Leonardo's Apprentice

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Why Corporations Want Control of Public Education

After reading an essay by Alfie Kohn, entitled, “Turning Learning Into Business”, from his book, “What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?”  I got curious if the essay he had written might possibly have been exaggerated. I started my own research to verify what he had written.  The results I found out were straight out of the movie “Pelican Brief.”

Our story starts in 2017, with an Internet site called Executive Paywatch, which reported that the CEO’s of the Standards & Poor (S&P) 500 index made $13.98 Million dollars of compensation. S&P are known for their marketing intelligence. The information they gather benefits their clients who are willing to pay for it.

[FLASH BACK]   In 1992, I took an in depth course in becoming an Info-Broker.  The type of clients I worked for needed information that was current, like today, and would benefit their company tomorrow morning. I found out that information could be bought, sold or traded. I remembered that employees from the RAND corporation were also  taking the same course.  They were learning how to gather information for their clients too! High profiling clients that were heading for the Olympics in Spain. Safety and security for those clients was paramount, and they required information that was current to the hour.

[BACK TO STORY]  What about S&P clients, who are they?   They range from corporations to schools. Regarding schools, the S&P was the first to tabulate, organize, and package education information from test scores that were eventually sold back to states who were interested in what was happening in their own schools.   Who could benefit from knowing student scores? Maybe your parent company to start with.  Guess who is the parent company of  S & P?  McGraw-Hill,  the same company that makes school textbooks.  Interesting huh?

Standardized testing is a machine that collects valuable data that can be organized into information. This is why corporations are not interested in the Arts, because the Arts can’t be standardized. If they can’t be formed into standardized data they are worthless.  The Arts are subjective, whereas math, science and English are objective and can be tabulated. So explains the push to downsize and remove the Arts and promote math, science and English scores.

  While schools play into the illusion of which school is the best, the real gold is being mined in the classroom as schools compete with each other. Who supports the efforts of these testing and reporting companies? Business Week has printed the top business schools, as well as the top STEM schools in the nation.  Business week writers gather their evidence from test scores.  By the way, did I forget to tell you who is the parent company of Business Week?  If you guessed  McGraw-Hill you’re getting ahead.  But hang on, the plot takes some interesting turns.

Oh yes, the more I dug, the more shadows seemed to appear behind dark corridors.  I could envision Dan Brown writing a novel concerning a global conspiracy to control schools.  To control the minds of students and their futures. Of course, to make such a novel you would probably need the Church and several key corporate head characters, who were all Masons, all sitting around key educational school boards around the country.  All being controlled by one silent and cryptic person.  Then you would have a good novel right? Well,–that’s another story.

Some business corporations have intertwined so skillfully into education that the public only perceives a mask representing education.  We have already discovered a couple of the corporations who already control the $20 billion to $30 billion dollar a year textbook and standardized testing industry, and this doesn’t even count the online, apps, and other electronic media that has surfaced like an enemy sub off the coast.

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Picture from Hypertextbook.com https://hypertextbook.com/eworld/choice/

  For example, Apple computers; Lest we forget they make and sell computers–and schools are their best customers. Another company that seems safe is Proctor and Gamble.  Did you know they have their own G&P School where they send their products in the form of lesson plans to teachers all across the country? Sounds nice until you realize they are paving the way for future customers by presenting their product in a very clever and hidden bias.

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Gateway to College Students take their Math final exam at Lake Washington Technical College, Kirkland WA

So where does this leave us?  The majority of schools throughout the United States have mission statements that generally cover these three basic common goals for the 21st Century: (1) To develop creative thinkers; (2) to develop productive global citizens and  leaders; and (3) to develop lifelong learners.

If big business controls the curriculum and standardized testing how can we develop creative thinkers.  If we want students to become productive global citizens and leaders students must be taught how to ask the right questions–not how to answer the correct multiple choice question. Finally, if we want lifelong learners, education must be stimulating not stagnant.

