Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Dramatic Math Gains - Add It Up...

Jay Matthews of the Washington Post relates the formula a 24 year old teacher used to dramatically improve the scores of some poor students.

From "New Teacher Jolts KIP" by Jay Matthews
"I've found that most traditional textbooks oversimplify and isolate concepts, and yet, are still too difficult for non-readers to use. They don't generally push students to think, but offer repetitive, and boring, practice," she said. She started writing each lesson nightly. This was a remarkable feat of youthful energy when you consider that KIPP teachers work 10 hours a day, and Suben was putting in another three hours each night at home composing the next day's lesson on her Dell laptop.

Suben said: "My primary goal as a teacher is to help my students understand the reasoning behind math rules and procedures. I have several core beliefs about this: (1) Understanding is constructed by the learner, not passively received from the teacher. (2) Understanding is built by making connections between as many strands of knowledge as possible. (3) Understanding is galvanized through communication. (4) Understanding is only valuable when you reflect on it and question it."

The core of her method is the workbook she produced last year on the fly. It "lets students build their own notes and create their own examples. It is incredibly active learning," she said. They were encouraged to write down the meaning of important terms and strategies they used that worked with certain kinds of problems.

"I certainly refer to traditional textbooks for ideas and guidance as I write," Suben said. "My sequence and pace are set by a long-term plan that I have designed to catch the students up on second-, third- and fourth-grade material as well as introduce every single D.C. public schools fifth-grade standard by testing time. I model my word problems after the eighth-grade text that I used in Louisiana because those problems require the level of understanding that I am looking for. I focus on non-traditional problems so that students are forced to think."

Thinking! Isn't that a violation of the No Child Left Behind Law?

Monday, December 25, 2006

What have they done to my song, Lord...

My wife was telling me a very funny story about an incident of vandalism involving one of the ubiquitous, inflatable, front yard Christmas decorations. Apparently, in some small town in America some teenagers decided to express their cultural objection by stabbing Frosty, the illuminated Snowman.

The victim, looking forlornly at Frosty's nylon puddle exclaimed, "WHY ME! WHY FROSTY?"

On Christmas eve, I attended Catholic Mass with my wife and boys - a rare trip to church for me. I take my beliefs seriously which is not to say evangelically, conservatively, or in orthodox fashion. And church is one of the last places I look for insight.

And every once in a while I'll attend church when a gifted theologian takes an all too short residency. Gifted priests don't last long in the Catholic Church. In fact they're as rare as hen's teeth these days. But Christmas is the day I try the baptismal waters once again.

I'm in my fifties and I have experienced a LOT of Christmas masses and this year's was the worst ever. It's Christmas and I've wrestled with saying so because, well, it's Christmas but, in the end, it would be unChristian to let such a low point slide.

The Christmas story is a highly decorated, super-fiction that is intended to illuminate the basis of Christian faith. The historical facts, whatever they may be, are simply a springboard for the most popular religious fabulisms that have captured the Christian imagination over time.

And, with these stories, come self-evident contradictions that as an intelligent child and teenager I could never resolve. The contradictions are SO obvious and striking that presumably, anyone with a brain might think twice about. But I would attend church with my father and he would nod out and sleep through many a mass and the fellow parishioners always seemed unconcerned with what was being said.

I would ask myself, "Is anyone listening to this?"

And the big contradiction is this; angels sing, play trumpets, send loud messages, that Christ, the son of God is born. Three big-shot Kings take a road-trip to visit the child, drop off some goodies for the po' boy, and apparently go home empty handed and plan a different trip for their next outing.

Christ, Mary, Joseph, and the town of Bethlehem are left with little or nothing to show for the 15 minutes of fame, the spotlight, and the failed public relations campaign of heaven, three kingdoms and word of mouth.

There are no stories of Joseph hanging a shingle that read, "Joseph and Sons - one of whom is, by the way, the son of God!" No, life went on for thirty odd years before Christ even bothers with his mission. And he does so with no letters of recommendation from Three Kings. He is a populist.

I finally resolved this paradox in mid-life. The happy talk birth stories are for the indoctrination of children and the feeble-minded - sugar-coated theology. A more serious, adult narrative might emphasize the mortality of the child, the humility of the birth and family condition, and the anonymity of the arrival. You don't have to be Christian to appreciate the thought-experiment of this theological speculation.

A few years ago, a more gifted priest even speculated on Joseph as an adoptive father - a high point in Christmas masses for me.

This year my sons are teen-agers whose angst I felt as we all endured an uninspired, joyless, seemingly endless reinterpretation of Christmas that I had never been subjected to in my life.

You see, these days the Catholic Church is more interested in serving the politics of war than the spirituality of the Christ. The Christ child of this story is a birth story of a cosmic media superstar who arrives with a political agenda, "Peace on earth, good will toward members in good standing." Oh yeah, forget about exercising free will - this Christ is taking no prisoners and is taking names.

The Christ of this Christmas seemed more vengeful and self-righteous than his dad. And in a wholly adult audience, the silly Christmas stories were inter-dispersed with condescending moral admonitions, subliminal political loyalty oaths, and a guest mention of the - wait for it - devil itself. This was Christ as Mel Gibson might cast the part, the new sheriff in town surrounded by devils and a big, evil world to clean up. Step out of line and you're left behind, chopped liver, and out of luck.

By the way, merry Christmas! Yeah, that's the best part, merry Christmas!

I could barely sit through it. Like the home-owner who wondered in astonishment of who would attack Frosty, I wondered why the church allows misguided moralists to distort the theology.

I told my boys that now that they're old enough to think for themselves, they could say no to this. Teen-agers need to know that adults are aware that bullshit is bullshit and that despite of the pollution the season is worth celebrating for all the right reasons. And they need to know that just because a holier-than-thou person is sugar-coating their speech in religious platitudes that they are no holier than a person who is still growing their soul.

Billy Graham, recently interviewed in a major magazine was asked how he felt about this absolute insistence of churches that only true believers will find salvation replied by saying, "God and God alone will make that decision."

That's my understanding as well.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Holidays!

This blog is little more than a year old and has been a huge success in delivering education concerns to the community and a worldwide readership. Thanks to everyone for participating.

And a wish for a healthy, safe, and prosperous holiday season to all.

The Economics of Education

The myth of investing in education is crumbling and fast. This New York Times Magazine article documents the phenomenon.

From "The Rise of the Office-Park Populist" by JACOB S. HACKE.
Remarkably, the ranks of the long-term unemployed — people who spend more than six months looking for work — are disproportionately professional and well educated. And it is better-paid workers who have seen the promise of guaranteed pensions replaced with the risks and uncertainties of private investment accounts like 401(k)s — the less skilled rarely receive pensions at all.

Indeed, in some ways, workers who have invested the most in skills are most at risk today. For one, such investments are a lot more costly than they used to be. About a third of recent college graduates enter the job market with student-loan debts that exceed what experts consider reasonable — a major increase from the past. What’s more, skills can also put you directly at risk. If you have labored for years to learn cost accounting or blueprint preparation, you can gain a big leg up in the competition for jobs that require those specialized skills. But while these talents can help you prosper, they also make you dependent on particular jobs or lines of work. If these positions dry up, so does the market for your skills — and the rewards those skills once delivered. (Unskilled workers, by contrast, have fewer opportunities to increase their wages but generally find it easier to move from one kind of job to another.)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Hunger and Learning

A short article that appeared in the New York Times recently reports a study that encourages maintaining a slight hunger before taking big tests.

From Empty-Stomach Intelligence by CHRISTOPHER SHEA, NY Times;
Hunger makes the best sauce, goes the maxim. According to researchers at Yale Medical School, it may make quadratic equations and Kant’s categorical imperative go down easier too. The stimulation of hunger, the researchers announced in the March issue of Nature Neuroscience, causes mice to take in information more quickly, and to retain it better — basically, it makes them smarter. And that’s very likely to be true for humans as well.
The finding was startling, but “it makes sense,” Horvath says. “When you are hungry, you need to focus your entire system on finding food in the environment.” In fact, some biologists believe that human intelligence itself evolved because it made early hominids more effective hunters, gathers and foragers.

Horvath says we can use the hormonal discoveries to our cognitive advantage. Facing the LSAT, a final exam or a half-day job interview? Go in mildly hungry, not carbo-loaded for endurance, and snack to maintain that edgy state. Such advice, applied on a national scale, might help save our schools. Since overweight kids have suppressed ghrelin levels, Horvath theorizes that perhaps the obesity epidemic has contributed to declining test scores and other American educational woes.

