Where I Would Publish

If I were to publish anything I wrote or will write, it would be my arguments about standardized testing in schools, as this is a very important topic to me and a very relevant issue for today’s education system. I would love to publish about Sarah and her experiences in this area. And although there are many different types of education publications, there is one that I follow closely on Twitter that would be a good avenue for publishing my writing: Huffington Post Education.

HuffPost Education is my favorite because the articles are informative and interesting, while also being in a less formal, more conversational tone.  And these are the kinds of articles I like to read.  HuffPost also has a blog that features posts that are just as well-written as the main articles on the website, but are much more opinion-based.  Unfortunately, the site doesn’t have any submission guidelines, as they don’t accept submissions from public sources.  However, they do take new tips or information, along with idea suggestions for their blog posts on the website.

So disregarding the the inability to actually submit an article to HuffPost, my writing style would definitely fit well with the informal type of articles they post. Considering the opinionated nature of my posts, the Education blog would be the best section for my writing.  Although my posts are based on facts, they are also full of opinions and contain a clear bias, which usually doesn’t work as well in traditional news articles.  But for blogs, it’s fine. And I wouldn’t mind seeing my opinion right up there on HuffPost’s blog. Especially when it concerns Sarah and standardized testing.

Midterm Proposal

I chose my topic for this blog with no plans to scrap it completely later if it didn’t work and I am happy to say that I still plan on continuing with my current topic.  It is the right one for me and I like it.  I knew it was the right path to take when I first decided to make it the focus of my blog.

I was worried when we were first charged with picking a topic for a blog.  I have tried to write blogs before, but they all failed.  Horribly failed. But I knew this time that the most important reason for picking it had to be my passion for the subject. My passion would be the only thing that would push me to keep writing even when I was struggling to write.  And I think I chose right.  I feel that this blog has been much more successful than any of my previous attempts because I truly care about my subject.

My voice has changed since the beginning, but not enough to change my overall topic.  I have just become focused more, adding in Sarah’s experiences to make the subject more personal for me.  I plan on going back and rewriting previous posts to fine-tune the focus of my blog.  It’s also important to me that I don’t limit myself in any way.  I don’t want to just talk about the problems with education system – I am not that one-dimensional.  My goal is to talk about Sarah and both her positive and negative experiences with public education.  I want to discuss the issues, but also offer solutions.  I want to show Sarah, just a good teacher who, in spite of obstacles and difficulties, finds ways to help her students learn and grow in a problematic, but not irreparable, educational system.

Here are some topics I plan on going into more depth on:

  • Why testing isn’t necessarily a bad thing
  • Funding for public schools
  • Students that don’t want to learn

There will be more, but these are the ones I have in mind right now.

Creativity

Creativity is missing in today’s classrooms, mainly because of the increasing amount of tests students are required to take every year. There is too much testing and too little creative, innovative thinking.  Here I want to make my stance clear: I am not against testing in schools.  My reasons for this I will talk about in a future post.  But I do need to say in this one, that testing is a big reason why creativity and originality have left the schools.  Tests are good for judging student progress, in small doses, but creativity is an important part of the learning process and shouldn’t be replaced by more tests. Creativity works students’ brains in different ways than testing does, which helps develop their brains even more.  Schoolwork becomes more interesting and personal when creativity is brought to the material; students learn and understand more when the material is personally interesting to them.

When I was in elementary school, I became lucky enough to be involved in the district’s gifted program, a program that let a small number of students, once a week, go into a separate classroom with separate teachers and work on more personal and creative projects.  We were allowed to choose what we wanted to learn and study and we had a large amount of materials to work with to create anything we wanted. One year, my friend and I did a project on Braille and even were able to work with a machine that created Braille.  I loved being in that program because we got to work outside the confines of our elementary school classrooms and do something besides homework and tests and worksheets. I wish these approach to learning to be brought more into regular classrooms so every student can benefit.

