Thursday, December 23, 2010

American Kids aren't creative?

As a teacher that has only been teaching for less than ten years, I don't think I have enough experience to back this up with anecdotal evidence from my own teaching as the article, but I definitely have worried about the impact that technology will have on creativity. Hopefully now with the capabilities to create on the internet (see: aviary, a free set of web based tools meant to replace photoshop style programs) this concern over lack of creativity will slowly recede as technology tools catch up with how fast imaginations can work.

"Americans' scores on a commonly used creativity test fell steadily from 1990 to 2008, especially in the kindergarten through sixth-grade age group, says Kyung Hee Kim, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. The finding is based on a study of 300,000 Americans' scores from 1966 to 2008 on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, a standardized test that's considered a benchmark for creative thinking. (Dr. Kim's results are currently undergoing peer review to determine whether they will be published in a scholarly journal.)"

from the article A Box? Or a Spaceship? What Makes Kids Creative by Sue Shellenbarger

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Minority Rights from Will Kymlicha and Philosophy Bites

Philosophy Bites is a podcast by Nigel Warburton that interviews philosophers on specific topics. As a former philosophy student, this is kind of like candy to me.

His interview[listen] of Will Kymlicha speaks particularly to the issues facing education. He states that it is necessary to grant specific rights to minority groups, which might seem at odd with the equality that most liberal western democracies might be founded on.

He divides minority groups up into three broad types and determines that each group has grounds for requesting different sorts of rights.

1. Indigenous groups
2. Immigrant groups
3. Language groups

The reasons he states for needing these special rights are to right historic wrongs and to recognize the inherent advantages the dominant groups receive in society and government. This interview creates the theoretical basis for discussing minority group rights in schools.

These minority rights are incredibly important when thinking about education. We must recognize that students do not come to school with the same set of experiences, skills and expectations. Our schools are beginning the process of providing additional support for specific groups. The St. Louis Park High School has been particularly successful with this, with a number of support groups to help African-American students succeed and challenge themselves in school. There is still a lot of room to grow though. We have to continue to show and argue that minority groups require additional support in an educational system that favors the dominant white culture here in the United States.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Choice engages students

From a new study at the University of Texas, students who have a say on what assignment to complete are more engaged. I think that is something that many teachers know, but don't realize how valuable it can be for student engagement.

Giving Students a Say May Spur Engagement and Achievement:

"Call it DIY differentiated learning: A new study at the University of Texas at Austin suggests students are more invested and learn more when they get a say in class assignments.

In one group, students were assigned one of two homework assignments that were in different modes but covered 'essentially identical content,' Ms. Patall said. In the other group, students were allowed to choose which of the two assignments to complete. For each homework option chosen, a similar student in the 'no-choice' group would be assigned the same homework to create matched pairs.

Two weeks later, in the following unit, the two groups were switched, with students who chose being assigned homework and the assigned students getting a choice of the next two homework options.

'When students were given choices, they reported feeling more interested in their homework, felt more confident about their homework and they scored higher on their unit tests,' Ms. Patall told me. Students who chose their assignments also turned them in more often, but this finding was not significant."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Feds give Minneapolis schools funds to help Indian students

Feds give Minneapolis schools funds to help Indian students: "The Minneapolis School District is getting more than $1 million from the federal government to create a mentoring program aimed at American Indian students."

Provides for a real need in Minnesota. Hopefully we'll get to see reports on how this grant has actually impacted the learning of American Indian Students.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How do we make smart cool?

Recently, I was watching the Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus on
C-span. This panel based discussion made up of emerging black political leaders, many of whom have roles in the Obama administration. I was drawn in quickly by the program and was struck by Michael Blake,
Associate White House Director for the Office of Public Engagement's thoughts on motivating students. He speaks of a paradigm shift and the idea that especially leaders in the black community need to help set the tone for making 'smart cool.' Teaching students to reach beyond just sports and entertainment.

What can we do in our own communities, schools and classrooms to push this shift along, all the while recognizing the many kind of smarts a student can be gifted with? Can smart be col?

Mr. Blake's talking points begin at minute 53:00.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Study: Higher STEM 'Dose' May Lead to Adult Achievement

From Study: Higher STEM 'Dose' May Lead to Adult Achievement:

The United States may be damned with faint praise this morning, as the newly released 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results show American 15-year-olds have improved to perform in the middle of the pack of 34 industrialized countries in science, while their math performance remained below the average. The results are apt to goad an already-urgent debate about how to move scientifically talented youngsters from science and math classrooms to economy-spurring science careers.

Yet a new 25-year longitudinal study of America's top-performing students suggests even a natural interest in or talent for science doesn't guarantee a student will become an accomplished scientist as an adult. Rather, students who received early and strong 'doses' of both STEM courses and enrichment were more likely than their academic peers to become advanced scientists as adults.

I really believe in STEM, and it's clear that we can't assume that students who are interested in science still need to be encouraged in school.

School: Everyone begins on a different starting line

I see it every year in my classroom. I can tell you on the first day of school a lot about a child just by spending a short amount of time with them. Usually it is evident which children have summer birthdays and which went to a pre-K program and which have older siblings. No one likes to prejudge, but it is a social cue that comes with our innate humanness.

