Monday, October 5, 2009

Job Interview II

Job Interview II

Perhaps I was too subtle with the last post. Too often in the world of education everyone seems to think they are experts on education simply because they participated in the educational system. I even had one man complain that teachers and principals were recommending expensive educational programs.

The point is if I'm not qualified to manage a retail store with no experience actually working in the store then perhaps we might defer to the experts when discussing education. That isn't to say that parents shouldn't speak up when they feel their children need an advocate. It also doesn't mean taxpayers don't have a right to question where their money is going. What it does mean is that most of the time we listen to the experts. More often than not they have the best interests of the school or children at heart and aren't trying to sca, upi/


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Job Interview

I went on a job interview yesterday. Asst. Manager for a retail store.

I shop whenever I have the money, I figure that makes me an expert on retail stores. The HR person interviewing me insisted on asking about my experience working in retail.
Now I don't have much experience in a retail store. That is to say my
experience consists of working at a gas station a few years back. I shop though and that should make me an expert.

So I don't understand when the HR lady, who herself is not a retail store manager, asked me how I thought it was possible that she could hire me to supervise when I would know less than the associates I was supposed to be supervising.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Motivating Students

I'm loving this idea by J Krause.

I remember my days as a high school student. I was about as lazy and cocky as it was possible for a high school student to be, yes I know that is saying a lot. I did the minimum amount of work necessary to pass and probably less than that on many occasions. I did however pass, though sometimes I think just because the school didn't want to deal with me one more year.

This may be good or bad depending on your point of view.
It's good, because evidently I generally have a better grasp of the knowledge and skills that make up the high school curriculum than the average high school student. I personally don't see the harm in graduating from high school if you have the knowledge and skills high school is supposed to teach.

It's bad because I never learned what to do when my limits were tested. I was never held back because of my lack of effort. I might have been given a poor grade, but never held back.

After high school I went off to college. I struggled a bit with calculus, but eventually figured it out. Beyond that I muddled my way through just like I did in high school, by showing up to class taking notes and reading the books. I didn't put much effort into my homework, I simply depended on my ability to pass tests to get me through. For the most part, my amazing ability to pass a test without studying served me well.

There was one professor however who refused to let me slide like I had done for the past 15 years. He made it a point to give me low grades on every paper I wrote unless I spent hours each week writing and rewriting with him in his office. I didn't learn anything. I quit trying and I failed that class. The next semester I took it again, but withdrew and eventually dropped out of college thanks to the influence of that one professor.

Was I a failure? Did my history of never needing to struggle doom me to fail? Did that professor fail me as a student? Did my high school fail me by not preparing me for the true rigors of college or professional life? Did I fail myself with my own lack of passion and willingness to take the easy way out? These are questions I ponder on occasion.

Of course today many students have the option of taking AP classes, or college credit classes, but even if I those were available for me then I probably wouldn't have taken the opportunity. Honestly, I was lazy. I didn't see a need to do more than what was asked at that particular time. Don't get me wrong I loved to learn, I just didn't see the purpose of proving it to my teachers.

I don't know if J. Krause's experiment would have prepared me any better for what future college life held for me. I do know that if that one professor had approached me as a student full of promise who needed molding instead of a lazy good for nothing punk I like to think I would have chosen to learn instead of run away.

So Mr(s). Krause good luck to you and your students. I think this class will teach some few students to learn. It won't work for every student and I hope not every teacher follows this idea, but I hope one or two do so every year, if only to make sure to give all students the opportunity to shine.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Teachers Strike

gTeachers Strike

Originally published April 25, 2008 – 5:48 am by Brendan

Can you imagine 400,000 people staying home from work?

As a teacher I am often asked how I would fix schools in America. I always say the easiest way is to raise starting salaries to about $60,000 a year then wait seven to ten years. I figure the raise in pay will attract so many eager new students that colleges will be raising standards to keep classes to a manageable size. In about four years schools will have so many new applicants they can pick the best of the best. Then after a few years teaching we will start to feel the effect of these new high quality teachers.

Before I get flamed like crazy this is not the entirety of what I would do if by some weird coincidence I actually had that sort of power and influence. It’s more of a discussion starter for a question that is more rhetorical than real.

I would like to qualify that we do have many outstanding teachers in our schools. I think almost every educator I have worked with has put in a top notch effort. While those schools have been considered “at risk”, every year I worked they met AYP (adequate yearly progress) according to NCLB. More importantly the teachers, parents, and students all felt we were producing high quality education.

All that aside though why shouldn’t we pay teachers $60,000 a year? I mean besides the question of we can afford it. I also don’t think the argument of teachers being lazy works either. Teachers work harder than most people think. I don’t mind a discussion of weakening tenure either, just realize that teachers need to be protected from one irate parent or principal.

Take it from there. Go to our discussion board and talk.


Teacher Pay

Teacher Pay

Originally published May 21, 2008 – 6:15 am by Brendan

When the folks at Global Scholar asked if anyone would like to be a blogger and not get paid I actually jumped at the chance. I’m one of those guys who has a book somewhere inside, but I can never seem to get it out. I figure it is because I can never seem to follow through with the first piece of advice any writer will tell you: sit down and write everyday. So here I am writing everyday.

I’m pretty new at this blogging stuff, or old if you think about it. (As a motorcycle enthusiast I was writing about my travels before I knew blog was a word) I do have two blogs as a sort of diary for my boys that I hope they will take over when they get old enough. The surprising thing to me was how many blogs are out there just on the state of education.

Today I looked at Educationwonk, Coach Brown, Scenes from the Battleground, And Three Standard Deviations to the Left, among others.

It was Three Standard Deviations to the Left, that caught my attention. If you remember early one I wrote an article where I mentioned that the quick and easy fix to education would be to raise teacher pay to about $60,000 and then wait a few years. I didn’t think I had a chance of actually being original in my thought, but I had never come across anyone who had even thought of the idea before.

