Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rulz for da Interwebz

Well, it’s official.  We have a Technology Use Policy for Ukiah Unified’s teachers and employees. 

This has caused a bit of a stir among some of the teachers at the high school, both in how it was implemented (we had to sign an agreement before we even read the book), and how the language seemed to impact the method of instruction to the kids.  What do I think of it?  Meh.  It’s a technology use agreement; aka, use your freaking head and move on.  But I’ll highlight some of the concerns.

First, Big Brother is watching.  Years ago I sat at a Union meeting were teachers insisted that it was police state tactics that the District had the ability to monitor an employee’s Internet traffic.  How can your employer actually justify monitoring THEIR network and THEIR e-mail for traffic that might impact THEIR employees?  I tried to explain the whole, you know, “it’s not your private network” thing, but it didn’t go over well and I just sat and enjoyed the hilarity.  The only reason I can see this as being a concern is A)  You are somewhere you aren’t supposed to be, or B)  You fear that the District will look to question your judgment.  I’m not concerned with either.  The closest thing to controversy might be using Facebook or Twitter during prep, and both I can easily justify educational use. 

Second, and the much more interesting point, was this:

“Employees shall not develop work-related web sites, blogs, forums, emails, or similar online communications representing the district  or using district equipment or resources without the permission of the Superintendent or designee.  All such forums shall include a disclaimer that the district is not responsible for the content of the messages.”

I got a few calls and e-mails asking how it relates to my personal blog (this one), to which I responded, “It doesn’t”.  My blog doesn’t represent the district or use district equipment, and I have a disclaimer that it does not reflect Ukiah High, and I use good judgment (although others would argue otherwise) on what I post.  That means the blog is out of the realm of the Use Agreement.  Note, I’ve talked to the District about my blog in the past so it isn’t like I am hiding anything. 

But that detail goes beyond my blog to actual technology that supports student learning.  The only technology supported officially by the District is Edline and Aries.  What happens to the many teachers that use Class Jump?  What about my Edmodo site, which is essentially a Facebook format designed for Education?  There are teachers with Facebook pages for their classes and Facebook Groups  that are designed around certain subject matter areas.  What about conversing with students via Twitter, Moodle, Instant Messenger, Google Apps, or open source software like Diaspora?  Does all that need District approval, and if so, who is the designee?  These questions were asked to me because some wanted clarification and many teachers wanted to know if the agreement had some hidden meaning that could hurt the use of technology.

My answer was that the policy seemed pretty standard and I don’t see the District breathing fire at someone using Edmodo or Class Jump.  I told everyone to use common sense, but that they should be free to integrate good technology into their classroom without feeling like cell phone polling was going to bring a Terminator to their door.  It’s like anything else in education; document and justify everything that you do.  If someone questions your practices, convince them that it’s the right thing to do.  I use Edmodo because it’s damn good, period (thanks #sschat on Twitter).  Anyone wanting to challenge me on it will be convinced in 30 seconds that its incorporation in my classroom is good teaching. 

So I go about my business of doing my thing and integrating technology when it enhances my job.  Just because I didn’t have a written Technology Agreement, doesn’t mean I haven’t been following the rules from Day One. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Kathy Griffin is back for New Year's! REJOICE!

All I can say is thank God that Kathy Griffin is back for the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square.

Seriously, CNN has got to see that out of all their programming, Kathy and Anderson Cooper are the only tandem that consistently draw good ratings because of the adult style of the telecast, and the hope that Kathy Griffin says something that might force CNN off the air.

What the hell are the other options?

Ryan Seacreast and ABC rolling out a barely functioning Dick Clark in a show that is so humiliating that it makes you want to hide behind the couch? MTV's homage to bad music and drunk entertainers that make you realize that the Islamic world actually hates us because we listen to Kesha?

Nope, I'll stick with the laugh-out-loud antics of Griffin and Cooper, and at the stroke of Midnight I'll watch the ball drop in Times Square, and Sushi drop in her red pump in Key West.

The value of Athletics, or , “why those art/music teachers are pissy that people like to compete more than blow things”.

I’m sure that I’ve now riled every arts and music teacher with the title of the post, so let me clarify that I find incredible value in Arts and Music education.  To me, the best education is challenging, inquisitive, and all inclusive.  Without Arts and Music, we are a society of robots that can solve an equation without appreciating the real world results we are observing. 

So why is it that many Art/Music teachers don’t say the same about athletics?  Why is it that post like this one at Dangerously Irrelevant (who I love by-the-way) are even considered to be outside of the realm of Education?  The post centered around three questions:

  1. How much money does your school district spend per year on athletics?
  2. How many student/teacher laptops (at, say, $1,400 apiece) would that buy?
  3. Which offers greater benefits for students and/or the district (short term and/or long term)?

