Sunday, February 26, 2012

What are you doing for ELD students blah, blah, blah

Since the beginning of my credential experience over a decade ago I’ve been groomed into preparing for a life dealing with students that have English as a Second Language.  Nearly half of my credential classes focused on diversified learning (geared towards ELL students), I had to take numerous classes to attain my CLAD (Cross-cultural, Language, and Academic Development), I’ve been trained to teach using SDAIE (Specifically Designed Academic Instruction in English), I’ve had to go to Spanish Language classes, put up with innumerable professional development workshops, and have had to deal with constant reminders that the system is failing Latino students.  In the course of a decade I’ve been told to incorporate more diverse techniques, then told to focus on Explicit Direct Instruction, then told to use a little Spanish, only to be then told to use only English, and of course told to be more culturally sensitive. 

It hasn’t really worked.  In fact if there is one thing that No Child Left Behind has forced in our faces is that the current way we teach Hispanic students has done little to change the fact that they continue to underachieve in our classrooms.  In our school district we have students that have been in the classroom for years and have failed to move up in language acquisition and academic performance.  With all due respect to naysayers against teachers, these students are not getting bad teachers in every grade in elementary school, and they are certainly not getting over a dozen bad teachers in middle school and high school.  Maybe the question needs to be “Why are Hispanic students not performing to grade level in classrooms”, and go from there.  And why not ask teachers while we are at it.  I’ll be happy to tell you two things; first that many of my Hispanic students are successful (especially the females), and second that my Hispanic students that are not successful usually have some correlation to their attendance in my classroom. 

But this week we got another evidence-of-ELL-Instruction-blah-blah-blah thing that we will fill out with the same old stuff with the realization that what needs to change seems to be out of our control.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the one thing that George Bush was right about was when he said that disadvantaged children should not suffer the soft bigotry low expectations.  Maybe this time I’ll write down “I hold them to a high standard.  Are we all doing the same?”         

Monday, February 20, 2012

MITx, and the illusion that online course work is ground-breaking.

In the constant debate on whether technology is a tool or a solution to our Education dilemma in the United States, we seem to have forgotten the introduction MITx, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s attempt at creating free professional development to the masses in an environment that some hope will be the answer to expensive college costs.  Think of it as Khan Academy for the college student, only you get a certificate from MIT that says you completed actual coursework from MIT, because apparently MITx is just like going to MIT, only its free and online.  Consider education changed. 

Or not.  The debate rages on whether or not education’s dive into the online environs will have an effect on getting the “best and brightest” of society into a higher gear while ending the classic university system as we know.  Megan McArdle of the Atlantic took a look at the potential apocalyptic horror that could befall the post-secondary system if online-distance learning took hold.  She’s a bit cynical of course, as am I due to the fact that everyone seems to forget in a lot of courses the online environment simply can’t replicate the real world laboratory.  Try and prepare to be a teacher online and see where that gets you.  Oh wait…..

And you wonder why there are some lousy teachers out there. 

Which leads us to a quote from the article:

 “….imagine a personnel manager at a mid-sized corporation who's looking for an employee with some particular knowledge. There are two candidates: one with an appropriate college degree from the local state school, a second with relevant MITx certificates. Let's say all other things between the candidates are equal. Which should the manager choose?”

These are typically stupid comparisons.  If a personnel manager is finding that the job comes down to an online certificate from MIT or a degree from Cal-State San Luis Obispo (which by-the-way is tougher than most California UC’s), then the personnel manager needs to be fired.  This is classic high-end college snobbery; if you can sit through a bad teacher at Stanford or Ivy League schools then you are better at a specialized task if you had good professors at state schools.  It’s all bullshit (hear that Teach For America).  Just like the author’s answer to the quote.   He said that the manager probably chose the MITx candidate because they had less student debt (therefore will ask for a cheaper salary), and because the state candidate probably just went to college to get the “college experience”. 

The real answer to any application of human capital has a lot more to do with experience, work ethic, and actual knowledge than some certificate or degree from any institution.  And while I can appreciate MITx trying to upgrade post-secondary education to 3.0, it’s still simply an online certificate that’s going to have to pass muster within the private sector. 

Hey week, go the hell away

Today I got my first request for a parent conference. 


I mean seriously, this week has been the hardest of the year and it really wasn’t even close.  It wasn’t like there was a major event or anything.  It was simply a series of small events that seemed to never let up.  And every day I was just happy to be going home to sleep.  I don’t like those kind of weeks.  But they happen from time to time.  I’ll partly blame myself because I think I relaxed a little now that basketball is done.  Actually, I think I just let up a little in the management portion of my classroom.  Or maybe I didn’t. 

This is about the time (seems a bit early this year) when Seniors try to assert themselves in my classroom.  University acceptance letters come in while student bodies end up missing more and more class time for a variety of things.  For them accountability sucks.  It’s about this time that I’m going to be called “power hungry” and “inflexible” because I don’t deviate from my classroom rules.  Now that grades are coming out lower than students want, the kids are faced with an economic choice that they don’t like and deal with it like usual.  The results are often, well, like those of an angry teenager.

Mix with that the constant distractions that seem to pop up that take away from school; college visits, vacations, blood drives, beauty pageants, talent shows, sports, clubs, blah, blah, blah, and you academics plunked on the low end of the list and make-up work piling up like crazy.  My grades are lower than usual because so many “missing” grades are in the grade book.  Make-up work gets my attention after current work and prep get done, which could mean it gets attention a couple of weeks down the line.  This freaks out many and leads to more friction and parent conferences and…..*sigh*.

Take it all in stride, right?  Yep.  My stern looks at students wanting unending compromises won’t win me any Teacher of the Year awards but they send the warning that school isn’t done yet and cashing in their education with months to go probably isn’t a wise choice.  Consistency in the face of adversity. 

And thank God for a new week. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

How my mind works


It’s Sunday night and I’m previewing the news summary from the PBS Newshour.  The ritual has taken place nearly every night for my entire eleven years of teaching; an idea that I got from my old Social Studies teachers Carol Kirk and Rex Moseley from the Paradise High School days.  The students watch the news (except APUSH, no time) every morning (about 4-7 minutes) and on occasion a gem shows up in the focus stories.  Tonight will be a gem night.

At the very beginning of the Newshour there is a preview of the entire program and I notice a story that mentions a popular American girl in China. 

Hmmmm.  Could be interesting for AP Comparative Government.  China from an American point of view.  I’ll check it out.

After the news summary I fast forward to the last part of the show and find the story when my television screen is assaulted by a peppy blond girl who looks fifteen and speaks Mandarin Chinese and English. 

What in the hell is this?

It’s a total Spock eyebrow raising experience that has my complete and total attention.  The blond is 25 year old Jessica Beinecke, a college graduate who decided to make a series of web videos that teaches people in China how speak American slang.  She produces them in her dining room and the web sensation has gone big-time viral in China.

Not gonna work for Comp Gov.  It’s about her, not really about China.  But wait a minute.  Human capital…entrepreneurial spirit…something is here.  I’m smelling an economics lesson.

We finished our Factors of Production segment of Economics but the nice thing about teaching the subject is that everything really nicely ties in with everything else.  Our current focus is Economic Systems, and it won’t be hard at all to attach the ideas of the Free Market into Jessica’s use of human capital to meet a demand for American culture.  Plus, I’m always looking for examples of positive use of human capital to show students.  We are, after all, living in a new economy.

I need a hook.  I need a hook.  Ok, one of her videos. 

Her show is called OMG! Meiyu, or OMG! American English, and the production has an entire Youtube channel  dedicated to everything from snot to “crazy fresh” to coffee to boyfriends.  What can I get students to be interested in?

Coffee.  Yeah, who doesn’t like coffee? 

The coffee video is fine, except that I’m teaching Seniors and I want something that might be the slightest bit edgy.  I look for another one.

Boyfriends….ahhhhhh dating.  The Romance Night video shows promise.

