23 February 2014

Why I Read Hatching Twitter

While on a recent trip to San Francisco, my colleague mentioned the Twitter offices to me when we drove through the section of the city where Twitter Headquarters is located, so on my flight home I downloaded Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton and read the entire 600 e-book pages in a single weekend. Why?

Curiosity.  As an avid Twitter user for my work in education, curiosity about the business world and start-ups caught hold of me, especially since I'm working for a brand new nonprofit aimed at transforming education.  Thinking about how Twitter revolutionized communication and interaction motivates me and feeds my curious nature.  A single day in San Francisco left me wanting to know more about the history of tech start-ups.  What makes the ideas for products and services turn into multi-million or billion dollar companies?   Clearly, not every start-up successfully morphs into a money-making, world-changing company, so what happens to the rest of the start-ups that are less successful or that never make it at all?  Is Twitter an outlier in a sea of failed start-ups?   What made Twitter a success?  If someone starts a business following Twitter's business model, will it be successful? 

Okay, so none of those questions are answered in the book because the book is about relationships, drama, betrayal, power struggles.  Plus, Twitter supposedly lacked a real business plan in its earliest years.

Stories.  A conflict filled book based on real life interviews with individuals involved in the founding of Twitter sucked me right into the story about Ev, Jack, Biz, and Noah.  The book includes sections devoted to each of the founders and his story of rising and falling with Twitter. I enjoyed reading the varying viewpoints of each man's ideas for the purpose of Twitter--from individual status updates to connecting with the world and giving equal voice to people from everywhere/anywhere.

Surprises.  Since I had never previously read anything about the founding of Twitter or about starting a technology company, many surprises came my way while reading Bilton's book.  The power of money and investors was new and surpirisng information for me as were the hiring/firing procedures.  Basically, if the investors/board members decided the leader wasn't directing the company the way they preferred, the CEO would be fired, even if he was one of the comany's founders.

Learning Ev Williams was the founder of my favorite blogging platform, Blogger, was exciting, too, especially since the reason for creating blogger was for "to tell stories.  To disrupt media." Twitter is a tool for disrupting media, starting revolutions, building new businesses and electing government officials.  Twitter is also a tool for creating a network--a professional learning network or PLN.  Personally and professionally I have experienced tremendous growth since learning how to use the tool effectively.

Renewed Learnings.
Relationships matter most.
Stories are powerful and important.
Leaders should respect their employees.
Social media is changing the way we work, interact, communicate, learn, sell, build, and connect.


22 February 2014

Formative Assessment--A Process--Not a Thing

While lurking in the #nctechat about formative assessment last Sunday, my book-a-week reading decision was made for me even as Franki Sibberson was requesting individuals to send her links to any blog posts.  She requested we send her our links by the following Sunday, so I knew I had my work cut out for me since I planned to read Formative Assessment:  Making it Happen in the Classroom and also revisit the NCTE position statement on formative assessment before writing my post.  My journey to this particular book choice began long before the #nctechat, but my determination to write about formative assessment was solidified after reading all the excellent tweets by educators from around the country. 

Eight years ago, school administrators walked into the library where we we having our weekly faculty meeting carrying posters displaying three questions. 


We were told to hang the poster in our classrooms, and then teachers and students in the building where I taught recited these questions regularly. Hanging the poster did not improve my teaching or my students' learning because I had no idea why we were required to post these questions. What I saw and experienced were mandates I assumed were being passed down to help our students perform better on the state standardized test, and I can assure you that I did not, still do not, nor will I ever believe the sole reason to teach anything is for students to perform well on a standardized test.  The first problem with this scenario is that I did not own new practices or embrace these questions.  The second problem with this scenario is that it's a perfect example of poor implementation of great ideas. 

Make the most of a situation--that's what I do, and that's what I did with the above scenerio as well.  Always, I wanted what was best for my students, and I wanted them to think, to learn, to read, to write, to debate, so we accepted the policy and we learned. We learned together, with me learning more about what my students knew and could do and my students learning more of the literacy skills they needed to be successful.

