A Few Educational Experiences I Wish My Kids Didn’t Have – Now

The Blue Skunk Blog by Doug Johnson is one of my favorite blogs to read. He’s done it again (although I somehow missed this when it was first published.) 15 Educational Experiences My Granddaughter Won’t Have is an amusing list of changes that need to happen to education. Doug is hoping his new granddaughter won’t experience them.

I don’t disagree with any of them. They are spot on: no textbooks, real-time communication, personally differentiated curriculum, no desk time in rows, worksheets, standardized tests, etc.

I just wish we didn’t need to wait so long. My kids are in school now.Here are some things I’ve seen this year that I would like to have disappear from their experience:

  1. Pre-printed worksheets straight from the publisher
  2. Computer graded bubble tests (seriously? bubble tests still exist in classrooms? I thought those were LONG gone.)
  3. Textbooks that are 10+ years old.
  4. Classes that rely on text and include very little for the visual learner – who now make up over 60% of the generation born with the internet.
  5. Classes that teach current events using only newspapers. (Don’t get me wrong – we get 2 print papers delivered to our house every day. But geez… you can’t just read the newspaper!)
  6. Punishment for “copying” a worksheet. Have you ever heard of collaboration? Oh – how about ditching the worksheet and going for something a little more interesting.
  7. Phones kept off during the day. Kids can’t use the computers in their pockets, such as a $1.99 graphing calculator on a phone – instead have to carry around a separate $100 calculator.
  8. Computer labs. Come on, people, it’s time to let the kids have access. Every teacher I’ve talked to who works in a school with 1:1 access says it has CHANGED their teacher dramatically for the better.
  9. Online textbooks that really are just pdfs online. Please – come on you techies (and I am one) let’s get more creative. That’s what I’m working on.
  10. Refusal to acknowledge and work with varied learning styles. Just because you learn one way doesn’t mean your kids have to learn that way. Some kids really do need to move. Some need it visually. Assessments should also reflect various learning styles, not just yours.
  11. Google Apps but no tools. How do you expect the kids to take advantage of the great things Google Apps can do if they don’t have access to a computer?
  12. Being afraid of change. Many of the classes, texts, curriculum look eerily similar to what I had back in the 70s. If I did my job like I did even in the 90s (heck, my job didn’t even exist 5 years ago!) I’d be in big trouble.
  13. Not talking to parents. Just because I’m a parent and not in the classroom doesn’t mean I know nothing. First of all, I was in a classroom — and 20 years ago, I was doing many of the things I strive for now (differentiating teaching, project based learning, no computerized tests, and more.) Yet, often when I ask a question about using technology or meeting different learning styles, I’m given a polite “You’re just a parent and you obviously have no idea what your’e talking about” look and dismissed. (Thank goodness this isn’t always the case. For the teachers who do not treat me that way, thank you from the bottom of my heart.)
  14. Thinking it’s someone else’s job to teach digital literacy and responsibility. It’s all of our jobs. I’m doing it as a parent. Why isn’t the school doing it’s part?
  15. The line, “We’re preparing them for college.” Really? Shouldn’t we really be preparing them for life?

Phew. Sorry. Got on a bit of a rant. My apologies to the wonderful teachers that my kids have who do not exemplify the things above. I just wish the system could change so this things could go away.

Kids are Test Data

I’ve blogged before about my strong dislike for standardized testing and treating kids as numbers. But, since I am just a parent, my voice doesn’t seem to count for much. District staff dismiss my concerns because I don’t know enough (they think) and tell me not to worry about my kids’ scores. But they sure do worry about the scores!  Everything is seen through the lens of test scores: the achievement gap, funding, class placement, graduation rates, curriculum, etc.

Thank goodness for teacher bloggers like Pernille Ripp and Larry Ferlazzo who reacted to a recently posted video by Alfie Kohn in which a high school student is “prepped” for a high stakes standardized test.  (I am not going to post the video here. You can see it by linking to either of the posts linked above.)

The comments have eloquently stated their feelings about these tests, and I agree. My son attends a school where they do very little testing — only one test a year starting in 6th grade. I can so readily see the difference when the teachers don’t have to teach to the test.

In a recent meeting with World Language teachers (I’m a parent rep on a district curriculum committee), they discussed how they’d like to incorporate online learning more, but the labs are so frequently booked with testing. (The obvious solution is a 1:1 or BYOD set up.) At my daughter’s high school, the kids who aren’t taking the tests don’t go to school during testing time. Something is also wrong with that picture….

Numbers and data shouldn’t drive education. Students should.

Another Texting Tale

Today, my son was fortunate to spend the entire school day out in a park on the river. It was a gorgeous day, perfect weather. They spent the entire day searching for snakes, frogs, bugs. They identified plants. They climbed around in the woods. I was jealous!

The bus back to school was late. That’s not the problem. The problem was that when I texted him to find out where he was (because he wasn’t at our usual meeting spot…) I didn’t hear back. Two texts, nothing back.

Long story short: I finally found out the bus was late, and they finally showed up. When we were driving away, he apologized for not texting me telling me where they were. He was afraid to text me back because he thought he’d get in trouble.

Whoa. I was furious. His school has a blanket no phones policy. If a teacher sees a phone, they can take it. Since he was sitting by some teachers on the bus, he was too scared of getting in trouble to text me back.

This is crazy. Guess what the kids do? Most of them have phones, of course. They go into the bathroom to text. Great. That’s a super healthy way of teaching kids appropriate behavior.

I popped off another email to the principal explaining my position. I was clear that by banning the phones, adults are not taking responsibility for teaching students responsible use of phones and communication. It is essential that teachers and adults teach kids appropriate use of phones and devices, and you can’t do that when they are forbidden.

I’m sure it won’t make a bit of difference, and I’ll get that same old line back…. we can’t allow phones because it’s not equitable because not everyone has them. The kids will cheat. The kids might text in class. The kids will bully each other.

Get real. Kids already cheat – without phones. Kids bully each other now. And yes, they might text in class. That’s exactly why it is our responsibility – -the adults — to teach them how to use these tools appropriately.

I’ll keep being a broken record. Someday……

Factory Model Debunked

In education technology circles, the argument about needing to change the factory model of schools is so common as to seem cliche. 

However, I love seeing articles about this in mainstream media! Here’s a commentary from The Atlantic Monthly, “How to Break Free of our 19-th Century Factory Model Education System.” 

Take this quote, for example:

 But we continue to assume the factory-model classroom and its rigid bell schedules, credit requirements, age-based grade levels, and physical specifications when we talk about school reform.

I certainly used to feel all that stuff was important. I excelled in that factory model of school. I mastered how to master school. Kids needed to learn how to conform!

Then I had kids. One of the first things my husband and I commented on when we dropped our daughter at kindergarten was the insanity of expecting all 5 year olds to be at the same place. We commented on what a crazy idea it was to put 25 5-year-olds in a room and expect them to pay attention and to sit down.It’s still a crazy idea. 

At work, we interact with people of all ages. Kids don’t all learn at the same pace. Kids don’t all learn the same way. Kids have varying needs for social interaction. Yet our current model of school expects everyone to be the same. (Read Lois Lowry’s The Giver. The whole premise is “sameness.” Kind of like school.)

Here’s hoping that some of this conversation in mainstream media leads to more changes. 

Teens and Their Phones

We all know teens love their phones. They always have their phones. Always — even when school says they can’t. Just today, my daughter told me she started writing a paper on her iPhone during class – while the teacher was lecturing about something “I already knew.” (I believe her. This class is incredibly easy and pointless.)

Ah – and her school policy is NO CELL PHONES IN CLASS. Sorry – but that’s a joke. Kids – not just mine – are using their phones all the time. Having a policy like this and not enforcing it is seriously problematic. Don’t get me wrong — I think having that policy is wrong. But it seriously undermines the school’s “authority” to have the policy but not enforce it.

Why can’t they have them? Well, in a discussion with the district’s IT director back in August 2011, she felt that since not every student had a phone, no one should get to use them. She saw no educational purpose for “regular” phones, and since few kids had smart phones, why bother? 

Ugh. Not only should the IT director NOT be making school policy, this is incredible to me. I realize just how far there was to go.

A Pew internet study from March 2012 recently showed that 1 in 4 teens, ages 14-17, have smart phones. I’m not sure it’s that high with my daughter and her friends, but she’s certainly not the only one with a smart phone.

In a recent discussion with district personnel, there was interest in doing a survey of students about their phone and internet access. To their credit, they did do a survey two years ago — but with this topic, that data is totally useless.

I will be very interested to see if the results reflect the Pew study.

Plant a Seed

I’ve been attending a large museum conference all week. I presented earlier in the week about my project on how museums teach 21st century skills — but more on that in a separate post.

I attended a session today about how to present technology issues to your board. The session was of interest because we often have to explain to people (boards and others) about technology budget requests, why we want to move to a new system, etc.  I knew or knew of a number of the presenters, and I knew it would be an interesting and provocative session.

Plant a Seed

There were a number of good points made during the session, but one really stuck out:

Plant a Seed.

The presenter that talked about this concept related a story about a project he proposed once. The group he proposed it to dismissed it immediately, without any discussion or thought. Four years later, that same group proposed the exact same concept and it passed readily! He related this to planting the seed, tending the garden and making it a rich environment in which these ideas grow.

This seems to be my experience working with the schools my kids attend. For the last year, I have been knocking at their doors, asking questions, suggesting ideas, and generally letting them know I think they need to pay more attention to technology and 21st century learning.

It has been frustrating, as I’ve stated in past blog posts. Often, they are too busy to talk. They are dismissive, as if I’m just another annoying parent with issues. They infer that they are the educators, thus know more than I do about this. Or, there is no way I, as a parent, could possibly know what it is like in the classroom. I offer to volunteer, to train, to help out — and I am turned away. And more. It’s been frustrating.

However, I have to admit — I see signs of the seeds taking hold, and maybe starting to sprout. One school rolled out Google Apps for the students fairly quickly. At another place, an administrator asked to meet with me about my work.

Like the presenter today, I have to give it time. As he said, the time between his idea and the adoption was long, but he worked to make people understand his idea — slowly, one step at a time. He was far ahead of them the first time. They needed time to catch up.

While I want the schools to move faster, I have to realize that they have other issues to deal with, and they need to get their thinking to the point where they see the advantages of moving ahead — and disadvantages of the current set-up. They have to be at a point where staying put is no longer an option, where it’s not a threat when their day-to-day work needs to change.

Planting a seed. Maybe if I have that as my goal, rather than full-blown tech integration and teaching of 21st century skills, I’ll feel more successful. Maybe there’s hope. I just hope it doesn’t take four years.