Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Obsolete in Education - Part Two

Three years ago, teachpaperless.blogspot.com predicted some things that were going obsolete. I think she's experiencing some edu-psychosis brought on by wishful thinking.

continued from Part One ...
8. Paperbacks
Books were nice. In ten years' time, all reading will be via digital means. And yes, I know, you like the 'feel' of paper. Well, in ten years' time you'll hardly tell the difference as 'paper' itself becomes digitized.
Maybe. According to Amazon's numbers, fiction is overwhelmingly swinging to digital, but non-fiction isn't -- and that's the majority of what we use in school. The stuff we have kids read isn't the same as what Amazon is lumping into it's "fiction" category, but I'll get to that in a second.

 Dan Willingham recently talked about the difficulties people have with mutli-use devices and uninterrupted reading. "A consistent finding is that, given the choice, students prefer traditional textbooks. That's true regardless of their experience with ebooks, so it's not because students are unfamiliar with them (Woody, Daniel & Baker, 2010). Further, some data indicate that reading electronic textbooks, although it leads to comparable comprehension, takes longer (e.g., Dillon, 1992; Woody et al, 2010)."

My experience is that students HATE eTextbooks. They will use them when they have no other choice, but when we're doing something in the classroom, the first thing they'll do is grab the book version off the bookshelf. The reaction is worse if the students are trying to flip back and forth from source to workspace. Unless they're cut-and-pasting, that is.

The best use for tablets, in my mind, is for novels and ephemera. For reading Literature or "classics", I'm not so convinced. The kindle, and other tech, are great for reading stuff you don't care about, for reading that mystery crime novel that has the exact same plot as that other mystery crime novel, which resembles the other seven books in that genre that you've read in the last few months ... you know, the ones you have to initial inside the front cover to make sure you remember that you've read them and you still have to think "Did I really read this already?"

Kindles/Nooks are the best option of all the eReaders for reading because they don't connect to the Internet, get email, Facebook, and all the million little distractions ... but I still find myself flipping through more quickly than I do while reading a paper book.  I see the same behavior in my students. The iPad and Kindle Fire are worse because they connect to all those distractions.

For stuff you need to annotate, the apps just aren't really there yet. Hopefully, soon. For me, the tablet reader isn't all that, yet.
9. Attendance Offices
Bio scans. 'Nuff said.
That is just creepy. And stupid. Sure, attendance secretaries collect the attendance numbers, but also do a lot of the follow-up and tracking down of students. They call home and verify absences, collate field trip information, and work with the guidance office. Trust me, this person isn't going away.

Don't even start with RFIDs. Several schools have tried that; the parents and students react badly and people recoil at the cost ... and you still need someone to look at the data. In the attendance office.

Add to this is the way that public schools get money from the state: per kid per day of attendance. This school spent money on the attendance office: "Bill Huyett opted to spend $250,000 on new administrative staff dedicated to making sure kids showed up at school. Looks like it worked: After nine months, 150 more students are attending each day, on average, bringing in some $1 million in extra funding, the San Francisco Chronicle reports."
10. Lockers.
A coat-check, maybe.
Does this person know what a teenager's locker looks like? Books are maybe 10% of what goes into one. They need someplace to put their crap.
11. IT Departments Ok,
so this is another trick answer. More subtly put: IT Departments as we currently know them. Cloud computing and a decade's worth of increased wifi and satellite access will make some of the traditional roles of IT -- software, security, and connectivity -- a thing of the past. What will IT professionals do with all their free time? Innovate. Look to tech departments to instigate real change in the function of schools over the next twenty years.
Nope. IT will still be heavily invested in security because the rest of administration doesn't have
enough of a spine to tell them off. Case in point, we just got BYOD after three years of it being in the student handbook as available. Why so long? Because IT couldn't seem to get a network up and running. Kids had to set up a wifi hotspot through their phones to get online.

It's IT's own fault; despite repeated requests, they insisted on being able to log everything, run everything through the filter, catch kids going to "bad" websites.

Second, in most schools, IT will be the set-up men for the 1:1 programs and such because (A) they won't allow the faculty to do so, "You're not _qualified_" and a tremendous fear of not being in complete control, and (B) they are the ones with the budget and the ability.
12. Centralized Institutions: School buildings are going to become 'homebases' of learning, not the institutions where all learning happens. Buildings will get smaller and greener, student and teacher schedules will change to allow less people on campus at any one time, and more teachers and students will be going out into their communities to engage in experiential learning.
Experiential learning is one of those interesting thought experiments that dies in the light of the blazing sun of reality. Show me experiential learning and I'll show you a teacher who doesn't understand enough to teach, or students who have quit on themselves or on school.

The Big Picture Schools are the ones who have taken the lead on experiential learning but even their most ardent supporters acknowledge that these programs are only for about 10% of the students ... at most.  And they don't include math classes because they can't; the teachers don't know enough math to "mentor" them through a self-directed program.  The one around here boasts that 2 of the 6 teachers are "Highly Qualified" teachers ... seeing as 98% of the teachers in public schools in Vermont are HGT, what does it say if this school boasts of 33% ?

And all of those mentors? Master Tradesmen and Professionals? No, what we're dealing with here is mostly at the journeyman trades level, and most of the mentors are using the kids as unpaid interns or apprentices.  The kids bounce from interest to interest, barely learning anything - I think because they're the ones who couldn't figure out school in the first place.  It's far better than the alternative for these kids, a complete withdrawal from school, but it's also far less than the majority deserve.

13. Organization of Educational Services by Grade
Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.
This is another sign that this opinion was written by someone with a limited sense of how education actually happens with the broad range of students that exist. The rote memorization stuff and much of the lecture will happen on-line but the real teaching has to happen in groups that are homogenous in ability and, usually that also means by age. As for the "student interest groups petitioning for specialized education", that used to be called "taking electives".

High school is the broad, grey line between education that is an absolute minimum to succeed in life (up to 8th grade, it's all very non-abstract) and the specialized college experience that includes a lot of the abstract thinking and critical thinking that we glorify so much.

