COWS made up of $1000 Macbooks an effective way to get technology into elementary classrooms?  How “long-lasting” are basic PC’s?

This isn’t about promoting one technology over another as I don’t work for Microsoft, Google or Apple (and no one is paying me extra to advertise them on my blog!) but I will ask you to consider the following questions when you are purchasing technology tools for your district, school or classroom:

  1. How many students will this technology impact?  Can this technology be used by kindergarten students as easily as Grade 7’s?  Can Biology 12 students utilize it just as much as English 8 students?  Is it just for main stream users, or can it be modified or used for those students with learning support needs?

2. How versatile is this technology? It is great for just research?  Can it be used a reader and scribe?  How easy it is for students to submit work electronically?  Can they print with it?  Does it multiple controls (mouse, keyboard, stylus)?  How much software does it require to be multi-functional?  How expensive is extra software or programs?

3. Does the price point match the answers to the above questions? Does it make sense to purchase only a few per classroom, or it is more effective to purchase based on a one-to-one application (class sets)?  Can we afford enough of this technology to make it worthwhile for learning?  Is this product a novelty or long-lasting technology?

I hope that I can at least start the conversation surrounding technology purchases and the opportunities available for those willing to let go of the “Mac vs. PC” dichotomy.  In the long run it shouldn’t be about labels, it should be about learning.