Archive for June, 2010

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

June 29th, 2010

I know that this book has been out for a while but I finally had a chance to read it. It’s always on hold at school.

I just finished the book, like, five minutes ago and I’m still reeling. Most students and teachers had alluded to a sad ending, so I expected that. But the way it ended still had suspense for me.

There are a lot of books about World War II out there. Many people are trying to make sense of what happened to so many families. Some think that it was a clear cut-good versus evil with the Axis and the Allies and want the excitement you see in Medal of Honor video games. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has no action scenes whatsoever but I’m willing to bet that once Bruno meets Shmuel, you will be hooked.

Because the issues are so complex it is beautiful that Boyne chose a nine year-old boy as the person to follow. His mispronounciations of key people and places in the Holocaust let the reader know where he’s at but clue us in to his naivete. You’ll probably figure out what he’s talking about early on, but a great scene is when Shmuel draws the symbol he was forced to wear, the Star of David, and Bruno draws the swastika from his dad’s uniform. They talk frankly about which symbol is better and wonder why they’re different.

Saying anything more about the plot will ruin the innocent exploration of a horrible concentration camp. Go read the book, plain and simple.

What I will challenge you to do is research modern day holocausts. Check out Darfur. Look at Rwanda. Get to know Bosnia-Herzegovina.

And then do something.

Arizona has an influx of refugees from war-torn parts of the world. Like Boyne says in his author’s note, there will always be fences like what separated Bruno and Shmuel. I hope that the students I interact with will tear down those fences and not build them up.

Want to be a Tracker?

June 28th, 2010

Do you think you have what it takes to become a Tracker? Are you one of the few who can read between the lines of code and see danger where others exist in comfortable ignorance?

Finn, Emily, Lewis, and Adam need your help. Check trackersbook.com in an hour and 45 minutes to see four missions. You’ll need your research skills in addition to twitch reflexes for success. Will you network with other Trackers or do you think you can take on the best of the Internet by yourself?

Trackers by Patrick Carman

June 28th, 2010

Students know how much I enjoyed Skeleton Creek and Ghost in the Machine. Back in 2008, before the books came out, I had heard about the mix of video and print and knew it was going to be a hit at our school. I feel like Patrick Carman took a risk with the format of Skeleton Creek and now people are copying the pioneer.

What I love to see is an author that continues to improve throughout their career. Trackers is proof that Carman still takes his craft seriously.

This is a caution to students, though – don’t sit down expecting ghosts to jump out at you. I did and it took me a couple of videos to realize that Trackers has a different tone. It’s the story of a high tech team of teenagers that get caught up in an Internet crime scheme that is much larger than they can handle individually. Patrick Carman’s research/previous knowledge concerning technology is appreciated and it comes out in realistic dialogue between characters (and great passwords for the videos – the majority are computing superstars like Babbage and The Woz).

Trackers takes on a neo-noir feel. Much like detective stories from the 30s and 40s, main character Adam doesn’t know who to trust (one character, Lazlo, shares a name with someone from Casablanca). His confusion grows when he’s distracted by a beautiful girl who quickly betrays him. The focus of the book is figuring out who is tracking the Trackers and what they can do to reverse the situation.

So, instead of being afraid that Joe Bush is going to stalk you from the dredge, you’re now more paranoid about going online. If you liked the movie Eagle Eye, Trackers should already be in your queue.

It’s told in an interrogation format, so the whole time you’re trying to figure out who has brought Adam in for questioning. This is book one and obviously so (well, besides it saying that on the cover), but in great Carman style he leaves you hanging at the end of the book.

Online supplemental materials are becoming a requirement for books, especially teen ones. Many have games associated with them, like P.J. Haarsma’s Rings of Orbis game (Haarsma is another digital pioneer, an author who also creates his own tech content). Patrick Carman understands technology, especially engaging technology, and trackersinterface.com offers the videos but also a very challenging Glyphmaster game. You try and organize the icons to spell a sentence. I found myself saying, “Just one more round.” My recommendation is to make it a Facebook game.

Librarians, you need Trackers. Kids will read it. But what was awesome is that he included a transcript of each video in the back of the book. This helps students who are reading in class. You can’t interrupt silent reading with a video of Finn crashing on a ramp at the local skateboarding hangout. Now students can get the info and watch the video later. Many of mine had to come in at lunch and hope the district Internet filter hadn’t blocked the Skeleton Creek site. This streamlining of the experience is one sign that the author is growing and improving.

