Can’t dance to it, but can you learn with it?

July 14, 2010

It’s an awkward scene.  John Goodman has a lousy role (and I’m not fond of the direction for him or Melanie Griffith here).  I’ve never seen the movie, “Born Yesterday,” and I don’t know the context.

But ten important amendments to the Constitution, to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a potentially useful mnemonic device for your U.S. history, and government students; it’s mostly accurate:

There is some skipping around —  the song covers the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, then skips to the Thirteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments.  The First Amendment’s five freedoms are covered completely, other amendments not so much.

The actor in the scene, playing the senator who sings the Fifteenth Amendment, is former Tennessee U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson.  Thompson staffed the Watergate Committee chaired by Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina, earlier — wouldn’t it be interesting to hear his views on this scene, and song, and what other tricks he may have encountered in the Senate, from Sen. Ervin, or the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd?

It’s not Schoolhouse Rock, but it’s really very good.  Everything covered in the song is in Texas TEKS, but some things skipped, like the Fourteenth Amendment, are also required.  Can you use it in your classes?

And by the way, does anyone know a rap for the Bill of Rights?

Tip of the old scrub brush to the Facebook status of the Bill of Rights Institute.


Quote of the moment: David Brooks, books vs. internet

July 12, 2010

Wisdom comes in keen insights:

These different cultures foster different types of learning. The great essayist Joseph Epstein once distinguished between being well informed, being hip and being cultivated. The Internet helps you become well informed — knowledgeable about current events, the latest controversies and important trends. The Internet also helps you become hip — to learn about what’s going on, as Epstein writes, “in those lively waters outside the boring mainstream.”

But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import. To learn these sorts of things, you have to defer to greater minds than your own. You have to take the time to immerse yourself in a great writer’s world. You have to respect the authority of the teacher.

Right now, the literary world is better at encouraging this kind of identity. The Internet culture may produce better conversationalists, but the literary culture still produces better students.

It’s better at distinguishing the important from the unimportant, and making the important more prestigious.

David Brooks, “The Medium is the Medium,” New York Times, July 9, 2010, page A23


Race to the Top: What’s a good job for a great bubble-guesser?

June 22, 2010

Education issues suffered here at the Bathtub over the past several months.  Confession:  I don’t like to write while angry, and thinking about education generally gets me there quickly.  When I write in anger, I like to sit on the stuff and edit when I’m cooled down.  But when I get back to edit, I get angry again.

If you watched the follies from the Texas State Soviet of Education over social studies standards, you might understand some of my anger.  I’m fortunate in some ways that my students don’t track the news more closely — they tended to miss the Soviet’s gutting of Hispanic history from Texas history standards, and so they didn’t get angry.  More than 85% of my students are Hispanic, many related to the Texas heroes dropped from the standards because they were brown (“What’s Hispanic Heritage Month for, anyway?” the Soviet probably wondered.)

Test bubbling, from TweenTeacher

Power of Bubbling -- for a scary story, click on the image and go read it at TweenTeacher

Plus, time for thinking about these issues evaporated during the school year.   Summer isn’t much better, though a bunch of us had eight great days with members of the history department at UT-Arlington focusing on the Gilded Age, Progressive Era, Age of Imperialism . . . even though reminded every day that the Texas Soviet doesn’t want us to teach that period as it is recorded in the history books.  (No, there are not plans for a translation into Texas Soviet Speak, at least not soon.  Teachers will have to make do.)

In one of our (too) many testing/oath-signing sessions this spring, a colleague cynically wondered what would be a good job for a kid who does well on the tests, a kid who has “demonstrated mastery of bubble-guessing.”

Bubble-guessing.  Wow.  Is that an apt description for what many schools teach these days!

I have a few days to put up the periscope and see what is going on out there.  A couple of things I’ve noticed, that you may want to follow:

Yong Zhao noticed that the Race to the Top criteria shouldn’t be etched in stone, and that small changes result in different winners. He’s actually more critical than that — he’s not just saying that the criteria can change.  He’s saying the criteria are lousy.

Education has a new god: data. It is believed to have the power to save American education and thus everything in education must be about data—collect more data about our children, evaluate teachers and administrators based on data, and reward and punish schools using data.

Sound familiar?

Zhao points to serious analyses of the Race to the Top applications and rejections which show, among other things, Pennsylvania was penalized for focusing on early childhood education, instead of collecting data.

Why was it we got into this swamp in the first place, and where did all these alligators come from?

Go read Zhao’s analysis, and maybe cruise around his blog.  It’s worth your while.  He’s a professor at Michigan State — University Distinguished Professor of Education.  (One thing you should read there:  Zhao’s slides from a recent speech.  E-mail the link to your principal.  Somebody find a YouTube version of that speech, please.)  [Checker Finn, do you ever get over to this backwater?  Zhao’s on to something.  Zhao’s on to a lot of things.]

Race to the Top is the worst thing the Obama administration has done, in my opinion.  It is aimed, or mis-aimed to give us a nation of bubble-guessers.  My guess is that aim is unintentional.  But the road to hell, or a Republican majority . . .

While we’re looking around, pay some attention to David Warlick’s 2¢ worth.  That’s where I found the links to Zhao.

Warlick has a couple of points worth pondering today:  First, has the technology train left the station, and so it’s no longer acceptable for teachers to use old tools?  He’s got a rant on trying to figure out if we’re teaching the “right stuff”:

I could have shared some of these new ideas with her, but it would not have helped.  The last time I helped my daughter prepare for a test, it was 8th grade and the unit test on the Civil War.  When she walked into that classroom, she could talk about and write about the reasons for the war, what the North and the South wanted to achieve, the advantages that the North held and those of the South, as well as their disadvantages.  She could tell you who won and who lost and why.

She made a 52 on the test because she couldn’t give the dates of the major battles of the war.

One of our mantras in the old Transportation Consulting Group at Ernst & Young was to understand that “You’re always ready to fight the last war.”  For what we were doing, generally we had to change the technology for each assignment.

That’s doubly true in education, in social studies, I think.  I constantly remind myself that my students don’t need the same things I got in high school.  We shouldn’t equip students to fight the last war, but instead prepare them to understand they need to get ready for the next one.

And what about your tags?  Warlick wonders. No answers, but good wonderings.


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.


What’s gone wrong in Washington?

February 22, 2010

Lincoln, image by Derek Bacon for The Economist (2010)

Image by Derek Bacon, copyright The Economist 2010

Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president in Springfield, Illinois, on ground often trod by Abraham Lincoln.  As did Teddy Roosevelt, Obama studies Lincoln’s life and career, and presidency.  We know he devoured Team of Rivals, Doris Kearn Goodwin’s detailed history of Lincoln’s high-powered cabinet, all of who came to respect his leadership, and most to call him friend.

The Economist scores with another astonishing graphic for the cover of the print edition covering the week of February 18 — Lincoln’s exasperation apparent (image at right).

Is that all?

Again I lament not having an AP government class at the moment.  What an opening for discussion we have in Washington follies of the moment.  The story accompanying the graphic, plus an editorial that takes the Milquetoast way out — ‘Obama needs to try harder’ — poses questions we do need to explore, and which would be great in an AP classroom.

ACCORDING to Paul Krugman, the winner of a Nobel prize for economics and a columnist for the New York Times, modern America is much like 18th-century Poland. On his telling, Poland was rendered largely ungovernable by the parliament’s requirement for unanimity, and disappeared as a country for more than a century. James Fallows, after several years in China as a writer for the Atlantic Monthly, wrote on his return that he found in America a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world’s talent and “a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke”. Tom Friedman, another columnist for the New York Times, reported from the annual World Economic Forum in Davos last month that he had never before heard people abroad talking about “political instability” in America. But these days he did.

The growing idea among influential pundits that America is “ungovernable” is being driven in large part by Barack Obama’s failure so far to pass some of the main laws he wants to. And it is, indeed, a puzzle. Here, after all, is a president who only just over a year ago won a handsome mandate: 53% of the popular vote and big majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. He bounded into office with a mountainous agenda, including plans to overhaul America’s health-care system and cut its greenhouse emissions. He seemed until quite recently to be doing reasonably well. In a folksy December interview with Oprah Winfrey he awarded himself “a good, solid B-plus”.

Is America now ungovernable?  What are the limits of a federal system, and have the states capitulated too much power to Washington?  Is anything else feasible with our economy in the mess it’s in?

I can imagine a discussion of the limits of the Articles of Confederation to start, noting the requirement of unanimity from the states to do anything major — and how that hamstrung the growth of America until George Washington pushed Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to change things.  Washington’s goals were only partly noble, to see a new, unified nation.  That unified nation he saw as necessary to open settlement of the Ohio Valley, where Washington had several thousand acres of land he couldn’t sell until settlers moved in.

How does the current set of impasses affect business?  Consider any small business, or big business, which offers health care plans to its employees.  Health reform is stalled — a Blue Cross affiliate in California raised rates by nearly 40%.  Health care is the one section of the economy where growth — meaning costs — grew through the depths of our financial difficulties in 2008 and 2009.  The need should be clear, but there are blocks to getting anything done about fixing the system.

Or consider international affairs.  Pentagon analysts worry about governmental instability created by the effects of global warming — drought, weather disaster, shifting crop yields (up in a few places, dramatically down where a few billion people live).  Thieves stole e-mails from the scientists studying the issue, and subsequent propaganda based on the theft alone has stalled climate talks, worldwide, giving a huge economic advantage to China and India.

What should be the role of government regulation for clean air?  Is the Clean Air Act sufficient? (Texas initiated suit against the federal government last week, claiming that the science behind reducing air pollution is wrong, a suit given as a gift to Texas’s major industries, some of which depend on the ability to dump garbage in the air with impunity.)

Is the problem more organically rooted in our inability to defeat incumbents in Congress? 2010 is a Census year — we count Americans to see how many representatives there should be for each state in the House of Represtentatives.  The bitter redistricting fights will come in state legislatures next year.  Can we save the system when politicians design seats more to secure a safe majority for their own party, rather than to see that every American is adequately represented?

What about media?  Traditionally newspapers, aided by television, played the watchdog role on Washington politicians.  Americans aren’t reading newspapers much, anymore.  News holes shrink, and serious reporting on issues goes away.  Can an open democracy survive without healthy newspapers?  And if not, who can do what about it?

Go to The Economist and check out the stories (better if you’re a subscriber — the stories usually go away for non-paying browsers after a few days).  What can you do with them in the classroom?

What do you think?  What’s gone wrong in Washington?


What if we actually encouraged students to use technology?

February 12, 2010

This is the headline that roped me in, at The New York Times: “Wi-Fi Turns Rowdy Bus into Rolling Study Hall.”

And a short excerpt:

But on this chilly morning, as bus No. 92 rolls down a mountain highway just before dawn, high school students are quiet, typing on laptops.

Morning routines have been like this since the fall, when school officials mounted a mobile Internet router to bus No. 92’s sheet-metal frame, enabling students to surf the Web. The students call it the Internet Bus, and what began as a high-tech experiment has had an old-fashioned — and unexpected — result. Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.

What would your bus drivers say?

(File under “If you teach them, they will learn — and behavior problems will fade away.”)

Don’t miss the end of the article:

A ride through mountains on a drizzly afternoon can be unpredictable, even on the Internet Bus. Through the windows on the left, inky clouds suddenly parted above a ridge, revealing an arc of incandescent color.

“Dude, there’s a rainbow!” shouted Morghan Sonderer, a ninth grader.

A dozen students looked up from their laptops and cellphones, abandoning technology to stare in wonder at the eastern sky.

“It’s following us!” Morghan exclaimed.

“We’re being stalked by a rainbow!” Jerod said.

More:


5 things to teach – Life lessons your supervisor doesn’t want to see on your lesson plans

February 6, 2010

It’s too short to excerpt — so here’s the whole thing.

Over at The Elementary Educator, I found this list, “Five Things You Should Teach Your Students This Week (None of which are likely to be on your standards):

This week, teach your students:

1.  To understand themselves as learners (a.k.a. metacognition)

2.  That intelligence is not innate; effort matters

3.  Compassion

4.  The excitement of creating real things for real audiences

5.  The joy of exercise, play, and healthy living

Another reminder that not all things that count can be counted.

The Elementary Educator carries interesting stuff.  You may wish to check it out.


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