Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Director, The Earth Institute at Columbia University) OUR COMMON HUMANITY IN THE INFORMATION AGE. He has provided an excellent treatise on the power and the value of the cell phone as a tool to eradicate poverty and to promote peace. When we see the power of the cell phone to disrupt classrooms or bus rides or hamper a meal in a restaurant or interfere with the enjoyment of a movie, play, or religious service, Sachs has shown how the cell phone is important for farmers in Africa.
Sachs' points begin with a discussion of how Asian farmers produce more than African farmers. The key has been to unisloate them via the cell phone. With the cell phone farmers can obtain a truck to transport their goods to the right market. They have access to weather forecasts, to market information, and to information to improve their crops. As more and more towers are being erected, the centralization of cell access and ultimately power is being dispersed and spread among the people. What I found stunning and revealing was that the east coast of Africa is bereft of fiber optic which means broadband is non existent and explains much of the turmoil happening in Somalia. We are well aware of how the cell phone helped those in Tiananmen Square, Bosnia, Iran and elsewhere to get news out. To break the isolation of these landlocked and isolated farmers and communities, the cell phone will become instrumental in breaking the cycle of poverty and maybe even political tyranny.
Placing kiosks in communities is the beginning. While we take the cell phone for granted and use them for everything it seems unbelievable that areas of the earth are bereft of these ubiquitous tools/toys.
In our schools, we ban the cell phone. I have watched some of my students use their sidekick in very creative ways. While they are using the computer in front of them to do research they use their sidekick to write the essay on their webpage or in an email to themselves. Sachs makes perfect sense about how the cell phone can change the world and then in our schools we are banning them and not teaching teachers how to use them in powerful ways in their classrooms, in spite of Secretary Duncan's recent comments about the use of cell phones in classrooms.
We are at a crucial time in our history and it is amazing how a simple cell phone is at the center of this change.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
He calls the Cyber Challenge a good news/bad news story.
"The good news is that [the participants] have that inherent skill. ... I've met many youngsters who are really, really gifted with computers," he said. "The bad news is that we're not developing that talent to the Ph.D. level in things like computer science or electrical engineering, the things that are the foundation of this wonderful technology."
This quote came from Former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell at the recent Cyber Challenge, a contest used to find hackers who have the skills to defend our computer infrastructure. Hackers are still home grown. We don't have a formal method to grow them. Once again schools are woefully ill equipped to support the countries needs. In this case it is in the very important area of security. Now we as a nation do very well in creating physical security forces like soldiers and police, but we don't seem to be able to grow the cerebral defenders of democracy and our way of life. In fact these kids who may one day be more important in our security are bullied in schools, called geeks, nerds, and mocked by their classmates who in too many cases become those physical defenders in bullying tactics often times seen by other peoples in other countries as counter productive in our real intentions. Then these geeks have to come along and clean up the mess made by the physical mistakes.
We see a transformation in our military in the use of drones, of spy sateiliites, and computers are we redefine the waging of war. Now we see the need to incorporate the dark side of computing, hacking, to defend and clean up the mess.
Hacking has always been considered evil, bad, and part of the dark powers of computing. I always prided myself as a hacker because I have had to use skills to make things work in my classroom for the benefit of my scholars. I'd hack the early software to make it work my way, rather than the way some computer programmer planned my path. Certainly when we see kids in our schools doing things on our computers that look unfamiliar or when they have rendered the computer under their control, we see teachers and administrators swoop in and stop all activity, making the person run and do this in the privacy of hir own house. We have created the hacker culture. Much of our literature on the topic shows hackers to be bad, unless they can be turned to do good, if only temporary. Mitnick, one of the celebrities was jailed for his behavior and then upon release from jail he got a lucrative job in computer security. This may send the wrong message. Break the law and then get rich doing good. Another instance where schools are falling short.
The New York Times has reported on this as well. Those who once called nerds, are now wealthy and the industry is seeking ways to encourage the young to become more computer savvy and embrace the technology industry.
Ironically, The Washington Post has reported that very few schools offer computer science courses. Even though all students use the Internet, few know how it works or how to be producers instead of consumers. Could this be the result of increased test prep?
Monday, December 21, 2009
Changing the culture of schools is going to be a herculean task. Teachers need to learn how to use the tools the student use. We have been figuring out ways to curb their use and now we are expected to turn around and use them effectively. Just how is this going to happen?
I know I know a way to use the technology effectively and informatively. My scholars love working ion their webpages and many of my former scholars have used them for college admissions, to show employers, and to publish whatever they create.
I'm encouraged by what Secretary Duncan has said.
I was happy to see an old friend who is now a principal had his students involved in the conversation with Duncan. Bravo, Ben.
The issue of merit pay for teachers is very controversial. A lot of people complain that basing merit pay on the scores of students just rewards teachers who happen to teach in rich districts. How can schools really measure student growth?
I am not a big believer in looking at absolute test scores. I think they tell you some things. There is a lot they don't tell you. I am a much bigger believer in looking at growth and gain and how much a student is improving each year. So, the more we can identify not just the teachers but the schools and the entire school districts that are accelerating student achievement and are accelerating student progress, those are the individuals and the teams and the schools and districts that we need to reward and shine a spotlight on, and most importantly learn from and replicate that success.
I'm not sure he answered the question. I'm glad to see he isn't a big fan of test cores. I'd like to hear a more definitive response to the question: How can schools really measure student growth?
Let me help him with a possible response. Digital webfolios are the way to go. As students do their work, that work is digitized, archived, and used for assessment. We can see progress, we can see teacher, peer, and the student comments on the work. This digital work travels with the student and becomes a more important permanent academic record than any test score because the viewer has access to the assignment, the work, the different drafts, and the comments. The current use of tests is very inadequate because teachers aren't involved in their creations, aren't aware of the contents, and the results are not immediately available to the teacher except a test score. These tests provide very little information and can't inform instruction, whereas a webfolio provides lots of student work that can and does inform instruction.