Now of course he put a bit more thought into his plan (or hers). He went on to quote leaders in the field such as Sir Michael Barber (good and bad). He also shows some data on the amount of pay teachers receive in countries with the best rated school systems.

In the end though she sees improvement in education being made by one of two major changes being made. Either we increase pay (as in South Korea) to encourage the best and brightest college students to enter the teaching profession, or we somehow create an attitude of respect (as in Finland) for the professionalism of teachers.

There is one more step. There must be a way to weed out the poor teachers without ruining good teachers. More on that tomorrow.


Firing Teachers

I used to blog for my old company, but they took the blog down. I am
not actually allowed to own the writings I put up on that blog, but as
I reference them on occasion in my writing I am putting those articles
up in my archives here for reference sake. I'll put the tag GS on those
articles noting that they were originally published on the
Firing Teachers
Originally published May 22, 2008 – 6:48 am by Brendan
Yesterday I wrote about attracting the best and the brightest teachers. There are two basic things that need to change if we are going to attract the best and the brightest teachers. (This is not to say that some of the teachers now aren’t the best and the brightest.) The first is to raise teacher pay and the second is to increase the respect for the profession of teaching.
It always shocks me how many people think teachers don’t work for their money. It also shocks me how so many people, when they find out I am a teacher will, tell me how great it is I’m in such a noble profession. Both statements bother me.
I don’t teach for some sense of nobility. I do it because I enjoy it. I don’t think it is particularly easy, but the work is something I like to do. Isn’t that what all those self help books say is the key to happiness, enjoy your job and it won’t feel like work? As for not actually earning the money we get paid, well I can list a dozen reasons why you are over paid also, but no one complains because your paycheck doesn’t come out of my taxes.
Anyway, the point of this article is why not just fire all those horrible teachers? As most people would tell you it is the little matter of tenure. It is difficult and expensive to fire a teacher. Personally, I don’t see how or why it would cost over $100,000 to fire someone, especially when there is documented evidence that he was touching female students and asking for synonyms for oral sex, and more. Of course I think I would have just called to police and had him arrested. Then you could fire him for not showing up to work while he spent the next 10 years in jail. Just like the reason they fired Tiffany Shepard.
The problem is teachers aren’t and shouldn’t be at will employees like most of the rest of America. The first time a child goes home and complains to mommy and daddy about the horrible teacher who gives out homework and your out looking for a job. So the teacher’s union came in and brought protections to the teachers. (Actually tenure predates unions, because it is so important.) Today we have rules and procedures for getting rid of bad teachers, but because it has to be refereed by lawyers, we end up with huge legal bills.
I think too many administrators and others too often let poor teachers continue teaching without any paper trail. When 84% of school districts in Illinois have never given any tenured teacher a bad job evaluation over an 11-year period something is wrong. Of course it is difficult to corroborate this finding because often complaints about teachers are kept private. Then again it has been so difficult to firebad teachers for so long I’m willing to bet many of them were promoted out of the classroom. (Schools are not alone in this practice) And no your principal is not one of those promotions.
There is no doubt that teachers are in a tenuous position. If we are to effectively teach we must have the authority to ask students to do things they sometimes don’t want to do. We must be able to tell parents the truth about the observations we make of their children. We must have the freedom to choose what and how to most effectively teach. (Within the curriculum and within reason) We also have many judgment calls to make everyday. Like this counselor fired for not reporting possible abuse. The problem according to her is that the child almost always exaggerates for attention and she didn’t believe him, though she did some follow up on her own and didn’t find any proof.
Mary Huges obviously made a mistake in not reporting the possible abuse, as the father eventually pleaded guilty of that very crime. Should she be fired for it is a decision that the school board should make. They did. Did she have a right to fight her termination? Obviously the South Dakota supreme Court felt she did. Furthermore they felt that the school board made a mistake. I’m not so sure I agree, but when you have only one reason to fire a person you take those chances.
I think it is safe to assume that most if not all school districts have a procedure to remove tenured teachers. It involves a lot of documentation, observations of teaching, red tape, chants, prayers, and magic spells. I agree that there should be a fairly long and involved procedure for firing teachers. I think it should be possible though.
Just remember these generalities. If students think they can get a teacher fired there are many who would simply because it is easier than learning. If parents could get a teacher fired there are many who would simply because it is easier than being a good parent. If teachers aren’t afraid of getting fired there are many who won’t teach because it is easier than actually working.
The one and only reason I like No Child Left Behind is that NCLB has forced schools to concentrate on performance. More classroom observations are being done, more questions are being asked, more thought is being put into things like curriculum and methods. I just wish they had thought more about how to effectively measure the performance of a teacher before they decided to test the heck out of our kids.
Right now teacher unions would like to, among other things, protect teachers, improve working conditions and raise pay. That’s why we form unions. Schools could negotiate a better procedure for firing tenured teachers by raising pay. Here we can kill two birds with one stone, increase pay and get better teachers and make it easier remove bad teachers at the same time. Soon we have better schools and the increase in pay becomes worth it.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Motivation in the Classroom

Watch this great TedTalk by Dan Pink.

Being the educator I am I want to look at this idea from a classroom standpoint. How will this improve education?

If we really want to over simplify educational philosophies we can say there are two basic ideas in play right now. First, there is the NCLB philosophy that views education as a simple ladder and students work their way up the ladder until they ultimately graduate from high school and are accepted into college. Second, there is the whole-child philosophy that views education as one great interconnected blob where students absorb material from all sides as they work on projects that aren't focused on one specific skill.

I don't want to argue the relative merits of each idea, or even my over-simplification, I want to discuss how to motivate students in each philosophy. My oversimplification should make the choice obvious, but for those who didn't stop and watch the video first let's take a look.

