Friday, February 12, 2010


As more and more people have been reading this blog, I've been increasingly uncomfortable with the url, which I chose before I started using this blog to write about teaching. So I'm moving, to  All the old posts and comments have been moved.

See you there!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Taking a break

I've finished nearly all of the grading - enough to think of myself as done, although I have four extra credit projects still unassessed. Fortunately they'll be easy because any kid good enough to have done extra credit is likely to have done it well. Also they're unlikely to change my assessment of those students - kids motivated enough to do extra credit have usually been doing well all along. I will of course look at the projects tomorrow.

Before I go to bed, I want to post a few articles I've come across but haven't felt the luxury to form complete commentary on. The articles are good enough to stand alone; you should read them!

The Atlantic looked at Teach for America's upcoming report on What Makes a Great Teacher? I hope to take the ideas, especially about constant re-evaluation and changing what doesn't work, and implement them this semester.

I have thought Lisa Damour was fabulous ever since I heard her speak about Growth Mindset and Stereotype threat. I think the things she is looking at are important and I think she's smart and able to explain things in a way that are easy to understand. So I was pleased to see her article about teaching girls to tinker in Education Week. And that was before I knew she mentions computer science!

Clay Shirkey's Rant About Women is getting a fair amount of play. I *really* want to know what Sarita Yardi thinks, since I can tell she has strong opinions but so far I haven't seen them. I'm willing to overlook the strong language and think he has some very good points. I'm sure my opinion is informed by the fact that I've been trying to do some self-aggrandizing writing lately and I'm not very good at making it sound like I'm all that.

I'm trying to be more positive in 2010. So the article from Teacher Magazine about having better classroom management by focusing on the positive was nicely timed. I'm not seeing stuffed animals in the classroom in my future, but maybe I can yell less.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Looking for the motivation fairy

I'm supposed to be writing grades, but I'm having an impossible time settling down and getting anything done. When it became obvious that working from home wasn't working, I came to school. So far that has prompted me to open my gradebook, which is a step in the right direction, but more of a baby step than a meaningful step.

I'm not even engaging in structured procrastination, just kind of noodling around.

Please, motivation fairy, show up soon!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Who Are You?

During the holiday break, I attempted to declutter my craft closet. The craft supplies are organized by craft in boxes in a closet, but the closet was stuffed to the gills, making it hard to get to many of the boxes, which is a major barrier to doing the crafts. It was time for some of the supplies to go.

I weeded the contents of boxes, getting rid of supplies I don't really like and won't use. In some cases, I weeded crafts, emptying out whole boxes.

I got stuck when it came to one craft. I have nice supplies. I like them. They're well organized and fit nicely into the space they're in, so getting rid of some of them is harder than getting rid of none or all. I realized that I am not ready to let go of my vision of myself as a person who does that craft.

We have a lot of visions of ourselves, labels we apply. Most CS teachers I know think of themselves as programmers. Few think of themselves as computer scientists.

I wonder how this affects our students. Are our labels accurate? Are you a programmer, if you know how to program and do it sometimes, but not often? Are you a programmer if you love to program but almost never do it? Does it affect how you think about curriculum if you think of yourself as a programmer but not a computer scientist? Do the kids pick up on your attitudes about yourself and what you do?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Dear people: you can change

Although I am quite sure there are cultural influences at work keeping women and other underrepresented groups out of computing, I have not been all that excited by the recent reports about Geeks Drive Women Out of CS. I think the research being reported on is important and valid, but I am underwhelmed by the reporting itself, starting with the headline.

However, a blog post by the same name with recommendations for girls, boys, and teachers, aimed at getting more girls into CS classes was entertaining, accessible, and way better than the articles I've read. Yes, some of it relies heavily on stereotypes. But I'm delighted by a slightly snarky attitude that suggests resilience and demands welcoming attitudes.

Go read it. Really!

Saturday, January 02, 2010


I don't like New Year's Resolutions.

