Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Friday, January 29, 2010

Merit Pay

I don't get it. I don't believe merit pay is possible in education.

My first question would be which teacher was most responsible for the child's success on some test? How do you know it was that teacher? Each child has many teachers in an academic career, which one gets the merit pay? I know from my own experience, I would have had some teachers fired on the spot. Then when I became a teacher, yikes did I get it about that teacher I thought stunk. I also realized the ones I thought were great actually stunk. I remember one thing a teacher told me in ninth grade. I didn't get it until college. Ironically when I went to teach in that school with that teacher, I told him my epiphany. He chuckled and was glad I finally got it. Yeah it took awhile. So is merit pay retroactive?

Another question would be how do we separate degree of success in one class from another when one is an AP class and the other is a recovery class. Improvement for a student with a low grade is far more likely than a student with the high grade. The rubric for determining improvement is going to be impossible. In Carlo Rotella's, Profiles, “Class Warrior,” in The New Yorker, February 1, 2010, p. 24 Steven Rivkin is quoted, "Test scores are very noisy measures of knowledge. It's hard to come up with a model that can define the impact of the teacher separate from the community and family, and the principal may assign the toughest kids to the best teachers, and they'd stop which would be too bad."

Let me provide a personal example. In the early 90's I received two teacher of the year awards. It did not bring me more money, just some prestige and too much animosity from my colleagues. Why was I chosen? Based on what criteria? I couldn't answer these questions. I was as surprised as they were. Somehow I was selected and chosen for no apparent reason. My choice was never discussed with the staff, nor things I did that seemed to warrant these honors explained. My class was a model for technology and if that is the reason for my choice, then so be it. But it did not make me more of a teacher of the year then many of my colleagues and we knew it. What this honor did to me was to ostracize me and eventually drove me from the school in which I taught for eighteen years. What will merit pay do to a staff?

Here is an odious example from Houston that used test scores for bonuses. Look at how they were distributed: teachers on average received $3,606 in bonus pay, and principals, on average, were rewarded with more than $6,000. Higher-level administrators earned an average of $16,157 in bonuses. Why are administrators getting any money? And why so much and more than the teachers? Shouldn't this scale be reversed where teachers get the $16,000 an dhigh level administrators get $3000.? If this is how merit pay will work, we will lose teachers to be administrators who do nothing in the class or for the class. This is outrageous and from Houston. Ron Paige's old hunting grounds. Seems they haven't fixed their problems there at all. One of the teachers who received one of the largest bonuses said, “Basically what I do is what everybody else here at Burbank does,” said the school's top-earning social studies teacher. “We come to school every day well prepared with the necessary resources. We teach vigorously and we expect our students to learn the material. If they show signs of struggling, then we intervene in various ways.”

Merit pay is a terrible idea just as the Wall Street bonus system is bad. It will find teachers vying for the best classes, the students who really need good teaching won't get. Merit pay will further damage the divide between the haves and the have nots. Merit pay will damage the collegiality in a school staff. Merit pay will further the politics in school.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Federal Money for Technology in Education

The National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies plans to award grants this fall for innovative education programs that use technology. The Center will Work with the Department of Education.

"To build support for the project, the group created three prototypes: an educational video game for biology students called Immune Attack; a game for museums, called Discovering Babylon; and a computer simulation to train firefighters in high-rise fires. They typify the projects the center will be looking to finance." I would have hoped for more ambitious applications, These are simply glorified webquests and SOSO. We have to move beyond "Math Blaster" educational game programs, "Where's Carmen San Diego" and even SimCity. We have these things. In the new age of assessment and accountability, I'd hope to see more projects using cloud computing and incorporating it in assessment via archive technology so we can grow a way to collect student data for authentic assessment.

I'm not sure the three prototypes are going to address the educational divide we have between the baby boomers and the digital natives. This is the crux of the problem in education as I see it. We, the baby boomers, are still trying to control an environment that is peopled by digital natives. We approach the problem from our point of view and not from theirs. Therein lies the rub, methinks. Advanced technologies allow the user to be in control, more control than baby boomer teachers are accustomed or ready to acquiesce. In the end we are assessing the digital natives by baby boomer rubrics, which is why we are so lost. We are in an apples and oranges situation.

One of the key points the proposal makes is that "improvement in education and training has been slow." Yes it has been and I'm not quite sure why, except for the layers of bureaucracy we have. I would say that "Advanced technologies have the potential to make learning more productive for students of all ages and all backgrounds and are an essential part of meeting the nation's education and training challenges. " is the strongest and most accurate statement. I would say that "advanced technologies" could be the game changer in improving education and training. The technologies would help the baby boomers learn how to let go and trust the digital natives, while documenting everything so the boomers can assess on their own time. We need to rethink, we need to leave our baby boomer comfort zone since we are in the way.

Were I to submit a proposal, I'd seek funding to create a computer system that allowed us to archive our student work and then use it for their future years in school, for college admission, for employment. I did this on a one school level, then on a multiple schools level when I used linux. Our server archived our scholars work, both teachers and students. Over the years the archive grew and we had years of data on teachers and students. Then the computer was sabotaged, destroyed, vandalized. Yes, we backed up. We need a better archiving system. As models, we have Google tool, Docs and Spreadsheets, which is a good example of cloud computing. For a good example of archiving we have The Wayback Machine. I would want to develop servers across a district and archive the work of all of the schools' teachers and students' work to serve as ways to do proper assessment, to see growth or lack of it and use months of work as a way to assess student progress and even teacher effectiveness. This would be a very transparent assessment tool. As we collect student data we will have necessary baselines of the students for assessment and for informing instruction. We would not only collect student data, but also teacher data and this would be a good method of teacher evaluation. Since we aren't doing a good job at assessing progress in education, I'd propose methods to make assessment more transparent and effective via archiving. I see this as good middle ground betwixt the digital native and the baby boomer.