We do not all begin school in the same place, therefore even just at the end of the first full year of public school many black and brown children are already at an extraordinary disadvantage from their white peers because the experiences, language and styles of parenting they may have had, has influenced their abilities in school. The Harlem Children's Zone recognizes this race through school that leave many kids never able to catch up and continually fall behind grade level expectations. They are embracing education in a ground breaking way and following the 17,000 children in the 100 block radius of Harlem from birth to college graduation. Their offerings of formal education for each step, along with social services outreach, parenting classes and health and nutrition services. Even with such services the Geoffrey Canada, director and CEO of the program, still notes the disparity of achievement and a fight against a nationwide race through school which leads to the eventual drop-out of students of color that cannot keep up.

Clearly early childhood support is critical in eliminating the racially predictable achievement gap. This means reforming many of the ways that early childhood education and the primary years grade K-3 are taught. Giving up unethical practices that may be "fun" or something that has "always been done" but is not directly tied to student learning certainly should be the first step. Being creative with our time and integrating social curriculum and combining it with literacy and math skills has become a norm. What are the next steps that we can take to set the tone for amping up the early years so that our black and brown students may begin to align in a more parallel way with their peers of other races?

Monday, December 6, 2010

5(3) ways to close the achievement gap

Even though this blog post actually only has 3 ways to close the achievement gap, it is still an interesting discussion, based on two of the people involved, Valeria Silva and Bernadeia Johnson, the superintendents of St. Paul Public Schools and Minneapolis Public Schools respectively.

"Silva: I’d require more time and more days per student in academic programs. That’s not the same thing as saying we need a longer school year. That isn’t necessary for every student. But for kids who are struggling, summer school and community education programs should be a must, not an option."

Having taught summer school, I question whether our current model can truly close the achievement gap, but I agree wholeheartedly with her assessment, we cannot close the achievement gap without increasing contact days and hours with teachers. As a staunch union member, I understand the difficulties with increasing the number of days teachers work, but when you compare us to other countries, we lag behind in contact hours and days.

5 Ways to Close the Achievement Gap
from the nytimes...

BROCKTON, Mass. — A decade ago, Brockton High School was a case study in failure. Teachers and administrators often voiced the unofficial school motto in hallway chitchat: students have a right to fail if they want. And many of them did — only a quarter of the students passed statewide exams. One in three dropped out.

Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.

A great article on a school turning around their students performance by doing something as simple, but hard as incorporating reading and writing into every subject.

4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Learning Network: Creative State of Mind: Focusing on the Writing Process

From the new york times...

"Overview | How can using writer’s notebooks and practicing the use of literary elements help writers develop ideas? In this lesson, students examine the lyrics of rap artist Jay-Z for literary elements including rhyme, metaphor, puns and allusions, then consider what he says about his own writing process. Finally, they analyze additional lyrics and apply lessons from Jay-Z’s process to their own reading and writing. "

What a great idea to go beyond the simple "rap is a form of poetry" to actually analyzing a popular rap artist's lyrics for literary elements and also to look at the process it takes to actually produce lyrics. Very cool.

Creative State of Mind: Focusing on the Writing Process

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It is unfortunate that Jonathan Kozol's book, Savage Inequalities, now seems like a timeless classic

I first read Kozol in 1995, as an undergraduate in education. Four years later, I lived his writing while teaching an a large but ill-equipped and strapped for money school. I was the the only white face in my classroom and learned to deal with roaches the length of a deck of cards. Many of my third graders did not read beyond a kindergarten level. Years later, Savage Inequalities, as it was published first in 1991, I am struck by what Mr. Kozol says right at the top of page 4.

" What seems unmistakable, but, oddly enough, is rarely said in public settings nowadays, is that the nation, for all practice and intent has turned its back upon the moral implications, if not the legal ramifications, of the Brown decision. The struggle being waged at all, is closer to the one that was addressed in 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the court accepted segregated institutions for black people, stipulation only that they must be equal to those open to white people. The dual society, at least in public education, seems in general to be unquestioned."

By what means as educators are we beginning to question this dual society when we know that black and brown students are not being reached in the same manner as their white peers?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What does this say about Minnesota?

Yesterday, I posted a link to a study that shows that Minnesota is falling behind the rest of the country in the achievement gap. Then, we have this study that shows that Minnesota students are some of the best in the country on 4th grade Math tests. Also, we have one of the most equitable funding systems in the country, and having been a teacher in Chicago Public Schools, I can attest to that. So which is it? Are we failing our low income and disadvantaged students are are we succeeding? I think we have a long way to go, but it's encouraging to see that we are still succeeding by some measures.

Minnesota Schools Receive Praise

Honor their identities, it is more than just a box of crayons.

Recently, my kindergarten class completed a portion of our IB (International Baccalaureate) Planner called All About Me. The unit focused around student driven inquiry and was guided under the central idea that students can learn more about themselves by learning about other people. A very basic, yet developmentally appropriate concept for this age group. Near the end of the inquiry, which lasted several weeks, the students chose a partner to interview. Each child had their own paper and was to record their partner's eye color, hair color, skin color and an ability that they had. Later they would present it to the larger group. As I circled around the pairs as a silent observer I came upon one very frustrated child who was making a loud proclamation that his crayon was broken. I watched him impatiently and audibly scrub the white crayon on the white paper in the square meant to record his partners skin color. I held back to see if his partner would offer any suggestions. Moments later he said, "No, no, no, you are choosing from the wrong bin, go get the people colors. See, I am not like a white crayon (he stuck out his hand next to the crayon). You are not black like the black crayon either." The child went across the room to obtain one of the people color bins. When he returned the conversation continued. "Oh, you are like this one," said the frustrated partner. He asked me the name of color on the crayon. "This one is called toast," I said. "Okay, toast color, but really I am not toast I am Mexican and Black, but there is no crayon that says Mexican and Black but that one looks just like my hand."

In my classroom the people color crayons are among the favorite items to use. Each table has their own specially assigned bin and there are additional sets of colored pencils always out and available. If you have ever looked at the standard box of 24 crayons used in most classrooms across the country, you will find a black, brown, white and peach colored crayon that millions of children (if they are lucky enough to even have this) must use each day to depict themselves in their stories, illustrations and artworks. However, most don't fall exactly within this color range. Even my own skin falls neither on just quite the white crayon or the peach crayon. Race, of course is more than just color or the way others see your skin, it may not define you as a person, or it may completely define you as a person. What does your box of 24 afford your students?

Note: Crayola makes a set of what they call multi-cultural colors, but I like the people colors in the jumbo crayons and colored pencils from

Monday, November 29, 2010

"I was wrong" - The Minnesota Achievement Gap

Well, I've said this before myself, and it turns out I was wrong as well.

from an article at minnpost...

"The statistical argument we'd hide behind was that our kids of color weren't doing so much worse than kids of color in other states, but rather the gap was mostly a function of our white kids doing so much better than white kids in other states.

I was wrong. That argument is simply not true, according to the latest evidence."

Minnesota's stubborn and scary reading achievement gap

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You know your students' names, but do you know their parents' names?

One of the many gifts I have gotten in this life is to teach for a living. It is something I was born to do. The child of two exemplary educators, it was encoded in both the nature and nurture parts of my childhood. Regardless, to me teaching is a gift with which I take pride, find stress in and rejoice at the small bits of daily triumph. The second gift I have been afforded is that of being a parent. Like any parent, I find awe in and grow to love my daughters more each day. Nature's response to this in my innate feeling to provide them with the best that I can. The best warm winter jacket, a filling and healthy lunch, a well rested and clean body with which to happily start the day. I also want what most parents want a school that is going to take over where I left off for the day. A place that is going to teach them to read and write and be ready for the world beyond first grade, but mostly a place that is going care about them while doing this. A place where they feel safe enough to ask questions and make mistakes. But, also a place where if they are pushing the limits their teacher cares enough about them to involve me in their choices, not because the behavior is a nuisance and interfering with his or her teaching, but because he or she cares enough to expect better from them.

There is a former kindergartner of mine, we'll call him Lyle (not his real name) who is now a second grader. When Lyle first arrived mid-year in my classroom, he was an expert in pushing the limits of both my patience and the boundaries of what our class had decided was socially acceptable in our classroom. He was an extremely friendly kid, very easily engaged but academically low compared to his classmates and one of only three children of color in the class. His response to work when things became difficult would be to visit with another kid and get them off track, thus diverting the attention from himself (tricky, right? quite brilliant) or become defiant. It took me several weeks to see the patterns. It took me the same amount of time to learn his mother, Gayle's (not her real name), cell phone number by heart.

Sometimes, I would march him over to the phone and we would call her together. She would give him a good talking to and remind him that Mrs. Haen wanted just what she wanted, for him to do his best. We both cared about him. There were other times when I would call Gayle out of Lyle's presence just to check in on things and update her on his progress or struggles.
We got to be a team. She called often to ask questions about her other three children or just to talk.

It became the secret magical tool that I could pull out. The caring and compassionate tool. "I care about you, I care that you learn, I care that you expect the best from yourself just like your mom does." Lyle knew these words. He knew them well.
So well that I'll never forget one day while he was sitting at his table and he saw me walk towards my desk and said, "What you gonna do call my momma?" In fact I was, it was a perfectly normal day, nothing extraordinary, nothing rotten just a kid sitting at his table doing the work that his teacher had given him. I called him mom to report day and she teared up in responding to my consistent caring and compassion in being Lyle's teacher. She said that she had a teacher just like me when she was in school and she never forgot her. She was the reason that she even graduated.

Lyle is a second grader now and has had a string of excellent and compassionate teachers. He still struggles with academics, but not for want of his teacher's caring, he is making the necessary growth. I see him at least once a month and talk on the phone to both he and his two older sisters and mom once a week.

Gayle and I were a team during Lyle's kindergarten year. One of many teams I have been on. Gayle new my expectations were high not because I wanted the smartest kids in my class, but because I cared about his future, his well being and his positive choices. These were the same things she cared about. We should all be so lucky should it be our choice, to be a parent know the deepest depths of wanting the best for our children. This can translate into the depths of caring that we want for our students.

What team are you on? Do you know the names of all of your parents? Give yourself a little quiz and see if you are at grade level with the score. How can the simplicity of caring cross racial, economic and social lines in your school and classroom?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Closing Schools

From the new york times...

Over the past decade, the elementary and high schools that make the list of the worst— those in the bottom 25 percent on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test — have changed. One of every three schools — 47 of 155 — managed to make it off the list. The worst schools now are arguably better than the worst schools were 10 years ago. Their test scores have gone up (though much has been made about changes to the ISAT that made the test easier), attendance is up slightly in the elementary schools and the dropout rate in the worst high schools has improved by 10 percentage points, though it remains at a troubling 54 percent.

It's great to see that schools in Chicago have been improving, and that attendance is up and dropout rates are down. Although this article was about closing struggling schools, something my district just had to go through, and something Minnesota has had to deal with, I thought it was nice to highlight that Illinois schools are getting better. As a former teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, I'm happy for my former colleagues.

Milken Award-winning teachers share their tips

Milken Award-winning teachers share their tips

"Two Minnesota elementary school teachers received the prestigious Milken Award. They join Midday to talk about what makes an effective teacher."

I listened to this radio broadcast today, and one of the best points raised was how they use the QCOMP, which is an alternative teacher pay system in Minnesota. I have appreciated what ATPPS (which is our version of QCOMP in St. Louis Park) has brought to our district. We now have professional learning communities, and have 3 observations every year. It has definitely improved our teaching, our collaboration and our professional development. However, in this school, Sojourner Truth Charter School, they use the QCOMP funds to pay for two staff development teachers, 1 hour a week to meet for professional development, and then co-teaching with the staff development teachers using the strategies discussed in professional development. I love how they have connected staff development with the actually training, and provide the support necessary to see that happen. Too often I've gone to trainings, and then been unable to use the training we learned, not because I didn't want to, but because I didn't have the support structure in place to ensure that I could implement the training.

Add Your Voice: My ideas for school improvement

Can we fire our way to success?

Absolutely not. I would love to see how experienced teachers are at non-AYP and AYP schools, as in the current system, more experienced teachers earn more money. At most of the schools I've been at that were struggling, the teaching staff was predominantly young and less experienced.

What role do charter schools play in driving public school transformation?

This is an area that makes me sad. I wish public schools and the unions would drive the school transformation process. I am a huge proponent of public education and unions, but too often we are preventing reform, instead of suggesting and empowering it. Public education needs more funding, and that is something we just don't have. We have to figure out how to more with less.

I think charter schools have some powerful things we can learn, but it's not the only way that can reform the schools, and it's not going to solve things for all students.

What state and federal policies have driven the students in your school to success?

I think there have been some good policies, however too many of these good policies are underfunded. I personally don't see much good in the federal programs, it's too remote from the local schools. However, there have been many important reforms in schools that would have been impossible without the federal government (title IX, special education, de-segregation), but for every positive, you have something like NCLB, which, while forcing us to focus on the failings of our school system, has created a school grading system that will have every school eventually fail.

Our state in Minnesota has historically had very strong support of education. The state funding model is one that should be copied throughout the country, as I have never seen inner city schools as well funded as the one's in Minneapolis. Hopefully, with a Democratic Governor, there can be some increases in funding, as well as improvements in how certain programs are funded.

Interactive Map of Poverty Rates in USA


There's a lot of these maps around the internet. Here's one from Mint. It looks at the poverty rate in every US County. Interesting, although as educators can attest, you can live in a "weathy" county, and teach students who live in poverty.

How to Change the Channel and Number on Clickers

Sometimes, you might need to change the channel and clicker number on the CPS Clickers. Here's how to do it:

1. Check what the clicker channel and number is. press the menu button and scroll through until you find the clicker number and channel.

2. To change the channel, press the two arrow keys simultaneously, then the plus button. This will present you with a screen where you can set the clicker channel and number. Hit return without putting in a number if you don't want to change it. It will then power cycle down.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Which CPS Report to Use

Hopefully this will help teachers use the reports offered by CPS.

I want to know which problems my class (as a whole) struggled with:

Use Response Report. This will give you a report with each question and the percent that each possible answer was chosen.

I want to know how each of students did on a test overall:

Use Instructor Summary. This will give you a whole class report, listing each individual students overall percentage correct on the test, but no information on specific questions.

I want to have something to give back to students with the test questions and their answers:

Use Study Guide. This will make a lot of sheets of paper, and only really works if you have the questions typed into CPS, not just the answers.

I want to give my students a sheet that shows which questions they got wrong:

Use Study Guide - Incorrect Answers which will give you a report with only a student's incorrect answer. Study Guide - Class Summary will create a single sheet for each student with the student's choice and the correct choice.

I want a graph of my students choices:

Use the Question Report. Be careful though, because it also includes a page for each question that has their answers on it.

I want to know which students got a question wrong:

Use Question Grid Export. It will automatically export the the student answers to excel. The file will look like the student managed mode answer grid. If a student got the question right, there will be a + in the column, otherwise it will tell you their incorrect answer.

This document will now be updated as a google doc. Find it here. Right now only SLP teachers and staff can access it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stanton Peele: Sputnik and Charter Schools: Neither Has Moved American Education Off Center

Stanton Peele: Sputnik and Charter Schools: Neither Has Moved American Education Off Center:

"American leaders have been concerned to improve education since the 1950s, when the Soviet launching of Sputnik in 1957 prompted endless soul-searching about deficiencies in American scientific education. It is now hard to recall the political and social turmoil Sputnik spawned. James Rutherford, a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, compared two seismic events that focused Americans on the country's unpreparedness in an overseas enemy -- Pearl Harbor and Sputnik: "

It's my belief the current arguments between child centered 21st century technology-based schools and the traditional school model go back not just to Sputnik, but to Dewey, and the education reformers of the early 20th century. This article does a good job though of tying the current reforms and arguments for reforms in schools and the issues after the launching of Sputnik.

How to close the achievement gap - MPR

How to close the achievement gap: "One of the great challenges for educators is the widening achievement gap between students of different races and different economic backgrounds. The directors of two charter schools join Midmorning to discuss their efforts to close that gap, and create a culture of achievement among minority and low-income students."

Yes Please! Wish I wasn't teaching so I could listen to it this morning. I'll be listening to this tonight afterschool. It'll be interesting to hear what these charter schools are doing and how we can apply their changes in the public school setting.

Number Sense - Arabic Number System

To expand student understanding of where the numbers used in the United States came from.

Most people in the USA are comfortable using the Arabic Numbering system. However, we rarely think about the history of the Arabic Numbering System.

