If a student values education, he will overcome much

November 13, 2013

But, really: See what some students put up with, just to learn?

We usually had enough chairs in Dallas.  Usually.

Those kids don’t have any.


Wisdom, a checklist about students’ use of technology

August 18, 2013

Cheat Sheet:  What do you want kids to do with technology?  By Bill Ferriter

Cheat Sheet: What do you want kids to do with technology? By Bill Ferriter The Tempered Radical blog.williamferriter.com @plugusin

“Technology is a tool, not a learning outcome,” Bill Ferriter says.  He’s right, of course.

Tip of the old scrub brush to April Niemela@AprilJNiemela.

More, generally:


Teachers, looking for help?

May 11, 2013

Try the blogs listed at Teach.com, Teach Make A Difference, in their ranking of teaching blogs. Logo for Teach.com

I’m fascinated at the great teacher resource blogs I don’t see listed; one of the criteria for listing is that at least 50% of the posts must deal with education.

Consequently, it tends to be pedantically-oriented towards classroom technique, with a great diminution of education management and especially policy and politics, which are greater problems in education today, for my money (and lack of money, too).

You will find a lot of useful stuff there.

Was I right? Lots of useful stuff?


Teacher video: No, Texas can’t secede

December 11, 2012

Another video from super teacher CGPGrey, right up our Texas alley, on the issue of Texas secession:

Minor error:  No provision I can find in any Texas Constitution to allow Texas to split.  Language to allow a territory to split into as many as five states was pretty standard for new U.S. territories organized during the 19th century; but that didn’t carry over to the Texas Constitution approved by Congress, not in a unilateral way.  One needs to recall that when Texas entered the Union, it carried with it lands that eventually became parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma and Wyoming — which was part of the scruff with Mexico, which led to the U.S.-Mexico war of 1846 to 1848.

Still a teacher from another state demonstrates a much clearer conception of Texas history and state and federal law than some of the nutcases in Texas.  That so many Texans hold so many false perceptions of law and Texas history is an indictment of Texas education, and Texas’s governor and legislature.

You also should check out:

And, while we’re thinking about it, did you ever comment on the Digital Aristotle concept, which first introduced this blog to Mr. Grey?

More:


How to get things done in Dallas schools

September 28, 2012

Interesting.  Troubling?  I think so.  Matthew Haag blogs at the Dallas Morning News site:

This time of the year, we often hear from parents and Dallas ISD teachers that their schools are stifling hot. The district has lots of older campuses, where air-conditioning units are on their last legs and the chillers don’t operate fully.

That was the case for a few hours yesterday at Harry Stone Montessori in East Oak Cliff. And a father of a Stone student took a different route to get the AC fixed. He messaged DISD Superintendent Mike Miles on Twitter, which he rebooted six weeks ago. (His Twitter account, I should add, is managed by his special assistant, Miguel Solis, who is rarely more than a few feet from Miles all day.)

@MMilesDISD Hard to study when the A/C is broken w 90 degree heat @harry Stone…you wants results and so do Let’s Fix it. @matthewhaag

Four hours later, Miles responded.

We are on it @ChrisSuprun: Hard to study when the A/C is broken w 90 degree heat @harry Stone…you want results and so do Let’s Fix it.

And about two hours later, the AC was fixed.

Feel like we should time it: “@MMilesDISD We are on it @ChrisSuprun: Hard to study when the A/C is broken w 90 degree heat @harry Stone.”

@RobertWilonsky@ChrisSuprun Crew is telling me we are fixed now Thx to facilities, HS Staff, and community involved with this

Obviously, the moral of this story is that if you need something fixed in your school, message Miles on Twitter.

It’s interesting that the new Superintendent, Mike Miles, responded quickly.  On one hand that suggests things may have already changed in Dallas.  On the other hand, people who study organizations understand that a calm surface can hide a lot of turmoil in the deep water.  It was a parent who Tweeted. What if it had been a teacher who got to Miles?  What happened to the teacher and principal at Harry Stone?  What happened to the HVAC guy nominally responsible?

What happened to the students?

My experience in Dallas ISD is that almost everyone in administration will claim they cannot control classroom temperatures.  My last classroom regularly hit 85°, and often enough climbed into the 90s.  Meanwhile, my colleague across the hall had to wear jackets.  Our thermometers regularly had the temperatures in her room in the 60s.  One week it dropped further.  I bought a laser-pointer thermometer to check the answers we got from the HVAC guys who would come into the classroom, usually in the middle of a presentation, point the thing around and tell us that the temperature was where it should be, or moving that way. (Then they’d disappear.)   We recorded several days of temperatures in her room below 60°, as low as 52°.  Eventually the solution was to cover the air vents coming into that classroom, and take out the thermostat.

