Tuesday, March 30, 2010

RttT, Florida, and Diane Ravitch

I've been reading Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, and been following both Deborah Meier and Diane on Education Week's Bridging Differences blog. This week she speaks on what is going on in Florida as a result of the RttT initiative. Is anyone listening? Scapegoating of teachers continues across the land. Standards are being written by corporations and testing companies in anticipation of huge profits. Does anyone really care? Is this what education should be about in a democracy?

Diane Ravitch: Outrage in Florida

Washington Post: Florida's Terrible Teachers Bill a Test for Duncan

Glories of Google

Richard Byrne, Oxford Hills teacher and Free Technology for Teachers author, continues to amaze me with his productivity. Check out his new publications titled Google for Teachers.

Find versions here and here.

Google for Teachers

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sid Fleischman Remembered

By Pam Kenney

When I was a novice teacher in the early 70s, my passion was instilling in my students a love for reading. I spent hours reading classic children's literature, certain I'd find an abundance of books that would transform my children - -boys, girls, good readers, so-so ones--into lifelong bibliophiles. A lofty goal, I thought at the time. So we read The Wind in the Willows, Amos Fortune, White Fang, and The Secret Garden. The students who loved to read, often the girls, loved my choices and thrived. Too often, though, the boys struggled through the antiquated prose and responded, basically, "Huh?," when I tried to engage them in discussions and literature projects.

In 1987 I read a new book by Sid Fleischman, The Whipping Boy. I adored it from the first page. It was a little short, and the language was sometimes arcane, but, oh, the story! What third grader could resist a tale about a naughtly prince nicknamed "Brat" who had a whipping boy to endure the punishments for his misdeeds. There were even dirty, smelly road bandits, a ransom note, a dancing bear, and sewer rats to titillate young imaginations. All my students loved the book, but my boys were over the moon. Now here was a story they could relate to. They wanted to talk about it, write about it, and learn more about the Middle Ages. They wrote plays and happily strung garlic around their necks in tribute to their revered Hold-Your-Nose Billy. What fun we had! And how much those kids learned!

The Whipping Boy, which won the Newbery Medal, became a children's classic, and a story I used with students year after year. It's a book that belongs still in every elementary classroom in the land. Sid Fleischman died two weeks ago at age 90. How lucky for our children that Prince Brat and his cohorts will continue to live in their minds and hearts forever.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Learning People

"The central task of education is to implant a will and a facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists." ~Eric Hoffer

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cyber Communication

by Bob Keteyian

Without fail, I am asked to comment on internet communication—whether it’s during a workshop, book talk, or other speaking venue. Because I am not tech savvy, I’ve been cautious about my entry points into the world of cyber communication, and like many I can sound old-fashioned, as in “What’s wrong with talking to someone face to face or picking up the phone and calling.” I don’t intend here to offer a comprehensive evaluation of internet communication, but I will tell you my personal experience and share stories that can help give perspective to this complex topic.

Recently National Public Radio had a story about a father and son (approximately age 13) who had typical communication patterns, especially with after-school conversation. “How was school today?” “Oh, fine.” End of conversation. The father, of course, tried to be more creative in his approach but with the same results. The boy would go to his room and get on the computer, and his dad (who worked at home) did the same.

Then one day, one of them sent an instant message (IM) to the other asking a simple question . . . and from that developed a pattern of communication. Each day, they would have a quiet ride home from school, go to their respective rooms, and begin an IM session—catching up on the day, getting organized for the evening and the next day, and sharing pleasantries. It became a ritual both looked forward to.

Some might grumble about this and insist that they find a way to talk face to face after school, but if you’ve ever had a thirteen-year-old boy and tried to have regular after-school discussions . . . well you know where I’m going with that comment. I was moved by this account. The connection, warmth, and continuity the father and son experienced were precious.

Here’s another story that came my way recently. A young couple who were struggling with their relationship began instant messaging after having a squabble earlier in the day. Frequently, I counsel people to be very cautious handling emotionally sensitive issues over the internet. I’ve seen too many examples of how badly this can go. In this situation, however, it was very effective because both people intuitively respected the limitations of the medium. Specifically, they recognized the need to define terms carefully, to not make any assumptions, and to keep it short. Also, they were not distracted by seeing each other’s reaction, which in this case helped them focus on the intended message. In short, they were able to communicate more effectively, which continued in their face-to-face follow-up.

The internet is a tool with many uses for communication. It is not inherently good or bad—it depends on the individuals involved and how they use it. Except for an occasional e-mail, for many it doesn’t work at all; for others it might be useful in certain situations. Remember, it is a choice and you are free to decide whether or not you wish to participate in any venue.

All of my nephews and nieces have Facebook pages and post pictures and announce events in their lives, both big and small. I can interact with them in this medium and maintain some continuity that I would not otherwise have. It is friendly, warm, mostly superficial, and it feels good. They all live at a great distance, so I have more contact with them now than I have for many years. Simply, we enjoy the connection.

I also have occasional e-mail correspondence with people who live at a distance and who I will likely never see in my lifetime. They are old friends who find it easy to write an e-mail letter once in a while. Mostly the messages are newsy, but sometimes there is something important to say to someone who has known you from childhood.

There’s no doubt that many people spend too much time on the internet in very superficial and unhealthy ways. That is unfortunate, but it has nothing inherently to do with e-mail, Facebook, or IM. It has to do with misusing the tools, not knowing how to develop other means of communication, or struggling with how to conduct relationships. Those are bigger problems.

I am very concerned that the average kid spends 7.5 hours daily using some kind of electronic device—that is up from 5.5 hours five years ago. It’s a very modern and difficult problem that I think is unhealthy and frequently work with parents to help them establish more balance in their kid’s lives. This lack of balance is also evident in the lives of many adults.

The telephone, radio, television, video game, internet, cell phone, MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook at one time have all been accused of undermining human contact and hurting family relationships. Each has its up and down sides, and of course excess use is unhealthy. These devices and formats are not going away and new ones will come along at a rapid clip. Rather than demonizing them, discover how to use the tools in a balanced and healthy way. They all have the potential to benefit connection and communication. Over the years, many have chosen not to have a telephone, television or computer. Similarly, just because the modern communication structures exist, they are not requirements in your relational world. There is nothing wrong with being old fashioned or simply deciding what works or doesn’t work for you.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Internet at 30,000 feet

Couldn't help myself: I put my money down (9 bucks) for inflight Internet today. I am writing this at 30,000 feet, flying from Chicago to Boston, and working on resources for the adult education persistence category. Earlier I surfed the Web, sent a couple of emails, and very successfully watched Office on Hulu and did a Skype video call. It all worked flawlessly. I suspect Netflix would work fine as well. Though I wished it had been free, not really a bad deal for 9 dollars. Technology continues to amaze this old man.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Common Core Math Standards and Everyday Mathematics

By Pam Kenney

I spent much of last weekend reading and critiquing the new Common Core Math Standards (K-6 only) for the National Coalition for World Class Math. I must say I was surprised at and pleased with their thoroughness and rigor. My primary assignment was to analyze the standards’ sequence of skills. I had several suggestions to facilitate learning (teaching students to count by 5s and 10s, for example, before requiring them to count money), but for the most part the standards are presented with their delineated skills building on each other from grade to grade in a logical progression. I love the standards that require children to use mental math, the kindergarten one that ensures students are able to begin counting in the middle of a number sequence instead of always starting at 1, and the strong emphasis on understanding the “whys” of math. They require the memorization of math facts (although I’d like to see mastery at earlier grade levels than these standards mandate) and the use of the standard algorithm (again my preference would be for its introduction more quickly after understanding is achieved than it is now). The timetable for the mastery of concepts isn’t as clear as it could be, and I hope that need will be addressed as the comment period continues this month.

As I read the standards, I made an unexpected discovery. From the outset, I began noticing something interesting: Many of the skills and their attendant requirements reflect those taught within the Everyday Mathematics curriculum. At the fourth grade level, for example, standard #6 under “Number – Operations and the Problems They Solve,” states, “Compute products and whole number quotients of two-, three- or four-digit numbers and one-digit numbers, using strategies based on place value, the properties of operations, and/or the inverse relationships between multiplication and division; explain the reasoning used.” EDM is famous for, and often criticized for, the many methods (lattice, partial products, and partial quotients, e.g.) it expects children to learn to facilitate a thorough understanding of the “whys” of multiplication and division. This standard and many others like it throughout the standards document continue that emphasis. The new standards differ from EDM, though, because they include basic fact fluency requirements, the use of the standard algorithm, and at least an attempt to set mastery levels. What is not clear is how much of the spiraling that is peculiar to EDM will be eliminated if they’re adopted, and that is an important facet of the standards that needs to be analyzed.

I have been a critic of the Everyday Mathematics curriculum for years and have written about its shortcomings on this blog several times. However, I’ve amended my position somewhat after working with a fourth grader on her EDM assignments throughout this school year. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to fault EDM’s basic goal, which is to help students understand what they are doing when they solve problems and why their answers to problems are reasonable or make sense mathematically. EDM is very good at helping children develop math reasoning skills. I still have problems with its de-emphasis on basic facts, its delayed use or elimination of the standard algorithm, and its spiraling of concepts that doesn’t pinpoint mastery expectation points. It appears that the Common Core standards have addressed fairly well these problems, as well as the vocal criticism that has stemmed from them from parents and teachers, and have provided a more balanced approach than EDM does.

Questions still linger, though. Here are two: Why are these national standards so reflective of Everyday Mathematics? What input into the development process, if any, did the University of Chicago Mathematics Project or the EDM publisher, Wright Group (a division of McGraw-Hill), have? I have read comments from a variety of sources stating that classroom teachers should have had more say than they did in the creation of the Common Core Standards. My hope is that their input didn’t get squeezed out by that of textbook publishers.

Coming soon: Part II – Common Core Elementary Math Standards and Teacher Competence

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Following the Money . . .

"The line between public and private has been eroding for half a century (or more). That the ASCD, one of the best financed professional development organizations in the nation, is now "sponsored" by CTB/McGraw Hill stunned me." ~Deborah Meier

OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics

NCLB: Where Does the Money Go?

Susan Ohanian: Data Warehousing will Destroy Your Soul

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Whole to Part or Part to Whole

by Bob Keteyian

In my study of learning styles, I came across the whole to part and part to whole concept. As with all learning style paradigms, this has a strong connection to communication styles, and it particularly intrigued me because I could immediately identify with it.

I am a whole-to-part learner: I need to understand the overarching concept before getting the details. Moving in the opposite direction (receiving the details first), leaves me confused and feeling adrift. Those who are part-to-whole learners need to take in the parts that lead to the whole concept they are learning. Being presented with a whole concept first leaves them overwhelmed because the concept seems arbitrary.

I often want to know what a movie or book is all about before encountering it. I don’t mind hearing how it ends . . . in fact, I want to know the ending so I have an organizing concept and will often read the last part of a book first. The unfolding process is essential for those moving from part to whole and provides much enjoyment. Knowing the punch line from the start spoils the fun.

How does all of this relate to communication styles? Here’s an illustration: Julia is a very active, hands-on sixteen-year-old. She loves sports, doesn’t like to read, has a strong work ethic, is good with people, and is distractible. Because of the distractibility, her parents and teachers are always trying to get her attention, which they do by explaining things step by step. This seems logical—and it is—but it doesn’t work with Julia because she is a whole-to-part learner. She needs the punch line first and not work toward it.

Saying, for example, “Julia, this is probably the biggest event of the year for your mother, so we really need your help” gets her attention. Giving her a specific task to do (“Julia, we’d like you to tidy up the patio and then pick up some stuff in town.”) doesn’t. This approach is specific and incremental, which can help some who are easily distracted, but for a whole-to-part person like Julia, the requests seem random. Getting Julia’s attention by giving her the bottom line—the larger concept—first is more effective. She needs to know what this is all about before she can get connected to it.

The whole-to-part and part-to-whole axis is another tool for achieving effective communication that I’ve shared with many parents, couples, and business leaders who have found it useful. As always, though, it is best to understand how it works for you before applying it to others in your relational world.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Multi-Tasking During College Lectures

Should laptops and phones be put away in order to focus on the lectures?

Might college professors re-think how they deliver information in their classes?

Washington Post: Profs to Students: Ditch Those Laptops

The Chronicle: Divided Attention

Education Quarterly: Is Higher Education Evolving?

Attention, Multi-Tasking and What is a Classroom for?

Turning a College Lecture into a Conversation

Are College Students Multi-tasking, Disengaging or Maybe a Little of Both?

Distractions in the Classroom

School Funding in Maine

Below is a resolution being passed by a number of Maine SAUs. (Thanks to Melissa Prescott for bringing it to my attention).


WHEREAS, the voters of Maine approved a citizen-initiated referendum in 2004 calling on the state to fund “55 percent of the cost of public education;” and

WHEREAS, in 2005, the Legislature enacted LD 1, which put a process in place whereby the state would “ramp up” to a 55 percent state share by steadily increasing state funding for schools, K-12, over four years; and

WHEREAS, postponements of increased funding under the LD1 ramp-up were since enacted, and the Governor has ordered additional cutbacks in general purpose aid to education as part of the supplemental budget and through additional curtailments; and

WHEREAS, contrary to the intent of the voters of Maine, these actions have resulted in a 15 percent reduction in state funding of the costs of public education; and

WHEREAS, local school boards and administrators are being forced to make local budget cuts in the midst of the school year, and on an emergency basis, to make up for reduced state contributions to the costs of local education; and

WHEREAS, Maine Department of Education officials have not provided clear answers to local schools concerning future levels of state funding of local education, and have sometimes provided information that differs from day-to-day depending upon which local official is seeking the information or which state official is providing it; and

WHEREAS, local school boards are now in the midst of preparing local school budgets for the next fiscal year without secure knowledge concerning the level of state funding on which they can reasonably rely; and

WHEREAS, the state currently relies upon a system of funding for so-called “Essential Programs and Services” for education that is so out of touch with the reality of required educational expenditures that more than 60 percent of Maine communities this year are obligated to provide local funding exceeding what is deemed “essential” under the model; and

WHEREAS, the state cutbacks and curtailments are forcing increases in local funding for education through the property tax to meet the financial needs of Maine schools; and

WHEREAS, the actions of the Governor and Legislature have caused a massive shift of the burden of funding of education from the progressive income tax, levied based upon ability to pay, to the regressive property tax, which does not account for a property owner's ability to pay, particularly if they are on a fixed income; and

WHEREAS, the undersigned school boards adopting this resolution represent at least 20 percent of the students currently enrolled in Maine's public schools;


The Governor and Legislature must adopt a fair, equitable and transparent model for the funding of public education in Maine which:

1. Meets the voters' expressed desire to fund 55 percent of the cost of public education, K-12, in Maine;

2. Relies more upon revenues generated by the progressive income tax and less upon those raised through the local property tax;

3. More clearly addresses, at a realistic level, what is “essential” for educational expenditures in our communities; and

4. Provides both the public and local education officials with reliable information concerning the state's contribution to local educational expenditures, thus avoiding the disruption and devastation of mid-year cutbacks and curtailments.

See also MDI: Maine's Essential Progam & Services Funding Model

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Teachers as Scapegoats

“Since we can’t fire poverty, we can’t fire students, and we can’t fire parents, all that is left is to fire teachers.”

~ Diane Ravitch

NCLB Advocate Shifts Position

Diane Ravitch: First, Let's Fire All the Teachers

Common Dreams: Obama Backs Rewarding Districts that Police Failing Schools

Education Week: Obama Gets Involved in R.I Teacher-Firing Drama

Washington Post: Class Struggle (Jay Mathews): Obama Wrong, Weingarten Right

Maeve Maddox on Language and Popular Culture: Teachers as Scapegoats

The Sydney Morning Herald: Now the Class Scapegoat is the Teacher

J.B. Fabiano: Why Do Teachers Have to Be the Scapegoat of Public Education?

Google Earth Tours

by Olga LaPlante

There has been a lot said about using Google Earth to show places and look up things in relation to a location. We have already begun to take Google Earth for granted - some of us are still in awe, but most have been using it matter-of-factly, and unless a new feature pops up or is demoed at a workshop, we are sort of "yeah, yeah, seen that" about it.

It has also been a while that Google Earth has had the feature which allows you to add your own placemarks, insert images and text, create a sightseeing tour, by clicking on each of your recent places.

Google, however, is notorious for changing and improving things - should I mention the infamous streetview? - and today - thanks to a request from a teacher - I have discovered that you can now create narrated tours in Google Earth and share them using a Google Earth embed widget! That is a wow update.

This is very important to me as educational technology specialist on two levels. One is the creative/productive aspect of the tool. We have lots of things to watch or read; expressing yourself and producing a new mashup is not as widely-spread as we might think (hence the whole plagiarism and copyright violations issue). This tool incorporates the ability to share and create.

Secondly, I am simply excited because I already see the integration side of the Google Earth story. I am already planning future workshops, incorporating this tool, and I know they will be a blast.

Google has put up lots of helpful info on how to create, use and share layers from Google Earth, whether you use a narrated recorded tour feature or a placemark tour. These tutorials and lots of other relevant information can be found at Google Earth Outreach.

P.S. If you are one of those who have long discovered this, please be generous and allow for some excitement! :)