Education in the 21st Century

Philosophy on teaching, schools, instruction, assessment, etc.

Five Ways Common Curriculum Keeps Me Organized

Over the past two years I’ve had the distinctly gratifying and simultaneously terrifying experience of beginning my teaching career. As teachers, we begin our journey by assessing our learners and defining high growth targets, developing a robust arsenal of standardized less on plans and technology-aligned learning experiences, and creatively differentiating those activities for each of our students. Molding all of those goals into a comprehensive year-long curriculum is another challenge entirely. As it is with so many new educators, within weeks of beginning the school year I found myself lost in the abyss of faculty meetings, library resources, and professional development seminars – to say nothing of parent calls and meetings, progress monitoring, and the special education annual review process.cc-logo-ea8345429ede54f5e4d960950659bd25

Common Curriculum rescued me from uncharted territory. I had encountered CC early last summer buried in some random blog post or Pinterest board and, after giving it a shot this past year, I’m convinced I’ll never plan any other way. Common Curriculum focuses on the tactics of teaching: daily lesson plans. Scope and sequence mapping, unit plans, and inquiries obviously have their place in planning, but when it comes to actually crafting the minute-by-minute workings of the classroom, I found Common Curriculum to be invaluable to my own organization and my growth as an educator.

Here are five straightforward reasons you should consider getting an account:

1) It’s easy. Their website’s interface is simple and easy to navigate. After quickly setting up a Planbook you’re able to start tinkering around within a few minutes. Once you begin, you’ll notice that you can shift assignments around throughout your lesson, move them to a new day, or delete them entirely. If something comes up and you need to shift plans to the next day, CC allows it with the click of a button. Each day is totally customizable – including which classes you teach in a given day and the activities you plan for each period or block – meaning that you can implement your own style when designing your lessons. Creating these lessons is literally as easy as typing on your keyboard, and the web-based platform automatically saves your progress as you go. Upload files (just like you would to an email) and now your materials or resources are saved as well! Common Curriculum also links to my Google Drive, and seamlessly uploads materials I had already organized.

2) It’s safe. In addition to having my progress saved automatically, it’s highly comforting knowing that my curriculum isn’t living on a thumb drive or school-based software that can be discontinued next year if our district doesn’t renew our subscription. Like any geek, I live in a constant state of fear and anxiety, dwelling over whether or not my files are safe and accessible. Using Common Curriculum allowed me to save my work on the cloud, export it as an Adobe .pdf file, and still have it backed up on CC’s interface. My materials aren’t going to disappear from being lost, broken, or unsubscribed from. Relatedly, my lessons are saved so I can easily reference them next year, which also means next year I’ll be adapting my plans instead of starting from square one again. Some teachers have filing cabinets and drawers full of old handouts and workbooks that they’ve used (which is totally fine), but as a new teacher I have to admit that having every resource I used last year safely linked on a single document is pretty convenient.

3) It prompts me to use best-practices. When you begin setting up your Planbook you’ll be prompted to choose a lesson plan template for each course you teach. Some people like the Minimal template with the quick “Agenda” and “Notes” sections. Some people like the Basic or the 5E templates that each give a little more guidance when designing. Both of those are fine, and admittedly many of my own plans ended up utilizing the Minimal template, but what really intrigued me (and pushed me to write better lessons) was the Extra Detailed template. In this case the detailed sections include: Objectives, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Materials, Intro to New Materials, Direct Instruction, Guided Practice, Independent Practice, Extension, Assessment, Homework, Accommodations & Modifications, and Reflections. Obviously every lesson may not include all of those sections (CC allows you to delete, combine, substitute, or reorder them as necessary), but I found that something as simple as just having them listed as a rough guide reminded me to think about each one as I planned the daily activities of the classroom. My teaching improved because of this template.

4) It links to about a billion sets of standards. As I mapped out the skills, strategies, and content I wanted my students to explore, Common Curriculum helped me design my instruction to the specific standards aligned to my course. I teach social studies, so for me that meant the New York State Social Studies Framework’s Key Ideas, Conceptual Understandings, and Content Specifications, the New York State Common Core Learning Standards for Literacy in Social Studies, the National Council for the Social Studies C3 Framework, as well as frameworks and standards to reference from the National Center for History in the Schools, the National Council on Economic Education, the National Standards for Arts Education, and the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. All of these are available on Common Curriculum to reference and link to your daily lessons.  With a Pro or Schools account, teachers can even utilize a standards tracker to map course outcomes over the course of the school year.

5) It’s digitally accessible to my students. I can seamlessly export all of this to my students’ iPads, the classroom SMARTBoard, or any computer/laptop. As a Pro user, I’ve linked my lessons to a website that I share with my students. I can choose which sections are visible to them, allowing them to browse the lesson’s materials independently. If a student is late to class or misses school, they can review the materials on their own time using this resource. I can link assignments online for students to complete, whether they’re printed handouts, webquests, or simple instructions for classwork. This also allows students to access a visible agenda for class, even previewing future classes if I mark them as visible in the CC interface. Not only does this lead toward a paperless classroom – it prompts students to seek and utilize digital resources, a timeless and necessary skill to build in the digital age.

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Categories: Classroom Management, Common Core, Dif-abilities, Education in the 21st Century, Online Learning, Teaching Resources, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

A Cathedral of Champions

I remember filing into the Alamodome with 40,000 other teenagers who would rather be sightseeing or carousing the Riverwalk.  The dense Texan air weighed heavily over us even in the early morning hour. The short walk from our hotel left a glaze of sweat across most of our faces, and we greeted the arena’s climate-controlled radius as the Israelites had embraced Moses.

The entire thing was my grandparents’ idea.  Four friends and I were attending a national youth conference organized by an expansive network of churches.  Some of us were there for the spiritual resonance, others for the leadership experience.  I had never left New York State and needed some fresh lines on my resume to find a good job that summer.  While the travel experience and excitement of meeting new friends from across the country were certainly appealing, I had egregiously low expectations for the entire affair.  Get in, get out, add to resume.  A mantra repeated by too many, and I was guilty as charged.

So here I found myself dragged out of bed, entirely decaffeinated, geographically discombobulated, jet-lagged, sweating profusely – all before the sun had crossed the sky.  Note To Self: Never again travel south of the Mason-Dixon line.  Like ever.  Except maybe in the winter when its under, say, 115 degrees.  Maybe.

We were all herded inside to our pocket-sized division of floorspace and proceeded to engage in the awkward spectacle of introducing ourselves to other teens, which (in fact) consisted of sitting next to each other with our arms crossed or in our laps as we psychologically wrestled over the use of the arm rest and maintained verbal silence.  We earned bonus points because it was the era before smartphones.  Kids these days have it easy.  No electronic whatchamacallit distractions in my day. Those lucky enough to sit next to friends continued regularly monotonous conversations – rating hotel pillows, critiquing airport security measures, praising the air conditioning, and repeating, “I just can’t believe we’re finally here…in  San Antonio… my god, what a thing.”  I was sitting next to a stranger, gracefully receiving a headlock regarding the armrest.

Needless to say I was less than enthused. As I contemplated bargaining leg room for the arm rest I reminded myself that my community had fundraised for months to pay our expenses in their entirely – I had better get something out of this.  And while the running shuffle of Newsboys had potential to spark an outright total war between my seat-mate and I, I managed to govern my annoyance and made small talk until the opening act – some big shot fancy-pants Christian dude I had never heard of.

Now, I had known for some time that I was going to become a teacher. The summer job I was angling for was a stepping stone and the youth conference itself was supposed to be an insignificant passing moment in my life. For a long time it was.  I sat through 4 or 5 days of speakers, bands, and group exercises before catching our flight home and returning to my beloved Yankeedome diaspora.  My mind quickly dismissed the majority of the message and though I swaggered proudly in my Hard Rock Cafe San Antonio t-shirt for years afterwords, the larger dogma of the conference itself was entirely Greek to me.

But one thing did stand out.  That opening speaker (who it turns out was/is a major celebrity in the Christian community) spoke in depth for some time on service.  After commending us for traveling across the country to meet and encouraging us to continue furthering our education he slammed on the breaks – pulled a full 180 – and began lecturing (in the damn-why-doesn’t-this-dude-just-shut-the-hell-up kind of way) about OUR lives and how WE needed to step up and do something about the world around US.  So at that point I was thinking, “Pleeeease… I’m like 16….stop blaming me for the problems the global generation before me has caused.”

The blowhard continued on to dismiss perfectly honorable people for not doing enough.  And what did stick past that week was the way he stood in front of a crowd of fully-motivated youths and proceeded to critique the plan I was formulating for myself. In a heroically impassioned moment he pleaded, almost yelled, at us that while it was fine and well to be an educator, the most devoted among us went for more.

“If you are going to teach, serve those that are in the most need among us. If you are going to teach, go to the south side of Chicago.  Go to the inner schools of Detroit or Los Angeles. Travel to the poorest, most impoverished schools in cities across the landscape. Camp there for your entire career.”

I just wanted no part whatsoever in that.  And even as I learned more about teaching, learning, and how the American political and education systems cofunction I strayed even further from exploring a career in a high-needs setting.

First of all, I didn’t appreciate having my commitment challenged by some stranger.  I wanted to teach.  Who cares where?  And who is this loud-mouthed guy to somehow weigh or rank the merit or do-gooderness or whatever of one teacher/school/setting over another???  On top of that I knew from growing up in a rural setting that while poverty in less-dense areas may get less attention, it is nonetheless crippling and likewise needs attention of educators and other health and human services providers. And besides, smart wealthy kids need good teachers, too!

So I resolved to reject that path entirely.

Over the next several years I continued the status quo.  I finished high school toward the top of my class, double-majored through college while acing my way through an established teacher-certification program, completed a handful of relevant internships, worked part-time in a ground-level human services role with adults with disabilities, and scored a scholarship to attend an accelerated masters program at a “new Ivy.” By all measures I had the paper experience to land that cushy suburban gig I was looking for – some small school nestled in the wooded hills with a robust menu of after-school clubs, top-tier sports, arts organizations, and parental involvement.

But alas, a good story always has a conflict.

The summer that I finished my graduate degree program I began an internship at a public interest law firm working on some education policy and advocacy projects.  Concurrently, I lunged into an expansive job search, knowing that many districts (for a variety of totally bizarre and archaic reasons) don’t hire teachers until toward the end of summer.

