Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What's Wrong with This Picture?

Yesterday was a Planning/Collaboration Day for our teachers, and our Tech Team asked if they could take charge of this professional development opportunity.  Being a wise person, I gladly stepped aside and gave them full responsibility for the morning session.

The morning "Media Mash Up - A PD Playground" was wonderful! Our staff loved learning from their colleagues, and the whole morning was upbeat. We had 22 different teachers sharing a tech tool or app they use with their students, or with their parents or their colleagues.  At Hale Kula, we use technology as a tool to collaborate, communicate, think critically, and create.  Teachers showed examples of student work and shared how they communicate with parents and the community through social media.

We had a gallery walk where the staff got to see which tech tool or app they might want to learn more about.

Then, staff had the opportunity to learn more about that particular tool or app in small-group, 
hands-on sessions.  

The buzz throughout the morning was audible.  Teachers were excited to learn something new, and the fact that they had a choice was important.  Many shared that they wished they could have attended more sessions. Collaboration between teachers was also mentioned as a positive outcome of this professional development opportunity.  Here are some of the comments from our teachers:
  • I appreciated the opportunity given to so many of the faculty to share apps that they have used. Hands-on opportunities generally lend themselves to practical application.
  • With the choices we had to attend for breakout sessions, we were able to learn more about something we were interested in. Lots of cool ideas out there to extend the students' learning.
  • I appreciated that the facilitators actually went over step-by-step how to use the program. 
  • I valued the ability to select what we were interested in learning. I also valued that the sessions were hands-on and allowed time to explore and create.
  • We were offered choice in what we wanted to learn about.  This made it easy to pick a session that could be directly beneficial to my teaching, as opposed to having to learn about something I may not use or that I already use and know about.
  • It was a good opportunity for our own Hale Kula teachers to share all of the great things happening in their classrooms! I think the presenters felt empowered and the attendees were inspired to try new tools with the students.  I really appreciated the positivity before starting the new semester!
We look forward to more opportunities to have teachers share how they are using technology in their classrooms.

The second part of our Planning/Collaboration Day dealt with the Smarter Balanced Assessments which our third, fourth, and fifth graders will be taking this semester.  We decided that it was important for all of our teachers to experience taking the SBA so we spent the afternoon as test-takers.  It was eye-opening for our teachers, and many had concerns about the format and the expectations for students. They questioned whether the SBA measures what is important in education.  Here are a few comments:

  • There were so many factors that affected my performance on this test like reading comprehension, familiarity with the computer, keyboarding skills, etc. that I fail to see how this gives a true measure of a child's content knowledge in math.
  • I can see why students are guessing.  It was difficult.
  • Moving from one section of the test to the next is not intuitive; the test is text-heavy.  It seems never-ending - too bad they don't show a progress bar in the window.
  • I have concerns over a computer-graded test as multiple solutions may not be counted due to the lack of thought on the computer's part.  Students may also lack the perseverance to follow through on some of these questions even if they have the skills necessary to solve.
  • I think students may be thrown by the format of the test and all of the buttons.  Students may possibly fixate on the technical aspects rather than the academic purpose.
  • Students will be limited in writing quality responses due to their lack of confidence in keyboarding skills.  
  • The test needs to be scrutinized further because we want to set student up for moderate success, not doomed failure.
Essentially, we went from a very positive, upbeat atmosphere in the morning Media Mash-Up to a negative, frustrating atmosphere in the afternoon where teachers were not engaged in the activity. And they had 45 minutes to take the practice test; our students will have 90 minutes. If adults (including me) could not maintain focus for 45 minutes; will students be focused for twice that time? I don't think so.  My main concern as an administrator, however, is reflected in some of the responses to the question, "What preparation do you think students need to be successful on the test?"  Here are some of the responses:

  • More test-prep
  • Practicing the format of the test
  • Using the computer enough to be comfortable in writing on scratch paper and transferring to the computer
  • Lots of practice with the test tools
  • Teach students to memorize math algorithms
  • Start keyboarding lessons in kindergarten 
Whoa! What's wrong with this picture?  As we observed our teachers and their level of engagement and excitement at learning some new tech tools and apps, we know that our students need those kinds of opportunities as well. Students should be using technology to explore, to discover, to create, and to share. Spending valuable class time to practice so students can do better on a test should not be the purpose of school.

We should be preparing students for life, not preparing for a test. 

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