When you teach number sense with your students, you can help celebrate the mathematicians of India and Persia by discussing the history and development of the

Here is a brief history from wikipedia:

"Arabic numerals or Hindu numerals or Hindu-Arabic numerals are the ten digits (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). They are descended from the Hindu-Arabic numeral system by Indian mathematicians, by which a sequence of numerals such as "975" is read as a whole number. The Indian numerals were adopted by the Persian mathematicians in India, and passed on to the Arabs further west. From there they were transmitted to Europe in the Middle Ages. The use of Arabic numerals spread around the world through European trade, books and colonialism. Today they are the most common symbolic representation of numbers in the world."

link to the rest of the article.

Important Facts
1. Invented around 500 CE in India, which is why many people call them the Hindu-Arabic Numerals.
2. One of first to use 0(zero), which directly leads to the next fact.
3. It uses a positional notation - This means that it uses ones, tens, hundreds and so on. Most number systems didn't at that time (for example Roman numerals)
4. Europe became aware of the system from On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals by Al-Khwarizmi, a persian Mathematician.
5. Al-Kwarizmi's name was latinized to Algorithmi, which is where the word algorithm comes from.
6. Was adopted in Europe in part because of it's usefulness in managing accounts in commerce and trade.
7. Fibonacci, who was trained in part in Algeria which was at that time part of the Almohad dynasty, popularized Hindu-Arabic Numerals in his book Liber Abaci.

Evolution of the glyphs: link
A Genealogy of Counting Systems: link
Lesson on ancient number systems: link

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sam Chaltain: Education's Blockbuster Moment

"The Superman Syndrome -- Despite the myriad public pleas to stop waiting for Superman to fix our public schools, we remain entranced with the idea of the superhero figure, who singularly wills a recalcitrant community into a new era of better, more high-achieving schools. Yet as previous studies point out, the only real path toward systemic reform is building the collective capacity of a community, which means tending to both technical expertise and emotional commitment. As the recent DC election pointed out, the superhero leadership style is great for media attention -- and lousy for long-term change efforts. The problem is, like Blockbuster, we have a lot invested in this particular myth, and we will be slow to let it go."

Sam Chaltain: Education's Blockbuster Moment

Where do You Stand?

Where Do I Stand? is an amazing movie about 7 youths' response to the anti-foreigner riots in South America. Amazing. Would you just stand by as people are being attacked?

Where Do I Stand? Trailer from Molly Blank on Vimeo.

Unethical Practices in Education

Are educators indirectly and unethically damaging students?

Gloria Ladson-Billings, in a speech to the National Wriitng Project on unethical education:

"I do spend a fair amount of my time in schools. I get to hear many things about what's quote "wrong with our students." And one of the things I hear is that children lack exposure or experiences. I hear this really at the early level a lot. So as a consequence, many of their classroom days are filled with day after day after day of experiences, but little, if any, teaching. Now I do believe that schools can and should offer students some interesting and new experiences, but those experiences have to be tied to student learning. . . . To take kids to the zoo or to the amusement park without some learning link to it, particularly when none of these high-stakes tests are going to ask them or hold them accountable for whether or not they've been to Six Flags, it's not only unfair, it's unethical."

Let's talk more about what is wrong with the teachers. Most of us, work hard. We get to school early, we stay later than we should. There is the daily lugging of a notoriously heavy bag of work home with us in the evening. We are educators because our strengths and passions fuel us to teach. We are all fallible in more than a few ways, our innate humanness make us so. We all have off-days and moments we'd rather the world not see, but the students entrusted to us in our classrooms see it all.

What regular practices are we continuing in our classrooms just because we have always done it that way?

What damage are we doing to our students?

What amount of time, not including that for community building such as in a Responsive Classroom model and social curriculum are we wasting on any given day?

What is the difference in your classroom between busy work and productive engagement leading to skill acquisition?

Looking with a critical eye, what are the unethical practices you could let go of?

Check-out more of Gloria Ladson-Billings speech to the National Writing Project: practices

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Districts Take Bigger Role in Preparing New School Leaders

A great article that looks at changing how principals are prepared to be administers in low performing schools. Wouldn't it make sense that this is done for teachers too?

"The federal drive to improve the nation's lowest-performing schools has created a surge in demand for principals trained and experienced in leading long-struggling schools to success. The scarcity of the so-called 'turnaround principal' has led more urban districts to get involved directly with local colleges of education and other training programs, according to a study released Wednesday by the Wallace Foundation.

Researchers from the Boston-based Education Development Center, Inc. analyzed leadership training in eight cities which had received Wallace Foundation grants to experiment with principal preparation: Boston; Chicago; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Jefferson County, Ky.; Providence, R.I.; St. Louis; Springfield, Ill.; and Springfield, Mass.

At minimum, most of the districts changed their hiring criteria for school leaders assigned to work in struggling schools. Districts required these principals to have more explicit understanding of school and district systems and procedures, as well as internships in difficult schools.

'I don't think districts realized how big a contribution they make just by having those positions become transparent,' said Cheryl L. King, a co-author and the EDC's director of leadership for learning innovation. 'The more we can know about that job and what it entails, the better we will be at preparing candidates to step into those shoes.'

Districts Take Bigger Role in Preparing New School Leaders

Macrowikinomics : Beyond Superman to a New Model of Education

"But it's wrong to blame teachers, who overall are a) underpaid, and b) striving to do the best with the limited resources they are given. Nor does the research show that charter schools achieve better outcomes.