Sure enough the perky blond brings the drama and the teaching to her video Date Night Romance.  She talks about a date she took with a guy that involved dinner, a movie, and playing hard-to-get.  It’ll be perfect pre-Valentine’s Day fodder.

But I need something else.  I need something for the kids to assume in terms of human capital.  Introducing the video isn’t inquisitive enough.  I need something simpler.

I find a picture of Jessica online that has her looking young, blond, and a tad bit frazzled.  Perfect.  I bring the picture, bring the Youtube video (3 minutes), and then finish it off with the Newshour clip that talks about Beinecke’s impact within China (about 7 minutes).  Will it work?

I wait until the last 17 or so minutes of class as we transition from how human capital is used in different economic systems (traditional, command, market) to a picture of Jessica Beinecke on the projector.  The question is simple; based on what you see here, what could this girl’s human capital include?  The answers are slow to come out; mainly because it is unusual to see a picture of what appears to be a teenage blond girl on the projector.  But eventually they do trickle; she seems to have energy, she seems like a blogger, she looks like she knows the Internet.  Then I bring up the video.  Jaws drop.  The blond is now speaking Chinese and has a video online?  Then come more human capital characteristics.  She’s bilingual.  She knows technology.  She can produce videos.  She has energy.  She’s great with expressions.  She’s hygienic.  Finally I show the Newshour clip and the whole thing comes together.  Jessica is college educated, innovative, and has the kind attitude that is almost addictive.  Basically she’s a teacher. 

The conversation evolved in some classes into different things like China evolving into a more market-based system, learning Chinese as an element of human capital, and even some conversation about the expansion of American “soft power” to China.  And yes, a couple of students initiated the conversation about soft power. 

Overall, it worked.  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Silicon Valley, and @ddmeyer Post about Math Education

Dan Meyer is a former Ukiah High School graduate and current Math Education guru.  When he’s not figuring out the best ways to introduce inquisitive learning into the Match curriculum, Dan is commenting about the interesting relationship between technology and education. 

Probably one of the most important posts on technology and education ever written graced the pages of his blog recently; a thesis about the perceived notion of what Math should be to the tech executives of Silicon Valley versus the notion of how Math should be taught to students by teachers in the classroom.  Sure, its focus is on Mathematics, but we can all take something out of not only the blog post but the comments as well.  Dan’s post stirred up quite the conversation about not only technology’s role in the realm of education, but over-arching theme of “technology as a tool” versus “technology as THE tool”. 

Take the following comment about Khan Academy:

“Teachers are a great medium for lots of things that a YouTube video isn't. "Conversation, dialogue, reasoning, and open questions," as I put it in my post. If you, as a teacher, aren't taking advantage of your medium, if you're functionally equivalent to a YouTube video, you should be replaced by a YouTube video.

Sudarshan (a commenter) summarizes that elegantly:

Incompetent/bored math teacher < khan academy < better online learning platform < Good math teacher.”

Pretty damn poignant. 

Another season done.

There is always happiness and sadness to the end of a basketball season.  The sadness comes from the end of a period of relationships you’ve had from a close group of students for months.  Along with that I watch Seniors play their last basketball game and those relationships have been going for years.  The happiness is simple.  Finally, some rest.  I’ve been going basically non-stop since the first week of November and this period of rest is very welcome.  Notice that my blog has been quiet for awhile.  Well, I really didn’t have the energy to do a lot of blogging.

The season went very well.  As with any season, dealing with twelve teenage boys has its periods of agony and ecstasy.  But the end result was more than I could have hoped for.  We ended the season 21-5 and tied for the league championship with oft league favorite Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa.  The cherry on top of the season was the way we came out for the last game; attacking the rim, diving on the floor, and making unselfish plays.  The win last night guaranteed us a share of the title and hopefully a springboard to positive varsity experience next year.

I’ll rest for about two weeks and then do two days a week of open gym.  It allows me to reinvigorate that other basketball passion I have, playing.  Then the whole coaching thing comes back in June when I return from grading Advanced Placement exams in Kansas City. 

And it starts all over again.