Archive for December 2006

Maybe Public Schools Really Aren’t Cesspools

December 19, 2006

Let’s face it.  The majority of the articles about education published in the media are negative – teachers doing inappropriate things, students who are out of control, schools not meeting the goals of NCLB, etc.

As a teacher in a good school (or in my opinion – a great school), I know there are fantastic things happening within the walls of our classroom.  At any given moment there are students solving problems, learning to write, creating ideas, working together…  There are teachers modeling good behavior, guiding students to figure out a problem, praising students who have done well and encouragining students who need help, but for the most part, the media does not report on these positive accomplishments because they happen all the time, every day and thus, are not much of a story.

I was pleased when one of my teachers forwarded me an article from the Dallas Morning News by Steve Blow.  In his article he cites a book by David Berliner and Bruce Biddle entitled The Manufactured Crisis – Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools.  According to Mr. Berliner and Mr. Biddle, public schools really aren’t that bad.  “In fact, I’d say the classes we are graduating today are the brightest, best-trained students America has ever produced,” says Mr. Berliner.

Is there work to be done to improve our public schools?  Of course there is,  but as Mr. Berliner explains, it isn’t accurate to lump all public schools together under the  blanket term of ineffective because just like anything else, there are outstanding public schools and there are horrible ones.

So, keep up the good work…

I agree…

December 18, 2006

with this post by Chris Lehmann.  Give it a read.  I think you just might like it too.

Virtual Students

December 18, 2006

While reading the Education Wonks I came across an interesting article in The Indianapolis Star entitled Teachers Find Simulators Stimulating

Apparently, “The STAR Classroom Simulator, a partnership between Simiosys LLC, the Haberman Educational Foundation and the University of Central Florida, mixes computer technology and a human role-player.”  It is supposed to give teachers a chance to practice their teaching skills and responses in different situations to help them learn how to respond in effective ways. 

The article begins with this little scenario, “A loud boy launches spit balls at a classmate. Another kid slumps in his seat, oozing apathy and his desire to be anywhere else. Other students laugh mockingly and make inappropriate sounds as the rookie teacher faces his worst classroom nightmare.” I am sure any seasoned teacher (and many new teachers) have found themselves in similar situations.  Would they have been better prepared to respond if they had been able to practice via a simulation?

I am not sure whether I think a simulation would be useful or not… here are some of my thoughts…

  • It seems to me it will be difficult for the teacher to respond in an authentic way because he/she knows it is not a real situation and thus does not have the same consequences associated with it.
  • Who decides the appropriate response to a given situation?
  • How much will one of these units cost? Will they be affordable enough for school districts to utilize?
  • What/who will these simulators be most beneficial for?  New teachers? Teachers on improvement plans?  Teachers seeking alternative certifications?

I just don’t know… it is an interesting concept, but I am not sure how I feel about it.  Any thoughts?

Gapminder

December 18, 2006

I first came across Gapminder in a video of Hans Rosling on TEDBlog.  In the video Mr. Rosling enthusiastically presents data to illustrate the myths associated with developing countries. 

I recently took a look at the Gapminder site and found it pretty interesting.  According to the about page, this is what Gapminder is,  “… a non-profit venture for development and provision of free software that visualise human development.”  I have never really been a “math person” and although I understand the need to work from solid data, I have never really found it very appealing… That being said, Gapminder is pretty cool.

Take a look at Gapminder World, the most recent of the Gapminder sites I have come across.  It is pretty fun… what applications for this can you see in the classroom? Any?

Message to the Troops Project

December 13, 2006

Some of the students at Elliott Elementary School in Irving, Texas, have been working on a project for the soldiers stationed around the world…

“They wanted to send the troops stationed around the world a glimpse of home. Included in the 100 hand-decorated CD covers being sent to troops overseas is a link to their class blog. The students invite everyone to leave their own “Message to the Troops.”

Please take a minute and leave a message on their blog.  I am sure it will mean a lot to the soldiers as well as the students.

Teaching 21st Century Skills

December 12, 2006

TIME Magazine published a great article in a recent issue entitled How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century.  Much of the article resonated with me and I thought I would share some of my favorite parts with you.  I  have also included some questions that I hope make you reflect on the effectiveness of public education.

The article begins with a nice little “joke” many of you have probably heard before.

“Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred-year snooze and is, of course, utterly bewildered by what he sees. Men and women dash about, talking to small metal devices pinned to their ears. Young people sit at home on sofas, moving miniature athletes around on electronic screens. Older folk defy death and disability with metronomes in their chests and with hips made of metal and plastic. Airports, hospitals, shopping malls–every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when he finally walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. ‘This is a school,’ he declares. ‘We used to have these back in 1906. Only now the blackboards are green.'”

Although meant to be comical, the joke sheds light on how little education has actually evolved with the rest of the world.  Take a minute a think about how the world has changed since you graduated and whether education at large has made the same strides…

The joke leads us in to many of the most important statements of the article…

“American schools aren’t exactly frozen in time, but considering the pace of change in other areas of life, our public schools tend to feel like throwbacks. Kids spend much of the day as their great-grandparents once did: sitting in rows, listening to teachers lecture, scribbling notes by hand, reading from textbooks that are out of date by the time they are printed.”

Now, reflect on your classroom… What are you doing that is innovative? How is what your students learning pertinent to today’s world? Will what you are teaching your students help them be successful in today’s global economy?

And one of my favorite quotes…

“This is a story about the big public conversation the nation is not having about education, the one that will ultimately determine not merely whether some fraction of our children get “left behind” but also whether an entire generation of kids will fail to make the grade in the global economy because they can’t think their way through abstract problems, work in teams, distinguish good information from bad or speak a language other than English.”

How much (if any) of our curriculum is centered around  authentic problem-solving, teamwork and information literacy? 

According to this article, the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce will be releasing a report sometime this week which rethinks K-12 education to help students be successful in the global economy.  Some of the 21st century skills outlined will be:

  • “Knowing more about the world” – creating global citizens
  • “Thinking outside of the box” – creativity and innovation
  • “Becoming smarter about new sources of information” – information literacy
  • “Developing good people skills” – teamwork

The remainder of the article illustrates how some schools are currently tackling these 21st century skills in their classroom, and it made me reflect on what we are doing right at my school.

At The Academy we have a few things in place campus-wide to help prepare our students for skills they will need to be successful in the 21st century.

They are –

I suggest reading the entire article and then reflecting on what you are doing to ensure your students are prepared to be successful in the 21st century.

Great job!

December 11, 2006

Friday we had a visitor from the Auburn, Alabama, school district.  Basically he was here to get some ideas about how to implement a one-to-one initiative.  His school has begun by giving all 9th graders a laptop and is planning to phase the laptops in to the other grade levels.  So far the 9th graders have had the laptops for about two months and many of his teachers are unsure of what to do with them, so he was here to gather some ideas.

I got to show him around our building and take him in some of the classrooms so he could see what was going on.  And what was going on was a lot of learning and student engagement!  We saw some hands on labs, lots of differentiation, and integration of laptops alongside traditional materials.  We also saw active teachers – teachers walking around the room and monitoring and teachers conferencing with students.  We even had the chance to speak with some students and they told us what they were doing and how they use their laptops in class.

Great job everyone!!