Tuesday, February 18, 2014

End of Term Youtube Extravaganza Winter 2014 Version

It is the end of the term again, so time to have some fun. I'll be back once the new term begins. Have a great break!
1.      For the golfers. Let me see you make this shot!

2.      The first of two Ellen page clips, this one shows off a skill you might know she had.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhTaQizF4z4

3.      Tori Allen- one of the world’s best rock climbers. When she was 14. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=To3xGXFO8zQ

4.      Blue Man Group.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOLBn8GKBlA

5.      Finding Bigfoot.  Of course, this show is a guilty pleasure of mine. They come to conclusions without evidence, always proclaiming they just heard/saw/found abigfoot. Which, oddly enough, they never do. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmzfdjJRotU

6.      Firefly. Still the best show no one watched. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPRlHwwVIug

7.      More unexpected performances on reality TV. Here the young lady channels Amy Winehouse. In a good way. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxXc0cqDyuw

8.      Red Bull Rampage- bike riding like nothing else on earth. (Some rough language in this clip) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hv_DRJZZ2qI

9.      Biggest wave ever surfed. It is 100 feet tall and surreal. Wait to the end. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtVQJCq2cCM

10.  Ellen Page, again. Her speech last week at the Human Rights Campaign. No matter your politics, it is a moving, brave speech.

Monday, February 10, 2014

There is a wealth of good literature available for the savvy instructor in healthcare education. Among some of the best, all from Jossey Bass, are the following:

Cangelosi J. Classroom management strategies: gaining and maintaining students’ cooperation, 7th edition. Jossey Bass, 2014

Kaplin WA, Lee BA. The law of higher education, 5th edition: student version. Jossey Bass, 2014

Stavredes T, Herder T. A guide to online course design: strategies for student success. Jossey Bass, 2014

Shank JD. Interactive open educational resources: a guide to finding, choosing, and using what’s out there to transform college teaching. Jossey Bass, 2014

Robison S. The peak performing professor: a practical guide to productivity and happiness. Jossey Bass 2013

Blumberg P. Assessing and improving your teaching: strategies and rubrics for faculty growth and student learning. Jossey Bass, 2013

Hansen CK. Time management for department chairs. Jossey Bass, 2011

James A, Brookfield SD. Engaging imagination: helping students become creative and reflective thinkers. Jossey Bass, 2014

Cook-Sather A, Bovill C, Felten P. Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: a guide for faculty. Jossey Bass, 2014

Spalding D. How to teach adults: plan your class, teach your students, change the world. Jossey Bass, 2014

Barbezat D, Bush M. Contemplative practices in higher education: powerful methods to transform teaching and learning. Jossey Bass, 2013

Merriam S, Bierma LL. Adult learning: linking theory and practice. Jossey Bass, 2013

Shadow LK. What our stories teach us: a guide to critical reflection for college faculty. Jossey Bass, 2013

Monday, February 3, 2014

On Teacher Evaluation: Another Voice in the Family

My son Noah is a high-school teacher and a track and cross-country coach. He runs a blog for his athletes, at https://sites.google.com/site/hctrackxc/Home/coach-lawrence-s-blog. His latest post contained his thoughts on instructor evaluation, which he then related to trakc; this then led him to develop a program which is apparently catching on nationally. I thought I would share his comments, lengthy as they are, here.

“Last Friday was an ‘institute day’ at Hinsdale Central. Students had the day off, allowing teachers the opportunity to grade final exams, prepare for the new semester, collaborate with each other in the development of curriculum, and attend meetings. Towards the end of the day, I was at one such meeting, called by my department chair for all members of the social studies department. We have these meetings monthly, as they are an opportunity for our DC to inform us of new initiatives, recent changes in school law, and upcoming events. At this particular meeting, my department chair was sharing with us the new criteria that will be used to evaluate teacher performance starting in the 2014-2015 school year. I learned that for the first time ever, ‘student improvement’ is going to be used as category by which to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Though the specifics have not been ironed out yet, the intent of the law is to find quantifiable data by which to compare teachers to each other.

This got me thinking about the challenge of finding a useful way to measure academic improvement in a discipline like social studies. What specific skills should be measured? Reading comprehension? But a typical student has 6-7 classes a day. How do we know which class is contributing most to that improvement? And what about someone like me who is the only teacher of an elective course? No one else at our school teaches African American History or East Asian Studies. I can certainly give my students a test on their knowledge of these disciplines at the beginning of the semester and then again at the end, and I am confident that if I did so every single student would show marked improvement – but how could this data be usefully compared to other social studies teachers who are teaching about significantly different subject matters?

The most significant problem I see with this system of evaluation is that it appears to be an attempt to quantify that which cannot easily be quantified. Here are my goals as an educator: I hope that after a semester in my class, a student will be less likely to believe everything they read; that they will learn to consider authorial intent; that they will be able to formulate a position on a political, social, or philosophical question and that they will be able to support that position with reliable evidence; that they will gain appreciation and sensitivity to cultural practices different than their own; that they will have a greater appreciation for how past historical events have shaped present day circumstances; that they will write a bit more eloquently; that they will be less defensive and more reflective; that they will leave with a stronger desire to be a lifelong voter once they become eligible at age 18; that they are able to express ideas both formally and artistically; that they become more open-minded and less judgmental; that they develop a genuine curiosity about the subjects we study and the wider world around them.

How do you measure all of that? In short, I think it cannot easily be done. To determine if a teacher is effective, I think the only true way to know is to come observe them – become a student in their class. But, of course, it is not practical for any administrator or bureaucrat to spend significant time in every individual teachers’ classroom, so instead we are left with an imperfect system, which, in our heated political environment, has become increasingly high stakes.

