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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I went to school in Singapore but grew up on the internet

I just attended a keynote at ISTE 2010 in Denver and Shawn Koh from Singapore was on a panel. He wowed the audience with some great quotes.

“I went to school in Singapore but grew up on the internet.”

Shawn is indicative of the students that we are teaching today. They are so digitally connected and they are literally growing up on the internet. That is a very profound statement from a 20 year old college student. We as educators need to embrace this and set up schools that help these students learn.

Another quote from Shawn when asked: What do you wish you had learned in school: “I wish I had learned how to learn.”

Shawn took classes and focused in on what was being taught, but he never learned how to learn. We need to actively teach our students how to learn and not be so married to our content. I think we can use the vehicle of our content, but if we ignore the learning process we have grossly shortchanged our students.

Short blog post, but profound. Thanks Shawn.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Aaron wins the Presidential Award

This just in:  Aaron Sams just won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. Aaron has tirelessly worked to become a better teacher.  Much of his application had to do with mastery learning and video podcasting. It is great to see others acknowledge him for such amazing work.

Below are some Links:
From the White House:
Article in a local Colorado Paper:
Aaron's Hometown Paper:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The South Dakota Experiment

The South Dakota Experiment

This week I am not doing any mastery classes or trainings, so I have some time to reflect on last week. In fact right now I am on my way to the Hy-Vee triathlon with my wife and a friend. We are going to be selling our triathlon clothing (My wife runs an online triathlon clothing store –, and I will be competing in the race this Sunday June 12th. Thus I will chat about our amazing visit to South Dakota last week.

While in South Dakota, Aaron and I had the chance to train a cadre of teacher in the Sioux Falls School District. These 40 folks won a grant to implement mastery learning in their math and science classes. Frankly Aaron and I are humbled. Their experiment started out with them coming out to Colorado to both see our class and then attend one of our workshops. Since then they have gone full bore into the mastery/video podcasting model.

In their grant they are going to pay their 40 teachers to develop the program. They didn’t get too much “stuff” except for some copies of Camtasia to make the podcasts. As we pondered this, we realized that this is just what is needed. The key to setting up a mastery classroom is to have time to develop all the components. You need:

1. To have a library of podcasts

2. A way to assess students in a way that is not too cumbersome on the teachers. The students need to be assessed multiple times if they don’t achieve mastery.

I know this full well since this past year I embarked on doing this with our freshmen Earth/Space class that we teach at our high school. Since Aaron was not teaching this course, I did this solo. I made an untold number of podcasts and utilized moodle to make up so many questions to help assess student learning. It was a hard year of work, but I felt that my freshmen group (about 100 kids) learned more than any group I have ever taught. When all was said and done, I had only two students fail the course and most of them were quite successful in mastering the content.

Anyways: Kudos to South Dakota: They are going to reward the teachers for all of the extra hard work it is to set up a mastery course. And Aaron and I are excited to see what will happen to all those kids in all of those classes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

What is Best for Students?-- The Question We Should Always Ask.

America’s schools today face many challenges. Preparing our students to compete in a global economy, bridging the achievement gap, bringing classrooms into 21st Century Learning, and keeping quality teachers in the classroom are complex issues with no easy solutions.

I recently read some research about quality teaching. (US News and World Report, September 2009) The article stated that it is better for a student to be in a “bad” school with a good teacher than to have a bad teacher in a “good” school. Many years ago I had the privilege of listening to Kati Haycock speak on the subject of increasing student achievement. She said that when she goes into schools, what is most distressing is that the best teachers are teaching the fewest kids. Conversely, the newest teachers teach the lowest level of students and have the largest class sizes. This inequality in our schools is hurting the population of students that need the greatest assistance. It not only hurts our students but also discourages young teachers. A few years ago at my previous school, a friend of mine left because he was told that he would never teach an upper-level class at our high school. This bright young man with great potential realized that our school was too entrenched in the seniority system, so he went elsewhere.

Failure to ask the question, “What is best for the students?” causes schools to be mired in mediocrity. Often, schools do what is expedient and do what they have “always done.” The saying “we never did it that way before” is too often used in today’s schools. This attitude has a devastating effect on student achievement. First, students underperform because inexperienced teachers who lack the tools necessary to motivate students are often the ones assigned to teach our reluctant learners. These are the students who most need access to our best and brightest educators. Additionally, when we fail to put students first, we discourage bright young men and women from entering into the teaching profession. If a prospective teacher feels that he will forever be placed teaching struggling students or is not given adequate resources to make a difference, he will either never enter the profession or leave education entirely after a short time.

The good news is that we can and should change the paradigm of education and bring those quality teachers to all of our schools. With the advent of 21st Century tools, it is now possible to have some of the best teaching in the country happening in multiple places at one time. Educators can record their lessons on the most difficult subjects and make these lessons available for students all over the country. As this becomes a reality, the role of the classroom teacher will change. He or she will go from being the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. The classroom teacher will spend his days interacting with students and pushing them to excel instead of spending time managing poor student behavior or presenting a scintillating lecture. Another advantage is that if the individual teacher is strong in some content, he or she can rely on a gifted distance teacher so his/her students will have access to that content.

When I have spoken around the country about what we are doing with the “Reverse Classroom,” some of the greatest interest has come from rural and urban schools who have a hard time finding teachers to teach some of the more difficult science and math courses. Those schools see the “Reverse Classroom” as a way for all of their students to have access to quality, high-level teaching that will open doors for their students.