Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

The Teacher Shortage Crisis

I had an unexpected, yet illuminating, conversation recently with a former colleague in education. With just a few weeks before his non-probationary (third year) status was up, he was told he’d be non-renewed at his current school. Until his last evaluation, he hadn’t a negative comment; he had no identified areas of deficiencies. His kids performed well according to the measures of his school and department. He was passionate about kids, teaching, and his subject matter. It was his driving force to make social studies relevant, global, and meaningful for his students.

His supervisor was willing to write him a letter of recommendation and would even hire him back if another position in his subject area were to open up. However, this particular middle school social studies teacher, two sport coach, and highly involved staff member was unable to find another teaching job. He spent several months completing applications, interviewing, and being told he was a strong candidate and was near the top of those interviewed, but still could not find a new position. He was professional through the rest of the school year. He didn’t make a production of his termination with his kids as is often the case with some departing teachers.

As his last official day at school passed, and he still had no job or even job prospects. The inclination to falsely tie his ability to get a teaching job with his worth as a person and husband started to get the better of him. He was disillusioned and shaken on a level much more than the professional. He was getting desperate to find a job. He expanded his search, considered longer and longer commutes, and still nothing. It was difficult to watch the events unfold and my 17 years in education as teacher and administrator proved useless in being of any assistance to him.

However, this particular post isn’t about the inequities or difficulties of finding a teaching job in a tight job market and how that relates to a teacher shortage crisis. It’s about the unexpected part of the conversation I alluded to earlier. He’s now switched job paths completely and is managing a fast food restaurant. He doesn’t make any apologies for it and is doing quite well. My casual inquiry about how it was going turned serious when he said, “Rick, I’m so much more empowered now than I ever was as a teacher.” I didn’t expect that and in my own three years in fast food, I never really felt empowered even in the semi-managerial role I briefly held. We talked more about empowerment and the teaching profession, locally and nationally, and pieces of other recent conversations and experiences came together throughout our discourse.

His story is not unique and many teachers willingly leave the profession for myriad reasons. Teachers leaving the profession concerns me, but not as much as the ones who decide (and are deciding) not to come to the profession at all.

Welcome to the Machine

I was at the Virtual School Symposium in November and keynote speaker former Governor Bob Wise, who is now the President for Alliance for Excellent Education, spoke in his presentation about the mounting teacher shortage as being one of three looming crises that are challenging America’s k-12 education system [1] . (The other two being declining state fiscal revenues and increased global demands for skilled workers.) Two of the statistics he presented to support this shortage were

  1. In 1987-88 the typical teacher had 15 years of experience.
  2. By 2007-08 the typical teacher had just 1 to 2 years of experience. [2]

What strikes me about these two bits of information is where they fall in the milestones tombstones(?) of reform efforts in American education. The connection to the impending teacher crisis may not be strictly causal, but it does give me pause. In 1989, the year following 87-88 referenced above and sparked by the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, state governors convened a summit to focus on education. Out of this the the National Education Goals panel was formed and eventually produced the Goals 2000 legislation [3], signed into law in 1994 . As a follow up in 1996, the National Education Summit convened pledging “to support efforts to set academic standards at the state and local levels” [4]. Also keep in mind in the mid to late 90’s outcomes-based education evolved and messily imploded. Within a few years, states who haven’t adopted academic standards move to do so in the wake of NCLB that is signed into law in 2001. High-stakes standardized testing, school report cards, and the political and continued public vilification of educators soon follow. In 2002 states and school districts that receive Title I funding are required to participate in NAEP in order to keep those federal dollars [5]. High-stakes standardized testing, school report cards, and the political and continued public vilification of educators soon follow.

As the standardized tests explicitly elevated in importance the subjects math, science, and language arts, by extension those potential teachers with a passion for other areas found (and continue to find) themselves marginalized, lost in the hysteria of high-stakes, standardized testing. Math, science, and language arts teachers resent[ed] the building pressure to have their kids perform well on the tests while other teachers resent[ed] the cuts (fiscally, politically, and practically) to their disciplines, especially the arts.

