Ran across a post about a study that found the most common reason for high school dropouts.

Reasons cited – emphasis mine:

  1. Toxic environment outside of school – student experiencing violence or other issue at home
  2. Relationships with others – failure of a student to connect with an adult at the school
  3. Lack of support – “The salience of school isn’t there because of what’s happening outside the school building, and they aren’t finding the supports they need within school…”

Wow – I sure sense one thing here: Let’s blame everything EXCEPT the school.

Each of these reasons points to an external cause of the student leaving school. Did it ever occur to them that the reason might be school itself?

I see this happening right before my eyes. My daughter was very serious this summer about not returning to school. She is not suffering any violence at home, connects with many adults at school, and I think the salience of school isn’t because of what’s happening outside of school, but rather because of what’s happening inside of school.

One commenter points out the possibility of undiagnosed learning disabilities. In our case, they have been diagnosed, but she’s had little support at school. We’ve done a tremendous amount away from school, but very little has happened at school.

She feels — and I see — very little salience for school in the outside world. What she learns and does in school has no meaning to what she sees outside. It feels irrelevant.

Talk about toxic environment. The vast majority of assessments are bubble tests. She doesn’t happen to be good at taking bubble tests… so every time she turns around she’s getting a failing grade. There are 2000 kids in her school – it’s loud, chaotic, and can be violent. She feels trapped, has no control over her life there.

Fortunately there is one adult who has made it worth her while to be there. Let’s hope it’s enough to ensure she finishes.

Teaching History for the Quiz Show

Fantastic article in The Atlantic, “High School History Doesn’t have to be Boring” by David Cutler questioning why teachers are still (and why they ever) taught history as a class to memorize a series of events. I wish my kids had this guy for a teacher!

Great quote:

But as we go farther into the 21st century, with changes almost too numerous to fathom, I find it mindboggling that any teacher would still treat history class as boring preparation for a quiz show.


This is a great way to look at teaching history:

  • Teachers are foolish to expect students to remember anything for long that has little to no direct relevance in their daily lives.
  • Teachers need to do a much better job of connecting history to today, and placing a greater emphasis on how young people could learn from past mistakes.
  • Teachers should assess students on what they can do with what they know, rather than how much they know at any given time.

My daughter’s experience with AP History was horrific — they had to read pages and pages of dense text “to prepare them for college” – what bullshit – and take pages and pages of multiple choice tests with questions that were basic fact memorization. I hear they are doing a little more Document Based Questions in the 11th grade AP US History, but still tons and tons of multiple choice questions.

I’m much happier with her “regular” history class. Few tests, many more projects and less rote memorization. According to everyone, it doesn’t have the rigor. But who cares — we could argue the “rigor” aspect, and it’s not just shoving Google-able facts down their throats.

To AP or Not?

Another interesting article about the move away from AP classes: “Is it Time to Reconsider AP Classes?” from Mindshift.

I’m not shy about my dislike of AP classes (there are a few posts about AP classes on this blog. I’m not going to restate them here.) This post raises some very good points about why AP is being reconsidered in many schools.

Recent issue in my daughter’s school: an AP Music Theory class is being proposed. Comments from the administrators were that they didn’t want to offer it because it wouldn’t appeal to students of color/low income/ELL. Wow. Horrifying.


Susan Cain: The power of introverts | Talk Video | TED

Being a strong extrovert, learning about introverts made me rethink so many of my — and society’s — existing paradigms. What social behaviors do we value? How do we teach kids?

My kids are both strong introverts. My daughter is probably off the charts, although as a teen-ager, she also enjoys being with friends. However, she avoids large events, has a small, tight group of friends, and craves having a full day of time all by herself. A full day of school exhausts her.

Where does this leave her academically? As Susan Cain explains, school now revolves largely around group activities. Even if the work is done on your own, you’re always surrounded by other people – up to 35 or more kids in a classroom.

No wonder she retreats to the safety of her phone in school. It’s one way to be by herself in a sea of humanity.

Destructive Homework

Yet another article about the negatives of homework. I’ve posted about homework so many times in the past, but can’t pass up another one.

A few things in this article popped out — the mom saying she has backed off being the homework dictator, for one. I’ve done that this year, and it’s been a godsend for both my daughter and myself. The funny thing is, very little of the day-to-day homework gets done anymore, yet somehow she is doing just as well, and even better, than before.

The destruction of family relationships due to homework is significant in our house. Homework is very, very difficult for my daughter. A full day of school exhausts her. She has no room left for homework. This has been the case her entire life. Hindsight is 20/20, but I wish I would have said no homework until she was in 5th grade or so. There were FAR too many evenings arguing over stupid worksheets. I am so grateful to my daughter for broadening my mind to see beyond my world view that academics and school are everything. Just because it was for my, and school was very easy for me does not mean it is always the case.

