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Will. You. Please. Stop. Complaining. About. CCSS!

Some people complain about, belittle, denigrate, and deride anything that has to do with Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Why, people, why?

Do you want the United States to be mediocre?

The U.S. ranks 22nd among developed countries in the number of students who graduate from high school. Education at a Glance, OECD 2011

Do you want products of our educational system (AKA our students) to be unable to complete globally?

Is keeping an educational system that has proven itself over and over NOT to work for the majority of students REALLY preferable to getting on board with a system that has generated valuable conversations and forced evaluation of current practices?

I would like to make a difference here between intelligent, thoughtful people who disagree with aspects of the CCSS and the more vocal naysayers who just want it to go away, but have nothing to offer in the way of constructive criticism or alternative ideas.

“Supporters…say the standards will increase the rigor and quality of American schools and put the U.S. back on the map in terms of educational excellence.” Connie Matthiessen, Learn More about Common Core

Detractors wonder, “Has the federal government overreached and saddled our schools with standards that have been flawed from the start?” Embrace the Common Core Debate, September 9, 2014 intelligencesquaredus.org

This ongoing debate is GOOD for our country. Supporters need to voice their support more often and detractors need to come up with sound arguments, not just ‘government conspiracy’ theories. The CCSS were not, in fact created by the federal government. Nor are they overseen by the federal government.

“The Common Core is a state-led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative. The federal government played no role in the development of the Common Core. State adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory.” Myths vs. Facts www.corestandards.org

So let’s embrace the debate that is going on and contribute to it in a helpful way. Let’s do our homework before criticizing and let’s join the conversation rather than standing apart, throwing stones.

For my money, CCSS is the best hope for our educational system and has the potential to close the opportunity gaps that currently exist for our students. It may not be perfect, but I believe it is moving us in the right direction. If we work together, we can make it better.  ccss

Blended, Hybrid, and Flipped, Oh My!

 

blended learning2

Blended Learning, Blended Education, Hybrid Learning, Flipping the Classroom, eLearning…so many buzz words, so little time.

 

So, what is blended learning anyway?  Is it the same as flipped? Hybrid? eLearning? “In essence, blended learning is any formal education program that combines online learning with brick-and-mortar schools.” Julia Freeland, Blending toward competency, May 2014.

 

Blended learning always includes the use of technology, but … “Blended learning is not the same as technology-rich instruction…Blended learning involves leveraging the Internet to afford each student a more personalized learning experience, meaning increased student control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of his or her learning.” Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Education

As I see it, blended learning is the collision between traditional “brick-and-mortar” schools and technology. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about this because a collision breaks things apart and then they can be rebuilt.

Blended learning is different than ‘flipping’ since nothing has to break to flip a classroom. Basically, flipping is a reversal of jobs. Lecture is viewed online away from school, leaving the classroom available for discussion and extension.

Hybrid learning is considered to be synonymous with blended learning. And eLearning (although in its pure form means learning that is done online) is a component of both flipped classrooms and blended or hybrid learning.

So blended learning is about personalizing learning with a goal of creating an individual education plan for each student. The term originated in Special Education where an Individual Education Plan (IEP) was created for the student by the teacher and reviewed by the student and parents. But in blended learning, the student, teacher, and parents create it together.

The Innosight Institute released a white paper in 2013 titled Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, in which they define four categories of blending learning.

1)      Rotation model

2)      Flex model

3)      Self-blend model

4)      Enriched-virtual model

This classification may help teachers understand how to incorporate blended learning into their classrooms or schools. So let’s take a look at each model.

In the rotation model, a teacher can set a schedule where students rotate between learning modalities such as online learning, group projects, small group or whole-class instruction, individual tutoring, or more traditional paper-and-pencil assignments. To be considered blended learning, one of the modalities must be online learning. Students may rotate among stations inside a classroom or rotate among locations inside (such as a computer lab) or outside (e.g. home, library, etc.) of a school building.

