Distant and difficult classrooms: Syria, 2016

September 17, 2016

How do others outside the U.S. go to school?

Foreign Affairs featured a gallery of photos of a school in Syria, in a zone of war. School is still important. Students attend class in a cave, offering some protection from some bombs.

Internally displaced children attend a class inside a cave in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria, March 27, 2016. Photo by Khalil Ashawi; Foreign Affairs photo

Internally displaced children attend a class inside a cave in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria, March 27, 2016. Photo by Khalil Ashawi; Foreign Affairs photo and caption

Learning the Hard Way in Syria

In the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Syria’s Idlib province, the dusty stone steps to the town’s only primary school lead down to a damp cave. In February, a strike on two schools and five hospitals in Idlib province left 50 dead, many of whom were children. Before that, in April 2014, barrel bombs killed 25 students at a school in opposition-held Douma near Aleppo. This has forced Syria’s teachers to turn trailers, poultry farms, and other unusual terrains into classrooms in the war-torn country where more than two million children remain out of school.

More photos at Foreign Affairs; go look.

Should teachers make videos for classroom use? Economics edition

January 15, 2016

Mary McGlasson teaches economics at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona.

She makes videos for use in class, and out of class, and by others, on key economic concepts. I’ve used her videos in economics with great results.

Recently she was recognized with a teaching excellence award; she wrote: “The kind folks at the League for Innovations at the Community College asked each Roueche Award recipient to create a 1-minute video, so here it is. Mine’s a bit of a fail, because it’s 1:25… hope they like it anyway!”

Good on Mary McGlasson.

You want to see the real stuff? It’s all there on McGlasson’s YouTube channel. Here are a couple of examples.

Scarcity and Choice


Congratulations to Mary McGlasson — and thanks! Economics teachers, go see what she’s got.

Can you do better? Can you adopt these methods for different subjects? Please try.

Learning economics on Christmas vacation: What’s a bank run?

December 25, 2015

In education we miss out on most information technological innovation. Textbooks were notoriously dull when books were the chief medium found in schools. Schools took 60 years to make progress in showing film. Television, which started out commercially as a great education tool — what was arguably the best orchestra in the U.S. used to play every Sunday on NBC way back when. Then video, then computers, then the internet and personal data devices penetrated modern life, but not yet schools.

So I am always pleased to hear after Christmas break the questions high school economics and history students came back to class with, especially after “having to watch” that hoary and venerable old movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Frank Capra’s film cuts through the fog on some important history and economics issues.

Not that you find it used much in U.S. schools. What follows is a blog post I did for my U.S. history blog some years back, to answer some of those student questions.

New York -- a classic

George Bailey (played by actor Jimmy Stewart) works to deal with a run on the Bailey Savings & Loan Association in Bedford Falls, New York — a classic “run on the bank” — in the 1946 movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” by Frank Capra. Image from Warner Bros., via Our Values blog.

“What’s a bank run?”

Whenever we get to the Great Depression, somebody asks about bank runs. What is a “run on the bank?” Why would people suddenly rush to get their cash out of the bank? And why can’t the bank just pay it out?

Frank Capra showed and explained it best, probably, in his 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But first, my weak attempt:

Banks don’t keep all the money deposited there in the vault. Banks make money by loaning out to others the money put on deposit. The people who get the loans must pay interest on the loan, and that allows the bank to pay interest on the deposits people put there (precious little today — my first account paid 5.25% on my first $5.00 deposit; today you’re lucky to get 1%, and you have to have a sizable minimum, generally. But I digress . . .).

So, if you and a hundred other people each deposit $100 in the bank, the bank turns around and loans out as much as they can. Of the $10,000 deposited, say, they loan out $9,000 to the guy who lives next door to you, so he can put an addition on his house. He’ll pay it back, with interest.

But, that loan means that there is only $1,000 left in the vault. Generally a 10% “reserve” will cover all the cash transactions a bank makes in a day. That is, if they have 10% of their total assets sitting in the vault, making no new money for them, it is highly unlikely that in a normal day there will be a demand for more than about $1,000 of that $10,000 on deposit. (The actual reserve amounts vary; last time I looked, several months ago, the Federal Reserve Board required member banks to hold about 7% of their total assets in cash on hand.)