In a world of scale scores, cut points, and proficiency levels, the creative impulse in humans, and its associated propensity toward risk and possible failure, becomes unpalatable.

And, in the name of raising test scores, we continue to educate the creativity right out of our children.

So much so that we have to create “partnerships” and entire buzz phrase endeavors to reintroduce ourselves and our kids to the parts of themselves we’ve tested out of them. Consider also the Wall Street Journal article by Sue Shellenbarger that reports “Americans’ scores on a commonly used creativity test fell steadily from 1990 to 2008, especially in the kindergarten through sixth-grade age group…” [6]. We’ve heard Sir Ken Robinson tell us that “creativity is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status” in one of his creativity and school talks  from 2006 [7]. If that’s too outdated, perhaps we should pay close attention to his take on the arts, creativity, and divergent thinking in his excellent RSA Animate talk from October 2010 [8].

In an environment where just about everything has to be quantified and translated into sterile, lifeless measurable outcomes where learners are commodities to be grown for higher education or employers (rather than being developed as human beings), it’s little wonder that more people aren’t flocking to the profession. This, as many current educators will tell you, is only one point of consideration. There are many more factors that are contributing to our teacher shortage -perhaps we’ll discuss some of them here.

References

[1 ] Slide 2, The Online Learning Imperative Report and an Update on the Digital Learning Council

[2] Slides 7 & 8, The Online Learning Imperative Report and an Update on the Digital Learning Council

[3] Goals 2000: Reforming Education to Improve Student Achievement

[4] PBS Frontline, Are We There Yet?

[5] National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Frequently Asked Questions: Is participation in NAEP voluntary?

[6] Shellenbarger, Sue. The Wall Street Journal Online, December 15, 2010, A Box? Or a Spaceship? What Makes Kids Creative

[7] Robinson, Sir Ken. Schools Kill Creativity, June 2006, www.ted.com

[8] Robinson, Sir Ken. RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms, October 2010, YouTube.com & TheRSA.org

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December 18, 2010 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Looking for the 21st Century in a School Supply List

Ah, it’s that time of year when kids lament the impending end of summer, when frazzled parents and care providers look for oncoming respite, when camp counselors and sports clinic coaches heave sighs of relief, when retailers of every kind look to capitalize on three simple words:

Back to School

Duty bound to support their local economies, schools dutifully publish, copy, distribute, post, email, mail, broadcast and anyway possible advertise the pinnacle of educational readiness:

The School Supply List

Please pause and bow your head in solemn reverence…Thank you, continue on.

Without the sacred and all-important School Supply List, many a poor soul would be relegated to shame and Trapper-Keeper (do they even make those anymore) want,  left to navigate a cruel world of humiliation and incomprehensible un-preparedness. Woe to he that lacketh supplies! Woe, woe, woe!

…And that’s if the parent buys the wrong brand of binder or paste when a glue stick is obviously required.

So here I sit with the 2009-2010 School Supply List (only slightly modified since the 19th century) for my son’s 7th grade year. (It’s the actual one.)

-1 box of facial tissue (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-1 roll of paper towels (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-One ream of white printer paper (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-One small package of graph paper (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-Dry erase markers (turn in to homeroom teacher on 1st day of school)
-Large Binder (3″ or larger)
-Three pocket folders with brads
-8 subject dividers for Binder
-Five 70-80 page spiral notebooks
-College-ruled loose leaf notebook paper
-Pencil/pen bag or case- unless the Binder has one built in
-Blue/Black ink pens (no gel pens)
-Personal pencil sharpener
-24 count Colored pencils for core classes (these are separate from supplies for electives)
-Colored markers
-Red pen/pencil for checking and editing work
-Highlighters (yellow, green, blue, pink)
-#2 wooden pencils (must have for CSAP practice)
-Metal ruler with both standard and metric measurements
-Glue stick
-Scissors
-Scientific calculator (TI-84 if in Algebra I)
-Highly recommended but not required, 512 MB memory stick

I can only assume by the first item that there will be much weeping either because so many trees will have been sacrificed in the name of paper-based education or because the kids have to surrender the first five items to the homeroom teacher on the first day of school. It could also be that kids should have 8 subject dividers but only 5 spiral notebooks and everyone knows that 5 divides into 8 evenly to represent the 4 quarters he has 7 classes each. I mean, duh!