After assembling my application packet online (the schools in our area use sort of a “common application” system) I began to peruse through openings in all of the nicest suburbs.  Searching to match my certification areas to openings was surprisingly easy and at the same time disappointing – there were none.  I did have some contacts in nearby schools and reaching out to them confirmed that no openings were pending in my list of preferred schools.

So, I moved on to plan B and began searching at all of the schools within an hour of my home.  That’s when I started getting nervous.  The search yielded a small handful of opportunities, between 10 and 20 in my area.  But I knew 70 or 80 people who had graduated with me who would also be applying to those jobs, to say nothing of the hundreds of other graduates that I didn’t know.

At the same time, I started doing some financial planning and learned that I would basically be nuts if I didn’t fulfill the requirements of my TEACH Grant and take advantage of some loan forgiveness incentives for teachers.  There were a variety of programs available, each of which would free up thousands of dollars of potential debt.  However the strings attached to these programs also limited which schools I could teach at.

So I applied to the jobs that I was both A) eligible for, and B) would qualify for the programs that lowered my debt.  It was a slim list.

Several weeks went by and I heard no response.  Not a single school was interested. Despite being aware of the hiring context I mentioned above, I was getting extremely nervous.  I started hand-delivering printed applications with a CV and personalized cover letter directly to principals.  I drove around to 10 or 12 specific schools that I had applied to and dropped into the principal’s office to shake hands and chat about the opportunity.  Not a single person bit. Zero phone calls, zero emails, zero interviews.

As the summer was winding down my wife and I began discussing contingency plans.  These were not fun conversations.  We both weighed taking on second jobs. I considered calling former employers to check for openings. Dark days abound, many filled with arguments. I couldn’t understand how, after working so hard, no one was interested in giving me a chance to put my skills into practice.  We’ve all heard stories of college graduates having trouble finding jobs but the trend has a whole new meaning when it becomes applicable to you.

In a fit of anxiety one afternoon I began applying for scores of jobs in districts across the county.  In addition to the positions I had already applied to I started jumping into roles I had almost no interest in filling.  Per diem, substitute, aid, behavioral assistant, and float were all words I embraced that day. And at that point they were all Hail Mary plays.  School was beginning in just a few short weeks.  I had talked to countless friends who had already landed jobs and I watched the openings online disappear.

My summer internship had ended and school began on Wednesday of the following week.  I had no plan whatsoever, which is extremely out of character for me. As the weekend was beginning I could feel myself slipping into a bit of a panic, but just as I was about to resolve to go to bed at 9:00 on Friday night my phone rang.

The voice on the other end was indeed an HR representative of some sort from a school that I had applied to and she was stating that she’d like to offer me an interview.  I said I could be available anytime, and we scheduled a meeting for early the next day, some 11 hours later.

When I arrived, I learned that the position that she had called me for was one that I had applied for in my frantic episode a few weeks earlier.  She acknowledged that I had applied for multiple positions, but the current interview was not for a teaching position, but rather for a spot as a one-to-one aide for a student.  That was a serious blow, considering I had earned a Master’s degree with a 4.0 and the position only required a high school diploma.  But what was I to do?  I would be entirely unemployed otherwise.  I aced the interview and took the job.

In a short period of time I had gone from being a very successful student to working a job that I could have attained without attending college entirely.  I had gone from trying to pick and choose which type of setting I’d work in – from suburban paradises to ones that would fulfill my loan forgiveness documentation – to taking any job I could get.

Notably though, I couldn’t help but notice that the setting I was working in was strikingly similar to the one that the opening speaker in San Antonio had described to me years earlier. And despite all of the grief I had given him for saying it at the time, I would soon come to agree with his statements.

I enjoyed working directly with one student but it wasn’t the job I ultimately aspired to have.  In a wave of opportunity there was a long-term substitute teaching opportunity in my building just a few weeks into the school year, and I was granted permission to transfer from my 1:1 role into the teaching position with the understanding that I may be laid off once the regular teacher was able to return.  It was a risk I was willing to take, as I urgently wanted to teach.

The experience was entirely magical. My long-term assignment was eventually extended to fill the remainder of the school year, I stayed on for the summer, and in September I began as the permanent teacher for the room. I can honestly say that its the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and I can’t imagine ever teaching in another setting.

The program is housed by a regional educational service agency in our area. Students with severe and multiple disabilities are referred to our program from around a dozen school districts in our area.  We provide a 6:1:1 therapeutic day program in which the curriculum and environment are substantially modified to meet the needs of each student.

The more I think about it, the closer I am to the guest speaker of my youth.  Rochester is one of the top 5 poorest cities in the country, ranking number one in childhood poverty nationwide.

And as any educator will tell you, a job like this is rich with stories.  In my short time here I’ve met kids who have been through more in a decade than most people go through in a lifetime.  Kids who have been forgotten, kids that have been abused.  Kids who come from broken homes, kids who have no homes at all.  Kids who are genuinely trying to better themselves, but lack support from their families to follow through.

I’ve met kids that are hungry.  Kids that steal and hoard food.  You start to learn that the first kid in the door on Monday morning may not have gotten dinner on Sunday night.  And the kid that asks for extra food constantly might be going through a growth spurt, or maybe he’s just hoping to be fed while he can.

I’ve met kids that come from strong, supportive families who – due in part to the nature of their disabilities – have dramatically shifted the functionality of their households.  Kids that take medicine, and sometimes choose not to.  Kids that struggle with substances and addiction. Kids who are wrapped into a life beyond the law. Kids who, like any other teenager, are simply struggling to cope with the intricate workings of adolescence.

I’ve met kids that are ill. Physically, socially, and mentally ill.  Many kids that are ill.  Kids that are dirty.  Kids that can’t hold a conversation with another human.  Kids that have been hurt inside so badly that they just don’t want to talk anymore. Kids that are so hurt that they act out in all sorts of confusing and irrational ways.  Kids that have hurt so bad for so long that sometimes they aren’t sure if they’ll ever feel better again.

I’ve met kids that need champions.

And I have met a building full of champions.

I’ve met both kids who persevere through their obstacles and adults who never give up on them.  I’ve watched kids succeed and other times I’ve seen them persist to try again tomorrow.  I’ve seen adults who, despite facing emotionally taxing scenarios on a daily basis, continually live to fight another day. I’ve seen kids and adults planning their future together, supporting success in every way we can. I’ve seen kids make it out of their toughest times.  This is a place I can camp.

We’re a team. We win together. We lose together. We celebrate and we mourn together. And defeats are softened and victories are sweetened because we do them together. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other. We’ve built a cathedral of champions.

It’s a long way from that cushy job I had first envisioned, but its also more fulfilling than I had ever hoped a career would be. Sometimes you find your path.  Sometimes your path finds you.

  

Categories: Dif-abilities, Education in the 21st Century, Reform Policies, Writing Samples | Leave a comment

8 big ideas for reforming college in the U.S.

Thought-provoking to say the least…
http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/brookings-now/posts/2015/11/8-big-ideas-for-reforming-college-in-the-us?rssid=education

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Apps for Engagement

Originally printed in the September ’14 issue of Educational Leadership, found here (subscription required): http://www.educationalleadership-digital.com/educationalleadership/201409#pg13

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Seven Characteristics of a Digitally Competent Teacher

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Full article here: http://www.edudemic.com/7-characteristics-digitally-competent-teacher/

Categories: Education in the 21st Century, Online Learning, Room Decoration & Organization, Teaching Resources | Leave a comment

A Glossary of Federal Housing Initiatives

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Autism Prevalence Is Now 1 in 68: Ten Things to Know About The New Stats

The full study is available (open-access) here, and a general news roundup on this issue is accessible here

Summary from Autism Speaks:

“Washington, D.C. (March 27, 2014) – Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data on the prevalence of autism in the United States. This surveillance study identified 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).”
Source: http://www.autismspeaks.org/news/news-item/prevalence-autism-rises

10 Things You Need To Know About CDC’s Latest Report from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network:

The following estimates are based on information collected from the health and special education (if available*) records of children who were 8 years old and lived in areas of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin in 2010:

  1. About 1 in 68 children (or 14.7 per 1,000 8 year olds) were identified with ASD. It is important to remember that this estimate is based on 8-year-old children living in 11 communities. It does not represent the entire population of children in the United States.
  2. This new estimate is roughly 30% higher than the estimate for 2008 (1 in 88), roughly 60% higher than the estimate for 2006 (1 in 110), and roughly 120% higher than the estimates for 2002 and 2000 (1 in 150). We don’t know what is causing this increase. Some of it may be due to the way children are identified, diagnosed, and served in their local communities, but exactly how much is unknown.
  3. The number of children identified with ASD varied widely by community, from 1 in 175 children in areas of Alabama to 1 in 45 children in areas of New Jersey.
  4. Almost half (46%) of children identified with ASD had average or above average intellectual ability (IQ greater than 85).
  5. Boys were almost 5 times more likely to be identified with ASD than girls. About 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls were identified with ASD.
  6. White children were more likely to be identified with ASD than black or Hispanic children. About 1 in 63 white children, 1 in 81 black children, and 1 in 93 Hispanic children were identified with ASD.
  7. Less than half (44%) of children identified with ASD were evaluated for developmental concerns by the time they were 3 years old.
  8. Most children identified with ASD were not diagnosed until after age 4, even though children can be diagnosed as early as age 2.
  9. Black and Hispanic children identified with ASD were more likely than white children to have intellectual disability. A previous studyExternal Web Site Icon has shown that children identified with ASD and intellectual disability have a greater number of ASD symptoms and a younger age at first diagnosis. Despite the greater burden of co-occurring intellectual disability among black and Hispanic children with ASD, these new data show that there was no difference among racial and ethnic groups in the age at which children were first diagnosed.
  10. About 80% of children identified with ASD either received special education services for autism at school or had an ASD diagnosis from a clinician. This means that the remaining 20% of children identified with ASD had symptoms of ASD documented in their records, but had not yet been classified as having ASD by a community professional in a school or clinic.

    Source: http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsautismdata/index.html

 

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Reform Goals I Stand By: ASCD’s 2014 Federal Legislative Agenda

ASCD recently released their federal education agenda for 2014, which is pictured below and is available as a .pdf download here. Plenty of strong ideas including: access to high-quality learning, public accountability of achievement data on a SCHOOL level (not student level), increasing various resources and supports to both teachers and learners, flexibility at the local/district level to implement federal policies, use of formative assessments and nonacademic assessments (see details) for schools and students.  Now for some policies to get the ball rolling….

