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May 27 15

Best Practices Collaborative Document

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

Years ago I started a best practices document. My school district’s tech committee was working on defining what we should be doing in the classroom before we helped teachers integrate technology. Using technology to do the same things that weren’t helping students won’t improve student learning. I made the document editable by all who had the link and shared it. People added to it and hopefully used it. I visited it again and noticed that many of the best practices shared there are still valuable now (which means the best practices are long-lasting making them useful in all classrooms).

I want to share it again and put it out there in the hopes that it can edited again or added to, to keep it relevant and improve upon it.  Here’s a direct link to the document to add to it or make use of it. Please share this post and this document so it can continue to grow and evolve.

May 25 15

Final Trek Chapter!

by Alfonso Gonzalez

star-trek_communique

This is the conclusion of our Star Trek part live action role play, part choose-your-own-adventure story:

20Conclusion

The QR code is clickable. I had planned to share this conclusion right after spring break but I had hoped to share it before spring break. Instead the QR codes were put up in my room now, at the end of the school year! Best laid plans, right?

I have a whole part two with an entirely new Starfleet mission and no time to start it! Quite epic too but we’re so busy with our final environmental project and testing that there’s no time for students to even read the above conclusion much less start a new story. Oh well. We’ll see what I can do next year. :)

Star Trek Choose Your Own Adventure Class Story
The Story Continues…
Next Episode
Following an Energy Trail
Rule Out the Klingons?
Away Team
Mid-Season Finale
Averting War
Season Finale!

May 22 15

Averting War

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Not real war, this post has the next chapters of our ongoing missions aboard the class Starship Equinox. :)

star-trek_communique

After the mid-season finale, last post in this series, we were left with the mystery of destruction of the Tholian ship, the Aen’q Tholis. Unlike the Bombay and the Endeavour and the Equinox, the Aen’q Tholis was not destroyed by the mysterious planetary defense weapon. Here’s the next chapter:

18Diplomats
The QR code is clickable. Since the above chapter is all story, here’s the next installment with options to choose:

19EquinoxInvestigates

That brings us close to the end of this story! Stay tuned…

Star Trek Choose Your Own Adventure Class Story
The Story Continues…
Next Episode
Following an Energy Trail
Rule Out the Klingons?
Away Team
Mid-Season Finale
Averting War
Season Finale!

May 20 15

Craving Acknowledgement [Revisited]

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I published this post a little over a year ago. I wanted to re-publish it because of the lessons learned when I wrote it, especially the posts I linked to. It all started in 2011 when I wrote this.

Award Certificate (not real)

Original Image Licensed Public Domain

Last year [the 2012-13 school year] our middle school staff agreed to stop choosing Student’s of the Month and to stop giving out monthly awards for behaviors which we want our students to engage. My advisory students conducted a survey and we found out that a majority of students reported feeling left out and not appreciated by our monthly awards assemblies. The assemblies were okay for students who play the game of school well but even they were often embarrassed for being chosen for an award or a certificate because it singled them out. This is what happens when a few are given accolades for things that are imposed on them. Academic awards are not something everyone would even want to compete for yet they are automatically competing. And if you think those who don’t get chosen for an award aren’t forced to compete then why are they made to feel that they “could have” gotten an award or could get it still? We either tell them all to go for the awards or we imply that they should. Even if school is not something they are good at!

We replaced our monthly awards assemblies with assemblies that were put together by students for students! What a concept! Students could highlight their talents in fun and engaging ways without handing out a single certificate or singling out anyone who didn’t want to be included.

This school year there were some changes, including having a new principal. For whatever reason our monthly assemblies didn’t happen. That coupled with the loss of monthly awards and student of the month awards the year before has caused some students undue stress. I heard from a couple of families of high achieving kids that some of our students are so upset at having no ways to be acknowledged for their hard work and wonderful achievements that they are starting to feel, “why bother?” One of the reasons we chose to abolish awarding kids certificates for getting good grades is to avoid having our children feel they shouldn’t bother doing well if they are not getting rewarded for it. Even the parents I spoke to agreed on that point. But is there a difference between getting rewarded for doing well and being acknowledged for doing well?

I think so. We live in a world where anything and everything we do can be shared easily through social media. Kids are sharing all the time, 24/7 (even during school), when they win a game, get good grades, complete wonderful pieces of art, play great music, etc. We as a species crave acknowledgement for doing well and for doing great things. That seems different than being rewarded for doing well. So how does a school acknowledge their students without rewarding some and punishing others?

