Saturday, September 17, 2011

Liberal Outlook is the result of Maturity.

Or so says Kevin Wolfman in education news.

If you're not a liberal when you're young, you've got no soul.
If you're not conservative when you're older, you've got no brains.

or "A conservative is a liberal who just got mugged."

Anyway, the gist of the man's argument is:
"Few conservative students ever become liberals during college, and vice versa. Higher education’s political influence may be less one of liberalization and more one of polarization, as centrist students gradually drift to one side of the spectrum or the other. Conservatives agitated over the idea of pervasive university radicalism are frothing at the mouth over nothing. Hard, statistical evidence pointing to a widespread “indoctrination” of college students into liberal thought simply does not exist.

What benign increase in the ranks of liberal students during college that does occur—roughly 4 percent—is not due to “indoctrination” at the hands of tenured socialists and radicals. It is, rather, a result of intellectual maturation combined with a stimulating collegiate social life that shapes and strengthens the values of equality and acceptance. If the lecture halls of America’s universities are “one-party classrooms,” as Horowitz says, maybe it’s because conservatism has forgotten that school is in session.

Atari Founder will do what no one else can

At least, he thinks so.
Atari Founder to Create Game to Reduce High School to 1 Year: Nolan Bushnell thinks we can make better use of technology and what we know about learning to streamline high school from 4 years down to 1. A complete high school education in one year? Although details are sketchy, Bushnell plans to utilize his experience as a game designer to fix, what he calls, “broken computers and maladjusted teachers.”
Which is a very cool idea. I mean, think of it ... a whole lot of 13 and 14 year-olds who have finished their high school education and are now looking for jobs. Because what more does this country need than ill-prepared 13ers running around thinking they know everything? (They already do that but this program would put a stamp of approval on the whole charade.)

This project, known as Speed to Learn, incentivizes learning by providing students with interesting payoffs. Good work could earn one a nap or time with a laser cutter, for example. At an education summit in New York, Bushnell described the program as arcade-style videogames combined with aerobic activity for the purpose of education.
Interesting choice that. A nap or time on a laser cutter. Wonder which one the kids will choose? At first, the laser cutter. That'll get boring quickly because it's online and no one wants to give a bunch of 13ers the really good materials. They'll just take a nap ... or go outside ... or play real video games that are fun.

Hold on, how's he going to pay for the materials and the $100,000 laser cutter? I thought this was going to save us money? Are the kids doing this at home? From the WinXP machine in the corner of the kitchen?
While visiting schools, Bushnell noticed that up to 15% of available terminals were unusable due to various computer problems, a number that he aims to reduce with the new system.
Well, THAT certainly rings a bell. Going onto the cloud won't do much for that dream if the computer itself is crap, though. Or if the network is down. Or it's Vermont, where half of the state is still dialing in to log on.
The educational speed gains will come mainly as a result of the unique way of rewarding students for successfully accomplishing their tasks, such as obtaining a solution to a problem in a specified period of time:
Ahhh. A modern-day version of a Skinner box.  As long as we're all pigeons, it should work out just fine.
“We’ve been in hundreds of classrooms with 40,000 kids. We are currently teaching subjects 10 times faster. We believe that when we roll this up to full curriculum we’ll be able to teach a full career of high school in less than a year. And we think we’ll be able to do that by the end of next year.”
I can solve your problems
with a magic box.
In one year, all of your students
will graduate with honors.
But not yet.
Well, let me know when you have something, Nolan.  Be sure to do some testing, though.  Just saying you're "Like Salman Kahn" and proclaiming the next coming of Jesus Christ isn't enough. "We are currently teaching subjects ten times faster" means nothing if those kids aren't learning anything.

"When we roll this up to a full curriculum"?  How about getting one course first? You know, a beta version?

I'm sick of computer guys assuming that they have the answer to all of education's problems just because they managed to write a computer program once. Online learning is a sham. Video games don't teach math. The kids are getting screwed.

"Deus Ex Machina" was a theatrical trick in Ancient Greece and it's a theatrical trick now.
"Bushnell has said that he’s been working on Speed to Learn for over ten years, but so far there are no demos or screenshots to examine. However, if he intends to stick to his ambitious launch deadline, those should be appearing in the very near future."

At this rate, I'm expecting Duke Nukem Forever to come out first. The kids will really enjoy that and they might learn something about the promises Broad and Gates and Bushnell make and recognize them for the false prophets they are.

Education is going digital - yeah, right

Don't get me wrong, I'm a tech guy but I also teach math. I've been teaching using technology and computers since the time of the TRS-80 and the graphing calculator that came free with a ream of paper and a pack of Ticonderoga #2s.

Education has come a long way but the dreams and ideals of the "21st Century Learning" fanatics are going to have to take a backseat for a while. The realities of high-tech just don't make for easy dreaming.

Consider: The IT guy.

