Deadly Islands (end of a course activity for pre-int+)

Here is something I would like to try next year!

That is Evil!

In one of the notes I mentioned I wanted to try the ‘island’ project. I got inspired by Mr. Stanley’s presentation, but adjusted the activity to my groups. First of all, it’s the project for the end of our course, so I wanted my students to revise what they’ve learnt in the last couple of months. The project is divided into three stages:

  • Designing an island

Every group (3-4 students) draws their island. It should be quite big (there will be post-its on them!) and colourful. They should also draw some particularly nice places, name and number them (Valley of the Elves, City that Never Sleeps etc.).

  • Describing threats

Naturally, as the project is called Deadly island, all those pretty places must be very dangerous, so the students make the lists of those traps and describe the threat. Valley of the Elves may be a place where the elves kill…

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Published in: on June 9, 2013 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Only 12 Chances

die of fate

I was watching the Saturday morning news today and a college football coach noted that the players “only have 12 chances” to prove themselves each year.  Admittedly, I am a fair weather football fan and I had no idea how many games a team plays in a season (I actually thought it was ten).  I started to wonder what that would be like to have 12 chances a year to prove your worth.  As a teacher, I try to give my students many chances each day to show their worth.  Unfortunately, there is only one chance for my students to prove themselves and their teachers’ worth as far as the state is concerned.

One. chance. each. year.

The state test is a make it or break it, one shot, all or nothing determination of success.  Teams and coaches have win/loss records,  What would sports be like if every team only played one game a year?  Could a team recover from a loss?  The players would change from year to year.  Does the coach get demoted, fired or promoted based on the results?  How would a loss affect morale for each player and coach?  How would a win affect them?  Does one game prove a team’s abilities?

I wonder if cheating would become rampant?  With so much on the line, would every bat be loaded, every ref paid off and every player “enhanced”?  There would always be suspicion.

We spend so much time, money and attention to student athletics from t-ball to college football and we watch as the players analyze losses, recover from injuries and celebrate victories.  What would it be it like if there was only ONE game, one chance.  Really.  Does that make any sense at all?

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Published in: on October 8, 2011 at 5:48 pm  Comments (1)  

Dissertation Advice if I get there

Since I’m applying to a doctoral program, this sounds like good advice (from Dangerously Irrelevant) to hold onto:

Struggling with your dissertation?

November 9, 2010 12 Comments

Dissertations are difficult things. There are multiple reasons why most folks don’t have one. Here are some words of wisdom that I’ve heard from others and now pass along to my own doctoral students…

  1. Big ideas are good but you’re not going to save the world with your dissertation. Scale it down. Bite off something manageable and doable and save the rest of it for future work – by yourself or others.
  2. Along those lines… the best dissertation is a done dissertation. Get it done. Put the ‘Dr.’ in front of your name. Celebrate yourself for completing a large, hopefully-worthwhile task. Move on with your life. Go do great things!
  3. Fake diplomaphoto © 2007 dkl | more info(via: Wylio)

  4. The key to the successful completion of a dissertation is to treat it like a regular course that you might take. Block off the time that you’d ordinarily take to a) drive to and from class, b) be in the class, and c) read and/or do outside work for the class and then make that time REGULAR AND INVIOLATE (to yourself, your family, your friends, your employer) just as you would a traditional course. Pretend you have face-to-face accountability even though you don’t. Otherwise too many more-immediate and less-amorphous events pop up and you’ll never, ever finish. The percentage of students who are ABD is appalling…
  5. Chunk it. The idea of writing a 150– to 250–page book is awfully intimidating. The idea of writing 2 pages is much more manageable. Set small, achievable goals for yourself (in the next hour I will write 2 paragraphs…; during this session I will find 5 new sources…).
  6. A dissertation always takes longer than you think it will. Get used to that idea now.
  7. Pick a topic that really interests YOU, not someone else (like your employer or your advisor), because no one’s with you at 1:00am on a Saturday night when you’re ready to tear your hair out. Pick something that hopefully will sustain you through the tough times.
  8. And, finally… I always tell my advisees that at some point in the process they will hate me. It all will be good in the end, but there will be moments when they curse my name. I’m okay with that: my job is to get them successfully past the entire committee.
Published in: on December 5, 2010 at 2:07 am  Leave a Comment  


Need something to blog about?  Plinky may have the answer.  Like my favorite quickie daily inspiration,, offers daily ideas for topics to blog about.  Of course teachers will find them useful to inspire students.  The

View through the Glass Floor of the CN Tower i...
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prompt listed today suggests using third person to describe the scariest moment in your life.  Me?  I’ve got a humdinger about discovering that I had a fear of heights, AFTER I had reached the top of the Duomo in Italy.  Really bad timing!

