Monday, December 30, 2013

Can't Imagine Beating 2013, But 2014 Will

Another year has come and gone, but professionally, 2013 was unlike any year ever.

2013 was the year of Twitter for me.  I connected with so many experts and have learned more about everything this past year than I have in my prior 14 years as an educator.  I have met some of these people in person and it has been great to talk and share ideas.  I have met teachers, superintendents, college professors, and authors.  None of it would have happened without the tweet.

2013 was where Teach Like a PIRATE Day came to Utica Jr. High School.  Thanks to a book written by Dave Burgess and an amazing teaching staff that was brave enough to do it, we did something no school had ever done before.  We allowed 250 7th and 8th grade students to show up to school and go anywhere they wanted for an entire day.  The kids learned and there were zero discipline issues.  Kids commented "I wish school was like this every day." Just as important, the teaching staff stepped up their game and answered Burgess' question, "If your students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?"  

2013 was where my philosophy on grading began to spread in our school.  It started with one 8th grade social studies teacher and spread from there.  Teachers began basing grades on mastery and not on deadlines.  The myth of "The kids won't do it if it is not for a grade" was quickly dispelled.  People from other schools told me it did not work for them, they tried it in the past.  I cannot dispute that, but that was not what happened at Utica. Kids did the work, no longer copied during study hall, and our State Test scores were the highest in school history.  Not that tests are the end all, but our kids did well because we made sure they mastered the content. It also led to having my first article published in Education Week.  The ironic thing is, it was published on the first day of Summer Break, and I never really told anyone I worked with about it.  

2013 was there year in which my father retired after teaching high school math and science for 42 years.  He always told me not to go into education.  I never listened when I was a kid, not sure why he thought I would listen when I was in college.

2013 was a year in which I left Utica and went to Big Walnut to become the principal of their intermediate school.  At the time, Utica could not get community support to pass a tax renewal, and a failure in November could mean financial collapse.  I loved Utica and the people there, but selfishly I did not want to be around to see that.  Fifth and sixth graders are awesome.  They love coming to school everyday and I do too.  I love being at Big Walnut and I believe everything happens for a reason.  

2013 was the year in which I participated in a school shooting simulation and that experience completely changed my philosophy on school safety procedures during an active shooter event.  I can never support the traditional lockdown after that experience.

2013 was the year in which the community in Utica finally came through for the kids and passed the renewal levy.  Many people joke (or maybe not joke) that I left and the levy passed.  I am happy for the kids and staff.

What will 2014 bring?  Who knows?  I am looking forward to making new connections, Teach Like A PIRATE Day 2 in the spring, and a few other things that I am going to keep to myself for the time being.  I read that if you share your goals, you are actually LESS likely to achieve them.  2013 will be tough to beat, but here is to a memorable 2014.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Standards Are Important, But....

I was driving home from school yesterday and was reminiscing about my elementary school experience. Granted, it was a long time ago, but what I recalled sparked this post.  I am sure it was important that my teachers taught me certain things, and I would like to think that I have been somewhat successful in life as a result of those things they taught.  I learned to read, write, and do routine math without a calculator.

But do you know what I remembered on this drive home, and hopefully for the rest of my life?  I remembered the Letter People and our Friday marching band from Miss Mentzer's kindergarten class.  I remembered my first grade teacher, Sr. Anna Marie playing her little organ as we came in from recess and counted to 100 by 2, 5 and 10. I remember building the cardboard city in 2nd grade, having to pay a quarter if we sneezed three times in a row in 5th and 6th grade, and our pen pals from Wichita when I was in 8th grade.  You know what I don't remember? I do not remember a single worksheet, homework assignment, quiz or test.  I know I did them, but I do not recall any of them specifically.

I guess my point is this:  teaching the standards are important, and I am not suggesting we abandon doing so. However, do not be SO standards focused that you forget to create memorable, engaging experiences for your students.  Thirty years from now, those experiences are what they will truly remember.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

No Power? No Problem

I want to brag about a teacher.  In Ohio, like many other states, teachers are being evaluated under a more structured process.  We have all heard of high-stakes testing, so I would classify this as high-stakes evaluating.  I am also a new principal in the building, so the teachers are a bit stressed and even veteran teachers are nervous.

I had my Pre-Conference meeting with the teacher this morning where she explained to me all of the great things I was going to see and all of the technology that she incorporates into her lesson to engage the students.  I was as excited as she was nervous.

Ten minutes before I was to observe her lesson, the power went out in our town.  The early word I was getting was that it would not be a quick fix and would likely be out for most of the day.  Now I am aware of the stress our teachers are under for their evaluation.  I was not going to be heartless and say "this is unfortunate, but too bad."  I told her I had no problem pushing her evaluation back a day.

Here was her dilemma (and a problem with the process):  she could not just wait until tomorrow to teach the lesson.  Technically she could, but that means today would have been a "blow-off day" for her kids.  If I were to evaluate her tomorrow on a different lesson, she would have to submit a new lesson plan (typically 5-8 pages single spaced) and we would have to have another Pre-Conference meeting, because the one we had this morning would no longer apply to the new lesson.

Her decision:  come and evaluate me.  She did not care that the power was out and a majority of what she planned would no longer work. She was confident enough in her skills and did not want the kids' learning to suffer by delaying a day.  I am also guessing she did not want to jump through all the hoops a new lesson would require.  And you know what?  I do not blame her.

