Thursday, December 29, 2011

You can also read and subscribe to my blog at my new home

I had the occasion to clean out the storage space under the stairs today. No I didn't find Harry Potter's wand, but I found a poster I made for a project in grad school. Some quotes from interviews with professors, TA's, principals, and teachers along with some graphs from surveys I sent to parents.

All right my poster was almost nothing but words. I'm sure I would get some Presentation Zen going if I were to do this today, but as I did this in 1999 we will have to let it go.
If you clicked through and looked closely at the graphs you would find that the parents, teachers, and students all thought the integration of computers into the school was going just grand. It was very interesting that there was such a positive vibe, not just about computers, but the way they were being used. It wasn't like most of the teachers in the school knew what they were doing on a computer. And if you remember the standard educational software back in 1999 left a lot to be desired. I think there was this general idea that this was the tool of the future and we will learn to use it in the classroom together.
That was the school I student taught in anyway. A small parochial school in the suburbs. As you can see from some of the quotes from the principal they had a visionary leader.
I fell that we have an obligation to prepare children to face their future, not our future, their future, and what they are going  to have to know in the business world or jobs or wherever they go."
Their future not ours.
"We hope that by the time they graduate they also realise they are a social being and they need to operate in the world as part of a team."
Remember pre-facebook pre-cell phones in everyone's hands.
"My hope is that I will at least open their minds a little bit to the possibility."
I'm not sure whose minds needed to be opened but I think it was the teachers and the fact that computers were going to be playing a large role in the future of education.
"Teachers just have to remember that computers are another tool for them to use."
Just another tool in the old toolbelt.
"I do believe however that technology is not the end all and be all, that it's a tool or resource,
There was also some stuff that wasn't so visionary, but heck it was over 12 years ago, back then Mark Zuckerberg still couldn't drive.
I also spent some serious time interviewing an education technology professor and his teaching assistants. See if you can determine who is who.
"Engagement isn't everything"
Ten years later and we will haven't figured this out.
"I don't think you can just take a million dollars worth of software and not know what to do with it."
But they do
"Software games like glorified storybooks, I really have my reservations about that. It's crazy the way they're coming up with software that just stinks."
And we still keep buying it. I still liked Oregon Trail if only for the journaling aspect.
"Doing technology right is a very big investment."
And not in just money.
"To ... mandate it doesn't help ... A lot of gentle support or training and education know-how for teachers by themselves before they do anything with their students can help."
Ten years later and we still can't get the training we need.
"For me the role of computers and education is to help achieve other important learning objectives that have to do with the subjects being taught rather than the computers themselves."
Why do we still debate this fact a decade later?
"If I had to choose right now, which would be a terrible thing to do, I would probably still choose hands-on experience."
Will anything ever beat hands-on experiences?
"If your aim in your school is to make the kids behave, the way you use computers is going to be very different from the way you would use computers if your aim is to teach the students to think very critically."
Read that one again, then go read Howard Rheingold.
"A computer program used by a skilled teacher can expand the way learning happens in a classroom."
Don't forget the part about the skilled teacher.
"the best thing .. is when their own children go away to college and start using e-mail to communicate. Often times that serves as the icebreaker, teachers overcome resistance because they see computers as something that can have a positive influence on their life."
Just like our students we could care less until it become important to us.
"For my own personal view of what effective use of technology is, it is being used to enable students to engage in open-ended activities... Engaging in meaningful activities where they are creating..."
open-ended, meaningful, and creating.....
"Computer literacy is a prerequisite not a goal."
I think computer literacy has changed a lot in the last decade, but knowing how to get the computer to do what you want it to do is very important.
"I think contrary to what most people think kids find thinking extremely motivating, if you can get them to do it."
Imagine that, kids don't tune you out because its difficult, they tune you out because they are bored to tears.
"I found I had to know my stuff in terms of pedagogy and content, but the kids were perfectly happy to be experts on the computer."
My 4 year-old teaches me stuff all the time. It's one way to learn. It also keeps him from destroying the house.
"With this information explosion you have to proceed with more caution...the encyclopaedia, of course, you would think has a good editorial board, though some books aren't very good."
This was pre-wikipedia, but yeah some books just aren't very good. We can't even rust highly paid editors to give us THE right answers.
If you were trying to figure out which quotes were from the professor and which were from the TA. The second set of three quotes and the fourth set of three quotes were from the professor

I think my favorite quote was "I think if you have a computer teacher that person better be really good or it will lead up to teaching keyboarding, because I think the use of the computer just like the use of the pencil, this needs to be integrated into the curriculum as a whole."
If we just had a #pencilchat tag it would be perfect.

So what does this all mean? Simply, that as much as the world has changed in the last 10 or 12 years in reality it hasn't.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

K12 Education

My honest opinion. It wasn’t the purpose of cyber-school founders to make money on the backs of children. It wasn’t the intent of cyber-school founders to suck money directly from the government teat. They really wanted to improve education. I don’t even think it is the purpose of most people who work at cyber-schools to put profits over people. These sort of things just happen despite the best of intentions.

I read this article on today. It reminded me, I used to work for a subsidiary of Knowledge Universe Education, I have friends, who are good educators, that still do work for them. I also trained to work for K12 and Agora, also subsidiaries of Knowledge Universe Education.

