Monthly Archives: March 2009

ITEA thoughts

Here’s some thing I typed up quick while in Louisville at the ITEA conference.

Are students getting the critical thinking skills in science classes? It seems that they do experiments and are expected to always come out with the same solution to the problem. IS it really an experiment?

I’ve heard more than once that the tech ed classroom is the place where the students are connecting the things that they learn in science and math. In tech ed, those things are finally making sense to them. Why aren’t they making sense in the science classes? If I teach the science classes, will they make sense? How can I get them to make sense in the science class?

State of Tech ed in CT

Last night I spent some time at the robotics competition talking to students from other schools about their schools. I wanted to get a sense of what types of things they were doing in their classes and what was expected of them once they graduated.

From talking with people, I think its pretty apparent that CT is way ahead of the curve on the engineering side of education. OF the schools I talked to, there was only one other that had a robotics class, and they just got the materials for it. They haven’t even run the class. CCSU, on the other hand, has had a robotics class for a few years now. granted, you don’t actually learn a whole lot in the class, but it does give us expose to robotics so that we’re not flying blind once we start teaching.

It also seemed like other schools have more ‘old school’ content classes. Auto, woods, metals, etc. We touch on that some, but don’t go nearly as in depth as they do. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not, but it is different. One part of me wished that we had more content type classes and learned more about the traditional stuff, since that’s most likely what we’ll be teaching, but the other part of me is glad we have what we have, because that looks more like everyone’s goal. If we’re already at the goal, then i puts us in a great position for the future.

My ideas about after I graduated have also changed some. Seeing what education we are getting and what else is out there, makes me want to change everyone else a little. I almost feel like they need to be brought up to speed. What exactly ‘up to speed’ means, I’m not sure, but I feel like I have something that they don’t but should. I’m also not sure how to give them what it is their missing, mainly since I can’t pinpoint what that thing is. Maybe I’ll find this stuff out in the next two days here. Maybe I won’t. Either way, I’m having a blast and learning a ton.


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The Sizzling Sound of Music by Dale Dougherty

Kids these days! Original article found here.

Are iPods changing our perception of music? Are the sounds of MP3s the music we like to hear most?

Jonathan Berger, professor of music at Stanford, was on a panel with me at a meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Mountain View, CA on Saturday. Berger’s presentation had a slide titled: “Live, Memorex or MP3.” He mentioned that Thomas Edison promoted his phonograph by demonstrating that a person could not tell whether behind a curtain was an opera singer or one of Edison’s cylinders playing a recording of the singer. More recently, the famous Memorex ad challenged us to determine whether it was a live performance of Ella Fitzgerald or a recorded one.

Berger then said that he tests his incoming students each year in a similar way. He has them listen to a variety of recordings which use different formats from MP3 to ones of much higher quality. He described the results with some disappointment and frustration, as a music lover might, that each year the preference for music in MP3 format rises. In other words, students prefer the quality of that kind of sound over the sound of music of much higher quality. He said that they seemed to prefer “sizzle sounds” that MP3s bring to music. It is a sound they are familiar with.

I remember wondering what audiophiles were up to, buying extremely expensive home audio systems to play old vinyl records. They put turntables in sand-filled enclosures with elaborate cabling schemes. I wondered what they heard in that music that I didn’t. Someone explained to me that audiophiles liked the sound artifacts of vinyl records — the crackles of that format. It was familiar and comfortable to them, and maybe those affects became a fetish. Is it now becoming the same with iPod lovers?

Our perception changes and we become attuned to what we like — some like the sizzle and others like the crackle. I wonder if this isn’t also something akin to thinking that hot dogs taste better at the ball park. The hot dog is identical to what you’d buy at a grocery store and there aren’t many restaurants that serve hot dogs. A hot dog is not that special, except in the right setting. The context changes our perception, particularly when it’s so obviously and immediately shared by others. Listening to music on your iPod is not about the sound quality of the music, and it’s more than the convenience of listening to music on the move. It’s that so many people are doing it, and you are in the middle of all this, and all of that colors your perception. All that sizzle is a cultural artifact and a tie that binds us. It’s mostly invisible to us but it is something future generations looking back might find curious because these preferences won’t be obvious to them.

