Arthur C. Clark

said, “A teacher that can be replaced by a computer should be.”.

At first I was offended.  Then, I realized that he was talking about a teacher that was still using they paradigm that we as teachers are to fill our students with information like we were filling up a glass with water.

Teachers today must be mentors, guides, facilitators, and exploration leaders.  We must also be motivators.  This not the kind of motivation provided by giving out candy, or no homework passes.  This is the kind of motivation that comes from asking relevant and thought provoking qustions and projects.  These are the kind of questions and projects that piques children’s interes.  These are the kind of projects and questions that get them discussing and arguing enough among themselves  to send them to the computers and primary sources.  We cannot create the interest, but we can find that which interests them through what we have most to offer personal contact, interest and concern in, with, and about them.

As Arthur C. Clark also said, “If children have interest, education happens.

 

A Parable

   The Animal School: A Fable by George Reaves

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school.

They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

* * * *

This little fable completely changed my views of teaching. We all, each of us as individuals, have skills at which we excel and skills at which we, to use the vernacular, suck. And yet, all students are expected to excel in all skill areas.

Suddenly I realized why two thirds of my classes were bored or potential discipline problems.

One third were bored and potential discipline problems because they were skilled in my subject, and yet they had to wait for the other two thirds to continue.

One third were bored and potential discipline problems because they were unskilled in my subject, were always lost, and couldn’t keep up with the rest of the class.

The final third cruised along while wondering why the other two thirds were unhappy and causing problems.

The traditional solution is to give additional work to both outlying groups. No matter what you call it, additional work feels like punishment to a child/teenager. We are wasting our time and money as well as doing our children, society, and taxpayers a disservice when we try to improve our educational system in the United States.

Of Model Ts and Corvettes

Over my thirty plus years in teaching, I have seen many “fixes” forced on our educational system. You have experienced them also, whether as a parent or a student. Do you remember: phonics, new math, and new science grants? I particularly remember in high school getting new science lab equipment one year, and the school district not being able to fund the program over the long term. I loved science, and it killed me to see all that lab equipment setting idle because federal funding was gone.

Each of the programs above, and I would add the integration of technology, is like putting a Corvette engine in a Model T and expecting it to go ninety miles an hour. The car will destroy itself before it ever reached the the desired goal of ninety miles an hour. Isn’t that exactly what has happened to our educational system. The harder we have tried to reach our goals the worse the system has functioned.It’s time for an educational revolution. The system can not be improved without these basic changes.

REVOLUTION NOT EVOLUTION (A NOT SO MODEST PROPOSAL)

STEP 1

Make all education competency based; not based upon age or grade level. Currently, school is like a prison sentence      (twelve years without a chance of parole). Everyone does their twelve years, no less. I have seen schools where students have completed all the required courses and electives and still not be allowed to graduate until they have put in the whole twelve years.

Every student should take every course at his own pace until he completes the competencies required by the state or national government or employers. They may at the same time be in beginning reading, advanced math and biology. They may be taking one course at a time or they may be taking several courses at once.

There should be no age limit for people to begin or continue taking courses in public schools. If an eighty year old woman wants to study literature, she should be able to take the course.  After all, she is a taxpayer.  If a thirty year old man wants to take book keeping or accounting for his small business, he should be able to. If a six year old is interested in rocketry, he should be   able to study it.

STEP 2

The U.S. educational system is based on an agrarian society. Guess what? We haven’t been an agrarian society for decades, if not centuries. Being based upon an agrarian society, we only have school nine months out of the year. Name me a business large, small, service, manufacturing or agricultural that lays off its workers and shuts down down its facilities for three months out of the year. We need to make the school calendar be three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and we need to make the facility available twenty four hours a day. When rooms are not being used for classes, they may be used by community organizations for a small fee to cover utilities, janitorial service and security.  People who don’t have children will be more likely to support schools they can use.

Students may attend as many days a year as they want.  They could schedule their classes around outside jobs.

Teachers may teach as many days a year as they want. They would be compensated for the extra months they teach and wouldn’t need to find job(s) at minimum wage during breaks and the summer.

Parents would be able to better plan their work schedules and child care.

Step 3

Now that we are competency based and school and teachers are available all year around, lets use technology. Technology will allow students to proceed at their own pace. Teaches will be able to serve as mentors to the learning process instead of lock stepping students of varied abilities and interest through a one size fits all curriculum.

