Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Homework Assignment (From Burlington, MA?) Is Now Yours...

So I have been tasked (or tagged) by Patrick Larkin, Burlington MA Assistant Superintendent for Learning, with a homework assignment.
Now I have never been one who advocates for homework. Never mind accept one from someone who is not my teacher or boss. However, when the assignment is real, relevant, and can connect you to a network of people who share a passion for education, I'd say it more than meets my criteria of a meaningful assignment.

Additionally, since I have Patrick to thank for urging me to join both Twitter and blogging, I will gladly take on this "assignment".

Thank you Patrick. Here goes...

Part I.  11 Random Facts About Me...
  1. I've seen the Dave Matthews Band over 100 times and still look forward to more.
  2. I was born in Atlanta GA, but raised in Barrington RI.
  3. I played rugby from senior year in high school (1993) until I "retired" in 2005 after a trip to the Men's D2 National Sweet 16. 
  4. In Middle School, I was the goalie for at hockey team from the US that travelled to West Germany to play in an international hockey tournament.
  5. I have had 2 ACL reconstructions to show for my hockey & rugby endeavors.
  6. I enjoy camping.
  7. I have been lucky enough to have spent a summer driving cross country and back with my wife.
  8. I hold/held (?) the "sit and reach" fitness testing record at Barrington HS, with +13 inches past toes.
  9. I drove a scooter in High School.
  10. I was in Phi Gamma Delta at the University of Rhode Island.
  11. Both my mother and my wife are educators in Rhode Island.
  12. I am "Substantially Below Proficient" when it comes to anything having to do with cars.
Part II.  Answer the 11 Questions the Nominating Blogger Has Created for You...

  1. Have you ever been to Massachusetts? Yes.
  2. What is your favorite sports team (college or pro)? Go Pats!
  3. Besides you, name a blogger that you would recommend to others. Tim Chace
  4. When you were little, what did you dream of becoming? Oceanographer and professional hockey player
  5. How far away do you live from where you grew up? 34.3 Miles 
  6. What is your favorite meal? Pizza
  7. If you were offered a free trip to anywhere in the world, where would you go? Hawaii 
  8. Do you prefer Macs or PC's? Macs.
  9. Other than the birth of your children and/or the day you were married or met your soulmate, what was the best day of your life? Breaking through a period of generalized adolescent angst about life by spontaneously deciding to go sliding down a golf course hill in a trash bag during a springtime rain storm with friends.
  10. What is the best movie you've seen in the last year? Pearl Jam 20
  11. What is the last live concert that you've attended? Life is Good Festival (with- Roots/Hall&Oats/others)
Part III. List 11 Bloggers...
  1. Jeff Delp
  2. A.J. Juliani
  3. Angela Maiers
  4. Miguel Guhlin
  5. Scott McLeod
  6. Shawn McCusker
  7. Chris Lehmann
  8. Rob Mezzanotte
  9. Timothy S. Chace
  10. Justin Tarte
  11. David Hochheiser
  12. And anyone else who wants to play along (please see below)
Part IV. Post 11 Questions You Nominate to Answer...
  1. Who is your favorite author right now?
  2. What is your favorite season and why?
  3. In your opinion, what is the best TV series of all time?
  4. Who is your favorite teacher from your childhood and why?
  5. If you could have any vehicle, what would it be?
  6. If you could wake up tomorrow and have one thing immediately change about school/education, what would it be?
  7. Dogs or cats?
  8. If you could eliminate/change 1 rule in your favorite sport, what would it be?
  9. If you could become an expert in any field/skill, that you currently have NO experience with, what would it be? 
  10. If you could have a superpower what would it be?
  11. The best part about being in education right now is...?
If You Were Nominated or Want to Join In Here Are the Guidelines for Your Homework...
  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers.
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
  • Finally- Post back here (in the comment section) with a link to your finished assignment. Go on, you have homework to do.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Do You Do What Google Can't?

The constant outcry from many an educator about the demise of student learning and work ethic due to kids "Googling" the answers is often deafening.