And, like any book that involves Jeffrey Townsend, I stay up too late wanting to keep reading.

The alternative reality missions are releasing later today. While I read the book, I had my laptop next to me so I could look up any sites mentioned. I hope to see more from the missions. I can easily see the lines of fiction blurring under Patrick Carman’s expert use of media.

Go Wimp Yourself

June 27th, 2010

Photobucket
Even in Wimpy Kid format I’m towering over everyone. Go make your own portrait here.

Sustainable Leadership: The Journey

June 26th, 2010

I must admit that the journey metaphor is feeling worn. (And, thanks to Glee, I always associate it with “Don’t Stop Believing” (okay, so the cast sang the National Anthem? Pretty cool.).)

But it does feel like a journey when you look at where I was on Wednesday and then debriefing today. On Friday we were asked a variation on the set of questions that we started the conference with. One of those was identifying what leadership opportunities could be found in the current climate. On Wednesday that was a daunting task. What influence do I have? Can I fix the budget? Now I feel like the leaders that came from our campus have a purpose and a way to implement it.

I was chatting with a friend of mine today who always has great leadership insight. His big advice was to walk people through the journey of how we came to the end product. We, as leaders, can’t expect an end product without doing the work. We also can’t expect people to buy into an idea immediately (although that would be nice). It’s that growing process of coming to the solution that is so important. I need to remember that people are still seeing the daunting problem and not the smaller, more manageable, chunk to tackle.

Sustainable Leadership in Times of Great Change: A Summary of Day 3

June 25th, 2010

I am home and on my third set of McDoubles for the week. That can’t be good. The food at the conference was great and then for dinner each night I would maintain my artificial flavorings habit. Not sustainable in any definition of the word. This week shall entail celery for each meal.

I’d like to once again thank the AZ K-12 Center for a great conference. It is very refreshing to be surrounded by 138 of the best professionals in the state and to realize that I’m not crazy for wanting to improve my practice. If this is the first article you’ve seen from the conference, make sure to check out day one and day two for context.

Consistency. This is the word that kept running through my brain today. We heard from Ùrsula Casanova, author of Sí Se Puede. She brought us a case study of Cibola High School where 93% of the kids graduate and, of that number, 88% go on to a two- or four-year college/university. So, how do they do it?

Consistency. When the school started, Jon Walk was given the opportunity to travel and recruit teachers that adopted his high expectation – every student that graduates from Cibola should be able to go to college. He also was given time and resources to research how to make that happen.

One example of their consistency is their “35 minute rule”. If we truly value classroom instruction so much, why do we interrupt it so frequently? Jon Ward’s idea was to not have any interruptions to the first 35 minutes of a class period. That allowed the teacher to get into the flow of the lesson and for the students to retain focus.

Another big interrupter is the PA system. To me, it resembles the brain buzzer in Harrison Bergeron – I start to get a thought and then BLAM – I forget where I’m at. Cibola reserves it for the morning welcome and that’s it.

Consistency is something that we can control. We can’t always control what comes from higher-ranking government officials (although we can vote, right? Let’s not forget that option.) but we can control our consistency. Many of our students exist in flux and they need someone who can be their constant (to quote our principal and LOST).

We’re already doing many of the things Cibola does. Our counselors go the elementary schools and emphasize the high expectations we have for our students. We do have programs in place to keep students in class and discourage tardiness. Our counselors meet with small groups of our students. But, like anything, we as a campus need to still grow in our profession. What we can’t do, though, is adopt a school’s end product without looking at the twelve years worth of work that produced that end product.

We closed out the day with our stories. Our butterfly metaphor, where the tendency of visions is to flit off and avoid consistency, was well-received. Many of the other educators could relate. Instead of it just getting a “Oh, that’s nice” reaction, we received so much feedback to take to our campus. That’s a result of the sharing structure established by AZ K-12 during the event.

Next summer’s conference will hopefully feature Dennis Shirley and his co-author, Andy Hargreaves. They’ve been investigating social capital and have tons to share.

On the topic of networks, I’ve joined shelfari. My profile is http://www.shelfari.com/brian_griggs , surprisingly enough. Check it out to see my bookshelf.

Well, my virtual bookshelf. I have tons of real bookshelves.

Also of note – Dennis Shirley will be addressing Capitol Hill on Tuesday to recommend the Fourth Way as a framework for reform.

