Apr 27, 2012

SITE: Newsjack

This site retrieves another website and allows you to "remix" it. Think of the writing opportunities!

Write it on your communicator: Newsjack.

Apr 26, 2012

ARTICLE: Automated Grading

Software for Automating Essay Grading Put to the Test

"Researchers from University of Akron, Ohio found that the nine robo-grading products available on the market assigned the same scores as human graders."

You know, it's easy enough to put essays on the test and tie scores to money, jobs, and rankings, but they can't be bothered to use human graders.

"The results, announced during this year’s National Council on Measurement in Education meeting held in Vancouver, Canada, showed that at least some of the programs produced marks very similar to the ones given by humans."

If you put a few monkeys in a room with four buttons, they, too, would produce marks very similar to the ones given by humans.

All right, so I don't have a strong argument against automated essay grading. I'm just whining. Tell me why I hate this...

Apr 24, 2012

SITE: Star Wars Crawl Creator

Write it on your communicator: Star Wars Crawl Creator.

SITE: Larry Ferlazzo's Websites

Just... wow. Tons of links. His Best of list is almost too good to believe. Don't look at it directly--it will blind you with listy goodness.

Write it on your communicator: Larry Ferlazzo.

SITE: Incredibox

Too cool. I can't think of one legitimate way to use it in my class. And I don't care. I can't wait to show them!

Write it on your communicator: Incredibox.

Apr 21, 2012

ARTICLE: The Pineapple and Oz

The Pineapple Story Tests Us: Have Test Publishers become Unquestionable Authorities?

If you've not heard, a reading question from New York's state test was released.

"This story is remarkable for several reasons. First of all, the patent absurdity of the questions. In today's data-driven world, the scores these student achieve could be used to end a teacher's career. But there are many test questions that are of questionable quality. Scientist Robert Krampf this week also found major errors in Florida's Science FCAT test."

"Teachers who give standardized tests are required to sign affidavits swearing they will not copy the tests, or divulge their contents. Thus teachers are forbidden from airing concerns they might have about the contents of the tests. The tests have become the ultimate authorities in our schools, and the test publishers are virtually unquestionable. The standardized testing technocracy has convinced our policy makers that the only way we will be competitive in the world is if everyone learns the same information, and has that learning measured in ever-finer increments. We are not supposed to look behind the curtain to see the way this data is arrived at." 

"But teachers cannot discuss publicly, let alone challenge the content of the tests, and the test publishers will not even discuss it when the questions are somehow made public. How long will we pretend that this is any way to teach our students to be critical, creative thinkers?"

ARTICLE: Best Practices

Best Practices in Teaching and Learning

This page contrasts teacher-centered and learner-centered classrooms, and lists a number of best practices.

Apr 20, 2012

VIDEO: Social Math

How to Teach Math as a Social Activity


Big Thinkers: Salman Khan on Liberating the Classroom for Creativity

VIDEO: Singapore's Use of Technology

Singapore's 21st-Century Teaching Strategies 

"Teaching is a highly-respected and well-compensated profession in Singapore. All teachers are trained at the country's National Institute of Education (NIE)."

"All new teachers are paired with experienced teachers for mentoring, and peer feedback is built into the schedule."

"Class sizes are large, especially at the secondary level, averaging 36 students per class."

VIDEO: Finland's Success

Finland’s Formula for School Success

"Teachers in Finland are well-trained and highly respected, and recruited from the top 10% of graduates."

"Because of the flexible national core curriculum that functions as a framework, Finnish teachers are able to design their own curriculum and choose their own textbooks."

"Finnish schools are typically small in size, and the administrators share teaching responsibilities."

"Finnish schools provide a broad array of services, including a hot meal for every student daily, health and dental care, and psychological guidance."

VIDEO: Canada's Achievement Gap

How Canada Is Closing the Achievement Gap

"Every school in Ontario staffs a full-time 'student success teacher,' who devotes his or her time to the students who need it most."

"Despite coming into the country with challenges, immigrant children are typically performing as well as Canadian-born children on the PISA assessment just a few years after their arrival."

Apr 18, 2012

ARTICLE: Narrowing the Achievement Gap

Ohio Takes Aim at Reducing Achievement Gap

"Under the proposed changes by the Ohio Department of Education schools will be rated by whether they meet a pass rate and graduation rate target and whether the gap between disadvantaged students and others has reduced."

The article mentions an argument from the critics. While waiting for the disadvantaged to catch up, the advantaged cannot improve--that could potentially widen the gap.