Technology must be used to do what it does best, data collection and then transferring the information to the teacher to guide hir in curriculum design and creation.
As I said it is encouraging to hear Secretary Duncan recognize the limits of the test scores. Now he needs to move on to discovering the power of technology is solving the question asked of him: How can schools really measure student growth?
Friday, December 18, 2009
Today none of that exists in NYC. I don't even believe we have a director of technology at the NYCDOE. If we do, it is a well kept secret. This is an absolute crime. The world is technology driven. Our cars, our household appliances are driven by technology. We have to know how to program everything. Our methods of communication are digital, our forms of entertainment are digital, our methods of banking, purchasing, preparing to visit our doctor are all digital and driven by technology. We have little devices for our music, for our books, for our multitasking lives. Technology is used in schools to record attendance, for surveillance, for data collection, but it is not used in educating our students. In fact technology is confiscated, discouraged, and left to gather dust because no one in the NYCDOE is leading, driving, or promoting the use of technology in our schools for educational purposes. Technology is being used and maintained by those few teachers who can and desire to do so with little or no assistance from the DOE. I don't think this sorry situation is unique to NYC. I think it is a nationwide dilemma. I'm still stunned by the fact that technology is everywhere in our lives except in education. Who's fault is that? I have to blame poor leadership at all levels. Our educational leaders at all levels lack vision about education, especially how technology could transform it. They are fixated on just one thing the tests. This tunnel vision has decimated NYC public education.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
I've read recently of how a former school that was to be avoided is now taking on a whole new face. This school is changing its curriculum and aligning more closely with a college curriculum. I like the idea. I like that a teacher will be walking into a class and be able to design a course that will really provide challenges and innovative content to the curriculum. The possibilities become endless as teachers imagine what they can do in their own classroom and in collaboration with other teachers. Project based lessons will be possible. I would imagine that teaching to the test is not the focus in this school. I know from my own experience that teaching to the test is a waste of time and futile. Students become bored and lessons aren't and can't be very inspiring. It is basically drill and kill. It's aiming low. From my experience students who work on projects develop all the skills and more that they need to pass those heinous final assessment tools.
I imagine that this new revamped school will provide the inspiration to excel while the students fine tune the skills necessary to pass any form of assessment. I also imagine the students in this school will be preparing web/portfolios of their work. I see many great and grand possibilities with this school. I hope to be reading about them in the future.
"Raising the Bar" means challenging the students, making them responsible for their own learning, making work project based, being more conscious of the next level: college, and engaging the students in mental gymnastics that the current form of assessment is lacking. We don't see many schools doing this. For me, of course, the key is making schools places of scholarship and that means, make the student work public, have them engage in peer review, and pass it on for other scholars. This would be a bold and pedagogically sound move for schools to follow this credo and establish a new norm, a new bar by which schools and scholars operate. Not too many are ready to make this move as we see.
Good luck Miami Edison Senior High.
Another school in another state is showing more respect for students as more and more students are allowed and possibly encouraged to take AP and IB classes. This is raising the bar by letting the students challenge themselves in more advanced ways instead of the menial mindless current state exams that rely on Multiple choice. This is very encouraging, especially I have seen practice of not allowing students into these classes unless they had achieved a certain grade. Making it harder sometimes is the key to success. Watching tests get easier is insulting to the students. When we challenge them they rise to the occasion.
Bravo Beaufort County.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Use of ebooks is hard to believe will ever happen. Book publishers make too much money to allow this to happen. Of course it makes perfect sense for many reasons, but the bottom line in profits will never let this happen. There's money in them 'thar' textbooks. A great idea, but it will never be realized.
The netbook is another dream. The infrastructure of most schools couldn't handle the power and internet needs for all of these devices. Not enough teachers use the web to present their lessons, they still have paper handouts and worksheets. The netbook will be just another toy and distractive device in our technophobic classrooms and schools. Another good and logical hope that will remain in the nether.
More use of whiteboards would be a beautiful thing as students could be more involved. Again a pipe dream. Whiteboards are an incredible tool that just aren't used correctly. They have become expensive chalkboards, pretty places to tape poster paper, useful projection screens, but not used in the Smartboard or Prometheus way for which they were designed. It is a new way of teaching and not the way we were taught or trained, so this will never happen. Chalk is in our blood.
The use of personal devices in classes will never happen. We have become such an untrustworthy and anti-tech group of people in schools that personal devices present a challenge to our authority and control. There are so many important and fantastic uses for these devices and yet we haven't seen it happen. Why? Our fear and ignorance again rules our decision making in school policy. A lack of imagination and a lack of understanding of how technology and personal devices might enhance our instruction will always prevent this from happening. Teaching has become a matter of control and these personal devices strip the control from the teacher.
We need more than an assessment tool. I've worked with such tools in schools and have been very disappointed. We are shooting too low to what we really need. We need to develop databases of student work, the actual work digitized and then commented on by teachers and others for future teachers and employers to see and assess the student hirself. Databases that follow the student from class to class, from school to school, from state to state. I'd love to see the documents not test scores. The problem I have found with these programs is that they just can't or don't keep current with the student body. Because they are proprietary software, the schools do not have the necessary access to update the program on a daily basis. I found them not to be school or teacher friendly.
I would love to see some of these ideas actually happen, but as I have said before, I won't hold my breath. We should also consider the costs of each of these ideas. Money is just another small reason why these ideas are hard to fathom. Schools are constantly having their budgets slashed. How are these ideas going to be realized on just a fiscal level? Now on the pedagogical level, our teaching culture just won't let it happen. We merely need to look at how we still operate our schools. Our schools still operate the same way they were run when we were students, the way they were run when our parents were students, and the same way when their parents were students. We have had technology in schools for the past hundred years and we are constantly seeing reluctance to its use. Teachers are still ill prepared to use the existing technology. Schools expect teachers to figure it out on their own. Schools of Education the places that prepare teachers to teach have done nothing to promote technology use in their training of the new teachers. We have not rethought how education and technology can be used correctly. Teachers still like the control factor of their classroom and technology threatens them. I would love to see existing technology used well let alone these pipe dreams presented by THE JOURNAL.
