Thursday, December 27, 2007

This Just In: 'Comics Help Struggling Students Learn to Read!' DUH!

From: The New York Times
"Superman Finds New Fans Among Reading Instructors"
" Some parents and teachers regard comics, with their sentences jammed into bubbles and their low word-to-picture ratio, as part of the problem when it comes to low reading scores and the much-lamented decline in reading for pleasure. But a growing cadre of educators is looking to comics as part of the solution..."
Read the full article @ its source:


*duh (du)
Used to express disdain for something deemed stupid or obvious, especially a self-evident remark.
[Imitative of an utterance attributed to slow-witted people.]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Some Perspective on all those Education Comparison Reports

Somehow, no matter how strong my resolve to look at education from within 'The Box' so that I can better relate to my fellow educators, whenever I'm assaulted with the usual educational achievement statistics and Ed-speak comparison data my eyes glaze over and my mind simply refuses to be a good boy. It revolts and looks beyond the parameters of accepted frames of understanding, looking for hints of greater meaning beyond it. I had this experience AGAIN recently when I opened my email in-box to read the PILOTed newsletter an item I generally value and look forward to receiving. Following is one of its recent "important" in-the-box reports and my reactions to it from some other place...

"US education compared to other developed nations - Education at a Glance 2007
This newsletter summarizes the US briefing paper for the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Education 2007 at a Glance report. The briefing paper for the US is available at the OECD website.
Quick summary

The data shows that the US education system substantially favors those who can afford the best schools and who can afford to go to college. Then, the US economy holds the largest rewards for those who have graduated from college, and the biggest penalties for those who do not complete high school, providing few outlets or second chances to cross that gap upon leaving school. Other developed nations appear to be rapidly expanding their university-educated, but without the university spending and income disparities of the US.

Well, NO surprise in any of this...BUT it reminded me of something shared with my cohort of fellows by professor Yasuda (Economist) when I was participating in the *Keizei Koho Center fellowship program for educators, an invition to Japan to experience that country and its schools first hand.

At our first briefing, held in our hotel before venturing out, Professor Yasuda explained that the economic sector of Japanese Society is a highly ordered structure in which the individual's rank and earning status is part of a traditional pecking order, something they simply can't function without. For that reason he explained school rankings were essential. How one did in school dictated how one would be hired, paid, and likely predict the course one's career would take over a lifetime. He also explained that while it was a given that all Japanese would expend tremendous effort in getting in to the best schools they could, and would earn the very highest grades they were capable of, and despite Japan's international reputation for high quality and highly successful schools, school had nothing much to do with acquiring the knowledge needed to do one's job. It WAS, however, an absolutley essential element of Japanese society because they HAD to have some mechanism with which to determine which rung 'on the escalator' individuals would occupy. In other words how they would sort themselves out in the hierarchy. Looking at the report PILOTed is discussing here, I wonder if the same dynamic is not really at work in American socity, even though we continue to speak about learning the curriculum as school's exclusive purpose.

While educational ranking is a great determinant of future earning power, I wonder "is it the sybolic value of the education or is it the actual, functional value that determines that rank in our socieity?" I think this question is a crucial one to ask ourselves and to answer truthfully as we continue to try to make sense of education and improve it. Furthermore, as the emerging paradigm of education demands more and more AUTHENTICY in learning, those in sync with this paradigm will have much greater perspective on the torrent of data that keeps washing over us.

Read the rest of the newsletter and the report @

A brief sample to get you started...

Data from the briefing paper
37% of the US population ages 55-64 have some higher education, which is substantially over the average of other developed countries, and is first out of the 30 countries surveyed. This figure is pretty stable in the US; the number of college graduates as a percentage of the population is basically flat, while most of the rest of the world is rapidly increasing their supply of college grads. Thus, if you look at 25-34 year-olds, the US is 10th.

In the US, people with college degrees earned 75% more than those with high school degrees. Ten years ago, this differential was 68%. There are only three countries with disparities that wide. The rate of return on a college degree is about 13.5%, slightly more for males and slightly lower for females. College graduates also have lower unemployment rates.

In 2005, the probability that a young person will enter higher ed at some point in his or her life was 64%, as opposed to 57% in 2000; it is 71% for women and 56% for men. This compares with 54% as an average in other developed countries. On the other hand, only 54% of entrants to higher education in the US obtain degrees, which is last...."

* Keizai Koho Center Teacher Fellowship

Monday, December 24, 2007

Book Review: Dr. Rudy Crew's ONLY CONNECT - The Way to Save Our Schools

_____________ _Me & Rudy... Back in the Day

Book Review - Dr. Rudy Crew's

Changing Our Schools to Produce Kids Who Can Compete in the Global Economy


It is especially interesting to read this type of book when the author is someone you’ve worked with. Back in the day, when Dr. Rudy Crew was in charge of the New York City public schools and I was part of the district's central office staff, I observed him up close and rubbed elbows with him on occasion.

Dr. Crew is the genuine article, a dyed in the wool educator. He worked his way up through the ranks of the world of public schools, eventually becoming Superintendent of several of our nations largest and most challenged districts. He has left a trail of successes behind him and is an especially important role model for educational leaders at this point in time when more and more often non-educators, generally lawyers or managers from the world of corporate business, are entrusted with the futures of our young people.

Dilettantes beware! This book speaks with a level of authority that only this type of experience and commitment affords. Rudy is currently in charge of the Miami Dade school district (Florida), a lofty perch from which to reflect on the accumulated observations of a lifetime of deep involvement with the institution of Education.

In a sense, Only Connect represents Dr. Crew’s throwing down a number of crucial gauntlets. For those directly involved in, or deeply concerned with, the future of education these will resonate as defining challenges.

Repeated throughout the book is the idea that what’s missing in our schools are the connections between what they offer students and what is actually worth doing in life. This is an idea that is easy to accept. After all, it is not much of a stretch to say that the trend we’ve been seeing in our schools for a good number of years now is to DISconnect everyone and everything from the real world as we get students to produce satisfactory test scores. We’ve come to pursue these symbolic results, which are disconnected from the actual processes of living and authentic learning, keeping subject areas disconnected from one another and from people, activities, aspirations and dreams that students can relate to.

The reader of Only Connect is presented with an astute mapping of those connections that must be established. As Dr. Crew frames it, if education is to be gotten right; students will have to connect to the human qualities that make for a “mature and conscious contributor to society”: Personal Integrity, Workplace Literacy, Civic Awareness, and Academic Proficiency – our classrooms to the qualities of: Caring, High Expectations, and Diverse approaches to learning – and our schools to 14 categories of stake holders without whom they can’t succeed; these include every type of organization from the Federal Government to the Service Community as well individuals of every stripe from parents and students to teachers and principals.

The map laid out is dotted with crucial stops along the way in establishing or repairing and strengthening these connections. These involve improved: physical school plants, instructional standards and frameworks, and funding. What Mr. Crew doesn’t seem to have identified yet is a vehicle by which the actual ground referred to by that map can be traveled by real boots on the ground filled by students and teachers.

The vehicle which will enable this, although he doesn’t see it yet, really has technology at the core of its engine. While the book does discuss technology a bit, the message is somewhat contradictory. It becomes clear that Dr. Crew uses technology personally to ‘connect’ to the world of information and things he cares passionately about when he makes statements like:

“Turn on your computer, log on to the Internet, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Here in the first decade of a new century with an economy based on information, in the flat world Thomas L. Friedman talks about, it’s become apparent that the old laws of supply and demand don’t apply to knowledge in the same way they do to oil or air conditions in the summer. Knowledge is not a finite resource, and scarcity economics don’t apply to it…”

Yet, in the same introductory chapter he also states
'Here’s what “connection” and “global” do not mean: They do not mean the Internet in every classroom. They do not mean laptops for every child.'