The only way to change this, I believe, is to allow teachers to teach.  I remember several years ago, I met with a school board made up of businessmen.  One was a podiatrist.  I remember discussing with him a biodegradable suture thread I had read about and strongly suggested he consider using it.  He told me that it had some benefits but couldn’t be used in every case.  I strongly suggested it could.  He replied, “I’ve been a surgeon for 25 years and I think I know my business better than you.”  I retorted, ” I’ve been in my field for 30 years, and I think I know my business as good as you do yours.”  He responded, “Good come back.  I get it!”  Corporations really don’t understand what is going on in the classroom.  That’s why  professional educators are hired, but it is the silent business partner who seems to have a say into what is important to teach and how it is to be taught.  Teaching to the standardized test was not developed by educators.

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Wikipedia Image: creative connections

No standardized test would complete without a scantron sheet and a #2 pencil.  It’s the  “Scantron” company that makes the millions of scantrons students from elementary to university use. Their parent company is M&F Worldwide whose Scantron Division  provides data management solutions and related services, including testing and assessment solutions, patient information collection and tracking, and survey services to educational, commercial, healthcare, and governmental entities..  The parent company of M&F Worldwide is MacAndrews and Forbes.  Finally, MacAndrews and Forbes is owned wholly by the billionaire investor Ronald Perelman.  It’s amazing where these trails end up.

For the past 20 years, the corporate business world has put down educators and told the world they can produce a better student.  In those 20 years,  the government and corporate world has invested $60 billion dollars into technology and Internet infrastructure.  State laws  have been influenced to incorporating standardized testing and assessments, the business world has  had more influence and input into school curriculum development.  However, the results published by PISA (Programme International Student Assessment) has shown that in those same years the ROI in grades for 15 year old students has remained average or below average in the United States.  Out of 71 countries the U.S. ranks 19th in science, 30th in math, and 27th in reading.

This past weekend, Superbowl LIII, sponsors invested $5.25 million dollars for a 30-second spot.  Was that money down the drain?  Of course not.  Yes, it does seem like a David and Golliath scenario, and I am only one voice, but I’ll say it anyway, “It’s time to return the class over to those trained to teach, and remove business out of classroom.”

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Response To 10 Reasons Tech Is Important

Today, I read an article called, “10 Reasons Today’s Students NEED Technology in the Classroom.”   The author Danny Mareco, is not an educator but is one of the many technology  business owners who in the past 20 years has profited by convincing schools they need technology to become better educators.  As an educator I have always found it interesting that non-educators always seem to know more about how to fix the educational system then the professional educator.  In truth, today’s system is failing because technology has become a learning outcome.  Technology is no more than a tool.  I hope Mr. Mareco reads my responses and debates my answers.

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  1. If used correctly, mobile devices and the applications they support, will help prepare students for their future careers.

RESPONSE:  More important is teaching students how to solve problems when technology is not available.

       2. Integrating technology into the classroom is an effective way to connect with students of all learning styles.

RESPONSE:  Not true.  Most software applications are no more than electronic worksheets, and they do not connect to the seven learning styles.

      3. It gives students the opportunity to enhance the interaction with their classmates and instructors by encouraging collaboration.

RESPONSE:  One of the major complaints from STEM industries is that young workers don’t communicate or collaborate because technology forces individualism.  Watch a real computer lab.  Students are not interacting with one another or allowed to.

4.  Using technology in the classroom gives teachers and other faculty members the opportunity to develop their student’s digital citizenship skills. It’s one thing to use mobile devices, it’s a completely other thing to know how to use them correctly and responsibly.

RESPONSE:  Digital citizenship skills are simply common respect, courtesy, and good manners.  These skills always need to be practiced in the classroom not just when using technical devices.

 5.  Integrating technology in education helps students stay engaged. Most students today have been using mobile devices like tablets and smartphones to play and learn since they could crawl. So it only seems logical to align today’s classrooms with the way that your students want and are used to learning.

RESPONSE:  The fact that television has been around a long time, doesn’t mean that this is necessarily the best medium to engage learners.  Television, like many of today’s modern technologies are passive, one directional, with no responses available; and, for those devices that have pre-programmed responses they disable the key ability in asking questions.  Show me a device that will take a question and expound deeply on it!

6.  Combining new tech like VR (virtual reality) with traditional classroom instruction is one example of how the introduction of new technology can enhance the learning experience and create new opportunities.

