Archive for the ‘Standardized test’ Category

Each Sunday afternoon there are five Topic questions posted on a poll to determine which will be selected as that week’s #Edchat Topic. There are two #Edchat discussions each Tuesday on Twitter, so the top two topics selected by the poll become the topics of the chats. The number two choice goes at noon, Eastern Time, and the number one selection goes at 7 PM, Eastern Time. The larger audience is the 7 PM Chat. If you did not know it before, I am the person responsible for making up the #Edchat Topic questions that are voted on each week. I admit that I do have favorites each week, but, more often than not, they are not the favorites of the voting public. This week it was a little different. I actually had two favorites, and fortunately for me, they were the chosen topics for the chats. I found both yesterday’s #Edchat discussions thought-provoking, and very much in need of public discussion. The topics were very much connected as well.

#Edchat is very much an open, public discussion by educators from around the world. Ideas on each topic are presented from various points of view as we discuss the varied topics in education each week. As in any public discussion, a person may pick and choose those ideas that suit his/her needs and in this case, educational philosophy. Sometimes it is a new idea, and other times it is validation of what is already being done. Since it is a discussion using Twitter as the platform, most of the participants are educators who are somewhat familiar with technology and social media. As a generalization they tend to be a collaborative group, more progressive in their approach to education, and open to the use of technology as a tool for learning.

The other day I engaged an educator who described himself as a 20th century traditionalist educator (my words). He said that he participated in #Edchat so that he could know his “Enemy”. When I called him on this, he informed me that “Enemy” was in quotes in his tweet. I guess that was to make it humorous, but there is much truth in humor. The point here is that most of the participants are striving to move from the methods and pedagogy of 20th century education to a place that we have not yet found. It is also a great help when authors and experts on these various topics join in on the Chats giving clarity and direction in their areas of expertise. Many of these thought leaders are connected educators.

Usually the #Edchat question is a singular interrogative. The Topics this week had more than one part in the hope of generating more discussion. The noon Chat Topic: What is the BIG Shift in education that everyone is looking for? Is there one big idea that can positively affect education? If not why? Of course there is no single idea because education is too complex for an easy fix. A point lost to most politicians and business people. The question, I thought, would prompt the chatters to present and promote their best and biggest idea.

From the folks I engaged in conversation on this topic the overwhelming objective was support of student-centric as opposed to teacher-centric lessons. The shift being from Direct instruction, and lecture to problem-based, or project-based learning. The teacher would no longer be the content-delivery expert filling the empty vessels of students, but rather a mentor, guiding their learning direction rather than mandating it.

The 7 PM Question: Children are anxious learners in the early grades of education. What are the factors that turn kids off to learning, as they get older? This #Edchat started slowly. I hate when that happens. My biggest fear in doing these chats is that there may come a time when nobody responds to the question. Going into moderator mode, I broke the topic down, and peppered the chatters with a series of smaller questions to loosen them up. That worked which immediately calmed me down. It was like the priming of an old well. It took a minute to get it going, but it came on strong.

Words that popped up with those who I engaged were curiosity, authenticity, and ownership. What I took from it was that students at a young age are curious about learning because it is all new and exciting. It is also relevant ant authentic since what kids are learning enables them to participate in more stuff as well as society. However, some reach a point where they think they have as much as they need and the curiosity is gone. The direction however continues providing to them things that they no longer want to engage in. They do not own their learning and cannot direct its direction to things they would like to learn. If this occurs in a student, it comes at different times for each student. Some teachers saw it on the elementary level others in Middle school where hormones play an even bigger role. The point here is that it happens to many students.

Engagement in learning is the goal of education and the ability for students to own that learning and for it to be authentic, and relevant was a theme for this #Edchat. Again it came down to the teacher being the guide or mentor and not a content delivery person directing content to kids who don’t see it as relevant or authentic. They prefer to create content instead of memorizing it. They prefer to use content instead of regurgitating it on a test.

Both of these #Edchats led me to the same place. For kids to be engaged in learning it will be more effective if they own it and direct it. Teachers can always guide the direction and, as content experts, they have the capacity to do so. Teaching kids how to learn, and how to continue to learn, is more important than whatever content the curriculum tells us the students should know for a test. If we can use their interest to promote our content, fine. If our content doesn’t interest students at all, then what do we do?

#Edchat is not the best method to introduce people to online chats for the first time without preparation. It requires some knowledge and a little strategy. If you are interested, this may help: #Edchat Revisited.  If you are interested in viewing the past #Edchat discussions, we have archived the last several years here: #Edchat Archives.  If you do not have time to read, you can download a podcast analysis of several of the #Edchats from Bam Radio Network, and The #Edchat Radio Show.  #Edchat is one of many education chats. It was started 4 years ago be Shelly Terrell,@shellterrell, Steve Anderson, @web20classroom, and me,@tomwhitby. It was not the first chat, but it is the most enduring, and it has spawned many, many others.