I am not kidding.

I wonder what the HVAC people in Dallas ISD would say about the ultimate solution at Harry Stone Montessori?  From the Superintendent’s office, did he chalk this off to a great anomaly, or did he check deeper to see whether there might be a deeper problem?

Unnecessary cooling is a huge energy waster in schools.  Unnecessary heating wastes energy, too.   Dallas’s fraud and abuse hotline claimed not to have jurisdiction over these issues . . . when an organization is hemorrhaging money, as all Texas school districts are after the Lege took so many potshots at them over the past six years, good management could be lifesaver.

So, to get action, teachers only need to Tweet their problems to the Superintendent?  Want to bet how happy that makes principals?  Want to take bets on how this shakes out?


Infographics creation by students, as a tool of learning

May 13, 2012

Infographic-a-Day describes this TEDx video (I added the links):

Perhaps one of the bigest and most listened to advocates of using infographics and data vis in the classroom is Diana Laufinberg, from The Science Leadership Academy. Diana, a History teacher, is a long time user of geographic information systems (GIS). She has recently, however, started helping her students to create their own infographics from complex issues that are part of her course of study and/or part of current events.

Here is a video of Diana’s talk at a recent TEDx…

Tip of the old scrub brush to David Warlick at 2¢ Worth.


Big cats and laser pointers?

September 20, 2011

Oh, yeah, we know what you teachers do with your fancy laser pointers in the off-hours.  When you’re not torturing your students with Death by PowerPoint, highlighting the vocabulary words, pointing out the routes on the maps, and generally making your students a little jealous of your tools, you take the lasers home to torture your kitties.

If you’re a teacher with a science bent, you might even do a little experimentation:  Do cats chase green lasers, too?  Blue ones?  What about those filters that make starbursts, do they drive cat’s wild?

Ah, but teachers with a science bent, and access to some really big cats . . .

From Big Cat Rescue:

Q: Do Tigers, Leopards & Lions chase laser pointers like domestic cats? Big Cat Rescue decided to find out! …

Do BIG CATS like catnip?? Check out the video! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tklx3j7kgJY

For more info about BIG CAT RESCUE visit: http://www.bigcatrescue.org
Find us on FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Big-Cat-Rescue-Tampa-FL/122174836956?ref=sgm
MYSPACE: http://www.myspace.com/1bigcatrescue
TWITTER: http://twitter.com/BigCatRescue
DONATE: http://bigcatrescue.com/donate/

THANK YOU!

If you text TIGER to 20222 *A one-time donation of $10 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. Standard messaging/data rates may apply. All charges are billed by and payable to your mobile service provider. Service is available on most carriers. Donations are collected for the benefit of the Big Cat Rescue by the Mobile Giving Foundation and subject to the terms found at http://www.mobilecommons.com/t/. You can unsubscribe at any time by texting STOP to short code 20222; HELP to 20222 for help.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science.


Teachers, look! Cheaper, fun way to get giant whiteboards

June 30, 2011

It’s a great idea, but I didn’t even dare think it possible

We’ve had blackboard paint for at least a century.  Teachers at our school sometimes paint their closet doors, or part of a wall, to use as a chalkboard.

I prefer whiteboards, though.

Watching Neil deGrasse Tyson on Nova:  Science Now, I caught a reference to a researcher whose lab walls are all painted with “dry-erase” paint.  (The NOVA piece is the episode on how the brain works; this segment deals with researcher David Eagleman.)

Is that even possible?

Quick answer: Yes!

Check out applications ideas at IdeaPaint’s blog.

Lowe’s carries IdeaPaint, the stuff displayed in the graphic above.  It isn’t as cheap as other paint, but compared to the cost of a whiteboard, it’s pretty good.  RustOleum manufactures a version available at Home Depot and other outlets.  It’s advertised as cheap as $20 per kit online, but runs as high as $40.  One kit covers about 49 square feet (7 feet by 7 feet).  I’ve found at least five different manufacturers of the stuff, with different features.