ASCD 2014 Legislative Agenda

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K-12 Admins: Hire me this fall and I’ll bring this awesome club to our school!

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Announcing TED-Ed Clubs, for any student interested in learning to give a TED talk!

Article originally printed here: http://blog.ted.com/2014/01/14/introducing-ted-ed-clubs/

January 14, 2014

The effect of laughter on someone who’s sad. The danger and excitement of dirt biking. The reason human beings need so much sleep. The thought of infinity.

These are just a few of the topics that students are exploring through TED-Ed Clubs. This new program, announced today by our educational initiative TED-Ed, is a way to celebrate the ideas of students around the globe. Through TED-Ed Clubs, students — with the help of an adult facilitator — identify and research the ideas that matter to them most. And while TED-Ed Clubs offer students the opportunity to connect with others who, like them, are unabashedly curious about the world, TED-Ed Clubs are also about presentation literacy. TED-Ed Clubs offer students a hands-on opportunity to work on the storytelling and communication skills that will be vital, no matter what career path they end up strolling down.

TED-Ed Clubs are for students ages 8 to 18, and can contain up to 50 members. An educator — who gets materials and a hands-on orientation from the TED-Ed staff — leads the club through a series of 13 meetings, designed to get students to permanently wear their thinking caps. For the first three meetings, students watch TED Talks, discuss them and begin to think: what idea most captures my imagination? From there, students learn how to frame their idea and present it in a TED-style talk. In meeting 11, students give their talks in front of the club and, in the next meeting, work on editing their video. As a final step, these talks are uploaded to the TED-Ed YouTube channel — some may even be featured on the TED-Ed website.

Before today’s launch of TED-Ed Clubs, two pilot sessions of the program were held with 125 clubs in total. More than a thousand students participated in over 20 countries, including the United States, China, Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Brazil and Australia. The experience was pivotal for many students. One wrote, “I am not an excellent speaker. I hadn’t participated in much for the first 15 years of my life. … This [was], by far, one of the biggest opportunities I’ve ever gotten to express myself to an audience. My mind is always buzzing with ideas. Before now, I needed to be pushed into the spotlight.”

Educators were thrilled to see students get so into the program. Marc Siegel, a chemistry teacher in New Jersey, shared on his blog, “The most fascinating aspect of the club was the type of student who came to the meetings. Almost all of the students are those that you might classify as ‘wallflowers,’ excellent students who would prefer to sit quietly in class and complete their work rather than answer questions or have attention drawn to them. However, pull all of these students out of the classroom, give then a non-school related topic to discuss that actually interests them, and suddenly they won’t be quiet. Our meetings ran over time every time because the discussions were so interesting.”

TED-Ed Clubs are designed to create a generation of creative problem-solvers around the globe. Are you interested in bringing TED-Ed Clubs to your school? Find out how to start one »

 

Not kidding about the title.  I’d love to join your team.

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What Didn’t Happen in Edtech in 2013 | EdSurge News

Strong summary of edtech happenings:

Four CEOs share thoughts on what we can do better in 2014
https://www.edsurge.com/n/2013-12-26-what-didn-t-happen-in-edtech-in-2013

Categories: Common Core, Education in the 21st Century, News & Current Issues, Online Learning, Reform Policies | Leave a comment

Beyond tests: How to foster imagination in students

BY VALERIE STRAUSS

November 23 at 11:30 am

(http://www.freepik.com/)

Guest Post by Marion Brady

The emphasis on using standardized tests are the chief metric of student progress (not to mention teacher effectiveness) is leaving behind one of the key purposes of education: to stimulate the imagination. Here’s a post on the subject from Marion Brady, a veteran classroom teacher, who has written history and world culture textbooks (Prentice-Hall),  professional books, numerous  nationally distributed columns (many are available here), and courses of study. His 2011 book, “What’s Worth Learning,” asks and answers this question: What knowledge is absolutely essential for every learner? His course of study for secondary-level students, called “Connections: Investigating Reality,” is free for downloading here. Brady’s website is www.marionbrady.com.

FULL ARTICLE HERE: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/11/23/beyond-tests-how-to-foster-imagination-in-students/

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EdWeek: Want Passion? Re-Think the School Day

STU SILBERMAN NOV 25, 2013
Guest post by Lauren Hill, English teacher at Western Hills High School, Frankfort, KY & Community Organizer for the Center for Teaching Quality

We all know school can bore students to death. OK, not actual death, but something that looks and feels much like it to a kid. Bill Ferriter reminds us in his blog, Being Responsible for Teaching the Bored, that students who follow their passions, learn. Yet, how can teachers carve out time in the school day to guide students through the thoughtful, and sometimes arduous task of finding those passions, much less to pursue them? The Common Core State Standards encourage the depth and discipline needed, but they must be supported by a restructured school day set up to infuse passion into our students.

In our adult work, we don’t do English or Science or Social Studies or Math. We use all of these (and many other dynamic elements) to create, to lead, to build, to manage, to sell, to understand our task and produce products that meet a need. Some of us even love our work – passionately. Do our young people deserve any less? What better model to prepare them to love their work in the future?

I first saw this approach when I was 15, which would make it 1981, when I visited The Urban School of San Francisco. My first impression? These teenagers looked like the kids my parents told me to avoid. Long hair. Lots of leather. Cigarettes. At my school, these kids cut class and hung out in the parking lot. Yet, at Urban, these kids adored school.

At Urban, instead of English, kids took “Utopian Societies” or “Dialects and Culture.” In the two-hour block I spent with my friend, I discovered more about language and history than I had in a year in my own high school classes. Teachers and students learned together in a collaborative environment where students took responsibility for their learning – and they took that responsibility very seriously.

We cannot restructure our way to many of the variables at The Urban School. The staff’s accepting attitude and the administration’s creative and effective approach to discipline, certainly created the environment that allowed for other academic gains. But what became a permanent part of my memory and later, my educational philosophy, was the school’s organization.

Our high school in Frankfort, KY, has begun movement in this direction by adopting a Senior Project that asks kids to begin freshman year uncovering interests and learning research skills, and culminating senior year with a project, paper, presentation and community outreach program. It is a solid start. But we can do better. We can devise new models like the public magnet Brown-Barge Middle School in Escambia County, Florida, which organizes staff into “streams” that teach students in thematically organized groups focused on engaging kids in work toward authentic simulations. Since the restructuring, Brown-Barge Middle has earned “A” level status for more than ten years in a row – the only middle school in the district to achieve this honor. Also, the number of 6th grade applicants doubles the available spots.

One BBMS eighth grader says:

The reason why our subjects are combined is to make it easier to learn at school, so easy that students might not realize we’re learning. Instead of learning by subjects, we learn by streams, which is basically learning big topics at a time. At the same time we’re learning all of the school traditional subjects. We have big topics which are broken into many lessons which is good for each subject. 

Teacher Lalla Pierce currently teaches in the Ancient Worlds stream, which is described like this: From earliest civilizations, recurring motifs have inspired great art, literature, drama, science, math and music. By making connections with the past, we begin to understand the universality of creative expression.

Mrs. Pierce says:

I love teaching at Brown-Barge Middle School because seeing students participating in simulations where they are fully engaged in the learning process is incredibly rewarding. Whether building a model of an outer-space colony or putting on a musical performance written by the students themselves, the process is fun and exciting! I am always learning, never bored. 

To create and cultivate this environment, the school has provided:

  • Streams built around teachers with a variety of certifications.
  • Teachers in each stream with a common planning time to collaborate around the stream.
  • Flexible scheduling within each stream to accommodate a project when it requires extended time with a teacher.
  • Teachers of Record who keep track of the work and maintain records for a group of students, who can see the bigger picture evolve and provide support.
  • Collaboration between teachers and students in the development of new streams that meet the interests of the students. (Most requested? History and culture of music, leading to a final performance.)
  • Evaluative reports that take the place of “in progress grades”.
  • Math every morning.

When teachers at Brown-Barge are asked what they teach, they say “Students!’

A new structure like this one that starts with real-life, project-based learning that flows in a natural, progressive stream is a shift that doesn’t require substantial funding, just ingenuity, persistence, and passion. And, given the education professionals I know, there is no shortage of that.

The Common Core State Standards present us with a blueprint for the natural integration of subjects at every grade level. It challenges us to reimagine how we organize our traditional schools. Student agency and depth of study can add the passion needed to make our students soar. The CCSS emphasize critical thinking and 21st Century skills and give us a strong foundation; now, let’s redesign our schools to make them worthy to stand on it.

Categories: Classroom Management, Common Core, Education in the 21st Century, Reform Policies, Teaching Resources | Leave a comment

Fascinating happenings in vocational education

The Future of Shop Class

How a high school in Georgia is reinventing vocational education
DEC 16 2013, 2:09 PM ET

What used to be the woodshop at Georgia’s Dalton High School is now free of dust. Instead, it’s filled with welding stations, a 3-D printer, and a computer-controlled plasma cutter. Students work with the engineering students across the hall on robotics projects, building their knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

FULL STORY HERE: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/the-future-of-shop-class/282389/

Categories: Education in the 21st Century | Leave a comment

Food for thought on international education

From the NYT editorial board: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/18/opinion/why-students-do-better-overseas.html?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=OP_WOC_20131218&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1385874000000&bicmet=1388638800000&fblinkge0&_r=1&

Categories: Education in the 21st Century, Reform Policies | Leave a comment

Online and Blended Learning Policies in K-12 Education: The Case of Utah’s Statewide Online Education Program (SOEP)

Nicholas M. Lind

December 14, 2013

Policy Analysis written for course EDU413 – Contemporary Issues in Educational Policy at the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester

 

Online and Blended Learning Policies in K-12 Education:

The Case of Utah’s Statewide Online Education Program (SOEP)

Policy Overview

Introduction

            According to some educators, online and blended learning initiatives currently taking place in K-12 schools across the country offer a prospective glimpse into an inevitable future of learning.  As the availability of technological resources in districts continues to grow – from internet connectivity and computer access to smart phones and tablet apps – students increasingly possess the opportunity to shift their education to new digital technologies which empower them with revolutionary learning capabilities.

