Monday, December 20, 2010

Learning from mistakes

 by Olga LaPlante

Well, this is not an earth-shattering statement, although in the view of the current education policies and trends it might as well be.
This teacher doesn't say anything new, but why aren't more teachers embracing this idea and this approach? Granted, ditching your traditional views is difficult – and I am all for being careful about it too. Sifting through the methods and techniques will take time. But as I said, there is nothing earth-shattering in this story. It's just told well.
We all know – teachers or not – that this is how we learn, by doing. Yet, when you walk into a classroom, it often just flips the switch – and you often feel that half the time it's the learners who have already grown accustomed to a particular – lecture-type – style of doing school. So, you have to fight with them – sometimes – to have them start learning the way they are designed to learn. What's up with that?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Fix" for education

by Ed Latham

In all professional sports, teamwork is vital to a successful year. Each team has an owner and a head coach. Most have an offensive coach and a defensive coach. Additionally there may be other specialist that work with different positions so I will call them positional coaches. All of the coaches must have a philosophy and means to get every team member on the same page in order to build a culture of success. For the sake of discussion, lets compare these vital structures to the educational team and talk about educational “success”.

The owner of the team basically is responsible for the money. This equates to the school board and both parties want to see some measure of success for the investment.

The head coach is the heart and soul of the team and ultimately directs the leadership in which direction the school is headed in, what aspects need highest attention and even some possible ways to accomplish those goals. This is our school superintendents. They take the charge of the school board and works with the administrators and public to set up the organization of people to make it happen.

The offensive and defensive coaches can be thought of as managers of squads of players with specific foci. These are our principals, elementary school and middle/high school, that work day to day with the staff to help accomplish goals specific to their grade level learners. The principal will also have to pick up some of the public relations with parents (similar to the media in sports) who are always interested in why things are the way they are. In sports, the head coach has that responsibility. In education, our superintendents and principals share that role of trying to educate and sometimes, placate, the public that has some investment in that team.

Finally we have the players. Our teachers and our grant people working on literacy and numeracy and technology all fill these rolls.

Now that we have our team assembled with their team responsibilities outlined so that every team should now be successful, right? Much press has been out in the last decade about failing schools followed by “Why?” questions that to this day everyone still questions. From a sports perspective I offer the following reason why.

Education does not have ANY form of free agency. In professional football (American, not soccer), considered by most to be the most popular televised sport in the world right now, there has been a free agency system that has created not only successful teams, but a successful system of organizations that produce most of their goals, (entertain, create interest, generate money …). In case you are not familiar with this system let me offer a short summary. Each professional player in the league has an agent and is represented by a league wide players union. The player’s union(teachers union) works with the owners (school board) to ensure just rules and regulations for both parties exist. The agents for each player are charged with finding the organization (school) in which each player’s strengths and weaknesses best fit with the team they are hired to work at. The coaches on that team (admin staff) have an evaluation period of training camp (first two years of teacher contract) in which to work with each player to find out how well that player fits “the system”. When cuts come up, the coaches (admin staff) contact all the other teams with notes and suggestions about which of their cut players (teachers) may be better suited for the desires of other coaching staffs. In this system, a player that does not “fit” is not discarded, rather the system encourages directions the player can go to find a better fit. When that system works, the teams are highly successful.

Schools have much of the free agency system foundation in place. We are missing agents for teachers and any sort of system in which administrators can move staff to systems in which the teacher’s skills can best be used. In effect, every administrator is “stuck” with the staff they have. Granted, the diverse skills and attitudes can be a great boon in some ways, but the lack of cohesion and attitude prevent true teamwork. Again, back to the sports world, there are teams in most sports that throw money at talent and assemble the greatest collection of talent (on paper) for a year and that team almost always bombs horribly. Almost any collection of superstars, all individuals with great talent, fails if those individuals do not buy into some team philosophy or direction. No matter how talented the individuals are, no staff with diverse personal agendas, philosophies and goals can be as successful as a cohesive team of lesser talented individuals all believing and working in the same system.

Lets look at this “new” system for success. I am a new administrator to a system. I get in with my staff and work with them for two years. During that time I am evaluating my players (teachers) to see their strengths and personal goals to see how that fits with my administrative goals. Meanwhile both the teachers and the admins above me are looking at my fit in the system. If any group feels there is a mismatch, there is a system to resolve. I, as an administrator have an agent. This agent may represent other admins around the state, around the region, or even a whole country. My agent gets paid by taking a slight percentage of whatever wages are negotiated in each school she gets a teacher or admin hired at. Therefore, my agent has a vested interest in helping me find a system that best fits my skills and directions and she gains from my success and longevity. If there are difficulties in my placement in my new school, my agent is getting all this feedback. She processes that and helps to hit up the other schools that may better fit based on the feedback she receives. After my two year try out, I know I either fit the system or my agent has a short list of places I can land and some constructive feedback for me to better my next placement.