Happily for us, my son apparently can expect to be very organized with his bag case and pocket folders (with brads! -are they related to chads? Hmm, I wonder…)  Organization is a very important skill, one he hasn’t mastered despite heroic attempts every year to manage and file all that paper he’s using.  As his report cards attest, he hasn’t done well in the neat and organized category when compared to all those compliant, neat-writing types who don’t fill the margins of their papers with doodles and comic illustrations.

It seems a little strange that in all this focus on organization, they’re going to ask kids to write on all that unlined printer paper. Hey, that’s what the ruler is for. So they can practice making their own college ruled paper. Absolutely brilliant!

It’s also nice to see an early emphasis on post-secondary preparation by requiring kids to have college-ruled paper.  

I know we’re facing some economic troubles, but in a school that has computer projectors in each room I have to wonder about the dry erase markers. They’re usually four in a pack times 630+ kids, equals lots of un-archived whiteboard writing kids won’t have access to in order to reflect on their learning. Oh! How could I be so silly *that’s* what the 3″ or larger binder is for -to write all that stuff down. I’m assuming my son will use the paper towels to write on and keep like a scroll if his binder fills up. That will test his organizational skills for sure. I don’t want to undermine the organizational educational process, but I’m going to tell him to use his glue stick to keep his papers together.

Although he’s enrolled in a science class, his scientific calculator appears to be destined only for use in Algebra 1.  While we’re on the subject of subject isolation, that must be why he can’t use his colored pencils in his electives. Band and Guitar must require a unique kind -maybe the colored markers.

When I asked for a 512 MB memory stick, the kid at the electronics megastore looked pitifully at me and took his Captain Morgan one off his key chain and gave it to me. Other than that, the only other ones I’ve been able to find are the  novelty ones the vendors gave away at NECC. I’m not sure what my son is going to do with all that space anyway. I don’t think there’ll be much computer use anyway – he doesn’t have a computer class this year.

Let’s review what’s important…*Lots* of paper products; organizational items like folders, binders, and bags; colored pens, pencils, markers, and highlighters; and wooden pencils for standardized test practice -because everyone knows you can’t practice with anything else but a #2 pencil and loose-leaf paper. Well, I’m hoping he won’t need any foam board since it’s not on the list and our local Tar-Mart and Wal-Get didn’t have an opportunity to stock it.

July 23, 2009 Posted by | Education | , , , | 6 Comments

Education Bears the Brunt of Colorado Budget Cuts

Everyone is falling on hard times. I get it. People are losing jobs, consumer spending is down, tax revenue collections are down, and the Colorado has an almost $632 million shortfall for the current fiscal year 08-09 with a potential $385.5 million shortfall for 09-10. I get all that, too. But, here’s a few items I don’t get:

  • From Governor Ritter’s State of the State address on January 8, 2009: “I’ve seen the promise of Colorado in every corner of our great state, in classrooms…the best economic strategy is an education strategy…we can’t shortchange hope…Now, more than ever, we must focus on policies like this, which will help us rebound from the downturn and put us back on the path to prosperity.”
  • Of the $201.1 spending reductions and program cuts, k-12 and higher education shoulder ($45.8 million+ $30 million= $75.8 million)  or 37.7%, larger than any other area, according to his budget balancing plan.
  • Of the $289.7 million in transfers and diversions to the general fund, The Higher Education Maintenance and Reserve Fund will lose $47.2 million, again, larger than any other area.