Online and blended learning programs afford educators, learners, citizens, and policymakers alike with various luxuries.  These incentives have driven the online and blended learning movement toward new educational paradigms.  To be sure, as with many new educational policies, these transitions have been viewed unfavorably by some in the educational community and have certainly involved costs for stakeholders to consider.  These new benefits and concerns will be reviewed below, specifically focusing on Utah’s Statewide Online Education Program (SOEP) as an educational policy case study.

Several observations form the basis of this analysis.  Although Florida’s Virtual School continues to be recognized as a leading K-12 online learning institution, similar initiatives in Arizona, Minnesota, and Utah are moving in similar paths (Watson et. al., 2013).  Due to the recent development and subsequently limited supply of literature on these programs, this review will concentrate on the learning scene in Utah while drawing from broader literature on the topic.

Second, rather than placing these initiatives within the matrices of Race to the Top, Common Core, and teacher evaluation policies taking shape across the country, the scope of this analysis is limited to the development of online and blended programs independent of alternative educational policies.  Similarly, although the Statewide Online Education Program stems from a school choice approach of educational reform, the synthesizing of seminal research on school choice will not be pursued by this analysis.  Instead, this report will investigate the policy process for SOEP in Utah and will describe the design and goals of the program according to the academic literature on online and blended learning programs.  To be sure, school choice – and in SOEP’s case course choice – will perhaps have significant effects both on student achievement and on standing educational institutions in Utah, especially when compounded by other state and federal policies.  But these outcomes will be more recognizable and measurable in the longer term, once SOEP has been fully implemented.

Defining Digital Learning Terms

Before proceeding, it is appropriate to define what constitutes “online” and “blended” learning programs.  The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), the leading policy organization devoted to blended and online learning opportunities, defines these terms in the following ways:

“Blended learning (also hybrid learning): Learning that is facilitated by the effective combination of different modes of delivery, models of teaching and styles of learning, and is based on transparent communication amongst all parties involved with a course” (Wicks, 2010, p. 48).

“Online learning (also cyber learning, elearning, and virtual learning): Education in which instruction and content are delivered primarily over the Internet; online learning is a form of distance learning.  The term does not include printer-based correspondence education, broadcast television, or radio, videocassettes, and stand-alone educational software programs that do not have a significant internet-based instructional component” (Wicks, 2010, p.48).

Whereas blended learning programs deliver instruction within traditional brick-and-mortar settings and supplement with internet-based activities and assignments, online programs deliver the entirety of the learning process digitally.  And while both models depend highly on strong communication between teachers and students, instructors of blended courses effectively tailor the balance between the amount of time spent in traditional settings with time spent online specifically according to the needs of their students.  Although their teaching style may inform the initial balance between in-class and online activities, blended programs allow teachers to respond to their students’ progress and provide in-class support as necessary (Digital Learning Now!, 2010).

Internet-based modes of learning are often delivered through a Learning Management System.  Wicks (2010) describes these systems as software programs that provide a platform to create, edit, share, communicate, and assess course content.  Instructors can upload course materials onto the platform for students to access, or can simply provide links to media available on the internet.  Students can communicate with each other via these systems and often submit assignments for instructors to review.  In most cases, students are able to log on to these systems using a username and password, which allows them to access the course materials from anywhere with internet access.

Policy Problem & Issue Definition

Benefits of Online & Blended Learning

Online and blended learning models are promoted essentially for their potential to increase equitable access to high-quality educational services.  This principle transcends various dimensions of educational policymaking including: challenging the norms of traditional teaching and learning, adapting the curricular and technical structures of education, and providing constituents – both voters and learners – with equitable and democratic schools.

Challenging traditional teaching and learning. Anthony Picciano, Professor at the Graduate Center and Hunter College, CUNY, has served as principle investigator on multiple analyses of online and blended learning programs nationwide.  Picciano et. al (2011b) found that, “high schools in Illinois and nationally use a number of external providers rather than develop[ing] courses in house” (p.1).  This separation of the design of curriculum from the delivery of instruction aims to ensure high-quality learning materials for all students, but to be sure depends entirely on the quality of coursework a third party organization provides.  Ideally, only high-quality course providers would be authorized by state departments of education to supply materials.  But this is not always the case, as is evident from recent controversy and outcries in New York regarding low quality Common Core modules widely purchased by school districts.

Online learning programs allow students to access certified teachers delivering subjects who wouldn’t be available for face-to-face instruction (Picciano et. al. 2011b). Personally speaking, I graduated from a rural high school that didn’t offer any Advanced Placement courses and only offered Spanish as a foreign language.  I would have kindly greeted any opportunity for more diverse course offerings.  Consequently, online programs provide teachers with career options to reach more students in more productive ways.  Highly effective teachers can be reached across geographic areas, perhaps even facilitating online courses from their own homes (Lips, 2010).  Downes (2004) also suggests that online and blended programs offer students an opportunity to learn and communicate using blogs, which encourage formative writing exercises and personalize writing in a way that directly increases its relevance to students.

These new programs are also uniquely positioned to meet the needs of diverse groups of learners.  Muller (2009) explains how state-level virtual K-12 public school programs have developed ways to offer accommodations, assistive technology, and related services to students with disabilities according to their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).  Muller also notes that at-risk students who are prone to dropout, incarcerated students, students who are homebound, and migrant youth are all empowered by online learning opportunities (p. 3).  While these programs require innovative solutions, states are continually expanding online and blended opportunities in ways to benefit diverse learners.

            Adapting curricular and technical structures. Online learning programs introduce diverse opportunities for schools and students.  Picciano et. al. (2011a) noted that, “offering courses not otherwise available [such as]…Advanced Placement or college-level courses,” attracted school administrators to explore online and blended models (p. 128).  The flexible format of online coursework also decreased scheduling conflicts for students seeking to meet graduation requirements.  Students who previously failed a course could retake it through an online program to receive credit promptly rather than waiting an entire year for the course to be offered again.  Similarly, courses that would previously have been overscheduled – inappropriately increasing the student-faculty ratio beyond best-practices for effective class sizes – now could be offered through online or blended programs in order to accommodate schools with, “growing populations and limited space” (Picciano et. al., 2011a, p.129).

            Providing democratic education.  Providing freedom to students who seek to choose specific courses is an important driver of online and blended programs.  Picciano et. al. (2011a) explained that in addition to offering additional courses, online and blended programs individualize educational services to best-fit the needs of students.  For example, some district administrators reported that research pointing to the pedagogical strength of online programs as well as testimonies of students’ preference of online coursework played a role in developing programs within their schools.  Lips (2010) writes that instead of grouping students according to their age, online learning can group them by achievement level or learning style.  Additionally, students can learn at their own pace, providing advanced students with an infrastructure to accelerate ahead and allowing struggling students to receive ample support in order to reach total proficiency at their own pace rather than learn “enough” to pass a course while still lacking proficiency.

iNACOL (2009) notes that quality mathematics and science teachers, who are critical to the nation’s future economic competitiveness, are in short supply in many districts.  Online programs can eliminate the geographical discrepancies currently experienced across the country.  They also point out that, “online college prep, Advanced Placement, credit recovery, and dropout prevention programs ensure that more American students are ready for college” (p. 1).  These opportunities can decrease the cost of college for students by minimizing remedial coursework necessary in their first several semesters or by covering coursework requirements altogether.  Furthermore, research has shown that online and blended learning environments, “can produce significant cost savings for states and districts” (Bailey et. al., 2013c)

These programs additionally have more practical benefits.  Online courses provide hands-on training using technology and computers, widely perceived as an essential twenty-first century literacy skill (iNACOL, 2009).  Also, if local colleges are authorized as course providers, students may build linkages in a way that encourages future college attendance (Picciano et. al., 2011a).  Students who take courses online within a flexible time frame can now use their time within traditional school settings – roughly speaking, between 7am and 4 pm – in ways that better-fit their personal interests.  Since they’re taking a required science course online, perhaps their schedule allows them to take an elective arts or music course in school or perhaps they use their new flexible time to join an organization like student council or join a new sport (Lips, 2010).

Finally, administrators noted that the financial benefits to offering blended and online courses – such as offering credit recovery opportunities through an online program rather than offering a whole course for a few students – enticed them to begin programs.  In this way, online and blended programs benefit student achievement, but also school efficiency and taxpayers’ return on investment.

Barriers to Online and Blended Learning

In addition to implementation challenges that will be addressed later on in this report, there are several factors that hinder the development of online and blended learning programs.  Picciano et. al. (2011a) found that a small number of districts hesitated to introduce blended learning programs both due to “restrictive federal, state, or local laws or policies” (p. 130).  Other administrators cited a lack of human capital in terms of technological and online teaching pedagogical skills.  Without federal or statewide grant programs covering the initial costs of preparing for online and blended courses, districts are short on the capabilities required to implement online programs.

Inadequate funding – both for teacher professional development and to purchase technological infrastructure – compounded with uncertainty regarding the sustainability of programs financed according to student attendance, both in terms of district contributions as well as the ambiguous resulting effects an online program would cause on the supply and demand of teacher labor markets.  Nevertheless, online and blended learning programs have increasingly been developed throughout the country, as demonstrated by reviewing annual editions of Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Blended Learning, a seminal review of online and blended programs released annually since 2003.

Policy Design & Formulation

Background: Online and Blended Learning in Utah

            The 2013 Keeping Pace report identifies Utah as a national leader of online and blended learning (Watson et. al., 2013 see also Parker, 2013, April 2).  According to Keeping Pace, Utah offers student choice at both a school and course level through four fully online charter schools, a fully online public Utah Electronic High School, and through the newly developed  Statewide Online Education Program. Keeping Pace identifies Utah’s efforts as, “among the first and best-known course choice programs in the country” (p. 150).  Despite this attention, Utah’s SOEP remains small.  Total enrollment for the 2012-2013 school year served 1,279 course enrollments to only 664 unique students.  However, the Electronic High School served 10,308 course enrollments in the same period, rendering the public school’s course choice program significantly more popular (Watson et. al, 2013).

Setting the Agenda: Formulating Policy in Utah

            Given Utah’s existing access to online and blended courses, the process of developing the SOEP aimed to expand opportunities beyond those offered by traditional public institutions.  Salt Lake Tribune journalists Lisa Schencker and Ray Parker chronicled the SOEP’s journey through the state legislature, with various contributions from writers at The Deseret News, and The Daily Herald offering alternative perspectives.