Years after seeing those three questions for the first time, I began working for the state education department and began reading and learning more about formative assessment. As a state we used Classroom Assessment for Student Learning:  Doing It Right, Using It Well.  The questions I had been introduced to years before began making more sense to me as I learned and studied this text and participated in office-wide trainings in preparation for our state content leadership network meetings that would be our statewide system for implementing the Common Core State Standards.  Our office leaders understood the need for new standards to be introduced within a larger context of highly effective teaching and learning and balanced assessment practices.

One of the highlights of the three years I spent working for the state education agency was my assignment as Kentucky's representative to the FAST SCASS.  Our group, led by Margaret Heritage,  convened quarterly in different locations around the country to discuss formative assessment and to learn from one another about how formative assessment (in practice & policy) looked in our respective states.  Working with Heritage was a life-changing opportunity for me professionally because the three questions that were introduced to me all those years before as a teacher made complete sense in a deeper context of learning.

This week I re-read Heritage's book and revisited my many pages of notes from our FAST SCASS meetings.  I also reviewed the NCTE position statement and the Twitter responses by so many teachers who know and understand formative assessment as a process in their classrooms daily.  Resonating with me this week is the stance made by NCTE (and the FAST SCASS).  Formative assessment is not a test or a thing--it is a process.


Effective teaching and learning is clearly the goal for the teachers represented in this book on formative assessment in the classroom. Throughout the book you see specific classroom examples of learning goals and success criteria as well as specific questions teachers ask in various math, science,  and English language arts classrooms.  For example, a sixth grade math teacher "thinks carefully about the questions she uses throughout her lesson both to scaffold learning and elicit evidence (p.60)." Her questions for the start of a lesson, middle of a lesson, and end of a lesson are shared along with her notes for what she's looking for during the lesson so she can make adjustments based on student responses.

Student self-assessment also plays a prominent role in the practices of the teachers represented in the book, and readers even see charts and examples of sheets teachers use to help students assess their progress toward learning goals.

One of my favorite parts of the book though is the chapter on formative feedback for learning.  Here I read more examples, reviewed additional charts, and learned about additional resources on effective feedback that empowers learners.  This chapter emphasizes teachers and students answering three questions--Where am I going, where am I now, where am I going next?

10 February 2014

How My Son Taught Me to Appreciate STEM

Lucky me.  13 years ago today I became a mom, and this parenting journey couldn't be any better.  From an early age, my oldest son has had an interest in STEM fields, and through him, I discovered that I have a great appreciation for science, technology, engineering, and math.  From my own perspective, art was already appreciated, and I enjoyed sharing art appreciation with Ethan. Together we appreciate not just STEM but STE(A)M (A--art).

Earlier this year, I read an Atlantic article by Jessica Lahey in which she shares how her dad taught her to appreciate STEAM, especially the design and creativity aspects needed to implement scientific and mathematical concepts.  Since reading this article, I began thinking about what I have learned to appreciate. I realized that I started to appreciate the STEM parts of STEAM about the same time I became a mom.

As a baby, Ethan's interest began with all things in nature...worms, caterpillars, trees, flowers, the ocean, the mountains, the stars.  He taught me to look and to listen when I carried him on my back as we hiked trails in the mountains of North Carolina, and he taught me to stop and observe the
greatness of our universe when he was walking on his own.  As he grew older we moved on to thinking more about how things work and move. We built with Lego blocks, looked through telescopes, rode trains, made energy from fruit, assembled circuit boards, made homemade bubbles and play dough, read books about everything science and tested a variety of energy sources.  Always, art was an essential part of our exploration as well.  We drew, painted, and created things for holiday gifts.

Since learning to count around age two and a half, it was apparent that numbers made sense to him.  Ethan didn't just count, he understood from an early age what numbers mean.  Mathematics became an area of strength for him,  and for some reason, he understands and makes sense of mathematical problems that I don't even contemplate (but I do appreciate!).

