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From Reform to Transform

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It was in Natalie Wexler’s Forbes (April 9, 2018) article, Three

Mistakes We Need to Fix If We Want Education Reform To Succeed,” that caught my attention in how corporate America still doesn’t get it.  Below, I have quoted each of her points as they were written.  

  1. The real problems begin at the high school level. In fact, the problems that manifest themselves in high school have their roots in elementary school, which reformers have long seen—mistakenly—as the bright spot in education. When students arrive in ninth grade reading several years below grade level, as is often the case in high-poverty schools, the answer is not simply to demand that they graduate within four years, come hell or high water. We need to give students more time to catch up if they need it—and we need to start looking critically at what is happening before high school that leaves students so unprepared.

It was Sir Ken Robinson (International education speaker and writer) who remarked, “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed–it needs to be transformed.”  Where the Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice has laid its course of action is at the secondary level because the elementary starts out fine but over time student engagement and motivation are drained by the time students reach high school. 

Why are students needing more time to catch up?  Reformers have already increased the classroom workload, extended school days making for shorter summer vacations, and have added more technology infrastructure including computers, notebooks, and iPad\tablets.  So, what is missing?   

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A team discusses their potential solutions to global issues during the Global Problem Solving Competition held in STEPS on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014. Teams were given one hour to create a presentation.

Curiosity is the fuel for exploration, discovery, inquiry, and learning.  It was Walt Disney who pointed out, “Ideas come from curiosity.” Children are born with a natural curiosity about the world around them.  Curiosity naturally manifests itself with questions seeking understanding and answers. But instead of feeding the fire of curiosity, the system slowly creates an environment of silence leading to death for long term learning.  Students are guided away from exploration and inquiry and replaced with pre-assessments, tests, and post-assessments. The grade becomes more important than how the student learns. Standardization has become a machine-like system similar to Pink Floyd’s 1979 song, “Another Brick in the Wall.”

Interesting enough, elementary students already walk in with strong curiosity and motivation.  The question is how is our educational system slowly puts out the fire by the time that child reaches high school.  More content, testing, and technology is not the answer–that has already been proven. When more becomes less than expected the next step is to blame the teacher.

 

  1. The most important factor in educational achievement is a highly effective teacher. It’s true that teachers are hugely important, but reformers have judged teachers’ effectiveness by how much they boost students’ test scores and whether they’re seen to be employing the right kind of classroom “moves.” What reformers have paid little or no attention to is what teachers are being asked to teach. There’s increasing evidence that the best way to improve teachers’ performance is to provide them with high-quality instructional materials and specific training in how to use them.

According to the U.S. Department of Education statistics, 50% of new teachers will leave their profession within their first 5 years.  These are qualified educators who are hired as effective teachers. Why are they leaving? Who are the reformers who “judge” a teacher’s effectiveness?   The Forbes writer sites increasing evidence that to improve teacher performance, reformers need to provide high-quality instructional materials and teach them (the teachers) how to use it.  

Corporate America has changed the classroom environment to mimic their own.  Teachers are referred to as classroom managers. Superintendents are administrators, students are clients, content and curriculum have become business production, grades are paychecks.  Finally, government and state assessments are not based on what the curriculum demands but where they think the client should be by age and grade. The same standardization that made manufactures and businesses work has been applied to human learning–and it isn’t working!

When District and State assessments cut into the learning process to measure what they feel students should know, the so-called high-quality materials are no longer important.  Teachers earn a Master’s in their course of study, they must go through two years of training before they are accepted with certification. The majority of educational businesses are run by individuals who lack both classroom experience and education, and these are the people who are responsible for reforming teachers.  Holding an MBA or Ph.D. in a business field does not give a person the training to teach young children or teenagers. 

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One reformer says, “Remove paper textbooks and give students digital tablets to read from–this will improve their reading skills.”  Of course, it won’t. Reformers are rarely educators. They are business people who sell and market their products or services promising to improve learning, increase student motivation, and a host of other snakebite medicine benefits.  Since 1996, over $80 billion dollars has been invested in internet infrastructure, computers, and digital equipment. These technologies are only tools. Teachers are given the technology and told to incorporate it into their curriculums.  Training is rare, and when given it is only introductory at best. Tech companies always state their products are hands-on intuitive. Technologies are generally designed and programmed for only one or two learning styles, subject matter, or limited content.  Most of the elementary tech tools are no more than electronic rote memory devices. Students wanting to explore beyond what is programmed is not available.