And he certainly is on the right track when he asserts

“In many communities the idea of the global classroom is a reflection of how much hardware and software your district has, when the real question is whether or not your kids experience contact with skill sets that will be demanded of them when they go out into the world. Focusing on computers alone is like spending all your time and money on buying shovels when your job is to build a skyscraper.”

But connecting schools and students to what is real will involve more than simple focus and purposefulness in the acquisition and use of classroom-based technology. It is not TECHNOLOGY, but the new set of thinking, learning, and communicating practices brought about by technology that will. And of course while these aren’t technology per se, they are inextricably intertwined with it in many ways. The new paradigm of education that will help create the curative connections Dr. Crew prescribes is simultaneously grounded in the ways technology is changing human intellectual activity AND in the ways human intellectual growth evolved so that it would need to and could develop those technologies.

Until a catchy new name comes along for this multi-dimensional new ground of being and learning, something like ‘SMART 2.0’or ‘Cogno Sapia’, we’ll simply acknowledge its existence and identify it as a new paradigm in which learning is as integrated a dimension of human existence as breathing and being. We see its emergence for instance in the way the new social networking resources connect learners in the act of identifying and accessing materials to be studied while those processes are in progress, in the way our young are connected to information bearing technologies during all waking hours, and in how the technology industry has learned to direct its developmental energies towards satisfying these emergent human ‘needs’ and encouraging their growth – Learning, Knowing, Living are not technology, but they are also no longer states of being that can happen without it. We have entered a period in which one can only connect when one is connected and that happens digitally!

Mark Gura

PS - Here's a link to a review on the page where orders for this book are taken. The review AND the book it refers to are typical of what's wrong in the conversation about education:( :( :(

Saturday, December 22, 2007

And the Auto-Didacts Shall Inherit the Earth!

If you go to a rural school in an impoverished developing nation, not only will you see squalor standing in for what ought to be decent classrooms, but among the mud floors and flies swarming in under the eaves, you'll see a strong fervor for learning.

This is not the type of enthusiasm we often see in our classrooms. Students in 3rd World schools are desperate for learning. They see it as a liberating and empowering force, and one of the only things (beside good luck) that may help them elevate themselves. In such classrooms one also comes to see that the greatest deficiency, as the learners there see it, is content. For while there are highly motivated teachers and students aplenty, books, even dog-eared, out-of-date texts from decades past are highly prized because access to them is often SO limited. And of course, access to computers, including the One Laptop Per Child's XO super low cost laptops are WAY up at the top of learner wishlists.

Seeing this is to understand that IF the key to learning is simple access to knowledge/content - that is, for the multitudes who will know how to learn it once they can get their hands on it - we can infer that a new type of learner is about to inherit the Earth, the Auto Didact.

Throughout the web there abound 'how to's, tutorials, and self administered lessons of every type. From Professional Development for teachers via resources like
- The Teachers Podcast ( and
- TeacherTube ( ),
- Technology Skills from sources like Tech Tutorials (one of a great many on the web @ ),
- and Do It Yourself 'how to' in every conceivable field at resources like Expert Village( the knowledge is there for those who can take it and learn it on their own, can teach it to themselves.

As technology puts more and more such content, structed and presented for learners, in the hands of those untold Billions around the world ready to take it and run with it, we will see the emergence of a new dominant species, the Auto Didact!

Below is the link to a recent article that points to a novel new dimension of this rapidly developing phenomenon. An accredited university in Japan, which until now had conducted all classes exclsively online via computer screen, has now pushed the boundaries further to deliver a course entirely over CELL phones. This offers greater reach, greater ease and flexibility of access - that is, for those who have the make-up that will allow them to take advantage of it. Clearly it's not for everyone, or at this point, perhaps not for most. But as that sector of the popular who can do so takes advantage of it, the ground work for evolving dominance of those who teach themselves is being laid... THEY will inherit the world in the not too distant future!

"Next ed-tech frontier: Classes via cell phone"
From: eSchool News


Making Student Learning Lemonade from the Old Paradigm Schooling Lemon

We may transform the institution of School by bringing it in line with the new Paradigm of Education, BUT it will remain. School is simply too far entrenched in our cultue and in the practical ways our society has organized itself to raise our young for it ever to disappear.

However, by addressing the real needs of The Whole Student, School can be rendered a truly nourishing experience, making it something far more valuable educationally (and far less damaging psychologically) than today's test score mills. The ways to accomplish this are vast and that discussion too deep for a single blog post...BUT, there are some perennial approaches that can always be counted on:
  • Fire up student imagination
  • Engage youngsters in the production of authentic products, things that will have them making real statements to set before real audiences
  • Encourage personal expression and teach the methodologies that support and promote it
  • Bring the ARTS into the learning experience... to name a few.

Here's a project that engages youngsters in producing their own short digital videos. THIS is not only New Paradigm Education, but it is that most valuable variety of it that eases itself into the structure of school - No violent revolution here, just an opting for a newer, more authentic approach! It doesn't get much more meaningful than this....

The project is The Great Minds Video Contest at Barrington High School.

Here's the project website:

But before you do anything else, I recommend you watch this student video submission which I feel sums it all up...the wonderfully nurturing, yet healthily subversive way the new can replace the old in Education. Check out this kid's work:
Hey, you gotta love the title "Wasted Day" (Be a Studier, Not a Slacker...hmmmm???)

And if you want a little more background and additional perspective, I'll recommend the following item from magazine...



Thursday, December 20, 2007

Restoring the Balance BACK to Visual Learning

Rummaging through the trunk of my car recently for something worthwhile to read while I ate my diner breakfast of scrambled eggs and rye toast, I exhumed the October 2005 Edutopia Magazine. As I lectured myself about eating only a few of the home fried potatoes that the waitress brought even though I didn't order them, the magazine fell open to VISUALLY SPEAKING a brilliant article by Leonard Shlain. A lucky breakfast mindblower....

I highly recommend you read it @:

Mr. Schlein points out that "The conventional prejudice is well known: Now that DVDs and movies are ubiquitous, and television and computer games incessant, generations of students are becoming less literate, with ominous implications for the future..."

But wait a minute. What if there are advantages to the newly emerging intellectual virtual LEARNscape (my word) that has been emerging and asserting itself through the proliferation of digital/info-tainment technologies?

Schlein points out that our text-biased world may have represented a short sighted lapse in the human potential honoring balance of things anyway. Text sets up a linear, temporaral favor of educating the brain's left lobe (and probably empowering left lobe oriented individuals). Consequently, because school has been so far canted in this direction the entire prospect of human education has been out of balance.

The new technologies, if viewed rationally, offer the opportunity for us to restore that balance and return many of the human potentials that have been given short shrift over the past couple of centuries to a more realistic level of value. Schlein states Evolution, did not naturally prepare humans for the immense innovation we call literacy... It has taken thousands of years and a major technological revolution to begin the rebalancing of human cognition.

The pendulum it appears is now swinging the other way. This is something that Educators must become aware of, attempt to understand, and embrace as part of how they do what they do!

This revelatory understanding of a juggernaut bearing down on the field of Education will certainly upset the apple cart. Do educators have the will, the intestinal fortitude to drag themselves out of the comfort zone and handle the white knuckle roller coaster ride that looms before them?