Add those two together and education in Colorado is out $123 million of the $631.9 million, 19.5%, this year alone. This is the “best economic strategy” the governor can propose? Really?

So now, schools (here and here) and colleges (here and here) are left to sort out the mess. We get to do more with less. (Yes, more, didn’t you see that enrollment is up nearly 2%?) What it certainly feels like is that education only really matters when politicians want to introduce “bold education-reform legislation.” By sacrificing education on the political altar, disguised as “protecting life, safety and public health,” Governor Ritter is doing exactly the opposite and revealing that he and all those who support such cuts are actively pursuing the destruction of public education, despite what their press releases say. And when the terrible test scores start coming in and the dropout rates continue to rise and kindergarteners enter first grade miserably prepared and those who do graduate from high school find themselves ill-prepared for post-secondary education or careers; it won’t be the politicians who bear the wrath of public discontent, but those ridiculous educators who need to reform but just aren’t willing to do it. 

So much for “push[ing] hard against the status quo and creat[ing] a bold new vision for education in Colorado,” right Governor? So much for your “moral document” reflecting our values (6th paragraph on page 4). I have a hard time reconciling your actions (especially when you use education as a political tool) with the “sacred trust” you mention at the beginning of your State of the State Address. Perhaps what would be truly bold would be to stand resolute and not cut a single dollar from the State’s education budget, in any form, this year or any hence. That, Honorable Governor, might be the only way we can truly believe you when you say, “Our children deserve nothing less than a world-class education.”

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Education | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New (Old) Component of Postsecondary Readiness

If you’ve lost track of the ongoing conversation, especially here in Colorado (but generally across the US), about college and workforce readiness. There’s been lots of buzz about it. The Colorado Department of Education is town hall forums meetings all over the state. All this, you may recall is a result of Senate Bill 08-212, the “Preschool to Postsecondary Education Alignment Act” also known as the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids (CAP4Kids) legislation introduced by Governor Ritter. According to one CDE news release,

The town hall forums will focus on such questions as:

  • What do students need to be workforce ready?
  • What do students need to be postsecondary ready?
  • Are there special considerations for the workforce or higher education in your region of the state?

S.B. 08-212 requires that the Colorado State Board of Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education adopt a description of “postsecondary and workforce readiness” by Dec. 15, 2009.

Further, S.B. 08-212 seeks to establish a seamless pathway from preschool into college or the workplace. Essential to that pathway is an understanding of what it means to be ready for education or the workforce after high school and a plan to ensure that students take the necessary courses and master the content to do so.

These are good questions, no doubt, but CDE is missing a critical element, a new (old) component of postsecondary readiness…

Cost.

I don’t mean how much all this legislation is going to cost. (That’s a whole post in itself.) I mean the cost of going to college. Consider an article from today’s New York Times that reports “…college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 while median family income rose 147 percent.”

Sure, we need to prepare our kids for postsecondary and workforce readiness; I’m not arguing that -yet. But, once we get them ready -especially for college -then what? Student loans, multiple jobs, navigating college over 6-7 years, scholarships and grants (not for all)? Not likely, probable, viable, sustainable, or practical. How many financial crises do we need in this country until we learn massive debt is NOT a good thing?

Unfortunately, massive debt is what we are really making our kids ready for as long as postsecondary education is a commodity to be brokered on capitalistic terms. That is our fundamental problem at the intersection of democracy and capitalism. We simply want postsecondary education for all, but we really can’t provide it for all. We can’t pay for it because we have to pay for it. No government “ism,” assistance programs, or bailout plans are going to help; no legislation introduced by and governor, president, mayor, or whomever will make a difference until we decide that education is a fundamental right for everyone. We’ll fall miserably short of our readiness goals until we restructure our social, economic, political, and cultural priorities to make it happen.

December 5, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I (We) Can’t Go It Alone

This summer and much of the last 9 months have been one of tremendous personal and professional growth -although I’m not sure there’s really a difference in many cases. The obvious learning is simply encompassed in the title of this post: I (We) Can’t Go It Alone.

