Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ category

ClassRealm – A new take on classroom management

March 5th, 2012

Okay, so not really new new because I studied the gamefication of processes in my Masters degree, but it’s still refreshing to see. I’m an avid fan of video games, especially role-playing games, so Ben Bertoli’s classroom management plan, called ClassRealm, caught my attention. I thought that it was going to be something that was online, but no. It’s a structured framework for rewarding positive classroom interactions without directly giving things like behavior points that affect a student’s grade. I really like the community aspect of the alliances. (I also can relate playing music for the Random Encounters. Any of my past 8th graders will be able to tell you about the Bubble Smackdown test prep fight music.)

Here’s a glance at some of what Bertoli’s testing out in his classroom:

1. ClassRealm is completely voluntary. If you don’t want to participate you don’t have to.
2. XP is the backbone of ClassRealm. Every 10 XP you earn pushes you to the next level. Every one starts at level 1.
3. XP can be obtained by doing simple things such as:
• Answering questions
• Joining in class discussion
• Working hard on an assignment
• Helping others
• Participation in general
• Random Encounter Friday (explained below)
• Gaining achievements (explained below)
4. Achievements are gained by completing specific tasks. For example: a student can obtain the “Bookworm” achievement by reading two unassigned chapter books and explaining the plot and characters to me.
5. Each achievement has four levels – bronze, silver, gold, and master. Each level is harder to reach than the one below it.
6. Boys are pitted against girls. The gender that can acquire the most achievements by the end of the year will win extra recess and an ice cream party during lunch.
7. Each Friday will be Random Encounter Friday. Every one who wants to battle will put their name in a hat. I will draw out two names and they will battle. Students will be asked a question. I will repeat the question twice and then start battle music. The first to write the correct answer on the board and put their hands up will win XP. You can only answer once. Question subjects are chosen at random.
8. Students may join in alliances of up to six ClassRealm citizens. The alliance with the highest combined level at the end of the year wins a pizza party.
9. All info, except for the current amount of XP each student has, will be listed online and in the classroom for students and parents to see.

A visit from Mayor John Lewis

December 12th, 2011

The mayor of Gilbert took time out of his schedule to answer letters that students wrote to him as part of Mr. Donoghue’s Social Studies class. It’s very relevant, and there was quite a bit of rigor, too. Students thought critically about real solutions and analyzed the situation from multiple viewpoints. What a great lesson.

Mitchell 20 – Host a screening

November 15th, 2011

I love the AZ K-12 Center. I went to one of their technology conferences thinking that I was pretty hot stuff and left with my brain aching trying to absorb everything. I attended a leadership conference a few summers ago and chatted with some heavy-hitters in education across the state and felt good just being able to keep up.

The AZ K-12 Center has exceeded expectations again by working with Randy Murray and creating Mitchell 20, the story of 20 teachers who vow to improve what they have control over: the quality of the teacher.

The Mitchell 20 Trailer from Mitchell 20 on Vimeo.

Looks great! I really want to see it. The showings are very limited right now, but venues do have the opportunity to book their own screening.

I like that one of the options on the form is “I have a crazy idea”. It very much fits in the teacher mindset. More than once, when planning a way to engage students in the curriculum, I’ve said, “I have a crazy idea.”

There are many reasons to support the film. It’s about a local school, Mitchell Elementary. It’s from AZ K-12. It’s narrated by Edward James Olmos. Most importantly, it’s about teachers doing what they can to help students.

Writing Strategy: Time Management

October 17th, 2011

One of our teachers, Cheryl Redfield, has been writing for the AZK12 Center‘s blog. Her most recent post, Horse Before the Cart, describes insight she gained administering a writing assessment. Time management factors in heavily into the quality of student writing. If a student takes time for prewriting, the final product almost always turns out better than an assignment written quickly at the lunch table five minutes before it’s due.

But how do we teach time management with regards to writing? Redfield has a pragmatic list of commitments for teachers and students that can be implemented effectively into the classroom. Check it out.

The Four Questions for Teachers

August 2nd, 2011

As I’m reading about improving our schools, these four questions keep coming up:

1. What do we want all kids to know?
2. How do we know if they have learned?
3. How will we respond if they haven’t learned?
4. How will we respond if they have learned?

Those are pretty straight to the point and seem like common sense. The issue is that we get caught up in what Dennis Shirley calls “the distraction of presentism”. We get caught up in the needs of the moment, a survival instinct, and lose sight of where we’re going and why we’re doing what we’re doing.

My challenge this is year is to continue bringing these four questions up. I hope others do, too.

An argument for bookstores.

July 22nd, 2011

Richard Nash, independent publisher at Red Lemonade, has an interesting article here about the need for bookstore workers, people who will help you sift through the massive amounts of entertainment being put out each year. He cites the success of Oprah’s book club not for her knowledge of books, but in the relationship her viewers have with her.

Now, librarians, I don’t think we can immediately summon the hordes of minions that Oprah has.

“Ladies and gentlemen, check under your chairs. You’ve all won A FREE BOOK (that is due in two weeks).” Everyone starts crying.

We can, though, create libraries that are more than just warehouses for paper. (Every time I hear that description of libraries, I get mad. If I wanted to hawk paper, I’d work for Dunder Mifflin.) We can establish welcoming learning communities where we are, as Nash words it, “matchmakers of the book ecosystem”.