High school is that transition. We are taking kids from the absic, "Don't make me think, just give me a worksheet" mentality to the "Learn this thing that we've identified as being interesting and worthwhile." High school has to be organized because, for the first time, the teachers need to specialize ... and that takes scheduling.

14. Education School Classes that Fail to Integrate Social Technology
This is actually one that could occur over the next five years. Education Schools have to realize that if they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to demand that 21st century tech integration be modeled by the very professors who are supposed to be preparing our teachers.
Fantasy. And false.  College students (actually, all students) aren't clamoring to IM/text/tweet/Facebook with their professors. They want to communicate with each other.

Education schools haven't made themselves irrelevant because they've not focused enough on tech ... they've made themselves irrelevant because they haven't focused on knowledge and content.

How many education students actually major in the field they plan to teach?  Trick question ... none of them do, because they are all education majors. The fact that an education major can become a teacher is a big difference between the U.S. and other countries.

Monday, December 30, 2013

There's harassment and there's sexual harassment.

And this isn't sexual harassment ... They are six years old, in first grade. Yes, he needs to be punished. If the school has warned him more than once, warned the mother more than once, gradually ramped up the punishments as he repeated his actions ... then suspend him so the parents can do their due diligence.

But this is not sexual harassment.
The mother of a girl involved in the case of a 6-year-old Colorado boy suspended for giving a classmate unwanted kisses says the school did the right thing, ... did a "great job" protecting her daughter from repeated harassment from the boy.

First-grader Hunter Yelton was given a two-day suspension, with a sexual harassment infraction on his discipline record. The boy's mother, Jennifer Saunders, insists the punishment was too harsh. "He is 6 years old, and that is absolutely ridiculous for him to have 'sexual harassment' on his record, even it is (only on the district's) record," she said.

But Masters-Ownbey says the kissing was "not once, but over and over." She said she hoped people would not "start bashing the school that is doing a great job protecting my child from what is sexual harassment."

School officials insist the boy was repeatedly warned and that the punishment was warranted. Lincoln Elementary School Principal Tammy DeWolfe said the school would "never suspend a student for one minor little violation." No criminal charges have been brought against the boy.

Masters-Ownbey stated her daughter's older brother has felt like he needed to protect her at school. "In elementary school, when a boy kisses a girl, the usual response of their peers is 'ewwww,'" she stated. "So why do the other kids rush to tell? Because they've seen it over and over, they've seen him repeatedly get in trouble for it, they've seen the girl repeatedly tell him to stop, they know it's wrong."
I'm not sure how the girl's mother could be saying "did a 'great job' protecting her daughter from repeated harassment from the boy" when he's done this so often that the other kids rushed to tell on him and knew he'd gotten "repeatedly in trouble for it."

I think the boy's mother needs to do something about it, take some responsibility for disciplining and correcting the boy, without whining publicly about the label.  The school shouldn't allow him back until everyone is satisfied that he won't continue, but they should change the label. Feeling "sorry" and "apologizing" will probably be fake as hell because he's six, but worthwhile in the long term.

What kills me is that stories like this tend to blow up on social media and get the school-haters and pro-vouchers/anti-public school advocates going ... and it could have been so easily avoided.

LATER: I notice the school has changed it to "misconduct."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I hate this class.

So why did you take the class? You spent $3000 of your or your parents' money to enroll in it.  It seems pretty amazingly stupid for you to complain about it now, after 4 months.

Why didn't you
  • Check out the course bulletin and choose a different course, one you're interested in?
  • Check out the professor and make sure he teaches in a way you like; perhaps choose the one you'd like from the department?
  • Rearrange your schedule to avoid this class?
  • Choose a major that you give a damn about?
  • Do something else?
If it was truly worthless, why did you take it? Why not drop it and take something else? No one is forcing you to get this education and, in fact, you'd probably be better off learning a trade than continuing with this very expensive farce.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Blood Drive.

Two years ago:
"The GOLM collected 368 pints that first year, and has grown steadily ever since. For three straight years, the GOLM has broken the New England record for a one-day community blood drive. Boston held the record of 772 pints until Rutland collected 856 in 2008 and 1,024 in 2009. In September 2010, Boston collected 1,177 pints to reclaim the New England record, but Rutland took it back in December, with 1,400 pints. Manchester, N.H., broke that record – and the national record – in August 2011, with 1,968 pints – setting the stage for our 2011 goal of topping the nation in blood donation.
Neither 2011 nor 2012 broke the record. This year, however, was the bomb:
Rutland roared into the record books Tuesday with a new national mark for blood collected in a single community in one day — more than 2,300 pints. The previous record was 1,968 pints, held by Manchester, N.H.

The total collected in the Gift of Life Marathon blood drive at five locations in Rutland was finalized at about 10:30 p.m., and the 2,337 pints put Rutland comfortably in the lead for the new national mark.

For a bit of perspective that's in a community of 35,000 in a county with 25,000 more. 2337 out of 60,000 people is an amazingly high percentage when you realize that the Red Cross excludes many people who:
are too young, too lightweight, have iron deficiencies, have medical problems, have been stationed in Irag or Afghanistan (or any number of foreign countries), are gay, have been in prison or done drugs, take medicines legitimately that aren't good for the blood recipient, have had a tattoo in the last 12 months ... page after page of exclusions. 
The list is immense and it narrows down the available pool of donors to the point where Rutland had about 15% of its eligible population donate blood on the same day.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Should we Offer Access to Online Education?

And this is why KA and other online education options won't ever replace brick and mortar. Students, by and large, simply will not do online education on their own. 

"Offering access"?  How am I "Offering access" when KA is on the Internet? A more appropriate question would be "Even had I wanted to, how can I stop them?"

The brick and mortar schools will be in trouble when the question becomes "How can I take all this stuff I learned online this summer and get credit for it in school?"  Since I have yet to have a student actually learn a lot of math online, I have no fear for my job. They need a teacher to nudge, cajole, question and respond, demand and reply. Sure, there are some who can learn online, but they're not in public schools and, if they are, it's rarely math that they can learn this way.

