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Monday, August 29, 2011

Odds 'n' Ends on a Slow Monday

Oscar PistoriusHurricane Irene LandfallWith the entire east coast of the United States recovering from Hurricane Irene, there's not going to be a lot of fresh education news online today. (Sorry, central and western U.S., but it seems most of our links come from the east coast.) Valerie Strauss did put up a good page of info and links about hurricanes last Friday, Understanding hurricanes: Facts and resources. NOAA's Hurricane Central and Irene pages also have some good info.

I did run across an incredible article not necessarily related to education, but still incredible on CNN yesterday. Ford Vox's Why Oscar Pistorius deserves to run relates that Oscar Pistorius, who was born without functioning legs, may qualify for the 2012 London Olympics as a member of the South African track team. In July, Pistorius ran the 400 meters in 45.07 seconds and needs "to run one more time under 45.25 seconds in the first half of 2012 before finally earning his spot in the Olympics, and at this point most observers believe he will make it."

In Wisconsin, organizers of the Labor Day parade in Wausau say Republican lawmakers aren't welcome in this year's event. GOP politicians banned from Labor Day parade in Wausau relates that the Marathon County Central Labor Council that sponsors the annual parade and includes about 30 local unions "choose not to invite elected officials who have 'openly attacked worker's rights' or did nothing when state public workers lost most of their right to collectively bargain."

New Teacher Articles

Good articles about new teachers or teachers new to a particular school abound at this time of year. Here's a sampling of them:

Implosion in Indy

I was in Indianapolis a week ago to visit my dad and sister. Sis had just flown in from Minnesota. While driving in, I noticed the gutted Keystone Towers along Binford Boulevard and Allisonville Road. The towers had once been a forward looking apartment complex, built in the early 70's and populated by folks with far more cash for rent than I could afford. I wondered at the eyesore the place had become.

In yesterday's Indianapolis Star, Erika D. Smith tells the story of the towers' heyday and decline in Keystone Towers will go, but the stories will remain. Indy implodes longtime eyesore Keystone Towers is a more generic description of the implosion.

WISH-TV in Indianapolis had a camera in the second tower dropped, focused on the first tower. The video is interesting.

I grew up in the general neighborhood of the towers, so I just had to include the story and video here. And since I'm already rambling way off the subject of education, let me add that while in Indy, we had brunch at the Donut Shop Bakery & Restaurant on Keystone Avenue. It's a mom and pop diner that defies the current domination by franchised restaurants by turning out tasty food quickly with excellent service.

Teaching a Natural Talent?

Jay Mathews stirred up a bit of a hornets' nest last week with his posting on his Class Struggle blog, Is teaching a natural talent? He cited a question from a recent Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll on American education:

In your opinion, is the ability to teach or instruct students more the result of natural talent or more the result of college training about how to teach?

He and a number of other folks he quoted thought the question should never had been included in the poll. But the readers who commented on the posting blew right past whether the question should have been on the poll or not into a really interesting discussion about what makes teachers effective. (Note: The Post has now closed commenting on the posting.)

A Few Words About Dennis

When I was teaching a third grade class in Indianapolis for students with developmental delays (We called it 3-D.), I had several unique student teachers. The college student teaching supervisor knew me and directed some of her "special cases" my way. One of those was a slender, bespectacled young man named Dennis. Dennis had just barely gotten his GPA high enough to enter the student teaching program. His first student teaching session at another school had not been a positive experience. But his college supervisor saw something in Dennis that made her reach out to me to give the young man another shot at his chosen profession.

My experience in working with Dennis and watching him work with "my kids" stands in stark contrast to our current age of "reformers" talking about placing a highly qualified educator in every classroom (as if all of those currently in the classroom are not), classroom teachers with PhD's, TFAers from Ivy League schools, and national board certified teachers. I'm neither honoring mediocrity here, nor impugning great credentials. But the young man showed me that we may sometimes miss an outstanding educator if we just go by grades, degrees, etc. Dennis was an incredible teacher, possibly because he had experienced many of the frustrations his students suffered. He found his niche with my 3D kids and went on to become an outstanding special educator. Had I passed on taking Dennis and no one else had given him a chance, education would have been the worse for it.

Most of us have to work for years to become accomplished teachers. Without getting too deep into the Jay Mathews' discussion above, Dennis was a born special educator.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Indiana School Rating System

Indiana has moved to an A-F rating system for its schools, but the change hasn't gone smoothly. "So, how exactly does a school where 90 percent of the students do A work receive a C on its report card?" C for Controversy tells a bit about the situation, along with Indiana schools to state education officials- Really? In a nutshell, a lot of really good schools are getting C ratings, while troubled, but improving schools are getting much higher marks. Strange. The Indy Star's database tool, How does your school rate, takes one to local ratings.

Under State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett's inspired leadership, one can find a school with an 81% passing rate getting a C, while another school in the same system with an 80% passing rate getting an A. The graphic at left is an actual record, modified a bit to fit the page, of a local system. The one on the right is the real deal also, only the name (of the system I retired from) has been altered.

SW Sullivan School Rating

Blaming Teachers

Walt Gardner's Blaming Teachers When Students Don't Learn on Monday had some dandy quotes from Will Fitzhugh, founder of The Concord Review. Walt opens up the piece by asking:

Have teachers taught if students haven't learned? That's not a question from Philosophy 101. It's at the heart of the debate over educational reform. The reflexive answer is no. At least that's what most people believe. In their minds, teachers are not doing their job if they can't produce quantifiable results.

After some discussion of professional learning communities, he turns some Fitzhugh quotes loose:

However, this view places total responsibility on teachers. As wrote: It assumes students are merely "passive recipients of their teachers' influence."

The view that teachers are the prime movers is not just wrong, but stupid.

Walt sagely concludes, "Learning is a partnership between teachers, students - and parents."

On the Blogs

I'd been mulling over shaking up the list of education blogs I follow for this section for some time, as I felt like I was getting into a rut. Monday night, and into the wee hours of Tuesday, I began rebuilding my blog list. I decided to be really radical with the change, throwing out some big name blogs such as Organized Chaos (Ann Bailey), Elementary, My Dear, or Far From It (Jenny Orr), and Science Teacher (Mike Doyle) in favor of some different points of view.

Actually, Ann, Jenny, and Mike's excellent posts sorta helped me get myself into the rut, so I let their blog lists (that noticeably don't include Educators' News) get me started on a merry jaunt through edublogland, searching for fresh material. I must have screened over a hundred blogs on Monday and Tuesday, and the job still isn't completely done. I was pretty tough in my standards for the new blogs to follow. Blogs that began postings with "My interview with," "I'm teaching a new workshop," or "My presentation at" were immediately discarded. What I wanted was first person stories of the classroom to share here, along with any cool tech tools that might help readers of this page.

I wasn't disappointed when I ran through the new list of blogs.

From Elbows, Knees, and Dreams, I found in Everything would be great if I could only just wake up what could be the edubloggers' mantra:

So I went back to work on Monday. Now that I have things to post about, finally, I am too exhausted to post. Also, I’m too busy to post.

I'd somehow let Tim Hoffman's excellent Tuttle SVC blog slip off my old list. Returning to it, I immediately got lost in a great posting that led to John Owens' Confessions of a Bad Teacher on Salon.com. John wrote, "I took a job in the NYC public school system because I wanted to make a difference. I ended up living a nightmare." That sounds pretty negative, but the article is intriguing. Then I got into Tim's comments about why Matt Damon was right in not meeting with Arne Duncan and the White House folks before the Save Our Schools Rally in Why I Wouldn't Have Talked to Duncan.

From Kindergarten's 3 R's: Respect, Resources, and Rants, I found some wisdom in Kindergarten Reality: It's Not All Sunshine and Roses:

Adults will make an appointment and go on about their lives until it's time to meet. Kindergartners will not.

I love kindergarten. I love kindergartners.

I do NOT love the first few weeks of our full day program.

My Stars are frustrated. They doubt me. They lash out at one another. They want my attention and they want it now, even though we're in the middle of a story, or a classmate has had an accident and needs his hand held to walk down to the nurse's office for a change of clothes. 

"But I want you NOW, teacher."

Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day… showed me some great links on Labor Day teaching ideas (see below in Odds 'n' Ends).

Bluebird's Classroom has the story, Now, That's Some Thinkin', that tells how one student solved his bus problem. Here's a snippet from the posting:

"Bus Boy," I asked him, "just curious. Why'd you join the knitting club?"

"Oh, my friend is in it," he said, "And I already know how to crochet, so I figured I'd give knitting a try."

Rebecca Bell Branstetter relates an interesting solve in My One-Woman Fight to Call It Something Else on Notes from the School Psychologist about a girl who wouldn't write.

Paul Hamilton reminded me of what ancient equipment I'm using on his excellent Free Resources for Every Learner blog. My newest computer is way too old to test out the free speech to text tool he describes in Speech Recognizer - Voice-to-Text in Google Chrome. Amazing! It seems only yesterday we were lusting for ViaVoice (now Dragon Dictate) to help some of our kids get their thoughts into the computer and eventually, onto paper.

Zachary Chase's Unions hold two sets of truths for me on Autodizactic probably reflects a lot of teachers' feelings about their unions.

Possibly saving the best until last, I really like Deven Black's Education On The Plate blog. Common sense postings such as School Choice? Sure, but don’t expect miracles won't win the hearts of the "reform" crowd with comments such as "my students need a whole lot more than choice to make their lives succeed." And Is it Ever About the Students from last June relates what is becoming a truism, even amongst good administrators due to high stakes testing:

I don’t know about anywhere else, but in NYC principals are rewarded financially when the schools they run show improvements in test scores and the use of the data the tests generate to drive teaching. My principal, whom I like and respect, used to ask the tough questions like "What do the grades we give really mean?" and "How can we change our practice to focus more on genuine learning and less on test scores?"

He doesn’t ask those questions anymore.

My "new list" is a lot longer than what appears above, but that's probably enough for this week. And I did end up carrying over a few blogs from my old list that I really hadn't linked to all that often (but probably should have). I'll continue to add to my list, constantly looking for blogs that enlighten and entertain. If you know of one I should visit, .

Maybe We All Need to Comment

Forbes' wealth coverage writer, Luisa Kroll, is asking, What's Your Single Best Idea For Reforming K-12 Education? She lists some ideas from the usual suspects of education "reform," but also writes:

What do you think the problem is in America’s public schools? How can we keep up with other countries? What would you change first?

Luisa didn't list her phone number or I might have given her a call and an earfull. There's also not an email address listed, so I assume one has to post a comment to make a suggestion. Registration is free, but note that Forbes sends your account confirmation with your username and password back to you in an unprotected email, so don't use your A-list password. The results of Luisa's search for ideas "will be included along with those of America’s wealthiest as part of a section to be published in the annual Forbes 400 issue coming out in just a few weeks."

Odds 'n' Ends

Other interesting stuff on the web:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cutting melonsIt's 2 A.M. and I haven't yet found anything that catches my fancy to post here on Educators' News today. That may be due in part to my fooling around most of the day Thursday with gardening and getting a computer we "inherited" back up and running. But after hunting around for an hour or so, I decided to just give up, write this little bit, and get ready for the Labor Day weekend.

I got out early this morning to haul water to some newly transplanted yellow squash I set out on Wednesday. One normally wouldn't transplant in a hot, dry spell like we're experiencing, but I was up against the calendar with these plants. They take so many days to begin producing edible squash, and our first frost date was really beginning to crowd me. So I dug deep holes Wednesday, added gallons and gallons of water to the bone dry soil, and plunked in the squash. Of course, even with the watering at transplanting, they now require daily watering until we get some rain (or our well runs dry).

When done watering and generally checking out the garden, I came inside and cut three melons I'd picked yesterday. I also did enough sampling while cutting that I really didn't need any lunch!

HP Slimline s5213wThe computer I mentioned is an HP Pavilion Slimline s5213w that my wife correctly diagnosed as having a bad power supply. That's not surprising, as the original power supply only put out 220 watts. The previous owner decided not to have my wife repair the machine, as it had suffered a lightning strike and the motherboard and CPU could also have been fried. She let Annie have it for parts.

Since Annie works on computers all day at her job, fixing up old computers after work isn't something she's really into, so I ended up taking a crack at the machine. I gambled that just the power supply was bad and a new 400W power supply brought the machine back to life. It really wasn't all that much of a gamble, as if the motherboard was bad, I could have resold the power supply on eBay to recover most of my investment.

Once the machine booted, I needed to get it into useable shape by erasing the hard drive and installing an operating system and application software. Fortunately, the hard drive hadn't suffered any apparent damage, but was totally locked down by the previous owner's password, which I didn't have. Even though I have zero experience with Windows 7, I was able to restore the system, drivers, and original software using Recovery Manager. Being a former Mac columnist, this is where one might expect me to trash Windows Recovery, but the process was well documented by HP and wasn't terribly difficult.

I do wish computer manufacturers still included recovery disks with new machines. While the separate, recovery partition of the drive made my work yesterday afternoon a bit easier, a general hard drive failure leaves one scrambling to find restore files and disks. I also wish PC makers would quit putting weenie power supplies in new machines loaded with drives, ports, card readers, and what have you. I've seen all too many of them fail after just a year or two of use.

Getting some of my ancient software to run on Windows 7 presented some time consuming challenges. A posting on dispo.se, Adobe Creative Suite 2 and Windows 7 (64bit), led me to a workaround that got Photoshop up and running after an initial failed install, uninstall, and re-install. The alternate installation path suggested for Creative Suite also let me get my even older copy of Dreamweaver to run as well.

I'm not done tinkering with the machine as yet. I still need to get Annie's iTunes files moved to the "new" machine, and I have an inexpensive dual-core processor on order to replace the stock, single core Sempron processor now in it. I also have to move all legacy files of the Windows versions of my MATH DITTOS 2 series of workbooks. We moved to a single Mac/Win PDF file for each freeware a number of years ago, but the old versions come in handy every now and then.

Before shutting down the machine for the day, I did download the Google Chrome browser and installed the free Speech Recognizer I mentioned on Wednesday from Paul Hamilton's blog. I didn't have a microphone handy, or I'd have tried out the text-to-speech tool. But at least I can test some stuff now that none of our current machines could run. And I can say goodbye to some of the annoying messages that remind me I'm working on outdated equipment (like a lot of folks, I'd guess).

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Have a great holiday weekend. I'll be playing with our "new" computer and Google Chrome.

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