Seven Fallacies of Teaching Programming in K-12

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[See Harry’s related articles: Is Building Apps for Everyone?, Need More Software Engineers? Teach Thinking Skills Better, and  ‘Computer Science’ Contains Little or No Science. -Editor]

Many educators seem to be promoting the benefits and even the necessities of teaching computer science courses before high school graduation. I have not seen any of these people suggest which courses to eliminate to make room for this new course. Despite this, many suggest that computer science (mostly translates to computer programming) be a required subject.

I have seen some say that writing software should begin in kindergarten. Others decry its absence from middle schools. Finally, quite a few lobby for adding it to high school curricula. As you might expect, the origin of each is from practitioners in each. Exposure to the basic concepts of computers, what you might call the “nature of computing,” is a good idea, but the rising din of voices telling us to add computer programming classes throughout our public education system should be tempered by reality.

Much of the pressure comes from just a few arguments and assumptions. Most of these are fallacies. I list some below and explain them.

1. There is a huge job shortage and high demand for computer programmers.

This may be the most recurrent theme for those promoting computer programming in schools. There are two problems with this argument. Large businesses, the ones making the most noise, are inflating their numbers to further this bit of misinformation. Also, the numbers do not indicate the level of programming skill required for these jobs.

The reason for the inflation is simple: H1-B visas. By importing computer programmers from other countries, these huge companies can keep costs down in two ways. They pay those H1-B programmers very low wages. You’ll find the workers sharing small two-bedroom houses with as many as ten people in them. Secondly, low wages for the immigrants help to keep wages of our citizens low as well.  Continue reading

Free Reading and eReaders Can Raise Achievement

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

In Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post blog, Answer Sheet, guest writer Joanne Yatvin, in “Why Kids Should Choose Their Own Books to Read in School” (8 Sep. 2014), makes an impassioned defense of reading for pleasure. Yatvin is “a one time Principal of the Year in Wisconsin and a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English.” In today’s test-driven school climate, free reading has been replaced with reading that focuses on developing test-taking skills. Yatvin says, “Consumed by the urgency to raise students’ reading scores, policy makers and school officials have forgotten that children learn to read by reading.” She goes on to talk about balanced literacy and the benefits of independent reading.

Reading such as that needed for academic work and test taking definitely has a place in schools. Students develop analytical skills by reading for details. However, reading for pleasure and being able to choose your own reading materials also has a place in the classroom. Pleasure reading, also called extensive reading, promotes learner autonomy; improves general language competence, not just reading skills; helps students develop general knowledge; promotes vocabulary growth; helps improve writing; and motivates students to read more.

These claims are supported by research in literacy and in second language acquisition. One of the strongest proponents of free voluntary reading is Dr. Stephen Krashen who sees the importance of light reading as a bridge to more challenging reading. He also contends that not only does reading improve reading skills, it is also necessary for developing good writing skills.  Continue reading

Out of School STEM Learning Summit: National Academy of Sciences

By Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Associate Editor

What I liked about this summit was that it was representative of various places in the US and very diverse. It was interesting that all of the researchers used terminologies that even I did not know, but I learned during the process.

This seminar was basically on extended-learning projects and outside organizations that aim to further STEM education. The authors call these joint efforts “STEM learning ecosystems,” and they can deepen student understanding and engagement and broaden access to a well-rounded education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I had to get used to the terminology and wondered if people who are interested would be scared away by the eduspeak. I think people at the Summit heard the terms often enough to finally be comfortable with “learning ecosystems.”

I looked online because I still, at the end of the day, did not have a fluid understanding of ecosystem in this context. This is what I found that may be helpful so you don’t have to puzzle the term.

They share this common term: Learning Ecosystem.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

After school programs come in many varieties. Since we were dealing with understanding of a variety of groups, museums, networks and other providers, I thought that the diagram above would aid understanding.  Continue reading

Cyberlearning Summit 2014: A Quick Recap

VicSutton80By Vic Sutton

[Note: See Bonnie Bracey Sutton’s report. -Editor]

There is reportedly a wealth of research being conducted unto cyberlearning, but there are no clear views about how to translate research results into action in the community context, in particular for schools or informal education.

