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Tuesday
Oct112005

Does Size Matter?

Hah, made you look. Now get your mind out of the gutter and back on educational matters.

Education has been debating the merits of both small class size and small school size for some years. Small has its advantages.

The debate I never hear revolves around smaller school district sizes.

Here’s my proposal – no districts larger than 10,000 students.

Now I say this based on my own experiences, of course. Mankato at about 7,000 kids seems to be the perfect size. A school board that is non-political and easily reached by parents, teachers and the community. We’re an organization without many bureaucratic layers – anybody can visit with the superintendent without a hassle. As a district administrator, I know all the other administrators, all the media specialists and techies, and a majority of the teachers. Communication is flat and speedy.

Yet we are big enough to support some administrative specialists - curriculum director, assessment coordinator, Title I director, special education director, and, of course, a technology and media director. Folks who all actually provide direct help to classroom teachers.

I’ve worked with “gianormous” districts, doing inservices and training. And while the leaders I’ve worked in those districts are terrific people, I simply don’t know how they are able to manage, let alone manage change. These mega-districts have hundreds of administrators, librarians and techies, and thousands of teachers. Responsibilities get put in silos, communication gets tough, and bureaucracy sets in.

The little joke below seems to apply not just to “government” but any large organization – public or private.

Governmentium has one neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.

A tiny amount of Governmentium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would normally take less than a second.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of four years; it does not decay but instead it undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to speculate that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypocritical quantity is referred to as “Critical Morass.” You will know it when you see it.

 


When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element which radiates just as much energy since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons. From “The Dull Men’s Club” website

Smaller organizations tend to be flatter organizations with better communication, more personal accountability, and greater likelihood of change. I really don’t know the advantage to kids, parents, teachers or a community of the mega-district.

So what about it readers, what’s the ideal district size or does size make a difference when it comes to student performance? Any fans of the huge school districts?

An aside: When I was first looking for a job in Minnesota, I tried to get hired by a school in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area – big city action, glamour, fame and power, right? When I wound up down here near Mankato, I thought I got the booby-prize.

As it turns out, I got the grand prize. The Mankato area (45-50,000 population) has been a terrific place to raise kids and live without traffic and other urban hassles. I know both the mayor and city manager. We have 95% of the shopping and entertainment one could hope for. We have a state university here. And we are about an hour and a half from Minneapolis so it’s easy to take advantage of the cultural events up there.

Funny sometimes how you get what you really wanted even if at the time you didn’t know that you wanted it.

 

Monday
Oct102005

SUDs, BUAs, ID-10T errors and IDS

As a member of the AAAAA (American Association Against Acronym Abuse), I am reluctant to title a blog entry like the one above. But it fits.

Last week seemed to bring out vents, both on the LM_Net listserv as well as around our district about incompetent technology users. One person wrote to LM_Net, “Does anyone get as frustrated as I do of these teachers that can’t hook up a simple VCR????????????” (No question marks added from the original post.)

Ah, we “superior” technology users (those who have learned to do a thing 15 minutes ahead of the rest of the pack), have a number of pet names and terms for those who struggle with the simplest technology trouble-shooting skills. Here are a few:

  • BUAs. (Beyond User’s Abilities)
  • SUDs (Stupid User Dysfuntion
  • ID-10t error (spell it ID10T)


Linda De Vore from Arizona writes:

I have a Geech comic strip that I found in the newspaper years ago and which I shared with my tech department. It goes like this: A television repairman is writing up his bill and the owner asks, “What was wrong with it?” The repairman answers, “A mis-configuration of the power circuit.” Owner replies, “What’s that?” The repairman responds, “It’s what sounds less stupid than saying it was unplugged.” So, now whenever I have to go to a classroom and find that the problem is as simple as something not being plugged in, when I leave I tell them that “it was a mis-configuration of the power circuit.” They go “Huh!” I smile and I leave.

I call this inability of otherwise competent people to use technology “IDS” (Intelligence Deficit Syndrome) It’s a condition often brought about by a poorly designed user interface. My column Intelligence Deficit Syndrome from November 2000 explores this condition in more detail.

Personally, I think we (as librarians or techies) can capitalize on symptoms of IDS, by being both sympathetic and empathetic. As I wrote in the above column, “Good teachers have always known the difference between ignorance (a perfectly respectable, correctable state) and stupidity (a regrettable condition for which a cure is unlikely). An empathetic approach recognizes the difference and allows the learner to learn without feeling diminished. And that is important for both kids and adults.”

So, your terms for IDS, SUD, etc? And more importantly, how do you deal with the condition when it occurs?

By the way, my own symptoms of IDS have only grown over the years, not decreased. I now have a toothbrush that has to be programmed!

 

 _____________________________

Previous comments:


There are a couple of terms that I’ve heard used that you didn’t mention:
e-tard and loose nut behind the control panel

I think you are exactly right - in dealing with folks who are not so technology literate we have to be both empathetic and symapthetic.

Comment by Mary Woodard — October 10, 2005 @ 11:59 am

I miss silly things when troubleshooting technology just enough to never be judgemental about anyone else. Like when we had a few computers last week not reaching the ‘Net and, after calling in the computer tech, one was found to not have its network cable in the port.

