Tuesday, March 27, 2012

'Tis the season to be grumpy....

I thought for awhile that the articles and op-ed pieces against teachers in this nation were diminishing but apparently I was wrong.  All of a sudden a number of articles and opinion pieces showed up in newspapers, national magazines and the like.  I wondered why all of a sudden and then it dawn on me that legislatures around the country were dealing with budgets.  And in some cities, belt tightening was being enforced, particularly those school districts that are run by city councils.  Where is there a fair amount of money that can be cut?  In Education.  The goal is to cut funds, not provide education for our kids. 

As if on cue, another blog posted an article about the worst ten cities to be a teacher.  I found it interesting and looked to see if I could find some connecting link but for the moment I haven't found one.  These ten cities are all over the country in industrial areas as well as agricultural places.  You can read the article on the web at:  http://www.onlinecolleges.net/2012/03/26/the-10-worst-u-s-cities-to-be-a-teacher/.  Thanks to my friends at OnLine Colleges for the posting.

If that didn't get stuck in my craw, then I went to Amazon.com lately to look for some new books to read.  I thought I might skim a few educational textbooks.  Heaven's was I mistaken.  Textbooks range in price from $14.95 to $268.99 for a chemistry textbook.  Aw, come on now--$268.99?  But that was the price.  I am having problems looking at the prices of textbooks, particularly in the science fields.  If we want more science teachers we will have to figure out a way for those wanna-be-teachers to be able to purchase those books.  The price of most of the textbooks was high and then something caught my eye--I could RENT one of those textbooks for $32.95.  RENT THE TEXTBOOK!  Unbelievable.  

Perhaps as they say to some politicians I need to get out of my office and see what the real word is like.  

So my next spin off in my research was to find out how much school districts pay for classroom textbooks like pre-primers, social studies textbooks, and science textbooks.  I didn't look to question what workbooks cost, those newsprint soft copy books for spelling and mathematics, primarily bound work sheets.  School Districts are reluctant to give out the cost of these books as they are complicated by the fact that some textbooks last seven years, others are outdated in just a few years, i.e., software programming.  However, textbooks are a major part of a school district's budget in some cases right behind wages.  So back to the drawing board or in my case, the iPad.

I wondered how much it might cost to publish a textbook on the iPad (forget for the moment about brand specifics, such as APPLE or DELL).  According to one web site it would cost me $2.74 to publish my own book that was eight by eleven in size and a hundred pages long.  I not sure what they do for that money but it is a bit cheaper then the some of the costs I've seen published.

However, I then review the SMART BOARD which are in many classrooms.  I could write my own texts and project on the White Board.  BLACKBOARD, a software program that is formulated to allow professors and teachers to provide a basis for print material to a class room of students who have computer access. It is one of my favorite programs.  This would certainly cut down on the cost of textbooks for students if they could get the necessary material from the Blackboard.  

However, I went a step further and asked APPLE what they could do in this realm
of high costs.  They are already ahead of me...  Watch the following web site from Apple as to their new textbook idea:  http://www.apple.com/education/ibooks-textbooks/  Be sure to watch the video that is to the right of your screen--a small logo.  

Be aware that this video includes advertising material favorable to APPLE.  But I suspect that MICROSOFT is not far behind if not already pushing a similar product.  It is the idea that I want you to consider.  Put interactive textbooks on pads and let kids learn.  And an interesting point--these interactive textbooks on the pads can be up-dated and up-graded.  What a great idea.  Just like my computer software and apps now that get free up-grades whenever necessary.

You would think I'd be a happy fool given this idea of interactive textbooks for the iPad but there is a catch.  Apple appears to be willing to set the authors up but they will be charging a price.  And in reviewing some publishing houses they will be selling these textbooks for one year only.  You don't get to keep the books.  If this is true I will be very, very unhappy.  We have the technology to help students learn but we going to still make them pay.  

So what is the answer.  I don't have any answers at this point--I'm still looking and pondering.  I have downloaded two apps for my iPad and computer, the Khan Academy and TED.  However, I haven't made much use of them as yet but I shall.  I did skim the Khan Academy and even did several of the learning apps.  They are well done but I was overwhelmed by the mathematics selections--literally hundreds of learning programs.  "Which Knowledge is of Most Worth?"

I also reviewed a number of apps in the Apple App Store.  Lots of games and those that purport to teach something do so with little skill.  Once again I have people who write these programs who are not teachers.  Sad.  And a lot of the apps appear to be games, not a learning lesson.  But this will work itself out as the cream rises to the top.  I think that is where the Khan Academy has the edge--students have used their programs and have learned.  