Interesting stuff, no?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It Happens Every Year!

Yes sir. Without fail there is one event parents can count on. Oh, don't be so coy as to act surprised.

You see if I went to a Board meeting and suggested that teachers learn a new education technique over the Holiday vacation period and get tested on it when they returned I'd be escorted out of the building in a strait-jacket.

But every year without fail, at least one teacher that my boys have will either assign a major project end date for the day after New Year's holiday OR they'll assign a semester end test.

I feel a little bit like Charlie Brown when I shout into the cold winter night, "Doesn't anybody out there know what the word vacation means?"

Can we put that on the employment screening test?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Teacher Responses to a NCLB Column

Recently, the Huffington Post columnist Gerald Bracey wrote a column that revisited what the proponents of No Child Left Behind thought today called "Things Fall Apart".

Here are some selected comments that followed from teachers:

As a middle school teacher I can testify that these tests are the ruin of true education. I am no longer there to inspire kids to love reading and writing. I am there ONLY to make sure we get better scores on the next round of miserable tests. Ask any teacher! We have lost our way w/ this idea of testing and testing. Parents ought to be up in arms. If teachers complain, the rap back at us is usually, "If you are a good teacher you shouldn't concern yourself with this. Your kids will do well." Nonsense. SO much of the tests have nothing to do w/ what really ought to go on in a classroom so we end up teaching to the test. Is that REALLY what parents want?
By: devora on December 09, 2006 at 08:02pm

I've taught under NCLB. As someone coming out of the corporate, "competitive" world I'm appalled by this programs lack of common sense.

1) It's not helping drop-out rates.

2) It focuses on the worst students, often leaving the brightest floundering. No, the poorer students didn't improve with the extra help. The best just learned less.

3)It teaches for regurgitation, not for concept. Teachers are teaching to the test and students aren't learning concepts they can reapply.

4) If we put a fraction of the money we're putting into Iraq into our own schools, we could drop class size down to a manageable 15 - 20 students per teacher. We say we don't have the money for schools and teachers, yet find it for killing people in foreign countries.

5) Teachers are still bearing the burdens of useless fanciful teaching techniques and purchasing supplies the schools aren't providing. I've had to supply my own paper, pencils and pens for weeks at a time.

6) Until we work on getting parents more involved, nothing we do at school is going to make that much of a difference. In particular, changing drug laws to keep parents at home. They may be in rehab programs, but they can at least be reached and influence their children.
By: DonsBlog on December 09, 2006 at 09:31pm

As a teacher, it amazes me that education is the one profession that everybody thinks they are experts in just because they went to school. As a teacher teaching in an economically-disadvantaged area of Chicago I have seen that NCLB is a complete failure. the funny thing no one wants to listen to the people who really know what needs to be done, the teachers. We have to go to college and get a college degree to be teachers. And we are tested to be certified to teach. And we are forced to complete further professional development training to maintain our certificates. We need to get more input from the teachers at the local level to improve our educational system. Our local school councils have only one teacher representative on them, and the local schools councils make important decisions concerning the schools.
I have to echo Donsblog's post. I think every teacher at my school would have to agree.
They need to totally repeal NCLB and start over. Stop the silly testing and let the teachers teach.
By: mphalen on December 10, 2006 at 02:43am

Friday, December 15, 2006

Is a Diabetes Cure Imminent?

This article, Diabetes breakthrough - Toronto scientists cure disease in mice by Tom Blackwell, National Post (Canadian Newspaper), is wonderful news for everyone if the discovery remains true.

The researchers caution they have yet to confirm their findings in people, but say they expect results from human studies within a year or so. Any treatment that may emerge to help at least some patients would likely be years away from hitting the market.

But the excitement of the team from Sick Kids, whose work is being published today in the journal Cell, is almost palpable.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Dr. Hans Michael Dosch, an immunologist at the hospital and a leader of the studies. "In my career, this is unique."

Their conclusions upset conventional wisdom that Type 1 diabetes, the most serious form of the illness that typically first appears in childhood, was solely caused by auto-immune responses -- the body's immune system turning on itself.

They also conclude that there are far more similarities than previously thought between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and that nerves likely play a role in other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as asthma and Crohn's disease.

The "paradigm-changing" study opens "a novel, exciting door to address one of the diseases with large societal impact," said Dr. Christian Stohler, a leading U.S. pain specialist and dean of dentistry at the University of Maryland, who has reviewed the work.

"The treatment and diagnosis of neuropathic diseases is poised to take a dramatic leap forward because of the impressive research."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Joe Lieberman, Profile In Courage

Yeah, our senator is back in the news with the usual highlight reel of his -cough- "career". This time WFSB, a local news station, reports that Joe Lieberman salutes the video gaming rating system!

Oh, and brace yourself for this nugget of wisdom. Lieberman is reported to say that it is the responsibility of parents to police their children's video games. Really! You don't say. Seems like Joe's been kicking parent's in that same spot for quite a while now. How about trying another spot for a while?

You see, CT's font of political fecal wisdom campaigned on cleaning up the gaming industry. Oh, there were these very serious video spots of Joe sitting around a table with what must have been paid actors all expressing concern over a video game Joe was waving around. And mere weeks later, NOTHING! ZERO. ZILCH. Wham, Bam, thank you SUCKERS!

Now that the election is over, Joe washes his hands of his favorite show issue faster than Pontius Pilate at an uncomfortable crucifixion. This guy makes hypocrites look like concerned citizens.

We can look forward to yet another six years of pathetic "leadership" from our man in Washington.

How much Joementum does one state have to suffer from before this jerk finds the exit?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Clever College Student Video

This stop action video is just pure fun and a testament to the kind of creative and accessible video production students can engage in even at the high school level.

This is a very worthwhile video.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Learning Multipliers

Here's an excellent set of ideas and suggestions for becoming a more effective student and learner.

From Hacking Knowledge: 77 Ways to Learn Faster, Deeper, and Better by Online Education Database.
For Teachers, Tutors, and Parents

56. Be engaging. Lectures are one-sided and often counter-productive. Information merely heard or witnessed (from a chalkboard for instance) is often forgotten. Teaching is not simply talking. Talking isn't enough. Ask students questions, present scenarios, engage them.

57. Use information pyramids. Learning happens in layers. Build base knowledge upon which you can add advanced concepts.

58. Use video games. Video games get a bad rap because of certain violent games. But video games in general can often be an effective aid to learning.

59. Role play. Younger people often learn better by being part of a learning experience. For example, history is easier to absorb through reenactments.

60. Apply the 80/20 rule. This rule is often interpreted in different ways. In this case, the 80/20 rule means that some concepts, say about 20% of a curriculum, require more effort and time, say about 80%, than others. So be prepared to expand on complex topics.

61. Tell stories. Venus Flytrap, a character from the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, once taught a student gang member about atoms, electrons, and protons by saying that an atom was one big neighborhood, and the protons and neutrons had their own smaller neighborhoods and never mixed. Just like rival gangs. The story worked, and understanding sparked in the students eyes.

62. Go beyond the public school curriculum. The public school system is woefully lacking in teaching advanced learning and brainstorming methods. It's not that the methods cannot be taught; they just aren't. To learn more, you have to pay a premium in additional time and effort, and sometimes money for commercially available learning tools. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but what is taught in schools needs to be expanded. This article's author has proven that a nine-year old can learn (some) university level math, if the learning is approached correctly.

63. Use applied learning. If a high school student were having trouble in math, say with fractions, one example of applied learning might be photography, lenses, f-stops, etc. Another example is cooking and measurement of ingredients. Tailor the applied learning to the interest of the student.

For Students and Self-Studiers

64. Be engaged. Surprise. Sometimes students are bored because they know more than is being taught, maybe even more than a teacher. (Hopefully teachers will assess what each student already knows.) Students should discuss with a teacher if they feel that the material being covered is not challenging. Also consider asking for additional materials.

65. Teach yourself. Teachers cannot always change their curricula. If you're not being challenged, challenge yourself. Some countries still apply country-wide exams for all students. If your lecturer didn't cover a topic, you should learn it on your own. Don't wait for someone to teach you. Lectures are most effective when you've pre-introduced yourself to concepts.