The flex model is a program in which content and instruction are mainly delivered online, with teachers on-site to provide face-to-face support as needed.  The teacher may also deliver small group instruction or individual tutoring, or supervise group projects.

If students use a self-blend model, they choose to take one or more courses online to supplement their regular curriculum. In this case, they would have a classroom teacher and an additional cyber teacher for each online course they take. Some schools create ‘cyber lounges’ at school where students can work on their online courses, but many courses are done remotely.

The enriched-virtual model is a whole-school experience rather than an individual model. Within each course, students divide their time between attending class at a campus and learning remotely using online instruction.

I love the new models that are being tried in classrooms today. Every step away from the “factory” model of education (created during the industrial revolution) is a step in the right direction. Each step is a step toward truly personalized education.

 

In Defense of Noise in the Classroom

One of the main reasons I went into teaching was because I didn’t like school as a child and I thought I could create a better experience for kids as a different kind of teacher.I was determined that my students would not spend endless silent hours watching the clock hands move and trying to stay awake. I resolved that they would be active learners. I wanted a noisy classroom.

Noisy Learning

I am NOT talking about noise from nearby airports, elevated trains, or construction projects. There are studies that show those kinds of noise can be harmful and make learning difficult as kids tune out the teacher’s voice along with the outside noise.

I am NOT talking about noisy chatter in a classroom, where students are talking among themselves about things that have nothing to do with the subject they are supposed to be learning. Students (and teachers) should be talking about the subjects they are studying.

I AM talking about productive noise, the kind of noise that comes from earnest discussions, movement as collaborative groups change or supplies are gathered, demonstrations of problem-solving strategies…the kind of noise that happens when students explore topics they are passionate about…the kind of noise that happens when students and teachers are engaged in learning together.

Active Learning

Students should be actively taking part in their own education; predicting outcomes, sharing hypotheses, experimenting, sharing results. They should be discussing their problem-solving strategies with each other because there are many possible approaches to problems. If students are allowed to take ownership of their learning, they are more likely to succeed.

Learning should consist of many more ‘ah ha’ moments than ‘ho hum’ moments. According to Nick Provenzano, “A noisy classroom is a classroom where learning is happening. Learning should be noisy, it should be messy, because that’s what exploration is.” How can teachers inspire learning? By empowering students, Dennis Pierce, eschoolnews, May 20, 2014.

Talking About Learning

In traditional classrooms, though, teachers still do most of the talking. When students talk, they are usually answering teachers’ questions rather than solving problems through talk or explaining their thinking. But the days of “the sage on the stage” are numbered. Technology is helping. So much information is available online that students now need the skill of asking the right questions rather than the skill of giving rote answers.

“Since the dawn of language, conversations have been powerful teachers. They engage, motivate, and challenge. They help us build ideas, solve problems, and communicate our thoughts. They cause ideas to stick and grow in our minds. They teach us how other people see and do life, and they teach other people how we see and do life. Conversations strengthen our comprehension of new ideas.” Academic Conversations by Zwiers and Crawford, 2011

Projects for Learning

Students should be doing projects that engage their interest and demonstrate their learning. The Buck Institute for Education focuses exclusively on Project Based Learning (http://bie.org/about/what_pbl) because it, “is a transformative teaching method for engaging ALL students in meaningful learning and developing the 21st Century competencies of critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, creativity, and communication.”

Exploring and solving problems collaboratively necessitates noise. Rebecca Alber, (Edutopia Consulting Online Editor) describes what she calls a “coveted scenario” for collaboration in a classroom, “several children gathered at a table engaged in a high-level task, discussing, possibly debating an issue, making shared decisions, and designing a product that demonstrates all this deeper learning.”  Deeper Learning: A Collaborative Classroom Is Key, December 31, 2012 http://www.edutopia.org/blog/deeper-learning-collaboration-key-rebecca-alber

This kind of scenario (especially multiplied by 5 or 6 groups in the classroom) cannot be done without noise. And collaboration, along with learning to listen and ask good questions, are skills people need in the world today. So say goodbye to silent classrooms. Let’s make some NOISE!

