Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hang on to change!!! Can we?

by Ed Latham

Change is hard. Even when the outlook is all positive and everyone is on board, the process of changing habits, attitudes, practice and even assessment of those changes all take time and energy. In education we have a subset of society working every day to address how the educational system is changing, and this group is often eager to increase the pace of change whenever possible. This subset includes researchers, businesses, politicians, administrators, instructors and even parents at many different levels of engagement. Although the representation present in this subset may seem quite broad, the actual percentage of the population devoted to the changing motion and flow of educational systems is quite small in relation to our overall population. For sake of argument, we can assume that much less than half of the population is involved educational change.

Society as a whole changes as well. In the case of societal change, nearly 100% of society takes part in directing the type of changes and speed of change employed. I know arguments could be made that some percentages of the population have much more power and control over any change, but even the smallest factor enters into the formula that is change in our society. From what people choose to buy or not buy to what ad campaigns a top 500 company puts out, the goals and directions of our society are influenced by a majority of our population.

Thus an increasing conflict arises. Imagine you hold two ropes in your hand. Both ropes are the same length. On one end of the rope is the educational system and all those responsible for developing and encouraging change. On the other rope is attached society's participants in the development and encouragement of societal change. Just by sheer numbers, society's rope will be pulled along at a more rapid pace than the educational system rope. In terms of direction, I know arguments could be made about efforts in opposition, but for this argument lets assume both ropes pull you in the same direction.

Given two forces pulling in the same direction, but at different speeds, there will be an eventual increase in distance between the two moving objects. This increase will result in you, still holding the ropes, turning from facing the same direction of both pulls to a position in the middle holding on to a faster moving rope as the other lags further and further behind. At some point, both ropes are taunt and your arms extended as far as possible and the constant difference in speeds of the rope starts to slowly rip you apart. You have to let go of a rope to survive. Which do you let go?

This is not some scenario from the next Saw movie series. It is happening, and has been happening for some time. Millions of dollars have gone into educational study and efforts to find and implement positive changes. That is great, but in the meantime, society has had trillions invested in changes. Simply from an economic view, the divide gets larger.

When faced with positive educational ideas such as -
Educators may become very excited about these kinds of possibilities only to find the reality of  how distant those ideas may be from the realities and pressures they experience daily deflates any of that excitement. Increased pressures on standardized testing in states create a survival mentality for many teachers such that exploration of anything "new" is for others to try, out of fear of disruption of what is known, even if what is known is struggling.

In The Tipping Point, Gladwell points to three distinct groups (connectors, mavens, salesmen) that make up only 20% of the population and drive the great social changes in our lives. A simple study of a dozen or so videos from TED will show you that we have no shortage of connectors (people who can put existing knowledge together to create wonderful systems) and mavens (people very steeped in the knowledge and rational for change to happen), but I question our salesmen.

We have, of course, have no shortage of companies trying to sell us the solution. Our list of incredibly powerful publishing companies vested in educational curriculum design number well over 20 major players. We have a number of educational groups, such as the folks at MIT, that have wonderful initiatives with so much to offer educators. We have non profit organizations, research organizations and corporations out there selling. We even have successful educators and educational leaders running around lecture circuits selling solutions.

Who is buying? In almost all cases, it is politicians at either federal, state, or local levels. How much training has your politician(s) received on best education practice for today? I am aware that many in education retire to become politicians (many simply to gain access to the incredible health care for life given out after only two terms of service), but even those coming from education have their foundation on the industrial era model of education. I am hopeful that anyone voting on educational issues frequents the many resources available that help indicate direction, methods, rational that are best for our society today. It's time to let go of one of those ropes we keep holding onto. Our successful educators that are out on circuit are busy keeping their bookings full, our non profits are busy innovating and trying to survive without the funding they could benefit from, so we are left with the corporate publishers educating our politicians on best practice. This reality scares me as an educator, a parent, and a member of society. Not everyone has the time to dig up the gems you read about in this blog. Heck, not everyone has the time to even read up on their favorite blogs. Isn't it in society's best interest to publicly share educational best practice research in mainstream media? Sure, there will be many opposition points as this organization pays for this study and that organization debunks this study or that other one, but at least the public (and our politicians) would be more aware of the options out there. If the discussions were on methods, ideas, practice possibilities and as much as possible efforts were made to minimize the tools individuals choose to utilize, then the social education level about educational possibilities would increase. This increased awareness would lead to more informed decisions when it comes time for our politicians to start buying.

We have stretched as far as could be expected in order to maintain the "system" we use for education while trying to keep up with ever increasing changes in society and our world. There will be a breaking point where our grip on one of these ropes slips. It could be argued, based on many standardized tests and reports on state progress summaries, that many are choosing to loosen our grip on where society is at and going in order to preserve the system we are so invested in. Sadly, this greatly limits our students' ability to apply their education to the society they enter.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Today we lost Maurice Sendak, but his spirit and wisdom live on. He is perhaps best known for his book, Where the Wild Things Are. It was a favorite read-aloud book for my students during the six years that I was a third grade teacher.  The kids were mesmerized.

Below are a variety of readings.  Do you have a favorite?

President's Reading:

Of course, there is even a movie:

Of course, the web is awash with lesson plans and resources for using Wild Things in the classroom and beyond.

My personal favorite of Sendak's books, however, is Pierre. Kids love this one as well, and it is a great book to initiate discussion on caring and compassion.

Lesson Plans for Pierre

Caring and Compassion at LIA Resources

Saturday, May 5, 2012

National Teacher Appreciation Week

Charles M. Blow "Teaching Me About Teaching" in NYT.http://www.teacher-appreciation.info/blog/?p=1347

Image Credit

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Smarthistory - Art History at Khan Academy

I was delighted to discover Smarthistory  this afternoon. It seems to be part of Khan Academy and to have been around for awhile.

There are excellent videos of conversations about various pieces of artwork through the ages.  I've enjoyed listening in and might have even learned a thing or two!

Addition Art History Resources:

Art History Resources on the Web

Art History Movements

Art History Websites

Mother of All Art and Art History Links Pages

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jim Burke: Maine Charter Schools

charter school imageWant to start a charter school in Maine?  Education Commissioner, Stephen Bowen, announced the start of the process today.  Here are the links:
Maine DOE News: Charter Schools
Public Charter Schools in Maine
Maine Association for Charter Schools
Bowen statement on charter schools announcement
Commission issues first request for charter school proposals
Request for Proposals (RFP) and other Pertinent Information

Are charter schools a good idea . . . or not?  What do you think?

Image source

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ed Latham: Educational Revolution

Many forces have been frantically at work to "fix" education while still maintaining tenets that were established in the Industrial Revolution. Billions of U.S. tax dollars have been spent over decades to create change and "improve education". As people in charge still argue what that may mean, the public has become very hostile and negative towards many of our educational professionals. Teachers and Administrators struggle to keep any sense of balance as forces tug them back and forth seemingly every other year in different directions. It may seem quite bleak at times.

Adversity promotes innovation and we are right on the cusp of seeing innovative leaders coming up with alternatives, systems and options.

Many have heard of Khan Academy by now. If you have not, please do yourself a favor and check it out here. Khan's vision is to offer a free, accessible education to anyone with an Internet access. He has assembled a wonderful team and as of this post over 140 million videos on his site have been watched by people from all over the world.

One of the goals of Khan Academy was to Flip the Classroom. Details of this movement can be found here. The basic thrust is to let students learn the knowledge level learning and maybe even a little application at home and then in class students can engage in higher level learning and doing. Wonderful concept and one that will come to fruition in our near future.

Not everyone sees Khan's work as the end-all savior for educational change. Many detractors point out that although the videos available at Khan Academy rival most paid services, especially in mathematics, simply flooding educational videos at kids at home is not the educational change necessary. You may get the gist of the concerns from this article. Critics may not have heard some of Khan's speeches in which he offers the disclaimer that his works are simply the first step.

Much of the work mentioned above is a positive step that works within the system to begin the arduous task of changing the behemoth of a system firmly entrenched in the United States. Another movement believes that game play and game theory needs to replace current practice in order to provide a working education system. There are many recent champions of such Gamification. One very popular force is Paul Anderson. He has worked for years to transform his entire practice of teaching science into a game. You can learn all about his great work here. Like all innovators, his passion and organization are inspiring many to think again about what works and what learning should look like.

So much excitement, so much that is "new", right? Wrong! At the turn of the 20th century, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell developed a system of learning to help British Army Scouts learn basic skills like first aid and survival skills. This system he then applied to young boys to create the boy scouts. This system of education involves small units of study laid out with learning resources, projects, and product expectations. As learners complete their units they get a merit badge and other units are "unlocked" for continued study. All these years, the basics of gamified education have been laid out and silently working in a volunteer organization while our country continues to spend billions to save what many consider a failed system. Why don't we take gamificaiton experts from around the country and pump some of that money into them to produce the tools and resources and the new system we need to move forward? The short answer is that corporations are already frantically cranking out their interpretations and implementations in the hopes of getting school boards to invest in their solution. Even among the educational revolutionaries out there now, collaboration between forces seems limited by fame, production, and of course the potential profit margins.

I am a collaborator and feel that by working together, educators are so much more effective than individuals trying to survive in the safety of our classroom. I have studied games my entire adult life and have been an educator for two decades. Gamification may not be perfect. It may even only be successful with particular demographics. The point is our current public education system offers only a monopoly option based on seat time and made up subjective grading policies. With the addition of high stakes tests, educated adults are even now giving students the power to fire any educator they collectively wish to remove. Whether our current system collapses or we continue to plod through it's inefficiencies, we need to break up the monopoly to allow for different educational models to exist in our society. Current educational funding formulas not only discourage diversity of models, it effectively prohibits any hope of parallel systems. Like it or not, change will be happening soon. As parents and learners start experiencing some of these new models, the "business" of school may find itself out of a job. I know we teachers often don't have much time outside our 12-15 hour days, but if you teach, you may find it worth finding a few hours a week to look into these other models starting up and brushing up on skills necessary to adapt to those models. Come join the revolution.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Storage In the Cloud

With the arrival of Google Drive, there are now many inexpensive alternatives for syncing and storing files beyond the user's device.  Below find some favorites. 

How to Choose Between Cloud Storage Services like Google Drive and Dropbox

Google Drive




Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I saw the future and it works

by Olga LaPlante

I am borrowing this headline from Larry Cuban, who borrowed it from Lincoln Steffens.

Larry writes about his visit to a hybrid (charter) school in LA. His observations are curious, and honestly, do not describe a school I would like to send my child to if I had a choice. (My son attends a regular public school).

I suggest you read all three parts of the experience, and get to the bottom of the concept. Does it really work?

Part 2
Part 3

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

NCLB and the waiver

It is too bad that Maine didn't make a run for the NCLB waiver. Maybe, the Maine DOE understands that the whole mandate is doomed anyway, why bother with all the tricks to get out of it sooner.
I am happy though that at least several states got out of it, and have looked again at ways to measure progress or performance of schools and students.
This post provides some insights into what's happening in MN and Doug Johnson's thoughts about the measure.