You know how this story ends.  She taught an awesome lesson.  I knew she would and I believe she knew she would as well.  Too often our teachers get vilified in the media. I am sure this story will only reach a few people, but it is worth telling.  She went old-school and taught without any technology, and there was no problem.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why I Tweet

Today, I was fortunate enough to attend the Ohio School Boards Association Capital Conference, and it reaffirmed why I am on Twitter.  I have attended this conference the previous two years.  Last year, I ran into a former principal, who is now a superintendent, and he introduced me to another superintendent.  That was the extent of that connection.

Today's experience was quite different.  I have been an active Twitter participant for a year now, have learned more than I could have ever imagined, and have made many connections along the way.  This afternoon, I met many of those connections in person. Three superintendents, a director of educational services, two curriculum directors, a college professor,  several school board members, and too many principals to count.  That was just after lunch.  

The difference? I got so much more out of today's event because of the connections I have made.  A year ago, if I had a curriculum question, I was left to searching for the answer myself.  Today, I could contact any one of a number of people I now "know" on Twitter and probably have an answer or some insight within an hour. Chances are, if someone is on Twitter, they will respond to you if you ask a question.  It is access to some of the best minds in education.

Why do I Tweet?  Why wouldn't I?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Video Newsletter

I have to admit, I was inspired by someone on Twitter.  Phil Griffins, an assistant principal in Virginia was doing a weekly video webcast to communicate with parents about what was going on in his school.  I like Phil and he has given me good ideas in the past. This video idea intrigued me.

Now the last thing I ever thought I would do would be to get on camera and upload a video to YouTube every week.  But then again, a year ago, I did not think there was a chance I would get anything out of Twitter, have a school Facebook page, or become the first school to conduct the Teach Like A PIRATE Experiment (a phenomenon I did not know even existed at the time).  So I figured, what the heck? The worst that could happen would be it would be an epic failure and episode 2 would never see the light of day.  Oh how wrong I was.

Why the video newsletter?  Because it is gold.  The feedback I received was: we love it; it makes us feel like we get to know you; I love seeing for myself what is going on in the school; we look forward to the video each Thursday.  Think about that one.  We look forward to watching the video each Thursday.  Have you ever had a parent tell you that about your paper newsletter, email blast, or robo call?  I can say that I have not.  When I did a a paper newsletter, I found them on the hallway floor, in the bottom of lockers and backpacks, and in the garbage can.  They were not getting home and the papers that were making it to their intended destination, I cannot be certain they were actually being read.

I now have a tool that people look forward to watching.  I keep it short, three minutes tops.  Our signature line is "Here's what's going on."  I now can get our message out, promote the great things that happen in our school every day, and not only are people watching it, but they are waiting for it.

Below is our latest episode, our 18th.  It is done entirely on an iPad using iMovie and an app called Touchcast.  Now that I have the hang of it, it takes about 30 minutes of my time a week, which is not much longer than the time I spent writing and revising our paper newsletter.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Face Time/Skype/Google Hangout...Can't Believe I Didn't Think of This.

I was talking with a teacher today, who is also a mom, and she told me how her kids are using Face Time and I cannot believe I did not think of this.

You may have read about Mystery Skype and its use in the classroom.  I have done it, and it is a phenomenal experience.  You may also have read about having a Google Hangout with an author.  I have not done this one yet, but I think this would be another great educational experience.

Neither of these were how my teacher's kids were using the technology on their own, and to be honest, I have not read about it on any blogs, tweets, or anything else.  It is so simple that I cannot believe I never thought of it.  It is also so educationally sound I want more people to hear about it.

These kids are Face Timing their friends to study together.  They quiz each other on vocabulary, speak Spanish back and forth to work on their conversational fluency, and work out math problems together.  If a friend did not understand a math concept in class, they can demonstrate it for them.

I admit, this is not a revolutionary concept, but I am so happy to know kids in my school are embracing this technology to become better learners, even after the bell rings.  They are working on projects together without ever leaving their homes.  I can't believe I didn't think of this.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

School Shooting Simulation

Today, the staff in my building went through our second phase of A.L.I.C.E. (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training. Basically, use what is appropriate, fight back if necessary, and get out if you can.

I want to explain what I experienced today, and how that experience no longer allows me to defend the traditional lockdown security measure that so many schools institute in their crisis plan.

Our School Resource Officer, who is a Delaware County Sheriff, put our staff through three simulations.

Scenario One:  Shooter in the building, traditional lockdown.
As many of us were taught and trained, the 26 staff members got on the ground along an interior wall.  I grabbed a desk that was nearby and pulled it over top of me, because that would certainly protect me, right?  Many of my colleagues followed suit. As the shooter entered the room he started firing, kill shot after kill shot. I watched in simulated horror, and momentarily was thankful that I had not been shot.  He started in the middle of the room, and I was the first person near the door and he had skipped right over me.  Shot after shot, another person experienced a simulated death, and then he pointed the gun right at me and fired.  Everyone in that classroom would have been dead, and we did exactly what we had been trained to do since Columbine happened in 1999.

Scenario Two:  Shooter in the building, no time to prepare, fight back.
Our staff was instructed that they would hear an air horn, which would signify a gun shot, and we were to react.  Barricade the door, fight back, escape, whatever was common sense.  We would probably have about 15 seconds before he got to our room.  What my staff did not know, was there would be no 15 second delay. He was entering the room immediately in order  to catch us off guard.  As he entered the room we were armed with tennis balls, because it was a simulation after all, and we did not want anyone to get hurt. He immediately began shooting, teachers began swarming him, and wrestled him to the ground and got the gun.  The intruder was only able to fire shots at four people, and not all of them would have been kill shots.

Scenario Three:  Shooter in the building, fight back, but your room has 30 seconds to prepare.
This scenario would be if we heard gun shots down the hall, and we would have about 30 seconds to block the door.  One teacher wrapped a leather belt around the door knob, because the door opened out into the hall.  A couple others moved a metal cabinet and desks in front of the door as a barricade.  Some teachers literally started climbing out the windows to escape.  The intruder somehow got the door open but could only get his hand through the top of the door to start shooting.  People began throwing items at it and we were able to knock the gun out of his hand.  No one was shot in this scenario.

I am smart enough to know that I am not a superintendent, and that I do not know everything they have to consider when making important decisions.  What I did learn today was that the traditional lockdown cannot be a one size fits all security measure for an active shooter in your building, or even worse, if the shooter enters your classroom. I appreciate the fact that our superintendent is investigating and studying all of the options.

I have heard many superintendents say that they support the lockdown method, because everyone is accounted for.  Once the shooter is killed or apprehended, all of the teachers know where all of the kids are in the building.  Prior to today, I could buy that.  After seeing what I saw today, I cannot.  Sure there are many unknowns, and a great deal of uncertainty if we teach and instruct kids to flee the school in the event of an active shooter.  Is ALICE the answer? I don't know.  Maybe the answer has not been invented yet. But today, in a simulation, I experienced one of my worst fears, and I am certain, that hiding under a desk with a shooter in the room, is not the answer.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Curriculum Night...Speed Dating Style

Some of the best plays in football are the result of an audible.  In some instances, a quarterback sees what the defense is giving him, and checks to a better play.  Other times, it is the result of a little luck.

Our Curriculum Night was very similar.  We had a conflict with the high school, which was having their event on the same evening.  This was stressing some parents out.  If they had kids in both of our buildings, how could they possibly attend both?

Our initial plan was to have a very structured evening.  I figured I would kick things off in the gym, and then the parents would follow their child's schedule, going from room to room every 15 minutes.  I even planned to ring the bells in order to give them the full experience.

Then came the audible.  First of all I did not want to compete directly against the high school (I would lose, I am the intermediate school principal).  Secondly, and more importantly, the parents would lose, and I did not want that.  We wanted parents to be able to attend both.  So we came up with:  Curriculum Night meets Speed Dating.

We began in the gym in which I gave a short presentation.  I kept it under ten minutes. Why?  People do not come to these events to hear the principal talk, they want to meet the teachers.  I received so much feedback on this.  Joe Mazza, an expert on the topic of school and parent interaction, talks about giving the parents what they want.  Well this is one of the things they want.

After my nine minute talk, parents could go to any class they wished.  Every ten minutes, I made an announcement that it was time to rotate and find another teacher.  Parents could leave early and go to the high school, or come late and still meet teachers.  We did six rounds of the ten minutes class meetings.

The vast majority of the feedback was positive.  If I were to adjust anything for next time, it would be to give a few minutes for parents to get to the next teacher, or just extend each presentation a few minutes.  The teachers enjoyed the format because it avoided the situation where parents wanted to tell them specific things about their children.  Those things are important, but this evening was not the time or the place  for those conversations to happen.

As I mentioned, it was not the perfect scenario having two events on the same evening, but sometimes you have to be willing to be a little flexible and call an audible.  It turned out to be an evening that many people are still talking about.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Inaugural #sstlap Chat 7/11

The Teach Like a PIRATE chats:  #tlap have been very popular on Twitter.  Several weeks ago I noticed some content specific chats were popping up.  There was #tlapmath for...well math and then #ELAtlap for english and language arts.  So last week I decided to create #sstlap for social studies at about the same time Misty White @mwhite_science decided to start up #SCItlap.

So if you are keeping track:


If you have followed this blog, or know anything about me, I am onboard with the philosophy of Dave Burgess @burgessdave and his book Teach Like a PIRATE.  What I was hoping to accomplish with #sstlap, was to create a forum where social studies teachers could gather and share specific ideas.  Dave talks about how teaching the Industrial Revolution is never his favorite thing in the world.  For me it was.  He or another teacher could take some of my ideas, and I am sure I will take someone else's.  At the end of the day, we are creating more engagement and a better learning experience for our students.

Last night (7/11) was the first #sstlap chat, and it was a great success.  If you missed it, here were the questions:

Q1:  What specific area of history/social studies are you passionate about?
Q2:  @burgessdave discusses the importance of the 1st 3 days in building rapport.  What's your plan for the 1st 3 days this fall?
Q3:  What specific "experiences" have you created?
Q4:  How do you display immersion in your classroom? (Getting in the pool vs. sitting in the lifeguard chair)
Q5:  What unique ways have you integrated technology into your class to make it more engaging?

The #sstlap chat will be every other Thursday at 9 PM EST.  I am planning on having a designated blog post that will have links to the different experiences teachers have created and shared.  If you have a great experience, send me the link via Twitter to @mclane_ryan.  

The next chat will be on 7/25.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Teach Like a PIRATE Day...The Aftermath

I will be honest with you.  I never imagined the response Teach Like a PIRATE Day would get from our community, let alone from educators around the world via Twitter.  I appreciate all of the comments, questions and Tweets I have received.

The one common question that people have asked is, "What happened in the days after?"  In other words, did things go back to normal, or did the PIRATE experience live on?  The answer is:  a little of the former, and a lot of the latter.

