Monday, April 12, 2010

Forgetting the elite

In academics, making sure the elite are continually pressed to be better isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Unfortunately our society has put so much into bringing the lower end to “proficient” that we forget that those that will do wonderful things for the next generations exist on the same plane of existence.

In a recent report, Ukiah High School was said to have only about 19% of students fulfilling the A-G Requirements for enrollment into California’s University System (CSU or UC).  The state average is 33%.  I was curious why this number was so low from the point of view of the students.  The reaction was interesting.  Of course the culture of the town has something to do with it, and the number of overworked counselors that try to meet the needs of hundreds of students.  But a button seemed to be pressed regarding where the resources go.

Why is so much given to those that don’t want to be here in the first place, and why are we (the “elite”) intentionally left behind?

The point is well worth looking at.  Forget the money spent on Special Education at this school (which is well above state average), consider the money that is spent on second language learners that have been in the system for years, behavioral problems that have been a plague on the institution, and support structures that try and coax students with little academic desire to remain in a place that they loathe.  Wouldn’t it make sense that money should be allocated more towards students that want to use the opportunity to gain from the experience?

Take the STAR test.  How much money is used to prep students for a test of basic knowledge that many will intentionally fail?  We have entire classes that prepare students for Exit Exams and STAR testing, only to have to drive to student’s houses and drag them to school because some idiotic AYP score is the “real measure” of our institutions success.  Meanwhile, AP students have textbooks that are falling apart and will have to sit through a basic skills test that is so beneath them that it is insane.

In fact, let’s make a deal.  If a student takes and passes an AP class, that student is automatically considered “Advanced” on any standardized basic skills test regarding that subject.  I know what questions for U.S. History are on the STAR and my tests for my AP students are ten times more complex.  Yet they will spend a three hour testing block with questions that shouldn’t be in their ballpark, instead of being with me prepping for a test that can offer them something real; college credit. 

Public schools need to do something about stimulating the academic elite or they’ll simply give more credibility to charter schools that, besides playing by a different set of rules, can cater to their growing interests and intellects.  We pump up kids that do the minimum of showing up to school.  Now we should really pump up those that will be showing up at Stanford next fall!   

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Digital Native Excuse, or “How I’ve managed to manipulate society into thinking I don’t really need to read, write, or actually interact with anyone”.


Two things are bound to happen when generations of people start talking about each other. 

First, the older generation is going to insist that the younger generation is “worse” than the previous generations.  Arguments will abound that the current generation has no work ethic, lower moral standards, drinks too much, smokes too much, listens to crappy music (Kesha = T’Pau?), and dammit, doesn’t really care as much as they did back in the day.   

Second, the younger generation is going to insist that the older generations don’t understand them.  Arguments will abound that the older generations don’t remember what it’s really like being a kid, that the present problems are harder than past problems, and that older generations simply don’t understand that some of the “older” ways of doing things aren’t that good and can’t possibly work with the next generation of people.  Of course most of both generations sit on the sidelines and smile in amusement.  Older generations remember what it’s like, but they want a little recognition for the trials they went through.  And younger generations aren’t lazy, they just work hard at different things and want a little recognition that they are important too.     

This is where the Digital Native comes in.  The term “Digital Native” has been given to the generation of students that have grown up around the workings of the Internet.  I’m technically too old to be a Digital Native because the Internet wasn’t big in my life until my first year of college.  However I probably know more than 90% of the generation about the technology they grew up with because I had a mother who worked at Intel in the early 1980’s and warned me that this was coming.  Well, “it” (the Internet) is here and now the debate starts regarding its real place in the realm of education.  Article after article is saying education must change the foundation of learning because some things (social networking) are now much more important to others (actually reading a novel).  Two years ago teachers warned each other in the Blogosphere that getting on Facebook was the kiss of death for your career.  Now half the teachers in my school have a Facebook page and teachers tell each other that Facebook is just the beginning, actually creating your own social networking site (like Ning) is the way to go.  Two years ago it was bad for cell phones to exist on campus.  Now they are a tool in the classroom.  Technology has worked its way into education and those that understand the tools are using them to enhance the practice of learning.

Only that society has seem to forgotten that this generation of kids are still just that.  Kids.  The concept of Digital Nativism has now become a partially legitimate reason to dumb down education to a 140 text Tweet from the White House or an illegitimate blog post about Kurt Vonnegut.  Take the blond haired kid in the picture above.  Cute kid……until he opens his mouth and spouts Digital Nativism at the prodding of his father.  In this video (thanks to Dangerously Irrelevant on my blog roll) the kid states, “Are you going to teach me in a school?”, “Are you going to make me sit in a desk all day?”, and “Is this what you are going to use to teach me with?”, and then he holds up a book.  The kid then goes on to question whether or not the teacher has a grasp of the current technology.  In the end this Digital Native asks all the wrong questions while taking the accusing tone that teachers aren’t preparing him for the real world. 