I haven’t calculated prices (at about $3.25/square foot), but there are also dry-erase skins which can be applied to any wall — with the added advantage that the product claims to be erasable for virtually any marker, including Sharpies® and other permanent markers.   One manufacturer offers skins in clear, to allow underlying paint colors to show through, and white, and says it will match colors on a whole-roll basis (pricey, I’ll wager).

Uses for math and writing should be obvious — think about those mural-sized wall maps in a geography or history class, covered with clear, dry-erase paint . . .

Wouldn’t it be great if school districts had architects, or instruction coaches, who knew about this stuff and could help us keep up in the technology and tool wars/sweepstakes?

More, resources:  

  • Dry-erase painting at Charlestown (state? Massachusetts?) schools:
  • Case study from Milford High, Milford, Massachusetts
  • Case study, Dever-McCormack School, Boston school district
  • Evernote software teams with IdeaPaint . . . look at the video

H. W. Brands on the study of history, with technology

September 26, 2010

Spent half a day with H. W. Brands, professor of history at the University of Texas, and author of at least one of my favorite history books, The First American (and several others).

Brands banned the use of computers for notetaking in his classrooms this fall.  It’s not the notes he objects to, of course, but the students’ side-activities of checking e-mail, eBay, and ESPN, rather than paying attention to the lecture, and other activities in lieu of taking notes.

Nominally our discussion centered on the decade of 1890 to 1900, the Reckless Decade, as Brands’ book on the era titles it.   Brands took a larger, circular route to the topic, today.  These discussions come under the aegis of the Dallas Independent School District’s Teaching American History Grant, and the Gilder-Lehrman Institute chipped in today, too.  We are a polyglot group of teachers of American history, and a few other related social studies subjects, in Dallas high schools.

I asked about technology beyond lecture, or “direct instruction” as the curriculum and teacher berating  rubrics so dryly and inaccurately phrase it.   Brands focused on the effects of connected students in the lecture, a problem which we officially should not have in Dallas schools.  We discovered he’s using Blackboard (probably the electronic classroom standard for UT-Austin).  I’ve used Blackboard in college instruction, and a somewhat less luxurious version in high schools.  Blackboard works better than others I’ve tried.

Over several hours Brands said he teaches best when he performs well as a story teller — when the students put down their note-taking pencils and listen.  Two observations:  It helps to be a good story teller, and, second, that requires that one know a story to tell.

Our grant could give us better stories to tell.  Most educational enterprises produce great benefits as by-products of the original learning goal.  Our teacher studies of history are no different.


Blogging longhand

August 29, 2010

From the Department of Education where my group was in charge of dragging the rest of the research branch into the computer age — putting computers on desks of contract managers for the first time, in most cases — I moved to American Airlines.  Though American boasted the best computer reservations system in the world, at headquarters my cubicle came with no computer, not even a typewriter.

I requested a typewriter to draft documents.  “That’s what we have secretaries for,” I was told.  “You draft longhand, let the secretaries turn them into print.”

That quickly changed, thank the business gods, but I feel like I’ve been thrust back to 1987 in many ways since my laptop crashed last week.

The good people at Fry’s noted the fan wasn’t working, but feared it might be damage beyond that.  I’m informed now that it’s been sent to its birthplace with HP/Compaq in California for a more serious assessment and, I hope, quick repair.  Alas, when we bought the extended warranty (the first time such a purchase seems to have not been a really stupid idea) we did not purchase the “automatic loaner” rider.

Oh, I’ve got the data backed up.  What I don’t have is an easy access to one computer I can use regularly  or transport with me to get that information into the formats I need.  Lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and tests are essentially on hold.

A somewhat better prepared group of juniors this year.  They have heard of Columbus.  They know basic map stuff, like in which direction we say the sun rises.  Prehistory remains mysterious to them, human migrations prior to 1750 are fuzzy to them, and the Age of Exploration seems to be complete news.  All that stuff I put together last year in case this happened?   It’s on the backup drive, the drive that I don’t have enough USB ports to tap into while doing much of anything else.

My classroom for a good book!  Of course, I’d have to reinvent the book check out process, and find some way to transport a half-ton of books from the book room to the classroom, and check them out.

We had a meeting Friday on what we’re doing to differentiate classroom lessons for differently-abled learners.  Unable to get lessons to any learners, I found it a waste of time at the moment.  How much other work teachers do is frustrated by the assumptions that all systems are go for teachers, when few systems are.

A reader, nyceducator,  noted he’s never had a working computer in his classroom in 25 years.  He’s better prepared than I am as a result, and I envy him at the moment.  Should I retrench and prepare for a paper future?

