Sunday, February 24, 2013

Statistics, Textbook Bias and Robo-Calling Pollsters has this piece about Rasmussen polls:
Silver analyzed 105 polls released by Rasmussen Reports and its subsidiary, Pulse Opinion Research, for Senate and gubernatorial races in numerous states across the country. The bottom line is that on average, Rasmussen's polls were off by 5.8% with a bias of 3.9% in favor of the Republican candidates.
It's a methodology thing - robo-call households and you'll be more likely to get older, more often Republican voters who have a landline instead of the younger, cell-phone only types on the DoNotCall list. This is an issue but you can account for it. It's more problematic when you are talking about schools. Darren links to a Rasmussen report that says
Extremism in the defense of my virtue is no vice.
Voters continue to believe that political correctness trumps accuracy in most school textbooks. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 16% of Likely U.S. Voters think most school textbooks are more concerned about accurately providing information. That's down from 27% in March 2010. Fifty-nine percent (59%) think most textbooks are chiefly concerned with presenting information in a politically correct manner, consistent with attitudes for the past three years. Twenty-five percent (25%) are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
Here's the question: "Are most school textbooks more concerned about accurately providing information or about presenting information in a politically correct manner?"

The choice of Yes or No is too limiting for a question like this one. How is anyone supposed to answer this and why would any teacher or school district care about the result?

Sure, everyone's got a right to an opinion but these opinions are based on flimsy evidence and zero first-hand experience.
  • How many adults have read or even skimmed an actual school textbook in the last few years? 
  • On what are these people basing their answer and which textbooks are they considering? 
  • How do they know that the "bias" they see isn't simply the book having a lack of bias towards their favorite religion or social cause? "I don't have an accent; I sound normal."
When you pose a question like this in a robo-call, it's obvious what kind of answers are being pushed for so I'm frankly not at all surprised that they got the answers they did.

My guess is that, if respondents have heard of this issue at all, they've heard from FoxNews or Ann Coulter going on about a history book called People's History of the US, by Howard Zinn, (which few schools use anymore) or about a California textbook that didn't deal harshly enough with Islam (i.e., treating all Islamics as responsible for acts of the Sunni extremist splinter group, Al Queda) which is akin to demanding that the all Christians must be responsible for the actions of the lunatics at the Westboro Baptist Church.

Of course, it could also be that the poll respondents have been listening to any one of the mentally confused pro-Intelligent Design reformers who are trying to change the science curriculum into something that won't contradict orthodoxy. There are no other hot-button issues since Indiana tried to make pi = 3.

As regards to the need for actual reform of the school textbook industry, this survey is merely a "confirm your current opinion" instrument. The industry has many problems; free digital books are going to make this whole discussion explode in brave new ways. Most people will drop the issue.

Except for Fox.  They'll continue to harp on it. In my opinion, of course.

Monday, February 18, 2013

How To Ask for a Recommendation

Ricochet spoke of a parent asking for a recommendation and mentioned this article detailing the tips for getting one from any teacher.  Here's what works for me:

Why ask me?

Ask me for a recommendation if you've taken a complete course from me and you tried your best in that class. It's even better if you've had me more than once. Writing a recommendation for someone I had in the fall semester three years ago is tough. I have no idea of growth or current ability. If you've only been in my class for a couple of weeks/months, I'm not the person to ask. If you skipped a lot or didn't do any work, ask a teacher for whom you DID work hard.

... poor behavior in class, frequent absences/tardies, chronic late assignments or incidents of academic dishonesty are reasons for declining ... Poor choices made at athletic and co-curricular events or crass behavior in non-classroom environments ...
Yeah, it matters. Childish or stupid behavior stays in my mind. Stealing someone's candy and throwing at another student, shooting spitballs in class ... really? Got caught drinking ... it depends. Did you admit the mistake and learn from it? I see you in lots of places and I remember both the good and the bad. If the bad outweighs the good, ask someone else.

Being an "A" student is not a requirement because I could talk about your willingness to work hard and persevere even though math isn't your strong point. Colleges want to know that you'll fit it to their programs and those immeasurable qualities are important ... that's what the recommendation is for ... those things not on the transcript.

I won't lie
TO you
and I won't lie
FOR you.
We also need to define the difference between an evaluation and a recommendation:

If I agree to write a recommendation, I will say good things. In my mind, there can be no bad recommendation - the meaning of recommend includes the idea that I believe you are a good fit for the program or school. If I can't write positive things, I won't lie to you and I won't lie for you. An evaluation, on the other hand, is an honest assessment of the good and bad and may include wording that suggests against the placement.

These are totally different animals and you must be clear on that difference. Some applications ask for one or the other specifically. Don't mess that up.

So, you've decided to ask me for a recommendation.

Ask personally and early. 

This is critical for me. If you can't come and see me personally to ask for the recommendation, then you have no business moving on to college. If your mother emails me instead, the answer will be "I don't think that I can write a recommendation for your child." If guidance has to email me and the words "deadline is next week" appear anywhere in the conversation, then you have failed.

Time: I can whip up a recommendation fairly quickly, but I'd like some lead time. Three to four weeks minimum is a good length of time.  That is, I'd like 3-4 weeks before you plan on sending the rest of the application, not 3-4 weeks before the drop-dead deadline for admissions. If you know that you will be asking in five or six months, tell me now. What possible reason could there be to wait? Planning ahead is the mark of an adult.

Bottom Line: This is YOUR future. You need to be planning for it and be responsible enough to get  it going. Everyone is here to help you by doing our part but not by doing your part for you.

Minimize the clerical work as much as possible.
This is just being polite. Fill out your name and all of the information that you know. If you are applying to ten schools, with ten different forms, then it is imperative that you do this. If we are using an online form with a 120 character URL, I need the exact URL sent in an email.

If the recommendation is something I can type, I will. I will send a copy of everything to the office in case we are out of session and they need another copy and I will give you a copy of everything I write.

Envelopes should be stamped, addressed, return addressed, and so on. It sounds picky, but it makes a difference. Splurge on the self-adhesive mailing envelopes - I appreciate not having to lick ten of the cheaper ones.

Be neat. 

If you can type it, then type it.  If your handwriting sucks, then you need to improve it. If it's barely legible, that reflects badly on you. Everything you put on the application will be looked at. If you can manage it, run the envelopes through the printer as well.

Follow Instructions

If the form says "Student will fill out the top of this form," then you should do that before handing it to me. If you can't do that simple task properly, it tells me you aren't serious about your plans. If the header says "Evaluation" then don't ask for a recommendation (and vice versa). If the instructions say for me to mail the recommendation separately, then have all the envelopes and such ready for me.

Many of the admissions decisions are, unfortunately, handled long before the admissions people read and consider applications. Your folder at College begins with a checklist. If anything is incomplete or missing, the folder is put aside and ignored until everything is complete or the deadline has passed. If you can't read and follow simple instructions, then why would the college waste its time on you? They have plenty of applications to pick through; any easy rejections are dealt with first. Of course, the check will be cashed before the folder is thrown away. This happens distressingly often. Don't let it happen to you.

Give me the list of your experiences.

Guidance has that form for you to tell me about yourself. Mention things that will help me make your case for you and allow me to be specific. List the awards you've earned, the volunteer work you've done, NHS and other societies you're a member of, History Day, Governor's Institute, Odyssey of the Mind, and son on. If you were student council, mention that.  If you ran a significant portion of Winter Carnival, definitely mention that.

The reason is two-fold; you'll be reminding me of things you've done which will help me even if I don't write about them specifically and this will be the source for your applications.

With regards to math classes you taken with me, include things that you enjoyed or that were meaningful to you or that you found directly useful in tech, for instance. I might never mention it, but it will help me in writing about you.

That's it.

Now it's my turn. If I tell you to check back with me in 3 weeks, then I am giving you permission to "check back with me in 3 weeks." Don't nag. Don't remind me every day or even every other day. It'll be done.

That's my responsibility.

Further reading: 

Read the article I linked to for other insights that apply at bigger schools or for other teachers.  I know most of the students at my school and I've had almost all of you in class at some time or other so "Practice your pitch", for instance, isn't as big a deal for me as it might be for other teachers.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cause of Death Statistics

Click to See Full-Size.


Some thoughts on guns and 2nd Amendment.

I responded to a friend the other day on Facebook.
The NBC link is about a murder in Texas with a chainsaw. So now in theory because they look evil and are dangerous they should be banned right. According to how politician’s look at things they should. Let’s not look at the human factor, just the tool that was used. I never said we don’t need some form of gun control, we do. What I am saying with this is that with tool no matter what its designed to do, whether it’s a car, chainsaw, hammer, screwdriver, gun, power tool, it can be and has been used to injure and or kill another human being. The gentleman in China that killed multiple people used a knife. So accordingly too the arguments over gun control, guns are dangerous in untrained hands or in the hands of the criminal, that being said this is true for all other tools out there .So it could be argued that all tools are dangerous and should be controlled. The hammer was the cause of many deaths here in the US, so we should ban them or how about cars. This is not about apples or oranges, a tool is tool no matter what its designed to do, but in the hands of HUMAN a tool can be used, whether they are untrained, a criminal, mentally incapable, to hurt other living beings. The main point being no matter the tool It takes a HUMAN to the do the deed, so why aren't we working on that instead. Why aren't they working on the human?

"They" are, but it's a tough row to hoe.

Meanwhile, various groups and hospitals are working on domestic abuse (and trying to help women out of bad situations in which they are threatened with guns daily), and police and ATF are trying to get the ability to track guns back to the store and close down the TINY % of stores that seem to be providing the 99% of guns in crime, and the background check legislation is to prevent those "flawed" humans from acquiring more guns easily, and the legislators are trying to identify the "bad" ones and pass laws to prevent them from owning a gun.

While some of these tactics may not suit you, remember that almost all of them (with the exception of the magazine limit - which is silly) were proposed by the NRA in the first place because they stood a very good chance of working to lower the gun violence, take guns out of the hands of idiots and crazies, and take some heat out of the situation and let us all breathe easier.

Back to the chainsaw - I don't care about the weapon: this man should be stripped of all rights to ever own a gun or any kind of dangerous tool. and be in Jail. Using him as a strawman doesn't help either side of the argument.

And for all of the 2nd amendment absolutists: the "original intent" was that Protestant white men were citizens, Catholic white men were tolerated, and pretty much everyone else: women, Blacks, children, Asians, Original-Americans (Indians), etc., were expected to follow orders, shut up, and be servile.

Over the last few centuries, we have interpreted, altered and re-configured the Constitution many times. If we can pass Prohibition and then come to our senses a few years later, then we have to agree that nothing is certain in this country. If we can pretend that a corporation has personal free-speech rights instead of simply being the owner's free speech rights, then we are very far from "original intent".

We have spent the last 230 years trying to improve this country and sometimes need to fix our improvements ... so what fix do you propose? What method do you have for identifying the idiots and crazies who are the "real problem"? What process do you propose to use for removing the guns of those the courts (for it will have to be they) determine shouldn't be allowed to have guns? What checks and balances will we install to make sure that no one who ISN'T on the banned list ever loses a gun?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Saturday, February 9, 2013

1:1 Tech - How Do you Kindle?

We're going to Chromebooks for next year.

1. Anyone who has done this already ... how do you Kindle? We'd like to get some fiction, purchased by the library, available to students. There are some students who absolutely cannot afford anything (living in a house with dirt floors ... in Vermont, 2013.  Yeah, I know)  so the Chromebook can't be tied to a credit card or anything like that.

1b. Similarly, we don't want the school's account to be available to the student.

2. We'd also like to have public domain novels, writings, and textbooks readable on a good reader.

How do you manage this?  What have you found useful, easy enough to implement, secure?

Okay, maybe I'm not getting how this works since I don't have a Chromebook yet.  Bill's comment addresses point number 2.  My bigger question is "How do you deal with a school-owned device needing a personal Kindle account?"

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Marriage Redefined

Divorced, beheaded and died;
divorced, beheaded, survived.
I'm Henry the eighth. I've had six sorry wives.
You could say I've ruined their lives.

Take guns away from the Crazy Ones.

Fortunately, they've self-identified:
"Some survivors of the mass shooting in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater last year have been "relentlessly" harassed by conspiracy theorists who believe the shooting never happened, according to a court document."
Yeah, we could start there.

If you are so badly out of touch with reality that you believe that Aurora didn't happen, that Newtown didn't happen, you need to be disarmed.

If you are so badly out of touch with reality that you believe that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, perhaps by the Obama administration, designed to stir demand for gun control, you need to be disarmed.

Belief in FoxNews is not evidence of craziness, so don't even go there.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Tech Questions for Educators

EdWeek has Questions For Educators
1) Do the most exciting technology-rich learning opportunities in your school go to the most-advantaged students in Honors or AP classes?

APThat's a tough question but fair and it's a good way to start this discussion. Our school is dipping its toe in the water this year and jumping in next year. From eight tablets to full 1:1 but it has been a tremendous work getting the IT, administration, faculty and taxpayers all on that same page. I can see how a school might hesitate in giving its worst students expensive tech that never gets used; better to give it to motivated students who will use it, in my view.  Even better to give it to everyone and avoid this quandry.
2) Is your school using technology to gain efficiencies in old practices, or to do things that are truly different?
I disagree with this question's intent - to pressure people into change - and I don't think that it is necessarily a bad thing to gain efficiencies. This will be the spark that gets technology into schools but once there, the changes to paradigm will happen when they become obvious. Changes shouldn't happen just for the hell of it.
3) Does your school teach students to be afraid of making bad decisions on the Internet? Or do you teach students how to create a digital footprint to be proud of?
I am proud to say that we teach the students to hide their personal information, obfuscate Facebook details, and do those crazy things teenagers do in ways that won't come back to haunt them. Then, we show them how to create the Public Persona and keep it clean and well-scrubbed.
4) Do rubrics for online projects evaluate students' ability to demonstrate their understanding, or do they measure compliance concerning criteria like length, number of posts, number of pages, etc.?
Spoken like someone who has never been a teacher. Those compliance measures are minimums. The wheat cannot get separated from the chaff if neither exists. As any writer can tell you, writing is the best practice for writing.  Do it often and throw away the bad stuff, but do it often.  As any math teacher can tell you, practicing the basics allows critical thinking to happen. Sometimes to have to require certain minimums from all and then marvel at what you get.
Nowhere to be found.
5) To what extent is your school measuring the impact of your technology investments? Could you prove to your stakeholders (parents, school boards, trustees) that the vast sums invested in technology are making a difference in student learning?
Absolutely not at all. This is a common complaint for me. "Change" is the rallying cry. Administrators spout the most recent BestPractice workshop. To which I answer, "To what end? Why? What improvements do you see? How do you know you've achieved those improvements?"  The inevitable answer is, "You're not much of a team player."
6) Does your school have a coherent vision that defines high quality learning? Is your technology plan specifically designed to serve that vision?
Again, nope. Reasoned, directed planning is not something that schools do well.  We're usually far too engrossed in our day-to-day work to venture into the world of "Vision."  I hate going there because I feel that the school's vision should be one sentence long: "Teach the students" and that obviously won't do. Our current vision and mission statement together run three pages and several hundred words.
7) How does your school prepare students for a world where the vast majority of learning takes place outside of school?
Silly question.  The vast majority of learning has always taken place outside of school. School is for the common foundational work that all students need. Little of what we do is geared specifically towards any particular life or job future. We teach poetry, algebra, physical science, literature, computer literacy and programming, languages, writing, history, art and music; most of it has little direct use once they graduate except as a foundation upon which to learn what they really need or want to know.

School is not a job training exercise. It can have some of those aspects to it's mission but that is not the primary mission of school.

Writing a Tech Policy

Or maybe I should say, "What NOT to include."

First, throw out all of your current policies and previous work. They were all written long before the Internet became the Internet -- the rules and culture have changed.
"Parents must sign before you will be allowed on the Internet/ borrow a 1:1 device."
And if they say "No" or if they just don't get the slip of paper? You are providing this kid with an education and a lot of it requires the Internet. Don't make threats you can't keep. If a "No" isn't an acceptable answer, then don't give the choice. (The parent's giving the kid a different device is obviously acceptable).

We are now at the point at which education without connection is well-nigh impossible. Primary purposes of 1:1 tech are to replace the textbooks with a tablet/chromebook and to allow the kids access to information unrestricted by access to a workstation. How is a policy that deprives a student of a textbook or Google apps reasonable?
"Failure to adhere to this policy will result in the revocation of access privileges."
Evil, evil child.
With this clause, you would give petty people the power to persecute. A kid reads his other email account and you ban him from the network? You find a kid is playing games? Reading hacker websites? Shopping websites? Instead, look at why he's wasting his time that way. Punish the behavior in some other way than by banning access to the Internet or simply ignore it - reading Facebook isn't the end of the world. Not paying attention is a problem, regardless of the form it takes. 1:1 device policies that contain a similar revocation clause are equally pernicious - how can you justify removing access to textbooks, Moodle, coursework, Google accounts, etc.?

If the kid is at home, then bug off. The school needs to stay out of personal business as much as practicable. Don't turn on the camera to spy on them. Don't wander through student folders. Don't read student email.

Until you have to. Then have a set policy detailing exactly under what circumstances the administration will examine documents. Lock out by password; two or more adults look through; student and parents are officially informed of positive or negative results. Don't leave any clause in the "contract" that permits anyone in your district to spy, eavesdrop, open student files or any other invasion of privacy without the same due process that adults demand.

Bullying is illegal. So is harassment.  Neither offense depends on the medium and both can by committed by students or by the school. Punish the offense, but realize that a forced disconnect is (A) impossible in light of the many cheap and readily available tools, like cellphones, and (B) isn't addressing the issue. .
"The Board believes that the benefit to students from access to electronic information resources and opportunities for collaboration far exceed the disadvantages."
What disadvantages? This is old-time thinking; "big, scary Internet will rot his brain if he doesn't fall victim to a sexual predator or download a virus that will wipe out the entire school, and allow a hacker to destroy us." We're in the 21st Century and, as much as I decry the ra-ra boosterism, I know that anyone who refers to them as "electronic information resources" doesn't really understand them.
Access to the Internet via our network provides connections to other computer systems located all over the world. Users and their parents must understand that the school district does not control the information available on these other systems. Some of the information is controversial and may be offensive.

Gatekeeper is an anachronism.
Yeah, but the bigger issue is that the majority of it is incorrect or biased. Stop the CYA and get out more. There's not a teenager alive who was harmed by the sight of a boob. Acting the over-protective nanny is obnoxious and rude.
"Do NOT access, store, create, consume, or share unauthorized or inappropriate content on your device."
If the school owns the device, then the school should press the reset button occasionally. All student data should be in their Google accounts anyway, or in a cloud storage site set up by the student; the device is irrelevant. Furthermore, schools need to back off the "must control everything" aspects of technology. Personalization is inevitable. Any student with a brain will set up a cloud storage, second gmail account, anonymous blog, or similar way to store things out of reach of the administration -- since you can't pry through it all, then back off the draconian attempts to micromanage what little you do have "control" over.
"Device use for monetary gains is prohibited."
Why? What bloody difference does it make if the kid gets a little entrepreneurial? In fact, I would welcome it. This may have been an issue once upon a time -- prevent teachers from slacking off and earning money while being paid by the District, but the students should be required to try and make some money, in my opinion.

Here is all the policy you really need:
By signing this document I and my child understand that computers and/or the 1:1 device are provided for “educational purposes” by the taxpayers of this town in the belief that such provision is worth the expense. We agree if my child knowingly breaks school rules, or state or federal laws, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken. 
Plain, simple, workable.
Said no student ever.