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Monday, August 22, 2011

Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students - 2011

Our annual review of all of the free web sites, freewares, open source applications, and other free goodies that have appeared here on Educators' News over the past twelve months is now available. Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students - 2011 should have something of use for every educator.

Why Won't Michelle Rhee Talk to USA Today?

After last week's provocative interview on NPR, the New York Times' Michael Winerip calls out former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee today in Eager for Spotlight, but Not if It Is on a Testing Scandal. He begins by asking, "Why won’t Michelle Rhee talk to USA Today?" Winerip takes some time developing the former chancellor's lust for the spotlight in the news before boring in on why she won't discuss potential cheating on high stakes tests in DC that occurred while she was chancellor. USA Today first broke the potential cheating story at the end of March with When standardized test scores soared in D.C., were the gains real?

On Testing

A couple of really good blog posts showed up yesterday and today about some of the problems with rating teachers via their students' test scores. Walt Gardner writes about the lack of randomization of student placement in classes and shows how that common practice can be unfair to teachers rated by student test scores in Assignment of Students and Evaluation of Teachers.

Paul Hafemann, guest blogging on Valerie Strauss's The Answer Sheet blog, tells how some of his social studies students "decided that instead of writing about the assigned topic they would write about squirrels" on state tests in Students: the Achilles heel of test-based teacher evaluation? He writes:

Upon returning to the classroom after several days of grading I spoke to one of my students about his essay on squirrels. Tyler was a C student who could not remember what he had for breakfast some days, but he sure did remember a lesson from Prohibition America: How does one enforce an unpopular law if enough people break that unpopular law?

It turned out that Paul was on the receiving end of a student protest about taking tests that have no bearing on their grade. He adds:

Imagine what would happen if several hundred students had become involved. Imagine what would happen if students in an entire grade, school, district, or even a state were to do this.

Odds 'n' Ends

Bill Turque has an interesting posting on his DC Schools Insider blog today, It’s day one for D.C. and Prince George’s schools. He writes about starting dates and new buildings around the DC area, but his opening sentence startled me with the charter school numbers he mentions. "Summer break officially ends this morning for the District’s 45,000 public school children and many of their 30,000 peers in public charter schools." Wow! That's a lot of charters!

Our review linked above about free stuff covered here over the past twelve months or so carries the publication date of August 23, 2011. Yeah, that's tomorrow, but when I finished and uploaded the piece late Saturday night, I wasn't really thinking that we're still on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday publication schedule here at Educators' News to announce the piece. And, I put up a similar piece on the same date, August 23, a year ago. So rather than change the date to today for release, I just left it as it was (saving considerable time changing link urls in the story).

Other interesting stuff:

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquakes Strike Colorado, D.C.

Earthquake mapA 5.3-magnitude earthquake rattled southern Colorado early Tuesday morning and a magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck the east coast near Washington, D.C., in the early afternoon. Damage appears slight in both quakes, although schools were evacuated in our nation's capital. National monuments and parks along with a nuclear power plant in Virginia were shut down as a precaution.

• CNN: USGS: Colorado experiences largest quake in more than 40 years by Scott Thompson
• The Washington Post: Earthquake rattles Washington area By William Branigin and Joel Achenbach
• CNN: D.C. monuments "stable" after 5.9 magnitude quake, official says

Philadelphia Superintendent Out

After a pretty direct article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday, Ackerman's removal seen as imminent: District observers say her methods undercut goals, Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's contract was bought out by the system on Monday, according to Ackerman Out as Philadelphia Schools Leader on Education Week.

EdWeek's Christina Samuels wrote that "a budget crisis, a potential cheating scandal involving several schools in Philadelphia, and complaints about her leadership style were among the issues that soured many Philadelphians on her [Akerman's] tenure." Jeff Gammage, Kristen A. Graham, and Susan Snyder wrote in the Inquirer, "In interviews, union heads, government leaders, teachers, students, and former city education executives described a superintendency undone by poor decisions and political missteps crowned by an unwillingness to compromise and a management style that many took for arrogance."

The Inquirer article also included an interesting quote from Katherine Conner, associate superintendent under David Hornbeck in the 1990s, "'She's so right on the substance' - but short on execution."

Ravitch on NPR's Talk of the Nation

While Diane Ravitch is still on summer vacation from she and Deborah Meier's excellent Bridging Differences blog on Education Week, she's been all over the place this summer. She appeared yesterday along with Angel Harris, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, on NPR's Talk of the Nation with NPR's Rebecca Roberts. During What Works To Close The Education Gap, Harris responded to a caller's question of "Is it proper to group students by race?"

Well, I think it's important to talk about race and to continue to look at education in terms of race, and here's why: We know that right now, the average black and Latino student is graduating high school with eight-grade skill set. In other words, the average black and Latino student, when they graduate high school, they have the same skill sets that whites have in the eighth grade, okay.

So keep that in mind, and now also remember that the U.S. population is rapidly diversifying, and by 2040 or so, we're going to have - roughly half the population are going to be comprised of black and brown people. So let's think about that. A child born today, when they're 30, half the population will be black or brown.

You can't have half your population walking around with, on average, eighth-grade skill set. There's no way that doesn't affect everyone. And so it's important to keep track of this for that very reason, because the problem - it's a racialized problem. There's a reason - you know, the fact that different groups of kids are matriculating through what's supposed to be the same system, and you have these very different outcomes suggests that something is problematic with the whole process.

Ravitch added to Harris's comments:

So it's that combination of racial segregation and concentrated poverty that is really toxic. And there were other things that happened at that time that would point the way to solutions. That was the time in which the federal government began to invest in early childhood education. That was the time when there was class size reduction. And we know from a lot of research that black children in particular benefit substantially from smaller classes because the attention - the individual attention, really helps.

So basic nutrition, basic health, all these things make a big difference, and they made a huge difference, and we are now off on a kind of wild goose chase for privatization and other ways of reducing the gap that have never been proven to be effective. And we're turning our back on what we know are the research-based approaches, which did work and will work again if we're willing to actually do them and invest in them.

It's an excellent interview and discussion, well worth the thirty minutes it takes to listen to. The link above is to both the audio file and transcript.


I had to grin towards the end of the Talk of the Nation broadcast when a listener called to relate teaching the SLANT learning strategy to students when she substitute taught. The strategy, as we taught it, goes as follows:

S - Sit up straight
L - Lean slightly forward
A - Act interested
N - Nod your head (as if in agreement)
T - Track the Teacher

Since I was teaching in a special ed pull-out room, our kids started their day in regular ed homerooms. (I always "loved" the teachers who you could just hear thinking, "Unclean! Unclean! Get them out of here!" as they got them to me before the first bell signaled the beginning of school.) Most of the kids also took some form of social studies and science, often with modifications, with their homerooms.

We really had to work hard to teach the strategy. We first modeled the strategy for the kids, and then had them practice it with us, on us, and to each other...over and over, as repetition is magic in such situations before trying it out in their classrooms. We even SLANTed the principal once when he stopped in to visit.

We also kept our teaching visuals for the project out of sight when classroom teachers dropped in on our class, as we were mostly doing SLANT on the sly. We did initially let some trusted teachers, sworn to absolute secrecy, in on what we were doing during the test phase of the strategy. They, of course, played dumb as their kids slanted them, enjoying, I think, the unusual tranquility that came when our kids were SLANTing.

We actually saw good results from some of the kids SLANTing their teachers. Some kids just saw it as a "con" to get their teachers off their backs, while others took it to heart to help them get better grades (and get along better with the regular ed staff). Unfortunately, one of the kids let the cat out of the bag to his homeroom teacher, who blabbed what we were doing to almost the whole school staff. Some teachers were offended by our use of the strategy without their knowledge, and some were just happy at the improvement, however significant, in the behavior of the kids.

SLANT works, if kids use it, because you're teaching kids mutually exclusive behaviors. It's hard to be a holy terror when you're concentrating on sitting up straight, leaning forward just a bit, acting interested at the right times, knowing when to nod in agreement, and following the teacher with your head and eyes. We had a few try to track only with peripheral vision. Oh, my. I actually had kids who'd gone on to middle school relate that they'd successfully SLANTed their middle school teachers. And of course, the kids who successfully used SLANT in future years may well have been the ones that would have figured out how to blend in anyway.

The kicker to the whole story was that throughout that school year, both my assistant and I would be working with kids either at our learning tables or as a whole group, and realize the kids had gotten together and were all SLANTing us. And yes, during those times, we were as conned as were the classroom teachers by the students' apparent interest.