You can begin to see why a bank run is a problem. If, in one day, every depositor showed up and demanded their deposit, the bank couldn’t pay them all. This is a death sentence in the banking world, for a bank to be unable to meet obligations, and generally that would mean that the bank would be out of business. But of course, that’s rather unfair to the bank — they have their money (your money, really) loaned out to dozens of other people. When those loans come in, the bank will have the cash to pay.

A run on the bank puts a kink in those careful, conservative calculations of how much cash a bank needs to have on hand to cover all the transactions of a day.

Banks fear a run. That’s what killed banks in 1932 and 1933, in the last year of the Hoover administration. Even a good bank could be doomed by an unjustified run — no bank could repay all of its depositors, in cash, on any one day.

Roosevelt’s bank holiday, just a week after his inauguration, stopped the runs for that week. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insured deposits, so that even were there a run on a bank, a depositor could get his or her money back. Those measures essentially stopped runs on banks for decades.

Frank Capra’s 1946 movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” tells the story of a man who manages a small town savings and loan association, which is similar to a bank in that it accepts deposits and loans money, but different from a bank in that it is chartered for the benefit of its depositors, or members, and not for a bank corporation. In fact, the antagonist in the film is the town banker, Potter, who does what he can to bring the savings and loan to ruin.

In one memorable scene, a rumor that the savings and loan is about to fail prompts dozens of the members to make a run — indeed, there is also a run on the bank at the same time. Jimmy Stewart explains to the members why he can’t pay everybody . . . but he also has an infusion of $2,000 cash he plans to cash for his honeymoon. This is what a bank run looks like, with a smart banker (savings and loan manager in this case) who can keep his organization going:

This film clip is undoubtedly copyrighted by the current owners of the film’s intellectual property. I wish they would make it available for classroom use without heavy copyright fees, in the interest of the public.

It’s another case of a fictional film portraying history better than any history book, and economics, too. Licensing the film for classroom use costs more than teachers can pay — plus, in the dog-eat-teachers world of the War on Education, few administrators stand the use of fiction in history and economics classes. That’s before a teacher even gets to the issue of whether there is technical support to show the film.

School in distant, difficult classrooms: Kenya

December 4, 2015

Photo from Heidi Totten, who is spearheading a campaign to get desks for schools like this one in Kenya:

Tenkees School, in the Mau region of Kenya. Photo by Heidi Totten

Tenkees School, in the Mau region of Kenya. Photo by Heidi Totten

Ms. Totten, working with a group called 100 Humanitarians (Entrepreneurs Changing the World), posted this in November, for a November 27 fundraising project.

Our next $5 Friday Fundraiser will be for additional desks for this school in the Mau region of Kenya. This is a very remote area that we visited. The school serves over 300 students with very few desks that they cram into.

They also have two latrines for each gender. With 300 kids you can imagine the sanitary conditions.

*   *   *   *   *

Our hope is to start with adding more desks, then rebuilding the kitchen and adding latrines. Just $5 can go far!

Please feel free to click over to this group and contribute.

How well would you or your kids learn in this school?


Wisdom: How to tell your classroom technology helps

November 21, 2015

This is much an encore post from a couple of years ago.

Wise man Alfie Kohn Tweeted a photo of this list by Bill Ferriter. I’d blogged about it before.

It’s still solid, and most school administrators still miss the point. Teachers get sent to courses to “learn to do a PowerPoint,” but rarely can anyone leading those courses tell when to use a PowerPoint, or Keynote, and when a simple list on a chalkboard/whiteboard is more effective, or perhaps when having students copy a list would be more effective, or when students making a poem/song/poster of a point would be more effective.

An international law firm recently directed that it’s army of a couple thousand lawyers would, henceforth, use Prezi instead of PowerPoint.  Nevermind that the lawyers hadn’t mastered PowerPoint and don’t have a clue what to do with Prezi: Some “managing co-partner” was taken in by the swoops of Prezi.  More than four years ago I learned Prezi at a technology course for technologies my district later decided not to support (money, use, lack of internet connections, etc., etc. — I suspected a lack of planning and thinking about how technology could be used).  In the course, I asked the instructor how to tell when to use Prezi instead of PowerPoint — and how to embed YouTube videos for classroom use of a Prezi.  After working for too long, we decided we couldn’t figure out how to embed videos, and so PowerPoint might be more useful.  Then the instructor confessed he didn’t know how to embed videos in PowerPoint, either.

Let alone, when does a video work better than other instructional methods?  Long or short? Notes, quiz, or oral feedback?

Many Texas districts struggle to teach “keyboarding” to students who have difficulty printing notes, letter by letter, because they don’t know cursive writing (and therefore, cannot read their teachers’ comments on their written work).

Is “integrating technology” really the problem?

Anyway, here’s Mr. Ferriter’s list, a checklist to tell whether you’re getting close to actually using technology, or whether you’re just ringing the bells and tooting the whistles of machines on the desks.

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


What do you want kids to do with technology?

Wrong answers Right answers
·         Make Prezis ·         Raise awareness
·         Start blogs ·         Start conversations
·         Create Wordles ·         Find answers
·         Publish Animotos ·         (Answers to
THEIR questions)
·         Design flipcharts ·         Join partners
·         Post to EdModo ·         Make a difference
·         Use Whiteboard ·         Take action
·         Develop apps ·         Drive change

Technology is a tool,
NOT a learning outcome


“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.

Alfie Kohn’s Tweet:

More, generally:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

THIS kid wants to get his homework done! Astonishing photo from Manila

July 21, 2015

You had a clean, well-lighted nook somewhere in the house to do your homework, and you thought it was tough?

Some kids don’t even have that, but seem to have such a burning desire to get their homework done, to get an education, to get a better life, that a badly-lighted, uncomfortable homework nook won’t stop them.

Did you see this kid doing his homework?

This little boy studying outside of a McDonald’s has the Internet buzzing. (Photo: Joyce Gilos Torrefranca/Facebook)  Two photos of a boy doing his homework under the light of a McDonald’s in the Philippines have gone viral and inspired an outpouring of donations and support for the third-grader’s struggling family.

This little boy studying outside of a McDonald’s has the Internet buzzing. (Photo: Joyce Gilos Torrefranca/Facebook) Two photos of a boy doing his homework under the light of a McDonald’s in the Philippines have gone viral and inspired an outpouring of donations and support for the third-grader’s struggling family.

Rachel Bertsche described the photo and the uproar it caused, in an article in Yahoo!’s parenting section:

Joyce Gilos Torrefranca, a student in Mandaue City, spotted the young boy recently and says the significance of the moment struck her. “For me as a student, it just hit me a lot, like big time,“ she told ABS-CBN News. “I seldom go to coffee shops to study. And then this kid, he doesn’t have anything but he has dedication to study.”

Torrefranca posted the photos to Facebook on June 23 with the caption, “I got inspired by a kid.” Her post was promptly shared more than 7,000 times. In the photos, which were taken in Cebu City, 9-year-old Daniel Cabrera is kneeling on the ground, resting his homework on a wooden stool.

You can’t help but respect the kid. Nor can you help but feel sorry for him in his homework situation.  When the photo caught the eye of the public, help poured in .

After the photo made the rounds on social media, local organizations, including a welfare agency, reached out to support the family, according to ABS-CBS. Local police officers gave the family groceries and some cash, sponsors are chipping in to provide Espinosa with the capital to start her own business, and Daniel got a scholarship grant from a local politician.

And that grant should come in handy for Daniel, who has years of studying ahead of him. He told local radio station dzMM that he wants to be a police officer when he grows up.

On Facebook, Torrefranca acknowledged that the photo had taken on a life of its own. “I didn’t think that a simple photo can make a huge difference,” she wrote on June 27. “Thank you guys for sharing the photo. With that, we were able to help Daniel in reaching his dreams. I hope Daniel’s story will continue touching our hearts so that we will always be inspired and motivated in every situation we face in life.”

What are the excuses your students give for not having their homework done?

Have they met Daniel Cabrera?

No air conditioning in your classroom? Maasai school in Tanzania

August 20, 2014

Maasai school in Tanzania. Photo by Noel Feans,

Maasai school in Tanzania. Photo by Noel Feans, “We rule the school.” September 2009; Creative Commons copyright, Wikimedia image; also on Flickr

Another photo illustrating classroom technology in different cultures.

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