I'd really love to see more requirements from the states to demand that technology and webfolios be made part of the assessment tools of each student. Then we will see an improved and innovative use of technology in schools and in education. There isn't a reason to use technology in education if the final assessment doesn't involve or demand its use. We need a raison d'être for technology in our schools and that doesn't exist in educational policy or in our pedagogy. Taking chances in education doesn't have the rewards.
Here is some good news. I have recently read FSC Students Help St. Joseph's Teachers Get 'Smart' about how college students from Florida Southern College were being 'tech buddies to teachers at St. Joseph's a private school, in Florida, as sponsored by Smartboard technologies. This is very encouraging even if it is a single private school. The concept of 'tech buddies' is a good one and would help colleges be more tech savvy and helping transfer it into schools. Telementoring was an idea I strted many years ago and saw it as a way for colleges to help get their teachers ready for teaching.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Technology use is all but absent in schools. Sure we find computers in schools, but they are not being used well and not being used across the curriculum. We still hear about and read about struggling attempts to use technology in a system that is hostile to advancing forward. We are such a status quo system it is scary, especially with a collection of employees who are highly educated.
If we are to extend the school day and the school year, we must build into the schedule time, blocks of time where the students are to play, play around with the technology and subject concepts. I don't want to see more of the same stuff, test prep. I want to see students connecting ideas from all subjects, seeing the connections of what is being learned in one class applied to other disciplines. This would slowly; slowly because that is the way we move in education, slowly; allow our schools to see how interdisciplinary school days can be created and generated and then how time over a school day and school year will be productive.
The other problem is the test. We need to see students produce products that are representative of time spent on a project. The one day exam is a bad idea for so many reasons from a pedagogical point of view and yet policy makers and publishers continue to push them. We are finding evidence that these forms of assessment aren't working. If so many are failing them, we as teachers know that when our methods of assessments fail us, we don't blame the students we throw the test out and start again. We continue to blame the schools, the teachers, the students, BUT never the test. How many times have we seen bad and blatant mistakes made on the tests and by the test makers in assessment and yet they continue to dictate the terms in educational policy.
What person, let alone a young child, would want to spend more time preparing for a test that cause anxiety. I know that child would must rather spend more time on a project that demonstrates an understanding of a topic. As a teacher, employer, college professor, that project will tell me more about the person than any test score. I can look at the project and see evidence of learning that a test will never show me.
Finally, what have we sacrificed in the longer test prep days in the character and spirit of our children? Perhaps we should reexamine the tests and not simply take away quality time from another activity to do m ore test prep. What kind of citizen, person, adult, parent are we actually preparing with this kind of education anyway.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
The big problem still exists and that is where and how to house this work. We had a server at ITHS which died. To see her work, we are lucky to have The Wayback Machine. Now I use free sites like FreeWebPages & FreeWebSpace. Each scholar could purchase hir own space for a nominal fee and warehouse all of hir work during her academic years and include personal writings like essays, poetry, short stories, music, art and more. This documented webfolio is what we need for assessment. As we see it can be done and what a result.
More can be seen here.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Be ready for a barrage of neologisms.
I have finally spent the time to look at this new app from Google and it rocks.What is great about it is that it is web based. It doesn't require more than a computer connected to the web. It is more than a social networking or business tool, it is an educational powerhouse.
Initially, I see it replacing the old list and discussion board because of it's playback feature that let's me or any new member to a conversation see it from the beginning and run through it to now. WOW.
I love how it handles the different conversations in a post. It allows the threads of the various parts to be displayed and for the reader to follow the one s/he wishes. All those tangent conversations are collected and shown, too.
There is a privacy, mode, very cool.
When a new member to the conversation arrives, s/he can be brought up to speed in no time.
It is multimedia and interacts with other Google tools and is friendly on all browsers.
It is a collaborative tool with many synchronous and asynchronous features and it looks like it has solved the synchronous problem of wiki. Simultaneous editing without loss, WOW.
It is a collaborative tool. That means we can use it as a brainstorming tool much like a map we might create with Inspiration. Teachers can use it as a Do Now to start a conversation by getting an initial reaction from all scholars at the same time. Great for accountability. When a group,of students are working on a project they can all work at the same time without deleting anyone's work. This is a truly unique collaborative tool for the classroom.
There is a spell checker that will knock your socks off. It is intuitive and answers Taylor Mali's satirical piece about spell checking. In addition adding links is phenomenal especially as a way of extending the bibliography aspect of a document.
Wave is a new way to look at document production in the classroom.
The various gadgets are excellent like the 'yes, no, maybe' gadget that can be used to immediately survey a class. It is web based so a teacher can use this in class anytime.
Since this is Open Source, users will be able to create apps. This is a boon for teachers to create educational apps.
What I would love to see is these developers consider educational applications for their tools. I always see them in business or social networking models, but never, never as educational tools. Perhaps if developers actually demonstrated educational apps then teachers would use them and teachers wouldn't see them as toys or business tools, but as the powerful educational tool they can be. I know these developers need to make back R&D money by selling these products to business, but what if, and that is a mighty big IF, they actually aimed their pitch at educators and demonstrated them as educational tools with educational applications? WOW!! Education does spend a lot of money. Ask the book publishers. As I was watching the WAVE demo, I was pausing and considering how this would transform a Literature circle, how it would assist with scholars who are absent, how it would be a way for scholars to present to the class. I see many educational ways to use this tool. I'd just love to be in a room of teachers or on a WAVE with teachers exploring the possibilities rather than in my own head. It is just another example of how educators are left out of the development loop and why education is so NOT tech savvy. We in the world of education are never considered in these developments of new and exciting tools. It is our work in the classroom with the citizens of the future where these ideas are conceived and gestated. Why not include educators in development of technology apps?
