More Pondering On Midterm and Final Exams…

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Last week’s initial post on the value of traditional midterm and final exams drew quite a bit of interest. Due to the great discussions that I had with people in the comment section of the original post, on Twitter, and face-to-face, I was made aware of a few posts and articles that also touched upon this topic. You can check them out below:

Are Midterms Really Necessary In A Climate Of Assessment? – By Dawn Casey-Rowe on Teach Thought

In this post, Casey-Rowe describes is clear about her disdain for mid-term exams and also the fact that we have much better options to monitor the progress of our students in this day and age.

“It’s time for midterms. I hate midterms. They take up so much time–several days of review, a week of administering, and then all the correcting. To top it off, they place students in a high-anxiety environment. I feel like I’m hazing them rather than teaching…And all of this is unnecessary. I can tell if a student understands without a week of exams. We have the technology and the pedagogy to microassess students.”

The Procedure’ and how it is harming education – via Marion Brady in The Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet

In this article Brady discusses the “The Procedure” which has come to play such an integral role in our nation’s schools. 

“The Procedure: 1. Take notes during lectures, and hi-lite key sentences in the textbook. 2. Before a big test, load the notes and hi-lited passages into short-term memory. 3. Take the test. 4. Flush short-term memory and prepare for its re-use. 

It’s no exaggeration to say that just about everybody in the country thinks The Procedure isn’t just acceptable but essential. It’s so broadly used, so familiar, so taken-for-granted, that many schools and universities go to great pains to accommodate it. Some even have rituals to enhance it. 

 The Procedure, of course, is called “cramming.” Do it well and it leads steadily up the academic ladder.

But here’s a question: Does The Procedure have anything do with educating?”

Bye-bye, Blue Books? – Harvard Magazine

This article from Harvard Magazine actually ran back in the summer of 2010 regarding a change to the faculty members’ handbook which took away the mandate of a three-hour exam at the end of each course. 

“The administrative logic aside, reversing the default procedure for scheduling examinations reflects a pedagogical reality. It appears that finals are going the way of the dodo.”

American Schools Need More Testing Not Less – by Ezekiel J. Emanual in New Republic

My short summation of this article is that it is a call for more formative assessments in an era where high-stakes standardized testing is taking to much of our focus.

“In the modern era, when information can be more easily—and accurately—Googled than mentally recalled, old-fashioned testing strikes its critics as obsolete…
But it turns out that the right kinds of assessments—frequent, short tests—can actually yield big educational benefits. It’s called the “testing effect…”

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Essential Learning Activities Should Be The Ultimate Goal

I caught the statement below from Lyn Hilt in the comment section of Scott McLeod’s post on whether or not parents should be allowed to have their children opt out of the use of technology in 1:1 settings. 

Here’s an idea, engage kids in essential learning activities at school, infuse the technology meaningfully, and let kids be kids and enjoy their lives outside of school by not assigning loads of homework. (And elementary kids? Zero homework.) If kids are so inclined, with their devices they can extend their thinking at home on their own time, but don’t make it mandatory… “

I’ve written several posts on homework in the past and I can’t help wondering what students would use their time for if they had the opportunity to “extend their thinking” on topics that they found most interesting.  How much longer will we continue to ignore the research of Alfie Kohn surrounding homework? It has been nearly a decade since Kohn came to the following conclusions:

“For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement.  At the high school level, the correlation is weak and tends to disappear when more sophisticated statistical measures are applied.  Meanwhile, no study has ever substantiated the belief that homework builds character or teaches good study habits.”

I grow continually frustrated as I see my own students spending their time on so many low-level, rote tasks that really serve no essential purpose in preparing them for what they will face when it is time to prove that they have marketable skills that would be an asset to some organization. When they do find time to spend on some of the things that they are most interested in, I am amazed at some of the self-directed learning that they do in spite of the very traditional education they have had.  I can only imagine what the possibilities would be if my kids spent six hours a day in learning environments that focused on the self-directed and collaborative skills that they need (and long for). 

We need to change this cycle…

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Parenting In The Digital Age…Join The Conversation

Dealing with digital devices in the hands of our children is a constant struggle for so many parents. How long should we allow them to be online? How can we best monitor their activity? Should we just ban certain websites or apps?  
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t spend some time thinking about these issues. With this in mind, I am looking forward to our next Parent Technology Night in January (see information below) where we will have an open discussion about these questions and others.  
In the meantime, I was struck by the following quote from a great blog post on Slate by Danah Boyd and Eszter Hargittai titled How Politics, Race, and Socioeconomic Status Affect Parents’ Fears About Tech.
While there is a great deal to talk about here, my takeaway is the following:

“The internet is a part of contemporary public life.  Engagement with technology is key to helping youth understand the world around them.”