The same works for teachers and their agents. The admin comes up and shares a direction and some methods the system wishes the staff to adopt. I don’t successfully adopt either by ability or attitude and my agent is getting all this feedback to best determine where I might be successful as a teacher. After my two years, if I fit, I am in a system that not only fits my abilities, but my attitudes and goals are at least in a similar line.

By now union people are screaming at this idea, but let me remind you that the teachers union, the admin union, and heck even the school boards could have a union all work together to help create and maintain a fair workplace for all. After all, our current union structure’s main focus is on the group, not the individual. It is impossible for any one union to best represent each individual’s need. For that you need a personal representative, an agent.

Educators all want success and many are feeling there is much lacking in terms of success nationally and locally. I suggest we can all find our educational home in a free agent system as described in professional sports. Sports that are highly successful in accomplishing individual team (school) goals and the entire organization like the National Football League (NFL) to prosper just like we wish to see Education prosper. The salvation of education lies in getting the right players connected with the right leaders to create teams all accomplishing their goals rather than forcing reformation that has annual circularity.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Making most of MLTI in middle and high schools in Maine

This is the link and a lot of these resources may be accessible to lots of Mac users and even web-based apps users.
ELA: Complex text and such
A Christmas Carol from Lit2Go (in iTunes U) - will open in iTunes. Download and burn to a CD and distribute among younger readers/non-readers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Let's Celebrate Gifted Kids

By Pam Kenney

Sean* is ten and a gifted child. He reads voraciously, thinks way outside the box, and is on a personal quest to understand the world around him by learning as much as he can about everything he can as fast as he can. Like many other bright kids, his social skills aren't as well-developed as those of some of his peers, and he finds many of his classroom assignments needlessly repetitive and not particularly challenging (and says so, of course); he can be a know-it-all.

I know Sean well, and I imagine he can be a handful for his teacher and often irritating to his classmates. His school, though, thinks he may have a "problem". Maybe he needs a social skills class or would benefit from some other type of intervention... After all, the kids in his grade have complained about him because he brags sometimes, and he thinks he's so-o-o smart, and he's quite touchy, reacting verbally when they tease him.

Sean does not need a social skills class. He doesn't have a problem---he's smart. And it's time educators started celebrating the uniqueness of academically gifted students instead of labeling their eccentricities as problems that need to be fixed. Yes, Sean should learn that tooting his own horn isn't the way to make friends, but his classmates need to be taught that their behavior toward him, manifested solely to bring him down a peg or two, is equally inappropriate.

Classrooms are composed of children of every stripe and are ideal environments for teachers to initiate discussions with their students about differences among people, including intellectual and personality-related ones. Kids already know that some of us are more athletic or musical than others; some are good with their hands while others are more awkward. They've been told since they were toddlers that we're all different, and that that's a good thing. Yes, it is a good thing, but schools today are so intent on bolstering children's self-esteem and reassuring them that they are up to every challenge, that they have shied away from celebrating the gifts of unusually smart kids.

Gifted children can be hard to deal with; but so can star athletes, and reluctant readers, and good math students, and introverts, and computer geeks, and kids who sit and stare into space. The personalities and attendant behaviors of all of them are affected by their strengths and weaknesses. They don't need special classes or therapy; they need committed teachers and parents who will take the time to discuss all the ways people differ from one another and how those differences affect how they act. Through example and lots of practice at home and at school, I believe kids are perfectly capable of understanding and accepting each other's idiosyncrasies, not with scorn and ridicule, but with grace and pride.

*name changed to protect the child's identity

Monday, November 8, 2010

Daylight Savings?

By Ed Latham

My natural biorhythm has been complaining much in the last few days as I am still adjusting to our seasonal changing of the clocks. This disruption has forced me to research the why of these time changes in the spring and fall.

I found the following map showing who is still changing these clocks(Blue), who has stopped (Orange) and who never changed them in the first place (Red). One might conclude that the red countries just never got the memo in the first place or have so much sun around the equator they did not see what all the fuss was about. Digging further, I found that many of the reasons for DST (Daylight Savings Time) are interesting when looking at this map. Here are some of the key reasons.
1. Energy Use: The thought was that if we shift the hours around, people would have more natural light and therefore use less artificial, electricity consuming light. As Ben Franklin pointed out, this is a fallacy as the usage of lights in the morning increase to render any benefits from this afternoon shift to be minimal. Given the Blue countries above typically have access and knowledge of energy efficient lighting, any support of energy savings rational for DST today has to be based on an unwillingness or inability to adopt the newer more efficient technologies for lighting.
2. Retail: Originally, more daylight hours after work translated into more people shopping at local stores. With the Internet and our instant access to most any resource (especially in the blue countries in the map), the rational for shifting times around is no longer applicable. In fact, as many are dealing more and more on a global scale, these changes in time often cost more time and money to restructure business connections.
3. Safety: The thought was that more light on the evening commute would equal less fatal accidents. Although the data has shown that less pedestrians get hit with this shift, there has been no solid evidence that when one factors in the morning fatalities from people having disrupted sleep patterns that there is any significant drop in the number of fatalities. Interestingly, the blue countries tend to be the only ones that have tons of cars on the road in the first place. Seems like getting rid of some of the cars might have more of a safety effect than messing with time :)
4. Health: This reason sounds good at first. More daylight in the afternoon equals more physical exercise. Data suggests the disruption in our natural circadian rhythm for up to a month after each shift causes many health detriments. Factoring in the increased suicide rates, especially after the spring switch and one has to question this at a purely data level. Again looking at the health of those in the blue countries, I am seeing the most wealthy of the world. For the most part the blue countries have many more comforts in their lives and through no coincidence have higher rates of obesity and inactivity. Although they can afford nicer exercise equipment and gym memberships, the lack of need of physical exercise is more of a health hazard than the lack of sun in the afternoon. Maybe we all need to have to carry our drinking water home every afternoon and this health issue would be fixed rather than messing with time.