More Funds? For What? That's the Issue!

Interesting the flotsam that shows up in your e-in box... Still waking up with my first cup of coffee this morning I read the following items. These individually make a great deal of sense, but when seen as an ironically synergistic pairing really make a point, at least to me.

I. The latest issue of PILOT Ed, a really smart (although somewhat traditionally oriented) newsletter showed up today. This one is put out by some people I know who are involved in the business end of providing schools & school systems with resources, including and especially technology oriented resources.

As the newsletter's writer puts it:

"Early this month, at the AESA conference in Tampa, Florida, I heard Stan Collender speak. Stan made the US budget seem interesting and relevant to all of us in education. It was scary..."

" My conclusions from listening to Stan’s presentation and talking with him on the phone:

- Don’t look for any new education initiatives to be funded in this coming election year.

- Expect that there will be no agreement on any education bills that need reauthorization this year.

- Look for moderate decreases in federal funding for education over the following year or two, no matter who wins the election or how much they say that education matters.

- Find ways to motivate parents to talk to and visit the local offices of their senators and representatives; it’s the best hope for education funding to improve our education system..."

The rest of the newsletter offers a highly rational discussion about funding and how to deal with this prediction of a poor short term funding forecast and other attitudes to help cope with and strategize this situation. However, at a certain point that little voice in the back of my head started to pipe up saying "Wait a minute... before we get so focused on money to buy things for education, do we really have straight what we want to buy and what the true impact of those purchases will be? One of the worst results of education spending is that every time money is spent on it and the results of that spending are disappointing, the prospect of getting more to spend down the road diminishes. Do we really want to put a large share of our education hopes on spending to support Old Paradigm Education?

II. Speaking of which, here's the other item that showed up in my browser this morning (thanks, David, for tugging my sleeves to it). A video of a gathering of state Teachers of the Year trashing NCLB, a program that embraces Old Paradigm Education more iconically than pretty much anything else I can think of. Do we want to spend our money to achieve the goals of THAT understanding of what education is, should be, and how it works and can be made to succeed?

One last thought before I embed the video from YouTube... I spent 18 years as a teacher in New York City inner-city classrooms and then another 13 as a supervisor of instruction on various levels - I saw a great deal that did and didn't work in educating today's students - I saw periods and situations in which getting a dozen new #2 pencils from the administration was an impossible dream (we got nothing with which to teach... nothing!) and plenty of other times in which it seemed like it rained money... libraries of new books, mountians of art materials, computers up the kazoo, etc. etc. In all honesty I really can't say that all that stuff made much of a difference and that included PD (workshops, in-house trainers, conferences)... at the end of the day, talented, hard working teachers who were allowed to follow their hearts and who inspired youngsters... that's what I saw that works!!!!!

OK, here's the video...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pencils Down!

Doing some focused web surfing recently I came across an old (2001) article by David Thornburg that really got the juices flowing. This piece, "Pencils Down! How Decontextualized Standardized Testing Can Destroy Education", is a great reflection on what by now has become a near epedimic level phenomenon that actually IS destroying public school education. I recommend you give it a read @

Before we delve into his explanation of HOW this type of testing does so much damage though, I'd like to offer up a bit of an explanation as to WHY administrators, many of whom probably understand things the way Mr. Thornburg does, go ahead and test anyway...

Part of the story has to do with our "kick ass" accountability-focused culture, in which it is assumed that left to their own devices, people simply sit on their hands and don't: work, do what they're supposed to, teach, learn, whatever... I can't possibly buy in to that idea. There are far too many people I know, teachers included, who do what they ought, even more, because their lives are inspired, satisfied, and given meaning through doing. Not only is the accountability culture misreading human motivation, but it does a great deal of damage through the ways it reacts to that misreading. That, however, is a reflection for another blog post.

The way Thornburg puts it "...our educational system is operating on the principle that what gets measured gets done." But, as has been pointed out recently by so many who observe the reactions of school communities to growing testing programs, what actually gets done is teaching to the test. Let’s spin this scenario out a bit - If the test doesn't measure what's worth knowing (and any correlation of test questions to Bloom's Taxonomy, the rock on which all modern understanding of learning is based, will bear that out), then teaching to the test is to teach toward things not worth knowing, making this whole debacle a Gordian knot that increasingly becomes harder and harder to unravel.

I assert that some of today's politically driven top level Educational administrators understand this full well, but persist. Why? Because they hope that by currying favor with a gullible public through announcements of raised test scores, they’ll solidify their own self-serving positions. It’s all part of a dance in which they further muddy the waters by mouthing platitudes about how what goes on in their districts really isn't teaching to the test at all. But if they were sincere, they would explicitly prohibit teachers from doing that and put in measures to make sure they comply. This simply doesn't ever happen. The testing phenomenon continues to spiral out of control.

If, for whatever poor reason it gives, a district engages in standardized testing, then it has to deal with the logistical realities of testing on a mass scale. There are hundreds of millions of students out there and they all are supposed to be learning multiple disciplines across numerous grade levels, all of which require tests. This leaves the Ed administrator with the challenge of getting a Mount Everest of assessments done with limited funds, manpower, and time. The answer to this dilemma is to use assessment tools (tests) that are expedient (cheap and easy). Computer graded ‘fill-in-the-bubbles’ student answer sheets, for instance, can be administered, graded, and paid for with the very meager resources available to school districts. Even essay questions, items that appear to probe thought processes, not just factual recall, are really designed with the logistical challenges of administering and grading them foremost in their authors' minds - format, length, and grading criteria all subordinated to these considerations.

At the end of this chain of malpractice, we end up giving the tests we CAN give - not the tests we ought to give, tests that actually measure things of value. And we lie to the public about it, telling them that all of this is part of giving today's youngsters the education they deserve. The situation is worse now, sadly, than it was when Thornburg originally wrote the piece I cite here. :( :( :(


Friday, December 14, 2007

Q: When Is Spinning One's Wheels Dangerous? A: When Doing So Requires the Consumption of Scarce Fuel that Might Carry One to More Healthy Ground!

Here’s an article about how a company called Wireless Generation has been given a big US Dept. of Ed. grant to extend to math instruction the magic it’s worked with its mCLASS PDA reading software. Hmmmmmm....

From: eSchool News
"Solution aims to transform math assessment: Already revolutionizing early-literacy assessment via handheld technology, Wireless Generation seeks to boost elementary math"

How does the software work? According to the article, it allows teachers to roam the classroom and enter data about student “math proficiency, monitor their progress, and learn about their thought processes.”

I wonder though, are we better off with software the helps teachers better understand where their students’ thinking goes wrong in approaching traditional goals of math learning OR would more benefits be accrued from software that engages youngsters in activities that illustrate and model for them habits of mind and thinking strategies that are effective in a reconceived curriculum?

Herbert Ginsberg, math education ‘expert’ cited in the article states:

”... children seem to fall into four groups when it comes to math problems.

  • The first group of students will get the answer right and will understand the process behind the math problem.
  • A second group arrives at the correct answer, but students in this group can't always determine how they arrived at the right answer.
  • Students in the third group have a good understanding of the process, but get the answer wrong owing to sloppy mistakes.
  • And students in the fourth group, Ginsburg said, get the answer wrong and don't seem to understand the process or might need extra help.

OK… But of course we have to wonder about math instruction so focused on ‘the right answer.’ More to the point, though, this is clearly an approach to the use of technology in which the professional educator has decided that the existing instructional program (curriculum and pedagogy) is essentially fine, and the technology can help get better results with kids within that structure. Small wonder this group gets grants like this one. Its mission is to make the existing paradigm work in the face of much evidence that it is faulted, not to challenge it.