RESPONSE:  Enhance learning…yes.  However, no one really explains exactly what “new opportunities” are.  It just sounds good.  Do non-educators really understand the learning process?   They do understand the process of making a buck.

 7. When mobile technology is readily available and performing correctly in the classroom, students are able to access the most up-to-date information quicker and easier than ever before.

RESPONSE:  The Internet can be a portal to instant information.  However, more important than the information are the sources.  Who wrote the information?   How was the information formed and developed?  Is the information the most current?  We need to teach students how to research their information and confirm the sources.

 8. The traditional passive learning model is broken. With technology in the classroom the teacher becomes the encourager, adviser, and coach.

RESPONSE:  Why is it assumed that all traditional learning is passive.  If any, it was interactive.   Passive learning is either reading or watching a video.  Active learning is where the students ask the questions, research the answers, and make the connections to problems their research can solve.

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 9.  Technology helps students be more responsible. Owning your own device or borrowing the school’s devices gives students the opportunity to improve their decision making skills as well as taking ownership of a valuable (and often times expensive) device. Again, this needs to be complemented by proper digital citizenship training to see the best results.

RESPONSE: So, owning a digital device will improve decision making skills?  Showing respect goes back to question 4.

10. Technology transforms the learning experience. Students have access to an incredible amount of new opportunities. From learning, how to code to learning how to better collaborate across teams and with their instructors–technology empowers students to be more creative and be more connected. New tech has super-charged how we learn today.

RESPONSE:  Since 1996, the Federal and State governments have invested over $60 billion dollars into Internet and digital infrastructures.  In those past 20+ years, the ROI on this return has been reported, by PISA, that the United States is still maintaining an average to below average in reading, mathematics, and science.  You would think we would be number one in the world.  On the other hand, we are rated average and below average compared to 72 nations tested.  The only super-charge, gain, or empowerment has come from industries selling their technology hardware, software, and projects to schools each year.  They are the winners, as their profits increase, while our students continue to lose ground for a better future.

Address the Real Issues

Awhile back, Education Week (online) posted in the Curriculum Matters, an article titled, “Study: Give Weak Teachers Good Lesson Plans, Not Professional Development.”  The study in question was done on 360 teachers in three Virginia school districts.  Not once in the article, did the authors of the study ever define what, in their research, the characteristics of a ‘weak’ teacher was.  Only, the so-called weak teacher benefited from purchasing good lesson plans.  Final analysis:  invest in giving weaker teachers lesson plans, but don’t spend time or money teaching how to develop a good one.  Duh!

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It was really no surprise to find the authors of Mathalicious backing up the study.  Of course, it’s money in their pockets.  You can read the article http://bit.ly/29FAdqb.  In fact, I suggest that every publisher who is having trouble selling their lesson plans grab this article, it might bring in a few more dollars into their pockets.

I’m being cynical of course!  I will agree, as most teachers do out there, that many of the professional development tortures that are endured are never totally created for the teacher.  The majority of teachers feel that their PD courses are useless, never really addressing their issues.  Why?   Rarely does anyone ask teachers what they need!

The authors talked about moving average-performing teachers, but never defined what average-performing meant, to 80th percentile—It sounds impressive but doesn’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. 

Weak teachers don’t need store-bought lesson plans.  They need mentors.  They need to be taught, yes even teachers need to be taught, how to put a well-developed lesson plan that teaches to the objectives.  Oops, I didn’t say test.  Darn right!  All lessons should have objectives, we should tell the student ahead of time what he is going to learn, learn how to teach students how to ask questions, how to analyze feedback, and how to create an assessment to find out if the objective was learned!  The test will take care of itself if objectives are met.

I’m tired of hearing Ph.Duh’s who have either (1) never been in a classroom, or (2) haven’t been in one for years, dream up their studies so that they can publish their article, keep their jobs, and have something to talk about at some roundtable lunch meeting.  The simple fact is weak teachers need mentoring,  a safe environment to question and get feedback,  resources, and the time to develop strong lesson objects.  Any Questions?

