Tag Archives: EDU6171

Adobe Acrobat X, and Hosting Forms on Acrobat.com.

Check out a Wiggins & McTighe, UbD (Understanding by Design) Unit Template, as a PDF form that you can download and fill out.


Here’s what I did, and you can do it too.

1.  Download trial of Adobe Acrobat X (fun lasts for 30 days, then you might have to buy it!)

2.  Import a form / PDF into Adobe Acrobat and click “Distribute” to put a copy of the form, that is fillable and save-able, up on http://www.acrobat.com.

3.  Send out the link and people can download the form, save it, and then share it.

The scenario that might be valuable for teachers is that when someone (say a student) downloads this form, they could Submit it back to the teacher, with their content.  The teacher could then read the Submitted form (with responses from each student), and then send it back to the student with comments and requests for changes.  Student opens the commented version and re-submits, etc. etc.

Check it out!

“Classroom Technology” Due Nov 2

Assignment from Syllabus

Use of Technology (1 class period)

You should observe one entire class period in your endorsement area(s). Please do NOT observe a PowerPoint presentation. You should observe technology that is specific to your endorsement area (graphing calculators, Excel, science laboratory instruments, etc.). Summarize the observation period. How did the use of technology enhance the learning experience? Was the use of technology the best/most appropriate means for reaching the learning goals? What did you like? Dislike? What could have been done differently?

There are two technologies that we tend to use for instruction at Big Picture, one is short clips or videos shown in a larger context, and the other is computer-based instruction or drill normally done in a smaller context (www.KhanAcademy.org or www.Aleks.com). Although they are related, in that they are learner-paced instruction, I thought I would do a literature survey and discuss some deeper implications.


I’m teaching an elective for middle schoolers entitled:  “The Science Behind CSI”, and my mentor teacher, Dan D. is doing a seminar on Biology.  In both we use video, I use educational clips from various sources, and Dan is using Khan Academy.  In addition many of the teachers (advisors) at our school are using Khan Academy to help students demonstrate current knowledge or acquire new understanding through the online lectures (i.e. walkthroughs of problems being solved) and then drill on similar problems.  Since Dan and I are the STE(A)M specialists, we are also Coaches at the Khan Academy web site for our students.  Coaches have the ability to view progress and achievement for students.

Was Learning Enhanced:

Although Brecht and Ogilby (2008) are writing about research done in university level courses, they draw conclusions that I think are relevant to a high school and perhaps even the middle school classroom, namely that video lectures can improve course grades and performance on exams.  What is not clear to me is how this occurs.  I assume that being able to refer back to a lecture or replay a specific classroom demonstration is helpful for students that need something to augment their notes, but is reviewing a clip really that helpful?

Perhaps it is as simple as having a wide selection of topics, available at any time, and short enough to digest in relatively short amount of time.  But it also could be literacy (reading) issues.  If students have trouble with the written word, they probably also aren’t going to take effective handwritten notes themselves.  However, if they are proficient with the spoken word, then being able to review verbatim spoken word (which includes, volume, pitch, pacing, emphasis, repetition, etc.) then video clips can be quite effective.

I hate to say it, but I also think that the attention spans of students are not as long as they used to be.  Whereas in the days before YouTube a budding young scholar might settle down with a bunch of encyclopedias, or a similar massive reference tome and start going on a serendipitous journey of discovery through written words, and small (static) illustrations, today’s curious student can see exactly how the heart pumps blood in full color and in cutaway animated views via online video.  My thesis is that a few screenfuls of text is all some students can bear these days, while 10-20 pages of the Encyclopedia Brittanica on Africa might have only started to whet a students appetite 20-30 years ago.

Was the Use of Technology Appropriate for Learning Goals:

Since Big Picture High School doesn’t have traditional grades it also doesn’t follow traditional emphases on Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) or Performance Expectations (PEs).  However, since we do have goals around improving student engagement with topics they are interested in, then lowering the barrier of entry helps keep the student aware of their interests and aware of topics.  In the sense that we are trying to build appetite for more learning, or more research (independent) on a topic, we think these are appropriate.

Likes / Dislikes

I like the fact that you can often find expert information on a topic.  However I don’t like that you can’t be sure of the didactic quality of the video, i.e. the match between where a student is at (level, prerequisite knowledge, ability to follow) and how the material is presented.  I like that the videos are often short, so that you can augment them with your own commentary.

The biggest dislike I have heard is that video is inherently not an active engagement strategy for the classroom.  I took an informal poll of students after one course that had some video in it and one student complained that they didn’t see what point video has.  So you can’t assume that video “works” for all students or learning styles.