Duh, right?

It seems obvious especially in for those of us in the blogosphere and in education and in just about any human endeavor. However, I (and I suspect a few of the “we” out there) must continually have this lesson reinforced. Too many times I get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent and pull back from my various support networks only to find myself realizing that I need those very people to move forward. Here are two reflections with that idea in mind. I had what I thought was an insightful post about about personal learning networks (PLN) and the testing and evolution of ideas, but I deleted most of it in favor of the following.

The first is the life the post before this one took on. Like many posts on this blog (and comments on others’ blogs), I felt the need to respond to something. I didn’t intend to write a post that more than tripled the average hits on my blog. I simply needed to express an idea in a sort of fit of reflection. I was testing a thought out. You can see by the comments there that others have extended and challenged my thinking. I am better because other have made me better. That happens because a collective “we” are online and it’s humbling, exciting, and wonderful to be part of the conversation.

Which brings me to my second item, a poem, which was, in a bit of synesthesia, inspired by a hearing quote attributed to Will Rogers while I was flipping through the tabs I had open of blogs I was reading. I often write poems, but they are an intimate form of writing and thinking for me and I’m a little reluctant to reveal some of those elements of my thoughts and personalities most times. Maybe it’s really because they are terrible and I’m willingly blind to that fact and I don’t want someone to point that out to me. Anyway, here’s the quote that inspired the poem, which follows that. The poem is, as of now, untitled. I hope if it’s good or bad, you’ll let me know. Linking to it if you find it good and if you think it bad, sending me a direct message to @RickTanski on Twitter-so no one else can see my public Internet failure ;^D. Also, if you’d like to suggest a title, post a reply and extend my thinking.

“A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.” -Will Rogers

To go on so and others deny
Down paths apparently clear
Follows the way Icarus did fly
With motives we think sincere
So like his lofty wings of wax
Pride-melted more than sun
We pay our independence tax
Levied against the one

To see the future uncertainty
Of dimly shadow-cast years
Gives us pause in the alacrity
Firing fiercely our fears
In imperatives to succeed
We consider it wise
To stop sowing important seed
And gorge ourselves on lies

In our veiled appeals for ways made safe
We realize the road’s been blocked
Prudence rules rightly, though she may chafe
Our thinking now, locked and hocked
Venture not down this fear fueled route
Children with little sense
Plainly the hidden truth comes out
They think us all just dense

Further fuel we add with speech made cheap
For outside the times fly there
With us inside time is wont to creep
Here transformation is rare
Sedately seeming standing still
At us they legislate
Righteous and raucous rail we will
Yet moving much too late

Disbelieved we are still doomed to be
Unless we realize this fact
More In others’ wisdom we must see
In our favor that is stacked
To go on and others accept
We build on their success
And then the truth cannot be kept
To grow more means us less

July 27, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Helpful Educational Placement

Seen at a school information night.

Any information parents want to give the school which would be helpful for the student’s educational placement, needs to be addressed to the grade level counselor, and received no later than…

I wonder if I should submit a response like this…

My child needs active, engaging, teachers who work with technology as a platform for instruction, extension, investigation, revelation, inspiration, engagement, collaboration, innovation, authentic experience creation, and connection to the world. He needs teachers who won’t assume that learning results from assigning worksheets and who use homework as a leveraged investment in the educational process. He should be placed with teachers who hold themselves to the same standards they hold their students. He should be placed with teachers who have high standards without being rigid. He should be placed with teachers who have figured out that they teach kids, not subjects. He should have teachers who have been given the freedom to do all of these things by their leaders and have chosen to do so even though it may not necessarily be easy or convenient. He should be placed with teachers who value and engage in professional collaboration for the good of their kids. He should be placed with teachers who will never call themselves digital immigrants or him a digital native. He should be placed with teachers who have been given the resources they need to accomplish all this. And, he should be placed with teachers who get paid enough not to have to choose between gas and groceries.