Some schools have small achievement gaps, or none at all. Won't those schools naturally rate higher? Is Ohio assuming that schools create or eliminate achievement gaps? (Deep down, I know that's a silly, naive question.)

Apr 15, 2012


12 Most Unconventional Reasons to Opt Your Child Out of Standardized Testing

Obviously, the article discusses each reason. I'm not going to list the reasons here--I hope you'll take a look at the article. All right, I'll give you a bit...

"6. They don’t measure what’s important for student achievement.
Everyone knows that filling in bubbles is not an effective way to adequately measure knowledge or assess what people can do when it comes to tasks needed for real-world success. Unfortunately, in the mass-production model of school, that doesn’t matter. It is the easiest way to measure a huge number of students. What’s even more interesting is that in many states it is well known that tests don’t measure what is important. In fact if you visit this site from PBS you’ll discover that in many states not only do standardized tests not measure what is important, they are also not even aligned to the standards."

ARTICLE: "Easy peasy, right?"

If it’s broke, fix it! 

I can't say too much--the article is short, so I won't steal its thunder.

Apr 12, 2012

SITE: ifaketext

"The first iPhone text message screenshot generator." Easy to create. No need to set up an account.

Write it on your communicator: ifaketext.com.

SITE: Digital Goonies

This site is the creation of Jim and Susan from ITD. Tons of tech links, applications, ideas, etc. Check it out.

Write it on your communicator: Digital Goonies.


Students Enthusiastic About ‘Flipped Classroom’

"Instead of listening to the teacher lecture on a subject at school and doing homework at home, now students watch the lecture at home, being able to pause and rewind the presentation to increase comprehension or note down question. Project work and problems that might traditionally be assigned as homework is now tackled during the classroom where the teacher is available to help."

"Although no formal studies into the method have yet been conducted those involved point to Clintondale High School in Michigan which ‘flipped’ its entire curriculum last year and have noted a significant rise in attendance rates and performance and a corresponding decline in disciplinary problems."

Everything that I've read on this strategy involves high school students. Research shows that homework is effective at the high school level. Those students understand its importance and, more than likely, have a mission. Will this work for elementary students? I just don't know. Several parents have asked for ways to help, so it could work.  

SITE: Photosnack

From the site: With PhotoSnack it's easier than ever to add photos, create elegant flash photo slideshows with music, and share them with your friends and family. And by the way, it's free! 

Write it on your communicator: Photosnack.com.

Apr 11, 2012

ARTICLE: Merit Pay

Merit Pay For Teachers In Indiana School Districts Raise Questions 

"[B]ased on economic and political theory: Merit pay will increase incentives to do good work. Good teachers will make more money. Poor teachers will be removed. Overall pay — along with student performance — could actually rise."

The logic is clear...
Schools = business. 
Students = product (like hamburgers or smartphones).
Teachers = workers needing incentive to do a better job. 
Test scores = the infallible measure of a teacher's worth. 
Merit pay = incentive for teachers who need a dangling carrot to motivate their lazy butts. 
Research = [search returns no results] 
"[M]any educators criticize performance pay plans, arguing that the promise of more money will not make them work harder. And research backs them up. A 2010 study by the National Center on Performance Incentives found no significant difference in student achievement between teachers who were given bonuses for boosting test scores and those who weren't."

"Proponents of merit pay counter that the current salary structure doesn't always make sense, either — research has demonstrated no relationship between advanced teaching degrees and student performance — and say the ultimate goal of merit pay is to attract higher quality students into the profession."

That should work. Let's not attract higher quality students into the profession by improving teacher preparation programs or offering higher salaries or treating teachers as professionals by giving them a voice. No, let's make them jump through hoops and promise them a few extra bucks in their pockets. Maybe.

ARTICLE: Making Math Fun

Math Education In America: Educators And Entrepreneurs Have Ideas To Make It Fun 

I love the introduction of this article: "In the American drive to boost science and math education, it's science that has all the kid-friendly sizzle: Robots and roller coasters, foaming chemical reactions, marshmallow air cannons. Math has... well, numbers."

"Educators acknowledge part of the problem is the traditional approach to teaching math. Despite periodic stabs at reform, teachers say math classes are often far too heavy on computation drills and formulas, leaving little time for creative problem solving."

Are they mutually exclusive?