Heck a colleague was just asking about Google DOCS the other day. Now when did Google docs become available? WAVE might make the educational scene in 2020. I wish these developers would consider the educational landscape when they present their new tools, how else will it proliferate. If nothing else I want to shop and go to Bora Bora.
I'd like to see a Professor Wave in addition to the classic wacky Dr Wave. When are we going to get serious about technology in education? Where is the educator on this development team? Lars are you listening?
Read more in eSchool news.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
This quote is from a recent article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the redesign of the middle schools in Atlanta. This article and quote struck me, especially as I am hearing negative news from the NYC schools and the poor results in the elementary and middle school math tests. I was listening to a report on the radio that had college math teachers explaining that students aren't learning math in high school and are stuck in remedial math courses. So if the students aren't starting out well in elementary school, how will high school fix it as we see remedial classes in college are not faring much better. Maybe it isn't the teacher's fault as much as it is the system in which we teach.
I was in a conversation with a math colleague and we were discussing how difficult it has to be to be an elementary teacher and to have to teach all the subjects. I was an English major in college and wanted to be an English teacher. If I wanted to be an elementary school teacher how would I prepare? I don't feel prepared to teach math and science and social studies on a proper level. How are elementary teachers supposed to teach all these key subjects? Not just teach them but instill a love of, the essence of the subject. I can instill a love of English and writing, but I know I can't do that for math. A math teacher needs to do that. So why don't we have subject classes in elementary school?
In education we have the trickle down blame game: the college professor blames the high school teachers who blame the middle school teachers who blame the elementary teachers for the ill prepared students. I was wondering why do we put the elementary students in a class with a teacher who teaches all the subjects? We know that early learning is key to a student's success. We spend lots of money and time on pre-school preparation, so why do we still put the children in a one room classroom? Maybe if the college math professors were in elementary school, and the scientists were in elementary school we'd have better results later on in the students' academic career. Listening to the college math professors moan about how badly prepared the students were was amazing and disheartening. Perhaps the elementary teacher didn't have an understanding of math and was ill prepared to teach math, not math but math concepts and the key to math that a college professor or a high school teacher can convey because that was hir major in college and perhaps the teacher has an advanced degree in it, whereas, the elementary teacher may have been an English major and math just didn' t happen for hir. Maybe the experiment they are doing in the middle schools in Atlanta can be pushed back to elementary sschool.
Why do we structure our schools as we do? Why are elementary schools structured as they are? Once again I'm looking at a system that has not changed in hundreds of years and we are just beginning to see some schools think out of the box. Why is it that the onus is finally put on the student in middle school. What is the purpose of elementary school as it is structured right now? I'm not blaming the teachers, I'm blaming the structure of the school. It is obviously not working so let's fix it and see some experimenting done. The poor test scores are not the fault of the teachers, they are the fault of the flawed school structure.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Computers have always been ideal for data collection. When educational leaders try to use this strength, we usually see it done badly. We too often see badly designed tests, rarely field tested before use, that are used in school systems with many complaints and too many mistakes that cost schools, teachers, and students unneeded anguish.
Companies that try to create online tests do it badly. I've seen situations where the correct answer is not the correct answer. I have seen the system crash and the result is the loss of an exam. These companies are not flexible nor are they knowledgeable about education, they are only making tests.
In short, technology is used incorrectly in education and that is one reason technology has not had a positive affect on education. Technology should not be used to imitate the method previously used, but instead technology should be creating a method of assessment not capable of being done in the traditional classroom. We should be using the technology to have our scholars produce webpages and publish their work, not take multiple choice tests.
Another reason that technology has not had a positive affect on education is that we do not see any school district demand that the scholar produce a webfolio for graduation requirements. We still see only some test made by the state department of education or an third party. If we were to see a school district demand that each scholar submit a webfolio of their work as well as take a state test, then we would see technology provide that bump we need to see in education to make that education relevant to real life experiences. Once school districts begin to require a webfolio, the many other reasons technology hasn't been used well in schools will improve and we will begin to see just how powerful technology can be and that technology is the panacea in education. Technology has been used badly in education and hasn't been given a chance to show how good it can be for education.
We have seen how technology has changed other industries and how those industries have adapted. Education has neither accepted the technology nor has it adapted to using technology well. Consider how we bank, buy products, plan trips, prepare to see our doctor, communicate with others, and read our daily paper. Education has refused to incorporate technology in a meaningful way for many reasons and that is why our educational system is so lackluster and wanting. Correct use of technology would make a huge difference and would engage our scholars in learning. I know this because I see and hear it from my scholars and from those in classes where technology is used correctly. Technology will be the panacea for education when it is used correctly.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
A birthday present from my oldest child, Emily, and her fiance, Greg was 2 tickets to see Bob Dylan at the Palace Theater, one of my favorite venues, on Nov 18 in NYC. I went with my high school friend, John.
A special treat was Dion opened for Dylan. He rocked and of course hearing the first 45 I ever bought, "Runaround Sue" was a real treat.
Dylan's stage was clean and subtle changes happened between each song, in darkness as the musicians changed instruments. I loved the light show and designs, well done. The outfits of the band was a neat gray suit uniform with black shirts. Dylan had piped pants and his broad brimmed hat. He was rocking all night. He was coherent, I recognized the songs, heard him sing the words. He was very animated on stage. The acoustics at the Palace is stunning.