However, a question must be posed in return. Could it be that this is what your instruction is teaching your students to do?

The answer is found within the questions being asked inside of the classroom.  When questioning in the classroom only goes one way, or is strictly about getting information, we are training students to be MORE dependent on Google, not less.

"Just the Facts M'am"...Not Good Enough!

In my opinion, poor questioning in the classroom is actually WORSE than just "Googling" the answers, because in that moment in time, the student only needs to ask the teacher and BAM! They get the answer! The student quickly learns from this Q & A routine that no struggle is required, no pondering, no reframing, "just the facts M'am" is good enough. Ask and be done.  Now compare this with a Google search.  When a student performs a Google search they need to find the right words to search, read the search results, and evaluate the quality of the result. Although neither is sufficient, in which scenario is the student more active?

Now within the traditional framework of teaching, before information was made omnipresent through the internet, this method was not only right, but essential. It was a prerequisite to being a teacher. Students need the information. Teacher has the information. Student asks the teacher question. Teacher gives student correct answer. "Teaching" accomplished.

But thank goodness no longer.

No longer is this type of relationship/dynamic essential to one's attainment of an education. Not only is it not essential, it is on a path towards extinction.  As David Houle and Jeff Cobb put it in Shift ED

"If scarcity creates value, then information in and of itself is rapidly becoming worthless"

If an individual's instructional schema is one that maintains the teacher as the sole purveyor of information, the teacher is indeed no longer relevant, or even necessary.

I believe it was Daniel Pink who said "if something can be automated, it will be." Given our dynamic reality where we are fortunate to reside, the pressure to automate education is steadily increasing.  So what is an educator to do?

Do What Google Can't

Let's imagine a pretty common occurrence in a typical classroom. A student asks his/her teacher "Mr/s. Teacher, 'Is this answer right?'". Rather than do what Google can do, do what Google CAN'T do...

  • Google can't ask "Why do you think it is right?" or "Why do you think it is wrong?", but a teacher can.
  • Google can't ask "What did you try already?", but a teacher can.
  • Google can't ask "Have you seen what other people are doing to get the answer?", but a teacher can.
  • Google can't say "Tell me what you are thinking and we can work it out together.", but a teacher can.
  • Google can't ask "Are there other potential answers that are just as good?" and "What and why are they?"
In order to elevate our students, our profession and our own lifelong-learning, schools and classrooms must become the places where we accomplish what Google can't.  For me, Timothy Chace, from his post "Are We Failing Superman... or Can We Be the Heroes?" framed it best when he wrote-

The best teachers aren't those who know the most, but those who believe in you the most. Who help you to develop the most.  They do this by offering the right challenges at the right time, asking the right questions and providing the right feedback. Books and computers can not coach you, encourage you or help you discover your passions... that's why teachers are so important.

The best teachers don't give the right answers, they ask the right questions. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

My 2013 EduBlog Nominees

My EduBlog Award Nominees 2013:

Best individual blog-

Best group blog-

Best ed tech / resource sharing blog-

Best administrator blog-

Most influential blog post of the year-

Best individual tweeter- @sjunkins

Best twitter hashtag- #1to1techat

Best free web tool-

Best Open PD-

Best educational use of a social network- #choosetomatter

Best mobile app- Socrative

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Latest Emotion Dealing With "Game of School"

I originally started this post back in September and put it on hold, but unfortunately I keep on being met by situations and events that keep making this all too real and frequent.

I am not sure why, but I tend to take issues involving school personally. It does not matter if it has to do directly with me or not. It does not matter what the subject matter, the grade level, or the quantity of students or staff affected.  Right or wrong, I take what goes on at school to heart. Taking this on becomes especially difficult for me when I believe there is a direct disconnect between what educators are here to help students do -learn- and what students are doing (or feel forced to do) -learn to game school.   

Maybe because of my role as principal, my perception is skewed. I am the final sign off on all requests to approve changes to student’s courses of study, so perhaps the gaming of school is not as prevalent as I believe it to be. Regardless, I am having a hard time coming to terms with:

  • Students wanting to drop classes, only because it will affect their GPA.
  • Students not signing up for classes they are otherwise intrinsically motivated to take because it does not have "honors" credit (also getting a GPA bump).
  • Students needing to drop a class they are interested in because a required class/credit has not been met.  
  • Students dropping a class, not because they are not learning or because they are not interested, but so they can "focus on my Honors/AP classes" (GPA bump)

I all too often feel obligated to sign-off on these requests because, given our current system, not signing off would adversely affect the student in the game of school. It is a game our students have been involved in for years, and the one they have learned to navigate effectively in order to get the best GPA, though not necessarily the most well rounded or most engaging and interesting education, so is changing the rules of the game fair now?

In these moments, I am faced with the reality that my actions are helping to sustain elements of a system that I so heavy rail and rally others against.  I get angry as I am forced to confront that I am acting counter to my core values about learning. I boil inside as I am forced to face the reality that I am acting as an ally to “the game of school” helping to maintain its dominance over education.  Am I actually a pawn in a system that I originally joined because I wanted to change it from the inside?

So I am angry, conflicted and left wondering :

  • By approving a drop of a course due to GPA considerations, am I adversely affecting the student's learning in both the short and long term?
  • Is it ethical to not sign off based on what I want the system to be versus what it currently is?
  • Would changing the rules of the game on students at this point in the "game" be fair?

Fortunately, I am surrounded by a great team of educators who are committed to the improvement of our students, our profession, and our school. I also feel fortunate to regularly connect with educators across the state, region, globe, and the hallway, who are actively implementing new and innovative practices that successfully refocus the system on student learning. However, with every drop/add form that I sign, I am reminded that we cannot wait any longer to address these issues, these rules, this system, this game. Because after all, learning is at stake.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What's in a Name???

Has the culture surrounding existing programs and practices skewed our view of new ideas and programs? Could a simple change in our everyday vocabulary be part of a solution? Can changing our everyday terminology help shift us away from "schooling" and towards learning? Could reframing our terms that are built on tradition re-set our existing schema and help empower individuals and groups to change what goes on within classrooms, schools and districts?

Would anything change if…

  • Educators no longer planned "lessons," but rather plan "Experiences"
    • Good morning class, for today's experience we will…

  • "Classroom" became "Learning Area," "Learning Lab," or "Experience Center"
    • Will Jane Doe please report to Learning Area #12…

  • "Faculty rooms" became "Collaboration Labs"
    • So I was eating in the downstairs Collab. Lab, I got into a great conversation with Dave and we both realized we wanted to help our students do X, so we are going to try Y next week.

  • "Advisory" or "Homeroom" became "Advocacy"
    • I don't know about subject/career/interest X, but I'd be more than happy to help you get what you need in order to learn more.

  • "Teacher" became "Learning Facilitator" and "Administrator" became "Learning Advocate"
    • As we budget for next year what resources do you and your learners need?

  • Departments” redefined their expertise, priorities, and the broad array of skills they taught by no longer summarizing with one word descriptions related solely to content?
    • Too many possibilities to mention. I believe this would help us break out of our traditional, and all too often unconnected silos opting instead to create cross-disciplinary learning opportunities

I am not naive enough to think that a simple change of verbiage can affect decades of engrained practices. However, harnessing the power of words is an underutilized tool that I believe can help educators focus on what is important -learning.

How many changes would occur if we simply put "learning" at the forefront of our vocabulary?

Even more so, what does it say about us if we don't?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Not Just for Ecology- What is Your Carrying Capacity?

Recently I have been spending quite a bit of time trying to do some long range planning. In doing so a concept that I routinely taught in my Social Studies classes came into my head; carrying capacity.  The short definition that I am aligning my thoughts to is: The maximum population of a particular organism that a given environment can support without detrimental effects. (Taken from

In terms of long range planning for a school, I obviously need to swap some terms here.  My current endeavors have me thinking of carrying capacity in terms of:

  • "what is the current carrying capacity of X" vs.
  • "what is the potential carrying capacity of X without changes to an environment" vs. 
  • "what is the potential carrying capacity of X with changes to an environment"

Below are a few of my recent pondering using a carrying capacity reframe.

  • What is the maximum number of initiatives educators can support without detrimental effects to students
  • What is the maximum number of unique Ed-tech platforms/apps/workflows students & educators can support without detrimental effects to learning
  • What is the necessary amount of artifacts/data points/tests/etc. that a student should/can produce in order to demonstrate proficiency without detrimental effects to intrinsic motivation?
Granted this has more often than not, led me to more questions than answers. Such as:

  • What are we doing that is supporting something other than learning?
  • Are we being true to our core values? 
  • Is an issue rooted in the environment? If so do we have control of that environment?
  • Do I have an accurate picture of the current conditions effecting teaching and learning?
  • What can, and should, we STOP doing?
  • If our current reality indicates that we are at carrying capacity, is that Ok?
  • Is a change/program/initiative's focus really on learning, or is it something else? 
While by no means is this an exhaustive list of questions that emerge, nor is it a be-all end-all frame to guide all planning. However, I believe that framing issues in terms of carrying capacity has helped me plan and focus on what is important, sustainable and available to support the current and future success of our school.

Give it a shot and let me know what you come up with.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Moving through SAMR

"Oh, pilot of the storm that leaves no trace, like thoughts inside a dream
Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream
My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again
Like the dust that lufts high in June, when moving through Kashmir."
-Led Zepplin "Kashmir"

A recent series of events, posts, videos have led me to spend time thinking about Educators progressing through the SAMR model developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura.  Taking the advice of the Led Zeppelin song above I will "Heed the path that led me to that place..." and share a few of the resources that have pushed me down this path of inquiry:
Now that I find myself falling down this rabbit hole, I must admit that I am frustrated. I am frustrated that given all the talk about "the transformative power of technology", the need for "school reform", those who want to "disrupt education" with technology, the power of technology to "personalize" education, etc., all I see is digitized versions of what we currently do.  I see tons of products and support for:
  • Clicker & Polling Systems
  • Digitized multiple choice tests
  • Teacher lectures via video
  • Digitized shared handouts and notes
Now please don't get me wrong, I encourage the use of tools that help educators and students give and receive immediate feedback, provide us with data about content mastery, promote anytime/anywhere distribution of a teacher's knowledge, and allow for the sharing of resources and ideas among students. But if technology is going to be used to just digitize and package schools as they currently exist then I'm going to save my school's money.

Substitution and Augmentation (Enhancement), essentially digitizes our all too recognizable 19th-21st century schooling model and makes it faster and easier. If we continue to advocate for technology so that we can give our educators and students digitized multiple choice, digitized lectures, digitized worksheets/handouts, submit digital five paragraph essays, etc. then yes, technology can replace what we currently do and may (or even should) replace us. But, if as educators we use technology push for better, push for different, push for relevant, push for unique, push for creativity, push for life-long learning, push ourselves to do lessons we have always wanted, push to give students the power and autonomy they deserve, then we have harnessed the true power of technology in education. We will be Transformed.

In order to have educators harness the true potential power of technology to transform the learning experiences and outcomes, we must use technology to push further and deeper into Modification and Redefinition. Yes, this will mean taking chances...yes, this will mean failure...yes, this will mean being uncomfortable...yes, this will mean change...yes, it will take bravery...and NO, there isn't an app for that.

Even though I have been guilty of moving through SAMR and using it as way to try to get people on board by saying technology 'will help support/enhance what they already do'. I can no longer be afraid to go after the "thoughts inside a dream" and be open and honest about using technology to be the catalyst of a Redefinition of what we can empower students and educators with to change what we do everyday in schools and in education.

Monday, September 23, 2013

What Would You Say?

"What do students at EGHS feel about the NECAPS"?
"What would you say to the student or students who wrote that"?

I have been repeatedly met with questions like the above ever since I tweeted the following:

For those who are interested here is my, albeit brief, answer:

Re: Student Feelings About NECAP?-
Different students likely feel differently about NECAP. Some see it as an opportunity to demonstrate what they know and are able to do. Some see it as an academic challenge, others as a personal challenge. Some see it as a hoop to jump through in order to graduate.  Some students' feelings revolve around a concern for the experiences of others.  Some are nervous.  
It is important to remember that 11th grade students taking this year's NECAP have not been part of a NECAP test since October of their 8th grade year.  As such, many may have forgotten about their last experience or may not have emotions about NECAP at all.

Re: What Would I Say To The Student(s) Who Wrote This?-
I don't want to say anything; I want to listen.  In my opinion, the most valuable learning experiences are the ones that are personalized and driven by intrinsic motivation. So, I would want to listen to the student who feels that he or she is being "pigeonholed".  I want to listen to the student who feels "defined by a number" by the educational experience. I want to listen and commend the student for his or her concerns "about the others". Finally, I would want to listen to assure this individual student and all students that they will always be treated as "an individual, not a standard".

So if you are the student who wrote this, or you are a student with similar concerns and you happen to read this, my door is always open to you. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose in My School

After re-reading sections of Daniel Pink's Drive as well as watching the RSA of his TED Talk, I have been wondering how we insure that "Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose" are characteristics that are omnipresent within the walls of our school?

With so many practices ingrained within education via the "carrot and stick" and now with so called "educational reform" also embracing extrinsic motivators (i.e. high stakes=punishments) it is more important than ever that students and educators have opportunities to be intrinsically motivated and find autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Stay tuned...

Friday, July 26, 2013

We've Been “Warned”

EGHS “Warning” Classification Informational Sheet
Michael J. Podraza, Principal and Timothy S. Chace, Assistant Principal

On July 2, 2013 the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) released school classifications using a new system.  The new system, revamped according to RIDE website  “...comes out of a request for “flexibility” regarding some of the provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA - also known as No Child Left Behind or NCLB) , and it placed East Greenwich High School into a category of “Warning”.  The reasoning for this classification has been explained by RIDE as: the size of the gap that existed last year in our NECAP Math scores between the scores of our “Performance Reference Group” and a subgroup of “Students with Disabilities” has increased.  

Needless to say, this data, in light of the high stakes nature of NECAP on our students ability to graduate, and the impact that it has on our school’s classification and reputation, greatly concerns us.  We have, and will continue to actively take steps to address this and any gaps that we may identify in our students’ learning.  There is, however, other data and information that comes out as a result of this annual classification, but has not yet been disseminated to the EGHS community. It is our intention to do so here.

What follows below are some important data points from our 2013 ranking and scores that we hope will clarify some of the concerns that the community may have, and will show the true growth that East Greenwich High School has made and is currently being overshadowed by this new classification.  All of the information below can be obtained through RIDE’s "Fall 2012 RI NECAP Results Public Report" or Public NECAP Reports via Measured Progress.  The links in the bullets are to the the official RIDE “Report Card” for EGHS in the year highlighted.

A Closer Look at the Data

EGHS Overall
  • According to our Official “School Report Card” EGHS had the number of examined targets almost double this year. However, we “Met” or “Met †” († symbol means- Student group has fallen short of the target but has made sufficient progress”) in all of those targets in 2013 (9/9).  This was not the case when we were ranked as a “Commended” school in 2012 (3/5).

  • The percentage of EGHS students achieving “at or above proficiency” in Mathematics on NECAP improved in 2013 to 70%.  This is 5% growth from last year and a 6% growth over 5 years.  This growth puts further pressure on any gap that may already exist between all students and any subgroups. Only one other high school in the state (Barrington HS) joined us at or above 70%.  The State average in mathematics is 34%.
  • The percentage of EGHS students achieving “substantially below proficient” (lowest NECAP score) in Mathematics decreased 3% in 2013 from 2012 while the number of students tested increased.