As I read Duncan's piece in the Winter 2009-2010 edition of American Educator, I found this passage as support of a reliable archiving system of student work as the way to gather the data and the method he describes here:
Our guiding principle is simply that teachers should be treated as professionals: They should have the support, tools, and opportunities to perform at their full potential by having timely and accurate data about their students to inform instruction; they should have time to consult and collaborate with their peers; and they should be evaluated, compensated, and advanced based in part on student learning.

Student growth and gain, not absolute test scores, are what we are most interested in - how much are students improving each year, and what are teachers, schools, school districts, and states doing the most to accelerate student achievement.

Further on.. It defies common sense to bar all consideration of student learning from teacher evaluation. But it is time to move past the over-reliance on fill-in-the-bubble tests to richer assessments of successful teaching and learning...
Duncan has argued well for and even asked for innovative ways to evaluate the educational experience for all involved and I exclaim that archiving and webpages are a very real and good method to gather this data.

Another report from the federal government "Use of Education Data at the Local Level: From Accountability to Instructional Improvement" tells me we aren't quite sure what data we need nor how to collect it and use it. What Happens in CyberEnglish is a good model that may be useful in helping to solve this problem of data collection and use.

Let me provide a real world example demonstrating the difference between baby boomer thinking and digital native thinking. One is waiting for the daily newspaper for job opportunities while the other is using Twitter.

Schools have to change. Maybe this new book by Louis Menand is a good place to start.

Good luck to all who submit for this grant, think like a digital native.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Digital Textbooks

This school year began with a smell of change was in the air. No it wasn't the burning of books. Not yet anyway. It was a digital change in how we get information to our students. many schools are converting to digital textbooks while abandoning the atomical textbooks. Many schools, at all levels are exploring the use of more digital texts over the physical hulks that weigh too much, cost too much, take up too much space, and require hours of inventory taking. I've been a digital classroom since 1986. Sure there are texts and books in my classroom, but the use of them is limited. When I need something from them, I scan those pages and put those converted to digits on my website for distribution to my scholars. And when needed we print digital texts so the scholars may have the atoms in hand. The key is that I'm trying to be more flexible, dexterous in my classroom, especially since my digital natives are always a step ahead of me. I'm grateful I can still stay in their rear view mirrors as they speed down this digital superhighway.

An article in August predicted where we will be going. "“In five years, I think the majority of students will be using digital textbooks,” said William M. Habermehl, superintendent of the 500,000-student Orange County schools. “They can be better than traditional textbooks.” This is a refreshing prediction and I hope it happens faster. Certainly it will if teachers take on more responsibility by building webpages and using online resources as texts in their curriculum. “Teachers need digital resources to find those documents, those blogs, those wikis that get them beyond the plain vanilla curriculum in the textbooks.” A further move in the paradigm has to be in more virtual education, one that I have been arguing for for years, “We’re still in a brick-and-mortar, 30-students-to-1-teacher paradigm,” Mr. Habermehl said, “but we need to get out of that framework to having 200 or 300 kids taking courses online, at night, 24/7, whenever they want.” The bottom line is that this will happen when the publishing companies start doing it and money can be made. Stay tuned and follow the money.

As teachers realize the power of digitizing their classrooms more will do it and want it. When I got my first networked classroom in 1988, I was amazed at my power and the importance of this technology to education. Each scholar was working on hir own project at her own pace. I would sit at my station using my mouse to click on each scholar's screen to see what was happening. It was as close to brain surgery that I was going to get. I watched them think, make decisions, work. This was new, since rarely do students let us see this when they are sitting at a desk working with pen and paper. Also proximity stunts this kind of observation. Over the din of clicking keys, I would address a student about hir work, to hir shock. They are always shocked when I speak to them about their work from my desk. I could dial in and do work on hir page too. Sometimes they would ask me to show them something and I could do that from my desk on their computer across the room. Another neat power was I could broadcast a scholar's page onto the screen of every scholar and do a mini 30 second lesson and then return them to where they were. Now that my scholars publish online, the scholars can view classmate's pages at will. A digitized classroom is far more efficient than a non digitized classroom. A math teacher in California has realized this power, as he sits in the back of his room overseeing his scholars work on what they each need to work on and record grades at the same time. More of his time is now devoted to teaching and less to administrative tasks, better done by the computer. "This textbook-free classroom is by no means the norm, but it may be someday. Slowly, but in increasing numbers, grade schools across the country are supplementing or substituting the heavy, expensive and indelible hardbound book with its lighter, cheaper and changeable cousin: the digital textbook." Certainly a big issue is about reliability, "Keep in mind that with open-source materials, you have to ask, 'Where are they coming from?' " said Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers' school division. "Is it a trusted source? Is it aligned to state standards? Is it based on real research?" Of course this comes from a publisher representative and something we would expect to hear. The point raised however is important. Textbooks haven't always proven themselves to be reliable or correct. As Ben Franklin said, "Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see." Another concern has to be the continued digital divide, "It's going to be a bit of a challenge for schools throughout the country to implement this new technology," said David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association. "How do you guarantee all children have access to that kind of textbook?" We don't need a computer per student either, "This initiative is not about hardware, classrooms where there were a couple kids using laptops, several had textbooks, some had a couple chapters printed out, and the lesson was displayed on a screen in front of the class." It will be a slow process but where there is a will there is a way.

As we approach the half way point in the school year, a city and a state are converting to digitized texts in select schools. A publisher and a city, Indianapolis have teamed up to digitize all the texts in 12 schools. This pilot program is important as we begin to hear how this progresses. They announced the program at a recent FETC conference. This program is also creating ways to share the work of the scholars. This sounds like a very good program. In West Virginia, the state education department is launching a program that will use digitized textbooks. They have distributed laptops to a school and the teacher is finding the students are more on task this way then when he used books. In addition he has easier access to the daily work of the students and the use of drop boxes makes it easier for students to hand in work even when not in school.

eSchoolNews is maintaining a page of links and stories about 21st Century digital libraries. Over the years, I too, have maintained a page of sources for online texts I use in my teaching. As more and more schools use online sources, companies will crop up that sell digital texts. I have found that all the texts online I need are there since so many belong to the public domain. Added bonuses happen when we find multimedia texts available such as the readings from Librivox. What is really neat is they have some readings by the author hirself as in the case of a reading poem select poems by Robert Frost. Sure textbooks have included cassettes and the like to augment the text, but once those extras are lost or broken, the multimedia aspect is gone. Not so when we use online texts. The online libraries are growing and what Google is doing makes it even more prevalent.