66. Collaborate. If studying by yourself isn't working, maybe a study group will help.

67. Do unto others: teach something. The best way to learn something better is to teach it to someone else. It forces you to learn, if you are motivated enough to share your knowledge.

68. Write about it. An effective way to "teach" something is to create an FAQ or a wiki containing everything you know about a topic. Or blog about the topic. Doing so helps you to realize what you know and more importantly what you don't. You don't even have to spend money if you grab a freebie account with Typepad, Wordpress, or Blogger.

69. Learn by experience. Pretty obvious, right? It means put in the necessary time. An expert is often defined as someone who has put in 10,000 hours into some experience or endeavor. That's approximately 5 years of 40 hours per week, every week. Are you an expert without realizing it? If you're not, do you have the dedication to be an expert?

70. Quiz yourself. Testing what you've learned will reinforce the information. Flash cards are one of the best ways, and are not just for kids.

71. Learn the right things first. Learn the basics. Case in point: a frustrating way to learn a new language is to learn grammar and spelling and sentence constructs first. This is not the way a baby learns a language, and there's no reason why an adult or young adult has to start differently, despite "expert" opinion. Try for yourself and see the difference.

72. Plan your learning. If you have a long-term plan to learn something, then to quote Led Zeppelin, "There are two paths you can go by." You can take a haphazard approach to learning, or you can put in a bit of planning and find an optimum path. Plan your time and balance your learning and living.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Oh My Aching Back!

It seems like everything we've ever been taught is wrong. Last week the cholesterol scare was exposed and now sitting up straight is bad for you.

From Medical News Today, Don't Sit Up Straight, It's Bad For Your Back.
It seems that sitting up straight, something many of us are taught from a very early age, is not good for your back, say researchers from Scotland and Canada. They found that sitting up straight strains your back unnecessarily. Ideally, you should lean slightly back, at an angle of about 135 degrees, they say.

The researchers, at Woodend Hospital, Aberdeen, Scotland, used a novel form of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) on 22 healthy volunteers to identify which positions are best, and which are worst, for our backs. The Positional MRI Machine allows the patient to move around during the examination.

The volunteers were asked to sit in three different positions:

1. Slouching. The person hunches forward, with feet touching the floor.
2. Upright, at 90 degrees, with feet touching the floor.
3. Relaxed, reclined backwards at 135 degrees, with feet touching the floor.

Measurements of spinal angles, spinal disk height, and movements were taken. When undue strain is placed on a disk, it moves - often out of place. The researchers found that the upright position, at 90 degrees, caused disks to move the most, while the relaxed position (135 degrees) caused disks to move the least. In other words, the upright position is the worst for the back, while the relaxed position is the best.

Study leader, Dr. Waseem Bashir, University of Alberta Hospital, Canada, said "Sitting in a sound anatomic position is essential, since the strain put on the spine and its associated ligaments over time can lead to pain, deformity and chronic illness."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

NCLB Perspective

I highly recommend this very long but excellent survey of NCLB piece that appears in today's New York Times Magazine (What It Takes to Make a Student by Paul Tough). Here are a few observations to whet your appetite.
Education Trust officials intended their data to refute the idea that family background is the leading cause of student performance. But on closer examination, their data largely confirm that idea, demonstrating clearly that the best predictors of a school’s achievement scores are the race and wealth of its student body. A public school that enrolls mostly well-off white kids has a 1 in 4 chance of earning consistently high test scores, Harris found; a school with mostly poor minority kids has a 1 in 300 chance.
Toll put it this way: “We want to change the conversation from ‘You can’t educate these kids’ to ‘You can only educate these kids if. ...’ ” And to a great extent, she and the other principals have done so. The message inherent in the success of their schools is that if poor students are going to catch up, they will require not the same education that middle-class children receive but one that is considerably better; they need more time in class than middle-class students, better-trained teachers and a curriculum that prepares them psychologically and emotionally, as well as intellectually, for the challenges ahead of them.

Right now, of course, they are not getting more than middle-class students; they are getting less. For instance, nationwide, the best and most experienced teachers are allowed to choose where they teach. And since most state contracts offer teachers no bonus or incentive for teaching in a school with a high population of needy children, the best teachers tend to go where they are needed the least. A study that the Education Trust issued in June used data from Illinois to demonstrate the point. Illinois measures the quality of its teachers and divides their scores into four quartiles, and those numbers show glaring racial inequities. In majority-white schools, bad teachers are rare: just 11 percent of the teachers are in the lowest quartile. But in schools with practically no white students, 88 percent of the teachers are in the worst quartile. The same disturbing pattern holds true in terms of poverty. At schools where more than 90 percent of the students are poor — where excellent teachers are needed the most — just 1 percent of teachers are in the highest quartile.

Government spending on education does not tend to compensate for these inequities; in fact, it often makes them worse. Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has compiled persuasive evidence for what he calls the country’s “education apartheid.” In states with more poor children, spending per pupil is lower. In Mississippi, for instance, it is $5,391 a year; in Connecticut, it is $9,588. Most education financing comes from state and local governments, but the federal supplement for poor children, Title 1, is “regressive,” Liu points out, because it is tied to the amount each state spends. So the federal government gives Arkansas $964 to help educate each poor child in the state, and it gives Massachusetts $2,048 for each poor child there.

Without making a much more serious commitment to the education of poor and minority students, it is hard to see how the federal government will be able to deliver on the promise contained in No Child Left Behind. The law made states responsible for turning their poorest children into accomplished scholars in a little more than a decade — a national undertaking on the order of a moon landing — but provided them with little assistance or even direction as to how they might accomplish that goal. And recently, many advocates have begun to argue that the Education Department has quietly given up on No Child Left Behind.

The most malignant element of the original law was that it required all states to achieve proficiency but then allowed each state to define proficiency for itself. It took state governments a couple of years to realize just what that meant, but now they have caught on — and many of them are engaged in an ignoble competition to see which state can demand the least of its students. At the head of this pack right now is Mississippi, which has declared 89 percent of its fourth-grade students to be proficient readers, the highest percentage in the nation, while in fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that only 18 percent of Mississippi fourth graders know how to read at an appropriate level — the second-lowest score of any state. In the past year, Arizona, Maryland, Ohio, North Dakota and Idaho all followed Mississippi’s lead and slashed their standards in order to allow themselves to label uneducated students educated. The federal government has permitted these maneuvers, and after several years of tough talk about enforcing the law’s standards, the Education Department has in the past year begun cutting one deal after another with states that want to redefine “success” for their schools. (When I spoke to Spellings this month, she said she would “appeal to the better angels of governors and state policy makers” to keep their standards in line with national benchmarks.)

The absence of any robust federal effort to improve high-poverty schools undercuts and distorts the debate over the responsibility for their problems. It is true, as the Thernstroms write in their book, that “dysfunctional families and poverty are no excuse for widespread, chronic educational failure.” But while those factors are not an excuse, they’re certainly an explanation; as researchers like Lareau and Brooks-Gunn have made clear, poverty and dysfunction are enormous disadvantages for any child to overcome.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Christian Questioning of Richard Dawkins

I watched Lewis Black's "Red, White, and Screwed" and just thought that his explanation of Darwin and Evolution should be taught in every high school in America but Lewis Black may exercise a vocabulary a bit too blue for some.

This is an alternative;

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Created Equal, Schooled into Uniform Nothingness

James Hillman explains the concept of "All men are created equal" better than anything I've read before.

From The Soul's Code by James Hillman:

In our nation the distinction between truth and opinion has solidified into the wall between church and state, between revealed truth and polls of popular opinion. Yet the Declaration of Independence asserts that the American democratic state is founded upon the transcendent "Truth": "All Men are created equal."

What is the basis of this claim? Inequalities are there before the first breath. Any nurse in the birthing section of a hospital can confirm that inequality exists from the beginning. Infants differ from one another. Genetic studies show innate differences of skills, temperaments, intensities. as for the circumstances into which we descend, what could be more unequal than our environments? Some are disadvantaged, others privileged by nurture and nature both - and from the beginning.

Since neither nurture nor nature gives equality, where do we even get the idea? It cannot be induced from the facts of life; nor can equality be reduced to a factor common to all human beings, such as erect posture, symbolic language, or manipulation of fire, because individual differences elaborate the common factor in billions of ways. Equality can only be deduced from uniqueness, from what the Scholastic philosophers called the "principle of individuality." I am imagining this uniqueness as the haeccitas (Medieval Latin for "thisness") in the genius as the formative factor given with each person's birth so that he or she is this one and not some other one, anyone, or no one.

