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!
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.
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.
I 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.
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:
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.”
Is Coding a Trend or a Fad?
Liana Heitin (@LianaHeitin) recently posted a blog from Educational Week, (http://bit.ly/1LG4uG2) on the topic of, “Coding for Elementary Students: A Growing Trend?” Or, is it a tech fad. Technology was never designed to replace the teacher. Technology is a tool not a learning outcome. Computer and technology companies, like Apple, have been marketing their product not only as educational wonders but having the power to increase learning outcomes. The results of over 35 years of marketing and sales has only increased these company’s sales and profits. At the same time as tech industries have increased, educational scores have decreased.
Back in 1984, IBM, Motorola, and Apple were competing for the computer market. I had learned FORTRAN, BASIC, and Pascal, and was interested in teaching people how to build, maintain, and program these computers. In those days, there were no teaching credentials for this topic, so I applied through the El Monte Unified High School District for a vocational credential to teach programming and computer systems. The State of California did not know what to do with this request, eventually I was awarded a VocEd in Computer Programming and Data Systems in 1985. I found out I was the first to apply and receive a VocEd teaching credential in computers for the State of California.
Looking back at all those kids who learned how to program in BASIC and Pascal, they are now today in their 40’s. Did computer literacy and programming prepare them for Smartphones, iPads, or any of the Social Media we have today? I would say–No!
Will teaching today’s elementary students coding skills help them 20 years from now? I don’t think so either! Grant you, programming offers skills in problem-solving, computer logic, and problem analysis. However, computers are continuing to be developed in more complexity with intuitive controls. Apps didn’t exist 10 years ago. Why do we assume our children will need to program computers in the future? How many of you out there program your computers, iPads, Smartphones, or other technical devices? I would assume very, very few. Today’s kids, as those in the future will be end users. The majority of students today don’t know how their device works, saves, or runs. They don’t need to.
What skills they will need, I believe, is learning how to ask the right questions (database research); Learning a foreign language and culture (Global Community Awareness and Interactions); how to choose the right tool to complete a job (problem analysis); and finally, how to manage available resources (Adaptability.)
Elementary students also need to have strong foundations in mathematics. They need to know their time tables, understand how to identify patterns, how to communicate (public speaking), and understanding visual symbolism in communications. Reading (analysis and reporting) is also important to help students as they progress the ladder of education. Coding is an elective. Changing a butterfly to a plane on a monitor and then moving it around the screen while changing sound and colors is fun, but what future skills are schools preparing students for? Technology is becoming both more complicated and intuitive. Technology will change, that’s a given, but the foundations of math, the Arts, science, reading, and public speaking are skills our children will need in the future, not how to code.
MAKING THE CONNECTIONS || An Invitation to a Conversation
Back in March 1993, I was given an invitation by Caltech to witness a new development involving the Internet. I was taken to a computer lab on Caltech’s campus where I heard a brief lecture, and then was shown the first web browser, Mosaic—images and text on the same page. In 1993, there were only three websites in full operation. One was located in Switzerland, the second in Chicago, and the third at Caltech in Pasadena, California.
Two years later, I logged onto AOL and aided in developing the Electronic Schoolhouse. In September 1995, I developed and launched an educational program on the Electronic Schoolhouse called, “Space Island’s.” At the time, I thought it would be interesting to work with two other schools on a common online project. The first was a public school located in Sitka, Alaska, and the other, a private school in New Rochelle, New York. I had no idea what was to come next.
The Space Islands project was centering around a virtual space station, where students were given a virtual lab to conduct science, math, and engineering experiments regarding space travel and concepts of living in zero-g. By March, 1996, I was spending 3- 4 hours every day answering emails from around the world. The Los Angeles Times newspaper reported that AOL had recorded forty nations, which had become involved with the Space Islands program with an estimated 3.2 million students and teachers working on the project. This obviously opened up AOL, and I was given a free account, but I still had not realized what I had done yet. To me, this was a new way to interact with other schools and to create educational projects.
In June of 1996, I received a letter from Senator Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, informing me that my program, “Space Islands,” that I had pioneered, was being inducted into the Library of Congress as a historical event. Historical event?! It was labeled as the first long distance educational program ever done on the Internet. It would soon launch, what we call today online e-learning.
It was the global interactions of students and teachers that was most compelling. For example, students in Kuwait asked a simple question, “Where does the water come from when you are in space?” This got students in Nebraska looking into the topic of growing corn in hydroponic experiments. Students from Cambodia wanted to experiment on the same topic but conducting the experiments using rice. At the University of Helsinki, Finland, university students saw an opportunity with all the nationalities and languages and created the first present tense language interpreter. The lists went on from engineering concepts to developing the imaginary technology that would be used to build the engineering tools, and using math as an application in creating simulations.
In 2012, I took a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership online. I enjoyed the courseware but was not impressed by the e-learning technology colleges and universities were using. Considering the advances we have seen in the past 16 years, in both computer and online technology and engineering, I was surprised to see little advancement in e-learning connections. Connections between students and facilitators (what universities and colleges call online teachers or instructors,) wasn’t much more than the e-mails and bulletin boards I used back in 1996.