Of course we must consider the downside to digital textbooks. The costs of digital texts must be much lower than the current atom form of the book. A common format is necessary for universal use. Ownership and time text stays on users computer or electronic device is a legal football that could always sink any good idea. The bottom line is always about the money, follow the money.

I wonder where John Dewey would stand on the issue of digitized texts.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fix the Test

Over the years I have read in newspapers across the country from Florida to California to New York, from Texas to Minnesota the mistakes made by the test makers and scorers that have affected the graduation or promotion of students. How do we know these tests are valid and useful for our schools? Because these tests are proprietory, we don't have easy access to them before or after they have been given. Tests are given and scored and then destroyed. Something is terribly wrong when the impact of these tests is so important to so many people and they are still flawed. If we are going to use these tests for important decisions, one important decision is to reexamine the instrument(s) we use for assessment.

Let's start with the recent firefighter's case in New York involving the "biased" test. I think education may see a court case similar to the one we have recently seen with the firefighters in New York. This case raises the issue of "testing bias." "In his ruling on Wednesday, the judge found that the city intentionally discriminated against blacks in using those tests and in ignoring calls over the years to change the testing procedure. The suit was brought by three people who took the test and by the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black city firefighters." This is the crux of the matter, the test was biased and therefore bad. I have heard over the years the complaints of test biasing in schools. I have seen test questions eliminated because of bias. I have always been conscious of my tests. If the results are bad, then something is wrong with the test. The courts in NYC decided this and did something about it. Perhaps educators should follow the firefighter's lead. We as a nation have never looked at the test being the problem. Instead we blame the schools, the teachers, parents, the students. Never ever have we blamed the test nor questioned the validity of the test. Perhaps we should examine the tests as we rethink education in this country.

An example of mistakes being made can be found in Kansas. A simple mistake but we have seen bigger ones over the years. The point is that we are putting much too much reliance and importance on a test instead of on portfolios. If we are going to use these tests we need much better oversight by the states.

New York's ELA exam has changed radically over the years and it is about to change again in January 2011. Here is a chance to reexamine the test. Race to the Top has added much pressure on the states and very little on the test makers. We need to change this mind think. Students at Drexel University are using a real bridge to help in their assessment. Using real world situations are the best forms of assessment, not tests created by disinterested parties.

Perhaps the final nail in this discussion has to come from Edweek's annual "Quality Counts 2010" issue. Discussion about national standards and methods of assessment dot the issue with arguments from E.D. Hirsch Jr., Alfie Kohn, Diane Ravitch, Nel Noddings. Testing doesn't work, the tests are bad, wrong, and proprietory. We need to reexamine the test and our single reliance on one instrument of assessment.

The matter of education in this country has always been a personal one since it involves all of us one way or another. Since it is personal, perhaps we should take a more personal, subjective approach to assessment rather than the failing objective one. First I would recommend a better assessment of the test and secondly, I'd recommend a method of using efolios of student work to use in assessment in conjunction with the test or alone. We know the test alone is inadequate. Let's think digits, not atoms.

For further reading: From Edweek, "Quality of Questions on Common Tests at Issue"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Green Schools

In July of 2008, I became more aware of how education was going green. Colleges were doing greener things to attract students. Finally we are seeing the trickle down affect in the greening of K-12 schools.

We learn from the Green School in NYC that sustainability is the key to being green and at the school the students learn what this means. "To create balance in order to strengthen and support life for oneself, others, and future generations. We feel this is an important theme because when we look around we see that the way we live can be very destructive - both to the natural environment, and to people in our communities." The mission of the school, "The Green School is a progressive alternative high school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York that focuses on sustainability, the environment, science, social justice, experiential learning, and career planning." The Green School is part of a larger organization, community, social awareness base in the Green Charter Schools Network of about 200 school. In addition there is the Growing Up Green Charter School in Long Island City, NYC. Starting students out in elementary school to understand the importance of sustainability is far better than simply creating workers for the immediate workforce which is the current agenda of the government efforts like "Race to the Top." Green schools are for more important for our future. We've been down the path of creating workers and it has failed us badly.

"The 1st Annual Green Schools National Conference of educators, students, school and community leaders to promote environmental literacy and sustainable communities throughout the country." will happen in Minneapolis, MN October 24-26, 2010. The theme of this first conference is “Growing Green Schools Across America.” Since governmental leadership is behind this movement not only should the conference be exciting and successful, so should the creation of the schools.

There are a few things all schools could do immediately to start the "green movement." Create bags that fold up into very small packages with school name on it for all students when they shop before or after school to replace those hideous plastic bags all stores use. Distribute water bottles to all students to replace the ubiquitous plastic ones. New projects geared to make the school "greener" should be added each month. Every student should see "The Story of Stuff." One step at a time.

Not only can this be done, it is being done in a school in Hudson valley in New York. "
A staggering 11,880 plastic garbage bags were used at Crispell during the 180 days that school was in session. That computes to 66 bags used daily during the school's breakfast and lunch periods. But beginning in September, with students and staff working and learning together, Crispell has cut that number to 10-12 bags a day, which will reduce the total number used for the 2009-10 school year to around 2,000." This is impressive and important. Lots more is being done here and elsewhere.

Another aspect of being more "green" is eating better, especially in our schools. Obeisty is a major problem leading to diabetes and poor health which will cost us more. So if we improve our school cafeterias, the food choices, the education about the environment in our schools we can begin to make a better impact on our environment. It always starts with education.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Martin

I'm still stunned by how America deals with the celebration of this man on this day. I'm also always reminded about an excellent Internet Literacy lesson about Martin.