Ginsburg continues:
"I see this as helping the teachers to understand the kids better--it's not just to get a score,"

"Don't think of your students only as people who get the answer right or wrong; they have concepts and strategies, and that's what we have to focus on. Once a teacher finds out a student has one concept but not another, then we try to link all this up with instructional suggestions for teachers."

Fine, but why not apply the awesome power of technology to creating engaging resources that model thinking strategies for kids, not simply helping instructional hacks figure out better where they ought to apply more effort in hammering home the same, tired old teaching again and again? Technologies, like gaming, can put sparkle, interest, and extraordinary INSIGHT into the learning experience! Why use tech to get more mileage out of a dying paradigm when it can be used to give birth to a new one?

Putting the final touches on what seems to be a confession of being totally committed to going down with the ship of old paradigm education, he continues:

"It's hard for some people to understand that this isn't a math test; this is a teacher talking with a student about how he or she solves a problem," he said. "Kids love that attention and like talking with an adult who takes them seriously."

I agree, kids do love that attention and hopefully they are getting it from an adult who merits it and who's engaging them in actitivies worthy of their future!

Gingsburg added: "I think we really are doing something interesting and unique."

Well, you are doing some-thing. And though unique it may be, I think it's misguided! - one of those 2 steps backward we seem to be forever fated to take as we move 3 steps forward:(


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Required Hiding

A few decades back when I was in college as an under graduate, there was one of those beloved, smirky, commonly accepted bits of wisdom that fell from the lips of almost every wag who could get another soul to listen to it. It went something like this: "College is a warm place to hide for 4 years between high school and real life."

Those who studied hard sciences or professional courses like pre-accounting, pre-med, pre-law etc. wouldn't understand. But any of that vast majority of souls who prepared for professions like teaching or counseling or who were Humanities majors or who may have studied soft sciences like 'poli sci' or "phyche" will understand and nod in agreement that while college may have been easy or hard depending on your bent, abilities, and the level of need to maintain an appearance of rigor of the institution you attended, it is hard to say exactly what one did or was supposed to accomplish there despite all those lectures, books purchased and sold back at a loss to the college bookstore, term papers written over Oreo Cookies and instant coffee, all nighter 'gotta pass this one to keep up my GPA' cram sessions, and furtive glances at that gorgeous classmate in the 2nd row by the window.

Simply stated, it is very hard to see what this type of school attendance has to do with actually preparing for whatever the attendee does in real life after graduation!

However, because our Education policy makers appear to be eaters of the menu and not the meal - walkers on the map, not the mountain, they continue to perpetuate the myth that the prosperity and well being of our nation depends on all citizens getting a good education and that there is no better measure of this having been achieved than graduation from college.

And so, as reported in an article on the policy makers in Maine have an important idea to share with the world (sarcasm used to make the point)
"Plan requires high schoolers to apply to college to get diploma"

Wouldn't life be wonderful if it could be this simple; force kids to apply for college and walk away satisfied that you've successfully impacted a real problem in our society, that not enough people are sufficiently educated? And, of course, one has to ask 'how much time, energy, attention, money, and other types of resources that might have been applied to actually improving education were wasted on this partular bit of high profile posturing?'

Read full article at its source:

Dear Student Accountability Freaks: Be Careful What You Push For !

(From: WTOP
"Calif. Exit Exam Boosts Dropout Numbers"
Hey, nice work Test Advocates! Apparently your scheme to force youngsters to learn didn't take into account the fact that those students are human beings and human beings have feet! Instead of becoming beneficiaries of a painfully constipated instructional program... they've walked! It would seem that droves of California high school students have simply dropped out as a more sensible (to them) response to having to "perform" at a level with which they are hyper-uncomfortable. According to the article, since the adoption of an exit exam a few years back, dropout numbers have increased astronomically. Details in the full article @

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Motivation Mojo and Tyanny by Math Requirement

On 10/5/07 USA Today ran an article entitled:
"How kids can get over the motivation brick wall".
This article touches on the very crux of where Education succeeds and fails, and does so in ways that almost all Educators are totally oblivious of. It highlights the work of Richard Lavoie who (as the article states) "is widely known for a popular PBS video and workshops that show teachers what school is really like for struggling kids. A special-educator for more than 30 years, he has written The Motivation Breakthrough: 6 Secrets for Turning On the Tuned-Out Child (Touchstone). "

By the way, it's always seemed to me that struggling kids are the ones who give true insight into the processes of teaching and learning and should be valued as a reality touchstone for the entire enterprise of Education.

In the article Mr. Lavoie makes some great points:

- "... "learned helplessness." When a child faces failure enough times, he begins to feel he's not going to succeed and doesn't see any sense in investing himself. Every child hits this sort of motivation brick wall at some point, and then what we do as teachers and parents, unfortunately, is sort of blame the victim and say that it's the child's fault..."

(Mark>) This makes me think about the trajedy of our current approach to Mathematics Education, or perhaps more acurately Tyranny by Mathematics Education. Here's an exercise I actually carried out for roughly 6 months a few years back... I simply asked every successful person I came in contact with (my banker, accountant, dentist, architect, plumber, pharmacist, bar tender, store owners, graphic artists, Education professors...whoever) exactly what math they use in their work. My discovery was that while they all asserted they did use math continually, it was rather basic math or at the very least, math of a level that is much lower than what is required to earn a high school diploma. You know, the four basic functions of Arithemetic, plus a smattering of very simple or pre Algebra...proportions and ratios, that sort of thing. NONE of these very smart and accomplished people ever needed to use Advanced Algebra or Calculus.... NEVER!!!!

This pisses me off no end because in public school the rhetoric that is used to bully students into intellectual submission is that the required high school exit (read that graduation) requirement of Advanced Algebra is based on the strong, unwavering assumption that this is what the Typical Joe will definitely need in the work place. This is simply not true!

Now on one level, forcing students to take more math than they'll really ever need might seem like a benign piece of confusion. After all, the math sympathisers' argument goes, how could it hurt to know more math than you'll actually use?

Well, the truth is, quite a bit. You see those with their eyes open in observing what really goes on in public school will have to acknowledge that because students from an early age are forced on to a 'fast track' in learning math, something that has to be done IF you are going to insist that SO MUCH math is to be learned over the course of years as you speed these young minds unnaturally toward and through Advanced Algebra, the result is that the average student learns not the math, but from an early age just how "not smart' he is. He internalizes the fact that he is just not very good at the mountain of seemingly pointless and uncomprehensible material shoved down his throat in the guise of "the math he'll definitely need"

And so the typical kid either develops a series of coping mechanisms to bluff his way through all this, or (more typically) keeps his mouth shut and suffers the fact the he isn't one of the smart ones. Perhaps he "passes" math somehow, or he fails and suffers through being one of the 'dumb ones' (just like almost everyone else), but in the end whether all that math is learned or not learned, in real life it simply isn't used - it is forgotten and forgotten about. What stays is a bad taste in the mouth about learning and school! And so, in an ironic way, the most successful part of our current approach to teaching mathematics is the successful teaching of the idea that learning is unpleasant!!!