Here's the play list:
Bob Dylan @ United Palace - 11/18/2009
1. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (Bob on keyboard)
2. It Ain't Me, Babe (Bob on guitar)
3. Man In The Long Black Coat (Bob on guitar)
4. It's All Good (Bob on keyboard)
5. Spirit On The Water (Bob on keyboard and harp)
6. High Water (For Charley Patton) (Bob center stage on harp, Donnie on banjo)
7. Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) (Bob on keyboard)
8. Forgetful Heart (Bob center stage on harp, Donnie on violin)
9. Cold Irons Bound (Bob center stage on harp)
10. I Feel A Change Comin' On (Bob on keyboard)
11. Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard)
12. Workingman's Blues #2 (Bob center stage on harp)
13. Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard)
14. Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob center stage on harp)
15. Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard)
16. Jolene (Bob on keyboard)
17. All Along The Watchtower (Bob on keyboard)
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
It means different things to younger people
Sam Walters* hates Hamlet. If he had his way, he would never have wasted time reading the play in high school. “I don’t like reading very much and I don’t like Shakespeare. The only line I like is ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,’” the 11th grader said during his school lunch break.
Speaking in computer room 227 on the second floor of Edward Reynolds Westside High School on 102nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Walters did not hesitate when asked what his literary leanings were. He detested assigned texts like Hamlet, any book that was “full of stuff on government laws” and things like Obama’s Back to Education speech, he said, but was forced to read and write about them.
“I don’t know why we have to read things we don’t like. If I had a choice, I would go for a book like Walter Dean Myers’s Beast, which I can relate to,” the tall and well-built teenager said, looking older than his 18 years despite the schoolbag on his back.
Beast was a love story but not the usual “happy ending” kind, he explained. It was a young-adult novel about a Harlem teenager who was forced to leave behind his girlfriend when his family moved and returned to find that she had begun to do drugs. The book charted the boy’s struggle to rescue his girlfriend but the story ended in tragedy, he said.
“I identify with the book because I am going through a break-up now. So if I have the choice to read such a book, my commitment, my drive to read and write about it will be greater,” he said. “I hope you get what I mean.”
But did he think he knew enough at 18 to pick all the right books and make all the right choices without help? “I guess you’re right. Then it should be half and half. The teacher should pick some texts and we should be allowed to pick some,” he said, before walking toward his English teacher, Ted Nellen, who was working on a Mac in the room.
Read the rest of the story...
Monday, October 19, 2009
Many years ago, in the mid 80's, I used to teach drama. During one of the semesters, I came upon a play called "Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night." It was for high schoolers. It was like Spoon River Anthology. Each character was on stage in bed. Suddenly one of the sleepers would wake and deliver a monologue dealing with the reason for waking up in a cold sweat or troubled. Then s/he would fall back to sleep and another sleeper would rise up. I loved it and the kids loved it. The class would write their own sketches and then we presented them to the school. We would have a week of performances so we could get to the whole school. They became very popular especially with our guidance department.
In that semester a young girl wrote a painful sketch of how she was awoken by her stepfather on many evenings. While she sat in bed she was blaming herself, she couldn't tell her mom, because she believed her mom would blame her, and she just didn't know who to turn to. Eventually she decided she had to speak to someone and decided she would speak to a teacher at school or to her guidance counselor. It was a brilliant piece, in fact in her first performance, two girls sitting in different parts of the auditorium left abruptly and I discovered later had gone to the Guidance offices. I learned of this because the head of the Guidance department came to ask me what was going on in the auditorium. When I explained to her our play, she was thankful. During our week of performances, no fewer than a dozen girls visited their counselors. Drama had served more than a vehicle for entertainment, it had provided a path for too many of our young ladies to find help about a troubling issue.
As it turned out this sketch was drawn from the girl's life. It was happening to her cousin. I discovered this when I spoke with the girl's mother.
I was thinking about this play recently as I am discovering that a play like this with this topic and others may be needed right now in our school. The students seem so much more tough than we were, but they are only playing at it as a protection against the difficulties they face. They think they are alone in their problems and we must let them know they aren't. I'm in a school with more social workers than that other school had Guidance counselors. Life is so much tougher for our young people and we need to find ways to help them discover their paths to recovery. This kind of play I did so many years ago, sadly may still have an audience and a need to be revised.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Today's students are far more advanced with the tools of technology than the students of the past and even most of their teachers and parents. The problem is that they are consumers and not producers. Tweets are not enough, they are thoughts that need to be expanded. e-texting, notepassing 2.0, is not enough. These new tools are not advancing literacy as they should, because the students are not producing much if anything and are simply consuming the toys of technology. We have not seen a surge in literacy skills with these new tools, instead we have seen a loss in effective literacy as the results from our schools are telling us.
Currently students consume large amounts of data and facts to satisfy the need to pass a test that asks them to regurgitate that consumed data. They are not producing anything, merely consuming, regurgitating, and then consuming again. We know learning isn't happening because the next stops after K-12, college, military, or work, tell us that these students aren't prepared. In order for us to know they have learned, we need them to produce something that shows us they know how to do.
I have always liked the construction of webpages to show me the scholars are learning. The webpages are online magazines. Their webpages contain other webpages that represent the essyas or articles they write based on research. These webpages are not just text, they are hypertext, colorful, graphical, and multimedia rich. In the construction of these webpages, the scholars have to do research, they have to verify their sources, they have to include hypertext links to these sources, they have to analyze their resources and present their findings and observations. They have to create substantial webpages that become digital portfolios or webfolios of their learning. I also have them produce in the basic language of HTML, because when they begin to incorporate other web tools, knowledge of HTML will make them more fluent and adroit with these other tools. They will use software that allows them to create graphics, music, videos and add them to their work on their webpages. Blogs, twitter, wiki, and other tools augment the webpage, they are not replacements of the webpage and can be linked to from their webpage when necessary. These webfolios become far better tools for us to evaluate the scholars as they move on into their next worlds following K-12. When these scholars are producing their own webpages they are more engaged in their own learning and go beyond what the expectations of the class were so often. Oh and this goes for teachers, too.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Why will it fall short? Simple, the teachers who work in the schools of education have no clue about how to use technology in the K-12 classroom, let alone teach the new teachers how to use it. How do I know this? Again, simple. What school of education has a staff using the technology in their own teaching and has had their own students using it in their own work. Teachers are still coming to us not having a clue how to use the technology as a teacher. Sure they have used some technology as students, but they have not developed their own webpages or blogs as teachers, only as students; and that is a huge difference. Sure the new teachers are still better consumers in the technology age, but they have yet to prove themselves as good producers. They still muck about with such inferior products like Facebook and MySpace, which are filtered in the schools in which they will teach. Blackboard too is an expensive program not used in K-12 schools, heck, Moodle doesn't have a big following. And, too, these new teachers are again using these programs as students, not as the teacher.