Friday, January 15, 2010


During my early use of technology in the early 80's taught me much about hacking and using software that I could alter or even create my own lessons. When I found software that let me run my own content, I was very excited. I still use much of this software today. I chose to spend time incorporating my lessons and my voice into this software, because it would be more personalized for my scholars. They would be reading the words and phrases I am usually using in class. I was able to provide visuals and names to personalize them even more. I also discovered over the years the amount of text online that was in the public domain and even podcasts of texts being read. Access to material for my classroom and my online scholars became the foundation of CyberEnglish. I could do so much more in CyberEnglish that was both online and f2f, then in a f2f class alone. With the advances in software development, we are seeing much more effective and efficient use of technology in schools.

There is an increase in the use of technology in our schools, says a recent PBS survey. This is good news and bad news. As I have said before we are more consumer oriented than producer oriented. When I was examining those early software packages, I would reject those that I couldn't alter or add my own content. I was not happy with the content on some of that software and it was too hard to navigate through good parts of some packages and good parts of other packages. If I had total control of the content then I was going to use that software, because it was an extension of my class and not the product of some developer. Much of the online web based software provides lots of clips that teachers don't have access to in their schools. The Internet is a great repository of film clips, articles, public domain texts, and documents. I love a particular site, LibriVox, that provides recording of thousands of texts for the English class. I also find some podcasts and YouTube valuable sources to augment my lessons. Being able to add multimedia to my classroom is more possible with the Internet than not, especially when one considers costs.

I was intrigued when I read about a Charter school in Utah claiming to be the first school to use online texts, "The Open High School of Utah is believed to be the first secondary school in the nation (perhaps the world) to use learning materials and textbooks that are freely available for anyone's use, remixing and redistribution. Because the materials aren't produced by commercial publishers, they can be tailored to meet students' educational needs, free of copyright or licensing restraints. " I'm not quite sure I agree. Are they speaking about a whole school and solely using online resources? I know in CyberEnglish, I only use online resources and mold my assignments using these online resources and customizing each lesson. I know this is the same for many of my colleagues, too. Despite the claim, a trend to do this because of our access to so many resources online will make access easier and more vast and manipulating the texts is always possible when we use any word processing program or HTML. This power has always been one of my strongest arguments to use online resources, digits, and not textbooks, atoms. Digits are much easier to move around and distribute than atoms.

Another example of how the technology can be used to publish the scholars work and to be used with parents is a neat program in a third grade in California. The teacher is using the ipod to provide lessons and to record the students' responses. Each student can work at hir own pace and what I really like is the teacher can share this with the parents' to show progress. "
'It's also for the parents, too. I'm going to play them during parents conferences so they hear their child's progress,' the teacher said." Technology is not new to this school, "In September, this class was chosen for a pilot program to gauge if students' English comprehension and fluency improved with daily use of the iPod Touch. Oswalt Academy is already using technology in the classrooms, having implemented a One to One Laptop Learning Program two years ago. Currently, fifth through seventh grade students use computers with pre-loaded textbooks and other applications, said Astrid Ramirez, Oswalt's principal. Oswalt was recently named one of eight schools in California as an Apple Distinguished School. " Perhaps one of the problems with the equitable use of technology in schools is that some schools have lots of it, while others are bereft of it. Good technology use begets more technology. With all these pilot programs, how many pilots actually spread to other schools?

Sometimes we need to actually speak to a human or feel the human interaction. Brightstorm has developed a truly unique and friendly math tutor website. The student navigates to the area of study that needs assistance and a video of a teacher appears and explains the function. In addition to math, the user will find help in literature and writing. This site can be a perfect model for what a teacher can do. If a teacher were to videotape a class, that class could be uploaded for future use and for hir own class. Podcasting is a growing tool. What may be something to consider is copyright.

Carnegie Learning has developed a tutor who shows some empathy, based on how the student on the computer responds. Using artificial intelligence to build the software for this empathetic tutor is the product of
University of Massachusetts Amherst and Arizona State University in Tempe. “Human tutors are believed to be the highest form of instruction,” said James C. Lester, a computer scientist who is exploring such ideas at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. “Why? The hypothesis is that there is very strong affective feedback going on. Five years ago, this was something the field would’ve thought was far out, but now it’s getting a lot more resources thrown at it.” HAL from 2001 is echoing in my ears.

I have always been a fan of gaming as an educational tool. I have used many different kinds of game oriented tools over the years with great success. The reason I had success was that the programs combine so many of the multiple intelligences at the same time. A strength assists a weakness and a weakness gets stronger. Now we have research that speaks about the affects of gaming on the brain and learning. All of my anecdotal evidence can now be supplemented by this new research. Let the games begin.

Something we haven't seen really take off is the actual use of real people as telementors. I'd love to see schools of education require all of their students do telementoring while they are students pursuing a degree in teaching. This would provide them with a real hands on application of using the internet as a teacher and would assist schools.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Our Scholars should be Producers NOT just Consumers

When schools stop being consumers of technology and begin becoming more producer oriented, then technology use in our schools will be more effective. The news from the recent PBS survey about Technology use in schools provides good news and bad news. The good news is that 76% of the K-12 teachers are using it in their classes as consumers of information. The bad news is that there isn't a survey about how many of these teachers and students are producers in their classrooms. If we had more producers using technology then we would begin to see better use of technology and eventually better ways of assessing our scholars by having their work to view in the form of webfolios or digitized portfolios. Students need to use more technologies like webpages, blogs, wikis and the like to publish their work as producers and publishers. We all know about the power and the press, so why not use this power for our scholars and have them publish their work.