The nice freedom versus bookstores that we have is that we’re not trying to push a certain title. A new release will catch a reader’s attention, but if we hook them up with an old one, that’s good, too. Our focus gets to rest primarily on people, not profit.

Netflix Recommendations: Why a librarian is still needed

June 27th, 2011

I love recommendation algorithms. Algorithms are what programming is all about. You take information and swirl it around and get something new.

I appreciate algorithms daily. Any time Pandora takes my thumbs up of Howard Shore and Danny Elfman and gives me Harry Gregson-Williams, I have a new composer that I wouldn’t normally have discovered.

I really like Netflix’s algorithm for recommending movies, but a pretty funny/bad recommendation happened on two separate occasions, so I thought that it was worth looking into. I have reviewed 1,302 titles in Netflix as of this writing. (I’m a fan of Netflix.) Netflix then gives me 4,342 recommendations (today) that I sift through to find something to watch.

This strikes me as an example of where a human librarian would be a great asset. It’s all about the algorithm.

Amazon makes recommendations based on what previous users bought mixed in with sponsored searches paid for by advertising firms. In one Amazon purchase, I bought a textbook during my Masters program, a Dragonball manga for my brother, and a travel guide of Nigeria for my sister-in-law. You should have seen Amazon strain its mechanical brain trying to figure out what in the world I was doing.

Pandora is called the music genome project because it breaks down each song into its most basic elements and recommends other songs based on similar characteristics. But just because one song has a good bass line doesn’t mean that I will like another, although it’s a good start.

Songs are much more than elements – there are nostalgic feelings that make me like a song even if it is some cheezy Boys II Men song I danced to at my own 8th grade promotion that Pandora has no clue about. I could do a search for more songs from that time period and hope to find more results, but it’s different describing that song to a person and connecting with them.

So how does Netflix’s algorithm work? Netflix had a contest in 2009 for programmers to write a better recommendation algorithm. If you read some of the papers found there, you’ll see that Netflix gave the teams 100 million ratings done by users. That’s a lot of data and my applause to the teams that tackled 4.2 million users’ worth of information. Netflix gave teams a probe set, a quiz set, and a test set. The probe set of information is a full list of a user’s ratings of shows. On this day, this user said this movie was this many stars. The quiz set was a list of movies that the programmers had to predict the user ratings for. They would post those predictions and Netflix would say how close they got. The test set was the final copy of the algorithm, where programmers didn’t know how well they did until the winner was announced.

BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos won the contest. Their program took into account ratings on specific days and chunks of weeks at a time. They looked at how a movie may share the same elements (like Pandora’s model) as another movie of the same genre, and matches the genre requirements perfectly, but is just a bad movie. That’s a tough thing to write into a program. The programs I write always use brute force through conditional statements. If I wrote the Netflix algorithm, it would be:

If movie == “Troll 2″ then RunAway();

I am in awe of BellKor’s team. (They are a part of AT&T’s research team, though, so they’re not just some random college kids who were bored one summer and decided to write ubercode.)

All that being said, how does this relate to librarians? Netflix has one of the most sophisticated algorithms for recommendations that I have ever seen. It’s a thing of coding beauty.

And yet…

  1. How come, when I rated a Brian Regan stand-up comedy routine highly, it instantly recommended a documentary about monks who live in isolation in the mountains?
  2. How come it said, “Based on your rating of Inception, we recommend Back at the Barnyard“? What about a Chris Nolan thought-crime movie makes you think that I want to see dancing cows?

Those recommendations were made months apart, so it’s not like Netflix just decided to be wacky this weekend.

Rating predictions are great, but there are still some flaws. Good librarians help you sift through that data, analyze what previous users have done, evaluate elements of genres, and make decisions filtering trends over time. That and most provide a listening ear when you ramble about Boyz II Men, even if they think you’re crazy.

Want to make a difference? Mentor.

May 11th, 2011

In education, we make a difference daily, whether for the positive or the negative. It’s great to think that in my library I have the potential to see 1300 students in a given year and I value that. One place that I see myself making a difference on campus is my mentoring of three new teachers. I just finished all of the end of the year paperwork and it’s so exciting to see a positive impact for our students through the awesome professionalism exhibited by those three.

Even if you don’t think you have what it takes to mentor, some of what you do already can help. There are so many routines on campus that we take for granted, like codes we use for copiers or how to work the various web apps for attendance, grades, etc. If you can walk a new teacher through those routines, it eliminates confusion and frees them to teach more effectively. Letting new teachers know that they are not alone, that they have someone to go to with any questions, is so encouraging and helps retain great teachers. Your guidance will impact years worth of students.

That and you get a cool certificate.

Physics rollercoasters

February 18th, 2011


Ms. Foley and Ms. Kulkarni have their students demonstrate Newtonian physics through building rollercoasters. Not only must the coaster work with a dropped marble, it must be cost efficient. Each piece, including the tape, has a fictional dollar value that they must defend to a board of investors. This is another great example of our staff challenging students in rigor and relevance.

I Like Big Binders

January 24th, 2011

Ms. Johnson, 7th grade AVID instructor, shared with me this great video emphasizing the benefit of a big binder: