Archive for January, 2010

“It’s an honor to be here and the teachers care about you.” SLA Student

January 30, 2010

What I learned during my first day at Educon 2.2

First and foremost, the students at SLA respect their teachers.  They believe their teachers are smart, work hard, care about them, are creative, know a lot about them as individuals, and won’t let them get away with crappy performances.  They (ok, the twelve kids I talked to individually about this) buy in to the program – they believe they are on to something great and that “the world is driven by inquiry.  Without having questions and being able to share what you find out, I mean, what would the world be?”

As a public school, SLA represents the racial diversity of Philadelphia, but these are not “typical kids.”  According to a student, they apply, interview, present a project and, some students are turned away.  The ones who are accepted take it as an honor.  However, some students are still seen as “slackers” by their peers and none of the kids I talked to really remembers or knows about anyone getting kicked out.

The tour guides I encountered were great. They were very personable, articulate, knowledgeable about the school, and committed to the vision. They thought it was a big deal to have the job of showing off their school.  When I asked (three different ones) if they were only supposed to take us to the good classes, the response I got was, “Well, all of our classes are good.”  One guide said, “Don’t get me wrong, some are better than others but my worst class here is better than my best class in my last school.”  I pushed him to answer “why?”  “Because, here you always know what the teacher wants and what they are going to do to help you – which is a lot.  In my last school, half the time I didn’t know what the teacher REALLY wanted.”

I asked one student, “Is there a lot of discipline here?” He answered immediately, “Oh yeah.” Then I asked, “Do kids get kicked out?” He said, “No, kids HAVE a lot of discipline.  I’m sorry I didn’t understand your question.”  This exchange was precious.

Of all of the conversations I had with kids today, perhaps the most telling were the ones around the question, “Could your old school be like SLA or is there something special about this place?”  Overwhelming, the SLA kids think their old schools could be like SLA if the teachers there cared more and tried a little harder to connect with them.  There was not a kid one who mentioned the technology or the relationship with Franklin Institute when asked this question.

See the pictures I took at SLA, a school with teachers who care about their kids,  today at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rjf7g/sets/72157623186342459.

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Don’t let the headlines fool you!

January 24, 2010

The January 22, 2010 Science Daily Headline, “A Computer Per Student Leads to Higher Performance Than Traditional Classroom Settings” certainly caught my attention.  This headline implies that 1:1 deployments create something other than “traditional classroom settings.”  By and large, perhaps “yes” but by default, I would have to say “no”.  If the device is used as in, “take out your netbook and go to this URL,” what’s different than “take out your textbook and go to this page” other than perhaps the multimedia involved or the age of the specific material being accessed?  I immediately thought of this cartoon – http://fno.org/nov08/novcartoon.html.  My hypothesis is if the teacher insists on running a teacher-centered classroom supported by “as close to” traditional resources as can be found, the positive impacts of 1:1 deployment will be minimized and will most likely be caused by what the students do with the device outside of school.  So, I kept reading the article.

Six paragraphs in to the article, “one common link is clear: the value of teachers committed to making 1:1 computing work.”  The rest of the article contains the text I would like to have seen drive the headline!  The “additional factors critical to student success” reads like a “duh list.”  What if the headline were “An Internet-accessible Authoring Device Per Student Coupled with a Teacher Who Transforms Learning Experiences with the New Technology Leads to Higher Performance Than Students Who Learn from Typical Teachers with Traditional Materials”?  Ok, so I have to work on my headline and perhaps it is too close to my hypothesis without any direct research to support it,  but you get the idea.

The measures of performance used in the study is “English/Language Arts standardized tests.”  What if we set as a measure of performance something closer to what is going to be required of the kids in their real lives outside of school?  What if the same kids in this study took an assessment designed around AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner or the Partnership for 21st Century Skills work?  Not that these two have nailed “it” for the entire 21st Century, but their work at least brings us above what the “English/Language Arts standardized tests” look like in the test used in the study (MCAS), “this test contains six reading selections with thirty-six multiple-choice questions and four open-response questions.”  MCAS also includes a writing prompt. 