I think having our students put together assemblies where they choose how to highlight the great things they are doing is a great way. And I think it was working well last year so we should bring it back somehow. I also heard that our ASB brought up this same topic at their ASB executive meetings. Our ASB advisor understands why we chose to abolish rewarding students for doing the right thing so she asked the ASB to come up with some ideas for acknowledging students. She wondered what they wanted and what follows is what she found out.

[I’m paraphrasing here.] Our ASB students thought that if each teacher chose a student to highlight—and it could be for any reason— and we keep a list of students chosen, then more students could be recognized.  We would do this monthly and then take a picture and post the teacher’s short write up about the students in the showcase outside the office.  That works out to about 15 students per month—x9 months is 135 students, and we have about 240ish.  So that would get half of them—so if we added a PE teacher and a Choir teacher then we get about 30 more.  This list includes all advisory teachers too. [End paraphrase.]

So as a school we have students who are craving acknowledgement for all the wonderful things they are doing, not just academic/school. We have some ideas for how we can do something about that. I’m wondering if we can satisfy their need for acknowledgement with student-run assemblies and teachers choosing students to highlight each month. I’m wondering if that’s how can we help our students not feel, “why bother,” if they are not rewarded for doing well in school? It’s our fault they feel that way because we’ve trained them since elementary that if you do well in school you can be chosen to get an award or be chosen for the coveted, “Student of the Month,” recognition. Will it ever be enough? What if we hold out a bit longer, will they feel pride without being recognized by their teachers?

Then I read this blog by Grant Wiggins, Engagement and Personalization: Feedback part 2. I especially focused on these parts:

Here are the three key questions from the Gallup survey, on a strongly agree-strongly disagree scale:

  • My teachers make me feel my schoolwork is important.
  • At this school, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  • In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good schoolwork.

It’s no wonder that students enjoy sports, performing arts, robotics, and other such offerings as much as they do since they get to play to strengths, help the greater good, and routinely receive some positive feedback.

And

As Gallup summarizes in its findings:

Students’ engagement at school may be influenced by innumerable factors largely outside a school’s control. However, there are fundamental strategies schools can focus on to dramatically raise the likelihood that students will be emotionally engaged in the classroom on any given day.

Those strategies include providing students with opportunities to discover and develop their talents, and with teachers who inspire a sense of optimism about what they can achieve with those talents.

So now I’m wondering if there’s a way we can give our students feedback instead of acknowledgement? Is there a difference? Sports, performing arts, and other such offerings allow students to play to their strengths and coaching provides them constant feedback. How do we incorporate that into school? Yeah, we often have students taking classes they wouldn’t choose to take because they don’t play to their strengths. Adults make kids take classes we feel will provide them with skills they will need to succeed in life.

So we have students doing well in school and students doing well in other areas with many of them craving some sort of positive feedback or acknowledgement. Our job as educators is to provide that without rewards and punishment. Oh boy.

May 18 15

Teacher Motivation

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

One of my blog posts sparked a comment where the question of teacher motivation came up. Specifically if tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluation can be motivating to teachers. What follows is the comment along with the questions and my response:

“Good luck with your efforts. Truly shameful that you’re not getting enough support up there in Washington. I’ve been teaching English in Taiwan for the last two years, and I’m coming back after this school year to teach in the USA somewhere. I’m not looking forward to all the bull$#!+ politics. It’s tempting to stay right where I’m at.

Anyway, I had a question. I suppose the argument for using test scores to evaluate teachers is 1)This might MOTIVATE teachers to teach in more effective ways that they haven’t tried before and 2) This way we can say that “good teachers” are getting the recognition they deserve, and “bad teachers” are getting the consequences they deserve. Regardless of whether this works or not, I’m just curious, do you feel that there is a motivation problem among teachers? Do decision makers need to spend more time thinking about how to motivate teachers?”

My response:
Thanks, I’m hoping these walkouts bear fruit because all the letter writing, visiting the capitol, and talking with and inviting legislators into our classrooms hasn’t yielded the results we’re after. Of course, those who are listening, reading, and visiting our classrooms are NOT the ones we need to convince! Ain’t that always the case. It does seem tempting to stay away from the US!