The root of the malaise in our schools is the outmoded model of pedagogy. Teachers and text books are assumed to be the source of knowledge. Teachers 'teach' -- they impart knowledge to their students, who through practice and assignments learn how to perform well on tests.

This is the very best model of pedagogy that 18th century technology can provide. It's teacher-centered model that is one way, one-size-fits-all and the student is isolated in the learning process. It's time for a rethinking of the entire model of learning. We need to move to a customized and collaborative model that embraces 21st century learning technology and techniques. This is not about technology per se -- it's about a change in the relationship between the student and teacher in the learning process."

Don Tapscott is a writer of a book called Macrowikinomics and has written a series of articles that hit home with the issues facing education. Every time people complain about poor education and then blame teachers don't realize that teachers can only work with the materials at hand. I taught in a Chicago Public School with excellent teachers, but we had terrible resources. The reading curriculum in particular was strikingly bad, and did nothing to develop a love of reading.

Now that my job is to be the tech trainer in St. Louis Park Public Schools, it's my job to train the teachers to move beyond the 18th century pedagogy that we have traditionally used.

Don Tapscott: Macrowikinomics : Beyond Superman to a New Model of Education


All of the SLP Tech Videos will be uploaded to youtube from now on, for ease of use. Click the link below to see videos created by William Stenross

SLP Tech Videos: Created By William Stenross

Mike Green: National Crisis: Black boys failing

An interesting article from the Huffington Post:

"Despite the tragic circumstances that cripple so many of our potentially productive youth, the academic failures of millions of our Black boys isn't the core problem. The core problem is the failure of the adult Black population to effectively address underlying issues that have led to an overwhelming crisis situation. Dr. Ferguson alludes to it when he says we need to have conversations we don't want to have. And without actively engaging in those conversations, we watch millions of Black children arrive on their first day at the gates of public schools ill-prepared for a system of education, which they experience as foreign to the environment in which they are raised.

Were it not for the insightful wisdom of my mother, I, too, would've been added to the statistical data that have continued to tell the story of a national tragedy long ignored.


Heretofore, we have held symposiums, conferences, summits and academic conventions that have resulted in the multiple crises we face today. We cannot afford more of the same. We need something altogether different. But that requires us to come together and discuss this issue honestly. It requires that we work together. And if we cannot, we must clearly identify the divergence in thoughts, ideals and paths. "

It is a very long article and interesting, written from the perspective of a black man and his own personal struggles and the struggles of black boys in general. His point about symposiums is absolutely correct. We have to stop talking about it, we need to start doing something about it.

Mike Green: National Crisis: Black boys failing

Don't Wait Until Martin Luther King Day


One of the easiest things to do as a teacher is to integrate achievements of people such as Martin Luther King Jr. into your classroom discussions and community year round. Although our government has set aside special time to honor his particular life and legacy, the simple concept of civil rights is a very basic tenant that will resonate with many children as young as kindergarten who can't believe that there was a time in our history when students were sent to different school based simply on the color of their skin.

Each year when I introduce my kindergarten class to the idea fiction and non-fiction, there are bins that are clearly labeled with stickers on the front, F for fiction and NF for non-fiction. Right there at the front of my bins are stories of people such as Ruby Bridges, Madame C.J. Walker, Sitting Bull and of course, Dr. King. Each time I present a story to the class while covering up its classification on the front cover, I will ask if we have just read fiction or non-fiction. We even chant it together while tapping on our legs, "Fiction means pretend. (Clap, Clap, Clap) Non-fiction is real."

One of my favorite non-fiction books, Happy Birthday Martin Luther King Jr., follows the life of Dr. King from a young boy to his death. Mid-way through the book there is a page where Dr. King is on a playground helping two boys solve a disagreement. Before we come to this part,
the books explains how Dr. King worked with people, sang with them, prayed with them and walked with them to help them use words and not violence to solve problems. When reading the page about the playground and I ask the students before revealing the words what they think is happening on the page. Almost invariably they answer, "Dr. King said use your words."

So, the simplicity of this has become a mantra in our kindergarten community. "Dr. King said use your word." Just by sheer biological developmental, students of this age are egocentric and particular about their personal space, tools and placement in line. Often hands do the thinking and push, pull or hurt a classmate before they have even thought of the alternative. As we have practiced integrating Dr. King's ideals into our classroom students now will say to each other when one has become physical, "Dr. King said use your words." This has become a simple non-shaming reminder for students what the expectations of in our classroom community as well as the world beyond our school.

In our classroom, their are three large posters of Dr. King that repeat the written mantra and the students helped to decide where they should be placed as reminders. They are in our group time area, close to where we line-up and just outside our classroom door. Not only does the color of Dr. King's skin match some of my students, but additionally it does not match others.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Beverly Daniel Tatum

Here's a great interview with the excellent author, professor and current college president Beverly Daniel Tatum. The interviewer asks some great questions, and then gets out of the way to allow Dr. Tatum to discuss critical race theory.

Give it a read!

Rebecca Costa: Superman Versus The Supermemes

I read over at the huffington post a post about education by Rebecca Costa. I think it's a really interesting look at the problems facing education, but I do have some concerns about the issues she feels faces education. I'll have to find a copy of her book The Watchman's Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction. Perhaps she further details these topics there.

Which supermemes currently prevent progress in education? The Watchman's Rattle describes five universal behaviors that inhibit solving the problem once and for all:

1) Irrational Opposition: This occurs when people are more comfortable rejecting remedies rather than advocating solutions. If every solution that is proposed can be found to be flawed, then none will be adopted. Simply put, across-the-board opposition results in gridlock.