Comment from xirdneh132: I taught high school math for 8 years and the biggest problem I saw wasn't that it's not fun, math isn't really of that fun, it's math curriculum is often a mile wide and an inch deep. You have to hit so many different topics in a semester or year, in some cases the scope and sequence make no sense, you end up leaving kids who were already behind before they started even further behind. College professors blame high school teachers, high school teachers blame elementary school teachers, but the problem is elementary schools have their curriculum to teach, high schools have their own and too often they don't build upon one another. Math education is lacking cohesiveness and teachers are often relegated to hitting a subject a day with almost no time for mastery. 

Agreed. It's true that the people making decisions have no idea what they're doing. At all. But, that shouldn't keep us from doing what needs to be done. Spiraling throughout the year is absolutely necessary. Teachers must take it upon themselves to communicate and vertically align themselves. Discovery and creative problem solving must be the priorities. I know it's not easy. It takes a ridiculous amount of time--unless I'm just inefficient and slow--to create lessons that go beyond lecture and practice.

Comment from XV8 Crisis Suit: Math isn't fun. The important things in life aren't fun. If we tell kids that math is fun and try to use that to make them learn, then we are lying to them. 

I only included this post to prove that not everything you read on the Interwebs is correct.

Comment from alastingwill: I echo the heart behind the article. Math education has been reduced to low-level questioning, memorizing formulas, and plug and chug. In the international study quoted in The Learning Gap, the authors learned that teachers in the United States often asked low level questions and STATED concepts instead of DEVELOPING concepts. There's also a gross omission of creative problem solving...

The Learning Gap was a fascinating read. I used it and The Teaching Gap to change my approach this year. As much as possible, I use discovery and higher-order questions. The process is frustrating for everyone, time-consuming, misunderstood by parents, and exhausting. I don't care. Now, when I'm crazy enough to teach a traditional lesson, I feel the room die and watch eyes roll back into anesthetized heads. Using activities and discussion, we have to trick students into learning.

Apr 10, 2012

ARTICLE: 1 to 1!

Charter Schools Spend More On Administration, Less On Instruction Than Traditional Public Schools: Study 

"[C]harter schools are touted for successes through their leaner administrative model, allowing for more resources to go directly to classrooms... [R]esearchers found that charter schools actually spent more per-student on administration and less on instruction than non-charter public schools."

Whether dealing with charter or public schools, there are way too many hands in the cookie jar. 

"Charters tend to pay lower salaries to teachers with similar credentials and experience as non-charter public school teachers, but also employ a less experienced and less expensive group of educators, thus driving down instructional costs."

Yep, that sounds much better than public schools.

"Lower compensation also contributes to higher teacher turnover rates among charter schools, which consequently requires 'highly scripted instructional practices' and more demanding administrative oversight, thus increasing administrative costs."

It sounds like Utopia... except for the high turnover rates and highly scripted practices.

"In Texas, where the ratio of teachers to non-teachers has grown to nearly 1 to 1 in 2011 from 4 to 1 in the 1970s, the spending difference can also be seen in a large number of administrators who are paid for by federal grants, Michael Griffith, a school finance expert with the Education Commission of the States, told The Texas Tribune last year."

Good gravy! A ratio of 1 to 1! Seriously, Texas teachers, think about that. That's a lot of money going to people who aren't in the classroom, while teachers are let go and class-size grows.

VIDEO: Ratings vs. Average Spending

Is State System Helping Failing Districts?
by Justin Dehn and Thanh Tan

ARTICLE: Closing Entire Districts

Texas School Closings Rare, But Should They Be?

"Of the state’s 1,024 school districts, nearly 50 have been identified as “unacceptable” — which means less than 65 percent of their students passed state math exams and less than 70 percent passed them in reading. The ratings also take dropout and graduation rates into account. Those worst-performing districts serve a higher percentage of low-income and minority students — and on average, receive less in funding — than their higher-rated counterparts."

"When news broke in January that Premont ISD would suspend athletics to cut costs in an effort to avoid closure, state Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, vice chairman of the House Public Education Committee, requested information from the TEA on the average amount of funding each district receives and their accountability ratings. He said he found a correlation between funding and performance: The districts with the lowest accountability ratings get an average of $1,000 less per student than those with the highest such ratings. And districts that are rated unacceptable are overwhelmingly those with high percentages of minority and low-income students."

I have four possible solutions: 

1) Turn them into charter districts. Seriously, just adding the word, charter, will make everything better. 

2) Pass out district vouchers to everyone. You know that will work. Those kids will go to other school districts and just bloom right before your eyes. 

3) Give incentive pay to the teachers. Yeah, yeah, I know what I said in the last post. It'll work this time. If incentive pay can change average workers into productive members of society, think about the results when you give teachers a few extra bucks. Or a fruit basket! 

4) Deal with the poverty in the areas.

Actually, only one of those is a reasonable solution. However, if you have a political or moral reason to reject it, fine, but that's the issue. And the decision-makers are dealing with it by giving money to successful districts... because they obviously need it.

ARTICLE: Training Teachers

How the U.S. can find and train more great teachers

"But evaluations alone are of little use without providing the support for a teacher to improve. Thus, many of these new evaluation systems are being connected with professional learning to help teachers continuously improve, as is done in many other industries. Weaknesses identified through these new evaluations are addressed with ongoing, collaborative support, as teachers work in teams to improve their instruction."

All right... keep talking...

"Many school districts have also begun to reward teachers for effective teaching, paying them more if they are able to substantially improve student performance... The concept of performance-based pay is not new, only new to teaching."

Nope, you lost me. As I've said before, this reasoning is insulting. Incentive pay isn't going to get the teacher that works from 7a to 6p every day to stay longer. Incentive pay isn't going to get the teacher working with a class full of attention issues and homelessness to teach harder. Incentive pay isn't going to get the teacher to follow the kid home and sit beside him while he works on homework. Incentive pay won't even work for the lazy teacher--she will argue that she was already worth it. This works in business because it's a different animal. We don't teach because of money.

"Let's better prepare our teachers before they enter the classroom by raising the quality of programs that train teachers to teach."

Okay, we've reached common ground again...

"Here are three ways... We must first enhance accountability in teacher preparation programs by tracking the success and effectiveness of candidates once they begin teaching... Second, we must align the curricula of teacher prep programs with the most current, innovative, and proven policies, so that teachers are prepared to teach effectively from the moment they first step into the classroom... Third, it's time to fully open the door to alternative teacher training programs, like Teach for America, that are able to recruit, train, and inspire effective teachers in a short period of time."

That first one won't work. How do you measure the effectiveness of teachers? You judge the growth of each child from the first day to the last day. Unless you would rather just look at a standardized test from one moment in time. It's quick, easy, and lazy. 

Who will decide the current, innovative, and proven policies? The same folks who flip-flop between whole language and phonics-based instruction? The same folks influenced by lobbyists and publishing companies?

That last idea is horrible. This country should raise the prestige of teaching by improving its standards at the college level. Earning an education degree should require competition, rigor, and research-based practices--not an endless stream of theories. There should be no short-cuts. Create prestige and you'll never want for potential teachers.

Apr 9, 2012

ARTICLE: Teacher Ratings

California Teacher Ratings Should Be Released Publicly, Parents Say In New Survey

"In both New York and LA, some saw the release as a step forward in using student data and improving transparency and accountability by giving parents access to information on teacher effectiveness. The court ruling that granted public access to the ratings states, 'the reports concern information of a type that is of compelling interest to the public, namely, the proficiency of public employees in the performance of their job duties.'"

Further proof of the systematic degradation of the American public school system, a fascination with sensationalism and gossip, and the ridiculous pursuit of educational fads.

"But to others, the move was misguided, and signaled an over-reliance on incomplete or inaccurate data that publicly shames or praises educators, whether deserving or not. Value-added models generally don't control for demographic factors like poverty, race, or English-learner or special education status, which some say are crucial to evaluating teachers. Some believe that ratings will undermine overall education reform by negatively affecting teacher morale and teacher recruitment, as well as by reinforcing the false notion that testing is everything." 

Improving transparency and accountability? Do you think California led with this information before puking the ratings into the public's squawking mouths?

Comment from Bill Jones123: The edu-reform movement meshes perfectly with the parental guilt and paranoia forces sweeping what remains of the traditional american family.

1. I am brilliant.

2. My child is brilliant.
3. My child is failing in school and life.
4. It is someone else's fault.
He had more to his post, but I wanted to focus on this bit. I don't think parents believe themselves to be brilliant. I do think they would argue that they're absolutely doing the best that they can, and their offspring are doing their best. Many of them do not question that at all. Self-reflection isn't even an option. They are doing their best--period. Whether politicians or parents, someone is looking to blame someone else. Teachers are the easy targets. Unfortunately, this keeps us from improving the system in a meaningful, long-lasting way.

