Teacher’s Teachers Trump Class Size

Teachers in South Georgia learning about the potentials of using GPS technology in Education.
Flickr Photo by Judy Baxter

I’m home again, and being Saturday, I’m taking walks and just geeking out.  I’ve made it a ways through my aggregator, popping in and out of things that I would normally write about.  But, today, I just feel too lazy.  This one broke through my mode filter.  Published yesterday (May 29), eSchool News reports in Gates Foundation: Teachers Trump Class Size that,

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent billions of dollars exploring the idea that smaller high schools might result in higher graduation rates and better test scores. Instead, it found the key to better education is not necessarily smaller schools but more effective teachers. (( Staff, “Gates Foundation: Teachers trump class size .” eSchool News 29 May 2009 Web.30 May 2009. <http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/index.cfm?i=58946>. ))

Some issue is made of the fact that the B&MG foundation spent so much money to find out what most of us already knew.  As L.A. Unified’s chief of staff, Jim Morris, is quoted in the article, “Every teacher matters…”

I think that the new CEO of B&MG, Jeff Raikes, makes a good point.  We can’t really expect business to willing try things and fail.  It’s not in their short term interest.  And in the political environment of the past few decades, U.S. tax payers won’t stand for public dollars going into experiementing with education.  Who’s left?

Of course, if every teacher matters, and every classroom matters, then perhaps that’s where the power to innovate should be placed, in the hands of that teacher — funded by those who have the greatest interest in an educated future — everyone?

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Games for Change Festival

Since I could’t seem to be able to upload any of my photos, this is something from Flickr contributed by Dusk Cao
“Lunch Time at Games for Change Festival”
This is the photo I was not able to upload yesterday at the conference.

I am at the Games for Change conference (festival) in New York.  I’m not sure if I’m uptown or downtown.  It’s on 12th street, just east of 5th avenue, at The New School of Design.  It’s a small/compact conference with lots of people who care.  Games for Learning is about designing and using video games as a force for social change.  It’s an area that I know little about, except conceptually, since I don’t really play video games.  I’m here to learn, and the opening keynote certainly offered lots of opportunities for that.

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, has writing extensively about social change, apparently focusing most recently on Darfur.  He made some interesting points about communication, that Toothpaste companies do a better job of selling ideas than most humanitarians.  He said that large numbers simply do not do the job, that the human brain isn’t wired to handle large numbers.  As we evolved, we were seldom surrounded by anything exceeding a dozen in quantity.  “Six people starving is a tragedy.  A million people starving is a statistic.”

He told about a middle school in the Bronx, where the plight of Darfur had become an integral part of the culture of the school — because of the video game, Darfur is Dying.  Incidentally, two of the developers of the game were in the audience.  He said that they school sent him an invitation to come and speak by sending him to a web page URL: dearmrkristof.com.

He said that the struggle that defined the 19th century was irradicating slavery.  Of the 20th century, it was defeating totalitarianism.  He suggests that gender inequity in the developing world will define the 21st century.

The next session was about Pew’s recent report on teenagers, video games, and civic involvement.  Joseph Kahne listed five myths about video games:

  • Video games are violent.  There are violent video games, but teenagers, in truth, are playing all kinds of video games.
  • Many boys play only violent games. In truth, most youth play many genres of games, especially boys.
  • Game Play isolates you. 65% reported that they play in the presence of others and 27% reported that they play online, collaboratively with others.
  • The Game defines the experience.  Not true.  Many games offer huge opportunities for differentiation of the game experience.  My son got bored with Halo in a couple of weeks.  So he and his friends started inventing their own games to play in the Halo environment.
  • There is a huge digital divide when it comes to different groups’ video game play.  Again, nearly 100% of teens play video games across all demongraphics.

What I found interesting was the notion that the digital divide is more about the divide between classrooms that are making authentic, productive, empowering use of digital technologies, and classrooms that are using it to drill and kill (my wording).

The second speaker of that session was Ian Rowe, who works for the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation.  He is currently focused on college completion.  He reported that only 70% of U.S. teens finish high school.  But only 50% of entering college students graduate with a degree.  Part of the problem is that only half of the graduating high school students are prepared for college (1/3 of all high school students).

It’s time to bring this entry to a close, except to share one thing that Jim Gee said in a later session on assessment and video games.  He said, “Looking at the choices that people make in solving problems is a good predictor of knowledge they have gained. But measuring knowledge does not predict problem solving ability.”

Choice vs Knowledge

Could I be Sorry to see a Test Go?

A little more sleep and a little less cramming may be in store for students next year if lawmakers decide to get rid of some standardized tests.

Flickr Photo by Lauren Brown

That’s the opening line of a 27 May Raleigh News & Observer story, Student Testing Might be Reduced.  Our new governor, Beverly Perdue, recently proposed that the legislature “dump” all state tests that are not required for high school graduation or by federal law.

According to the article, the NC Senate proposes that five high school subject area tests would go — Algebra II, geometry, chemistry, physics, and physical science.  These are subjects that are not required for graduation.  U.S. History stays, since all NC high school students are required to take that subject (not world history, an issue of recent discusson with some Canadian educator friends).

I’m sorry that U.S. History will continue to be tested.  I suspect that it is one of the main reasons that my daughter decided not to become a history teacher.  She wanted to teach history, not prepare teenagers for a test.  She said that they were not the same thing.

Also to be “dumped” is our state’s Computer Skills Test.  To my knowledge, North Carolina was the first state to mandate testing of computer skills and to tie high school graduation to the passage of that test. 

I never liked the test.  I like to say that it was when the state announced the required computer skills test that I left the agency.  But it was purely coincidence. 

There are two reasons why I disliked the test. 

  1. Middle school computers became monopolized by efforts to prepare students for the test, rather than making authentic use of the technology for learning.
  2. Though they did a descent job with the test itself, including both knowledge and performance skills, I suspect that most technologists employed in Research Triangle Park, just north of Raleigh, would have failed the test.  Solving problems with computers is about inventing solutions, not memorizing them.

The plus side of the test was that school boards and superintendents bought a lot of computers for their middles schools and kept buying them.  My hope is that we are reaching a tipping point where learning in our schools in the 21st century is best and most reasonably done with networked, digital, and abundant content.

Read the article for more on the debate.  But Angela Quick, the deputy academic officer for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is quoted as saying,

In an era when students will be competing with people around the world for jobs in science, technology and engineering, it makes sense to know how much students have learned about those subjectsuty chief academic officer of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is quoted as saying.

Another state education official said,

The tests help standardize the statewide curriculum and make sure students are taught the same material no matter where they go to school.

I have no real objection to either of these statements except for what I have often say.  In a time of rapid change, the value that we bring to our endeavors will not come so much from what we know that is the same as other people.  It will come from what we know and how we think that is different.  We have to ensure that all students graduate with a common context for their world and their future.  But it is just as important that our graduates are able to resourcefully make themselves experts, and be able to adapt and innovate.

Choosing an eBook Reader

Flickr Photo by Matteo Penzo

I’m still at Oracle, but they’ve given us a break.  So I opened up my RSS Reader and the first thing in the list is the WIRED Gadget Lab article, a Building Guide: How to Choose an eBook Reader.  I won’t be buying one anytime soon, but I know that they have increased in popularity over the last many months.  As the article opens…

E-books are the ‘it’ gadget of the year. But picking an e-book reader is more difficult than choosing a brand of cereal or a bottle of shampoo. Every other week, a new reader is gussied up in the factories of Taiwan, ready to make its debut. At last count, we estimated at least 12 different e-book readers on the market or close to release.

A matrix for comparison is also linked from the article.

So if this is something you’ve been lusting for, this Gadget Lab report may be helpful.

Duncan Testimony…

Education Secretary Arne Duncan testifying before the House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor

Some how, the outreach folks with the House Committee on Education & Labor have found me and have been forwarding information related to the issues they are considering.  Yesterday, they sent the following web links related to Secretary Duncan’s testimony before the committee.  I have only watched Chairman Honorable George Miller’s opening remarks, but plan to sneak in as much of the rest today and tomorrow.  Well, that and finish preparing for tomorrow morning’s virtual keynote for the Webheads.

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Think 100 Years Ahead

Chinese Silver Grace
Flickr Photo by Autan

I just learned, from the ThinkQuest website, why we have such a difficult time appropriately funding education.  No surprises here, but it’s a Chinese proverb that I was not aware of.

“If you are thinking a year ahead – plant seeds;
If you are thinking 10 years ahead – plant a tree;
If you are thinking 100 years ahead – educate the people “

When was the last time anyone you know was thinking a hundred years ahead?  When was the last time you saw somebody do something a hundred years in mind? 

I can think of no one more in need of thinking ahead than teachers — and those who empower teachers.

Hearing on “The Obama Administrations Education Agenda”

Click image for larger version…

I got this one in this morning as well, Arne Duncan’s testimony on Capital Hill.  I can not find that the hearing will be aired on C-Span, but I’d love to see what he says. 

So let me ask you,

“If you were a member of House Education and Labor Committee, what questions would you ask our Secretary of Education?”

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New Bill to Support 21st Century Skills

I’ve taken some time, this morning, to try to catch up on e-mail before heading back over to Oracle for day two ThinkQuest judging — and it seems to be the morning for press releases.  The one I think I’ll pass through here is one from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills announcing a new bill, The 21st Century Skill Incentive Fund Act.

Sponsored by Senators John Rockefeller (D-WV), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and cosponsored by Senator John Kerry (D-MA); the bill…

..aims to provide matching federal funds to states that pair strong core courses with 21st century skills such as creativity, innovation, critical thinking and financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy. ((Partnership for 21st Century Skills, “The Partnership for 21st Century Skills applauds Senators John Rockefeller (D-WV) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) for sponsoring the 21st Century Skill Incentive Fund Act.” E-mail to David Warlick. E-mail.18 May 2009. ))

Part of me says, “Ho Hum.”  But another part tries to put this into context.  What would such an announcement have felt like five years ago?  I suspect it would have caused ripples as it should today.  But I still want something that says, this is what it looks like?  This is what your children’s learning in and out of their classrooms should look like to include creativity, innovation, critical thinking…. in teaching and learning — and it should be astoundingly exciting.

ThinkQuest/Oracle Education Foundation folks took us out to eat last night, and I sat with Bernie Trilling (Senior Director of Think.com and Thinkquest, and Partnership for 21st Century Skills board member) and Mary Kraus (right out of the classroom and newly hired technology services program manager for Lemon Grove School District).  It was an interesting pair to sit between, the visionary and the distinguished practitioner.  There was a lot of “what it should look like” conversation and some ideas so cool that my jaw dropped.  But we need a one liner, an elevator speech, a jingle, a bill board, something that says, “throw out the old and bring in the new, because this is what we crave to do.

Seeming to me like an apology (but probably only to me), the press release added,

The teaching of 21st century skills is meant in no way to detract from creating a rigorous core curriculum. As Senator Rockefeller said, “West Virginia students need to master the 3 R’s – reading, writing, and arithmetic – but they must do more if they want to be ready to compete in the global economy.”

Flickr Photo by Stefan Jansson

I think that the call to do more is not enough.  I think that we have to re-label the 3 R’s.  The 3 R’s are huge and they are hugely important — essential.  But they are nothing more than a foundation.  Being taught facts about history, science, health, literature, are nothing but a foundation.  The structure that find its stability on that foundation, that becomes the home for new ideas, innovations, and adventures, and continues to cherish the core values of our cultures, is also an essential and a responsibility of our schools.

I agree with West Virginia’s state superintendent of schools, Dr. Steven Paine when he says that, “It is very encouraging that we can create a partnership between the federal government, states and private businesses.”  It’s an aim that Trilling echoed last night.  But we desperately need that story that describes the learning environments that joyfully build the whole structure.

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Day One of ThinkQuest Judging

I took this one out the plane window

It has been a long time since I was involved directly with ThinkQuest.  My one sentence definition was, and still is,

ThinkQuest is a project that has students collaborating in teams to create a web site that is designed to help other students learn something.

The project has changed in both small and large ways, as one would expect.  It isn’t the old Internet any more.  The only comment I would make right here about my judging experiences is that we train our students very well to complete assignments.  I’ll probably expound on that later.

The best part is some amazing people I am working with, most of whom are old hands at TQ judging.  They mostly know each other and seem well attuned to the various accents — a particular problem for me because of hearing difficulties. 

The best part of the judging is being able to post comments back to the team members, explaining what they have done well and what they’ve missed.  I feel very much like a teacher.

Photos are shots I’ve taken over the area where I’m staying and working, with one picture from the window of the plane flying over the west.

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To Work in Information Environment

I am on my way to San Francisco — more specifically to the campus of Oracle, just south of the city (I believe).  The week will culminate ThinkQuest Live, a celebration of the work of hundreds of students from around the word, producing education web sites to help their global neighbors learn.

The origins of this project we rooted in the belief that not only do our children need to learn to innovate, but that, perhaps, their perspective as “digital natives” gives them a unique capacity to teach us through their creativity.  I’ve not been involved with the project for a decade, so I do not know exactly where its driving principles are right now.  But I’ll be spending most of the week judging sites — and I plan to learn in the process.

A big part of innovating on the web is understanding how it work, and APIs are a fairly new ingredient. This in from Programmable Web.

This week saw the widest range of APIs being used to develop mashups we’ve seen in awhile: 42 different APIs used in 7 days. Of those new apps added to our mashup directory, only a handful were map mashups, whereas most of them used more unique APIs: Google Chart API, indeed API, Livekick API, MTV API, NPR API, Tagalus API, TwitPic API, uClassify API, Vimeo API, and the Yelp API… (( Musser, John. “42 Different APIs Used in 7 Days – From MTV to NPR.” [Weblog Programmable Web] 16 May 2009. Web.17 May 2009. <http://blog.programmableweb.com/2009/05/16/42-different-apis-used-in-7-days-from-mtv-to-npr/>. ))

For those who do not know, APIs are, in a sense, keys into the data of various web sites. It enables use to collect data and even tools from one (or more) web site(s) and include it in our web presences. APIs are how I built Hitchhikr, which lists blog posts written from and about various conferences.

They are important to us, as educators, because APIs provide one more way that the information environment we’re preparing our students for — not to mention within — is incredibly and enticingly workable.

Should we be teaching this to secondary students.  I don’t know.  But are we explicitly giving students the opportunity to learn these techniques to better work the information environment they are learning within.  If we aren’t, then we’re not doing our jobs!

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