Jan 30, 2012

ARTICLE: Average

U.S. Falls In World Education Rankings, Rated 'Average' 

The article is short, so I'll speak to the comments...

ninetailedfox: This is what happens when people allow fundamentalist christians to play with education. If we dont want to lose more children, it would be wise to curb them from doing further damage. 

Yep. Those darn Christians with their God math and Jesus grammar. You're making our children stupid!

MirageRF: When you find a student who is failing, you usually find a family who is failing. The student is a product of the home long before he comes to school. Show me a healthy, functional family and I'll show you a successful student/teacher relationsh­ip. 

Generally, this is true. Unfortunately, though, it's too easy for teachers to use this as an excuse to give up on students. I hate to admit it, but I've used this excuse. Because it never brought me success or satisfaction, I finally decided to ignore the theory and change my teaching. I need to reach the students in spite of their families.

kevinw71: America has the highest amount of children living in poverty than any industrialized country. Let's lower that number before we attack our nation's teachers. 

Poverty plays such a significant role in lives that it can't be ignored. Or, in many cases, circumvented. If you could get a kid to stay in one place for many years, you might make an impact. A school could design a plan to reach these kids and stick to it year after year after year. I don't know--I'm spit-balling.

Retrofuturistic: I hope this means an end to Creationism in science class.... 

No doubt. That should help with math and reading, too, right?

David Kenny: We villify both educators and learning. It is an American tradition. But even within the teaching community, the idea that measuring skill is somehow undesirable just blows my mind. We measure every other field of endeavor, but somehow we don't need to worry about measuring whether our children can add or understand the different states of matter. 

I don't think that teachers object to testing. But there's two problems with modern tests. One, testing is a business. It has absolutely nothing to do with assessing the students and their skills. Instead of allowing the people in the classrooms to design their own tests, states pay millions and millions of dollars for tricky, convoluted booklets of stress and confusion. Also, testing should never be linked to student promotion or teacher pay. Tests are meant to guide instruction. If the students do well, move on to the next topic. If the students fail, stop and reteach. It's so simple. Give the students a test at the beginning and the end. The end. Not April. Improvement is success.

ARTICLE: Uh, no.

Are Teachers Overpaid?

You've probably seen a story like this. Someone calculates the salary of a teacher if the teacher was paid like a babysitter. 

Can I pause here and say something? If I was paid $108,000 or even $60,000, I would recycle so much money back into my classroom. Whether math games, iPads, backpacks, or binders, I would buy stuff for the school and my class. I'm not trying to sound saintly--if buying something would make life easier or more interesting, I would get it. It's really quite self-serving.

Anyway, I find this article interesting because Forbes uses Wisconsin as its example. The average teacher makes $51,000. Plus... "Their benefits package knocks that up quite a bit – some say by $39,000 to a total of $90,000 combined benefits and wages." Good gravy!

Jan 29, 2012

SITE: Web 2.0 Resources

This site is wicked awesome! That's all I have to say.

Write it on your communicator: Web 2.0 Resources.

SITE: Sploder

This is a great idea. You can build your own online game! How might you use it in your classroom? Pshhh, who cares! You make your own games! No, really, I'm not sure that you could create a game for the states of matter or equivalent fractions, but you could use it to discuss cause and effect or the importance of planning. Or, treat it as an incentive.

Write it on your communicator: sploder.com.

SITE: Storybird

From the site: "Storybirds are short, art-inspired stories you make to share, read, and print. Read them like books, play them like games, and send them like greeting cards. They’re curiously fun." I like the looks of this site, but I've not created a story, so I can't speak to the difficulty. It's free and you can set up a class.

Write it on your communicator: storybird.com.

SITE: GoAnimate

This looks fun! I've wanted to create animation about my girls for a while, but, as I've said before, I can't draw. I think I'll give this a shot. Although it's free, you'll have to pay for a class subscription. On the GoAnimate4Schools site, there are examples of videos made for school. 

Write it on your communicator: goanimate.com.

Extra credit: goanimate4schools.com.

SITE: Kerpoof

Honestly, I can't say much about his site. It looks interesting. Children can make drawings, movies, and cards. They can also spell a picture. There's a button for educators, which leads to lesson plans and other things.

Write it on your communicator: kerpoof.com.

SITE: Animoto

You've probably seen these cool videos somewhere--a workshop or e-card. After adding your photos and words, it spits out a beautiful, professional video. The free videos are short at 30 seconds, but free is free. I'm going to remember this next year, and have the students introduce themselves with Animoto.

Write it on your communicator: animoto.com.

Jan 28, 2012

ARTICLE: Woohoo! $150,000!

Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan: Pay ‘Great’ Teachers $150k

My post to the comments section:

From the Wall Street Journal (online article, June 25, 2011): "...American primary-school educators spend 1,913 working in a year. According to data from the comparable year in a Labor Department survey, an average full-time employee works 1,932 hours a year spread out over 48 weeks (excluding two weeks vacation and federal holidays)." That's awfully close, folks. Here's the kicker: teachers work the same number of hours in approximately 37 weeks. And you complain about our summers and holidays. We don't get paid for that time. We get paid for the hours that we work--our paycheck is simply spread out over 12 months. Speaking of pay...

In this Texas city, I make $42,668. With the federal, state, and district budget cuts, I did not receive a raise this year, but health insurance increased. For my family of 4, I pay around $1,000/month for insurance. Do the math. Naturally, I would welcome more money. Knowing how much time I spend on my students, I'm quite certain that I've earned it.

I know, I know, I signed up for this job. I wanted to teach children. Teaching is an essential profession and I'm a proud, thankful, joyful member of it. It's filled with dedicated, brilliant, creative, kind, loving people. (Are there poor examples of teachers? Irrelevant. Every profession has poor examples. What an ignorant reason to speak negatively of all teachers.)

In those countries who are tops in education (Finland, for example), they first made significant changes to the system and their philosophy. For one, they absolutely engineered higher prestige for teachers. Through improved college preparation, higher salaries, and greater freedom, teachers, schools, and children found success. Period. Now, I think that teachers should earn more money--it's a means to improve prestige. I think other things need to happen, also. The American education system needs a renovation. Rather than adding a new coat of paint on the old coat of paint on the old coat of paint on the old coat of paint, we need to sand it to the wood and start over. This is beyond new tests, incentive pay, charter schools, or vouchers--those are just new paint.

Presently, American teachers are handicapped by unrealistic laws, arbitrary policies, misguided standardized tests, reduced budgets, and the relentless hounding and doubt from parents and the public. In Finland, Japan, Korea, and other countries with impressive education systems, they don't deal with any of that. Teachers are respected, well-paid, well-educated, and allowed the freedom to collaborate and continue their education. In the United States, decisions are made by politicians, school boards, administrators, parents, and the public. None of whom are in the classrooms with the students! As long as that's true, our education system will never improve. That's why it's easy for you to complain, point fingers, and disparage.

I love teaching. I spend my days with kids who look up to me. It's full of challenge and pride and adoration. And my impact is long-lasting. I simply want more for my students and country. For that to happen, people need to get out of my classroom. You can keep talking about money, but you've completely missed the point. That's okay--it's easy to do when you're not spending your days with a class full of children.

Jan 25, 2012

ARTICLE: Ignoring Finland

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success

"...Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play." 

I've drastically cut back on my homework this year. Occasionally, I will send something home. And it causes me more trouble than it's worth. Homework sucks--what a stupid idea.

"'[T]here are no private schools in Finland.'"

"Finland has no standardized tests... Instead, the public school system's teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves."  

Trusting teachers to assess the students and using tests and observations to guide their instruction? Risky. You know teachers aren't very bright.

"As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg [director of the Finnish Ministry of Education's Center for International Mobility] shrugs. 'There's no word for accountability in Finnish,' he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. 'Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted' [emphasis added]. For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master's degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal's responsibility to notice and deal with it."  

That quote gets me. A sage observation. If teachers are treated as idiots, unable to make decisions, then others feel the necessity to hold us "accountable." That one sentence paints a true picture of American education. Buried under laws, policies, unrealistic assessments, and budget cuts, teachers are still criticized for lack of gains, and decision-makers spend more time discussing accountability. In Finland, though, they behave professionally and they are treated as professionals--able to make their own decisions.

"And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable... The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation."

"Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality."

"Educational policy, Abrams [a visiting scholar at Columbia University's Teachers College] suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country's school system than the nation's size or ethnic makeup... The problem facing education in America isn't the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad."  

The article mentions Norway, a country with an extremely homogeneous population and an education philosophy similar to the United States. It scores in the average range. More and more, I realize that, as a country, we can invent excuses like nobody's business. That's keeping us from setting clear, positive goals and taking strides to reach them.

Jan 23, 2012

SITE: Corkboard Me

Tomorrow, in Math, I'm using the netbooks and Corkboard Me. For the last two weeks, I had small groups working on review topics. After reading an article about teaching to learn, I remembered that I need my students to respond to their learning. Paper and pencil is boring. The chalkboard's not much better. Oh, but they love computers. So, they're going to post to a corkboard and share with the class.

