Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Can Online Courses Enhance High School?

I haven't written much about this, but last Winter I was accepted into the Educational Leadership program at Niagara University. The degree will certify me to hold both administrative building and district leadership positions. I love my job as a teacher, but no one knows what the future may hold and I like the idea that I have the option to advance if that is something I one day choose to pursue.

Currently, I have the pleasure of attending classes taught by former New York Regents Chancellor, Robert Bennett. He is still active in Regents decisions which means I get the chance to hear weekly from someone at the top of the ladder when it comes to educational policy-making in New York State. It's like getting a behind-the-scenes look at education.

Tonight's topic in class was high school graduation requirements. Chancellor Bennett warned us that it was an area the the Regents Board was investigating, and would ultimately be changing in the reletive near future. These changes would most likely involve the credit hours needed to graduated and required seat time in class, but neither of these things will be quick or easy to implement. Both would require either hiring more teachers or increasing the pay of those who are already employed, and this seems improbable considering the state of New York laid off 58,000 teachers this September.

So how do we make high school more rigorous and expansive without further crippling the state budget?

I read an article the other day about a school district in Ohio experimenting with the idea of moving classes online in the event of a snow day. This idea is not without some serious flaws (what happens to kids without Internet access, for example?), but it has potential nonetheless.

Would it be possible to extend seat time, so to speak, without extending the school day?

How can this be mandated?

What will it look like?

What happens to students who do not have Internet access?

How will we prepare teachers?
Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Friday, October 22, 2010

This is not really about cookies.

I had a unsettling revelation the other evening: Cookies are not as good as they used to be.

Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoy cookies, but I remember them being better when I was a kid. Cookies from the past are what all present-day cookies are judged by, and to put it frankly, they just aren’t measuring up.

My first impulse was to blame the process that was used in preparing the recipe. But after close inspection, it was clear that this was not the source of the problem. Sure there are changes – electric beaters instead of hand mixers, fancy convection ovens instead of Grandma’s ancient oven – but the job gets done all the same.

What about the bakers? Are they not as good as the bakers of yester-year? I don’t think that’s the problem either. They love to bake and wouldn’t be in the profession if there wasn’t a desire to do so (or a desire to produce delicious cookies, either).

So why aren’t cookies as good as they used to be? Cookies are a big part of my life, and I simply could not abandon such an important question. It’s not because of the recipe and it’s not the fault of those who bake the cookie, so what could it be? Then it hit me.

The ingredients.

Perhaps the reason bakers cannot produce a high quality cookie anymore is because they do not have access to quality ingredients in which to bake with.

But this is an even bigger problem. Bakers can only control what goes on in their kitchen. They cannot control how ingredients are prepared before being packaged and shipped to them. All they can do is bake with passion and desire – and make the best cookie they can with the ingredients that are sent to them.

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

How do we Teach Future Teachers?

I remember the words of wisdom my supervising professor bestowed upon me shortly before I began student teaching as an undergraduate. He said, “you will learn more on the first day of teaching than you have during four years of college.” And you know what? He was absolutely correct.

The article, How Should we Teach our Future Teachers, released in July by the Associated Press addresses the sentiment my professor was trying to convey. New teachers are entering schools unprepared to face the job that lay before them.

The article begins by following the experiences of first year math teacher, Hemant Mehta. He explains that despite courses in pedagogy and education history, he struggled with basics like classroom management and was forced to find help on his own by means of web message boards, colleagues, and social networking sites like Twitter.

Mehta's story is not uncommon. This is because college programs focus largely on formal education and less on the “nuts and bolts” of the classroom. The article explains that this problem is difficult to solve because there is no national standard – every state is free to determine what is required of a teaching certification candidate. Fortunately, the government is beginning to get involved, and this may better align the states.

President Obama's budget includes a proposed expansion of the government's role in teacher training programs, which could infuse more than $400 million into preparing teachers for the classroom. This could be the push that could cahnge the focus from teaching education theory to teaching education craft.

This article addresses issues with teachers entering the workforce without adaquate training. This is only one part of the problem. From a district perspective, the real concern is what to do with new or newly hired teachers who have the gaps. Like my former professor explained, the best way to learn is by doing, but districts cannot afford to wait out the 2-3 year learning curve that most teachers experience. Districts need to consider this lack of skills and strategies with developing new teacher orientations and professional development.

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Using MP3 Players in the Classroom

I received a box in the mail today containing 15 Coby 1GB MP3 players.

They're no iPod, but you know what? I'm okay with that. And in some cases, they may actually be better than an iPod – at least for the purpose I'm looking for them to serve. They only cost $23; far cheaper than, say, an 8GB iPod Touch. Cheap means disposable, which is a good quality to have when being handled daily by middle schoolers. Also, cheap means fewer features. While limiting in potential, it makes using the players more manageable. For example, I purposely ordered an mp3 player without a radio feature. Now when I load material and hand it over to a student, I know that is the only thing he/she will be listening to.

I had an idea exactly 362 days ago – just short of a full year. It has mutated and expanded a bit since then, but now that I have the tools, I'm ready to make my idea a reality.

Here are 3 ways I plan to use my new MP3 players in the classroom:

Audio Books – Not only is there a wealth of free audio books available through sites such as Project Gutenberg and Librivox, but students can also record books as part of a classroom audio library. If students choose to record a title that is within the public domain, it can be hosted online and shared with the world – talk about authentic audience! I currently have two students who spend their lunch period each day recording an audio book version of the famous Jack London book, Call of the Wild.

Lecture/Guided Notes – One problem that I have found with running learning centers in my middle school classroom is that the teacher turns into a living pinball, constantly bouncing between raised hands. I have yet to try it, but I plan on using the mp3 players as a station in my class. I can record a listening passage, or even a selection from whatever novel we may be studying. Included with this recording can be comprehension questions, clarifications, etc. – in short, what I would have to explain and re-explain to that station throughout the day. Students would be able to replay things they may have missed, and it will allow me to focus on other stations in the room that may need closer attention. It's about as close to cloning myself as I will ever get!

Review – Our team has a problem this year with chatty study halls. It's not all of the kids, but a few disruptive ones are all it takes to light the fuse. I mentioned the mp3 players to my Social Studies teacher, and she volunteered to record review questions and answers for her upcoming unit test. We're going to load them onto the mp3 players and hand them out to select kids during study hall. The result should be twofold – they'll be quiet, and may actually learn something in the process!

What am I missing? How else can I get the most bang for the 23 bucks spent on each of these little gadgets?

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl