A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What a private school teacher wishes he could say...

There was a Washington Post blog entry last May that someone suggested on Facebook: What If Finland's Great Teachers Taught in U.S. Schools? It was written by a leader in education in Finland, Pasi Sahlburg. I read a very interesting book last summer about Finnish (and other top performing) schools titled, The Smartest Kids in the World, so the question caught my eye. The article (and the book) are an interesting read.

One of the last paragraphs of the blog entry is pretty provocative...

To finish up, let’s do one theoretical experiment. We transport highly trained Finnish teachers to work in, say, Indiana in the United States (and Indiana teachers would go to Finland). After five years—assuming that the Finnish teachers showed up fluent in English and that education policies in Indiana would continue as planned—we would check whether these teachers have been able to improve test scores in state-mandated student assessments.
He finished the thought experiment saying that the Finnish teacher in Indiana would  be less effective and the American teacher in Finland would be more effective. Why? He posits that the American teacher in Finland would:

stand to flourish on account of the freedom to teach without the constraints of standardized curricula and the pressure of standardized testing; strong leadership from principals who know the classroom from years of experience as teachers; a professional culture of collaboration; and support from homes unchallenged by poverty.

Now we can spend time unpacking those ideas--the socioeconomic status of our kids and their success; administrators and the lens of classroom experience; and a 'culture of collaboration' in the teacher's lounges.

I'm not done with my own unpacking, but I will say I do agree with him on some cursory level. The school I teach at is considered successful. We regularly have a high percentage of National Merit awards each year. Our students receive millions of dollars in scholarships based on their academic prowess, athletic ability as well as leadership experience and potential. As importantly, we have college students who regularly come back to us and say they were prepared for the rigors of university.

We are successful, in large part because we meet the Finnish design. Teachers passionate about students and their subjects. My boss was a classroom teacher for 20+ years before joining the administration. Our school was founded on the concept that teachers are expected to be leaders and entrepreneurs in their classroom and should be given the respect and latitude that a leader/entrepreneur needs. We are expected to develop curriculum rather than receive it top-down from administrators. We have a wide range of families (wealthy to middle class; natural-born and naturalized; multi-faith...) on our campus, but there is a general understanding that there is a common goal--the student. We don't always agree how to achieve that goal, but the goal is to keep the student in the center of any conversation/collaboration. We are most definitely not perfect. We have challenges we need to deal with. We certainly don't have a ...

...This is where my friends remind me that I teach at a private school and that public school's have it much harder which makes it more difficult to fix.

And I agree. Sort of.

Normally, I would sit quietly, nurse my beer, and listen to the laundry list of reasons why public schools can't (fill in the blank)...

But, I am feeling a little froggy today and have decided that 2015 is the year of Mr. Mc--private school teacher. I know my thoughts on the subject are going to peeve a few people and I respect that. I am more than happy for this blog to be a spot for passionate dialogue on the issue of education. Actually, I would be delighted for it to be a place for passionate discussion. I told someone last night that I was thinking about shuttering the blog because it didn't seem worth writing anymore. This thread (why private schools are vital to  American education) may fall flat, but, well, there is learning in failure, isn't there. Besides, I'd rather shutter the blog knowing I tried to have a conversation.

So, today's thought is that many of the people who talk about private school education have no flippin' idea of the subject. To them I would (politely) ask: please shut your pie hole.

I have been teaching in a private school for ten years and, in as many years, I've listened to people (teachers, administrators, parents, ...) make statements about private schools which are stereotypically overbroad, dismissive to the point of being mean-spirited and just plain ignorant or stupid. (BTW-ignorant is when you speak with out the facts/stupid is when the facts are available, you just ignore them.)

If you do some research, you will find that there are several types of private school. Some are the toney East Coast Boarding school's most people think of when they hear private school--think Phillips Exeter School in New Hampshire. Some are school's of last resort for students with learning differences--think of The Greenwood School, featured in Ken Burn's The Address. Some are focused on specific fields like Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. Some are focused on training up students in a particular faith/denomination--think parochial schools. Most private schools fit somewhere in the middle of all of these.