One more observation. The orange countries are those that had DST and then realized the futility of it. In fact, based on population, one could argue that only the richest 2 or 3 percent of the world still stick to this silly tradition. Everyone else must realize that nature has a flow of light and dark periods and they somehow manage to adjust their lives appropriately rather than artificially changing the name of the hour to feel better.

Do you see any other observations from this interesting map? Any thoughts on the whole DST thing as it applies to learning? After all, most adolescents are not even functional mentally until at least 2-3 hours after sunrise, so our students are still sleeping till almost halfway through our school days.

Well, looking at my clock it is either time to get to work or I am already late, or is it early? I think I need to go for a nature walk outside first to find out.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Real processing

by Ed Latham

Checking my mail this morning, I received a chat from a student. The student was having difficulty (in a game of course) and did not know what to do next to resolve the issue. We chatted for a few min to find what he had attempted and what the resulting conditions were. He was very patient and articulate in describing the issue and what he had done thus far.

I jumped into some searching and digging through some forums to find others with similar issues to his. I quickly found others complaining of the same thing and the solutions offered by members of the forums. I shared my findings with him and how I went about getting that information.

He got very quiet (in chat that just means he went more than 2 minutes without typing) only to return with many negative comments in reference to his lack of ability to figure this out himself. He was quite upset that he had not thought to check the forums, had not thought of such a simple solution, and many other "failings" to resolve this problem himself.

Intervention time! I stopped him and asked him why it was so important that he figure it all out himself. He replied that he felt computer competent and not being able to fix things himself is perceived internally as a weakness. I was a bit shocked and asked him where he thinks these feelings came from. "Well in school, friends and teachers chew you out for asking stupid or obvious crap ... so idk I guess it is just I am used to people dissing me if I ask for help"

My fingers flew into action as I jumped on my digital soapbox. I shared the importance of developing and using our social networks to discuss and resolve solutions. The world this young child is going into not only benefits from the ability to reach out to others to process and work together, it is becoming more and more a necessary skill. Many reading this post already know the power of a good social network and how many hours of frustration and other negatives that are encountered without our personal resources and connections. After I stepped down off my soapbox and congratulated the boy on reaching out, asking the right questions and articulating so well what the problem was he reported he felt better. "Besides, I probably would have been all week trying to figure this out on my own and would have just given up on the whole thing and quit that game if I couldn't get this working."

I have the pleasure of working with people all over the state of Maine and I have been exposed to so many wonderful projects, practices and classrooms. Establishing connections with all of these great people has enabled me to field at least 5 questions a day from teachers from k-16. Many of those questions I get daily are of such a specific nature, I know I don't have more than a surface idea what they are asking, but I do know someone on my social networks that has experience with that and I can get almost instant help and walk throughs for the teacher asking the original question. Additionally, my knowledge expands in that arena! I am learning so much just by being the middle man in a social network chain.

Where are our students getting their help from? Many classrooms are still very teacher directed and may reward compliance more than personal inquiry. Mom and Dad, if they are around, are often glad to be done with all that school stuff. For many students, they may feel their friends are just as lost on the topic as he or she is. Cell phones are not allowed in classes nor are most forms of communication that allows connection to any social networks. Unless the student can get some time to visit their media specialist (one of the few social network resources allowed in school), the student is resigned to individual searches on the Internet, re hashing notes or the book, or trying to hit up the teacher after class some time.

In short, my social network allows me to get almost instant help not only for me, but for everyone I work with. With almost every educator I talk to wanting students to learn to think and problem solve, are we not removing access to tools real people use every day to resolve their problems? In most every workplace, people facing difficulties almost never go to their boss asking for a fix. Instead they hit up their network of resources to resolve the issues, hopefully quickly so the interruption does not set the worker behind or cause a scene.

How can we help students safely establish social networks and learn how to use these resources well? Is that enough? Shouldn't we be encouraging responsible efficiency in using our peeps to help move our current projects forward?

What are your thoughts on the importance of using a social network and if you are using/promoting such how are you doing so with students?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Three Things I'm Going to Do

by Cheryl Oakes

There are 3 things that I am going to actively do after reflecting on the ACTEM Keynote from Vicki Davis and Angela Maiers.