The conference was emceed by Penny Kotterman. Normally I don’t voice my opinion for who people should vote for, yet knowing that Penny is an educator and is trusted by the AZ K-12 Center wins her my vote. The mind boggles to think what it would look like to have a skilled, experienced teacher as the Superintendent of Schools.

Sustainable Leadership in Times of Great Change: A Summary of Day 2

June 24th, 2010

“From foxholes to freedom.”

Today we really dug deep into how having a World War I, foxhole mentality in times of great (‘great’ meaning ‘large’, but maybe could be ‘good’) change is counterproductive. Hunkering down, remaining isolated, and just trying to survive is not how effective reform happens. Gone is the collaboration and the growth from connecting with other professionals, especially those who are different from you.

But if you reach out to people who are different to you, there’s risk. There’s also risk in trying something new – you could fall flat on your face. When jobs are on the line, and tenure is gone, do you want to take a risk?

You know, we could learn from the rest of the world. Many times I hear about competing with India and China – is there anything wrong with wanting to collaborate with India and China? (Yes, I know there are political issues there. But not every school in a foreign country hates the United States, right?)

Finland has intrigued me in the discussion. It’s a lot tougher to become a teacher in Finland. They actually get paid less than we do (on average) in the United States but they have a higher social standing. Would we be willing to trade some salary for being treated like professionals? For parents trusting us at our word?

If we’re to ask for freedom as teachers, though, we can’t be licentious (Dennis Shirley usage) with that freedom. If we get time to collaborate, it can’t devolve into a whine session or a chance to grade papers. We can’t show up late to staff development, duck out early, and expect to be taken seriously.

So, students in Finland do really well, including on the PISA test. We didn’t do poorly but we also weren’t near the top. On my To Do list is to find a staff directory for a Finnish school and e-mail one of their teachers to develop a rapport. With as much technology as we have access to, collaborating with another country can’t be that tough, people.

Another concept introduced today was the Tuning Protocol (the link downloads a PDF). It’s a structured process for assessing student performance. Because it has guidelines, it’s not a venting session. It’s not about meaningless validation of your teaching – it’s about truly making your instruction better so you feel good at a job well done. We have team meetings, where a group of teachers address a multitude of issues. I think the structure in the Tuning Protocol could streamline some of that and make us feel like the meetings are worth something.

The Raising Achievement, Transforming Learning project in England and the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement were discussed as models for improving schools. Both emphasize working alongside the community as well as partnering with another school (or multiple schools). It’s like mentoring, but on a school-to-school basis. Another push is for transparency – not just the punitive side of things but also on the efforts that are made for improvement.

What’s great about the AZ K-12 Center is that it does provide those connections, that time to step back and regain perspective. It’s like a mini-reform. When looking at changing education in the US, it’s a daunting task. There are so many polarizing elements and a top-down structure (“deliverology” – here’s what we’ve legislated – do it) that’s still stuck in Second Way thinking.

It’s the principle of stopping to think that has stuck with me this week. Three things that work against change are privatism (the foxhole mentality of individualism – “you want to observe? How come?”), conservatism (“I’m surviving, this works” – but are you growing?), and presentism. Presentism is where the needs of the moment overshadow everything else. This is where I get stuck – I do things because they have to get done and don’t think about why.

In the near future we may see the Quality Education Investment Act in California challenge the teachers’ union to expand from solely defending members’ interests to being a positive change for student achievement and learning. They would be the voice of reform and not just a collective bargaining unit. That would get the public’s attention and leave politicians with not much more to say.

Sustainability is key to reform. Sustainability means that if I step away from it, it will keep going. This is where the systemic network comes in. If others have caught on the success of the change is not resting on my shoulders. We must also realize that we can’t adopt an end product. We can’t see that it worked somewhere else and think that we can transplant it perfectly and do it quicker. Changes need to be crafted by the network affected. We need to help our struggling peers, not out of condescension but out of a shared purpose of helping students. That’s why we’re all at school, right?

Privatism (versus collegiality – trusting that we’re colleagues) gets in the way of that. No one likes to be told what to do. But if we had mentoring, true relational mentoring, at all levels of our career, the students would benefit. We need to honestly look at our practice.

A reminder of why we do it, why we care: check out this three minute video from the AZ K-12 center.

Lots of thoughts to delve into, but I swear I’m going to get to watch Netflix tonight.

