Category: Uncategorized

Working for PED

I was paid $300 (though I will not receive this for another 4 weeks) to work for my state’s public education department (PED) developing an end of course (EoC) exam for a class that is neither required for graduation nor guided by state standards; though, several of us have articulation agreements with local university or community colleges and it is this agreement for post-secondary credit that defines the goals for our courses.  This work was spread over five days: a two-day assessment conference (the theme was formative assessments, Solution Tree was the primary contributor) and the latter three on the actual EoC; but all five days were scheduled from 8am to 5pm, with several 1-1.5 hour large-group trainings interspersed during the EoC work time.  The goal was to create an assessment to serve as a final exam for the course, which counts for 20% of a student’s overall grade by state mandate; though it was not to be comprehensive, only covering about 60% of the content; and is to be given in a three week testing window which begins a month before the end of the semester.  It was to be approximately 50 questions, should take a student about 70 minutes to complete, and all the questions were to be multiple choice.  Each question the group wrote had to have a typed version (template provided) and a hand-written version to give PED ‘authentic work.’  In addition to the actual test, we also wrote a blueprint: a document outlining the standards and the learning goals to be addressed under each standard.  It is to be reviewed, approved, and pending approval (not sure by whom), posted on the PED’s website by October.  All the courses with an EoC have a blueprint posted on the PED website to ensure teacher access, however, not all the blueprints there are current.  The last two documents we were responsible for were an answer key for the test and a document that tracked how many questions per standard were assessed, evidence that a question actually assessed the standard, the depth of knowledge of the standard as well as each specific question, and the percentage of questions in a standard at or above the standard’s group-assigned depth of knowledge.

Discussing anything about this work could cost me my license and, therefore, my job.  On top of this, if it appears that scores on the EoC I worked on are really good (and a statistical analysis by the PED verifies that the scores are statistically too good), then there was probably impropriety and my license could be pulled and I would lose my job.  This could even apply to the other teachers in my district if their scores are statistically too good, I must have done something improper, I could lose my license and therefore my job.  We were warned during the three days we were working on the EoC not to discuss it outside of the rooms we were working in, this especially included not criticizing the process, the actual test, or the PED while we were wearing our name tags, which included ‘…Public Education Dept.’ on them or we would face sanctions, up to and including, the loss of our license.  If I make any public comment, being considered an educator first, that is seen as criticizing the test or the process, I can face sanctions, up to and including, the loss of my license and my job.

The recurring reason given for this work was to ensure all students taking this course (and all the EoC’s being worked on, ~29 this year, there have already been a dozen in the previous 2 years) would cover the same material no matter where they were; a grass-roots Common Core ideal allowing teachers across the state to compare their students to everyone else’s.  [The reason given for the previous dozen was to provide an alternate-demonstration-of-competency (ADC) for students who failed to pass the state standards based assessment (SBA).]  The EoC is not designed to be used as a means of getting out of a class, like a clep test, as only a teacher of record can determine whether any student has earned the credit for a course.  In addition, the data generated by the test would also be used in the Value-added Model for teacher evaluation.  The actual cut-score to determine proficiency on this test will be determined in the future, after it has been taken and the scores have been norm-ed to find the score that roughly 50% of the students received.

Let’s recap.

  • I worked for ~$5 an hour
  • I wrote an EoC for a course that is not required for graduation (it is an elective) and without standards because my state has no standards for the course
  • This test is supposed to make the course uniform across the state; however, it’s not uniform between post-secondary institutions
  • The uniformity is the primary purpose of the EoC, not teacher evaluation
  • It is supposed to be a standards-based test, but it’s normed
  • The scores from the EoC will be used in my teacher evaluation, but the ‘proficient’ score for students is unknown
  • The six of us that wrote the test and agreed upon the standards (from another state) to base the test on, have an unfair advantage
  • I cannot tell another teacher what standards the test is based upon or I could lose my license
  • The test will be given starting this December because we have block scheduling at various high schools (including all the schools in my district)
  • School starts this week or within two weeks for most schools in the state
  • The blueprint, which roughly outlines the standards and learning goals and assessable content, may not be posted until October
  • The test itself is to serve as the final exam and the state dictates this to be 20% of the course grade
  • It is not to be in any way comprehensive of the course content
  • It is to be given before the course has ended (two weeks of ~85min block classes equate with four weeks of ~50min year-long classes)
  • I am the only person qualified to determine whether a student should earn credit in my course, but the earned credit cannot be used by a student to demonstrate proficiency
  • If my students, or another teacher’s class I might have come in contact with, do statistically too well on the test, I probably did something improper, and I could lose my license.
  • I was warned not to publicly disagree with or express dissent from the PED during the EoC writing process (or at any time as I am a professional educator first) or I could lose my license


Title and final comment changed/eliminated because of what has been written in the final bullet.