Utah State Senator Howard Stephenson, a Republican representing the Draper district, sponsored the original bill in the state legislature to create the SOEP.  Stephenson argued to other senators, “I urge you to set our children free.  Allow them to take more online courses and serve their needs rather than serving the needs of institutions” (Schencker, 2011, February 18).  By creating an infrastructure for authorizing private institutions to deliver courses, Stephenson’s bill expanded student choice beyond public institutions, a controversial policy in education circles and public education advocates.

An initial vote failed 13-10-6 to send the bill to the Utah House of Representatives.  But although some opponents were vocally opposed to the bill, labeling it as a “school voucher bill,” Democratic Senator Karen Morgan cautioned only against the cost of the proposal and offered that, “maybe this is something we shouldn’t do this year” (Schencker, 2011, March 6).  Optimistic editorials were soon published in The Deseret News, a major daily paper based in Salt Lake City, and Stephenson revised the bill and redoubled awareness of the program’s perceived benefits prior to introducing it again for a vote (see Horn, 2011, March 2; Daw, 2011, July 24; and Odell, 2012, June 16).  A later vote passed the Senate 17-12-0, moved on to the House where it passed 48-27-0, and was signed by the Governor on March 30, 2011 (S.B. 65, 2011).  Stephenson amended S.B. 65 to expand the regulations of the SOEP in Senate Bill 178, which easily passed through the state legislature and was signed by the Governor on March 20, 2012 (S.B. 178, 2012).

Opponents of the bill feared the unintended consequences of SOEP.  Stakeholders were concerned with harming public school systems by transferring public funds to private organizations, the logistical challenges of providing a location to supervise students completing online coursework during their normal hours at brick-and-mortar schools, and the implications for public schools when an influx of students decide to drop courses in September in favor of alternative online courses on school finance, which typically is prepared months in advance (Farmer, 2011, June 15).

Tami Pyfer, a representative of District 1 on the Utah State Board of Education and Clinical Instructor of Special Education and Rehabilitation at Utah State University, speaking prior to the passage of S.B. 178, noted that S.B. 65 actually limited student choice by capping the number of courses students may take.  For every course students enrolled for through SOEP, they would have to drop a course at their traditional school (Pyfer, 2011, September 23).  Senator Stephenson noted that the provision was included in order to manage the costs of SOEP, but adapted it in S.B. 178 to allow the number of courses students may take to gradually increase over the next several years (S.B. 178, 2012).

S.B. 178 also differentiated the cost of each course a student takes.  Whereas districts initially would credit online course providers with $727 per course, S.B. 178 initially set the price of courses between $400 to $700 depending on the type of class, but Stephenson compromised to allow districts to negotiate the costs of each course with authorized online providers in order to solidify support to pass the bill (see Schencker, 2012, February 22 and Schencker, 2012, March 2).

Interestingly, a bill originating in the Utah House called for the establishment of a state-wide voucher program for students.  Under House Bill 123, a pilot program would be established to fund “savings accounts” for students to use toward their education on a course-choice level at authorized public, charter, private, and online institutions.  The bill’s sponsor, Representative John Dougall, supported the measure in terms of transparency of funds spent on education, but the bill failed to clear the House, losing a vote 26-46 (Hesterman, 2012, March 6).

Although in-depth descriptions of the policy process are largely limited to press reporting and floor speeches, the ultimate format of the SOEP in its current existence is more straightforward.

Summary: The Statewide Online Education Program

            Utah’s Statewide Online Education Program complements the wide array of online learning policies already established in the state, as referenced above.  S.B. 65, the bill that initially created the system and S.B. 178, which slightly amended the program, established an infrastructure for educational agencies authorized by the Utah Board of Education to deliver online courses to students across the state (S.B. 65, 2011; and S.B. 178, 2012).  Students may choose individual courses to take through SOEP, and those courses replace requirements they would otherwise complete within their traditional school district (Watson et. al., 2013).  Provider agencies may be programs created by public LEAs or may be provided by outside third parties, as long as the agency is approved by the LEA (S.B. 65, 2011; and S.B. 178, 2012).  Students may currently only enroll for a maximum of two credits per year through SOEP – unless they elect to pay out-of-pocket for courses – but that figure increases annually over the next five years and students (Murin, 2011).

The SOEP is provided an annual appropriation of $250,000 from the Utah State Legislature to sustain the infrastructure and support staff.  Funding typically allocated to students’ local education agency (LEA) through local tax dollars follows them to the provider of any online courses they take through SOEP.  The costs of each course are between $400 and $700, with the exact price negotiated between the traditional school district and the authorized providing agency.

Provider agencies receive half of the funding when students enroll in the course and receive the balance when students successfully complete the course.  There are specific stipulations regarding the amount of time students may take to complete a course. Agencies receive only 80% of the total negotiated price if students fail to complete the coursework within an agreed upon time frame.  This deadline is typically congruent with traditional class schedules of roughly nine months for a full-year, one-credit course, and four months for a one-semester, half-credit course (Watson et. al, 2013).

Policy Effects

            It is too early to generalize the effects of Utah’s SOEP to form broader conclusions regarding statewide course choice programs.  Indeed, measuring student outcomes can arguably only produce reliable comparisons once the program is fully implemented, which won’t be for several years.  Even then, researchers and policymakers will likely find themselves arguing the classic nature versus nurture debate of educational choice: Does course and/or school choice increase student achievement or are the students who choose naturally better-equipped to achieve higher?  An expansive 2010 meta-analysis completed by the Department of Education found that online learning, particularly blended learning, has statistically significant positive effects on student achievement, but this review did not include the element of course choice (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).  Barbour (2010) similarly notes that,

“while online learning may allow for educational improvements such as high levels of learner motivation, high quality learning opportunities or improvement in student outcomes, it certainly did not guarantee any of these potential benefits would be realized” (p. 7).

These questions and more can’t be answered until the nuanced details of SOEP and other online learning policies in Utah are fully implemented and subsequently analyzed from an academic perspective, as the current literature on Utah is limited to private institutions and local newspaper testimonies.  Still, there are a number of evident preliminary outcomes that future studies might consider.

            Utah has set a precedent for public choice on a course level.  By offering these courses entirely with public tax dollars, no additional cost is accrued to students.  This allows students to make individual course choices which in turn pressures schools to compete on a lower level for students.  Whereas traditional choice models pushed schools to be more attractive as a whole to students, Utah’s SOEP course choice program pressures schools and outside agencies to offer individual courses that entice student interest.  The effects of this shift on student achievement, teacher labor markets, and the financial sustainability of public schools have yet to be realized.

As previously mentioned above, Utah’s SOEP program empowers students with diverse course offerings that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them in their traditional brick-and-mortar schools.  Teachers working in high-need fields, offering foreign languages, college preparation courses, or Advanced Placement courses can now provide geographic equity to students in Utah.  For example, Brigham Young University offers courses for college credit through the BYU Independent Study Program, which can be transferred from high schools to cover coursework at any college accredited by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools (Watson et. al., 2013).  Similarly, The Juilliard School began offering music education courses to students through the SOEP, expanding world class instruction to rural residents in Utah free of charge (Parker, 2013, March 19).  This confirms Picciano’s suggestion that students will form bonds with higher education institutions (2011a).  Whether these relationships transition into increased college attendance is also yet to be measured.

Researchers have also pointed out the potential for online learning to allow traditional schools to transition away from cohort-based organization and instead focus on competency education.  Bailey et. al. (2013a) argues that the traditional “factory model” of education limits students in two fundamental ways: “It holds back students who could be excelling,” and “it moves on students who aren’t ready” (p. 125).  Under competency education models, students advance upon subject mastery rather than on proficiency and seat time.  Their achievement is based on “explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students” (p. 128).  Assessments are used as a tool to diagnose rather learning challenges and students receive “timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs” (p. 128).

Researchers point out that competency education does not rely on online learning, but may be easily facilitated through online and blended programs that already allow students to advance as they reach mastery, such as Utah’s SOEP program.  Patrick and Sturgis (2013) importantly note that the terminology associated with competency education varies and has been referred to as “proficiency-based education,” “standards-based education,” and “mastery-education” (p. 5).  Regardless of its terminology, researchers have acknowledged the potential for online and blended learning programs to offer evolutionary changes to traditional education paradigms.

Implementation Issues

The implementation process for Utah’s SOEP remains in progress.  With the amount of credits students may enroll in increasing annually, a more holistic perspective of the program’s implementation must also be analyzed by future researchers.  But much like the effects of SOEP, there are several early points worth noting regarding SOEP’s implementation as well as the implementation of similar online and blended learning programs noted by researchers thus far.

The role of Senator Stephenson in adapting the program to accommodate the concerns of fellow legislators, educators, and community stakeholders shouldn’t be overlooked.  Datnow and Park (2009) note that within the co-construction model of policy implementation, stakeholders and policymakers actively work to design and implement educational policies in ways that benefit specific school environments.  In this way, Stephenson’s response to criticism, and resulting sponsorship of S.B. 178, provided stakeholders with an opportunity to contribute to the policy in a way that would benefit its implementation and ultimately to support educational agencies to deliver high student outcomes.

Muller (2009) offers several general implementation challenges associated with online and blended programs.  In addition to adopting a co-construction mindset during the design and implementation stage of policymaking, educators and policymakers must educate parents about online education and the market of choices available to students.  Also, as new technologies arise – including learning management systems, computer software, and internet-based programs – both educators and policymakers must remain well-informed in order to provide the most effective learning opportunities to students.  Muller also notes that funding issues can hamper implementation, but the sustainability of Utah’s SOEP has yet to be systemically analyzed.

Bailey et. al. (2013d) explains that schools can take several steps toward implementing blended learning including: placing computers in classrooms, delivering a digital curriculum, experiment with flipped classroom strategies, increase access to computer labs and tablet devices.  But importantly, although “these strategies may be beneficial…if they do not change instructional practices, schedules, relationships, and resource allocations, they are not considered blended learning (p. 19).  Bailey et. al. (2013d) also include a set of practices to assist schools in transitioning from some of the strategies mentioned above to fully online or blended environments, often based on competency education.

Including successful testimonies from around the country, Bailey et. al. (2013d) include a variety of extensive frameworks for schools to adapt.  Each plan includes strategies which address challenges made to a school’s infrastructure, broadband capabilities, network equipment and management, electrical power supply, facilities management, and hardware and software acquisition.  Furthermore, schools must address challenges posed by professional development demands as well as the existing school culture, which in some cases can hinder policy implementation.  Bailey’s implementation guide provides an in-depth primer on issues schools face when implementing online programs, including several ways schools can overcome these challenges.  The insights provided by the guide are highly recommended for policymakers, researchers, and educational leaders alike.

Policy Recommendations

As legislated by S.B 65 and S.B 178, Utah should continually reflect on the SOEP implementation process and make changes as necessary to address financial and academic concerns that may arise (S.B. 65, 2011; and S.B. 178, 2012).  Researchers and educators must also analyze the SOEP and reflect on its effectiveness for student achievement, as well as its financial sustainability, and its impact on the traditional public school system.

Policymakers should introduce online and blended learning policies which support the transition to competency education.  Under these models, students are more likely to achieve mastery of subjects rather than advance merely as a product of their seat time.  Policies that adopt a co-construction approach to implementation and provide schools with flexibility to fit their students’ needs are most likely to deliver those outcomes (iNACOL, 2012).

Providing incentives, especially state and federal grant programs to districts that adopt online and blended learning models will catalyze the transition.  iNACOL (2012) suggests these incentives are translated to the course level, allowing students the optimal choice.  Funding structures that simply transfer funding from one educational entity to another allow this transition to be more financially viable, although future studies must analyze the long-term sustainability of such approaches.

Lips (2010) offers a number of general actions educators and policymakers can take to support online and blended learning programs.  Lips calls for every state to develop a statewide virtual school, enabling course choice on a supplementary or full-time basis.  Lips also suggests expanding hybrid (blended) learning programs to support learning out of the classroom.  Specifically, districts should share best practices with each other regarding how to implement digital curricula into existing programs.  Importantly, Lips notes that federal policymakers should amend and revise federal policies to support online learning by providing control and flexibility to state education agencies.

Conclusions

             Online and blended learning programs such as Utah’s SOEP offer a prospective glance into an inevitable future.  Although some states have forged ahead of others in this educational opportunity, as technological infrastructure and awareness of existing programs continues to increase online and blended programs will become available to more and more students.  These programs have numerous benefits – from increasing access to equitable learning opportunities to balancing district budget sheets – but uncertainty about the long-term challenges to implementation sustainability continue to hinder broader involvement across the country.

Future researchers must analyze these outcomes including comparing design techniques, implementation procedures, and measures taken to adapt policies over time to fit the needs of students.  Researchers must also carefully design studies to compare student achievement within online and blended course choice programs against their peers in an effort to determine the most effective learning structures and environments for a given population of students.


 

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research (pp.348-361). New York: Routledge.

Daw, B. M. (2011, July 24). My view: Online learning is the new player in the education arena. Deseret

News. Retrieved from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700165233/Online-learning-is-the-new-player-in-the-education-arena.html.

Digital Learning Now! (2010, Dec. 1). The 10 elements of high quality digital learning. Foundation for

Excellence in Education.

Downes, S. (2004). Educational blogging. Educause Review, September/October 2004 edition. pp. 14-

26.

Farmer, M. (2011, June 15). New online learning law full of ‘unintended consequences’. Deseret News.

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Farmer, M. (2011, July 3). State gears up for new online education program that begins this fall.

Deseret News. Retrieved from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705375627/State-gears-up-for-new-online-education-program-that-begins-this-fall.html.

Felix, J. P. (2007). Edublogging: Instruction for the Digital Age Learner (Doctoral Thesis). University of

California, San Diego.

Halverson, R. and Smith, A. (2009). How new technologies have (and have not) changed teaching

and learning in schools. Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, Vol 26 (2). pp. 49-54.

Hesterman, B. (2012, March 6). House rejects Dougall’s education savings account bill. Daily Herald.

Retrieved from http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/legislature/house-rejects-dougall-s-education-savings-account-bill/article_a7261a8a-e9b9-5c81-8ebb-fe4f924de83a.html.

Hesterman, B. (2012, September 28). Follow the money – if you can. Daily Herald. Retrieved from

http://www.heraldextra.com/follow-the-money—if-you-can/article_def5f859-7070-5c5e-9e47-96eb1d2feabe.html.

Horn, M. B. (2011, March 2). Michael B. Horn: Utah online education proposal would expand

access and accountability. Deseret News. Retrieved from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700114966/Utah-online-education-proposal-would-expand-access-and-accountability.html.

International Association for K-12 Online Learning (INACOL). (2009) K-12 Online Learning: A

Smart Investment NOW More Than Ever. Accessed November 9, 2013. http://www.inacol.org.

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Model Legislation in States. Accessed November 9, 2013. http://www.inacol.org.

Lips, D. (2010). How online learning is revolutionizing K-12 education and benefitting students.

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http://www.heritage.org/Research/Education/bg2356.cfm.

Muller, E. (2009). Serving students with disabilities in state-level virtual K-12 public school

programs. inForum: September 2009. Project Forum, National Association of State Directors of

Special Education. Alexandria, VA

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online learning studies. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

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_model_by_connections_education.html.

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blended learning: An annual review of policy and practice. Evergreen Education Group.

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Learning, Second Edition.

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state-of-digital-education

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Teaching is an Art

Enjoy this brief but warranted post by Carol Hunter at SmartBlog on Education: http://smartblogs.com/education/2013/11/25/balancing-the-art-and-science-of-education/

Balancing the art and science of education

As we continue to fight to keep the arts in education, it is time to realize that the real fight is keeping the art in education. When I first started teaching many years ago, teaching was primarily seen as an art — an innate ability to use creative skill and imagination to communicate and build relationships that facilitate learning. The curriculum guide was a small gray book covering all subjects. Now, teaching is seen primarily as a science. Attention is paid to specific teaching techniques, core curriculum, testing and narrowly-focused results. Data is collected, analyzed and used more for accountability than to personalize student programs.

We need to create a balance of art and science as we nurture the students in our care. Granted, research over the past few decades has provided us with evidence of how the brain functions, how students learn in different ways and that they have multiple intelligences. This valuable information has only found its way into the education debate in limited instances. The focus has been more on defining what students need to know, how they should be taught and measuring results. This is much easier and more scientific than using brain functioning, learning styles and multiple intelligences to empower teachers to personalize education and create safe and caring learning environments.

The science of teaching helps us to understand concepts such as that the brain remembers information when it is relevant and evokes an emotional response, that we have a basic human need for safety and that living in poverty has a definite impact on a child’s ability to maximize his potential. Science creates the structure underlying the art of teaching.

It takes artists to see the big picture, think creatively and critically, and begin to shape the future of education. Artists celebrate human individuality. The art of teaching requires that we:

  1. Apply what science teaches us in a holistic way.
  2. Know our students as individuals.
  3. Empower students to be the best they can be.
  4. Understand that students must first feel safe and secure if they are to take the risks necessary for them to become the person they want to be.
  5. Focus on creating positive, supportive school cultures.
  6. Engage students in their learning at the deepest level possible by creating an emotional response.
  7. Ensure that curriculum is personalized and meaningful.
  8. Focus on building connections and relationships.
  9. See the big picture by dealing with the whole child.
  10. Seek the complexities and depth in the big picture.

Although this blog post may evoke a response of: “Yeah, but we’re accountable for raising test scores through processes and programs that come from above…,” I hope you will let your inner artist shine through and see what you need to do as a teacher and as a leader. It is only when we find the balance between the art and science of education that we will begin to make a real difference in the lives of our students.

Carol Hunter is an award-winning, retired elementary-school principal and author of “Real Leadership Real Change”. She is president of Impact Leadership, a consulting company focused on bringing real change to public education. Learn more atwww.impactleadership.ca.

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25 Ideas for Online Learning Success

A conversation with three veterans:
25 Ideas for Online Learning Success – K12

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School Poverty—More Than Race—Affects Students’ College-Going, Study Finds By Sarah D. Sparks

blog-inside-school-research

 

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2013/10/school_poverty_more_than_racia.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS2

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Education Week: Managing the Digital District

EdWeek recently published this 28-page special report on K-12 education technology, available here:

Managing the Digital District – Education Week Special Report – Oct, 2013

Categories: Classroom Management, Education in the 21st Century, Online Learning | Leave a comment

Education Week Spotlight on Literacy and the Common Core

EdWeek has assembled a 15-page document featuring a variety of articles on Literacy and the Common Core, available for download here:

Ed Week Spotlight – On Literacy and the Common Core – March 2013

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Interesting article (and linked policy brief) on data driven instruction

Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
http://feedly.com/k/15ZCvet

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Review: Race to Nowhere (2010)

race_to_nowhere

Written for EDU 413 – Contemporary Issues in Education Policy, Warner School of Education, University of Rochester.

 

“I think success in America is defined by how much money you make not by how happy you are with your life.  That’s just not how it is in other countries.  They’re like, ‘Oh, okay so they have a modest living: cool!’  But here it’s like, ‘Okay, so if you don’t earn a lot of money, something went wrong.’”

-Student (Abeles et. al., 2010).

“The common force that drives kids toward so many negative behaviors is stress.  It’s coming from schools, it’s coming from colleges, and it’s coming from all of the places that it’s always came from during adolescence.  Don’t forget: adolescence is a tough time!”

–Dr. Ken Ginsburg, Adolescent Medicine Specialist, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (Abeles et. al., 2010).

Vicki Abeles’ 2010 documentary, Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture, aggressively cautions against the staggering emotional and psychological effects that have rippled behind contemporary measures of education reform.  Positioned within a culture intensely focused on “student achievement” and college admissions, Abeles assembles a defended narrative of stressed and over-pressured kids through interviewing a broad assemblage of students, parents, community members, teachers, administrators, and medical personnel.  But despite the passionate convictions from interviewees with soppy eyes and the seemingly comprehensive representation of stakeholders in the film, Abeles nonetheless depicts an incomplete explanation of how achievement culture has been manifested in American education.

The message argues that growing measures of accountability, specifically standardized testing and an increased amount of homework, have created additional pressures on children that are resulting in unintended negative effects.  Interviewees explain how the pressure to perform has forced teachers to give more homework, decreased the free time students have (including time to sleep), has induced insurmountable stress, and has likewise caused various psychological, emotional, and health concerns from spending less time with friends, to depression, eating disorders, insomnia, self-mutilation, and, in one case, to suicide.  John Merrow, reviewing the documentary for the Huffington Post lamented,

“In my thirty-five years of reporting for NPR and PBS, I have covered these issues more times than I care to remember.  In the late seventies I spent several weeks in mental institutions for children and met kids like those in this movie.  In the late eighties I reported on adolescent suicide…a segment that still wakes me up in the middle of the night from time to time.  And in 1995 we produced ‘A.D.D.: A Dubious Diagnosis?’ for PBS and saw some of the same pressures being put on kids.  I promise you that this movie is telling the truth” (Merrow, 2010).