The Answer Is Within The Question

Back in the 1990’s, I took a course on becoming an info-broker.  It was a week-long course where I was introduced to data research, database design, and data retrieval.  About this same time, the Internet was evolving with Websites and new technology tools like browsers to surf the Net for information.  It was also during this time Vice President Gore created the phrase, “Information highway.” However, the course I took had nothing to do with links to Websites or University libraries.  It was about being able to access unpublished information via the Internet using SQL and FTP commands.  Unlike published information, unpublished information had value as a commodity, which could be bought, sold, and traded for the right price.

In order to access databases of this caliber, one had to have the following three things:  First an account and password to access these global information databases; Secondly, a bank account pre-established to pay for the information once retrieved.   Pricing varied from a few dollars per hour to one particular database that cost $1,800 dollars for every 15 minutes; Thirdly, the knowledge and skills needed to maneuver in a database to retrieve the information desired as quickly as possible.  What I also took out of this course was the importance of two other key elements:  Learning how to ask the right question, and knowing where to get the best answer.

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Asking the right question was not about asking a typical journalist question (who, what, when, where, why, and how.)  But learning how to ask open-ended questions, prioritizing them, and then mapping out a path within a database’s labyrinth maze structure.

eb8ce968798ca69afe630ef88675abccI recently just finished a great little book by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana called, “Make Just One Change: Teach Students to ask Their Own Questions. This book mentor’s teachers on how to develop the skill in asking the right question.  I highly recommend it for those who are interested in getting students engaged and developing a classroom culture whose motivation is self-lit.  This is a small book but powerful.

 

Teaching students how to ask questions and then having them answer their own questions does lead to student lesson engagement.  Because the questions are developed by the students who are motivated to explore and discover their own answers.  Consequently, doing it this way has another benefit, they retain more information than through a lectures or worksheets.

As for where to look, that takes us into research.  Google has become the 21st Century equivalent to the 20th Century photocopying phrase, “I want to make a Xerox.”  Boy did 3M, Minolta, and other photocopying companies hate that phrase.  Today, you hear, “Google it,” for getting information.  Actually, there are 65 large databases on the Net.  Even though not as popular as Google many of the databases have links to information that might cut down on research time.

In any case, no matter which database is used by students they still need to know three basic things:

  • First, the structure of the database and how information is stored;
  • Secondly, logic tools on how to reduce the number of hits and get the best information quickly. Noted that I said the ‘best’ information, not the ‘right’ information.  In school, on a test, there is generally the one right answer whether that answer must be spelled out or blocked out on a multiple-choice question; and
  • Thirdly, the sources of the information. Understanding where the information came from and the timeframe are crucial to data integrity.

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We should also teach students the value of asking the question, “Which database will best serve me?”  Followed by, how do I design the best approach to get the information and document it.  As for documentation, students should be able to tell you which database they used, where the information was stored, the date of publication and the person(s) responsible.  In my case, it was date and time (GMT) that had to be recorded for the unpublished data or information once retrieved.

Every database on the Net has a map along with the logic tools that best serve information retrieval.  But, I caution, it still comes down to answering the question, and if the question is not formed correctly, well, as Lewis Carroll put it:

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Teaching students how to ask questions and then how to retrieve the information are important skills that all learners will need their entire life.  In fact, you might still have a question yourself.  You might still be wondering about what was in a database that would cost $1800 dollars\15 minutes to retrieve?  If you really want to know, I’ll tell you—for a price.  My next blog will tackle strategic ways to help students develop questions through storytelling.

 

The 90 Degree Shift

Top:  Thomas Edison, Alan Turing, Nikolas Tesla  Middle: Walt Disney, Mary Cassatt, Marie Curie   Bottom: Galileo Galilei, Claude Monet, Albert Einstein

What are the characteristics of an apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci?  First, the people above would all qualify as apprentices of Leonardo.  All of them grew up in a world of conformity, established beliefs, and standards.  All challenged the established beliefs and traditions.  Each one was ridiculed, smeared, or shunned.  You see, traditions and conformity go hand in hand.  Once accepted, anyone who confronts the established validity, framework, or rules is no longer accepted by the masses.  

Each above approached his work and then asked a simple question, “What if. . .”  It is not just the question(s) they asked it’s the action they all took.  They all shifted 90 degrees, and as strange as it seems, their actions caused the rest of the world to eventually accept and benefit from their ideas, visions, and dreams.