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I read a post recently talking about education leaders coming from teachers. That, in my experience, is a very difficult transition for really dedicated classroom teachers to make. They are too often consumed with doing what is needed to be a great classroom teacher. Even when professional education organizations recruit leaders for their own organizations on the state, or national levels, teachers from their ranks often cannot get enough release time from their individual schools to serve in the high-time-demanding positions required to move up the ladder of leadership in those organizations. Often times, administrators, or education consultants move into these organizational leadership positions.

I am not saying that Administrators are poor leaders, or bad people. I am pointing out that they have a unique perspective and often one not close to that of a classroom teacher. YES, there are exceptions, and every administrator reading this post probably sees himself, or herself as such an exception. The point here however is that, in many instances, the further away from a classroom that an Education leader gets, the less the leadership becomes about education and the more it is affected by other influences.

It is understandable how this change in perspective happens. Moving from the decisions about learning to the decisions about building management, staff management, budget management, public relations, labor relations, teacher observations, schedule maintenance, community relations, Board meetings, and political considerations as a focus to lead a school or district is a shift from learning considerations being the focus. Such is the stuff of administration, and understandably there is little time left for much else. It is no wonder that the average career lifespan in a district of an administrator is less than three years. Of course administrators leaving buildings and districts after such short periods of time complicates things even more in a negative way for a variety of reasons, but that requires another post.

Next, we need to consider the influence of technology on our leaders. Data is King. Administrative decisions can now be more easily made and numbers can be tallied in the blink of an eye. We can call it researched-based decision-making, because we have the ability to easily quantify things. We have the all-powerful numbers. The question facing our leaders would be what things to quantify. Do we have the right numbers answering the right questions? What should we be assessing and how do we do it? Does assessment always require testing?

Who gets to make up the questions becomes key. Our politicians are concerned with elections and they will be driven by whatever the popular sentiment is, whether or not it is based in fact, or if it has an impact on learning. Our business leaders will be driven by whatever is profit bearing, whether or not has any bearing on learning. Then we have the media leaders who are driven by both the leaders of politics, as well as the leaders of business, and of course popular sentiment will drive the entire bus with all on board.

There are many things that are wrong with our education system, which cries out for leadership and change. Of course the greatest negative influences on education, which are often overlooked, come from the outside. Issues like poverty, security, safety, nutrition, health, and family support are some of these issues. That is all further complicated by political interference, as well as a mythology built around learning, motivation, and real assessment of learning. How are these measured? How will any core curriculum or standardization change these factors of influence? Non-educators claiming enough knowledge about education constantly legislate, and mandate many things that prove to educators to be counter productive to learning. Why is this met with such little resistance from educators? A better question might be why have educators been quiet about their objections?

Why were educators removed from the national discussion on education? How did education leaders allow this to happen? Who stood up for education?

Ask educators today where they stand on standardized testing and compare that answer to the national agenda. I believe they will be diametrically opposing positions. Who are the education leaders that allowed this to get so far from where we should be going? I wish I could point to the leaders standing up for education. I wish we could point to specific people directing the reform movement beyond just Diane Ravitch, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and Michael Bloomberg. Those are the voices that have a platform, but how many have an education portfolio of experience?

I know the standout leaders of connected educators who speak out on many issues. I know Keynote speakers and education authors at National and statewide Education Conferences who regularly express many of the same the same concerns. They all seem to be cheerleaders for the cause of education, but have not found a way to lead educators. Is it the lack of leaders or the lack of access to a medium to get the message out?

“Why is this post filled with so many unanswered questions?” is a question that a leader should answer. Who steps up for education? Where are our leaders? What medium do we use for the educator’s voice? Politicians, business people and media people always have access to media and the public audience. Educators after being demoralized in too many cases are limited and seem to be far less inclined to speak out about needed reforms in education.  But then again, even if politicians, business people and media folks were to manage their own industries and get out of education, who will step up to fill the void? Who are the real educators who will lead the real reform for education?

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One of the many things that I love about my job is my freedom to attend national education conferences for the purpose of meeting with educators and commenting on trends and changes in the education system many of which are introduced, and explored at these conferences. I wish I could say that I could objectively report on the influences these conferences have on education, but my personal bias as a long, long time public educator prevents that from happening. I will always view these through the eyes of a classroom, public school educator. If after that introduction, you are still with me, here is my reflection on iNACOL Virtual School Symposium. This conference is described as The Premiere K-12 Online and Blended Learning Conference.

I have always been a fan of distance learning, beginning back in the day when we had to hook up modems to the computers for connectivity. I also remember the resistance by administrators when teachers tried to get professional development credit for taking online courses. It was often viewed as an attempt to game the system. When Administrative degrees began popping up as a result of online colleges, they were at first met with great skepticism at hiring interviews. Of course with the development of the Internet, and the wide acceptance by institutions of higher learning for online courses, there is becoming more of an acceptance in our system of education for virtual delivery of education.

