Failure to Launch

Failure to launch… it’s a complex problem, that can end with catastrophic results.

I have been hooked on these space analogies lately because they seem to fit the education space so well. The concept of “failure to launch” is one that is so real for us in classrooms across this nation.

The disastrous results that are outlined so profoundly in the video above equate to the struggle that many educators, schools, districts, and administrators, like myself, deal with on the regular. #thestruggleisreal

Imagine with me for a moment that our students are the rocket. Schools and districts play the role of design, engineering, manufacture. States and the Federal Government, they are command and control.

When these systems do not work together…

141029045534-nasa-rocket-explodes-on-launch-virginia-00003006-story-top

Disaster.

Mars Ready

Are our systems aligned so that our students are Mars Ready?

I recently was speaking to a group of educators at the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, Florida. During my talk I outlined, as I often do, that our students change by the second. They do that as a form of survival. The world around them changes so quickly that they are forced to adapt.

Sadly, one area that has greatest impact (and on in which they spend a great deal of time) on our children – schooling – has not really experienced major changes.

Lets look at recent history.

The United States launched the Space Shuttle Program into service in the early 1980s. Thousands of technological advancements took place in the decades that the program was in place. After the Program was shut down, private companies, driven by many young innovators, do things like this…

SpaceX… launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral and landed that same first stage rocket back to Cape Canaveral less than 15 minutes later.

My question is – are our schools and districts using systems that are build up the future innovators that will take us to Mars? Or, are we on a path to “failure to launch”?

Is your school or district getting your students #MarsReady?

Our schools and districts need to reflect on how we engage kids; how we immerse them in technology rich, problem-based environments; how we align systems to avoid “failure to launch”.

At the surface, there are easy things that we can do. Like I shared with my friends at FETC we can begin exploring tools that can engage students and help us take them to higher levels.

Check out my 60 Instructional Technologies in 60 Minutes Master List here.

At deeper levels, these questions lead us to a path of reform. A path that will force us to reflect on how we do school.

A path that will prevent “failure to launch”?

Are our students #MarsReady?

mars_2445397b

And… will you help me get us there?

Michael Meechin, M.Ed.
@mikemeechin

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Michael Meechin is a high school principal, writer and speaker. Mike works with schools and districts by providing grassroots professional development, high impact speaking topics, and consulting services on education reform initiatives. For more information check out our Work, or Contact Us.

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Why Are You Questioning Me?

Why are you questioning me?

This is the thought that runs through my 1750+ students minds each day as their teachers push them to dig deeper through the line of questioning thrown their direction.

Rigor. Probably one of the most overused terms in the educational arena.

You see, when people talk about rigor in the classroom they often fail to define it. To me it is simple. Rigor can be defined as effective teaching and learning. In my building it means the type of teaching and learning that makes the student’s brains hurt. I want to share with you, as I did with my faculty this past week that getting there – getting to this place of terrorizing student brains – is not that difficult.

It begins with questions.

  • What does an effective question look like?
  • How does an open-ended question have a greater impact on rigor?
  • Why do both the follow-up and persistence of the questions you ask matter?

What Does an Effective Question Look Like?

It is about the hook.

tankman

Take this image from Tiananmen Square, for example. Put this up for students to view and you can begin to dig deep on several elements in the photography – I could ask about the people, the setting, the engagement, etc… The more provocative the image – the better questions you can build.

Some questions I might ask:

  • What is happening in this image?
  • Why do you think someone might do something like you see here?
  • What do you think happens next?
  • If you were there, what do you think you would have seen or heard?
  • Is there anything in your lives that you would stand up for to this degree?

You can lead the students exactly where you want them to go with the line of questioning you ask. This can be done in any subject area as well. I might show an Ebola ravaged village when questioning about cell reproduction in Biology; I might show a Matthew Brady image from the Civil War when directing the Emancipation Proclamation in English; I might show any one of Dan Meyer’s 3 Act Math images in Mathematics.

How Does an Open-Ended Question Have a Greater Impact on Rigor?

Open-ended questions allow us to open up the conversation in the classroom. Sticking with my Tiananmen Square image… lets look at these two questions.