Students were re-enacting Civil War battles on the football field, a group of students re-enacted the Lincoln assassination, and Language Arts teachers had their students out of their seats learning.  We had about two weeks of school left and I am proud to say my teachers did not "shut it down."  Kids continued to be engaged.

Several teachers are already thinking about Teach Like a PIRATE Day The Sequel.  It is my hope, they come up with so many ideas, they will have to use some of those experiences on "regular" school days.

I recently had an article published in Education Week on the topic of making grades meaningful (I know, shameless plug) Why Grades Should Reflect Mastery, Not Speed . I am not all the way on the Standards-Based Grading side of the spectrum, but I certainly lean heavily that way.  However, and if you take away one thing I write, let it be this:  If kids are not engaged, it does not matter what grading system a school uses. In Daniel Pink's book Drive, he writes about how important it is to be instrinsicly motivated. If we as educators, can create an environment in which students actually want to be there, think of the possibilities. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pictures From Teach Like a PIRATE Day

Mr. Prince's Science Experience

Mr. Hill's Pow-wow

Mr. McLane's Mystery Skype

Mr. Prince's Science Experience

Mr. Palmer's Solar Oven

Mr. Palmer's Solar Oven

Mrs. Smith's Silhouette

Mr. McLane's Mystery Skype

Mr. Mitchell's Straw Engineering

Mr. McLane's Internet Radio Show

Mrs. Skinner/Mrs. Fireovid Human Coordinate Plane Battleship

Coordinate Plane Human Battleship

Mr. Hill's Pow-wow

Mr. Hill's Pow-wow

Mr. Hill's Pow-wow

Mrs. Smith's Silhouette 

Mrs. Williams' Wonka Creatorium

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Teach Like a PIRATE Day...More Reflections

I will try to give a better description of how things occurred on May 22, 2013.  On Wednesdays in our district, the students come to school an hour later than normal.  As a staff, we use that time for ongoing professional development.  The bus routes just run an hour later than a normal day and the class periods were only 32 minutes long.

Our kids entered the building at 8:15 AM and were walking the halls with their guidebooks and were scoping things out.  All students reported to Homeroom at 8:24 AM for attendance and morning announcements.  I explained the rules of the day:

  1. They could go to any experience that was offered that period.
  2. They could not go to any teacher more than twice.
  3. They could not be with the same teacher two periods in a row.
  4. Have fun!
As I was walking through the halls, I could sense the excitement, but could not really see any physical differences.  As I made it to the end of the hall and was turning the corner, I could see a line formed outside of Mr. Prince's Science class.  I was not surprised, and if you read the description of his experience, you would not be either.

I walked from room to room and the kids were hooked in every room.  Our building does not have air conditioning, and it was a hot day, but not a single teacher or student complained about it.  It was almost as if no one noticed.

I saw kids doing science experiments; designing candy bars; playing coordinate plane human battleship; kids creating their own Internet radio shows, Mystery Skypes, Native American Pow-wows; and teachers incorporating lessons into traditional games.

I saw what Dave Burgess has been preaching about teaching like a PIRATE.  I saw passion from everyone.  I witnessed students immersed in their education.  I could see the great rapport that many of our staff have with their students.  Students were asking intelligent questions and analyzing the best way to protect their egg before dropping it from the high school balcony.  I saw a school and a staff transform the way education happened because they incorporated a little more enthusiasm than normal.  Once that first period ended, I physically saw a change.  I witnessed students running to their next experience, because they did not want to get closed out.  

Here were some comments from the students on what they liked best about the day:

"Teach Like a PIRATE Day was fun.  I wish every day was like this."

"I liked having the freedom to choose my classes."

Here were some comments from the students on what they did NOT like about the day:


"That we only got to choose 7 classes."

"That we did it on a Wednesday so it was shorter class periods."

"How hard it was to get into some of the rooms.  When trying to get into Mr. Prince's room, you had to fight!!!"

As I mentioned yesterday, it was an absolutely amazing day.  We will be doing this again next year, probably once in the fall and once in the spring.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Teach Like a PIRATE Day...Huge Success

Where to begin?  First off, this is the first of several posts that will be up in the coming days/weeks.  Too much happened to put it in one blog post.  I guess I will start with addressing some concerns people may have about pulling off a day like this.  
  • We had about a 98% attendance rate today (and none of today's activities were for a grade).  
  • There were absolutely no discipline issues during any of the experiences. 
  • Kids were running from class to class.

The biggest problem we incurred was kids were getting shut out of the experiences they wanted to attend because the room was already full.  Teachers rectified this problem by using their judgement in allowing more students into their classes.  We did not want anyone to leave TLAP Day disappointed.

I walked into class after class and saw students hooked.  Students were engaged, they were having fun, and they were learning.  We had Willy Wonka themed experiences, The Ultimate Gift experiences, science experiments students can do at home experiences, Mystery Skype experiences, Human Battleship experiences, and a Native American Pow Wow experience, just to name a few.  Our students connected with classes in Wisconsin, New York, and Delaware.  Did I mention zero discipline issues?  Our teachers did a fantastic job.

One common question that students had for me was "Why can't school be like this everyday?"  My answer is "We are working on it."  Our teachers are using the PIRATE acronym to show more passion, immersion, better rapport, ask/analyze, transformation, and enthusiasm.  However, I would be remiss if I put it completely on the shoulders of the teachers.  Education is a two-way street.  Just as I will strive to get my teachers to create more engaging experiences in the future, we also need the students to be more passionate about their learning as well.  After seeing what I witnessed today, that should not be a problem.