Now, to answer your question, I do feel there is a motivation problem among teachers but a huge part of the motivation problem stems from over testing our students and tying those test scores to our evaluations. If I worked at a school where that had been the case I might be burned out by now. I cannot see any way to be motivated to teach effectively or innovatively if I’m trying to get my students to pass a standardized test no matter how good the test is. Teaching to a test results in narrow teaching and, as we’ve seen in the news, frustrates some teachers and schools to cheat! So much research out there shows us that using carrots and sticks is very ineffective to motivate people and horribly wrong to get creativity or innovation!

Decision makers DO need to spend more time thinking about motivating teachers and we, THE TEACHERS, have the answer. 1. Pay us well enough that security and feeding our families is not an issue (that includes health care). 2. Provide systems to help the needs of children that teachers cannot provide, such as mental health, so that discipline can be handled well within the school. 3. Provide the funds needed to adequately educate children so that we can bridge the gaps between the haves and the have-nots. 4. Get rid of the whole accountability thing (see how Finland doesn’t even have a word for that) and use professional learning communities, team-teaching, and other cooperative methods of teacher support to train teachers to do their job and to try innovative ways of reaching all of their students. Stop calling it evaluation: http://www.educatoral.com/word…. The evaluation system we have here in WA State is pretty good because it’s a growth model. The ONLY reason Dept of Ed has a problem with our system is because we give teachers the choice whether or not test scores should factor into their evaluation. They don’t want to let the professionals who are actually working with students have choice in how they are evaluated. Test scores must be tied to our evaluation or they will withdraw their NCLB waiver. That is so damn stupid. See, that’s what crushes motivation.

Those are the ones that come to my mind right now. I’m sure there are more I’m not thinking of. What do you think?

May 17 15

Redefining Oneself

by Alfonso Gonzalez

5710969707_a4d975510b_zI think as educators we have opportunities to redefine ourselves. This is especially true for those of us who were taught or trained in very traditional methods. It was then very easy for us to teach our students using the very same traditional methods that were used on us. It’s even worse if those traditional methods worked for us because then we would have little reason to try something different. At least if the traditional methods didn’t work on us we would probably be seeking different ways to educate our students in case it wouldn’t work on them.

The more we read and expose ourselves to social media and learn from a Professional Learning Network (PLN) though the more we see that this generation of kids require educating that is different, creative, innovative. Some call it 21st century learning. That can be very different than the traditional forms of teaching.

Even though I’ve been thinking of redefining myself it’s actually not professionally. I feel that I embrace change professionally as I’m constantly trying new methods of engaging all my students to learn. I feel that I try to adapt to my students’ needs while still providing them chances to use skills they will most likely need in their futures. No, I’m being forced to redefine myself in a personal matter. It did make me think of what it feels like when we are asked or forced to redefine ourselves.

About three years ago I began to redefine myself by becoming more active. I lost about 45 lbs, which was incredible. A cool thing happened whereby I became a runner. It was a gradual thing. I started out by not even being able to run a full lap around a track. Slowly I built up to running a 5K and eventually I even ran a half marathon in 2hours and 3minutes! I was running around five miles every time I went out for a run and it felt good and normal! Along the way to seeing myself as a runner I was set back by injuries. It started with my calves. They weren’t used to running and I kept having to heal from muscle tears or what I’ve seen called calf heart attacks. I also have plantar fascitis but I had gotten that under control by wearing Birkenstock sandals (yeah, that cured it when nothing else, not even custom orthotics, would). I also twisted both my ankles running on trails so I seemed to hurt everything from the knees down. Luckily, my knees only got sore when running and not injured so they didn’t set me back at all. Still, through all the injuries I managed to heal and get back to running every time rather quickly. I always worried that if I stopped running for too long I’d lose interest or something.

I was starting to really see myself as a runner. I actually loved it and even craved it. Sometimes I’d run for a bunch of days straight but even managed to go out for a run a few days week on weeks where I couldn’t run everyday. I even went out for runs in the winter whether is was rainy or snowy or cold. This was totally new for me and it was quite a welcome change in my life. Since I had kept the weight I lost off and I was running regularly I was able to increase the number of calories I was consuming. Things were going pretty darn well.

Things were going so well that I began to add speed work to my training. When I ran my first 5K race I was running about a 9 3/4 minute per mile pace. I was working on getting down to just under an 8 minute per mile pace and I wanted to beat that. I really enjoyed running races. It was fun and exciting to be around so many other runners. Last year at this time I ran a race that was right in my backyard, the Rhody Run. It’s a seven and half mile race in the town right next to where I live, about a 20 minute drive from my home. That is really nice considering that I’ve driven almost three hours to get to a race.