The questions garner plenty of conversation about the cost/benefit of athletics, but unfortunately pit sports against technology, as if that is the only solution that is viable.  That is ridiculous.  But for the sake of argument, I’ll try and answer.

1.  If I’m not mistaken, Ukiah Unified basically paid for coaches stipends only this year, or about $75,000.  Understand that the money did not pay for assistant coaches, transportation (a mammoth expense), uniforms, officials, supplies, other anything else.  The rest was raised by Athletic Boosters, fund-raising, and gifts from parents.  At Ukiah High, the sports included (most Frosh/JV/Varsity):

-Boys:  Football, Water Polo, Soccer, Basketball, Golf, Tennis, Wrestling, Baseball, Track, Cross-Country, Swimming

-Girls:  Volleyball, Water Polo, Soccer, Basketball, Golf, Tennis, Wrestling, Softball, Track, Cross-Country, Swimming, Cheerleading

2.  That question is totally irrelevant because the amount spent on technology is millions more than spent athletics.  When you incorporate the new Apple laptops, modernized classrooms, updated Internet servers-routers-lines, professional development, software, hardware, and consultants, the costs are astronomical compared to the benefit to the student.  Add to that the questionable assumption that simply giving technology to students automatically creates benefit.  Yeah, how’s that working with teachers?

3.  Obviously both create tremendous benefit for students when done correctly.  But to say that Athletics is more or less important than tech, or Arts and Music is plain silly.  Take this comment for a poster on DI.

“….secondary athletics with their exclusionary practices, cut policies, and over emphasis on winning at all costs, do not build character, morals, or ethical values in our students.”


“There is no evidence that playing sports, at any level, builds character or self-esteem in students. If anything, our sports obsessed society and the jock culture found in most high schools has led to the exact opposite.”


I have always thought that high school athletics, especially football, is one of the biggest wastes of money in American education. People respond with either the “it builds character” line or about how the programs pay for themselves (which is certainly not true in our district) but neither is a compelling argument as far as I’m concerned.

Music, art, drama, and dance also help kids develop character, as well as their unique talents, and at the same time are accessible to far more students for the money spent. But arts programs are often the first to be cut during bad budget times, while school boards bend over backwards to preserve sports.

Those comments are wrong on so many levels that it is crazy.  First of all athletics is on par with academics with the idea of “exclusionary practices”.  I didn’t get into Algebra 2/Trig, or sing lead in a dramatic production, or play a solo in the band.  Know why?  I wasn’t good enough to simply walk in and say “guess what, I’m the man”.  I would argue that athletics is more like society in that not everyone will be an Advanced Placement level athlete.  And that’s assuming that teams cut.  Many teams at Ukiah High don’t cut, including the football team.  My team has to cut.  I have 13 players on the team now and to think that realistically I can get everyone on the court is ludicrous.

Second, the “jock” stereotype is only pervasive on teams where coaches allow it.  I learned more about good character from athletics than any other walk of life, and I had a fairly stable household.  Kids that don’t have stable households and that don’t go to school to “simply learn” need direction and positive role models.  Athletics teaches not only how to succeed, but to do so with dignity and grace. Athletics also teaches that failure happens often (think about completion rates, shooting averages, batting averages, or simple win/loss) and that it is how one deals with adversity that is important.  All the while a group of young men or women collaborate, execute, and treat themselves and others with respect. 

Finally, the California Interscholastic Federation published a study, one of many on the subject, that showed that any extra-curricular activity helps with engaging students in academics.  It increases participation rates in academic programs, it increases attendance, and plenty of studies show that students in motion (engaging in athletics) are more apt to have healthier lifestyles, including academics.  Every year that I’ve coached I’ve had a North Coast Section Scholar Athlete Team, and I’ve watched totally non-committal students go through tutoring sessions and extra work to remain part of the athletic program.  You may not like the reasons, but the results don’t lie.  Athletics helps academics. 

And for one hell of a price.  For the cost of a single teacher salary with benefits, a school district can successfully pay for the stipends of all the coaches (at all levels) within an athletic program.  On top of that, coaches will usually work during the off-season (for free) to try and reinforce retention of information and enhance skill development.  Coaches will also work with students at lower grade levels to transition them into the secondary level, and assist with students trying to get into college.  All the while coaches will be fundraising and networking with parents, the media, the administration, the league/section, other coaches, student government, boosters, local businesses, and a myriad of other groups that see athletics as a valuable connection between student achievement and the community.  And guess what my take home pay will be.  Broken down over the year….$150 a month.   Sounds like a steal.

So the question shouldn’t be an either/or situation.  It should be, “How can a school be more efficient with its resources to best meet the total needs of the students”.  In the end Arts/Music, Athletics, and technology need to all be considered vital to the successful lifestyles of our children.        

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Daily quizzes?

