14 January 2013


Way back in May 2012, the first draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was released. I was unimpressed by that hot mess of a document. It's taken a long time, but the second draft of these standards is available for public comment (but only until January 29). You can view the standards by Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) or by topics. You can view supporting material and access the surveys here.

It appears that 95% of the standards have been altered in some way since the original public draft, including deleting some content. (You can read about the collective wisdom from the survey data and the NGSS response here.) Just as a point of reference, here is a page for Kindergarten from the first draft:

And here is the revised version:

I want to remind you that everything above the colored boxes represents the standard(s). Everything else on this page is supporting material. They didn't do anything design-wise to emphasize the standards, make the document accessible for people with vision problems, or otherwise deal with the cluttered confusing mess presented to teachers. Meanwhile, we're still missing pieces. The connections and articulation pieces are still listed as "will be added in future version."

In other words this is the Same Shit, Different Draft (SSDD).

I do appreciate that Achieve (the group behind developing the NGSS) has responded to criticisms about the standards themselves. I also appreciate their transparency in showing the connections to the Framework for Science Education and the Common Core State Standards. I don't understand why it's important to lose these standards in a sea of gobbledy-gook that would be better served as appendices or supporting documents...nor why this document has to be so ill-designed. I really hope they clean up their act by the time the final draft is available in March. Argh.

11 January 2013

Where Have All the Flowers Gone

I stumbled across a photostory from Life magazine about a "Genius School" in 1948. There are about 20 pictures of (white) children, ages 3 - 11, engaged in some very high level work. Here is one of my favourites, including the caption:

5-year-old Johnny, who taught himself to read, selects The Ring of the Nibelung, which looks interesting to him. Library has wide choice of simpler books like the Bobbsey Twins, but bright children tire of these quickly, abandon them in favor of poetry, biography, science and politics." Photo by Nina Leen (c) TimeLife

They are fascinating to click through. Children collaborating on an engineering project...in dialogue about scientific phenomena...teaching one another to play chess. All within the confines of a laboratory school for Hunter College in NY. "Seven decades ago, the city housed just such a venture at Hunter College — a school filled not with post-adolescent megaminds and college-age uber-geeks, but 450 apparently well-adjusted, engaged kids who just happened to enjoy IQs averaging around 150. (Post-graduate students, by comparison, generally fall in the 120-130 I.Q. range.)"

As I looked through this slice of history, I couldn't help but wonder what happened to these kids. At some point, they left the school---presumably for a traditional high school and whatever the world held for them afterward. Where did they go? What did they do with their adult lives?

Even though I make it a point to avoid "the bottom half of the Internet," I did take a quick look at the comments on this article---and someone had found and posted a study done about these kids. The study was done in the 1ate 1980's, when former students were considered to be "mid-life," and compared them with people who hadn't attended the school. The quotes below provide a quick preview of the results, but I would encourage you to review the whole study. Note that the term "Hunter" represents students from the genius school and "Terman" refers to a study done with people who were not identified as gifted as children.
  • No difference in terms of marital status (same percentage single/married)
  • "Nearly 40% of both the Terman and Hunter men pursued terminal degrees while only 5.9% of the Terman women completed doctoral or professional degrees in law or medicine. In contrast, over two-thirds of the Hunter women were holders of the Ph.D., M.D. or L.L.B. degree. The dramatic proportion of terminal degree candidates among the Hunter women did not however, translate into more prestigious careers or higher income as compared with Hunter men."
  • "It should be noted that although the Hunter women achieved relatively prestigious degrees and careers, the mean income of the Hunter women is $47,391 (median = $40,000, range = $11,000-$180,000) while the mean income of the men is $105,000 (median = $75,000, range = $5000-$505,000). The income discrepancies remain constant even when matched by profession. Higher degrees and comparably high intellect did not assure gifted women of equitable financial rewards for their professional efforts."
  • "On the 9 point scale with '1' counting as extremely radical (left) and '9' extremely conservative, the mean rating for the Hunter group was 4.5938 and the Terman group 5.3676, although the Terman group had been somewhat more liberal in the decade of the 40's (Terman & Oden, 1959). When political philosophy was translated into party affiliation Hunter graduates voted overwhelmingly as Democrats (70.5%) while the Terman group was more evenly split between the two major parties (Democrats = 29.4% and Republicans = 44%)."
  • "A large majority of the Terman and Hunter subjects described their general health at midlife as very good or good, with the Hunter group describing their health more often as very good."
  •  "Both study groups acknowledge the centrality of their work and families to their sources of life satisfaction. Each subgroup however, responded in a unique pattern. More Terman men derived satisfaction from their work (80.6%) than from their families (65%). Hunter men as a group also ranked work first (91.4%) and children second (70%). Marriage and avocational interests tied for third at 58.6%. The Hunter womens' pattern of response also reflected a lower relative position of marriage (64.1%) for Hunter subjects as a source of satisfaction as compared to work and children (75% each). The Terman men and women ranked marriage and children equally relative to other possible areas that provide life satisfaction. Terman women chose children (70.6%) and marriage (70.3%) followed by social contacts (50%), probably reflecting the large representation of housewives in the group (Birnbaum, 1975)."
  • "Both Hunter men and Terman women defined success in much the same terms as they had described the sources of their life satisfaction. When open responses were generated by subjects however, the relative importance of work for Terman men was slightly lower than that of family, income and helping others. Hunter women associated success with vocational satisfaction, peace of mind and friendships more than happy home and family. The lack of congruence between those groups' responses to sources of their life satisfaction is noteworthy. Were their sources of life satisfaction not exactly what they thought they ought to be in order to be successful?"
I don't know that we can draw a lot of conclusions/applications from this...but then, that wasn't really the purpose of the study. The researchers, like me, were interested in what happened to the students who attended Hunter. Did their adult lives turn out with as much passion as the ones they lived in their youth?