Some years ago there was a computer program developed by the Learning Company called, "Oregon Trail."  It was (and is) and interactive learning program that has student go from St. Louis to Oregon.  The student has to make decisions as to how many oxen, how much food, who is to go along, how many bullets for hunting, etc.  It was basically well done except in the first edition of this program one had to circle the wagons when indians attacked.  My problem with that was that I had student teachers teaching in schools with a high percentage of native Americans.  Those students doing the program immediately were on the side of the indians.  "Get those white people!"  So I told the programmer of Oregon Trails and his response was, "Well, just don't use it."  I have always thought this was a teaching moment as to the clash of the two cultures.  What an opportunity to teach cultural differences.  By the way, you can now by the fifth edition of Oregon Trail for very little on Amazon.  

I suspect we'll see more of these problems as the technology develops.  

I suspect if I had a point to all of this is that there are too many people who think teachers are costing too much but are overlooking $269.00 textbooks.  I am still concerned that people who are just getting by in this society will have poor schools.  The rich people will send the kids to private schools.  It has been that way for ever, hasn't it.

Thanks to all those teachers who still want to teach, even those in the ten worse cities for teachers.  They are indeed a breed apart.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Potpourri of Thoughts....

"Potpourri" is an interesting word that I always misspell on my first time around wherever I tend to use it.  It generally means a "collection" and most frequently it means a collection of dried flowers used for a nice smell.  Found in many ladies'  drawers.  But it can also mean a collection of songs, as in, "a potpourri of melodies."   In my use today it means a collection of thoughts about the use of iPads in the schools, as in iPads being used by students to learn....even old students like myself.  

I suppose I could have used the word, "Smorgasbord" in place of "Potpourri", both have about the same meaning...collection, and I have trouble spelling both of them.  Hmmm.

Many years ago (Once upon a time?) i took an initial course in "research" which included a very good section on how to write about research.   One of the assignments in the class was to understand how to use citations and footnotes.  I haven't heard the term, footnotes, in years.  I'm beginning to understand why.  We also learned a fair amount of Latin, as in:  opus sit. (as often as necessary) and et al. (and others or and elsewhere) and op cit. (already cited).  There are a lot more latin citations that I have totally forgotten.  Even the style of citations has changed from the bottom of the page to the end of the chapter to the end of the report or book.

And hence to another changing.  But for the moment put this aside.  We'll come back to citations in a bit.

Another thought....   I have been reading the three books of the Hunger Games by Susan Collins.  You know which book it having been all over the news about the new movie of the same name.  I think I wrote on this blog several years ago after reading the first book that I would not read the rest as I dislike violence and this book had been very violent.  Why it was a young adult book I had no idea but I did have an idea of why it was popular.  Teenagers like things that we adults dislike.  And I think many adults who were raised during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War were just plan tired of war.  So when we, as teachers, pursued this book we opted to say it wasn't for kids.  Somehow the kids picked up on this and all have read it.  It is one of the most popular books on the market for young adults.

But given the fact that I write about education of children and young adults and I am as well concerned about what they read, I had to finish the trilogy.  I did finish the books with a black heart and a more ugly disposition.  My wife wanted to know what was wrong with me.  Humph!   But as a researcher I still would like to interview a number of young adults and see what they saw in the books.

In an effort to cleanse my mind, I have been also reading another trilogy of books by E.L. James...."Fifty Shades of Gray."   It has been cleansing all right.  From killing and war (The Hunter Games) to Sex and BDSM in the bedroom (Fifty Shades of Gray).  My inner being is saying "no, no," to the former and "yes, yes, to the latter.  My brain is reeling.  "Good Morning, America" described the "Fifty Shades of Gray" as pornography for the American women.  Huffington Post suggests that the book is a new level for Women's Literature.  They didn't say whether it was up or down.  However, it is one of the hottest properties at the moment for the e-readers.

Permit me if you will to say that I have enjoyed all three books by E. L. James as she is a very talented writer.  I have smiled, laughed, groaned and worried as the characters in her book developed within the story.  Well done, Ms James.  The only biography I could find on her was that she lived in West London and has two children.   I seriously suspect that she is a Seattle native as she is very cognizant with this city and the surrounding area of Bellevue, Kirkland and the rest of the Pacific Northwest ( i.e. (more of that Latin) Portland).

While I haven't finished the third book in this series, I am closing in on the final excitement but before I get to it something happened to make me put this book down and write this blog.  As you know this blog about "Teachers and Teaching" is a way for me to organize my thoughts, an autobiography of my inner brain on teaching.  

This book is considered by most a women's literature genre.  Now stick with me...this is going to be some wild leaps of courage in my thinking.  Let's go back to Jane Austen, one of my favorite authors who wrote of the landed gentry in the early 1800s.  Her novels were widely popular and furthered women in that society.  [an aside:  for further reading, see books about Elizabeth Blackwell, first woman doctor in the United States, near the end of the 1800s and early 1900s.]

From Jane, lets make a magnum leap to a present day author, Lisa Kleypas, who writes historical romance novels in England at about the late 1800s, again on the status of women in society.  She's done her research.  Women still do not have equal rights even those who are of the privilege class (watch Downton Abby on PBS as an example).  

Now lets jump to the early fifties.  The World War (II) has been won and the men have returned to their jobs pushing out the women who have built the tools of war for the past four years.  Interesting time.  Rona Jaffe wrote, in 1959,  "The Best of Everything" which is considered by some to be the beginning of Women's Literature (note I didn't include the word, romance).  The movie, Mona Lisa's Smile, depicts that era.

Before we make the final leap, a research book that I have mentioned on this blog was released in 1986 called "Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind", by Mary Field Belenky, et al.  I think this is a landmark book on at least half of our society.  This book and the "Dyslexia Advantage" should have an impact on our educational system.  

So.... the final leap of my dreaming (thinking?).  As I mentioned I'm reading E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Gray" in which the trilogy agonizes the beginnings of a relationship and marriage.  But for the moment forget that this book is very popular and remember my comments on footnoting earlier in this blog.  

On the last page (because I'm reading this on my iPad I can't give you a page number) before chapter nine, there is a FOOTNOTE!  Yes!  In a romance novel!  A honest to god footnote.  I was delighted.  But here is an important point.  The footnote is about a quote in the story by William Shakespeare's King Lear. Ms. James quotes the original source as digitally reprinted by Project Gutenburg.  This project is replicating everything that does not still have a copyright note.  So James has this footnote about King Lear and because I am reading it on my iPad, I can touch the footnote and it takes me to the work by Shakespeare as he intended it.  I don't have to go to the library and get works by Shakespeare and I don't even have to google it.  It pops right up for me after I touch it.  I can even hold my finger on Shakespeare's name and get a full biographical report on him should I for some reason not know who he was.  Amazing.

Finally, my point to all this drivel I believe that the use of iPads (forget brands for the moment) will revolutionize education as we know it.  It is already teaching me new things, primarily words, and I'm an old dog.  What a total delight to go from a novel to the dictionary to a web site and back to my novel or to other materials in a matter of a "finger pointing."  New educational word, "finger point."  

"All right, boys and girls, put your finger on the word, "Blood" on your pads and find out how "blood works."  "What does it do?"  "When you get an idea, tweet me."

Oh my how the world is changing. Science education.

How about this one for the high school?  "Using your pads found out who was the first Time Man of the Year that was not a Man?"  History come alive.  No, I'm not going to tell you the answer.  Find you pad (Kindle Fire, Nook or iPad) and find the answer.  It has to do with a woman.  That's your clue. 

To be truthful with you I ought to be able to include links (the new footnote) to all that I'm reading and let you get the answer for yourself.  You get the ownership of the learning.  I should only be a guide...a coach...a reference in finger pointing.  Links in this blog ought be ones that you can touch and get to other places in the new iCloud of learning.  But i don't know how to do it yet.  But if you are patient, I will continue to try to get this blog up to standards of the young.  

And thanks to John Dewey who gave me the framework of thinking to hang my ideas on for this blog.  Have you thanked a teacher today?  Do so, they will appreciate it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My New iPhone and iPad

An apology to this group.  All the time I've written about smart phones and iPads recently I have been observing friends of mine using the devices.  I was happy with my Kindle and I have to admit I have read a lot more in the past two and a half years then I might have just using books in print.  But my experience with a smart phone connected to either a Wi-Fi or internet signal was minimum.  And I did not have an iPad or any make or model.  So how could I make recommendations about a product in the schools that I hadn't used?  I couldn't.

So I went out and bought my wife and I two middle grade iPhones.  I thought about going to the top of the line for them but my thoughts recently have been on the concept of "cloud" computing.  I really don't know much about it except somewhere they are storing all that information in what might be called a "cloud".  So the middle iPhone was selected.  

But then I also went and bought the top iPad available, Wi-Fi and Verizon wireless.  Over the years my home system has been Apple and I wasn't going to change at this juncture.  I can and have used Microsoft computers--actually taught on them early on.  I like computers, forget about the brands.  There are some amazing machines on the market today.  What is predicted for the near future is awe inspiring. So I don't want to get into a debate as to which computer, iPhone, or pad is best.  I suspect someone is going to see the potential market in the school systems and design and produce a pad that will be beneficial to the kids....   I'm only sorry that I will not be in the classroom when that happens.  John Dewey and I will be cheering them on.

So, apology accepted?  

But now I am going to make wild statements that have only a few weeks of experience to back them up.  THE IPAD WILL REVOLUTIONIZE THE WAY WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN.  Throw out the curriculum that we have now, it is a new ball game.  The No Child Left Behind tests are totally without value now.  We need to start all over in designing education.  I suspect it must be much like when the automobile was first invented/manufactured.  Those that owned stables must have looked down on this device and said it could only run on roads and we have few roads for it to run on.  It was a changing time in our society.  Well, my friends, it is a changing time in our educational system.

The problem is that changing education is akin to moving a cemetery (many have made this statement so I acknowledge them all).  It takes a long, long time.  I have been a school board member and even among my board peers there was a certain amount of "in my day we didn't have these things in school" attitude.  Our school system moves slowly.

Believe it or not, the slowest part of change in our education system is the colleges and universities.  Cambridge and Harvard, in many cases are still teaching the way they did it in the early 1600s.  Higher education takes pride in resisting change but they will have to face the future at some time.

Recently in the New York Times, there was an article by Lawrence H. Summers entitled, "What You (Really) Need to Know."  (New York Times, January 20, 2012)
Mr. Summers was president of Harvard before becoming Secretary of the Treasurery.  He is presently a current contender to become president of the World Bank.  While I disagree with Mr. Summers on his analysis of women's intelligence I do believe he has said important things about the future of education.  Here are six assumptions (Summers calls them guesses and hopes) that he says will effect education.

1.  "Education will be more about how to process and use information and less about imparting it"  Sitting in my easy chair holding my iPad, I have more information that I can access then is in the library at my local university.  I can find out data instantaneously.   I now talk to my iPhone and to Siri and ask, "what is the temperature in Bellingham?  And this voice comes back and tells me the precise degree.  I can google (now a verb) and ask how many people were killed in world war II and find the answer in nano-seconds.  The answers are there before I finish the query.  But how to process this information will be the objective of tomorrow's education.  

2.  "An inevitable consequence of the knowledge explosion is that tasks will be carried out with far more collaboration."   YES!  I've been saying for years that learning ought to be done in groups.  My euphony was when I was teaching fourth grade and put the kids into seating groups of four or five students and LEARNING INCREASED even though I required only one paper from each group.  Learning is a process, not a destination and we are a social animal.  I see future learning being done on iPhones with Facebook and tweets being the carrier of that knowledge necessary for the learning objective.

3.  "New technologies will profoundly alter the way knowledge is conveyed."  My new ipad has already altered the way I read.  In the technical writing of my present favorite book, "The Dyslexic Advantage" I am constantly holding my finger on a word until the definition is available at the bottom of the screen.  It is soooooo easy.  I have learned many new words.  Yes, I could do that with the mouse on my computer but given the fact that I am comfortable in my easy chair reading it is doubtful that I would get up and go to my computer.  If I want to see a diagram or a picture of some device more closely I just double tap the picture and it becomes bigger.  I can see kids doing this all the time in the near future.  They want to see detail.  

4.  "Not everyone learns most effectively in the same way."  And yet the major type of teaching at Cambridge and Harvard is the lecture method.  In many cases students are asked to use the knowledge that they have just acquired.  This bothers me.  Testing is not the same as "using" the knowledge.  Still percolating in my memory bank is that story in "The Dyslexic Advantage" of the student who obtained his degree from Stanford University by listening to all his books--audio books if you will, and listening at a faster rate then normal speech so that he saved time and still learned.  We have known that students learn differently but we have not changed our teaching methods to any great degree.  It will have to change in the future or the students will by-pass us and learn it somewhere else.

5.  "The world is much more open, and events abroad affect the lives of Americans more than ever before."  I wonder if we have looked inwards toward ourselves in our curriculum and have become sated.  While I have championed  the learning of a foreign language in the grade school, Summers thinks that the use of digital translators and the fact that English is becoming world wide makes that point mote.  Perhaps.  But he does say we need to know more about the world and that our education should mandate our students going to other countries to learn.  That i agree.

6.  "Courses of study will place much more emphasis on the analysis of data."  Interestingly enough in the book, The Dyslexic Advantage one of the advantages is that of dyslexic students being able to see things in data that others could not assertain.  Straight facts are not important......if you don't know how to interpret them.  Just knowing facts is not intelligence.  Making use of those facts is.