It doesn't matter how much money and how much technology a school of education has, since the old dogs in these professorships and who are tenured have no incentive to learn how to use technology let let alone teach something about which they have no clue. They still teach the way they were taught and have since earning their own adavanced degree. Just look at their online syllawebs. They are sorely lacking in any kind of 21st Century thinking or application in preparing the teachers of the future. ISTE has always been disappointing on this front, something some of us have been saying for the past decade if not longer.
The problem with the use of technology in the K-12 environment is in our schools of education. The advancement of education in this country has always found its weakest link on the ramparts of the ivory towers of our schools of education, that staid bastion of tenure and status quo. And ISTE is loaded with these folks who talk better they they walk.
To verify this criticism, simply look at how far behind the use of technology schools are as compared to other professions. Schools should be in tghe forefront of tgechnology use and yet when students leave the K-12 environment, they have barely had much experience with technology. How many teachers in a K-12 school actually use technology? How many teachers in the K-12 environment have a webpage of their syllawebs? Schools are further hamstrung by the odius filters. It is very obvious that there is no plan to determine how to use technology in our K-12 schools, otyherwise we would see it happening. Giving more money to schools of education to lead the charge in the advancement of technology in education is a huge waste and will embarass us even further. And surely we don't want to look to Secretary of Education Duncan for leadership or even direction in this matter, because he is clueless on so many fronts when it comes to education.
Monday, June 29, 2009
We in education concur. A student's achievement in schools should not be determined by one test. I would like to see portfolios and tests in a fifty fifty combination to determine student achievement. Education is in a quagmire. Teachers who are some of the most educated workers in any profession and are ruled by bosses who have never been members of the educational profession. Didn't the auto industry new head, Ed Whitacre, recently say, "I don't know anything about cars."
Peter Senge may have had a good idea many decades ago, I'm only sorry the educational industry adopted many of his ideas. Arne Duncan is not a teacher, he is a CEO. Now we know how CEO's operate and fair in this country. I only hope real teachers have some say and impact on is decisions, but I doubt it as I teach in NYC and know that teachers get too little respect in our city from its educational leaders. Remember teachers are highly educated in their filed of expertise while the leaders are barely literate in the industry they lead.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Let me put this in context. There was a time when horse racing was the biggest sport in this country. Not anymore. Why? Some idiot decided not to make horse racing accessible on the new form of communication, the television. The result is that a whole generation grew up watching baseball, football, and basketball on television, then golf, and tennis and hockey. Not horse racing, except when the triple crown came around. Horse racing committed suicide.
So now back to the present day. Anytime anyone tries to write an intelligent essay on Catcher in the Rye, and use parts of the book to support arguments the author emerges from the bowels of obscurity with a battalion of lawyers to stop such web publishing. As we who teach English know that this is a classic that won't be realized for maybe another generation. Holden is everyone, and yet the man who created this masterpiece is too dumb to realize this and his death may be the very thing Holden needs to live.
When my fifteen year old had to read this book last year, he was amazed by the book and was even more amazed at its obscurity. A year later he still mentions Holden and wonders. Catcher still offers some good 'text to self' references. As a teacher I learned early about why some kids behave as they do was because of their parents. Once we meet the parents we soon love the kids because now we know where their problem comes from. The reason Holden can't get a life Jennifer, is because of an overbearing parent. Holden is still very accessible.
How many people understand the humor of this cover from a June 2007 New Yorker:
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The school system's problem is not a lack of leadership but the failure of politicians to recognize that cuts in school spending will undermine the city's economy and long-term competitiveness. We now have a schools chancellor who is not in any body's hip pocket. Nevertheless, even a strong chancellor cannot overcome the political abandonment of the public schools. The leaders of the city and state believe that tax cuts create jobs, but what happens if they are wrong and we get the worst of both worlds: no new jobs and no skilled labor? If that happens, by 1997, education will replace crime as the critical issue facing the city. Do we really have to kill our public schools in order to save them?That's right fifteen years ago, Cortines, was in the middle of things in the NYC schools. Today, he is in the middle of it in the LA schools. I've always liked Cortines' style and work. He is a serious educator in a tough position. He understands education like few educational leaders. What is happening to education in California is criminal. What is happening to education in this country is criminal. We don't have any more feet to shot, they are both gone.
We keep hearing politicians speaking beautifully and respectfully about schools and the function of education in this country, and then when they leave the podium and roll up their sleeves, education gets hammered. What dictators do in other countries to their teachers from cutting off their tongue or even beheading them, US politicians commit more civilized crimes against education by cutting funds, trimming staff, and overloading classroom with more students. We are a nation that abhors torture, but as we have learned we have practiced it and demonstrate our skills when it comes to education.
Just as the Iranians are disgusted with their politicians; the Brits are disgusted with their parliament members; the Italians are embarrassed by their PM; New Yorkers are leaderless as its senate behaves like a bad married couple; and Washington is educationally leaderless.
We keep hearing great stats from our school leaders, and yet our jails are still filled. I believe their is a correlation between our school success or lack of it and the jail population. In other countries, students who do not continue with their education are given opportunities to learn a trade and are given opportunities to learn how to work. Not in America. Our students who don't continue in educational pursuits are on their own and too often end up in jail. I find the rhetoric of our politicians about education insulting since we see how they behave so badly when the speech is over.