 

May 19, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Games and Greeks or Playing and Plato

So there I was reading John Milton’s Of Education (why is probably another post) from one of my college books and I read the following line that had a notation reference at the end.

“At the same time, some other hour of the day, might be taught them the rules of arithmetic, and soon after the elements of geometry, even playing, as the old manner was.”

When I looked up the reference at the back of the book it said

“Both Plato…and Quintilian recommend the use of games as pedagogical tools.”

Pedagogical tools from Plato and Quintilian? I just had to find out what in the ancient world they were talking about. And since it had been a very long time that I engaged with any of the classical authors, I consulted Google and via The Perseus Digital Libray at Tufts University, here’s what I found from Plato (emphasis added)…

What I assert is that every man who is going to be good at any pursuit must practice that special pursuit from infancy, by using all the implements of his pursuit both in his play and in his work. For example, the man who is to make a good builder must play at building toy houses, and to make a good farmer he must play at tilling land; and those who are rearing them must provide each child with toy tools modelled on real ones. Besides this, they ought to have elementary instruction in all the necessary subjects,-the carpenter, for instance, being taught in play the use of rule and measure, the soldier taught riding or some similar accomplishment. So, by means of their games, we should endeavor to turn the tastes and desires of the children in the direction of that object which forms their ultimate goal. First and foremost, education, we say, consists in that right nurture which most strongly draws the soul of the child when at play to a love for that pursuit of which, when he becomes a man, he must possess a perfect masteryPlato, Laws, Book 1, 643b-d.

And from the research of Lee Honneycutt, Associate Professor in the English Department at Iowa State University from Quintilian (emphasis added)…

There are some kinds of amusement, too, not unserviceable for sharpening the wits of boys, as when they contend with each other by proposing all sorts of questions in turn” Quintilian Institutio Oratoria Book 1, Chapter 3, line 11.

It seems that the Greeks were talking about games in education in the 340’s BC and the Romans in the 1st Century AD. We’re still talking about them today. Now they are framed within the context of video games or edugames. Both David Warlick and Gary Stager have offered their (mostly) differing opinions. The comments on David’s post have some interesting takes as well. Whether it’s Gary Stager’s ignorance arguments, or David Warlick’s thoughts about counter-pedagogies or the approaches that gaming might take in schools from the people over at The Games, Learning, and Society Group, we still have a long way to go in this gaming discussion. Just a couple of days ago, Scott McLeod wrote his latest entry about games and cited a stat about only 15% of “teachers have a more difficult time seeing how platforms generally associated with entertainment -i.e., video games, MP3 players, and cell phones -can be used as educational tools” (slide 15). Definitely a long way to go.

Just how much video games will influence (or not) our current systems of education remains to be seen. However, gaming is pushing its way in and it is having rippling effects, seen and unseen. Perhaps that’s what concerns some now just as it concerned Plato 2400-ish years ago “that those children who innovate in their games grow up into men different from their fathers; and being thus different themselves, they seek a different mode of life, and having sought this, they come to desire other institutions and lawsPlato, Laws, Book 7, 798c.

May 17, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

David Warlick Keynote -4.21.08

Today, as part of some ongoing staff development, our district is hosting David Warlick who will be doing a keynote and several roundtable sessions. Pardon the writing as I took notes during the presentation.

From the keynote…

One of the things I appreciated immediately was that he set up a blog entry with some links that he would be referencing through his keynote. During the keynote, David Warlick brought all the tech down to the level of students and teachers. That’s his mission, passion, and purpose. It’s not about the stuff; it’s about making meaning and making education meaningful.

