Saturday, October 31, 2009

Habits of Highly Ineffective Principals - Twisting

Use teacher self-evaluation comments in your observation reports. If the teacher says that he "would like to improve his homework policy" then your observation notes should include "Teacher's homework policies are inconsistent, ineffective and need improvement." "I'd like to explore a different curriculum" should be included as "Teacher does not use the approved curriculum. Test scores were low."

Twist every statement the teacher makes into a criticism that you can use on your report.

Always include phrases like "Does not use Best Practices", implying that you know better than the teacher. Remain focused on things like chair arrangement, seating charts and bulletin boards, clarity and length of type-written lesson plans, and written plans with links to standards. Always look for paperwork: If it isn't written down then it's wrong. If it is written, then use it against the teacher.

Happy Halloween.

The "Children sing Obama" video has competition

A little while ago, the world was horrified (okay, Fox News et al. was horrified) that an elementary school would have its children singing the praises of Obama in a YouTube video. Comparisons to Soviet Russia and cults of personality.

Then the antispin: "It's civics! At least these children know who the President is. Not like those twits on the Tonight Show."

Now we have the same thing, only this time it's corporate: Microsoft advertising jingles.

Can't say that's an improvement on singing to Obama.

I wonder if Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin will get their panties in a twist over it?

h/t to the Register

Friday, October 30, 2009

Habits of Highly Ineffective Principals - Meetings

Schedule meetings. Do not write memos when you can hold a meeting instead. Do not give out the memo at the faculty meeting. Read the memo to the faculty. Better yet, put it into Powerpoint, using dense masses of tiny text that no one but you can read. Then read it verbatim. Do not make the hard-copy available.

It helps if you are assisted by someone whose sole function is to tap the SmartBoard to advance the slides. Bonus points if you use the District Technology Coordinator as the Vanna White stand-in while talking about the district's improved use of technology.

When you are finished, adjourn the meeting. Do not take questions or allow for discussions because "I know some people want to get out of here".

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Learning from mistakes

Mistakes Help Us Learn

An interesting discussion in Scientific American:
For years, many educators have championed “errorless learning," advising teachers (and students) to create study conditions that do not permit errors. For example, a classroom teacher might drill students repeatedly on the same multiplication problem, with very little delay between the first and second presentations of the problem, ensuring that the student gets the answer correct each time.

The idea embedded in this approach is that if students make errors, they will learn the errors and be prevented (or slowed) in learning the correct information. But research by Nate Kornell, Matthew Hays and Robert Bjork at U.C.L.A. that recently appeared in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition reveals that this worry is misplaced. In fact, they found, learning becomes better if conditions are arranged so that students make errors.

People remember things better, longer, if they are given very challenging tests on the material, tests at which they are bound to fail. In a series of experiments, they showed that if students make an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve information before receiving an answer, they remember the information better than in a control condition in which they simply study the information. Trying and failing to retrieve the answer is actually helpful to learning. It’s an idea that has obvious applications for education, but could be useful for anyone who is trying to learn new material of any kin.
In one experiment:
Students were asked to read the essay [on vision] and prepare for a test on it. However, in the pretest condition they were asked questions about the passage before reading it such as "What is total color blindness caused by brain damage called?" Asking these kinds of question before reading the passage obviously focuses students' attention on the critical concepts. To control this "direction of attention" issue, in the control condition students were either given additional time to study, or the researchers focused their attention on the critical passages in one of several ways: by italicizing the critical section, by bolding the key term that would be tested, or by a combination of strategies. However, in all the experiments they found an advantage in having students first guess the answers. The effect was about the same magnitude, around 10 percent, as in the previous set of experiments.
Which is why we start out sections with a question or a problem situation to be solved. I'm not sure I'd give them the impossible question as if it were a test, but I do think that kids should hear/see the questions that are the goal of the material.

Having no delay between presentations of the same problem doesn't work terribly well, and I'm glad to see the research bears this out. This is NOT to say that "spiralling" is appropriate. I just feel that rethinking at the end of a section or using that same material in the NEXT section is the best way to make the learning stick.

Habits of Highly Ineffective Principals - Crack Down

Crack down on mistakes, write up a letter each time that rules are broken. Every late arrival or missed duty must have a letter to File or the teachers will continue to do these heinous things. You need to "send a message" and protect yourself with CYA paperwork.

Every success or challenge overcome is to be ignored. "These people are professionals and don't need to be constantly praised like little children."

You will not notice the irony.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Naturally Speaking

I was at another conference the other day and the presenter rambled on about this and that (don't they always?).

He caught my attention when he spoke about 21st Century Skills: "students won't have to use the keyboards and won't have to learn to type. It's a new form of communication skill - they'll be using Dragon Naturally Speaking instead" and then he spoke of the dramatic improvements to DNS and how it's tuned to the user's voice and that we have to transform our schools and our teaching to take advantage of this different manner of communication.

I nearly snorted in my teacup. I remember when DNS (or it's corporate predecessor) was relatively new - 12 years ago - I got it free with Corel Wordperfect. It didn't work very well then and it doesn't work very well now and it has nothing to do with the program and its capabilities.

First, voice control is always touted as a boon for the student who can't learn to type, for SpecEd, for the less-capable student. The problem is that voice control is a lousy interface model and totally inappropriate for those who don't write well to begin with, uh, like, it thinks, no , back up, delete, tries to uh, get rite the students words but it dozen quite do it, uh, like, yeah. .

Additionally, a student is rarely in a room or environment appropriate for voice control. There are other students around who are problems not because their voices add words to what the program hears but because they are a distraction and the DNS user is a distraction right back. How often would he be trying to think of what to say when he overhears the kid next to him saying something that catches his ear? He'd be constantly trying to get back on task -- multi-tasking is not a human feature.

Can you imagine 25 students in a computer lab using DNS simultaneously, trying to format a paper, correct an error, compose a sentence ... out loud?

Now add in the fact that most students who use DNS are special ed, 504, IEP students. The only time or place they should use DNS is in a solo situation with no distraction -- how often is THAT happening in your school? Then go to college - you can't use voice control in the library, in class, in any populated environment and probably not even in your dorm room. Who wants to be "writing a paper, email, letter out loud in the coffee shop? Force the world to listen to your next great idea? Plop on your headphones or earbuds and then speak WAY TOO LOUDLY and everyone has to shush you so they can hear the TV or the music or their conversation? Your roommate will kill you if he has to listen to you try and compose a paper. The click of the keyboard is white, background noise. Speech recognition is unbearably irritating if you're an innocent bystander.

Try to use voice control at work? Not happening and not worth it. The writing that most people do is not long enough or is too complicated (filling in forms, tabbing through text boxes, etc) to find any improvements with DNS.

In a manipulative sense, it is much less accurate and fine-grained than fingers or pointing device. As Jakob Nielson put it, "it's even less suitable for most everyday interactions because it's a less data-rich channel and it's harder to specify something in words than to choose it on a graphical display."

Is it faster? Yes, in limited circumstances. Is it more efficient? Not unless you can write very well, compose on the fly, organize in your head, and speak in complete sentences that follow the rules of proper grammar.

Lastly, my biggest concern is that, for many of the above reasons, keyboarding DOESN'T go away and the student will not have learned the skill. Now what? Where's your 21st Century Communication Skill now?

Habits of Highly Ineffective Principals - Blame

Blame the teacher. When things can't be blamed on anyone in particular, make the "fault" known to all as a call for improvement. When things go right, credit the school and your leadership.

For example, poor scores on math tests are obviously something the math department needs to focus on improving. Require that they write action plans, goals, and new departmental missions statements. Have them come up with ways to improve their teaching to raise students' scores (Put these into files as evaluation comments: Teacher's homework policy is ineffective.) Ask "What can you do to make learning more fun for the students" or other questions that move the school in exactly the wrong direction.

Of course, good scores the next year are proof that the new school environment is beneficial and that the Principal is doing a good job. Announce to the papers, parents, and media that "We are back on Track."

Also known as The Sharpshooter's Rule.
"When I miss, it's because the gun sights are wrong or it's a bad load of ammo. When I hit the Bull's-eye, it's because I am a sharpshooter."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mean but Funny ... is still funny

Some people are like slinkies ...
They don’t really have a purpose,
but they still bring a smile to your face
when you push them down the stairs.

Habits of Highly Ineffective Principals - testing

HIPs don't get assessment right.

They insist that teachers take at least one class per week for "test-taking skills" and test-prep questions. Check to make sure that kids have completed large packets of multiple choice questions from released versions of the test without care for whether they actually pertain to the curriculum in place. Do not let the teachers teach Algebra 1, for instance. "Let's focus on the test!" "We must raise our scores!"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Habits of Highly Ineffective Principals - Numbers

According to Seth Godin, Dunbar's Number isn't just a number, it's the law. This has obvious repercussions when it comes to Highly Ineffective Principals and their faculty. I would claim that true HIPpies can handle only a third of this number.

Dunbar's number is 150.

And he's not compromising, no matter how much you whine about it.

Dunbar postulated that the typical human being can only have 150 friends. One hundred fifty people in the tribe. After that, we just aren't cognitively organized to handle and track new people easily. That's why, without external forces, human tribes tend to split in two after they reach this size. It's why WL Gore limits the size of their offices to 150 (when they grow, they build a whole new building).

Facebook and Twitter and blogs fly in the face of Dunbar's number. They put hundreds or thousands of friendlies in front of us, people we would have lost touch with (why? because of Dunbar!) except that they keep digitally reappearing.

Reunions are a great example of Dunbar's number at work. You might like a dozen people you meet at that reunion, but you can't keep up, because you're full.

Some people online are trying to flout Dunbar's number, to become connected and actual friends with tens of thousands of people at once. And guess what? It doesn't scale. You might be able to stretch to 200 or 400, but no, you can't effectively engage at a tribal level with a thousand people. You get the politician's glassy-eyed gaze or the celebrity's empty stare. And then the nature of the relationship is changed.

I can tell when this happens. I'm guessing you can too.

Habits of Highly Ineffective Principals - focus on trivia

Overemphasize the Mission Statement.

Some people feel a HIP is one who avoids the mission statement at all costs, but I am am not so sure. In general, those who ignore any type of mission statement are not particularly good, but those who spend time and schedule meetings drafting a new one for the school are missing the boat entirely.

Mission Statements tries to justify this wild-goose chase by saying, "A school mission statement can help you decide if what they offer and the way they provide it lines up with your educational goals."

"Community School recognizes that each child is an individual; that all children are creative; that all children need to succeed. Therefore, Community School respects the individual needs of children; fosters a caring and creative environment; and emphasizes the social, emotional, physical, intellectual development of each child."

Whatever. Wouldn't you like, just once, to see a mission statement that read, The school's mission: "We will teach our students. We won't waste our time trying to make this simple idea sound more dramatic or all-inclusive, nor will we try to invoke barely understood thoughts of futuristic or intellectually-vague bullshit."

I had to chuckle when I read this one, so "different" and "descriptive".
"Kitty Hawk Elementary School seeks to create a challenging learning environment that encourages high expectations for success through development-appropriate instruction that allows for individual differences and learning styles. Our school promotes a safe, orderly, caring, and supportive environment. Each student's self-esteem is fostered by positive relationships with students and staff. We strive to have our parents, teachers, and community members actively involved on our students' learning."
It an elementary school, for crying out loud. I wonder how many hours they spent coming up with this load of dreck. I can hear it now, vigorous argument over whather it should be "safe, orderly, caring, and supportive" or "caring, safe, supportive and orderly."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Agincourt on St. Crispin’s Day, Oct. 25, 1415

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.

God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.

But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have.

O, do not wish one more!

Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered -
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Also see: Historians Reassess Battle of Agincourt at NYT

Habits of Highly Ineffective Principals - goals

Make all teachers go through the motions of "setting goals." Don't use an Word Document but rather print out lots of copies of the blank form and insist that teachers hand-write their goals (how this makes the process more valuable, no one knows). You must also require that teachers find the specific standards and domains which apply. (Such as "3c: Instructional materials and resources" and "4e: Service to the profession") Then set up meetings to discuss and "sign-off" on those goals, taking up prep-time. of course. Then store them carefully away, to be seen only once again at the end-of-year goals review process.

Don't actually go to any effort to help teachers achieve those goals, or try to understand why writing those goals down is important (h/t: PissedOff teacher) but make sure the paperwork happen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Habits of Highly Ineffective Principals - delay

#13: At a faculty meeting, allow people limited time to make their point. As soon as one side seems to be dominant, speak for the other and then close the discussion, saying, "We'll revisit this at a later meeting." Make no decisions and don't allow consensus to form.
PURCHASE, N.Y. — PepsiCo is removing the iPhone application that promised to help men "score" with different types of women about a week after it was criticized for stereotyping. "Amp up before you score." The application gave users pickup lines to woo two dozen stereotypes of women, from "the nerd" to "the foreign exchange student" and a scoreboard to keep track of their conquests.
A. They already got the publicity they wanted.
B. Like they care about stereotyping.
C. Sex sells.
D. Schools allow Amp and other beverages like it, but don't allow coffee. They allow Powerade but don't allow soda. They allow kids to drink 1 quart of water but then make them wait to use the bathroom.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Spreading the Joke - Classrooms in the Movies

Huston's list is here, and repeated below.
Classrooms in the Movies ...
  1. …never have more students than desks.
  2. …have every student in class, every day.
  3. …have mostly the same group of kids at the end of the year as they had on the first day of school. If someone moves in or out, it’s a big event.
  4. …have some loud or obnoxious students, but only because they want attention. Inside, they’re all decent people who just need someone to reach out and understand them. None of them are consciously choosing to act like jerks or thugs, and all of them are secretly very, very bright, once you get to know them.
  5. …never have more than one kid having a serious emotional crisis at a time. Once that issue is resolved, another kid can have a problem.
  6. …never have any students who have been mainstreamed into that class due to politically correct special ed policies. They certainly don’t have ten of them.
  7. …never actually seem to do much intensive studying, drilling, or practice. All those feel-good group discussions of emotional discovery someone produce students who achieve very well academically.
  8. …are always full of students who look well groomed, healthy, and alert, despite involvement with broken homes, poverty, gangs, and substance abuse. No student in a movie looks or acts any differently than, say, your average young Hollywood actor. For some reason.
  9. …are always full of curious young adults who, despite being hard-partying hedonists, speak with the kind of vocabularies that, oddly enough, Hollywood screenwriters would have. They all know the difference between Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. They know their times tables. They can read for more than five minutes without falling asleep.
  10. …rarely have students who come to school high. If they do, they’re just good, smart goofballs who do it for a laugh. All ends well.
  11. …never have students who refuse to take the medication prescribed by their psychiatrist.
  12. …never have students who bounce back and forth between the classroom and juvenile hall.
  13. …are staffed by teachers who can magically command attention with a single request, who enjoy instant rapport with their students, and whose off the wall teaching ideas always work like a charm. They’re certainly more effective than the crusty, strict teachers, who are invariably the villains.
This list seems incomplete ;-)

Might I add ...
... seem to be staffed with teachers who only have one prep.
... have teachers who don't have a life other than school.
... don't ever get interrupted by announcements over the intercom right when the teacher is about to make a really, good point. "Pardon the interruption, the girl's soccer team will leave at 2:40 instead of 2:30."
... don't seem to have kids leave early for appointments, sports.
... never seem to have students go to the counselors office to discuss their difficulties in THAT class.
... never seem to have appointments to miss class to meet with a counselor about the proper ways to prepare for college and to pass their high school classes.
... don't seem to go on field trips in their other classes. "Please excuse..."
... don't take five days to do AYP testing ... and don't eliminate swaths of course material in order to practice test-taking skills.
... don't have a new principal every two years.
Expanding on #6
... don't ever seem to be a homogeneous class of students who are below average.
... has one kid who must really be a misunderstood genius. and he is. Instead of being a whiny, self-important little brat.
... don't seem to have the selfish, overbearing helicopter parents. They're all fighting against an oppressive school system that's just wrong about their kid.

But I am probably repeating things now.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gee, is American Thinker Conservative?

Read this American Thinker article on paying students to work and go to school.

Here's my response, lost amoung all of the ditto-heads who are condemning these kids as shameful losers:
This sounds fishy to me. The writer can't write clean, grammatically correct sentences - this is a teacher? I'd have to see corroboration before I believe it.

It reads like he is mentioning only the extreme cases that feed his own pretentious ego. "Look at all those losers. I, the great and mighty know-it-all white boy, would never do something so stupid."

Dude. The first time ANY kid gets $600, they're going to blow it on stupid things, and any group of kids will have some with alcohol and drug problems. If the deal is made - do this and we'll pay you - then the "teacher" should get off his high moral ground and let them make mistakes and learn from them. If he can't do that, he shouldn't be in that position.

Also, they were scheduled to clean for five hours and school for three. How about we find out whether they worked well for that time and earned the right to "waste" their money? You know, by buying a computer and wasting all their time reading American Thinker and making snarky comments.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I am a collector of methods. I like finding new ways to do the simple operations and neat new ways to look at mathematics. I do not feel these methods should be shown to students.

Teach one method. I am in favor of the algorithms that I grew up with. Old fuddy-duddy? Maybe. Tough. The old ways work. The old ways are usually simpler and easier to use.

Think subtraction. 759-384. Do it your way. Now try to follow this.

Why are we bothering to re-invent this wheel?  Isn't one way sufficient for the students?  I feel we should wait until they have completely understood one method before we confuse them with "Other" possibilities.  If a student comes up with this on his own, great. 

Sheesh.  No wonder kids get confused if this is what they're taught.
h/t to parentalcation

Musings on the Charter Conversation

In this entry, practical theory asks,
How different would the current educational conversation be if the KIPP folks said, "Yes... in some of our schools, 25-40% of the families choose to leave KIPP, but KIPP isn't for everyone, and for the students who stay, we do right by them?" What if these schools admitted that it would be much harder to have the success they have if they didn't have the traditional schools to send kids back to when it didn't work out? What if these schools admitted they didn't have all the answers, and instead had to admit that, yes, they do amazing things for many students, but they haven't figured out how to get to a significant percentage of their population, despite Herculean efforts?
Go Read.

A Message for Educational Critics.

I have heard plenty about how bad our students are compared to the rest of the world, state, nation. Our test scores are stagnant. Kids don't know anything. Teachers are bums.

If anyone is interested, the released questions from the 11th grade test are here:

Take an hour and see how you would do. On certain questions, a calculator is not allowed. Look for the icon. Getting 50% would mean you are proficient.

Think about how difficult this set of questions is for you and consider whether you need to know this information or be able to use these skills to do your job.

Then you can rant all you like about how bad our students are and what lazy overpaid teachers we have here in this state.

Damned lazy teachers. Kids aren't passing tests.

As a response to some of the folks who feel that kids should be able to get every question correct ...

First, remember that the questions are vetted. If any question is answered correctly by more than 90%, it is removed from the test.

Not every kid will have taken the math courses necessary to understand every question. Some kids are not "math types". They might be artists or writers or skateboarders.

Most importantly, none of the schools is allowed to make the test count towards graduation or even report all scores on transcripts, so the kids have little incentive to succeed.

I'm not sure that the readers of this paper realize how difficult some of these questions are. How many adults can answer the following released question? What does that say about you? Why are we expecting the students to understand things that most of the adults in this population cannot?

Here's one of the "easy" questions (easy if you know it):

There is a line drawing of a pyramid with a dihedral angle of 52°. The length of each side of the square base is 230 meters. Which equation represents the height, h, of the pyramid?
A. h =115 sin52°
B. h =115 tan52°
C. h =115/sin52°
D. h =115/tan52°

Anyone? Anyone? Beuller?