We know we learn better by doing. We know if we teach someone to fish, rather than give them a fish, they will eat for a lifetime. The same holds true in the classroom with technology. Having scholars surf the web and produce just a word processing or presentation product, is not really using the technology. They are still consumers and haven't really shown they can do as producers. Reading poetry without writing a poem is an incomplete process in the study of poetry. I like for my scholars to produce webpages, design them, decorate them, make them theirs and to publish their essays to them and on the internet to become producers. In art class we study the masters then we attempt to copy them or use their influence to produce something and then it is hung on a wall. We need to do this in all of our classes so our scholars become producers and when that happens they will use those successes to conquer any new task ahead of them. They will gain superb problem solving skills, collaborative skills, and confidence in themselves that no state test will ever provide. In addition, future teachers will have something sound to review as these scholars enter their classrooms.

Using video to record the work of the scholars especially in the area of drama is popular and easy. For example, Shakespeare is very popular. Publishing their work on the Internet isn't really a new concept of publishing student work, just a different venue. Walk into any school we see student work on the walls of the corridors and on the walls of the classrooms. How much of that work is read? By publishing to the web, the second tenet of scholarship can be done, peer review. The that peer reviewed published work becomes a resource for another scholar.

"Technology will never replace a good teacher" was how a very interesting article began. This is a debatable point, but not now. The key points in the article are that Ohio is looking at improving tech use in the classroom over the next five years. Some of the tech mentioned were podcasting, social networking, and cell phones. This is a great start. They further admit they aren't sure what tech to use and how, but are open to innovative ways to incorporate the tech in the classes. CyberEnglish has been successful for many years as seen in the work of lots of English teachers across the country. I'd suggest a close examination of it for ideas about how to publish the scholar's work and to incorporate technology in an innovative way in all subject areas. A pilot program in New Jersey looks promising.

"Some advocates of education technology have responded to the researchers’ report with skepticism, arguing that anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise." In a recent research report "According to the researchers, if there is no evidence that teaching to different learning styles works, school funds that support learning style assessments and teaching tools should be diverted to support evidence-based teaching practices instead." Those of us who work with technology have all the evidence we need and can demonstrate it. The problem has been that researchers don't know how to report on these situations with their math rubrics. The abstract eludes them and so we don't have good research but we do have lots of anedotal evidence from teachers, students, and parents. Just because we can't quantify it doesn't mean it isn't real. The simplest of tasks would be to walk into a class without the tech and into one with the tech. Talk to the students about what they are doing. That is mind blowing research. Students would much rather be engaged in producing something than on the receiving end of a teacher dominated class. Of course we have different learning styles as well as different ways we do things. Sit 5 people down at five computers and ask them to do a simple task of "cut and paste." You could see five different ways to do this operation and all are acceptable. The words "unique," "individual," and "genius" come to mind as we enter our classrooms. For me with a classroom filled with computers, I see individualized instruction going on, different learning styles are maintained as each scholar pursues knowledge in hir own unique way. I can merely guide and suggest, not dictate.

Monday, January 11, 2010

"Educate to Innovate" HUH??

I have no idea what "Educate to Innovate" means. Probably because it is dealing with the education of only one side of my brain, not both.

This program is like so many others in the past that foster better math and science education, Doomed to fail because it is single focused and not holistic. Where is the literacy aspect, the language arts, the humanities.

A main by-product of "Educate to Innovate" is STEM. An acronym for 'science, technology, engineering, and mathematics' . This is a math and science initiative from the US Dept of Ed. We have had too many unsuccessful math and science initiatives or programs since Sputnik. I'm not sure how STEM will be any different. I'm thinking that the absence of Language Arts may be a clue to the failure of these math and science initiatives. If the student isn't literate, how is that student going to read and understand those huge words derived from Greek and Latin. We need more than a sprinkling of the humanities in these initiatives.

An inability to be literate may be a hindrance. I remember a number of years ago when Stuyvesant High School sent a number of its graduates to Harvard and MIT only to have those universities complain about the lack of literacy skills in those students who excelled in science. I know much of the problem in some math classes is the skill learned in a humanities class that helped solve a word problem. A basic understanding of word parts will provide access to those monster words in the sciences that come the ancient Greeks. We need a more holistic approach to education not more of this isolated approach that does not work.

A project based lesson, a holistic approach might consider the significance of the bicycle. If the scholars were to have a project based lesson on let's say studying the bicycle, they would discover that they would need to include experts in the areas of math, physics, business, history, music, art, physical education, Language Arts to cover all of the facets of the two wheeled wonder to understand its importance in the history of Man. The way we educate today and the way we have for the past couple of centuries is one subject at a time, without considering how they interact. Think out of the box. Doing things as we always have will only give us the same results: disappointment and failure. I'd like to see an emphasis on technology and how students produce webpages, blogs, twitters and more using the technology as producers and not just as consumers. I would like to see a more holistic educational philosophy pursued not more of the same.

What does "Educate to Innovate" mean anyway?

Education was designed by our founders to be a local matter. The presence of the federal government in education began with Plessy vs Ferguson. That case was followed by another important court case, Brown vs Board of Education, Topeka that allowed the feds into our schools and continue the rapid progress of the feds wresting school policy from local control through events like Sputnik, "The Nation at Risk," e-rate, NCLB, and now "Race to the Top" and "Educate to Innovate" & STEM. President Bush the first, instituted the Governor's Educational conferences with Gov Clinton presiding over that first one in 1988, followed by two more under President Clinton. In those summits, (educators were conspicuously absent) the feds seemed to dictate and attach policy and pedagogical edicts to money received from the federal government.

The current program "Race to the Top" has admirable goals but has too many strings attached and too much involvement by the feds. The control of schools was a local matter. The governor of each state was in charge of the education direction of each state, not the federal government. We know how the founding fathers would have reacted. We have read about it in history books and have seen it reproduced in many movies, my favorite is 1776. The feds will use their own rubric to determine which states get the money and which don't, "States’ applications to secure one of the federal grants will be scored on the basis of more than 30 selection criteria, involving such education improvement priorities as school turnaround, teacher and principal effectiveness, and encouragement of high-quality charter schools. For instance, regarding charter schools, states will be scored, in part, on the extent to which they have a law that does not prohibit charters or inhibit an increase in the number of high-performing charters." In other words the feds are dictating how the states will run their local educational program. So if a state scores high on the fed scale, the feds will be running the educational department of that state. "The Race to the Top selection criteria appear to be spurring some policy changes at the state level. " This was not what the founding fathers wanted or wrote. "...the extent to which legislatures will embrace such plans remains to be seen."