During my tenure as member of the Cabinet of the Deputy Chancellor for Instruction of the New York City Public School System I was drafted as a committee head of the Chancellors Math Commission. During this most interesting exercise, which llasted a full 6 months, I had occassion to chat via phone with Dr. Lynne Steen of St. Olaf's College in Minnesota, one of the nation's foremost Mathematics Educators. Dr. Steen, when I shared with him the same understanding of the trajedy of math requirements I share above, to my surprise agreed with me that the field of Mathematics Education is way off base. What he feels we really ought to be aspiring to is a state of 'Numeracy', a familiarity and comfort with numbers and the way they behave, not the mastery of advanced concepts that is now forced down the throat of hapless Joe Ciitzen.

Getting back to Lavoie's work, he seems to be on the same page with me stating "...the most important thing parents and teachers need to do is to keep in mind the balance between suport and challenge. You need to constantly challenge kids. But you need to give them support to meet those challenges." Our contemporary Math curriculum does not reflect any such balance. It is all challenge without much support. Needless to say, also, this insensitivity is not the elclusive province of math educators, they simply make a whopping good example ot this type of thing.

Lavoie has other important points to make about motivation and how it impacts teaching and learning. In one such reflection he states "... I had a teacher say to me one time "I taught it to him, but he didn't learn it." I said "That's like a salesman saying to his boss. "I sold it to him, but he didn't buy it." I think that particularly at the upper school level, we assume that the kid's going to come in the door totally motivated and sit there and learn, and it simply isn't true. You need to continue to be a salesman and a motivator as a high school teacher and as a parent of high school kids."

(Mark>) And above all, we must question frequently why we are teaching (and expecting kids to learn) what we do, and make adjustments when we see that what we set before our young people may not truly be worthy of them, may even be counter productive!

Read the entire article at:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Good Grief, Study Shows Youngsters Are Interested in Formats Other Than Hard Copy Books!!!

An open blog entry to fellow members of the New York City chapter of the National Council of Teachers of English:

Boo Hoo! It’s just not fair! (sniff, sniff). We literacy educators stake so much of our claim to the cultural high ground and so many of our aspirations to more-intellectual-than-thou status on our rock solid belief in the holy sanctity of a communications format know popularly as The Book, and those darn kids just want to play video games, read one another’s FaceBook pages, and listen to Hip Hop… (sniff).

Exaggeration? Consider the NY Time article of 11/19/07 “Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading” which agrees that is “…the message of a new report released by the National Endowment of the Arts, based on an analysis of data from about two dozen studies from the federal Education and Labor Department and the Census Bureau as well as other academic foundation and business surveys.”

I am no researcher or statistician, merely a professional educator of 35 years experience, a published author, and clear thinker - and without taking on the formal dimensions of these studies (which really just restate and rehash a series of concerns and attitudes that have been heavy on our collective mind for a long time) I’d like to offer some opinion, perspective, and optimism.

First, we need to acknowledge that the vast majority of written (and one would assume read) text published these days is on the web, the VAST majority. Our population is obviously reading, although it is not reading books (those generous collections of hard copy pages sandwiched between other hard things called covers).

Second, direct experience in writing, editing, and publishing web sites informs me that the same skills used in writing books are employed in this activity as well: pre writing organization/outlining, first draft and repeated revision, it’s all there – as well as publishing and feedback from readers –experiences that unpublished hard copy writers don’t often have access to. I wonder how many of my NCTE chapter mates are aware of the above, I mean to the extent that they’ve actually authored sites and uploaded them, activities that I assert are needed to put all of this dreaded ‘loss of The Book’ philosophizing into useful perspective.

Third (and here’s where I really hope to generate some enemies) we have to understand the history of this format called The Book. Think back to those Phoenicians inventing writing through the development of cuneiform. Do you think they would have opted for scribing in wet clay had Microsoft Word (in their language of course) been able to boot up out there in the hot Mesopotamian sun? And those Egyptians with their papyrus scrolls. Wouldn’t they have opted for a high resolution digital display if Dell or Lenovo or Hitachi had outlets in a mall by the Nile? And Guttenberg. Wouldn’t he have opted for an easy to use HTML authoring program like DreamWeaver if it had been available, and then uploaded his pages to a stable server running Apache? After all, he was interested in getting his bible in front of as many eyes as possible, wasn’t he? And of course with language translation software like Babelfish, they all could have spoken their own language and not slowed him down much.

And finally, what about those authors like Shakespeare, Dickens, and Twain? Would they have chosen long hand with quill and ink, hand pulled hard copy editions in small numbers, and a readership limited to that small minority that could read? Or would they have used an iMAC to produce a digital video carrying their thoughts and voice and uploaded it to YouTube? We’ll never know for sure, but these guys were creative souls with restless intellects and NOT interested in conforming to or maintaining the status quo. They WERE interested in communicating directly to an audience motivated to hear them and I think they would have been interested in reaching people where the people were at, and as many of them as they could.

Finally, I need to say that I love books and fervently want to share my love of books with young people who I sincerely believe will be better off by adopting this love. Of course I understand that they love video games (which any observer of communications with his eyes open will understand is in reality a new publishing format) and hopefully want to share this love me and members of my generation and are absolutely certain that our lives will be enriched by adopting their love for it, too.

Where does this leave us? In a very good place, I think. If we are to promote The Book we can no longer assert that books are all kissing cousins to Moses’ tablets, handed down from the almighty himself, and therefore not to be questioned as the supreme format. No, we’ll have to do a little reconceiving of the true value and place for The Book in our world, an exercise that can only help. Finally, as we ponder what is special about books we will have to promote, write, and publish books that make this special nature clear and take advantage of it and through it produce works and programs to present them of high value for 21st Century readers and the ages. That’s the way to pay homage to this format and preserve it.

As an old Chinese proverb states “It is far easier to ride the horse in the direction it is going!” Good advice for all those riding the Book Horse. No doubt this was first published in hard copy (after a long life in purely oral format) and now, in a seamless transition to a contemporary medium, is uploaded to this blog. Hey, good words and ideas transcend format.
Mark Gura

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Now THAT'S a 21st Century Learning Project!!!

Classrooms with out walls! International cultural exchange! World language awareness!.. all wrapped up in a FUN, stimulating body of authentic activities. The Project: "Voices of the World" is all that and more! ('s+Task )

The project makes use of Voki, a free online resource that gives users animated avatars that are enabled with text to speech technology (or you can phone in or upload a pre-recorded digital audio for your avatar). The finished Voki presentation can be emailed (kind of like an eCard) or embedded in a blog, etc. VERY COOL! Best of all this resource is easy to use!!!!! ( )

The plot thickens when you realize that voki will translate from many languages to many languages - and the head begins to spin when you think of the possibilities of authoring a message in one language, translating it to another, using a resource like Alta Vista's Babel Fish, and pasting the translated text into Voki's text to speech function!

One final thought, and this one will be explored in much greater detail in the future. Now that the media has been democratized, and that any and all world citizens can publish their own content, we will soon need to concentrate more on the quality of that content as the novelty of being (Web 2.0) published wears thin. More than just good content (accurate, well expressed, relevant, and valid) it will have to be audience worthy as it vies (sp?) for attention among the dizzyingly countless self-published content items floating around out there attempting to seduce an audience. And of course, what a great problem that is to have!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

New Educational Paradigm Is Hard to Understand When Seen Through Lens of the Old

From: eSchool News
"T+L's message to educators: Aim High
Acrobats, astronauts inspire attendees of NSBA's annual technology conference to innovate and take risks "
"... educators attending the National School Boards Association's 2007 T+L conference were urged to inspire and be inspired. The annual ed-tech conference took place Oct. 17-19 in Nashville, Tenn... In total, there were some 200 exhibitor booths, 1,800 participants, and two unusual choices for keynote speakers at an ed-tech event: the creative mastermind behind Cirque du Soleil and the founder of commercial space travel...that was exactly the point conference organizers were making--to think outside the box and use new ways to encourage the kind of innovation that is needed for 21st-century success...