Let’s stop wasting money on textbooks which are out of date before they are published. Go digital. With the money saved provide every student with a laptop or tablet. If you are worried about getting them back, charge a fee. For those students or parents that cannot afford to either buy or rent, have a business partner step up. Don’t buy technology. Lease it. It changes too rapidly; and will be too expensive to update. Use free technology from the internet like Kahn Academy and Next Vista for Learning.

STEP 4

Get parents, grandparents, the business community and the general public involved. Get everyone involved. Get civic organizations to use the school facilities. Get adults using the gym for basketball, volleyball, community dances. Everyone should know where the schools in their community are. Encourage everyone to come to school to get involved in courses whether their eight or eighty. Find out what people want to learn and provide them with the opportunity.

Step 5

We must have two education systems.

The states can keep their state schools, but there will be federal “charter” schools which adhere to common core principals. I have long heard about how the federal government should stay out of state issues. I agree wholeheartedly.

The federal government would have the right to run federal charter schools any way it wanted. The federal government would fund their charter schools with federal tax dollars.

The states would have the right to run their state schools however they wanted. The states could fund their schools however they wanted but without federal tax dollars. No state monies would be used to fund federal charter schools and no federal funds would be used to finance individual state public, private or state chartered schools.

Parents would be able to choose whether to send their children to federal charter schools which were funded by federal tax dollars or state schools funded by state tax dollars. At last the hue and cry against big government involvement in education would be addressed.

States could have all the charter schools they wanted. States could write whatever curriculum they wanted with or without creationism. The states could teach that climate change is not backed by science. States could teach that the earth is six thousand years old by counting the begats.  States could once again manipulate who goes to what state schools because the parents would have a choice.

I am looking forward to your comments, particularly questions, suggestions, criticisms to help improve our educational system.

Educational Revolution

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The Animal School: A Fable by George Reaves

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying.

To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming.But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

* * * *

This little fable completely changed my views of teaching. We all, each of as individuals, have skills at which we excel and skills at which we, to use the vernacular, suck. And yet, all students were expected to excel in all skill areas. Suddenly I realized why two thirds of my classes were bored or potential discipline problems.

One third were bored and potential discipline problems because they were skilled in my subject, and yet they had to wait for the other two thirds to continue.

One third were bored and potential discipline problems because they were unskilled in my subject, were always lost, and couldn’t keep up with the rest of the class.

The final third cruised along while wondering why the other two thirds were unhappy and causing problems. The traditional solution was to give additional work to both outlying groups. No matter what you call it, additional work feels like punishment to a teenager.

We are wasting our time and money as well as doing our children, society, and doing taxpayers a disservice when we try to improve our educational system in the United States.

Of Model Ts and Corvettes

Over my thirty plus years in teaching, I have seen many “fixes” forced on our educational system. You have experienced them also, whether as a parent or a student. Do you remember: phonics, new math, and new science grants? I particularly remember in high school getting new science lab equipment one year, and the school district not being able to fund the program over the long term. I loved science, and it killed me to see all that lab equipment setting idle because federal funding was gone.

Each of the programs above, and I would add the integration of technology, is like putting a Corvette engine in a Model T and expecting it to go ninety miles an hour. The car would destroy itself before it ever reached the the desired goal of ninety miles an hour. Isn’t that exactly what has happened to our educational system. The harder we have tried to make reach our goals the worse it has become.

It’s time for educational revolution. The system can not be improved without these basic changes.

REVOLUTION NOT EVOLUTION

(A NOT SO MODEST PROPOSAL)

STEP 1

Make all education competency based; not based upon age or grade level. Currently, school is like a prison sentence without a chance of parole. Everyone does their twelve years, no less. I have seen schools where students have completed all the required courses and electives and still not be allowed to graduate until they have put in the whole twelve years.

Every student should take every course at his own pace until he completes the competencies required by the state or national government or employers. They may be in beginning reading, advanced math and biology. They may be taking one course at a time or they may be taking several courses at once. There should be no age limit for people to begin or continue taking courses in public schools. If an eighty year old woman wants to study literature, she should be able to take the course. If a thirty year old man want to take book keeping or accounting for his small business, he should be able to. If a six year old is interested in rocketry, he should be able to study it.