Teaching in America is, too often, a constant reinvention of the wheel.

The laptop I’m typing this on is 9 years old, old enough that it can connect to the home WiFi only with an expensive modem.  That takes up the one USB port.  I think I donated the last wired mouse I had, and the touchpad on the computer is failing (which is a big reason I bought the now-ailing computer back in 2009).  The battery has been failing for a long time, but that model is no longer manufactured.  Used batteries are tough to find on eBay, even.

I can write it out longhand, and fax it to a secretarial service who will convert it to electronic files for me.

How is your 1987 going?


Wow (in metaphor)

August 7, 2010

You should be using this tool, don’t you think?

(WordPress doesn’t support embedding this player — you’ll have to go see for yourself — it’s worth the click.)

One more way to make outstanding presentations; one more way to get students involved in rationally-active, brain-intensive, graphic organizers.

One tool I picked up in a session with Learning.com earlier this week.

(See also “Thoughts on using Prezi as a teaching tool.”)

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Stealth creationists aim to mess up biology students

July 15, 2010

So, God is a platypus?

Appearing to be aware they are losing the battle of the classroom to real science, creationists have taken a sneakier way to undermine science education.  P. Z. Myers explains:

A lot of people have been writing to me about this free webgame, CellCraft. In it, you control a cell and build up all these complex organelles in order to gather resources and fight off viruses; it’s cute, it does throw in a lot of useful jargon, but the few minutes I spent trying it were also a bit odd — there was something off about it all.

Where do you get these organelles? A species of intelligent platypus just poofs them into existence for you when you need them. What is the goal? The cells have a lot of room in their genomes, so the platypuses are going to put platypus DNA in there, so they can launch them off to planet E4R1H to colonize it with more platypuses. Uh-oh. These are Intelligent Design creationist superstitions: that organelles didn’t evolve, but were created for a purpose; that ancient cells were ‘front-loaded’ with the information to produced more complex species; and that there must be a purpose to all that excess DNA other than that it is junk.

Suspicions confirmed. Look in the credits.

Also thanks to Dr. Jed Macosko at Wake Forest University and Dr. David Dewitt at Liberty University for providing lots of support and biological guidance.

Those two are notorious creationists and advocates for intelligent design creationism. Yep. It’s a creationist game. It was intelligently designed, and it’s not bad as a game, but as a tool for teaching anyone about biology, it sucks. It is not an educational game, it is a miseducational game. I hope no one is planning on using it in their classroom. (Dang. Too late. I see in their forums that some teachers are enthusiastic about it — they shouldn’t be).

No such thing as a free lunch.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Free software for use in educating kids about biology, sounds too good to be true.

_____________

In comments, Lars Doucet disavows creationist intent.  So the creationist/intelligent design factors were added just to make the game more playable, and not as an attempt to introduce or endorse creationism or intelligent design.

Lots of discussion, much of it rude (some of it delightfully so), at Myers’ joint.

Maybe, if the makers didn’t intend to make a creationist stealth game, they could jigger the thing to make it more accurate?


2010 Texas Democratic Platform: Excellent Schools for Every Student

June 28, 2010

This post is fourth in a series on the education planks of the 2010 Texas Democratic Party Platform.

This is an unofficial version published in advance of the final version from the Texas Democrats, but I expect very few changes.

EXCELLENT SCHOOLS FOR EVERY STUDENT

To make public education our highest priority, we believe the state should:

  • provide universal access to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten;
  • provide universally accessible after school programs for grades 1-12;
  • provide free, accurate and updated instructional materials aligned to educationally appropriate, non-ideological state curriculum standards and tests;
  • provide free computer and internet access, as well as digital instructional materials;
  • provide early intervention programs to ensure every child performs at grade level in English Language Arts, Social Studies, Math, and Science;
  • ensure that students with disabilities receive an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment, including access to the full range of services and supports called for in their individual education plans;
  • provide appropriate career and technical education programs;
  • reject efforts to destroy bilingual education;
  • promote multi-language instruction, beginning in elementary school, to make all students fluent in English and at least one other language;
  • replace high-stakes tests, used to punish students and schools, with multiple measures that restore the original intent of the state assessment system–improving instruction to help students think critically, be creative and succeed;
  • end inappropriate testing of students with disabilities whose individual education plans call for alternative assessments of their educational progress;
  • enforce and extend class size limits to allow every student to receive necessary individualized attention;
  • support Title IX protections for gender equity in public education institutions;
  • ensure that every school has a fully funded library that meets state requirements;
  • provide environmental education programs for children and adults; and
  • oppose private school vouchers.