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Published in: on July 10, 2010 at 10:46 pm  Comments (3)  

Parent and Community Involvement – Marzano Chapter 5

This is an important issue to me. We have parents who WANT to be involved in their child’s education, but they don’t know how. Every year I have students who do well on Spelling tests and that’s about it. Parents know HOW to help their students in Spelling. Many really don’t know how to help in other areas.


When Dr. Cooter worked with kindergarten, we had EXTREMELY well-attended “Million Dollar” nights (one night a year). At those programs, Dr. Cooter presented the kindergarten parents with important information about how success in school translates into $$$$$$$$$$. Additionally, she presented demonstrations of how to work/interact with a child to improve their reading. Kindergarten teachers were on hand to demonstrate with students and parents followed suit. The Imagination Library also took part in this event. I’d like to see more of this. It would be great to have a Math activity night and a Reading activity night each year – something MUCH more than an AR night. Parents WANT to contribute, they just don’t know exactly how.

Also, regarding community involvement: I know of a company that decided to get involved in education in Lauderdale County. They had a factory wide meeting where all of the employees were derided for their lack of education. It sounded insulting and counter-productive.

I wish we could have a poster contest – DID YOU CHECK MY BACKPACK? I’ve always felt that if every parent checked backpacks daily they would get better information but MORE IMPORTANTLY STUDENTS WOULD KNOW THAT THEIR PARENTS CARE ABOUT THEIR EDUCATION. Of course, once puberty hits, the whole backpack thing goes out the window (voice of experience), but by then the kids have gotten the message.

Volunteers: Our current PTO tries, but they shut out a lot of parents. I’d like to have a volunteer coordinator. I have a project right now that I’d like done and I know who to call to do it. I just haven’t found the time to get it organized.

Teacher websites – these are becoming a more and more effective tool. I’ve actually got parents who check my website this year. In order for this to work, there needs to be MUCH MORE PD AND MUCH BETTER PD IN THIS AREA. ADDITIONALLY YOU CAN’T EXPECT TEACHERS TO GO TO ALL THE WORK OF PUTTING A SITE TOGETHER AND THEN COMPLETELY CHANGE THE FORMAT. I’d rather get the job done with a blog where parents can leave comments and questions. That’s what Marzano says is more effective (interactive media that is, not necessarily blogging).

A survey “found litte interest in decisions regarding the hiring and firing of teachers or principals. However, parents were very interested in decision regarding programs and practices that bore directly on the achievement of their children.” (p. 49)

There you go, time for some “Million Dollar Math and Reading” nights!

Action steps:
1. Establish communications vehicles between school and parents/community.
Phone calls – YES they are time consuming
Auto phone calls – we have the technology – why isn’t it used more often? Half day, photos, PTO meeting, PAS tests, have a great week!

Internet – see above

Home Visits – I’m proud that Pre-K does these

PT Conferences – I make appointments – MY parents are MUCH happier. I’m ashamed and embarrassed at how badly some schools handle these – long lines – panels of 3 or 4 teachers versus a parent – I’VE HEARD TONS OF COMPLAINTS every year ABOUT THESE – PARENTS ARE ANGRY AND FEEL LIKE THEY ARE BEING GANGED UP ON. This needs re-thinking.

2. Multiple ways for parents/ community to be involved day-to-day in running of school

I WISH WE COULD GET THEM TO MONITOR LUNCH INSTEAD OF AIDS! (Train them and don’t them monitor their own child’s lunch.)

Whatever happened to Adopt-a-School?
I’d love to hear more about the programs mentioned on P. 50.

3. Governance vehicles that allow for parent/community participation.
SIP and SACS are lip service only.
I think it’s difficult to involve parents and not end up with a gripe session. It would be cool if there were a Superintendents/Principals/Parents Study Council sometime. Parents would feel like they have an opportunity to learn and give positive input.
We have various booster clubs which struggle with getting parent involvement. This might improve if they also received some recognition from superintendent and principals and teachers. Dutch Treat appreciation dinner at the beginning of the year – communicate some budgeting tips and requirements, line up some info on fundraising, allow for parents and groups to network better.

Published in: on October 4, 2009 at 5:47 pm  Comments (1)  

Goals and Feedback – Marzano Chapter 4

“George Madaus and colleagues found that tests that are not specifically designed to assess a particular school’s curriculum frequently underestimate the true learning of students” (p. 38)

“The message is clear. Unless a school employs assessment that are specific to the curriculum actually taught, it cannot accurately determine how well its students are learning.” (p. 38)

Hooray for the quotes above. Our students are learning but often don’t perform well on standardized tests. If the assessment is based on state standards (and that’s a big if), and if we are teaching the curricula specified by state standards, then they should be performing well. If either one of the premises are false, the conclusion does not follow. Since we only have control over the second premise. . .

Action Steps:
1. Implement a timely assessment/feedback system on specific knowledge and skills for specific students.
Marzano’s suggestion a minimum for this feedback is quarterly doesn’t seem frequent enough for my situation. He suggests designing specific quarterly tests and calls that formative. We have plenty of tests that do this. How do we use this information? I could do better. At the same time, what I’m focusing on right now is providing better individualized assessment 2-3 times per week during small group work. I believe that will be much more effective than quarterly assessments, but of course it should also affect those assessments.
Redesign report cards? Sure. They really don’t give much information. The suggestion on Figure 4.4 – is he kidding? I’d need to explain all of the concepts to parents first. That’s just ridiculous. How about an explanation of the standards covered during the 9 weeks in plain English, without the percentages. Then a parent would know that their student mastered 79.4% of the listed standards.
Figure 4.5 is difficult to fathom “it would require teachers to keep track of student achievement on only about six topics per quarter”. ONLY? ONLY? 150 students x 6 x 4quarters? There goes all that instructional time out the window – it’ll be spent on assessment and record keeping!

2. Specific challenging goals for the school as a whole
Marzano references Schmoker in this section. We heard a lot about Schmoker from our EE Roland Pope a few years ago. It was emphasied that we have data driven, time-lined goals that are measurable. I don’t remember anything about fast results. Our current EE, Lana Wingo, has put an emphasis on fast results and has suggested ways to use our current staff to do so. I’m excited about her suggestions and hope that we achieve some of those fast results. We have always had the talent. We have also been wheel spinners and wheel re-inventors. I look forward to having better direction, vision and results.

3. Establish specific goals for individual students.
This is exactly what I’m working on. Workstations and small group group work as well as out-of-classroom intervention is making this more possible. My time is better spent focusing on specific student’s specific needs. It’s very difficult to accomplish this but it seems to be paying off already.

Published in: on October 4, 2009 at 4:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum – Marzano Chapter 3

OTL = Opportunity to Learn
3 types of curricula: intended, implemented and attained
Intended – specified by state
Implemented – what is delivered by the teacher
Attained – what is actually learned by students

The time factor – Marzano does some calculation of the amount of time available in the US for instruction. He then calculates the amount of time it would take to deliver this instruction and there is a huge discrepancy.
I wonder: about the data used to determine the time for deliver. He states that classroom teachers were asked how much time it would take to deliver the instruction and that was the basis for the discrepancy. He’s quoting his own research (p. 24) and I suppose I’m supposed to take that at face value. Also, he bases this calculation on instructional objectives which he then proceeds to unravel. I’m not really following this.

1. Identify content which is essential for all versus that which is supplemental only for postsecondary education.
Ummm, okay, but who is going to determine which students are denied the supplemental material? I know that decision is inadvertently or unconsciously made every day, but it shouldn’t be. I remember how surprised I was to learn in college how many of the guys I knew really didn’t take high school seriously until junior or senior year. Luckily, they hadn’t been locked out of higher education prior to their motivational upgrade. In our area, I see students dismissed all the time, even some of the young children I teach. While I believe discriminating curriculum may have value, I’m concerned about discriminating between students. There are schools where the postsecondary rate is well over 90%. Certainly there are factors which contribute to this high rate, but (I don’t know our percentage) I believe our schools need to make a more concerted effort to find MORE students for postsecondary, not to limit opportunities through curriculum choice. (Efforts toward this end are being made by County Executive Shue.)

Marzano also talks about ‘unpacking’ benchmarks and uses an example from 5th grade regarding fluency in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division (p. 27) Most of the groundwork for this benchmark has already been accomplished in earlier grades, using the time available in those grades. The skills necessary for a sprinter to run the 50 yard dash began in infancy. Does the high school track coach need to have all of those skills unpacked and make sure there’s time to cover them? Once the athlete arrives in high school, it’s a matter of practice, maybe a little tweaking, but mostly practice which may or may not take up coaching time. I just wonder if this whole time concept isn’t somewhat flawed by assumptions regarding curricula delivery and learning. Throw in some technology availability as well as well-assigned homework and the time issue becomes even more muddy. Sure we need to guard our instructional time, but the time we have is the time we have. Not only do we need to use it more effectively, we need to INSPIRE OUR STUDENTS TO USE THEIR TIME MORE EFFECTIVELY BY CONNECTING CURRICULA TO LIFE EXPERIENCE.