Now I reached back to a 1995 Op-ed. We can reach even further back in history, all the way back to Socrates to hear complaints about education. We all know Socrates' fate.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
I think it is time for the world to get involved before it goes too far.
On another note, I opened an email from a former student this morning.
Hello Mr. Nellen,We all love getting these notes from former students. It made me smile. Just as I was encouraging my scholars about the power of the technology then using current technologies, I am still doing that with further encouragement in the alternative energies with assignments like this from the past fall, http://www.tnellen.com/westside/fall09.html#16.
I am (name withheld) from Murry Bergtraum Class 1987. I am glad to see you enjoying yourself on the internet. Even back in the 1980's you were encouraging the use of technology (word processors) to write papers.
I remember you encouraged me to become an electrical engineer so I could become an astronaut. Well I did become an electrical engineer but instead of piloting the Space Shuttle, I am piloting the electric power grid.
As for my family, I am married for nearly fifteen years with two boys (soon to be 14 and 10) and two dogs.
Be well and take care.
As we hear about how the Internet has changed the business aspects of the print media, we are seeing how it has become a powerful political tool. Don't forget Jesse Ventura and how he used it to become a governor and of course how Barack Obama used it so well. Change is here, it ain't just a coming, so let's sit back and enjoy the ride.
Power to the People.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Throughout the semester, I go to the class blog and open the pages of the scholars who were in class, so that I can assess the day's work. I do this everyday of the semester. I find I spend less time assessing the scholars' work then I did before I used technology. The procedure is to go to the scholar's page, access the page that was worked on, view the page source, copy the code, paste it in a word processing program, double space the text they wrote, and print it out. I assess the code if I need to and the text. When the scholars enter the next day, they collect their assessed work and login and make the corrections and continue working on the document.
CyberEnglish has become more of a writing class. The scholars spend nearly 90% of each class writing and reading. They read texts and classmate's pages. They write their pages in class, especially since so many of them don't have access at home, work, or have to care for their own children. While they work at their computers, I work at mine viewing them work on my computer which allows me to view their screens. I speak to them about their work as they work from a far. These become the teaching moments. I use what I see on their screens as the fodder of those times I speak to them as a class and have the power of displaying a scholar's page on all the scholars' screens. Because I have all this technology, I find I am doing so much more teaching then I did before this technology.
Assessment is a daily process. The technology lets me view the work as it is being created. This is not really possible for teachers who don't use technology because of handwriting and scholars tend to hide their work till they are done. So I can intercept a problem before it compounds itself. Each day, I have access to the day's work because it is online. I have control of how I view their work and this is important. I format the product and never have to deal with handwriting or different formats or different paper.
Feedback is key in any writing class, as well as any other class and CyberEnglish continues to amaze me at its power, especially when it comes to assessing the work of my scholars. After a brief conversation and demonstration with a colleague, I think she is more open to trying it next semester as she slunk off to continue her final assessment, which I have completed.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
"We need to rethink of each school as a kind of puzzle that needs to be continuously solved by the people in it."Now this quote certainly says the opposite of our practice. Ever since the end of the last century, school districts have become more centralized and more top down with an emphasis on standards and making all schools the same. Mehta's advice won't work for the likes of Sec Duncan and Chancellor Klein and the current school policy. Ever since I started teaching in 1974, I knew this and so did everyone with whom I worked did too. In fact NYC went through a huge de-centralization of the schools, because the powers at be knew that education was a local thing. That is why states run the schools and not the federal government. It has gotten horrendous since NCLB and the negative influence of the federal government on education. The concept of national standards is scary. Consider how watered down they would have to be to meet every state's requirements and to find a common denominator in standards. It would be the lowest common denominator of course.
Senge was perhaps the loudest voice followed by educational administration that has gotten us to our current malaise in education. Mehta is a refreshing voice of intelligence in education because he gets it, understands it, and says it.
"Here a higher power asks a lower power to do something that neither the higher power nor the lower power knows how to do, and then the higher power proceeds to publicly embarrass the lower power for failing to do it. Coupled with the narrow metrics of success and the rapid expectations for improvement, the result has been predictable demoralization and resistance at the school level, and little of the desired widespread improvement in practice."This most definitely describes the current state of education in America. We have seen since NCLB, that the US government has no clue about education and I don't see it changing much in the current administration. We need educators in administrative positions, not business people. Business in America isn't necessarily the correct model for education, we know that, so let's stop repeating the same mistake again.
Mehta offers an intelligent model:
"Good Schools do this: they are determined to serve their students well, and they hold themselves accountable for ways that they are failing in their mission. Students who don't go to college, or who don't write well, spark these schools to reexamine their practice, to think about what they might do differently to improve outcomes. In my view, one of the most heartening educational developments of the past twenty years has been this embrace of internal accountability, as some good schools have tried to move from the 'individual discretion' view of professionalism that has traditionally characterized the field to the more 'collective view' of professionalism that internal accountability implies."
Education is local or should be and it is not. Each teacher, each school knows its population and knows how to adjust to each situation. The problem we have right now is that some one is sitting in a seat far from the school and classroom and making policy for all schools. Trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole is futile and yet this is what our current educational policy in America is trying to do. It is like our health care problem, accountants are determining what is covered and what is not covered, not the doctors.
As I was reading Mehta I was reminded about an old friend, Ron Edmonds when I read this from Mehta:
"For many schools and districts, the central school reform question has changed. For us, it remains what it has always been. Our question is NOT 'can schools overcome the effects of poverty and social and economic inequality?' BUT rather, 'Are we willing to go to the lengths that many schools go to in order to help our students overcome the effects of poverty and social and economic inequality."