Over the next month and half, I plan on reading two different books to further my thinking on this important topic:

The App Generation –  by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis.

Top Posts #3 – 5 Ways For Teachers To Get Quality PD This Summer

This post first appeared on Edudemic and is post #3 in my reposting of my top five posts from the past school year – Enjoy!

1. Attend (or start) a summer Edcamp

For the third consecutive summer, our district will host an Edcamp each Tuesday morning in Burlington, MA. These informal sessions are open to educators from Burlington and beyond who feel like gathering to lead their own learning. Attendees assemble each week and decide what topics will be the focal point for their learning. We provide members of our Instructional Technology staff (including our high school students) to support those looking to expand their skills with technology integration. In addition, teachers from Burlington can earn in-service credits or Professional Development Points for their attendance.
This model could be replicated anywhere! All you need to do is pick some dates, provide a space, and invite local educators. Trust me – if you plan it, they will come.

2. Attend A Multiple-Day Workshop

Most of the teachers whom I know hate taking one day off from their classroom during the school year, and they would never consider missing consecutive days for a workshop of any kind. The amount of additional advanced planning, combined with the time away from their students, is just too much for these folks to bear! Well, there is no time better than the summer months to escape the guilt of missing a day of school and treat yourself to a quality learning opportunity with educators and taught by other educators. Check out the summer-long list of workshops offered by EdTech Teacher’s staff of classroom practitioners.

3. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)

The beauty of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is that most of the learning opportunities can be done regardless of time and place. You can choose what you learn, when you learn, and where you learn. If you are anywhere with a wireless signal, and you want to try the MOOC experience, then your only dilemma is choosing from the extensive list of options out there.  A great place to begin your search is at, a comprehensive list of MOOC’s maintained by Stephen Downes.
If you are looking for a less intimidating option, you could also enlist a group of colleagues and run through the some of the topics from the educational-technology focused #ETMOOC which ran between January and March of this year. The important part here is to find a space where passionate educators can find a topic of common interest and share their learning journey regardless of space or time.

4. Participate in a Weekly Twitter Chat

If you are an educator, then there is a Twitter chat for you. Check out this awesome Google Spreadsheet of Twitter chats broken down by nights of the week that was created by@thomascmurray and @cevans5095.  There are literally chats for every grade level and discipline that you could imagine. My suggestion would be to speak to your district or building administrator about earning credits towards recertification for your participation (in MA we call these credits Professional Development Points). You could use storify to archive your participation in the chats and incorporate your tweets into a reflective blog post to provide documentation of your learning.
If you need help getting started with Twitter, check out Erin Klein’s great video that appeared on Edudemic last week.

5. Just Hang Out

If you haven’t experienced the capabilities in a Google+ Hangout, you are missing out! Check out the schedule of Education On Air sessions that is available to educators for free learning opportunities. Educators could also create their own hangouts for colleagues to discuss a pertinent topic, collaborate on curriculum work, or even do a book discussion. The possibilities are literally endless, and the hangouts allow you to record the sessions to have for future reference. At the very least, I encourage you to try a hangout with one or two friends to see how easy it is to set up and utilize the numerous built-in functions.
Given all of the avenues available for professional development, 2013 could be the best summer ever! What a great time to take advantage of these opportunities to advance your own learning!

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Thinking About More Relevant Schools and Classrooms…(Part One)

How can we make sure that their work in school pays off for our students?

(Disclaimer – The concerns I have are not just about the school system where I work or the one where my students attend, they are systemic issues that everyone of us who is impacted by the education of our youth should consider.  Oh yeah, we are all impacted by the education of our youth!)

As I continue to read stories about what is happening in the “real world,” you know the place we are supposed to be preparing our students for, my concerns about the level of preparation that our students will have as they exit our doors.  While I have a good level of confidence that our students will be able to do the basics well (i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic), I am fairly confident that the learning environments that they inhabit within our school walls have not changed and will leave them lacking the skills they will need to prosper in a world where things are changing.

Andreas Schleicher, The Education Director for The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), describes the dilemma as follows in his article The Case for 21st Century Learning:

It is about how knowledge is generated and applied, about shifts in ways of doing business, of managing the workplace or linking producers and consumers, and becoming quite a different student from the kind that dominated the 20th century. What we learn, the way we learn it, and how we are taught is changing. This has implications for schools and higher level education, as well as for lifelong learning.