If you have problem that has a narrow focus and straight forward rules and regulations than incentive through rewards is best way to motivate your students. If you have a problem with a wide focus and no clear path to follow in finding the solution then intrinsic motivators is the way to go.

How does that work in the classroom?

If you want your students to memorize the times tables then a teacher might hand out worksheets each day and give everyone who finishes on time with a certain percentage correct a reward. Is this bad teaching? No, not if your goal is to teach the times tables. If you want to teach HOW TO MULTIPLY the lesson would be very different. That lesson might be more along the lines of "take ten minutes with a partner and figure out 3 different ways of determine the total x groups of y objects. Then explain one way to the entire class."

Is one lesson better than the other? While I would like to take a firm side one way or another the real answer is no, or NO!!!

For example as a 4th grade teacher I never taught my students the basics of multiplying. I expected my students to know and use basic one digit by one digit multiplication. That isn't to say I wouldn't work with an individual student, but I would not spend a class period on that skill. Most 4th graders do remember how to multiply from 3rd grade, but they don't actually have the times tables memorized. (One reason I hate summer vacation) So as the 4th grade teacher I would have every student tape the times table onto their desk and encourage my students to use this aid. I would also use a fast facts worksheet at the start of math class to build speed and memorization skills using rewards for students who finished on time. Then the class time would be spent teaching or, exploring as I like to say, the concept of multiplying larger numbers.

Basically, the external motivations work great when students have already learned a skill and they need to practice. Practice builds skill, speed and recognition. So the question is how do these intrinsic motivators (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) look in classroom?

We have already seen it in the simple multiplication lesson. When students are asked to work with a partner they take charge and not the teacher. The purpose comes with the goal of explaining it to the class. The mastery comes because to explain a method usually requires a mastery of the basic skill.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How Do You Learn in This Kind of Environment

originally posted May 1, 2008 – 6:41 am by Brendan (On a blog that is now closed)

In Chicago, it is getting more dangerous to be a student. This year, 24 students have been murdered since the beginning of the school year. A pace that might exceed last year’s record of 32 murders. (None on school grounds)

The interesting twist is that according to a recent survey from the University of Chicago, many students feel safer in their classrooms than outside of them. They just need to get to school safely and during that time they can concentrate on learning I suppose.

Here we have schools, in the much maligned U.S. education system, combating gang wars in the neighborhoods that require parents and police to escort students to and from school, so that they make sure they get there safely, along with on average 85 percent poverty rates. Yet still, students manage to improve academically, according to the NY Times.

I am proud of the improvements that have been made in the educational system of the United States over the years. I know that we will continue to make improvements. And I hope that in the future when people forward spam emails that claim schools are dumbing down the educational system in this country, they might look around and wonder if perhaps teachers might actually be doing a good job.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

What personal characteristics define ...

What personal characteristics define an excellent administrator?

What Makes A Good Principal

I am hoping to start a leadership training program this summer, if I am
accepted. Moving on to administration has always been a desire. I had
the opportunity after my second year of teaching, but I thought I
needed more experience as a teacher. After seven years of teaching in
two schools and three grades I think I'm ready to begin learning.

preparation of a possible interview request I thought I would reflect a
bit about the principals I've known. In my seven years of teaching I've
had 4 different principals. (I've also had 6 superintendents, but that
is a different story.) I'm not willing to say any of them were out and
out bad, but I will say they all had their own way of doing things.
Let's just say I think one difference between principals is that good
principals hire good people then get out of the way, while fair
principals just get out of the way. I would then assume that bad
principals get in the way, but I haven't had to deal with that.

I was hoping to get some more views on quality leadership in education so I asked the following question of my Twitter network. "What is the job description of a school principal? What is the most important thing they do?"

I received two responses both retweets.

Well it was worth a try.

On the other hand my tweets also update my Facebook status. There I at least had one response.

worked for a lot of them. Let's see..... Leadership AND decision making
and *****IMPLEMENTATION. Styles differ but without these three working
in conjunction, nothing happens. The staff splits and the school
slumps. So however an admin. works, these must be cornerstones to keep
best practices
ALSO and just as importantly, supporting
teachers by knowing them and their professional strengths. By taking
care of business professionally even when a crazy parent is demanding
an instant beheading. By being IN THE SCHOOL and learning who the kids
are as well as he/she can.

It was a start. I moved on a Googled “What does a principal do” and I found The Dragon Page.

The Dragon Page Just What Does A Principal Do? Has some interesting observations in a podcast with a principal.

  • A principal is the instructional leader
  • Should have 8 to 10 years experience
  • Safety of students and staff is much higher importance than it used to be
  • Identify focus of school
  • Where needs/gaps are for kids to succeed.
  • Where needs/gaps are for teachers to develop.
  • A principal should have a sense of servant leadership - "What can I do to make you look good."
  • Funding should address needs of school.

few days later @principalspage tweeted his post on mistakes principals
should avoid when hiring. So I asked him if he would write a post for
those of use wanting to enter the profession. I figured he had one, but
I was wrong. He had two.

The Principal Page has 25 thoughts on what a new principal should know across two posts.

Some of my favorites are:

  • If you haven’t, [failed] you aren’t trying hard enough.
  • Find mentors.
  • Be in unexpected places.
  • Know a little about everything.
  • Make sure that if you say you are going to do something, do it.
  • Spend time with the entire staff, not just those with which you are most comfortable.

I think a good principal starts by surrounding himself with quality people and then supports them 100%.

I think a good principal listens, to teachers and students, and even parents.

I think a good principal knows he doesn't know everything, but is willing tolearn.

I wonder what you think.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hot Irish Temper

I'm one of those old fashion Irish guys who is quick to get mad and quick to forgive. That was fine as a kid, but as an adult I had to start learning how to be more mature. To do so I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and learned the universe did not randomly break things just to mess with my head.

Then I worked at a summer camp as a cabin counselor. Children are not cats, you cannot herd them. I learned to let go and just let kids be kids.