We set out to answer Dave Burgess' question of "If your kids didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?"  I never thought about answering his second question.  "Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets for?"  The teachers at Utica Junior High School got their answer to the first question today, and I had a student ask about purchasing a reserved seat for Mystery Skype, so that is a YES to number two.

Utica Junior High is a small rural school in central Ohio.  There are approximately 270 students in grades 7-8.  Nearly 45% of the students are on free/reduced lunch. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Teach Like a PIRATE Day Eve

I will be honest with you.  I have never seen this many kids excited for a day of school in May that was NOT the last day of school.  Kids received their guidebooks this afternoon to plan which experiences they will attend tomorrow.  I overheard some kids say "Wait, I can only pick seven of these?!"

I spoke with reporters from two different newspapers who are coming with photographers tomorrow. I actually had a Mystery Skype class call in today by accident, so I had the opportunity to talk to them for a few minutes today.  I will not reveal them yet, but they are a sneaky bunch and had some flags hanging on the wall that will certainly throw my kids for a loop!  Well played.

The only other nervous moment was for our science teacher, Mr. Prince, who was waiting on some science supplies to be delivered.  We can all rest easy as they were delivered this afternoon.

Our school day starts tomorrow at 8:30 AM eastern time.  I will tweet out pictures and updates with #tlapexperiment.  I will update the blog and eventually upload some videos to Youtube.

Thanks to everyone who has followed along so far.  The kids think it is pretty cool that people from so many states and even countries have taken an interest.

Finally, a big thanks to Dave Burgess for writing the book and being so supportive of this experiment.  Looking forward to sharing the results.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Teach Like a PIRATE Day Experiences

We are a few days away from our #tlapexperiment.  Below are the tentative experiences for our 7th and 8th grade students.

Teach Like  A PIRATE Day Experiences
Utica Junior High School
Utica, Ohio

Mr. Ballinger:  I will be doing an outdoor lawn games day to promote simple ways to get outside and become active.  Games will include corn hole, bocce ball, blongo(hillbilly golf), and kan jam.

Mrs. Baughman 1-3:  Stop motion animation without wearing an eye patch.

Ms. Blackstone:  "Scattergories" alliterations - individually, students will complete their game card with words to fit the categories provided - all will begin the same letter, determined by rolling the alphabet die. Once answers have been swapped, teams will create an alliteration with the words given. Teams, and Miss Blackstone will then vote on the best alliteration given.

"Apples to Apples" sentences - students will play Apples to Apples according the regular rules. The person who is the "picker" for the round will select the winning red card (noun) by using it in a sentence with the green card (adjective) selected.

20 maximum in the room for game purposes.

Mr. Dean Period 2:  Band

Mrs. Fireovid Periods 1, 2, 4, 7-9:  Be a part of Human Battleship.  Via Facetime between Mrs. Fireovid and Mrs Skinner's classrooms, groups will seek to locate their opponents' Pirate Ships, Protector Ships, and even a hidden treasure.  Groups will earn and lose points by finding ships or by having their ships destroyed.  Finding a hidden treasure could bring about an even greater reward.

Mr. Hill 1, 2, 4, 7-9:  Let's have a Pow-Wow... A study of Native American Culture... To understand and respect a culture is to actively participate so come join our pow-wow!!!

Mr. McLane Periods 1, 2, 3:  Come be the star of your own internet radio show.  Students will create and upload their shows to the internet.

Mr. McLane Periods 4, 7, 8:  Join us for Mystery Skype.  We will connect with another classroom somewhere in the world via Skype and by asking a series of Yes/No questions, we will have to figure out where they are, and they will figure out our location.  

Mr. Mitchell 1-3:  I will be doing an Engineering Problem solving activity: Straw Tower Competition.  Working in teams of two each team will design and construct the tallest Free Standing Tower using only the material given.  Candy Prizes to the winning teams.

Mr. Palmer Periods 1, 3, 4:  Do you get hungry in the afternoon?  You can use the sun's energy to heat up a tasty snack with a solar oven that you will make in the classroom.  See you there!

Mr. Palmer Periods 7-9:  I will give you a bag of materials and you will design and build a container that will prevent an uncooked egg from breaking when dropped from the high school balcony.  

Mr. Prince Periods 1-4:  Most kids know the legend of William Tell, who was known to be able to shoot an apple off of someone's head with a crossbow. During this class I will be using science to perform a modern day William Tell. If you come to my class I will be testing my marksmanship by shooting something off the top of your head... And that is only the beginning.

Mr. Prince Periods 7-9:  When I am finished using household items and scientific principles you have learned in class to perform demonstrations... You will be left asking for more.... And the best part is you will be able to recreate them at home to impress your family and friends.

Ms. Rodehaver:  We will be playing Jenga. There will be 5 different groups depending on the number of students. On each of the blocks there will be a math problem written in order for the students to re-stack their block they have to answer the problem correctly.

Mrs. Shomaker Periods 2, 3, 7-9: Do you love children’s books? How creative can you be? Stop by the computer lab and we shall see! Students will have an opportunity to show their creative side using children’s books and Microsoft Office. Students may bring their own children’s book or borrow from my daughter’s collection. Seating is limited to 26 creators per class period.

