Grades AREN’T Motivating.

Check out this tweet that landed in my Twitterstream, y’all:

Brett’s right, isn’t he?  

We SHOULD barf every time someone makes the argument that without grades, students can’t be motivated to tackle meaningful tasks.

More importantly, we should stop using grades to sucker kids into completing assignments in our classrooms:

 

Slide - If It's Not Graded

(click here to view original image on Flickr)

So how SHOULD we motivate learners?  

Easy:  By rethinking the kinds of work that we are asking them to do.  Any task that is worth doing should be relevant and interesting.  Learners should be hooked by our assignments and should be convinced that the task will strengthen their knowledge and skills in important areas.

Any task that is worth doing should also be challenging.  Create assignments that are too easy — or that seem completely impossible — and learners tune out.  But create assignments that require kids to stretch just outside of their comfort zones, and they will invest completely in the work.

Finally, any task that is worth doing should help students to drive meaningful change beyond the walls of their classrooms.  The simple truth is that today’s students want to be influential.  They aren’t satisfied with work that has no clear purpose beyond filling their report cards.  But if you can show your kids that the questions they are asking and lessons that they are learning can be used to drive change in their families, communities or countries, they’ll tackle anything.

Now don’t get me wrong:  You CAN use grades to try to influence the kids in your classroom — and most will probably respond.

Most of our students, after all, still want to earn passing marks.  And they still feel pressure from their parents and their teachers to score highly on classroom assignments.

But don’t mistake those reactions with motivation.  

If anything, what you are seeing when students put effort into assignments simply because they are being graded is compliance.

Motivation begins when our classrooms become places where interesting, relevant, challenging, and powerful tasks become the norm rather than the exception to the rule.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

Celebrate Your TEACHING Geeks, not your TECH Geeks

Are Kids REALLY Motivated by Technology?

Are YOUR Students Doing Work that Matters?

More on Teaching Science and Political Bloodsport.

So something REALLY interesting happened this morning:  I found a brand spanking new copy of Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming in my school mailbox:

That’s a HECK of a coincidence, isn’t it?  

LAST week, I write a post about the lunacy of EPA Director Scott Pruitt — who somehow doesn’t believe that carbon emissions are leading to climate change — and THIS week, someone just so happens to drop a copy of a text designed to eviscerate climate science into my mailbox.

I’m not a big believer in coincidences, though.  

My guess:  SOMEONE — a colleague, a parent, someone from the broader community that just so happens to read my blog — decided that I needed to broaden my views on the science behind climate change.

I have NO idea who sent me the book, but I DO have a few choice words for them.  Here they are:

The Heartland Institute — the group responsible for publishing this book — has taken a TON of money from the fossil fuel industry, including from the Koch Brothers AND Exxon Mobil.  Don’t you think that cheapens the value of ANYTHING inside this book?  Can you REALLY believe that research funded by the fossil fuel industry is going to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth about climate change?

Need more proof that the Heartland Institute is a heavily biased organization?  Then whaddya’ think about the fact that they have an entire line item in their annual budget — to the tune of $200,000 — to develop a curriculum aimed at public schools that is designed to “cast doubt on mainstream climate science?”

Need MORE proof that the Heartland Institute is a heavily biased organization?  Try this on for size:  This is the SAME group that created a billboard that compared people who believe in climate change to the Unabomber — and who had ANOTHER billboard ready to go that substituted Osama Bin Laden for the Unabomber.

Still not convinced?  Then what would you say if you found out that the “climate experts” who wrote the book that you sent me were on Heartland’s payroll, making anywhere from $5,000 to $11,000 per month?  Are you REALLY going to believe that guys who are being paid THAT much cash are unbiased and impartial observers that are giving us the whole truth and the nothing but the truth?

Heck — I’d say darn near anything if you want to pay me $11 K per MONTH.  That’s more than double my teaching salary.

Want me to keep going?  These are the same yeah-hoos who were defending Big Tobacco back in the 1990s, arguing that the damage done by smoking — both through first and second hand smoke — were completely overblown.