KU SLANT Strategy Helps Students Learn gives what I think the actual SLANT strategy is.

Odds 'n' Ends

The plan was to continue doing only Monday-Wednesday-Friday postings on this site at least until after Labor Day, if not permanently. Late Monday night, I read about Arlene Ackerman getting canned and realized that needed to go up ASAP. It was too late to squeeze it into yesterday's edition of Educators' News, so there's a Tuesday posting today. Don't get used to it. I'm getting to like working just three days a week.

Since I'm at the keyboard in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, let me again announce that our annual feature about all of the free stuff that's been covered here over the last year is now available. Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students - 2011 is guaranteed to give you something that always works with every student, remove unsightly blemishes, get your significant other to pick up around the house and do dishes...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquake Related Closings

In the aftermath of yesterday's 5.8 magnitude earthquake on the east coast, a lot of Washington, D.C. area schools and public buildings are closed today pending safety inspections. Martin Weil, Coleen O’Lear and Justin Jouvenal cover the closings in Schools, D.C. landmarks and some federal agencies closed in quake’s aftermath on the Washington Post.

Virtual Surgery Simulations

Virtual SurgeryRyan Dube's 5 Virtual Surgery Games to Learn More About Medical Procedures on Educational Freeware reviews five websites that gives one "a taste of what is available in the world of online virtual surgery." He also notes that "there are two groups that virtual surgery online applications serve; people that are nervous about an upcoming surgery, and kids that are interested in exploring the medical profession." Having one daughter who is a surgical pediatric nurse and another who is a surgical technician (and heading towards nursing), the simulations Ryan reviews definitely caught my interest. I'd guess his column and the sites might be quite helpful for high school students looking at career options.

Maria Sallee Takes On Apple Computer

Marie Sallee is suggesting in A worm in the Apple for teachers that teachers write Apple Computer in protest of their program to donate old iPads to Teach for America folks. Maria makes clear in the piece that she has nothing against individual TFAers, but is offended that Apple may have unwittingly picked sides in the school "reform" debate by its program and clear endorsement of TFA on its donate iPads page. She suggests, "Uh, Apple, if you really want to help  teachers in urban schools, maybe y'all could start by helping those with experience and education in the field."

Maria shares her excellent letter to Apple as a sample for other teachers wishing to write Apple in protest and to present her views to other teachers. While she suggests mailing Apple corporate and provides their snail mail address, in this digital age, one might just want to . (Late update: Mmm, maybe not so much. Apple CEO Steve Jobs resigns.)

The comments to the column are pretty interesting as well, as teachers unload on the TFA program. One commenter wrote:

Wendy Kopp is pretty clear about this. TFA is not a teacher preparation program. It’s a leadership development program. It’s not for kids. It’s for adults. And these folks say that unions are self-serving!

"In October, the group announced a partnership with Goldman Sachs, in which TFA recruits are guaranteed jobs at the investment bank directly following their two years in the classroom."

Norm Scott also writes today about TFA in NYC Teach For America Members Under the Radar on Education Notes Online. He and others are working to bring dissident TFAers together for a chat. He writes:

Can a group within TFA gather enough steam to force changes at the top level in the TFA approach? Like longer training periods, an end to data munching as the way to judge success and failure for students and teachers, urging teachers to look beyond their classroom and into the families and broader school community, and encouraging TFAers to remain in teaching and put down roots in one school community as the best way to have a long-term impact?

Odds 'n' Ends

I received a nice note from Tom Carson this morning about the mathdittos2 site in general and our recent feature story, Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students - 2011. Tom, like me, is a retired teacher. He now runs iFix Old Macs in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Also, for those of you who read Jay Mathews' We may have accountability wrong yesterday, he responded to an email I'd sent him about the article (and par 3 golf courses), "I finally broke 40 today with a spectacular birdie of the last hole. It hung on the lip of the cup for a few seconds, then fell, maybe from 3,000 mile vibrations of the VA quake!"

