Learning to be better learners

26 Jul

Tom Whitby has so eloquently penned the following post that I dare not alter a word.

Look up his blog and follow him. it is worth the cranial trip!

Teachers Are Poor Consumers of Learning

July 24, 2012 by tomwhitby

There are only a few explanations that many educators offer up as reasons not to learn and use any technology as tools for learning. One of the most popular excuses, frequently cited by educators, is that there is not enough time to learn all of the stuff that is out there. It certainly is true that there are a huge number of things to learn out there that are linked to technology. When thought about as a complete package, it most definitely can be overwhelming, and I wholeheartedly agree with that. Where I disagree however, is in thinking about all of this technology stuff as a complete unit that must be learned all at once. There are logical and necessary ways to break things down to learn smaller snippets of things on a need-to-know basis in order to build into a larger framework of information.

In sales people are taught that if you can answer a customer’s objection to a product, you are more likely to make the sale. The problem is that the customer more often than not cannot articulate what the real objection is. They will say that they object to one thing, while the real reason is that they can’t afford it. If money is not the problem, they might choose color, or, size, or, complexity, or simplicity as an excuse not to buy something, when all along the reason for the objection is that they don’t understand how to use the product. The product is too complicated and they fear that they will fail at learning how to use it effectively, as well as looking foolish for all to see. That is not an objection that the customer will publicly admit to, or even privately to himself.  Of course a good salesperson will discover the objection allay the fears and make the sale. The customer, after making the purchase, will then take home the product, place it in a closet, and never visit it again until the eventual possibility of its placement in some future yard sale becomes a reality.

As educators, we deal with information, and once that was a limited commodity. Theoretically, at one time all of the available information in the world could have been contained within a very large publication. With each passing day however, the amount of information available to us grew in drips and drabs. It really began to increase exponentially with the advent of technology from pens, to printing press, to computer, to the internet. No publication could house all of the information available in the world today. I have been a classroom teacher for 40 years. There is way more stuff to teach today compared to when I started out.

As educators, do we throw up our hands and say that this is all too much, and there is not enough time for our students to learn all of the stuff that is out there? I think not! We actually break things down for our learners into teachable bites of information to be assembled and digested as ideas and concepts as our learners are able to take these things in. As educators the volume of information of what we teach will continually increase. That should never be a deterrent to educators preventing teachers from teaching, or learners from learning. We also now teach the skills for learners to critically analyze information so that they continue learning on their own beyond the limitations of their teachers. There is however one exception to this picture that I have just drawn out. The idea that educators are prevented from learning about technology tools for learning because there is just too much information.

Why don’t educators learn from their own teaching? Break things down into small bites of information. Learn what needs to be learned first, rather than all that can be learned, which is an unattainable goal that will overwhelm. Do not be daunted by the amount of information available, but inspired by that which is attainable. As a teacher’s knowledge of technology increases, so do the skills of learning more, as well as the ability to teach more. Technology doesn’t make a bad teacher good, but it can make a good teacher great. Educators should not be defined by their limitations, but rather by their ability to learn as well as teach. To be better educators, we must first be better learners.



26 Jul

I am ashamed to say that ‘I just needed a break from my screen’.

Over the past month I have intentionally disregarded my blog.  While I ave been attending to my own professional learning needs through my mobile devices, I have been decidedly quiet in sharing these.

Sometimes we just need some space to sit and reflect on what is happening around us.

….and this is what is happening!!!

Thank you Boundless and Getting Smart.

Two + Two = 63.57 Do the numbers tell the whole or true story?

5 Jun

This is based on an article and DATA from the US (NY Times), but as you can see it has relevance to the NSW system

This is the time of year when the lists of best high schools in the United States are published. For anxious consumers, the number of lists can be daunting, whether national in scope (U.S. News & World Report; The Washington Post; Newsweek and The Daily Beast) or local (Boston magazine; New Jersey Monthly; The Chicago Sun-Times).

No one in his right mind would take these lists lightly. Property values rise near best high schools. Parents will fight to the death for best high schools. Best teachers and best principals want to work in best high schools.

Newsweek’s editors recently published their list of the 1,000 best, which is worth examining to better grasp how the magazine has been able to quantify something as complex and nuanced as a high-quality education.

First, it is important to have a rating system that sounds scientific. Newsweek uses six variables: On-time graduation rate (weighted 25 percent); percent of graduates accepted to college (25 percent); A.P. and International Baccalaureate tests per student (25 percent); average SAT/ACT score (10 percent); Average A.P./International Baccalaureate score (10 percent); and A.P./International Baccalaureate courses per student (5 percent).

This results in a highly refined index score that can distinguish between the 435th best school in America, Westwood High in Massachusetts (.51), and the 436th best, New Berlin West in Wisconsin (.50).