Books that were mentioned:
The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch
Drive by Daniel Pink
iBrain by Gary Small
Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization by Yong Zhao
Mindful Teacher by Elizabeth MacDonald and Dennis Shirley

Video:
Simons and Chabris - Selective Attention Basketball Video
Robert A. Compton – Two Million Minutes – Comparing schools from around the world – See a clip

Website:
www.storiesfromschool.org

Dennis Shirley is speaking at Capitol Hill on Tuesday. I hope the call to professionalism matched with educator-based assessments catches on.

Sustainable Leadership Conference: A Summary of Day 1

June 23rd, 2010

First off, the AZ K-12 Center knows how to host a conference. The materials are always very professional and organized. It doesn’t look like it was thrown together. They also do a great job of taking care of teachers and can predict pretty accurately what we would appreciate.

The focus today was on an introduction to The Fourth Way by Dennis Shirley. The concept of reform coming in waves or Ways is not new. Anthony Giddens was talking about the Third Way in the Tony Blair/Bill Clinton era.

The Ways look like this:

  1. 1930s-1970s – Innovation and inconsistency – Teachers could do what they want and were respected. Some performed well with that freedom, but others didn’t really teach anything worth writing home about.
  2. 1970s-1995 – The way of the markets and standardisation – This is when the Reagan administration released A Nation at Risk. This is when teachers started to not be trusted as a whole.
  3. 1995-Present – Performance and partnership – The government can’t blame teachers for everything. There needs to be partnership in reform. The trouble is that some of the methods for reform are actually counterproductive.
  4. The Fourth Way – Take what we learned from the other reforms but then push forward for professional standards set by people who teach. The standards need to be honest and student-focused, without influence from special interests.

Something that resonated with me is not throwing out all that we have learned from the previous reforms. A concept that kept reappearing this past school year was the importance of a consistent vision. As educators (teachers, administrators, district office types), we are tempted to follow the vision of the moment, what is trending in the short-term and to lock up (sometimes literally) the ways of the past. It’s this lack of forward thinking, true investment in the future, that causes a big distraction against effective reform.

One of the presenters is having us think critically about where we stand on educational leadership through the context of a story. People relate to stories, connecting complex ideas and internalizing them. You don’t have to convince the librarian of this assertion. The story that I’m thinking through involves butterflies. (Stay with me.) Vision-casting from an educational leadership standpoint feels like I’m throwing butterflies out there. They’re pretty for a moment but then they flutter off. In the same way it feels like every few years we have a vision to focus on, it looks great, but then flies away before we know what’s going on.

The immediate needs distract from the long-term. Who has time for a vision? It’s the ability to stop and think that is missing in most reform. Usually it’s a reaction to something.

Japan always comes up when talking about school achievement. An interesting fact about Japanese schools is that for the first three years the content focuses mainly on social knowledge and how to interact with others. In the U.S. we say that’s our focus, too, but I know from experience that standardized testing is entering the Kindergarten classroom. Benchmark tests are being introduced the second week of school. The six year-olds are just trying not to be homesick during that period.

Technology is great but the ability to mass test Kindergarteners does not mean that you have to test the Kindergarteners.

In Japan they have the first years wear a colored hat(tsuugaku-bou) so that the other students will show them grace and understand that Kindergarteners don’t know the rules of the school (and for safety). An interesting fact from Dennis Shirley and an illustration of a community focus.

We also participated in the World Cafe method of collaboration. I think I’m going to order the book for our professional library.

An article mentioned was Goals Gone Wild. It warns that too much goal-setting may harmfully narrow our focus and make excuses for unethical behavior/gaming the system/doing whatever it takes to win.

All in all, a great dialogue for the first day. I’m always impressed with the teachers I work with. They’re shining and the added bonus was gaining insight from other professionals from around the state. Check back tomorrow for a summary of day two.

No live blog

June 23rd, 2010

The tables we’ll be sitting at don’t have power outlets. No live blog of the event. Check back later tonight for a summary.

Coverit Live

June 21st, 2010

This summer I watched part of E3 as well as game seven of the NBA Finals online. The broadcasters for both events used the same liveblogging software: Coverit Live.

Wednesday through Friday of this week I’m going to try and live blog using the software. It helps me stay focused and remember what was said (especially for a three day conference) and I’m always surprised about how many educators mention my blog to me in person. Students, it won’t be incredibly exciting, but teachers might benefit from it.

Today is the test run of the event. Below is the Internet equivalent of “Mic check…is this thing on?”