I didn’t finish the training. I tried but I ran into glitches and couldn't finish without help.  I found it ironic that the training materials emphasised the need for teachers to monitor students closely and how to spot trouble spots early. Then as I had difficulties figuring out what and how to finish the last part of my training I couldn’t find anyone to help me.

At any rate the training course at least covered the basics as far as I was concerned. It just seemed to be more of an independent study program with the simplest form of assessments. You know the kind where they ask a question and you use a word find or a google search to figure out the answer.

In the end I never became a teacher for K12 and I was actually pretty glad I didn't. $12 an hour to be a part-time teacher isn't very exciting. On the other hand the fact that I haven't had money for luxuries such as new underwear isn't very exciting either.

The sad part is I think cyber-schools can and should be a part of the future of education. I think anyone can see how a cyber-school would be great for a motivated learner who wants to move beyond what is taught in school. I can even see how the flexibility of cyber-school could be a benefit for any student.

What I can’t see is:

  • How cyber-schools can improve education for students who don’t want to go to school in the first place.
  • How cyber-schools can help students who need more individualised support not less.
  • How cyber-schools can help students who spend most of their school day avoiding work and hiding from teachers.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Paying your dues

I was talking to a mentor the other day about my future prospects, oh and another miserable excuse for an interview. Honestly, I’m not very good at interviews.
Anyway, the point I want to make concerns some of the advice she gave me. It seems that many districts expect a new administrative candidate to go through the Assistant Principal position first. It is possible to skip that step, but it will often make life difficult down the road.
This doesn’t sound too bad. I would expect that a person be able to be an assistant first, but that is assuming that the assistant position is similar to the principal position just a jr. It isn’t. The job description in wikimedia lists a wide variety of duties.
They are primarily responsible for scheduling student classes, ordering textbooks and supplies, and coordinating transportation, custodial, cafeteria, and other support services. They usually handle student discipline and attendance problems, social and recreational programs, and health and safety matters. They also may counsel students on personal, educational, or vocational matters. With the advent of site-based management, assistant principals are playing a greater role in ensuring the academic success of students by helping to develop new curricula, evaluating teachers, and dealing with school-community relations—responsibilities previously assumed solely by the principal.
This description actually sounds pretty good. However, in many schools the assistant principal is the dean of discipline. When I studied for my administrative certificate I don’t remember a single course on discipline. There was leadership, budgets, law, curriculum, and supervision, but no discipline.
So I wonder why is it that we expect our administrators to be masters of discipline? (Not that they shouldn’t be able to handle some of the most serious cases, but why are they the end all be all that goes wrong in school?)
The dean of discipline seems to spend most of his time dealing with piddly stuff. Dress code violations, class disruptions, disrespect, and such. Yes, he spends a good amount of time on more serious issues, but honestly why do we have to pay our dues dealing with stuff that shouldn’t even be a problem.
I’ll be the first to admit that my classrooms tended to be a bit loud. It drove me crazy because my personal active engagement tends to make me more quiet, which seems to be the opposite of the norm. So as the noise level increased in my classroom I would naturally either tune it out; In which case I’m sure there was probably a lot of social interaction happening with my students that I missed. Or if I didn’t tune it out I would try to restore piece and quiet (so I could hear myself think you know). If I forgot that I meant for this to happen I might have even raised my voice once or twice, (one of the 10 ways to be a terrible teacher).
The thing is I encouraged this behavior (not the yelling part), even if it sometimes drove me crazy. I wanted my students to be engaged. I wanted them to talk to each other. So I rarely had a student who got into trouble for talking, moving, doodling, or any one of a number of actions that seem to add up to detentions, referrals, and trips to the Assistant Principal’s Office.
Now my point is: Why do we need to pay our dues by enforcing silly, counter productive rules? Why don’t we pay our dues by working with teachers to create a positive engaging atmosphere in the school? One where students learn to appreciate and perhaps even enjoy school.
For more of an idea of what I am talking about I would suggest reading Vicki Davis’ post below.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Material-less math and questions

Playing PianoImage by dendari via Flickr

I have moved my blog to my own website. I will continue to cross post here until I figure out how to run things smoothly over there. If you are subscribed here please subscribe there also so I know if it is working. Thanks
As a support person I often find myself with a class for a day, or a period, or even just a few minutes while the teacher is gone. I need something to keep the students occupied with something other than gossip. So when the question came up "Need games children can play without any material to improve mathematical skills for thousands of slum area's children." I paid attention.
The first suggestions were games of NIM, which is a game played with stones. Any sort of counter will do and they don’t have to be uniform. Basically the game is played by making a pile of stones then picking up a number of stones in turn eventually forcing your opponent to pick up the last stone. Rules can include putting the stones in various sized groups and picking from one group at a time. Having a minimum and maximum number of stones that can be picked up, or really anything you can think of.
The second suggestion was playing “20 questions”. The answer can be as simple as a number and increase in difficulty such as rules or functions, to equations of lines, or just about any sort of concept in math. Imagine guessing a number but not being allowed to ask if it is higher or lower.
When I teach 8th grade math I basically like to make sure my students can recognize each function from the graph, the equations, and the table. So this fits in nicely. Actually anything we define in terms of properties should, theoretically, be a good answer for a 20 questions game. The game can and should be a vehicle for teaching students how to think critically about the properties of an object.
The last suggestion was Bizz Buzz. I’ve played Buzz a lot, which is a simple game. The rules are: students line up or sit in a circle and count up saying Buzz when they reach the number or its multiple. Bizz Buzz is a variation using two numbers and their multiples. Too add even more difficulty try using numbers from different bases. After playing this in the classroom a few times I increased the difficulty one my time by asking students to say Bang when they reach a number that is a common multiple. Playing with factors and common factors should also work.
I might also recommend ideas such as which I think is a great method to learn math. Creating patterns of dance or stomps with your feet.
I was also talking to a music teacher a few weeks ago. He was trying to teach his students the relationship between fractions and notes using the old pizza method. I suggested he stay with what is natural and use the timing of the notes. Whole notes, half notes, quarter and eights are fractions of time not pizza. Sustained notes are simply adding fractions. Students would obviously practice with their instruments, but drums can be easily created. I would assume that difficulty could be increased with various time measures.
If you have any other suggestions please add them to the comments below.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

I Think I Need Some Knee Pads

I have moved my blog to my own website. I will continue to cross post here until I figure out how to run things smoothly over there. If you are subscribed here please subscribe there also so I know if it is working. Thanks

DSCN6492At the moment until MAP testing is finished I am substituting and assisting as needed.
These classrooms are generally quiet places. The teacher talks, the students write, then in the second half of the class students get to work some practice problems. I generally hope the lecture isn’t too long, I get bored pretty quickly.
When the students are working I finally feel like I can be helpful. They raise their hands and I come over and answer questions. There’s no such thing as a quick answer from me however. I don’t lean over a student to correct mistakes.
What I do is kneel down, read the problem carefully, then read their attempted solution. I try to find where they went off track. Then I ask questions. Why did you do this? What is happening here? How does that help? What would happen if you did this?
Sometimes, I see students begin to raise their hands then put them down when they see me coming. They would rather a quick answer I suppose.
Earlier in the year I had my own class. I choose to leave my classroom to do interventions instead. Sometimes I think I should have stayed in the classroom. I forget how much I love teaching. It was frantic and chaotic, but fun.
No one else seems t teach like me around here.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reading Student’s Non-Verbal Cues

I'd like to introduce you to my first guest blogger, Vanessa Van Petten, creator and of and author. Vanessa wrote her first book at 17 "You're Grounded!: How to Stop Fighting and Make the Teenage Years Easier" She continues her mission to help teens and their parents understand each other with her second book.

Reading Student’s Non-Verbal Cues

By Vanessa Van Petten, creator of and author of the parenting book, “Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?”

Teachers are often the great interpreters of the younger generations—always having to read, converse
with and mentor their students. At—a website for adults written by teens and kids to give them a secret view into the minds of teens and tweens we write about how important teachers are in young people’s lives.

One of the most important aspects of this teacher-student relationships is reading non-verbal cues. In my book, Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded I give tips for parents and teachers on how to read the non-verbal cues of the kids, tween and teens in their lives. Here are a few I share:

Battle Stance

Battle Stance is when someone stands with their feet wide, hands on their hips and shoulders square. It usually means they feel attacked and are going on the defensive. If a teacher or parent sees this they can immediately diffuse this subconscious state by taking a casual tone and ask the person to sit down or go to another room. This tells them they do not need to feel attacked and physically removes them from a defensive state.

Fear vs. Surprise

In my presentations and articles on Social and Emotional Intelligence I often reference microexpressions. A microexpression is a brief, involuntary facial expression that is shown on the face of humans according to the emotions that are being experienced. Unlike regular pro-longed facial expressions, it is difficult to fake a microexpression. They often occur as fast as 1/15 to 1/25 of a second. There are seven universal microexpressions: disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise, and contempt. In terms of lying, I believe that fear and surprise are the most important ones for parents to recognize. After all, if you ask your teen, “Did you know about the cheating incident at school?” A fearful microexpression will tell you something very different than if they look surprised.

-The brows are raised and curved
-Skin below the brow is stretched
-Horizontal wrinkles across the forehead
-Eyelids are opened, white of the eye showing above and below
-Jaw drops open and teeth are parted but there is not tension or stretching of the mouth

-Brows are raised and drawn together, usually in a flat line
-Wrinkles in the forehead are in the center between the brows, not across
-Upper eyelid is raised, but the lower lid is tense and drawn up
-Upper eye has white showing, but not the lower white
-Mouth is open and lips are slightly tensed or stretched and drawn back

If you liked these tips and are interested in learning more about the non-verbal cues of kids, tweens and
teens please check out my book “Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?


Paul Ekman (1999). Basic Emotions. In T. Dalgleish and M. Power (Eds.). Handbook of Cognition and
Emotion. Sussex, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

"The lie detective: San Francisco psychologist has made a science of reading facial expressions" by Julian Guthrie, San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, September 16, 2002.

Book: Why Kids Lie: How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Google, Apple, Microsoft which is the greater fool?

Diagram Android DevelopersImage via WikipediaI was reading this article, specifically the comments. The author felt that google stuck it to Apple and Microsoft, hence the title, “Larry Paige Just Made Apple and Microsoft Look Like Fools”. The comments however were mostly the exact opposite. Many of the commenters specifically mentioned that Google paid three times the price for three times the patents, or that Motorola, the company Google bought, has a less than stellar reputation lately, not to mention the fact that they are losing money. They point out that Google is probably annoying the other hardware manufacturers that build phones with their Android operating system. I think they are all missing the point.

The commenters also point out that Google probably did this for protection from patent lawsuits brought about by Apple. This is the point, but not as the commenters see it. The consensus opinion seems to be that Google will use the patents they bought to hit back at Apple or create their own phones and compete with already established companies that are building phones with the Android operating system.

I think this is wrong on both accounts. As much as many of the commenter's think it would be foolish for Google to spend 12.5 billion to buy patents and then set them free, I think that is exactly what they intend to do with them.

Google isn’t in the phone making business. They aren’t even in the phone operating system making business. They are in the advertising business. To make money on advertisements they need a lot of advertisements on a lot of real estate, even if that real estate is a phone. by supporting and giving away the Android operating system they essentially get all that real estate for free. The patent lawsuits from Apple has cost Google a lot of money to keep and expand that real estate. By buying the patents and making them open source companies who make phones (and tablets) with the Android operating system no longer need to fear lawsuits from Apple and can and will expand their use of the Android operating system.

Really Google didn’t buy Motorola for hardware, or patents. They bought an end of the patent lawsuits from competing companies. Too many people are trying to simplify this to be a simple straight line from the cost of building a widget, subtracted from the price of the sale, equaling profit. Business is more complex than that and the larger the business the more complicated the line from cost to profit.

What does this have to do with education you ask? Simple, the profit from education is generally at the end of a longer and more complex line than any business you can imagine. To reform education requires us to be able to see past what looks like a foolish purchase and envision the ultimate possibilities.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Three unrelated things

Tax Increment Financing - TIF is a method to use future gains in taxes to finance current improvements (which theoretically will create the conditions for those future gains). definition from wikipedia as of Aug. 13, 2011.

School tax increases in Chicago - Homeowners are being asked to pay, on average, an extra $84 in annual property taxes to help plug Chicago Public Schools' $712 million budget deficit. From Chicago Tribune “City school tax hike greeted with frustration

The undereducated American workforce - The United States has been underproducing college-educated workers for decades. The undersupply of postsecondary-educated workers has led to both inefficiency and inequity. from Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

TIF’s are great, except what they do is pull money that would have gone into the general fund for a city and reserve it for a specific area. this sounds great, but what it really does in the end is short change education. Hence the need to raise property taxes in Chicago to make up for the school budget deficit. In the end we all lose with an undereducated workforce.
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Measure of Effective Teaching

Have you walked on over to the Bill and Melinda Gates sponsored Measure of Effective Teaching Project? This is where Gates tries to answer the question: "How can effective teaching be identified and developed?"

Some would argue that this should have been the first and main thrust of his education efforts. For without the answer to the first half of this question school reform is doomed to failure. Others might say that the answer is and always will be "it depends".

Some of my highlights and comments about the MET Project Preliminary Findings Policy Brief.

Our goal is to help build fair and reliable systems for teacher observation and feedback to help teachers improve and administrators make better personnel decisions.

From the MET Project Preliminary Findings Policy Brief

For this report, we have studied student achievement gains on the state test and the supplemental tests in grades 4 through 8 for five MET districts. (The comment I have is how effective are gains in standardized tests in measuring teacher effectiveness? Not good as far as I remember)

we measure student achievement gains using two different tests in each subject, the state standardized test and an additional, more cognitively demanding test (It is nice to know they are using more than one measure of improvement)

we anticipate expanding these outcomes beyond traditional tests to include noncognitive measures (When?)

Each student’s performance at the end of the year is then compared to that of similar students elsewhere (just when you thought it was straight value added measurements they throw in a curve, but is it a true measure of teacher effectiveness)

a teacher’s past success in raising student achievement on state tests (that is, his or her value-added) is one of the strongest predictors of his or her ability to do so again (Except that we are using value added measurement to measure the ability to add value so of course this is consistent)

the teachers with the highest value-added scores on state tests also tend to help students understand math concepts or demonstrate reading comprehension through writing.

In many classrooms students reported that “We spend a lot of time in this class practicing for the state test,” or “Getting ready for the state test takes a lot of time in our class.” However, the teachers in such classrooms rarely show the highest value-added on state tests. On the contrary, the type of teaching that leads to gains on the state tests corresponds with better performance on cognitively challenging tasks and tasks that require deeper conceptual understanding, such as writing. (Shouldn't this suggest that we need to put more emphasis on teaching higher level thinking skills and less on classroom management?)

students report positive classroom experiences, those classrooms tend to achieve greater learning gains

valid feedback need not be limited to test scores (for students and teachers I think)

First we sorted teachers based on student perception surveys and value-added on the state math assessment. (The question I was looking for but didn't see was something to the effect of: My teacher refused to give me the answer but made me figure it out for myself?)

The difference in learning associated with being assigned a top quartile teacher rather than a bottom quartile teacher was more than seven months— roughly two-thirds of a school year! (This whole notion of putting student learning into grade level broken down by month is really a poor measurement of education. It losses effectiveness with age. Also when we ask students to identify and use specific skills they seem to be less knowledgeable than if we just ask students to solve problems, but that's just my opinion.)

[project time line for Winter 2011] Preparing systems for multiple measures of teacher evaluation: using digital video, training observers, and meeting data requirements. (I have found using video to observe is wholly ineffective. You can't switch focus from teacher, to student, to board, to whole class as fast or often enough. I also can't zero in on a conversation or student when I want to. Finally, how do you ask the students for their feedback?)

Reinventing the way we develop and evaluate teachers will require a thorough culture change in our schools. No longer should teachers expect to close the door to their classrooms and “go it alone.” (Good teachers will agree with this and have been pushing for collaboration for a long time)

retraining those who do classroom observations to provide more meaningful feedback

we need to be humble about what we know and do not know

 In the end I don't think this commission is doing the right research to answer the first half of their original question, "How can effective teaching be identified?" The assumption is that effective teaching can be identified by some sort of value-added measure with one or two standard tests. However, the question is how to you identify effective teaching so we should start with: Is this value-added idea working? How do we effectively observe teacher effectiveness in the classroom? What is an effective measure of student growth? The answers to these questions are being assumed and they shouldn't be.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011


In education accountability seems to be requiring students to take standardized tests and if the students do not meet the required scores the school is punished. This is supposed to mirror the free market. In the free market if a company makes a bad product losing consumers and eventually going out of business is the punishment.

This is the story of my first riding mower. I spent the winter researching quality, price, and size of riding mower for my yard. What I ended up with was a piece of junk that I had to take to the mechanic at least once a year from 2006 to 2009, when they finally replaced the lower part of the engine. It was the next summer I was contacted about a class action lawsuit.

The suit was settled just this year (2011) I received a $21 check in the mail and a one-year extension of my manufacturers warranty. I wrote Kohler (engine manufacturer) and told them my tale of woe and asked how I could make a claim on the warranty.

Well, it turns out that though my engine failure could have been caused by a manufactures defect, it could also have been caused by something else entirely. Therefore without pictures of the broken engine or a clear recollection of a repair job done two years ago I was denied any claim whatsoever.

So tell me. How is this being held accountable? Making hundred hundreds of extra dollars per machine because then returning each customer who filled out the proper paperwork $21?

Have you ever read a Dilbert cartoon? The incompetents get promoted into management.
Dilbert Cartoon from

Some folks think unions and schools are protecting subpar teachers who should be drummed out of the profession. Claiming that in the free market employees are regularly fired for poor performance. I worked a lot of jobs from the age of 16 until 30 when I got into teaching and I haven’t seen that many people fired.

In my experience (outside of education) it is completely normal for the “bad” employee to continue working for years. It even seems that the higher the pay the more secure the job for the “bad” employee. The lower paying jobs are usually shift work and the “bad” employee can just be left off the schedule while managers just pass the blame down the line.

Have you ever watched the Apprentice with Donald Trump? When the project manager admits a mistake s/he usually gets fired.
Donald Trump picture found at

Should there be accountability in education. Yes, the nature of the accountability needs to be a matter for open discussion between teachers, administration, parents, and students. I would lean towards things like digital portfolios that have a record of work done as opposed to tests, but that is because I value fair and honest evaluations over cost savings.

Should there be a system to remove teachers? Yes, and there already is one in every district. Can it be streamlined and improved? In some cases yes, but in other cases it works just fine.

At the end of the day the person who should be evaluating teachers and holding us accountable are the parents. They don’t do that through test scores. They should be doing that by following the progress of their children during the year, communicating with their teacher, and supporting and supplementing the education as much as possible.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Born to Learn

A a middle school teacher I loved the last three minutes of this video. "oh no say parents, oh yes say adolescents " "We shouldn't belittle.... ' "instead of letting them sit passively in class..." "they will be bursting with a desire to learn..."


Friday, August 5, 2011

Videos for Inspiration

I started reading this blog post - well watching the videos and I didn't get through the first one before I had something to say.

Lessons for teaching:
Good teaching then becomes the ability to give students time to slow think, but to be there when they need help.
More importantly we need to understand our subject well enough so that when students come up to us with half formed ideas we need to recognize the path that they are traveling on so that we can guide them further along the right path - not our path.
Well right path isn’t necessarily the right term because sometimes the wrong path is more important to travel first.
Sometimes students come up to me with questions and my best response is not an answer, but a question. Why did you do this? What were you thinking when you did this? What did you want to happen? Why don’t you and Joe work together I think you two are working on similar ideas?


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

This Guy Joe

Aliosha VII YachtImage via WikipediaThis guy Joe borrows my truck everyday to tow his boat to the lake. He never offers to pay for gas or maintenance on the truck. Once he even drove the truck into a ditch. He walked away and left it there. The next day he came over to borrow the truck and got mad that it wasn't back in my driveway ready to tow his boat. He went to the mechanic and borrowed the truck from there before it was finished being fixed. Then he demanded the mechanic upgrade the tires and rims and add a bit of chrome.
Bills have been tough lately. I can't afford to keep filling the truck with gas everyday so Joe can drive to the lake. Actually, he has the truck all the time and only returns it so I can fill the tank.
I thought about not filling the tank, or even trading in the truck for a smaller car, but Joe threatened to let my neighbor take rides on his boat instead of me. (not that I've had the time or money to take a ride on the boat in years).
I tried to find a second job, but Joe was the only person in town hiring and he refuses to give me a job. He says I should trim the fat in my household budget instead.
So I raided my kids college fund to fix the truck for Joe, I cashed in my IRA to put gas in the truck for Joe. I cut meat from the grocery list and turned off the cable so Joe could use my truck. Vacations have been a dream unfulfilled for years. I guess next week I'll sell my vacation home to the Chinese immigrant. I mean really Joe needs to have a way to get his boat to the lake and someday, some day I'll get the chance to borrow it. That is if Joe will let me borrow it.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Turning Point