My personal 90-degree shift occurred back in 1995.  It started with a simple question, “What if my students could collaborate with another school, in another state, on a science project–online?”  My school, Don Bosco Technical Institute, in 1995, did not yet have the Internet.  But I did on my personal account with AOL.  I contacted AOL and asked if we could set up an electronic schoolhouse.  I helped to develop the format, and then launched my program, “Space Island’s.”  I developed a project that involved a virtual space station orbiting earth.  Each participating school would have its own lab onboard to conduct experiments.  In 1995, websites were still rare and all communication was done via emails and FTP settings.

By 1996, the program had gone viral with  2.3 million students and teachers in forty nations, ranging from elementary schools to universities.  In that same year, the U.S. Congress placed my program into the Library of Congress as a historical event.  It was documented as the first successfully launched long distant educational program ever completed online.  Today, many universities and educational institutions benefit from online distant learning, and it all began with a question.

In 2005, I had two new questions.  “What if educators, who are trained to teach, actually were given the chance to do just that?”  Question number two, “What would happen if educators took back the reigns from businesses and politicians that now run education?”  In that year, Leonardo’s Apprentice was born.  

Leonardo’s Apprentice is about taking a 90 degree shift from the present course we have all been put on by both politicians and big business and giving control back to where it belongs, with the educators.  It’s about giving the professional educator the respect and right to plan the strategies of engaging student learning.  This is not about creating a new model or template. It is about generating visions, ideas and action that will bring efficacy to future generations.  Generations who, in turn, will learn to make their own 90 degree shifts.

The upcoming series will not be a monologue but a dialogue of exchanges.  Exchange of ideas, questions, doubts, and most importantly–movement!  It will all start by taking the 90 degree shift from conformity and tradition into exploration and discovery.  The first dialog will be on, “How To Engage Students.” I look forward to our future discussions and sharing your ideas and visions.   Begin by leaving a comment or questions below and registering your email for my future book, “Making A 90 Degree Shift: Learning how to become a Leonardo’s Apprentice Educator.”

Let Pokemon. . .Go!

 

There is a story of man who was walking through the woods and spotted a target painted on a tree trunk with an arrow straight dab in the middle.  He was amazed at the archer’s accuracy.  He continued his walk and spotted several more trees with targets and arrows shot dead center.  As he continued, he met a man with a bow and arrow and inquired if he was an archer who had made those shots.

“Are you the archer who made those brilliant shots?” the man said.

“Yes, I am.” said the archer.

“I would enjoy seeing you make another shot if you would,” the man replied.

“Sure thing,” said the archer

Stepping back the archer pulled out an arrow from his satchel, attached it to his bow and carefully drew it back as he aimed at an unmarked tree.  Firing the arrow it lodge into the tree.  The archer then picked up two buckets of paints and brushes and proceeded to paint the target around the arrow.

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Finding new ways to motivate and engage students is the big buzz in education today. Many of the articles online are about how social technology can be used to solve these problems.  For example, in two recent online articles  from Edutopia,(July 22, 2016)“The Educational Potential of Pokemon Go” [http://edut.to/2bfHFPi], and (Aug. 2, 2016), “Pokemon Go…and Global Success Skills) [http://edut.to/2aIhld2] the authors present arguments as to the educational benefits that the Pokemon Go game could have in the Global Community.  The readership is encouraged to download the game, play with it, and figure out ways on how to incorporate it into a lesson plan or curriculum.  This is what I call, “Painting the target around the arrow.”  

Can Pokemon build reading skills?  It’s looking for virtual characters, so the answer is no. Will it help students better understand mathematics?  Again the answer is no.  What about language skills?  Not there either.  So how does this game build real-life skills?  The authors never say how the game will do this.  Why?  Because Pokemon Go does not address any important learning issues–it’s a game!

Many of today’s educational digital games are no more than electronic flashcards. Pokemon Go offers no learning challenges it’s quite intuitive to learn.  As for strategies, the only one I can see is not getting hit by a car while crossing a busy intersection, or falling into an open manhole while scanning for images from the user’s phone.  

