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November, 2008:

Student Behavior

I found Chris Lehmann’s post “Expectations of Student Behavior” to be an excellent reminder to all of us about behavior. He raises the question: Do we expect more from our students than from ourselves? His list of questions are excellent:

“Ask yourself, in your school, does the teacher with the most draconian lateness policy often show up late to meetings? Does the teacher who makes a big deal about food in the classroom often leave trash all over the faculty room? Do the teachers who have the strictest policies often resist any administrative policies? And how many of us have made it through an hour-long PD session without passing a note or sending an email or daydreaming?”

We expect a lot from our students. When I visit schools and sit in classrooms with the students for a few hours I am tired. I don’t know how they make it through the day sometimes. The seats are hard and the temperature is usually too hot or too cold. You seldom get to discuss the topic or even ask a question. Yet we expect the students to do this for six hours with only short 5 to 10 breaks in between classes. His comment about the trash that is left behind is very true. Often at conferences I go around and pick up coffee cups and other trash left behind by the participants.

Teachers, when they are in professional development activities or college often times don’t live up to the expectations they set for their own students. We do need standards of behavior, but they need to be realistic and meet the physical and emotional needs of their students. One way is to include students in developing policies for the classroom. I know a lot of teachers do that. I’m sure you have a lot of ideas also.

Most importantly, let’s look at our own behavior before we criticize. I know I’ll try to watch my behavior in conferences and presentations.

Chris, thanks for bring up topic.


Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/1384954600

A Snapshot in Time

I wanted to record a “Wordle View” of my blog while it is only a week old. My goal is to repeat this in a year or so and see how the words have changed. My guess is that book which is the word that stands out the most will move towards the background. On the other hand, I hope the word students will become larger.

I’ll just have to wait and see.

Are You a Criminal?

You may be guilty of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 if you have lied about your identity on the Internet.  By using a false identity you may have violated the law. The recent case about the woman who bullied a young lady who ended up committing suicide brings up that issue. (See the New York Times article.)

The woman who harassed the teenager may have violated MySpace’s terms of service. Although she was found not guilty of a murder charge, she may have violated the Computer Fraud Act.

“MySpace’s terms of service require users to submit “truthful and accurate” registration information. Ms. Drew’s creation of a phony profile amounted to “unauthorized access” to the site, prosecutors said, a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, which until now has been used almost exclusively to prosecute hacker crimes.”

The article raises some important issues. Some teachers and parents encourage students to take on phony identities when registering for sites. Other times students say they are older than they are to get sites on social and gaming sites. If we do that we may be encouraging students to start down a path of untruthfulness if the “situation warrants it.” Perhaps everyone on the Internet should know you’re a dog. (old joke)

The other thing is maybe we should all read the “terms of service” agreements that we so easily click on when we register on web sites. I have to think some more about this issue.


Ps I am Jim.

Outliers: The Story of Success

I was going to write more about Outliers (See my previous posts.), but then I read a question and answer session on Gladwell’s web site. It gives a good overview of the book. It may encourage you to read the book. I really did enjoy Outliers and would encourage you to read it. I just finished it today and it gave me a lot to think about for a while. What he has to say about success has a lot of implications for schools.



“Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.”
Malcomb Gladwell, Outliers, the Story of Success p. 150

Perhaps this should be written on the back wall of classrooms to remind teachers about the importance of meaning. Work that is so engaging that you loose track of time. Work that brings joy to others. Work that brings new knowledge to your world. Work that excites you so much you dream about it at night. We have all experienced that type of work. We need to bring that to our students.

We need to provide students with meaningful work with new tools we have available. Read Alan November’s article The Digital Learning Farm for some ideas to start with in your classroom. New tools like blogs, wiki’s, screencasts, podcasts, can provide audience and meaning for many of our students.

I just love that the sentence.