Apr 5, 2012

ARTICLE: Computers in the Classroom

Study touts benefits of a 'wired' classroom

"The 40-year retrospective study, published in the Review of Educational Research journal, concluded that classrooms where computer technology was used to support teaching had a 'small to moderate positive' effect on learning and attitude... If the technology is used solely as a content provider — for example, if iPads are used as alternatives to books — then there won't be any positive change... The researchers' preliminary analyses show that things such as PowerPoint presentations don't have much effect on student learning or attitude... 'Where technology does have a positive impact is when it actively engages students, when it's used as a communication tool, when it's used for things like simulations or games that enable students to actively manipulate the environment.'"

With effort and a bit of prep, it's easy enough to create this type of lesson using technology. Assuming you have access to it, of course. After a bond election, my district spent millions on new computers, iPads, smartboards, etc. We have no excuses. I know, it can be a pain in the butt when the students are inexperienced. Just do what I do. When asked to point out a menu or find a file or insert a textbox, I just answer, "I have no idea. Ask your neighbor. Good luck." And I walk off. It's fun--give it a shot.

Apr 3, 2012

ARTICLE: Running to Charters

Denver Should Turn to Charters, New Report Says

"According to the new report released by the non-profit Donnell-Kay Foundation, Denver Public Schools would be better off turning to charters to fix the failing schools in the district than try to apply cumbersome turnaround strategies recommended by the federal government."

Let's see... The government (who wrote NCLB and Race to the Top) recommends some turnaround strategies that haven't worked. Fills you with confidence, doesn't it? Instead, the district is encouraged to turn to charter schools...

"The data in the study showed variations within school types, but overall found that new charter schools — managed autonomously but held accountable by the district — had higher scores than the district averages."

So... and I hate to point this out because it seems to me that decision-makers and administrators should find this obvious... public schools might actually find success if they are managed autonomously. Why do we need charter schools? Ignoring the point of their creation, they're not centers of ingenuity.  

Instead of fighting for the American public school system, our nation just threw up its hands, and ran to something new. Not better. Just new. We don't need new--we need to amputate the broken and unnecessary.

ARTICLE: Flawed Solution

Tennessee Senate OKs Automatic High School Teaching License for College Instructors 

"SB 2302 would allow any college instructor to receive a license to teach their subject of expertise without additional training in education if they have taught in a certified college or university full-time for two years or part-time for four years." 

Most of my college instructors read from sheets of paper, so this sounds like a great idea. When a PhD begins reading an endless stream of impressive knowledge, I'm sure high school students will benefit greatly. When you hear information, you learn information... I think that's right.

Comment from P. Alan Greene: You know what? Whatever-- just let them do it. A small percentage will actually be quite good. The rest will retreat in shock and dismay that their students do not hang on their every word and won't behave for them just because they have a PhD. 


Comment from bklein153: BRAVO Tennessee. It is about time someone challenged the "education schools" cartel. The only reason there are requirements that you get a teaching certificate to teach hs is to protect the monopoly that school have and to limit competition for current teachers. Honestly, most education programs in college are a joke. Have you ever met anyone who was majoring in just education in college that truly impressed you intellectually? Oh course not. My roommate was an early education major and he had assignments like - make a puppet and create a collage. It was a joke, we all studied and he was cutting cray-paper and playing with rubber cement. They need to extend this to people who have worked in theri fields for years. My father was an PhD engineer for Rockwell (yes a rocket scientist) and when he retired early he was told he needed a teaching certificate from a local collage to teach high school science - and that ladies and gentlemen is why public education suck in america! 

Or, we want to maintain the integrity of our profession. It's not about regurgitating information or even experience. We teach young people a host of skills, build their confidence, and turn boring into engaging and valuable. The priority should be heart, not degree. If everyone with a PhD could enter the field, the guaranteed frustration and exodus would lead to instability.

Competition, you say? Another example of the business-model poison that has entered our schools. It's not competition that improves education--in fact, it's the opposite. To improve, we share and collaborate.

If a puppet allows a first grader to act out story elements or a collage helps a second grader to summarize, it's worth it. Teachers will use anything and everything to teach. We will buy it, find it, borrow it, make it, or download it.

If America's education system sucks, it's for this reason. Everyone in America--from the President to the governor to the computer mogul to the district administrator to the online commenter--believes his opinion matters. He believes his incredible, unquestionable insight is above research and experience. Instead of working to improve the system from the inside, he would rather take potshots from the outside. 

Grab your chalk... I'll compete for my classroom.