Around second grade an increased interest in all things solar powered took hold, and we soldered solar panels together, attended E-day at the University of Kentucky, and worked on a science fair projects for school.  In third grade he researched Thomas Edison and built a cardboard monograph for his biography presentation. Edison was his favorite because of his fascination with electricity, and for Halloween one year he even dressed as Edison, his favorite scientist and inventor.  His fourth grade science fair project investigated solar power versus battery power for toy train lights.

Toward the end of elementary school, a stronger interest in computers and video games developed, and everything Ethan knew about science, design, and art fed directly into his interest in technology.  Like many other children his age, Minecraft is a popular pastime.  With this video game, he's able to use all of his design creativity along with mathematical concepts and technology know-how. His next big plan is to build a computer, and he said this will be a father-son project.  I guess my role as mom and explorer is changing as my son grows and matures.  Even with these changes I will forever be grateful to this boy who has taught me to appreciate all things STEM because this is not an appreciation I expect to lose, only one I expect to continue developing.

09 February 2014

Only a Day and Two Nights in San Francisco

When we were informed our Common Assignment Research Study would be having a meeting for all the partners in San Francisco, I was immediately excited at the possibility of finally seeing City Lights Bookellers in person. I, like many other twenty-one year old students, was inspired by the Beat Generation while I was in college.  Specifically, I remember writing a paper on the San Francisco Renaissance poets (and I had never been to San Francisco).  Jack Kerouac's traveling experiences were alive in my head as I made my travel reservations.

It was a relatively short work meeting, with just one evening dinner meeting (II Fornaio) and then a full day meeting on Friday. I purposefully scheduled the earliest flight I could get out of snowy Lexington on Thursday, even though our dinner wasn't until 6pm PST.  With the time change heading west, I landed in SFO by 10:30 am, and after a short stop at a popular food truck Bacon Bacon on the San Francisco State campus, my colleague (who just moved to Kentucky  from San Francisco) drove me to City Lights and left me to explore while she lunched with friends.  Two glorious hours in this historical bookstore were an English teacher's dream.  I sat upstairs in the poetry room and read for about 30 minutes, and I browsed the vast assortment of poetry collections from every generation, and naturally with a special section dedicated to the Beat Generation.

I also browsed fiction and nonfiction on the other floors of the bookstore, and each time I moved from section to section, I thought about the great authors of an earlier generation who shook up the city and the country with their counterculture movement.  The history of this generation was well represented, not only with their great works of literature, but also with the posters, pictures, and postcards that adorned the walls.

Leaving the bookstore, I walked again by Jack Kerouac Alley before making my way across the Broadway/Columbia inersection to The Beat Museum.  Here I found artifacts and memorabilia like a shirt Kerouac wore, Ginsberg's typewriter and organ and loads of photographs and books from the era.

Since I live on the eastern side of the USA, traveling home Friday night would have required me to take the red eye, and I just wasn't up for that experience.  With only a few free hours on this work trip, my only big goal personally was so see City Lights,  so when I also was able to hear live jazz on Friday night, I felt my San Francisco trip was complete. It was serendipitous because I was stuck at the hotel on my own since others in the group had planned better than I did for a Friday evening out and about  (or they lived locally--our Stanford partners) and went home to their families.  

Determined to make the best of the situation, I went to the hotel restaurant for dinner (Brussels sprouts with bacon crumbles & an Ahi burger). While I was dining, several musicians came in to setup equipment.  I didn't have high hopes for what I would hear, given that I was at a hotel restaurant near the airport.  However, when I asked my waiter what he knew about the music to come, I wasn't disappointed when he told me old school jazz.  Indeed it was old school jazz with three local musicians and all improvisation since they did even know one another before they played together. Three hours of lively jazz music and conversations with locals.  On their break, the musicians talked to me and asked if I had any requests, but they laughed when I asked for Coltrane's Giant Steps or Gillespie's Salt Peanuts. Bebop was clearly not high on their list of usual requests.  Not long later, though, they looked at me and said..."you asked for bebop, so we're going to play some for you," and they played KoKo.