On a related note, a friend commented recently that she doesn’t understand why people put up with such poor sound quality for phone calls on cell phones, and particularly iPhones. “I can hardly hear the person talking to me,” she said. “I don’t think smart phones are making any improvement to the quality of the phone call,” she added. “Is it not important anymore?” She wondered why people accepted such poor quality, and so did Jonathan Berger, but a lot of people just don’t hear it the same way.

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PD Pet Peeves: Teachers Misbehaving By John Norton

Original article found here.

Teachers have no time to waste on unproductive or unnecessary professional development activities. But what about those times when the professional development is good, but the professional behavior in the room isn’t?

During a discussion about the highs and lows of professional training, educators in the Teacher Leaders Network shared some of their “PD pet peeves.” A chief target of their criticism: their own colleagues.


“I rarely get irked,” Carol said, “but something that really irks me is ‘sidebarring’—those private chats that go on during a PD session. They seem to happen no matter how worthy the topic or speaker.” When she attends a staff development session, Carol said, she follows the advice she gives her own 2nd graders. “I avoid sitting next to colleagues who like to ‘visit’ instead of listening.”

Carol is a frequent presenter herself, so she is “aware of how distracting those who sidebar can be. The test of my patience comes at the end of the session when I’m asked by a Sidebar Queen for a copy of my notes. I share them, of course. But inside I’m wondering why you didn’t pay attention and respect my time and that of the others in the room.”

Kim agreed that “teachers can make the worst students. Some behave in ways that they would never tolerate from the students in their own classrooms.” While leading some recent training, Kim remembered, “I became so frustrated by the side conversations that I jokingly asked a colleague if I needed to call a ‘code blue’ on him (that’s our method of getting a disruptive kid out of a classroom ASAP). It was a risky move, but it worked. I know there were murmurings afterward complaining that it wasn’t very professional of me, but an equal number of teachers thanked me.”

Kim’s story triggered this memory for Claudia. “I was presenting to my own faculty, which is big enough that I was at a podium with a microphone. They were talking, ignoring me, being rowdy. I did exactly what I do in my classroom if kids aren’t listening. I waited. I finally actually said, ‘I’ll wait.’ I saw shocked faces turn to the front and start listening. I worried a tiny bit about looking rude, but my goal was met: I was able to talk to the faculty without having to talk over all the visiting and whispering.”

“I’m a visual learner,” Claudia added, “so I’m very aware of my audience. I know who’s doing the crossword puzzle, who’s reading, who’s listening, who’s talking about something completely unrelated…who’s napping! Body language is easy to read, and yet so many teachers don’t seem to care. Why are we such terrible audiences?”

Jane confessed that “as a newer teacher, I was one who might have passed a note or two during PD or brought in some paperwork I had to fill out. But I became a better participant after I began presenting myself and experienced what it was like to be on the other side.

“Now I always try to focus on the topic,” she continued, “even though it may not be the most important to me. I give the presenter as much eye contact as I can, because there is nothing more likely to improve your performance as a presenter than to see someone in the audience getting what you are saying.”

Patty also had a pertinent story. “I attended a workshop where the presenters asked for the sidebar conversations to stop while they were presenting. The following week I attended another workshop where these same presenters were now participants, and they were not only having sidebar conversations but were incredibly disruptive. They were so loud we could not hear. Obviously this is an characteristic of teachers in general. What do we do about it? We’ve mentioned calling teachers to the carpet, anything else?”

Anne, who has moved from the classroom into a full-time teacher support role, offered a technique from her bag of consultant’s tricks. “If I’m presenting, I tell participants about the ‘famous’ finger-tap approach. If someone at their table is holding a sidebar conversation, the participant can tap gently on the table with a forefinger. That represents a polite way of asking them to please hold that thought until the presenter is through. I explain that some people process out loud, and participants need a polite way of letting talkers know that their ‘processing’ is disturbing.”

Anne lets participants practice a couple of times by inviting folks to talk. Then she has someone tap on the table, and the talkers quickly stop. “It’s humorous when done that way. As the meeting progresses, the participants have a comfort level with handling the sidebars themselves. If I notice sidebars, I can ‘tap’ my finger in the air and wink, and the talkers generally stop. It’s not perfect, but it helps.”

Linda, another full-time teacher-support person, emphasized the “crucial” importance of setting norms or community agreements. “In our PD work, at the onset we ask people to reflect on what kinds of behaviors make them want to run away from meetings. Then we ask, ‘so what agreements do we need to make with each other so that those behaviors don’t happen here?’ We chart them. And refer to them frequently. Everyone is also empowered to hold us to them if they feel we aren’t doing as we agreed.”