  1. Is the subject of the photo standing up for something?
  2. What are some reasons that you think might make a human being stand in front of an armored tank?

Q1 is simple. The most common answer – Yes. You may get something a little more – but the conversation and answers are likely to be low level and lead to nowheresville.

Q2 will take you to great new heights. Students are going to engage in answers that are going to lead to new questions about the topic. This is the sign that you are asking the right questions and taking students to deeper levels.

Why Do Both the Follow-Up and Persistence of the Questions You Ask Matter?

Do not let students off the hook. When questioning in the classroom – make a habit of asking follow-ups. This is especially true of students that often give the “I don’t know”. Come back to your “I don’t know” students often with follow-ups.

Persistence. Letting students know that they will not ever be let off the hook is essential. Persist with your students – especially those whom are hesitant of answering. Building a culture of comfort and safety when answering questions will also help. If students know that when they enter your classroom that you are persistent – they will be on their toes.

Try these simple strategies when questioning students in your classrooms. I promise that it will push your conversations deeper into content and take students to higher levels of thinking.

Go ahead, make their brains hurt.

Mike Meechin, M.Ed.
@mikemeechin

For more information about having Mike speak at your school or district, click the “Book Mike” link under Work With Me.

What We’re Doing With Remind101

I have the privilege of working with some amazing educators in my schoolhouse, and I wanted to share what we’re doing with Remind101.

Remind101 is a technology that allows educators to provide one way communication to students, parents, etc… via text message simply and efficiently.

My teachers began using Remind101 last school year in sporadic fashion. So, this year we focused on bringing Remind 101 school wide and ensuring that our teachers were taking advantage of this powerful communication tool. But, that wasn’t enough for us…

We felt that there were other areas that we could use Remind101 to communicate in several ways with our students and parents. We would like to outline a few ways that we are making Remind101 work for us @poincianahigh.

Remind101 Stakeholders via School Website

We have posted our Remind101 subscription code on our school’s website that allows stakeholders to subscribe to our feed. We publish important school information, announcements, and shout-outs on our Remind101. The feedback we have received has been great. Stakeholders really enjoy receiving the information via text message and we love the ability to be able to schedule reminders ahead of time.

State Assessment Review

EOC ReviewAs a school, we were looking to engage our students outside of the classroom to encourage them prep for state assessments. We also wanted them to use technology… enter Remind101. My Science Coach developed signs that outlined how students could Remind101 Biology End of Course Assessment practice right to their mobile device.

We posted signage throughout the school that outlined the quick how-to. After that my Science Coach would Remind101 practice questions to our students enrolled in the group. Students would have to come and explain the answer to us during lunch. Students ate it up – they were coming down and having higher level discussions about Biology during their lunch. The response was impactful for our students – we like that.

Attendance Intervention

Remind101 Wake UpLike most at-risk schools, we have attendance issues. We decided after reading about and idea on the Remind101 blog to use this technology as an intervention to address our attendance issues.

What we did was use data to identify our most at-risk attendance issues. We met with these students and enrolled them in our Remind101 wake-up program. We send out three reminders each morning, beginning at 5:45A, waking our attendance issues and hopefully encouraging them to get to school.

Our reminders are witty comments or inspirational quotes meant to motivate our students to get to school that day. We follow up our first Remind101 with two additional wake-ups each morning. We like the data that we are seeing in return. In our first semester using Remind101 for this purpose, we got an increase in attendance for 83% of students in our pilot cohort – we like that.

These are just some of the ways that we are using Remind101 @poincianahigh. I hope that this helps you to use this powerful technology in your school, with your students.

Mike Meechin, M.Ed.
@mikemeechin

Socrative and a Film Engage Assessment

Movies in the classroom… you know you’ve shown one before.

I was guilty of it too when I was in the classroom. As an administrator I do not necessarily want my teachers showing films to students – unless they relate to the standards of course. So when a film relates to the content and we want to use it to provide a visual for concepts already taught; how do we ensure that students stay engaged throughout? How do we ensure that students stay awake when the lights are off and engaged in the viewing process?

The answer is a tool that I used in the classroom; I called them film engage assessments. I used @Socrative as the driving force and delivery method. If you are not familiar with Socrative, check it out here.