A woman from the San Francisco Bay Area came over to talk to me and to share that she was there at the airport hotel to hear jazz and celebrate her 89th (!) birthday. What a joy she was! The band even played a jazzed up happy birthday in her honor, and she stood up to dance in her sparkly pants and leopard print top.  She was there with her daughters who looked to be my mom's age, and I loved that they brought their mom to hear jazz on her birthday.

All told my day and two nights in San Francisco was the perfect work trip with a splash of personal fun thrown into the mix.  We accomplished our work goals, and I saw City Lights and heard live jazz. Can't get much better than that.


02 February 2014

Why I Support the Common Core

 With continued backlash against the Common Core State Standards, I decided I should take some time to blog about why I support the standards as a parent and as an educator.  I do not support all the scenarios I've seen/heard regarding implementation (and companies trying to make a profit) but for the standards themselves--I support them.  Here's why--

My Point of View as a Parent

1.  My son's writing has improved because he's writing in his content classes (English, science, social studies).  He's not writing fluff either.  He's writing academic essays and research papers, the kind of writing he will do when he goes to college.

2.  My son gets to read the nonfiction texts he enjoys.  Because of the push to include more nonfiction texts, he's reading both fiction and nonfiction now, and that makes sense to me.  He also gets to select what he reads for indepedent reading (he often chooses fiction) because his teachers support effective literacy practices that encourage student choice in reading.  Now some would say that's the opposite of what the CCSS require, but I would argue that it's poor implementation and poor instructional practices that lead people down the path of no student choice in reading.

3.  My son is learning math that will help him as he pursues his interests in STEM fields.  Because he started learning the new math standards in elementary school, by the time he started middle school, he was ready for more intense math courses.  He's learning math now that I didn't learn until my high school years, and it's working for him.  He enjoys it and even gets up early to go to school for extra help if he needs it, and the teacher is there to provide that support.

4.  My son is creating digital projects as called for in the Common Core.

5.  My son is rising to the high expectations set forth in these College and Career Readiness standards.  He's being challenged, and he's learning.  Isn't that the goal of school--learning!?

My Point of View as an Aunt

My nieces and nephews are also rising to the challenges of the Common Core at their schools in North Carolina.  However, because of poor implementation and in some situations poor instructional practices or poor decisions made by the schools and districts, my young nieces and nephews are spending hours each night on homework.  In my sisters' eyes, this is because of the CCSS.  I can't blame them for thinking this, especially since the schools tell them it's because of the standards.  This, to me, screams of poor implementation and poor decisions made by people working with the teachers.  As committed parents, my sisters are pushing through the situation and are willing to consider this distinction between the standards themselves and poor implementation of them.

My Point of View as an Educator

As an educator I support the Common Core State Standards.  I have spent countless hours (hundreds) working with the standards beginning before they were published in their final drafts.  Throughout these hundreds of hours I've worked on understanding, helping others understand, deconstructing, creating lessons and assessment items and teaching the standards.

In these hundreds of hours, I've met middle and high school teachers who like the Common Core, are implementing the standards and are pleased with the results.  A benefit as a teacher is the common language and collaboration across schools, districts, and states.  Too often teaching becomes a place where you feel like you are on an island by yourself.  Because of the common language and learning standards, teachers can now collaborate across state lines and share best practices in teaching.

In my teaching life (teaching pre-service teachers) I have taught the standards as a way to model what my students will teach in their middle and high school classrooms.  The benefit in this situation is that as pre-service teachers, students can practice teaching lessons they might actually use in their classrooms when they are hired as teachers.

My Questions

My biggest questions for those who oppose the Common Core State Standards include
  • How much time have you spent with the standards?  
  • Have you taught any of the standards yourself? 
  • Are you opposed to the standards or how they are being implemented and tested on a large scale?