A Class App: TheAppBuilder vs. AppsBar

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 11.04.36 AMI have a class app.  Just writing that makes me feel cool.  The image is the icon on your device and, if you click it, you can see the whole thing.  Fair warning, it’s slow to load the first time.

The inspiration was from a student last semester, attempting to navigate through the websites, “Why don’t you just have an app?!”  I liked the idea, but was clueless about how to go about doing it; so, I shelved it.

Then, last week I started looking into building my own app.  A quick Google search for ‘free app maker,’ provided TheAppBuilder and AppsBar.  Both were supposed to be easy and flexible.

There were a few things I needed to accomplish with my app.  My first goal: simplify navigation to the websites.  The second: have one-click take them to a particular page, like the flipped notes or UT homework.  Lastly, include basics like contact information for the school and Google Voice.


Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 12.12.59 PMThis service provides a wizard to walk you through each step of the build process.  There are several app types to choose from, like general business, education, family, etc., pre-loaded with different ‘pages.’  This doesn’t really matter because you can change them to completely customize the app to your needs, but it’s a nice place to start for a newbie.

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 12.27.25 PM

Menu & Preview

You can choose a different color icon for each page from the library.  Though there are several icons to choose from, you can easily upload an image from your computer, too.   As you add a page, it is presented on the main screen as a preview: see it before you publish it.

The other big plus with this service, when you publish it, they check it over, make sure it works, immediately give you the HTML5 for android and iOS devices and publish it in Google Play for free.  (An aside: once you start an app or publish an app, there’s no ‘delete’ button.  Your management page shows all your trial runs in perpetuity, until you email them asking for help deleting.  Then all those trial runs disappear.)

The downside to this app builder is the inability to layer or create a hierarchy or list of pages.  Every page is right there on the screen or in the opening navigation; this felt…clunky.  There are list options with predetermined functions: discography for music/album promotion, menu for real estate/restaurant, social links for Facebook/Twitter.  But that’s the issue – they’re predetermined and cannot be altered.  I could not use any, save the social network, for links to multiple websites.  Additionally, image customization did not extend into the pages, except for discography, which did not really produce the look/feel I wanted.  Therefore, everything I wanted students to access, each website, each webpage, had to be on the home screen, producing a jumble of icons.

Trial one was a semi-success – I built an app and put the link on my website, I just wasn’t that crazy about it.

[Note: the above picture was taken after I attempted to duplicate my success in TheAppBuilder by embedding websites in lists, etc.  Could not duplicate what I figured out I wanted.]


Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 11.22.09 PMIn the beginning, it didn’t seem that different from AppsBar.  You have several examples to choose from, again with pre-loaded sections, or you can choose build your own, clicking on a couple of the sections (webpage, youtube, event)  to use as a starting point.  The next screen requires you to register and then you’re in to the menu to modify/customize your app.

Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 9.32.55 AM


Adding sections, choosing icons (only grayscale), modifying the menu order, all pretty straightforward and not too different from the previous tool.  Adding items is intuitive, the control panel is self-explanatory, and you get to preview each section below the work area.

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 2.08.48 AM


However, this is where the first major difference arises, not in what is shown (it shows the pages and lets you click through them just like appsbar), but in the aesthetics of the final product — it’s sleek, not clunky.

I had to play for a while: manipulating the sections, looking at what I could do, deleting, adding; deleting and adding the same sections.  Through this trial and error, I discovered the next major difference.   A welcome surprise — the ability to modify either the ‘news’ or ‘list’ sections.

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 2.39.53 AM

Modified List

I had the option of

  • add item – like a post with an image, title, date (optional, unlike appsbar), and description
  • add subsection – add a webpage, youtube, event, all the possible sections, within the overall list (gold!)

This flexibility allowed the one-click option to get students to the three websites and specific pages (flipped notes by course, UT homework for all Chemistry sections) by allowing me to group them into a list; minimizing the number of buttons to navigate.  It also allowed me to do more than an About/Welcome section, i.e., wasted space.  I could, instead, create a list/news section explaining the class and the tools and the goals of each; my Footprint section.

Publishing the final product gave me an HTML5 code immediately, but TheAppBuilder does not publish anything to any App Store for free.  You also have to pay if you want to remove the only ad in the app, the “Try It” button.  This is not a big deal to me, first I’m cheap (I looked for free app makers for goodness sakes); and, second, it’s a great tool, why shouldn’t someone ‘try it’ and make their own?

