FAIL: Schools think learning ends when the dismissal bell rings.

More schools are launching 1-to-1 computing programs, which seems appropriate in the face of ubiquitous technology and networked connectivity.

As an educational technologist, I rejected such a move in a small private K-12 school about 5 years ago because I knew the teaching culture would not change or adapt to the required use of technology. It would have been a wast of time and money for everyone.

As a parent, I recently lived through a particularly mediocre 1-to-1 implementation, and one of my biggest complaints was the school district’s utter failure to engage parents. I just came across a brief article in eSchool News covering a talk by Alan November. There’s a video of his entire talk that’s worth watching, but at the core is the question “What’s your plan for making every home a center of learning?” He references South Korea’s plan to bring gigibit data connections to each home (they are also moving to 100% digital textbooks), which is really an essential consideration if 1-to-1 computers are truly to be used for “anywhere, anytime learning”, rather than “any time you are at school learning”.

As an aside, long after the High School 1-to-1 launch, my kid’s district made robo-calls home at dinner time on Mother’s Day to ask families if they did or did not have internet access at home. Talk about poor planning…

Which is better: Bad, or Wrong?

Some days there’s an overload of good reading, and today is one of them.

There’s this blog on School Finance (yeah, I know, but follow the money isn’t just a random group of words…) and the most recent post is “Firing teachers based on bad (VAM) versus wrong (SGP) measures of effectiveness: Legal note” and takes a good look at two systems being proposed and/or actively used to evaluate teachers.

While I agree that there’s room for improvement in teacher evaluation (and student evaluation, and principal evaluation, and CEO evaluation, and elected official evaluation, and so on), it is incomprehensible to think that either of these systems is an accurate measure of teacher ability and effectiveness. Maybe we should pay politicians based on the number of jobs they create…

Life’s Math Homework

You can’t have more than the whole thing, even if you try infinity+1 times or give 110%. You can, however, have less than the whole thing.

Today I came across two blog posts that dance indirectly around the concept of the “Whole Child”. (Read more about Whole Child initiatives here.) There’s a difficult equation at play as folks wrestle with measuring educational outcomes (which are different from “learning” and “teaching”) as if these measurements were somehow beneficial to the child in his or her entirety.

The first, “You Matter: A Message, A Reminder, A Connector, A Mission“, seems a bit touchy-feely but is, in fact, central to the concept of universal K-12 education. In the U.S., we educate all children because they all matter. The problem with measuring educational outcomes as required by data driven accountability (No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core State Standards, etc.) is that “You Matter” becomes ‘Your Scores Matter’ and the fundamental driver for our educational system is gone.

The second, “Why It’s Time to Eliminate Class Schedules“, brings home too much of the mundane detail of what both teachers and students experience each day they go to school.

“How can we expect them to connect Hemingway, vectors, pottery, cells, and ancient Greece every day? It’s a disjointed nightmare—to which you might say, “deal with it, that’s school.” But what I see in my students is that “dealing with it” results in a lot of material crammed for a test and then forgotten.”

This does not say “You Matter”, does it? I’m not sure that eliminating class schedules is the solution, though a colleague once proposed an intriguing model where students choose their teachers, which does hold some appeal.

Most teachers are committed to the idea that each child matters, so where is the system breaking down?

My guess is that it’s the policy makers who have never taught in the classroom. This would include Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and virtually all elected officials, and then extends to state and local superintendents who have classroom experience but who cannot imagine how to do what they know is right in the face of pressure from above. Don’t forget that there’s pressure from below, too. Communities have bought into the test results mania, resulting in civic and business leaders calling for higher scores.

The only thing that’s whole anymore is the mess, and there’s no real sense of what needs to be part of the equation, never mind what the solution looks like.

Data-Driven? Try using different data.

Data-Driven Decision Making (DDDM) became a mantra in schools about a decade ago. The concept is sound in theory, but since we don’t have common definitions for basic (but not simple) things like teaching and learning, decisions have actually become individual opinions on how to weigh and apply the “data” called achievement test results.

While I’m aware that there are schools and teachers that use appropriate data to inform the learning environment, the “discussion” at the district, state and national level is about test scores.

Here’s an idea for K-12 schools that want to positively influence classroom outcomes with data: Match student learning styles with teacher pedagogical and management styles!

Schools can regularly collect data about student learning styles, preferences and behavior along with data about teaching style, preferences and classroom management, and use these two data sets to build the schedule. Voila, a data driven decision with a high potential for success before the school year even starts.

Yes, I know that teachers use a variety of techniques and differentiate instruction and blah, blah, blah, but we all have strengths, preferences and natural tendencies — let’s capitalize on this instead of pretending that everyone is a utility player.

Anybody know of a school/district doing this? Love to know…

Links to basic DDDM information:
http://www.clrn.org/elar/dddm.cfm
http://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional_papers/2006/RAND_OP170.pdf
http://www.mcrel.org/pdf/leadershiporganizationdevelopment/5031tg_datafolio.pdf

Too much structure on the internet?

OK, the title’s a little misleading, but I spent the last two days in Blackboard Learn/9.1 Bootcamp and I am not impressed. The training itself was fine, with requisite high and low points, but when I think about the tool, I shudder.

It’s simultaneously constraining and open ended which essentially guarantees a crippled product. The open ended means folks building a course will not build one that looks or acts like their colleagues. For the individual, this is fine, but it creates a huge problem for the institution. The thoughtful institutions sees this as a problem for students when they expect an normed experience similar to what they find in a physical classroom. Trying to enforce an institutional template will chafe at “academic freedom” notions.

Too constraining because they’ve commercialized the hosted version with ads and enhanced ties to specific online service partners (Slideshare, YouTube, etc.) that force developers to limit the functionality of internal modules — I get a thumbnail when I link to a resource through the “partner” tools, but when I use the Blackboard add URL tool to link the exact same resource, I get no visual preview of the content. Facebook, if nothing else, has lead us to expect a thumbnail preview whenever we link a URL.

Speaking of Facebook, there is a Facebook App that purports to synch content between the platforms. The student ratings are overwhelmingly one star, so It doesn’t look like they’re too serious about opening up.

When learners can readily have their needs met in venues like Wikipedia, Instructables, YouTube, and hundreds of similar sites,  Blackboard runs a great risk in offering such a mediocre product. This is especially true when viable alternatives like Moodle and Sakai are available as free, open source tools that accomplish similar goals.

Oh well, at least I can add a new skill to my resume…

Learning as potential energy

I’m a humanities person with an interest in science inspired by the curiosity that drives scientific method. Potential energy is a alluring concept and I suspect I relate to it because of how much potential my teachers told me I have. I’m thinking about it now because of the time I’ve been spending on Twitter (@alliedstudies if you care).

I currently follow about 140 accounts which expose me to a wide range of information and opinions. I would guess that about 1000 tweets flow through my feed in any given 24 hour period. I see a good amount of information the reinforces my perspective on learning and education, I see information that I am aware of but disagree with, and I see information that doesn’t yet connect to other ideas I hold. That’s the reason I work to keep up with this torrent of information — I’m really there for the “new” idea that will help make a few more connections in my evolving view of the world. I’m there for the potential…

Setting the stage…

There are significant changes coming to public K-12 schools in the form of Common Core State Standards and ongoing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) discussions. High stakes testing cheating scandals have emerged as state-wide issues in at least two states, suggesting fundamental flaws in both the concept and the system.

Locally, the Cleveland Heights – University Heights Schools where my children are currently enrolled have removed gifted programming and resources form most elementary schools while announcing K-5 restructuring designed to fill only part of the gap left by pulling the Gifted programming. At the same time the district administration is moving toward the “K-12 Pathways” proposal that asks parents and students to choose a school based on three vague areas of student interest. There is minimal information available about this pending program, and it is a huge initiative coming directly on the heels of the One-to-One Laptop program.

In both the Gifted changes and the One-to-One initiative, the district has shown minimal foresight or evidence of planning. This trend continues with the K-12 Pathways, particularly when one stops to ask about the rationale or wonder how an incoming Kindergarten student can make a choice about their area of interest.

Oh, there’s a levy on the ballot as well…

Stay tuned for postings about change in education at the local and national levels. You can subscribe to the RSS feeds, follow @AlliedStudies on Twitter or Like us on Facebook. While there will be lots of information flowing out, I hope it inspires meaningful dialog both in the comments and in face to face forums.