I hope this has made you think.  Better yet, go back to the New York Times and read Summers' article.  Well said and well written.  I might not have paid as much attention to it had I not be reading it on my iPad.  

Thanks to all those teachers who question what we are teaching and saying to themselves, how can I make this better for my students.  Nice job, teacher.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

New Technologies in Education--Some Thoughts

[Before I start commenting on new technologies, I need to say a word about how sorry I am about the three teenagers killed in their high school and for the young girl shot in the stomach in her second grade. [just added: and the girl who died from a beating on a school bus and another child who died from a stabbing in the school]  While there are no reasons for a gun to be brought to a school we teachers need to be ever watchful on our young charges as to their personality needs.  We try and sometimes they get past us and the damage is done.  It is sad. And I'm sad that I have no wisdom to offer in these cases--just tears.]

I have been a devote of technology in the school system since my high school days.  I was the young audio-visual kid that brought the film projector to class, set it up and in most cases ran the projector for the teacher.  I can also remember setting up the first tape to tape voice recorder in a classroom--it was a marvel.

I've never looked back (except for this moment) in the use of technology in the classroom.  It can be a valuable tool if used correctly......if used correctly.  Ah, that is the rub.  

I've watch a elementary teacher show film after film on Friday afternoon because she was tired and the "kids learned from film, didn't they?"  At the college level I had a major argument with a colleague that showed a film of an education professor from a California college lecture for over an hour.  A talking head the whole time.  Worst film I've even seen.  I got my colleague to not use it after that.  How do you evaluate educational films?  It's a moving target.  

And I watched a major Library Science professor, well noted around the country for his analysis of reference books hold up his beloved books to a class of one hundred students of which none, I do mean NONE could see a thing about what he was talking about. He felt, he told me, that by bringing the actual books to class he was doing a better job of teaching.   Reference books have small print.  Sitting at a table with one of those books, you still need to lean forward to read the material.  How this professor thought that students in the front row could see much less then students many, many rows back could see I have no idea.  

I was a graduate student at the time and telling a full professor that he was doing it all wrong was not something one should do.  But I did.  I give him credit.  He looked at me, thought for a moment and then said, "How should I present this material?  How can I make it better?"  I then had him mark everything he wanted to show and then with the help of some of my colleagues we photographed hundreds of examples in those reference books into 35mm slides.  With a light table he and I organized his slides and put them into those familiar Kodak treys.  He was actually giddy with delight and couldn't wait to make his first presentation.  He then wrecked all our work by saying, "Next slide please."   I finally got him to use a hand device on a long cord to actuate the slide projector.  He really got into himself making these presentations on reference materials.  I'm sort of glad that computers and PowerPoint had not yet been invented--he would have been a terror.

Another heartburn activity that I use to endure was sitting in a college classroom and having that professor put down transparency after transparency that had been copied from a book and then made into a transparency.   Perhaps the first row of students could read it but anyone further back was unable to see the material.  But even if all could "see" the material, the large amount of print material overwhelmed you.  Have you ever heard of the "pall" effect?  It comes from the word, "appalled"  when students are actually appalled at how much material there is to learn and just shut down.  They quit.

Another major mistake with the use of overhead projectors and transparencies were the number of professors who might put a "good" designed transparency on the overhead, show it, use it and then leave it on while going on to other material.  When I've asked some of these professors why they left it on, some appeared befuddled, others would tell me it was better for the light bulb.  My response was always, "who are you trying to help?  The Student or the Light Bulb?"  My sarcasm generally went over their head.

I offer these examples of poor use of technology to make a point.  We are now in the age of exploding tecnological use in our world--not just the classroom but in homes, cars, work, recreation--everywheres.  I've already heard of a school that is prohibiting iPads and laptop computers in the classroom.  Oh, and no cell phones.  Apparently the teachers collect the phones.  I hope this is just a holding point until teachers can figure out ways of dealing with this new technology.  And school districts need to start looking at the new learning material and approving the good stuff (Khan Academy?).  How should we use the Smart Board in the classroom?  I hope not like a blackboard.  It will take time for all of this confusion to settle and certain types of teaching behavior using technology correctly will emerge.  I have a lot more thoughts about technology in the classroom but I won't appall you at this time.

And thanks to all those teachers who made an effort to use technology in their classroom in a way that added the student in learning.  Hey, and thanks  to all those other teachers that told the students to use the technology in their presentations in class.  Nice going.