Ask the question  who are these “Reformers?”  From Horace Mann in the 19th Century to the business world today with their acronym of S.T.E.M.  education. Reformers have not in the past 50 years focused on student needs, that has been graded by organizations like P.I.S.A. (Programme International Student Assessment), which for the past 20 years has shown American 15-year old students are still average in science and math and below average in reading.  However, corporate America is not interested in what goes on in the classroom but their business ledgers, stock prices, and marketing agendas. It’s time to give the classrooms back to the educators to transform the status quo into a 21st Century educational journey.

  1. Education needs to be data-driven. What this means in practice is two-fold. First, teachers and schools are held accountable at least partly on the basis of students’ end-of-year scores on math and reading tests. In addition, teachers give students tests throughout the year that are supposed to predict performance on end-of-year tests, and they base their instruction on the results. At least when it comes to reading tests, this approach is actually counterproductive.

Here the article returns not to education but the corporate world.  Equating business mechanics with organic learning. Because this final suggestion is the biggest problem facing our educational system today–data-driven assessment.  The data-driven assessment has not only forced teachers to teach to the test, in order to keep their jobs but has also been one of the reasons many teachers are leaving their vocation.

Anyone who is a teacher knows that teaching a group of students cannot be accomplished by only one mode of learning.  Not all students learn the same way. This is why a student’s curiosity is important because it lends a helping hand to a professional educator on how a student processes information.  

eb8ce968798ca69afe630ef88675abccLeonardo da Vinci wrote, “To have a complete mind:  Study the science of art, and the Art of science. Learn how to see.  Realize everything connects to everything else. Leonardo also wrote, “Every action needs to be prompted by a motive.”  That motive is curiosity.  

We start by rekindling the fire of curiosity at the high school level.  This is the end product and where the problem blows-up. Address and fix this by building the support and mentoring elements that encourage student-directed learning and then we will be able to move down the ranks to elementary where curiosity walks in fresh and ready.  This is the goal of the Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice. Leonardo’s Apprentice is an educational nonprofit foundation started by an educator to support student growth, learning, and leadership by encouraging creativity and innovation in solving problems that affect our global community.  

Back in the 1970s, the business world stepped in and said they could produce a better product (student).  50 years later, we are losing more teachers and students who are not performing enough or motivated enough to move on to the engineering and science fields this country needs.  The United States has become a country of consumers and app builders. The high power invention machine that was so powerful in the 19th and early 20th centuries has lapsed into a state accepting mediocrity. If you feel real changes need to be taken, help support the Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice, check out our website, and help us as we help engage and motivate our youth in reigniting the fire of curiosity. 

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Different Point of View

vinci2What if you could sit down in an interview with Leonardo da Vinci and ask him what he considered his title should be.  I believe his answer would surprise you. He would not claim to be an inventor, engineer, scientist, cartographer, architect, military engineer, nor a mathematician.  He would say he was an artist. Those other titles were only a byproduct of his trade.

If you were to ask what drove him, he would simply say, “Curiosity.”   All you need to do is learn how to study what is around you. Leonardo wrote, “To have a complete mind, study the science of art, and the art of science.  Learn how to see. Realize that everything is connected to everything else.”

water-wheelWhen you stop to really study the sketches and drawings of Leonardo, you realize every line the master drew. Every line of shading, every curve, was drawn only once.  He did not use a pencil, it wasn’t to be invented for another 250 years. There were no erasers, CTRL Z to undo, no whiteout liquid to cover up an unwanted line. He used quill pens and inks that he had to make himself.  The inks were made with bits of iron, which would have given a darker brown or black ink. Over the years, the iron oxides reacted to air and they turned brown.

If you were to ask Leonardo what was his tool of choice when sketching he would reply, “Perspective Geometry,” which he learned and mastered.  Today, we have Smartphones that can take video and digital photos. We have access to computers and printers from jet inks to laser printers. But, we have no way to transfer the images that come from our imagination onto paper.  We can describe them in intimate details in words, but seeing the image spares us of trying to reconstruct words back into an image. This is where Leonardo’s tool of projected geometry (one and two-point perspective) comes in handy.