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 2.58.33 AMThe biggest diffulgity I had was adding an image to the splashscreen for the different Apple devices (one of the options under the customization option in the menu bar).  The images had to be the exact size for each screen.  I tried using the crop tool in Preview (the Mac version of a PDF reader), but it wasn’t good enough.  Enter GIMP (freeware Photoshop-like tool).  After a bit of playing, crop the image then scale it to a specific size, and viewing the results, I was able to produce the correct size for each.  I was done.  Finished is best.

The only thing left was to get it readily available to students — a QR code.  The first tool I used was Kaywa: free QR generator, nothing fancy; you do have to pay for analytics, but not something I need.

Qr-myappisvir-600_2Then, I stumbled upon QRphoria.  Not your standard QR code.  You can change the colors, make it look like water or paneling or whatever, use text (as I did in this one), change the encoding redundancy, then save it as a jpg or png file.

Now, does this help my cool factor or just prove I’m a geek?

I do know the answer & I’m sure my students will remind me should I forget…

The Power of Twitter

by Enamic5 (Stefan Kraft)

There are times you do something in class and it falls short of your expectations.  You know the impact is there, just below the surface, but the connections aren’t quite made.  This has been Twitter for me and my students.  Until this past week.

Today.  A Forensic Anthropologist (or soon-to-be-official-one in a few years when he earns his PhD, works for 3yrs and passes his boards, who currently works as a death investigator in Maricopa county) gave a presentation to the Forensic and Anatomy classes.  It was amazing, not just because he’s a former student doing really well, but because part of my Anatomy class tweeted during the entire presentation (the folks with smart phones anyway).  For me, the power of what this medium can do was clearly on display.  The questions and comments demonstrated their active engagement; they were thinking and making connections in a visible way.

They were also reveling in the ability to do this; the ‘outlaw’ perception, as the other class in the room was specifically told ‘no phones.’

Afterwards, I made a point of sharing the backchannel with the presenter.  He was blown away.  He loved both the questions and the funny comments; even the one about the thoracic vertebrae being the ‘giraffe’ (he remembered that from when he was in my Anatomy class).  He even made a point of coming in after school to read it in its entirety.  This lead to a chat about the possibilities for next semester: setting it up so he can actively ‘watch’ the backchannel and incorporate their questions into what he says/shows/explains.  (This assumes he can get the time off again, of course.)  It was a wonderful experience because not only did my students officially get hooked, but I may have hooked him as well.

Last Week.  A few of the students in my Environmental Science class and I participated in the #scistuchat on insects.  It was like drinking from a fire hydrant.  The best part was the student comments: comments of appreciation to the scientists that gave up their time and comments on how much they learned.  Adam Taylor has created an amazing forum that leverages the power of twitter to bring the expertise from around the globe into each student’s living room (so to speak).  There were tangents and rabbit trails as impactful as the direct conversation occurring.  Organic is an overused buzz word, but, it was/is.  My hope, is that my students will do it again and that their experience will pull the rest of the class into participating next month.

Why now?  Part of why it’s impacting my students now, I think, has to do with me not pushing Twitter from day one.  Let me back up.  They know they are to create a Twitter account and bring me their Twitter and Blogger contract within the first couple of weeks.  They know they will tweet, but not for a while; so, they forget about it amidst the blogging, flipping, using Dropbox and doing online homework.  In fact, I did not even bring it back up until last week.  I put it back on their radar because next week is the second nine weeks.  It now becomes a weekly assignment that I will check by visiting their blogs.  They have to install a widget there to share their tweets, allowing me to do one-stop-shopping.  Additionally, when I brought it up, I brought it up with a purpose:  Anatomy used it to finish a case study that was not finished in class (i.e., a backchannel); Environmental was to participate in the #scistuchat.  (Chemistry was to use it to share some images from a lab, but I’m still waiting on their Twitter earthquake having failed to instigate it as successfully as with the other classes; these folks are still in limbo.)

This has made a difference, created momentum to build upon.  One way is obviously as a backchannel for all classes.  I’d like to see our final 5-10 minutes of class be a student defined discussion based on questions, comments, or tangents they thought of during class.  Make it like the exit cards or exit tasks others use to check student understanding as they leave.  To do this, effectively though, I have to consciously stop and do it.  They have to know it’s not just a hoop; they have to see it make a difference.  For that matter, I have to see it make a difference.  It is in this form, though, that I think I can pull Chemistry out of limbo; let them have their class light bulb moment.