The opening speaker was Lyn Heward, Cirque's former president of creative content, who stood in front of a giant screen that featured whirling acrobats. Day two's speaker, Peter Diamandis, the brains behind the X Prize Foundation, later stood in front of the same giant screen--only instead of professional acrobats, teachers and students tumbled and cavorted in zero gravity.

"This isn't just about managing people, it's about knowing how to inspire, how to stimulate, and how to achieve results," explained Heward. Though she was referring to her own responsibilities as a circus director, she also was describing many key traits that educators, too, need to reach their goals.

To be a good leader (and educator), Heward said, one must apply creativity to everyday tasks... Cirque not only inspires its members but builds a team around multiple, well-rounded skills. Diamandis and his foundation have managed, after eleven and a half years of work, to convince the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow specially engineered planes, called Zero Gs, to carry commercial passengers--and this year, 400 were teachers.

Teachers say they come back from Zero G and their students view them as heroes," "It builds interest in science. Those teachers who have gone have managed to raise science assessment scores in their classes by as much as 20 percent...."
Read the full article at:

Can educators be inspired to aim high and think out of the box, and still reflexively evaluate the quality and impact of that new thinking in terms of assessment scores??? Surely Zero Gs and the application of creativity to the entire enterprise of Education must yield something loftier than that!

If one understands the institution of schooling as a socio-intellectual eco system, one comes to see that generation after generation of compulsory eductation students haved "survived" in the envrionment of school based on innate attitudes and abilities that have permitted them to thrive there. More than a hundred years down the road of mass public schooling now, this environment has weeded out (as future shapers of that environment) those who aren't compliant, passive, and endowed with a predeliction for text and ordered talk. Those who know how to spit back the expected answers, behave in a manner that supports the perceived efficacy of those in charge, and who do NOT challenge the intellectual status quo too profoundly work their way toward the top of this food chain. In a Darwinian sense, those who thrive in school, go on to run school, and downstream the result is a cohort of ex-alpha students running them that is at this point virtually incapable of conceiving even the need to change the environment that produced it, let alone actually engaging in thinking that would alter it fundamentally.

We are in DEEP SHIFT as The Lines Between Speaking and Publishing, Between Close-Up Interpersonal and Global Communication Continue to Blurrrrrrrrrr

The lines between speaking and publishing/close-up interpersonal and global communication are getting SO blurred, and the evolution and ascendence of PowerPoint is one good example.

Have you recently pondered the history of PowerPoint? True, most users tend to take it for granted, producing (at best) poor to mediocre slide shows and all too often treating their captive audience to one of our era's most disheartening fates: death by PowerPoint. Still, is this not a remarkable medium/shift in the nature, quality, and technology of communications? Isn't Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, a story about a man and his PowerPoint, changing the course of human consciousness, the fate of industry, the politics of our globe (as well as being the subject of a 'best seller' movie and winning him a Nobel prize?)... all stemming from creating and sharing a slide deck? < >

For a somewhat comprehensive history of PowerPoint go to the Wikipedia entry on this amazing application . In essence, PowerPoint was released in 1987 (Yes, it's been around over 20 years!). But here's the point about the SHIFT it's undergone and brought about; PowerPoint was originally conceived purely as a support for speakers, people who would make face-to-face presentations to groups large and small, but in all likelihood, mostly to class and conference rooms filled with fewer than 50 souls. It became part of the ultra-ubiquitous Microsoft Office Suite because the developers were looking for 'killer ap' software tools that would help average workers in the global 'every office' get their work done better. Before PowerPoint the prospect of preparing for and getting up and making a presentation to one's fellow humans was something that Joe Blow absolutely dreaded, and that was very frequently done so poorly that the typical audience dreaded being on the receiving end, too. PowerPoint changed all that. In the Old West the saying went that "God made man and Colt made men equal", in the corporate age PowerPoint made men and women equal... anyone could be an effective speaker, no talent needed just the intelligent use of a common technology item.

And then a shift in thinking happened. People who put the time and effort in to producing PowerPoint presentations that were effective began to receive requests from audience members of "hey, can I have your PowerPoint?" Consequently, after a while PowerPoint presentations were sent out via email attachments and then uploaded to the web. PowerPoint had become a publishing medium! Yes, what started out as a graphic organizer/presentation support had become a publishing format and medium, the upshot of which we are just now really beginning to see and understand.

Another GREAT EXAMPLE of this is the piece "shifthappens", originally a simple PowerPoint presentation. A basic Google search of shifthappens (at the moment ) turns up 3,750,000 hits. Imagine that, almost 4 million references easily found on the web for a single PowerPoint presentation! You can view, download, copy a link and the blog embedding code for shifthappens at digital media sharing sites like , which lists it as one of the most downloaded presentations there with more than 300,000 views and 7,500 "embeds" (bloggers who've embedded it in their blogs)!!! But this is just one of many media share sites that offer this piece. In fact shifthappens is available at YouTube (no big leap to go from a slideshow to a video!)... in a variety of versions. The downloads for these total roughly 4 million (at this moment). And those are just 2 of the almost 4 million links relating to this piece to be found through Google. It is probably impossible at this point to know accurately how many people have viewed shifthappens. Guttenberg's head would spin and spin.

The history of this piece is well worth a read of the Wiki Spaces entry on it which reveals the story in pieces... One is sent first out on a link to the blog The FischBowl ( ) which explains that this piece began as a motivational/informational presentation at a faculty conference at a typical American high school!!!

Below you'll find embedded one of the many versions now available. It is a remarkable piece, but its greatest significance (in this observer's opinion) is as an example of the very things it talks about - how technology has irrevocably changed the way people think and communicate and how unless this understanding is fully embraced by educators we are in serious paradigm trouble! Here's the 2.0 version>>>

Friday, November 2, 2007

Making Student Reports REAL!

From: Yahoo News!
"Wikipedia becomes a class assignment"
" Some academics cringe when students turn to Wikipedia as a reference for term papers.
University of Washington-Bothell professor Martha Groom has more of an "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" response to the online encyclopedia that anyone can write or edit.
Instead of asking students in her environmental history course to turn in one big paper at the end of the semester, she requires them either to write an original Wikipedia article or to do a major edit on an existing one.
The inspiration came to her as she prepared teaching materials for her class.
"I would find these things on Wikipedia," she said, and would think, "Gosh, this is awfully thin here. I wonder if my students could fill this in?"
Wikipedia has been vilified as a petri dish for misinformation, and the variable accuracy of its articles is a point Groom readily concedes. Since the advent of the Web, she said, the quality of sources students cite has deteriorated.
For her students, the Wikipedia experiment was "transformative," and students' writing online proved better than the average undergrad research paper.
Knowing their work was headed for the Web, not just one harried professor's eyes, helped students reach higher
— as did the standards set by the volunteer "Wikipedians" who police entries for accuracy and neutral tone, Groom said.
The exercise also gave students a taste of working in the real world of peer-reviewed research.
Most of the articles were well received, but Groom said some students caught heat from Wikipedia editors for doing exactly what college students are trained to do: write an argumentative, critical essay.
"Some people were a little rude," she said of the anonymous Wikipedia editors. Ultimately, she had to teach the students the difference between good secondary research and the average college paper.
"You don't get to say that last little bit on, 'This is why this is the truth and the way,'" she said."