Next I taught. It turns out the average classroom has 29 Tom Sawyers and 1 Becky Thatcher. I learned students love to explore and learn, but they don't like uncertainty. If you make the classroom safe with predictable situations the students will stop trying to take over and start trying to learn.

I had a mantra when I taught 4th grade. "You have to be smarter than the kids" Meaning simply that if I got into a war of wills with the
kids I would always lose, but if I used my brain I could convince my
students they wanted to follow the rules. That worked fine for a school
day, no matter how long, because I knew eventually they would go home.
Living with children is tougher.

There is one thing for certain with my children, if I tell them to do something they will not do it.

Putting toys into a garbage pile is how they interpret cleaning up.

I thought 12 hour school days were long. Now I have kids. At 2 in the morning someone is crawling into bed. At 5 AM someone wants to get up. At 6 I'm chasing a barefoot and naked two year-old down the street. (He's naked I'm wearing a bathrobe - something I didn't even own when single) At 8 I've cleaned the kitchen twice and all I want to do is catch a bit of the morning news. This goes on and on until hopefully 8 PM but sometimes until 10 or 11.

It was a bit easier when I was a stay-at-home dad, I could create a schedule based on the life style of my kid and adapt to it. Of course that was just one kid and he wasn't walking yet. Still the ability to create a sound pattern was there, because if the kid wasn't sleeping or eating I could spend most of my attention keeping him occupied and just a grab some extra time to take care of the household duties.

It's different now. I'm actively looking for work. I have to spend several hours a day working at finding work and I also try to put in some hours learning or developing my own skills. All this cuts directly into the time I can spend one-on-one (or is it one-on-two) with my boys. I am amazed sometimes at the ability my boys have of playing independently for long periods of time. I just can't count on that time. One day they will grab the HotWheels and play for hours quietly and the next it's kicking and screaming because so and so won't let me take this car.

Of course the first instinct is to say "be quiet and let your brother play". Hoping to get a few extra minutes of work on the particular task. I might be in the flow of working, or taking a break right this second would require going back and re-doing a lot of work whereas in two minutes I'll have time to take a break. It just doesn't matter there comes a point, and you can hear it in their voices, when I as a parent I have to stop and pay attention to my kids immediately. If not I'll spend half a day sorting out my children. That isn't to say I always have to stop what I am doing when the crying starts. Sometimes children have to learn to work it out among themselves. The trick is knowing the difference.

As a teacher I learned the value of setting up a proper lesson then stepping back and letting the students learn without me getting in the way. If I tried to just get by without a strong plan things often went south quickly. More often than not the day ended up with me frustrated and the students unsure of what they were supposed to have learned. Being a parent can often be similar. If I try to get through the day thinking about what I want to get done what actually happens is I spend the entire day putting out the fires my kids started. (Not literally yet, but give them time).

So I try (remember I said try) to keep a regular schedule, be consistent when enforcing rules, and do my best to give my children enough attention first before they ask for it with screaming and kicking. What I can't do is ignore my kids and get into a 12 hour work marathon, actually if I can get an hour or two of uninterrupted work I should feel lucky.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Thesis from 2000

I used to have this in electronic form but the 3.5 inch floppy is long gone. The hard copy is a bit water damaged thus the difficulty in reading. If you would like to retype or run it through an OCR and correct the typos be my guest.

I doubt it is good enough to warrant that much attention. On the other hand there are some good quotes that are still very relevant today. Please find your own and put them in the comments or I'll get to rereading it for the third time and see if I can highlight some of my favorites.

Now onto the thesis in PDF form

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Qualty of Education

In Chicago, it is
getting more dangerous to be a student. This year, we eclipsed the number of murders in March, three months before the school year ends.

The interesting twist is that according to a recent survey from the University of Chicago, many students feel safer in their classrooms than outside of them.

They just need to get to school safely and during that time they can concentrate on learning I suppose.

Here we have schools, in the much maligned U.S. education system, combating gang wars in the neighborhoods that require parents and police to escort students to and from school, so that they make sure they get there safely, along with on average 85 percent poverty rates. Yet still, students manage to improve academically, according to the NY Times.

I am proud of the improvements that have been made in the educational system of the United States over the years. I know that we will continue to make improvements. And I hope that in the future when people forward spam emails that claim schools are dumbing down the educational system in this country, they might look around and wonder if perhaps teachers might actually be doing a good job.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What is Wrong with this Picture

It is popular in some areas to complain about teachers.

  • Tenure allows bad teachers to continue working long after they have should have been fired.
    • I will admit I have met teachers that should have been fired years ago, but I also know people in all lines of work who should be fired.
  • Teachers are overpaid.
    • I know a lot of people think teachers are overpaid, but I also happen to think a lot of CEO's, bankers, politicians, and car salesmen are overpaid. Just because I think it doesn't make it right.
  • Teachers should be considered glorified babysitters because students don't learn anything anyway.
    • As for babysitter trust me it is a lot easier than teaching. Of course if people compare the prices of daycare and public school they might think twice about this comparison.
  • Those who can do; those who can't teach.
    • one of the best answers I've ever seen is here.
      • It has been said that “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” I have often wondered whether there is any truth behind this frequently quoted expression, which surgical students hear from the early days of their clinical training. To find the answer, one must look at the origin of the phrase itself—back to the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1903). Shaw, however, was referring to revolutionaries, not teachers. The phrase is, therefore, used out of context. Most of us, looking back over our training, can attribute our choice of specialty to one or more mentors—teachers so enthusiastic and inspirational that they instilled within us the desire to better ourselves and thereby better serve our patients. They taught us to think for ourselves. Most of us will also admit that these inspiring individuals were not just devoted teachers but had notably inquiring minds and were almost always exceptional clinicians.