Here is how it works.

As students watched a film in my class, we would use Socrative and I would run a teacher-paced quiz on my student’s devices. For this example we will use the film Glory as the example. The Socrative Share Code is: SOC-594065, if you want to run it in your Socrative teacher dashboard.

The engage assessment consists of ten open-ended short answer questions. Because this is a teacher-paced assessment, I would launch the questions as the students got to the scene they related to. Students would use their devices (Socrative runs on ANY web enabled device) to answer the question.

Socrative allows you to email or download a report of all student answers at the completion of the assessment. I would use the report to guide discussion at the conclusion of viewing.

Keep in mind that this strategy would work with and length of film – from short video clips to feature length films. It is an easy way to keep our students engaged while they view pieces of film in our classrooms.

Mike Meechin, M.Ed.
mike.meechin (at) gmail.com
@innovateed

#FETC 2012

So, I will be presenting at #FETC 2012 this year in my adopted hometown of Orlando, Florida.

I am a big fan of FETC, even though I have been on a three year hiatus. I am really looking forward to connecting with some of the folks that I get my PLN on with. FETC is one giant share-fest – and makes me think about how desperately our profession needs more of this type of best practices share-a-palooza.

I will also be launching my company at FETC and attempting to make some connections with schools and districts in need of quality professional development at a very affordable price point – something else our profession desperately needs. If you want to see what stirs in my mind that I want to share with others you check out my company at www.innovateedu.org.

If you will be at FETC, let me know – I am on the Twit @innovateed. I will also be presenting on 1/25, my concurrent session – Blogging with a Purpose at 10AM, Room S230C. So, if you are around stop by – or if you just want to grab a cup o’ joe and trade stories – let me know.

Oh, also check out the FETC Tech Conference Survival Guide, it was written by Carlos Fernandez (@fernandezc4) – he’s another FETC presenter, who will be preachin’ about Evernote and it’s use in education. So, check him out.

Mike Meechin, M.Ed.
mike.meechin[at]gmail[dot]com
@innovateed

Purpose.

What is our purpose?

I believe this to be an overlooked question as it relates to our actions in public schools across this nation. I feel lost sometimes with no idea where to begin the discussion with fellow educators about initiatives that are going to change the system. A system that for the most part has been working the same way for well over one-hundred years. A system, that in my opinion, is very broken.

So, I ask again – what is our purpose?

I write this post as I am filled with emotion about this issue (which may not be a good idea). Now I am not a Joe Bowerite, of the abolish grading movement (yet). I am also not of the “sit back and do nothing because it will never change” movement either. So, for the moment I will put myself somewhere in the middle. So, let me explain.

I believe that as educators we need to always reflect on what we do in our classrooms. This translates to self-assessment in most cases of our curriculum (each year if not more often). When we self-assess we need to ask ourselves, “what is the purpose?” And really we need to break this down into two categories – how we assess, and then how those assessments translate to a grade. The assessment piece I addressed in my last post about making our curriculum relevant. Bottom line: if you look at what you have your students “do” in your classroom and you can not answer the question about purpose – stop assessing with that tool and find another assessment that holds purpose.

DISCLAIMER: In the following portion of the post I will discuss mathematics. I have never been, nor pretended to be a mathematics teacher, so if you see holes in my math I both apologize and welcome you to discuss those holes in the comments section. Thank you mathematicians.

As for the grading piece, I have attempted to convince many colleagues that the 50 minimum grade scale was where it was at. Mathematically we have been screwing over students for generations, and shame on us. You see the 100 point grade scale is skewed – and the zero holds six times more weight that any other number grade that can be given. That is a fact. Now, it doesn’t mean that educators will not complain… “How can a I give a 50 to a student that does no work?” I have already met you… my answer is how can you (ethically) grade students with a number grade lower than zero when that will mathematically skew the students grade in the F grade scale? I know – I used to be that teacher that handed out a zero without reflection.