The iNACOL Virtual School Symposium attracted some of the best of the best in this area to share with colleagues the positive aspects of this method of teaching and learning. This was done with over 200 sessions in a four day period of time. It was well-planned, and seemingly well-attended. Of course, I was struck by the ironic fact that this tech-oriented conference could not register attendees for a lengthy period of time because of network problems. Many of the educators that I encountered seemed to be administrators, or charter school educators. Public school educators may have been avoiding me. It does stand to reason that charter schools are taking a larger step in the blended learning model than public schools, so it is reasonable that they would attend in larger numbers. The lack of public school acceptance seemed also to be a theme throughout many of the policy sessions that I was able to monitor.

My criticism of this conference is the same criticism that many educators have of most professional, education conferences. There were not enough real classroom educators doing the sessions. This conference was vendor-driven. It was also very policy-wonk heavy. Many of the publicized business people who have injected themselves, as education reformers, into the national conversation on education were in attendance. I actually attended one of those sessions with one of those reformers. This particular reformer posed a plan in his session for more acceptance of online learning in the overall education system. Both he and another reformer presented their multi-point plan asking for comments and reactions. I could not wait to get to that part of the discussion.

These gentlmen described the plan in detail. This was how they were going to gain universal acceptance of blended learning throughout the country. These guys mentioned policy, vendors, providers, legislators, learners, students, and infrastructure. All of this was accounted for in their detailed, bullet-pointed, power-point-presented plan. There was, in my admittedly biased view, only one thing missing from this comprehensive laundry list of recommendations. I was now Arnold Horshack rocking, and rolling in my seat awaiting my opportunity to add to the panel discussion. I knew that I had to give my considered opinion. I knew what was truly missing from the list. The reformer only came close to that missing element once as he made a somewhat snide remark about tenure. It was like a remark one would make out of the side of one’s mouth.

The missing element was EDUCATORS! We need to prioritize educating the educators about blended learning. Effective blended learning has not been around as long as most teachers have been around. It is reasonable to assume that being “bitten by the digital learning bug” will not be enough to transform a system. Teachers are taught to be classroom teachers. Online teaching uses much of the same pedagogy, but very different methodology. Paper worksheets are bad in a classroom, but digital worksheets are worse, thanks to cut and paste.

I never got to share that idea with the reformer. He opened the discussion to the audience, but he called out those who he wanted to answer by their first names. Neither the press pass on my badge, nor did my Arnold Horshack-like raising of my arm sway him from his mission. The commenters were all to be policy-makers, vendors, and business people who he chose. They would never have had that educator point of view that could have identified that educators were missing from the plan.  I had become, not unlike many students who are not recognized in the classroom by their teacher. I was dejected, and I shut down. I did not go up to him and offer my opinion. He did not receive the key to success for his plan. I did not receive the chachkas his assistants handed out to people who engaged him in conversation. I went to the next session with Hall Davidson and had a great time engaging with new WEB2.0 learning tools.

I hope to attend this iNACOL Virtual School Symposium again, but I would hope that it evolves over the year to address the needs of the education system that needs to change. Less emphasis should be given to Vendors, CEO’s and For-Profit charter schools. Yes, they are part of the education system today, but their interests cannot come at the expense of the greater good of Public education for a majority of our citizens. If iNACOL is serious about having a greater impact in getting blended learning throughout the system, it needs to provide continuing education, support, and guidance to educators. This organization has the great potential and ability to combine policy and practice to make a difference. Once the educators are educated, can the students be far behind? I fear my bias has once again clouded my objectivity. I promise to keep working on that.

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When it comes to education reform, there are in general two major camps, but there are also several variations of each. The first camp would like to blow up the system and start all over. The other camp wants to continue the status quo while working to change it in directions governed by whatever dominant force of change has the ear of the public at the time. I find my own inclinations falling somewhere between the two camps. I want to blow some stuff up while improving upon some existing stuff. Like most educators, or any people with a basic understanding of authentic assessment, I do want to blow up any notion or hint of compliance with high stakes, standardized testing. The area of improvement that I think will get us the biggest bang for the all-important, tax buck is professional development.

It has long been my position that to be better educators, we need to be better learners. Since I have worked in higher education now for a while, many teachers have said to me how they love having student teachers in their building, because they can learn so much from the “young people” about all the new stuff in education. Some variation of that phrase has been repeated by more than one educator every year since I have been working with student teachers. To me that is a big RED FLAG. It causes me to ask, “Why does a veteran teacher need to have a student bring them up to date on the latest methodology, pedagogy and technology in the field of education?” If our students are to get a relevant education, should we not have relevant educators? Why on earth would experienced educators need students to provide that which every school district in the country should be striving to provide teachers within their system?

We need to examine the way we approach professional development in education. Too often it is left up to the educators to seek out their own PD. That is good for some, but not all educators have an understanding of what they do not know. If you don’t know about something, how would you know to seek PD in that area? This is especially true of learning with technology. I have a master’s degree in educational technology. The fact is that not any of the applications or computers that I learned on, as well as the methodology in the use of those components, exists today. Very little of that degree would be relevant, if I did not continue to learn, adapt and progress with what I know. The same holds true with any degree in any profession. From the day one gets a degree, things in that area of expertise begin to change. With the influence of a technology-driven culture, things move at a much faster pace than years past causing a more rapid rate of change. Therefore, the pace at which things change has increased exponentially, while the way we provide PD to deal with these changes is relatively unchanged from years past in many, if not most schools.