If you think of Dead Poet's Society when you think of private schools, you are off by about six decades as well as a mile.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Trivia Crack and the History Teacher

I withheld as long as I could.

After several weeks of hearing about Trivia Crack, I succumbed. If you don't know the app, its Trivial Pursuit meets Wheel of Fortune meets Jeopardy. It is also addictive. I am currently playing about 10 games with friends at the same time.

Shock of shocks--my best area is history. Shock of shocks (the sequel)--my worst area is sports, followed closely by science.

Here is the question I have...Is Trivia Crack a useful tool for an educator. Its popular and fun to play, but does it (or any trivia game) show learning has taken place? In some ways, a comprehensive test (multiple choice, true and false, blah blah blah) is a kissing cousin to Trivia Crack isn't it? How well can you regurgitate data?

I prefer assessments which require more than just data regurgitation. Writing a paper. Analyzing a map, photograph or piece of art. Creating a podcast or documentary. Show me you know the data by showing me how you'd use the data.

Now, data regurgitation has a place in the classroom. The 'teachery' jargon is formative versus summative assessments. Formative assessments are those checks while you are in learning mode. Data regurgitation can be a useful formative tool. Summative is an assessment at the end--what did you learn and how can you use that information in a meaningful way? My feeling is that a summative assessment needs to go beyond data regurgitation.

I remember reading a story about a class that had an all-day project. A farmer unloaded a huge pumpkin to the school's doorstep. It was far too large to get the pumpkin in through the doors. So the student's worked all day to figure it our. They had to use math to figure out slope and calculate measurements. They had to communicate with each other by writing out questions and the corresponding answers in a way others could understand, interpret and respond to. They employed scientific method. They had to learn from mistakes without letting the mistakes consume them. In the end they had to report their findings, whether they were successful or not. As a teacher, its hard to manage chaos and not feel the need to jump in and 'help.' Its difficult as a parent as well. However, I love the idea that we hand the kids the keys and say, we trust you enough to get out of the way. To me, that is where you get a real assessment of the work you've done.

As I've been writing, I realized that this is a new thought for me. I've written about this idea before. Here is that link.

As I've said before, this is a place for me to dump ideas. So I can remember them again in the coming months. Consider these thoughts on assessment dumped...besides, my computer just let me know its my turn, pray I don't get sports or science this time.

BTW-happy holidays for the folks who read this blog.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Back to Before...

This blog was originally designed to record my experiences one summer at a professional development course (two actually). The Presidential Academy selected one teacher from each state and then brought us to Philly, Gettysburg and DC for one week each to discuss the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address and the Civil Rights Movement. That was the inspiration of the blog's name--Declaration Address and Dream.

Today I had a little bit of a deja vu from 2011. Dr. Lucas Morel of Washington and Lee University presented for the Gilder Lehrman Institute. Dr. Morel was the lead professor for the Presidential Academy and when I saw his name on the literature, I knew I was signing up.

For the interested, a review of some of the posts from Summer 2011:

Big Arnold and Your Bike

Pictures from the Walking Tour

Gettysburg and History as Art

Photos From the Battlefield

Gettysburg National Cemetery

Talk May Be Cheap, But it is Necessary

John Brown, Domestic Terrorist

I Want to Like Woodrow Wilson, I Really, Really Do

Some Pictures From DC

A Day in the Senate

A Morning in the House

70 Hours in the Classroom, 9 Sites, Battlefields and Tours, 3300 Pages of Reading

In one of my posts that summer, I explained what I liked about Dr. Morel's teaching style:
What I like about sitting in one of Dr. Morel's lectures is that there is an expected give and take. He asks questions looking not necessarily for the right 'answer' but an answer that gets us on the field and moving toward that answer. To participate, you have to know the material, not in a regurgitated ATM sort of way but an organic way of moving toward a concept or big idea. Its a teaching style which encourages participation and requires preparation. You want to get in the game. It is a pleasure to listen to what the other participants have to say about the Lyceum Speech or in response to the handbill pronouncing Lincoln an atheist.
It is a style I both enjoy and try to emulate. I can say that on several of the few moments I consider my most successful as an educator-this is the style I have employed.

