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All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

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EdTech Update





Just another shill for educational companies?

Let's get this out of the way...

  • I use Apple computers and have an iPhone.
  • GSuite is both my professional and personal email, file storage, calendaring app.
  • This blog resides on the Squarespace hosting service.
  • I like Dropbox, Smugmug, GoodReads, Wikispaces, and Feedly. 
  • In my presentations I often use Padlet, Poll Everwhere, and GoSoapBox.
  • I drive a Honda, eat at Panera, and enjoy Raisin Bran.

I am sure the stock of these business have just soared. 

One of my favorite bloggers addressed the issue of educators promoting commercial products. In The Dilemma of Entrepreneurial Teachers with Brand Names, Larry Cuban questions the ethics of teachers who reached some degree of celebrity status (something oxymoronic about that) who take gifts from education companies and then use and promote those products in their social media exchanges and workshops.

Larry references a New York Times story about Kay Delzers, a North Dakota classroom teacher, who has become a "name brand" educator and who accepts products and lagniappe from companies to use in her classroom and her workshops. In his blog he writes:

Now with the Internet and social media, there is far more evidence of entrepreneurial teachers documented in blogs, Facebook postings, and start-up businesses. From Teachers Pay Teachers to Google Certified Innovators , the notion of teachers being entrepreneurial in a market-driven economy where Silicon Valleys across the U.S. (Northern California, Austin, New York City, Boston) spread a culture of  hustle, workaholism, and money should come as no surprise. Nonetheless, the Kayla Delzers among millions of teachers are the one percenters who wrestle with the dilemma of serving children and becoming a money-making brand name.

So what's an ethical educator to do? You don't need to be a "rock star" educator to know you have an impact on others' purchasing choices whether that be your students, their parents, or your co-workers.

Since now and again, my blog pops up on some "best of" education list, I get requests to promote an educational product - service, software, book, class etc - on the Blue Skunk. I routinely ignore these requests but if the solicitor is persistent, I refer them to the Endorsement Policy right on the blog. It reads, in part:

Product Endorsement Policy for the Blue Skunk and my presentations

  • I will not endorse or mention a product (at least without a heavy-duty disclaimer) which I don't have experience using in our district. This is important. While the product itself might look very cool, it's only through experience that one learns about little things like support, compatibility, bug fixes, situational customizations, and unintended consequences of use.
  • I will not accept any form of remuneration for reviewing or writing about a product. This includes trips, gifts, cash, cars, call girls or dictatorships of small countries. Not that any of these things have actually been offered to me.
  • I don't take paid advertising on my blog or website.
  • I don't accept unsolicited guest blogs from commercial enterprises.
  • I don't wear t-shirts, baseball caps, or underwear with corporate logos. (I do have a hip flask with the ALA logo on it, however.)
  • I do write "blurbs" for books and/or products that I've actually read or used and liked.
  • My recommendations are my personal recommendations - not the school district's.

I suppose there are other guidelines I should set for myself. That readers trust my objectivity is important to me.

Maybe it is time every educator explicitly stated his/her personal endorsement policy. You could agree or disagree with the professionalism that policy, but at least everyone, including your students, would know where you stand.




Is school simply practicing life?

As school starts for our students here in Minnesota this week (we start late, as I tell my Kansas-resident grandsons, because MN students take less time to educate), we as a nation seem to agree that education is more important than ever, but seem ever more divided on the purpose of education.  (Read this great post Learning that matters by Robert Schuetz in his Nocking the Arrow blog for a review of a number of influential voices on the topic.)

In response to Seth Godin's manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams: What is School for? back in 2012 I suggested 10 big questions that as educators we spend too much time avoiding and too little time discussing that deal with the purpose of education:

  1. Should education be more than vocational training? If so, can or should schools measure how one's quality of life increases because one is more thoughtful, more skeptical, more creative, and/or more humane?
  2. What is right balance between learning content and learning processes? How much do I want my dentist to know about best established practices and how much do I want her to know how to keep learning new best practices?
  3. At what age should a child be able to determine for himself what is in his best interest to learn? How important is exposure to a broad (and possibly irrelevant) range of experiences, opportunities, or ideas? If a child develops a passion for a topic early in life, should all her learning revolve around that passion?
  4. To what extent do we honor individual learning styles and needs? Is learning how to deal with problems (a teacher or topic one dislikes, for example) an important part of education?
  5. Should technology be used to support all educational practices or only those which are constructivist-based?
  6. Should we insist teachers who are effective without using technology be required to use it? Yes, I really do think that is a necessary question, as unpleasant as it is for many of us.
  7. Do libraries and librarians have a role in the era of digital information? Yes, I really do think that is a necessary question, as unpleasant as it is for many of us.
  8. How many of us are less enthusiastic about libraries or technology but are simply excited about alternate ways of learning - and libraries and technology offer means to those ways?
  9. What kind school experience do I want my own grand/children to have? How should that guide me as an educator?
  10. How should educational organizations demonstrate their efficacy? If we don't believe in test scores, what do we have to show those who fund us that we are doing good work?