On the other hand, for me, it's not about WHERE you learn algebra, it's how well. If you transferred into my school and showed us that you had mastered algebra I, we'd put you into algebra II  .... so why would we care if you mastered algebra I through KA or some other over the summer?  The answer is, we don't.  If you show up CLAIMING to have learned it all in summer school, we're skeptical, but that's only because we have seen and worked with an awful lot of students.

It's sort of like Teach for America ... I guess there are SOME people who can learn everything in a six-week summer course, but it sure does seem as though the traditional methods are still better for most.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Obsolete in Education - part One

Four years ago, teachpaperless.blogspot.com predicted some things that were going obsolete. I think she's experiencing some edu-psychosis brought on by wishful thinking. As an intellectual exercise and conceit, I figured I'd give updates and responses.
1. Desks
The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.
Yup, desks in rows are the first thing on the list ... I suppose the "factory model" bugaboo has to surface immediately because the students don't need any structure or organization, and the teacher is going to be differentiating the hell out of that room anyway. Putting the desks on wheels so the "teacher doesn't know where to stand" will certainly do something. I'm not sure that it'll be something good, though.
2. Language Labs
Foreign language acquisition is only a smartphone away. Get rid of those clunky desktops and monitors and do something fun with that room.
That's right. Siri will solve your translation problems for you. There's no need for you to learn a new language, kids, the disembodied voice will do all your thinking and learning for you, do all your math for you, remember all your Biology facts for you, read your Shakespeare to you and perform your science experiments. 
3. Computers
Ok, so this is a trick answer. More precisely this one should read: 'Our concept of what a computer is'. Because computing is going mobile and over the next decade we're going to see the full fury of individualized computing via handhelds come to the fore. Can't wait.
Computers may be morphing into tablets and smartphones but that doesn't mean the desktop is going away any time soon. The screen size and keyboard comfort will insure that. Those people who change their primary device for a smartphone weren't using their computer for anything other than a communication device anyway. Those people who gravitate to a Kindle or tablet weren't reading on the computer anyway. Those people who needed a computer for content creation will still need the size and convenience anyway.
4. Homework
The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don't need kids to 'go to school' more; we need them to 'learn' more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).
This is an utter crock. The human mind can't actively learn for extended periods of time. Homework (or something that replaces it) is a necessary intermediate learning situation in the full learning process: Listen and see, learn, practice, reinforce, twist, re-use, re-formulate and then master. Students won't suddenly develop the self-motivation to do this if it wasn't present already.

Secondly, I see pushback from the 24/7 model in many things. The cellphone gave us instant connection at all times and people are starting to realize that isn't the best idea - more often "the battery must have died" is the excuse given to cover up the desire to be left alone. Even my teenagers are starting to get the exasperated look when Mother calls in the middle of class - I know, I've looked at the number before they answer. Anyone who uses email knows how it can overwhelm any attempt to get things done. Having a set time and place for learning allows the students to focus on that learning and allow the brain to make the connections necessary. (Assuming that students will learn chemistry at the skatepark is so laughable that I must have misread the bullet point.) Once outside of that place, the brain can have time to process while the student relaxes, plays sports, or simply does something enjoyable or works a job.

There's a time and place for everything, you know.
5. The Role of Standardized Tests in College Admissions
The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn't far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

Those last legs are looking pretty strong. The reality is that more and more kids are being exploited as guinea pigs: experimental schools and pedagogy, block vs traditional schedules, open classroom vs walls, disciplinarian vs laissez-faire systems, integrated math vs alg-geom-alg-trig, homeschooling and unschooling. The details are enormously different.

Those tests, as annoying and predictable as they might be, do give the colleges a baseline context for the rest of the application. Digital portfolios are not catching on as the sole record of achievement simply because there isn't much to show that the student actually created all of that work without help.
6. Differentiated Instruction as the Sign of a Distinguished Teacher
The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn't yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won't make you 'distinguished'; it'll just be a natural part of your work.
I could have sworn that the title of the piece was "Things that were going obsolete". I'm assuming that she wants all students to be in differentiated learning, whether it's appropriate or not. The group classroom isn't going away. Some kids like to feel that everything is specialized for them and they don't mind instantly moving forward to the next topic, but I'll counter with the idea that immediate advancement to the next topic may be the reason some kids have so much trouble. Waiting for the other kid to get it, or helping a friend get it, is valuable. Listening to other kids ask the same question is also valuable.
7. Fear of Wikipedia
Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it's time you get over yourself.
No, Wikipedia has all of the limitations it always had. Crowd-sourcing is only as good as the loudest voices in that crowd.  I would note that the only truly good articles are those written by experts and, for most people, the expert can be defined as "someone who agrees with me". The 19yo kid who happens to be the uber-administrator for a particular page isn't much better than a GeoCities author was.

Copying random paragraphs from Wikipedia is akin to copying the article from the Brittanica, but requiring less of a lazy effort than in the olden days. Teachers don't object to the truth in Wikipedia, they object to the way their students use it.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a Good Night.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas, Earth

45 years ago today:

Thanks, Neil.

Dec 24, 2013. 45th anniversary of @NASA's seminal Earthrise photo. Taken as Apollo 8 orbited the Moon. pic.twitter.com/uKcHIqecHj
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) December 24, 2013

Grades are not poison.

Grades are not poison, they're a shortcut.

They're a single number that is shorthand for something.  All of the horrors ascribed to grades are simply problems with the interpretation and implementation.

To answer Alfie Kohn, if you grade something that cannot be graded easily with a tool that is horribly inappropriate for that purpose, why would you expect that it would ever work well? Things that look like participation can be measured, and most such run counter to the stated purpose of the grade.

If the class is supposed to discuss, you can count the times the person made a statement.  "You must comment at least twice on at least two classmates' posts in the forum." You'll also have to account for those who can't or won't speak up in class, or who are incapable of posting in a forum; you'll need to account for many things.

My point is that counting forum posts isn't really measuring what you want to measure, isn't encouraging anything important, and may be counterproductive. That's Alfie Kohn's data point as well, but I refuse to take step two.

Using participation grades to bash ALL grades is a silly Strawman argument.