What schools score highest on Newsweek’s index? Of the top 50, 37 have selective admissions or are magnet schools, meaning they screen students using a combination of entrance exam scores, grade-point average, state test results and assessments of their writing samples. …. the same as our Selective HS  (or even OC classes)????

In short, to be the best, high schools should accept only the highest performing eighth graders, who — if the school doesn’t botch it — will become the highest performing 12th graders.

Put another way: Best in, best out, best school.

Eight of Newsweek’s top 50 are charter schools. For those who think an important role of public education is taking struggling students and raising their academic performance, this sounds promising. Charter schools are supposed to accept any child who applies. If the school is oversubscribed, there is to be a lottery. Is this Public Education….

What could be more democratic?

The two top charter schools on the Newsweek list are the Basis high schools in Scottsdale and Tucson, part of an Arizona-based charter chain.

According to the Basis Web site, the curriculum is heavily reliant on A.P. and college-level courses, and it includes Mandarin and Latin.

This means that only the strongest academic students need apply, and those who can’t cut it will leave.

What does the student body look like at a Basis high school? At Basis Scottsdale — the third best high school in America, according to Newsweek — 95 percent of the 701 students are Asian or white.

Asians make up 2.8 percent of the state population, but 41 percent of the Basis Scottsdale students.

There are 15 Hispanics (2 percent) in a state that is about one-third Hispanic.

There are no Native Americans listed on the State Education Department’s Web site, though they make up 5 percent of Arizona’s population. The site lists 13 African-American students and no children of migrant workers. There are no children who qualify for subsidized lunches or who need special education classes.

Clearly, best schools would do best not to get bogged down serving students considered un-best.

The remaining five of the top 50 schools are in suburban districts where enrolment is open to all, as long as they are residents. OOHHH….  Maybe this is Public Education ….

The one thing that these five schools have in common is that they are full of children from the nation’s wealthiest families.  …..then perhaps not ……

Among the top 50 are high schools in Bronxville, N.Y. (No. 40), which has a median household income of $166,000, and Jericho, N.Y. (No. 41), which has a median income of $128,000, as compared with $54,000 for New York State; also, Falls Church, Va. (No. 45), with a $111,000 median income versus $59,000 for the state.

People who feel passionately about getting their children into best schools should stay away from the Midwest, which Newsweek has identified as an educational wasteland. From Montana south to Mississippi — 2,000 miles — there are 14 contiguous states without a single high school among the 100 best, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas.

Even Massachusetts has only one school in the top 100, which is surprising, since the state’s students have repeatedly led the nation on the federal reading and math tests.

On the other hand, this is what makes America great: Anybody can make up any formula to measure anything, which gives lots of places a chance to be best at something.

Want the best high schools for your child? Move to Texas or Florida. Texas has 15 of the 100 best, placing second over all nationwide, while Florida has 10, the fourth most. This is no doubt due in good part to the reform efforts of George W. and Jeb Bush, who — like Newsweek — have made standardized test results a true measure of academic excellence.

At all costs, avoid Scarsdale, N.Y. It didn’t even make the top 1,000. Though its average SAT score of 1935 would rank it 21st among the 100 best, the school does not offer A.P. courses, and Newsweek counts A.P. data as 40 percent of the rating.

Why no A.P.? Scarsdale officials find that A.P. courses encourage students to go a mile wide and an inch deep, so the high school has created its own advanced courses. Instead of spending all their time working out of A.P. textbooks, students visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston and the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, N.Y., to do field research.

Two-thirds of Scarsdale seniors are accepted to colleges that the Barron’s Guide to the Most Competitive Colleges ranks as the “most competitive” in the country. Of course, Newsweek doesn’t own Barron’s, so it wouldn’t make any sense to use that as a criterion.

There is another problem with Scarsdale. The district did not submit data to Newsweek, and that is the only way to be considered. Of the nation’s 26,000 high schools, about 2,000 sent data, and of those, 1,000 were named to the list, meaning any school with a little gumption has a 50 percent chance of being a best.

Mark Miller, director of editorial operations for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, says that as long as people understand the limits of the criteria, “the list serves a valid purpose.”

“We made a choice to rank the schools by how well they prepared children for college,” he said. “If not for the school, they might not have the opportunity to get into college.”

Mr. Miller noted that May was a record month for traffic at The Daily Beast, with 95 million views, thanks in good part to the list.

Given that magazines and newspapers are bleeding to death, this is the only plausible justification I can think of: Lists are cash cows.  

I am not against schools with selective admissions. They are a vital part of the public system. My own mother, who grew up in an East Boston tenement, passed the test to get into Girls Latin School and then went on to Radcliffe.

My concern is that the lists are stacked. Schools with the greatest challenges can appear to be the biggest failures. At a time when public education is so data-driven, that kind of thinking can cost dedicated teachers and principals their jobs.

Creative Education or just Faster?

28 May

The most impressive technology-rich classrooms don’t look like classrooms. Instead, they look like creative businesses on deadline—like advertising agencies pulling together a big campaign, architectural firms drawing up blueprints, or software companies developing new programs.

I recently visited a science class as students toiled away on science fair projects using a classroom wiki: a widely adopted collaborative Web platform. As I watched, students uploaded graphic displays of their data, commented on each other’s hypotheses, and recorded video journals of their progress. The room buzzed with activity, as each of these young knowledge workers made contributions to their collective endeavour. When students got stuck, other students jumped from their desks to help. The teacher circulated through the classroom like a project manager, answering questions, providing feedback, holding students accountable to deadlines, and providing just-in-time instruction.

 In “creative agency” classrooms such as this one, learning technologies enable students to collaborate with peers, pursue their interests, publish their work to the world, and take greater responsibility for their own learning.

The creative-agency metaphor is particularly useful for thinking about the possibilities of new technologies since it stands in stark contrast to the dominant metaphor of schooling: the factory, where a standardized curriculum is delivered as efficiently as possible to groups of students treated as uniform receptacles. The fundamental question for education technology in the century ahead is this: Will we use new tools to rethink the purposes and structure of education, or will we simply use technology to boost efficiency in our factories?

For some advocates of blended, or technology-enhanced, learning, efficiency is measured by the pace at which students learn content. Technology entrepreneurs and evangelists envision a future in which computers personalize instruction: Each student sits at a terminal that delivers educational lessons at an appropriately challenging pace. By frequently assessing students with computer-graded assignments, the system delivers personalized instruction to each student. As a result, rather than requiring every student to sit through a 55-minute class on a topic, each student uses the minimal number of minutes required to demonstrate mastery. Proponents of this model are not looking to change the factory model of education so much as they are trying to give each student her own assembly line.

“Do schools spend huge sums on technology to do different things or to do the same things faster?”

Many of the largest providers of online learning opportunities describe efficiencies related to cost per student rather than learning gains per student. How many students can be taught with nearly teacherless self-paced courses? How much can schools save by eliminating buildings and utilities? To what extent can online schools require parents to provide the pastoral care and academic mentoring that schools currently provide with teachers, deans, advisers, and counselors? In this model, the focus is less on personalizing the speed of the assembly line for each student and more on making it less expensive to run the factory. In an era of crushing pressure on school budgets, many systems find these arguments compelling.

The tension between demolishing and replacing the factory or making the school “factory” run more efficiently has been vividly displayed in the multiple visions espoused by Salman Khan, the personification of digital teaching.

Khan Academy consists primarily of a collection of mathematics and science videos, many which demonstrate how to apply standard algorithms for solving equations. Khan Academy also includes a set of computer-generated practice problems, organized around a map of the mathematics curriculum from single-digit addition to calculus. When students complete problems successfully, they progress through the map of the curriculum. When they enter incorrect answers, the system provides links to hints and relevant video lectures. It’s a powerful tool, and Salman Khan has outlined at least two distinct visions for its use.

In some talks and interviews, Khan has argued that his online videos should play an auxiliary role in mathematics instruction within a “flipped classroom” model, meaning students would watch his lectures for homework and then use classroom time to solve problems, complete projects, work collaboratively, pursue inquiry, and learn to write and think mathematically. The Khan videos are resources that support student knowledge workers as they tackle the more cognitively rigorous challenges of the creative-agency classroom.

At other times, however, Khan has described Khan Academy as the core, and not a supplement, to the math curriculum. In this model, students come into class, sit at a terminal, watch academy videos, and solve problems. The system motivates students with video-game-inspired systems of points and badges. Students then are freed to move at their own pace through lectures and problem sets, teachers have access to reams of data about student performance to provide individualized instruction and remediation, and developers can use student-performance data to constantly iterate and refine the videos and problems. (Or, presumably, some school systems could use these tools to entirely replace human educators with machines, perhaps with inexpensive security guards to maintain order and protect the equipment.) In this vision, students are still learning in a standardized factory setting, and the technology serves to deliver an algorithm-based mathematics curriculum as efficiently as possible.

Writ small, teachers and schools face this dilemma with new technologies every day. Will that new interactive whiteboard be a station where students display and share their understanding, or will it be a Web-connected slide projector for delivering bullet points? Will a one-iPad-per-pupil program allow students to pursue individual research and create multimedia performances, or will iPads reduce costs by consolidating four textbooks onto one device? Do student-response systems foster dialogue, peer teaching, and self-assessment, or do they speed up the grading of multiple-choice quizzes? Do schools spend huge sums on technology to do different things or to do the same things faster?