Suggestions for Improvements

Based on the plethora of folks looking at Khan Academy these days, you might think that we are very close to understanding what is effective use of video in learning.  One improvement I can imagine is having video that is more accurately tuned to exactly the question or difficulty a student is having in his or her understanding.  Khan seems to do a great job of solving a bunch of problems (algebra, physics, SAT review, etc.) so that students can just look up solutions.  But haven’t solutions always been available on the web.  During undergraduate studies we used to joke that you could solve any problem in physics or chemistry by using the “infinite textbook method” in other words with adequate access to a large number of textbooks, there is a non-zero chance that the problem you have assigned to you in your text is actually a worked or example problem in another text.  The cool thing is that it looks like the internet is providing access  or some means of verifying the “infinite textbook method”.  I have no doubt that Khan thinks he can probably record a walkthrough solution to all relevant math or science questions and host them at Khan Academy.


Brecht, H.D. & Ogilby, S.M. (2008). Enabling a Comprehensive Teaching Strategy: Video Lectures. Journal of Information Technology Education. 7(2008). Pp IIP71-IIP86.  Retrieved November 2, 2011 from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

“Cooperative Learning” Due Nov 9

Assignment from Syllabus

Cooperative Learning (1 session)

You should observe one cooperative learning experience. This may or may not be in your endorsement area(s). Cooperative Learning for the purpose of this class requires students to work in groups of 3 to 5 where specific roles are assigned to each group member so that each individual is accountable to the group. Describe the purpose of the cooperative learning experience. How were groups assigned? What roles did each student perform? How well did the groups work together? Was the use of cooperative learning appropriate and effective for reaching the learning objectives? What was the product of the cooperative learning experience? How did the experience connect prior and future learning?

***Note: You may conduct the focused observation BEFORE the specified week. Cooperative Learning will likely be the most difficult observation for you to schedule because not many teachers structure group work as true cooperative learning where roles are assigned. Also, you may NOT conduct multiple focused observations during the same class period. The point of a focused observation is to focus on one aspect of the lesson only.

On 10/27/2011, I observed a high school chemistry class (90 min.) taught by Mare Sullivan at Bellevue Christian School.  This was the day after Mare led our EDU6171 class through a POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) exercise on the SPU campus.  Many thanks to Tim Krell and may Vaughn for bringing Mare to our class and to Mare for allowing me to observe on such short notice.  I was also able to briefly visit an algebra course also at BCS, and also using POGIL being taught by Rod Wishart, thanks also to Rod for letting me sit in for a while.

Purpose:  I don’t know the background on how POGIL came to be used so widely at Bellevue Christian, but I can imagine the purpose was and is to foster the engagement and learning of every student in the classroom.  Mrs. Sullivan’s courses all use cooperative learning (POGIL) all the time, and I think Mr. Wishart’s course uses POGIL most of the time.

Assignment of Groups and Roles:  I understood from Mrs. Sullivan that the groups are initially random at the beginning of the class, but then get shuffled based on performance from the last exam/test.  The distribution is made to make sure each group has a roughly equal composition of high, medium and low performers.  The class I observed had 6 groups of 4 students.  Each group had

  • a manager,
  • a technician
  • a document controller
  • a spokesperson
  • and a cheerleader.

NOTE: some groups had students fulfilling more than one role.

Group Productivity/Efficiency:  When I entered the classroom, I was introduced and asked to join a group which was short a person.  We immediately did a 4-question quiz with Mrs. S. displaying the questions one at a time via the document camera.  After we had finished the quiz we traded our quizzes within our group and graded them.  (I missed a question or two!)  Mrs. S. then took us through the handout for that day, which was covering the writing and balancing of chemical equations.  A few people in the group I was in didn’t take their own notes on what they were supposed to be covering that day.  I guess they were going to rely on the manager to lead them through.  When the student came who was normally part of the group I had initially joined, I was freed up to circulate among all the groups.

In my first group, and in a few subsequent groups, I asked a student or two what their role was in the group.  Their answers were not always immediate or unequivocal.  One answer I got was that the roles had just changed and thus any confusion was justified (?!)  If strong roles are key to good cooperative learning (POGIL) then I guess the teacher’s job becomes a scaffolding of each student in their particular role.

This idea was somewhat reinforced when I went to Mr. W.’s math class.  He also had his classroom arranged in six groups of four students each.  In this class the students had a green sheet which detailed the precise problems they were supposed to be working through together, and the order in which they were to be doing them.  Each group spokesperson would raise their hand to get Mr. W. to come and sign off on a stage on their green sheet before they could proceed.  (I noticed that to be somewhat of a procedural bottleneck, but not a major one in this class.)

I overhead Mr. W. explaining to one group’s manager that being a boss or a manager in the real world took some assertiveness and creative corralling of the group’s activities.  In another group as they were trying to sign off, Mr. W. did a spot check that each person in the group agreed on an answer to one of the questions.  When he probed and found that the documentation/answer wasn’t shared across the group, he questioned the document controller in the group.  When that student was claiming the group was “uncontrollable”, Mr. W. urged them to get back to basics and make sure that they all had the same answers and that they all agreed that their common answer was unanimous.  At one point I went off script and asked a group a question related to their understanding of the problem they were working on.  One student quickly gave the right answer, and another student readily agreed.  I caught myself, however, being satisfied with a lack of unanimity in the group and then asked the less vocal students if they agreed or disagreed with the statement, but I didn’t get very much than a half-hearted agreement.  My mistake had been approving of the answer before I had worked the whole group through a consensus-building exercise on my question.  (Drat!)

Back in the chemistry class I was able to sit with each group for about 4-5 minutes.  I noticed some groups that had very strong leaders, and some groups that seemed to be floundering for lack of leadership.  I saw groups with some very quiet members, that were also not making sure that they had the same answer as the others in their group.  I can see that POGIL enforces a type of accountability down to the individual in the classroom who is struggling or who isn’t investing into their own learning process or that of others.  I also saw that Mrs. S. circulated the room and was good about getting groups to assist their stragglers.  I also saw that a group with weak leadership too more of the teacher’s time, but that after a group understood an exercise, the teacher could send other groups that were similarly struggling to that group to get help.  This leveraging of understanding really freed up the teacher.

Were Groups Appropriate and Effective?

Overall I noticed that the groups were fairly even in their progress through the exercises for that day. Near the end of the period Mrs. S. distributed a subset of exercises to each group, and asked them to be prepared to present them via the document camera to the whole class as their last activity of the day.

I have an outstanding question (out to Mrs. S. in e-mail) on how the teacher determines what to do the next day given the day’s progress.  I am curious where the class starts on the next day, i.e. what does done look like?

What was the Product of the Group Work?

One product of the group work was a set of exercises that the spokesperson for the group could present via the document camera to the whole class.  I think we ran out of time for all groups to present their assigned exercises, but a few groups were able to present their findings and thus the rest of the class had some ability to verify their own work on the same problems.

The other product of the group work was a completed set of exercises that they had all worked through, and thus all had unanimous answers, i.e. similar rationales and understandings of their answers.

Did the Group Work Connect to Prior and Future Learning?

I assume this question is meant to gauge if the group work which I observed was “bolted onto” an existing lesson plan or unit plan, or if it was integrated well into the whole flow of the classroom, i.e. both lesson and unit plan.

Since Mrs. S.’s class is always doing POGIL, I am confident that the group work today will be built upon next week and that the group work today had built on group work that had transpired in previous weeks.

It is a little daunting that in our class at SPU, Mrs. S. mentioned that it took almost 20 preparation hours to generate one lesson plan hour.  However the payoff is certainly worthwhile if the students are able to connect prior learning seamlessly to future learning.

In particular in this class, the lesson mentioned the candle burning experiment which I realized was from Chapter 1 of the course.  Students were thus able to connect that given the observation of a physical reaction, with care that reaction can be represented as a chemical equation, and by measuring ingredients and products a balanced chemical equation can be written, thus observation can confirm/rejct hypothesis, a huge idea in all of science.

“Classroom Management” Due Oct 26

Assignment from Syllabus

Classroom Management (1 class period, not Mentor teacher)

You should observe one entire class period. You should not observe your mentor teacher. Prior to the observation, you should discuss with the teacher their classroom management plan. Describe the observation period. What techniques for classroom management were used? Based on your pre-observation conference, was the classroom management observation what you expected? What techniques were effective? Ineffective? What could have been done differently?

I observed Mr. L.’s class on Monday 10/25 from 11:30 to 12:15 for some perspective on classroom management.  I have spent some time in this class before and am familiar with the students and some of their behaviors.

What’s the plan?

Prior to class I asked Mr. L. what his classroom management plan was.  Mr. L. has the following A B C D poster in his room (reproduced below from here)


He described his approach as mostly organic, especially at this point in the year.  Like many teachers, Mr. L. had started off strict and as successes or problems have arisen he has either relaxed or adjusted his approach, respectively.  I have seen him ask students pointedly during infractions which level of participation they were demonstrating from Anarchy to Democracy and achieved the desired affect which was the student being able to label their current behavior, and acknowledge that is it at variance to the standard the class was striving towards. 