Web Sites

Items of Note

  • Information has changed. What it looks like and what you can do with it and how we interact with it.
  • We’re spending too much time teaching our kids to use paper.
  • We’re preparing our kids for the future they are going to invent. We know almost nothing about the future we are preparing them for. “For the first time in history our jobs as educators is to prepare our children for a future that we cannot clearly describe.”
  • We should stop integrating teachnology and integrate literacy. Being suspicious about the information they find. Investigate and become a digital detective.
  • If all we have taught our kids is how to read, are they literate or dangerous? Adults were taught to read what was handed to us. Our kids are not reading this way. They are reading in a global electronic environment.
  • We can’t rely on the gatekeepers to be the sentries of information. It must become a personal skill.
  • Find information, decode it, critically evaluate it, organize it into personal libraries.
  • We should not just develop literacy skills, but literacy habits.
  • We should not just develop lifelong learning, but a learning lifestyle.

Keynote Centerpiece

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic expand our notions of what it means to be literate by

  • Exposing what is true
  • Employing information
  • Expressing ideas compellingly
  • Ethics -The thread that weaves all of them together

A compelling quote, “We will have achieved educational reform when no teacher believes they can teach the same thing the same way every time.”

I’m ready to learn more in the roundtable sessions…

 

April 21, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hope Springs Digital

The science assignment, in all its wrinkled, photocopied paperness, emerged from the depths of my 5th grader’s backpack. It contained, smacking of “parental involvement,” directions about how to display the results of the experiment on a tri-fold posterboard…due the next day.

The parental involvement I don’t mind, but when it comes to tri-fold poster displays, it becomes less about parental involvement and more about uh, parental guidance -and I don’t mean Mike Parent’s blog. (Although a blog does eventually play a part in this tale -read on, Digital Reader).

I dispise tri-fold poster displays and their inbred cousins, construction paper cut outs and foam display boards. They’re the so analog, so last-century, remnants of ancient business presentation expectations that have infiltrated our classrooms and science fairs. They’re very useful for the static displays of parental creativity and competition in gymnasiums converted to exhibition halls. Some may publicly look down their noses at the neatly arranged, heavily parent-influenced items on the tri-fold, but secretly covet the blue ribbon hanging on the corner of the board. And that’s where it starts. The pitiful tri-folds find themselves stuffed in the far less-traveled corners, assuming they even make it out of the classroom. So, in an effort to help our kids present themselves in a positive light, we parents make suggestions that turn into directives that turn into maddening scrambles and searches for mom’s special scrapbooking scissors that add some flare to this border. I wonder how many Sunday nights have ended with parents meticulously gluing display doodads while the kid is off in the other room playing video games. Nobody else? Must just be my house.

No longer, I resolved this time. (Plus, all the craft stores were closed and we were fresh out of foam board having used it all up on a quite beautiful State of Ohio display, which, by the way resides behind a door in the spare room downstairs as a monument to a maniacal frenzy of parental involvement.) It was time to take a chance with our kid’s education. Risky, I know, but I just didn’t have it in me to top the Ohio display.

About then I made a crazy Web 2.0pian decision and suggested that we put the required pieces of the assignment on a blog. Since this would be my son’s first foray into the blogosphere, I would set the blog up for him and give him a basic how-to after he had recorded all the required elements in a Word document. I wanted the initial blog experience to be more about the learning and less about the technical manipulation.

So he proceeded with his experiment, recording the materials and his hypothesis and the procedures and and the data and taking pictures as required. I set his blog up so he could copy and paste his text from the laptop. I made sure to make his blog viewable by invitation only because I knew I’d have to convince the hand-wringing, Internet fear mongers that this wasn’t a digital terrorism plot or would jeopardize his safety on the Internet. The really radical part was that we had several discussions about safe online behavior and what to include on the blog. We spoke about the type and amount of pictures he would be using and what he hoped to communicate with them. We talked about design and formatting and how each of those could help his audience understand him more clearly. We had more meaningful conversations that connected more of his past, current, and future learning to what he was doing just then. Certainly much better than the strained interactions of previous display-type projects. We’ll have more of the same conversations, I’m sure -and that’s just great.