What if the “English/Language Arts standardized tests” cited in this study included tasks documented via a portfolio and aligned to AASL’s work, not items documented via a computer-based multiple choice test aligned to the curricular objectives that can be easily tested in a multiple choice format?  What if we looked at the student data disaggregated by the teacher practices measured?  How do we ensure all teachers are ready to leverage new technologies and methodologies as we look to moving to 1:1 in our classrooms?  To what extent do our current curriculum frameworks and assessment models allow for transformation of teaching and learning?

Headlines like “A Computer Per Student Leads to Higher Performance Than Traditional Classroom Settings” make it seem like the technology is the answer.  Alone, it is not.

When’s the last time you learned something from a textbook?

January 22, 2010

I asked the title question of a room full of students at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education ranging from third year undergraduates to second year graduates.  The students looked at me as if I were crazy.  Then, they looked around the room to see what their peers were doing.  Then, one after one they shrugged their shoulders or rolled their eyes.  I broke the silence by then asking a question like, “So, why do schools still buy or require students to buy textbooks if students don’t use them to learn?”

So, where do students get their information?  What’s the purpose of a textbook any way?  Who is the textbook for?  These are some of the questions that were thrown around last week in a planning session on the future of technology for learning in my school district.  As reported by the group of citizens and educators in attendance, textbooks are for teachers.  So, do schools still buy textbooks so teachers can use them?

Virginia last adopted science textbooks in 2004.  One of the Earth Science books adopted, Modern Earth Science, was published in 2002.  I find it very interesting that a 9th grader in a Virginia high school will have a textbook that is 10 years old when a new state contract for science text books  is issued July 1, 2012.  The online version of this book states “Chapter 3 describes how various types of maps are made and used to study the Earth.”  There’s a nifty PDF-based activity in the chapter for finding directions with a compass and there is no mention in the book’s glossary of GPS or GIS.  Teaching materials that were provided with this textbook include 2 CD-ROMs, overhead transparencies, a video disc, and a video tape. GPS technology was first integrated with cell phones in 2004.  Google Earth was released by Google in 2005.

This textbook is one example of why it is absolutely irresponsible for us to even consider purchasing textbooks en masse for one-to-one deployment in this day and age.  By the way, this textbook cost $55.40 in 2004 per the state contract.  English textbooks for 9th graders, per the state contract, amount to over $100, the least expensive 9th grade history book is $54.97, and the cheapest geometry textbook is $53.70.

What do I recommend instead?  Assuming a student will require $267.07 in textbooks each year for four years of high school, that’s $1,056.28.  What if we handed the kid a netbook (beefed up to the cost of $500), improved our infrastructure ($200 per student), and paid his or her teachers to participate in professional development (4 teachers per year at $40 per hour at 30 minutes per student or $320)?  The cost of all of this is $1,020.  This is less than the cost of the textbooks that are out of date before they are handed out for the first time!  Granted, textbooks are on a 10 year replacement cycle and netbooks will have to be on a much shorter replacement cycle, but there’s a chance they may actually improve learning!  

You found me!

January 19, 2010

However, I am currently blogging at http://beckyfisher73.posterous.com – check it out!

Writing Our History

January 19, 2010

Writing Our History – Pam Moran’s address to a group of teacher leaders.

Photo

How have the accountability movement and the “learning for all” moral commitment converged?

Learning As a Hobby

January 18, 2010

I played school pretty well until the middle of my 8th grade year when I had a revelation – school was more about playing along than about learning.  At that point, I decided to stop playing.  Besides, I figured out that I already knew the really important stuff they were trying to teach me and most of what they were trying to teach me didn’t matter.  For example, my older brother taught me everything I desperately needed to know to “do Algebra” in one 30 minute session when I was in the 4th grade.  Suffering through an entire year of Algebra in the 8th grade was painful.  I went in to 8th grade Algebra knowing that Algebra is basically taking what you know and using logical rules to manipulate it to figure out what you don’t know.  However, the way my Algebra class was taught, I doubt the rest of the kids ever got to this understanding.  Real Algebra was very important and useful to me.  School Algebra was boring and served no purpose other than to do 1 – 35 odd.

Why did I have such a need for and interest in Algebra as a 4th grader?  Because my hobby has always been learning by doing and figuring things out.  I was in a grocery store with my mom and saw a Street and Smith Football annual and begged for it.  Money was tight, but my mom understood how important football statistics were to me.  I showed her the official player statistics and told her I could make sure my compilations from the box scores I had tallied all season the year before were right.  If I found a mistake, I could fix my predictions for the coming football season.