The class (a groups of approx. 17 freshman) was discussing a plan for their Exhibitions (a review / assessment of their work done 3 times a year).  As Mr. L. was discussing with students a student Jo. came into the classroom.  Mr. L. immediately expressed his disapproval that the student should be coming into class 10 minutes late.  Mr. L. verbal comments, tone, and facial expression were succinct and to the point, namely that he expected the student to be on time in the future and to start participating.

The class was arranged in a circle and Mr. L. was doing most of the talking.  He later asked a student JuF. to read a couple paragraphs for him.

Most of the students were engaged in the discussion, but one student JuM. was slinking away from the group to get back to a workstation (along the walls) and start fiddling with the mouse and keyboard.  This student was located in close proximity to Mr. L. (normally a good approach to keep someone on task), but was also located in Mr. L.’s blind spot, i.e. not in Mr. L.’s direct line-of-sight.  Mr. L. was completely aware of JuM. was doing, gave a few stern looks of disapproval, which did not deter the student to correct their lack of participation.

As the discussion part of the class ended Mr. L. put the students into groups to work on a worksheet that would form the basis of a plan towards each student’s Exhibition in 2-3 short weeks.  Mr. L. sat with a group of female students that are quite close in the class, while I sat with a student who seemed to be stressed out, and another instructional aide sat with some other students.  That arrangement seemed to keep most easily-distracted students on task and allow for more progress to be made by more students.

Expected vs. Unexpected?

I found the actions of Mr. L. consistent with his plan.  He didn’t call out the late student unnecessarily, and his words/tone/glance of disapproval does communicate without too much disruption of class flow, namely that he has higher expectations of that student.

It was unexpected to me that the student slipping away to get back on the computer was allowed to do so.  I think, based on my other experiences in the classroom, that this student’s lack of motivation and participation are a challenge for Mr. L.  I did hear this student contribute verbally to the group discussion this period, something I hadn’t seen in all my prior observations in that class.

Effective vs. Ineffective?

I think Mr. L.’s communication with the late student was effective, in communicating that lateness was unacceptable.  However, I think this student was perhaps not fully integrated into the group’s circle upon arrival, and thus I don’t believe he contributed for the remainder of the class.

I noted above that although Mr. L. was sitting right next to the student that was slowly retreating from the circle time to get back on the computer, that this physical proximity did not deter the unacceptable behavior.  I might have expected Mr. L. to call that out, and I think in not doing so, either the proximity or the prior agreement to not be on the computer during circle time was undermined.


I realize as I write this that there is a lot of context around even the most subtle interchanges of classroom management.  Only the teacher and the student have full context on any given incident that an outsider observes, and even then what the teacher may say and students perceives or understands can vary, and vice versa.

However, I am still a disciplinarian at heart and would be more strict with the lack of attention I was picking up on.  This runs the risk, of course, of causing disaffectation in the student and could sour our working relationship, but I think I keep coming back to the standards I hold for the other students need to be consistently and compassionately communicated to the offending student each and every time.

Not immediately related to this assignment, I have been reflecting on classroom management based on interactions with two other teachers this past week.

Teacher A takes a more coaching approach to their classroom management.  In an Algebra Support class, the teacher had noticed that students were not engaged.  Despite reminders and “focusing activities”, they persisted in disengagement.  This prompted Teacher A to give a speech (sermon? harangue?) on the lack of focus that he was observing in the classroom at the present time.  He reminded the students that they were in that specialized class because of their inability to focus, and that this did not reflect on their ability or intelligence.  He warned them that this lack of focus did have potential to impair their performance on an upcoming test.  He said that if they could focus, they would reap the benefits of proficiency and be able to move on, in life, and in that class.

To me I think that is the ultimate real-world application, in other words, their behavior in class is a strong indicator of their ability to engage in activities that are challenging to them in life.  Sure there are always some that have “made it an art to fail in the typical classroom”, but Teacher A makes it clear that there is more at stake here than just some classroom, and a boring lesson-of-the-day.  He communicates two essential truths, that he believes they can do better, and that he has a pretty good idea what their challenging behavior comes down to.  One can’t help but sense that Teacher A cares, and that he has high expectations.  Delivered with compassion and honesty, I see the power of the motivational digression, and especially if punctuated with energy and emotion.

Teacher B has a student in her class who is extremely challenging.  She has sought out help and advice from more veteran teachers, but has been unable to get any advice from them to get traction on the problem.  The student regularly is the only and loudest voice/distraction as the rest of the class is quieting down.  This student disregards verbal instructions, including those which would remove him from the room.  Head banging or strange noises are the norm for this student.  Teacher B fears that the principal will not back her up in her attempts to connect to the student.  She has sent him out of the room.  She has called a parent on-the-spot to address deviant behavior.  She has documented instances, but all to no avail.  She has also observed similar behavior in the student when the parents are physically present on the occasion of a parent-teacher night.  What should this teacher do?