So equality must be axiomatic, a given; as the Declaration of Independence says, that we are equal is a truth self-evident. we are equal by the logic of eachness. Each by definition is distinct from every other each and therefore equal as such. we are equal because each brings a specific calling into the world, and we are unequal in every other respect - unfairly, unjustly, utterly unequal, except in the fact of each's unique genius. Democracy rests, therefore, upon the foundation of an acorn.

the acorn pushes beyond the edge; it's principal passion is realization. the calling demands untrammeled freedom of pursuit, a freedom "live on arrival" and this freedom cannot be guaranteed by society. (If the opportunities for freedom are decreed by society, then society has the superior power, and freedom becomes subject to society's authority.) As democratic equality can find no other logical ground but the uniqueness of each individual's calling, so freedom is founded upon the full independence of calling. When the writers of the Declaration of Independence stated that all are born equal, they saw that the proposition necessarily entailed a companion: All are born free. It is the fact of calling that makes us equal, and the act of calling that demands we be free. The principle guarantor of both is the invisible individual genius.

I cannot help but think that schools increasingly violate the sacred trust of nurturing our offspring to recognize and follow their individual spirits. NCLB is the political poison that has transformed schools from places of learning into factories of unholy conformity.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More on Math

I'd be negligent if I did not bring this recent New York Times article to your attention. It reports on the failure of 90's math techniques and the return of schools to more tried and true methodologies. It's a good read.

From: As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics by Tamar Lewin.
Across the nation, the reconsideration of what should be taught and how has been accelerated by a report in September by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the nation’s leading group of math teachers.

It was a report from this same group in 1989 that influenced a generation of teachers to let children explore their own solutions to problems, write and draw pictures about math, and use tools like the calculator at the same time they learn algorithms.

But this fall, the group changed course, recommending a tighter focus on basic math skills and an end to “mile wide, inch deep” state standards that force schools to teach dozens of math topics in each grade. In fourth grade, for example, the report recommends that the curriculum should center on the “quick recall” of multiplication and division, the area of two-dimensional shapes and an understanding of decimals.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Colleges for Nerds

Here's a very nice article that introduces some relatively unknown schools that appeal to students who like the technical side of life.

From The 25 Best Colleges for Nerds:
14.Robotics: Movies like “Terminator" and “I, Robot” may be science fiction, but that’s just for the present. They not only proved box-office hits for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Will Smith, but have brought to the fore the increasingly profound effect robots will have in the future of the earth. The Robotics Design Studio at the Wellesley College offers robot-geeks the opportunity to design, build and invent their own LEGO robots. For the sit-at-homes, NASA offers a distributed, distance-learning summer course in Robotics and Engineering every year.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Restoring Reasonable Student Loan Interest Rates

I just received news that Joe Courtney won the Second Congressional of Connecticut by a little over 90 votes! As a Democrat he'll have the opportunity to contribute to the effort by Democrats to restore sanity to college student loan interest rates.

From CNN, "Dems: make student loans student friendly
Companies that make money in education have had good friends in Congress. That may change under the Democrats, says Fortune's Bethany McLean" by Bethany McLean, Fortune editor-at-large.
George Miller (D-California), who is likely to become the new chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, wants to cut interest rates on student loans in half.

Last spring Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York) introduced a Student Borrower Bill of Rights. Among its tenets are a cap on loan interest as a percentage of a borrower's income. "A Democratic majority will definitely have an opportunity to change student-loan law," says Michael Dannenberg, who directs education policy at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

It's no secret that change is needed. A just-released report commissioned by the Secretary of Education calls for "complete restructuring of the current federal financial aid system."

Cost is a major culprit. Tuition has grown at double digits for more than a decade, and federal aid has not kept up, resulting in often crippling levels of student debt.

As a blogger using the name "collegedebt4life" writes, "We went into debt to get an education so that we could get good jobs, and we find that we have mortgaged away the rest of our lives by taking out student loans."

Read the entire article here.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Parent Alert! TeenScreen Entrapping Students

This Wikipedia page references numerous sites that are warning parents and concerned citizens that the NCLB program is allowing drug companies and their surrogates to entrap teens into taking a "test" that will identify the child as needing medication.

From Wikipedia;

TeenScreen is a national mental health and suicide risk screening program for students and adolescents. The screening itself generally consists of a short (usually around ten minutes) questionnaire [1] and is conducted in public and private schools, doctor's offices, clinics, youth groups, shelters, and other youth-serving organizations and settings.[2]

Sites such as TeenScreenTruth warn:
One of the things TeenScreen fails to openly disclose is that the percent of false-positives for their pencil and paper screening "tool" - called the Columbia Suicide Screen (CSS) - is 84%, which means that the chances of your child walking away falsely labeled as "suicidal" or "mentally ill" is 84%!

Strong evidence suggests that the intended treatment for those so labeled is psychiatric drugging, using antidepressants and mood-altering drugs such as Ritalin, Xanax, Celexa, Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Thorazine, Luvox and other similar drugs which are known by the FDA (and the pharmaceutical companies) to cause depression, violence, suicide and homicide. In a recent survey of child psychiatrists it was discovered that 9 out of 10 children in their care were on at least one of these or similar drugs. Despite the recent FDA "black box" warnings, it is not unusual for a child to be put on two or more psychotropic antidepressant drugs — drugs that the FDA says can trigger suicidal thoughts.

This is the first I've heard of this program so I'm sure we'll be returning to the subject. In the meantime, ask questions.

Why? TeenScreenFacts claims kids are being lured into taking these tests without parental notification.

Someone in your school may ask you to participate in a program called "TeenScreen". They might even tell you that if you agree to take the test and take a form home to your parents to sign they'll give you a movie or a pizza coupon. Don't be fooled. Because that free pizza or movie pass could easily lead to someone deciding you have a mental disorder and need to be on psychiatric drugs -- all based on how you answer some pretty stupid questions.

TeenScreen is a 10 minute mental health screening test that ends up in kids being labeled, diagnosed with a mental illness and put on psychiatric drugs. When it was done in Colorado , 71% of the kids who took the test were told they had a mental disorder.

Once a teen is told that he has a mental disorder, which is decided by how he answers their questions, his parents are called and told that their kid needs treatment. In other words, drugs.

Out of the last thirteen school shooters, nine of them were taking these drugs. And those are just the ones we know about -- the others were most likely on these drugs as well. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just last year said that psychiatric drugs can actually cause kids including teens to kill themselves.

It's possible that if the parents refuse to give the drug to their kid, the TeenScreen people will try to have him taken away from his home by the child welfare agencies to force him to take drugs.

Just as bad, if the TeenScreen people decide after looking at the result of the test that the teen will hurt himself or hurt other people (like you could even know that from reading a stupid test) they might call the police to come and arrest the teen.

TeenScreen is nothing more than a front group for psychiatrists and drug companies to make money off of you.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

School 2.0: Web Experiment

A while ago I came across this wonderful experiment that was tried in India.

An Indian physicist puts a PC with a high speed internet connection in a wall in the slums and watches what happens. Based on the results, he talks about issues of digital divide, computer education and kids, the dynamics of the third world getting online.

New Delhi physicist Sugata Mitra has a radical proposal for bringing his country's next generation into the Info Age

from a Businessweek Online Daily Briefing,
March 2, 2000.

Edited by Paul Judge

Sugata Mitra has a PhD in physics and heads research efforts at New Delhi's NIIT, a fast-growing software and education company with sales of more than $200 million and a market cap over $2 billion. But Mitra's passion is computer-based education, specifically for India's poor. He believes that children, even terribly poor kids with little education, can quickly teach themselves the rudiments of computer literacy. The key, he contends, is for teachers and other adults to give them free rein, so their natural curiosity takes over and they teach themselves. He calls the concept "minimally invasive education."

To test his ideas, Mitra 13 months ago launched something he calls "the hole in the wall experiment." He took a PC connected to a high-speed data connection and imbedded it in a concrete wall next to NIIT's headquarters in the south end of New Delhi. The wall separates the company's grounds from a garbage-strewn empty lot used by the poor as a public bathroom. Mitra simply left the computer on, connected to the Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it. He monitored activity on the PC using a remote computer and a video camera mounted in a nearby tree.