Taken from a friends facebook notes

I promise I only ask once a year.....

by Joe Kvidera on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 5:53pm
As most of you know, I work at Turning Point, McHenry County’s only
comprehensive domestic violence agency and shelter. Coming up on August 12th
& 13th, we’re holding our huge annual fundraiser “Take a Stand for Tuning
Point.” It’s a massive event that involves our local radio station Star
105.5, a couple dozen local businesses and service groups, over 100
volunteers and hundreds and hundreds of donors. It’s always a little
awe-inspiring to see all the people turn out and pitch in. It’s like the
last minutes of “It’s a Wonderful Life” where all the friends and neighbors
pitch in with a dollar, or some change- whatever they can spare- to make
sure the old Building and Loan survives.

 This will be the sixth year we’ve done this event and it never fails to
amaze me. People come by to tell us thank you for what Turning Point has
done for them or their mother or their sister or their friend or their
co-worker or….or….or…or. And then there are the people who come down because
they heard us on the radio and never knew Turning Point existed…and they
need our help.

In the last year, our advocates responded to 5,862 hotline calls. These are
calls from people in a bind- in fact many of the calls are not domestic
violence related. Folks call because they are in trouble, they know our name
and know we can help. The majority of these calls get referred to other
social service or government offices that can provide assistance: Turning
Point advocates listen, assess and help the callers to find the help they

And then there are all the callers that DO need our help: In the past year
we’ve served 1,825 clients, wrote 694 Orders of Protection and even
continued our work with another local agency, the Home of the Sparrow, to
provide transitional housing for those clients who are ready to leave our
shelter and start new, healthier, safer lives in new homes.

 And speaking of that shelter, it has been at or near capacity recently-
tough times stress families in all ways and we’ve had a decided upswing in
clients that need shelter, food or other assistance to survive.  Doing more
with less is our daily goal.

But we can’t do everything with nothing! Here’s where you come in. If you
can help, this is the time to do it. No donation is too small or too big:

•    $5 can buy a ream of printer paper that might be used to write an
order of protection, stopping the violence in one home for one family.
•    $50 provides one session of counseling for a victim in crisis: One
session might connect her to services that could potentially save her life.
•     $600 is enough to provide crisis intervention, legal advocacy, and
non-legal advocacy for one “walk-in” victim of domestic violence who comes
to Turning Point for help rebuilding her life.
•    $1800 provides a full course of counseling for a child who has
witnessed or experienced violence in their home.  Children in abusive homes
tend to model their parents and grow up to be in abusive relationships as
adults without counseling and early intervention.
•    $2,700 provides emergency shelter and supportive services for one
victim of domestic violence who had to flee their home in order to be safe.
Staying in the Turning Point Shelter isn’t just “bed & board”- Residents get
individual and group counseling and often job training, parenting classes,
financial counseling- whatever they need to successfully transition to
peaceful, healthy homes of their own. In the short term, that shelter saves
lives; in the long term, staying there can also CHANGE lives.

There are several ways you can make a donation (which is tax deductible as
allowed by law):

1.    Write a check and mail it to Turning Point, PO Box 723, Woodstock IL

2.    Make an on-line donation by going to You can click on that “Donate Now”
link and make a contribution with a credit or bank card. Please consider
setting up a monthly donation; $10 a month over the course of a year makes a
HUGE impact on our finances. (There is also a lot more information about
Turning Point there!)

3.    If you are on Facebook, you can visit the Turning Point Cause page,
become a supporter and make an online contribution there.

4.    The event is held LIVE on air Friday August 12th  and Saturday
August 13th .You can stop by Sam’s Club in Crystal Lake and make a donation
in person. Or call in (during those two days only- phones are live 6 AM
Friday until 6 PM Saturday ONLY) on our donation hot lines (815) 914 0618 or
(815) 914 0930- Tell ‘em Joe sent you!

5.    Or call Turning Point during business hours and give us the
information: (815) 338 8081.

6.    This year, we’ve got a whole bunch of other ways to help. There is a
clothing drive Saturday the 6th. We’re doing a “McCare Night” with 7 local
McDonalds and a “Dine out event” with Julie Ann’s Frozen Custard, Colonial
CafĂ©, Jersey Mike’s Subs and Noodles & Company all on Route 14 in Crystal
Lake on Wednesday August 10th.  We’ve even got a daycare center doing a car
wash for us- see what I mean about how all those different folks all pitch
in for us? You can read all about what’s going on at the Turning Point Blog. If you can buy a sub
or bring us your used clothes, it will earn us some money and we’d
appreciate it!