“But, I can’t draw” comes the retort. “I can’t even draw a crooked line,” some say with exaggeration.  Drawing is a skill, and skills can be learned. Adding the tool of perspective geometry along with a pencil or pen today is all you need to transfer your imagination onto paper.

Filippo-Brunelleschi-statue-Luigi-Pampaloni-Florence-Duomo-1830Now, to be fair, Leonardo did not invent perspective geometry.  That honor belongs to another Italian, Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), a little over forty years before Leonardo was born.  Brunelleschi needed the geometry to complete his biggest project–completing the dome over the Florence Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.  The dome of the cathedral was left unfinished for 400 years because no one had figured a way how to complete the large dome. The dome width was 150 feet in width and was 180 feet above the ground.  Brunelleschi was able to make the construction plans using his new tool of perspective and then inventing new techniques and technologies to finish building the cathedral dome.

 

 

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It was another contemporary artist of Brunelleschi, Leon Alberti, who took pen in hand to record in a book lessons on how to draw a three-dimensional object onto a two-dimensional sheet of paper.  Alberti’s book included two lessons: The first on how to construct a one-point perspective, and chapter 2 how to create a two-point perspective. By the time the young Leonardo entered as an apprentice to Andrea del Verrocchio’s art workshop, perspective drawing was all the rage. He quickly learned how to use this magical tool to transfer his imagination and three-dimensional objects into his notebooks.

hqdefaultWhen I make visits to the Disney Imagineers offices in Burbank, California, I find among all the technologies comprising of Smartboards, computers, 3D printers, and more, one common tool that starts every project–the pencil. The same truth can be found even at the JPL/NASA offices of engineering.  It is the cheapest, but the simplest tool to create from. Leonardo wrote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and he was right!

The second truth points out that if you really look and study the world around you–You will find patterns.  The catalyst that is needed at this point is curiosity. Because it is curiosity that makes the connections to everything else.  It is unfortunate that we live in a world today where people really don’t stop and look, smell, taste, and touch with curiosity. We live in a world where information and data are literally in the palm of our hands, and yet very few really know how to access it and use it.

At this point, I will make a slight detour into our present educational system.  A system designed through its curriculum and lesson plans to arrive at a set answer, concept, or procedure.  A system designed to structure learning and put a brake on creativity. Standardization leaves very little room for student-directed learning and for questions not within the plan structure.  Teaching math as an Art, exploring and discovering science, and learning about the different fields of engineering are pushed aside for scantron testing and assessments. The present system removes curiosity and replaces it with spoiler alerts.

The Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice is daring to create a platform for secondary students not only to work in but to exchange different perspectives in solving problems.  To gain those perspectives students must first learn to get the best answer, not the only one, they must first learn how to ask the right question.  It is equally important that they learn the science of art and the art of science.  Finding the patterns and making the connections comes next.

Modern technology is great.  The perspective techniques that Leonardo learned and used 500 years ago have gone through an evolution from paper to projected geometry.  For example,  a technology that was invented using projected geometry called augmented reality (AR) has many uses. The rover you see below is not real, but a 3D projection focusing on my driveway from my iPhone and photographed.  Using my phone I can walk around the rover to see all its parts.  Many of its parts, like the camera, can move, and even the rover itself can move.  What other uses can augmented reality be used for? How will that add to virtual reality tools and even holographic projections? The future in transferring imagination into reality is coming closer, and to think, it all began with a simple question on how you might see things from a different perspective.

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Are Schools Preparing Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s Problems?