2. Ensure content can be covered in time allotted.
See above, plus, the new TN standards will be beneficial in this area.
Question: Why do I have to teach Reading using mainly fictional texts? Why aren’t we calling Science and Social Studies content area Reading? I can teach main idea and details, cause and effect, vocabulary, phonics and phonemic awareness using non-fiction texts. My students LOVE non-fiction. In the end, do I really care if my children can sequence a Henry and Mudge story? They need to know the relationship between city, county, state and country or the sequence of insect development. Two birds one book?

3. Sequence and organize content so students have ample opportunity to learn it.
See above. Teach across content areas. Incorporate learning from one area to another so students have additional opportunities.

4. Ensure teachers teach content.

5. Protect instructional time.

I’ll assume that assessing whether students have learned content will be covered in succeeding chapters.

Published in: on October 4, 2009 at 3:05 pm  Comments (13)  

Marzano, Number Juggler

Okay, I get it. Marzano gives a representation of the research, does his own analysis and synthesizes it into his own delineation of the factors which have an impact upon student performance. As I read through this section, I remembered the many evenings of Scrabble and beer with Jack Ward when my husband and I attended Rice University. There was an ongoing discussion of which discipline tended more toward navel contemplation, English or Philosophy. We all found it frustrating and uninspiring that much of the research in our disciplines, (Jack was a Professor in the English Department and David and I were graduate students in Philosophy) was devoted to research re-hash. While this is an important exercise to develop new thinking, it is so often used as the end product instead of the process. To be honest, I think Jack won the battle but lost the war. There actually was a LOT new thinking going on in Philosophy at the time. Science, technology, and world politics have provided the Philosophers with an abundance of new material. While there are many people who remain in their own little specialty, even the Kant scholar has the opportunity to use his parameters to examine our new world. I’m not sure the same can be said for the English scholar, although I’m certain there has been plenty of interesting new research.
Has Marzano created something new or just a research re-hash? I’m tending toward the new thinking side (I’m always hopeful). I believe that part of the issue in education is that we use different terminology to describe the same phenomena. There is definitely a need to come to an agreement as to what the terms mean across the research. He seems to have gathered and re-sorted everything in a way that is applicable to MY experience as a classroom teacher and parent. Figure 2.3 on page 19 does a lot for me as far as understanding what the research it talking about. Whether the researchers would agree as to how Marzano has reorganized them, I’ll never know, but I appreciate the effort to describe a beginning point as to School-Level Factors.

Published in: on October 4, 2009 at 1:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Marzano – The Best of Times?

The introductory chapter sent me into a statistical depression. Marzano documents the different studies throughout the years which paint a bleak picture of public education in the U.S. I’ve heard it all before. I’ve heard it all my 52 years. Growing up in suburban Chicago, the news would come out now and then about how little Johnny can’t read. To tell the truth, I just wasn’t seeing it. Everything looked pretty fan-freakin’-tastic at my schools! Indoor pool, 7 female PE teachers and who knows how many men, AP classes in everything, 4 years of 4 different languages available, everyone planned for college. Yet, we were always told how bad public education was doing. Now, I’m teaching decades later in an area without all of the advantages. My students come from families who have various views of school and education. Many had to suffer through it. Some never made it. In other words, my students don’t come to school with quite the same background that my peers did. Isn’t this how it is? Some areas have well supported schools where students enter with eagerness and high expectations and others have schools that struggle where the students are ambivalent about education and often dread the classroom each day. The question is, can I make a difference to MY students? According to the statistics, no, not much. Marzano wants to re-think the stats and give them a new spin. I’m all about looking on the bright side and have always felt that statistics and data do NOT (forgive me) give the whole picture. Data can be manipulated to be bleak or cheery and the focus can be changed with the right glasses.

Published in: on October 3, 2009 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Book Club

Robert J. Marzano’s book What Works in Schools is the first book being studied in our county’s new book club. I’m excited that I’m finally able to participate in a book club with people who I might run into in Wal-Mart. I’ve participated in a number of fantastic book studies via the internet, ones which sometimes even included the author, but I’ve never been as excited about it as I am now. The opportunity to share with the people I work with every day is exhilarating. I can’t wait to hear what everyone has to say about the first selection. So that I can keep track of my own thoughts, I’ll be blogging as I read. It’s been a while since I’ve made regular entries to this particular blog. Perhaps with this new purpose, I will be more faithful.

Published in: on October 3, 2009 at 9:48 pm  Leave a Comment