I was doing my running and working on increasing my speed when my calves started aching. This had happened since my first bout, when I went to a physical therapist for six months working on healing and rehabilitating both my calves, but always worked itself out after that long rehabilitation. I thought I had cured that or at least gotten it under control. My calves weren’t perfect, they still ached sometimes during or after a run. I had gotten used to sore calves working themselves out so I continued running. Yeah, if I only knew then what I know now. Recently, the soreness wasn’t going away and it was beginning to feel more sharp than dull. I was getting to the point where I was having to slow my pace to keep the calves from hurting too much. I still thought I was fine and that I could recover. I mean, I was doing everything right. I was stretching real well before every run. I was also massaging and using a roller on my calves before each run. Then after the run I’d stretch again. Maybe I was doing everything right but my calves weren’t recovering.

A month ago a knot I was working on in my right calf hurt so bad that I took a week off to let it heal. I tried running on it again. Started off great then the sharp pain. I took another week off. Stupid me I tried running on it again. That was the last straw for my right calf, the achilles tendon running up behind my calf muscles hurt so bad I had to slow way down (no, I didn’t stop running, and yes, I know that was dumb – I’m stubborn, what can I say?). In my defense that tendon hadn’t hurt before, just the knot in the muscle that was in front of that tendon. The tendon hurt for four days after that short run (I only ran three miles) and I had enough evidence to finally admit to myself that I – was – out – for – the – count.

I didn’t come to that realization easily or quickly. Two weeks after that four day tendon pain of no running and my calf feels fine again. It’s all I can do to keep myself from testing it out by going for a little run. I don’t want to accept that it’s not fully healed yet! Here’s why. Today is this year’s Rhody Run. I signed up for today’s run shortly after our winter break. Yeah, I signed up early because I like to plan these things way ahead of time and I was really hoping to beat my time of one hour and 11 minutes from last year. Even after my calf tendon was hurting when I walked on it, I was still hoping, praying, wondering if I would be ready by today. Talking to friends about it didn’t help because they could see what I refused to see, that I was out for the count. Yeah, last time I did this I was in physical therapy for six months. I didn’t want to accept that because in my mind I was doing the math. That means I would not only miss today’s run but I would have to do NO running for all of May, June, July and maybe even August. Then I could start walking adding minutes of jogging for several weeks in September before I could run 5K maybe by October. Do you know what that means in WA state? I would miss out on running during the best time of year here. Not only do we have the longest days ever (it’s still light out here at 9pm so I could go out for a run at 8pm and still get home before dark!!) but it’s the warmest and, this year, the driest. It’s what we look forward to all fall – winter – and – spring. Fall and spring here is usually very wet, this year we’ve had the driest spring since I’ve lived here and I’ve lived here almost 20 years. I’m really hoping it doesn’t take six months to heal this time but there’s that nagging feeling that if I don’t heal it completely then I’ll be redefining myself again next year when my calves go out again! And if not next year, soon thereafter. It’s always going to be on the back of my mind.

ZRAnd if missing the Rhody Run and possibly missing a whole summer of great weather and long days isn’t bad enough season 4 of Zombies, Run is out. Zombies, Run is what got me running. I re-ran all of season 3 waiting for season 4 to come out. And just as season 4 comes out I – can’t – run.

So yeah, it has been hard for me to have to redefine myself as a non-runner when I finally defined myself as a runner. After running the half marathon I’ve been dreaming of running a marathon and maybe even an ultra marathon trail run. Push that back. Today is the hardest because I’m not running the Rhody. I have to wait a whole year to try and beat last year’s time. I hate that. If I want to stay in shape I have to find other things to do that won’t hurt my calves. At least I have no excuse to ignore my upper body and my core now. It isn’t easy. I have to keep my mind on the new prize, a healthy life. If I want to be a runner into my old age then I can’t push my body too hard now. Healing needs to happen and sometimes that takes time. More time than we want to wait.

Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

So when we expect teachers to change the way they teach, maybe it isn’t always so easy. As I’ve written here before, sometimes we teachers start to identify things we do as who we are. Redefining ourselves is sometimes necessary because sometimes the change is forced. Although that isn’t easy it at least forces us to change if we listen. :)

May 15 15

Chimacum’s Walkout for Education

by Alfonso Gonzalez

17507890768_29be38b338_zThis morning instead of having a half day of school Chimacum teachers unanimously voted to ask our district to cancel school so that we could participate in our state’s school walkouts urging our legislature to fulfill their paramount duty to fully fund education. My last post explains why we chose to walk out and protest today. So far 31 schools have had one-day walkouts and there are more planning walkouts making 57 WA state schools staging one-day walkouts as of today to let our legislature know that they need to comply with our state’s Supreme Court and fully fund education!

Teachers chose today, Friday, May 15, because it seemed a day that would least impact our community. First, it was supposed to be a half day today. Second, there are many events happening with our local festival that many families attend that many of our kids are already focused on the carnival, the parades, and all the fun they’ll be having this weekend. Yes, our school year has had one day added so we’re going until Monday, June 15, instead of Friday, June 12. Monday will be a half day so we’re giving up a half day now to make it up later. And even though it affects our district and our community there was no good day, much less a better day, to do this and today seemed the least disruptive. We do have a very supportive community and very supportive families and a wonderful school board, which makes it easier to stage a protest for our children. It is, after all, for our children that we are doing this. And besides we are the McCleary Court Case school district. It was that case, first won at a superior court, then won at the Washington State Supreme Court, that fueled these protests.

17507460268_bec680c265_zWe started with by showing our support and wishes for our students, for our future, to have a fully funded public education. We had teachers, both classified and certificated staff, parents, and students holding signs and waving at passersby.

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Then we had a rally where our state union vice president, our local union president and some teachers spoke.

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Then we walked to a four way stop for more waving and poster showing.

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One of our local news stations, King 5 News, sent a top reporter and anchor, Elisa Hahn, to cover our story! Here’s our local union president, Todd Miller, talking to Elisa Hahn.

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Why did a major news station, along with our local newspapers, the Peninsula Daily News and the Port Townsend Leader, show up to a small country school walkout? It’s because we are the McCleary Court Case school district. The woman in the above photo, Stephanie McCleary, our district’s executive secretary and personnel director, was the lead plaintiff in the court case! There’s Elisa Hahn talking to Stephanie McCleary! Being the school of the lead plaintiff in what has turned out to be an unprecedented turn of events for public education and getting the funding our kids need puts us in the position of being in the public eye. Personally I’m glad we stepped up and joined the efforts to send a strong, united message to our state’s legislature.

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I selfishly took this opportunity to get a selfie with Elisa Hahn! How cool is this? :)

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We took turns handwriting letters to our legislators helping them understand what we are asking for to ensure that our kids have a fully funded public education: voter approved (two times in a row!!) lower class sizes I-1351, a reduction in testing for our students so the focus of their education is NOT how to take a test, and pay that will attract and retain high quality teachers including health care support in line with other state employees.

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We then walked a few miles with our red for ed shirts and signs.

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We ended our day of action with some COLA floats. :)

Here’s the King 5 News coverage of our walkout:

May 11 15

Why are Chimacum Schools Having a 1 Day Strike?

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

The short answer was best said by Malala Yousafzai, “Education for EVERY child.” [Emphasis my own.]

Friday, May 15, Chimacum School District educators voted unanimously to join many other schools in Washington state in what are being called rolling walkouts. (See this article in a local WA newspaper, the Peninsula Daily News.) Schools all over our state are having one day walkouts, or strikes, to urge our state government to fully fund public education. By fully funding public education we are investing in our future. By showing ALL children in our state that we care enough to provide them with the best education we are investing in our future. Both my children attend Chimacum Schools. My son will be graduating this year so he is a home grown Chimacum student, K-12. My daughter is in 6th grade this year so has years to go before she graduates from Chimacum. They deserve a quality public education just like every child in our state. In our country. In our world.

Chimacum School District (CSD) is a small district. We have somewhere around 70 certificated teachers. Why would a school as small as ours even bother to strike? I mean we have a very supportive community who passes levies for our children, so why put them through having to find child care for a day or having to take their kids to work or having to leave their kids at home?? Frankly, it shouldn’t matter how small a school district we are. If big school districts can let our legislators know that they aren’t sufficiently funding education and that we, as parents and voters and public school employees, are urging them to do just that, then even tiny, little CSD can join in having our voices heard. But CSD is not just any school district in WA state. CSD is THE district where Stephanie McCleary works. CSD is THE district where Mrs. McCleary worked in 2007 when she and her husband agreed to be plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the State of WA for not fully funding education. (See The McCleary Case. See a copy of the actual lawsuit.) We felt the need to stand behind Mrs. McCleary and the stand she made for ALL our children.