While educational policy makers scream for “accountability,” our students continue to lose out on the relevant experiences that have been ignored or brushed aside as we prepare for the next round of standardized testing.  If you don’t believe me just read the account of Bill Ferriter, a science teacher from North Carolina, and how his classroom will change for the worse next year because of our nation’s test-driven reform policy. 

It is time for local communities to come together and focus on a vision for students that will allow teachers to veer from a test-driven agenda and ensure a relevance-driven agenda.  If you agree with Schleicher and his vision (below) of the successful student:

They are capable not only of constantly adapting, but also constantly learning and growing in a fast-changing world. In a flat world, our knowledge becomes a commodity available to everyone else. As columnist and author Thomas Friedman puts it, because technology has enabled us to act on our imaginations in ways that we could never before, the most important competition is no longer between countries or companies but between ourselves and our imagination.

As someone who has worked in public education for 20-years, I know the biggest challenge for me is due to my past experiences in school and a lack of imagination to think beyond these experiences. How can we, the adults in the school, overcome our own hurdles to set the stage for a more meaningful experience for our students?

A concluding thought from Schleicher:

Value is less and less created vertically through command and control-as in the classic “teacher instructs student” relationship-but horizontally, by whom you connect and work with, whether online or in person. 

Burlington’s Newest Blog Chronicles Learning Everyday In Burlington

From Dr. Conti’s Blog:

We are excited to announce the start of our newest blog – Learning Everyday

This blog is modeled after  Parkland School Division’s (Alberta, Canada) 184 Days of Learning Blog and it is intended to show highlight some of the stories from the Burlington Public Schools for the 2012-2013 school year.  Through this project we hope to share the voices of Burlington Public Schools and how we are a community of learners enjoying our journey together.
If you are interested in submitting a post, please check out the submission guidelines here. Either way, I hope you will follow the blog and learn with us.
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Why I’m Attending ISTE’s Leadership Forum (and You Should Too!)

When I first heard about the possibility of an ISTE Leadership Forum, I was thrilled about the prospects of a conference that would allow me to collaborate with school leaders and share solutions to the most pressing issues we are facing in our schools today.  As the October event draws closer my excitement continues to grow because I know this event will leave me with a wealth of concrete ideas to bring back home to my district. In addition, I know that the connections that I make with colleagues from around the country will allow me to grow my Personal Learning Network (PLN) and have an expanded list of educational experts to reach out to as new challenges arise.

Here are some bullets from the forum’s website regarding why individuals in leadership positions and leadership teams should attend:

  • Maximize your tech investment and stretch your dollars.
  • Leverage social media for instruction and establish a social media policy.
  • Employ technology to meet the Common Core.
  • Support and motivate your staff to embrace new strategies.
  • Engage tech tools to assist with parent communication and involvement.
Here are my top reasons for coming:

1.  Connect With Amazing School Leaders  

First off, Chris Lehmann is the opening keynote and having the chance to sit down with Chris and hear his thoughts is an amazing opportunity in itself. But more importantly, Chris and the other ed. leaders who will be there (i.e. George Couros, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and many others) are accessible every day of the week through their blogs, twitter accounts, e-mail, etc. 

2.  Michael Fullan is the lead facilitator 

Michael Fullan is one of the most highly-regarded change leaders in the world when it comes to the field of education. I had the chance to spend a full-day workshop with him over 10-years ago, shortly after the release of his book Leading In A Culture Of Change and it is still among the top Professional Development experiences of my career. More recently, Fullan has published Change Leader, another great resource for educators to rethink the traditional model of schooling that is holding back our staff and students.  

3.  Leaders Need To Model The Changing Definition of Literacy 

A few years ago the National Council of Teachers of English created a new 21st Century Literacy Framework.  The truth of the matter is that what it means to be literate in 2012 has changed a great deal from when many educators were in school themselves. In order for us to truly fulfill our role as instructional leaders, we need to understand this shift and become comfortable with this new skill-set and model it for staff, students, (and our communities). Fortunately, ISTE has a set of clear standards for administrators, teachers, and students to help us in this critical work. 

For all of these reasons, I feel the ISTE Leadership Forum will be my most important Professional Development this year.  I will have the opportunity to continue to expand my vision and goals for myself and my school and ensure that we are on the right track in providing our students with the most relevant educational experience possible.

Thank you ISTE for making this event a reality! Please spread the word to other educators in leadership positions. This is something that they will be sorry they missed!

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