The absence of any humanities in this latest educational initiative does not bode well for the success of this initiative just as the obvious absence of the humanities in former initiatives never produced the desired results. Trying to decipher the title of this program, "Educate to Innovate," makes the absence of the humanities obvious and cries out for the inclusion of the humanities as reading and writing skills are necessary to make math and science education reform work and to make sense out of program's title.

What does "Educate to Innovate" mean?

"At a White House event, Mr. Obama praised the educators assembled to receive awards for their excellence in teaching math and science. In the end, the work that you do, and the difference that you make, are what all these reforms are all about." Just math and science? I think CyberEnglish could be a candidate for STEM since it is technology based and requires some math and engineering skills to be successful as well as learning some very basic and complex writing and reading skills as well as the root words to help in science and math classes.

A further dilemma arises as the involvement of business in this initiative and funds programs that will create workers, which is fine, but it forgets the larger picture of the human as a whole. We have already made this mistake of isolating instruction to create workers who could only do one thing. We only need to look at Detroit and the auto industry to see what a disaster that kind of education became. Yes, we need to be innovative, but what is innovative about this new program STEM that ignores the humanities. I'm worried about these partnerships and what they are really trying to do. We need more than workers, we need educated citizens, that was the purpose of education in this country from the get go according to Thomas Jefferson.

Does "Educate to Innovate" mean "Innovative Education" or "Use Innovation to Educate" or "Education practice must be Innovative"?

Friday, January 8, 2010

a king's bday

Happy Birthday Elvis.

We need a student archive NOW!

For many years now, since 1993, teachers have been publishing their scholars' work and yet we still don't have any kind of archive or clearinghouse that provides access and examples for teachers new to the concept. So many times we see teachers having to go it alone, in spite of the fact that so many teachers in the past seventeen years, we all seem to be working in our own vacuums. We don't have a common list, blog, or website that helps keep track of all of this. I'd say we should start at the US Department of Ed and then filter down through each state, that would be responsible for recording the sites that pop up in each state. Another reason we need an official place to collect all of this work is that teachers who do this use a college account that will expire and be wiped, a free site that will go out of business and disappear, a school site that will wipe a teacher's site when that teacher leaves, or a teacher simply stops supporting a site s/he paid for when the teacher retires. Digitized work is fragile and needs a more official place to store this valuable work. In my own case I have had servers crash and the result has been disastrous as I lost years of work, which I was fortunate to recover because of the Wayback Machine. I did lose work prior to the creation of the Wayback machine and also work my scholars created on Geocities when they closed down their site and wiped all the work there. That was a crime against scholarship and this is why the US Department of Ed must begin such an archiving program that trickles down through the states to the local school districts.

Top down won't work unless current users in the classroom are consulted. This is always a problem when government considers a new policy, they rarely consult the users. Current data farming is mired in political and technical difficulties. This is not surprising. The political hurdle seems to be in assigning students an ID. The social security number, which would be the logic choice is not allowed in K-12 environment though it is used in higher ed and in the military. Other political hurdles probably rest in method of collection and the vendor that will do it. Too bad, since a conclusion that web based methods would be the most efficient which would solve some of the politics and most of the technical difficulties. What we need is a common language, not many different ones so integration becomes easier. "technical challenges can arise when figuring out how to exchange the data, the state has decided to share data through a Web-based exchange that is compatible with each data system." Also I'm not sure what data is being considered to be collected and shared with higher ed. It sounds like test scores and not the actual work of the student. I don't like this and find it useless in the end and to any teacher who could use this data collection for informing instruction. It seems quite obvious that these efforts will always fall short since the politics of vendor, (there's money to be made in data collection) and a lack of consensus in which technologies to use. This is why I encourage my scholars to own their own webspace and to publish all of their work for college admission and to pass on to their next teacher. Some good questions were asked, " Who owns the data? Who can query the data? What kinds of questions can we ask of the data?" from a Maryland representative. The student owns the data. The student and anyone the student authorizes to access the data may access the data. If the data is the work of the student then use email. If the data is test results then we need the test, the answer key, and the student's test. In too many cases this information is destroyed or not available, which will make much of this data collection useless because we have to trust a company out to make money and not be advocates for the students. After reading this article, I was not encouraged that we will ever get a good data repository of student work. Consider how easily and quickly data collection happens with a program like TurnItIn. Students or professors submit student work to check for plagiarism, the company keeps the work and uses it as part of its repository for further checking of submitted papers. No one seems to be questioning this process for ethical reasons. Certainly the private sector like TurnItIn, the Wayback Machine, Google and others have figured out how to collect work and archive it. Methinks states are looking in the wrong place to figure out the technology and incompetence always becomes political.

This difficulty was borne out in a recent Big Ideas Fest when even they had trouble communicating, "In order to get participants to suspend judgment, let go of their agendas, listen to others, build on what they received, look for connections, and support their partners, much of the conference activities centered around improv." I was glad to hear that Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, (The Wayback Machine) spoke, since he has solved a valuable problem and is a good model of how this can be accomplished. It is all about the X's and O's, not the $'s. CalPASS shows some good promise.

Involving students in their own assessment has long been a successful practice. Recent research shows that when students are involved in their own assessment. Part of the work of portfiolio/webfolio assignments. This kind of research underscores the uselessness of any other kind of assignment, yet we continue to use it. Anecdotal evidence is always good and works well with other forms of assessment, but is too often left out.

Three recent examples of work being done in schools across the country help to support the argument for a national archive or clearinghouse for all teachers to see them and to follow as an example instead of having to reinvent the process over and over. Remember the three tenets of scholarship: 1.) publish it; 2.) engage in peer review; 3.) pass it on. The purpose of archiving work is to satisfy these three tenets of scholarship.