This emerged from the recent Cyberlearning Summit held in Madison, Wisconsin, on 9-10 June 2014, which brought together some 200 participants — mostly academics, plus some educators, industry representatives and grant makers — to highlight “advances in the design of technology-mediated learning environments, how people learn with technology, and how to use cyberlearning technologies to effectively shed light on learning.”

Bonnie's photos

There was no discussion about quite what cyberlearning is, but it appears to be a fancy name for on-line learning.

The meeting was organized by the Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning (CIRCL), funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and featured a number of eminently qualified speakers.

Yasmin Kafai, from the University of Pennsylvania, reminded participants of the remark by the late Steve Jobs that “everybody in this country should learn to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.”  Continue reading

Unite or Die

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

For at least two centuries, education has been divided up into separate compartments. In most recent educational history, the so-called core compartments or “subjects” have been social studies, English (now known as English language arts or ELA), mathematics, and science. Along side these have been physical education and a number of other artistic or artisan activities such as music, drama, art, and woodworking.

A great number of educators have noticed that this separation has made less and less sense as time has passed. Similar issues exist within these disciplines. For example, my own area of science was divided up long ago into physics (the original natural philosophy encompassing motion, light, and other physical phenomena such as electricity and magnetism), chemistry (changes in matter), and biology (study of living things that was mostly limited to classification in its earliest days). Biology has changed enormously and now no longer depends on classification. Understanding chemistry requires plenty of physics and often heavy-duty mathematics. And so it goes.

If we are to educate our youth, we must break down the artificial barriers between the compartments formed so long ago. They make little sense these days.

For example, mathematics and science are kept separate in our schools, and their teachers are trained separately. Yet, mathematics, as taught in grades K-12, is mostly applied mathematics at its heart. It was created for commerce, engineering, and surveying. Calculus was created for science. These connections are lost in most mathematics courses. Once you’ve learned to count, that is, learned the names of the numbers, the rest follows logically as you begin to figure out the world around you. Were science and math merged into a double-period class, it could make much more sense to students — especially if engineering is included in science, and commerce is included in math.  Continue reading

GIS Helps School District Extend Facilities Management Beyond the Physical Plant

By Jim Baumann
Esri Writer

The Garland Independent School District (GISD) is located in north-central Texas, adjacent to Dallas. The district encompasses approximately 100 square miles and serves the Dallas suburb cities of Garland, Rowlett, and Sachse. With an enrollment of about 58,000 students, it is the thirteenth-largest school district in the state of Texas.

The GISD has a “district of choice” policy. This policy allows parents to choose where their children will attend school, based on established criteria for ethnic balance. Annually, the district has a one-month selection period for both secondary and elementary schools. Once the selection period ends, the district’s Student Services department begins the process of assigning students to campuses based on building capacity, grade-level capacity, and seat availability. Other criteria, including campus demographic data, are considered before making the final decision on school placement.

To help with student travel and support the district of choice policy, the district’s GIS (geographic information system) department developed a Flex application for distance routing. With this application, officials can determine the location of a student’s home and local schools within the immediate vicinity.

Converting AutoCAD Files to Geospatial Data

Garland maintains 7 high schools, 12 middle schools, 47 elementary schools, and 2 pre-K schools, as well as a number of administrative offices and special use facilities. Managing these facilities for compliance with governing standards, current use, past maintenance data, and potential renovation or remodeling projects became increasingly difficult, and it was decided that an automated system was needed to prepare plans and data for quick and easy access.

For several years, the district used Autodesk’s AutoCAD for facilities management. The district’s AutoCAD facilitator, Kelli Daughtry, was responsible for converting all paper drawings into AutoCAD and maintaining facility floor plans during the district’s $385 million bond program. Approximately four years ago, the facilities department began implementing a GIS to be used in conjunction with AutoCAD. The district retains all facility floor plans in AutoCAD while using GIS to provide easy access to site plans, floor plans, room numbers, and data referenced to them.  Continue reading

Understanding the Brain, Flipped Teaching, Suicide Prevention, Common Core Shifts


University of Chicago MOOCing in a big way… a free MOOC, Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life (Coursera), begins on April 28. According to Hannah Nyhart and Steve Koppes, “enrollment for [the] course has reached 27,000 and climbing” (“Neurobiology Online Course to Attempt World’s Largest Memory Experiment,” Medical Press, 4/23/14). Last fall, the university’s Asset Pricing MOOC enrolled 41,000 and Global Warming, 15,000.

