Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction – Installment 6

Here is the 6th installment of a short story I wrote as the 1st chapter of Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century, written in 2004.  The setting is 2014. It starts here.

Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from ABC-CLIO, publisher of Redefining Literacy 2.0

Finally the images fade to a map of the world done in negative relief, appearing as it did millions of years ago. A timeline appears to the right of the map beginning at about 200 million years ago. A citation also appears in off-white indicating a Web site that was the source of their data. Immediately, a pointer, starting at the bottom of the timeline, starts to move up slowly. Simultaneously, landmasses begin to move in a motion with which the students are already familiar. Many of them have also used this animation from the Smithsonian Institute’s Web site.

The team is not downgraded for using the familiar animation. However, the class becomes noticeably more interested as splotches begin to fade in and out in specific locations on the map. Numbers are imposed over the splotches as they gradually expand and become more opaque and then shrink to transparency. Soft but intense music plays in the background, credited to a talented student who had attended Bacon school two years earlier, a short citation appearing in the lower corner of the display. Samuel speaks over the animation and music, describing periods in the planet’s relatively recent history of mass extinctions and seemingly spontaneous raises in species diversity.

“Each rise and fall has corresponded with some dramatic change in global conditions: ice ages, planetary collisions, volcanic or seismic calamities…” Samuel speaks on eloquently.

As he continues, Ms. Crabtree is taken back to a conversation she had with the boy during their work on the ecology project. Samuel is thought by many to be a technical genius. He has a genuine gift for understanding and using technology. He also has a flair for using these tools to communicate persuasively. She had convinced Samuel, however, not to handle the programming and data manipulation for this project, that he leave that up to Johann – that Samuel only be allowed to give Johann verbal directions. She had also asked Samuel to do more of the copy and script writing on this project, an activity that she knew would be a challenge for him.

Several Days Earlier: 

Sally entered the school media center, a faint electronic click registering her entrance from the chip in her nametag. She stepped aside, so as not to block the doorway, and surveyed the room. The media center has far fewer books than it did when she went to middle school in the middle 1980s. There is a section in one corner that consists of shelves with books of various sizes and colors. They are almost exclusively fiction books that students check out for pleasure and for assignments in their humanities classes. These books remain because it is a deeply held belief that students appreciate the experience of reading a story without the benefit of electronic appliances. Regardless, most reading is done with tablet computers and smaller pocket text and audio readers.

The biggest portion of the room is devoted to work areas that Isaac calls “Knowledge Gardens.” Most of these workspaces consist of a table, with a 19-inch display, attached to a folding cradle that can swivel 360o. The display can be assigned to any tablet in its vicinity when the owner touches the print login pad. Scattered around the table are small, but efficient, keyboards, each of which can also be assigned to any tablet with the touch of its print login pad.

There are also two small stages with 4×8-foot display boards where teams can practice their presentations. She also sees a number of work areas that are much more casual, with homey lamps, bean bag chairs, low sofas, and assorted pillows. The media center is set up for knowledge construction, not just information accessing. Students come here to work, and mostly to work in small groups. It is rarely a quiet place.

Sally found the Reptiles and walked over. All four were together discussing their defense of one of the information resources they are using. She caught Samuel’s eye and asked if he would join her for a minute. She had read through the talented young man’s text document for the project, which was comprehensive and well organized. It appeared, though, that he had paid very little attention to grammar and sentence structure.

They sat down at an unoccupied table and she laid her tablet down, saying, “I wanted to talk for just a minute about your report.”

The story continues here.

Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction – Installment 1

Here is the 1st installment of a short story I wrote as the 1st chapter of Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century, written in 2004. The setting is 2014. It starts here.

Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc. Reprinted with permission from ABC-CLIO, publisher of Redefining Literacy 2.0

Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction

by David Warlick

Sally Crabtree sits at her desk as her A2 students amble out of her classroom, most talking in pairs and threes, some glancing at their tablets for messages from friends, parents, or project collaborators. Sally crosses her legs, lays her tablet in her lap and begins dragging icons around on the smooth bright surface using the stylus she slides out of the holder on the edge of the information appliance. As she busily works at her device, the information on the large plasma display at the front of the room begins to change, some sections of text and images moving around, new ones appearing, and others disappearing. Blocks of information slide down into view illustrating weather conditions, Web-cams in other parts of the world, and finally Arabic music, care of a Baghdad radio station.

Outside her classroom, students stroll down the halls toward their next class, B2 (B period, 2nd day of the week), or huddle in groups, talking, drawing at their tablet displays with fingers or styluses. Most of the conversations are purely the social exchanges between newly pubescent middle-schoolers. However, a significant number of the interactions are discussions of the class projects in which teams of students are constantly engaged. Projects are the primary activity of Bacon School, and most other schools in 2014.

As she prepares for B2 to begin, Sally thinks back to her drive to school that morning with her young and excitable friend Isaac Johnson, one of the school’s media center managers.

Earlier in the Morning:

Sally had just picked Isaac up at his small rental house, almost exactly half way between her family’s home and The Bacon School. She had been listening to John Grisham’s latest book being read to her in a Mississippi accent by her tablet. She touches the Stop icon on her tablet, as her nearly silent hybrid car glides to the curb in front of the refurbished mill house. Isaac, who has been sitting on the porch scanning the news on his tablet while sipping his customary breakfast cola, drops his tablet into his canvas messenger bag, jumps off of the porch, and slides into the passenger seat. As Sally pulls out onto the road again, their conversation goes directly to Sally’s beloved “Reptiles,” one of her student teams. Isaac is aware that they will be making their project presentation this morning during B2, since he works intimately with most of the school’s teams on a daily basis. She has especially enjoyed the “Reptiles,” since the day at the beginning of the year that they chose their name. It was Alf’s idea, but each of the other members came up with a particular reason why the name fit.

The team is uniquely diverse in terms of academic characteristics. Two members, Desmone and Johann, are random thinkers and attention deficit. Samuel is a high achiever with an excellent memory and analytical mind. Alf remains emotionally traumatized by the unfortunate and vicious separation and divorce of his parents a year ago. Neither of the parents have much interest in supporting their thirteen year-old son through his turmoil, each too engaged in their own bitterness and adjustment. Regardless of this odd diversity, the team has jelled into an exciting force for producing surprisingly insightful work.

Isaac describes how the team has been working after classes, with Desmone and Samuel completing the text report version of the project and Johann and Alf polishing up their audio/visual. He adds that Alf has just as often been working by himself on another component of the project that remains a mystery.

“Finding the resources for their visuals was not a problem,” Isaac said. “But, validating them was a useful challenge. Each of the team members took a section of earth history, and created Web shelves in their personal information libraries with resources that they identified. They shared their Web shelves and used the information as a basis for their evaluation. It was an interesting learning experience for the team. I’ve asked if components of their shelves might be included in the Media Center Common Shelves.

“It was brilliant requiring Johann to handle the audio/visual editing and telling Samuel that he could only support him verbally,” Isaac continued, admiringly. “Frankly, I was afraid that I would be pulled into supporting Johann more than I would like, but I found that he called on Samuel at least as much as he called on me. Also, he grasped the concepts and developed his skill, and he really seems focused on the communication, not technique.”

Sally smiled at the reference to her scheme. “Thanks for supporting me on this, Isaac.”

Continue here.

 

A Perspective of Time

In history, perspective is very important. It is important to realize that our lives take up a very small portion of time, and even modern era, no matter when historians put the beginning of modern time, is a very small portion of time. However, in that time, many significant events have occurred. Have your students […]

APerspectiveonTime_526027e81ba41In history, perspective is very important. It is important to realize that our lives take up a very small portion of time, and even modern era, no matter when historians put the beginning of modern time, is a very small portion of time. However, in that time, many significant events have occurred.

Have your students brainstorm some of the most significant events in all of history that have helped create life as it is today. Do your students only think back as far as cell phones, or maybe the personal computer, do they go beyond to the colonization and later independence of America, or even further to early theorists such as Aristotle. Do they recognize the events that had to have occurred in order to for America to be colonized, and then for computers to be handheld?

Blog: http://visual.ly/perspective-time

A Perspective on Time

There are a few things that are really difficult to convey to students. I remember how hard it was to help my social studies students understand what caused the seasons. Yes, I taught a lot of science while teaching social studies. Distance and time, on the outset, seem simple. But comprehending the vastness of time, […]

There are a few things that are really difficult to convey to students. I remember how hard it was to help my social studies students understand what caused the seasons. Yes, I taught a lot of science while teaching social studies. Distance and time, on the outset, seem simple. But comprehending the vastness of time, when looking at history, and distance, when looking at science (or visa-versa), are hard for us to comprehend. In the words of the source blog for this infographic,

Humans are good at a lot of things, but putting time in perspective is not one of them. It’s not our fault – the span of time in human history, and even more so in natural history, are so vast compared to the span of our life and recent history that it’s almost impossible to get a handle on it.

There are lots of great infographics and visualizations that help to compare all manner of vastness, and here’s one.

Felix Baumgartner from all angles.

Red Bull released this video earlier this week. What you’re seeing is the famous record-breaking jump a year ago from all captured angles along with some real time data. This was just a mind-blowing event and I think this video captures the whole thing pretty perfectly. What an amazing record of human history. Embed This […]

Felix Baumgartner from all angles.

Red Bull released this video earlier this week. What you’re seeing is the famous record-breaking jump a year ago from all captured angles along with some real time data. This was just a mind-blowing event and I think this video captures the whole thing pretty perfectly. What an amazing record of human history.

Embed This Video

Literary Periods and Movements

From Medieval to Postmodern, there have been many authors that can be divided into literary movements based on popular culture, scientific innovations, and political events. Using a standard timeline and colors for each movement, this infographic goes in to the major literary movements, but not into the causes of these movements. Looking back on my […]

tumblr_m6a63jlvsL1qlgje9o1_500From Medieval to Postmodern, there have been many authors that can be divided into literary movements based on popular culture, scientific innovations, and political events. Using a standard timeline and colors for each movement, this infographic goes in to the major literary movements, but not into the causes of these movements.

Looking back on my own education, I do not seem to recall talking about the reason behind the Enlightenment or Realism. What was one of, if not the, most important innovation in our history? The printing press. It took literature and knowledge from our mouths to paper faster, and allowed more people to have access to the written word. Before this people, often monks, had to handwrite every word of a book, and so only the most wealthy could own books to be read and referenced. After this books could be produced faster and faster and cheaper and cheaper allowing anyone to have access to the best kept secrets, power and knowledge.

How did this, and other seemingly unrelated events, influence these movements? From social upheaval to peaceful passing of crowns, everything has influenced literature. In order to understand these movements more fully, have your students explore the background of them.

Blog: http://goo.gl/MAon6e

History of Activisim

Nearly every major figure in our history acted for what they thought was the common good. From our own George Washington, to Germany’s Adolf Hitler, they all had this in common. In addition, they all sparked some sort of change. Martin Luther helped spark religious reform. Martin Luther King Jr. helped spark social equality. Each […]

Nearly every major figure in our history acted for what they thought was the common good. From our own George Washington, to Germany’s Adolf Hitler, they all had this in common. In addition, they all sparked some sort of change. Martin Luther helped spark religious reform. Martin Luther King Jr. helped spark social equality.

Each of the people and events listed in this video helped bring together the world we now live in. How did each of these do this? Make a viewable timeline of each of the events and people listed in this video, and have students research how each of them affected time then, and time now. Choose a few to hypothesis what may have happened at these events not occurred, what other events did they spark, were there other players that could have continued the movement?

What other events did this video leave out? I don’t remember seeing a reference to the events of September 11, 2001. What about the illegalization of drugs? Can your students think of other aspects of their lives and trace them back a specific event, or a series of events?

Blog: http://visual.ly/causes

Sir? Would You Mind Taking this Test?

My daughter texted me yesterday morning, wanting to meet at the coffee shop to talk about an article she’d just discovered. She texted me the URL, http://goo.gl/pFc39Z. It’s not a recent article and is actually one of Valerie Strauss‘ (The Answer Sheet) reprints of a blog article [link/pdf], written by Marion Brady (veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author).

The article concerned a forth-term Florida district school board member, a friend of Marion’s, who had taken a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for 10th graders.  After taking the test, the board member called Brady, and this repeatedly re-elected board member, who helps to oversee 22,000 employees and a $3 billion budget and claims to be “able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities,” said that he “hadn’t done well.”

He confessed that he wasn’t confident about any of the 60 math questions, “but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly.”  On the reading test, he got 62% of the questions right.  In an email to Brady, his friend wrote,

It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of (that) life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.

Strauss later identified and interviewed the school board member, and reported on that interview in “Revealed: School Board member who took standardized test.”

My daughter, who is certified to teach elementary grades and high school history, but has given up finding a teaching job (2008 recession followed by recent school staff cuts imposed by our state General Assembly [see]), expressed outrage.  She is currently struggling to score well enough on the GRE to get into the graduate school of her choice.

That Florida school board member’s experience suggests a question that we are still not asking in any substantive way.  We eagerly, actively, and obsessively ask,

“What kind of teaching best practices lead to higher standardized test scores?”

We are not asking,

“How do higher scores on high-stakes standardized tests lead to satisfying, successful and productive lives and a better world?”

Brady says that decisions about how we assess teaching are,

..shaped not by knowledge or understanding of educating, but by ideology, politics, hubris, greed, ignorance, the conventional wisdom, and various combinations thereof. And then they’re sold to the public by the rich and powerful.

How many of us, productive and successful adults, would willingly and confidently take our state’s high-stakes standardized test, especially if our freedom to move forward was based on passing those tests?  

What would our legislative bodies look like, if a requirement for serving elected office was to pass the same tests that they impose on their 15 year old children?

This article has also been written about here:

Actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt also posted a link to the article here.

 

From the Cave to the Kitchen

In hundreds of thousands of years, and seven steps, man has gone from discovering fire for cooking, to having ovens in nearly every home. We began with log fires and rotisseries over the flame, developed stone ovens, moved these ovens into buildings, and then into our homes. What else is in the kitchen? How has […]

In hundreds of thousands of years, and seven steps, man has gone from discovering fire for cooking, to having ovens in nearly every home. We began with log fires and rotisseries over the flame, developed stone ovens, moved these ovens into buildings, and then into our homes.

What else is in the kitchen? How has the kitchen, as a building, evolved? What had to occur for the kitchen to be brought into the home? What about plumbing, the stove top, and the refrigerator. Can your students create simplified timelines outlining these kitchen innovations?

Blog: http://visual.ly/cave-kitchen-history-oven?view=true

Will Public Education in North Carolina Rest In Peace?

You may see more politically-focused writing from me in the near future.  Though I’ll continue to write about education, certain developments here in North Carolina and in the United States have me concerned about the future of public schools and the future of democracy.

Communication:

Suffered from the decline of tobacco and cotton, and local manufacturing, the town of Wilson (pop 50,000) decided to reposition itself for the emerging digital economy. With a long history of investment in local infrastructure and utilities, the town built Greenlight, a municipally owned and operated fiber-to-the-home optic communication network. The decision and its subsequent implementation earned the town recognition and praise and, according to a recent ILSR paper, “

People and businesses have moved to Wilson to take advantage of the new network and even some who initially opposed it are now strongly supportive. 

One of its most avid and vocal supports has been Branch Bank & Trust (BB&T), a major employer in the town.

Wilson had long been frustrated by the poor service provided by CenturyLink and Time Warner and tried for years to work with the incumbent providers to improve the town’s and county’s broadband service. CenturyLink (then EMBARQ) worked with the city for a time, but then backed out. Time Warner had literally laughed at the idea. (O’Boyle, 2001)

By 2011, customers of Greenlight were the first in the state to enjoy 100 Mbps home service. Businesses could purchase up to 1 Gbps with existing equipment and even higher speeds could be accommodated. The price for home service was less than what families in neighboring communities were paying for a tenth of the speed. (O’Boyle & Mitchell 2012)

That same year, North Carolina’s legislature, which had just won Republican control for the first time since reconstruction, passed House Bill 129, called “Level Playing Field/Local Gov’t Competition.” The law effectively stops local governments from competing with telcos by preventing them from establishing their own common-good broadband services. Backed by Time Warner, AT&T, CenturyLink and the North Carolina Cable Television Association (NCCTA), and more than a million dollars ($1,159,930) that they donated to state legislative campaigns – and supported by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) (O’Boyle & Mitchell 2013), the law follows a disturbing trend in this state – the legislative takeover of local governments’ authorities to implement taxes, enact environmental regulation and manage their own landfills, water infrastructures and airports, to mention only a few.

Education:

On another front, our General Assembly, further empowered by the obscenely funded 2012 elections (infographic to come) that resulted in a Republican Governor and more conservative ALEC influenced legislators, has set about what I can best describe as the systematic discrediting and disassembly of public education in North Carolina.

Ironically, the Fayetteville newspaper web page cited here also displayed this Google ad urging readers to consider becoming school teachers.

They have dramatically cut funding and vital programs, eliminated class-size caps, phased out teacher tenure, eliminated higher pay for teachers who earn graduate degrees and eliminated more than 5,000 teaching positions and nearly 4,000 teacher assistants. (Hasty, 2013)

During the same legislative session, state law makers, seeking to save deserving children from our “failing public schools,” appropriated $10,000,000 of taxpayer money to award $4,200 vouchers to families so that their children can attend private schools. The program grows to $40,000,000 the second year. Portrayed as a “way out” for low performing public school children, a fiscal note that accompanied the original bill (House Bill 944) showed that 30% of the children receiving the vouchers were going to be attending private schools, even without the vouchers.

Conclusion?

If we might follow the purpose and practice of this regressive regime down a few more legislative sessions, it may not be too extreme to envision a law that prohibits local towns and counties from providing public schooling for their children.

The tax which will be paid for [the] purpose [of education] is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.
–Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe, 1786. (Coates)

Coates, E. R. (n.d.). Favorite jefferson quotes: From the writings of thomas jefferson. Retrieved from http://www.famguardian.org/Subjects/Politics/ThomasJefferson/jeff5.htm 

Hasty, K. (2013, July 26). Partnership for children luncheon: Governor’s education advisor says there’s hope for n.c. schools. The Fayetteville Observer. Retrieved from http://fayobserver.com/articles/2013/07/26/1272034

O’Boyle, T., & Mitchell, C. (2013). How national cable and dsl companies banned the competition in north carolina. Retrieved from Institute for Local Self-Reliance website: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/nc-killing-competition.pdf

O’Boyle, T. (2001, April 19). Interview by Grant Goings

O’Boyle, T., & Mitchell, C. (2012). Wilson gives greenlight to fast internet. Retrieved from Institute for Local Self-Reliance website: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/wilson-greenlight.pdf