And for folks in the Philadelphia area, Chris Lehmann recently announced EduCon 2.4 Registration Opens. The conference will be held in January, 2012.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Looking Ahead

Teacher's Corner September CalendarIt's hard to believe, but September will roll around next week. At least for this month, I'm back to using the Teacher's Corner Calendar for display here on Educators' News. I'd experimented a bit last spring with both the Scholastic Planning Calendar and the Crayola Calendar. Scholastic has changed the format for their teachers' planning calendar from an HTML version with clickable links to either a downloadable PDF file or a Flash online version. While the change may make it easier for folks who wish to project the calendar, the lack of clickable links seems to me to be a definite drawback.

September biggies include Labor Day (6), National Grandparents Day (11), the observance of Citizenship and Constitution Day (16), the First Day of Autumn (23 - fall equinox), and Rosh Hashanah (28-30, begins at sundown on the 28th). Other events such as Talk Like a Pirate Day (19) and Elephant Appreciation Day (23) are included on the various calendars as well.

For folks who are still following the traditional after Labor Day start of school, the following links might be somewhat helpful. (And yeah, I should have run these links at the beginning of August for a whole lot of folks who have already started school this month!) I was looking for the perfect teacher's to-do list online, but realized that any one-size-fits-all list wasn't going to do it.

One of the lists suggests taking before and after photos of ones classroom in the fall. I did so the last year I taught, but will omit the photos in the before section of bugs freshly waxed into the corners of the room and overflowing trash cans filled with custodian's lunch bags and paper cups! Other than that, the room was really in pretty good shape. (I did have to bring in my own caulk and caulking gun to fill in a crack in the wall that let in light, bugs, and air from the outside.)

Before After

Of course, a far better shot is when the room is filled up with many smiling faces.

Kids at seats

And yeah, those clustered desks didn't last long for our K-3 special education gang.

Privatization Begins in Indiana Schools

A press release yesterday from the the Indiana Department of Education told that Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett had announced recommendations for "six persistently underperforming" Indianapolis Public Schools. The release gives particulars on the plans for the six schools, all now headed at becoming charter schools. When the press release doesn't note is that five of the six schools will be privatized with for-profit charter operators, with the sixth going to the non-profit that Michelle Rhee founded in 1997!

On Getting the Word Out

I had worked on and off for several months on the feature story I released this week, Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students - 2011. About once every three months, I'd cut and paste postings about freewares and the like into the HTML file for the developing piece. When I got within a few weeks of the publication date, I began the task of combining similar postings, rewriting where necessary, and checking and fixing broken links. Some new imagery and fresh writing were required where I'd not done a very good job of documenting and describing sites and applications in the original postings. It took a good bit of time.

Once I had the feature story and new images uploaded to the server and checked once again for accuracy, the job of publicizing it began. Sometimes I just list a new column on Educators' News and let it go at that. Other times, I put out a press release, and more often, personal messages to the various sites that used to carry links to my Mac-specific columns. This time around I sorta took a middle path with just a few emails going out to several primarily Mac link sites, with a few more emails to folks favorably mentioned in the feature story. As links to the story have gone up around the web, I've tried to mention those sites as a "thank you" for their assistance in publicizing my work. "If you build it, they will come" hasn't really worked all that well for me in the past.

MacSurfer's Headline News MyAppleMenu

My thanks today go out to a couple of my old favorite Mac links sites, MacSurfer's Headline News and MyAppleMenu.

Odds 'n' Ends

ARP 274Not having a lot to post today, I did as I often do and took a look at the NASA Image of the Day. Their A Tale of Three Galaxies is a gorgeous shot of Arp 274, also known as NGC 5679, a system of three galaxies. While the description gives lots of interesting astronomy info about the galaxies and the imaging of them, I was struck with the possibilities of cropping the dazzling full size image to fit a wide computer screen as a screensaver or desktop photo.

The Hubble image of the system that is about 400 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Virgo was taken in April, 2009. It shows that two of the three galaxies are apparently forming new stars (bright blue knots) at a high rate.

Join ED’s John White for #EDRuralChat relates that the U.S. Department of Education will host the agency's first Twitter Rural Forum on Wednesday, August 31, 3-3:30 P.M. (EDT). Twitter users can submit questions on rural education to Deputy Assistant Secretary John White using the hash tag #EDRuralChat.

To wind up the week on a positive note, Gloucester County's autism school helps students connect, communicate is an interesting read about a school that is doing great things.

Have a great weekend!

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