Two art teachers in two different schools in UTAH have created a website for their classes and scholars where they publish assignments and the work of the scholars. "The program is an example of how collaboration and technology can be used to enhance the learning of students." The major problem is that it is in isolation from the school, state, or any other official entity that can guarantee its permanence and credibility. "The bottom line is, give students a positive experience with art. You see it in their face when they create something they didn't think they could create. It's rigorous, but there is nothing like it in the world." Actually there are lots of sites and programs like this all over the world. See the problem, these guys think they are the only ones doing this, the first. Sorry guys, you aren't the first nor the only ones doing this. What happens to this site when the teachers discontinue supporting the site or maintaining it? They have provided a good example of scholarship. They have published the scholar's art work, they have them engaging in peer review, but I'm not sure I see how they are passing it on. "Students can also respectfully critique the art online. The site contains more than 800 pieces of student art." One point I really liked, "The teachers operate under the philosophies that everyone is born an artist; imagination and creativity can be developed; and all ideas are welcome." Excellent just like many teachers use the Habits of Mind in their classes or Thomas Armstrong's Awakening Genius. This is an admirable and valuable project in UTAH, I just wish it were more connected to the world and not merely suspended in its own little world.

Perhaps a place to consider starting the archive process would be through journalism. Just as the major publishing companies in the world are moving their print publications more to a digital version, school newspapers, too, should and have to consider this move if they plan to continue in budget cuts and lack of advertising revenues, even for school papers. In addition, school readership would probably prefer a digital version to the paper version. It certainly is a more green choice as well. "The staff struggles with how to adapt to an evolving media environment and keep the attention of an elusive audience." Schools are struggling with journalism, yet they push on and hopefully employ more technology to publish. After all, web publishing is the future, if not already the present. The struggles of journalists and journalism in general may provide answers to what schools can do in archiving their students' work. An example of a school that went digital.

I was intrigued by an article about how the Socratic method is used and though how this could be done with technology. Certainly a webpage provides the start of a comment, but is cumbersome for a conversation. Then of course there is the blog, but still a bit cumbersome. Then twitter came to mind and how this is environment would be ideal in a Socratic methods class. Arching a traditional Socratic method session is nearly impossible unless we think ipod. Recording the conversation via ipod or doing it in Twitter or a like technology would allow us to archive these conversations for future use and reference.

So much is being lost to document what is happening in schools. I have written to Karen Cator, the new director of education technology about the idea of digitizing all student work as a hub to the four point ed-tech plan being considered right now.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Virtual Education

When I was serving in Vietnam in the late 60's I took some correspondence courses. I, of course, used the mail, not email, just plain USPS. I had a professor in Wisconsin who would assign me work that I would do and send back to him, and he would return that work with comments and grades. It was slow, but I had time on my hands. Today, soldiers can take online courses and do. When I became a teacher and as the technology in my class improved I began having my scholars publish their work online and engage in peer review. I still do that and even operate a CyberSchool in our school to help students with credit recovery. Most of my students do most of their work in my class at home or in the library, since class time is only one hour long. Those students who only use my class to do their work, soon realize that they need to find more time in their day to do our classwork as they look at what their classmates are doing. Peer review has lost of powerful implications and prevents plagiarism. I've been involved with Virtual school as well, but in my school district seat time is what counts and virtual class does not exist yet, since accounting for time is not easily accomplished and f2f seat time is more easily accounted for. Either the student is here or is not here. Work done and quality really aren't the issue, it is about seat time. So when I hear about places that use Virtual schools and the technology to help in credit recovery, dealing with at risk students, filling in gaps in curriculum, and coordination with other schools, I get excited.

"Anytime anywhere" was a rally call of the mid 90's when we were exploring technology in the classroom. It has found another source of use and excitement in Michigan. A middle school math teacher also "teaches trigonometry and geometry to students across the state online through Michigan Virtual School." The teacher comments about how she can do this on her own time and in her own time as long as she responds to a question within 24 hours. That is easy. She also says, "I have time to carefully construct my responses to any questions they have. As a student, I succeeded but did not participate much because I was shy, but I flourished online because of the anonymity." This is very important in any class. I have found that shy students flourish in the online world and that the big mouths who dominate the f2f classroom sometimes do not because they rely on the power they have in f2f. Online classes are a lot more democratic and we are all judged on our performance. Dominating talkers in a class can ruin a class, not in the online world., everyone gets the chance to participate and to take the needed time to cast a good question or answer. She is paid if the students perform well on the state tests and that kind of accountability seems responsible. I agree with her that we need both online and f2f in our education for our student to excel. They need more then the time given in school so that they can ruminate over questions and answers.

Reading a recent article about the growing homelessness population in this country and how the Allegheny County Intermediate Unit's Homeless Children's Initiative is serving and dealing with their growing homelessness population among school aged, I was reminded about how important documenting our work and digitizing it can be and has to be so our students do not lose time or work to document their efforts and accomplishments. A terrible result in homelessness, besides the obvious is for the student is that "changing schools frequently can affect a child's academic success. Research has shown that each time a child changes schools, he or she is set back academically by an average of four to six months, the recent education fund study stated." If each student had a digital portfolio, then this problem might be eliminated or lessened. A digital portfolio can travel with the student as this displaced student moves to another school district. This problem is only going to get worse as our economic woes continue. State school departments should immediately begin creating programs that begin the process of digitizing the work of our scholars.

Another population where technology can be a very useful tool is for the at risk population in our schools. In too many cases, at risk students have dropped out and have lost academic instruction, fall behind and become distractions in class to hide their deficiencies. A teacher in such a program in Milwaukee said, "One student, for example, who had never taken a class with peers before because of inappropriate behavior was able to progress enough that he now is enrolled in technical education classes with other students." Technology provides one to one interaction with these students, provides immediate feedback, and the technology is patient. If a student decides to take a break, he is not interfering with other students who are working. Each student can work at hir own pace. Surveys abound on the internet to help teachers and students identify strengths and weaknesses and do this in confidential ways. When traditional education has failed these students we find that technology may be the answer to help them and society. Further as programs and social workers are eliminated from schools, the technology can provide us with access to information, programs, and surveys we need to access the students. The technology also provides a better way of interacting with these students who can work at their own pace to catch up, to follow lines of inquiry, and to help them develop skills lost in previous years.