      • Charles H Mayo (1865-1939), one of the founders of the internationally renowned Mayo Clinic, once said: “The safest thing for a patient is to be in the hands of a man involved in teaching medicine. In order to be a teacher of medicine the doctor must always be a student.” Therefore, the next time you hear Shaw quoted out of context, perhaps you might respond by quoting Mayo, a man described not only as an inspirational teacher but also as a “surgical wonder.” Perhaps those who don’t teach it can’t do it as well as they think.

        Farhad B Naini consultant in facial deformity, St George’s Hospital and Medical School, London
  • If children can't pass a simple test they aren't learning anything.
    • I don't know where to start on this one, but I will say that I have never had a job that required me to answer test questions as a regular duty. I have however been required to actually DO things for a living.

The complaints are there, but really they have little merit, outside of the tendency of people to complain whenever they get the chance.

The question then arises why am I bothering to bring it up?
Simple I want to do a bit of complaining myself.

I am complaining, but on the other-hand I do believe this flawed view of education does hurt the entire system in this country.

Think for a second if you were a business manager looking to hire an expert; what would you do?

What happens when schools are looking to hire new teachers?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Future of Schools

Should we break up large factory style schools?

Bill Gates found out that larger schools do have some advantages namely choice of classes. What they lack is the individualized student attention.

Now we have two choices we can make smaller schools and use technology to offer the wide variety of choices students can find in larger schools.

Or we can have larger schools with a better administrative structure. More of a decentralized structure al le Napoleon. With better teachers who have the knowledge, resources, and power to make positive changes.

I'm thinking it would be easier to do the former. Simply because the infrastructure building is cheaper, but also because the advantages can be given to any size school.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Teacher Skills

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What is the Future of the Textbook?

An interesting question. There are those who love a good textbook [How a Physics Textbook Changed My Life] and those who hate it [I don't use a textbook in social studies.]. As the world of education matures what and how we use textbooks needs to change also.

Even publishers are looking for new ways to create textbooks.
Staff Writer, CNET News
March 14, 2001

The problem is if education is heading for a disruption as Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn , and Curtis Johnson suggest in their book Disrupting Class
then simply improving textbooks won't be enough. Students in a
classroom with a textbook, even a textbook found on a CD ROM,
will not be good enough for a disrupted education.

Where does all of
this leave the textbook industry? In the same place as the rest of us,
redefining what we do and how we do it — retooling for a new century.
 David Warlick , May 15, 2004

In many school districts today (not as many as yesterday, but still too many) a new teacher fresh from
teacher training will be given a classroom and told to teach. Is it any
wonder many will simply open the textbook from chapter one and start
teaching? [It was easier years ago to just take out the good old textbook and start with Chapter 1. ] If I could change one thing about education I would require
new teachers to spend at least one if not two years co-teaching with a
quality mentor teacher. If only so they know enough about the school curriculum to know what the textbook covers and what it doesn't.

leaders [Newport News Public Schools] saw disconnect between teacher
preparation programs and the changing learning environment.

 Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, February 2009

As a teacher the textbook used to be a great crutch. I think today almost everyone in the education industry realizes that if a book that was printed three years ago is driving your curriculum then perhaps you are doing a disservice to your school and your students.

For many the change begins by writing better standards and testing students to assure us that what we think students should learn is being taught. Learning becomes more of a pass fail course. 

It sounds great, either kids know how to multiply or they don't. Either kids can write or they don't. If Johnny can't read teach him phonics. If life were that simple education would be easy. Too bad for us life isn't that easy. Knowing when to multiply and when to subtract does make a difference. Reading Shakespeare and understanding Shakespeare are two different things. And I'm pretty sure nobody is going to confuse my writing with Stephen King.

In so much that I hear
today in conversations about new information and communication
technologies in our school, it seems to be about improving the business
of education, rather than making our children better prepared for their
future.  Our business is about improving data.  To quote an article
forwarded to me by a Facebook friend (Tina Steele), in one of those Celestine moments, 

David Warlick, April 20, 2009

In a lot of my reading I hear about 21st Century skills. [@bengrey has started many a great discussions on that topic ] I'm not sure exactly what 21st Century skills are suppose to be for the student, but for the teacher I have an idea. My thought is that 21st Century skills transform the classroom from
a place where learning takes places through contrived examples into a
place where learning happens in the actual real world.

The point is not to use the technology but to adjust to the learning of your students. Paper and printed text cannot adjust. Digital technology can. While some information will not change, such as Columbus discovered America in 1492, what that information means to us can.

I’ve talked about this before,
that for the first time in the history of education we not only have to
spend time on the students in our charge, but on re-educating our
community as well on what it means to learn in today’s world.
Jeff Utech, Nov 18, 2008

course this is a similar approach many schools take….if we just ignore
the changes happening then maybe they will go away. The problem is the
Internet and all of its content is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Worse yet, by taking this approach both in the home and in our schools,
the gap between what the students know and what the adults know
continues to widen.

Jeff Utech, Feb 11, 2009

Schools are changing, education is changing. It is no longer good enough to have the majority of the population literate. We need a population that is both literate and able to think critically.

We need schools that “train” our
judgment, that help us become adults who are in the habit of bringing
judgment to bear on complex phenomenon. This includes judging which
expertise to “trust”—and defending such choices; it includes being
open-minded about one’s judgments, as well as one’s favorite experts.
It includes acknowledging that even experts must live with a
substantial degree of uncertainty.

Diane Ravitch, February 2009

The textbook of the future will not only be a repository of information that is taught during the school year, but it will also mold and fit to different schools, different states, and different students. The textbook of the future will have all the answers and at the same time be filled to the brim with interesting questions. The textbook of the future will not only have audio and video, but allow students to share their own audio and video.

Many, I think, feel the textbook of the future might look a little something like Wikipedia, hence the emphasis on critical thinking. Yet, I am fairly certain to be a real disruption, the textbook of the future will be even more than that.