The Hunter College Elementary School is still in existence today. While it is not as experimental as it once was, it still retains its focus on gifted students.

07 January 2013

Becoming a Name Brand

Branding Irons by pestpruf CC-BY-NC-ND
Last spring, I wrote about riding for the brand. Some people assume that brand refers to an object in this turn-of-phrase. And this is partially correct. Putting your mark on some cattle (or other product) is one way to create a brand.

But there is more to it...something more important. The brand is also the intangible represented by the mark. It says something about the integrity of the individual(s) it represents. The stamp might help others identify what belongs to you, but your personal brand gives meaning. It says something---good or bad---about who you are.

I am circling back to this idea this year because the word "brand" is being bandied about rather heavily at the moment. And I keep having a very Inigo Montoya moment when I hear it: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Most of the time, the term is being used in reference to stuff---things like documents and slide decks---when, in fact, that has very little to do with actual branding. I ran across this quote from an interview with Edward Tufte...and it made me think about the current discussions of "brand" (emphasis mine):
PowerPoint benefits the bottom 10% of presenters by forcing them to have points, some points ... any points at all. And the best 10% of presenters have such good content, style and self-awareness that PowerPoint does little damage. PowerPoint should be used solely as a projector operating system to show 100% content, without the bullet grunts, logos and the formatting nonsense from the Strategic Communications Department, and the $20 million Pentagram corporate format guidelines. Such formats are about their precious turf-possessed selves and are the enemy of information and often truth. (Source)
Here, he makes a statement about PowerPoint, but you could sub in just about any communication and read the same thing. If you think a brand is about making your documents look alike, then you're not focused on the content they represent. All you've done is build a shiny fa├žade, and pretend you have a brand. But what it represents is pretentious, at best, and damaging to your name, at worst. I have no respect---or patience---for such endeavors.

The real work is in building yourself as a person and as a professional. Make your mark in a way that allows others to create and build, too...rather than fit them to your template. Be known for the quality of your work and the integrity of your words. Be a brand others will want to ride for.

04 January 2013

The Fishing Hole

Samantha by Melly Kay CC-BY-NC-ND
I was recently telling someone that I'm not "techie" enough to work in the area of educational technology. In return, she gave me a confused head-tilt, similar to the picture on the right.

I explained that I just can't get excited about tools. Don't get me wrong, I have tools---both hardware and software---I adore. But I am not the kind to tell you that any of those tools will be a silver bullet for you (or your students). I die a little inside every time I see a conference session or webinar featuring "10 Apps for..." (There are few words I dread hearing more than iPad, but that's another story.) And I die even more when I see lines out the door to attend such a session when the one next door (with an instruction related topic) has a ton of empty seats.

This is the Great Divide for technology. The biggest whine I hear from hardcore edtechers (the ones who would be at the front of the line for an all-the-apps-you-can-eat session) is that they aren't taken seriously by others who work in the realm of curriculum and instruction. But for a long time, techers have billed themselves as appmongers---Come get your technology here! Fresh apps daily! What they haven't done is teach people to fish. That is, to find tech tools that are meaningful for their own classrooms.

There is a place for both. If you've never used an iPad before, then you are going to need some training about how to turn it on, set it up, navigate the screens, and download/sync content. Nearly all of them include a laundry list of apps for different goals. But nearly every training I've seen doesn't go the next step and have a discussion about how to determine what a "good" or "appropriate for the lesson" app is. (Ditto for the app-palooza conference sessions.) In other words, the tech types want to decide what's best for your classroom---and this is where things start to break down for teachers who don't consider themselves "techies." Their eyes glaze over with the lists provided, none of which help them know what to use and when.

But the biggest damage is for techies themselves. In promoting the tech first agenda, they marginalize themselves. They come across to peers as thinking that they have something unique and special, rather than a piece of the larger puzzle of learning. This is why they don't get invited to bigger conversations on teaching and learning...and why their notion of "ed reform" never gets anywhere.