Mrs. Skinner Periods 1, 2, 4, 7-9:  Be a part of Human Battleship.  Via Facetime between Mrs. Fireovid and Mrs Skinner's classrooms, groups will seek to locate their opponents' Pirate Ships, Protector Ships, and even a hidden treasure.  Groups will earn and lose points by finding ships or by having their ships destroyed.  Finding a hidden treasure could bring about an even greater reward.

Mrs. Smith Periods 1, 2, 3, 4:  Based on the Book The Ultimate Gift...It is better to give than to receive. Design and Create a special gift for someone of your choice.
"Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful
people are always asking what's in it for me?"

Mrs. Smith Periods 8, 9:  Portray your own life story in an Enchanted Silhouette that you create yourself; using poetry, quotes, chalk drawings and decorate them to tell something about you!
"You are the HERO of your own story."                

Mrs. Sole Periods 1, 3, and 7:  Catchphrase.

Mrs. Sole Periods 2, 4, and 8:  Can you sell it? Persuade classmates to buy your product.

Mrs. M. Williams 1-4, 8-9:  Please come to Willy Wonka's Sweet Seasons Creatorium!  Attention candy designers, Willy Wonka's needs a new recipe for a chocolate bar, and they have asked you for your help. As part of your mission, you must come up with a name for your chocolate bar, the key ingredients, a tasty description, and finally, a prototype using the building materials at your station. It's going to be sweet!  We will be meeting in the "Sweet Seasons Creatorium" (Reading Room)
Seating is limited to no more than 20 candy designers per class period.

Mrs. N. Williams Periods 1, 3, and 7:  Can you sell it? Persuade classmates to buy your product.

Mrs. N. Williams Periods 2, 4, and 8:  Catchphrase.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Under a Week and Need Some Help

We are putting the finishing touches on the experiences on Teach Like a PIRATE Day and could use some assistance.  One of the experiences we are looking to create is Mystery Skype.  Our school consists of 270 students in grades 7-8.  If you are unfamiliar with our experiment, we are allowing the kids to pick the classes they attend that day.  The goal is for teachers to step up their game and for students to see that school can be exciting.  The day is Wednesday, May 22.

If you are interested, let me know.  Here are the time slots we need (Eastern Time Zone):

10:15 - 10:45 AM
12:45 - 1:15 PM
1:20 - 1:50 PM
1:55 - 2:20 PM

Ideally I would like to set-up something with four different schools, but I am willing to work with whoever is interested.

Send me a tweet @mclane_ryan if you are interested or leave a comment.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Under 2 Weeks Away

Teach Like a PIRATE Day at Utica Junior High will attempt to answer the question:

If your kids did not have to be in class, would you be teaching to an empty room?  

On May 22, 2013, we will have Teach Like a PIRATE Day to attempt to answer that question.  

Here are a few of my observations:

The kids are excited.  I am talking about kids that normally could not care less about coming to school.  They are more curious than anything.

The teaching staff is nervously excited.  Some have already come up with some creative experiences for that day.  Others are still figuring it out.  Sadly, a few have the attitude that it will be a free day for them if no kids show up.

The kids think it is pretty cool that the author of the book, Dave Burgess, has been communicating with me and is very interested in how this turns out.

Below is a short promo video to get everyone excited about the day, being dubbed on Twitter as the #tlapexperiment.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Teach Like A PIRATE Day

Dave Burgess is a Social Studies teacher in California and author of a book that every teacher should read, Teach Like A PIRATE. PIRATE stands for:

  • Passion
  • Immersion
  • Rapport
  • Ask and Analyze
  • Transformation
  • Enthusiasm

His book teaches you how to make your class more engaging.  He asks two key questions in his book.
1.  If your students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?
2.  Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets for?

So I posed those two questions to my staff today.  In three weeks (May 22) we will have Teach Like A PIRATE Day at Utica Junior High, a small rural Ohio school of about 270 students where approximately 45% are on free or reduced lunch.  We are working on the details, but the students will get to choose which classes to go to all day long.

I have a great staff.  I believe they are up for the challenge, and I believe it will be an eye opening experiene for all involved.

You can follow me on Twitter @mclane_ryan and our designated hashtag #tlapexperiment.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Transitioning to Standards Based Grading: Retakes and No K's.

I have had several teachers approach me over the past month asking about Standards Based Grading.  Now I am far from being the SBG guru, but I can share with you what I have seen first hand in my school.  Our school has not transitioned to "full blown" SBG, but many of our teachers are now using a hybrid system, that in my opinion, is better than no change at all.

We are still on the 100 point scale, and many of the teachers who have inquired about this are also on the traditional grading scale.  So here are three steps you can implement, which will benefit student learning:

1.  Allow students to retake an assessment (quiz/test).  A grade's true purpose is to communicate a student's level of mastery.  If you determine a student has only mastered 70%, then why not give him or her an opportunity to learn some more and then demonstrate his or her new level of understanding?  The whole purpose of teaching is to make sure students are learning.  When the student retakes the assessment on the same material, enter his or her new grade into the grade book.  If the student demonstrated 90% mastery on the second attempt, then put the 90% in the grade book.

2.  Separate behavior from grading.  If a student turns in an assignment or project late, there should be a consequence.  That consequence should NOT be the student's grade. If your building principal is pushing for SBG, then he or she has to be willing to help you on this part.  A possible consequence could be a lunch detention.  The consequence should NOT be half credit.  If you are on your own in this venture, meaning your change to SBG is teacher driven, then I will be honest, you will have to get creative here.  I believe if you communicate what you are doing with your building principal, he or she is going to assist you in this endeavor.

