What I'm Reading: "Hope against Hope" by Sarah Carr

I was at the bookstore yesterday and noticed a new book I hadn't seen before the the education section. It's called "Hope against Hope" by Sarah Carr and it is a journalistic account of three charter schools in New Orleans. I picked it up and even though I've only read the first 40 pages, I can't put it down...

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Factory Simulation Project – Statistics in Action

Over the summer, I had an idea for a project that uses a simulator of a factory to explore concepts in logistics and statistics. I got inspiration, in part, from my time spent as an engineering intern at Procter & Gamble in college. I taught this as one of four project units in a semester-long engineering class this fall and it was a lot of fun, both for myself and for my students. There are links and descriptions to tons of resources below. I've been meaning to type this up for a while – I'm excited to share this with others and to get feedback!


Click here to see an active1 demo factory


alertOrange.pngDisclaimer: This project is a work in progress. I was able to use it successfully in my class, but it required a good amount of manual tweaks during the unit. There's a list of things I want to fix or re-do in order to feel good about sharing the code base with other teachers to use. In the mean time, contact me if you are interested in using this project in your own classroom and I'm happy to see if I can work with you individually.

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Come on Ohio, Let's stop politicizing CCSSM!

Alright, I've had enough. I've been watching and reading from the sidelines for the past year as I've watched the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM) go from an issue that was very politically boring (46 states adopted the standards in 2010 and 2011 with little in the way of opposition) to an issue that seems to have simultaneously reached the mainstream news and seems to have turned into the scapegoat for everything that is wrong with education.

I read today that my home state, Ohio, is taking steps towards repealing their adoption of the CCSSM because of this newfound public opinion. State Rep. Andy Thompson (R), the author of the bill, told EdWatch blogger Andrew Ujifusa in an interview that he introduced the bill in part because of "the level of concern not just in communications to [his] office, but on Facebook around the state." Additionally, I saw this article on Lifehacker, posted today, explaining how parents can understand what the heck is going on with Common Core. It's official, we're in the middle of a full-blown public perception pandemic. And no, I'm not talking about Ebola.

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Anchor Representations

Anchor representations are learning destinations – common experience points – that classroom communities can use to relate and build on individual understanding.

I flew back to Seattle on Sunday after visiting family in Indianapolis over the weekend. I have a bad habit of trying to be a “cool” traveler, pretending to fit right in with the business travelers and pretend like it’s no big deal that I’m flying through the air at 30,000 feet. This was working quite well until I saw this:


I did a double take, immediately forgot I was trying to be cool, smiled like a little kid, pulled out my camera, and snapped a picture or two. Can you blame me? As with all sunset pictures, the image simply doesn’t do the scene justice. Even though I’ve flown enough to know pretty well what I’m likely to see looking out of the window, it still endlessly fascinates me to peer down on cities, rivers, and clouds, taking in the sights from a new, more complete perspective.

Changes in perspective like this help me to put the landscape around me into a broader context. It’s the same way with students. Experiences that give students a better vantage point on the conceptual landscape allow them to piece together individual ideas, lessons, skills, and thoughts in a more cohesive way. I think it's our job as teachers to create these experiences for all of our students.

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Thinking on Collaborative Learning in CS Class

"So you're basically trying to be a factory for producing compassionate human beings who also happen to be doing technically interesting things."

I had a great conversation today with Jon, my awesome software engineering partner who volunteers his time to come support my AP Computer Science students twice a week after school in an open lab. Jon is partnered with our school through the Microsoft TEALS program here in Seattle. I was looking for some feedback on some changes that I'm going to make tomorrow to set my computer science lab up to be more conducive to student-led discussions and collaborative learning. But first, a little bit of background.

Complex Instruction

I've been teaching math for several years, and I've become really committed to the idea of collaborative learning through a pedagogical model called Complex Instruction (CI). The CI teaching model begins with the idea that an individual teacher's beliefs about learning and education are essential to student learning. Understanding why this is so important starts with students. Student learning is directly influenced by how students engage with the content, which is directly influenced by what students believe about learning. For example, if a student believes that she is just not smart at math, she is unlikely to engage with a hard problem in the same way as a student who has a more positive self-perception . Therefore different levels of learning happen, even though both students might be equally capable.

CI says that as a teacher, I am in the best position to influence what students believe about other students' abilities (that everyone can be good at math) and their own individual skills (that they are "smart" at math). I can influence students based on the actions that I take in the classroom. My actions are largely a product of my own beliefs. If I don't believe that all students are smart at math, or that they are capable of engaging in class in certain ways, I almost certainly won't push them in the same way as if I did believe those things. This is why a teacher's belief set is so important for student learning.

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Big Gains in Renton Math [Seattle Times]

I saw an article in the Seattle Times recently sharing some amazing growth that an elementary school in Renton has seen over the past three years. The school has been partnering with a team led by Professor Elham Kezami from the College of Education at the University of Washington.

The team worked closely with school administration and teachers to dramatically improve the performance in math classes at Lakeridge Elementary. They did so in part by working with teachers to implement a pedagogical approach rooted in a commitment to developing conceptual understanding in students, along with procedural fluency. They also implemented many strategies that strive to create and maintain equitable participation structures for students, allowing them to take ownership over the learning process.

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Math concepts + teamwork = big gains at struggling school in Renton - The Seattle Times - July 14, 2014

Standards Based Grading for AP Computer Science

This school year, I began teaching AP1 Computer Science A. It is the first time this course has been offered in our district. Our district has been using a form of Standards Based Education (SBE) for 3 years and every course has a set of standards that are used for grading all students taking that course throughout the district.

I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to author these standards. I started by aligning objectives taken from the AP Computer Science Course Description and several other curriculum resources. The standards I ended up with were influenced heavily by advice and thoughts from other educators and industry professionals.

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