So, here is what I hope to see in 2013 (and beyond).
  • Don't go to the Land of 10,000 Apps sessions at conferences, your local district PD offerings, or other opportunities...and don't present them, either. Ask conference organizers to put a moratorium on these sessions. They probably won't listen (because sessions are popular and mean money), but it doesn't hurt to raise awareness. Do offer learning opportunities for teachers about how to find and select apps and other tools (and how to enable students to find quality content, too). Support sessions or sharing which make meaningful connections between technology and student learning or teacher support.
  • Don't assume you have the silver bullet. Listen to the concerns of teachers about instruction. If you know a tool that helps close that gap, then suggest it. Do admit that technology is not the solution to every problem.
  • Don't talk about how using a particular tool "covers" a standard. Taking notes on a tablet, for example, is no more guarantee of learning than taking notes with a pencil. Making tenuous connections between tech and learning helps no one. Making people feel bad because they prefer a pencil to a tablet does even less. Do contribute to the conversations about differentiating instruction in the classroom. Be cautious about the volume of options you offer. Just because you know 20 ways to do something doesn't mean everyone else is ready to embrace those. Small steps. Build confidence in users. 
  • Don't be passive-aggressive with your peers by posting things that start with "Everyone who cares about x should read/watch this." Just because not everyone looks at the identical tools and ideas you do doesn't make them uncaring or uninterested. Do share your ideas and resources. Recognize that everyone is on their own path and be there to help coach (not necessarily lead) people along. 
I like technology...I'd like to see it find a good balance in the classroom. I'd also like to be able to tell people that I work in edtech and not have them assume that I'm clueless about what goes on in a classroom. C'mon techies...it's time to shift the conversation.

01 January 2013

Teenage Wasteland

I have often said over the last few years that when I go back to a school, I don't want to be part of a high school. In some ways, it feels odd to say that---I spent the majority of my career teaching in one. Students were awesome (at least 99% of them, anyway) and I enjoyed my time with them. I worked with a lot of smart teachers and administrators, many of whom were passionate about what happened in a classroom.

But that is also the biggest reason why I would not want to go back: I want a more collegial and professional environment. One that isn't contained by what happens in my classroom while someone else is an independent contractor in the room next door. Toward the end of my last work in the classroom, I was incredibly jealous of the quality of interactions and conversations most elementary teachers have as part of their work...the view that they teach kids (not subject matter)...and that everyone shares a responsibility for students.

To be clear, I like high school kids. I like high school teachers. I just don't like the culture of high school. I'm sure that there are high schools out there that operate more like an elementary or middle school, in terms of what it means to teach and learn, but I have yet to bump into any of them. I've had a fabulous opportunity in the last few years to visit lots of teachers and districts. I look all the time for a high school staff that inspires me as a professional and makes me ache to work there.

I was thinking about this again recently while listening to a presentation about assessment and grading. The presenter was from one of the largest districts in the state and was showcasing some truly phenomenal work they'd done. Common leveled assessments...rubrics...standards-based alignments and reporting tools. While these pieces don't lead to a particular end, they provide a framework for conversations about student learning.

But not for high school. Why not? The presenter said, "I don't have a death wish." And many people in the room nodded in agreement. One must be downright Quixotic, apparently, to integrate best practices into high schools. I can think of a lot of high school teachers I've worked with that would take great pride in sabotaging such effort---would tell you that they know best for their classes and don't need any help, thank you very much...and besides, the research is just shit, anyway...oh, and don't tell me what to teach because I know what biology/algebra/writing is. ttyl.

It makes me sad that all of the focus we put into K-8...the collective view that these are "our" kids and we will do whatever it takes to help them grow as learners and people...is stopped cold once those students walk through a high school's doors. Not to say that high school teachers don't care about their students---I know they do. Just that it is often a much smaller and more teacher-centric world. I think a lot of high school teachers would be amazed at the quality and integrity of the conversations had by their peers teaching younger grades.

Someone told me recently that it's because of higher ed. That is, high schools have to be jerks because colleges expect them to do this as part of preparing kids for college---like some sort of socially responsible hazing. I don't quite buy this. I do think that transcripts serve as a form of communication between high schools and colleges and there has to be some coordination of expectations, but it seems unlikely that some type of Survival of the Fittest is the intent behind "college and career ready."

I'm not sure where that leaves things. Maybe high schools don't need to be more like the K-8 system because they have greater responsibilities to the post-graduate world. (In other words, it's not them...it's me.) When I started this blog, it was because I was hungry for a conversation I couldn't have at work. From what I see online, social media fills a niche for a lot of teachers looking for the same thing. I don't know how we take that and use it to develop workplaces that nurture our high school teacher selves...and our students. But I plan to keep looking.