Write it on your communicator: Corkboard Me.

ARTICLE: Japanese Schools

School Life in Japan: School Day, School Year, Lunches, Pinworm Checks, Swimming, Cell Phones, Class Size and Rules
Facts & Details

After reading that article on Chicago's school day, I went looking for information on Japan. A couple of things caught my eye.

"The Japanese school year extends for 210 or so days—compared to 180 in the United States, 251 in China, 220 in South Korea, and 214 in Israel. The Japanese academic year extends from mid-April to the end of March and is divided into three terms: 1) April to July, 2) September to December, and 3) January to March. There is a six week vacation in the summer, two weeks in winter and two weeks in spring."  

I would try this. I would. In a short time, two or three years, I think we'd see a big difference. In retention. In achievement. 

"Souji ('honorable cleaning') is a period of about 15 minutes each day when all activities come to a stop, mops and buckets appears and everyone pitches in cleaning up."  

Now, that's what I'm talking about. Work ethic. Respect. Pride. 

"Often the teachers and principals get on their hands and knees and join students."  

Wait, what?

"Japanese schools don't have any janitors because the students and staff do all the cleaning. Students in elementary school, middle school, and high school sweep the hall floors after lunch and before they go home at the end of the day. They also clean the windows, scrub the toilets and empty the trash cans under the supervision of student leaders. During lunchtime, sometimes donning hairnets, students help serve the meals and clear away dishes."  

Think about our recycle team. They get into that--it's a source of pride; plus, it's beneficial to our school and community. 

"Typical Japanese school lunch meals include beef with potatoes and vegetables; cold noodles with mixed nuts and melon; curry and rice with salad and pickles; fried squid with fried potatoes and soup; and eel sushi with soup and fruit in jelly. A typical school lunch is comprised of miso soup, spinach and Chinese cabbage in almond paste, natto (“fermented soy beans”), rice and milk and has 621 calories and cost $1.68."  

I would buy lunch in the cafeteria. That sounds delicious. Well, I question the eel sushi, but the rest of it sounds like a good meal.

"Pinworms are tiny parasites that cause..."  

I'll just let you finish reading that on the site.

"The number of students in each classroom is generally larger than in the United States. The teacher to student ratio is listed at 21 to 1 for Japan but a typical primary school class has around 31 to 35 students..."

When I started teaching, my first classroom was a temporary with 31 students. Yep. It's brutal. If we hit 24, we complain, and talk about a loss of learning. The Japanese seem to accept it and teach.

The article has more to say, and it's fair, mentioning the stress and long hours.

ARTICLE: Chicago School Day

Chicago Public School System Announces Guidelines for Longer School Days
Yahoo! News

One thing caught my attention: "Before the school day changes, Chicago's average school day was from 9 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. although some schools operated on a schedule of 8 a.m. to 1:45 p.m." That's short, yeah? When the article mentioned the lengthening of the day by 90 minutes, I thought, Hey, that's awesome. I know it's not a popular solution, but it would help. Pshhh! By adding 90 minutes, Chicago makes it a normal school day. Big deal. Take out enrichment time, lunch time, and recess, and you're teaching for less than 4 hours!

Jan 22, 2012

SITE: LibreOffice

Since we use Microsoft Office at school, I wanted to use it at home. So, I went looking for a free version. I know, fat chance. Luckily, I came across this software. It's free! And it's crazy similar to Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and the other stuff. You can save everything as .doc, .ppt, or .xls. It takes a bit to get used to it--the menus are different.

Write it on your communicator: libreoffice.org.

Jan 21, 2012

SITE: Symbaloo

Just discovered. It's a webpage of bookmarks. Set it as your homepage and add link buttons. Great big cool link buttons. I'm building my pages now. It does have education subscriptions and real classroom uses, but I've not looked into it. At first glance, though, it might be easier than adding links to my school webpage.

Write it on your communicator: symbaloo.com.

SITE: Pixton

I can't draw. No, really, even my stick figures look stupid. The idea of making comic strips, though, was strangely interesting to me. So, I went searching and came across Pixton. It's free and has lots of options, including posing the figures. I've not tried it in class, but I think I can find a place. If nothing else, it's been fun for me to... express myself.

Write it on your communicator: pixton.com.

Extra credit: My collection of comic strips.

SITE: Teaching Channel

At a recent workshop, the presenter showed two videos from this site. They showed creative teachers and inspiring lessons. Take a look around.

Write it on your communicator: teachingchannel.org.

SITE: Morguefile

I've noticed that the kids have discovered Google Images. Free images for everyone! Yeah, no, not really. Teachers, if we assign projects that involves images, we must teach the rules of attribution. Morguefile makes it easier. Each image is very clear about its copyright. Plus, the images are free! 

Write it on your communicator: morguefile.com.

Extra credit: Citation Generator.

ARTICLE: Parent Trigger?

'Parent trigger' would let parents convert schools

"Indiana parents could soon have a direct say in turning public schools into charter schools. A measure being pushed in the Indiana House of Representatives would let them vote to turn public schools over to charter school operators."

This is monumentally moronic. I can't even begin to wrap my head around this insanity. If 51% of a school's parents are brainwashed into thinking that naming your school with the word, charter, is an improvement, it becomes a charter school. I haven't read much, but the research seems inconclusive to me. Besides, I would argue that a successful charter school has effective teachers. A successful public school has effective teachers. A successful clown school has effective teachers. Let's stop pretending that the type of school is the secret to success. Use research to train teachers in best practices, allow them the freedom to collaborate, and reward them for creative, effective lessons--when that happens, you'll see success... in public, private, and clown schools.

I'm convinced that someone is making trademark money every time the word, charter, is used.

ARTICLE: Student Seminars

We Learn By Teaching

"I insist that all my students present their learning in seminars, and I also encourage questioning during these seminars. It's for a very good reason - having to stand up and explain something, means the students need to learn it first. They need to become familiar with the concept, theory, idea they will be talking about in front of their peer group."

Okay, so the article isn't ground-breaking. It's not supported with research. In fact, it seems common-sensical, which is dangerous. I find it interesting, though. In class, my students are reviewing topics in Math. Once they finish the lessons, I'll need to assess them again. Instead of paper and pencil, it's an interesting idea to have them present a lesson. It doesn't need to be long, but should include 1) vocabulary, 2) things to remember, 3) an example, and 4) things to avoid.

SITE: Web 2.0 Tools for Educators

Good ol' Jim from ITD put this together. And he must have put in hours and hours of work to organize this collection. 

Come on, teachers, get with it! Web 2.0 tools are wicked cool and fun. Kids love them. The great thing about stuff on computers and the Internet is that kids teach themselves. Don't take the computer lab session to instruct and point out all of the options. They know something that adults forget--if you want to learn something, dive in. 

Write it on your communicator: webapplications.wikispaces.com.

SITE: Prezi

Dig it, folks. This site is free. Free! It's infinitely more interesting than PowerPoint or a poster. I always offer this as a project choice, and a few kids take me up on it. Without instructions or hints from me, they figure it out and put together interesting shows.

Write it on your communicator: prezi.com.

SITE: Glogster

I keep thinking about this site. I want to use it. Unless hit by creative lightning, I don't anticipate using it for Math, but it has great potential in Social Studies. Our art teacher uses it in class as a hook--what a great visual introduction to artists and styles. Much better than a poster or video. It's free unless you want to create and manage student accounts. For 50 ad-free student accounts, it's $29.95 per year. That's not bad--you could use it over and over during the year. 

Write it on your communicator: glogster.com.

SITE: Teachers Pay Teachers

Teachers, you have to visit this site. Whenever you create an account and add products, your first offer must be free, so there are buttloads of free lessons, activities, worksheets, and assessments. Plus, there's over 100,000 items that are $5 or less. There's only one thing that I don't like. Many of the products are professionally made--you could find them on other sites or at the teacher store. That's just cheating.

Write it on your communicator: teacherspayteachers.com

Extra credit: my store.

SITE: Voki

Several times, I've used voki's as extra credit. I've given the students a problem and they give the answer via their created voki. Having them complete it at home helps to avoid wasted time--some of them could spend hours just picking an avatar, background, or color.

ARTICLE: Merit Pay

Teacher Reward Report: Focus on Collaboration, Not Competition

There's a report by the National Education Policy Center that suggests that merit pay won't improve student achievement. Instead of merit pay, it might be worthwhile to offer teachers other incentives. NEPC suggests that policymakers consider rewarding teachers with...
  • Principals who cultivate and embrace teacher leadership 
  • Time and tools for teachers to learn from one another 
  • Specialized resources for high-need schools, students and subjects 
  • The elimination of out-of-field teaching assignments 
  • Teaching loads that take the diversity of students into account 
  • Leeway to take risks 
  • Integration of academic, social and health services for students
  • Safe, well-maintained school buildings 
That's good stuff, huh?

Jan 20, 2012