Grades are useful. They condense a semester's worth of work into one readable nugget. Does the student understand Algebra 1 enough to go on to Algebra 2? You can have a 10 page paper listing all of the things that students should have learned this year, but the mass of data is too much so the reader needs the teacher to distill it into something more concise.

What form that concise summary will take is debatable, but I would maintain that the A-F scale is fine. It's not complete, of course ... it's a summary, but it's what the public has grown accustomed to so the writer and the reader are both using the same notation and communication is assured. Communication is the point.

Rubrics expand the summary but don't add precision or accuracy to it because they are made from the same data the grade was. Changing to a 1-4 scale is no improvement. Any scale that includes levels like "Proficient, Nearly Proficient, Gaining Proficiency, Barely proficient, No Evidence of Intelligent Thought" is akin to changing languages and claiming that French is superior to English because it has accents.

Perhaps the problem is that grades are a form of communication that is being used in too many different ways, many of them problematic, leading us to assume that all uses of grades are false and problematic.

Grading participation

It seems to me that anyone who has time to grade participation has got too much time on his hands and should perhaps consider teaching instead? As a followup to that thought, if you aren't implementing some sort of instantaneous computer-based participation measurement tool, how in the holy hell can you possibly grade participation? Won't it be a bit jarring to always be stopping the flow of conversation to be running to the front of the room to make some mark instead of listening to the question and thinking about it?

I remember watching a Edu-guru at a conference explain how he does it. "I keep the list up here on the podium and whenever you say something thoughtful or particularly relevant, I put a mark on the list." Every time he went back to the podium, he lost his train of thought. The only thing I could think of was Dan Willingham's discriptions of experiments on distraction in the lecture hall.

Other teachers use it as a punishment. "They won't let me implement discipline in any other way, so I'll put a daily ten-point grade in place so I can mark them down. Minus 1 for no pencil, minus 5 for no homework, and so on."
Here's a radical thought .... give the normal test at the normal time. "Let's find out how much you understand 'Solving for the Variable - Two Step Equations.' "

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

If it doesn't turn you on ...

After my childish little rant yesterday about kids and the multiplication tables playing hard-to-get, Sue left a comment on the post:
If it doesn't turn you on, why would you focus on it? I just read The Book of Learning and Forgetting, by Frank Smith. He makes a sharp distinction between memorizing and learning. I think knowing those multiplication facts is vital to doing lots of interesting mathematical work, but students will only know them if they felt engaged by the ideas at some point. 
If it hadn't been written by SueVH, I'd have been tempted to toss it into the Idiot Pile and shrug my shoulders muttering "What the ... " under my breath.  Sue's right, of course, but I shudder at what a parent or new teacher or student might take away from this.

Here's the problem.  Statements like "If it doesn't turn you on, why would you focus on it?" and "students will only know them if they felt engaged by the ideas" can lead to a dangerous impasse in the classroom.

Students in elementary school, more than at any other level, are influenced by the attitudes of their teachers. They can be convinced or even be taught (or manipulated, or brainwashed, if you want to be cynical and stupid) that math is fun and easy. They can memorize so many things at this age - they're memorizing words, symbols, mores and morals, culture, ethics (to the point they can understand them) - they're a mental sponge. They will absorb everything just because someone said so.

If the teacher takes the approach that the students need to be engaged before they can learn math, then she has lost another generation because she doesn't get turned on my math, won't focus on it, and will teach the children that it's not for their pretty little selves. Her biases and fears and trials and troubles with math become their biases and fears and trial and troubles.

If we are constantly offering the excuse of "They're not engaged" as a reason to blame the teacher instead of the students, why should anyone wonder at the poor results we get?

Motivation is the responsibility of the student.

What we have here is a Failure to Communicate.

Education is an awesome thing. What kills it for me is Educrats and Professional Development. Only in Education is it considered a good idea to run a meetings with the following rules.

Did I say "rules"? Silly me, "rules" is such a simple word. What we need here is a more imposing word, one that will make us sound intelligent and wise. You could say we need jargon, but jargon is used in other fields to take a complex idea and substitute one word to represent it, to simplify speech by "chunking" a lot of information into a small package. In education, jargon is used in the opposite way - to confuse and impress through sheer bluster.

I give you "Protocol".

Specifically, there are "protocols" in place for our next little gathering:

There are over hundred different protocols developed in the field for educators, all of which assure us that we will collaborate better, with deeper understanding. "Deeper" is an important word nowadays - we want to eliminate the "mile wide and inch deep" education that we've been apparently delivering all this time. We're changing to deeper teaching. And don't forget collaboration.

We'll have a scribe who writes all this on a piece of chart paper that will never see the light of day, and probably won't survive the clean-up at the end of the session. But we collaborated and we found the essence of the text.

Of course, sharing a single sentence, phrase and word is hardly a collaboration and it sure as hell ain't a discussion, so I'm not quite sure how I'm going to be able to refrain from my usual snarky commentary. It's essentially going to be a long day.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Isn't it odd ...

Educational expert's view of themselves.
The mantra from the Powers that Be in Education, those educational experts who have never been teachers, is that students are supposed to be given multiple chances at assessing their skills and knowledge, multiple ways to show mastery of a subject, repeated formative assessments and multiple chances at summative assessments.

We are to use the word "assessment" because it has the connotation of measurement without judgement, of placement on a scale with no mark of "failure", unlike "test" and "quiz", which both have such connotations.

Many systems have rules about marking a 50% when students do 0% of the work, or requiring that teachers use nothing less than a 60 in the gradebook so that kids can't "fail".

"Social promotion", education's version of "too big to fail", pushes students beyond their Peter Principle limits, beyond their level of incompetence.

"All team members must have equal playing time" rules create the same situation on the field.

Isn't it odd that the Powers That Be feel that schools can be tested and can fail based solely on the results of students who can't?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Multiplication tables

So how is it that a kid can make it all the way to the ninth grade and still not have memorized the table? It's on the wall of every elementary classroom - how can you possibly not learn it?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Those Seven Myths of Education

Christodoulou's seven myths:
1 – Facts prevent understanding, 2 – Teacher-led instruction is passive, 3 – The 21st century fundamentally changes everything, 4 – You can always just look it up, 5 – We should teach transferable skills, 6 – Projects and activities are the best way to learn, 7 – Teaching knowledge is indoctrination

She's pretty much nailed it. Here's my take on it.