1. Expose the Crab Bucket for what it is. If you name something then you  can change it.

2. Listen to my students, no I really mean listen to my students. By having my students name their challenges, their hopes, their future- then we have a collective vision.

3. Collaborate with another class, group, project. Now that I am in the classroom, I have this ability to make this a reality!

For those wondering about the Crab Bucket, here is what Wikipedia has to say: crab bucket mentality , crab bucket mentality describes a way of thinking best described by the phrase "if I can't have it, neither should you." The metaphor refers to a pot of crabs. Singly, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead, they grab at each other in a useless "king of the hill" competition which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise. The analogy in human behavior is that of a group that will attempt to "pull down" (negate or diminish the importance of) any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of jealousy or competitive feelings.

This term is broadly associated with short-sighted, non-constructive thinking rather than a unified, long-term, constructive mentality. It is also often used colloquially in reference to individuals or communities attempting to "escape" a so-called "underprivileged life", but kept from doing so by others attempting to ride upon their coat-tails or those who simply resent their success.

I will ask my students to name their dreams and what this year will help them accomplish and as far as a project I am going to sign up for Digi-Teen Digi-Teen

What are you going to do?

Cheryl Steele Oakes
Resource Room Facilitator/Teacher
Wells High School
Wells Ogunquit CSD Wells ME 04090
Google Certified Teacher

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The War on Teachers

I am so weary of all the never-ending bashing and trashing of teachers by politicians, corporations, and foundations and the news media.  In my humble opinion it is destructive to our local communities and, quite simply, a smoke-screen for corporate control and greed in terms of selling privatization, textbooks, tests,  content management systems, charter schools, and for maintaining a huge and ever-growing disparity in income and wealth in the United States of America.  Poverty and incivility are the issues that need to be discussed. 

Check out these resources:

Diane Ravitch: The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Anthony Cody: "The REAL Thieves of Hope:  America's War on Teachers

Gary Stager: Education Nation and Ideological Blindness

Diane Ravitch:  "Why Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty Lost"

Linda Darling-Hammond: "Restoring Our Schools"

Linda Darling-Hammond: "Only a Teacher"

Thomas Friedman: "We're No. 1(1)!" 

Larry Ferlazzo: Attacks on Teachers and Non-Charter Schools Continue

Common Dreams:  "What Up with All the Teacher Bashing"

Teachers' Letters to Obama

David B. Cohen: Booker Outclasses Winfrey on Education 

David Goldstein: Grading 'Waiting for Superman'

Thursday, September 16, 2010


NOTE: Please distribute this information freely - pass on to individuals you know who will take advantage of it, and post it on to personal learning and social networks you are a part of. This goes for kids, teachers, technical staff, administrators, and all members of Maine's school communities

Essential Question: "What one thing should be done in your school community to increase the number of kids who make it to graduation?"

Do you believe that students do their best work when they take on challenges that truly matter in the real world? Have you ever looked for Maine-based projects you could point middle and high school students towards that would make a real difference?  Projects where they could use their technical and communication skills in support of something that really matters? Projects where they could work independently, in teams with their friends and have the chance to be rewarded for the quality of their work with something more than good grades?

WatchMECreate is a collaborative effort between ACTEM and the MLTI. It will consist of a series of serious challenges put out to Maine's grade 7-12 schools, asking students (and perhaps teachers) to collaboratively develop and submit video responses.  While posed as a “student challenge,” it is assumed that some students may come to it independently while others will be directed towards it by their teacher.

The first challenge is called WatchMEGraduate and asks students to create a 2-minute video response to, "What one thing should be done in your school community to increase the number of kids who make it to graduation?" This challenge is made real by the following documents:

Gov. Baldacci's Economic Strategy ([ ] "The most important measure of economic development in Maine is the educational attainment of its people and the opportunities that arise from our people's participation in the economy of tomorrow."

From Maine Dept. of Education Website: "An Act To Increase Maine's High School Graduation Rates (Sec. 1. 20-A MRSA c. 211, sub-c. 1-B) ...The bill also requires the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education to establish a stakeholder group to develop recommendations relating to increasing secondary school graduation rates in the State and to report its findings to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over education matters by January 10, 2011." went live on 9/1/10; First challenge, WatchMEGraduate, went live on 9/7/10; Uploads will begin to be accepted on 9/14/10; September 14 - October 10 - Video uploading window; October 11 - 14: Judging of entries; October 15, 2010: Winners Announced at MainEducation Conference

Here's the process:

1) A team of up to four student members (grades 7-12) will produce a video response to the current challenge
2) Videos must put forward positive solutions that are process-focused
3) The video will be no longer than 2 minutes
4) Teams are responsible for obtaining appropriate permissions for any materials used
5) All videos must carry, in the credits, a Creative Commons license
6) The video will be uploaded (see web site for details), along with contact information, but will not be publicly displayed until all appropriate releases have been received by ACTEM & MLTI
7) That’s it. Now get to work. Oh, and because this is professional grade work, please do be sure to cite your sources...

Judging process: Pains are being taken to make this not “feel like school.” A rubric has been created and posted on the web site.  Judges will be drawn from ACTEM & MLTI as well as other community sources.