Seriously.  They said smoking wasn’t all that bad.

#sheeshchat

Now, needless to say, I’m peeved.

This “drive-by-booking” was a perfect example of what I was talking about in my previous post.  Folks who are living in the Breitbart Bubble — mainlining Alex Jones for hours every day while they scroll through their hyper-partisan Facebook pages — are actively trying to shape the conversations that our kids are having about science by shouting louder than anyone who sits squarely in the mainstream.

That’s frightening, y’all.  

And the only way that we fix it is by pushing back.  Make sure that the science teachers in your lives know that you stand for objective science built on fact and not bought by people like the Koch Brothers, Exxon and the Heartland Institute.  Be louder than the people who have learned that shouting every time a teacher mentions “evolution” or “natural selection” or “global warming” is the best way to stifle facts and to advance a fringe agenda.

Most importantly, quit pretending that this isn’t a big deal — because it is.

I am a real science teacher working in a real science classroom and I hesitate every time I talk about these topics because I know that I’m likely to take more than a little criticism.  I can’t be the only one, can I?

And let’s quit pretending that our kids don’t need to learn that there are TONS of organizations just like the Heartland Institute that are trying to “muddy the waters” on important scientific issues.  Their motives are shady on a good day.  They represent powerful, wealthy interests that stand to lose a lot if “the truth” comes out.

Every kid in every classroom should be taught to question every piece of science published on controversial issues — and to identify the questionable organizations producing that science.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that the Heartland Institute was biased times ten.  It shouldn’t take kids long to figure that out, either.

#trudatchat

(A final PS to my anonymous, book loving, climate-change denying friendNo matter what the Heartland Institute says, most practicing climate scientists really DO believe that carbon emissions are causing climate change.  There’s no “scientific dispute” about any of this.

And even if you DON’T believe in climate change, can you at LEAST agree that carbon emissions are causing extreme pollution?  

If not, I’ve got a nice condo in Beijing I’d like to sell you.)  


Related Radical Reads:

When Did Teaching Science Become Political Bloodsport

 

 

Anatomy of a SMiShing Text Message.

An interesting text message landed in my inbox the other day.

Here’s what it looked like:

(click to enlarge)

My first reaction was to panic a bit.  I do a ton of work on public wireless networks — and even though I use a VPN to protect my deets from snooping eyes, I’m always worried that I’m going to give away enough information to get myself hacked.  Maybe it’s paranoia — but in today’s world, paranoia is probably a good thing.

But then my bunk detectors kicked in.  Can you spot the three reasons that this text message raised alarms?

Here’s what caught my eye:

The sender of the message is trying to make me panic:  Probably the most important step to detecting whether a text or email message is up to no good is to ask yourself a simple question – “Is this person trying to make me panic?”  Fear is the best friend of a phisherman, after all.  If I’m convinced that my account has been hacked or my money has been stolen, I’m more likely to take immediate action — read: hit that link and enter my most important details — than I am to stop and think.

So whenever I spot an attempt to generate fear, I force myself to slow down and look a little more carefully at the message that I’ve received.

The web address in the link is wonky:  Seriously.  Read it.  Why would a major company point me to any address as weird as http://bankofamerica.caseid-2078.com?  That’s a cheap trick that phishermen (and other shady folks like the leaders of the Fake News brigades) are resorting to.  Their hope is that as I’m panicking over my breached account, I’m going to see the first half of the web address without questioning the second half.

The harried, urgent, worried me might see “Bank of America” and click.  The thoughtful, skeptical, refuse-to-be-tricked me read the whole address and said, “Nope.  Not falling for that.”  And the Interwebs loving me typed the address into my Google Machine and found about a thousand references to a phishing scam.

#anotherwinforthegoodguys

Banks don’t usually send text messages — particularly asking users to update their personal information:  In a world where phishing — and in this case, SMiShing — has become an all too common method for evil creeps to fleece the innocents, banks have taken a pretty hard-line approach to contacting customers.  They pretty much NEVER send out email or text messages when there is a problem.  That protects everyone.