The most interesting debate in education technology today is not about tablets vs. laptops or school-supplied tablets vs. bring-your-own-device scenarios. The choice is really between two metaphors and two visions of education—the factory vs. the creative agency. My hunch is that teachers and school leaders would almost universally agree that we hope our students are prepared to work in creative agencies rather than on assembly lines. Educators need to decide whether their technology investments are intended to speed up an old model of education or to fashion a new one.

By Justin Reich

Time to halt the fallout.

22 May

Too often we hear of quality teachers leaving the system and disregarding our profession – the most honourable profession – as a viable long-term employment option.  Far be it for me to say that the renumeration matches the efforts of teachers (and all school staff), yet it is disappointing and alarming to have quality personnel leaving – seeing other employment options as more attractive.  

It is no wonder that our young, talented teachers with so much to offer the world feel like they are not appreciated. 

On top of the ridiculous workload teachers experience each day, please note that the benefits aren’t exactly stellar:

Generally, they will have to work for about 40 years (then will receive less pension than their peers). That the work they set is too hard or too easy. That their subject is not good enough. That they need to solve gaps in parenting. That they should receive performance related pay. That teachers are paid too much, in fact all governement employees are paid too much and don’t work hard enough.   That teachers ‘cheat’ when the watchmen come. And today they’re told that teachers don’t know what stress is.

Well here are 5 tips, from Andrew Miller, that teachers need to follow to stay sane and ‘keep on keeping on’.  Despite the mixed messages teachers are receiving, we can ill afford to let them go.

Baptism By Fire! That’s what I call the first year of teaching. No matter how much preparation and mentoring you have received, you are building the plane as you fly it. To make sure you don’t crash and/or burn (yes, pun intended!), I put together some hard-learned lessons from my experience as a new teacher. In addition, these are good recommendations and reminders for veteran teachers. When you get hunkered down in the day-to-day while the year presses on, you tend to forget what really works well, because you are working so hard. I hope you find these five tips useful!

1) Push Out Content in Different Ways

You know what’s exhausting? Preparing PowerPoints, presentations and other lectures! Guess what? You don’t have to do this all the time. Yes, there is a time and a place for a lecture or direct instruction, but there is also a place for a variety of strategies to have students take ownership of content learning. Use jigsaw techniques, games that teach, reciprocal teaching and other effective strategies that put students in the driver’s seat of learning. Move from sage of the stage to guide on the side. While all lessons require preparation and planning, a variety of lesson types can not only keep your students interested, but also keep you energized to try new ways of teaching.

2) Go Home!

I mean it. Go home! There is always something more to do, I know it. But you know what? It can wait! Now obviously, you do need to stay late for events, meetings and tutoring with students, but you also need to set boundaries. It is easy to get sucked into the school building, so make sure you leave when appropriate. Go home to your family (or your cat, in my case). Let your students and peers know that you are taking care of your own self by attempting to have a life outside of school.

3) Establish Boundaries for Your Time

Of course this relates to the tip above, but it has more to do with the overall structures you have in place for your time during the school day. It’s OK to keep your door closed. Yes, there are times to work with students, but there is also time to put on NPR with your cup of coffee, check you email and commence your morning ritual. Your lunch is sacred, so make sure you take that time for yourself, too. If professional development is scheduled, keep that sacred as well, because it is some rare time you have to work on your practice. Students, parents and others will respect the fact that you set time aside for them, but also for yourself.

4) Use Your PLN

In a previous blog here at Edutopia, Mary Beth Hertz wrote about the importance of the “connected educator,” suggesting that we all make sure to network with fellow educators. Great teachers steal (and you’d be a liar if you said you were “borrowing”), so make sure you use technologies like Edmodo and Twitter to keep yourself connected to other educators, your personal learning network (PLN).

5) Know What You Are Assessing

Obviously, teachers should know what they are assessing, but sometimes we forget and start assessing everything. If you collect a formative assignment, only assess for a few things. Do you have to assess for conventions all the time? No, but there is a time and place for that. Do you have to assess correct answers in math problems? Perhaps not this time. Perhaps you focus on process-oriented feedback. Know what you are assessing, and be transparent about this to students. Not only is this manageable for students to digest later, but it makes the time you spend assessing and giving feedback shorter, focused and more efficient.

Again, these are tips, and may not work for everyone, but I think in general they encompass what I learned in the first years. You can only care for your students if you are caring for yourself. If you create and live in structures that allow you to work smart, then you’ll transition into a confident, veteran teacher so much more quickly!


14 May


Twitter for Teachers

14 May