1 – Facts prevent understanding

Actually, there can be no understanding without facts.

If I don't know that 8*7=56, I can't do much arithmetic without a calculator - and that means I have no understanding. I can't realize when I've punched the wrong value in the calculator or hit the wrong key.

If I don't understand distributive property, I can't do much algebra, and I can't multiply 102 * 57 in my head. Knowing those things means that I can take them a few steps beyond  the simplistic and apply them to much more complex things.

If I lack facts, then I will fall prey to misinformation. I will believe martinlutherking.org because it looks okay and says some things definitively. Facts that I know are my only shield against lies I'm told.

We'll work together. Pull !
2 – Teacher-led instruction is passive, or "Collaboration is the only way because the students will discover their own knowledge and it will be more powerful for them; they'll be engaged and learn more." 

I recall a very smart kid named Chris who was always first ... with the wrong answers. He would catch on quickly, but he had a way of speaking that other students had learned to trust and so now, they would all have the wrong idea. Once that got in their heads, it was quite difficult to change it.

It's the same thing that happens when Jenny McCarthy opens her mouth about vaccines. Or when a person holds a politically extreme position (left or right, no matter). The idea is fixed. As the teacher, you need to make sure that the right information gets out first.  You need to give them the mental shield against misinformation.

For me, it boils down to this question, "Who should be teaching the kids? Should it be Chris, who is learning this for the first time or me, the teacher, who knows what's going on?"

New teachers take note: The school is paying you $40k+ for a reason ... you have several more years of coursework and understanding.

What are you waiting for?  You don't have to talk for forty minutes straight but you are the recognized keeper of knowledge here; you have studied, written, been tested, researched and spent time at this. Some of what you have learned needs to be transferred.

3 – The 21st century fundamentally changes everything

No, it doesn't. You will be dealing with fundamentally the same kinds of minds that you went to school with. They have the same fears and needs, the same hopes and desires, the same weaknesses and strengths.

Sure, there are more toys in their pockets, but you're probably just as addicted to them. If it messes with your mind or distracts you endlessly, it will have the same effects on the students.

The tools are different now, but the learning is the same, the goals are the same, and the pitfalls are the same.  The kids are hormonal and angsty just like you were, pressured and anxious and worried about college or girls or boys ... or a girl or a boy. When they get out, they'll still need math, science, English, history, Arts, languages.

Just like you did.

4 – You can always just look it up.

You can only look something up if you know that you don't know, and you can't check your source if you know nothing about the topic.

What's wrong with the following story I just made up?
Old man Smith was a curmudgeonly sort but happy, outgoing and pleasant. On this particular day, he had left his warm bed at 5:30 in the morning to mount his harvester and head out to the fields. He had hoped to get all of his haying done by noon but the baler was giving him trouble and the fifth-wheel on the hay wagon went flat. 
Nothing, grammatically. In RealLife, though, you can't bale wet hay or it burns down the barn, you don't use a harvester for haying, there isn't a fifth-wheel on a hay wagon and it isn't a tire so it won't go flat, and "curmudgeonly" is the wrong word in that context. How much did you look up? And what did you look up? And where?

Or did you do just as every student does ... read it and move on, assuming that everything was fine?

If you don't know something, you can't be expected to look up and fix what you don't know is wrong. If you don't know that sin(4°) is positive but sin(4) is negative, how would you know if you got it wrong? What should you look up? Type sin(4) into Google or wolfram and you get
Must be the right answer - the internet said so.

5 – We should teach transferable skills

The skills that I learned in school more than 40 years ago were pretty basic and I transferred them to the new world pretty easily. There's a reason that everyone still requires math, science, English, history, Arts, languages.

Teach skills. Math skills, writing skills, whatever your discipline requires. They'll transfer just fine.

6 – Projects and activities are the best way to learn

If you have no idea what you are doing, how are you supposed to start? How do you get over that hurdle caused by a lack of knowledge?

Start with a transfer from the sage to the students. Then build them up from total noobs to something just a bit better. Now you can have them work on a project but remember the one salient fact ...

Work is different than learning.

Don't expect them to teach themselves and then accomplish some big project. They need you to do your part first.

Not sure that any of this year's graduates
fit this particular mold.
7 – Teaching knowledge is indoctrination

No. Teaching lies is indoctrination. Deliberately teaching misinformation is indoctrination. Forcing your students to spout your political views or parrot your religious teachings is indoctrination.

Critical thinking looks similar to and is often confused with an attack on indoctrination. If they challenge you, then you're doing it right.

Don't confuse acculturation with indoctrination. The kids also need to know how the world works and what is expected of them. It's not evil to explain what kinds of behavior with result in being fired.

Public schools are rarely guilty of the brain-washing they're accused of. Private schools do it constantly but since it matches the expectations of the parents, it's apparently okay.

I enjoyed our little chat. thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It Takes More Than Love to Homeschool

Joanne Jacobs quotes Paula Bolyard in How Badly Can we Mess up Kindergarten:
“Parents, who love and understand their children better than anyone else in the world, are well-qualified to educate their children at home and should seriously consider taking on the challenge,” concludes Bolyard.

Well, actually, that's a very simplistic statement lacking in any knowledge of the realities of education, akin to saying that owning a box of tools is enough to fix the brakes on your car or that attending high school school in the 1970s is sufficient to call yourself an education expert.

Homeschooling is much more than just love and understanding. Anyone who goes into it feeling they "can't possibly mess up Kindergarten" and "screw it, that wasn't so bad, we'll just keep on going" is a fool.