What happens next is absolutely fascinating. Here's a small sample:

Q: What else have you learned?

A: Well, I tried another experiment. I went to a middle-class school and chose some ninth graders, two girls and two boys. I called their physics teacher in and asked him, "What are you going to teach these children next year at this time?" He mentioned viscosity. I asked him to write down five possible exam questions on the subject. I then took the four children and said, "Look here guys. I have a little problem for you." They read the questions and said they didn't understand them, it was Greek to them. So I said, "Here's a terminal. I'll give you two hours to find the answers."

Then I did my usual thing: I closed the door and went off somewhere else.

They answered all five questions in two hours. The physics teacher checked the answers, and they were correct. That, of itself, doesn't mean much. But I said to him, "Talk to the children and find out if they really learned something about this subject." So he spent half an hour talking to them. He came out and said, "They don't know everything about this subject or everything I would teach them. But they do know one hell of a lot about it. And they know a couple of things about it I didn't know."

That's not a wow for the children, it's a wow for the Internet. It shows you what it's capable of. The slum children don't have physics teachers. But if I could make them curious enough, then all the content they need is out there. The greatest expert on earth on viscosity probably has his papers up there on the Web somewhere. Creating content is not what's important. What is important is infrastructure and access ... The teacher's job is very simple. It's to help the children ask the right questions.

Now, you're asking why this stuff is important. This fellow may as well be talking to America. Our schools are technologically impoverished not because we don't have machines but because we have adults who are afraid of them and can't allow kids to just have at them. This is a case of bureaucratic insanity dictating educational priorities.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Taxes Roll Downhill

Since Bush took office every election seems to be the most important. This one is no exception. Our country is slipping into the hole that's being dug by Bush consisting of massive debt, epidemic war, and the abandonment of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. These are America's darkest and most dangerous days.

As an American the only way I've ever been taught to change things is to vote. If that doesn't work I fear we'll be seeing something worse.

Joe Lieberman has betrayed his party and his country and recently is employing the political tactics of the Hitler youth by terrorizing Lamont campaigners and supporters. This man is a shameful example of what Washington is today. He should be fired and asked to leave the state. The stain of his service will forever blemish Connecticut politics.

I have never had any use for Rob Simmons. He has always inflated his resume with non-accomplishment in the House.

These days Connecticut families pay $1.00 in federal taxes and receive $.66 back. Our schools are not as well equipped as the caves of the Taliban. In a high-tech world our kids are lucky to see a computer in most classrooms. Our teachers may as well be Luddites. This has got to stop. Connecticut is well on its way to becoming an intellectual third world entity and I am not joking.

Lamont and Courtney can change this. I whole-heartedly endorse their election.

At the state level, Rell spends money as fast as Bush does and the state has nothing to show for it except higher taxes at the local level. The next tax dollar used for special education relief to small towns will be the first.

Sadly, she may win and Democrats will have to listen to tales of how high taxes are. Rell is spending, Democrats get blamed - go figure. Better yet, go vote for DeStefano.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

WWI Prison Camp Flier

BoingBoing has a fascinating entry from someone whose grandfather was interned in a prisoner of war camp during World War I. The documents and commentary are fascinating stuff and certainly worthy of Social Studies discussion.

See for yourself.

Ultra-short Stories

Wired magazine recently wrote a piece on the six word short story. That's right six words. Samples from famous authors are included and surprising the stories inspire all kinds of compelling emotions.

This looks like a wonderful class competition or assignment.

Check it out.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Twisting in the Idiot Wind

A number of recent brain studies indicate that one indicator of learning disability is detectable when a person lacks the ability to grasp a joke. In other words, some people simply cannot intellectually juggle the nuance that a single phrase containing two ideas can express.

Keith Olbermann addresses one such instance.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Online Libraries

This article lists numerous references to online libraries that students and teachers can take advantage of.

From: Generation of online libraries is born, PhysOrg.com

Google Book Search (http://books.google.com). By far the most known online library to date, the Google book project has scanned the pages of "thousands" of works into digital format.

Text from classics in the public domain is available in full. Summaries or snippets of books still under copyright are provided of books still under copyright protection.

A search engine taking the place of library card indexes makes it possible to seek authors' names, publication dates, or words or expressions in the texts or titles.

Open Content Alliance (http://www.archive.org/details/texts): Most open.

For the moment the library has 35,000 scanned books, mostly in English. All of the works are not copyright protected -- often more than 50 years old -- and downloadable, printable, and free to be re-used for commercial purposes. The search engine is less sophisticated than that of Google Books but can scout out reference words if the quality of the scanned pages is sufficient.

- Windows Live Search Books, an online literature search engine being developed by Microsoft Computer, is slated for release "later this year."

The Windows Live Search Books Publisher Program website (http://publisher.live.com/) invites authors and publishers send their books to be scanned.

- Gallica, the site of the national Library of France. Lists 90,000 digitized books available in "image mode" but does not feature scanning by key words wihin page text.

- Specialized websites: offer text versions of digitized works, usually classics, that can be downloaded for reading or printing and allow searches by key words.

For example the site of "complete works of Shakespeare" (http://www-tech.mit.edu/Shakespeare/) created in 1993 or the site of Molière (http://www.site-moliere.com/). Other sites highlight poetry, essays, books or other themes.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

New Taxes on Middle Class Parents

This New York Times opinion piece, Future Tax Shock, explains why middle class parents will be paying higher taxes next year.

One of President Bush’s be-very-afraid lines this campaign season is that Democrats, if elected, will raise taxes. What he doesn’t say is that if you are one of tens of millions of Americans who make between $75,000 and $500,000 a year, your taxes are already scheduled to rise starting next year — because of laws that Mr. Bush championed and other actions he failed to take.

The higher taxes stem from the alternative minimum tax, a levy that is supposed to snare multimillionaires who would otherwise get away with using excessive tax shelters to wipe out their tax bills. But these days, the alternative tax is snaring many upper-middle-income filers.

Mr. Bush set the trap in 2001 — and in 2003, 2004 and 2006. In each of those years, he flogged for new tax cuts without requiring corresponding long-term changes in the existing rules for the alternative tax. It was well known that failure to update the alternative tax would create perverse interactions with the new tax cuts, causing filers’ tax bills to drop because of the cuts, only to shoot back up again from the alternative levy.

Mr. Bush said he would vanquish the problem through tax reform. Didn’t happen. Congress never wrestled with lasting solutions. The truth is, the president and lawmakers are paralyzed. To fix the alternative tax while keeping the Bush tax cuts on the books would result in the loss of some $800 billion in revenue over 10 years, blowing a hole in the federal budget and exposing how utterly unaffordable the tax cuts of the last five years really are.

The taxpayers wrongly afflicted by the alternative tax are not tax dodgers. For the most part, they are couples with children who have broken into the ranks of six-figure earners, and who live in high-tax states like New York and California. They are being penalized, in effect, for claiming everyday deductions — like write-offs for dependents and property taxes — which, under the alternative tax rules, are viewed as excessive shelters.

Meanwhile, multimillionaires are not being snared at nearly the same rate as other filers. In part, that’s because much of the income of the superrich comes from investments. The tax breaks for investments — the grail of the administration’s tax-cutting crusade — are not counted as shelters under the alternative tax the way, say, children are.

For the past few years, Congress has papered over the mess by passing temporary relief measures to shield most — though not all — upper-middle-income taxpayers from having to pay the alternative tax. The latest stopgap expires at the end of this year, leaving taxpayers exposed at ever lower income levels. Congress could pass another temporary stay, and it will probably do so.

But stopgaps do little to protect the families already being unfairly clobbered by the alternative tax.

I hope none of you forget to vote.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fiscal Responsibility

This article talks about the dire economics facing this country in just a few short years.

I sure wish somebody would listen.

GAO chief warns economic disaster looms

By MATT CRENSON, AP National Writer
Calculations by Boston University economist Lawrence Kotlikoff indicate that closing those gaps — $8 trillion for Social Security, many times that for Medicare — and paying off the existing deficit would require either an immediate doubling of personal and corporate income taxes, a two-thirds cut in Social Security and Medicare benefits, or some combination of the two.

Why is America so fiscally unprepared for the next century? Like many of its citizens, the United States has spent the last few years racking up debt instead of saving for the future. Foreign lenders — primarily the central banks of China, Japan and other big U.S. trading partners — have been eager to lend the government money at low interest rates, making the current $8.5-trillion deficit about as painful as a big balance on a zero-percent credit card.

In her part of the fiscal wake-up tour presentation, Rogers tries to explain why that's a bad thing. For one thing, even when rates are low a bigger deficit means a greater portion of each tax dollar goes to interest payments rather than useful programs. And because foreigners now hold so much of the federal government's debt, those interest payments increasingly go overseas rather than to U.S. investors.

More serious is the possibility that foreign lenders might lose their enthusiasm for lending money to the United States. Because treasury bills are sold at auction, that would mean paying higher interest rates in the future. And it wouldn't just be the government's problem. All interest rates would rise, making mortgages, car payments and student loans costlier, too.

A modest rise in interest rates wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, Rogers said. America's consumers have as much of a borrowing problem as their government does, so higher rates could moderate overconsumption and encourage consumer saving. But a big jump in interest rates could cause economic catastrophe. Some economists even predict the government would resort to printing money to pay off its debt, a risky strategy that could lead to runaway inflation.

Macroeconomic meltdown is probably preventable, says Anjan Thakor, a professor of finance at Washington University in St. Louis. But to keep it at bay, he said, the government is essentially going to have to renegotiate some of the promises it has made to its citizens, probably by some combination of tax increases and benefit cuts.

But there's no way to avoid what Rogers considers the worst result of racking up a big deficit — the outrage of making our children and grandchildren repay the debts of their elders.

"It's an unfair burden for future generations," she says.

You'd think young people would be riled up over this issue, since they're the ones who will foot the bill when they're out in the working world. But students take more interest in issues like the Iraq war and gay marriage than the federal government's finances, says Emma Vernon, a member of the University of Texas Young Democrats.

"It's not something that can fire people up," she says.

The current political climate doesn't help. Washington tends to keep its fiscal house in better order when one party controls Congress and the other is in the White House, says Sawhill.

"It's kind of a paradoxical result. Your commonsense logic would tell you if one party is in control of everything they should be able to take action," Sawhill says.

But the last six years of Republican rule have produced tax cuts, record spending increases and a Medicare prescription drug plan that has been widely criticized as fiscally unsound. When
President Clinton faced a Republican Congress during the 1990s, spending limits and other legislative tools helped produce a surplus.

The Saints are Coming

My weekend video offering - U2 and Greenday produce a video of what should have happened during Katrina had Saints indeed been administering the government:

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Student Representation on the Board of Education

Tuesday we had a Policy subcommittee meeting. These have become very interesting events because, for the first time in many years the school policies are being entirely reviewed and updated. The process has been deliberately slow because the committee has really been focusing not only on the platitudes of the policies but on the procedure and practice. Interesting conversation to say the least.

Something that came up though was my campaign promise to broaden the scope of student involvement on the Board. In some of the first meetings I suggested one student from each town sit on the Board. We revisited that logic.

My reasons for desiring the additional representation was to use these students to act as intermediaries between the high school and incoming eighth grade students to help clarify issues and smooth the promotion from the lower grade to the high school.

What I was unaware of when I was running is the existance of Responsible Student Peers who are high school students chosen for just this kind of duty and thus negating the need for my suggestion. We're going to continue the dialogue about improving the transition to high school as we go.

We also talked about who should qualify to represent the student body and decided to leave the existing Student Congress membership requirement in place mostly because other algorithms were no more superior and usually only complicated matters.

It should also be noted with some degree of pride that Region 19 honors student representation on the Board. Some Boards do not.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Single-Sex Public Education is Back

The New York Times reports, Federal Rules Back Single-Sex Public Education by Diana Jean Schemo.

Two years in the making, the new rules, announced Tuesday by the Education Department, will allow districts to create single-sex schools and classes as long as enrollment is voluntary. School districts that go that route must also make coeducational schools and classes of “substantially equal” quality available for members of the excluded sex.

The federal action is likely to accelerate efforts by public school systems to experiment with single-sex education, particularly among charter schools. Across the nation, the number of public schools exclusively for boys or girls has risen from 3 in 1995 to 241 today, said Leonard Sax, executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. That is a tiny fraction of the approximately 93,000 public schools across the country.

The article includes advocacy and criticism of this new ruling. At first blush, I have to say that I think I am okay with this. One of my concerns in examining educational materials is that far too many boys are being singled out for special education largely because they act like boys instead of politically correct, neutered, sanitized cubicle occupants.

I also think it offers schools the ability to fine-tune classes to the educational needs of the student body. This is certainly an interesting development.

Monday, October 23, 2006

On War and Peace

I just read an interesting story about Columbine survivor, Craig Scott. It's worth posting. A few years ago, I worked a contract for a major children's publishing house and I had to test their search engine to be sure kids and parents could find the correct books. So I entered the words 'war' and 'peace'.

War books showed up like shoppers at a Going Out of Business sale. But books on peace were virtually absent except for peace as death, isolation, or spiritual search. Try it with your favorite children's books publisher. It will tell you a lot about what children learn.

From Bill Clinton, George Bush and Craig Scott: Nation's Leaders">Bill Clinton, George Bush and Craig Scott: Nation's Leaders Mislead Youth by Preaching Peace, Practicing War by David Cook, Common Dreams

Flash forward to last week, as the Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania prompted President Bush to call a similar, post-Columbine conference on character and school violence. Present during the Maryland conference (alongside Attorney General Gonzales and Secretary of Education Spellings) was Craig Scott, the now-23-year-old who had lost his sister and friends in the Columbine shooting. During the only meaningful moment of the conference, Scott stood and addressed the president.

"I've grown up in a culture today that doesn't teach me anything of substance, of value, how it bombards me every day with messages of emptiness and shallowness. And the youth are crying for something to stand for, something to believe in. If it weren't for my faith or my family, I possibly could have fallen into the lies that our culture tells us. But now I've traveled, I've spoken to over a million teens across this country.... I've seen depression, anger and loneliness, students without direction or purpose.... I've seen students who called themselves cutters, have cut themselves because that's the way they know to take out the pain that they're dealing with. I've learned a lot about my generation. And I've learned a lot since I lost my friends and my sister.''

And then Scott said the greatest words the president or anyone else could hope to ever hear:

"And the main thing I've learned is that kindness and compassion can be the biggest antidotes to anger and hatred, and I believe the biggest antidotes to violence.''

The president responded in the only way he could, which was to thank Scott, applaud him and then ask for a copy of his speech.

The next day, researchers from Johns Hopkins released an updated body count for the war in Iraq. An estimated 600,000 civilians have died since the war began. These are not soldiers or armed resisters; these are mothers, grandfathers, children playing outside. Families, just like yours, just like mine.

God forgive me should I ever truly understand how presidents Clinton and Bush are able to mouth the hollow words about protecting children ("We must ... teach them to express their anger and resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons") and then, hours later, give the damnable blessing for military movements that kill other people's children. This is madness, and it is the hell-bent delusion of violence that allows the president of the United States to stand up before a crowded room of parents, reporters and survivors and announce his intentions to better protect American schoolchildren, and then, before the same day's sun sets, continue to sit on a war that has killed more than half-a-million souls.

And a nation of 300 million barely opens its mouth.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Bus Driver, Bus Driver, Bus Driver Man

One of my favorite Simpsons episodes is "The Otto Man".

In so many Board meetings we are wrestling with transportation issues. Otto puts it all in perspective.

When Dad Talks, Children Mimic

This New Scientist article explains a study on children's language.

Kids hang on to dad's every word from New Scientist Print Edition.

Fathers: watch what you say. It seems dads may have more of an influence on their children's language development than they might think.

Lynne Vernon-Feagans at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and her colleagues sat in on playtime with 92 families with dual incomes, observing how much each parent spoke to their child, the words and sentence structures they used, and the types of questions they asked.

Children whose father's vocabulary was more varied when they were 2 years old had more advanced language skills at age 3. Surprisingly, the dads spoke less and asked fewer questions than the mothers, suggesting it was not how much they spoke but what they said and how they said it that resonated with their children.

Friday, October 20, 2006

How To Take Study Notes, The Cornell Method

This site offers tips and tricks on how to study that include printable PDF and Word templates.

For students who have trouble organizing their study materials this is certainly worth a try.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Making Music

I came across an interesting link or two that may be of interest to students doing senior projects.

Peter Gabriel has a web site that invites musicians to resample his [and other's] music by adding tracks or remixing the original in creative ways. You can then upload the finished product for others to hear. Instructions included on the site.

A second site allows musicians who are geographically distant to create music online. Something music teachers across schools, classrooms, or continents may want to experiment with.

Why Doesn't Anybody Want to Learn?

I keep encountering the same story over and over again. At a recent town hall meeting someone came up to me [they'll remain anonymous] and said that they have no use for computers or the internet. I walked away wondering how farmers just like him could use power tools on their farm and not be disgusted with the use of such technology.

If power tools supplement manually intensive labor then computers save intellectually intensive activities. Likewise, exploring the internet is like having the world's greatest libraries at your disposal to instantly gratify any curiousity you may have. These technologies represent the first nanoseconds of a golden age of man yet some men and women reject the informational sunlight.

At a recent open house at EO Smith, I was taken aback by the absence of computers in most classrooms except for teacher's desks. They appear to be so under-utilized as to render them non-existant. A PBS documentary from a few years ago, recounted a story that certain explorers starved to death in a western state that teemed with salmon. The explorers only ate animal meat. I sometimes think our schools are starving our children because our teachers either don't understand technology or refuse to integrate it into the irrational expectations of NCLB.

This past week Google executive Eric Schmidt said, 'Those in the know about technology must spend more time reaching out to governments and helping them understand the Internet's role in society. The average person in government is not of the age of people who are using all this stuff,' Schmidt said at a public symposium here hosted by the National Academies' Computer Science and Telecommunications Board. 'There is a generational gap, and it's very, very real.'"

I see it differently. The use of technology requires personal initiative, curiosity, and intellectual inertias that stimulate the desire to learn anew. Government and schools no longer encourage, reward, or value learning, experimentation, or esoteric tangents. You know, the stuff that generates new ideas, better processes, or discovery. The gap Schmidt is addressing is not generational, it is chronically institutional.

I spend a lot of time trying to stimulate new ideas and excitement about using technology in schools and business. I often get the feeling that the people I talk to are interested in listening only so that they can invent excuses NOT to ever have to try anything like what we're discussing. After all, if there isn't an existing policy, union clause, or speculative risk that can be magnified to crisis proportions - one can always be cooked up.

Learning in America has been redefined in recent years to be difficult to quantify and therefore of no consequence in this country's obsession to "hold schools accountable". So, for the sake of accountability rather than learning, we test, test, test. And what good is testing if we aren't testing THE BASICS?

And we all know how important the basics are, right?

Well, this op-ed piece in the New York Times makes plain why we are losing the war in Iraq, can't secure our homeland, and why American media spouts continuous streams of meaningless and nonsensical gibberish.

Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite? by Jeff Stein, New York Times.
FOR the past several months, I’ve been wrapping up lengthy interviews with Washington counterterrorism officials with a fundamental question: “Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?”

A “gotcha” question? Perhaps. But if knowing your enemy is the most basic rule of war, I don’t think it’s out of bounds. And as I quickly explain to my subjects, I’m not looking for theological explanations, just the basics: Who’s on what side today, and what does each want?

After all, wouldn’t British counterterrorism officials responsible for Northern Ireland know the difference between Catholics and Protestants? In a remotely similar but far more lethal vein, the 1,400-year Sunni-Shiite rivalry is playing out in the streets of Baghdad, raising the specter of a breakup of Iraq into antagonistic states, one backed by Shiite Iran and the other by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states.

A complete collapse in Iraq could provide a haven for Al Qaeda operatives within striking distance of Israel, even Europe. And the nature of the threat from Iran, a potential nuclear power with protégés in the Gulf states, northern Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, is entirely different from that of Al Qaeda. It seems silly to have to argue that officials responsible for counterterrorism should be able to recognize opportunities for pitting these rivals against each other.

But so far, most American officials I’ve interviewed don’t have a clue. That includes not just intelligence and law enforcement officials, but also members of Congress who have important roles overseeing our spy agencies. How can they do their jobs without knowing the basics?

My curiosity about our policymakers’ grasp of Islam’s two major branches was piqued in 2005, when Jon Stewart and other TV comedians made hash out of depositions, taken in a whistleblower case, in which top F.B.I. officials drew blanks when asked basic questions about Islam. One of the bemused officials was Gary Bald, then the bureau’s counterterrorism chief. Such expertise, Mr. Bald maintained, wasn’t as important as being a good manager.

A few months later, I asked the F.B.I.’s spokesman, John Miller, about Mr. Bald’s comments. “A leader needs to drive the organization forward,” Mr. Miller told me. “If he is the executive in a counterterrorism operation in the post-9/11 world, he does not need to memorize the collected statements of Osama bin Laden, or be able to read Urdu to be effective. ... Playing ‘Islamic Trivial Pursuit’ was a cheap shot for the lawyers and a cheaper shot for the journalist. It’s just a gimmick.”

Of course, I hadn’t asked about reading Urdu or Mr. bin Laden’s writings.
Isn't it curious that we demand more of our children than we do of our adults?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Aggressive Behavior and Diet

The Guardian Unlimited is reporting on some research that is of interest. As I posted days ago, the link between children's diets and healthcare is getting too little attention in Connecticut and studies like these only underscore the urgency especially in urban and poor districts.

Omega-3, junk food and the link between violence and what we eat - Research with British and US offenders suggests nutritional deficiencies may play a key role in aggressive behaviour, by Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian.

...new research calls into question the very basis of criminal justice and the notion of culpability. It suggests that individuals may not always be responsible for their aggression. Taken together with a study in a high-security prison for young offenders in the UK, it shows that violent behaviour may be attributable at least in part to nutritional deficiencies.

The UK prison trial at Aylesbury jail showed that when young men there were fed multivitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, the number of violent offences they committed in the prison fell by 37%. Although no one is suggesting that poor diet alone can account for complex social problems, the former chief inspector of prisons Lord Ramsbotham says that he is now "absolutely convinced that there is a direct link between diet and antisocial behaviour, both that bad diet causes bad behaviour and that good diet prevents it."

The Dutch government is currently conducting a large trial to see if nutritional supplements have the same effect on its prison population. And this week, new claims were made that fish oil had improved behaviour and reduced aggression among children with some of the most severe behavioural difficulties in the UK.


For the clinician in charge of the US study, Joseph Hibbeln, the results of his trial are not a miracle, but simply what you might predict if you understand the biochemistry of the brain and the biophysics of the brain cell membrane. His hypothesis is that modern industrialised diets may be changing the very architecture and functioning of the brain.

We are suffering, he believes, from widespread diseases of deficiency. Just as vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, deficiency in the essential fats the brain needs and the nutrients needed to metabolise those fats is causing of a host of mental problems from depression to aggression. Not all experts agree, but if he is right, the consequences are as serious as they could be. The pandemic of violence in western societies may be related to what we eat or fail to eat. Junk food may not only be making us sick, but mad and bad too.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Math Phobias

The Curriculum Committee has been debating adding another year of math as a requirement for graduation. This is a hot and heated topic that was presented at our last board meeting without resolution.

In that meeting, though, plenty of the Board members recounted their math anxieties and unhappy memeories of the subject. The Courant recently published this timely piece.

MATH + PHOBIA = A Problem In America, Where Fear Of Numbers Is Rampant And Many Adults See No Use For The Skill, October 14, 2006, by DAVE PHILIPPS | The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette.

Here's a hint. This country isn't particularly good at math. Pop culture generally paints anyone who is as a geek. And a fraction of the population despises arithmetic so much that the mere thought of solving problems makes them break out in a cold sweat.

Not everyone, of course. There are people who enjoy math, just as there are people who enjoy sitting behind drivers going 35 mph in the left lane. On the whole, though, we don't just loathe it. We fear it.

"Math is right up there with snakes, public speaking and heights. By far it's the least favorite of the three R's," wrote Marilyn Burns in her 1998 book "Math: Facing an American Phobia."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Collaborative Teaching Catching On

Last week the Couant reported on a Bristol school that's improving it's teaching effectiveness by having teachers share and complement each other's efforts. Those of us in software engineering know that bad data can poison any well-intentioned set of statistics or number crunching activity and we know from the fraudulent Bush claims about schools how numbers can be used to obfuscate reality so I always read this stuff carefully.

The schools the Courant talks about seem to be getting it right! Not only are they getting it right but the world is moving in the direction of gestalt thinking activities. Education will soon become less about what any individual knows than what an individual can contribute to larger problem solving.

Check it out.

Teaching Strategy Yields Results - Student Data Analysis Paying Off In Bristol by LORETTA WALDMAN, Courant Staff Writer.

This year, 61 percent of the elementary students at O'Connell scored at or above the "proficient" level on the Connecticut Mastery Test, enough to make the school the first public school in the state to pull itself out of the "needs improvement" category. At Central, 72 percent of the sophomores taking the Connecticut Academic Performance Test scored in the proficient range in math - 3 percent more than the number required under NCLB.

"Obviously, we're very pleased," Wasta said. "It's an affirmation of the work we've been doing."

The technique, pioneered by districts in Norfolk, Va., Milwaukee and Indianapolis, took hold in Bristol about seven years ago. The interest grew out of work that administrators at the time were doing with Doug Reeves, the founder of a Colorado-based educational consulting firm specializing in student achievement and accountability.

For the last three years, teachers and administrators have been meeting regularly in an assortment of teams where they compare notes and calibrate instruction based on standardized test scores and other measures of how well students are learning.

If a trend stands out - for example, fourth-grade boys falling short of the goal in math - teachers try to come up with a common strategy and adjust instruction for that grade level. Administrative teams sift through data on the department, building or districtwide level to deal with broader problems.

That may sound simple, but getting educators to actually do it has been a challenge.

"Education is not a culture of collaboration. It's a culture of isolation. `Give me my kids, close the door and let me do my thing,'" Wasta said. "That's enough when you expect some of the kids to succeed. When you expect all the kids to succeed, it's not."

Veteran teachers, hardened by one educational fad after another, were the hardest to convince.

"Little by little, success by success, you don't see that so much anymore," Wasta said. "But it took three years to see those little islands of success."

Those little islands also caught the attention of state school officials, who studied Bristol's use of the technique before adopting it as a statewide model. Training is now being offered to all school districts in the state by the Department of Education.

Wasta and other Bristol school officials have either visited or been visited by district leaders from Southington, East Hartford, Vernon, Bloomfield, Region 10 and elsewhere. Bristol officials also have hosted two out-of-state delegations eager to learn how the approach works. Denise Carabetta, the district's director of teaching and learning, is at work on a book being published by an arm of Reeves' firm, expected to be released next year.

"Bristol has been wonderful in the way they have shared their lessons learned," said Nancy Stark, the manager of the school improvement unit of the state Department of Education. "Now we have many districts involved in this initiative."

"Most school districts are doing it in one form or another," said Michael Frechette, the superintendent of schools in Middletown, where disappointing results on last year's mastery test triggered a wave of data-mining and soul searching. "If kids aren't learning, then we need to change what we're doing. And if we don't change what we're doing, we'll continue to get the same results."

"It's not a script, it's an approach," Rabinowitz said. "An approach that advises you how to look at data, but it doesn't say all of you have to do it this way and get these results. Where Bristol has excelled is tailoring it to their own particular needs, but the beauty is that it can be done in urban, suburban or rural districts."
I would love to see this adopted at the elementary schools for math and reading where such an approach would be most effective in those areas (pre-fourth grade).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Revealing Teen - Parent Promiscuity Survey

Weekends are slow traffic days so I may as well spice up the Gazette with a post that demonstrates the divide between Teens and their parents in understanding the extent of promiscuity teens exercise these days.

Here are some questions from Everything You Don't Want to Know About Your Kid’s Sex Life - The 100-teen-vs.-100-parent promiscuity poll by Stacia Thiel, New York Magazine.

Have you ever...
...kissed someone?
...gone on a date?
...gotten or given a hickey?
...told someone that you loved him or her?
...watched an X-rated movie?
...dated someone on a regular basis?
...received oral sex?
...undressed someone?
...had sexual intercourse?
...gone on a date that lasted past 1 a.m.?
...performed oral sex?
...dry-humped (had clothes on)?
...experienced sexual activity while in bed with someone?
...watched an X-rated movie with a member of the opposite sex?
...had sex with a virgin?
...been masturbated to climax by someone else?
That's just the page one questions. See the link to find out the surprising answers.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Power of School Science

With a hat tip to reddit.com, I came across a fascinating jr. high school science inquiry that nobody at the state or federal levels seems to have cared about [a year ago!] despite the fact that it's probably somebody's job to pay attention to small things like food poisoning.

From Hillel Academy, Spinach for Science Fair by Stacey Dresner:
In her project, “Quantitative Analysis of Bacterial Growth on Packaged Salads and Effect on Antibiotic Resistance and Nutrient Content,” Kaili [Janette] investigated several varieties of bagged salad greens.

She tested the bagged greens for bacteria content, and found “extensive growth of bacteria within 24 hours in the fresh “unwashed” samples.”

“I found the highest percents of bacteria in dark, leafy varieties such as spinach and Mediterranean” showing “a correlation between high levels of iron and high levels of bacteria.”

She washed the samples using different cleaning techniques n cleaning with sterile water, cooking with boiling water for five minutes, and using commercial cleaning rinse n water with a pinch of bleach. The only method that killed most of the bacteria was the commercial rinse. The others did not really inhibit bacterial growth.

“On all of bagged salads, it is printed that you do not need to wash before use,” she said. “I learned never to trust that phrase.”

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Value of Handwriting

The Washington Post ran this story the other day about the disappearance of handwriting skills and why they're important.

Cursive writing rapidly becoming passé
Researchers see a downside as keyboards replace pens in schools
By Margaret Webb Pressler
The Washington Post

Cognitive opportunity missed?
The loss of handwriting also may be a cognitive opportunity missed. The neurological process that directs thought, through fingers, into written symbols is a highly sophisticated one. Several academic studies have found that good handwriting skills at a young age can help children express their thoughts better -- a lifelong benefit. Children who don't learn correct technique find it harder to write by hand, so they avoid it. Schools that do teach handwriting often stop after third grade -- right after kids learn cursive. By the time computers are more widely used in classrooms for writing, perhaps in fourth or fifth grade, many children already have decided they don't like to write.

In one of the studies, Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham, who studies the acquisition of writing, experimented with a group of first-graders in Prince George's County who could write only 10 to 12 letters per minute. The kids were given 15 minutes of handwriting instruction three times a week. After nine weeks, they had doubled their writing speed and their expressed thoughts were more complex. He also found corresponding increases in their sentence construction skills.

But Graham worries that students who remain printers, rather than writing in cursive, need more time to take notes or write essays for the SAT. Teachers may say they don't deduct for bad handwriting in class, but research tells another story, he said.

When adults are given the same composition written in good handwriting and poor handwriting, "they still give lower grades for ideation and quality of writing if the text is less legible," he said.

Indeed, the SAT essays written in cursive had slightly higher average scores than those written in print, according to the College Board.

It doesn't take much to teach better handwriting skills. At some schools in Prince George's County, elementary school students use a program called Handwriting Without Tears for 15 minutes a day. They learn the correct formation of manuscript letters through second grade, and cursive letters in third grade.

In a recent daily exercise, the second-graders at Yorktown Elementary School in Bowie carefully formed letters on individual chalkboards -- first with a wet sponge, then with a tissue, then in chalk and finally in pencil in a workbook. In the future, these kids will produce far more legible letters than kids without this kind of specialized instruction, said Lynne Maydag, the school's handwriting coordinator.

There are always going to be some kids who struggle with handwriting because of their particular neurological wiring, learning issues or poor fine motor skills, teachers said in interviews. For those kids in particular, the growing dominance of typing is liberating because they can write without stumbling over letter formation. Educators often point to this factor in support of keyboarding.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Revolutionary Tool in Study Methods

The age of collaborative learning and teaching is invading schools without warning and nothing can stop it.

This online tool, called NoteMesh allows classes of students to mash their class notes together to develop as flawless a master set of notes as possible.

This is a brilliant idea sure to accelerate learning and stimulate interest. MIT recently announced a corollary set of assertions about collaboration that also deserves your attention.

MIT looks to give 'group think' a good name by Paul McNamara, Network World.

With Friday's public opening of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (formerly the Center for Coordination Science), researchers there hope to address this central question: "How can people and computers be connected so that -- collectively -- they act more intelligently than any individuals, groups, or computers have ever done before?"