Our traditonal paradigm has the student preparing, practicing, getting ready to participate in the real world after learning has been achieved. Why? Why shouldn't students we participating, contributing, shaping the world that they will inherit? Educating the intellect need not be comprised of study divorced from the real world, it can be active, participatory apprenticeship, the student directly involved, making a contribution AS he learns. The beneficiary? Not just the student, but the world! Wikipedia by the way, is a perfect playground in which this can be made to happen!


Monday, October 22, 2007

Hey, Dept of Education - the Janitor Understands Better than You Do!

In a famous scence in the movie, Good Will Hunting, Will (a janitor) decides to put a Harvard boy who's been lording it over his blue collar buddies, making them look the fool, in his place. Will bests this pedant at his own game by showing off the superior body of knowledge he's given himself without attending college formally. In doing so he puts the real worth of University for MOST attendees in perspective stating:

" See the sad thing about a guy like you, is in about 50 years you’re gonna start doin' some thinkin' on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One, don't do that. And two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you coulda' got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library."

The best retort his trounced intellectual adversary can come up with is "Yeah, but I 'll have a degree, and you'll be serving my kids fries at a drive-thru on our way to a skiing trip."

Will smiles and says "Yeah, maybe. But at least I won't be unoriginal. "

(complete dialogue available at: )


  • If a motivated, un-schooled janitor is better educated than a Harvard attending drone who's plodding his way through the lock step knowledge transfer drudgery of a degree that means little more to him than making more money than the next guy, then should University be the standard for TRULY being educated?
  • And how does it work when EVERYONE goes to college; if a degree is no longer a hammer with which to defeat your economic adversaries (because they are ALL now your classmates) then why go?
  • What's the real purpose of a University Education? Should all go? After all, even though we may all agree that all should have the right to go, is that the same as ensuring that they all do?

Clearly the framers of the plan described in the article below need to do a little of the sort of thinking that Will Hunting, janitor, would prescribe!


From: NEWS

"Plan requires high schoolers to apply to college to get diploma"
"October 20, 2007
AUGUSTA, Maine --A state law encouraging high school seniors to continue their education by completing at least one postsecondary school application took effect last month, but Maine's top education official is looking to take the approach a step further.

Education Commissioner Susan Gendron proposes a requirement that seniors apply to college before becoming eligible for a diploma. The change in state rules on graduation requirements would require approval by the Legislature..."

Read complete article at:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lamenting Loss of the Linear?

From: Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Education Online: Bit by bit, computers alter how we read"
"Unlike generations before them who trudged to the campus library, college students these days can read a Shakespearean sonnet or an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel without ever cracking the spine of a book. With a few computer keystrokes in their dorm room, they can tap into more volumes than a scholar could finish in a lifetime, a vast reservoir of literature, history and scholarly journals, all of it online.
It's fast and convenient -- so much so that they can do it in their pajamas.

But is something subtle being lost in this rush of the written word?
Even as academics applaud what the Internet and digitization have done for research and classroom learning, some also express concern that the technology has changed the way students read..."
Read the full article:

It seems to me that just a few years back many of us thought that one of the great, unexpected pluses of how the Internet changes the way people read is that through the use of hyperlinks the human species was freed from linear presentation of information. In just a few short years this perception apparently has shifted yet again. This article quotes some very smart people, professors in fact, who see something being lost...and much of that something has to do with linear text.

Luddites? I was tempted to go there too. But no, these are some very tech savvy brains weighing in here. And much of what they say is true, the question though is "how much does it matter?" and above all, in our tech changed paradigm of post 'EITHER/OR' thinking, is it really a loss or is it a loss/gain?

These "book-centric" heavy Internet users also talk about "...the tone of a writer's voice and the continuousness of things." - "...what gets lost in the digitazation of knowledge are the feel of the leather and the smell of the paper." -

Is it true as one Literature prof states speaking of his students "...They simply don't read ... Some of them are excellent readers -- faster than me. That's not the issue. It's the capacity to pay attention and sustain that attention." ?

And then, of course, there are the ways that these professors cope with this sort of change. One states "I ask them to bring me back a Xerox of the opening page of the journal article." (imagine that, a professor who requires proof produced on an outmoded technology, that reading was accomplished strictly via hard copy and NOT through a digital display!), but another states "I can only see an upside."

Hey, no one ever said paradigms shift easily! :)


And Now that We Know???

Yes, 'Shift Happens', but do we notice - respond - and appreciate its import?
It is remarkable that this set of ideas was archived as a video and shared virally worldwide. It is also remarkable in the number of times that individuals discovered it personally and shared it with the world on YouTube!

And now that we know... well, those at the highest levels of Education policy and administration still report what they want us all to see as their significant success in terms of scores on standardized tests, tests that measure skills that were mission critical in an agricultural era before the dynamics that shape and reshape our current world were even dreamed of!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Making School Use of Anti-Plagiarism Software a POSITIVE Learning Experience!

From: T.H.E Journal
"A War of Words"
"Software programs developed to combat the scourge of student plagiarism have found opposition from the very circle of educators they're meant to help..."

"...Mohan's approach is a proactive measure to ward off student plagiarism, as opposed to the more reactionary applications that have found a number of opponents among the very population they purport to help: educators..."

"..."We have to teach students about plagiarism," Lowe says, "but if all we do is catch them without taking responsibility for the process, how do they learn about the proper use of research material? Technology is no substitute for good teaching."..."
Read complete article:

Plagiarism has become an "issue" in education due in large part to our shift from print library-based research to online digital research. Doing research on the web is easy and effective, however it affords the researcher the ability to lift the work of others from a published source, transplant it elesewhere, and transform its appearnce almost effortlessly. This is so much the case that many alarmed educators have observed that many students today simply do not understand about provenance and ownership of content, an understanding that used to be reinforced by the slow, difficult way plagiarism was accomplished in the print era.

Finding what they believed to be a need and filling it, a number of companies have produced digital solutions that essentially sniff out plagiarists. Putting the question of utility aside, a number of educators now opine that the 'evade ya'/gotcha culture that has grown up around the use of these resources is a strong negative. The article that this post highlights however, points out how one variety of the software, WHEN USED WITH THE RIGHT UNDERSTANDING AND ATTITUDE, can actually help create a creative, supportive, educational climate around the kind of writing that involves research and the responsible use of the work of those who've written on a topic before.

Who woulda thunk? :-) :-) :-)

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>The Smiley and his dad...
"Smile: The :-) turns 25"
"It was a serious contribution to the electronic lexicon. :-) Twenty-five years ago, Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott E. Fahlman says, he was the first to use three keystrokes — a colon followed by a hyphen and a parenthesis — as a horizontal "smiley face" in a computer message.
To mark the anniversary Wednesday, Fahlman and his colleagues are starting an annual student contest for innovation in technology-assisted, person-to-person communication. The Smiley Award, sponsored by Yahoo, carries a $500 cash prize..."

"...To mark the anniversary Wednesday, Fahlman and his colleagues are starting an annual student contest for innovation in technology-assisted, person-to-person communication. The Smiley Award, sponsored by Yahoo, carries a $500 cash prize..."

"... Language experts say the smiley face and other emotional icons, known as emoticons, have given people a concise way in e-mail and other electronic messages of expressing sentiments that otherwise would be difficult to detect..."
Read the entire article:

If one key stroke generated graphic is worth a thousand words, then emoticons are an invaluable language innovation. Despite the copious buzz about how IM/texted language represents a degradation of language, the ubiquitous 'smiley' is admired by language analysts. This is the type of change that would only come about through the ubiquity of digital keyboards and there just may be something important in the hyper subtle, yet profound impact this communications ritual has had on the nature of our interactions.