Getting What You Pay For? A Look at America’s Top-Ranked Public Universities (ACTA, April 2014) is available for download. Here’s a quote from the 75-page document: “In a 2013 survey of over 300 employers, 93% of the executives responded that critical thinking, clear communication skills, and problem solving ability are more important to them than the undergraduate major. A majority called upon colleges to put more emphasis on writing, science, and mathematics, and over 40% called for greater emphasis on foreign language proficiency” (8). If you’ve been following studies such as this, you’re probably thinking, So what else is new. Seems the year is interchangeable, with the results remaining constant.

In an email conversation earlier this morning re this ACTA report, Harry Keller said, “At least in K-12 education, we should … merge these into a single curriculum that reaches into ELA, math, and science and that uses, as necessary, art, engineering, history, etc.” I agreed with Harry. The separation of subjects to fit schooling is unnatural. In the real world, they’re all part of a whole. Teachers have tried team teaching and interdisciplinary approaches to simulate an integrated approach, but these are always awkward and, IMHO, not sustainable. The integration has to be within the teacher. The implication for schools is flipped teaching — instead of teaching from the inside (classroom) out, they would be teaching from the outside (real world) in. This would also mean a whole new breed of teachers, with significant background in the arts and sciences as well as skill in bringing the different disciplines together in seamless learning activities in a way that’s similar to the project-learning approach.

Engaging College Students in Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention (Kognito and Active Minds)… “a free one-hour webinar to discuss best practices for engaging and training students in gatekeeper skills” and suicide prevention. Scheduled for Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM EDT. A second webinar is scheduled for Fri, May 2, 2014, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT. Hopefully they’ll include a segment on detecting the need for help among students enrolled in online courses.

The Most Challenging Instructional Shifts in the CCSS for English/Language Arts (Education Week)… a free webinar with an emphasis on changing the way students think as well as instruction and administration. “Four of the most challenging shifts” are: Emphasis on Academic Vocabulary, Complex Text, Close Reading, and Greater Emphasis on Informational Text. Scheduled for May 1, 2014, 2 to 3 p.m. ET. As an online teacher, I’ve learned that the ability to read, correctly interpret, remember, and apply textual information is the most important skill for students in online classes.

Flipping Without Flopping: A Three-Year Study. Real Results (Echo 360)… a free webinar. Two separate sessions, May 8 for US/Europe at 11am EDT and May 14 for ANZ/Asia at 11am AEST. Review the research.

Proposal for a Holistic Emphasis in K-12

Bob Hoffmann80aBy Bob Hoffmann*

[Note: This article was written in response to Harry Keller’s “Acronym in Cheek: STEM, STEAM…” (11/11/13). -Editor]

Thanks for your insightful article.

This exact question was presented as New Business Item (NBI) #43 to the delegates of the National Education Association (NEA) Representative Assembly (RA) in terms of “ways to integrate the arts into STEM.” The Vocational, Career, and Technical Educators’ Caucus (of which I am a past-chair) looked into the claims by supporters of the “Put the Arts into STEM” (STEAM) initiative and found that the motion would give an NEA endorsement to massive changes in our courses. We organized an effective response, which defeated the motion among the 9000+ delegates.

The STEAM Initiative advocates claimed that “art is used everywhere in STEM,” from the Fibonacci series in math and nature to the “Harmony of the Spheres” of the solar system orbits, from design in architecture to the “form factor of the iPad in your hands.” We should certainly recognize that this is true in specific historical cases, yet our challenge now is to encourage similar innovations from our students, keeping in mind that such grand new ideas are the exception, not the rule.

The maker of the proposal, Mr. Tom McLaughlin, identified the source of many of their arguments for STEAM as a book by Robert S. and Michele M. Root-Bernstein titled Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People. While the authors clearly support the integration of creative thinking skills with the arts, the inverse does not seem to hold — that students must learn the arts to become creative thinkers.  Continue reading

The Finnish Education System May Not Be the Answer to Our Woes

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Pasi Sahlberg1 talked about the Finnish comprehensive public education system at the University of Hawaii at West Oahu on 14 November 2013 (Essoyan2). The system ranks among the highest in the world in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and other international tests. It is free for students from preschool through higher education and is considered a model for the rest of the world.