Watch my presentation or I’ll shoot this dog . . .

May 20, 2010

National Lampoon once ran a cover of a nice, spotted mutt, tongue out, looking sideways at a pistol pointing at its head.  There was a sort of a caption:  “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.”

That’s one way to try to boost circulation!  I first saw the magazine on the rack in a small pharmacy in Colorado Springs, across the street from Colorado College, between rounds of the Colorado College Invitational Debate Tournament.  Being short of cash and in sore need of eye drops, I looked at the magazine but put it back on the rack.  The woman at the cash register watched me carefully.  When I got to the register, she said, “You know, they’ll do it, too!  They’re just the sort of people who will kill that poor dog!”

(I imagine that woman has led Colorado Springs’ dramatic move to the right in politics.)

The publishers got that woman’s attention, didn’t they?

Cartoon by Mark Goetz, on the failure to heed Edward Tufte

Comes an article in The Scientist, “Pimp your PowerPoint.” It’s a news story based on a book by Michael Alley.

In the middle of the 19th century blackboards were all the rage. According to Pennsylvania State University engineering communication professor Michael Alley, it was common for universities and research institutions to proudly advertise that they had the only slate writing board in a 100-mile radius. Scientific lectures became more engaging than they’d ever been.

More than 150 years later, there’s still room for improvement. “People are not anywhere close to tapping the potential that a PowerPoint presentation offers,” Alley says. “We have a tool that can do an incredible amount, and people just waste it.” Who hasn’t been lulled into a somnolent state by some well-intentioned scientist presenting his research to a captive audience by reading a seemingly endless stream of bullet points?

Any media, done well, can be wonderful.  P. Z. Myers’ paean to Prof. Snider and his color chalk artworks reminds us that even a chalkboard can be a place of art, in the eye and hands of someone who gives thought to the work and practices the skills necessary to communicate well.  Looking around my classroom today, I note that better than half the whiteboard space features paper maps held to the board with magnets (which the kids like to steal).

Sometimes a flipchart is all you have, and sometimes a flipchart is all you really need — again, with thought to the ideas to be presented and a bit of polishing of the skills.

The piece in The Scientist relates useful ideas to help somebody who wants to make a better, less sleep-inducing, communicative PowerPoint (or better, maybe, KeyNote) presentation.

Unplug, think, and write
According to Galloway, using PowerPoint to make a great presentation starts with powering down the laptops and writing out an outline on index cards or a legal pad. “People have to shut off their computer and go away as they’re writing their PowerPoint presentation,” he says.

Establish your assertion
Alley says that he starts planning each slide by writing down a single sentence stating the idea he wants the audience to take away. “You have defined what it is you need to support that statement,” he says. “That’s where it starts.” Alley adds that the sentence should only take one or two lines, should consist of only 8–14 words, and should appear in 28-point font when inserted in the final PowerPoint presentation.

Assemble the visual evidence
Let the assertion sentence for each slide guide your decision as to which visuals should accompany it. Use “explanatory images”—not decorative or descriptive images—to support each assertion, says Joanna Garner, assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University. When describing the context or methods of your research, photos and movies are ideal pieces of evidence; when presenting your results, elements like graphs, tables, or charts (appropriately highlighted to emphasize key points) will do the trick.

Read more: Pimp your PowerPoint – The Scientist – Magazine of the Life Sciences http://www.the-scientist.com/templates/trackable/display/article1.jsp?type=article&o_url=article/display/57186&id=57186#ixzz0oSXiXCT6

Two things you gotta have first:  Something to say, and a desire to say it well.

Resources:

The Craft of Scientific Presentations: Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid, by Michael Alley, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2003. $39.95.

Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations, by Garr Reynolds, New Riders Publishing, 2010. $31.49.

slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte, O’Reilly Media, Sebastopol, Calif., 2008. $34.99. (She’s got a blog, too.)

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte, Graphics Press, Cheshire, Conn., 1983. $40.00.


Teaching Now, new blog

April 29, 2010

It’s from the folks at Education Week and Teacher magazine:  Teaching Now.

You may want to see the entry a couple of days ago about a school who issued cell phones to fifth grade students, and why.

Or note this story that Broward County, Florida, is hacking away at salaries for librarians and teachers of art, music and physical education.


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