I mean, look at how we calculate GPAs. We assign a four point scale to the letter grades student receive. A 4 for an A, 3 for a B, 2 for a C, 1 for a D, and 0 for an F. I can hear you already – but we assign a 0 for an F… and I know that. However, when a 0 is factored on the 4 point scale its weight it the same as the other letter grades. When we move the 0 to the 100 point scale it packs a punch that many students can not recover from – mathematically.

The F in our GPA calculation is always the same whether that student failed the course with a 59% or a 7%. So, a student that scores a 59, and a student that scores a 0 – should they be given the same weight when we calculate their GPA? I would argue that the student with the 59% did a lot more work than the student with the 7%. You? But when we calculate GPA no one complains that we should penalize the student with the 7% with a -5 in his GPA calculation. I wonder why?

Now, I am not going to just complain – I will offer a solution. The 4 point system is where it is at with regard to grading reform. That is a fact – that it why we calculate GPAs with that system. I have heard @robertjmarzano and his people talk a lot about proficiency scales in grading, and that may be one answer to the grading debacle. I also believe that we grade too much and often forget to see if our grades match student learning. (To be honest, I think some just don’t care.) If we are not questioning the purpose of all that we do – grading, assessment, curriculum, discipline – then what is our purpose?

Tough conversations need to happen. As I was writing this piece I read a comment over at the Cooperative Catalyst by @wmchamberlain in response to what is the difference between “schooling” and learning:

It means thinking critically about all aspects of school from the curriculum to teaching methods to discipline policies. It means making classroom level decisions based on what works best for the student learning, not what is easy or because that is the way things have been done.

I could not agree more – educators need to make classroom level decisions about grading and assessment based on what will work for their students. So, what is our purpose? The answers will not come easy.

More to come…

Mike Meechin, M.Ed.
mike.meechin[at]gmail[dot]com
@innovateed

Take It Easy

I was speaking with a group of high school freshmen repeat freshmen this past week. We were reviewing their “hot off the presses” progress reports, or lack there of reports.

When I speak with students who are in situations like this – students that we in public ed label “at-risk” – I like to be real with them. I like to spell out their current situation as it is and then discuss how to turn-it-around. However, this particular day they got me to thinking. With a resounding commonality they all had the same thing to say.

C’mon Mister, our teachers make it way too hard; they need to take it easy.

Well, being the educator that I am – I was not going to leave it there. So I followed up with some probing questions about their classes, teachers, and assignments. We also discussed why they were behind and what was leading to, let’s just say lackluster performance. As we delved deeper into the root causes for poor performance and lack of motivation it was becoming clearer to me. It was not about taking it easy; instead it was about making it relevant.

You see, our students are not stupid. In fact, should you choose to converse with them outside of the classroom you will find that many are more intelligent than we could ever imagine. The mundane “busy work” that students are receiving in classes across the United States needs to brought to an end. This is not a student intelligence issue or a student motivation issue – but an educational engagement issue. Bottom line: the students, many of whom are “at-risk” are not engaged. Now many in the profession would respond with a: “it’s not supposed to be all fun and games you know”. Yeah, I know.

I also know that there is a difference between “fun and games” and engagement. I have been on a tear lately completely reflecting and redesigning what I believe assessment (and grading) should look like in the high school classroom (that’s a post for a different day). But, engagement goes right along with it. In fact, it may be the key. The time for us to really reflect on what we are using in our classrooms to engage students and provide a meaningful learning experience is now. We are losing students to this epidemic of non-engaging, mundane , boring, over-used classroom strategies.

It’s not about easy, it’s about relevance. If we work to make our curriculums relevant I believe that we can connect with these students again. This past week I was giving a workshop on instructional technology to a group of high school teachers. We were going through some web 2.0 resources that they could bring into their classrooms immediately to begin engaging students in something they’re familiar with. It doesn’t have to be a huge overhaul of your curriculum (yet). But, we need to find the tools that we can utilize to engage these students. One educator that I recently heard speak about student engagement was Tina Boogren – you can check her work out at her blog.

So, when you’re designing your next lesson, don’t take it easy – make it relevant.

PS: More to come on this grading and assessing issue – its been trapped in my brain and I need to get it out into a blog post soon.

More to come…

Mike Meechin
mike.meechin[at]gmail[dot]com
@innovateed