Pasi Sahlberg at the University of Hawaii at West Oahu on 11/14/13.

Pasi Sahlberg at the University of Hawaii at West Oahu on 11/14/13.

Features of the system have been widely covered for years3, so I won’t go into them. What’s worth highlighting in Sahlberg’s talk at West Oahu, however, is his caveat that “‘what works in Finland doesn’t necessarily work someplace else.'” In other words, we can’t and shouldn’t simply port Finnish practices over to the U.S. and hope for the same results.

Sahlberg presented “slides showing that the more unequal the distribution of wealth in a country, the lower the test scores tend to be.” The United States, he said, “has high inequality and relatively low academic performance, while the reverse is true for Finland.” According to Sahlberg, the U.S. is “‘one of the most unequal countries in the developed world. There is a big gap between those who have and don’t have.'” He characterized Finland as a lot more egalitarian. “‘Somehow,'” he said, “‘the equity and excellence go hand in hand'” (Essoyan).  Continue reading

Is the LEAD Commission Right About Education Technology?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

The Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission was created in March 2012 and is co-chaired by Lee Bollinger (President of Columbia University), Jim Coulter (Co-Founder of TPG Capital), Margaret Spellings (Former Secretary of Education) and Jim Steyer (CEO of Common Sense Media). – from “Paving a Path Forward.”

The LEAD Commission1 has published a five-point plan for a national technology initiative. The points are:

  1. Solve the infrastructure challenge by upgrading the wiring of our schools.
  2. Build a national effort to deploy devices
  3. Accelerate the adoption of digital curriculum
  4. Embrace and encourage model schools
  5. Invest in human capital

Little Red School House Plugged

These are great-sounding goals, especially given the state of today’s technology and the poor learning opportunities in too many of our schools. Due to a recession and extensive government budget cuts, our country’s entire infrastructure continues to deteriorate. There’s much to do here, but are these the right goals, and are they properly articulated? Let’s take them one at a time2.


Having visited a great many schools across the country, I can sympathize with the wiring issues. In many classrooms, a complete class of 30 or so students cannot operate with the wireless access available and have reasonable response times. Frequently, this problem results because of a “computer cart” with an inexpensive router that cannot handle the traffic. Sometimes, it’s the building’s central routing hardware. Occasionally, it’s the school’s connection to the Internet.

I’ve seen cases and heard of more where the problem is that a school’s administrative load on the bandwidth swamps the educational access. Most schools have provided a priority to administrative access and left teachers and students in a second-class position with respect to Internet bandwidth. This seems to be a reversal of priorities in this writer’s opinion.  Continue reading

Technology Bang for Buck

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

A recent article1 from the Center for American Progress analyzes data from NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The summary bullet points seem reasonable enough.

  • Students often use technology for basic skills.
  • States are not looking at what sort of outcomes they are getting for the technology spending.
  • Students from disadvantaged neighborhoods are less likely to have access to more rigorous STEM-learning opportunities.edtech03

The explanations may veer widely from rational thought. After explaining that the first point means that technology is used more for drill than for real learning, the report goes on to address science classes and STEM education.

Our analysis showed that 73 percent of students, for example, reported regularly watching a movie or video in science class. By contrast, far fewer students used computers in their science classes — just 66 percent of students reported regularly using a computer in science class.

What’s wrong with movies? Some are excellent explanations and visualizations of natural phenomena, far better than a lecture by the typical science teacher. On the other hand, is using a computer in science class synonymous with better learning? I’d say not. It’s entirely dependent on the software being used. These statistics say nothing about the quality of education.  Continue reading

The Winds of Change Blow Young: K-12 Reform

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Got up this morning and ipadded the local news. A Microsoft store is opening at 11AM today in the Ala Moana Center (Honolulu). This news is interesting, but not half as much as the buzz generators.

A crowd of mostly the young gathered the night before to be among the first to enter and win concert tickets. How did they hear about it? According to Jenn Branstetter, a Microsoft social media team member, via the corporation’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Microsoft Store Facebook page.

Microsoft Store Facebook page.

Microsoft Store Twitter page.

Microsoft Store Twitter page.