“Have you been on Facebook?”

“Have you been on Twitter?”

“Have you been surfing?”

“Do you even know what’s on the Internet?”

Um, yeah kid.  Now I’m going to ask you some questions.

“Have you played outside with friends?”

“Can you read a book?”

“Can you write well?”

“Can you do one thing for more than fifteen minutes, and do it well?”

“Do you know there is life outside of the plugged-in world?”

Those are important questions too.  And the video ends with the kid sitting in a nice desk chair with four computer monitors with the likes of Youtube, Facebook, and video games.  It is incredibly myopic to think that students even have this kind of access to technology, much less overhype the necessity of it uphold the fundamentals of education.   

Where does this mode of thinking lead us?  It creates a culture of Dan Browns.  Dan Brown (not the Da Vinci Code) is a Youtube sensation that recently said that institutional education is fairly useless because “facts are free”.  Brown recently dropped out of college because “it was interfering with” his education.  In Brown’s mind college was fairly pointless because everything that you could possibly want to know was available on the Internet.  Who needs a lecture from a professor when Wikipedia has everything in existance?  Dan Brown is not new.  The usual “open education” argument has been around forever, and while there are those that have the motivation to self-educate themselves, let’s remember, most students don’t have any real understanding of the facts on the Internet, if they are even legitimate, or how to put them to any kind of use.  In the end, I want my particle physicists, engineers, and doctors to have college degrees.  If you want to be an entertainer like Dan Brown and show the world how to solve a Rubix Cube, you can remain a pure Digital Native and dump your education.

The Internet is a tool for a variety of things in society.  That tool needs to be appropriately managed by society and an understanding needs to be developed that this Digital Native lifestyle is not a realistic substitute for basics of education.  Reading is critical.  Writing is critical.  Listening is critical.  Focus is critical.  Work ethic is critical.  Critical thinking is…well, you get it. 

That’s my job. 

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The iPhone (iPad?) iDont care about, redux


Yep, you'd figure that after this post in January 2007, I'd have basically moved to Yemen to avoid one of the greatest inventions ever.  Boy am I the hypocrite.  At least I waited until Summer 2008 to buy my iPhone, that device that has now taken its place amongst fire, the wheel, and Oco Time sushi as the greatest inventions ever.

Seriously,  I never thought I'd use my iPhone like I use it now, or like I used it on trips.  Let's forget the fact that the MP3 player podcasts keep me going every day, and on long plane flights to the East Coast.  Let's also forget the game apps (Worms anyone?) that are weaselly addicting.  The GPS Map function basically owned us while we are on trips almost anywhere.  Not getting lost is cool.  So are the excellent directions and the times that public transit will be arriving.  The Yelp app found my wife and I a perfect beach in Wellfleet, Cape Cod, and the way I get instant news these days?  Twittie for Twitter.

So along comes the iPad, the "next great device" that is being hyped up to take over everything from simple computing to print novels.  I've been watching the development of the iPad for a long time and watching the reaction for the last couple of months.  Like my initial reaction to the iPhone, I won't be getting one.

However unlike the end result, I'm pretty positive I won't be getting one for a really long time, as in at least five years.  Why?  I comment in an iPhone related blog said it perfectly.
"I own an iPod, a laptop, and plenty of written books.  What the hell do I need an iPad for?"
I'm asking myself the same question.  I can see the iPad on a college student or a public transit commuter, but not in the current condition that it is in.  The main reason for a college student would be textbook only, and right now the interface is the only thing really going for the iPad.  Amazon's Kindle has battery life beat by a mile, and the iPad is hardly for creating things, even written documents.  Score one for a netbook or laptop.  Plus, with all do respect to Apple, the iPad looks fragile.  I won't even be glancing at the iPad until I see a monster size Otterbox Defender.  

The iPad is all about consuming.  I don't need another thing that simply distracts attention away from productivity.  I need something that enhances productivity and allows me to create with efficiency.  The iPad doesn't really do that for me.  Never mind the lack of USB, no Flash, and no camera.

The final warning to people is the "Geekdom" review.  Mainstream media doesn't sway my attention as much as the computer geeks out there that jailbreak, hack, manipulate, and create the stuff that I use all the time.  Screw Newsweek and Wired, even C-Net.  There are other places on the net where the real professionals break down the "greatest" technical achievements and praise or pounce on them.  The Geek reviews aren't all that raving.  That concerns me.

It should also concern the Berkeley High School Chemistry teacher I saw on the news that said that he was making an iPad mobile website for his students.  Inital sales might seem promising and exciting, but let's remember:
1.  Do you know a lot of inner city youth that can put out $600-$800 for a device that is untested?
2.  If you are a teacher, shouldn't you wait before you implement the device?  I don't know about you, but I wait for at least a year before I put forth the great technology into my classroom.  Let the bugs get sorted out and let the mistakes be made by someone else.
Or in this case, let the hype die down.