News I find: Putting skills before scores

News I find is a series where in my travels I come across articles that I find interesting and relevant to the current education debate and I want to share them with you all. This episode we look at the goal of education verse the quantifying of a student or teacher.

Putting skills before scores

While this article comes from Ireland, I still find it is relevant. Ireland and the United States score very closely on the PISA evaluations and they are also going through the same debates we are currently going through. While I know there are many factors in the education debate, this might shed some light on if we are going in the right direction.

A highlight from the quick article was a quote from Sir Ken Robinson where the author says:

Robinson argued that education systems were geared not towards producing rounded individuals but college professors, a relentless conveyor belt “educating people out of their creative capacities” starting in preschool and ending at the top of a university department.

Read more: http://www.techcentral.ie/article.aspx?id=17731#ixzz1dQEunuHH

My view is that we have become too obsessed with this idea that every key stroke and every table visit a teacher does needs to be logged and tracked. We are wasting countless man hours on data collection, evaluation and dissemination that it has made us lost to the real goal of education; preparing the children for whatever path they choose to take.

As I have said repeatedly, my job isn’t to make them into mini historians upon completion of my class. If they want to do that, they should go to college and major in history. My role is really to give them the critical thinking skills they will need for life and to help them develop other skills that we have dubbed the Big 11.

  1. by utilizing text reading strategies.
  2. by applying writing strategies.
  3. by responding to historical text/literature.
  4. by utilizing and/or creating maps, graphs, and diagrams.
  5. by conducting research.
  6. by utilizing and/or interpreting primary and secondary sources.
  7. by seeking information from varied sources to develop informed opinions.
  8. by collaborating with peers.
  9. by presenting information orally, in writing, and/or through technology presentations.
  10. by utilizing technology resources.
  11. by providing contemporary examples.

So what is the content? It is just a tool for the above goals. I want them to become better citizens and more well rounded individuals and it is my belief that by studying world history and utilizing the above methods, they will become more successful in life.

Until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

House Rules

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A couple weeks back while talking with a colleague about Sir Ken Robinson and his views on creativity and education, we found ourselves discussing the creative projects we had while in school. For me, one came up that I hadn’t thought of since high school. I remember never really caring for the teacher much so it wasn’t surprising that I had blocked out the memories of that class.

Unfortunately this has caused me to miss some great lesson ideas for my own class. The project in question was simple really. The teacher came in with about 6 different board games (one was more of a card game) that most of us had never seen before. They might have been long discontinued games, lost to history, or as some of us also believed, a Frankenstein collection of many games tossed together; the board of this game, the game pieces from another, the cards from a third. We were then put into small groups and told to come up with the name of the game, the background on the concept, create the rule book and demonstrate to the class how it would be played. This was a high school English class and we were making up games as if we were 6 again.

What I didn’t realize at the time, but have come to appreciate as a teacher now, was how deeply thought out this assignment was. We had to work as a team, present to a class, be creative, think outside of the box, and write out a story and rule book, testing our language skills. There were so many elements and layers to the assignment, especially for something that I think only took up three classes, or just under three hours.

What this memory really did for me was to get me to question many of my memories from my own education, I thought back to all those teachers I deemed “bad” teachers and forced myself to think of specifically what made them so bad. The surprising thing I discovered was that few actually exhibited any traits, outside of personality differences, that I would label as poor teaching qualities. Sure, some were controversial, but it was that controversy that drove the classes I was in to rise up, primarily because as a class we hated them so much that we wanted to shove it back in their face. In the end, the joke was on us because we would end up learning the most in those classes.

So to my current stint as a teacher and the national rhetoric over failing classrooms. Everyday I hear of this teacher or that teacher being a “bad” teacher. In my first two years, I made it a point to seek these teachers out to discover for myself if they were weak teachers. More often than not, they weren’t. They were just controversial or many times just socially awkward which gave the impression to other teachers that they were somehow flawed. This isn’t to argue that we don’t have weak teachers in schools. We do but I argue that many that we think are failing, might somehow be a quiet genius.

This came up as I began to question the running list in my head of teachers I knew that had been labeled as weak. Three shot to the top of the list so I began to do my own investigating. I would look at data, because that’s were we all turn to first, but I also asked current and former students their impressions, pressing them to see if they had learned anything, as well as taking into account the subject, grade and specific students they had, especially in relation to the data.

What I have begun to see is that while none of them, nor I for that matter, are great teachers, we are all good teachers. One of the general trends of them all is that they are all controversial, both in and out of the classroom. They will take unpopular sides of arguments to spur deep debate. When I would first ask the students if they were good teachers, one of the three was always a no and very unpopular but once I dug deeper, causing the student to evaluate what, if anything, they had learned, they all seemed to find out that they now knew both sides of the topic deeply.

While I am still not sold on the greater effectiveness of their methods or my own, I am reminded of a few platitudes, such as never judging a book by it’s cover and remembering that the rules and guides of teaching are are not written into stone. Sometimes we need to make our own house rules to fit our own personalities, classroom cultures and teaching styles. There is no one method to teaching. There is no golden playbook to mastery.