If I need to get something to work and am having trouble, all I have to do is admit it to someone and have him or her come over to take a look. The problem is usually solved while the person is walking over.

Thus, I have no problem being empathetic and sympathetic

Comment by Sara — October 10, 2005 @ 8:20 pm

My personal favorite is another Geech classic that it was a “PEBKAC” error. The Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair. I teach technology in a title 1 middle school and truly see both sides of the spectrum between the kids of families that can afford the technology and the kids whose families cannot.

Comment by Floyd — October 11, 2005 @ 9:41 am

While I’m living in the Bible Belt (and a wonderful community with about equal number of publishers of religious texts and pornographic bookstores), I simply can’t resist alluding to witchcraft when it comes to fixing technology. So many people used the phrase, “But I tried that and it didn’t work for me…” that I began pointing at electronic devices and telling them “it’s the nose.” If only I could twitch the nose like Elizabeth Montgomery and Nicole Kidman in the Bewitched movie. There is no logical explanation for why some things work when I touch the device and won’t for others. I use phrases like “the Risograph just missed me” or “the projector just needed some gentle touches.” When I was growing up the static was so extreme, that I could entertain my younger brothers by walking in front of the stereo and lighting up all the devices by waving at them. When people insist upon a logical response for an illogical situation, I’ve decided humor is my choice.

Comment by Diane Chen — October 11, 2005 @ 8:34 pm

Diane and others,

You might be interested in a “study” of X-file type behaviors of individuals having a strange influence over machines (usually bad) at http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/jinx.html

Doug

 

Sunday
Oct092005

Is AASL Sexist?

Yesterday’s closing session of the AASL conference featured “a panel of leading figures in the school library media field” - a statement that would be difficult to dispute. Steve Baule, Keith Curry Lance, Mike Eisenberg, Ross Todd, and Ferdi Serim are all well known and respected for their writings, research, and vision by most of us in the profession. And they are all MAWGs – Middle Age White Guys.

Hmmm, a strange demographic representing an organization and a field in which about 98% of the practitioners are smart, if not brilliant, women.

One can’t help but wonder if there is, ironically, and underlying sexism present in the choice of panelists when there was not even a “token” woman participating in the discussion, especially when there are so many gender-superior leaders in the field from whom to choose. Where were Joyce Valenza, Debbie Abilock, Barbara Stripling, Alice Yucht, Carol Kulthau, Toni Buzzeo, Carol Simpson, or any of the other dozens of women who are as widely published and visionary as the “guys” chosen to share their views?

Perhaps there is another, more subtle discrimination at hand as well. There was not a practicing librarian on stage. OK, the topic was “the latest research on student achievement and how school library media specialists can use it.” But wouldn’t you think that somebody from the trenches sharing how she has actually put the research into use or practice would have been of value to an audience of people who need to do this?

For a good old girls club, AASL is sending some pretty strange messages. Men have cred; women don’t. Academics are worth listening to; the practitioner ain’t.

Or, maybe the strategy was that a female audience would just like to see a bunch of hunky guys up there on stage.

Your thoughts?

 ______________________

5 Comments »
I agree - I thought it very odd that it was so male dominated, given that probably 90-95% of conference attendees were women. I was a little disappointed with the final session, to be honest - it was something of an anti-climax…

Comment by Claire — October 9, 2005 @ 3:12 pm

I agree. I missed the last program and, hearing that, I’m glad.

Comment by Faith Williams — October 9, 2005 @ 5:35 pm

I can see why each of the men were included; they each had a part of the “pie” that was our dessert after a many-coursed meal of a conference, but it was stunning to see a panel of all men walk up onto the stage. Before the program, I had read their names and looked forward to hearing from each but was really taken aback by the visual effect of having an all male panel. After all, I had just participated in workshops led by so many very intelligent women. Sitting with Joyce Valenza, Francey Harris, Debbie Abbilock and Doug Achterman, I was heartened (but not surprised; Doug is very astute) that he turned to me before the women did and expressed his immediate shock. And I’m also not surprised that you felt that way, too, Doug. Whew!

Comment by Sara — October 9, 2005 @ 5:54 pm

How about, in addition to the women mentioned, a panel with Vi Harada? Or Gail Dickinson? Just browse the AASL blog and names pop out at you.

Comment by Sara — October 9, 2005 @ 6:09 pm

Two thoughts:
1. Since the topic was *research* and the impact of school library programs, surely some of these names could/should have been on that panel: Carol Gordon, Susan Ballard, Jody Howard, Su Eckhardt, Annette Lamb, Connie Champlin, Nancy Miller, Nancy Everhardt, Marjorie Pappa, Hilda Weisburg, Diane Chen, Pam Berger …. and that’s just for starters!

2. Why do TPTB *end* the conference with such academic programs? Why not end with a rousing motivational pep-rally type program that sends us all back to work revved up and ready to do great things, rather than snoring through more serious speeches of sonorous statistics? We need cheerleaders, not suits up there!

Comment by Alice Yucht — October 9, 2005 @ 10:42 pm