DUST!  You know, that fine gray film that lines your bookshelves, or hugs the corners of your floors.  It’s one of those items on the cleaning list that needs to be done, but it is not that important unless you are entertaining or mom is coming over.  But there are a few items that we can’t just brush under the rug.  For example. . .

new-moon-dust-iii - CopyIf and when we decide to return to the Moon, the problem of dust will become a priority for survival.  Because there is no wind on the moon, the dust particle never erodes. Moondust is made up of micrometeorite impacts–and they remain razor-sharp. This makes moondust dangerous to breathe in.  Moondust closely resembles silica dust we have here on Earth. Silica dust can cause silicosis, a serious lung disease that can cause death.

dustsuit - Copy - CopyThe Apollo Astronauts could not completely dust themselves off before entering their capsule, and once back in their capsule the dust became a problem because it spread and attached itself to the electronic equipment and caused interruptions.  Astronauts also complained of eye and throat irritations. To date, no one has come up with a solution on how to remove the moon dust before entering the capsule or once in how to keep it from spreading around the living space.

 Because of the iron ore in meteorites, they are also susceptible to magnets.  China’s Yutu rover died in 2014 by overheating–Moondust was the prime suspect.  Lunar dust measures just 70 micrometers. That is about the size of a grain of earth sand, except earth sand is not razor sharp.  Moondust also carries an electrical charge–not great for electronic equipment. Dust and dust storms will be another issue once we reach Mars too!

arizona-haboob-chopper-photo-2 (1) - CopyHere on Earth, dust storms like the haboob that hits parts of Arizona or other parts of the world like North Africa are massive and can cause health problems.  Cars can choke with earth’s dust storms, air conditioning units and filtration units are on max during these types of storms. Is there a solution? Will solving the moon’s dust problem help here on Earth as well as when we travel to Mars?

My concern is that our present educational system is not preparing the next generation to answer these questions.  Even though I admire this entrepreneurial generation, they are locked into developing business solutions and commerce. The Z-Gen, as they are called, like transparency, they like to support causes and are the most advanced generation in using technology.  Even though business apps make money and sell products and services, App programs are not designed to move mankind forward to solving the problems that both affect the future of our planet and its inhabitants.

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The Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice was formed to answer a simple question.  Is anyone out there interested in science and engineering? It was the same question I asked back in 1994 when I launched a program online called, “Space Islands.”  To my surprise, by 1996, the program had reached 2.3 million students and teachers in forty nations. So, here it is twenty-five years later, and I am asking the same question.  Except, instead of presenting a program online we are creating and developing an online platform where secondary students in the global community will be able to interact and work on solving some of these questions.  This is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to inspiring, motivating, and engaging those students looking for a workspace they can advance their ideas in. No other hidden agenda.

I want to see that entrepreneurial energy released on solving problems that will first address our planet and then how those same solutions might be altered or advanced in moving out of our planet.  We are putting together a unique team with a diversity of professional backgrounds who will work towards the development of programs that will be recorded and released for both students and teachers.   Joining our team, we will have members who have worked as Disney Imagineers as well as from JPL/NASA. This will allow students to interact with professionals who will provide encouragement and mentoring.

If you know secondary students who are looking for this type of platform to engage in have them register for our Leonardo’s Apprentice Contest Project.  This is a 501(c) nonprofit educational organization that is also looking for those individuals or organizations that will help us to grow and reach out through your financial support.  Your support will not only give valuable resources for students to work in, but will also provide the educational community with projects and lessons to draw from. All these programs will be focusing on student-directed project-based learning.  Here, it starts with the student asking the question.  

Our mission is to grow and sustain a global community whose members collectively will build interest and expertise in the fields of engineering, sciences, and the Arts in the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci.

Our Vision is to provide an online platform that will connect, engage, and motivate young minds within the global community in the fields of engineering and science, as we continue to search for tomorrow’s visionaries.

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.

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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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.

 

 

Combating Teacher Brownout

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Dear Leonardo,

” I have two teachers who are resigning from their teaching post.  My assistant principal told me both young teachers are burned out. I feel bad because they were both dedicated and were inspirational.  What happened?  Could I have prevented this . . .?”

Before burnout, there is a term psychologists have referred to for years called a”Brownout.”  A teacher in the brownout stage has become disengaged, demotivated, and demonstrates a loss of interest.  This is the teacher who used to come early and leave late; now that same teacher ‘clocks in’ on time and leaves as soon as she can.

Being a teacher today, the brownout can come from several sources, and have a multitude of reasons.  Even though in a classroom of twenty or more students, or in an intimate or large faculty most teachers at the brownout stage feel alone, overwhelmed, and angry. The brownout teacher is starting to question their existence as a teacher… if what they are doing really will make a difference… if the lack of respect is really worth the effort to continue?