Despite their stupidity, I would never argue that they be forced to give it up. They have just as much right to screw up their children's lives as anyone. Religion is the usual reason for homeschooling and seems to be a major reason here. Religious parents often wish to raise their children with more spiritual classes and teachings, which is fine. Some wish to avoid contact with children who don't share their beliefs, which is silly, but it's still the parents' choice.
But then I have a picture in my mind of my precious boys snuggled up with me on the couch as I’m reading Johnny Tremain to them. . . . The American Revolution is jumping off the pages and coming to life for them as Johnny helps Paul Revere warn that the British are coming! We have already read a couple chapters from the Bible that day, a chapter from a missionary biography, and have worked on memorizing Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If.”
I just hope that everyone understands that Johnny Tremain is fiction, not history, and that she can find someone to tutor math and science.

UPDATE (after PeggyU's comment):
"I struggled with discipline and consistency in my personal life; and of course, that spilled into our homeschooling world."
This is the first sign that this education is going to be less than ideal. Homeschooling isn't just a matter of eliminating the schedule and bustle of public school; it needs it's own structure. The children will take their cues from the parent, as they always do, but there won't be a counterweight.
"I struggled with frequent migraine headaches, so we planned a 4-day school schedule in order to allow an extra day for my health issues."
The number of days isn't the issue here, but the reasons are. This woman isn't prepared for this task and, subconsciously at least, seems to know it.
"We worked through learning disabilities and speech therapy and the year we all now laugh about and refer to as 'Algebra with Anger.'"
As a high school math teacher, I cringed at this line. The biggest problem I have is the residue of math fear left by previous teachers. It takes weeks, sometimes months, for me to break through that and get the reluctant to try, to realize that they DO know some math and that they CAN learn it.
"It wasn’t pretty and we’re not proud of it, but I remind myself that lots of kids in public schools went through much worse things in 9th grade than a grumpy dad with a whiteboard who worked an 8-hour day and, after an hour commute, tried to teach algebra to an uncooperative student. (I don’t recommend it.)"
Yeah, and some kids had lost their fathers in Afghanistan while some are orphans, and others got beat up on the school bus. This is rationalization, self-delusion and denial, and total bs. Instead of admitting they had reached a limit, they forged on regardless.
... we had both completed first grade in school, so we surely possessed at least a rudimentary grasp of the course work, right?
... we used the curriculum because we didn’t know any better ...
... other parts of the curriculum were too structured for our more laid-back family style ...
... you can find a curriculum that fits your individual family and your kids’ learning styles ...
There are too many misguided educational tropes here leading to one more kid, screwed over by his parents.
Homeschooling can be a wonderful, rewarding experience for a family and, I believe, the best educational choice for many — if not most — families. 
Except if you want the kids to get a decent education. Unqualified and unknowledgeable parents do not make good teachers. A rare few percent of homeschool kids can succeed on their own, but they're the exceptions to the rule.
Parents, who love and understand their children better than anyone else in the world, are well-qualified to educate their children at home and should seriously consider taking on the challenge.

Oh, well. As I've often said, the public school system is provided by the community for any of its residents who choose to make use of it. It's too bad this family chose the way they did but I guess they're satisfied.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why I'm going slow with tech in the classroom.

I'm having trouble with tech in the classroom. It's similar to the complaint expressed a few days ago on DogHouse Diaries about the vast array of digital storage options and the call for simplification. Expand the graphic to see what I mean.

I've found that I have an incredibly diverse set of tools that I can use daily, that the "reformocrats" would like me to be "expert" at using.
  • For writing and other communications: blogs and forums, Twitter, Facebook, Edmodo, Google+, Reader, TypeWithMe, and other web stuff,  Word, OpenOffice.
  • An ability to make websites: Google Sites is a minimum, but really, I'm supposed to be able to build one from scratch using wordpad or notepad. 
  • I've had to become proficient at administering Moodle because the school IT's refuses to set one up. Another teacher and I paid for the site from our dept budgets. We set it up, maintain, enroll students, create classes, train teachers in creating and using.
  • I need a Google account so I can make good use of maps, images, drive, gmail and all of the sharing capabilities. Google Drive and all of its quirks and annoyances needs to balance with the harddrive and network folder at school and the computer at home, not to mention the USB stick that I carry. Version control, anyone?
  • For worksheets and practice: MS Word 2000 and 2007 (different formats). Text files, HTML pages, Latex.
  • For quizzes: MS Word 2000 and 2007 (different formats), Moodle quizzes which need either Latex or some equation editor or equations as images, Google docs which doesn't import equations real well from Word, Socrative, the book's test generator.
  • For presentations: Powerpoint, Google Docs, Prezi, SlideRocket.
  • Other media: Photoshop, Word Drawing tools, TurboCAD, Audacity, Five different movie editing tools as my OS changed, VideoLan and WMedia and Apple QuickTime.
  • Tools such as Excel and other spreadsheets, databases ranging from Access to MySQL, Fathom and other specialized statistics software, not to mention familiarity with WolframAlpha and the formatting language behind it and Mathematica or Maple. Don't forget MatLab and the TI-83/4 and Inspire graphing calculators.
  • While we're at it, I should be able to code: Javascript, .php, MySQL, .html, etc. All of the other languages I've learned are obsolete: Basic, Fortran, .asp, TruBasic. 
  • The grading software. It was FinalGradePro, then GradeQuick, then Gradequick with Edline, and now it will be Powerschool.
  • The SmartBoard.
  • I need to be able to train the faculty at my school in most of these technologies because IT doesn't do this. Fortunately, I have several fellow teachers who are as good as I am - we work with each other and then spread out to train. 
  • Chromebooks will be handed out to students at some point and we'd better make use of them or the Powers That Be will be pissed at the expense. Did I mention that the only group doing training is that same core group of faculty?
  • Did I mention that many of these are programs that my school doesn't install on the faculty computer? I can make CAD drawings at home but have to convert them to show at school, or print at school.  Some of these have been eliminated (Google Reader, delicious, etc.) and others have not had their license renewed (OpenOffice replacing Office for fiscal reasons) or made major format changes.
  • Books: I have hardcopy, Kindle format, text files, Google Books, pdf.
  • Jeez ... forgot about flipped classes, video, audio, YouTube and TeacherTube and computer support.