The problem is aggravated by performance standards for teachers who are increasingly pressured to “teach to the test” and by the enormous pressure placed upon students and their families to get into top tier university programs.  Parents arrive at high school orientations and are bombarded with information about college readiness, the college admissions process, Advanced Placement courses, and the necessity of extracurricular activities.  One parent concluded, “I guess this is what everyone is going to be doing.”  A teacher added that, “We’re all caught up in it, we’re all afraid that our children won’t be as successful as we are.  It’s out of love, it’s out of concern, it’s out of fear, it’s out of all of these things that parents normally have.”  Echoing the quote preceding this review, role models push students be the best in high school in order to get into a great college so they can land a great job so they can make a lot of money.  The connection is sometimes dubious and misguided, but the pressure is very real.

Race to Nowhere warns viewers of the consequences of this phenomenon.  Numerous students point out that, “high school is about learning how to pass tests.”  With fewer than three percent of students refraining from cheating, it has “become another course,” for many students.  The private tutoring industry has boomed in the United States, largely around tests that predict college success such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).  Notably however, the study in the film referred to students who had never cheated rather than students who regularly cheated and, to be sure, many college admissions offices have in recent years decreased their value of standardized test scores when considering applicants.

Despite these more recent trends, Clinical Psychologist Wendy Mogel regretted that students are trained to always look for the next step, continually focusing on the next level.  “We’ve stolen eleventh and twelfth grade from them,” Mogel said.  One student, speaking before a forum of peers, commented that the worst question a parent can ask is: “And?”  A simple conversation may go:

Student: “I made the honor roll!”

Parent: “And?”

Student: “I’m the President of the Drama Club!”

Parent: “And?”

Student: “I joined the soccer team!”

Parent: “And?”

Conversations like these push successful kids to the brink by continually pressuring them to do more.  In the eyes of the student, “Everyone expects us to be superheroes.  I think sometimes parents just need to step back and say, ‘you know what, you’re doing a really great job.’”

While Race to Nowhere masterfully layers striking testimonies of students who are increasingly placed under stress, it’s portrayal of homework as a significant factor in the race is perhaps misguided.  As Jay Mathews at the Washington Post pointed out, according to the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, students age 15-17 spent roughly three and a half hours a day on leisure activities such as watching television while spending only forty-two minutes on homework.  When Abeles countered that the study also showed that homework for students aged 6-9 tripled in the 1990s, Mathews replied that the documented increase was (in real terms) only from eight minutes in 1981 to twenty-two minutes in 2003, which is, “less time than watching an episode of Hannah Montana.”  The UCLA Higher Education Research Institute similarly found that two-thirds of high school students did less than sixty minutes of homework per night (Mathews, 2011).

Later on in the film, a teacher comments that when teaching a class for the first time, he cut the amount of homework previously assigned in the curriculum in half and saw AP scores increase.   Seemingly portraying a causal relationship between decreasing homework and increasing test scores, the film overlooks a much more important variable: the new teacher.  Having a higher-quality teacher in the room is far more likely to cause an increase in test scores, regardless of the amount of homework assigned.

Another speaker claims that, “Parents need to educate themselves about the fact that homework is not going to make their kids any smarter.”  Without distinguishing between specific goals of assigning homework (i.e. for independent practice, to check for understanding, to introduce to new content, for formative assessment, etc.) or citing any evidence for her case, she continues,

“The schools have our kids for seven hours a day.  That should be plenty for them to impart the kind of knowledge that they want to and then the kids should go home and there is so much more to a child’s life than what’s going on in school.”

This is a classic characterization of the “banking model” of education, whereby students are merely “‘receptacles’ to be ‘filled’ by the teacher” (Freire, 2003).  Possessing all knowledge, the teacher is the hegemonic authority of the classroom.  The teacher teaches and the student are taught.  The teacher talks and the students listen.  The teacher chooses content and the students comply.  Freire (2003) writes, “The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world.”  The idea that teachers merely impart knowledge to students is irreconcilable with the types of educational philosophies and models Abeles encourages, such as The Blue School in New York City.  While it is admirable to encourage students to spend time away from the books, the film seems to support a “learning is only for school” mindset which is grossing outdated for twenty-first century learners.  Furthermore, the film fails to acknowledge how contemporary practices in curriculum development, especially flipped classrooms and blended learning, might negate some of the criticism of homework or how assigning homework as a strategy for engaging parental involvement may be a valuable practice at certain grade levels.

Critics have also mentioned the limited scope of participants in the film.  “Most of the families in ‘Race to Nowhere’ are suburban and privileged, and the film has found its audience in those communities where parents often move for excellent schools,” wrote Trip Gabriel in the New York Times (Gabriel, 2010).  Indeed, a significant portion of the film’s interviewees are from upper-class suburban neighborhoods in southern California.  The narrow group of speakers leaves out the many perspectives of oppressed students who already face significant hurdles to high school completion and college readiness, a group whose race to achievement is undoubtedly more complex.

After documenting the effects of the achievement culture, Race to Nowhere finally (belatedly) begins to address possible ways to turn things around.  Cautioning that there are no simple solutions and that many small changes can make a significant difference, the film’s interviewees call for a reform of college admissions expectations, a shift in priorities as parents, and a general change in the culture of achievement.  Building on previous claims to decrease homework, Race to Nowhere calls for the education community to rethink achievement and learning.  Current incentives align multiple layers of schools and their participants against the actual learning process.

While this theme is accurate and well-received by educators, the film seems to leave specific strategies for post-screening discussion sessions.  But to the filmmaker’s credit, copies of the documentary come with a thick 246-page facilitation guide filled with handouts, fact-sheets, planned audience activities, sample surveys, and answers to frequently asked questions.  If the film falls short of advocating specific policy solutions, it nevertheless provides facilitators at the local level with the necessary guidance to begin brainstorming solutions that would best-fit the needs of their districts, which has been a common theme of education reform policies in recent years.

Advocating changing culture, both in respect to parental and collegial practices, is, as the film notes, a challenging task.  Abeles is wise to include such an expansive package of screening materials in order to use the documentary as a vehicle for conversations and reform, but the change process is nonetheless slow.  All in all, Race to Nowhere is a striking, though incomplete, critique of achievement culture in America education.  The takeaway message is encompassed by Stanford Professor, Denise Pope, who says, “When success is defined as high grades, test scores, and trophies, we know that we end up with unprepared, disengaged, exhausted, and ultimately unhealthy kids.  It’s no longer about learning.”

 

Bibliography[1]

Abeles, V. and Congdon, J (directors) & Attia, M. (writer). (2010). Race to nowhere (DVD). ReelLink Films (producer).

Cataldo, J. (2010, September 6). Film review: race to nowhere. Slant Magazine.

 Catsoulis, J. (2010, September 9). The overscheduled child. The New York Times.

Freire, P. (2003). From pedagogy of the oppressed. In A. Darder, M.

Baltodano, & R. Torres (Eds.), The critical pedagogy reader (pp.57-68). New York: Routledge Falmer.

Gabriel, T. (2010, December 8). Parents embrace documentary on pressures of school. The New York Times.

 Linden, S. (2010, September 9). Movie review: ‘race to nowhere’. The Los Angeles Times.

 Jennings, N., Lovett, S., Cuba, L., Swingle, J., Lindkvist, H. (2013). “What would make this a successful year for you?” How students define success in college. Liberal Education, 99 (2).

Mathews, J. (2011, April 3). Why ‘race to nowhere’ documentary is wrong. The Washington Post.

Merrow, J. (2010, October 10). ‘Race to nowhere:’ it’s no ‘waiting for superman’, ‘but it’s honest. The Huffington Post.

 Rifion-Meisels, G. (2011). Editor’s Review. Harvard Educational Review, 81 (4).


[1] Some of the sources in the bibliography are not directly cited in the review, although they were referenced while I was researching the film in order to assess what aspects of opinion have already been established and what I could build upon and expand in this paper.

Categories: Education in the 21st Century, News & Current Issues, Writing Samples | Leave a comment

Innovation & blended learning

TOM VANDER ARK
“Education Week” http://feedly.com/k/1damuqz

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The power of literacy: Author Neil Gaiman for U.S. education secretary? By Valerie Strauss

A mindset that more policymakers should keep in mind.
http://feedly.com/k/1bJWrT8

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Five Research-Driven Education Trends At Work in Classrooms | MindShift

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/10/five-research-driven-education-trends-at-work-in-classrooms/

1) Brain-based teaching
2) Game-based learning
3) Power of perseverance
4) Questioning homework
5) Cultivating creativity

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Malala Yousafzai: Hero of Education

Interview with Christiane Amanpour here: http://amanpour.blogs.cnn.com/2013/10/11/the-bravest-girl-in-the-world/

 

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Bill Nye: “let’s stop blaming students”

“Let’s Stop Blaming Students | In Their Own Words | Big Think” http://feedly.com/k/166XTvg

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Quote on teacher observations/evaluations

 

Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning

booksFrom the introduction:

“A wide range of activities goes under the broad walkthrough umbrella – some activities supportive of good instruction, other punitive and uninformed.  Some focus attention on instruction and bring together educators in ways that lead to improvement; others are technical, compliance-driven, cursory (referred to derisively by teachers as ‘drive-bys’), and harshly evaluative.

Unfortunately, the practice of walkthroughs has become corrupted in many ways by confounding it with supervision and evaluation of teachers.  The purpose of some walkthroughs has been to identify deficiencies in classroom practice and to ‘fix’ teachers who manifest those deficiencies.  In many instances, judgements about what needs fixing are made on the basis of simplistic checklists that have little or nothing to do with the direct experience of teachers in their classrooms.  Groups of administrators descend on classrooms with clipboards and checklists, caucus briefly in the hallway, and then deliver a set of simplistic messages about what needs fixing.  This kind of practice is both antithetical to the purposes of instructional rounds and profoundly antiprofessional.  The idea behind instructional rounds is that everyone involved is working on their practice, everyone is obliged to be knowledgeable about the common task of instructional improvement, and everyone’s practice should be subject to scrutiny, critique, and improvement.”