Well, until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

Sir Ken Robinson – Changing Education Paradigms

Well, I stumbled upon Sir Ken Robinson once I discovered Fora.tv. Fora has to be one of the greatest websites. I like TED but I have enjoyed Fora much more. Back to the point though. In the above video, a group called RSA Animate, take a ten minute clip of his longer talk (which you can find here) and add an animation to it.

I use this video in my own classroom to spur discussions on history and how we use or don’t use history to learn about our current world. I usually begin by stopping the video immediately to discuss the artist drawing in the clip. I will take a second to see if I have any artists in the room and if I do, I ask them what class they hate the most. This usually makes them uncomfortable but after making sure they know that whatever the answer is, including my own class, I just want honesty, even letting them know that I didn’t particularly care for history when I was their age.

However, what I usually hear is that Art is their least liked class. When I ask them why, a general response is that they don’t get to draw or paint or design what they really want. This is the response I am looking for. I explain to them that in my opinion, Art class in high school has less to do with turning them into artists or refining their skills and more to do with having them learn the skill, beauty, thought and power found in art. It is more about an appreciation for art.

So this leads me back to the video where I ask them how the artist in the video became so good. They usually agree that it takes time, practice, dedication and passion. We will then have a conversation about whether higher education would be the best route this gentleman should have taken in life. We will discuss the financial costs verse the long term benefits of those costs. We will discuss who they would higher if they owned RSA Animate, the artist with a portfolio of work or the artist with a degree. There may also be some other side conversations around this whole discussion but remembering them all would be a nightmare.

Finally I will play the film. However, I will never just let it run, I must stop it occasionally (I developed this horrible habit from my first Master Teacher, Mr. Madnikoff). Even though it is drawn out for them, I want to make sure that they understand what is being discussed so I will stop it occasionally to make sure they are all still on track. By the end I will begin another class discussion and have them talk about the purpose of learning history, the value of a college education, a debate over what students should and should not go to college and what careers are connected to those students and what is the current state of public education.

I’ve enjoyed doing this in my classroom for a couple years now and I am wondering all of your thoughts on Sir Ken Robinson’s ideas. Share them below and continue the conversation. If you enjoyed this video, watch his full talk here.

Well, until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Also, please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings. As always this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

Structure of this site for now.

I have been thinking about how I want this blog to look and feel and what I want it to portray. While I am far from set on these ideas, I feel as though I have come up with a beginning. Just like the leaf structure above, these ideas are chaotic and constantly changing direction.

First, I am currently learning the differences between categories and tags and realizing that both are rather pointless but of the two categories are more useful for broad based organization. I follow a number of blogs, vlogs, YouTube stars and online video and podcasting organizations and from these I have begun to mine them for what I believe has made them successful. One of the primary features I have seen that has brought them all success was this idea of categorization. One of my favorite contributors is a video game blogger named TryHardNinja who posts game clips with commentary on YouTube. He would make series in relation to his different games. Another is Christian Belt who writes a blog called Arcane Brilliance and has a number of major themes he focuses around.

With that I have decided on keeping this experiment to 4 categories for now but I am open to any and all suggestions. The categories or series I will be focusing on are: Controversial Educational Issues, Education Policy, Educational Technology and My Teaching Experiences.

Controversial Educational Issues will come from a number of places such as major headlines in the news, changes to curriculum, books and lesson ideas I come across and hopefully suggestions from those who follow this. Just to give a couple examples of topics I may cover, here is a sampling:

  • Is It Time for National Standards in Education?
  • Have Charter Schools Fulfilled Their Promises?
  • Can Large High Schools Provide a Quality Education?
  • Should Students Have the Right to Lead Prayers at Public School Events?

My attempt in this is to create a discussion on these topics to get a wide range of ideas and perspectives. For these I hope the comments stimulate positive discussions and better understanding of the opposing views.

Education Policy will focus on the ideas and theories from education experts, and some unexpected sources, that I have found to be very meaningful and that are pushing us in the right direction. Some of these are from people like Linda Darling-Hammond, Sir Ken Robinson and Edutopia. The goal is to give my evaluation of these theories based on practical application. I will comment on them for their strengths and weaknesses. I have a growing list of lectures and other media revolving around this but every day I find new resources and I am always looking for more. I will be counting on the suggestions of other to find these great ideas.

Education Technology is the byproduct of my growing hate of podcasts and other movements of this field to saturate the classroom with every new fad, from SmartBoards to iPads to Twitter accounts. Just because the technology is out there doesn’t mean it has to be used in every school and every subject. Also, I have found few resources out there for the every day teacher in the average school with limited technological opportunities to still be able to implement effectively a couple items into their classroom. I will use this space to discuss my views on iPad apps, the iPad itself, class websites, computer programs and other techy things that pass by me.

Teaching Experiences. This is where I just rant about the things I observe or have learned from teaching. If I find a new idea that works or one that fails, I have a place to let it all out. If there is something I want to discuss but it doesn’t really fit into the previous topics, here is where I plan to toss it. If I get a question or comment that brings up new ideas, I have a place to discuss it. This is the Potpourri of my blog.

Second, I plan to also extend an idea that some of my peers and I came up with. We started a conversation salon to discuss these same issues but with the requirements of work and family, scheduling became a nightmare. So my plan is to return to these same people and hopefully tap them as guest bloggers and contributors to this undertaking. Who knows if they will even be interested or if this will even be a success but I’m giving it a try nonetheless.