Of course, when the novelty wears off, I want the world to remain flattened for each of my students; I want them to take advantage of the connected learning possible through digital dialogue; I want them to know the power of Twitter.

Out on a Limb

I skyped into the TeachMeet Nashville conference to present on glogs/glogging.  The presentation is shown over the four glogs below.



I tried to approach this presentation with one thought as my central focus: what did I wish I knew when I started.  They are a good instructional tool, regardless of your pedagogical philosophy, as it puts the student at the center of the learning process.  These digital posters are a blank canvas, so, each student gets to express themselves and have a bit of fun.  Any image, video, or audio file on the web, copyrights permitting, can be utilized; and you can create links to any URL.  The limitation is flash/java as you can’t embed items on a glog like you can on a website.  As an example, you can’t place glogs on other glogs — you have to do a screenshot and create a link.  I even included a modified rubric I stole from someone (Thanks!) to give a starting place for grading.

The reason for this post though, is this is by far one of the scariest things I’ve done to date. (Yes, I probably don’t get out enough.) It wasn’t like I was there in person, didn’t really know a soul (except of course Adam Taylor), and was completely unaware of anyone’s expectations of me.  There’s just something about presenting in front of my colleagues and peers that fills me with fear.  The fear is easily defined and categorized – fear of falling on my face in front of those same colleagues and peers. We all want to gain the respect of intelligent people, not open our mouths and remove all doubt about being a fool.  O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!

In any case, I think there are a couple of things I’d add next time.  First, a quick poll to know subjects people might want to use these in as well as fears about implementing glogs (Poll Everywhere, Socratic?).  I think I could tailor the informal delivery to address some of the concerns teachers have to help them feel comfortable about jumping in and trying it as well as show the lack of limitations, subject-wise.  I would hope this would help teachers feel comfortable enough to start playing.  If a teacher is comfortable playing, I think this would transfer to the students.  Plus, the teacher then has the experience necessary to troubleshoot.  Second, collecting questions through the course of the presentation (maybe a backchannel through TodaysMeet?); something to allow people to share what hits them in the moment.

Maybe, I’ll have to find some unwitting colleagues to harass with this and see what else needs to be tweaked because, scary though it was, it was really a great experience.

Show Up

Secret to Success? Show up. Thus, was the advice from Bill Eamon, the Dean of the Honors College, to our small group of high school students. The importance of being engaged, being challenged, becoming a leader, requires completely being there, where ever there is, doing whatever it is you’re doing. To succeed, you have to show up and be involved.

Being a success requires more than position. The point: to lead is not the same as being first; being in front is not the same as being a leader. This is, I think, one of the goals of honor societies: to learn to lead through service.

Commonality between great leaders? Principles. It is the principles of the leaders that can take a group, a club, a nation to great heights (Lincoln, Ghandi) or to great evils (Hitler.) A not-quite perfect quote of Nick Miller, our chosen Key Note speaker. He is the current news director for the university’s student run, television newscast and former anchor man (Fayetteville, Ar to Huntsville, Al – during the Challenger disaster, and finally in El Paso, Tx).

Both men succinctly made the point that substance matters. Yet both men did much more than just talk about it; they embodied this belief. They showed up, they listened, they gave of their time, they got involved.

Why students should blog and tweet…

Science literacy and….

The torrent of current scientific information shared via Twitter through journals like Scientific American, from scientists themselves, and from organizations like the CDC, NIH, and NASA (and whatever other acronyms you can think of) is amazing.

It’s unprecedented access to science and scientists, both for the typical high school student and the teacher.

For me, though, it’s so much more than just scientific literacy.  Using Twitter and Blogger allows the students to begin a learning arc towards being professionally social. (The same arc I have found myself on for the last nine months.)  This will not happen overnight nor is mastery achieved in a semester, but I do think (hope) this will plant a seed toward life long learning; that’s not to say there are not short term goals associated with this.

The first goal has to do with the notion of ‘voice.’

The set of all the different choices a writer makes determines, and the collective effect they have on the reader is, what is often called the “voice” in a piece of writing. (Teaching that Makes Sense)

I want students to find their voice and discover the importance of their voice to the community.  However, just adding to the cacophony is not appropriate; there should be a purpose.  They should add value to the discussion.