Rewards: All teams whose entry is accepted as complete and placed on the WatchMECreate site will be entered into a drawing for team sets of four high quality, limited edition ACTEM / MLTI WatchMECreate T-shirts. Five middle school teams and five high school teams will be chosen at random. The top Middle School and High School teams will each be awarded $500 to be used by the team to help move their solution forward, as well as an iPod nano for each student team member.

Questions or comments: Please send e-mail to

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Special Needs Debate in the UK: Right or Wrong?

 by Olga LaPlante

Having taken the Addressing the Needs of Exceptional Students in a Regular Classroom course this summer - which was great! - I am more attuned to the topic.

This article from BBC once again touches upon the special needs issue, which may or may not resemble the case in this country.

Interesting that the article should mention that it's all about good teaching, regardless of how diverse your students are, and that it's teaching all, not just the top or the middle, which is much easier, but not good enough. It appeared to be nearly a consensus that, severe cases excluded, good teaching means addressing needs of all students in the process. Remarkably, project-based, collaborative and inquiry-based learning may just be the answer.

Please read the article here and offer your comments.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


 By Olga LaPlante

There is never a shortage of accounts of how limited things are. While this may be disheartening or simply annoying, little attention is given to defining those limitations, because that is where finding solutions starts.

This is not news, I just feel that it is often understated.

For example, there is a problem with a program at a school, which at first made me quite upset. While getting upset and moving forward are not easily compatible, moving forward is more important. By seeing that my needs cannot be met efficiently right away, my choices became a) sticking with the existing program but accepting its limitations - and as a result compensating as much as I could for them - or  b) finding another program which may be freer of limitations.

I did my homework, I know my options, and I know the limitations. For the purpose of my involvement in the program, I am willing and able to compensate for them. Knowing the limitations has freed up my resources and my energy to focus on something else and not worry about the possible breakdowns as I made sure they are less likely to happen. There were a few weak links and it was up to me to follow through.

Once the limitations are known and are accepted, one is less susceptible to the fallouts from them. Getting frustrated is not productive, and quite draining; by accepting limitations, you lower your expectations - and from what I heard that makes you very happy.

By no means am I endorsing limitations. I am just reiterating the benefits of knowing them.

I have been reading a book, Thinkertoys, by Michael Michalko; in one chapter he presents the Phoenix Checklist. Some of the questions are, "What isn't the problem?" "Can you restate your problem? How many different ways can you restate it?" I like that. What isn't the problem? It's as if you are asking, "What are the limitations of the problem?" See? Limitations apply to both the good stuff and the bad stuff. And it's definitely rewarding to recognize that the bad things have their limitations, too.
Now, let's see if this can somehow be applied to this whole Common Core Standards debate...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Collaborating With Kids

by Bob Keteyian

Too often, we try to solve behavior problems our kids are having without actively collaborating with the kids. We tell them what we want them to do and why, and expect compliance because what we want them to do is reasonable (to us). Sometimes this works and we get compliance, but is it really a “durable solution,” as Ross Greene would call it?

Ross Greene is a psychologist who specializes in helping kids and adults work together on problem solving that not only results in desired behavior change but actively teaches the child skills necessary to be successful in an on-going way. His most recent book, Lost At School offers a clear, usable format to help adults focus differently on solutions. In one way, the book title is deceptive—making it sound as though this is only about school related issues. It’s not: It’s an approach easily applied in any relationship. In fact I sent him an email acknowledging my use of these principles with adults—an approach that makes sense to him, too, which he validated in his response.

Kids want to behave well and do well. Generally, there is no real incentive to do otherwise. I realize there are exceptions, but they are exceptions. Kids inherently want to do the right thing, and most kids by the time they are in school know basic right from wrong. Often, however, they are lagging in the behavioral skills needed to be consistently successful and/or they have a totally different picture of a situation than the adults around them have.

Here’s an example: Eight-year-old Joel often refuses to do his school work and follow directions both at school and home. Whether he’s cajoled, rewarded, or punished, it makes no difference. Joel looks like and is treated like a stubborn, willful, defiant child. On closer examination and approaching this situation from the lagging skills perspective, another picture emerges. The fact is, Joel gets overwhelmed receiving auditory directions in a group situation. He can’t remember sequential things very well and has a poor sense of time (time estimation). These combined factors mean that Joel gets overwhelmed and feels stupid and embarrassed, as well as misunderstood. Working systematically with Joel on solutions to these individual problems over time had very good results.

Too often, we put a psychological spin on behaviors that are causing problems without accounting for a broader range of possibilities. I’ve written about this in other posts, commenting primarily from the communication styles (individual differences) perspective. Ross Greene’s work helps open our minds to connect better with kids (empathy is the first ingredient in his model), collaborate, teach, and respect one another. The result is durable solutions and stronger, trusting relationships.

Featuring the Work of Alan Sitomer

Alan Sitomer talks PBL (Project Based Learning) in the classroom

Alan Sitomer's 8 Tips for Teachers

Free Webinar with Alan Sitomer via eSchool News:

Sensibly Incorporating Technology in Today's Classroom: It's All About the Writing!