And the concert tickets? They’re for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Their song, “Thrift Shop,” is at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. How did it get there? YouTube, where it has had 340 million views and counting. Neon Trees will also perform.

So, what does this have to do with change in education? A lot, that is, if we’re really paying attention. First is that we may need to shift our eyes and ears to our children, our students. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — the media associated with this Microsoft event — are all social media. And all are easily accessible via their smartphones.

Continue reading

Sugata Mitra, MOOCs, and Minimally Invasive Education

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Sugata Mitra, winner of the 2013 TED Prize, reminds us that, as educators, we may be so consumed by teaching that we ignore learning, that there’s a fundamental difference between teaching-centered and learning-centered. Mitra is his own best model for his vision of education, or SOLE, for self-organized learning environment. SOLE is a more formal school-based version of Mitra’s earlier hole-in-the-wall (HIW) street learning environment. Both, however, are grounded in his theory of minimally invasive education (MIE).

Mitra is, by training, a physicist, but by temperament, a self-organized learner. The heart of his gift is curiosity, and his scientific training provides the rest. He didn’t begin by studying teaching. Instead, he studied learning. He placed a web-connected computer in a kiosk in a Delhi slum, left it on, invited children to play with it, stepped away, and watched. The question, simply stated, was: Can students learn without teachers?

Hole in the wall

He was amazed to learn that, yes, they can. They learn individually and in small groups, and they teach one another what they have learned. Out of his observations, he drew implications, and the most important is that both teachers and computers are technologies, or media for learning. That is, children can learn from either or both. With this awareness, he realized that in cases where schools and teachers are scarce or unavailable, computers could suffice. The question that remained, however, was: What does this mean, if anything, for traditional models of learning that rely on schools and teachers?  Continue reading

An Online Physical Education Class

[Note: The following was first posted in the ETCJ listserv on 25 March 2013. It was prompted by a discussion in the WCET listserv on “a new online theater course” earlier that morning. -Editor]

It can actually be surprisingly easy to create effective online courses in the “trouble” areas. More than a decade ago the school I directed had an online physical education class. People would pooh-pooh it as ridiculous, and then after I described the content, they would usually say, “Wow! Can I take it?”

A lot of the course was academic, teaching concepts related to fitness. Students started the class with a fitness test. They set goals for improving their fitness, and they set a personal path toward those goals. It was possible that no two students would be doing the same activities. They had periodic tests along the way to check their progress, and they then adjusted their goals and their plans appropriately. There was a final test to see how they had met their goals, and they had to write a reaction and a self-evaluation. What they ultimately learned was how to apply principles of physical fitness to their lives for the rest of their lives.  Continue reading

Don’t Blame Teachers for the Poor State of STEM

[The following is a response to colleagues’ comments, in ETCJ’s staff listserv, re the need for change in the way science is traditionally taught. The discussion was spurred by the 2 Feb. 2013 report, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence,” by the Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission. -Editor]

You have to remember, I got thrown out of schools for doing all of the things that we talk about that are going to be the future. I worked with the White House. The principal called me in and said, “You can’t do this technology stuff in Arlington Schools if you want to stay.” That was not a choice to me. Teachers who did what they were told are still probably working. I was not what the schools wanted, an innovator using technology. You are preaching to the wrong person.

I can’t demonstrate my skills right now. I don’t have a place to do it. Tracy Learning Center in Tracy, CA, is where I worked to help establish advocacy. My benefactor died.

Nysmith School in Herndon, VA, and a few other schools and projects do what I love. NCLB took the steam out of STEM, the science out of the classroom, and the focus away from what was called SMET, now STEM. NCLB took me out of the classroom. I will always remember the discussion.

I was with people who are STEM evangelists in the Nysmith School, which I visited in the NIIAC times. We as a council visited the school back then. Both of the schools are not mainstream. Tracy School is a charter school, K-12, mostly minority kids, very minority. Because the school has a longer day, with another month in the school year, it has to be a charter school. We had a plan.  Continue reading

More Than Morale at Stake: Teachers in the U.S. Need to Take the Lead

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

(On 21 Feb. 2013, Bonnie Bracey Sutton, ETCJ associate editor, shared Valerie Strauss’s “U.S. Teachers’ Job Satisfaction Craters — Report” [Washington Post, 21 Feb. 2013] in our staff listserv. In response, I posted the following comment, which I’ve revised for this publication. -js)

Thanks, Bonnie, for sharing these stats. With teacher morale so low, the outlook for U.S. schools is bleak. For me, the elephant in the room is the impact of poverty. As a nation, we can’t continue to blame teachers for the consequences of poverty. We can’t expect them to resolve the causes of poverty. This is and always has been a social issue — not a pedagogical one.