The idea of ‘value’ is the second goal.  Each tweet and each blog a student produces or shares can be gauged by how well they demonstrate learning and how well they increase the awareness of their community.  This leads to a variety of discussions about what should be shared, science-only stuff?  Ultimately, arriving at the ‘and,’ the more than just scientific literacy.  For example, Cal Newport (author of the blog Study Hacks among other things) constantly writes on the attainment of success, the work and diligence required to be successful.

a deeper truth: getting good at something is not to be taken lightly; it’s a pursuit measured in years, not weeks. (Study Hacks, 29 Jan)

His posts often cover the difference between effective hard work and just working hard and are peppered with reminders about the importance of concentration (“hard focus”) to achieve any end.  As Rod Beavon has on his page Learning to Learn, “Learning is not instinctive” and

To know something takes time, real physical effort, and a period of assimilation and reflection.  To know something you must develop a whole host of techniques…

Would a student sharing something from these authors add value to the discussion?  An emphatic, “absolutely” resounds in my head.  It’s also not scientific literacy, but much of what they share is essential to attain it.

The flow of information via Twitter, then, gives a student an opportunity to begin developing both goals.  The very choices they make in who to follow and what to retweet starts them down the path of evaluating information, evaluating value, developing their voice.  This continues as they determine what other information to share through their original tweets: comments on class topics, links to interesting articles, dialogue with another Twitter-er.

Blogging, then, is the next step.  I view it as part of the ‘assimilation and reflection’ Beavon mentions.  Students have traditionally done this through writing prompts in class or keeping notebooks and journals.  Now, though, they do this with, and for, an audience beyond the teacher and the four walls of the classroom thanks to this age of self-publication.

Most students learning to write today have any number of places on the web to post their work… in a persistent format that is aggregated in search engines, and an international audience. (AssortedStuff, 1 Feb.)

Yes, there’s a little pressure with this.  So?  It incorporates a bit of struggle, a bit of trial-and-error, a bit of failure.  This opportunity to fail will do more to eliminate specious statements and reinforce the need for evidence in an argument than it ever did with an audience of one.  This fosters discernment: discernment of fallacious statements or illogical arguments, in themselves and others.  A hallmark of scientific literacy.  The goal of both the National Science Education Standards and the Common Core.

However, this does take patience and diligence on my part (perhaps even the drinking of the Kool-aid on theirs?).  As written previously, it does not (and is not) happening overnight.  I currently have students tweeting about crystal skulls, I have empty‘s, and cat posters; not the typical grind of an intellectual furnace.  But, in the midst, there’s also a tweet about learning something new in school, or sharing something they know about a topic tweeted by someone else, or just asking questions like, “If the universe is infinite how can it expand?”  This is repeated in the blogs.  I have everything from blank to interactive and informative and all manner in between.  It’s those bright spots, though, that help me know I’m on the right track; that I know will coalesce and build upon each other; that show the efficacy of these tools in the process of learning.

Blogs will be your chance to explain what you understand and show what you have learned.  Tying these to your twitter and (even Diigo) activity will allow you to have an active role in the development of your understanding of the concepts in the class.  Ideally, this will also translate into personal and community development of scientific awareness through your professional use of these various social media.

Ideally, it’s the beginnings of a journey; a journey that is sustained, persistent and exacting in effort.  “Ideally.”

Skype Flipping Update

[The saga continues, though, thankfully I return to work tomorrow.]

I used Skype, the first part of the week, for quick question and answer sessions in each class. The last couple of days, I actually tried to ‘run’ class: a case study and a numeracy/graphing review.

The positive part was being able to share the screen. I could quickly remind them of items on the website, walk through navigation, show them where to find help, and instruct with an online whiteboard: enter scriblink. (Though, my mouse control was not ideal and I ended up typing as much as possible.) I was able to demo set-up for the case study, work some sample problems, and use it as I would have used the whiteboard in the room. I even snuck into my class to perform and record the Methane Mamba demo for chemistry. . Then, talk through the point of it and how it applies to the next lab.

The problems I had with it were the limitations of the camera. As students work, I prefer to walk around the groups, address specific questions/issues and check up on and encourage them to focus on the task at hand. Though, the sub was kind enough to do this a bit, the lack of being able to literally see all my students was more frustrating on my end than theirs. The other problem: I had no projector. My projector lamp literally died Thursday when this all began. At times, students were having to crowd around an iMac screen to see certain items.

Overall, I’m glad something like Skype exists. I’m glad my colleagues were willing to troubleshoot and check in with me and the substitute each day. I am glad I had a substitute willing to work with it. It was great for the quick questions students had at the beginning and end of class; it worked well for a one-on-one session with two students after school. I just didn’t like not seeing my entire class and only being able to interact with a select few. Should something like this happen again, however, I will not use it the entire period.