I didn't get a chance to say thank you to Dr. Morel today, so let this post be that--Thank you Dr. Morel.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

My kingdom for a speech, a slam poem and a sonnet...

After two weeks of wresting, my students have selected their historic speeches. They will research them this quarter and them work on them as orators in the next. On the way to their selection, something interesting happened. My rule was that no speech could be repeated each hour, which left the possibility that some of the speeches would be delivered three times; one for each hour. This year, no student is preparing the same speech.

None. Nada. Zip.

One of the things I've learned through the Ford's process is how long real professional development can take. During the first year of the program, I was just holding on for dear life. I am proud of the work we did that year, but most of its success was the Teaching Artist, Jojo. Last year was more of a partnership with our new Teaching Artist, Victoria. I took more leadership and we added sonnets. This year, this semester, I have taken more of the helm and Victoria is more a champion for me as a teacher of oratory than a teacher of oratory of herself. Her real work will be in the second semester as we partner together as coaches for our young charges. After two years of doing this, one thing which I thought I needed to change was how much time students had picking speeches, as well as trying to match the DNA of the speaker to the DNA of the speech. I have to admit to being a little surprised to how smoothly that went. These speeches ar both good fits for the individual kid as well as ones they are genuinely excited to work on.

Another surprise has been my exploration of slam poetry. I'm fifty and an old dog in so many ways, but spoken word performance has me smitten. The clips above and below are some of what I've found. I am looking forward to pairing spoken word with sonnets next semester. Could be either a big hot mess or brilliant.

Either way, we'll learn something. That's the point, isn't it?

BTW-I have been triple double dog dared to write my Ford's speech as a spoken word poem. I'm not sure if I can do it, but I keep you posted.

What speeches did my charges select, you ask? If you have a chance, google a few of the ones you don't recognize. I am so excited to see where my kids take these.

RFK, “On the Assassination of MLK, Jr.”
Daniel Webster, “Bunker Hill Oration”
Emma Watson, “Gender Equality is Your Issue, Too”
Michael  Jordon, “Hall of Fame Enshrinement” Speech
Hillary Clinton, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”
FDR, “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”
Patrick Henry, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”
Michelle Kwan, “Worldly Wisdom to Grads” Speech
Malala  Yousafzai, “Address to the UN”
Lou Gehrig, ”Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth”
Neil Gaiman, “Commencement Speech to University of the Arts Philadelphia”
Savannah Brown, “What a Guy Looks for in Girls—A Response”
JFK, “Ask What you Can Do For Your Country”
Hellen Keller, “Strike Against War”
Ronald Reagan, “First Inaugural”
Ronald Reagan, “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall”
Cal Ripken Jr., “Farewell to Baseball”
Lily Myers, “If I Should Have a Daughter”
MLK, Jr., “There Comes a Time When People Get Tired”
Severn Suzuki, “1992 UN Earth Summit Speech”
Ron Paul, “Farewell to Congress” Speech
Charles B. Morgan Jr., “Four Little Girls Were Killed”
Sarah Kay, “Tshotsholoza”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “The Solitude of Self”
Harvey Milk, “You’ve Gotta Have Hope”
JFK, “Let Them Come to Berlin”
Lily Myer, “Shrinking Woman”
Aung San Suu Kyi, “Freedom From Fear”
Fredrick Douglass, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July”
Lucy Stone, “A Disappointed Woman”
Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Abraham Lincoln, "Second Inaugural"