So my APUSH class had a simple request.  They would rather we have daily quizzes that covered about 4-6 pages instead of the normal twice a week quizzes that covered about 15 pages.  I acquiesced during the final couple of weeks of the semester and found out that, sure enough, grades on quizzes rose a bit.  So let's look at a cost/benefit analysis of daily quizzes. 

-Missed time on instruction and activities.  Daily quizzes will eat up around 10-12 minutes every day.
-Students that don't do the reading will get behind quick. 
-It doesn't emulate a real college environment.  You hardly have daily classes, and the reading is much more than 5 pages before the next class.

-You can catch students that are behind quicker.
-Grades will probably go up.
-More assignments means that there is more flexibility for "bad days".

I can't really gauge the cost/benefit of long term information retention.  When it comes to it, those students that study, work on writing, and join study groups will retain more information for a longer period of time. 

Your thoughts?

Merry Christmas

People are puttering around (or sleeping) here in Discovery Bay, the home of my in-laws.  Christmas family-wise is about over, and only one more leg on the annual Christmas Tour is left, the one home.  The Christmas Tour this year went Ukiah to Chico to Burney to Ashland to Ukiah to Sacramento to Discovery Bay, and finally back home.  All of that in a matter of days.  The weather hasn't been too bad except for the Burney to Ashland part.  We went in and out of snow squalls for most of the trip and drove on freshly plowed roads.  We saw one unfortunate soul in a jeep that took the turns too hard and landed on her side.  She was up and walking around, but it was frightening enough to see.

2010 at school did not end in the best manner.  One class has become the focus of too much energy and the Final's Day for that class ended up a circus.  Some groups of kids were so damn immature that I sat in awe for a moment at what I was witnessing.  I really didn't know if I was in a Senior classroom or in a middle school classroom.  I was so angry about that class period that I had a conversation with some of the admin about my feelings.  What I wanted to do was jack a half dozen out of the class, give them "F's" on their Finals, and prepare to take on parents who think their kids are angels.  The problem?  Every time someone says "school board", "superintendent", or "district office", everyone gets jittery.  I instead did nothing, which is going to make me more of a hardass next semester and that might or might not be fair. 

And get this, a dozen Seniors overall showed up late for my final.  Half of those showed up more than fifteen minutes late, and two others showed up 30-60 minutes late.  In the past I basically told them that they couldn't take their Final because they had been warned and ignored the seriousness of the Final.  After situations last year, I really couldn't sustain that policy.  So those kids waltzed in and made other students wait so they could finish the Final.  There was little I could do.

As irritated as I was about the end of 2010, I'm still excited for the new year, probably because I'm well aware that 90% of my students are great, and for every meathead that can't focus, there are a dozen kids working hard to get the job done.  I have new ideas for APUSH and AP Comp Gov that are floating in my head, and a greater need to hammer some of the basic ideas that I think kids need to succeed such as responsibility, accountability, and attention to details.  I need to remember that the four walls of my classroom are more important than any other place on Earth when I'm teaching, and that things that are happening within the District (take for instance, continued bizarre union/management behavior) don't matter in the scope of teaching kids.  I need to remember that out of the dozens of parent communications that I've engaged in, 99% have been positive, and the 1% negative don't deserve the energy they demand.  I need to remember to still use graphs with Supply and Demand (sorry Dr. Charkins), that explaining the British Parliament is now a lot different than last year, and that about one hundred years of U.S. History must be mastered within about four months. 

I'm ready to get back.    

Monday, December 20, 2010

Been awhile

Notice that when basketball season started, I faded away.  Can’t help it really.  14 hour days do that to me.

I’m in a motel right now in Fairfield, California, sitting on my bed after watching 10 basketball players frolic in the motel pool for an hour.  We are participating in the Napa JV Tournament and Fairfield was the cheapest hotel rate I could find for so many kids with breakfast included.  While we are 1-1, the kids are actually having a blast.  We beat Napa the first night and lost to a private school called Justin-Siena.  After a flat first half, we staged a comeback to tie it up, only to lose it after a follow up with three seconds left in the game.  Learning experience.  Yesterday we hung out at the mall and took a tour of Jelly Belly factory.  The tour is actually really well done and good for all ages.  Hold on….

See, that’s how it is.  It is now two days later at home and I’m finishing this post.  My last hold was a phone call from kids that wanted to hit the Nike Outlet store in Vacaville, which I obliged.  Then it was off to the tournament and now I’m back home.

Anyway, oh yea, the Jelly Belly factory.  Good tour, but I should be able to take students down using nutritional grant money.  Most of my kids left fascinated by the flavors, but quite disgusted by the amount of chemicals and sugar used in the process.  Sugar, sugar, corn syrup, and more sugar.  It was a great way to get kids aware of what they were ingesting when eating a simple four calories Jelly Belly.

Now that December Madness has passed (basketball tournaments, Finals, Christmas), maybe I can get back to posting.