Teachers at the brownout stage usually release their feelings and frustrations outside the classroom–at home, with friends, or on social media. The problems that can be released especially through social media can damage school or school personnel reputations.  For those who have no outlets, stress can be transferred into physical ailments from headaches, to stomach ailments, to lower back pains.  This in turn increases teacher absenteeism and in the end affects student learning continuity and progress.

Even technology has played  a role into this as well:  Emails, texts, cell phones, computers, and social media have not reduced the stress issues, but, in effect, have increased it with longer hours on the job.  How then can an administrator or department chair address the issue?  One way, is through intervention from outside the school.  Why outside and not from within?  Simple, an outsider, with strict confidentiality to all parties, allows the teacher to express and release frustrations and emotions in a safe environment, free from ridicule, job threats, and colleague gossiping.

Leonardo’s Apprentice makes itself available as an  intervention third party to intercept and address brownout situations before they get to the burnout stage.  Our objective is to work with teachers through mentoring and training.  We have three decades of experience in education and presently mentor elementary to university teachers.

Drop us a line if you have questions, or for more information visit our website at http://LeonardosApprentice.org.

 

Tools of the Trade 2

teachingtoolsBack in the 1990’s, the boys at the high school I worked at carried all their textbooks, notebooks, pencils and calculators in large duffle bags.  They had access to a locker, but students felt carrying their locker in one bag from class to class was better.  In any case, they got their weight training in early.  It was during this time the Dean of Technology, Dr. Jerry Waite, and myself were looking into e-books, originally called, “e-readers.”  This was pre-kindle.  We both came to the early conclusion that if educational publishers ever took on the task of converting traditional paper textbooks to digital this could save a lot of weight.  However, would owning an e-book increase student reading skills, comprehension, and output?  Would it increase literacy?  Would it motivate students to read more?  We weren’t sure.

This article is a continuation in a series I am writing about regarding the Tools of the Trade.  Teachers have access to more teaching tools than any previous generation.  How to choose the best tool for the right job is still an important question.  There is no one tool that fits all.  Hopefully, these articles will open dialog and direction that in the end will benefit our students.

In the world of marketing, both online (Social Media) and offline (newspapers, flyers, and even business cards) media are encouraged in getting the message out.  Likewise, in education it’s important that we embrace the new technologies while continuing to evaluate what we gain and lose with legacy tools vs. digital tools.  Certain questions have come to mind, which I believe are being ignored or overlooked.

Question 1:    What improvements in learning are achieved by integrating new technology into the classroom?

Lest we forget, the classroom is a learning tool, and the classroom as we knew it has been evolving.  Today’s classroom can be a dynamic learning tool for discovery, creating dreams, and empowerment provided we address three conditions:

  • IF, all the elements in the classroom are interconnecting and engaging the
    young learner.
  • iF, the teacher has been well instructed on how to use and integrate the
    technology into the curriculum, and
  • IF, the teacher is willing to push the technology envelope to find more ways to
    reach student learning styles.

exam-20I have read a lot of articles about the “New Skills” today’s technology will teach our students.  But no one has ever taken the time to make a list of exactly what those skills are.  LAUSD spent $1 billion dollars to purchase 600,000 iPads and WiFi infrastructures for it’s school district.  The only public reason given for this purchase has been that the California State Standardized Tests under the new Core Curriculum will now be taken online.  So I thought, what new skills are needed to learn on how to click on a bubble, or type in your answer in an assigned box?

childworkingonipadA week ago, I visited a fifth grade math class.  The teacher had several multiplication problems on her Smartboard that were being copied by students using their iPads.  As I walked around the room I saw student after student using his/her finger to write the problem onto a blank screen and carry out the computation.  Students could use the same finger to erase by tapping on the appropriate icon.  As the students continued to work, I asked the teacher a question, “How has the student learning outcomes improved by replacing pencil and paper for the new digital device?”  She replied, “We haven”t had much time to evaluate that question.” She continued, “However, it has saved our school quite a bit on paper purchases.”  Was saving paper or student growth the most important reason to implement iPad technology into the lesson plan?