  • Oh yeah, I also teach math. I'll have five preps next year, including an online Geometry course that I've never seen before - something the state cooperative bought from Florida Online. 
And that is just scratching at the surface. I'm sure that everyone of you reading this said to yourself at least once, "He forgot about ____. That is so useful."
Remind me again what I'm being paid to do?

I know most of this tech already, but the students don't (with the exception of Facebook and their smartphones) and most of the other teachers are pretty new at everything, too.

My co-teacher falls into this trap a lot: he's real excited about every tool. "You can all use powerpoint but it's not the best. Google presentation isn't very good either. You should use SlideRocket." Other teachers are using Powerpoint with them because the kids all learned that in 7th grade and still others are excited about Prezi because it "engages the students more." That's four different presentation methods - so each student has to learn four different environments ... and that's just for making a presentation. And it assumes that the tool you learn this year will still be around next year and that the para-educators know all four and can help the kids with each one (not for $11/hour).

There are so many options, the whole thing grinds to a halt.

There are so many tools that won't play nicely together.

With "new" comes "Training" and mistakes. Unfortunately, mistakes in education tend to involve confidential data and are usually a big problem. There is so much data being put into Powerschool that doesn't belong in a single-access system. The people setting things up are dumping everything into it with little concern for who "needs" to see which piece of information. All it will take is for a single teacher to be careless with a single password and a whole host of information will be out there in the student body. 

Most importantly, if you want people to learn and explore and experiment, you have to be willing for things to not go well and all we've heard about is how bad our schools are and how much reform is needed. Most of the push for reform involves more and more diverse technology tools that no one can use well in the first place. "If only you all used ____, our scores would go up."

I used to hate Microsoft for its dominance and attitude until I realized that the standardization it fostered made education manageable. You could teach kids how to use a tool quickly and then get on with using the tool to learn.

So, before we ask that teachers be good at everything ... is there a chance that we could standardize this list a bit? Put together a list of the must-haves and hold off on the rest?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The trouble with False positives.

From Slahdot:
"In many ways finding the small amount of terrorists within the United States is like screening a population of people for a rare disease. A physician explains why collecting excessive data is actually dangerous. Each time a test is run, the number of people incorrectly identified quickly dwarfs the correct matches. Just like in medicine, being incorrectly labelled has serious consequences."

Okay, Students. This is one place you will have to use this in real life.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Question about questions, SBAC edition. Graphs.

So, the SBAC is releasing questions so that we teachers can't complain that they've done all this work behind our backs. At least, they hope we don't.

But I digress.

I got a list of some released questions and started looking. My general rule is to make sure that the first thing on any handout is correct. I also have to assume that SBAC has access to a graphing calculator such as Graph 4.4 ... so why do they come out with the following?

The question they ask the students: "The graph of y = x² is shown on the grid. Drag the graph to show y = (x - 4)² + 2"

The question I have for them is, "Why didn't you graph it properly? It was probably more difficult to get it wrong than it would be to get it right. Did they use Microsoft Word? Just seems weird to me, like a circular arc and then two lines. I know it's picky, but sheesh.

I will point out that this is a great example of the over-reliance on gee-whizardry by SBAC ... everything has to be drag and drop, click and move, glitenbullshit. This could be done so many other ways, just as relevant and equally valid.

I'm curious mostly about the granularity of the placement. What is the tolerance? Can a student with a Chromebook and touchpad do this in a timely fashion?  Here's the "answer" ... note that it doesn't actually have a vertex at (4,2).

I think we'd better get a few extra mice for testing day.

Here's another. Drag the factors to make the equation ... I guess you drag (x-2) out twice. God, what a pain in the ass without a mouse. Graph looks wrong again. It's definitely a Bezier curve from MS Word.

Here's the real one for those who care:

Again, why not do it right?

Workfare is Detention for Adults.

And just as effective at getting the building cleaned.

This little meme has been going around and it's obvious to me that no one is really thinking ... really using those critical thinking skills that they always bitch at teachers for not teaching.

Should able-bodied do work for their money?

First indication this is silly: the implication is that people should only be paid for their work. Does that mean that, in order to get benefits, they now have to be given a government job, with all the benefits, rights and responsibilities ... which then means they aren't technically unemployed anymore ... which means that the right-wing demagogues who posted this are agitating for more people on the government payroll?

Are we as stupid as that?


I'm sure that some people who are out of work could do those jobs quite well and they should be able to apply for a government job if they want, but to fire the current workers in order to give work to the unemployed seems circular to me.

That's until you get to those who can't do the job ... then this idea is frankly nuts.

Have you ever supervised detention at school? When you have untrained or unwilling workers (even moderately unwilling), you get sloppy work and no attention to detail. You're worse off than when you began because now you need someone competent to go back and redo the job properly.

Of course, you also need more supervisors to check whether they've worked "hard enough" or done the job "well enough", meaning that you now are paying your current workers to be management and your new workers, too. And you still haven't really gotten the job done well.

If you decide to fire all of your current public works employees and replace them with unemployed, you haven't really accomplished anything except adding to your current problems.

The constant turnover of staff would be a nightmare and the logistical headaches of this idea make it unworkable. No business owner in his right mind would ever accept this idea.

But, hey, all anti-welfare folks, keep pretending you have a clue.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Please read a "Letter to the Idiot Nation"

From StoneKettle Station: A Letter to the Idiot Nation, in which he responds to the "Jeff Foxworthy" forwarded email/facebook bs.

You know the one: "If the government wants to prevent stable, law-abiding citizens from owning gun magazines that hold more than ten rounds, but gives twenty F-16 fighter jets to the crazy new leaders in Egypt - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.
If, in the nation's largest city, you can buy two 16-ounce sodas, but not one 24-ounce soda, because 24-ounces of a sugary drink might make you fat - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots."
Enough, Shipmates, enough.
Enough of this crap.
What the hell happened to you guys? When did you start buying into this garbage?
"Jeff’s got something to say?"
What the hell, fellas? Jeff Foxworthy? The has-been “you might be a redneck…” comedian whose popularity waxed in the mid 1990’s? That Jeff Foxworthy?