STEP 2

Get rid of the nine month school year.  The U.S. educational system is based on an agrarian society. Guess what? We haven’t been an agrarian society for decades if not centuries. Being based upon an agrarian society, we only have school nine months out of the year. Name me a business large, small, service, manufacturing or agricultural that lays off its workers and shuts down down its facilities for three months out of the year. We need to make the school calendar be three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and we need to make the facility available twenty four hours a day. When rooms are not being used for classes, they may be used by community organizations for a small fee to cover electric, janitorial and security. Students may attend as many days a year as they want. Teachers may teach as many days a year as they want. They would be compensated for the extra months they teach and wouldn’t need to find another job during breaks and the summer. Parents would be able to better plan their work schedules and child care.

Step 3

Use technology to its fullest.  Now that we are competency based and school and teachers are available all year around, lets use technology. Technology will allow students to proceed at their own pace. Teaches will be able to serve as mentors to the learning process instead of lock stepping students of varied abilities and interest through a one size fits all curriculum. Stop wasting money on textbooks which are out of date before they are published. Go digital. With the money saved provide every student with a laptop or tablet. If you are worried about getting them back, charge a fee. For those students or parents that cannot afford to either buy or rent, have a business partner step up. Don’t buy technology. Lease it. It changes too rapidly; and will be too expensive to update. Use free technology from the internet like Kahn Academy and Next Vista for Learning.

STEP 4

Everyone needs to be involved.  Get parents, grandparents, the business community and the general public involved. Get everyone involved. Get civic organizations to use the school facilities. Get adults using the gym for basketball, volleyball, community dances. Everyone should know where the schools in their community are. Encourage everyone to come to school to get involved in courses whether their eight or eighty. Find out what people want to learn and provide them with the opportunity.

Step 5

We must have two education systems. The states can keep their state schools, but there will be federal “charter” schools which adhere to common core principals. I have long heard about how the federal government should stay out of state issues. I agree wholeheartedly. The federal government would have the right to run federal charter schools any way it wanted. The states would have the right to run their state schools however they wanted.

The federal government would fund their charter schools with federal tax dollars.

The states could fund their schools however they wanted but without federal tax dollars. No state monies would be used to fund federal charter schools and no federal funds would be used to finance individual state public, private or state chartered schools. Parents would be able to choose whether to send their children to federal charter schools which were funded by federal tax dollars or state schools funded by state tax dollars.

At last the hue and cry against big government involvement in education would be addressed. States could have all the charter schools they wanted. States could write whatever curriculum they wanted with or without evolution. The states could teach that climate change is not backed by science. States could once again manipulate who goes to what schools because the parents would have a choice.

I am looking forward to your comments, particularly questions, suggestions, criticisms to help improve our educational system.

 

TEACHING FOR DUMMIES CONTINUED

So, as teacher as artist, you are perfecting your individual techniques. Don’t forget to explore other ones.

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!

Schools do not necessarily want teachers as artists. I would go so far as to say they hate them. School administrators would like you, as well as your students, to proceed in lock step. Success, they say, can only be obtained in one way. That way changes with the textbooks they have selected to match the tests the district and state have adopted. Currently in our state, the company who develops the tests is also the company that sells the course materials. Do you suppose there may be a conflict of interest?

School districts cannot even differentiate between teaching techniques that work with elementary students from those that work with high school students. I was talking with a high school teacher today who related the content of a mandatory in-service video. This video taught the technique of having students wear their vocabulary on head bands. Can you imagine high school students doing that? Can you imagine how many headbands students in biology or chemistry would have to wear?

Another favorite technique, supported by school districts, is the use of “Word Walls”. The teacher puts the vocabulary terms for the week on the classroom wall and then develop different techniques and games to facilitate the learning of these terms. This has merit in elementary school. However, in an Economics class, it would be silly when there are twenty to forty new terms a week.

Be aware that If you point out “the emperor has no clothes”, they will say that you are absolutely right. However, the principal will be evaluated on these techniques and so will you. What does one do?

BIFURCATE!

You must bifurcate. If you don’t do what the school district wants, they will either fire you, or you will have your contract non-renewed. (Non-renewal is how schools fire people without cause.)  Don’t be shocked; it happens all the time. Reasons for non-renewal vary from not having word walls to organizing or supporting a teachers union. Administrators love non-renewals. They don’t have to have a reason to get rid of a teacher, and they don’t have to follow the union contract. This is why school districts prefer to give one hear contracts. This is also why they dislike tenure. Tenured teachers are protected by their contract and can only be dismissed for cause. The choice is yours; teach or follow their insanity.

How do you bifurcate?

First, keep your door closed.

Second, make a check list of the techniques and methodology you are to follow.

Third, be sure to have everything posted and visible that you are supposed to. I.e. “word walls”, “vocabulary head bands”, etc. (Be sure to use the buzzwords of the day. I know a teacher who was marked down on her evaluation because she had her Word Wall labeled as vocabulary.

Fourth, practice using these techniques with the students.

Fifth, always appear to support the new techniques. Make sure your administrator know that you are on board. In faculty meetings be supportive. At the very least don’t question the new methodology. Teachers who object to new methodologies are the ones who get monitored first and most often to see if they are in compliance,

NOW, close your door and teach your students with your best techniques that work with your students. When the administrator shows up, go into a dog and pony show with your students.

EXTRA CREDIT – During an evaluation, try to get the evaluator involved with the kids and lesson. Ask the evaluator to share experiences that would relate to the lesson. Ask the students if they have any questions for the evaluator. More about the evaluation process later.

GOLDEN ROD

One of my followers commented that they were involved with teaching reading. I would like to share my experience with a junior high student in my English class.

In the open house before the first day of classes, a mom came up to me and asked if it was acceptable for her son to do his work on yellow paper with blue lines. (Some of you may remember it as “Golden Rod”.) She explained that he had writing difficulties and his printing/writing was better on this type of paper.

This piqued my curiosity. I bought some “Golden Rod” paper and compared writing on it with writing on the white ruled notbook paper usually used in middle and upper grades. The “Golden Rod” was much easier on the eyes and comfortable to use, particularly under bright flourescent lights.

I looked at our text book. Black print on glossy white paper. I had an idea. I purchased from the stationary store enough transparent yellow sheets for the whole class. I asked them to try reading their book with the yellow sheet over the page. About half of them preferred reading with the yellow sheet. About half of that number continued using them. A few took them home with them.

Subsequently, I tried other colors, but yellow seemed to work best. If you have reluctant readers, or readers who get headaches, this might help.

Footnote:  It appears that the Golden Rod writing tablet may no longer be produced and may have been a regional product.  Therefore, a description may be necessary.  The Golden Rod writing tablet was bound yellow paper with blue lines of a cheap stock.  It was primarily used in elementary schools because of its inexpensiveness.  If you do a google search, you will find a paper that is used to show acid or base.  Not what I am talking about, but neat for a science class.  God, I feel old.

COGITO ERGO SUM III

My grandson, picks up my iPad and uses it to hammer the pegs in his toy pegboard.  Should I be angry with him?  No, to him it is a hammering device; to me it is my beloved iPad.

A student doesn’t turn in an assignment in a timely fashion; I see it has a lazy and irresponsible act.  He sees that a greater priority is fixing supper, doing laundry and taking care of his siblings while his mom is at work.

I see an administrator not standing up for his subordinates as an act of cowardice and self serving.  He sees it as guaranteeing that he has a job to support his family.

A politician votes in a way that is contradictory to the needs of his constituents.  He sees it as staying in office so he can continue to serve in the future.

The first step in problem solving is not to look at the facts, but rather at the perceptions of the parties, whether individuals or governments.  If you look at the current problem with Russia annexing Crimea, not from the so called facts, but rather from the perception of the Russian government; you may be able to resolve the issue.  Their apparent perception is that the buffer countries they have always had to protect themselves from the west are disappearing leaving them exposed.

Next time we look at the effect of perception in that most personal relationship: man and woman.

Cogito Ergo Sum II

What these philosophers are pointing out is that perception is reality.  Your perception is your reality; my perception is my reality.  What is real then?

Reality is three fold.  Reality is what I perceive and what you perceive, but it also is what society agrees to call reality.

I am colorblind.  Blue and green are indistinguishable to me.  I would call those colors blue.  My wife is not colorblind.  She would call some of my blue colors blue and she would call others green.  We are both right.  However, if the majority decide that some colors are blue and some are green; for them, I am considered colorblind.  And to that point, each member of the majority would still have their unique perception of what color is blue.

As a practical matter, I act as if I am colorblind.  I ask my wife if my socks are correctly paired by color.  Still in my perception, and therefore in my reality, they all look the same color.

If there is a real reality, it cannot be known since the only way to know is through perception.  If we can internalize this concept, we increase our effectiveness in dealing with our world and each other greatly.

To be continued.