Date: October 12, 2010

Time: 2:00 pm EDT Duration: One hour 

Come spend an hour with BookJams author and California's 2007 Teacher of the Year Alan Sitomer as he hosts a webinar on how to sensibly incorporate technology and new literacies.

Your benefits of participating will include:
Understanding why the bells and whistles of technology will not replace the need for students to critically read, write and think
Seeing how cutting edge tech tools can (and should) coexist side-by-side with projects that can be done by candlelight.
Recognizing that successfully incorporating technology in today's classroom BEGINS WITH THE WRITING!
Getting comfortable with the idea that technology is evolving at such a rapid pace that there is no more "keeping up".
Re-conceptualizing our methodologies so that we can allow students to demonstrate their full capabilities without unnecessarily holding them back simply because we, the educators, do not have the same technological abilities that they, the students, possess. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Is It Possible to Have Too Many Laptops?

"No surprise, then, that the truth of what happens in laptop-rich schools is far more shades of gray than black or white." ~ Larry Cuban
Questions: Can 1-to-1 sometimes get in the way of collaborative, hands-on learning?  Are there times that it is better to focus students' efforts on a single screen?  When is face-to-face collaboration and social interaction more powerful than independent digital access and production?

Jamie McKenzie: Over-Equipped? Is it possible to have too many laptops?

Larry Cuban: Laptops in Schools
The Journal: Left to Their Own Devices
Gary Stager: Selling the Dream of 1:1 Computing 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Courage in the Classroom comes to King Middle School, Portland

by Olga LaPlante

Some common sense observations were noted during the round table discussion. Common sense doesn't discount the value of the observations, though, because common sense is not all that common.

There may be hope after all for the DOE, if they stick with their valuable observations. Read more here.

One simple trick to better school culture is looping. Why is it so rare? I find it the best strategy. Kids know the teacher, the teacher knows the kids, they have lots of shared experiences by the second year, it doesn't cost any money, as Duncan pointed out; teachers are accountable by default, students are accountable and more aware of their behavior, parents are no strangers; trust is established. Why would you not do it?

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Death of Truth

by Dissonant Hermit

Today there is much talk, especially in schools, about how can we trust the tons of information that exists in society today. Hours upon hours are spent discussing validity and reliability of information. Pages of text are being published every day on the topic of trusting information sources and evaluating right from wrong. In schools, the debates rage on about what sources schools can or should use and which should not be allowed. Interestingly enough, there are schools that block sites strictly because individuals locally have deemed the site “too untrustworthy for students to use” (Wikipedia anyone?)  Many fret over a perceived dilemma that with increased access to information, our children need even more skills to determine the worth and validity of that information. This anxiety is completely misplaced. Instead of concentrating on increased access, too many resources or any perceived need for more accurate information, we should be in uproar about the almost complete collapse of inquiry, discovery and discussion in our institutions and lack of family structures that support learning!...

The rest of this article is posted at the following blog. Please read it all before adding your thoughts to this post.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Common Core State Standards, Common Core, and Partnership for 21st Century Learning

This past week my colleagues pointed me to a Video about a new initiative in New Brunswick, Canada, which uses the Partnership of 21st Learning framework.

Pearson Foundation created this next video to describe the approach.

Maine joined the Partnership in 2007. The Stategic Council members can be found here. Note that Microsoft is one of them and that Pearson is a major influence.

Okay, now it starts to get interesting. This week Common Core, an organization not to be confused with the Common Core State Standards group, although Fordham Foundation seems to be connected with both, has issued the Common Core Curriculum Maps which are based on the new CCSS.  Find the donors here. Note that Gates Foundation is a major contributor.

Now it starts to get very, very interesting.  It seems that Common Core has been slamming the Partnership for 21st Skills for the past year, bringing out lots of big guns, including Diane Ravitch and a number of well-known commentators who seem to support a more classical education.

Interesting stuff . . . the culture wars continue, but Gates/Microsoft and Pearson seem to be supporting both sides.

New Brunswick seems to have sided with the P21 approachWhat should Maine do?

Any thoughts?  Which approach do you prefer?  Or is there a middle ground?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Midcoast Maine Homeschool Center

By Pam Kenney

About 5000 Maine children in kindergarten through the twelfth grade were homeschooled during the 2009-10 school year. That's more than 2.5% of the state's school-age population and a 41% increase since 2002-03. It's likely homeschool numbers will continue to swell. Traditionally parents have chosen to teach their children at home for three primary, yet very different, reasons: a desire to provide religious instruction, concerns about the traditional school environment (safety, drugs, bullying, e.g.), and dissatisfaction with the academic instruction provided by public schools. Add to that mix educational constraints like George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" legislation, President Obama's "Race to the Top" incentives, and the new Common Core State Standards in Mathematics and English Language Arts, and it's clear why many families have decided to go it alone.

The good news is that Maine homeschoolers now have a place of their own where "families of all spiritual backgrounds and homeschool philosophies" can congregate within a supportive environment to learn and have fun together. The new Midcoast Maine Homeschool Center, located in the Grace Episcopal Church in Bath, is the brainchild of four local homeschool moms. It opens its doors on Wednesday, September 8th, and offers classes for elementary and middle school students in literature, computer skills, art history, sewing, and others. One-to-one and group tutoring and classes like multi-cultural literature and college writing for teens and book making will be offered on Thursdays starting in October. Fridays are set aside for field trips and other specialty classes . Plans are in the works for programs for parents and preschoolers and additional classes for teenagers.

The Midcoast Maine Homeschool Center will hold an open house:

Wednesday, September 1st, from 10 a.m. to noon
Grace Episcopal Church
1100 Washington Street
Bath, Maine 04530

At the open house you can meet director, Susan Hyde, the teachers, learn more about the center, and register for fall classes. Children are welcome to attend.

For more information about the Midcoast Maine Homeschool Center, contact Susan Hyde at

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In Praise of RSU #10 Computer Technical Staff

Very often Maine school technology technical staff don't get the respect they deserve.  It can be a very frustrating job, with last-minute requests and demands that are constantly arising.  Knowing that, I have to say what a delight it is to see the RSU10 technical staff in action.  Not only do they have impressive technical skills, but more importantly, they have outstanding people skills.  As part of my job as the Western Maine Learning & Technology Mentor, I have experienced the friendly and helpful people who make all the difference in making technology integration work well.  RSU10 could very well serve as an excellent example of this work done right.  Every year during the Summer Technology Institute I can't help but be awed by the graciousness and patience practiced by this group.  One more time, I would like to say "Thank You!"

Friday, August 6, 2010

Summertime and Net Neutrality

"Summertime and the Livin' is Easy" ~ Porgy & Bess

It's summertime and our guard is down. What better time for something to be slipped by us! Is that what is happening regarding the issue of network neutrality?  The issue, in a nutshell, is whether the Net remains democratic in the sense that there is equal access and equal opportunity to write to it.

Who will control information?

Save the Internet: Google, "Don't Be Evil"
Al Franken at CNN:  Net Neutrality Is the Foremost Free Speech of Our Time
PC World:  End of Net Neutrality Negotiations Good News for Internet
CNET: Politics and Law: Are We Edging to Neutrality Detente?
Washington Post:  "What's Next for FCC on Net Neutrality?"
Google Accused of Betraying Internet Golden Rule in Net Neutrality Row
CNET: Google's Schmidt on Verizon and Net Neutrality

What do you think?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Common Core State Standards Implementation

Let's face it, for better or worse, the CCSS is a done deal. ACHIEVE - the architect of this document with financial support of large foundations, universities,  corporations, including testing and publishing companies, and with the support of the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers  - has issued a toolbox for implementation called On the Road to Implementation.

Race to the Top grants require CCSS, and there are rumors that the feds might tie Title 1 money to it as well.  What is said to be voluntary, in the real world of tight fiscal times, is clearly not.  Most states have now come on board along with making major changes in law and policy.  And with some greasing of pockets, organizations such as NEA, NFT, ASCD and the PTA have come on board as well.

This was very much a top-down creation with very little real input at the grassroots level or even by national curriculum organizations such as NCTE or NCTM.

Most readers of this blog should know my view on this development by now.  I'm very concerned for at least three reasons.

First, I believe President Dwight Eisenhower's observation has great merit.
"A distinguishing characteristic of our nation — and a great strength — is the development of our institutions within the concept of individual worth and dignity. Our schools are among the guardians of that principle. Consequently . . . and deliberately their control and support throughout our history have been — and are — a state and local responsibility. . . . Thus was established a fundamental element of the American public school system — local direction by boards of education responsible immediately to the parents of children. Diffusion of authority among tens of thousands of school districts is a safeguard against centralized control and abuse of the educational system that must be maintained. We believe that to take away the responsibility of communities and states in educating our children is to undermine not only a basic element of our freedoms but a basic right of our citizens. "
I simply don't believe schools controlled by large corporations is in the best interest of democracy.  And don't make any mistake about it, this control is reaching a new level of magnitude.

Second, I worry about the type of pedagogy that will be encouraged with the soon-to-be-developed assessments.  I've seen the glitzy content management systems being hawked  in the vendor areas of state and national conferences.  Already, powerful interests are aligning their products with the CCSS. Do we really want learning to be a teacher-in-a-box?  It seems to me that there is a great danger that the connections that develop when students are engaged in real life problems in project-based learning will take a big hit if so much importance is given to standardization.

Third, I would argue that standardization is not really the issue.  The issue is poverty and income disparity in the United States. 

Okay, that's where I stand . . . . but being resigned to the reality, I've created a new wiki (currently under construction) called Learning in America at in order to index open educational resources to the new standards. If we must have national standardization, then we should at least not become enslaved to large oligopolistic educational publishing outfits.  Let's open up the possibilities of local decision making in the methods and resources we use.

What do you think?

On the Road to Implementation: Achieving the Promise of Common Core Standards

Education Week: Common Standards:  Moving from Adoption to Implementation

Audio Overview

NCEE, Pearson, RttT, CCSS, USED & Gates

The Ascent of America's Choice and the Continuing Descent of America's High Schools  ~ Sandra Stotsky

Monday, August 2, 2010

Should Maine Adopt CCSS?

 MPBN: "New Learning Standards in the Works for Maine Students"

Proposed Rule Change for Adoption of Common Core Standards
To: Superintendents of Schools
From: Angela Faherty Ph.D, Acting Commissioner
Date: August 2, 2010
RE: Proposed Rule Change for Adoption of Common Core Standards

The Department of Education is proposing an amendment to Chapter 131: The Maine Federal, State and Local Accountability Standards, a Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Education to include the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics for kindergarten to grade 12, with implementation to begin in 2012-13.

The proposed change is being made pursuant to PL 2009, Chapter 647, which revised state statute to permit Maine’s standards to include a core of standards in English language arts and mathematics for kindergarten to grade 12 established in common with other states and authorized the Commissioner of Education to adopt them, pending final approval by the Legislature.

Maine has a long history as a leader in rigorous standards and assessments and the adoption of the Common Core standards for English language arts and mathematics is the next logical step. The Maine Learning Results standards were first adopted in 1997 and later revised and re-adopted in 2007, each with significant statewide educator involvement and input. A similar process was used in the development of the Common Core standards. Maine educators and Maine Department of Education staff participated significantly in the development and review of the Common Core Standards. We have made clear that Maine would not adopt any standards that are less rigorous than the ones already in place. As a Department we are confident that the Common Core Standards will reflect what students need for success in post-secondary education and careers.

The proposed rule was filed today, August 2, 2010. The Secretary of State will post the rulemaking notice on August 11, 2010. The Department will hold a public hearing on August 30, 2010 in room 500 of the Cross State Office Building from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. The public comment period will begin on August 11 and end on September 10, 2010.

The proposed amendments are available on line at: . Hard copies and additional information may be obtained by contacting Jaci Holmes at 207-624-6669 or .

Question:  Was there really significant educator input to the CCSS?  What do you think?  

See these Ohanian post:    1    2

Also see these posts.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Does It Resemble a Factory?

 “An important question to ask of any proposed educational innovation is simply this: Is it intended to make the factory run more efficiently, or is it designed, as it should be, to get rid of the factory model altogether and replace it with individualized, customized education?” ~Alvin Toffler

School as Community Versus School as Factory
Three images of School
The Odysseus Group: The Business of Schooling - John Taylor Gatto
The Underground History of Education - Gatto
Teacher's Mind Resources
Challenging Assumptions in Education

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Let's Use Normal Language With Kids

by Bob Keteyian

Often, we use words like depression, bi-polar, panic attack, generalized anxiety disorder, and more to describe normal reactions kids have to life circumstances. This can be dangerous and gives kids the wrong message about life and our ordinary human experience in response to adversity.

For example, a teenager breaks up with her girl friend and is feeling down and dejected. Saying she is “depressed” would be common. Today, it can mean something else—Depression with a capital “D.” In a situation like this, I’ve found it better to stay away from “terminology” and use ordinary words to describe what the kid is going through, rather then telling them they may “have” depression and implying (or actually telling) that they should be thoroughly evaluated.

The girl in our above example was dumped by her friend. She’s upset, hurt, sad, angry, and feeling really down. She probably should be feeling all of that, as well as being confused and feeling poorly about herself. She is going through the normal progression of experience in a typical human circumstance. She needs love, support, hugs, understanding, encouragement, and time.

I’m not pooh-poohing depression or minimizing the potentially devastating impact of clinical depression. But I am trying to bring balance and common sense to our observations of kids going through a hard time and subsequently our communication with them.

My first mentor, Ralph, was a child psychiatrist. He passed on a piece of wisdom over thirty years ago that I carry with me today. Paraphrasing: if you describe in detail the behavior and emotions of any teenager, they will qualify for a mental health diagnosis—and some pretty heavy duty diagnoses at that! Teenagers have mood swings, black and white thinking, irrationality . . . etc. I don’t mean this disparagingly. During adolescence there are enormous body/mind changes which are very unsteadying. Any of us adults in a difficult situation will exhibit many of these behaviors, as well. Drawing diagnostic conclusions, though, can be dangerous—especially with kids

Also, we’ve gotten more detailed and sophisticated in our terminology about human behavior but often at the exclusion of common sense. For example, I’ve found myself using old-fashioned terms like “nervous exhaustion” or “nervous breakdown,” when they seem more accurate and helpful. Other choices like “psychotic break” or “bi-polar disorder” just don’t fit and aren’t helpful, and we can all identify with being in a “slump” or “down in the dumps.”

Connecting with others in distress by being patient and emotionally supportive is the first order of business. Expressing kindness and understanding are always helpful, even if it doesn’t have an immediate, discernable impact. Knowing someone cares makes a big difference. It’s simple but true. And communicating using simple, descriptive language is always the best medicine.