I don’t know if that is Bank of America’s policy.  I’ve never bothered to look, to be honest.  But I DO know that it is the policy of most major banks.  That means I never take emails and texts from banks seriously.

So how did you do?  Did you pick up on all three of the things that raised alarm bells in my mind?  If so, huzzah for you!

Now for a more important question:  Could your STUDENTS spot all of that sketchiness?  

If not, you’ve got some teaching to do!

———————————-

Related Radical Reads:

What are YOU Doing to Teach Students to Spot Fake News Stories?

The Anatomy of a Hoax Website

Curating Sources on Controversial Topics

 

 

 

 

 

When Did Teaching Science Become Political a Blood Sport?

Did you see what Scott Pruitt, the Chief Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency said today?

Despite almost a century’s worth of scientific evidence, the consensus of the vast majority of the scientific community, and the scientific opinion of national groups like NOAA and NASA, he made the argument that carbon dioxide ISN’T a primary contributor to global warming.

Pruitt’s argument aligns nicely with the argument of the fossil fuel industry — who he has a long history of supporting at all costs.  “I think that measuring with precision human activity on climate is something very challenging to do,” he said.  “And there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of the impact, so no, I would not agree that it is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Now, Pruitt is definitely in the minority here:  There’s NOT “tremendous disagreement” about the impact that carbon dioxide is having on our climate.

Need proof?  Then check out the Climate Change Consensus page on NASA’s website.  You’ll find that:

  • 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists believe that human activities are having a negative impact on our climate.
  • 18 scientific associations — people like the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of America — believe that human activities are having a negative impact on our climate.
  • 11 international science academies believe that human activities are having a negative impact on our climate.
  • US Governmental Agencies — INCLUDING Pruitt’s EPA — and other international governmental bodies believe that human activities are having a negative impact on our climate.

So you can either believe the guy who has taken thousands upon thousands of dollars in donations from energy companies and their Political Action Committees OR you can believe thousands upon thousands of scientists who have spent their entire careers researching this issue.

This should make for a PERFECT lesson in my sixth grade science classroom, y’all.  

My standards require that I teach the carbon cycle — which includes the impact that excess combustion (think burning coal to create electricity and oil and gas to power vehicles) has had on the balance of carbon in our atmosphere AND that I teach students how to “distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.”

Think about that for a minute.  Climate change is very public example of how an imbalance in the carbon cycle is having an impact on our day-to-day lives.  More importantly, Pruitt’s statements are a very public example of a place where students can distinguish between facts, reasoned judgment based on research and speculation.  I’d LOVE to let them decide whether or not Pruitt’s argument is believable.

Isn’t that EXACTLY the kind of lesson that today’s students need to learn if they are ever going to be scientifically literate?

After all, we live in a world where politicians let donations govern their decisions — and those decisions end up governing our lives.  We also live in a world where the value of scientific research is regularly denigrated if it stands in opposition to positions that are going to cost businesses money or politicians donations.  Lobbyists whisper in the ear of guys like Pruitt, making promises in order to gain influence.  If kids aren’t prepared to recognize those conflicts of interest and aren’t able to interpret the meaning of scientific findings when making personal decisions about who to support, our planet is screwed.

But here’s the thing:  I won’t mention Pruitt’s comments to my class at all.  

Why?  Because over the past decade — ever since Al Gore started talking about our world’s Inconvenient Truth — I’ve been buried time and again by complaints from angry parents who ALSO believe that there is “tremendous disagreement” over the role that carbon dioxide plays in our changing climate.

It’s the exact same criticism that I get when I talk about natural selection or evolution — topics that are ALSO in my required curriculum AND scientifically settled, but widely panned by a small handful of people in America.

Most of the complaints that I get parrot talking points that you hear on radio programs hosted by guys like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin.  People suggest that “I’m teaching climate science as if it is fact instead of opinion.”  They argue that, like most public school teachers, I am a part of a “left-wing conspiracy to brainwash children.”  And they ask if I’m going to bother teaching both sides of the story, even when there really AREN’T two sides to any of these stories.