It’s bad enough that the average idiot would believe this nonsense, but you two men are far from stupid and you were trained intelligence officers.  In uniform, you’d have never stood for this kind of sloppy bullshit from your watch team. What happened to your critical analysis skills, did you take them off with your uniform?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Surviving The Harry Potter Classroom

It's summer, the time when teachers start to second-guess themselves and their teaching. They read articles and research teaching methods. Let's try CoolMath's Cooperative Learning Article which starts with a StrawMan argument and slides downhill from there. I'm not exaggerating. Here's paragraph 2:
"In the old and traditional classroom, the teacher would say, “I will dictate, and you will listen.  I will repeat, and you will recite. I will test, and you will either pass or fail.  This is how it has always been done.”
Really? Haven't seen many traditional classrooms, have you? Ever been in a New England Private School? Ever seen a public school? Apparently this author has watched Snape.
"I've been teaching math for about 14 years (writing this in summer 2005) at the community college level. But, these methods will all work with middle and high school kids too."
Sure, they'll work just as well because you said so? Because we all know that 19 and 20-year-old college kids in a community college remedial class behave and respond exactly as 12-14 year-olds in honors algebra I?

What are these magical methods? Collaborative Learning, because, according to research, "It is Bandura’s theory that interactive, collaborative projects help build self-efficacy and introduce new patterns of behavior.(Klinger, 1999)"

Well, I feel all better now.

Any hooo, let's introduce "Survivor Algebra." Put your class into Tribes! Have them collaborate! Compete!

Give them mathy names (these are copyrighted, no less): Newtongon, Quotiedor, Numa, Pascalos, Calcula, Fractoanan, Subtracto, Pentanos, Arithmatog, Decimos, Algekor, Quadraticus, and Additron.

They have to work together! Their teammates help them! Everyone is motivated!

Or not.
Students are put into tribes/districts that will last the school year. Everything they do matters to the tribe. Everything that normally happens in the classroom: group work, discussion, problem solving, quizzes, tests, neatness, homework, good questions, good behavior, good attendance, etc is now a chance to win game pieces.
1) We take kids and arbitrarily divide them into groups that will last for the entire course, whether they like it or not. Whether they want to or not.
  • Suppose my "teammates" can't learn as quickly as I. I therefore have to "help" them, but I don't want to be the teacher. That is not my role and I shouldn't be forced to do it. I'm in the middle of learning this and I don't quite know it well enough for me to be doing the teacher's job.
  •  Suppose my "teammates" aren't motivated and spend a lot of time talking about other things instead of simply getting to work? A 12-yo is not going to be able to influence an unmotivated 14-yo and will not have the "leadership" skills to overcome it.
  • Suppose you mix girls and boys together ... the belief is that everyone's the same, right? Will you also require the boys to shut up occasionally or will you let the girls all take a subordinate role if that's what develops? Are you ready to separate by gender? 
  • How about racial quotas - every team has to have 1 black kid, 3 white kids, and 1 Asian ... so the Asian kid can balance the black kid? Are you sure you want to open this nasty can of worms?
  • Which group gets the special ed kids and who does their work? Kids can tolerate having a para help out but not if it affects a grade or helps another group get more points.
2) Group grades:
  • A teacher basing a student's grade in any way on the work ethic and understanding (or lack thereof) of any other student is immoral and wrong. Except for Hogwarts.
  • A student's transcript should be based solely on what that student knows or can do or has accomplished.
  • Group work is useful and valuable when you are doing work but most of the time, students are not doing "work" ... they are learning.This is an important distinction.

3) Group dynamics will also get into the mix. Watch Survivor and follow the changes team members undergo while being with their teams. Check out Big Brother and see the same thing.

There's a reason why the Hogwarts students are divided into houses. For those who didn't realize, Slytherin values ambition, cunning and resourcefulness, a little cold and calculating, maybe a touch immoral; Gryffindor values bravery, daring, nerve, and chivalry; Hufflepuff values hard work, patience, loyalty, and fair play rather than a particular aptitude in its members; and Ravenclaw values intelligence, knowledge, and wit. Rowling wanted everyone to know who the bad guys were.

If you force students into a group, the students will take on the qualities of that group, usually the qualities of the most outgoing or loudest member. Success by the group becomes the success of the individual. Likewise failure. Rivalries will begin to dominate. Differences will be exaggerated: Ohio fans hate Michigan fans for no apparent reason ... the same thing will happen here.

Any special treatment given to one group will antagonize the rest, even if the reward was "earned". Punish one member for being sloppy and you'll set them against each other. Any reward that was earned unfairly ("They have Jason. He knows everything.") will ensure that everyone hates the smart kids ...
... and the banner at the front of the room will remind them every day 
exactly who those smart kids are.

Remember the arm-band experiment? Yeah.

4) Everything they do will be known to their classmates, good or bad. Every grade, every assignment, every assessment. Besides being a breach of privacy, it will lay pressure on those who handle it least well and it will generate the kind of bullying and peer pressure that we should never allow. A weak student is an anchor every single day to other students that he otherwise enjoys working with - he'll know and they'll know it.

5) Everything is scored. From neatness to "good questions", discussion to behavior, everything is measured, whether the child has control over it or not.
  • Homework is practice and should not be graded. 
  • If you want the good students to be asking all the questions, score the behavior. They'll be happy to scrounge points from you this way. 
  • "Problem-solving"? You won't see the entire group solving anything - the smart kids will make sure they're first and right.

Every point will count and they'll make sure that you give them every one. So will their parents. God help you if you put the future valedictorian with anyone who will lower his score.

You've changed the emphasis from learning to scoring points. Points indicate what you value. Do you value understanding math or writing neatly, knowledge or copied homework, math ability or teamwork, promptness and a pencil or being able to calmly consider a new problem in a thoughtful way?

Why should math class be a horserace anyway? Must we have a winner and a bunch of losers?

So here's the bottom line.
  1. Have the occasional competition, but don't make it the point of the class.
  2. Don't make any student responsible for another.
  3. Don't tie grades to group work.
  4. Don't score anything that's not important. 
  5. Don't divide the group against itself.