• Can You Locate the U.S. on a Map? Published 2007-08-29 under

    Just found this clip on Dean Shareski's blog, Ideas and Thoughts and thought I would share it as a funny (but sad) example of the state of education. I feel that I should offer some additional commentary. My initial thought was to question "what do you expect?" - not as a comment on So. Carolina or on women, but on the true values of beauty contests. Do we really look to our next Miss USA to be able to solve world problems?

    The piece begins with the question: "A recent survey suggests that a fifth of Americans cannot locate the United States on a world map. Why do you think this is?" While I don't feel that it has to do with South Africa or Iraq (as suggested - I think - by Miss So. Carolina), I really have no idea. I would offer that the survey has not identified a lack in our education but rather offers a comment about our culture and even our values. While we live in a global world, we cannot appreciate our position in this interconnected and interdependent world. We are insular.

    Perhaps this is a problem with our education. Are we not making a good enough effort to teach diversity and inspire appreciation of other cultures (and nations)?

    In any case, the clip is funny and does speak to the importance of communication.

  • Process as a Best Practice Published 2007-08-28 under ,

    Years ago, I was involved in a project that included the compilation of "best practices" by high school U.S. History teachers. The intention was for each teacher to "publish" the best practice and then have other teachers offer comments. Teachers in this project were asked to review other best practices and write (as a comment) how they might adapt the practice to their classroom and the potentially unique needs of their students.

    I was involved in the project as a consultant and focused my attention on the information architecture of the best practices and their associated comments. I could not see beyond the capturing, organizing and disseminating of this content. This was before the proliferation of blogging tools and content management systems that would make this task trivial. Regardless whether it was the technical complexities that blinded me, I did a disservice to the project by focusing on the end product.

    In hindsight, this project was not about creating an inventory of best practices, but the process of describing your own best practice(s) and reflecting on how to adapt others' practices to meet your needs. The true value of the exercise comes from identifying a practice that you consider good enough to be called a best practice. It requires you to reflect on what you do, what constitutes a best practice and how to best articulate what you do to form a best practice that others can adapt. It also requires you to evaluate a practice that has been labeled as best in relation to how you teach and your classroom needs.

    In summary, I got caught up in the "deliverable" and did not see the importance of the process. As teachers, we often fall victim to the lure of the final product. In some cases, it is easier to evaluate the final product than it is to evaluate (or even monitor) the process. If you have ever given a multiple-choice test, you know that grading is a breeze where as gaining insight into how the students obtained their answers is next to impossible.

    In other cases, the excitement of seeing the final product overshadows the process that was involved in creating it. I remember a group of students who gave an outstanding presentation on their roller coaster they created for our AP Calculus class. I was so impressed with the presentation and their multi-media materials, that I was blinded to the fact that the group took shortcuts in putting together the project and there was a clear lack of equity in individual contribution resulting in some students getting very little from the project.

    I mention all of this as it exposes some thoughts I have for educators.

    • Value the process as much as the result
    • Identify ways that expose the process
    • Get your students to realize the importance of the process

  • Education Reform "Success" Published 8/28/2007 09:09:00 AM under ,

    I am a big fan of the Charlie Rose Show. Perhaps I have been naive in the past, but I have always felt that Mr. Rose had the ability to ask the important questions. But my bubble was broken after watching his interview with Joel Klein, the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. The piece was essentially a big slap on the Chancellor's back celebrating his "successes". Throughout the interview, I was waiting for Charlie to ask the big question: "How do you measure success?"

    At one point Klein touts the 10% increase in students graduating and the increase in math and language scores. These are laudable stats, but I wanted Charlie to press him on these metrics as a measure of success. If I am to understand the Chancellor, he is interested in those teachers that can successfully teach to the test (improve test scores) and ensure that their kids pass so they can graduate. Never does he list as his targeted outcome the ability of these kids to think for themselves, formulate innovative solutions to problems, communicate ideas with others, work in an collaborative environment, or have a life-long interest in learning. I realize that I am an idealist but shouldn't NYC teachers be given credit if they form these skills and values in their kids?