So, here we are in the 21st Century where computer technology and software had advanced science fiction into reality with the pantology of historical developments and advancements, condensed literally, to one 2.25″ x4.75″ (5.2cm x 12.7cm) hand-held device capable of receiving and sending information almost anywhere on this planet. And yet, there was a lack of efficacy in the technological hubris that attenuated educational advancement. Why?
In those past 16 years, technology and software companies had evolved from manufacturing to sales, from sales to partnerships with educators, to memberships on school district Board of Directors dictating everything from curriculum development to pedagogy structures. Educational publishers had also joined in, along with many other businesses. Educators had become nothing more than secondary employees and clients to the industries marketing and selling educational books, equipment, and software.
Now, the last paragraph sounds like an anti-tech individual with a pejorative agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hold two B.S. degrees in Information Technology, and taught at a secondary technology school for two decades. So, has technology become an aberration to me? No! For the past three years, I have had an opportunity to take a step back from the daily teaching and department needs to see what is going on locally in other schools, as well as schools around the world, and I have found two interesting trends forming globally. The first, centers on using technology as a motivator. That will never happen. The second group, tends to put technology in its place as a tool–no more, no less, which seems to be showing positive results.
I have to admit, Apple Corp was a financial genius in marketing to schools. But, in the end, it wasn’t education and degrees they were hoping to increase–it was market shares and products. It still is. All manufacturers of “educational” equipment and software see big $$ to be made from both State and Federal educational programs. In fact, many of these same companies pushed legislation by courting financially into several political agendas. Common Core standardization was one of them. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to computers, cell phones, tablets, and the Internet I think standardization is very important. It just doesn’t belong in the classroom where there are different learning styles, behavior issues, and socio economic situations to deal with.
In the next series of writings, I am going to be focusing on schools that are getting measurable results. No, not higher standardized test scores! Nor, from new ways to using apps on a cell phone, iPad, or tablet. When the new Core Curriculum was voted in, the state officials said, “We will set the bar, how you teach it is up to you.” What they added in smaller print was, “as long as you do it our way.” This reminded me of Henry Ford who said, “You can buy any car with any color, as long as it is black.” By the way, as a sidebar, Henry Ford’s industrial manufacturing model would eventually be the impetus to today’s educational programs. But, that’s another story.
Image: VocWord http://bit.ly/1HHYkT5 Space Islands image from SI group.
Once Upon A Time. . .
Once upon a time, actually last month, I was asked to speak to a group of university students from the University of the Philippines, Manila, on the topic of Digital Storytelling. The whole talk took place from my home in Southern California via the Net. Digital Storytelling is really no different than any other storytelling except you are using digital tools to compose and create the story. But, storytelling in itself, is a powerful tool that most teachers don’t take advantage of.
It is basically assumed that storytelling is for small children, or for entertainment like movies or plays. It doesn’t belong in an academic classroom. But I argue it does. Back in the 1980’s, Barron Publishing printed a series of math story books. The first was called, “Algebra The Easy Way.” Before “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings”, the land of Carmorra existed with its carefree and happy inhabitants. But like any good story, an evil presence appeared to challenge the King and his wizard on solving a problem or losing the kingdom. Of course, math was the answer, and the story moves through a normal series of modern math chapters explaining in a story format how they could answer the Gremlin with math. In the end–the Gremlin lost. However, he returns in the book of Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus. The key was students were completing a journey, an adventure, and learning math along the way. What could be more fun!
I was introduced into math storytelling back in the mid-1970’s at Aviation High School in Manhattan Beach, California. Originally hired as a math tutor, I was introduced to one of the math teachers whose subject was, “Alice in Wonderland.” I was given a copy of the book to read and study. On one page was the story of Alice, and on the opposite page detailed the mathematics that were hidden in the story. I was so intrigued in how Lewis Carroll, a mathematician himself, created a visual representation of what was really quite a set of complicated mathematics concepts.
You have to understand that the mathematics in the late 19th century was quite turbulent. The discoveries of non-Euclidean geometries, development of abstract symbolic algebra, and imaginary numbers were all the rage in those cigar and pipe smoked filled rooms as mathematicians continued to argue for some of kind of normalcy away from the madness at hand. Okay, you’re getting ahead of me.
The “Advice from a caterpillar” to Alice creates some interesting results as she tries to figure the correct proportions and positions of the mushroom, where the caterpillar sits on, which will bring her growth and proportions back to normal. In fact, even the “Hooka” that the caterpillar smokes is a symbol of Arabic origin, like “algebra,” which meant al jeer e al makable, or “restoration and reduction.” Al-jrbr in itself a medical Arabic term meaning may “Allah guide me through the unknown,” a medical technique used to restore broken bones. Of course, I am quite aware that during a test students will often pray to be guided through their unknown problems too!
Harry Potter was told to board his train at track 9 3/4. Alice deals with the Mad Hatter’s hat size of 10/6. Actually, 10/6 was not the hat size but the cost for the hat. It stood for ten shillings and sixpence, which interesting enough in late 19th Century England was equal to £300.96 pounds. You would have to be quite mad to pay that amount for a hat. The symbols and math continue to move along throughout the whole story.
Could physics problems be explained easier with a story? How about calculus? I believe, if you really know your subject well, you can tell it in a visual story. Consider it the next time you have a student to tutor, or a difficult concept you must present the class. If you have told a story would you consider sharing it with me?