I know times are hard all over- If you can help, thank you. If not, I sure
do understand. If you can, please pass this on to your E-mail list or
Facebook friends. As part of us “doing more with less”, we try to spend as
little money as possible on fund raising and a message like this one is a
free way to reach folks so we don’t have to resort to expensive events or
buying a mailing list to reach new donors.

 Thanks so much!!


Education Equity: Civil Rights of the 20th and 21st Century

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 22:  Chicago school teacher...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeThis post has been in my brain since I sat and read the Supreme Court decisions concerning desegregation of education during our school law class. This will be my last post on this blog, but please do follow my growth on my personal blog.

Just the other day I was listening to the radio (NPR I think but I can't seem to find the recording) and someone was talking about Cuba and segregation. The general gist of the show went like this: In an effort to be equal Cuba banished race in all census forms.
Except that ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away.
Instead of the free and open society Castro envisioned what he actually got was rampant De Facto discrimination.

The speaker went on further to suggest that in the U.S. we had De Jure discrimination. In the U.S. the people had real facts, words, and deeds to fight against and thus the struggle for Civil Rights was born. In Cuba accusations of racism are easily deflected with a shrug of the shoulders and the suggestion that we have no race, how can we have racism?

It was an interesting show and got me back to thinking about education segregation in the United States.

In the 1960’s when it was legal to discriminate on the basis of color or religion it was blatantly obvious that there were inequities in the educational system. When these cases finally made it to court this is what the court said:

“Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment.” (Brown v. Board of Education)

“those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness in a law school” (Sweatt v. Painter)

“A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. “ (Brown v. Board of Education)

“Local control over the education of children allows citizens to participate in decisionmakeing, and allows innovation so that school programs can fit local needs.” (Milliken v. Bradley)

“The adoption of a freedom of choice plan does not, by itself, satisfy a school district’s mandatory responsibility to eliminate all vestiges of a dual system.” (Freeman v Pitts)

A basis for determining if a school district were desegregated was set forth in Green v County School Board of New Kent and reiterated in Freeman v Pitts: to achieve unitary status schools must be equal in terms of:
  1. student assignments,
  2. transportation,
  3. physical facilities,
  4. extracurricular activities,
  5. teacher and principal assignments,
  6. resource allocation,
  7. and quality of education.
In Green it was determined that the freedom of choice didn’t desegregate schools. “Rather than further the dismantling of the dual system, the plan has operated simply to burden children and their parents with a responsibility which Brown II placed squarely on the School Board.”

In Freeman v Pitts desegregation was not achieved in the Dekalb County School system because:
“In the Supreme Court Case of Freeman v. Pitt the District Court found that DCSS had not achieved unitary status with respect to quality education because teachers in schools with disproportionately high percentages of white students tended to be better educated and have more experience than their counterparts in schools with disproportionately high percentages of black students, and because per pupil expenditures in majority white schools exceeded per pupil expenditures in majority black schools.” (Russo, p. 1096)

Why is this important today? Just days after teachers marched on Washinton DC?

If school choice didn’t work in Kent County why do we think it will work today?

If inequity of funding was a symptom of the problem 50 years ago how can we reform education by cutting funding today?

If lack of experience and lack of advanced degrees was a symptom of poor schools in the 1960’s how can replacing those same teachers be considered reform today?
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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Free Appropriate Public Education

Monroe Elementary School - Brown Vs the Board ...Image via WikipediaA Cross post from my JHU/ISTE blog

Are public schools doing enough or are they trying to do too much?
In the case of Hendrick Hudson School District v. Rowley
A lower court noted that:
“she performs better than the average child in her class and is advancing easily from grade to grade,” but “the she understands considerably less of what goes on in class than she could if she were not deaf” and thus “is not learning as much, or performing as well academically, as she would without her handicap,” (Russo, 6th edition p. 1002)
Thus they decided she was not receiving a “free appropriate public education,” (Russo, p. 1002)
The supreme court reversed the ruling stating, “if personalized instruction is being provided with sufficient supportive services to permit the child to benefit from the instruction, and the other items on the definitional checklist are satisfied, the child is receiving a “free appropriate public education” as defined by the Act….” (Russo, p. 1004) “The Act’s intent was more to open the door of public education to handicapped children by means of specialized educational services than to guarantee any particular substantive level of education once inside.” ( The Act does not require a State to maximize the potential of each handicapped child commensurate with the opportunity provided nonhandicapped children. ( )
My question then is, Does the free public education in our country need only be of a “measurable” gain instead of maximizing the potential of each student?
Earlier in 1954 the case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Topeka I) the justices said:
“Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments”
“In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.”
Does this sound like asking for a mere measurable gain?
Of course they also say, in the same paragraph:
“It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment”
Perhaps a free and appropriate public education is not meant to give each student the maximum educational benefit.
So what is the purpose of free public education in the United States? Should the state provide just the foundation or should they provide “those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness … (Sweatt v. Painter)”?
Russo, C. J. (2006). Reutter’s the law of public education (6th ed.). New York, NY: Foundation Press.
BROWN v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA Supreme Court of the United States, 1954 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873.
SWEATT v. PAINTER Supreme Court of the United States, 1950 339 U.S. 629
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Problem With a Problem Based Curriculum

Gerolamo CardanoImage via WikipediaHere is a great activity for a classroom.  It’s accessible to every student in the class, it can quickly and easily be modified to be more difficult, it leads to dozens of different questions for further exploration.