If you are lucky enough to have IT who are responsive and dedicated to supporting the teachers and students (and that's a big if), their jobs are usually way too overburdened - budget cuts that cut in the weirdest places, stupid administration making demands that don't parse, clueless users breaking shit constantly and students trying to get around the filters, wasting time, downloading games, listening to Pandora, etc.

How does that guy, all by himself, maintain the machines needed for the "21st Century Dream"?

He doesn't.

We all got an email from him the other day listing his tickets and to-do list. He was under a lot of pressure from everyone to "Do this job now" and "Fix my machine" and had weeks worth of backlog. I know he was also making his own job more difficult in places but that's not the point.
- The entire domain was lost this summer
- Not all of the faculty are up yet.
- The student accounts need to be arranged.
- Roaming profiles are NOT working yet.
- Elementary school Netbooks need to be imaged.
- Vendor printer driver issues.
- wireless issues.
- scheduled replacements have been dropped for budget reasons - meaning re-imaging and re-using old machines.
- Special ed laptops need to be finished.
- VP laptop needs to be finished
- Principal's laptop is dead.
- Software installation - MSOffice upgrades, Windows upgrades, anti-virus upgrades and updates.
- servers need to be setup, fixed or vendor calls need to be made.
- email server (we're changing our email system .. again)
- orders placed for supplies and equipment
- content filtering isn't working.
- He wants to completely change the grading and student information system.

Much of this should have been done over the summer, but it wasn't. Don't know why, but the usual reason is "Life intervened" and "Shit Happened." There's nothing to be done but move on and let him do what he can, when he can. Crap ALWAYS happens and the "Best laid plans of mice and men, yada, yada, yada."

Some of this list is federal and state mandates - we're really proud of the service and education we give to our special ed students here and the SpecEd laptops are critical. Probably 50% of the work lies in dealing with filling out the paperwork. (This is no shit.) If they don't work, lots of people have lots of extra work.

Some of this list is us. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to help the other teachers with an issue that left me shaking my head in wonder. (PEBKAC - Problem exists between keyboard and chair.) How is it possible that all the admin's laptops are dead? Seriously? Why do all the teachers insist on "I need training !!!" when they are really asking for someone to hold their hand? Is RTFM really unreasonable? Can't we just figure out the problem and let IT have some time? Apparently not.

Some of this list is our guy whining about things he knows he should have better organized. If I were doing this task, I'd have spent many nights until I got the scripts perfected -- "make student account, give student permissions for his network folder, give student permissions for Internet use, create email account, set starting passwords, create network connections ..." Then push the "Start of School" button and sit back. Creating the database of students would be the hardest part - typing.

Some of this is our guy refusing to let others take work off his hands. There are several people who could help but NO. Case in point, the school website. IT still insist on being the only ones who can edit it and everything has to be handed to them so they can put it up. Really? I want to post homework and I have to email it to them so they can check it and put it on a webpage? Even the daily announcements (compiled by the school secretary) are sent to IT daily to be posted. It's only a five minute task, but it interrupts and it's a needless extra step.  What's the phrase - bottleneck? Gatekeeper fetish? I would -- long ago -- have set up a way for the school secretary to do that automatically and have it completely out of my hands.  Instead, they fall back on "That would be too much trouble to implement and maintain."

School blog?  Nope!
Wiki? Forum? No!
Moodle? Not a chance.
Google for education? Nope.
Install winplot? Nope.
Connect my tablet to Wi-Fi? No.
Install Geometer's Sketchpad? Nope.
Install software on machines accessible to the teacher who will use it? Nope. (And we're talking Adobe CS here. Ten licenses ain't cheap.)

Video-conferencing software? Say what?
How about an online student information system? No.
Give the teachers an easy way to connect? Are you kidding?

Don't even get me started on the SmartBoards that teachers demanded and then pushed to a corner.

So the faculty who are pushing the envelope technologically are all spreading out and tripping over each other - this one uses Moodle on his own domain, another has a free Moodle site somewhere else, that one uses Moodle on HIS own domain. Three others use Google apps through personal gmail accounts, that one has kids going to an ad-serviced wiki site. This one has made a Facebook page, that one uses and the guy down the hall gives kids his cellphone number so they can call him at night. I've told all my Calc kids about Wolframalpha's iPhone app and the graphing calculator app ... and let them use them in class.  It's against the rules, but screw it.  Social media and collaborative tools are all over the place.  Anyone with a clue is doing his/her own thing using a different set of tools, or different locations for those tools.

I just wonder what the kids are thinking when they have so many places to go to just to get homework, or write in forums, or whatever.

One department paid $1500 for a school-wide license for a streaming video service. A second department paid $1500 for a school-wide license for a streaming-video service. You'd think someone would notice the correlation by the time the History Department requested money for an online streaming video service school-wide license.