First, they seem ill-timed to me. I read a line in the last week or two about how terrible a time of year this is to make resolutions, especially weight loss ones. It's dark all the time, so you don't want to get out and exercise. It's winter so there's no good fresh produce. "I resolve to do something that will be nearly impossible! Yay!" For me, like many teachers and students, the new year begins in September.

Second, I don't really like the word 'resolutions'. I like the word 'goals'. Goal leaves more room to not succeed without actually failing.

I have found that I do better when I let goals just happen to me, rather than making them. I feel like making some change, so I make it, without waiting for the new year or forcing myself to make a change because it's the new year. It means I change when I'm ready to change, which means I'm more likely to be successful.

However, I am intrigued by the 6 Changes approach to creating new habits. I like the parts about making something a habit (not a resolution!), it's based on triggers, and you don't have to change everything at the same time. I don't like the part about breaking it into baby steps.

What I need to do is figure out a system for keeping my to do list. Don't know how to break that one into baby steps!

I also need to get my head out of vacation mode and back into school mode! I have tests to grade, paragraphs to write, and lessons to plan. But it's been a relaxing couple of weeks.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Leaving Some Children Behind?

As seems wont to happen at family gatherings, today I got into a political discussion with some family members. We discussed performance-based pay, and the discussion moved into performance-based pay for teachers.

Personally, I'm a fan of performance-based pay for teachers IF it truly reflects the performance of the individual teacher. If students took a test at the beginning of the term and at the end, and the teacher's performance was based on students' mastery of material, gained during the time they were taught by that teacher, then okay. According to an article by Malcolm Gladwell, "Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year's worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half's worth of material." However it is that Hanushek is figuring it out, if we used that measure and it's accurate, that sounds good to me.

The negative reaction I got was mystifying.

First, I was challenged on whether it is possible to actually judge performance. It is true, we don't currently have instruments that judge student performance in all disciplines, only in the ones that are currently part of the "core". However, tests could be developed that would measure what we say we're teaching. Standardized tests that test the curriculum aren't always bad - teachers should be teaching the curriculum, and if they shouldn't then the curriculum should be changed. (I'm not discussing school-based bonuses where all teachers are paid based on student performance on core standardized tests, I'm arguing individual performance.)

The example given? PE. Apparently it's impossible to test how far or fast a student can run at the beginning of the term and test it again at the end of the term to see if there's a difference. Or if it's possible then it isn't fair because, apparently, motivating students to perform or otherwise getting them to do the curriculum is more than a teacher should be responsible for.

I suggested that good teachers are able to get their students to learn the material. Period. That's what makes someone a good teacher.

I was told that I'm unrealistic, because I work in a private school. I don't understand what it's like to have a classroom of 40 kids (largely true) who have varying ability and interest (untrue). It's not possible to support the low kids and help them rise while at the same time boosting the ones who are already above grade level. (You know, like by differentiating instruction and assignments.) A teacher should not be held equally responsible for a kid who is low and truly unable to grasp the material and for one who is low but highly capable.

I am venting here, because Christmas is so not the time to get into a huge fight with a close family member who is being... um... argumentative, but to say I was dismayed is an understatement.

I kept thinking about a master teacher I know. The thing that makes this teacher great is that he believes that every student can master the material. For some kids it's easy, for others it's a challenge, but he knows that every kid can do it. He doesn't teach easy stuff either, and I've never seen him dumb down material - he has high expectations. But he is willing to go the extra mile, help students who need it, and believe in them. He lives growth mindset.

I don't think teachers should be held responsible for students' prior knowledge nor should they be held responsible for what happens to a kid outside of school, and both those things do impact the student who shows up in class. But a teacher should be held responsible for how much knowledge they impart to students in their class. All students, not just the polite ones, not just the likeable ones, not just the ones who are at grade level. It does a disservice to the rest to ignore them and refuse to be responsible for teaching them too. Why would a teacher be okay with leaving some children behind?