Now the question is what standards does this problem meet? Obviously, it can meet the need for subtraction in a second grade classroom and easily be modified for use with decimals and fractions for older grades. But what about some higher ordered thinking. (If you don’t think about this then the activity is simply practice in a frilly dress)

Moving to the next blog post we can see some very interesting questions on Algebra.

So now this interesting activity moves from being a lesson practicing the skill of subtraction to an open ended question on creating and proving Algebraic equations.

Then someone goes and suggests using n-gons instead of squares and finding the properties of such a system.

Suddenly, we can see that this simple activity is not only expandable for skill difficulty, but for conceptual difficulty as well. This is an activity I can use with 2nd graders all the way up to college students.

The real questions become:

* What are the actual concepts that I can teach with this activity?
* How do I direct or suggest my students move towards the concepts I want to teach without it seeming like I am directing them that way?
* How do I measure the learning?
* Who comes up with ideas like this and how do I find more?
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Friday, June 10, 2011

A Dream

The other night I had a dream. I dreamt that I had died and gone to heaven. I realized immediately I didn't belong. I asked God what I had done to to deserve such an exception.
God responded, "Your children will grow up to be better people than you are, they will be a success where you were a failure, they will avoid the mistakes you made, and make better choices. They will realize the dreams you have and that will be only the beginning.”
“So I make it to heaven because I was a good parent?”
“No, you are here because you children will be lonely without you. Now, go back and be the type of parent you wish you were.”


Sunday, May 22, 2011


Plots of quadratic equations with discriminant...Image via WikipediaI overheard someone say they thought it was amazing that teachers would give up a Saturday to go to a home grown professional development. I don’t think so. I thought, cool free conference, free breakfast, and free lunch.

Having never been to an unconference I wasn’t sure what to expect. My wife asked me if I wasn’t going to dress a bit better as I was walking out the door. I would have looked pretty silly in a suit and tie.

After the free breakfast, (courtesy of Lenovo I think) we all got together in the auditorium to create the schedule. If you want to lead something or learn something put the idea on a piece of paper and put the paper on the big board, the only requirement is if you create the session you must show up. I didn’t create a session, it kind of caught me by surprise (why I don’t know). With the schedule made we were off.

My first session was the future of the book. When will publishers get the idea that the e-book needs to be more than a paper book. It starts with shared note taking, then continues with animation (a math problem being solved for example), but that is just the beginning. Technology doesn’t just look cool, it gives us the ability to connect, to interact, to change, and to create. If a publisher isn’t going to do that, than it is high time we started doing so. I thought of the amount of work some of our teachers did in adding to the math textbook the high school just bought and I thought, “Would it really be that much more of a stretch to make your own book?”

My second session was on Standards Based Grading, SBG. I’m a big fan of SBG. What is better feedback, Student A scored a C on the last quiz or Student A recognizes the shape of a quadratic graph, recognizes the the standard form of a quadratic equation, but not the factored form, and student A cannot find the solutions to a quadratic equation. It seems like a no brainer, but I suppose some folks will disagree. For some interesting reading of a teacher using SBG in the classroom check out this blog. The best part thought was that the founders of ACtiveGrade, Riley and Michel, came from Iowa just to participate. (I love when these former teachers trying to improve education keep in touch with educators). They also gave away a free 1 year subscription but I didn’t win.

The fourth session for me was “Bringing Google Apps to your district/school”. I love my google stuff, all my documents online, multi-users editing stuff at the same time, email, etc... It seems that google even goes so far as to create a special education only user agreement if a school wants to add Google Apps. The money savings on IT work alone is amazing. Not to mention the free archiving of every email. I created a list of the the links shared during that session.

Session 4 was learning to program for the iphone (really I’d rather program for android, but whatever). I don’t really know anything about programming, but I keep some ideas for apps on a little list so if I every figure out how to program I’ll have something to do. We had three people in that group on none of us really had actually programmed for a phone before, though the other two did at least some experience in programming. They shared some resources which I compiled into a list here. The app inventor looks a bit like Scratch so I think that might be about my speed.

I missed out on the “what to do if you don’t have any technology in the classroom” however our own Mathew Foster attended that one. I have the video which I uploaded to youtube. He tells me he is planning on creating a few flipped classes for next year.

Near the end of the day some folks got together to have what they call a smackdown. As I understand it this is where a bunch of people get together and share some of the web 2.0 tools they are using in their classrooms. Someone took notes and the list of tools can be found here.

The day ended with the prize giveaways. A bunch of t-shirts and stuff from Intel. Some free online conference subscription from SimpleK12, a one year subscription to ActiveGrade, a document camera from Aver, and a touch screen computer from Lenovo (They have given a bunch of these to edtech bloggers to give away, do I get one, nope. that’s alright I didn’t win an iPad either, when they were hot and everyone was giving them away).

All in all a great day. I got breakfast, lunch, a couple of cases of left over juice, and a whole bunch of learning all for free. Well sort of I made the name tags for everyone and that ran a few bucks, but if I had remembered to turn in my receipts I could have gotten some money back from that.

I can’t wait until next year, unless of course if all those (so called lazy, over paid) Wisconsin educators who invaded our conference will organize an EdCampMadison.
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