    Now while I did find myself yelling at the TV (to no avail, I might add), I did enjoy listening to much of Mr. Klein's message. He stresses the teacher as the critical component in a child's education. To this end, I congratulate him. I am in favor of his outcome based pay and the notion that salaries should be based on ability. But the problem returns to how do you measure these outcomes and a teacher's ability? Graduation rates and test scores are easy outcomes to tabulate and on which to perform analysis. The more complex metric would involve measuring a host of less quantifiable outcomes.

    Isn't this the problem that we as teachers face everyday? Aren't we constantly challenged to find assessment models that value not just memorization, but truly understanding concepts?

    Another point Mr. Klein made that is worth noting was his characteristics that make a good teacher. He listed a teacher's ability to engage, capacity to empathize, and knowledge in his/her subject as the three essential components to successful teacher. I really like this list and would suggest that a teacher's interest in professional improvement is an even better indicator that pure knowledge of subject. A thirst for learning and excitement of subject translates better into success in the classroom than does expert knowledge and boredom with the mundane aspects of a subject.

    I would really like to hear your reactions to the Joel Klein interview. What are your thoughts on "merit" pay or salary commensurate on a teacher's ability? How do you measure success?

    Joel Klein
    Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education
    on Charlie Rose - 22-Aug-2007

  • Rethinking Assessment Published 2007-08-23 under ,

    As a blog reader, you don't need to be told that some of the best information comes from the discussions (comments) that follow a blog post. I read with interest Anne Davis' post on her new blogging project. But it was a particular comment (by Dean Shareski) that really caught my eye. It describe how a science class adapted a Darren Kuropatwa type class blog (link to blog). The comment also provided a link to a video where students discuss how this alternative form of assessment has impressed them.

    The video frames the conversation about "Assessment for Learning" with comments by students on how they were affected by this form of assessment. Coincidently (or not), the video's focus on students and their opinions mirrors objectives embraced by "Assessment for Learning" models. Students reflect on their next steps to be successful and gather evidence to show their learning. The role of the teacher is to provide clear expected outcomes and offer ideas on how students can demonstrate their success.

    High stakes summative assessment (assessment of learning) is getting a great deal of attention in schools (and the press). We are consumed with the need to enable our students to be successful on these (standardized) exams. As an AP teacher, I spent all of April reviewing past tests, drilling my students on a daily basis. This practice had positive results and I would not argue that we don't owe our students the tools to do well on these tests.

    My argument is that we need to form a balance between assessment of learning and assessment for learning giving more emphasis (time) to the latter. A friend of mine's sister is charged with "coaching" students who fall below a certain grade. Certainly, this program is a positive step toward the true nature of "no child left behind". But the school tabulates summative assessment scores on a weekly basis begging the question "with all of this assessment of learning, where is the time for assessment for learning?"

    As we progress as educators, rethinking assessment will be of paramount importance with traditional models being replaced by models that put the student in charge of demonstrating or providing evidence of his/her learning. Certainly, ePortfolios will play a important role in assessment.

    As a side note, does anyone know the difference between Assessment for Learning and formative learning?


    Tech Tags:

  • Mashups for Everyone Published 2007-08-09 under , ,

    Thanks for a del.icio.us bookmark from Bud Hunt (aka Bud the Teacher), I found a very interesting article from Wired discussing the problem with social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. In summary, these services allow users to put information into their pages but do not provide a open architecture (an API) that allows the information to flow out of the page.

    I am a big fan (if you did not already know) of open systems and APIs that allow the sharing of information between services. Admittedly, I am not a Facebook or MySpace user so I just assumed these Web2.0 pillars of social networking provided a means for sharing information outside their own platform. For my money, a defining characteristic of a Web2.0 service is the ability to share information with other services (the availability of an API). Shame on sites that shun APIs.

    The article included a side bar link to an article on how to "Replace Facebook Using Open Social Tools". This is definitely worth a read as it is a great summary of the open services that we can mashup to form interesting new sites.

    If you have never tried creating a mashup or have never used an API, use this article as a guide to get your feet wet with Open Social Tools. You will marvel how easy it is to create a sophisticated page that draws information from a number of sources. When you are done, share your work with me. I'd love to see what you create.

    Tech Tags:

  • To Err is Human, Thus the Wiki Published 2007-08-01 under

    To Err is Human, Thus the wiki
    I ran across this quote (from CNET's developers' blog) and thought that it captured one of the great reasons to use a wiki.