This one is easy, too ...
A square with a side length of 8.0 cm is rolled up, without overlap, to form the lateral surface of a cylinder. What is the radius of the cylinder to the nearest tenth of a centimeter?


Improving Math Scores - Fact or Fiction

"Vermont is also one of only five states or jurisdictions to show improvement in its scores for both fourth- and eighth-graders. Both Nevada and the District of Columbia showed improvement, as did the three states — Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island — that use the New England Common Assessment Program."

Ignoring DC and NV because they were a mess before - anything is an improvement there - you are left with this observation:

The only states that use the NECAPs are the only states with an improvement.

It's a pretty good trick. When you can't continually improve the scores using an old test (NSREs were used from 1998-2006), you change the test. Now the schools are getting to know the NECAP and redoing their curriculum to match it. Look for improvements to continue as teachers focus more and more on the new set of material.

Then we'll reach a plateau. Horrors! What do we do?

Change to a different test, of course. Set the cut score so that averages stay stable and then let the schools begin to adapt their curricula to it. Repeat as necessary.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate change - baseball game cancelled by snow

The chattering class is upset because a baseball playoff game was cancelled by snow. Not only is Global Warming officially declared false and misleading but the world is ending.

Hold on, Bucko. It's Colorado. It snows in Colorado. Wait two hours and you'll have 65 degrees and gorgeous. Besides, haven't we noticed that we've been pushing the playoffs further and further into October so the owners can grub for money? Sooner or later, fall becomes winter.

Let's Recap a few dates for the World Series ...

1950 Dates 10-04, 10-05, 10-06, 10-07
1975 Dates 10-11, 10-12, 10-14, 10-15, 10-16, 10-21, 10-22
1990 Dates 10-16, 10-17, 10-19, 10-20
2008 Dates 10-22, 10-23, 10-25, 10-26, 10-27
2009 Dates 10-28, 10-29, 10-31, November 1, 2*, 4*, 5*

What the hell did anyone expect in Colorado's mile-high city?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Maps of War


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fun on the Stairs = >> Fun in the Classroom

In the Fun Theory, Joanne Jacobs points to this youtube video of people using a staircase piano instead of the escalator ...

We see some people using the stairs instead of the escalator because it's "more fun" and immediately, everyone thought of the connection between "making the classroom fun" and learning. The comments range from gushing enthusiasm for fun in the classroom to a resigned knowledge that the next Professional Development will be centered around "Games, Games, Games!"

Interestingly, (to me at least, but I think deconstructing studies is fun) the researchers claimed that "fun" was why the people took the stairs. I tend to think they did so because they just got off the subway and for twenty seconds or so, they are mindlessly entertained by stepping on the "keys of the piano." I'm sure that many people were interested the first time, mildly interested the second, annoyed the third time and royally pissed off thereafter. "Stop repeatedly pressing that key. You're not being clever!" How many people just wished the thing would go away after three days? How many just wished that there was a staircase they could run up to avoid the "newbies" who thought it was cool? No one knows because no one asked.

How much did people learn? Nothing. What the researchers were trying to do was see if people would take the stairs rather than the escalator - a fitness and exercise question. It took teachers to make the mental leap to education. Thus is educational research performed.

The reality is that learning something new takes concentration and work on the part of the learner. There is no "Royal Road to Mathematics". A Game might spark interest, or might take the student on a temporary hiatus from their concerns, but the hard work needs to be done eventually.

Hard work is not always hateful. Several hours of shoveling a hole for a gazebo foundation can make you feel exhausted but invigorated. For me, three hours of a math contest is fun. The fun comes not from the game, but from the overcoming of a challenge. For others, it's seven straight hours practicing a snowboard trick and finally "nailing it." The ADD kid in one of my classes will spend hours practicing his guitar, fully focused and on-task. For the kid next to him, that would be torture.

As Churchill was rumored to have said, "There is nothing more exhilarating in this world than to have your enemy shoot at you ... and miss." If the "enemy" is the complicated new material, and the "miss" is your succeeding at the task in spite of a perceived "trick question" or a difficult learning process or a "difficulty with math", then the students do in fact achieve learning with that sense of exhilaration that we so often attribute to "fun activities."

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that the "fun" and the exhilaration came AFTER the success and hard work. The success was not caused by the fun.

All that you do by stressing the fun game that happens to teach math facts is to cement your place in the world as someone who is hopelessly lost, clueless and unconnected to the students.

Most of the time, the fun activity doesn't achieve anything other than to be a fun activity and save the teacher and students from working. They aren't going to learn much beyond the first gee-whiz moment. Certainly not any details or deeper understanding.

It's as simple as one blink of an eye. Take a look at these two pictures. Which kids are learning?

See what I mean?

But then I read the comments.
I loved this video! I think there is a lot of potential for making learning fun. Why assign a worksheet on multiplication facts when kids can play a game that reinforces the same concepts?
When I was a psych major in college I had a stats professor who felt that students learn best when experiencing an emotion – he chose fear, which doesn’t seem like the best choice. But why not excitement – joy? Thanks for sharing!
You can hear the ProfDev now: "Math should be fun. The kids should learn effortlessly. Video games will teach them. Why shouldn't we make shoot-em-ups that require the kids to solve math problems?"

