Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Month: June 2011 (page 1 of 4)

I need to rethink my practices

I got paid the highest compliment one can get from a fellow teacher after my presentation at ISTE Unplugged.

"I know I’ll be changing some of my teaching decisions." Tom Grant

After reading many posts on standards based grading, it seems clear to me that I too need to change my assessment practices. I need to ensure that I have mastery from my students, rather than a superficial level of understanding. I also need to do more to engage my students with more problems which are relevant to their lives.

I need to rethink my practices. Hopefully, that will always be true. Keeping my teaching practices completely static in a changing world seems like a pretty foolish thing to do.

Educational jargon I don’t get

Here is a list of education jargon I don’t get for various reasons.

  • Learning management system

    Learning management systems don’t manage learning. They manage resources which teachers and students use to facilitate learning experiences. Why use the phrase learning management anyway? Who should be managing the learning? Shouldn’t we hope that students should eventually be managing their own learning? Will using a system help them become better at self-organization and eventually directing their own learning?

  • Mobile learning

    This implies that there is another type of learning which is equally satisfactory, but different, which we should call stationary learning. While I like the idea of moving learning activities from inside the classroom to outside of the classroom and I recognize the role mobile devices have, I’m not sure I appreciate the distinction this phrase offers.

  • Professional development

    When we call it professional development, we imply first that it is a special kind of learning associated with our occupation, and that the control of the learning may not be in our control. This reminds me of those "terrific" algebra tile sessions I was "asked" to attend in NYC. I’m much more fond of the phrase professional learning instead. We must allow teachers more ownership over the professional learning they do, and that might mean ending professional development and finding a new paradigm. 

  • Transform learning

    As I understand the process of learning, it is a building and pruning of neural pathways in our brain. As we learn more about something, we prune unnecessary connections, and we grow connections in our brain. Nothing we are doing now is changing this process, except possibly to accelerate it, or to occasionally change the part of the brain in which the learning is being manifest. In any case, we aren’t transforming learning, we are transforming the types of learning opportunities kids experience.

  • Attention deficit disorder

    This is much too widely diagnosed in my opinion. If I had been tested as a child, I surely would have been diagnosed with ADHD. Unfortunately, the problem was that most of the time I was bored. The problem is that any child who struggles to pay attention to the teacher in a classroom runs the risk of being improperly diagnosed by the teacher, who then may improperly suggest counselling and medication. There are children who legitimately struggle with focus because of their brain chemistry, but most of them are just bored. I heard somewhere that 15 minutes a day in nature "cures" most cases of ADHD.

  • <fill in the blank> literacy

    Literacies change over time as society evolves. Every time a new time of medium is introduced, the definition of what it means to be literate changes. The fact that our literacies now include digital media just means that the new definition of literacy itself now includes all of the new components of our interactive digital world. If we say that we want our children to be "digitally literate" then are we naturally demoting the other, still critically important types of literacy? If a school doesn’t teach digital literacy, then they aren’t really going to produce literate students. I’d much rather be clearer about how literacy is changing then let schools pick and choose which modes of literacy they are going to teach.

  • 21st century learning

    First, this phrase is inherently denegrating to the types of learning opportunities which have been around for ages. It implies that the type of learning not characterized by the affordances of the 21st century (ie. computers) is out-dated. There is tremendous value in many non-21st century learning opportunities, like discussions for example, which have been around for eons. It also fails to recognize that much of what is described as 21st century learning is in fact in use from the 20th century by many excellent educators. Further, it lumps together two kinds of pedagogical practice, that of student centred learning, and technology based learning, which allows educators to reject both of these types of learning simultaneously.

What are some of your least favourite educational phrases?

Conference planners are obselete

ISTE Conference planner


I just thought I’d share some numbers around just the conference planner, which I’m picking on because it is easy to quantify, but believe me there are plenty of other examples of waste here at ISTE. The ISTE conference planner is about 110 pieces of paper. Each book is about 30 cm long by 20 cm wide. There are about 13,000 people at ISTE. Each of them received a planner.

If you lined up the pages from the conference planners end on end, they would be about 429km long, about the distance from Cleveland to Philadelphia.

If all of the conference planners were put on a scale, they would weigh just over 6 metric tonnes (6000kg).

15 adult trees were chopped down to make all of the conference planners for this conference.


ISTE appNow let’s compare these numbers to the fairly good conference planner App that ISTE released.

0 trees cut down.

The weight of the apps themselves is 0.

You can’t line up apps.

You do need everyone to have a mobile electronic device of some sort, which raises other environmental questions, but at least those devices have multiple uses, and can replace many, many other paper resources.

The conference planner app includes my own personal schedule, it is searchable, it automatically updates itself every time I open it up. I don’t have to go through the conference planner app page by page to find information. It tells me what sessions are coming up. None of these functions is possible with the paper version of the conference planner.

Let’s try a different system for next year. Why don’t we use an opt-in system for the conference planners?

How many people would have turned down the conference planner if they had the choice? 




Graph theory applied to leadership

The orange circle represents the leader of the school, the lines between the circles represent the relationships between people. Which school would you rather work in?

Everyone connected but only through the leader


Almost everyone connected to each other

Which school do you think functions better when the leader is away? 

How many full time teachers could we have hired?

I was talking to Diane Laufenberg this afternoon, and we got on the subject of wasted money being spent in society. I had the idea that we should start a new meme. Basically, you take a public project, like this monstrous mistake for example, and equate the cost of the project to how many teachers could be hired for a year for the same amount of money. 

We’ll assume that teachers make $100,000 per year including all benefits. It’s a generous salary, but really not that outrageous overall, and some teachers actually make this much money (although most do not). For example, the completely insane project above would be 5,850 FTE (Full Time Equivalency) since the total cost of that public high school was $585 million dollars. It’s a pretty simple calculation, you just divide the cost of the project by $100,000.

I think a separate hashtag for this would be useful, so I’m choosing #FTEED, which doesn’t look like it is in use by anyone else. Ideally if you can find a picture of the project and post it to somewhere like Flickr, that would be helpful for creating presentations, but even links to stories would be useful. Please try and choose publicly funded projects which are arguably not necessary.

I’m going to start this project off with two tweets, and we’ll see if we can other people involved.

Update: Heidi Hass Gable pointed out that a hole in my logic is that we would be comparing mostly 1 time costs with a continuing cost for the teacher. That’s fine. I’m sure we can find enough wasteful projects to pay for the teachers for more than a year. Certainly when I start making totaling, I’ll factor this issue into the equation.

Program or be Programmed

Thanks to @ChadSansing for sharing this video with us during the National Writing Project Hackjam today.

We need to teach kids to program their lives, instead of being programmed. Watch this video, and you’ll understand what I mean.

Science Leadership Academy

Science Leadershup Academy

It’s not obvious from this picture, but the Science Leadership Academy is not a fancy looking building. It’s also not a very large building, and when I walked inside the building, I didn’t feel like I was in an amazing place. The open learning spaces were an interesting feature, but are certainly not unique to SLA.

The message I got is that a strong school is not about the building, it’s about the people. So before you go and build your fancy building, remember to make sure it contains the supplies you’ll need, and that you support the work people will do in the building.