Why Do Teachers “Misbehave”?

During our conversation, the inevitable question arose: Why do teachers behave this way?

“Like others who have posted on this strand,” Louisa wrote, “I have been frustrated and dismayed at the rudeness displayed by some teachers at PD and other meetings. I have said, not always jokingly, that teachers learn from the ‘best’ in this regard. That is, their behavior is often identical to that displayed by students who are disruptive.

“But I wonder—is this a visible way to express the anger many teachers feel at having to be in a meeting they have deemed worthless (too often before any evidence is in)? Does their lack of control over how PD time is spent make them feel powerless or afraid to express their feelings more directly?”

“I would guess that the answer in most cases is yes,” Sherry replied. “Which then makes me think of the students we mimic. Is it likely that those students who do puzzles, doze off, or text-message during class deem it worthless and feel powerless to express their feelings more directly? Does this tell us that both the PD provider and the classroom teacher should be reflecting on the experience and the level of engagement it provokes?”

Jane suggested that teachers are less likely to act out during training experiences “if they are involved in deciding what they need and are actively involved in the creation of the PD itself. I also believe it needs to be interactive, differentiated by content and grade level when needed (something we don’t do at my school), relevant to our student population, and focused on student data.”

Kim agreed, up to a point. “It’s true that teachers will usually ‘misbehave’ because the PD is not engaging, but I’m sure sure that I could so easily excuse their bad behavior. I know that my lessons are not always completely engaging and don’t always seem relevant to the students, no matter how hard I try. But, as adults, shouldn’t we hold ourselves to higher standards and show common courtesy to our colleagues? I have to attend a session next month on a topic that I know well enough to teach myself. I would really rather not go. But my plan is to sit politely and look for opportunities to collaborate with my peers.”

Nancy told this story about audience behavior at a Washington conference of National Board Certified Teachers, where a former governor was delivering the keynote address. “Teachers, wearing their NBCT ribbons, talked constantly and loudly through his entire 20-minute speech, even laughing and moving from table to table,” she said. “It was the single worst example of bad teacher-audience behavior I’ve ever witnessed.”

Nancy remembered thinking, “Why are we whining about policymakers not paying attention to the good ideas of teachers? These teachers, who are supposed to be accomplished and reflective, are proving beyond a shadow of doubt that they have no IDEA how to engage or respect policymakers.”

As to why, Nancy suggested that “teachers have been conditioned to understand that they are the most important person in the room–to talk over kids, to ‘grab the microphone,’ to speak without thinking. It’s the way we work. We’re in charge of the interaction, all day long, so it’s not surprising that we are not silent or intimidated when we become the ‘class.’ But I agree with those who say that old-fashioned courtesy trumps anybody’s desire to be entertained or catch up on conversation.”

Poor PD a Factor

Teachers have been told so many times that most professional development is useless time-wasting, Nancy said, “that we often don’t believe there’s anything new and good out there to learn. My school once had Heidi Hayes Jacobs come to teach us how to do curriculum mapping. It was a new idea, and perfect for where we were in developing a solid, coherent curriculum districtwide.

“Jacobs is very engaging and had a great presentation,” she continued, “but our teachers seemed to regard her ideas as makework—just another thing ‘they’ were making us do. I hate to say this, but sometimes teachers are flatly unwilling to consider the fact that no teacher is ever totally ‘developed.’ At lunch, someone commented that the day was a waste of time, that we could be working in our rooms, getting our grades done early.”

Often, Ellen mused, teacher behavior in PD sessions “is mostly out of the presenter’s hands.” The chief determinant may be how much effort has been invested in giving teachers ownership of the experience and tailoring it to their real needs.

“Professional development is so often ‘done’ to people with a one-size-fits-all approach,” she explained. “In a previous job in an inner-city school system, I had to sit through no fewer than 15 workshops on how to write a constructed response question, even though my principal publicly used my own questions as high-quality examples. I’d mastered the content but others hadn’t, so we all sat through the training again and again. ‘We can’t make exceptions,’ my principal said.”

“I love PD,” Ellen was quick to add, “but I hate having no choice or being forced to participate in something because those in charge don’t know how to differentiate PD or don’t trust that I’d replace that session with something valuable that would push me. So, in those situations, I am sure that I have been less than a stellar audience member. I have graded papers; I have sent text messages to colleagues who were in the same situation; I have drawn pictures and gone to the restroom multiple times, spending extra minutes there with a book that was applicable to my real PD.

“After all,” Ellen concluded, “we teachers ARE human, and when we feel like we’re being disrespected, we often respond like humans. Just like our students.”

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Rewards for Students Under a Microscope By LISA GUERNSEY from NYT

For decades, psychologists have warned against giving children prizes or money for their performance in school. “Extrinsic” rewards, they say — a stuffed animal for a 4-year-old who learns her alphabet, cash for a good report card in middle or high school — can undermine the joy of learning for its own sake and can even lead to cheating.

But many economists and businesspeople disagree, and their views often prevail in the educational marketplace. Reward programs that pay students are under way in many cities. In some places, students can bring home hundreds of dollars for, say, taking an Advanced Placement course and scoring well on the exam.

Whether such efforts work or backfire “continues to be a raging debate,” said Barbara A. Marinak, an assistant professor of education at Penn State, who opposes using prizes as incentives. Among parents, the issue often stirs intense discussion. And in public education, a new focus on school reform has led researchers on both sides of the debate to intensify efforts to gather data that may provide insights on when and if rewards work.

“We have to get beyond our biases,” said Roland Fryer, an economist at Harvard University who is designing and testing several reward programs. “Fortunately, the scientific method allows us to get to most of those biases and let the data do the talking.”

What is clear is that reward programs are proliferating, especially in high-poverty areas. In New York City and Dallas, high school students are paid for doing well on Advanced Placement tests. In New York, the payouts come from an education reform group called Rewarding Achievement (Reach for short), financed by the Pershing Square Foundation, a charity founded by the hedge fund manager Bill Ackman. The Dallas program is run by Advanced Placement Strategies, a Texas nonprofit group whose chairman is the philanthropist Peter O’Donnell.

Another experiment was started last fall in 14 public schools in Washington that are distributing checks for good grades, attendance and behavior. That program, Capital Gains, is being financed by a partnership with SunTrust Bank, Borders and Ed Labs at Harvard, which is run by Dr. Fryer. Another program by Ed Labs is getting started in Chicago.

Other systems are about stuff more than money, and most are not evaluated scientifically. At 80 tutoring centers in eight states run by Score! Educational Centers, a national for-profit company run by Kaplan Inc., students are encouraged to rack up points for good work and redeem them for prizes like jump-ropes.

An increasing number of online educational games entice children to keep playing by giving them online currency to buy, say, virtual pets. And around the country, elementary school children get tokens to redeem at gift shops in schools when they behave well.

In the cash programs being studied, economists compare the academic performance of groups of students who are paid and students who are not. Results from the first year of the A.P. program in New York showed that test scores were flat but that more students were taking the tests, said Edward Rodriguez, the program’s executive director.

In Dallas, where teachers are also paid for students’ high A.P. scores, students who are rewarded score higher on the SAT and enroll in college at a higher rate than those who are not, according to Kirabo Jackson, an assistant professor of economics at Cornell who has written about the program for the journal Education Next.

Still, many psychologists warn that early data can be deceiving. Research suggests that rewards may work in the short term but have damaging effects in the long term.

One of the first such studies was published in 1971 by Edward L. Deci, a psychologist at the University of Rochester, who reported that once the incentives stopped coming, students showed less interest in the task at hand than those who received no reward.

This kind of psychological research was popularized by the writer Alfie Kohn, whose 1993 book “Punished by Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes” is still often cited by educators and parents. Mr. Kohn says he sees “social amnesia” in the renewed interest in incentive programs.

“If we’re using gimmicks like rewards to try to improve achievement without regard to how they affect kids’ desire to learn,” he said, “we kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

Dr. Marinak, of Penn State, and Linda B. Gambrell, a professor of education at Clemson University, published a study last year in the journal Literacy Research and Instruction showing that rewarding third graders with so-called tokens, like toys and candy, diminished the time they spent reading.

“A number of the kids who received tokens didn’t even return to reading at all,” Dr. Marinak said.