Sure, we could have said no. Let’s sit back and continue writing letters and sending emails. Let’s continue Tweeting and sharing on Facebook. But you know what? We’ve been doing that. For years. And things have gotten a little better. But we’re not there yet. And we’re too close now to stop fighting for our kids. The lawsuit against the state of WA was filed in December of 2007. The purpose of the lawsuit was to define and get the WA legislature to follow the following article in our state’s constitution: “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” Article IX, Section 1, Washington State Constitution.

A Seattle Superior Court found in favor of the plaintiff on all counts in 2009. The state appealed and in January of 2012 the WA State Supreme Court upheld the Seattle court’s original ruling. There is no doubt. It’s the right thing to do by our kids. It’s the law for goodness sake. Our state has until 2018 to increase funding and do right by our kids.

What is the state not doing or not doing well?

  • Voters in this state approved Initiative 1351 to lower class sizes for K-12. Kids in middle and high school deserve lower class sizes too. Teacher-student relationships can happen with lower class sizes. It’s what our kids deserve. Both chambers want to cancel I-1351! Both chambers and the Governor want to reduce the funding to K-3. This is not what voters asked for.
  • Testing, Common Core, and our teacher evaluation work just fine without high stakes. I’ve written plenty about standardized testing. Standards and testing are meant to be used to help kids not hurt kids. We are urging for a REDUCTION in testing requirements for our kids. Tying test scores to evaluations has been proven to NOT work and yet that’s what our legislators are pushing for. No.
  • The state conservatively anticipates $3 billion in revenue over the next biennium yet the Senate’s proposed budget would provide $1.3 billion on unreliable revenue forecasting methods. The House budget anticipates $1 billion in revenue due to a capital gains tax. (WEA – our state’s teacher union – is my source.)
  • Education is budgeted somewhere around $1 billion yet in two days the legislature found $9 billion to support Boeing. It seems that they can find funding. (WEA – our state’s teacher union – is my source.)
  • Legislators will receive an 11.2% increase in pay this year. Teachers have NOT received a Cost of Living Allocation (COLA) increase in six years! (I personally have been taking home approximately $100/month LESS each year for the past four years. That means I make $400 less per month now than I did in 2011. I can’t continue to live this way. Remember, a COLA is NOT a pay increase. We’re just asking to have our salaries reflect the increased cost of living. When the state was low on revenue teachers didn’t strike when they decreased our pay and took away our COLA. We didn’t agree to that forever though!
  • Health insurance costs continue to rise yet our health insurance funding has not increased. Well, health care funding has not increased for teachers. State employees will get a health care funding increase, EXCEPT for teachers. What is up with that?!? I know health care is tough all over but when health care is factored into my yearly salary to make it look like I’m making a LOT more than I actually am that’s not telling the whole story. It’s downright misleading. I’m not living high off of any hog. I pay close to $500/month to have health care for my family. So in effect health care is costing me a pretty penny.

Until the WA State legislature increases funding so that schools can lower class sizes and caseloads K-12, until the WA State legislature increases salaries to get and retain high quality teachers and substitutes, and until the WA State legislature increases health care insurance funding equitable to other state employees our work will not be done and they will NOT be fulfilling their PARAMOUNT duty of making ample provisions for ALL children in our state to have the education they deserve. The education afforded to all citizens of this great country.

Apr 30 15

Robotic Ball

by Alfonso Gonzalez

checkI just got a $300 grant from my school district’s educational support foundation, the Friends of Chimacum! I submitted a proposal to purchase a couple of Sphero Robotic App Controlled Balls!

I saw a Science teacher at this year’s NCCE conference playing with one of those and he was telling me how he used them with his students to study physics. I just had to steal that idea! The plan for my proposal revolved around using the app-controlled robotic ball to explore Newton’s Laws of Motion. Kids would design an experiment, then program the Sphero to conduct their experiment and collect data. If the Sphero doesn’t work as intended the kids can troubleshoot the code on the app to see what went wrong (at least I think that’s how it works, I’ll find out more once I buy the Sphero and play with it this summer).

Kids will practice programming the ball using the app as well as designing motion experiments as well as collecting and analyzing data! I’m also purchasing some rubber padding so if kids want to test out Newton’s First Law of Motion they can have the Sphero run into unbalanced forces without damaging the ball! I’m excited to see what we can do with this thing!

Apr 28 15

SBAC Triples Time Testing

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

Sometimes tripling something can be good. Maybe not all that good for you, but good. Other times tripling something isn’t all that good for you and isn’t good any way you slice it. Sometimes it only benefits those in power.

That tends to be the case with the form of assessment known as standardized testing. I happen to agree with those who see that standardized testing, like many education policies, seem designed for the convenience of adults rather than the education of children. It blows my mind that the multi billion dollar industry that is standardized testing is in all actuality the cheap and easy way to “assess” students! It’s much easier AND cheaper to give all my 6th graders the same test and expect the same results on that test to determine how much they know and how well I’m teaching. Imagine what it would cost to assess students in a way that determines individual growth and individual needs! And people wonder why we ask for better funding.

A cost that I’m seeing first hand with the switch to the common core standards is the additional time my 6th graders are spending testing this year. When I administered and proctored the California Test of Basic Skills, CTBS, (when I taught in CA), then the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, ITBS, (here is WA), then the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, WASL, and finally the Measurement of Student Progress, MSP (also here in WA state) I would spend maybe one or two periods preparing kids for the test and getting them used how they were going to be tested. I had to prepare them for that type of assessment because it wasn’t the way I assessed my students. Then the students would spend about one day, or two to three hours, on a Reading test and another day, or two to three hours, on a Math test.

When I became a Science-only teacher I only helped kids prepare for the Reading and the Math tests by the reading and writing and math we did in Science. It was not direct teaching to a test rather real teaching of Science including the skills necessary to learn and do Science (reading, writing and math)! I so enjoyed that! When I taught 8th grade I spent a couple to three days preparing my 8th graders for the Science WASL and then for the Science MSP. After that practice they then spent one more day, or two to three hours, taking the Science WASL or later MSP. So when I taught 8th grade Science I spent about three class periods on test prep and then one class period on testing. That has never bothered me. I’ve written about that here and here (more of my thoughts on the matter). In the fall I can see the test scores and decide on any tweaks I can make based on that slim evidence and knowing I’ll have a batch of completely new and different, possibly very different, kids.

As a 6th grade Science-only teacher I really didn’t do any test prep practice. I just made sure my students read, wrote, and did math in Science class. Then I’d give up two periods of Science when they took their reading and math tests. That was doable!

Now I have nothing against the common core standards. Standards have always been very helpful in my lesson planning. But switching from the MSP to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) has me in an internal uproar. Is that what SBAC means? I had to look it up just now because the name does not seem to be the name of an assessment for children. Look at the names of the previous tests I’ve administered. Those names either say skills or students. SBAC is a consortium of assessment. That sounds like a business name not a test name.

I was all ready to give up two periods of Science this year so that my 6th graders can take their reading, now called English Language Arts, or ELA, test and their Math test. We are learning about water pollution and water quality and salmon as we trap fish in our and count them. We are also going to test the water quality of our creek to see how it’s doing and make recommendations. We partner with the North Olympic Salmon Coalition (NOSC), a local restoration organization, to learn about restorative practices, plant trees along riparian zones, and identify benthic macros in our creek to figure out the biological integrity. Students blog and make websites along with posters to present their learning and findings at a Youth Summit event at the Pacific Northwest Salmon Center in June. This is all awesome stuff and it’s the way we end each year of 6th grade Science. So I did a double take when I saw our testing schedule for the SBAC.

I needed to help kids take two interim tests for practice. Those two interim tests took two periods each so that has amounted to four to six periods of Science lost, which is why we stopped trapping fish and haven’t been down to the creek to test the water quality yet. But that’s only April and that was only for practice. In May 6th graders will spend two days taking the ELA SBAC and two days taking the Math SBAC. (And that doesn’t include the time spent in Humanities and Math doing the performance task class discussion work necessary for the second ELA and second Math test!). So students lose another four days of Science and six days of Humanities class and six days of Math class all for SBAC!

I went from losing two days or two periods of Science in the spring (pretty nice weather here in the Pacific NW for doing environmental Science BTW) to losing about eight periods! And the testing schedule makes it difficult to do the type of outdoor Science required of our spring project so we are so behind preparing for this year’s Youth Summit!!

I’m so livid! I can’t stand this and I can’t sit by and see my kids sit and type on a computer screen for hours on end when we could be down at the creek or at least graphing and analyzing our creek’s water quality and fish count data!

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