How Can You Find a Good Freelancer?

With the changes in the economy and so many talented people freelancing, finding a freelancer for your project should be easy, right? Most companies keep lists of freelancers they can call on when needed, but those lists need to be constantly updated, and the people on the list may or may not be available when they are needed. So what do you do when you need someone new? Turn to the web?

Today, every business wants and needs an online presence. Every company that wants to succeed has a Website. Because of this Internet explosion, many new skills have surfaced in the freelance market. There are talented people out there who can do Web design, programming, design, writing, marketing, administrative, consulting, legal, and engineering jobs. What do you need? And where do you begin looking?

Many sites on the Internet purport to help you find the right people. But the number of freelance sites can be overwhelming. Let’s take a look at two popular sites: Elance and oDesk.

Elance https://www.elance.com/ advertises 1.5 million registered clients and 2.5 million registered freelancers. oDesk https://www.odesk.com/ claims to be the fastest growing site with 4.5 million registered freelancers.

How do these sites work? If you are looking to hire freelancers, you can post jobs for free. Elance provides job-post templates to help you do that as well as other resources through their Elance University.  oDesk has a Client Resource Center to guide you through the process.  On both sites you can search for freelancers (called “providers”) by category, location, ratings, and hourly rates.  On Elance, providers post proposals and you look through the proposals to decide who to hire. You also have access to profiles and portfolios of potential providers. On oDesk, you look at provider profiles and portfolio samples.

Both sites manage the job for you including tracking the project and paying providers. On Elance, you track the project in a “shared workroom” where you can set milestones, view work in progress and video conference. oDesk provides a message center for centralizing your online work communications, but they also encourage you to use personal or business email, instant messaging, or video chats.

Providers are charged a service fee which they include in their proposals: 10% for oDesk and 8.75% for Elance. If you use Elance, you pay for the job upfront and the money is placed in an escrow account from which the provider is paid upon completion of the project. If you use oDesk, you pay upon completion of the project.

oDesk has one feature that Elance doesn’t have. Providers must log in to a program while they are working that takes screenshots of their desktop 6 times per hour. If they are not working on your project during that hour, you don’t have to pay them for it.

You can check out a head-to-head review of both sites here: http://www.clickfire.com/elance-vs-odesk/CPT and Hand

Welcome to Write to Communicate! LLC

Hello. My name is Laura Drury. I recently created my freelance company, Write to Communicate! LLC. My motto is “I can help you with that.”

I write Web articles and edit both print and digital products. I also write eNewsletter content, and do formatting , layout, delivery and list management, and anything else that is needed to get your newsletter up and running. And I do it all from the road. Have computer and wifi hotspot, will travel!

I have been a teacher, instructional designer, and editor for both print and digital products in my varied career. And I love to write.

But I haven’t always wanted to start my own business. I used to think that working for a corporation was easier: they worried about salary, hours, benefits, marketing.  I could just do my job, collect my paycheck, and do whatever I wanted with my free time.

More often than not though, my free time just wasn’t enough. Most weekends were spent on chores and errands.  I needed more time to let my creative side develop. I wasn’t sure I’d still have any creative side if I waited until I was retirement age. So I convinced my husband that we should go sooner rather than later. He was almost retirement age anyway, and if I could still keep earning money…

We already had a plan to buy a motor home and travel the country. We reasoned that we could visit our children and grandchildren for a month or more at a time without inconveniencing them by disrupting their living spaces. We could be available to babysit, do fun things together, and just generally be a part of their lives for an extended period of time…without living in too-close proximity. It seemed like a win-win.

So here I am, living in a 34-foot motor home and setting up my new freelance business while I get used to living in 270 square feet of space. Crazy? Sometimes it feels like it. On the other hand, having time to write, keeping my own schedule, and seeing the country while doing it is a great way to work!

motorhome at campground