Think about how frightening this all is.  

Essentially, I’m admitting to you that I shy away from introducing my students to scientific fact simply because I know that there’s a good chance that I’ll be attacked when I do.  Maybe I should be ashamed of that.  Maybe I should teach controversial topics no matter how much flak I’m likely to take.  Maybe I’m failing my kids and my community by keeping silent even in a situation where silence isn’t warranted.

But it’s just not that easy.  

Somehow, teaching science became political blood sport — and sometimes, I just don’t have the energy to fight.   

 

 

 

 

 

I Am a Chronic Absentee.

Cranky Blogger’s Warning:  I’m disgruntled today.  If you are looking for rainbows and sunshine, don’t read this post.  If you want some perspective on what life is like for American schoolteachers, though, keep reading.

———————

A few weeks back, a local news channel here in the Triangle covered an issue that they feel is a major problem:  Teachers who are “chronically absent.”  

Their definition of “chronically absent?”

Any teacher that misses more than 10 days of school in a single school year.

By that definition, I am a chronic absentee.  

I’ve missed right at 10 days of school this year.  I’ve missed six days alone attending professional development workshops and educational technology conferences — coursework that improves my practice and the practice of everyone around me.  I’ve also had to take two days off to take my daughter to doctor’s appointments — something that wouldn’t happen in other professions where I could “slip out” during the workday without question as long as I didn’t have face-to-face meetings or phone calls to tend to.

Oh yeah:  And I took one day off because I was sick as a dog.

#manyapologies

My favorite “absence”, though, will happen later this month when I call in sick so that I can get to our team’s upcoming field trip — a ecosystems-themed scavenger hunt — early.  I want to get the hunt set up before the kids and the parent chaperones arrive, but I can’t do that because I need to cover my first period class.  The only solution:  Call in sick in order to get a substitute teacher in the building to cover that one class and then spend the entire day working with my students anyway.

#sheeshchat

Can you tell that I’m bugged by this story?

The suggestion that teachers are automatically failing their students when they are out of the classroom is flawed thinking to begin with.  The time that I spend learning and thinking and reflecting on instructional practices translates directly into the work that I do with my students.

Need proof?  Check out my digital portfolio project (see here and here), which is a direct result of a session that I sat in on at a county wide professional development day back in November.  Conservative estimate: The lessons that I am learning and the content that I am creating will be shared across dozens of classrooms, both in my district and across the country.

Was that absence worth it?

To make matters worse, I’ve used sick days and pulled cash out of my own pocket for registration fees to attend professional conferences dozens of times over the last decade simply because my schools couldn’t afford to cover those costs or to provide me with a substitute teacher.  So not only was I working to improve my practice while “being chronically absent,” I was subsidizing our poorly funded public school system — covering costs that no other professional would ever be expected to cover out of their own pocket.

And that earns me uncomfortable questions about whether or not I am making a positive difference in the lives of my students?  

A friend asked me the other day to explain what’s changed about education since the time that I entered the profession.  “You knew the work was going to be hard,” he said.  “Why are you surprised by that hard work now?”

The answer is simple:  What’s changed is the professional respect accorded to classroom teachers.  I knew that I was signing up for long hours and low pay when I graduated way back in 1992.  But in return, I also knew that (1). I was going to get to change lives and (2). I was going to have the respect of those in the community that I served.  THAT was a trade-off that I was more than willing to make.

Today — almost 26 years later — I still get to change lives every day.  But I also bear the brunt of a sea of never-ending attacks lobbed at educators– including comments from the President of our nation, who used his inaugural address to push the notion that our nation’s public schools are “flush with cash” but leaving “our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.”

That criticism hurts.  And it makes me wonder more and more about my decision to stay in the classroom.  I want to serve kids, but I am really tired of being the community’s punching bag.

#trudatchat

#sorryfortherantchat