What's wrong with this picture? For one thing, this wants to teach without working at it. "Math should be exciting, joyous?" Why does she feel this way? Perhaps it's because, for her, math isn't fun and games are the only thing she can think of. The sheet of multiplication facts might not excite you, but completing one correctly can excite a student.
...With the test in front of me, I started sweating, and my brain began buzzing, but I forced myself to calm down and keep my fingers still. Most of the problems seemed easy now, although I realized all my "shortcuts" had left me weak in long division. There were no red marks this time — I had gotten 100 percent right!
The shortcuts she's referring to are the calculator, counting on fingers, not completing certain practice drills by herself. Drill and kill. It wasn't "fun" so she "cheated."

There are plenty of puzzle-type video games. I happen to know many of them. Why don't kids play them? "Because they are BORING." The puzzles and problems are artificially inserted into the "story" and the whole thing runs counter to the reason most kids play video games. For fun, to conquer, to compete and win, to create and display, to show-off. "To solve math problems" isn't usually one of those reasons.

What happens almost immediately to kids playing a game with puzzles? If it has some fun elements, the kids will play it. If they run into a puzzle they can instantly solve, they solve it and move on. If they can't instantly solve it, they use cheat codes or look up the answer online. Then they go back to shooting monsters.

Great if you're selling a video game. Not a good model for education.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

One Last Bushian Comment

Students should not be doomed to life of poverty because their parents didn’t have the financial freedom to opt out of a failing school.

Every school has some good teachers and every school has some bad ones. This should not surprise anyone. We've had good and bad Presidents, good and bad workers at Walmart, good and bad CEOs of major companies, not to mention good and bad drivers on the highway.

The school isn't "dooming anyone to failure," but its students are behind the eight-ball - and not necessarily at the fault of the school they're in.

The "school" isn't failing the kids in a good teacher's class. The smart kids who bring up the averages aren't being "doomed" by the school - they'll get where they want to go. What you get out of education depends on what you put into it.

There are good teachers and bad ones. You can get an education or not and the school is only a part of it. In my school, your school, inner city and suburbia.

If you select the students, you can get great students from any socio-economic level, just like KIPP. If you are forced to accept anyone, then that's what the public school gets. It doesn't make the school any better or worse, but it does lower the averages.

An individual is not defined by the average. You can always find an average from the individuals but you can't define an individual from the average score.

You can get a bad education (or just a hangover) at a good college or a good education at any college (or you can get a "Gentleman's C" at Yale but that costs money).

More of Jeb Bush - This time we're an 8-track tape.

This speech gets better and better.
"In this knowledge-based economy, would success be measured by how long students sit at their desk rather than what they learn? I hope not. In an age of customization, would we settle for a one-size-fits-all model that moves kids from grade to grade based on their age rather than their skill level? Hell no. Last year, I said our education system was an 8-track tape in an I-Pod world."

Jeb. Please. Try to understand this.

We don't measure students' success by how long they sit at desks. When they reach certain points in the course (called "End of the Chapter" or the "End of a Topic"), we measure their knowledge using something called a "test" or a "project". Their test or project earns a number called "a grade." We use this number because it's a convenient way for teacher, student, parent and school to communicate how well the student understands "the material". We don't throw away the rest of the information, but we do have the summary number (the "grade").

Over the years, I and many other teachers have taught math. We have learned that students, despite the claim of uniqueness that permeates the socio-political consciousness, are amazingly similar in what they can learn about our subject. (This is called "experience" and it is the reason why "experienced teachers" get paid more.) We know that some students are "good in math" and will cover eight major topics and that others will struggle to learn six. That's why we have different levels of classes - not because we are discriminating against anyone, but because we are intelligent enough to choose the right level for each type of student.

Surprisingly, these different courses COULD be used to "differentiate" the teaching for students, but non-teachers don't understand that each little snowflake is not, in fact, unique. They also don't understand that putting kids into courses that are appropriate for them is the best way for them to learn. Until they think about it, most folks don't see that putting kids into sections in which they are significantly the fastest or slowest learner is LESS effective than separating them by ability. Politicians don't really think and lawyers are paid to refuse to. That's why "tracking" is no longer used.

One other thing. Social promotion is necessary sometimes. When you insist that kids stay back, you occasionally get a non-academic kid (who else?) who is not the best influence on impressionable people. Do you really want that 17 year-old in with your 13yo daughter?

Free at Last - Jeb Bush has an Epiphany.

Jeb Bush the Philosopher King, said:
"I want to make a different comparison this year to something completely different. I wish our schools could be more like milk. You heard me, I said milk. Go down the aisle of nearly any major supermarket these days and you will find an incredible selection of milk.

You can get whole milk, low fat milk or skim milk. You can get organic milk, milk with Vitamin D or milk enzymes to improve you the way your brain functions. You can get flavored milk — chocolate, strawberry or vanilla – that doesn’t even taste like milk. Most of the time, there is a whole other refrigerator case dedicated to milk alternatives – like soy milk, almond milk and rice milk. They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk. Who would have ever thought you could improve upon milk? Yet, freedom, innovation and competition found a way."
Okay, so let me get this straight, Jedediah. You want my school to offer lots of options to our students, right? You don't feel that this is being done now? Let me larn you sumfin', Jeb.

Here are a few choices my students have:

At the Tech Center:
Business Management, Financial Accounting For Seniors, Carpentry, Culinary Arts, Electronics: Audio Engineering, Emergency & Fire Management, Engineering Technology, Graphic Technologies, Hands-On Computer Systems, Health Career Academy, Horticulture & Natural Resources, Human Services, Industrial Trades, Law Enforcement, Manufacturing, Pre-Technical Studies, Tourism & Lodging Management.

At another tech center, you can take:
Architecture Engineering Design, Auto Refinishing and Collision, Automotive Technology, Cabinet Making, Carpentry, Computer Technology: IT Systems & Solutions, Culinary Arts, Digital Arts, Electrical/Plumbing, Health Careers, Hospitality and Entrepreneurship, Human Services, Music Technology: Jazz and Contemporary, Natural Resources, Forestry & Horticulture, Power Mechanics/Welding, Public Safety Services: Law Enforcement, Video Production.

At the school:
English, Math, Science, History, Languages, Music, Art. There are some minimums but the choice is up to the student. Everything from a basic and modified all the way up to AP, college level. Electives like US military history, russian, SATprep, media studies, ethics, sociology, chess (at a neighbor school).

Virtual High School
What the title says. Computer programming, math, english, science, whatever the need, they can have it in a 21st Century Schooling sort of way. Kid gets pregnant and can't come to school in the last months? - VHS.

At the college:
Some kids take courses at the college, paid by the school district.

Alternative programs:
Not to get too specific, but these kids don't make it in the high school, so we spend $40k per year apiece to send them to programs to which they belong.

I sometimes believe that we offer TOO MANY choices. Kids get wrapped up in the belief that they know what they will do in life and so "don't see a need for this boring stuff" even though they really will need it, they just don't know much about the world or education yet.

But you don't seem to know much about the world or education either, Jeb.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Now We Know - It was Breakfast that killed the Beast.

In annual report cards, Philadelphia principals will be graded on attendance, math and reading scores — and how many students eat breakfast at school, reports the Inquirer. Philadelphia’s public schools have made all 165,00 students eligible for a free (tax-funded) breakfast, but only about a third show up to eat it. "Many studies have shown that breakfast boosts student performance and health."

Really? Breakfast does all that, huh? Is this the magic bullet that finally explains why children of poor families are constantly and consistently outscored by those of higher socio-economic strata?

One wishes it were so simple.

I wholeheartedly feel that schools can provide meals to the kids but not for any "scores are improved" bullshit, but because it's plain good sense and the right thing to do. And don't pretend breakfast time is instructional time.

Monday, October 5, 2009

NBCNews slurps at the KIPP Koolaid.

Pretty silly display at the end of Nightly News... KIPP is wonderful, kids spend 10 hours a day drilling and practicing and singing songs from 7:30 to 5:30 plus weekends and lots of summer days.

Didn't mention that perhaps the same could have been had for a lot less time and effort. Didn't mention the drop-outs and push-outs and those who didn't apply. Sure didn't note the 12 hour days that the teachers put in -- don't any of these people have a life? In the clip I noticed them counting on their fingers and one of the songs had them practicing to count to one hundred. This is what, fifth or sixth grade?

Hope it's worth it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Libraries are changing.

Joanne Jacobs writes of The bookless campus — with cappucino
For $44,000 a year, parents can send their sons and daughters to Cushing Academy, a Massachusetts boarding school that boasts a “bookless campus.” ... snip ...
Cushing is disburdening itself of its library’s 20,000 books and spending $500,000 to establish a “learning center” ...snip...
spending $42,000 for some large flat-screen monitors ...snip...
$20,000 for “laptop-friendly” study carrels. ...snip...
In place of the reference desk, “a $50,000 coffee shop with a $12,000 cappuccino machine.”

When I was in high school in the ’60s, our library was renamed the “Instructional Materials Center.” I got in trouble with the library staff for making fun of the change in the school newspaper. But we still had books.

Stacy felt "It’s idiotic. Throwing the baby out with the bath water. Why not leave the library as is and add additional resources? The students will use what is useful." Richard wondered if they had a copy of Fahrenheit 451 in their library.

Neither of these commenters or Joanne seem to get what is happening here. This private school is running an experiment and we all need to pay very close attention to the results. The world is changing and this is but one of the avenues ahead of us. We need information so we can choose correctly and wisely.

Joanne says "But we still had books." Sure, Joanne, but in the 60s, that is all we had. I remember. I was there, too. School libraries are being deserted. Their old ways of operation need to change or we're going to be hiring a librarian to sit alone amid piles of fire hazard instead of helping kids research, which is what she should be doing.

Should we spend money on computers or more books or a third option I haven't thought of? Which type of books, software, bandwidth? Should they bother with an encyclopedia if no one opens it EVER? Should they purchase the OED for $995 (leather bound, 20volumes) or for $198 on 2 CDs or tell the kids a link to an on-line resource? With every student having a computer and a campus-wide wifi, where would you spend YOUR money?

Without knowing the specifics but having been in public and private schools for years, I would point out that the books in the Cushing were probably great when bought but weren’t being replaced as needed. New books that were purchased remained unused. Somebody made the leap to "Kindle is cheaper."

“The students will use what is useful.” Obviously, Stacy has not been in education recently if she thinks that students will find books useful. There isn’t a student alive who would voluntarily use a book when Google is at hand. The library was most likely devolving into a place for computer stations and tables, with books stored “over there behind the SmartBoard.” Richard has it equally wrong - no one is getting rid of the story, just the paper it's written on.

They probably had several encyclopediae, too — how’s that working out for a library in this age of Wikipedia and Google? I’m not saying that the Internet is preferable but it’s the resource chosen by the students.

If librarians are honest with themselves, they have to admit that their job descriptions are rapidly changing and their collections are becoming outdated and ignored.

I applaud the gamble. At least the experiment is being done with private money in a voluntary setting — anyone who can afford Cushing can afford another, equally desperate for tuition, private school.

It is now up to the public school community to let this experiment to run its course, for the data to be crunched as to its effectiveness and for the surveys to be compiled detailing how the educational experience changed as a result. Did the teachers notice a drop-off that can be correlated to the library changes?

I for one, would like to know. Our library is rapidly changing, too. The librarian is putting in more workstations and the shelves are gradually moving back to the wall and closer together so they take up less space. As she retires books, the ones she purchases are less likely to be subject-oriented and more likely fiction, magazines, and other light-reading material.

While I’m sure I don’t like it, I have no evidence that the kids will miss the books. I also can’t see that the faculty can or will do much about it and don't seem to miss them either. The English department’s been building “classroom sets” for years for all the books they need – they rarely visit the library anymore. History uses the computer labs more than anyone, even science, and neither group has much in the way of “Books that aren’t Textbooks.” Heck, for most classes, the library is the “overflow” computer room rather than a reading resource.

That last paragraph is probably what bothers me the most. The librarian's JOB is to help the kids research. Why is all of that research being done in the computer lab without her? Is this why we're having a bigger problem with plagiarism? I know many of our teachers drop the kids off and "let them go for it" when they never would have done so in the library. Are they really learning how to research from the teachers? Should we ban the teachers from sending their kids to the computer room to do research? Does the librarian know how to really use the Internet or is she just going to sit there at her desk and wait for the kids to ask questions? Maybe the librarians need to take a hard look at their profession and this experiment.

So many rhetorical questions, so little time.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Self-Loving Trucker Flips Rig, Loses Load

Self-Loving Trucker Flips Rig, Loses Load
Mon, Sep 28, 2009

A German trucker flipped his rig in western Sweden last week and admitted to police to pleasuring himself at the time of the accident, a Swedish newspaper reports.

The unbelievably unsatisfied trucker proceeded to continue to masturbate while discussing the accident with police, the paper reported.

"He was masturbating while the police interrogated him," police prosecutor Åsa Askenbäck told the newspaper. "He has admitted that he was not paying full attention at the time of the accident. He was playing with himself instead of focusing on the road."

The crash closed lanes of the highway in both directions as the debris was cleared from the roadway.

According to the paper, "The man remained in the vehicle with his hands apparently still clasped around his own gear stick and was subsequently arrested for reckless driving and driving while under the influence of drugs."

The trucker admitted to all charges levied against him, including sexual molestation, the paper reported. It is not clear what penalty the man may face, but a stiff fine is possible.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Open classrooms

The State held a common inservice yesterday. I traveled about an hour and a half to get to the school and was frankly shocked at how depressing the place was. A single floor and faced with dark mottled stone, in a gloomy little hole in the trees. Graffiti on the parking lot, poorly painted over by the maintenance crew. "Great," I said to myself. "Maybe the inside is an improvement."

Nope. One big-assed room 300 by 200 or so, columns every twenty five feet, eight-foot ceiling with fluorescent lights every other panel. Yup, an open classroom design. The "classrooms" were areas defined by file cabinets, spare mobile blackboards and those office cubicle walls that you love to hate, anchored by the aforementioned columns. Nothing goes to the ceiling and sound travels. Really, really easily.

The theme for the day's inservice was "Tranformation." You'd think that someone would think to transform this place. My room might be an echo chamber, but at least I don't effect anyone else. These poor bastards have to speak quietly so as not to disturb the class next door. Tests are a challenge because there's never silence. Chemistry labs smell up the whole building, while the students' reaction to the frog dissection (Ewwww) is heard everywhere. Show a film and the kids next door are peering through the space between the dividers to watch.

I've heard of literacy across the curriculum, but this is going too far.