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.' "