I heard this story during a union-sponsored mentorship night.  And there were some veterans at our table that shared some ideas.  My take on the behavior is that it was coming from a place of frustration at the students inability to communicate.  All of us at the table suggested that there be a tighter loop of communication with the parent if there are medications in play that may or may not be producing the desired effect.  We also thought that the principal should be confronted with the facts in the case, and asked to intervene despite their reluctances for the sake of the other students (and their parents) that want/deserve a classroom conducive to education.  Teacher B fears being the troublemaker or making waves (as a first year teacher), but our main advice was that there are staff and resources available to help in this situation, and that she needs to avail herself of those.  It is what she has in her heart, to help and educate all children and she needs to be true to that.

Is confrontation a love language?

Teaching as Delivery and the United Parcel Service (UPS) Driver

Heidi Rowles on 10/19/2011 confessed that despite the grandest of aspirations and desires, she often found herself doing delivery instead of really educating.  Don’t we all? Then she compared this practice to the UPS delivery person.

They don’t wait to see you open the package, they don’t want to see your face light up with the delivery of the gift or book you had been waiting for.

They just drop the package off.  Check you off their list, and move on.


It is almost as if, they “hope” you are not home, so that they don’t have to interact and so that their involvement or delay at your house is less.

That is an analogy for teaching as delivery.  It is the most perfunctory, least involved, and sadly the most often-used method of teaching today.  And that saddens us…

[need to add link to Kim, Y. paper on Teaching as Delivery]

[need to add link to Heidi’s WordPress]

“Instructional Strategies” Due Oct 19

Assignment from Syllabus

Instructional Strategies (3)

You should observe as many class periods as necessary to document the use of three different instructional strategies. These observations may or may not be conducted in your endorsement area(s). Summarize the instructional strategies used. How did the instructional strategies enhance student learning and engagement? Were the instructional strategies used effective for reaching the learning goals? What could have been done differently?

[from BlackBoard]

Instructional Strategies

Posted on: Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Here are some examples of instructional strategies you might look for this week:
Small group discussion
Whole class discussion
Use of examples and non-examples
Socratic seminar
Acting out a problem
Review game
Graphic organizer
Group investigation
Guided practice
Use of manipulatives
Identifying similarities and differences
K-W-L Chart
Panel discussion
Gallery walk
Carousel brainstorming
This list is not comprehensive. Good luck 🙂

I observed the following strategies on 10/18/2011 during 3 Algebra courses at Mt. Rainier High School (Des Moines, Highline School District).  Teacher was Mr. B.  Textbook being used is Discovering Algebra:  An Investigative Approach by Murdoch, Kamischke & Kamischke.  Mr B. has taught for 20+ years, has helped start middle schools and high schools, and has also taught previously at a Big Picture school.

Strategy #1:  Journaling

Summary:  Students are asked to write about what they have learned in full sentences in addition to note-taking.  Examples:

o     After an in-class lecture/review on the use of an x-y table to compute and then plot values of an equation for a line, students are asked to “turn to a blank page in your journal and write five thoughtful sentences describing something you have learned”.  Mr. B gave an example of a sentence.

o     Students working in pairs are asked to have one student fill out an x-y table while the other student describes in words the steps that the first student is following.

o     Worksheets probing student understanding of equations of lines are asked to convert graphs, equations, recursive routines, and tables into “stories” about that equation.  For example:  “Maria burns an average of 150 calories in her workout and then 200 calories for each mile she runs, the total calories she burns in a workout as a function of miles run is …”

o     Thursdays are reflection days where students will be asked to produce a paragraph describing what they have learned over the prior week.  They are allowed to use sentences in their journal over the prior week to construct that paragraph.

o     By the end of the year (June 15) students are asked to turn in a 10-page paper describing their answer to the question “Who am I”.

Engagement/Learning:  Students in class appeared to be engaged in the activity of journaling, although I wasn’t able to walk around and view what the whole class was writing during this activity.  The bigger question is whether learning is achieved through the journaling.  I wasn’t able to tell that based on one visit, so I will have to schedule a follow-up to see if students journaling about interactions with equations of a line were more able to meet learning goals for that unit.  I am also curious how these journals are used in overall assessment, and how journaling-type questions on tests are graded.

Effectiveness: This observation prompted me to start a mini-literature survey on effectiveness of journaling in mathematics classes.  While Arnold (2011) reports mixed results (in a somewhat flawed study) for effectiveness, Dougherty (2002) writes extensively about how to use journaling effectively in mathematics classrooms. 

Suggested improvement:  A central criticism for verbally intensive books and classroom techniques is to provide reasonable scaffolding for ELL students.  For students with special needs that prevent writing longhand or cursive (and math too?) other methods should be found to get at how a student is synthesizing mathematical concept and procedure (audio, video, simultaneous translation?).


Arnold, H. I. (2011). The Effects of Prompted Math Journaling on Algebra 1 Students’ Achievement and Attitudes. In L.P. McCoy (Ed.), Studies in Teaching 2011 Research Digest (pp. 5-10). Winston-Salem, NC: Wake Forest University.

Dougherty, B. J.,  (2002). The "Write" Way: Mathematics Journal Prompts for Algebra I. Honolulu, HI:  Curriculum and Development Group.  Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Strategy #2:  Add-To Exercise (White Board, Whole Class, Review of Prior Material)

Summary:  A student is selected/volunteered to go to the board and write a concept or problem from the prior day’s notes.  Another student is asked to add to that, and so on until the initial starting point is exhausted.

Engagement/Learning:  This technique allows for deep but individual student engagement.  Since students don’t know who is going to be called/volunteered next there is some apprehension.  However, once a student is at the board and starts writing, engagement starts to drop off.  In the best case, students are able to check their notes against a conglomeration of a priors days notes as it is reconstructed from multiple sources on the board for all, including the teacher to see and correct if needed.  If we grant that demonstrating a concept for peers improves learning (for at least some) then this method could be quite effective.

Effectiveness:  During my observation I observed a couple of things that might hint at a lack of effectiveness.  If the goal is demonstrating legible and accurate approach, then a lot can happen when you give a student a whiteboard and a dry-erase pen.  Right of the bat the student wrote 2x+3=9, sat down and then a few moments later yelled, “I forgot the ‘y’, it should be 3 times y”.  We solved the first problem together, then added a y and solved the next problem.  As we solved the first problem (without the y), it took a couple of students helping each other to get through the solution steps and do the arithmetic right.  During this time it was hard to gauge what other students were learning in the process.  Some students would comment on errors or perceived errors—which weren’t actually errors but just subtle differences in style, e.g. multiple by –1 on both sides or divide by –1?   Arguments can ensue over the most trivial of notational differences.  As we worked on the correct version of the equation, i.e. 2x+3y=9, the correct solution was written up, disagreed with by a vocal student, driven to erasure, and then they went up front and wrote their own solutions steps with some non-standard notation.  That was after Mr. B. asked her to write larger so that he could see from across the room.  Students tend to stand in front of what they are writing as well, out of embarrassment or desire to work the problem for themselves and not to share with others.

Suggested improvement:  A document projector instead of white board might be more effective.  Running the document reader from the back of the room while the teacher points out things on the projected copy communicates that student is presenting for students, and teacher is up front commenting as authority on what is written.  On a document projector the issues with whiteboard not being a standard place for students to write, so it starts off more familiar, students are writing on a horizontal surface not vertical, and correcting and size of writing are not so much of an issue.  That is all procedural changes, but yet improvements that reduce the pedagogical friction of the process, so that the learning/understanding could be front and center.  I am completely willing to try a less contentious procedure for how to do this activity.

Strategy #3:  Group Work, Demonstrations in Groups, Small Teams

Summary:  I observed Mr B. in an Algebra lesson demonstrate the solving of a simple equation on the board.  He then wrote another problem on the board and asked students to solve that problem in small groups around their tables.  Once he was sure that most groups were on track he was able to focus on a smaller group that was having more difficulty.  For that group he grabbed a small whiteboard and proceeded to repeat the demonstration on the new problem but at the table with learners having difficulty.

Engagement/Learning:  Since the other groups were able to work off knowledge gained from the larger group, it definitely improved the engagement for the struggling group to have the teacher there in close physical proximity.  As far as learning, Mr. B. in the smaller group was able to make sure that students were taking notes about the second demonstration, and he was able to do verbal probes for each student to make sure they were taking things down.

Effectiveness:  If the larger group of students already working in their groups were truly on task and completing the 2nd problem, then by doing another demonstration in a smaller group, Mr B. effectively addressed the gap in the learners abilities.  If however, the groupings had more distributed learners that were struggling then they would have to rely on other students in their groups who were knowledgeable in order to keep going on that example.  Put another way, if the group of struggling learners was larger than the group Mr. B. was focusing on, then this approach could have been improved.

Suggested improvement:  Initially I really liked the group work strategy, and then it seemed natural that one group might be struggling more than the others, so Mr. B. would go to that group and do a more tailored demonstration to that group.  However, when I saw that the other groups really got no occasional visit from Mr. B. as he focused on the group of struggling students, I wondered if distributing the struggling students more uniformly wouldn’t break them out of some behaviors they have and reinforce amongst themselves when they are together.  It seems like Mr. B. might still have to visit each struggling student in turn, had they been distributed to separate groups, but perhaps the other groups might have better served the purpose of another demonstration with support.

Other notable interactions from these classes I observed.

Mr B. is also a coach and uses some hand-clapping prompts to pull students back from a group activity (or general restlessness) into a more uniformly coherent, and  attentive state.  “Give yourselves 1” prompts students to clap once and based on the intensity or uniformity of the sound Mr. B. can tell if students are actively paying attention.  If they are, he proceeds.  If class is not together or attentive, he prompts again with “Give yourselves N” where N is some other number that prompts a handclap, the larger the number N, the more complicated the series of clapping, lap/table slapping, arms folded with hands on opposite shoulders, etc.

Mr. B. will often ask if students have comprehended what they will be doing in a class activity that he has just described.  He gauges the extent of comprehension by the way the hand has been raised, saying “if you arm is bent at the elbow, your hand is not raised, are you sure you understand what is being asked of you in the next activity”.  If he is not satisfied he may repeat the instructions.  I did not see him call on a student and ask them to repeat the instructions, don’t know how much use that would be…

“Questioning” Due Oct 12

Assignment from Syllabus

Questioning (1 class period)

You should observe one entire class period. This observation does not have to be in your endorsement area(s). How did the teacher use questioning to gauge students’ level of understanding? What types of questions were asked (closed or open-ended, percentages of each)? Were the same students called on repeatedly? Were boys or girls called on more frequently? Were students called on who did not have their hands raised? What types of formal and informal checks for understanding were used? What could have been done differently?

Teachers at Big Picture regularly do Socratic Seminars where ideas/concepts are discussed and all are asked to participate and contribute their ideas.  Students are reminded to speak to ideas and not people.  However I don’t think that is the spirit of this assignment.

This past week, teachers and staff met with all the freshman students to solidify the learning plans for those students.  Each learning plan is a contract of sorts between the advisor and the student.  Each learning plan has three key parts, the Vision, the Goals, and the Projects.  These learning plans outline what the student will present at exhibitions which are like final exams where a student will present a summary of their work over the semester to family, advisors and other staff.

What impressed me as I observed some of these student-teacher interactions, or heard them summarized later is the richness of questioning that exists at this school.  Here’s an example of an interchange:

J:  what are you interested in P?
P: photography
J: oh tell me more about that?
P: I like taking pictures.
J:  what type of pictures?
P:  pictures of people, mostly.
J:  if you do a project on photography, what would be your goal?
P:  I don’t understand.
J:  what are some things you have learned about photography?
P:  I don’t know, framing, I guess or exposure
J:  What do those things do?


There is just no better way to draw out a student and really find out what they know than by asking questions.  Creative questioning, and suitable wait times are I think key to masterful teaching.  Speaking to the questions:

As my peer teachers interviewed freshman students on their core, or most motivating, interests, they really knew very little about those.  And that was highlighted by questions.  Their understanding of something that they say interests them is surprisingly shallow.  (Good opportunity for the educator!)

Due to the setting we were in, I would say 90% of the questions were open-ended.  The open-ended questions are really on the most appropriate for a conversation with a student of how they would like to spend their time over the coming semester.

Since these were one-on-one interviews, there was unambiguous focus on one person and one questioner.  In other classrooms I have been in, there is a constant struggle to call on all folks in the class.

The formal check for understanding would be this Learning Plan that is hammered out between student (and parent), and advisor (and mentor).  This plan details what the student needs to do to gain understanding and demonstrate mastery on a goal that aligns with their vision.  It is interesting that in this progression of scope from broad to narrow to narrowest, students easily detect lack of alignment or lack of authenticity in aspects of their vision, goals, and projects.

What I think could have been done differently is a better capturing of action items in the learning plan.  Some teachers type into the students plan document itself.  I am of the opinion that we should comment around the plan, and make the students own the verbiage and presentation, format and voice of the document.

I also think that my own questioning skills are not near as good as that of some who have been at it longer than I have.  I have a ways to go.

“Opener and Closer” Due Oct 5

Assignment from Syllabus

Opener and Closer
You should observe the opener and closer from one class period in your endorsement area.

Summarize the opener.  How was/were the objective(s) made known?  Did the opener activate students’ prior knowledge?  Was the opener authentic?  Engaging?  Was the opener routine for the class?  What did you like? Dislike?  What could have been done differently?