PD is offered by many schools in an annual or semiannual teacher workshop day. The other method is to allow teachers to seek out their own PD on their own time, often at their own expense. Technology training for teachers is often addressed in schools. The method of choice, however, by many schools is what my friend Brian Wasson, an IT guy, refers to as the “Home Depot Method.” The district goes out and buys all the cool tools from the vendors and then tries to teach, or force feed them to the teachers. That is a sure formula for failure.

We need to change PD. It must be part of an educator’s work week, and that includes administrators. We need educators to connect with other educators to collaborate and maintain relevance. Educators need to explore their needs and address them with solutions of their choosing after exploring the options. Faculty meetings can address procedures in shared documents with educators, while using the time in meetings to discuss pedagogy, methodology, best practices and new ideas. Educators need to be supported in trying new endeavors. When we address PD as evolving and continuous, and not as a teacher workshop day, we will begin to bring relevance back to education. Schools that do this now will be the first to tell us this. Of course, we need to connect with them for that to happen. Connecting educators is a first step.

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Dell Computer has sponsored four education Think Tanks over the last year, or so, and I have been fortunate to participate in three of them. At each get-together educators, education related organizers, education industry executives, and most recently students, were brought together in an open discussion on the weighty topics of education and education reform. All of the discussions were video-taped, and live-streamed, and even animated on a mural to a viewing audience. The final production was archived to a special website maintained by Dell. During these discussions the participants were even tweeting out discussion ideas in real-time, which reflected out to the growing community of connected educators on Twitter. Transparency abounds at these Dell Computer think tanks.

Each of the groups is given four to six general topics of concern in education to discuss for about forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the members are all invited guests, they are usually intelligent, passionate, and well-versed in aspects of education specific to their profession.

What I love most about this latest group, and others similar to it, is that if you put a number of intelligent and reasonable people together in a room to come up with a goal for the common good, the results are usually positive and helpful. This is a real teachable-moment lesson for all of our politicians in Congress today.

Dell has provided a great platform for getting to the heart and identifying some of the pressing problems of education through the eyes of these educators, but it doesn’t provide a means of enacting solutions to those problems. If it were a question of educational problems being identified and solved by educators within the education system, there would be far less a problem. But, like all complex problems, there is more to it than that. Progress is being stymied by the 6 “P’s”. By this I am not referring to the military expression “Proper Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance”. I am talking about Poverty, Profit, Politics, Parents, Professional development, and Priorities preventing progress in Public Education.

Profit is a big deterrent for change in the system. Most educators agree that high stakes, standardized testing is one of the leading problems with the system today. The idea of changing that anytime soon is remote however. The leading education publishing companies are making a BILLION dollars a year alone on creating and maintaining standardized tests. The profits are even higher in the area of textbooks, so progress in that area, even with the advent of the Internet and endless sources for free information, will show little change soon. Of course these companies all have lobbyists working on the next “P” Politicians.

Politicians are very much influenced by money. Some may even distort the facts to support the interests of their financial backers. Since education itself is a multi-billion dollar industry, that until recently was not, for the most part, in the private sector, it has become the goal of some politicians to put more schools into the private sector. This has made public education a political football. Education for Profit is the new frontier. Along with that comes an initiative to publicly praise teachers, while privately and politically demonizing them. For too many individuals the words Education Reform are code words for Labor, or Tax reform, or both.

Business people and politicians are quick to solicit the help of Parents. Parents, who are familiar with the education system of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the very system under which most of us were educated, are easily duped into trusting the lies of standardized testing. The belief that test results are an indication of learning, and that if the scores are low, it is the fault of the teachers, is a concept delivered by politicians and profit conscious business people. This is a concept that is easily believed by those who are less educated about education. We need to educate parents that although it is true that the teacher can be the biggest influence in a child’s life, the teacher is not the only influence. This less emphasized fact, that the teacher is not the sole influence in a child’s life, brings us to another “P”, Poverty.

If we factored out all of the schools in our education systems which are affected by poverty, we would have a great education system. Poverty however, represents people. Children in poverty have many things acting upon them and probably the least influential is the school system. A child who is hungry cannot learn. A child who is sleep-deprived cannot learn. A child who is fearful cannot learn. A child who is not healthy cannot learn. A child who is not in class cannot learn. What does a standardized test mean to these children? How can we hold the child responsible for those test results? How can we hold the teacher responsible for that child’s test results?

And finally, we arrive at the last “P”, Professional development. To be better educators we need to be better learners. We live in a technology-driven culture that moves faster than any we have ever known. We need to educate our educators on how to keep up to be relevant. Professional Development must be part of the work week. Skills have changed in the 21st Century, but many who are responsible for teaching those skills have not changed themselves. They need education and not condemnation.