Scrambling Teacher/Student Roles to Facilitate Learning for All...REALLY!

"Teaching Teachers to Track Tech Tips"
" Countless k-12 classrooms today use technology to enhance student learning. This technology may be simple, such as a calculator, or part of an elaborate program, such as laptops in a one-to-one initiative. If you take the time to sit and watch the rhythm of the learning experiences in almost any classroom, you will likely encounter at least one unique integration of technology that even the most seasoned, technologically savvy, educator had not thought of before..."

"... teaching with or without technology should be – a collaboration. All educators should be "life long learners" who are constantly looking for new innovations to improve teaching and learning. Whether these innovations be a resourceful software or a new way to ask a probing question, belonging to community of collaboration is key..."

"...Throughout the semester, each class session begins with a tech tip presentation from a classmate. The student presents his or her tech tip and provides each classmate with a handout containing:
A general description of the resource.
Information on where to find the resource.
A rationale for why they think this resource is useful in the elementary classroom.
A description of how this resource can be used to enhance student learning..."
Read full article:

This piece gives a very good example of how teaching and learning has changed/had to change since the advent of digital technologies and their gradual adoption as prominent features in the learning landscape. This example is NOT contrived, the teacher genuinely is not the authority on the content (although she apparently has a masterful grasp of the learning process and facilitation of learning communities).

The notion of reconfiguring a class of students and teacher into a community of peer learners could have relevance and could be applied to virtually any subject area. However, because technology-based resources (as well as the skills required to utilize and understand them) are so new and ever changing that the concept of a single person being the all knowing authority whose job it is to transfer his knowledge to un-knowing learners is absurd. This teacher reconfigured her class, reassigning roles and responsibilites to handle an important goal. In the process she provides a great example of how to organize learners in the 21st Century.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Out of One Box, Into Another

Follow the print news link (bottom of post) to an embedded video from broadcast news...
From: Tampa Bays
"Students learn to podcast for a grade"
"Dade City, Florida - In Abigail Kennedy's multimedia class at Pasco High School, podcasting has become a learning tool.
Abigail Kennedy, Teacher at Pasco High School:
“ I allow kids to get on and create it themselves. They see the whole process it takes to have an idea — they think, 'Boom it's done.' They learn to go through the process of revision. They revise the words, the pictures, sometimes the pictures go too long or the video is too long.”
Students learn how to lay down voice track, create their own music, drag pictures or video and then post their work on iTunes..."
Notice that in their headline (above), these 'journalists' choose to add " ... for a grade " Do they mean to imply that in our current climate of serious education, giving a grade for fun tech things like podcasting is frivolous?
More to the point though, while this program might be paradigm busting IF podcasting were seen as a platform on which serious, core currilum learning was made to happen (better than in a print-dominant class), this school has placed this initiative in the "media class", contextualizing it as learning ABOUT technology, not learning WITH technology. UGH!
Thank heavens this teacher manages to sneak some real 21st Century learning in there anyway.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ed Dept. Data Zealots Prefer Quick Data To Worthwhile Data (Ignore Technology Solution)

From: Washington Post
"To Speed Grading, Tests Will Be Multiple Choice - Essay Questions Slowing Graders"
"Maryland plans to eliminate written-response questions from its high school exit exams to address long-standing complaints about how slowly test results are processed, state education officials said yesterday.
Beginning in May 2009, the Maryland school system will phase out "brief constructed responses" and "extended constructed responses" -- questions requiring a short or long written answer -- from its four tests covering algebra, English, biology and government, said Ronald A. Peiffer, the state's deputy superintendent for academic policy..."
Is it possible for education policy makers to loose their way any further? Despite the statement that "... the exams would remain as challenging and accurate as before and that classroom instruction would not change... They now have a level of sophistication in the selected-response items (multiple choice) they didn't have (previously). The kinds of things we could only test with constructed-response items (essays) before now can be done in a valid and accurate way with selected-response items in a way that's just as good or better." I find it hard to believe that anyone really buys that. I recommend these educators take a look at the kinds of learning their multiple choice questions purport to measure and then locate them on Bloom's Taxonomy. The kinds of meaning making, problem solving, and inferential learning that become ever more important as we move into and (hopefully) compete in the 21st Century global marketplace are not well measured by multiple choice!

But what's galling in the extreme is the conclusion by these backward thinking slaves to expedience that the only sort of assessment that can be handled by computers (computer testing is quick and cheap) is multiple choice. Computer grading of essays has been possible for quite a few years. Unfortunatley, like digital texts, this is another chicken or the egg situation. Until school districts commit to purchase computer graded assessments, their producers won't invest the large sums required to make what's already possible, as practical as those multiple choice exams which few informed educators hold as having value.

This is a startlingly clear example of how the culture of expedience that drives much of education takes us 3 steps backward as we struggle to move 1 step forward.

Robot Peer Learners? Now THAT'S Ed Tech!

From: China View
"U.S. company creates robot boy named Zeno"
" BEIJING, Sept. 14 (Xinhuanet) -- A group of engineers, designers and programmers at Hanson Robotics in Texas have created a 17-inch tall, 6-pound robot boy bearing the same name as the company's founder's 18-month-old son, Zeno... Hanson says he envisions Zeno not as a clearly artificial robotic toy, but as an interactive learning companion, a synthetic pal who can engage in conversation and convey human emotion through a face made of a skin-like, patented material Hanson calls frubber..."
Much more on Zeno @ the blog:
see posts on Zeno dated 9/5 and 9/13/2007
The posibilities created by an instructional technology resource like Zeno are far beyond the scope of any variety of interactivity witnessed so far. What happens when the technology takes on the capacity to serve the social learning needs of the learner? Education currently almost exclusively addresses the cognitive dimensions of learning. The approach taken with Zeno, however, suggests that technology can impact the psychological dimensions, too. We've seen a few inklings of this type of thing already: the robot babies used to teach young women about motherhood, the enormous popularity of virtual ePets, and full-blown robot dogs. However, robot students who learn alongside their human companions, both parties growing in unique ways because of who they are as individuals AND as pairs or in groups, offers startling expansion to the meaning of Ed Tech. Perhaps we should all pinch ourselves and chant "this is NOT sci fi... this is NOT sci fi... this is NOT sci fi..."

New YouTube Course at College - Luddites and Philistines Need Not Register!

View "Televised" coverage of this "story" by mainstream newscasters (dumb comments!) - Patience, the promo for the Regis show will go away after a few seconds...

From: Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"SoCal college offers YouTube class"
"Here's a dream-come-true for Web addicts: college credit for watching YouTube. Pitzer College this fall began offering what may be the first course about the video-sharing site. About 35 students meet in a classroom but work mostly online, where they view YouTube content and post their comments..."
Also - Check out this recorded interview with the professor who created the course (from a broad cast radio program - this one's smart!)

Hey, the point of this isn't that this course is a digital-age version of Basket Weaving 101 (archetypal joke title for the all time easy course). No, this is a serious attempt by a digital immigrant professor to learn about a new technology that's become super popular with her digital native students. This course is really more of a serious study about new media and learning than an old paradigm exercise in "knowledge transfer" schooling. This is a great example of changing roles and the shifting focus and goals of learning and teaching. The question remains, however, who should be paying whom tuition?