I completely agree with this. Too many solutions are rejected because there isn't any proof that it works. Although it's hard to justify trying something that hasn't been shown to work when your job, your school and the children you teach rely on you to meet certain standards.

2) Counterfeit Correlation: When we hastily determine the relationship between a cause and effect(s), this leads to an incorrect diagnosis of our problems. We are left to pursue one ineffective remedy after another, all the while wasting precious time and resources as the problem continues to grow in magnitude. In the case of education, we have sited everything from outdated textbooks, the eradication of physical education, poor school lunch programs and low teacher salaries as the culprit -- but how many of these quick fixes are based on valid scientific studies?

I feel that this is in direct conflict with the previous statement, although I do agree with it as well. There are countless "solutions" that are suggested that have been proven to have no correlation with student performance.

3) Personalization of Blame: As soon as we hold each individual accountable for debt, obesity, and depression, and other such issues, society is off the hook. Blame the parents for the fact that they aren't more involved in their children's education and the systemic problem doesn't have to be addressed.

Isn't there also a problem when we blame systems, as in, I don't have to take personal responsibility for debt, obesity and depression. I think there needs to be a balance in how much the system and how much the person is blamed.

4) Silo Thinking: In tackling complex, multi-dimensional problems, it is crucial that nations, organizations, and individuals work in tandem. Adopting a territorial mindset greatly impedes progress. In the case of education, why aren't neuroscientists who understand how the human brain learns part of the discussion? Does it make sense to fix education without first understanding how the brain loads content, solves problems and retains information?

Absolutely. I'd love to hear what other resources could be used to improve education.

5) Extreme Economics: The financial bottom line becomes the unilateral litmus test in determining which solutions are valid. Economic considerations drive decisions for everything, from hospital care, immigration policy, to whether each child needs a locker, computer or physical education. We begin to speak in economic terms such as 'investing in our children's education.' Really? Since when was education an investment? It was supposed to be a 'right.'

Yep! Although, wouldn't an economist be another great resource in looking at how to reform schools?

Read the rest of the article here: Rebecca Costa: Superman Versus The Supermemes

California Supreme Court Upholds Law Granting Undocumented Students In-State Tuition

The California Supreme Court has upheld a law that allows undocumented students to pay instate tuition. College is necessary tool to achieve in today's market and residents of a state should not be denied the same opportunity other residents get.

"WASHINGTON -- The California Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld AB 540, a law allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition -- rather than the more expensive out-of-state tuition -- at public colleges and universities. The decision overturned a lower court's ruling and will likely have a wider impact as 10 other states have a law similar to AB 540.

The plaintiffs in the case were out-of-state students and their families, who argued that they should not have to pay higher tuition while undocumented immigrants were granted the lower in-state rate. 'U.S. citizens should have at least the same rights as undocumented immigrants,' said plaintiff Aaron Dallek, an Illinois native who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2006."

California Supreme Court Upholds Law Granting Undocumented Students In-State Tuition

Sunday, November 14, 2010

St. Cloud Working to Close Gap in Students Taking AP Classes

Interesting article from MPR...

"The district is seeing signs of success in some student populations. For instance, the number of blacks and Hispanics enrolled in AP classes has tripled in three years.

In 2007-08, a total of 526 students enrolled in AP classes. Approximately 10 percent of those students were non-white.

In 2010-11, 694 students enrolled in AP classes, with the number of non-white students growing to nearly 14 percent.

Still, honors and AP classes still do not reflect the proportion of minority students enrolled in the district."

Schools work to enroll minority students in AP classes

Global Education Conference

Huffington Post has all the information on the Global Education Conference. Really amazing presentations. It's fun to look at all the sessions available and realize that they will be led by people from all over.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How to Create Videos with Quicktime

Quicktime is a great resource for teachers. With the latest version of quicktime, you can create videos of your screen, videos using your iSight and audio recordings. I'm going to quickly explain how to use quicktime to create videos.

1. Open Quicktime. Most likely, you don't have Quicktime on your dock, so you will need to go applications (in finder) and open in through there.

2. On the menu bar go to File.

3. You will have the choice between New Movie Recording, New Audio Recording and New Screen Recording.

  • New Movie Recording This will create a video with your iSight (the camera above your screen). A new window will open, showing you what your iSight is seeing. Press the record button in the bottom center of the window to start recording.
  • New Audio Recording Please see Nate Tangen's document on how to use this feature.
  • New Screen Recording This is the tool that I use to create my videos. It will make a video of what is on your screen and save it to your movies folder. Make sure you click on the down arrow to the right of the record button, and select built in microphone to record your voice.
Hope this helps you use Quicktime!

About Rachel Perry-Haen

Rachel Perry-Haen is an kindergarten teacher in Minnesota's, St. Louis Park Public Schools. She lives, works and plays in the community where her own child goes to school.

Perry-Haen earned her B.A. at the University of Iowa focusing on early childhood education and gerontology and her M.A. at Saint Mary's University. Her teaching experience have ranged from the Amana Colonies of Iowa, Minneapolis and several suburbs. Her experiences as a daughter of two educators growing up in a diverse setting in the private and public schools of Kalamazoo, Michigan, have given her a foundational appreciation for meeting the needs of every child. She waves her own flag for eliminating the racially predictable achievement gap in all schools and seeks ways to experiment with instruction, parent/school involvement, and raising student achievement on a daily basis in her own classroom and school community.