The efficacy is further hindered with yearly industry system and software upgrades along with district demands not only to learn the new technologies but finding new ways to integrate them into current curriculums.  All of this creating a learning curves for teachers that are almost vertical on the graph.

So, how is this problem to be solved?  Base on my research, these six foundation questions need to be answered first.

  1. How will the technology being considered improve the content to be delivered?
  2. What projects will be developed from the technology demonstrate student engagement and self-motivation?
  3. How will the technology create collaboration between students?
  4. How will student communication improve?
  5. What creative projects can be created, that will utilize both traditional and digital technologies in solving a unique problem?
  6. How will the technology help to encourage learning outside the classroom?

Second, better assessment tools need to be created, not on the technologies, technologies don’t have learning outcomes, but on student learning outcomes.
Third, programs need to be re-evaluated for school mission efficacy.  Our school missions are the light houses that represent who we are, and what goals we have agreed to work on for the betterment of our students, not state rating or scores.

Tools of the Trade

Back in 1988, I took a photography class at Glendale Community College.  This was in PDA (pre-digital age).  Like my fellow students I brought in my brand new Minolta 35mm camera.  Our first assignment was to go around campus and take a composition picture in black & white showing textures.  Our teacher went out as well, taking his 1950 Brownie camera to take shots.  When we returned we all prepared our film, chose the best negative, developed it, and proudly placed it on a viewing rack.  We then voted on the best picture.  Okay, you’re jumping ahead, but you’re right!  The teacher’s photo won.  I still remember his words, “It’s the eye of the photographer, not the camera that takes a good or great picture.”  Years later, when I taught a digital video production class I passed on the same phrase to my students.  Composition is a communication skill that should not be left to the camera to decide.
TechInClRm2 My teacher’s quote can also be applied to today’s professional teachers.  The technology available for classroom projects, presentations, and experimentation is awesome.  But in the end, it is still the teacher not the tool that motivates a child.  Today’s teachers are graduating from the best universities coming out with knowledge and insights on how the human brain learns, memorizes, and thinks.  Neuroscience research has become part of the university’s curriculum with the newest information and studies on learning impairments, learning styles, cultural integration, and motivation motif’s.  And yet, not one class is set aside on the topic on current technology being used in the classroom.  Not one class discusses the best methods and procedures on how to implement any of the technology tools available into lesson plans that will engage and motivate young learners.
Some will say, today’s technology is quite intuitive, and there doesn’t need to be any training in it.  There is some truth in this.  My Canon Rebel digital camera can take good automatic pictures once I set the auto dials, then all I have to do is push a button, and instantly I get to see my taken image.  But professional photographers learn how to compose their own shots, manually setting their own speeds and lighting, using raw files instead of tiff files.  Pro photographers expand the envelope of their tools to invent and create new ways to communicate visually.  There is a difference between a candid shot and a professional shot.  But what has all of this to do with teachers?

Teachers who are not trained in how to manipulate the technology given them are limited to only the program instructions and device functions.  Student engagement and motivation becomes a reality when teachers are trained properly on what their technology is capable of doing.  An iPad device has access to thousands of apps, however, understanding how a child thinks and learns opens up opportunities in not just choosing the right app, but being able to manipulate it into a functional teaching tool.  Teachers need to be taught how to choose the right technology and software programs that will meet the student’s learning style.  There is no one size fits all here.  It is at this point we transform the classroom facilitator into a EduTech professional capable of changing lives, engaging students, motivating them to their highest potentials, and in the end, even keeping the bureaucracy satisfied with higher test scores.
TechInClassRm

MOOC’s Achilles Heel

achilles-heel1The ancient warrior Achilles had only one vulnerable spot, MOOC has three potential vulnerable spots.  MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) is not exactly new, but some of the participants running MOOC are.  I’m not talking about some fly-by-night business Website that is not accredited.   I am talking about prestigious universities that are offering free courses for credit:  MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Yale Harvard, and Duke and more.  All that is needed is access to the Web and some time.  And yet, the completion rate is low and the failure rate is high!  Duke University’s Coursera MOOC program, which registered 12,700 students, had only 350 finish the course–that’s a 97% drop out rate (Rivard, 2013).  A lot of students from high school to retirees are jumping on board, but leaving the educational train before it completes its journey.  Why?

The first MOOC was created back in 1995 in a project called, “Space Island’s,”  which was logged into the Library of Congress in 1996 as the first long distant online educational program ever done in history.  The course study was on space flight and space station research.  The courses and lessons were free, as today, and reached over 2.3 million students and teachers in forty nations.  I know this program well, because I’m the one who developed and managed it.  The program started out as a high school project but then exploded into global historical event.  Based on my past experiences and the evolution of the Web I think there are three vulnerable spots that MOOC needs to patched up.

Issue #1 :Student Knowledge Expectation
I took and finished my B.S.I.T. degree through the University of Phoenix online course.  The first thing I learned was the college’s posit that I had to have already knowledge and experience in the subject matter.  For example, one of my courses was programming in JAVA.  No problem for me, I had taught computer programming since the early 1980’s.  From FORTRAN to BASIC, Pascal to C, from C++ to JAVA.  When given a project to create a program in JAVA I was expected to know the software and how to program.  Several of my student colleagues went into panic mode when asked to develop a program they had never learned.  They expected the class to teach the course, when in effect the course had expectations of already knowing much of the subject matter.  I found this true in many of the online university courses.  In the words of Albert Einstein, “Information is not Knowledge.”  MOOC requires knowledge to succeed.  For the most part, the courses are not taught, they are designed to evaluate your knowledge in the subject matter.

Issue #2: Teacher vs Facilitator

dropoutOnline courses don’t have teachers they have facilitators.  In addition, many of the MOOC online courses have online videos lectures.  Now, there’s an innovation!  Okay, so you are a high school or jr. college student already bored with sitting in a class taking notes.  You read about a course you can take for credit on the same subject you are learning in school, and it’s free!  Unfortunately, you must listen and watch a 30 to 60 minute video.  Head goes down at this point.  The statistics gathered from MOOC (Flowler, 2013) shows the best attention span for a lecture is somewhere between 6-9 minutes.  Not new to elementary and secondary teachers.  But, college professors are not trained to be public speakers nor how to engage student learning.  It is expected that students will motivate themselves.

The video, if you are lucky, is probably the only visual you really will see.  The majority of the class interaction occurs on a message board.  Not much different than receiving a text or email.  The interactions can become stagnant when you find the only way you can express yourself is using the Bold key, CAPITALIZING words, or making the same graphic texting symbols you use on your cell phone.

Issue: #3:  Technology Evolution

When I launched ‘Space Island’s” back in 1995, the browser was just coming into existence, telephone modems (300 baud) were used to connect to companies like AOL and CompuServe.  Some people were still using their own television screens as monitors.  The interactions were still by emails, and many of the images were still being sent via FTP site servers.
However, 18 years later, technology has evolved into real-time interactions with the ability to access multimedia, hypermedia, and many forms of interactive and engaging technology.  Yet, I was still seeing simple and boring PowerPoint presentations, videos that were not streaming correctly, and communicating with the same black and white text formats in Times Roman I had used 18 years before.
Today’s students need engagement and interaction.  Even the Baby-Boomer generation has evolved into the new world of technology selections, and are learning how to use them.   Universities that are providing MOOC programming must realize what makes up their audience.  The age group, subject knowledge, background experience, and reasons for taking MOOC programs needs to be addressed.  Facilitators need to be replaced by teachers, and 21st Century visual interaction needs to be implemented to make these programs work.

Achilles was young, arrogant, and self-assured that he was invincible.  However, if MOOC’s efficacy is to prove out the above three issues need to bypass the hubris of college and university MOOC status quo programming and move from the inuring on-campus traditions to addressing ancillary 21st Century learning.   Comments are welcomed.

References:

Flowler, Geoffrey A. “An Early Report Card on Massive Open Online Courses.” The Wall Street Journal. WSJ, 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://on.wsj.com/19gcXKX&gt;.

Rivard, Ry. “Measuring the MOOC Dropout Rate.” Weblog post. Researcher Explore Who Taking Moocs and Why so Many Drop out. Inside Higher Ed., 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://bit.ly/10oGf7Q&gt;.