A focus on standards and objective is different from focusing on a textbook.
 Ron Jacobs November 21, 2008

I think the one certainty of the future textbook is that it will focus more on thinking and learning in a fluid world and less on facts and figures. The textbook will be less about information I can Google on my wifi enabled palm pilot and more how it shaped the world as we know it today.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Twitter - Facebook - Social Media

Using Twitter , Facebook, personal learning networks and time suck. An interesting tweet from @tryed. @glassbeed Interesting. Older students are dropping Facebook for Twitter In response I think to this retweet from @glassbeed RT @biggmaxx OK, this one's great...from one of my students today in class...."Twitter is Facebook for old people" When I was in college, the first time, we young students generally respected the older students. As a rule the older students worked harder and got better grades than most of us younger guys. We knew there was some sort of wisdom gained with age we just couldn't seem to use it. I mean doing homework, reviewing or even rewriting notes, going to sleep at reasonable hours, preparing for the day; we knew these sorts of things would improve our grades, but we just couldn't seem to do them. Here's my view of Twitter and Facebook. After reading I hope you will understand why it is not a wonder to me that older students would choose Twitter over Facebook, at least in general? Facebook is great for connecting to old friends and family.
  • The friend search allowing you to focus a search by school and city promotes this. The friend suggestion tool that basically suggests your friends friends also promotes a current or former group of friends.
  • With a profile that includes options like relationship status and political views points content towards daily life and opinions.
  • The ability to embed pictures and video into the wall stream and allow friends to make comments that all can see again tends to daily social life. Most of our pictures are family and friends.
  • Almost all your friends on Facebook actually have some social connection to you.
  • The various polls, quizzes, and games are a huge time suck, but generally addicting.
It seems obvious to me that Facebook is more geared towards the social aspect of collaboration. Twitter on the other hand is great for connecting to professionals.
  • Your Twitter homepage is very basic minimalist design with an emphasis on what you have tweeted lately.
  • Your group of friends is right there as one big group. Easy for everyone to not only see but follow as well.
  • Twitter allows people to create their own API client emphasizing what they want. This allows users to choose what they want Twitter to look like. I like Tweetdeck because I can separate the people I follow into groups.
  • Twitter allows one basic picture of you, words and links.
  • The limit of 140 characters is both restrictive and requires creativity.
Twitter it seems to me is strongly focused on what you have to say. How is this really different?
  • On Facebook my friends are people who care about my daily life - they want to see pictures of my kids, they care about my job search, they want to know about the weather in my part of town.
  • On Twitter my friends are people I don't know, but we have a common interest. In my case mostly education, but also some social media marketing mixed in.
  • On Facebook I check in once a day or so and see what my friends are up too. Friends whom I don't call often enough.
  • On Twitter I leave it running in a side monitor and follow discussions in real time over a period of time.
  • On Facebook, for me, a lot of the conversation is what is happening or some silly quiz.
  • On Twitter , for me, most of the conversation is interesting facts or links to interesting articles, with the occasional tweetscussion thrown in.
    • discussions don't work very well on Twitter , but if they are good I have seen a few move to a elluminate or similar forum.
  • Facebook for me is about keeping in touch or promoting a cause.
  • Twitter is about learning and developing professionally.
  • Facebook is a group of friends - Twitter is a PLN or personal learning network.
Can Facebook and Twitter be used for the same thing?
  • Yes, Facebook can and should be used by someone looking to promote a professional service or business.
  • Facebook groups can and do create strong professional relationships.
  • Creating a group to promote your business and the visual aids allowed by Facebook can work very well to introduce and keep enthusiasm for your business.
  • Yes, Twitter can be used to keep in touch with friends. I've actually seen a lot of pictures of kids and what not. I think it adds a nice human touch to professional relationships.
I just think Twitter works better for building a PLN while Facebook is better at keeping in touch with people.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Toys, The Building Blocks of Learning

I was cleaning my oldest boy's room the other day. My wife saw me heading to the garbage can with a bag of broken toys. She wanted me to keep all of his toys because he will literally play with anything. 

While it is true that I will often find him playing with broken toys, that doesn't mean we have to keep every broken toy in the bin because he will play with it if he ever gets to the bottom of the toy box again. 

It did get me thinking though. Here's my theory on toys, gleaned from reading pop psychology articles over email.

  • Plain boring toys, blocks, Legos etc, increase imagination because the child must build something with the toy, use the toy as a symbol or what ever that requires a bit of imagination.

  • Trademarked toys, Lightning McQueen, or basically any Disney product, reinforce the story and hopefully the message it told. It builds some imaginative play but mostly helps retelling of stories and reinforcement of ideas.

  • Video games and TV are mostly passive watching, though often more recent kids shows do what they can to get kids involved in the show. Great for memorization and regurgitation of facts.

Broken toys will generally fit into the plain boring toy group.

All three groups are important to have. Imagination is first because I want my children to be able to think outside the box. Trademarked toys are second because a good lesson on morals, character, or life in general is a good thing to learn. Video games are last because even when kids do get involved they are simply providing the action or response wanted, not really thinking for themselves.

It is important to note that all three groups are included. All three groups are necessary. Take the simple example of the multiplication table.

I used to teach 4th grade. Curriculum wise my students should have learned the times table, but not all of them did. Now I could have retaught my students the basics of multiplication and expected them to figure out simple multiplication facts every time they didn't know one, but I didn't. I usually reviewed the concept, but then I had every student tape the times tables onto the top of their desk.

I know every student understood the basic idea of multiplication I didn't want the fact that they didn't have the entire one digit multiplication table memorized to interfere with their ability to learn two by two or two by three digit multiplication.

There are certain things we know and use everyday simply because we have been using them for so long and so often we memorize them. In most instances the why or how is not important. In life and education I see those low level facts as the building blocks for the other two sets of toys.


