Tag Archives: education in a digital age

Repost of Vista Project Reflections By Rick Davidson

Draft 5

In Search of the Ultimate Computer Technology Integrated Project

by Rick Davidson

How two seasoned teachers created one of the most exciting and effective teaching units of their careers.

I have spent the past 13 years involved with computer technology education. When I started, the challenge was to interest the students and teachers into coming into the computer lab at all. I came to my alma mater, Kennett High School in Conway, New Hampshire with two charges. Number one was to get the lab up and running. Number two was to facilitate the proper use of the lab. This was to have been a one year job as I was still active as a professional photographer and video maker. Even then I saw the handwriting on the wall. Imaging as I knew it was about to change. I didn’t know how long it would take but it was clear that digital photography was the wave of the future. After three years at Kennett, I took a new position as a computer teacher at Kingswood Regional Middle School in Wolfeboro, NH. While I was in a position to create my own curriculum, I found that incorporating photography and video making was not met with a lot of enthusiasm. Over the past ten years, my curriculum has evolved to include units on just about every aspect of computing including digital photography and video making. Unlike those early days in Conway when kids used to complain about spending time in the computer lab, now you can’t keep them out. Two years ago my job description changed. I became a computer technology integrator. I felt that I had accomplished a lot during the first year in my new capacity. Somehow, in spite of all the innovations and the fact that the computers in the building were being effectively used on a regular basis, I still hadn’t found an activity that I felt would be the paradigm of computer technology integration.

I often hear from adults, that kids know so much about computers. My experience says otherwise. While most kids are good at text messaging, using IM, and playing games, the vast majority of my incoming middle school students do not type well, do not know how to research, and can not discern between valid and invalid information on the Internet. Most have problems saving their work correctly. They have not had much experience working in teams nor do they understand the implications of publishing their work for an audience rather than for an individual teacher. Many seem to like the idea of using a video or a still camera but don’t want to be bothered with learning how to use the tools capably. I wanted to find a project that would require the students and the teachers to raise the bar. I wanted something that would require a combination of many of those skills that the students should be honing while at the middle school. I wanted something that the result of which, they would be proud to present to the public and something that would require a deeper awareness of local and world issues.. The activity should be self-directed enough that the teachers would serve as guides not as purveyors of information.

Enter Arthur Viens, team leader and social studies teacher for Team Vista at Kingswood Regional Middle School. Vista has always had a reputation for innovation but both Arthur and I had often discussed the fact that neither one of us had found that illusive ideal of computer technology integration. We agreed that video should probably be a part of it. We recognized that the subject matter would have to be something that the students would buy into and be interested in. We also wanted them to come away with an understanding of their chosen topic within the context of its importance on the world stage..

Serendipitously, we both received a flier for the C-Span Student Cam Competition. This appeared to be exactly what we were looking for. Was Arthur willing to go out on a limb and alter his curriculum in order to try something that looked like hard work but also appeared to be so promising? He was. Unfortunately, it became apparent that we would not be able do justice to this kind of unit in time to meet the contest deadline. We figured we could borrow the idea, create the curriculum and be ready to have our students participate in the C-Span contest next time around. We would have our own film festival this coming spring and show the final versions of the student videos there. We would also put them on the school website. The C-Span challenge was to create a video that each group of students felt was the most pressing issue that President Obama should address after taking office. Since we had started with this theme, we decided to stick with it.

First, we showed Arthur’s four classes the winners from past C-Span student entries. We discussed what video making techniques worked or didn’t work. We looked at the use of music to enhance the message. We showed the film “Stand By Me Playing For Change” as an example of this. We talked about the depth of research involved to create a compelling and coherent film. The students committed to subjects ranging from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to abortion, gun control, animal abuse, and the war on drugs. We told the students that they would need to understand their subject thoroughly in order to persuade the president that their point of view was worth his attention. Once again we viewed more C-Span student entries keeping in mind that certain techniques were more effective than others. We also stressed the importance of works cited appearing at the end of their respective videos. Any pictures used in the videos would need proper permission or Creative Commons attribution. Flickr is very good source for images and the photographers are very easy to contact. No one had a problem granting permission to the students. Students could use C-Span Student Camfootage as well as video segments on United Streaming. We also encouraged the students to create their own footage. Music was either created in GarageBand or culled from free music sites that fit fair use guidelines. The final videos were edited in Windows Movie Maker. Sound tracks were also created in Audacity or Windows Movie Maker. Note Taking and script writing was done in Open Office. Conversion issues were pretty much solved by using the free program, Any Video Converter. As we progressed, it became obvious that YouTube also had a wealth of potentially useful programming.. The students were allowed to use YouTube on the condition that they could receive permission to use footage and/or music. Some students even contacted major recording artists to seek permission to use clips for their work. Some students did receive the go ahead. Using YouTube also presented us with some teaching moments. Not all YouTube content is following fair use guidelines. In such cases, the students had to learn to differentiate between what they could and could not use. They needed to also find out who actually held the rights to the material and proceed from there. Using YouTube actually provided the opportunity to discuss in depth the implications of fair use. Had we spoon fed the students with only pre-approved sources, these opportunities would not have presented themselves.