Which brings me to track and field. One of the things I love most about track is that it is so easy to measure improvement. Unlike Cross Country, all tracks are standardized to the exact same distance. Of course, weather conditions and the quality of your competition may vary, but, by in large, there are few sports which offer the chance to systematically chart growth as effectively as track.

At Hinsdale Central, we have been doing this for our distance kids for about the past 5 years. We keep track of every team member’s personal best times at the beginning of indoors and see how much they progress over the course of the season and over their four years. To cite some examples, Billy ran 10:11 in the 3200 as a freshman, 9:32 as a sophomore, 9:17 as a junior, and 9:09 as a senior. Zach never broke 5:00 for 1600 his freshman year, ran 4:43 as a sophomore, 4:29 as a junior, and 4:16 as a senior. Last year I put together a chart showing improvement of mile times for the 12 graduating seniors, and all could boast of having bettered their mile times every single season (with one single exception due to injury). As Coach Westhphal and I always say, the moment we stop helping kids improve is the moment we retire.

We’ve also been able to chart our own improvement through documenting the number of athletes on our team who have run faster than 5:00 for 1600. When we first started keeping track of this metric in 2008, we had a paltry 12 guys who’d broken the mark. Our progress from that point has been halting, but ultimately forward:


For this year, though, we’ve decided to take things to a new level. While sitting in that department meeting, thinking about the difficulty of comparing teachers to each other, my mind admittedly wandered to track, and I thought about how much easier it is to compare times in that sport: thus, the sub 5 challenge was born.

The idea was simple. Invite coaches from around the state and nation to keep track of how many guys on their team break 5:00 for the 1600 over the course of the season. Then, collate these lists, and rank the teams in order of which team has the highest number. That team would be declared the winner. I know that most good coaches keep this data internally already, so all we’d really be doing would be to agree to share our lists with each other.

After bouncing the idea of Coach Westhphal and Coach Kupres, I composed an email explaining my idea and sent it off to about 15 coaches from high quality programs, who I’ve had the honor of getting to know over the past several years. I had no sense of how receptive coaches would be to the idea, but I got an immediate boost when I checked my email again a few hours after clicking the ‘send’ button and learned that Coach Vandersteen of Neuqua Valley had not only signed on, but had passed the information along to several other coaches whose contact information I did not have. Soon I had confirmations from 2A state champion Yorkville, 2012 2A state champion Jones College Prep, and 2012 3200 relay champion Minooka. Coach Dave Wisner of New Trier wrote to agree to the challenge, and set a benchmark for all teams to strive for when he shared that his team had 39 athletes breaking 5:00 last season. More good news came in the form of an email from Coach Bell at Carmel, Indiana (5th at NXN), who not only embraced the idea but came up with the excellent suggestion that teams also keep track of how many runners broke 10:30 for 3200. Coach Bell also offered to publicize the idea on websites devoted to Indiana high school cross country, and soon after several quality programs from our neighbors to the east signed up.

Inspired by how many coaches expressed interest in the idea, I decided to email Mike Newman, editor of dyestatil.com, to see if he’d be willing to help advertise the sub-5 challenge. This ultimately proved to be the action that truly brought the ‘sub-5 challenge’ to life. Mr. Newman loved the idea, and agreed to throw the full weight of dyestat and runnerspace behind it. He knows far more about how to effectively use social media than I do, and he posted an article explaining the concept on his website, then posted the link to the article on his facebook page and twitter accounts. Within an hour, we had an email from the coach of Christian Brothers Academy in New Jersey, who finished as the runner-up team at Nike Nationals this year, requesting to join. A day later, Severna Park, Maryland (13th at NXN) accepted the challenge. Over on the east coast, meets have already started, and Severna Park is off to a fast start with 5 guys sub 10:00 at this early stage of the season.

So, at this point, 4 of the 22 boys’ teams from NXN have agreed to the challenge, as have 9 of the top 14 teams from the 3A state meet, including the top 4. I spoke with Mike Newman on the phone last night, and he said he will be attempting to recruit more of the best teams in the nation, using his contacts at dyestat. We are both hoping that as the season goes on, more on more teams will sign up.

In the realm of educational policy, there is a push by some self-proclaimed “reformers” to compare teachers to each other, though the actual intent of these changes in the law may be to foster an unhealthy competition where teachers are pitted against each other. The intent of the sub-5 challenge is just the opposite. One of the aims of the sub-5 challenge is to look at which teams are the deepest; that is, which teams help not just the most talented members, but also the younger and less innately gifted runners. Kids who break 5:00 for the first time ever will get their names listed on dyestat. The 40th of 41st fastest runner on a team may get the opportunity for recognition that he would not otherwise get. It is a competition designed to bring out the best in all of us – in the coaches who understand that their goal is to help all their charges improve, in every single member of all of our teams.

Illinois teams confirmed to participate in the sub-5 challenge: Batavia, Bremen, Downers Grove North, Downers Grove South, Elmwood Park, Hersey, Jones College Prep, Lake Zurich, Lincoln-Way North, Loyola Academy, Lyons Township, Minooka, Neuqua Valley, New Trier, O’Fallon, Palatine, Plainfield South, Rockford Christian, Whitney Young, Yorkville

Teams from other states confirmed to participate: Assumption-Louisville (KY), Carmel (IN), Christian Brothers Academy (NJ), Franklin Central-Indianapolis (IN), Great Oaks (CA), Heritage-Saginaw (MI), Lawrence North-Indianapolis (IN), Mason (OH), Severna Park (MD).”