Monday, April 13, 2009

The End of Newspapers

So here I am reading this Clay Shirky post, Retrieved April 13, 2009, and thinking what would happen if newspapers did die out in our country. I don't have an answer that will save the newspaper industry, sorry guys. The fact is "Five years ago, the market value of the publicly traded U.S. newspaper companies was $80 billion. Today it is $5B." or at least that is what I heard on on Twitter from @gcolony).

It would seem that the newspaper industry as we know it is dying and we really can't save it. On the other hand journalism isn't dead and it isn't dying. As I see it journalism is actually getting stronger, but we readers MUST be get stronger as well.

Over the past decade of so my news source has changed from getting most of my news from the big 3, (Newspaper, TV, and radio) to most of my news from the Internet. Though I still get a lot of my information from major news sites. I tend to follow up with in-depth reporting from non-traditional news sources.

The difficulty with this model of consumption, I don't care how they pay for it I just want my news, is that almost everything I read ends up having some sort of slant. Sometimes it is easy to see the slant, al a Fox News or MSNBC, but sometimes it isn't. It would seem that one way to keep revenue flowing is to consistently take one side of an issue.

The obvious problem of course becomes how do we get unbiased news. The obvious answer then becomes critical reading. Evidently we don't have enough critical readers though because it seems more and more people are willing to flock to the same biased information sites and talk to like minded folk while denigrating those who think differently. The echo chamber as they call it.

This is my voice that hopefully rises above the echo chamber that is the education world and falls on the ears of real world parents. The most important skill our children need to learn today is critical thinking.

Yes, I know reading, writing, arithmetic is also important. Those are basic skills and they need to be the foundation but as children grow they also need to be able to evaluate if what they are reading, writing, or figuring is of quality.

We can start today as teacher or parent instructing our young readers how to look for sources. We can start today learning how to make quality citations,
Retrieved April 13, 2009. We can start by insisting that every piece of news we read or watch have quality transparent unbiased sources, and if biases sources are used then they are countered with biased sources from different view points so the reader can make their own judgment.

We can start by labeling posts like this opinion and requiring news posts to have sources. I can even see the day that news articles might have the sources posted first so we can decided to read a news story based on the quality of the research put into developing the story. OF course that is the future. Today we critical readers have to constantly be on guard and remember to step out of the echo chamber once in a while.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Gifted and Talented Education

This is a long response to a comment on a LinkedIn article. Basically the parent wants to know why her middle school doesn't have quality Science support for gifted children. 

In general the model for elementary schools in the U.S. is one teacher per grade teaching all subjects. This is the way one-room school houses worked, this is the way we still do it. That isn't to say it isn't the best way of doing things. In middle school the model moves from one teacher per class towards one teacher per subject. Then in high school the model moves to several teachers per subject. That isn't to say this always happens, just in general. 

The biggest benefit of having one teacher (besides the lower cost of integrating several teachers into one) is the ease with which the teacher can integrate across subjects. The low level of mastery required for teaching the subjects at the elementary grade levels makes it possible to have just one teacher for all subjects. One problem I have found is because it is possible to graduate college by basically retaking a high school course in your worst subject some teachers really don't have the needed grasp of all subjects. 

In your elementary school they have obviously decided that gifted and talented (GT) students deserve their own teacher and thus put them all in one class. Another option would be to have GT resource teacher(s). Yet another option would be to pull students out in subjects in which they are GT. Still another option would be to use differentiated instruction.

Most educators today would take the position that differentiated instruction should always be a part of the classroom. GT resource teachers can and should help teachers write these differentiated lesson plans with the GT students in mind. GT resource teachers can also pull students out or work in-class with GT students to allow them to delve deeper into the curriculum without disrupting the rest of the class. 

As we move to middle schools the general model in this country is to move from one teacher per grade level to one teacher per subject. Some schools will ease the transition by having one teacher teach two or more subjects in sixth grade. This means an elementary school running a GT program, whether it be a GT class or resource teacher, generally had to hire one extra teacher, but in middle school the same district might have to hire 4 or more teachers. 

The question "I'd be interested in whether there is research on what middle school is suppose to be "for"?" is a great question. And while there may be research out there the truth is the purpose of middle school, like the larger question 'What is the purpose of education?', is different depending on the person asking the question. 

For some middle school is seen as the transition between elementary school and high school. For others it is a transition from being children to being young adults. 

While the overall question, "What is the purpose of school?" may have an impact on "What is the purpose of middle school?" the choice of principal and teachers will have a much greater impact. The voice, or lack thereof, of parents will also have a large influence. Your school has obviously put the importance of middle school on creating a strong social foundation that will make education in high school easier and much more effective. (This may not be everyone choice, but it is still valid.)

One of the cons of the separate GT class in elementary school is the very act of separation. Our children are influenced greatly by their peers in the six years of middle and high school. Or more correctly we as parents have less influence on our children's choices. If they continue to be separated it is very likely they will be ostracized from most of their age based peers. 

In your specific school it would seem from your description that the administration recognizes this and have changed the GT program from a separate classroom into resource teachers. They just don't have anyone for Science. I would assume that, even though they won't admit it, the problem is likely money. As you said the district is underfunded. 

The addition of another teacher means, the cost of the teachers salary, the room to teach in, and in the case of Science specialized materials and possibly a specialized room. 

What can you do? Obviously you have started by getting your child involved with Lego© robotics and Science Olympiad. You can go further by going to board meetings and making noise about the lack of Science support in middle school. While you are at the board meeting you can suggest: Opening virtual classrooms, allowing your school to have advanced Science without the full cost of a new teacher and classroom. You can ask for after school clubs and activities. You can ask for a partnership with a local college or university. You can ask for a partnership with a local environmental group studying earth science. Let your imagination be your guide, but always go to a school board meeting with suggestions, then follow up month after month until something happens. 