Dealing with the issues of what constitutes good research was perhaps the most important pedagogical outcome of this undertaking. We used the www. martinlutherking.org and Institute for Historical Review to acquaint students with examples of website that might not be what they appear to be. I am convinced that most of the students now understand that they need to carefully read any information they find on the web. As obvious as it may sound, this alone is a major accomplishment on the middle school level. My next initiative will be to encourage all of our teams to include instruction based on what Arthur and I have learned from the evolution of this project. As it turned out, the actual video editing, was the easiest part. By the time they started to use Movie Maker, they had planned their video in Inspiration and Open Office, accumulated their information, video clips, music, and works cited. The students did indeed work very independently. Arthur and I were kept very busy with questions and we were able to take on the role of guides. The questions were surprisingly good and the creativity and depth of the research were both impressive.

Most of the videos were very well done. Some followed our rubric more than others. The students can compare their video to the guidelines in the rubric to see where they succeeded and where they fell short. Evaluations did not stop there. Each class viewed their classmate’s work and, using the rubric, the students became film critics. Arthur and I also shared our thoughts in order to stimulate discussion. Some of the videos were of course better than others. What impressed us the most was that almost all the students were very engaged in the project. Most endeavored to truly increase their understanding of their chosen topic. Most used their creativity to give life to a multi-media presentation they could be proud of. The ability to design well-produced media may well be one of the most important skills that students can develop for future employment. In a recent article in the on line edition of “The Journal”, the results of a nationwide poll of registered voters was reported. Two out of three of the participants felt that students need to learn “computer and technology skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills, and teamwork and collaboration”. All of these were utilized in this assignment along with, reading, writing, organization, higher level thinking, and creativity. In fact, all of the thinking skills from Blooms Revised Taxonomy ranging from remembering, to understanding, to applying, to analyzing, to evaluating, to creating were used in the project. Aren’t these all abilities we should all be helping our students to cultivate?

Finally, we showed “Invisible Children” a very moving film on children soldiers in Northern Uganda. This was made by three amateur video-makers who were in their early twenties. Going to Africa and documenting the atrociousness that they witnessed was life changing for all three young men. The video progresses from an obvious niavite among the film makers into a highly moving series of interviews with the victims of daily violence in the Sudanese refugee camps. Our students were impressed both by the message of the video and by the fact that the boys, not all that much older than themselves, were able to create such an important piece of work. Judging from the student’s reflections, this film was life changing for many of them. They understood the power of visual media and they understood the need for involvement in global issues. Early on in the film, one of the video makers points out that,“media defines our lives and it shapes how we view life.” We will be doing a our students a great disservice if we do not provide them with the skills to understand and use technological media in an ethical, creative and meaningful way.

While watching the videos, I did pick up on two short comings. In some cases the students used acquired clips that should have been edited down. Perhaps next time we may need to consider putting a length limit on how long a clip should be. I also noticed that while the students were required to follow the MLA guidelines in creating a written works cited document, this information did not always appear as completely as it should have in the final credits in the video. There were occasional conflicts in the groups but in every case a solution was found and agreed upon.

Our final take. This project was worth the five weeks, off and on, that we devoted to it. The bar was raised and the students did themselves proud. It was hard work but this is what teaching and learning are all about. All of us, the students included, more than once lost track of time. That was because everyone was so engaged. We provided the tools and the time. The students took over from there. The ability to decipher and evaluate the vast amount of information on the Internet is crucial for success in the 21st Century. Last but not least, they now know how to save.

Equally important, video making, in this case, provided a hands-on, real world opportunity for the students to continue their mastery of social studies, language arts, and computer GLEs. Many of the skills stressed in those areas of study are needed in order to successfully complete a multimedia project such as this one. No less important is the mastery of visual literacy skills. As the film makers pointed out in “Invisible Children”, visual media is where we get much if not most of our information in the modern world. It also influences the way we think. In order to become informed citizens in the twenty first century students will need to know how to interpret and use visual media. The implementation of a combination of skills necessary to reach a desired goal or to create a desired product is as effective in increasing student abilities as teaching to the test. Probably more. It is certainly more real world and much more interesting. In the future, we will take advantage of ever-evolving on line opportunities for communication with other students around the world and as well as experts in many different fields.

“I would like to close with a quote from Dr. Tim Tyson at Mabry Middle School in Marietta, Georgia.

“Potentially, student work can be measured mainly on the value of the contribution it makes on the global stage. This has never before been possible: middle grades student performing on a global stage that can actually matter beyond the immediate classroom. If we truly value empowering young adolescents to live in a culture of personal best, we must find ways of using technology to allow student use of schoolwork to make the world a better place.”

(http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2539741) “Stand By Me For Change”

“The Journal”www.thejournal.com/the/21stcentryskills/skills/

http://www.invisiblechildren.com/home.php “Invisible Children”

Alfie Kohn’s Practical Strategies to Save Our Schools

Practical Strategies to Save Our Schools


Whenever something in the schools is amiss, it makes sense to work on two tracks at once: protect students from the worst effects in the short term and work to change or eliminate that policy in the long term. Let’s begin with some short-term responses where testing is concerned:

First, teachers should do what is necessary to prepare students for the tests — and then get back to the real learning. Never forget the difference between these two objectives. Be clear about it in your own mind, and whenever possible, help others to understand the distinction. For example, you might send a letter to parents explaining what you are doing and why. (“Before we can design rigorous and exciting experiments in class, which I hope will have the effect of helping your child learn to think like a scientist, we’re going to have to spend some time getting ready for the standardized tests being given next month. Hopefully we’ll be able to return before too long to what research suggests is a more effective kind of instruction.”) If you’re lucky, parents will call you, indignantly demanding to know why their kids aren’t able to pursue the more effective kind of instruction all the time. “Excellent question!” you’ll reply, as you hand over a sheet containing the addresses and phone numbers of the local school board, state board of education, legislators, and the governor.

Second, do no more test preparation than is absolutely necessary. Some experts have argued that a relatively short period of introducing students to the content and format of the tests is sufficient to produce scores equivalent to those obtained by students who have spent the entire year in test-prep mode.

Third, whatever time is spent on test preparation should be as creative and worthwhile as possible. Avoid traditional drilling whenever you can.

Fourth, administrators and other school officials should never brag about high (or rising) scores. To do so is not only misleading; it serves to legitimate the tests. In fact, people associated with high-scoring schools or districts have a unique opportunity to make an impact. It’s easy for critics to be dismissed with a “sour grapes” argument: You’re just opposed to standardized testing because it makes you look bad. But administrators and school board members in high-scoring areas can say, “Actually our students happen to do well on these tests, but that’s nothing to be proud of. We value great teaching and learning, which is precisely what suffers when people become preoccupied with scores. Please join us in phasing them out.”

A group of educators in Florida recently took advantage of their school’s privileged status to make a powerful statement. That state not only grades schools but then hands out money to those with the highest scores – in effect making the rich richer and the poor poorer. In a bold public protest, six teachers and their principal went to the state capital and handed back the bonuses. (Click here to read their statement.) In North Carolina, teachers pooled their bonuses to create a foundation that would provide funds to the schools that needed it most.

Finally, whatever your position on the food chain of American education, one of your primary obligations is to be a buffer – to absorb as much pressure as possible from those above you without passing it on to those below. If you are a superintendent or assistant superintendent facing school board members who want to see higher test scores, the most constructive thing you can do is protect principals from these ill-conceived demands to the best of your ability (without losing your job in the process). If you are a building administrator, on the receiving end of test-related missives from the central office, your challenge is to shield teachers from this pressure – and, indeed, to help them pursue meaningful learning in their classrooms. If you are a teacher unlucky enough to work for an administrator who hasn’t read this paragraph, your job is to minimize the impact on students. Try to educate those above you whenever it seems possible to do so, but cushion those below you every day. Otherwise you become part of the problem.

*

As important as I believe these suggestions to be, it is also critical to recognize their limits. There is only so much creativity that can be infused into preparing students for bad tests. There is only so much buffering that can be done in a high-stakes environment. These recommendations merely try to make the best of a bad thing. Ultimately we need to work to end that bad thing, to move beyond stopgap measures and take on the system itself.

Unfortunately, even some well-intentioned educators who understand the threat posed by testing never get to that point. Here are some of the justifications they offer for their inaction:

  • “Just teach well and the tests will take care of themselves.” This may be true in some subject areas, or in some states, or in some neighborhoods. But it is often a convenient delusion. Often, to prepare students for the tests in the most effective way is to teach badly – to fill them full of dates and definitions and cover a huge amount of material in a superficial fashion. Conversely, to teach in a way that helps students understand (and become enthusiastic about) ideas may actually lower their scores.
  • “This too shall pass.” Education has its fads, and standards on steroids may be one of them, but there is no guarantee that it will fade away on its own. Too much is invested by now; too many powerful interest groups are backing high-stakes testing for us to assume it will simply fall of its own weight. In any case, too many children will be sacrificed in the meantime if we don’t take action to expedite its demise.
  • “My job is to teach, not to get involved in political disputes.” When seven-year-olds can’t read good books because they are being drilled on what Jonathan Kozol calls “those obsessively enumerated particles of amputated skill associated with upcoming state exams,” the schools have already been politicized. The only question is whether we will become involved on the other side – that is, on the side of real learning. In particular, much depends on whether those teachers, administrators, and parents who already harbor (and privately acknowledge) concerns about testing are willing to go public, to take a stand, to say, “This is bad for kids.” To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good people keep silent.
  • “The standards and tests are here to stay; we might as well get used to them.” Here we have a sentiment diametrically opposed to “This too shall pass,” yet one that paradoxically leads to the identical inaction. Real children in real classrooms suffer from this kind of defeatism, which can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy: assume something is inevitable and it becomes so precisely because we have decided not to challenge it. The fact of the matter is that standardized tests are not like the weather, something to which we must resign ourselves. They haven’t always existed and they don’t exist in most parts of the world. What we are facing is not a force of nature but a force of politics, and political decisions can be questioned, challenged, and ultimately reversed.
  • Thus the need for us to organize in order to fight the tests themselves. Some states are already organized, even to the point of having websites. Check these out — or, if you live elsewhere, use them as models for constructing your own:

    CO: www.thecbe.org
    MA: www.parentscare.org
    MD: www.geocities.com/stophsa
    NC: www.geocities.com/nccds/index.html
    OH: www.stophighstakestests.org
    NY: www.timeoutfromtesting.org

    National websites:
    www.fairtest.org
    www.susanohanian.org
    www.pencilsdown.org
    www.nomoretests.com [student site]

    Together with other educators and parents, consider taking these actions:

  • Talk informally to friends and acquaintances — at the supermarket and the hair dresser, at dinner parties and kids’ birthday parties — about these issues. Help your neighbors understand that an emphasis on Tougher Standards and test scores makes it harder for children to learn and to care about learning. Suggest that if a school official brags about the latest scores, we ought to reply, “If this is what matters to you, then I’m worried about the quality of education my child is getting here.”
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper — or, better yet, an op-ed article. Three examples dealing with the MCAS test in Massachusetts are available: “Tougher Tests = Lower Standards,” offering a general analysis; “A Set-Up to Tell You You’re Stupid,” focusing on students whom the test has failed; and “Turning the Tables,” a satirical essay in the form of a test that state education officials would fail. For good measure, a sample is also included from the Greensboro [N. Carolina] News & Record titled “The Insanity of Testing Mania.”
  • Write to — or visit — your state legislators about the issue.
  • Attend — and speak out at — school board meetings and other community forums on education. If you are a parent who is concerned that too much time and attention are being focused on test preparation, make your views known to the principal and/or superintendent. (Click here for a sample letter.) Better yet, persuade administrators to refuse to let test preparation squeeze out real learning — and encourage them to make a public statement explaining why silly, test-based ratings may give the appearance of failure. (Read about a Virginia school that did just this.)
  • Communicate the same message to real estate brokers who sell neighborhoods on the basis of those scores. (Click here for an example of how to frame the message for this audience: a short article published in Realtor Magazine.)
  • Form a delegation of parents and educators and request a meeting with the top editors (and education reporters) of your local paper. Tell them, “Every time you publish a chart listing schools’ standardized test scores, you unwittingly make our schools a little bit worse. Here’s why…”
  • Challenge politicians, corporate executives, and others who talk piously about the need to “raise the bar,” impose “tougher standards,” ensure “accountability,” and so on to take the tests themselves — and, perhaps, even to allow their scores to be published in the newspaper. This is especially important in the case of high-stakes exit exams, which are increasingly being used to deny diplomas to students who don’t pass them, regardless of their academic records. The reality, of course, is that few adults could pass these tests. Therefore, public officials should be prepared to justify their demand that teenagers must do something that they, themselves, cannot. And if they refuse this challenge, they should be called upon to defend that.
  • Print up bumper stickers with slogans such as “STANDARDIZED TESTING IS DUMBING DOWN OUR SCHOOLS” or “SUPPORT BETTER EDUCATION: Boycott the [name of your state’s test].”
  • For every seminar or in-service telling teachers how to meet the new state standards (or boost kids’ scores on standardized tests), we should be offering three that talk about how to fight these standards and phase out these tests.
  • Parents need to become actively involved — and, fortunately, that has been happening in some states. For inspiration and practical ideas, take a look at how a grassroots parent group in Wisconsin managed to overturn a high-stakes testing plan. Other parent-led groups are mobilizing in Ohio, Virginia, Massachusetts, and other states.
  • Commission a survey and then release its results at a press conference. One group of researchers suggested including these questions:
  • “Do the tests improve students’ motivation? Do parents understand the results? Do teachers think that the tests measure the curriculum fairly? Do administrators use the results wisely? How much money is spent on assessment and related services? How much time do teachers spend preparing students for various tests? Do the media report the data accurately and thoroughly? Our surveys suggest that many districts will be shocked to discover the degree of dissatisfaction among stakeholders.” [Source: S. G. Paris, et al., “A Developmental Perspective on Standardized Achievement Testing.” Educational Researcher, June-July 1991, p. 17]

  • Work with your state coordinator to sponsor a conference on these issues. Make sure to alert local reporters ahead of time to maximize press coverage. This can help you locate still more people in the area who are willing to become active.
  • Finally, both educators and parents can simply refuse to participate in state and district testing programs. Many states have opt-out provisions (though they’re not widely publicized) by which parents can request that their children be exempted from taking standardized tests. Investigate to see whether this is available where you live and, if so, do everything in your power to make that fact widely known. (Read a compelling statement by a Mom and Dad explaining “Why We Opt Out,” which contains the letter they submit to their daughter’s school politely insisting that she be “engaged in learning activities during testing times.”)
  • Some parents and students are, in effect, boycotting the tests even where opt-out provisions don’t exist. For example, two-thirds of all families with eighth graders in Scarsdale, NY refused to participate in the state’s middle school tests in the spring of 2001. (Read more about the Scarsdale boycott.)

    Teachers, too, might think about organizing acts of civil disobedience. In Japan, as Catherine Lewis reports in her book Educating Hearts and Minds, “Elementary achievement is high because Japanese teachers are free from the pressure to teach to standardized tests.” Until they get to high school, there are no such tests in Japan — and the reason there are no such tests is that teachers (through their union) simply refused to administer them because of their destructive educational effects. Boycotts have also been effective in England and Australia.

    Closer to home, Jim Bougas, a middle school teacher in a small town in Massachusetts, grew increasingly frustrated with how the state test was forcing instruction to become more superficial. He informed his principal in the spring of 1999 that he could not in good conscience take part in administering the test and was reassigned to the library during that period. The next year, following a denial of a similar request, he agonized about what to do. Finally, he decided that if the test was just as unfair and destructive in 2000 as it had been in 1999, his response could not be any different – even at the risk of suspension or dismissal. Besides, as he told a reporter, if the test continues, “I have no job because they’ve taken it away from me as long as I have to spend my time teaching to the test. I can’t do that anymore. So I have nothing to lose.”

    Don Perl, a teacher in Colorado, engaged in a similar act of conscience, commenting, according to a newspaper article, “I have to look at myself in the mirror, and I know these tests are wrong. Frankly, I’m not a teacher when I teach to a test like this, [or] when I administer a test like this.” Perl is no longer in the classroom but has been active in opposing his state’s test, collecting about 12,500 signatures in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to let voters decide in 2004 whether to get rid of the CSAP test, and then raising money to pay for ads on bus benches that invite parents to visit www.thecbe.org to obtain letters advising school officials that their children will not be taking the exam.

    In the fall of 2002, a dozen Chicago high school teachers got together and refused to administer the tests being used in that city. (Read more about the Chicago boycott.)

    Such protests are not only inspirational to many of us but an invitation to ponder the infinitely greater impact of collective action. Imagine, for example, that a teacher at any given school in your area quietly approached each person on the staff in turn and asked: “If ___ percent of the teachers at this school pledged to boycott the next round of testing, would you join them?” (The specific percentage would depend on what seemed realistic and yet signified sufficient participation to offer some protection for those involved.) Then, if the designated number was reached, each teacher would be invited to take part in what would be a powerful act of civil disobedience. Press coverage would likely be substantial, and despairing-but-cowed teachers in other schools might be encouraged to follow suit.

    Without question, this is a risky undertaking. Theoretically, even an entire school faculty could be fired. But the more who participate, and the more careful they are about soliciting support from parents and other members of the community beforehand, the more difficult it would be for administrators to respond harshly. (Of course, some administrators are as frustrated with the testing as teachers are.) Participants would have to be politically savvy, building alliances and offering a coherent, quotable rationale for their action. They would need to make it clear – at a press conference and in other forums – that they were taking this action not because they are unwilling to do more work or are afraid of being held accountable, but because these tests lower the quality of learning and do a serious injustice to the children in our community.

    The bottom line is that standardized testing can continue only with the consent and cooperation of the educators who allow those tests to be distributed in their schools – and the parents who permit their children to take them. If we withhold that consent, if we refuse to cooperate, then the testing process grinds to a halt. That is what happened in Japan. That is what can happen in the United States if we understand the urgency of the situation. Discuss it with your university students, your staff, your colleagues, your neighbors: What if they gave a test and nobody came?

    Have other ideas? Leave us a message at the e-mail address listed for questions & comments on the Contact page..


    Copyright © 2004 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author’s name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact page at www.alfiekohn.org.

    Reclaiming the Language by Jim Bower from Red Deer Alberta

    Have you ever taken part in a conversation about progressive education or school reform and left the dialogue wondering if you were even talking about the same topic? Often I’m left wondering how this can happen. How can two people talk about the same topic with very similar vocabulary, and yet be having two separate conversations at once?

    It would be convenient if we could simply differentiate the discussion via politics; however, it would also be inaccurate. There’s a reason why Rep. John Kline (R-MN) recently remarked with chilling accuracy that the Obama-Duncan education game plan is “straight from the traditional Republican playbook.” The larger point to be taken here is that it doesn’t matter whether you are speaking with a liberal, a conservative, a Democrat, a Republican, reading the Washington Post or Newsweek – when it comes to education, most of them are indistinguishable from Fox News.
    So how do we differentiate between the authentic and the rhetoric? In his article The Case Against ‘Tougher Standards’, Alfie Kohn states, “Today, it is almost impossible to distinguish Democrats from Republicans on this set of issues — only those with some understanding of how children learn from those who haven’t a clue.” So who has a clue?

    To sort out who does and who doesn’t, I think we need to understand how one Washington DC activist put it, “It’s gotten to the point where I’m almost embarrassed to be associated with the word ‘reform'”. There is nothing inherently wrong with school reform – but there is something amiss with the way the word has come to be defined. Words like achievement, data, 21st century skills and accountability have been bastardized by those who haven’t a clue about real learning.

    A real discussion about 21st Century education would require us to understand how wrong we got it in the 20th Century. Some might say that there is a war going on in schools between behaviourism and constructivism and the kids are losing while others have written “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes that Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”

    If we really want to have an authentic discussion about 21st Century education and data-driven accountability then we better be crystal clear what we mean by these concepts.

    ACCOUNTABILITY: in it’s current context, accountability is simply a code word meaning more control for people outside the classroom over those who are inside the classroom. Ever wonder why we can’t get school reform right? I won’t profess to have the definitive answer, but I have a feeling it has something to do with the fact that education is being run by people who have no practical experience or professional training in how children learn. What’s worse is that these clueless dictators have the audacity to enforce their ignorance through manipulative legislation, and when those who know better speak up, they are beat down by the accountability club.

    So how do we reclaim the word accountability? We need to redefine it. John Spencer, a teacher from Arizona, says “accountability should mean that when you wander off too far, there is a group of people calling you back and saying, ‘Look, you belong here. You are important to us.'” For those who claim we need accountability in its current form, I encourage them to look to Finland who don’t even have a word in their language for accountability, so they use responsibility – the difference being much more than simple semantics.

    DATA: Number crunching, data mongers see children as data-in-waiting. Their bodies are simply transportation devices for their number two pencils. And yet, one test isn’t even enough for these spreadsheet junkies, so they feed their mania for reducing everything to numbers by having tests that prepare kids to take a benchmark test before they take the test. Sadly, the worst teachers don’t teach to the test any more, they test to the test. The problem here is that if their goals are simply higher test scores (raise achievement) then their methods are not going to be worth much. In other words, even if we achieved all the test scores the policy makers could ever want, we would end up providing the kids with nothing they really need. Things go very, very wrong when a teacher knows more about how to raise a kid’s test score than how to raise a kid.

    If we want to reclaim data, and we do need to, we need to stress that real learning is found in children not data. The best teachers never need tests to gather information about children’s learning nor do they need grades to share that information with others. They know that there is no substitute for what a teacher can see with their own eyes when observing and interacting with students while they are learning, and any attempt to reduce something as magnificently messy as real learning will only ever conceal more than it will reveal. I might go so far as to say that the best educators in the 21st Century understand that “measurable outcomes may be the least significant results of learning” except that this has been true in every century. Anyone using data must understand that what we see largely depends on what we look for and there’s a huge difference between valuing what we measure and measuring what we value – but again, this is true regardless of the date on the calendar.

    21st CENTURY SKILLS: Unfortunately, most people who speak about 21st Century Skills actually think that something changed because the date on the calendar advanced. They also (mis)assume that we are in some competitive race for the finish line – except there’s no competition and there’s no finish line. Education reform built on the foundation of competition is a house of cards just waiting to be toppled over.

    If we really care about getting school reform right in the 21st Century, then we have to go back to two men from the previous century who have framed how we think of truly progressive education – John Dewey and Jean Piaget.

    Dewey’s message focused on democracy as a way of life, not just a form of government, and that “thinking is something that emerges from our shared experiences and activities.” Piaget taught us that “even very young children play an active role in making sense of things, ‘constructing’ reality rather than just acquiring knowledge.

    If we take the work of Dewey and Piaget seriously, we have to acknowledge that the best kind of education we can provide our children has nothing to do with the date on the calendar and more to do with understanding how children learn.

    In the end, I have one question about the 21st Century: will the politicians and policy makers figure out what Dewey and Piaget figured out in the 20th Century, and will they listen to the modern day education experts such as Linda Darling-Hammond, Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, Yong Zhao and Constance Kamii before we get to the 22nd?

    Some highlights of Alfie Kohn’s interview withRoss Greene  http://www.blogtalkradio.com/drrossgreene/2010/02/01/collaborative-problem-solving-at-school from Joe Bower’s Blog:

    • There is a big difference between working with kids and doing things to kids.
    • Punishing and rewarding are not only ineffective but they are also counter-productive in raising children.
    • We get lost in finding new techniques to gain compliance from children, when we really need to be clear of our ultimate goal – help children become ethical, caring people.
    • Kids who get rewards and praise tend to be less generous than their peers. Self-interest trumps caring for others.
    • No kid ever benefits from punishment.
    • There is a big difference between control and structure. Highly structured learning environments need not be controlled from the top-down. Students need to play an active and democratic role in forming the structure of the classroom.
    • The more we focus on just compliance, the more we will shuffle through an endless product line of gimmicks and tricks that will never achieve our ultimate goals.
    • Time-outs, or more accurately Forcibly Isolated, classrooms no longer feel safe. These classrooms become conditional and we all lose from these kinds of traditional, punitive interventions.
    • Not much learning takes place in a classroom that is too quiet.
    • Our classroom management techniques can be quite effective, but we must ask “effective at what?”
    • Kids make good decisions by making decisions not following directions.
    • Unconditional acceptance is at the heart of any good classroom.
    • The best teachers are those who make the curriculum worth learning.
    • Punishment by any name, even consequences, ruptures the safe and caring alliance that must be nourished between teacher and student.
    • Punishment is less about solving problems and more about revenge and inflicting pain and suffering.

    Computer Technology at KRMS

    Computer Technology Integration at KRMS

    1. Creativity (personal expression, student based,)

    2. Collaboration (teachers, cross curriculum (middle school philosophy), and students), experts, communication, contribution to team projects, create for an audience, (sharing Web 2.0)

    3. Research Skills (evaluation, synthesize, ethics, process data), information fluency, C-Span, You Tube, use of library on-line tools such as United Streaming, on line book marking Thinkquest, delicious, diigo, RSS feeds of news sources, etc., google reader,

    4. Critical Thinking and Problem solving (planning, decision making), selection of appropriate applications (software and hardware necessary to complete project rather than isolating instruction, visual literacy)

    5. Digital Citizenship (safe, legal, responsible, social responsibility, plagiarism, creative commons)

    6. Technology Operation (not isolated, adaptability, tool needed to accomplish task )

    Possible Projects:

    podcasts, Examples: Book talks, David Eastman Country Ecology radio shows

    blogging Questions and answers, collaboration, sharing, blogging on issues in the news (diigo, google reader, http://lpeterson.edublogs.org/ Vista blogs

    Slide shows (PhotoShop as a tool) Examples: historical personages or events with research voice over or text, science , math demos

    Videos (require planning and scripting) Examples: students create story using same themes from book or stories they are reading), Vista style research project, science math demonstrations, music, cooking instructions, book trailer

    Story telling: scripts, plays, booklets, form and content, elements of a story (written or visual)

    Desktop Publishing: brochures, cards, newsletter, menus, etc.

    Time lines, spreadsheets and charts, promotional posters, house design, newsletter, business cards, catalogs, advertisements, webquests, recreate sounds, music,, and picture of an era (Ken Burns), create websites, video trailers, student created question and answer books, write a song or poem or story relative to a topic or era, spreadsheets (budget, grade averages, database, mathematical formulas, art museum, website on famous person, PowerPoint presentation on financial success of a company, students pretend to be travel agents and create promotional PowerPoint, Start a business track business on excel, create a digital magazine, create a TV commercial, use a wiki to critique a book or short story,

    http://its.leesummit.k12.mo.us/ Computer Integration ideas

    Book Marks: http://delicious.com/filmrd,

    E-mail: rgdavidson@govwentworth.k12.nh.us

    Book Marks: http://www.diigo.com/user/filmrd,

    School Website: www.govwentworth.k12.nh.us Click on “Our Schools”,

    Portaportal: guest.portaportal.com/krms (Links to sites for classroom use)

    Educational Blogs By Discipline – Go to our website

    http://filmrd.edublogs.org

    Skype

    http://web.mac.com/geographyguy/Welcome/Welcome.html Mr. McCracken

    The Curriculum Component. A team of teachers (content area teachers, a special education teacher and a computer teacher) work together to integrate computer use into a six- to eight-week curriculum unit. Teachers first select a unit topic that cuts across disciplines. For example, a topic such as immigration, space exploration, or medical breakthroughs in the 20th century could comfortably link language arts, the framework for carrying out a research process where students:

    * Become actively engaged as learners who pose personally meaningful questions related to the content/topic;

    * Devise a research plan that uses a variety of relevant sources;

    * Gather, integrate and construct knowledge by working independently and cooperatively with other students; and

    * Produce a finished product that describes what the research process entailed and conveys what was learned.

    During the unit, teachers help students gradually construct and expand their knowledge of key concepts, issues and vocabulary related to the topic. Teachers encourage cooperative learning so that students share information, give each other feedback and support one another’s efforts. Writing becomes an ongoing process that involves pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing and publishing (to an audience).

    Make It Happen! is based on

    findings from a three-year study

    funded by the U.S. Department

    of Education.

    Ten Items All should Know About Google by Michael Gorman

    Ten Items All Should Know When Using Google Basic Search…. Far From Basic… The Googal In Google!

    1. The word And is assumed… Example: red and white and blue is a search for  red white blue

    2. Compound Words, Phrases, and Names; use a String (in other words put the words in quotes  “  “…   Example: “George Washington”“Fort Wayne” “to be or not to be” “United States of America” “Star Wars” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”

    3. Want to eliminate a word: use the Not Command which is a – (minus sign)… Example:  Looking for the country Turkey, but not the bird…  Turkey -bird

    4. Capital Letters and articles of speech are ignored unless put  in quotes…  Example: United States of America is treated as united states america but “United States of America” is treated as United States of America

    5. The root form of a word looks for all forms of the word… Example: walk = walks, walker, walking, walked

    6. Use a tilde (~) to search with other word of similar meaning… Example ~happy searches for happy and synonyms of happy ~large planet(large could be: big, vast, giant, enormous

    7. Putting a plus (+) in front of word to keep it exactly as is. This dismisses adding other options to root word… Example:  +walk (only walk: does not inlude walker, walks, walking, walked)

    8. Wild Card (*) allows for missing words in a phrase (not missing letters). Forget a word in a title or quote, try a wildcard… Example: “Obama voted on the * on the * bill” Note this is mixed with the string concept.

    9. The word OR (in caps) allows two ideas to be reported together… Example: “Indianapolis Colts” 2010 OR 2009

    10. Get to know the Google Command Lines. These are useful for quick references in a Basic Google Search. Give them a try and experience the power in narrowing down a search. The list of over twenty starts with some real power suggestions and ends with some everyday useful ideas.

    INTITLE – To narrow search by finding web sites that have key word in title you may type the words intitle: followed by word you are searching for (Note no spaces) … Example: intitle:ipad …  Return example

    INTEXT – Same as above only it narrows search to only keywords found in text (Note no spaces)… Example intext:ipad … Return example

    LINK – This command determines who is linking to a site. Great command to determine credibility and popularity of a site. To use the link command there are no spaces. Type word link: and follow with complete URL (Note if you remember to put no space after the colon you will get true account of active hyper-links, if you use a space you will get hyper-links and text mentions which will be a higher number)…Example link:www.apple.com … Return example

    SITE – Found a great site, but you want to then just search in that site.  Perhaps you just want to search government sites or you want to see the Race For The Moon in perspective from Russia. Type in site and with no space follow with web address, domain, or country code. After the address, domain, or country code put in a space and the key word. Perhaps you want iPad information only from apple… Site Example: site:www.apple.com ipad … Return example … Domain Example: site:gov earthquake … Return Example …  County Example: site:ru “moon race… Return Example

    FILETYPE – Looking for a great power point, pdf, or word doc. Perhaps a spreadsheet would be helpful. You may need to look up some suffixes to use. Type in the word filetype: and with no spaces put the suffix (in my example I used xls for excel), put in  space and follow with a search term. I have a list for suffixes linked here… Example: filetype:xls h1n1 … Return example

    RELATED – Ever find a great site and you want to see if there is more like it. Just type in the word related: and follow with no space and then the web address. You will find an assortment of related pages… Example: related:www.apple.com … Return Example

    INFO – Want more information about a site that you like. Interested in cached versions, links to the site, links from the site, other web pages that are simular to, and other places the web site is mentioned on the internet. A great tool for evaluating a web site. All you do is type in the word info: and then follow it with no space, and the web address of the site you wish to know more about… Example: info:www.ted.org … Return Example

    CALCULATOR – To use Google’s built-in calculator function, simply enter the calculation you’d like done into the search box. It even follows the order of operation… Example: 10+9*10 (It multiplies first the adds) … Return Example

    SYNONYMS – As mentioned earlier, if you want to search  for your search term and  also for its synonyms, place the tilde sign (~) immediately in front of your search term (no space)… Example: ~city … Return example

    DEFINITIONS – To see a definition for a word or phrase,  type the word “define” then a space, then the word(s) you want defined. To see a list of different definitions from various online sources, you can type “define:” followed by a word or phrase. Note that the results will define the entire phrase… Example: define: computer … Return example

    SPELL – Google’s spell checking software automatically checks whether your submission uses the most common spelling of a given word. If Google  thinks you’re likely to generate better results with an alternative spelling, it will ask “Did you mean: (more common spelling)?”. Click the suggested spelling to launch a Google search for that term. Example: pikture … Return example

    MEASUREMENT – To use measurement converter put in the measurement you want to convert followed by word to, and then enter desired unit… Example: convert 5280 ft to mi … Return example.

    WEATHER – To see the weather for many U.S. and worldwide cities, type “weather” followed by the city and state, U.S. zip code, or city and country… Example: weather “fort wayne” in or weather 46814 or weather “fort wayne” usa … Return Example

    STOCKS – To see current market data for a given company or fund, type the ticker symbol into the search box. On the results page, you can click the link to see more data from Google Finance… Example: aapl … Return Example

    TIME – To see the time in many cities around the world, type in “time” and the name of the city(Note also sunrise/sunset)… Example:  time “fort wayne” …  Return Example

    SPORTS – To see scores and schedules for sports teams type the team name or league name into the search box. This is enabled for many leagues including the National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League, and Major League Baseball… Example: national basketball association … Return Example

    LOCAL – When  looking for a store, restaurant, or other local business search for the category of business and the location and Google will  return results right on that page, along with a map, reviews, and contact information. You may have to scroll down to find the local listings in the search returns… Example walmart… Return example

    MOVIES – To find reviews and showtimes for movies playing near you, type “movies” or the name of a current film into the Google search box. If you’ve already saved your location on previous search, the top search result will display showtimes for nearby theaters for the movie you’ve chosen, if not enter new location… Example: movie: “diary of a wimpy kid” … Return example

    DISEASE  – To see information about a common disease or symptom, enter it into the search box and Google will return the beginning of an expert summary. Click through and read the entire article in Google Health… Example: measles… Return example

    FLIGHTS – To see flight status for arriving and departing U.S. flights, type in the name of the airline (abrv work) and the flight number into the search box. You can also see delays at a specific airport by typing in the name of the city or three-letter airport code followed by the word “airport”… Example: austin airport … Return example

    PATENTS To get information on patents – enter the word “patent” followed by the patent number into the Google search box and hit the Enter key or click the Google Search button… Example: patent 1773980 … Return example

    AREA CODE LOCATION – to see the geographical location for any U.S. telephone area code, just type the three-digit area code into the Google search box and hit the Enter key or click the Google Search button… Example 260… Return example