About Bill Stenross

Bill Stenross is proud to teach in the St. Louis Park Public Schools as a 21st Technology Trainer, helping teachers use new technology in their teaching, a school district that is working hard to reduce the achievement gap. He received an AB in Philosophy from the University of Chicago and his MAT in Elementary Education from the National College of Education in Evanston, IL.

His goal with this blog is to help teachers create lessons where cultural awareness is a part of the lesson, rather than the lesson. These posts will hopefully allow teachers to easily integrate cultural aware information into already established curriculum. It will go beyond the "celebrate diversity" and

Publication Schedule

Mondays: Link from Bill

Tuesdays: Teaching Strategies from Rachel

Wednesdays: Link from Rachel

Thursdays: Culturally relevant tie-ins to curriculum from Bill

Fridays: Article or Review from Bill or Rachel

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Screen Capture in Mac OS X

Here's a guide on how to capture screen shots in Mac OS X.

Black Boys lagging in Public Schools

Here's a report, although lacking a link to the original research, that supports other research that shows black boys are significantly lagging behind in test scores. Interesting reading. What kind of school system do we have in this country if 12 percent of 4th grade black boys are proficient in reading? 12 percent? Really?

black boys lagging badly in school

Monday, November 8, 2010

What to do when the Screen is Garbled

On old MacBooks with the mini-DVI video output ports (currently used by teachers at the Junior High, Senior High and PSI, as well as some principals and TOSA's) the screen can become garbled at certain times while using the Projector. What causes this is that the a program wants to use "full screen mode". These Macbooks apparently can't support that, and the screen on the MacBook becomes garbled, while the projector continues to project correctly.

The programs that often will cause this include:
Powerpoint (slideshow)
SmartBoard Notebook (fullscreen)

You can continue using these programs without an issue, or you could try these fixes. None of these will permanently fix the problem, however.

1. Unplug the projector from your computer, allow the screen to reset, then plug the projector back in. Sometimes this works, sometimes not.

2. Quit out of the program. Restart the program, and do not use the settings that cause the screen to become garbled.

3. Go into Apple(in the upper lefthand corner of the screen)-->system preferences-->desktop and screensaver-->screensaver and slide the toggle under "start screen saver" to "never". This will prevent the screensaver from causing the problem.

Hope this helps!

Screen is messed up when I plug in my Projector

When we get questions like this there are two possible scenarios. If your screen is garbled, please read the guide here. That only seems to be a problem with the older MacBooks. If you can see your screen fine, but everything is too big, then it's because of the screen resolution. I have created a quick little video to show how to change your resolution when you plug in your projector, but I will also detail how to fix it below.

1. Go to the apple on your menu bar
2. Choose system preferences, and then select display.
3. With our projectors, you will want to select 1024 x 768 (stretched). It should save this setting.
4. Click the button that says "show displays in menu bar". This will add a icon near your wireless icon that you can use to change the screen resolution on your computer and on your projector.

Hope this helps!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Goal

The Goal of this website is to feature a cultural group, historical or current, or a individual that can be tied into regular instruction. Too often, we rely on months, or weeks to highlight the achievements of racial, cultural and ethnic groups in the United States. This website will instead focus on how to include these groups, and outstanding individuals from these groups in regular instruction. It was also attempt to avoid simply tying it to social studies, but rather all subjects. Ultimately, the goal will be to have one highlighted everyday, with each day focusing on a different subject. For now, twice a week will suffice.

Sound isn't working with Projector System

So, your sound isn't working.

Here are the steps that you should try to get the sound to work.

1. Are the audio cords plugged in? Try unplugging and plugging them back in. (Check the wall and your computer. Use Wall Unit Quick Start Guide to make sure you have the cords plugged into the right place.)

2. Is the sound on your computer turned on/up? (check in the upper right corner, on the icon that looks like a speaker) Sometimes, the sound will mute because of a bug with a sensor in the headphone jack. You need to unplug the audio cord, wait 10 seconds, then plug it back in. This should unmute the sound and it should work.)

3. Is the sound in the program turned on/up? (some programs, like iTunes or youtube have separate volume controls. Make sure these are turned on/up.)

4. Is the volume turned up on the wall unit? (See the Wall Unit Quick Start Guide for where the volume controls are located)

5. Is the mute on the wall unit on? (See the Wall Unit Quick Start Guide for where the mute button is located)

6. Is the sound amplifier in the ceiling set to video input? This can happen if the power goes out in the building. Press the PC1 button on the Wall Unit to switch to the correct input. (See the Wall Unit Quick Start Guide for where the PC1 button is located)

Hopefully this will fix your sound issues!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Making the CPS Clickers work when they stop sending

Sometimes, and it seems to happen predominantly with the new gray receivers for the CPS Clicker system, a class will try to enter an answer into their clicker, and it won't get sent.

The problem? The receiver's cache is full. You have to go to the eInstruction device manager, select the receiver and then go to help --> clear device properties, then click ok in the next window that pops up. You can do this while a test is going on.

You might also need to turn off and then back on the clickers that are affected.

There is an update to the software that should get rid of the problem, but it breaks other things about CPS so we are avoiding the update for now.

Why does my SmartBoard have a green blinking light when I connect it?

So, your SmartBoard isn't working? And you are getting a green blinking light?

The most likely culprit is that when your hard drive goes to sleep it breaks the connection with your smartboard. The only way to make it work in this case is to restart the computer.

This information is from SmartTech. Apparently there is a problem with Mac OS 10.6.3 which causes this problem.

You can also avoid it by unplugging your SmartBoard from your computer when you are not using it, rather than leaving it plugged in all day. Also always leaving the power to your computer plugged in at all times when you are using the SmartBoard.