A brief book review is here: https://www.aasa.org/SchoolAdministratorArticle.aspx?id=11076

 

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Diane Ravitch: Q&A on her controversial new book

Interview with Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post

“null” http://feedly.com/k/1fMfodO

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Article of the day for education leaders

Leadership implications of the brave new blended world, by Tom Vander Ark – Education Week

http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?DISPATCHED=true&cid=25983841&item=http%3A%2F%2Fblogs.edweek.org%2Fedweek%2Fon_innovation%2F2013%2F09%2Fleadership_implications_of_the_brave_new_blended_world.html

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Why we blame teachers

“Why We Blame Teachers” http://feedly.com/k/14cvurY

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New review of 8 entrepreneurial educators

“Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave | CTQ” http://feedly.com/k/178k1s5

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Barriers to creativity in education

Adobe completed a study of creativity in education and (unsurprisingly) found a serious lack thereof.  The method was an interview of 4,000 teachers and parents and their results are compiled in the infographic below.

I haven’t read the actual study, but I’m a bit confused with the across-the-board perception that a lack of resources is a perceived hindrance to creativity.  A lack of resources (in sort of an unfortunate way) necessitates creativity regarding instruction.  Students often need special resources to complete projects that teachers feel are creative, but I’m not convinced that all of the projects the students would deem “creative” require substantial resources.  It seems that with the rise of technology, accessibility to internet access is really the main concerns as far as resources (along with the skills to utilize that technology).  I’m not arguing we have a great educational infrastructure by any means either (we definitely do not), including internet access in far too many schools.  I just feel that creativity is more of a solution in and of itself to many of our problems rather than something that is inhibited in an absolute sense by any given factor or collection of factors.

The graphic is below, or can be found here: http://wwwimages.adobe.com/www.adobe.com/content/dam/Adobe/en/education/pdfs/creativity-study-infographic.pdf 

barriers-to-creativity-in-education-adobe

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Video Games and Education: Primer Sources

I recently came across a handful of resources regarding learning through video games.  Anya Kamenetz at The Hechinger Report provides Four insights into the future of games and technology for learning, which reviews insights from an interview with James Paul Lee as well as an analysis from The Joan Ganz Cooney Center.  Further writing from Kamenetz regarding game-making research is here and a video from Education Week on this topic is available here.

Each article also contains several links for further reading!

 

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Introducing: Learnist

New, big app for education, teaching, and learning.  I’ll soon be adding my learnist profile somewhere on this blog once I get going.  For now, check out the videos below to learn more.

 

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TED on Education

Lots of good stuff here, and a few repeats among playlists.  I won’t go into detail because these are really all worth watching, especially anything Ken Robinson says about teaching and learning…

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What is learning, exactly? by Joanne Yatvin – (Valerie Strauss, Washington Post)

…Not just memorizing a textbook!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/08/12/what-is-learning-exactly/

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Using Zombies to teach STEM (and other awesome zombie stuff)

I’m not a huge fan of FOX News, but this story caught my eye and I just had to read on.  Texas Instruments and The National Academy of Sciences have teamed to produce STEM Behind Hollywood, a series of highly entertaining activities aiming to facilitate real-world problem solving in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  The website for the project includes many activity plans which are accessible via download.

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The project also uses superheros, forensic investigations, space inquiries, and neuroscience experiments to hook kids’ interest, but really it’s all about the zombies these days.  Speaking of zombies, I can’t help but mention two pieces of Zombie literature that are awesome resources to use in the social studies classroom.  The first is the novel (wayyyyy, wayyyyyy, indescribably better than the movie) World War Z, by Max Brooks.  The book is a series of interviews conducted by Max Brooks following a global war against zombies.  Brooks interviews a long list of exotic characters from around the world to gain a retrospect of the events that took place during and after the war.  A variety of (real-world) global conflicts are touched upon (i.e. Israel & Palestine, sex trafficking, rampant unrestrained consumerism, and Kashmir just to name a few…) within a narrative that will capture the attention of anyone remotely interested in the world around them.  I’d especially recommend the audiobook version, which used a different reader for each character.

I also must recommend Theories of International Relations and Zombies, by Daniel W. Drezner.  Although this is definitely an academic book, the topic brings a serious text within the grasps of accessibility to many adolescents.  To be sure, this is a type of book I’d only recommend to students who were already interested in the topic of global politics and/or international relations because hidden beneath the zombie narrative is a very clear analysis of real-world international relations theories.

As much as I admire the content and the analysis of theories, what really caught my attention with Drezner’s work was his incredible ability to organize an argument and convey it in concise yet highly elegant terms.  If I wanted to teach a kid who already likes social studies how to write more effectively, hands down this is the number one resource I would use.  This is a skill that (unfortunately) not enough adolescent students really excel at, and Drezner’s work provides us with an opportunity to teach students how to form a really fantastic argument.  Drezner’s own comments on this book, including how to use it in an undergraduate setting and how he managed to write it without “drowning in puns,” are available here.

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Highly recommend: “We Need to Treat Children as the Complex Thinkers They Are”

Excellent article by John Hunter

– Necessary reading for anyone who works with kids, especially teachers

In Their Own Words | Big Think” http://feedly.com/k/15B7luP

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This is an awesome bunch of schools

“4 High Schools Using Projects to Promote Deeper Learning” http://feedly.com/k/11HWsnX

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20 Must-Have Educational Resources For All Teachers | Edudemic

Some of my favorites have made the list! Can’t wait to play brief clips of audio books to my students…Audible is the best

http://www.edudemic.com/2012/02/20-ed-resources/

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The Teacher’s Job

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Nancy Flanagan – Is Public Education on Its Death Bed? Should It Be? Seven Points of Argument, Leverage and Change.

“Education Week” http://feedly.com/k/1dTwHDe

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Another excellent talk by Ken Robinson on education

Ken Robinson – “At the heart of education is a teacher and a learner and we’ve, over time, kind of obfuscated that relationship with every type of distraction.  We have syllabuses, we have testing regimes, testing companies, political ideologies, political purposes, subject loyalties, unit issues, building codes, all of these time tables, schedules – it’s why we can spend all day long discussing education and never mention teaching or learning.  But if there’s no teaching and learning happening there is no education going on.  So if we’re going to improve education we have to improve that a bit, and everything else has to take a place around it and not get in the middle of it or get in the way of it.”

For me – this is the heart of educational policies today.  We’ve got to start from this foundation by implementing policies that support teachers and learners.  Prior to the quote, Robinson shares an analogy through a  thought experiment of the essence of theater performances.  Ultimately, the core element of any theater involves an actor and an audience.  Additional props, settings, etc. are introduced to complement that relationship only if they positively impact the performance. In the same way, as Robinson points out (video embedded below), successful education reforms must respect the importance of that relationship.

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Susan Ohanian on Ed. Reform Legislation

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Innovation in Education

A taste of innovation in K-12 education.

“10 Signs From NGLC Winners” http://feedly.com/k/1apBiNN

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“No Dentist Left Behind”

An old, but unfortunately still relevant joke:

 

“No Dentist Left Behind”
 
My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don’t forget Check-ups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I’ve got all my teeth. When I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he’d heard about the new state program. I knew he’d think it was great.

“Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?” I said.

 

“No,” he said. He didn’t seem too thrilled. “How will they do that?”
“It’s quite simple,” I said. “They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist’s rating. Dentists will be rated as excellent, good, average, below average, and unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. The plan will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better,” I said. “Poor dentists who don’t improve could lose their licenses to practice.”

“That’s terrible,” he said.
“What? That’s not a good attitude,” I said. “Don’t you think we should try to improve children’s dental health in this state?”
“Sure I do,” he said, “but that’s not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry.”
“Why not?”, I said. “It makes perfect sense to me.”

“Well, it’s so obvious,” he said. “Don’t you see that dentists don’t all work with the same clientele, and that much depends on things we can’t control? For example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle-class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don’t bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem, and I don’t get to do much preventive work. Also, more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay. To top it all off, so many of my clients have well water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?”

“It sounds like you’re making excuses,” I said. “I can’t believe that you, my dentist, would be so defensive. After all, you do a great job, and you needn’t fear a little accountability.”

“I am not being defensive!” he said. “My best patients are as good as anyone’s, my work is as good as anyone’s, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most.”

“Don’t get touchy,” I said.

“Touchy?” he said. His face had turned red, and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. “Try furious! In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse. The few educated patients I have who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating is an actual measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I’ll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?”

“I think you are overreacting,” I said. “‘Complaining, excuse-making and stonewalling won’t improve dental health’…I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC,” I noted.

“What’s the DOC?” he asked. “It’s the Dental Oversight Committee,”
I said, “a group made up of mostly lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved.
“Spare me,” he said, “I can’t believe this. Reasonable people won’t buy it,” he said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, “How else would you measure good dentistry?”

“Come watch me work,” he said. “Observe my processes.”
“That’s too complicated, expensive and time- consuming,” I said. “Cavities are the bottom line, and you can’t argue with the bottom line. It’s an absolute measure.”
“That’s what I’m afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This can’t be happening,” he said despairingly.
“Now, now,” I said, “don’t despair. The state will help you some.”
“How?” he asked. “If you receive a poor rating, they’ll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out,” I said brightly.
“You mean,” he said, “they’ll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? BIG HELP!”

“There you go again,” I said. “You aren’t acting professionally at all.”
“You don’t get it,” he said. “Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score made on a test of children’s progress with no regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools.”

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened. “I’m going to write my representatives and senators,” he said. “I’ll use the school analogy. Surely they will see the point.” He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I, a teacher, see in the mirror so often lately.

If you don’t understand why educators resent the recent federal NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT, this may help. If you do understand, you’ll enjoy this analogy, which was forwarded by John S. Taylor, Superintendent of Schools for the Lancaster County, PA, School District.

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Excellent ed. Policy recommendations by Justin Reich

“Education Week” http://feedly.com/k/14L4XxA

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Can Dutch iPad Schools Revolutionize Education?by ORION JONES

Very exciting model to adopt!

By Orion Jones

“Can Dutch iPad Schools Revolutionize Education? | IdeaFeed | Big Think” http://feedly.com/k/11b3Gmc

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Why Google won’t hire you and other failings of the ed. system

“Why Google Won’t Hire You | Praxis | Big Think” http://feedly.com/k/118WQxB

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