With the entry edited and posted, I turned my attention to the science teacher and the district. This was going to be a surprise for the science teacher and I didn’t much appreciate those when I taught. I figured, more hoped, it was worth a shot. Just in case, I made a PDF of the blog post and emailed it to her after the blog invitation. She was able to see the blog from home and later on at school. She made some meaningful comments with questions and my son responded with thoughtful answers. I thought their exchanges were much better than a grade written on the back of the poster. Even more, she was very encouraging with the next assignment asking him to make another post.

For us and the teacher, it’s a dynamic resource easily accessible, not shoved in a corner or behind a door. We can look at the difference between the two entries and see the improvement -although he didn’t initially proof his spelling and mechanics on the second one, but we’ll work on that. His teacher shared it with some of his other teachers, who asked us to invite them so they could view it and we did. I was glad to see his excitement and his teacher’s. When the time came for the second assignment on the blog, he needed very little direction in the creation and organization. In fact he planned from the beginning how he was going to use the digital tools to accomplish his task. Score one for the Web 2.0pians.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Whole New Mind Book Study Part 4.07.08 -Success and Meaning

We wrapped up the last chapter of the book this weekend with a discussion on Meaning. The next step for participants is to post on our book discussion page to the Now What? section. They get to write (and respond) about what they are going to do with their whole new mind. I’m very interested in seeing the responses. I know for sure one of the art teachers in the group has been having her AP Art students read it.

As we discussed the Meaning chapter, some of my previous thinking surfaced and I found myself (probably) rambling on to the group about the various definitions of success we have in education and how they are tied to meaningfulness. It went something like this…

It doesn’t sit well with me that our primary gauges of success in education are college and workforce readiness. The most obvious response is “if it’s not college or workforce readiness, then what?” It’s a struggle to come up with an answer. However, if we define success (through school mission statements, especially) as economically productive, competitive global citizens prepared for future success (or some derivation like that). Many schools don’t necessarily have that idea explicitly stated, but our practices, often externally mandated, reveal such a focus. The big testing companies sell their world-o-work diagnostic tool as part of their business models so kids can know at 16, 17, 18 where they fit in the world of work or college. How do we reconcile this with some of the labor statistics and college major numbers cited by Did You Know and Shift Happens? I suppose that means we should be producing well-rounded students who have the ability to adapt and continue learning their whole lives. That seems to stand in contrast of streamlining kids into specific career and college paths. Do and will some kids go that route? Sure, but I’m not convinced that we should structure our educational systems so that all kids have to. Regardless, our system is structured to produce college and workforce ready people and that’s how we define our success and how we’ll expect them to define their success. The ways to success are to get a good job either with a college degree or without it.

What does good job mean for many people? Good money. Satisfaction and fulfillment all play a part, but like some fool said in answer to how much money is enough…just a little more. So there it is. If our definitions of success and meaning are closely and inextricably tied to that path of success, then the acquisition of wealth is really our metric. After all, it’s how we evaluate the colleges and businesses that pass dictates and judgements on to our schools. What about colleges why we’re at it. Why so many college drop outs? They want to blame inadequate preparation in high school, but perhaps it’s an inadequate ability for colleges to create meaning for their students as the colleges propel students to corporate bondage.

So now that we have defined education over the last 100+ years in the context of joining corporate America, we have no other way to define education. And that brings me back to “if it’s not college or workforce readiness, then what?” Self determination; the pursuit of happiness; the pursuit of knowledge; the search for meaning, service, caring, compassion, passion, creativity, individual expression, and on and on. Does any of it generate income? Can a corporate society support such an approach? It’s hard to conceive and even harder to see how these directly increase the bottom line. Can we do without college and workforce readiness? No. Can we do without all those other things in the pursuit of college and workforce readiness? Not for very much longer. If you think I’ve missed the mark, then I ask you to ponder the following and give an honest answer.

If a society defines success as the acquisition of wealth and the individual loses the capacity to create wealth, what value and meaning does the individual have to that society?

April 14, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment