Weekly Thoughts 3-24-15

Good Afternoon Leaders!

Welcome back! It was good to see all of you yesterday and today. I have enjoyed hearing all of your spring break stories, including the falling hammer...although I'm sorry to hear that happened! I hope you are all recharged and excited about what lays before us.


  1. What is the character's name in Good Will Hunting played by Robin Williams?
  2. If somebody is dancing "deasil', what does that mean?
  3. if you were to sort the planets by size, which planet is the next largest after Earth?
  4. Which of these letters in the game Scrabble is not worth one point? M N A S
  5. My daughters love Nutella! What nut is used to make it?
  6. The Thrilla in Manilla was a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and who?

End of the Year Movement

As Chris has told folks, we track where we lose people to (regardless if it is our call or their call to leave). Once you hear of where your folks are leaving, please email me with the district (or state).


I spent Wednesday in Sullivan watching Jerry Valentine train teachers on IPI-T. First off, he made some changes to IPI. He claims he hasn't, but some other teachers that had been trained many years ago said he had as well.

But, I'm really liking what I see! Not at this IL, but perhaps at our first one in April, I would like to go over it with you and discuss if we want to pursue this. He wants to train all teachers, and I'm not seeing that as necessary. For your training, however, we would need to have you all be trained in IPI first. So, 2 days...at $3,000 per day. This is a costly endeavor. Is this something we would want to do as we get closer to launching 1:1? Why I'm not excited about doing it with teachers is he limits the group to 25 per day, and wants it during a school day so you can practice with classrooms in the end of the day. Not sure I like that....costly.

More to come.

Curriculum - Math

I have Shawn Brown and Michele Reigh's Principal Reviews shared with me. Deb and Shawn R., have you? If so, can you remind me what you called them so I can find them?

Any concerns at this point?

Summer School

I sent out the summer school applications today. I believe Rod and Tina are handing out the packets this week. If anyone has questions, they can ask the three of us.


These are fast approaching. MS and West have the new format. I'm happy to say your counselors are asking great questions and seem to be rounding into test ready shape. Please ensure all proctors go through the building level test training. You may want to assist them in this. At the HS, I believe John is just doing them all.

On The Web

Math resources website – In this article in Teaching Children Mathematics, Holly Henderson Pinter recommends the YouCubed website http://www.youcubed.org, which has a rich variety of free resources. Topics include mindset, number sense, depth not speed, and math apps.

“YouCubed: Broadening the Conversation for Supporting Success in Mathematics” by Holly Henderson Pinter in Teaching Children Mathematics, March 2015 (Vol. 21, #7, p. 390)

Articles of the week (via MSBA and K. Marshall)

The first two articles are links sent by MSBA earlier today.

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/23/technology/bill-would-limit-use-of-student-data.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=2 Interesting to see a bill being proposed to limit use of student data. This is in response to the growing field of Class Dojo's of the world.
  2. http://www.nsba.org/newsroom/williams-calls-board-members-stand-step-speak-public-schools-0 I thought you might want to see what Montel Williams told the National School Boards Association at their 7th annual conference.

Now for Kim Marshall

  1. “Skills in Flux” by David Brooks in The New York Times, March 17, 2015

  2. “Ten Arguments Against Common Core Presidential Hopefuls Should Avoid” by Tim Shanahan in The Education Gadfly, March 18, 2015 (Vol. 15, #11), http://bit.ly/19fhf8J

  3. “Digging Deeper: At Its Core, Close Reading Is Strategic Reading” by Stephanie Harvey in Reading Today, March/April 2015 (Vol. 32, #5, p. 30-31), www.ila.com; Harvey can be reached at contact@stephanieharvey.com.

  4. “5 Fantastic, Fast, Formative Assessment Tools” by Vicki Davis in Edutopia, January 15, 2015, http://bit.ly/1xUUm0J

  5. “Moving Beyond Brownies and Pizza” by Daniel Freeman and Theresa Jorgensen in Teaching Children Mathematics, March 2015 (Vol. 21, #7, p. 412-420), http://bit.ly/1GMJCGU for NCTM members; the authors can be reached at dfreema1@aisd.net and jorgensen@uta.edu.

  6. “Using Stand-Up Tables in the Classroom” by Alana Guinane and Hannah, Charlotte, Zanira, Angela, Elyse, and Katharine in Edutopia, February 6, 2015, http://bit.ly/1DOo5jw

1. David Brooks on Key Skills for the 21st Century

“As the economy changes, the skills required to thrive in it change, too,” says David Brooks in this New York Times column, “and it takes a while before these new skills are defined and acknowledged.” He gives several examples:

Herding cats – Doug Lemov has catalogued the “micro-gestures” of especially effective teachers in his book, Teach Like a Champion 2.0 (Jossey-Bass, 2015). “The master of cat herding,” says Brooks, “senses when attention is about to wander, knows how fast to move a diverse group, senses the rhythm between lecturing and class participation, varies the emotional tone. This is a performance skill that surely is relevant beyond education.”

Social courage – In today’s loosely networked world, this has particular value – the ability to go to a conference, meet a variety of people, invite six of them to lunch afterward, and form long-term friendships with four of them. “People with social courage are extroverted in issuing invitations but introverted in conversation – willing to listen 70 percent of the time,” says Brooks. “They build not just contacts but actual friendships by engaging people on multiple levels.”

Capturing amorphous trends with a clarifying label – People with this skill can “look at a complex situation, grasp the gist and clarify it by naming what is going on,” says Brooks. He quotes Oswald Chambers: “The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance.”

Making nonhuman things intuitive to humans – This is what Steve Jobs did so well.

Purpose provision – “Many people go through life overwhelmed by options, afraid of closing off opportunities,” says Brooks. But a few have fully cultivated moral passions that can help others choose the one thing they should dedicate themselves to.”

The ability to simultaneously hold two opposed ideas in mind – “For some reason,” says Brooks, “I am continually running across people who believe this is the ability their employees and bosses need right now.”

Cross-class expertise – “In a world divided along class, ethnic, and economic grounds,” says Brooks, “some people are culturally multilingual. They can operate in an insular social niche while seeing it from the vantage point of an outsider.”

“Skills in Flux” by David Brooks in The New York Times, March 17, 2015,


2. Rebutting Spurious Arguments Against the Common Core

In this Education Gadfly article, literacy guru Tim Shanahan (University of Illinois/ Chicago) advises candidates running for the U.S. presidency to steer clear of the following arguments being made by some opponents of the Common Core:

Previous educational standards were better. Not true, says Shanahan: “Parents who are paying for remedial college classes or employers who are struggling to hire high-school graduates with basic skills may become particularly testy over this argument.”

Teachers weren’t involved in writing the Common Core. Actually, many teachers worked on the standards, says Shanahan. The real issue is their quality, which be believes is sound.

They promote theories of evolution and global warming. No, he says, since the new standards don’t cover science, history, or current events.

The Common Core isn’t research-based. Standards are aspirational goals, says Shanahan. “Standards aren’t teaching methods; they aren’t approaches to instruction. When the critics say that some states should have tried these out first to find out if they’re any good, it’s like saying that some states should aim for 4 percent unemployment and others for 8 percent – so that we can know whether we want people to find jobs.”

They require too much testing. State standards and testing have been in place for the last 20 years, he says, and Common Core doesn’t represent a major change.

They are the reason for all the test prep. “Test prep, though unsavory, has nothing to do with Common Core,” says Shanahan. Reducing test prep is a separate issue – and an important one.

Publishers are making money from them. There’s no question that government programs lead to the purchase of goods and services, he says – that’s true of the U.S. armed forces, Medicare, and Social Security. The issue is the quality of those goods and services.

The U.S. Constitution bans national curricula. True, the Constitution leaves education to the states. The Common Core is voluntary and there’s no constitutional barrier to the federal government creating incentives for states to choose standards and hold schools accountable.

Common Core violates states’ rights. “The states, being sovereign entities, have the authority to coordinate with each other as much as they choose,” says Shanahan. And they have the right to adopt or take a pass on Common Core.

These are President Obama’s standards. Although candidate Obama supported higher standards and accountability testing in 2008 and his Department of Education has created incentives to adopt Common Core and funded test-development efforts, the standards themselves were developed without federal support or involvement.

“Ten Arguments Against Common Core Presidential Hopefuls Should Avoid” by Tim Shanahan in The Education Gadfly, March 18, 2015 (Vol. 15, #11), http://bit.ly/19fhf8J

3. Text Complexity Versus Lexile Levels

“When do we need to read text closely?” asks author/consultant Stephanie Harvey in this article in Reading Today. When it’s complex. “To comprehend complex text,” she says, “readers need to slow down, consider what they know, ask questions, annotate, synthesize, think inferentially, and reread for clarification.” But Harvey cautions against using Lexile levels as the main criterion and forcing students to read too-difficult texts that aren’t conducive to good comprehension instruction. She cites several telling examples:

  • J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has the almost same Lexile Level as Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Why? Rowling uses long sentences, multisyllabic words, and made-up names while Hemingway’s prose is minimalist and requires us to stop, think, and infer what’s not said.

  • Henry and Mudge is a beloved book among first and second graders, and its 460 Lexile rating compares to Sarah Plain and Tall’s 430 because of the repeated use of the word Mudge.

  • Tikki Tikki Tembo is a simple text with a Lexile level of 1090, and one of the most complex sentences in the English language, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” has a very low Lexile level.

  • An article in United Hemisphere’s Magazine with an upper-elementary Lexile level says that humans kill about 73 million sharks a year. A fisherman in Palau makes $108 for catching a shark to make shark soup, whereas a shark left to live freely in a sanctuary adds nearly $2 million to that island’s tourist economy – which would seem to be a straightforward argument for not killing sharks. But the text becomes more complex – and more appropriate to close reading – when students learn that the average annual income of a fisherman in Palau is less than $1,000.

    “It’s not merely the Lexile level,” says Harvey. “Complexity is borne from ideas, not words… If we want kids to be prepared for college, careers, and life, we need to engage them with true complexity. We need to help them distinguish between complex problems and simple ones, to look at the multifaceted nature of an issue and view it through different lenses. So let’s resist the urge to dumb down complexity to a Lexile level. Let’s excite kids with significant ideas and issues that permeate today’s world – and then give them the strategies they need to dig in and figure it out.”

“Digging Deeper: At Its Core, Close Reading Is Strategic Reading” by Stephanie Harvey in Reading Today, March/April 2015 (Vol. 32, #5, p. 30-31), www.ila.com; Harvey can be reached at contact@stephanieharvey.com.

4. Effective Use of On-the-Spot (a.k.a. Formative) Assessments

In this Edutopia article, Vicki Davis describes a telling moment as she taught binary numbers to her students (adding ones and zeroes like a computer). This topic looks harder than it is, says Davis, and she’s found that if she teaches students to count by binary numbers, they usually get it. After a few minutes of this, two students piped up, “We’ve got this, it’s easy. Can we move on?” Davis checked with the rest of the class: “Do you have this?” They all vigorously nodded their heads in assent.

“My teacher instinct said that everyone knew it,” says Davis, “but I decided to experiment. So I wrote a problem on the board. Students were already logged into Socrative, and a box opened on their screens. Each student typed in his or her answer to the problem. They clicked enter, and all their answers appeared on my screen beside the name of each student.” Davis was shocked to see that only two students had the correct answer – the two students who had impatiently asked her to move on. Not one of the students who confidently nodded that they understood was able to answer the problem correctly.

Davis retaught the concept, had students try another problem in Socrative, and the results improved a little. She worked another slightly different problem and checked in, and more students got it. Ten minutes later, the entire class had mastered binary numbers.

Is this checking-for-understanding and reteaching process too time-consuming to be a realistic option, given the pressure to cover the curriculum? Not at all, says Davis: “It didn’t take me longer to teach binary numbers. You see, I don’t move past binary numbers until all of my students are scoring 90 percent or higher. And as a result of this experience, I taught binary numbers and all of the accompanying standards in three days instead of my usual five, and no one had to come for after-school tutoring.

The key, she says, is an anonymous all-class assessment system that allows the teacher to see what’s really going on in students’ minds without “the embarrassment of public hand-raising.” She recommends the following real-time checking-for-understanding systems:

  • Socrative – It can be used on the fly, for quick quizzes, or for tests that count, and also works with competitive games like Space Race: http://www.socrative.com

  • Kahoot – This program allows teachers to create quizzes, flashcards, and review games, with students using computers, cell phones, or other devices: https://getkahoot.com

  • Zaption – This tool can embed questions within a flipped video, not allowing students to continue till they’ve answered each one correctly: https://www.zaption.com

  • Backchannel chat tools – These are live chats that accompany class discussions and allow teachers to create exit ticket activities. One example: http://www.chatzy.com

  • Plickers – Each student holds up a unique QR card, with its orientation signaling their response to a 4-choice question, and the teacher’s smartphone reads and instantly tabulates individual and all-class responses: https://www.plickers.com.

    “Test scores should never be a surprise,” concludes Davis. “You don’t need to be a mind reader. You just need a formative assessment toolbox, and you need to use it every day.”

“5 Fantastic, Fast, Formative Assessment Tools” by Vicki Davis in Edutopia, January 15, 2015, http://bit.ly/1xUUm0J

5. Shifting the Way Fractions Are Taught in Fourth Grade

In this article in Teaching Children Mathematics, Daniel Freeman (RTI coordinator in Arlington ISD, Texas) and Theresa Jorgensen (University of Texas/Arlington) say that teaching fractions as part/whole relationships in pizzas, brownies, or other area models is fine in the lower-elementary grades, but in upper elementary, students need to transition to a more-sophisticated understanding – that fractions are numbers in and of themselves, not a composition of two distinct whole numbers. Indeed, Common Core expectations are that by the time students leave fourth grade, they need to understand fractions as measures – “that is,” say Freeman and Jorgensen, “understanding both the relative size of fractions (e.g., ¾ is a bigger number than ½) and understanding how fractions measure specific intervals (e.g., an eraser is ¾ inch wide).” The number line turns out to be the best way to help students move to this understanding of fractions.

Freeman and Jorgensen caution against introducing standard algorithms for working with fractions (for example, invert and multiply) before students get a solid grasp of fraction concepts: “They may know what to do while simultaneously being unable to explain why they are doing it.” The authors describe how fourth graders approached their teacher’s request to compare 2/3 and 3/5 after several weeks of working with fractions and number lines. Most students sketched two number lines and displayed where these fractions fell compared to one half and one whole. After some sharing and discussion, one student hit upon the idea of chopping the two number lines into fifteenths (the common denominator) and showing where 2/3 fell (10/15) compared to 3/5 (9/15) – a moment that Freeman and Jorgenson describe as “thrilling.”

“Moving Beyond Brownies and Pizza” by Daniel Freeman and Theresa Jorgensen in Teaching Children Mathematics, March 2015 (Vol. 21, #7, p. 412-420), http://bit.ly/1GMJCGU for NCTM members; the authors can be reached at dfreema1@aisd.net and jorgensen@uta.edu.

6. Should Students Be Able to Stand Up During Class?

In this Edutopia article, Canadian teacher Alana Guinane and six of her middle-school students describe how they did research on the unhealthy consequences of being sedentary for long periods of time. “Our school is set up for sitting,” they say: “the benches in the cafeteria, the rows of desks and ‘seating arrangements’ in the classrooms, the chairs lined up in front of each computer in the lab, the couches in the library. We are expected to sit for basically every class except for gym.” Students wondered how they could be more physically active in school without undermining classroom management.

After some discussion, one of Guinane’s classes decided to conduct a one-month experiment in which students would be allowed to stand up during lessons, discussions, and work time. Ground rules included making reasonable decisions on where to stand and not obstructing anyone’s view or distracting classmates. Students made a variety of choices: some athletes wanted to remain seated to rest up for vigorous activity later in the day. A girl with Type One diabetes stood as a way to regulate her blood sugar.

The amateur researchers collected data on how students felt physically, mentally, and emotionally. At the end of the month, many students reported that standing up improved their focus during long lessons. There was the additional benefit of being in natural light as they perched on windowsills and counters. And having a choice of sitting or standing was a definite plus, versus the routine of conforming to teachers’ requests to sit down.

But perching on windowsills and counters and writing on clipboards was not conducive to the best posture, which led students to explore the idea of waist-high stand-up desks. It turned out that a parent had experience building low-cost cardboard furniture, and after getting the go-ahead from the principal, students worked with this parent and fabricated three tables, each of which could accommodate 3-4 students and were perfect for doing stand-up work (see photos in the article link below). All of Guinane’s students now have the option of standing up and report very positive results, and they have become ambassadors for the idea in other classes at their school.

“Using Stand-Up Tables in the Classroom” by Alana Guinane and Hannah, Charlotte, Zanira, Angela, Elyse, and Katharine in Edutopia, February 6, 2015, http://bit.ly/1DOo5jw

Trivia Answers

  1. Sean Maguire
  2. In a clockwise direction
  3. Neptune
  4. M
  5. Hazelnuts
  6. Joe Frazier

Enjoy, DB