What’s the answer?

For me, reading between the numbers, it means we ought to stop pushing highstakes testing and the common core. We need to allow teachers to do their job. They’re trained to determine where their students are and where they could be in terms of their classes, and for each student and each class, the profiles vary widely. This “diagnosis” is not only academic. In many if not most cases, it includes affective factors. Thus for variable portions of their classes, the teacher’s challenge may be motivation, attitude, rather than academics. For example, in writing instruction, the hurdle may be pull rather than push. How to attract students to writing may be the primary question — not how to push them toward earning higher scores on a standardized test that purports to measure writing competence.

To generate pull, teachers may decide to put their red pencils down and work with the language that students bring from their homes and neighborhoods. It may not be pretty in terms of common core standards, but it’s the reality. Preliminary goals may be to simply get students to enjoy writing and sharing their interests and concerns, in their most intimate and affective language. Giving them personally meaningful reasons for learning to write may be the fundamental pull that’s necessary to gradually incorporate the pushing of our beloved standards. We must find ways to recognize and reward teachers who are able to pull, to motivate, to change attitudes rather than simply move the needle in standardized tests.  Continue reading

What Happens to Schools and Teachers in the Digital Age?

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

The purpose of schools is to transfer the skills, knowledge and history of one generation to the next. In the past this was most often done through apprenticeships. About five thousand years ago writing of the spoken word was developed. This allowed mankind to transfer knowledge over both time and space. The printed records in books and libraries transferred information across generations and across geographic boundaries.

Learners had to develop moral, literacy, scientific and most importantly self-government qualities and skills if they were to serve as citizens in a modern scientific participatory democratic society.


For many years knowledge was transferred via apprenticeships. With the printing press and libraries modern schools could be developed where learners came together with teachers to learn in a classroom in a school. Knowledge and history were stored and retrieved via books and libraries. Teachers guided learners through the books. The apprenticeship model of learning gave way to classrooms and teachers. Learners were brought together in classrooms within schools to be guided by teachers through the stored knowledge of the society. In the 20th century learners could be gathered together and guided through the knowledge and experience retrieved from books and libraries.

In recent history, films, videos and computers have supplemented books as the storehouse of human experiences and knowledge. In the last few years the digital age has transformed the way we store and retrieve all information. As print on paper has been transferred to the digital format we now have vast libraries of full motion color videos, printed materials and even interactive simulations accessible to the learner. A student studying World War II can not only read about the speeches of Churchill and Roosevelt, but they can see and hear them. They can see videos of the battles and in addition they have access to fictional movies about the war. In addition, there are German and Japanese primary resources available.  Continue reading

Failed Expectations: The Problem of P-12 Online Programs

The teacher was stunned. His online Advanced Placement English students, students from many different participating schools, had just turned in their first writing assignment. Many of them showed the high quality expected from AP students, but some were terrible. The students showed little understanding of the topic, and their writing skills were abysmal. He contacted their schools to see what he could learn about those students.

He learned that the students who had done so poorly had never done well in English classes in their lives — some had never passed a single one. Some were second language students who struggled to read and write English at all. What on Earth were they doing in AP English? In all the cases, the guidance counselors had decided that the students had no chance of passing a regular English class so they decided the new online AP English class was just the ticket. It was an online class so it had to be easy.

In successful educational experiences, all parties involved approach the experience with realistic expectations. Students assume that with reasonable effort they will pass the class. Teachers expect students will work within the rules, the curriculum will be appropriate, their administrative duties will make reasonable demands on their time, and they will be compensated for their work at an acceptable level. Administrators expect students and faculty will complete all required tasks on time.

In the traditional school system, this works pretty well since, after thousands of years of classroom evolution, everyone knows what to expect. In P-12 online education, however, even veterans are still trying to figure out how it works.