Increasingly I think about question 4 "Is learning how to deal with problems (a teacher or topic one dislikes, for example) an important part of education?" The most memorable challenges my own children dealt with in school were along the line of:

  • What can I do about this teacher I dislike?
  • Why do I have to learn this subject/take this class?
  • How do I get others in my group project to do their work?
  • How will I get everything I need to do done?

How are these questions much different than those we ask as adult workers?

  • What can I do about this boss I dislike?
  • Why do I have to learn this new work skill?
  • How do I get others in my team to do their work?
  • How will I get everything I need to do done?

What if the best education is simply one that gives us a chance to practice the skills we need to use everyday regardless of our profession or stage of our career? Is school a place to make "safe mistakes" from which we can learn? 

Oh, my standard answer to my children when asking some of the questions above was "Formal education is primarily a weeding tool used by society to determine who is willing to play by the rules, willing to conform, and willing to delay gratification. For those people, there will be a place in an ordered work environment that is somewhat secure." 


BFTP: The tragedy of algebra - millions of lost hours

From the NY Times opinion pages:

Of course, people should learn basic numerical skills: decimals, ratios and estimating, sharpened by a good grounding in arithmetic. But a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above. And if there is a shortage of STEM graduates, an equally crucial issue is how many available positions there are for men and women with these skills. A January 2012 analysis from the Georgetown center found 7.5 percent unemployment for engineering graduates and 8.2 percent among computer scientists. -  Andrew Hacker an emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, and  co-author of “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It.” (formatting mine.)

My son struggled with required math classes in both high school and college, as did I. And suspect both of us are somewhere within one standard deviation of a normal IQ. Politically-driven, nonsensical math requirements probably make me angrier than almost anything else in education right now. To think of the millions of lost classroom hours spent teaching useless skills that actually turn kids off education should make every educator angry - including math teachers.

Others have questioned the need for advanced math classes as well. In his February 7, 2011 post Educating B Students, Scott (Dilbert) Adams wrote:

I understand why top students - the A+ types - learn physics and calculus. I get why they study classic literature and the details of history. The kids in this brainy group are the future professors, scientists, and engineers who will propel civilization forward.

But why do we make the B students sit through these same classes? That's like trying to teach a walrus to tap dance. It's a complete waste of time and money. And most students fall into that middle category. I assume this ridiculous educational system is a legacy from a day when generic mental training was good enough for just about any job. 

In our modern world, would it make more sense to teach B students something useful, such as entrepreneurship? 

My response to that post, "If they let me design the math curriculum", still works for me, perhaps even more so given the NY Times editorial:

I've talked to a number of adults who, like me, are fairly well convinced that they could not graduate from high school today given the "rigorous" math curriculum requirement. And I am sure the majority of the legislators and business leaders who think four years of math is essential for every student couldn't either.

But as I think about it, four year of math is a great idea - we just need to start teaching the right kind of math - consumer math. 

In my school days, "consumer math," was a euphemism for dummy math. You can't hack algebra or trig, Consumer Math class is for you. Ironically, today's graduate needs "consumer math" a heck of a lot more than trigonometry. In such a course I would include:

  • Calculating interest rates on credit cards and other consumer loans.
  • How to do your own income tax returns - state and federal.
  • Determining both the rate of return and maintenance cost on mutual funds and other investments.
  • Reading and interpreting statistics in the media.
  • How to spot a Ponzi scheme (or how to run one).
  • Applied statistics: chance of wining the lottery, odds of paying higher taxes because you make over $250,000, likelihood of inheriting a large sum of money when none of your relatives is rich, etc..
  • Creating a personal budget and retirement plan.
  • Understanding the current federal, state and local tax codes and determining the percentage of total income paid by different levels of income earners.
  • Doing cost/benefit comparisons of medical, life, health, car, and home insurance policies.
  • Converting measurements from metric to English - applied especially to medications.
  • The fundamentals of entrepreneurship (as Adams suggests above.)
  • And just a dose of bullshit literacy for good measure.

Oh, speaking of math skills, here is a sure fire way of knowing one has slipped into geezerdom. At the used book store recently, I gave the clerk a 20 dollar bill and a one dollar bill to pay for my $5.35 purchase. (Have you noticed that older used books are now selling for more than their original cover price?) Anyway, the clerk said she would have to just make change from the $20 since dealing with two bills was too complicated. She did relent after she checked (on a calculator) that my mentally calculated estimate of $15.65 in change was indeed accurate.

My immediate reaction: "Why aren't today's schools teaching kids to make change?"  50% of all criticisms leveled at schools would be eliminated if we simply taught kids how make change - every year, right through college. Spoken like a true geezer, huh?

OK, folks, when will educators find the courage to wrest control of curriculum out of the hands of the politicians and departments of education and put it back where it belongs - in individual schools? Complaining in the teachers' lounge and on echo chamber blogs isn't helping. Attending any political forums this fall to inform the candidates? Practicing willful, purposeful subversion? What?

Original post July 31, 2012