3.  Stop giving Ks.  This is a big one, and has more to do with making sure our grade books are an accurate reflection of what a student has mastered.  We have to be sure we are not altering students' grades with items that do not reflect their level of mastery (extra credit, participation points, completion points).  Most schools grade on a 100 point scale:  90-100 A; 80-89 B; 70-79 C; 60-69 D; and 0-59 is an F.  If we continued on that 10 point scale, a zero would be the equivalent to a K.  Now if I were to ask you how likely would it be for a student to go from a D to a B with three weeks left in the grading period, many of you would tell me it would be unlikely.  So how likely would it be for a student to go from a K to a D in the same time period?  That student would have to jump six letter grades just to get to a D.

Now this is the hard part, I had great difficulty doing this as a teacher, but it was never explained to me like I am going to try to explain it to you.  Instead of giving the student a zero, you give them a 50, which is an F.  It makes an F the same weight as any other grade we issue.  You are not giving them something for nothing, you are making sure that an F has the same weight as an A.  If you issue that student a zero, you are really giving them a K.  Some students may deserve an F, but no kid deserves a K.

If you are going to accomplish one thing, make sure your grades reflect what a student actually knows and not how hard they try.  It will make it easier for you as a teacher to identify who has not mastered the skills, so that you can do what you got into teaching for in the first help kids.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

What's More Important: The Deadline or the Skill?

I am the principal in a 7-8 building, perhaps the last venue where we try to give kids second and sometimes third chances.  This happens mostly with discipline, but also with academics.  This is really the last time where a kid's grades do not really matter.  I am unaware of any college or employer that has ever requested a transcript from a student's junior high school.

My teachers and I are currently having discussions about grading practices, Standards-Based Grading, and everything in between.  I do not know that we will ever adopt a truly standards-based grading system, but I believe we are on our way to making our grading system more meaningful.

I believe it is our responsibility to make sure every kid is learning the content and skills that are required of them.  I am a big believer in re-teaching and reassessing.  It is more important THAT the child learns the material than WHEN the child learns the material.  If a child takes an assessment (I dislike the word test) and fails, because he or she does not know the material, that child receives a low grade.  So far, that is fair.  However, simply putting that grade in the grade book and moving on is the exact reason why public schools are in the position they are today.  This process begins early on in a child's education, that child never learns the necessary skills, and then that child continues to fall further and further behind.  It would be my hope that the child receives some more instruction, is reassessed and then his or her grade is updated to reflect that knowledge. Here is where the debate begins, the debate of THAT vs. WHEN.

The number one response (unofficial survey) is that it is not fair to the kids who got it the first time to allow kids to be reassessed.  I missed the part in education school where they taught us that a grade's primary purpose was to compare and rank students.  It was my understanding that a grade is a tool that tells us about an individual's level of mastery. If that is the case, then it is unfair if we do not reassess that individual.

The number two response (again, unofficial survey), and gaining some momentum lately, is that we are not preparing the students for college because there will not be an opportunity for a redo when the child gets to college.  That is probably correct, but what is more important for us to teach our students: deadlines OR the actual skills the students will need in order to be successful? I contest it is the latter.  I understand deadlines and responsibility are important skills to learn, but not at the expense of learning the primary skill that was at the heart of the assignment, project, or assessment in the first place.

I have two daughters, and they both enjoy playing golf.  It would be nice if they made it to the LPGA Tour (I'm really not that dad, just trying to prove a point).  My rationale would be it is more important for them to learn the basic skills than it would be to learn those skills on the lightning quick greens of Augusta or Oakmont.  So I choose to take them out to the local public course.  My detractors would say, "Well the greens on the LPGA Tour are not that slow, you are not preparing them to be successful."  I think most people would look at that person and see their logic is flawed.

I wish more people saw it that way in education.

Monday, February 18, 2013

What is a Grade?

I started creating these blog posts, not to share my opinion, but rather to share what we were doing at Utica Junior High.  Perhaps you will read one of these entries and decide you want to implement something similar.  You may even read these and decide you want absolutely nothing to do with this in your school.  That is fine too.  My short time using social media has had a positive impact on my growth as an educator, and this is my way of contributing to those great conversations.

Let me begin by saying I have a great staff.  I would put them up against any staff in America.  The scenario I am about to describe is not limited to my school, as I have witnessed it throughout my entire career, and actually, as a teacher, I was an accomplice for many years.  That topic is the term "grade."

What is a grade?  I mean if a teacher tells me that Johnny has a "B" what picture does that actually paint?  After being educated by many people in my nearly 14 years as an educator, that "B" should tell me that Johnny is pretty proficient.  He obviously has some flaws, but I would venture to say he is proficient.

The question is, what actually contributed to that B?  Was he a great test taker, but failed to turn in some homework assignments, thus dropping him to a B?  Possibly worse, is he a bad test taker, and we are masking those deficiencies by inflating Johnny's grade because he turns in homework? Perhaps worse yet, did Johnny's grade increase because he brought in a box of tissues or some other type of extra credit?

Now I am not looking to debate the relevance of homework.  There are experts out there that can cite research and data to support or rather refute the importance of homework, and I am not looking to pile onto that debate.  It is also not my intention to debate the merits of high stakes testing.  What I am hoping to bring to light is, what is a grade? Ideally, Johnny's B should tell me, Johnny has a good handle on things, and will likely do well on any standardized test on that subject.  Realistically, I have no idea what Johnny's B means.