In high school education is very different from elementary school. Some of that has to do with the history of education in our country and some has to do with the content that has to be taught. One thing is for sure if we asked one person to be expert enough in all subjects to be able to teach them at the high school level we would never have enough teachers. 

While high school education doesn't need the integration of subject matter, it is important to keep in mind how all subjects (art and music included) can and are integrated in the real world. 

GT programs in high school become almost exclusively advanced classes. This changes the focus from the student and his or her learning to the subject and what can be taught. It also changes the focus from placement by administration to choice by the student, though there are likely entrance requirements for most classes. 

School has gone from mandatory with few exceptions for home schooling to optional but most students still choosing school. Likewise, GT programs have transformed from most participants chosen by the school (Yes you can opt to create your own GT program at home or petition for your child to be accepted in the school sponsored program) to the student choosing to take advanced classes where they feel it is appropriate. (High school counselors now petition students to take advanced classes when they think it appropriate)


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On The Internet Nobody knows You're a Dog

An old cartoon from 1993. Back then few people knew or cared about who the actual person was visiting a web site. That all changed of course, with Google and the economy based on tracking peoples movements on the internet. 

Back then it was possible to use a fake name and pretty much hide your identity from most everyone else on the internet. Today almost every web site takes the basic information like your ip address, browser type, etc...

15 years ago the internet was more of a wild wild west environment for the general public. Outside the original University environment it was not uncommon for just about everyone to assume one or more pseudonyms. It is fun to pretend to be someone else and say or do what you wouldn't normally have the courage to do in real life. We still see this unfettered open lifestyle on many comment boards. I suspect that many webmasters encourage the anonymous partisan comments because it drives up hits to the original article. 

On the other hand the web has also grown up. While it is true I can sign up for Twitter , FaceBook , MySpace , etc with a fake name, it is actually more rewarding for the average person to sign up with his/her real name. While some can create a fake blogger and actually make headlines, if not money, for most of us we don't have the time and talent to create something like that. On the other hand with a real name and real connections I can have a direct line to a strong Personal Learning Network, I can follow my local politicians, or just chat with my mom

I still have some fake names out there that I occasionally use, mostly to when someone requires a sign in for free content, like the Chicago Tribune. Even then if I make a libelous comment I'm sure they can trace to comment back to me through my ip address. 

The thing is to truly stay anonymous on the internet is becoming more and more work. Sure I can use a company like Tor, but if push comes to shove will they really protect my anonymity? I can use proxies, but that is used more for bypassing school or corporate blocking. I can use the library computer, but it can be difficult to hide the screen. 

In the end, as I don't actually use my Internet for illegal activity, I find myself being less and less anonymous on the Internet. True most of my newspaper comments don't readily identify me, but my blogging comments usually do. 

Today most of the time I use either my real name or one common pseudonym (dendari). I hope that the name dendari (actually a misspelling of Dendarii) will become synonymous with Brendan Murphy.

So today on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog, but they should. 

The big problem today is managing your online presence. We hear stories on a regular basis of people who have been denied jobs, fired, or embarrassed by pictures or writings that found themselves online. It would be smart to start managing your online presence, but the truth is we can't manage our online presence 100%. 

What if some person takes an embarrassing picture of me on a cell phone? This person uploads the picture and tags me in the photo. Later dozens of people make silly comments. By the time the picture comes to my attention it is too late, it has been archived on the Internet and I can never undo it's existence. 

The question for the future is with so many people sharing their lives on the Internet are we going to learn to forgive mistakes of youth? Should we learn to forgive mistakes of youth? 


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Question

Recently @courosa tweeted this blog post The Interview Question you Should Ask.

The question is "What do you do with your spare time?" The answer should be, according to the article, pretty much the same thing I do at work. Thus you are putting in twice as much time as the next guy and will be that much better. It is sort of the same idea as Malcom Gladwell discovered in his book "Outliers: The Story of Success" I haven't read it yet, but it seems to be making the rounds in my particular echo chamber and I have picked up on the basic idea. (or what everyone says is the basic idea) That is that to become an expert at something you need 10,000 hours of practice. Or the difference between someone who is accepted to a school like Juliard and someone not accepted is that the first put in 10,000 hours of practice (about 8 hrs a day for 10 years) while the second wasn't as dedicated.

While I will conced the point that, "practice does make perfect", I won't go so far as to say we should focus specifically on the number of hours dedicated to a task.

I don't always remember everything, but one thing I do remember from my gifted education, education, (say that 10 times fast) is that one of the common differences between gifted students and regular students is gifted students often pick up a skill in one or two tries while a regular student will need on average six opportunities to practice.

Think for a second. (I love wait time) It means in first grade, as a gifted math student, when the teacher first shows me how to "count up" as a strategy for addition I remember it and use it on a regular basis. The student next to me forgets, or doesn't realize that the count up strategy used yesterday can be applied in today's lesson. The next day when the teacher asks how we can solve this example my hand shoots up right away, while the kid next to me has to think. He might remember, or he might go "oh yeah", when someone else answers, or he might need the teacher to reteach the strategy a few more times.

What if the regular student next to me really loves math? He can put in the 10,0000 hours and still not be as good as my 2,000 hours of study.

Now I love education and lately I have spent a lot of time building my knowledge. Does that make me a better teacher than the guy next to me? It certainly makes me better than I might have been if I didn't try to develop professionally, but not necessarily better than the guy next to me. On the other hand some of the hobbies and interests I have outside the classroom also go into making me a better teacher.

The fact that I read and write about education can tell a prospective employer that I value my skills in education and that I want to improve, but it doesn't necessarily make me a great teacher. On the other hand hobbies and interests outside of education can also enhance my skills in the classroom. At a former school in Kentucky teachers use interest in aviation to enhance the classroom experience.

All anecdotes pointing to the trap one must becareful of: just because someone practices a lot at one thing doesn't actually mean they are good at it.