I blame
  • the principal for not paying better attention to education instead of the fad of the week.
  • and the Superintendent for not stepping in with a vision for education, or implementing all of this in an organized fashion
  • and the School Board for focusing only on their own kids' needs and the fad of the week.
  • and Bill Gates and Eli Broad for pushing agendae that don't include education .. the fad of the week.
  • and the ed-reformers who are demanding that we all transform somehow regardless of the utility and worth of that change.
  • and IT who don't get it and who won't let go.
  • and ...
  • and us teachers for demanding all this change (we fall for the fad of week, too) and technology (I wanna SmartBoard) instead of just being teachers and teaching with what we've got.

We need to get our eye on the ball again.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Government is shrinking

Interesting graph out of Silicon Valley. The Federal workforce as a percentage of the private workforce has been dropping for decades.

The spikes seem to be census-related.

Monday, September 5, 2011

You can see the punchline coming

But still I'm LMAO:

Technology is not a Magic Bullet

NYTimes: "In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning."

Of course there's proof: “This is such a dynamic class,” Ms. Furman says of her 21st-century classroom. “I really hope it works.”

What more proof do you need?

And then there's this: "Last summer, the district paid $500,000 to CCS to replace ceiling-hung projectors in 400 classrooms. The alternative was to spend $100,000 to replace their aging bulbs."

Finland, Teachers and the Common Core

Joanne quotes A case against standards
by P. L. Thomas (originally posted in The Answer Sheet, WaPo)
Since we often choose to demonize U.S. education by international comparison, I suggest we consider the attitude toward the professionalism of teachers in Finland from Henna Virkkunen, Finland’s minister of education:

“Teachers in Finland can choose their own teaching methods and materials. They are experts of their own work, and they test their own pupils.
Hold on to your horses, PL., you're mixing apples and orange Volkswagens.

Teachers in the United States can take four years of college drinking, masquerading as a student of history, attend a 6 week TFA summer course, and be considered the Savior of the Universe -- and some even become decent first-year teachers. Or you can take a couple education classes, student teach with a "master teacher" who ignores you for a couple months and be certified. You can fail out of every other major in college and slide down the slippery slope to elementary education - at which point, you can get As. Or you can participate in Troops to Teachers, which assumes that military training and the ability to order people around is an automatic guarantee of the ability to teach.

None of these methods is a guaranteed loser - some sergeants are really good at teaching twelve-year-olds, some elementary ed students came from the top of their class, and some TFAs last more than a year and really can teach.

The problem is that most of these teachers think of themselves as great but are the last people you want to be "autonomous" and they're certainly not masters of their own work. (NSFS - Not Safe for Sanity)

Finnish teachers, on the other hand, come through a highly selective process, spend years as a teacher-in-training under the direct observation of a master teacher, and generally are all from the top tier of graduating college students. They are all using roughly the same methods because they've been through a lot more training than US teachers and seen what works.

Many US teachers do get to toss cards in the air and arbitrarily decide that they'll teach in a constructivist style with no books and little direction or lecture. Finnish teachers, by and large, stick to what we denigrate as "traditional" methods. Any that deviate from those "traditional" methods have been around for a long time, actually are masters of their own field, and can be trusted to test their students.

US teachers are under tremendous pressure to raise grades on tests (to the extent of 25% pay raise or cut, in some places) and are constantly being second-guessed by everyone and anyone while Finns are not. This over-whelming desire to improve and change means that US teachers are constantly swinging between great and lousy at the whims of the most recent fad.

Fad or Innovation? Wait until your pet innovation fails because the students don't like the "inverted" classroom because of the extra work. (Just to pick one current idea out of the fad-hat.) See how long you are able to continue.

Ideas fail with students all the time but might work with a different group or a different teacher.  Just because ThinkThankThunk can pull off a non-traditional format doesn't mean that everyone else can. Similarly, dy/dan has great ideas, most well worth stealing, but you can't just blindly copy a few WCYDWTs and hope it's a course - there is the other 90% of one of his algebra courses still out there and the always pesky issue of making his curriculum fit your kids instead of his. Robert Talbot successfully "inverted" his college classroom but had mixed reviews for linear algebra and loved it for programming.
K-12 teachers and teacher educators must be afforded the autonomy of professionals--not further bureaucracy and invalid accountability.
Autonomy? Not until you've proven yourself. I don't trust the first-year teacher and I certainly don't trust those who've already demonstrated their incompetence. "Professional" doesn't apply to everyone.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Uphill both ways.

From NPR:
Many families who live in Mendon, Vt., have been stranded because of road damage from the post-hurricane flooding. One place they can't get to is the local elementary school. But instead of staying home, about 20 kids from Mendon have been hiking over a mountain pass to get to a nearby road, where a group of parents then ferries them to school.
Yep.  You can get theah from heah, but you might have to walk some.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Consultant = insultant

And SMBC wasn't even talking about education.
"Best practice", anyone?