Outliers, The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell

I started reading Outliers, The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell today. Gladwell also wrote Blink and The Tipping Point. I read the other two books and enjoyed them both. After reading the first hundred pages of Outliers, I think I will enjoy this book aslo. He makes some very interesting and disturbing observations. First, he makes the case that one key to success may be the month you were born. He uses hockey for his first example. In junior hockey in Canada, the majority of players are born in the months January through April. He says this occurs because they tend to be bigger and stronger when they start playing with students their own age. They are the ones selected for the all star and traveling teams. So they get to play more, get better coaching, and get more experience that even makes them better. Players born in January through March are much more likely to be successful.

The advantage of age also applies to school. Older students (even by just a few months) do better in school than student born later in the year. This starts in elementary school with reading and math groups and carries on right into graduate school. You’ll have to read the book to get all of his insights. The important part that this has serious implications for education and is an idea we should be examining.

The most disturbing part of the book is his ideas about why some people with very high IQ’s are very successful and some are disappointments. Malcom shares a study that shows that the major factor is the economic status of their parents. Many of us have all seen this occur with students in our schools. Too often the students get the blame, instead of getting the help and support they need to be successful.

I’m really looking forward to the second half of the book. At this point I would say it is well worth reading.


Boy In the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Boy In the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

I finished Boy in the Striped Pajamas yesterday. It is for ninth graders and up. Also, it has been made into a movie that should have it’s first showing this month. I think it is just playing on one theater in the Detroit area. The average review on Amazon is four stars. I thought I was going to like the book, but I was mare and more disappointed as I read the book.

The concept is that two young boys meet at a fence. One is the son of the German Commandant at Auschwitz. The other is a young Jewish boy held in the camp. Both are nine years old and were born on the same day. I won’t tell you what happens in case you want to read the book or see the movie.

My problem with the book is that the German boy is supposed to be innocent and naïve. Even though he is living with in sight of Auschwitz that is surrounded by a wire fence and holds mean in boys in striped uniforms he does realize that it is a prison. Even though the boy is nine, I had a hard time believing that he doesn’t know it is a prison. I couldn’t help thinking about other German’s citizens that lived near the camps, but claimed they had no idea what was going on in the camps. I would worry that using this book with students would give them the impression that is was just a few bad people that carried out the Holocaust. I was mad about this portrayal of the camps.

If you read it or see the movie let me know what you think.


One Quick Look, That’s All it Took

I love to read books. I know it is so Twentieth Century. But remember I was paper-trained. I just purchased two new books. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell and Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World HC
by Don Tapscott. I haven’t read either one. I most likely will post my opinion about them after I get time to read them. But here is my opinion from just glancing at the two books. I like the publisher of Outliers better.

Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World HC
was publish by McGraw Hill a major publishing company. I didn’t like the layout when I first opened the book. The print is small and it is printed on bright white paper that isn’t soothing to the eyes. Also, the print that comes from the center of the book is too close to the fold.  I think it is called the gutter. There is so little space that you need to hold the book flat or beyond flat to read it. Also, the margins are small. There isn’t much white space. When I first looked at the book, I thought it was self published and had to check to see who published it.

Outliers: The Story of Success is printed on off white matt paper that is easy on the eyes. No reflection or glare from the paper. It has a larger gutter and bigger margins. Nicely done. My complements and thanks to Little, Brown and Company for a job will done.

I think the same thing happens to web pages and digital media. We get so caught up in the technology we sometimes forget the reader.


Technology, Banks, Cars and Education

About fifteen years ago, I took a proposal for wiring a new school to the school board. The bid for the work was all most nine hundred thousand dollars. I was concerned about what questions the school board might ask me. Before the board discussed my bid they had to approve a bid for refrigerators, microwave ovens and other appliances for the school. The bid was for about ten thousand dollars. The discussion about the appliances went on for over a half-an-hour. With each passing moment I worried more about the discussion of the much higher price bid I was bringing to the school board.

Finally, it was my turn. I explained what the bid was for and what it would let us accomplish. The school board members asked me two simple questions about the bidding process and the approved the bid. The entire process took just five minutes.

I’ve given that day a lot of thought. I came to the conclusion that the school board knew a lot about refrigerators, stoves and microwave ovens. They didn’t know a lot about routers, switches, fiber, and category five wiring. So they asked a lot of questions about the first bid but little or nothing about the technology bid.

I think the same thing is happening with Congress and the loans to banks and the automobile industry. Everyone has driven and car. Most people over twenty-one have owned a car. So they “know” about the car industry. Congress and the public doesn’t understand the current loan crisis. Sub-prime loans, derivatives, and other financial maneuvers that are not part of our everyday culture. So Congress is asking for a plan from the three auto companies, but have shown no reaction to loaning one banking company over 70 billion dollars. Twenty billion was provided to Citibank just today. Congress thinks they know the automobile industry.

The same thing happens with education. Everyone has gone to school. The average person spends at least twelve years in the classroom. Therefore they are an expert on schools and can tell you exactly what needs to be done to solve the educational crisis. The public runs from fad to fad without any underlying philosophy of what should be done to improve schools. We need an educational leader that can tell the new educational story in a compelling way. We need a leader that can bring focus to educational change that will be good for our children’s future not a replica of what schools were twenty years ago. I can only hope that the new administration appoints such a person.

Does education need to change?

G. Siemens, at elearnspace.org/blog asked for help for a research project. Readers were ask to answer three questions.

  1. Does education need to change?
  2. Why or why not?
  3. If it should change, what should it become? How should education (k-12, higher, or corporate) look like in the future?

Since I like to help others here are my answers.

1. Does education need to change?
An emphatic YES! I couldn’t image anyone saying no.

2. Why or why not?
A few main ideas came to me right away:

The high school drop out rate – I won’t try to give a number since no one really knows the number. Different states use different ways of gathering the numbers. What ever number you use it is too high. Historically, high school dropouts could work on the farm, go into the arm services, and get jobs in factories. Most of those options have diminished or disappeared. We will have to spend more money in the future for re-training. Since more high school dropouts in up in jail vs graduates, we will be forced to spend more money on prisons. High school dropouts are more likely to be a drain on society rather than a contributor. I know some people do dropout of high school and do well. They are the exceptions.

We are educating students for our past – NCLB and high stake testing is driving our curriculum and teaching. A minimum of a month out of every school year is taking up with test preparation. Emphasis is placed on facts rather than analysis, questioning, debate, and other higher order thinking activities. Even writing has become an exercise in creating a formula five-paragraph essay. Yes, students need to learn the basics. They will also need to be creative, large systems thinkers. Why should I employ a US engineer when I can hire an engineer from overseas with the same education for less money? The skills outlined by Daniel Pink and others are the key. Our students need to be problem solvers and able to ask good questions.

Students are bored in school – I’d be bored too. Lectures, textbooks, and worksheets are not inspiring. Great teaching and working on real world problems and solutions are engaging. Yet educators are driven to uses the book, teach the test, everyone does exactly the same lesson and takes the same test. We need curriculum and delivery systems that engage students and take advantage of the different learning styles by different students.

3. If it should change, what should it become? How should education (k-12, higher, or corporate) look like in the future?

This is a tougher question to answer because K – 12 and higher education is a large range for “one” solution. Here are some elements I think are important. Schools should teach students how to learn. We are truly going to need to be life long learners. We will continue to learn new skill sets and material. We will need to be able to learn from others as well as learn on our own.

Students will need to be able to ask good probing questions in order to find solutions to problems. They will also need to be able to work with others both in person, over networks and with diverse ethnic, religious, and cultural groups. They will need to be able to develop “plan B” with something doesn’t work.

Lessons will need to be presented to different students in different ways. We all have learning styles. Education will need to develop ways to deliver materials in the way that meets the needs of learners. Online course may fill part of the solution. We may have schools where students are learning at home, at a business, or in a classroom. It would give us a way to reduce class sizes and meet with individual or small groups of students. Students will need mentors that will help them with goals and help them find resources.

Those are some of my ideas on some tough questions.