Yes, as a 2nd grader, I started cutting out all of the box scores for baseball and football and I compiled all of the statistics for every player whose name appeared in a box score published in my local newspaper.  Why?  Because I could AND I learned something new every day.  During the off season, I would do all of the calculations and double check my during-the-season work.  School math meant nothing to me.  If I encountered a “how do I…?” question,  I had an older brother I could ask.  Finally, I had access to an outside resource I could use to check my work.  I was thrilled!

Why did I need Algebra when I was in the 4th grade?  Well, Street and Smith introduced me to a measure called the “quarterback rating” but they didn’t give the formula for it.  I had to figure out the formula, so I thought through what I thought it must include (attempts, completions, interceptions, touchdowns, and passing yards) and set out to figure out how they went together.  Completions, touchdowns, and yards are good.  Attempts and interceptions are not, but for every completion you must have an attempt.  I started with what I thought was a good model and used the Street and Smith calculations for multiple players to refine my model and ultimately get to the point where I could consistently come up with the same calculations they did.  Mine were done without a calculator!

I got a D in 8th grade Algebra.  I refused to do my homework and to memorize definitions of stuff I just knew.  Additive identity?  It’s a 0 and you can add it to something and not change its value, why does it need a fancy name?

As I reflect on my experiences as a learner outside of school, I understand more about why I approached teaching the way I did.  I worked very hard to manipulate my students in to developing a hobby of learning.  This is not the same as a habit of learning.  A hobby of learning is more like something you do when you don’t have anything else to do because it is fun to you.

With the advent of web technologies, teachers have more opportunities than ever to help kids develop a hobby of learning.  Can you imagine what I would have done as a sports statistics geek with access to the resources kids have now?  Would I have had my own sports statistics blog or wiki or would I have contributed to ESPN.com?   Would my teachers have checked in on my web publications or fussed at me for not doing my homework?

Now, more than ever before, our young people need to be connected to their world.  Can they simultaneously be connected to their world and our “standards of learning”? How can we leverage web technologies and kids’ passions outside of school to ensure they develop a hobby of learning instead of a distaste for school?  

“When the going gets tough…

January 16, 2010

…let the tough get going.”  Frank Leahy (1908 – 1973) US football coach (as cited at Creative Quotations).  Just where is it that the “tough” go, though?  Do they go after each other?  Who is “tougher”, Jay Leno or Conan O’Brien?  They certainly seem to both be going – at each other and NBC, that is.  At a time when hundreds of thousands of lives were changed in an instant and most likely for the worst in Haiti, how can two grown men pulling down millions and millions of dollars annually think they have problems? Conan, Leno Turn On Each Other In Monologues (VIDEO)

What if Conan and Jay stopped dragging each other down and joined forces instead?  Cracking a few jokes on late night TV is nothing like pulling a dehydrated child from under the rubble of a collapsed building as I saw a Turkish and Haitian tag team doing today via a news cast.  However, the concepts of team work and commitment Coach Leahy’s quote embodies can guide us through tough times and normal times as well.

In the current budget situation, we have a lot of choices regarding how we respond.  People will experience pay cuts or even the total elimination of their positions.  Will they continue to serve our children well between the time they receive their pink slips and the last day of their contracts?  I watched several colleagues in this circumstance last year and gained respect for a few while losing respect for many.

I am encouraged by the fact that the majority of the 500 plus Albemarle County Public Schools employees on a phone teleforum with our Superintendent and her cabinet earlier this week recommended a furlough, hitting everyone proportionally.  Teachers spoke about the dangers of privatizing blue collar services and a custodian reminded us how important it is to have support services staff serve as members of a school community.

While the overall international relief efforts are less than coordinated in Haiti, the individuals who are standing side-by-side digging through the rubble are getting tough – together.  With all of the horror stories that come out of Haiti, there will be amazing stories of hope as well.  These good stories will be the direct result of individuals and groups of people who make split second decisions to do the right thing.

The children of Haiti who can’t find their mothers and the mothers who watched their children die know a pain I do not know, a pain a salary reduction doesn’t come close to.  In this time of recession, let’s get going – together!  Let’s let the relief workers and volunteers in Haiti serve as our models, not Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien.  Let’s put our budget woes in perspective and join forces with each other to pull through this.