At Utica Junior High, we assess our students about every 4-6 weeks in Math.  We give them a common assessment using standards that are likely to be on the state test. These are the same standards that are being taught in the classrooms, but as a principal, I want to know exactly which standards are our strengths and which standards are not. Secondly, and more importantly, I want to know which students are struggling with which standards so that we can get them the extra assistance they need.  One can argue that we have become a test prep factory.  I would argue that we are identifying the students who lack the necessary skills so that they may acquire those skills.  This is a great deal of work, but it is worth it if the students benefit.  If Johnny received an 8 out of 10 on one of these common assessments, it tells me he is pretty proficient with the content knowledge.  If he scores 2 out of 10, then I know we have some work to do.  His score is based on what he can do.  It has nothing to do with homework, extra credit, effort or parental support.

We are creating more work for ourselves under this model.  Our students receive a grade for each class, but no one knows what that grade actually represents.  Over 14 years in education, I have heard teachers describe a student who does well on tests and quizzes, but his or her grade suffers because that student never turns in homework.  I have a problem with that.  Are we teaching content or responsibility?  I hate to say it, but I do not recall very many questions on the SAT that assessed my responsibility.  Then you have the other extreme, the student who is not a very good test taker, but tries really hard, so his or her grade is inflated with grades of effort, extra credit, and homework completion. Once again, are we assessing content or effort?  Are we helping this student, or actually setting him up for failure later in life?

We have a few teachers who are trying this new model out in their classrooms. Homework has been replaced with practice.  The students' grades are based on the results of their assessments, which are about 4-6 per grading quarter (tests, projects, writing).  If a student does not do well on one of these assessments, they can practice some more and then be reassessed.  I used to be the teacher that thought this was a crazy idea.  How fair is it that a student takes a similar test multiple times, over the same content?  That student's grade is obviously going to go up because they are being reassessed on the same standards and they are learning the material because they have been assessed on it so many times. Then the "aha" moment occurred.  Who cares how the students are learning the content, as long as they are learning the content?  One may argue that these students will not have multiple chances on tests in college.  My argument is that I am not sure we are currently ensuring that they have an understanding of the basics to be successful once they get to college.  At least this method does a better job of providing the students with a solid foundation to be successful.

At the end of the day, when I walk into the classroom of one of these teachers and hear that Johnny has a B, I have a pretty good idea what that grade actually means.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Our School Has Gone Facebook Because of Twitter

Let me begin by saying I vowed to never have a Facebook page.  So many "bullying" issues I have dealt with as an administrator have been the result of something posted on someone's Facebook page.  I fought the good fight for several years, and finally caved, sort of, over Thanksgiving Break.

I had created a Twitter account for our school shortly after I became Principal at Utica Junior High School in 2011.  My experience with using Twitter goes back to my time as a wrestling coach.  Twitter was a quick way to inform fans of how we were doing at all-day tournaments.  It was also a quick way of notifying parents of when the bus was returning back to the school after one of those tournaments so that they could be there when we returned to pick-up their child.  I used it in a similar fashion as a principal to inform parents of important events, when report cards were coming home, early dismissals, and the like. It was more recently that I discovered how powerful and useful Twitter was that led me to change my stance on Facebook (and the power of Twitter for educators will be a future post).

I was participating in a Tweet Chat with some educators from Virginia.  They Tweet about various topics each week under the hashtag #vachat.  The fine people from Rhode Island have also been very helpful to me #edchatri.  The topic that particular evening was "Family Engagement."  Dr. Travis Burns, the principal at Page Middle School in Virginia asked me why I did not use Facebook?  My initial thought was, why would I want to do that?  Another participant in the Tweet Chat was Joe Mazza, Principal at Knapp Elementary in Pennsylvania and he basically gave me my answer.  He said that parents are busy, so we as schools must change our approach and meet them where they are. Facebook is one of the places where they are.

Dr. Burns gave me the link to his school's Facebook page and a couple of suggestions:

  • celebrate success
  • do not post student last names
  • do not post any facial pictures of any students
  • Set it up as a "like" page as opposed to a "friend" page which would give me more control.
  • keep posts positive = no issues
He assured me he has had zero issues with school Facebook.  I had no problems with his suggestions.  I know that some schools do post names and facial pictures, but that was not something I wanted to get into.

Why in the world would I want to do this?  The main reason was I wanted parents and community members to know about all of the positive things that were going on in our school.  We have some great things happening, and it seems like no one knows about them.  If I am lucky, the local newspaper will come by once a year to do a positive piece, but amazing things are happening more than one time a year.  Our district has also experienced a significant amount of negativity in our two recent tax levy renewal elections, one of which went down by a 70% - 30% margin.  I was not looking to change the election results, but at the same time, I wanted everyone to know great things were happening in our school.

So over Thanksgiving Break, Facebook came to Utica Junior High School, and I could not have been more pleased with the results.  I have had more parents in the past month tell me, "I did not know such and such was happening until I saw it on Facebook."

Some of the successes I have celebrated include:

  • a teacher receiving a $500 grant to purchase books for her Language Arts class
  • link to our new digital newspaper
  • photo of editors working on the newspaper
  • photo of the scoreboard of one of our basketball victories

Our unofficial school motto has become:  something great happens daily.  I try to post one unique photo or something positive daily.  If I cannot find one thing that is happening that is worth sharing, then I have bigger issues.  As a principal, I asked myself, if I do not promote the positives of my school, then who will?  With the assistance of some fellow educators via Twitter, I have become a proponent of using social media for the good it can provide. So far, our school's Facebook page has been a positive experience.