Mehta is a refreshing voice, one like Dewey, Freire, Edmonds in his cry for us to return to the purpose of edcuation and that is the democracy of education.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Saturday, April 25, 2009
They played "Raju" by John McLaughlin; "The Disguise" by Chick Corea; "New Blues Old Bruises" by John McLaughlin; "Senor C.S." by John McLaughlin; "In a Silent Way" by Joe Zawinul and Miles Davis; "Hymn to Andromeda" by Chick Corea; and ended with "Dr. Jackle" by Jackie McLean.
The last time I saw John McLaughlin was when his Mahavishnu Orchestra regaled us at Avery Fisher Hall in 1972. The last time I saw Corea was in 1978 when he played with Herbie Hancock at a concert in Boston.
The evening was a pleasant blast from the past and so powerful.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
We found our seats in section 426, row 11 (row 14 is the last row), seats 26 & 27 (isle) in the upper decks called the grandstands. Getting seats to the new stadium has been quite an ordeal, especially since we have had season tickets for the past eight years. Usually we are behind home plate, now we are just beyond third base. Just as the game began, it started to rain very lightly. The light rain continued through most of the game. It was a back and forth game with the teams exchanging the lead until the ninth tied 7-7. Homers were hit by Jeter, Matsui, and Melky who hit his first homer after Matsui, and his second one to end the game in the fourteenth inning.
Here is a short video of Jeter at bat:
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
APRIL is the cruellest month, breedingToday we celebrate Earth Day. A great cause and idea. I would like to hear that we celebrate earth day everyday. Making our environment more "green" is a challenge when corporations continue to package products badly and consumers continue to dispose of their trash inappropriately. What can we do? I use a reusable water bottle and carry bags for groceries and purchases I make. We dispose of our trash appropriately. We don't own a car and we rent so on those fronts we're unable to act as we would like. I'd like to see our roof converted into a green space, that solar panels and windmills added to our building. We have a garden that supports wonderful wildlife like birds, bees, and fish. I look forward to see how Obama and his team move us forward on the "greening" of America.
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
I am reminded of our recent trip to Paris and all the artwork we saw that used nature as the subject. Monet is certainly one who comes to mind as well as Van Gogh. The list is huge.
O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two:
So excellent a king; that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
Must I remember? why, she would hang on him,
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on: and yet, within a month—
Let me not think on't—Frailty, thy name is woman!—
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she follow'd my poor father's body,
Like Niobe, all tears:—why she, even she—
O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourn'd longer—married with my uncle,
My father's brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules: within a month:
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good:
But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
when i was a kid
i was always intrigued
by the greek journey
odysseus was the icon.
and on his journey
he met some sirens
he waxed his ears
and tied himself to the mast.
he heard the songs
he enjoyed the lure
was not caught
he returned to his penelope
and i knew what i had to do
find my penelope and when i found her
i knew i had returned
i did it backwards though
i journeyed and found her.
Monday, April 6, 2009
greek honey sweetened my soul.
she suddenly appeared and filled a gap.
addicted to honey is delicious
lacking the honey is bitter.
good honey like good wine
takes time. the time is
the problem and the solution.
greek honey is good honey.
honey lingers forever,
an ambrosia, a nectar.
it is to be savored
slowly and forever.
honey is a child of love,
a love between bee and flower.
combed and drawn:
food and drink
honey, you are my
sustenance, my need,
my desire, my want.
a greek honey sweetened my soul.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Two projects we are doing this semester include a poem. In the Irony Project we read "Richard Cory." For the civil rights project I included poems from many Forerunners to civil rights. I will conclude the semester by including Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." The purpose of this poem is to ask the scholars about what they will do as they reach forks in the road. Sure some may quote Yogi when asked what one should do when we come to a fork in the road.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
I had been relatively comfortable in my current digs,
As one thing led to another and to another,
I had discovered myself back in the neighborhood
I had started when I moved back to city, thirty years earlier.
The change was life altering.
Today towers hovered about my old squat.
Thirty years earlier, that squat was majestic.
Overlooking a field of asphalt, a parking lot.
Once the home of a famous arena, a parking lot.
Overnight that parking lot grew a corporate appendage
Reaching for the gods and spreading out for places to lounge,
While the old squat observes in the protective shadows.
Thirty years earlier, the squat became another and that
Another, the one I stayed in for a time and added two seconds.
Fellowship pulled me on and out and to a place of 2's & 3's.
The numbers were all wrong, the foundation was fracturing.
And that another, where I currently contemplate the view out my window.
Thirty years earlier, I had undertaken another profession.
Thirty years hence I would be completing a quarter century of doing
What I had left after fives years thirty years ago.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
The French students have a union. They want a voice in the reform. They strike and close schools. These students want the courses being cut, returned. They demand a good education. I wonder what would happen if American students actually used their numbers to have a voice. Sure we hear about an individual or group who protest and are punished severely and badly. In one case, the student went all the way to the Supreme Court.
Guys, students of America, please wake up. You are allowing the very people who have sent you to war to die or get maimed to make educational decisions for you based on business practices that have brought this country to its knees and is creating havoc all over the world. Your future is being determined by too many adults who don't have a clue, haven't a track record of success, and really don't care about you, but more about their own legacy and satiating their bosses and keeping their jobs. They aren't going to take risks or do anything that will be different from the same old same old.
Hearing about the French students striking and making demands is refreshing. I'm not surprised to see us in the problems we are in since the youth who has been educated in the last 20 years under very bad educational policy are the very people in control. Those educated in a heavy test environment are not going to know how to solve real problems since they are so multiple choice oriented and have too little problem solving skills and no collaborative skills. It is quite obvious to me that the youth of today really will be living and doing things far differently than their parents, otherwise they will not survive. So how can we still allow the failing generation to continue to dictate how education should continue, especially since is such a failure. Ironic that we allow adults who fail over and over again to continue on and get paid handsomely and when children fail once they are punished by being held back.