My final “P” is for Priority. If education was more than a lip-service commitment from the American people, we would not be having these discussions. We tied education to taxes and that will never bring us together on needed solutions. That is the very reason National Defense has less of a problem. If we are determined to fix education, than we will need to fund it differently. Public education is our National Defense. It is too important to privatize for political gain or profiteering. Educators need to educate Parents, Politicians and Business People about education and not the other way around. Educators must also educate themselves on what education is, as we move forward, because it is, and from now on will always be a moving target.

As always this is just my humble opinion.

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As I was driving recently, I heard a commercial on the radio that really grabbed my attention. It was from a real estate organization that was talking about the advantages of owning a home. What grabbed my attention was a statement claiming that children of homeowners score better on standardized tests. I couldn’t believe it. Somebody was using the potential of a child’s success on a standardized test to get people to consider buying houses. Of course, I immediately thought that children of families that didn’t own their home must not be doing as well on these same tests.

At this point during my drive, I tuned out the radio and started thinking about implications of this statement, if in fact it was true. We have been told that the single most influential factor in a child’s education is the teacher. Using that as a sledgehammer statement, many politicians have pushed for connecting teacher assessment to student performance on standardized tests. Of course what now comes immediately to mind is: Are there teachers who have a larger portion of children from families of renters as opposed to homeowners?

What about all the other factors? There are teachers who have students with absences totaling half of a year. Does seat time have an effect on a child’s performance on a standardized test? What about the children from families that are unemployed for any length of time? That must have a negative effect on standardized test performance. What about children of families dependent on food stamps? We know children who are hungry do not perform well at school. Need I even mention children with special needs. If their needs are not addressed in a standardized test, won’t that negatively affect performance? Abused children are another group that may not perform optimally on a standardized test.

Now, if we are to talk about fairness in assessments, when we assess a teacher based on a students’ overall performance on a standardized test we need to ask a question: Do all teachers have these poor performing, albeit for good reason, students in equal portions? Are there teachers with greater numbers of these students in their classes? Are there teachers who have classes without these groups of students represented in the class? When it comes to comparisons we must remember, apples to apples, oranges to oranges and classes to classes.

Yes, the single most influential factor in a child’s education is the teacher. What is left off that statement is that the teacher is not the sole factor in a student’s education. There are hundreds of factors that affect a child’s education that have nothing to do with the teacher. If we are to expect standardized testing to accurately assess students as well as their teachers, we need to first standardize our students.

We need all students to come from safe and healthy homes owned by loving parents. We need all students to be free from physical and emotional challenges. We need all students to be free of racial and cultural prejudices. We need all students to be mentally and physically healthy and sound. Once we have put these standards in place for all students, then standardized tests may begin to approach something that makes sense in assessing teachers for the purpose of standardized education. Be careful of what you wish for!

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My last post, Hypocrisy in the Profession of Education, seems to have gotten quite a few people talking about educators needing to learn more. Of course there were some who disagreed, which is an inevitable consequence of blogging. One of the comments that caused me to think even more about this educator/learner topic was a comment that I had received concerning the methods I suggested might need a revisit of learning. Authentic learning and project-based learning were two that were specifically mentioned by a commenter. The comment was to the effect that these were methods of teaching that have been with us for years, so why would educators need to learn them? That set me to examining why, or even if, we need to revisit any of the things we should be teaching. What is different about: communication, collaboration, collection of information, critical thinking, and creation from 20, 50 or 100 years ago? Obviously, the function, and purpose of those skills remains the same, so what is different? Why are we being told our students need better preparation in these skills? If we have always taught these skills before with success, what makes it different now?

We always taught kids how to write and encouraged them to get published. This was the goal of any good writer, the success of publication. The idea of submitting transcripts to publishers in great numbers as a buffer against the inevitable rejection slips was also advised. For many English teachers their greatest pride came from having a published student. What’s the difference today? The computer is the publisher. There are no rejection slips other than an audience response. Kids understand this, but many educators are playing catch up if they get it at all. I recently listened to two college professors describe their writing program and not once did they mention the words “Blog”, or “Post”. Writing for a post for an audience is different than writing a composition for your teacher to read. This is an area that all educators need to discuss and learn.

We always taught critical thinking, and how to vet sources. We taught which newspapers and magazines were reliable, trustworthy sources. Today newspapers and magazines are disappearing. They are being replaced by 24/7, cable news cycles, websites, blog posts, and social media. There is much more of a need for critical thinking skills than ever before. There are fewer reliable sources to count on. The super-pacs have proven that sound bites and images are more persuasive than facts. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

Communication has always been taught. We have always had kids stand before the class and deliver reports and presentations. Science fairs in every county in America have kids communicating their data on poster boards. That happens with such frequency that Poster Board manufacturing became an industry in this country. How many job seekers will put “great poster board skills” on a resume’? Yes, I know there are other important things kids learn from this beyond the poster board, but why not take them beyond the poster board? Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