Reading and Writing
  • The percentage of EGHS students “at or above proficiency” in Reading on NECAP improved in 2013 to 95%.  This is 4% growth from last year and a 5% growth over 5 years.  Only one other high school in the state (Classical HS) was at or above 95%.  The State average in reading is 79%.
  • The percentage of EGHS students “at or above proficiency” in Writing on NECAP was 75% in 2013 . The State average is 50%. NECAP Writing Scores are not a factor in school classifications and unlike NECAP Reading and Math, RIDE has not made it an area required for graduation.

EGHS Scores vs. RI “Commended” and “Leading” Schools

1. Commended Schools

According to RIDE’s Website on School Classifications Commended Schools are  “The highest performing schools that represent the strongest patterns of performance across metrics, test at least 95% of their students, and serve all students well.”

RIDE “Commended” Schools
Block Island
No Data
Exeter West Greenwich
Jacklyn M. Walsh
North Smithfield

“Commended” Schools Average

2.  Leading Schools

According to RIDE’s Website on School Classifications Leading Schools are ranked as such because ofStrong achievement in reading and mathematics, small or no gaps in student performance, and/or are improving student achievement, and increasing graduation rates

RIDE “Leading” Schools
Greene School
Mount Hope
North Kingstown
North Providence
Paul Cuffee
Times X2
Trinity Academy

“Leading” Schools Average

New Factors Qualified for in a New Classification System

  • For the first time ever, in 2013 EGHS had enough students qualify for the subgroup “Students with Disabilities” as a category RIDE uses in determining in classification.  In order to qualify for any subgroup that is factored into classifications, the group’s population must be greater than or equal to 20 students.  In addition, new to the classification system this year, if a school qualifies for a subgroup, RIDE automatically creates another category that is then also used in the classifications called “super-subgroups”.  This occurs even though the school’s population may not qualify for the other subgroup that is factored.  The EGHS super-subgroup is called “Program” Super-Subgroup and it consists of students with an IEP along with students who are considered ELL (English Language Learners).

EGHS Actions- Math and Subgroups

  • Based on previous years NECAP and course taking data, in 2011-2012 EGHS made major changes to it’s Mathematics scope and sequence as well as to the courses offered to all students in Mathematics for School Year 12-13.
  • In SY 12-13 EGHS increased the number of “Math Labs” to meet increased need and support students to meet the new NECAP graduation requirement. This class provides additional direct mathematics instruction by a certified Math teacher and supported with a Special Education teacher.  Math labs support all students who meet local criteria as being in need of Mathematics support.
  • Specialized sections of “Study Skills”, a Special Education support class, were designated for students with IEPs who struggle in Math during SY 12-13.
  • To support struggling students, the number of sections of Response to Intervention (RtI) (which is taught by Special Educators) was increased.
  • A grant funded after-school program called “Check and Connect” was implemented in SY 12-13 to support students involved in RtI.

EGHS’ Commitment to Excellence

Despite our school’s history of, and continued exemplary achievement on standardized tests such as NECAP, SAT, AP, ACT, etc., we reject the notion that any school, student or educator should ever be defined or categorized simply by one test or measure. Standardized tests can be a valuable tool to help inform instruction, but they are only a snapshot in time, not an album of true growth and achievement. As such, we will constantly work to examine and improve the full complement of educational experiences for our students at EGHS.

We are proud of the hard work done every day by our students, teachers, staff, parents, and the support that the East Greenwich community provides to the High School. We are confident that in the coming years, the EGHS community will rise to the challenge of closing any achievement gaps that we may encounter, whether for groups or individuals.  While we continue to be proud of the education that we provide at EGHS, we will always look to improve, because we are truly driven to empower students as lifelong learners.  We believe that this is best accomplished through: a commitment to implementing and achieving the highest standards, delivering personalized instruction with student choice, and promoting real and relevant skills that our students find valuable to shape their futures.