The model used in many P-12 online programs throughout the world is very different from what has gone before. In many of the most common models, a school district either sets up a small online program using some of its own staff teaching online courses or outsources some or all of the courses to an outside vendor. In the case when an outside vendor is used, the vendor’s teachers will have students simultaneously in a number of schools and even a number of states. This model brings the advantage of pooling students in low enrollment classes and allowing them to take classes that would otherwise not be available to them. In this early stage of its development, though, it also brings on problems that spring from the unrealistic expectations of its participants. When reality and expectations do not agree, problems are sure to follow.

The most common problem is the one cited above — just about everyone seems to think online courses are easy. When students, guidance counselors, and parents enter a challenging online program with the expectation that they are getting a free ride, the consequence is educational disaster. But that is not the only example of unrealistic expectations in online education. The mismatch between expectation and reality often occurs at every level of participation.   Continue reading

Are Schools Ready for Today’s Five-Year Olds?

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

Over the Christmas Season I have had the opportunity to spend some time with my great grand children. It makes me wonder if schools and teachers are ready for today’s digital kids. Alina, my almost five great granddaughter, is fluent in both English and Spanish. I might also say she manages my dog better than either Anne or I do. She commands and George follows. Therefore she must also speak dog.

However, what is more impressive is her command of her iPad. She told me my iPad was old fashion since it did not have a camera. So much for being the first to have a technology. She demonstrated for me her favorite programs on her iPad that can take pictures. She knew what she wanted to show me and how well she could use her favorite games and stories.

ipad hands2

She likes my Eloise stories on my website because they are in both English and Spanish. She also likes an art program and she draws very good pictures with it.

Her three year old sister is comfortable with the iPad if not the Master user. She did not look down on my iPad but found some of my artwork of cartoon characters that she found delightful.

Both little girls were completely at home with the technology and by the time they reach preschool will be Masters of the iPad. Alina wants Anne and dog George to visit her at her  home. I am assuming she would welcome the old man also. She was able to locate, using the GPS, the directions from our house to hers. So we have no reason not to visit them.

They got a set of engineering building blocks for Christmas, and they build several structures with Uncle Bill on the living room floor. There were illustrated plans, which Alina followed.

My kids and grandkids like to play Scrabble and have bitter challenges that they look up in the old faithful unabridged dictionary. Scrabble yes, dictionary no. It gathered dust on the side table. Challenges were immediately looked up in their iPhone dictionaries.

We have a German made vacuum cleaner that needed a new bag. The kids immediately found three stores in the area on their iPhones. The GPS system on their iPhone directed them to the store for replacements.

The little girls also played matching games on their iPad.

I must ask the question: Are preschool teachers and schools ready for iPad five year old experts? The digital world belongs to them. It is their second nature.

The Sad State of Teaching Thinking in Our Nation’s Schools

[Note: This article is a response to Harry Keller’s “Need More Software Engineers? Teach Thinking Skills Better” (ETCJ 11.29.12). -Editor]

I usually do not disagree with Harry. But I can tell him that he has no idea of the weaknesses of math and science in the grades where students begin to think about careers, hobbies and joining clubs. Education is a voyage of discovery. Some people never invest out of boredom or inadequate opportunity. They may be seduced by the media, but for things other than education and learning.

We also live in a world that supports entertainment and sports over academic performances for the most part. We glorify sports at all levels and also the entertainment industry most of which is very shallow. The news hardly reflects anything of importance of a thinking nature.

Education is like fashion. It depends on the whim of the politicians in Washington and the local school leaders. And there is no punishment for mistakes like those of the No Child Left Behind era when those of us who were teaching thinking-based learning were pushed into using test-based evaluation and modifying anything innovative, creative or science-based.

I went to Catholic schools where we were tested in the beginning of the year and the end of the year so the legacy of who was teaching well or not teaching well stopped at the source, the teachers from grades 1-to-8 who did the work and did the teaching.We did not have PE or science. I hate it that I missed the opportunity to grow into loving science until after my formal training. Thank god for museums and museum educators and courses for teachers. I had the Smithsonian as a learning playground.

We have in the US this testing that purports to measure a whole year and it starts in midyear, February in many instances, when in fact there are chapters and levels of knowledge still to be taught. I have been told that the statistics make up for the fact that we have not taught subject x, but I do not believe it.  Continue reading