Sarah is doing a lot to try and bring more fun and interesting activities into her classroom to encourage her students to want to learn.  At the beginning of the year, she had her students build catapults when they were learning about force and momentum.  Then they were able to bring the catapults out onto a field and spent the class period launching balls and calculating different physics problems. Many of her students loved the project because it was a more interesting way to learn the physics behind the real-world without spending all their time calculating problems on paper.  Sarah has also decided that for next year she is going to create  a theme for each of her units. Next year’s theme is going to be Star Wars – every unit’s PowerPoint slides have Star Wars backgrounds and every physics problem will involve Star Wars references.  It is an interesting way to help her students become more interested in a topic that many consider difficult.

How to Create Three Types of Thinking Maps

Sarah uses thinking maps in every lesson she teaches in her classroom, and has multiple versions posted all over the walls in her room.  You may be wondering what thinking maps are – I wasn’t even completely sure until I had Sarah explain it to me.  Thinking maps are charts that help organize information in a clear, visual way in order to help students understand the material better.  For each map, students would need to create a higher-order thinking question to that the information in the thinking map would answer.  I am going to go through the steps to create three different thinking maps that Sarah uses the most in her classroom (although there are eight different types of thinking maps in total).

The first map is called a circle map, which Sarah told me is the easiest and most basic map to create and is used to define concepts in context.

1. Draw a frame of reference, a rectangle about 3 inches by 4 inches.

2. Draw a small circle in the middle of the rectangle, big enough to fit one word.

3. Draw a bigger circle around the small one, leaving about 3/4 inch in between the two.

Sarah usually uses these maps to help her students define vocabulary words.  At the beginning of class, she gives her students vocabulary words and has them write in the outer circle what they think it means.  Then, after the lesson, she has them write its actual definitions in a different color in the same circle. 

The second type of map she uses is a Double Bubble Map, which is used to compare and contrast.  Here are the steps to create one:

1. Draw a frame of reference, a rectangle about 3 inches by 4 inches.

2. Draw two circles in the middle of the page, about 1 inch apart.

3. Draw three circles in a vertical line midway between the first two circles. 

4. Draw lines to connect these circles on both sides to the original two circles.

5. Next to the first circle on the left, draw three circles in a vertical line and draw lines connecting these circles to the first circle.

6. Next to the second circle on the right, draw three circles in a vertical line and draw lines connecting these circles to the circle to the right.

Sarah uses these types of circles to compare and contrast physics concepts.  She gives students the sentence: Differentiate between ____________ and ________________, telling the students that the two concepts that complete the sentence are the ones that go into the first two circles in the thinking map.  The three circles connected to both in the middle are for the similarities between the two and the circles on the left and right are for each concept’s differences.  Sarah told me that her students have the most difficulty understanding that although the basic map contains three similarities and three differences for each concept, these are not the set number of circles they need to use.  They can use more or less for each.

The example Sarah gave me is that she used this kind of map to compare fission and fusion.  The higher-order thinking question in this case, she told me, was: How do fission and fusion relate to nuclear physics?  The information in the Double Bubble would then need to answer this question.

The last thinking map Sarah uses is called a Flow Map, which is used to show a sequence of events.  Sarah used this mostly to show steps in a physics problem or process.

1. Draw a frame of reference, a rectangle about 3 inches by 4 inches.

2. Draw a 1-inch by 1-inch square at the top of the frame of reference.

3. Draw an arrow from the square about an inch in length to the right.

4. At the end of the arrow, draw another box that is the same size as the first one.

5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you reach the right edge of the frame.

6. To start a new row, draw an arrow from the righthand most square to the first square on the left in the next row.

Sarah also explained that smaller steps could be put under the bigger steps, but only if necessary.  She went further to say that students could include small definitions under the boxes if the information in the box need more explanation.  I have included the pictures that Sarah drew me to explain each thinking map.Image

 

What I Really Think

I need to respond to my previous post where I became the devil’s advocate to myself.  Shockingly, that is not my actual opinion concerning public education (even with all the heavy sarcasm).  I know that bad teachers exist.  I had some.  Every school has at least a few.  But they are not the majority, not even close. I’m happy to say that most teachers are good teachers.  Most know what they are doing and truly care about their students, even if they can’t help every student to succeed.  And they can’t be blamed for every problem student and every poor test score her students may receive.

Sarah’s end-of-the-year review is coming up soon, for her first year of teaching.  And test scores are the main reason Sarah is nervous about the review.  She knows she had students in almost every class who failed.  And, sadly, she could do little for these students, as she gave them every opportunity to understand the material and succeed in her class.  The students chose not the complete the work or pay attention, choosing instead to sleep through the class.  And Sarah doesn’t have the time to make sure that every student is awake and paying attention; there are 25 other students in the class who care more than the ones asleep on their desks.

Sarah shouldn’t be blamed for the failure of these students and their inability to learn the material.  She is not a superhero that can slow down time and teach every student individually, in a 90-minute class period);  she can’t focus all her time on one or two misbehaving students when she has others who want to learn what she wants to teach.

It is because of these students and their failing test scores that Sarah, and teachers like her, are in an almost constant fear for their jobs.  Every failed test score is a mark against her.  And how do you explain to administrators that there is little you can do to help a student when they don’t want or try to learn?

I’m not saying that the students are the only problem in the current education system.  But we also can’t look just at the teachers and say they are the problem.  No one part of the system is.  Every part needs a second look and a change.  Blaming just the teachers belittles all the hard work that most teachers put in every day, not just 180 days a year, but all 365. And it is important that we continue to respect these teachers, even as we look for ways to improve the public education system.

Devil’s Advocate

For a failing, problematic education system, blame the teachers. Not the students, or the parents or the administrators, but the teachers. Why? Because who, in the end, is the one doing the teaching and interacting with the students on a daily basis?  The teachers.  Six-and-a-half hours a day, five days a week, 181 days a year.  This should be enough time for teachers to teach and students to learn. Yet students are still failing. The problem must lie with the teachers.

It’s the fault of the public education system, you say? Unlikely. The only issue with the system is that it allowed these mediocre teachers to teach in the first place.  Obviously, what the teachers are doing with their students isn’t enough. Not enough to keep students from failing.  Or, worse yet, dropping out.

They are overworked and have too many students? That’s inaccurate.  Even with 30 students per classroom or more, the teacher has plenty of time to give them all individualized attention.  Teachers are masters at multitasking.  They can teach a lesson, help a student with their work and hold a parent-teacher conference at the same time.  And teachers are expected to move every student through their work smoothly and without problems.

Behavioral problems? Yes, what about them? Well, of course some students will have behavioral problems! But a good teacher shouldn’t have these problems.  Teachers automatically hold the respect of every student in their room just by being the teacher.  What if a student does misbehave?  Well, a good teacher knows how to stop the behavior and reprimand the student accordingly. And being ever so respectful of the teacher, the student stops acting up and never does so again. This is hardly ridiculous. Students respect the teacher, as they naturally respect everyone in an authority position over them.  So if the student causes problems again and again, the teacher must be a poor disciplinarian and, of course, a poor teacher.

Test scores are the best evidence of the teachers’ lack of effectiveness in the classroom. Test scores never lie and are never wrong.  Failing test scores and failing students show how teachers are poorly educating their students. Everyone knows that standardized tests judge well how much a student learned and understood the material. Students are only as good as their teachers.  Teachers who have failing students clearly don’t have the skills or knowledge to help all their students succeed – this success naturally being evaluated mainly through these tests.

So we need to stop creating new laws and changing how the students are taught.  These are not the issues with public education today. It’s important that we get to the true root of the problem – the teachers – and fix what truly is causing the problem.