Thursday, October 11, 2007

Opening classrooms

Scott Elias wrote an article on how classrooms are isolated from public scrutiny, and commented that administrators need to be up and walking around in order to minimize this. When I read it, I just had to ask how classrooms can become more open to the outsiders who have the largest stake in what is going on in the classroom - the parents. He had some good ideas involving using the web to track assignments using prepackaged software, perhaps like Moodle, or blogs, vlogs, wikis, to allow parents to log in and really see what is going on in the classroom. That's a great goal, but I'm not sure how we get from here to there. Do we rely on the individual classroom teachers to create their own blogs? Does the school district administration have to decree that this be done? Do the administrators of the individual schools have a say? I'm not sure.

I've lost the link now, but I remember reading an article about a teacher who had to stop blogging because an adminstrator disapproved. As long as we have that kind of attitude in the school system, we're not going to have any change, that's for sure.

Designing Wiser

Kevin Makice has started a series on Designing Wiser, sort of the application to his field of study of a workshop by early childhood educator Bev Bos. (Should be interesting, but be careful following that link if you use Internet Explorer as the site is temperamental). Part 1 concerns instilling a sense of belonging. Difficult to do in a public school setting where the class sizes are so large; twenty kids in my child's kindergarten class, and even the brand new New Technology High School that is opening next year in Bloomington will have 100 students to just four teachers. As always, private schools are better off, but I can see another application of the theme at Monroe County Martial Arts. The teachers there take pride in knowing each and every student's name, and you'll often see Mrs. Scott pull a student off to the side for several minutes of one-on-one instruction while one of the higher-ranking belts takes the rest of the kids through drills. Even in the teenage/adult classes you'll see exercises and drills that are clearly designed towards team-building. Every student with a few months of training, from the five-year-olds to the old fogies, like me, gets the sense of being among friends, and the amount of learning that gets done is heightened because of it.

(I love the martial art belt system, and I think schools should give out belts in geometry and social studies instead of grades. Not least because in order to get a higher belt, a certain amount of instruction to lower belts is required, which would be a great thing to transfer to a classroom setting.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

What should be done about digital citizenship?

Cool Cat Teacher, who is constantly enticing me to respond to her posts, is at it again with her discussion of digital citizenship and literacy, and the difficult question of teaching kids how to evaluate what they read on the internet. One thing she doesn't really discuss, except in passing, is credibility; a subject I've written about once or twice before. See, when you're an academic, you learn about sources. Follow the references here, follow them there, follow them until you get tired of the chase, and if you're lucky you're back to a really well done study posted in one of those peer-reviewed journals that it is every academic's hope to be published in.

We need to teach our kids to do that, of course; especially as they take steps towards becoming academics themselves and either creating their own original research, or gaining the ability to evaluate those precious peer-reviewed studies for themselves, to see if the data really says what their authors say it says.

But that's not quite the skill that is really required online. What you need is the ability to evaluate the sources themselves for the likelihood that what they say is likely to be factual. I mean, who should we believe:



Proponents and analysts attribute the relative success of Linux to its security, reliability, low cost, and freedom from vendor lock-in.

The second quote is from Wikipedia. There's a big online debate about whether Wikipedia is a reliable source or whether it is subject to the phenomenon of wikiality, but that's beside the point. The point is, who do we trust? The 733t hax0r who wrote the first statement, or the carefully thought out and constructed sentence in the second? Credibility drips from it. It doesn't mean it's true; it just means that it is significantly more worthy of attention. And, once you find that a source like Wikipedia, or Larry Osterman, or CNN, has statements that are worthy of attention, you can make a reasonable assumption - subject to verification - that they are making other statements that are also worthy of attention. This is how a source builds credibility, and how a reader evaluates it. This is what we need to teach our children.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Classroom backchannels

Image from Cirne

Cool Cat Teacher is installing a backchannel in her classroom. I love this. They don't even do this at most of the conferences I go to. But it is an amazing tool for people who are more comfortable with writing than speaking, and an amazing tool for referring back to after the class, or session, or seminar is finished. I'm not quite clear on whether this teacher is a private school teacher or not; if so, her ability to set something like this up is not as surprising. Still, if I understand it correctly, she's using a projector somewhere in the room to display the backchannel, and the implementation is done using just a private chat room on a public chat room server. What would it take to do this in a public school? The same as this teacher: a projector, a wall, and access to a chat server. And, the ability for the students to add chats from their desks. It gets a bit tricky right about there. Maybe at a New Technology High School they can do this, or maybe in a few years they'll get together one of those deals where every student has a laptop. Maybe. But there is one room at my son's school where they could do this: the brand new computer lab, and the room has a projector. I wonder what sorts of classes they teach in there?

Saturday, September 8, 2007


So here's the deal: in order to get the school library some new books, we parents are supposed to participate in a fundraiser. We've been given a couple of catalogs of items that we're supposed to buy or talk our friends, grandparents, parents' coworkers, or other folks into buying in order to raise money for the library. The school is using a company called Paragon Promotions out of Evansville to handle the catalogs, write letters to parents, print the order forms, collect the money, etc. Presumably, after the merchandise is paid for and Paragon gets their cut, they'll send a check on over to the school and they'll be able to buy the books.

I want to get the school some books. As part of the construction this year, there is a new library room, and presumably there'll be space for a lot of new books.

But does this fundraising plan raise as many questions in your mind as it does in mine?

  • What percentage of the money actually goes to library books?
  • How much is Paragon's cut?
  • Is every school doing this at the same time? How many kids are doing these fundraisers?
  • How much is in the library fund now? What percentage of the school's overall budget goes to it?
  • What books are they going to buy? What books do they have now?
  • Can I just donate directly to the library fund? I sure don't want to mess around with this "cold call sales" thing.
  • Can I just donate books directly to the library?

Of course, when a big library buys books it gets these extra-strength bindings so the books can be read hundreds of times. But even our very nice city library has some ordinary paperbacks that I'm guessing people have donated to them. What the heck? Lend 'em out a dozen times and toss 'em, or even sell them in a book sale if they're not in too bad shape. No harm, no foul. But even if there's some arcane regulation against doing this, I need to know a lot more about the school finances so I can help out their library and book buying like I want to.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

First two weeks of school

are finished. Since I wrote my first post on this blog back in June, I've been poking around the education scene. There are certainly quite a few teachers out there with really good web sites and ways to keep parents updated on what the kids are doing in school, but I think the higher the grade, the more the teachers are willing to expend that sort of effort, and now that the school year's started, some of the teachers I've read most faithfully haven't written any articles for a while. Here's some of the ones I've been reading:

And others, with various levels of posting frequency and relevance to a kindergartener parent.

My apologies to Kevin Makice, who left a couple of comments here over the summer, which I completely ignored, because blush I forgot to turn on email notification of comments for this blog. It's on now, so no further comments will be ignored! But I suspect we won't be hearing much from the Makices, for if I have correctly followed their eddies in my stream of information, they have decided to pursue alternatives to public schooling. I agree with your comment, Kevin, that parents are encouraged to get involved, but only in prescribed ways. We have been told who our PTO officers are; what the schedule of meetings are; what we can volunteer for; and how we can help out with fundraising. Lots and lots of fundraising. Still, we haven't gone to a PTO meeting yet. We're still getting our feet wet. We'll see what happens.

Friday, June 8, 2007

And so, the adventure begins

My five-year-old just got the official letter in the mail: they ran a lottery and we now have the privilege of forking over $1800 to the public school system to send him to full-day kindergarten.

Is it worth it? I'm very ambivalent. Check out my post here to get some idea of why. But you know, I still thought it would be a good idea to get some sort of a dialog going. Now, I didn't have huge expectations of what the school web site would be like; as a matter of fact it might even have been a little better than I was expecting. So I dropped a note to the webmaster, a librarian at the school, and gave him a couple of suggestions for what I'd like to see: first, user comments on the site, and second, teacher biographies. I still feel like I have no idea of what goes on in this big, mysterious building that I am expected to send my only child to for most of the next seven years of his life.

The webmaster wrote back a very nice letter, but firmly rejected both of my suggestions, giving the typical reasons I've come to expect anytime I ask for a dialog: no time to monitor the comments, teachers might not want that information published, that sort of thing. Certainly I wouldn't want anything published about the teachers that they wouldn't want published, but there's certainly no shortage of teachers out there that have bios, websites, and all sorts of ways to communicate better with parents. Why not ask them? It's not like I'm asking for a webcam in the classroom. Yet.

So, let's start a dialog right here. What do you think about your public school? What are they doing right? How could they do better? How's the communication? Do you really have a good parent-teacher relationship? I want to hear from you.