My daughter did a major shift in type of class this trimester, away from the AP classes to more creative classes. In the little homework she’s done, it’s been with great interest and attention. Guess what – it’s all been creative, problem-solving types of work, not paper based assignments. Art projects and visual demonstrations of learning have been approached with enthusiasm.

The homework question is one we are seriously considering when looking for a school for our son, who is entering 9th grade in the fall. The high schools we like also have a reputation for considerable homework. At one interview, we made it clear that we do not want hours of homework per night. Maybe they won’t admit him because of this, but I just can’t see four years of him spending 3-4 hours a night on homework. That would leave him no time for music, for relaxing, for exercise.

My Case For Social Media and Technology Use In School

This is a great post about why schools should use social media and tech. The points made here are excellent — and to me, it’s a no brainer. I’m really not sure why my kids’ schools find this so difficult.
I was even more excited to find another parent blogging about these topics! The parent voice is not very present in most of these discussions, except on the Twitter chat #ptchat (this blogger is a big part of that chat.) George Couros advocated for increased parent voice/presence in a presentation at the #TIES13 conference in Minneapolis in December. I agree, and am happy to find other parents in the conversation.


www.sxc.hu hand_on_keyboard

Today, yet again, I have heard people question if and why we should be using various pieces of technology and social media in school. It has been almost 40 years since personal computers were successfully marketed and sold to the general public. It has been over 20 years since the “world wide web” (www) was launched. It has been 10 years since the launch of Facebook and 7 years since the first iPhone was released. These things will continue to evolve in capabilities and how they are used – but they are not going away.

Besides the fact that we are supposed to be educating our children for tomorrow’s world, here are the reasons I can  think of off the top of my head as to why social media  is of importance in our schools (some of it relates to tech – but honestly, I think it’s a no-brainer as to…

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Teaching History

Wonderful article about the art and philosophy of teaching history from The Atlantic,You Have to Know History to Actually Teach It” is an interview with Eric Foner by David Cutler.

I taught history many years ago – before the internet, before Wikipedia, before this testing craze. Even then, I told my students it wasn’t the goal to memorize a bunch of dates and facts. The goal was to know how to find the information (remember, pre-internet) and analyze. In my current work, we promote the analysis and critical thinking about historical resources — not the memorizing of dates/facts to spit back on a test.

So you can imagine my glee in reading this interview with Foner.

I’m strongly in favor of students knowing the facts of history, not just memorizing or having it drilled into their heads. I’m certainly against this testing mania that’s going on now where you can judge whether someone really understands history by their performance on a multiple-choice test.

My daughter’s history classes have pretty much been multiple choice tests. That’s about it. Her AP history last year? Read 10+ pages of dry text, take notes and take a huge test. She (wisely) chose to not to AP U.S. History this year to avoid more of that slog. Her “regular” U.S. History course is still filled with multiple choice tests (although not as bad) but is so stuffed with content and the need to cover all the standards that there is no room for analysis and thinking.

Yet, my daughter chooses to watch historical documentaries on her own. After watching one on the Dustbowl (such an uplifting topic), she’s been finding connections all over the place. It’s stuck with her.

Foner encourages the teaching of history to teach students the skills they need to be citizens. Funny how the skills he identifies are the skills we promote in the concept of 21st Century Skills.

We try to teach people the skills that come along with studying history. The skills of evaluating evidence, of posing questions and answering them, of writing, of mobilizing information in order to make an argument. I think all of that is important in a democratic society if people are actually going to be active citizens. Teaching to the test does not really encourage emphasis on those aspects of the study of history.


I also really appreciate his sense that it’s the teacher that matters — the ability of the teacher to convey their passion for history:

the training of the teacher, the ability of the teacher, the knowledge of the teacher, and the teacher’s ability to inspire students by conveying his or her own enthusiasm for the subject.


How can tech integration help with this? It has tremendous potential. The ability to find information and sources. The opportunity to create projects that allow students to think critically (analyze) sources and information. Moving towards the use of visual sources, not just text. The opportunities are endless! Is it as easy to assess as putting a Scantron test through the machine? Nope, but it’s far better.

The 5 Most Dangerous Creativity Killers – 99U

Interesting post: “The 5 Most Dangerous Creativity Killers” from 99U.

I saw this in an email for museum professionals, but how does it apply to learners in school — both the adult and kid learners?

The five “creativity killers” sound very much like the traditional school system:

  1. Role Mismatch: the post uses the Einstein quote about judging a fish on its ability to climb a tree, comparing that to the workplace. While we need to be sure to challenge learners to new things, we also need to be sure that they are in a place and role where they are comfortable. Why can’t we allow students to do different types of projects? Why do they all have to take the same assessment? Some learners might be better suited to writing while others are better suited to visuals.
  2. External End-Goal Restriction: wow, that sounds like school to me! The “end goal” is almost always restricted by an external source – whether it’s a state telling teachers what to teach or what tests to give, or a teacher telling learners exactly what to learn and exactly how to demonstrate that learning. According to the post, “external restrictions are almost always a bad thing for creative thinking.”
  3. Strict Ration of Resources: in this case, mental resources, especially time, is the most important resources. Schools are always so crunched for time because are required to get through and extraordinary amount of material for the “standards.” Learners are overloaded with homework from a number or classes, and the perception is that college admission requires a zillion hours of extracurriculars, volunteering and a full slate of AP classes. There is no time remaining to be creative or do much beyond rote. Schools also have a very set time schedule: be here at 8:10, do algebra until 9:05, etc. Why do we expect all learners to need the same amount of time?
  4. Lack of Social Diversity: Yup, let’s put all kids who were born in this set time frame together because that means they’ll be at the same place. Well, no. Why do we assume that just because a child is 7 that they should be at point A in reading, B in math? While I do feel that it is often – not always – important for learners to be with others who are at the same place (e.g. learners who need to move quickly through content or those who need a different pace or approach), it does not mean all of the same age.
  5. Discouragement/No Positive Feedback: Wow — can we say schools? Testing? While some students may get positive feedback from scoring 95% on all the tests, there are far more students who get negative feedback from testing and just being in school day after day. Why not allow for mastery of content with assessments that allow for redoing tests, doing projects that fit or challenge, or doing real world projects that have real impact?

I’m going to go looking for the post about the 5 Things that Encourage Creativity.


At TIES#13 last week, George Couros presented an amazing session, “Involving Parents in the Process of Learning.” He just posted a blog post, “5 Ideas to Bring Parents into the Learning Process” that sort of summarizes his session.

I was too busy listening to take notes in the session, but am so impressed by what he has to say and by his attitude towards parents:

Parents are a great untapped resource in our schools…

George talks about how he communicates regularly with parents, how he invites and involves parents into the school on a regular basis. Five points from his blog:

  • Use what the kids use: use communication tools the kids are using. He blogs regularly to communicate with parents.
  • Have an open mind: he shared a story of a time he was explaining the plans for the tech rollout. He expected a pushback from parents — when instead they asked why he wasn’t moving faster!
  • Tap into parent leadership: he encourages school leaders to bring parents in to honestly listen to the feedback and input, then work with these parent leaders to teach other parents.
  • Focus on open communication: he shares what he’s learning and what he’s doing with parents as well as teachers.
  • Create Learning Opportunities: Couros talks about modeling the tools, teaching parents how to use the communication tools the kids use.

I was so encouraged after Couros’s session. His attitude is certainly not the one I see from the administration at my kids’ schools. Parents are tolerated, but not really listened to. There is little openness, little embracing of trying new communication technologies.

In his session, Couros had an amazing way of stating the reasons why schools need to adopt digital tools — basically, you need to do what’s right for kids. Using examples like the need for a positive digital footprint, Couros shows why kids need to learn using digital tools. He gave incredible examples of the power of using blogs, Twitter, and more.

This post doesn’t do his session justice. I wish it had been recorded. I’m hoping he repeats it at ISTE so I can see it again.

And, he asked the question I’ve been asking for a couple of years — where are the parents at these tech conferences??

Don’t Use that Phone!!

Just got the following notice about cell phone use at my son’s school. (He’s in 8th grade)

Question: Is it okay for my child to bring a cell phone to school?
Answer: Yes, if they DON’T USE IT!

We do not allow students to use phones for any purpose (including texting) while at school. If they need to communicate with home, they should ask a teacher and use the school phones. If we see students using personal phones, we may keep the phone for a parent to pick up.

Wow. I hardly know how to react to this. Have an 8th grader ask a teacher to use the phone to call parents? First of all, I am rarely by a phone. I strongly prefer my son text me. Please. I can be reached by text anywhere.

Let’s teach kids how to use these tools. I bet the vast majority of kids have those phones in their pockets, and many have iPhones or Androids. My son doesn’t have a smart phone – just a phone phone. He has an iPad and is allowed to use that. Why is he allowed to use this when others can’t use their phones? It makes no sense.