Summarize the closer.  How did the closer relate back to the objective(s)?  Was the students’ level of understanding clear?  What level of Bloom’s was used?  What did you like? Dislike?  What could have been done differently?

The objective for the class would be:  students will prove their understanding of “hypothesis”, “dependent-“ and “independent variables” by measuring their pulse rate and predicting if certain activities (their choice) would raise or lower their pulse rate.

The opener for a class session about the scientific method was trying to make a connection between hypothesis and cooking.  It was meant to connect something very familiar, i.e. amount of salt in a soup, and the process whereby an initial taste (experiment) found the flavor lacking (dependent variable), at which time more salt was added (independent variable) which led to another taste (hypothesis testing) which proved that the soup had good taste.

I feel like the opener was authentic, since the teacher definitely cared about cooking and we all know about salt and its impact on food flavor.  That was engaging for the class (might have perhaps been more so before lunchtime, since that could have probably also triggered a saliva response!).  Some might argue that more engagement was possible if the example had come from a student’s experience, or from a shared experience that the students had.  Perhaps this then is my like and dislike, namely I like that salt in a soup is common experience, but dislike that students weren’t asked to relate this to a particular, specific experience that they had.

The closer was a quick survey of the room on the hypotheses they had made for activities that impacted their pulse rate.  In order to summarize their findings they had to state their hypothesis and their dependent variable (pulse) and choice for independent variable.  I believe this was clear to the whole class at the end.  The level of Bloom’s Taxonomy was Application, which was good.  I think getting the students to all relate their findings was good in a qualitative sense but not a quantitate sense.  I might have requested that they actually produce a table or a chart of their findings (and maybe next do some statistics on the measurements).

I think the opener was routine, in that it came from the teacher, and was something the class could easily be familiar with and which also was something the teacher felt passionate about.

Wiggins, G. (2010). What’s my job? Defining the role of the classroom teacher. In R. J. Marzano (Ed.), On Excellence in Teaching. (10th ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Wiggins (2010) starts off by listing some of components in Danielson’s (2007) “framework for teaching.”  After a cursory reading of these components, Wiggins swoops in and points out that “few of the domain components stress the teacher’s need to commit to and cause results [emphasis in original].”

He goes on to state that a lot of other jobs have measurable goals, except for teaching.  I like his fervor, I like his point, but he is really tiptoeing around an even bigger elephant in the room.  Namely, that elephant is, how can you prove that a teacher has

  1. Caused successful learning?
  2. Caused greater interest in the subject?
  3. Caused greater confidence in students?

I firmly believe that it is not enough to simply have goals like this, but it has to be possible to measure this.  Without measurement, there can be no iterative improvement.  Without a metric, i.e a means of measuring progress, it is foolish to think that progress will magically happen.  I think that taking this point of view means that I am advocating standardized tests of some sort.  Those don’t actually come up in this article for a few more pages.

First Wiggins dismantles the notion that some teachers think real goals can be supplanted by “apparent learning goals.”  He assures us all that if we start with the goal in mind, our assessments our activities, will all flow out of them and real learning will occur.

Second Wiggins (2010) dismantles the objection that some teachers will hav that they need to teach to the textbook.  Wiggins (2010) writes:

Marching page by page through a text-book should never be the job of a teacher—ever. The textbook is written completely independently of teachers’ goals and students; it merely pulls together a comprehensive body of information in a logical package for use by hundreds of thousands of people with varying needs.

In this section Wiggins will talk specifically to standardized tests and how superficial and unengaging their questions really are.  He sees the exams as driving the mindless marches that teacher do through poor textbooks.  I couldn’t agree more that textbooks are the crutch for those with no compelling content.

Third, Wiggins (2010) urges teachers to be engaged with other faculty, and with students and topics outside the school walls.  He urges all teachers to collaborate across the subject aras and across grade levels.  Only then will curriculum be coherent and motivating.

Finally, Wiggins (2010) counters the objection that his vision for teaching stifles educator freedom with undue obligation.  He does this by returning to his thesis that teaching is about knowledge transfer.  And

…if transfer is the goal, then spending the most time in class lecturing is inappropriate; if meaning making is the goal, then instructional strategies have to involve students doing such things as research, Socratic seminar, and analysis of problems and cases (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998).

If real meaning making is the goal then something has to change, namely the focus of all our activities in the classroom.  Those are radical words, but that can and must be the role of a teacher


Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing professional practice: A framework for teaching (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wiggins, G. (2010). What’s my job? Defining the role of the classroom teacher. In R. J. Marzano (Ed.), On Excellence in Teaching. (10th ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2008, May). Put understanding first. Educational Leadership, 65(8), 36–41.

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