The authors imply that this game can make students better global citizens?  Really?  Does it teach about multiculturalism?  Foreign languages?   Social issues?  No!    In truth, the game was designed to make money.  But there are some people both in education and in the game marketing industries trying desperately to draw their own targets around the arrow of ‘educational outcomes’ to convince teachers that their product or service will motivate and engage student learning.

There is a thread today that sings that education must be fun in order to learn.  I like it when learning is fun, but real learning is also hard, it challenges, and demands focus.  As educators, we are preparing our students for the real world, not the virtual world.  The successes and points in the virtual world pay no dividends in the real world.  As teachers in the classroom, our job is to encourage leadership, teach students how to question, how to evaluate failure and how to find alternative options.  Our quest is to open the minds of our students to the future where they will be interacting, working, raising a family, making a living, and contributing as a responsible and productive citizen in the Global Community.

In conclusion, games like Pokemon will probably not be here twenty years from now with the evolution of technology and gaming theories.   But the language, math, and thinking skills will be required to survive.   To modify a line from Gladiator, “What we teach today echoes in eternity!”

I encourage and welcome comments on this and any article posted.

 

 

Rethinking Pandora’s Box

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Image by HopeOnHope

This morning I was scanning my Periscope App to see if any of the teachers I follow had made any posts,  while doing a quick scan I came across a San Bernardino high school student’s post titled, “Our teacher hates kids.”  When I logged on, I viewed a live stream of a classroom where a male teacher was attempting to get the class’ attention while the student was streaming live.  As the male student streamed he answered other online viewer’s question, drew sexual symbols, and with his camera aimed it at the teacher and drew a swastika.

Teachers today, are caught in a technology dilemma. On the one hand, to incorporate technology as a tool for learning, while at the same time, prohibiting that same technology from creating abuse and an unsafe environment. Periscope and Google Live, are today’s most popular live streaming Apps. There are others.  There are all kinds of questions being written on privacy and public trusts issues with these types of technology.

Most teachers allow Smartphones in classroom for a number of reasons.  In a math class, students may be allowed to access a calculator app. In an English class, students may use their phones to access a dictionary or thesaurus. In a science class, students might use their Smartphones to access a periodic table, math conversion, or a science term dictionary. It all  sounds good and safe, but at the same time, technology, whether we talk about Smartphones, iPads, or iWatches can become a Pandora’s Box unleashing a multitude of problems and issues.

There are programs that will monitor classroom computers and even iPad technology; However, Smartphones present a unique and wildcard problem because they can’t be monitored from one source, and there lies the problem and solution.

There have been dozens of articles on everything from updating the Classroom with technology to Bringing In Your Own Device (BYOD).  The pros and cons have been logically presented to the public, but the jury is still out on both the benefits and issues.  So allow me to advance a couple of solutions.

If a computer lab is used, such as a desktop lab, or laptop\notebook cart, or iPad set then the teacher can monitor these units from one unit. This would maintain supervision, awareness of student projects, while maintaining a safe working environment. All that would be needed is the purchase of monitoring software and a few hands on lessons.

The BYOD scenario can be controlled, but it requires more student cooperation and teacher monitoring.  If students are in a ‘standard classroom of rows of seating, there is no way to monitor student activity. In these cases,  having students rearrange their seats in groups of four (fig. 1) reduces the walking and eye observations required by the teacher to monitor everyone’s activity.

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Fig. 1 Group Seating

 

A better setup that works well, is to have students arrange their seats in a ‘Horseshoe’ format (fig 2) where a teacher can monitor all students from one vantage point. The trick is to have the students sit on the inside of the horseshoe, that way the teacher can monitor from his strategic advantage in the center of the horseshoe. In fig. 2, I would turn desks around so that they face out from the horseshoe.  Teacher monitors in center.

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Fig 2: Horseshoe seating

 

These are a few of the strategies I used when I did not have a computer lab and was faced with students bringing in their own technology devices.  Between the two BYOD formats I feel the horseshoe is the best for monitoring all student activities.

I will post more strategies at LeonardosApprentice.org.

I look forward to any comments or ideas on this topic that you would like to share.