Technology has a place in homeschooling as well. Many parents opt out for homeschooling for many reasons. So that parents and school districts can find common ground and consensus, technology can become the key to making this successful for the parent and the school, and above all the student. Again when students can interaction in a school for the extracurricular aspects like band, sports, drama, then we find a good marriage between online education and f2f instruction. "Though the majority of learning happens at home, WAVA students can still take certain exploratory classes, like art and band, and after-school activities, like sports, at regular school. Even with these outlets, the boys said WAVA was missing an important social aspect. Jacob said he would like to go to Mount Si High School next year because he is used to the school climate."

Even in advanced classes the technology can be very useful to provide resources to schools that don't have the resources. Technology provides students in AVID programs with ways to produce webpages, blogs, and other apps that let them advance themselves beyond the walls of the school, to get out of the box and excel. AVID "a pilot project being conducted by Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, a national college-preparatory program for students who are capable of more challenging work but need additional resources to reach their potential. Woodlawn High in Baltimore County is among six schools across the country participating in the AVID Center's African-American Male Initiative, which aims to raise achievement among those students." Technology could provide resources and provide methods to produce products that demonstrate their learning so they can interact more effectively. It provides access for the other participating schools to see each others work and engage in peer review. Further, these digitized documents will serve them well as they apply to college and work. Finally, the power of the tutors or telementors will be better and more telementors could be involved.

Slowly but surely we seem to be seeing good things happening with the use of technology in our schools. I only wish it were at a faster pace, especially since the stuff we are seeing now is very similar to what we saw in the 90's. We haven't progressed too far since we are still seeing pilot programs as we had in the 90's. When will these pilot programs become actual programs and the new culture of education?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Doing my 10%

The headline, "The politicians failed in Copenhagen" grabbed me. I was disappointed in how Copenhagen didn't really provide a tremendous bang to get us moving on Global energy issues. Lots of blaming, but very little else. And where was Al Gore? Again a classic case of misdirected energies and money to be made in doing the wrong thing. I saw this headline on the cover of an insert in The Guardian. The headline continued to tell me, "so now it's up to YOU." I chuckled as I thought to myself, "now tell me something I don't know." Politicians have always been a big disappointment in our lives and now is no exception, even when we had so much hope. Our government is extolling us to help spur on the economy by buying. I for one, have resisted. I'm paying off my bills and saving. To hell with big business. They don't care about me. Look at how they trash the environment to create and sell. The single aspect of packaging and the use of plastic is the largest criminal act they perpetuate without being arrested. Plastic bags alone should be banned. I carry a bag with me for my purchases and take canvas bags or a cart with me when I shop. If I do end up with plastic bags, I store them to reuse them or to recycle them at the grocery store. The packaging of products, especially the use of oversized packages and plastic to gain more shelf space incites me to anger and to not buy something. I have unpackaged my purchase in stores and left them with the trash as I carry the now much smaller product out of the store in my own bag or hand, with the receipt of course. Big business continues to do business as usual without a concern for our well being and our politicians do little to stop it because the corporations fill the largess of the politicians campaign chest. Our politicians lie to us and are owned, no bought by big business.

I went to The Guardian webpage and was overjoyed to see a tab on the top for Environment. WOW!!! Curious, I went to some of the top newspapers in America and couldn't find a tab for Environment and one in a Science section, if one existed. American newspapers are bereft of Environment news tabs. They are weakly incorporated in other sections maybe. Why is that, I wondered. We don't have a mindset for thinking about the Environment in this country. Again all we need do is look around us. Our streets are littered with trash, stuff we casually throw out like cigarette butts, candy wrappers, fast food paper, newspapers, and the ubiquitous plastic bag. Ever watch a sporting event in America on a windy day? You need to take your shoes off to count the number of plastic bags that pass in front of you on the big screen. I'm waiting for the day a ball is captured by one of those bags and am further intrigued to see how the officials deal with it. Will rules have to be changes to account for garbage on the playing field? The plastic bag rule, methinks. Some places charge for a plastic bag and I like that. Some places take a penny or two off the bill if you use your own bag. I like that and wish they would raise the amount and that more stores did that. Ever see the Story of Stuff? It will blow your mind.

So back to the Environment tab on The Guardian's webpages. This tab accompanies the traditional tabs we have come to see like News, Sports, Business, and the like. But to have a tab devoted to the Environment excites me and I hope more and more newspapers around the world do the same as part of their 10:10 pledge.

What is the 10:10 pledge? For the year 2010, I pledge to cut back 10% of my carbon footprint. The Guardian is watching it via its Environment tab and is keeping its readers informed with what they can do, who is doing what, and who is not. The Guardian is guarding our Environment. What will our American newspapers do?

Finally, I discovered the 10:10 website and was impressed and excited. Now I wondered where is the same kind of organization in America, one of the two top trouble spots on the planet and an embarrassment at the recent summit in Copenhagen. Once again America fails to lead on this important issue, instead it leads as one of the two top polluters and we are doing nothing to correct our bad behavior. My president failed me in Kyoto and my president failed me in Copenhagen. Yes, the politicians have once again failed us, so now it's up to us.

Now what can I do? I can use less energy in all aspects of my life and that isn't too difficult as I read the pages of the Environment. As a teacher I can do more too. I wonder what the NYCDOE can do. What can the City of New York do? Why are so many lights on in so many buildings all night long? Not only does it waste energy, it kills birds. We need a new mind think, we need to change the culture, we need to do our 10% and more in 2010. And for goodness sake ban plastic bags in NYC. We banned smoking, what's so difficult, Mr Mayor?