Why does motivation seem to fall away? Some researchers theorize that even at an early age, children can sense that someone is trying to control their behavior. Their reaction is to resist. “One of the central questions is to consider how children think about this,” said Mark R. Lepper, a psychologist at Stanford whose 1973 study of 50 preschool-age children came to a conclusion similar to Dr. Deci’s. “Are they saying, ‘Oh, I see, they are just bribing me’?”

More than 100 academic studies have explored how and when rewards work on people of all ages, and researchers have offered competing analyses of what the studies, taken together, really mean.

Judith Cameron, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Alberta, found positive traits in some types of reward systems. But in keeping with the work of other psychologists, her studies show that some students, once reward systems are over, will choose not to do the activity if the system provides subpar performers with a smaller prize than the reward for achievers.

Many cash-based programs being tested today, however, are designed to do just that. Dr. Deci asks educators to consider the effect of monetary rewards on students with learning disabilities. When they go home with a smaller payout while seeing other students receive checks for $500, Dr. Deci said, they may feel unfairly punished and even less excited to go to school.

“There are suggestions of students making in the thousands of dollars,” he said. “The stress of that, for kids from homes with no money, I frankly think it’s unconscionable.”

Economists, on the other hand, argue that with students who are failing, everything should be tried, including rewards. While students may be simply attracted by financial incentives at first, couldn’t that evolve into a love of learning?

“They may work a little harder and may find that they aren’t so bad at it,” said Dr. Jackson, of Cornell. “And they may learn study methods that last over time.”

In examining rewards, the trick is untangling the impact of the monetary prizes from the impact of other factors, like the strength of teaching or the growing recognition among educators of the importance of A.P. tests. Dr. Jackson said his latest analyses, not yet published, would seek to answer the questions.

He also pointed out that with children in elementary school, who typically show more motivation to learn than teenagers do, the outcomes may be different.

Questions about how rewards are administered, to whom and at what age are likely to drive future research. Can incentives — praise, grades, pizza parties, cash — be added up to show that the more, the better? Or will some of them detract from the whole?

Dr. Deci says school systems are trying to lump incentives together as if they had a simple additive effect. He emphasizes that there is a difference between being motivated by something tangible and being motivated by something that is felt or sensed. “We’ve taken motivation and put it in categories,” Dr. Deci said of his fellow psychologists. “Economics is 40 years behind with respect to that.”

Some researchers suggest tweaking reward systems to cause less harm. Dr. Lepper says that the more arbitrary the reward — like giving bubble gum for passing a test — the more likely it is to backfire. Dr. Gambrell, of Clemson, posits a “proximity hypothesis,” holding that rewards related to the activity — like getting to read more books if one book is read successfully — are less harmful. And Dr. Deci and Richard M. Ryan report that praise — which some consider a verbal reward — does not have a negative effect.

In fact, praise itself has categories. Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, has found problems with praise that labels a child as having a particular quality (“You’re so smart”), while praise for actions (“You’re working hard”) is more motivating.

Psychologists have also found that it helps to isolate differences in how children perceive tasks. Are they highly interested in what they are doing? Or does it feel like drudgery? “The same reward system might have a different effect on those two types of students,” Dr. Lepper said. The higher the interest, he said, the more harmful the reward.

Meanwhile, Dr. Fryer of Ed Labs urges patience in awaiting the economists’ take on reward systems. He wants to look at what happens over many years by tracking subjects after incentives end and trying to discern whether the incentives have an impact on high school graduation rates.

With the money being used to pay for the incentive programs and research, “every dollar has value,” he said. “We either get social science or social change, and we need both.”

Originally from the New York Times.

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I’ve noticed, not recently, that I don’t like doing as much work as many other people. I really enjoy my free time.
This time of year I feel super busy. I do have more things I’m doing this year, but I don’t have a job. You’d think that those two things would balance out. I don’t feel that way at all. I honestly have no idea how I would even hold and have time for a job. I know a job should probably be prioritized ahead of other things, but I just don’t want to.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve never had a job that I liked. Every job I’ve had, I’ve gotten to a point that I dreaded going. That leads to the question, how do you get a job that you like?
I suppose the answer to that question is school. The catch is that you need a job to afford school. Does that mean that I have to keep doing something I don’t like (job) in order to do something I like? That doesn’t seem right to me.
I’m not totally sure why. Maybe that’s a topic to explore while I’m not in class.
Did I mention I’m typing this on my iPod?

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