Creation is the highest point on Bloom’s Pyramid. Some educators think that it is the peak of the pyramid because it is so hard to get to without mastering all the other skills. Some people may not think everyone is capable of getting to that peak of higher order thinking skills. We might find that the reason many students don’t reach a point of creating is that we have always limited the means they had to do so. We were only equipped to receive prescribed reports, oral projects, and an occasional video project. That has all been blown up by the evolution of technology and social media. Justin Bieber was barely in his teens when he launched and promoted his creations into a multi-million dollar industry. He did not use a report, oral report, or a video tape to do this. When it comes to creation, we as educators shouldn’t limit our students. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

Technology has evolved at a rate which has changed our culture as a society, and has had a profound effect on education. Society’s demands on what it expects from contributors has evolved, so that what we turned out as literate in the past, is no longer literate in today’s world. Even with that being said there are many who doubt it. There are schools that refuse to recognize technology as a factor in education. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

I am not attacking educators on this. Our society in general needs to discuss and learn. We need more people to be connected. Technology is not going away or standing still. It will continue to evolve whether individuals accept that or not. If it is a factor in our society as a tool for: communication, collaboration, collection of information, critical thinking, and creation, then we must teach our citizens how to use it as a tool. Our kids will be required to do so in their world, which is not here yet. It should change priorities in education as to what we teach and how we teach it. Authentic learning and critical thinking are now huge factors because kids are learning and interacting without the benefit of a classroom or a school.   Education must not be limited by standardized testing. Our responsibility as educators is too great. These topics of discussion would best be served through leadership. Education administrators may need to prioritize these discussions over those of budgets and tests. These are the concerns that need to be driven by Professional Development. This is an area that educators and parents need to discuss and learn.


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I was fortunate and honored to be asked to speak at a recent conference for The Software Information Industry Association (SIIA). They are all wonderful people in a group that represents a major portion of education software developers and manufacturers. I had some great discussions with some very smart and driven education-minded, business people. As I stated in my last post, many of these people have come from the ranks of educators. My big take away from this conference however, was not about all of the great new products coming from the companies that these folks represented. What was most evident to me was the driving force behind all of the great stuff being developed: DATA. In this world of monetizing education data is King. It is what business understands.

Knowing that makes it easy to understand the point of view of many of our industrial, or business-background, educational leaders, who are leading the way in education today. They are data-driven leaders. They believe that we need Data to analyze, and adjust, so that we may move forward. Of course, if we analyze, adjust and move forward according to the Data, and change doesn’t happen, there must be a reason that requires us to think through that reason in order to adjust. If there is no improvement, someone must be held accountable, because the data is always reliable. All things considered the fingers of the data-readers begin to point to the variable in the equation; the teacher. Of course Business oriented leaders will additionally include the Bane of any business leader’s existence; the unions.

Now before everyone gets their backs up, let us consider another possibility. Let us consider that maybe the merging of the mantras of education and business are not working out together. Maybe “Content is King” merged with “Data is King” does not add up to a learned individual. Maybe the focus on content, so that education can be easily assessed by Data is really the wrong thing that we should be analyzing. Maybe, how we teach, is a much more important element in learning than what we teach. Maybe the data is totally correct about what it is assessing, but what it is assessing is not what we should be looking at.

I always go back to the way technology is assessed by some schools. They test kids out, interject some tech stuff, test the kids again, and check the results. If the results are poor, or if there is no difference, then it is deduced that the tech has failed to make a difference. Hence, Tech does not work.  The questions not asked are important. Was the teacher properly prepared to use the tech? How were the students trained to use the tech? Was the culture of the class supportive of the tech? Was the tech that was selected the best tech to achieve the teachers goals? Was the teacher involved with creating the lessons using the tech, or was it packaged lessons? How much support did the teacher receive during the project? Of course we could go on with even more questions. The point is that the right questions and conclusions need to be applied to the data.

I met many, very smart, and successful people at that conference. I did not ask one of them what the data said about their personal competence as a learned individual. I judged that for myself by their accomplishments, communication skills, social skills, and even appearance. Not one person had a name tag with their test scores evident as a means of introduction. I only hope they were equally impressed with the opinions I expressed as an educator who is more than somewhat opinionated. I am sure my Hawaiian shirts gave them some mixed ideas.

As teachers, we all have our specific content to teach. That has been our goal since public education was introduced. It is what we do with that content that makes the difference. We can put it out there and have the kids commit it to memory. We can put it in video form and have the kids commit it to memory. We can put it in a PDF form and have kids commit it to memory. That would all make it easy to do a data analysis. We could probably require specific things be covered by all teachers, so our kids would all get equal educations in every state in the country. We could even develop a single test everyone could take at the same time. That would help standardize education. Then we could compare apples to apples as well as oranges to oranges around the country.

Another way to look at it would be to use that content to teach skills of collaboration, communication, and the ultimate “ation” of all; creation. Memorization of content (although difficult for many) is the thinking skill requiring the least amount of thinking. As a skill it is needed, but not coveted. Having the facts is helpful, knowing what to do with them, and adapting them to any situation is priceless. If teachers focused on teaching learning instead of the more easily assessed content memorization, we would have a population of critical thinking, creative, innovators who continuously learn even after leaving school.

