Archive for the ‘Relationship+Relevance+Rigor’ category

ePals Global Community

January 15th, 2013

Writing assignments are more engaging when they have a real-world context (think quadrants B and D on the Rigor/Relevance framework). One way to incorporate that is through written correspondence to people of other cultures from around the globe.

Instead of just randomly emailing people, ePals has set up a community specifically for educators to connect classrooms from around the world. It’s like paper and pencil pen pals, but for the new “flat” world.

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.

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.

AZ Transfer

October 18th, 2010

If you’re overwhelmed by college options, don’t think college is an option, or just need more information about college, check out It collects all of the information about going to higher education in the state of Arizona and puts it in an accessible format.

Pull not Push

July 30th, 2010

“Learning has to be productive in order to make sense.”

I agree with Charles Leadbetter, a London researcher who observed different school environments in very poor areas of the world. We promise that education will have extrinsic value, that you’ll be able to make a living because of the education you receive. But for some, waiting 10+ years for the pay-off is way too long. In many of the countries he visited, kids were dropping out at 14-15 years of age to work for a living. What good is an abstract exercise if you can’t pay your bills?

This goes back to the core question of why we have schools. Is it just to train workers? To grab some students’ attention, we need to do at least that. The issue I have is that the world is changing so fast that we need to help students develop critical thinking skills. If we train them on current problems/technologies, those might not be the same issues by the time they leave high school.

This is why I see structuring curriculum through Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships as being key. Give students the challenge, give them real-life application, and let them know that you care if they succeed. That’s how you get motivation. The tough part is filtering out the stuff that doesn’t align with 3Rs, even if it’s how you’ve always done things.

Leadbetter might argue that having a curriculum to begin with doesn’t meet the needs. But we don’t have enough teachers to construct individual lessons for each student. Leadbetter suggests peer-to-peer teaching as an alternative. Also, module-based learning, like you see in well-designed online classes (not the busy work kind), is another way to tackle individual learning. With so much individualism, though, social cohesion is at risk. Definitely some stuff to get your thoughts going.

Check out the video from Charles Leadbetter:

Some of the educational models referenced:
Formal Innovation:
Big Picture schools
Jaringan School in Queensland
Kunscap Skolan schools in Sweden
Informal Innovation:
Reggio Emilia Approach
The Harlem Children’s Zone

Will the written word die?

January 24th, 2010

I was asked this question (actually, a more tame version…I don’t think the person asking used the word ‘die’) and the short answer is, “No.”

I’ve been asked this question a couple of times. It first came up when AIM and ICQ chat clients were starting to become popular (does anyone still use ICQ anymore?) and people started abbreviating common words and/or could care less about spelling errors. Even then there was a distinction between everyday language use and a lexicon for the workplace.

But as companies are moving towards incorporating more social media into their marketing (do I need to be a friend of Rubio’s Baja Grill on Facebook? How much breaking news can they have?) we’re going to see some lines between the workplace and the socialspace blur (and I’m the first to admit that I fight that blur). This is part of why I have a work e-mail and a school e-mail. I sound much stuffier (more stuffy…what’s the grammar rule for that?) when I’m sending an e-mail to the staff about AIMS testing.

Why am I stuffier? I need it to be cut and dry, simple to understand. I need to write with clarity. Our students’ scores may rest on a teacher having the proper instructions so tests don’t become invalidated. I don’t want any room for interpretation.

As businesses use technology more and more, the written word doesn’t disappear – but it does take on new forms. I love that traditional newspapers have been scrambling to keep up with Twitter on breaking news stories. 140 characters can sometimes scoop paragraphs worth of info that will never get read.

I do make a distinction between paper use and the written word. I think that the Kindle and nook are signs of that. We’ll see what the iSlate/iPad/Macbook Touch has to say.

This past week students took their creative short stories and used GarageBand to turn them into an audio book complete with sound effects and a musical score. I tell the students (and the teachers creating the assignment) that if they want a quality product at the end the students need to write a rough draft of their recording first. Until we become experts at improv as a society, rough drafts will continue to be made to help ideas flow from one to the next.

Instead of typing a final copy of their story, they mixed down the audio files and dropped them into a shared folder on the school network. Students then donned their headphones and wrote reviews of the different audio books. It was a very enjoyable day in the library. Students had instant feedback, something that they appreciate. It was a project with a purpose. The clearer their ideas, the better the feedback. As the reviewing circle expands into students who they don’t know, the need for clarity increases. Inside jokes are now just random blurtings. This translates into the business world as project teams start to involve more and more collaboration, especially as international business increases.

A colleague of mine who teaches in another district is having trouble with the fact that her curriculum involved a lot of writing but not that much reading. Students must be able to ask, “Why are we writing this?” Is the teacher the only audience? The teacher will only be there for a year. High school (usually) is only four years. What about the rest of our lives? If no one’s reading your work, why write it? (Of course there is an enjoyment for some in the very act of writing, but the question of relevance does need to be asked when creating writing assignments.)

Author Visit: James Dashner

November 3rd, 2009

When teachers ask me about if an author visit was a success, I consider a couple of factors:

  1. Were the students engaged?
  2. Was there a balance between “Buy my book!” and “Here’s how to be a better student”?

Student engagement is a big one, since a bored audience could be doing something else with their time. Author visits take work to coordinate; Quiet Ball is a much easier way to bore students.

I understand that authors make money from book sales, so of course they would want to hype their books. But by being at the school you’ve already highlighted your book apart from all of the others on the shelf.

James Dashner scores well on both of these requirements. He had some pictures on a PowerPoint to make the students laugh, but what really kept the students involved was asking questions. Dashner asked students about why to pre-write and what makes for a good revising process. He detailed the steps that he takes when writing a book. It was great to hear that pre-writing, first drafts, and revisions (all things our teachers emphasize) are involved in how he gets published.

Our focus on rigor, relevance, and relationships was enhanced by his real world writing examples. I especially appreciated that to be a published author many times you send off your revised manuscript to an agent before you get to the final copy. Students came away from the author visit with a better understanding of strategies for writing (and signed copies of the book).

Playing Guitar Hero and Solving Two Rubik’s Cubes

August 8th, 2009

While thinking about technology shifts and differences between generations, I think this video sums up a teen’s ability to multitask.

Check out the boy who solves two Rubik’s cubes while playing Guitar Hero. I think about how many windows my students have running on the computer at one time.

Did You Know? Video

July 30th, 2009

If you haven’t seen this video about globalization and a changing market, you should:

It’s an update from a presentation by Karl Fisch that he gave to his staff at Arapahoe High School. His informal citations for the stats are here. The update was done by Scott Mcleod, a professor at the University of Minnesota. I really relate to how quickly tech information changes during the course of a college study. My first two years we were doing C/C++ (and I used to read binary) but then the required languages switched because web development was really taking off.