At the final presentation that I attended at this wonderful conference, I gained a little more insight into the direction of Tech in education today. This was a panel of some very impressive, forward thinking presidents of tech in education companies. My first insight was that there are a great many companies developing gaming for education. My second insight into the Edtech direction was not as hopeful, at least to me. The two phrases that really caught my attention  were “classroom instruction” and “BYOD (bring your own device)”. Both of these told me that the tech companies, like many people in general, believe that kids need to go to a specific place to learn, the classroom. If we are to be successful as educators, than how we teach kids better involve a way for them to learn outside the classroom. No student should be limited by the content knowledge of their teacher. If I taught all my students everything I know, it wouldn’t be enough for them to live in their world. What we are teaching will be irrelevant. How we teach kids to learn will serve them for a lifetime.

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Every educator knows what their school is like, but few really understand what Twitter is like. The Twitter experience, like school, is different for everyone. One’s contribution to the effort in either of these endeavors has a great deal to do with producing the outcomes. Simply put, the more you put in, the more you get out. That at least is the theory.

I am fortunate to have a very large base of educators that I follow on Twitter and an even larger number of educators follow me. This affords me an ability to see a great deal of activity on Twitter in regard to how educators use it on a daily basis. I wish all educators had Professional Learning Networks like mine, but it is not a style of learning suited for everyone.  Nevertheless, I began wondering what it would be like if the types of sharing, collaboration, reflection and discussion that are continuing activities on Twitter could at least be attempted in the school building environment.

A bulk of the information exchange available on Twitter for instance comes in the form of links, or URL’s, which are internet addresses to pages of information. They could be announcements, articles, posts, videos, podcasts, webcasts, personal opinions, or books. I guess in a school setting each teacher could take articles, videos and books to exchange and discuss with other faculty members. Admins could find education links run them off on paper, and insert them in teachers’ mailboxes daily. Of course personal opinions are the mainstay for faculty rooms.

Another thing that Twitter offers us is the ability to respond to ideas and have a general discussion about those responses. Often times the authors of the ideas participate in those discussions. In a school setting, I imagine that the administrator could offer ideas for discussion, or bring in speakers and lecturers for the faculty. This is usually done at the beginning of the year to get everyone pumped up for the New Year. It would need to be done more frequently however in order to emulate the Twitter experience.

Reflection is very big on Twitter. Many tweets cause people to discuss and reflect. After a short period of time some educators address those same issues on blog posts. That of course is shared, commented on, reflected upon, and the process repeats itself. I guess in the school setting the Admin could propose a topic for discussion and afterward people could respond and reflect and if they chose to do so, come back with articles they had written on the subject to present to the faculty or place a copy in everyone’s mailbox.

Twitter offers a great deal of variety in opinion. An obviously unique element to this is the fact that Twitter is a global effort. Educators from around the world offer their opinions on some of the many subjects that educators have in common around the world. As an example, I am amazed at how universally standardized tests are recognized by educators to be counterproductive in educating kids. In the school setting it would be difficult to get a global perspective on issues unless the guest speakers were flown in from other countries. Skyping might be a great alternative.

A big, big Twitter plus is the access educators have to education experts. Conversations are had between regular teachers and education luminaries on a daily basis. Many of education’s leaders actively participate on Twitter in order to stay on the pulse of education, as well as education reform. Many of the people forming the national and international education discussions are gathering and sharing information over the internet using Twitter. In a school setting Admins could probably make calls to these same education leaders and set up at the very least Skype calls. The faculty could be assembled in the auditorium for the Skype call. The discussion after would be great.

Twitter is a gateway to many free online webinars and online conferences. It also keeps educators posted on local and regional Edcamps and conferences. Edcamps are a product of social media and a great form of Professional Development for educators. In a school setting the Admin could post a daily, weekly, or monthly calendar of events for professional development. The mailboxes again would be a wonderful method of delivery for this.

On Twitter there are constant discussions and references to pedagogy and methodology in education. As one example Twitter has been discussing the Flipped Classroom for almost two years at this point. I imagine that admins should be the education leaders of their schools and be up to date on all things education. Once they get any new trends they could present the idea at a faculty meeting. Hopefully, the discussions of pedagogy and methodology will spill over into department meetings and faculty room gatherings.

I know that schools are doing the best that they can, given the restraints of time and money, to involve their teachers with as much as they can, but it is not enough in a world where new information is formed by the ton in a matter of minutes. The idea of using technology as a tool for professional development has not caught on. The idea of being a “Connected Educator” is too foreign to too many educators. If this post is to be effective it will have to be printed out, reproduced, and circulated in teachers’ mailboxes in order to reach them. In this age of technology, that should be an embarrassment to the most educated people this country or any country has to offer.

Twitter is only one source for teachers to connect. It is the easiest to use, and the hardest to understand. Teachers need to get started connecting to other teachers. If Twitter is too difficult, try Google +, or LinkedIn, or start a blog that accepts comments. If what we are now doing as teachers was keeping us relevant and effective as educators , the words “Education” and “Reform” would not be linked together so often in so much written about education today. We have a need to connect with other educators. It must be an imperative! In the words of Ben Franklin, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

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Over the last year I have engaged many educators on the topic of using “Cellphones” as learning tools in the classroom. I would say that in most of these discussions, the leading reason given not to have “Cellphones” in a classroom is that they are a distraction.

For the purpose of this post, I am placing some Webster definitions here:

Telephone: an instrument for reproducing sounds at a distance; specifically: one in which sound is converted into electrical impulses for transmission (as by wire or radio waves)

Cell Phone: a portable usually cordless telephone for use in a cellular system.

Smartphone: a cell phone that includes additional software functions (as e-mail or an Internet browser).

Personal Computer: : a general-purpose computer equipped with a microprocessor and designed to run especially commercial software (as a word processor or Internet browser) for an individual user.

Distraction: 1. the act of distracting or the state of being distracted; especially: mental confusion <driven to distraction>

2. something that distracts; especially: amusement <a harmless distraction>

Now with the terms defined by Webster, we can all have a clear understanding. Few people would dispute the advantages technology has given us as a result of the advent and evolution of computers. Technology, although not always visible, is evident or influential in almost everything that we do in our society today. It has had an immeasurable effect on our culture and will continue to as it evolves. The personal computer has enabled individuals to apply many of these advantages in their everyday lives. This however has taken both training, teaching, and learning on the part of the users.

Most educators have noted that technology has had a profound effect on teaching and learning. I think it is safe to say that with technology’s influence; many things have changed in education since the 19th Century (not rows of course). Education has adapted to technology, albeit ever too slowly for some, over the years. Technology will always move faster than education will accept it, because as a system, the conservative nature of education seems very slow to act on change and technology and tides wait for no man, or woman.

I remember a time when telephones were not even in a classroom for a teacher to use. The idea of telephones in the classroom is a fairly recent movement in education terms. Many school buildings built in previous centuries have found it difficult or impossible to accommodate telephones in the classroom. Ironically, for years districts refused to put them in classrooms with the belief that telephones would be a distraction for the teachers.

What is more distracting to a teacher and learning than the PA SYSTEM BLARING ANNOUNCEMENTS FOR PEOPLE TO COME TO THE MAIN OFFICE DURING THE PERIOD THAT LEARNING IS TAKING PLACE? How about: the cutting of the grass with the industrial mowers outside the window of the classroom, a Warm day, a hot day, a snow day, a dress up day, a dress down day, a Pajama day, someone walking in the hallway, a class returning from a field trip, fire drills. TESTING DAY, assemblies. These are all distractions. Teachers and students deal with them.

Now, if students had telephones in class and were receiving and making calls for the purpose of talking, that would be a distraction. It is not an appropriate time for such conversations. Teachers learned that when they were given telephones in their rooms, so why not expect the same from kids. Additionally, teachers have been taught classroom management strategies. They can put in place procedures and consequences to manage the potential problems of telephone conversations in class. That is not the distraction everyone talks about.

Beyond talking, there is texting. That is sneaky, stealthy talking. It is the digital form of sending notes. Note-passing is the bane of a teacher’s existence and this method is technological. Again, there are procedures in place for passing notes. The teacher needs only to now stipulate written or digital; problem solved.

Here is the rub. These kids are going beyond the limitations of voice and texting of the Cellphone, and are using Smartphones. They are doing things that can’t be done on a telephone. There must be more afoot here. The smartphone adds a new level of sophistication to deal with. The smartphone has the capability of a personal computer. That changes the dynamic in the classroom.

Additionally, kids can now look stuff up on the phones. They have access to Google and can actually check facts to dispute what the teacher might be saying. Kids can view stuff on their phone during a teacher’s lecture that removes them from where they should be, paying attention for a test. They can take a picture of the “Blackboard” for notes. They can video or audio record a teacher’s presentation. They can creatively do many things in the classroom that could not be done a year ago. They have control because they own the device that does all of this. That is scary to many educators. What many viewed as a toy-like telephone has evolved into a learning tool that can not only communicate, but can publish to the world. That is a powerful device.

If this is such a powerful learning tool, why hasn’t it been embraced by educators universally? Smartphones, after all, are actually personal computers with phone capabilities. It would seem, with many schools dedicating their computers, and computer labs to test preparation, and test-taking, that personal learning devices for students would fill a gap. Smartphones are powerful, mobile, personal learning devices.  But of course, there is that damned control issue thing.

Here is a novel idea. Since we hold kid’s accountable for what they do on the internet with all devices anyway, why not teach them how to do it right. Why not teach them how to maximize their learning. We can’t expect them to use the technology appropriately if they “learn it on the streets”. Teachers have procedures in place and methods to use that can take the distraction factor out. Teachers must be open to doing this because the tech will never go backwards. Administrators must accept that control is less of an issue than responsibility. Teaching and learning will always be a better alternative to banning. Learning new ways to do things can be a very big distraction from the old ways. Relevance will always be a distraction from obsolescence!


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