Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Transparency in Congress

Jim Cramer is the host of the hot (what to do with your money) show called "Mad Money" on CNBC. He has taken interest in the ever popular Sirius/XM merger that has been held up in Congress for over a year now. He is baffled at the attention this merger is getting. So baffled, he started to do his own investigating as to why this merger is being shot down in Congress. Click here for the article. Congress claims that the merger would violate anti-trust issues and would create a monopoly. How can satellite radio be a monopoly, when the competition (terrestrial radio) is free? This doesn't even take into account the other competitors... Ipods and CD's. I pay $12.95 a month for a subscription to SSR, but still listen to terrestrial radio.

Jim Cramer does not own stock in either of these companies. In fact, he doesn't own any stock... for obvious reasons. He sees what is going on in Congress and is name dropping. Cramer is a true financial hero. He mentions many Congressmen that have their pockets filled with terrestrial radios money. He then reveals how the average person can find this information out for themselves. Using sights like opensecrets.org and opencongress.org , one can find out all contributors to Congress, bills being introduced and who voted for what.

The transparency of our government is shining through. Cramer suggests that the only person being hurt by the merger of Sirius and XM Radio is Terrestrial Radio. But, how much will this actually hurt them? TR is free! Congress states that the merger will eventually lead to the rise of prices for the service. But, SR has to keep their prices down because the competitor is free. So this is a non-issue.

If Congress is so worried about rising prices, why did they let the two most profitable oil companies merge in the late 90's?... Exxon/Mobile ... If Congress cares so much about the consumer, why did they let the two most profitable Washer and Dryer Companies merge in 2006?... Maytag/Whirlpool. Does congress think that these mergers are creating monopolies?

Cramer claims that this attention being focused on Sirius and XM is deliberate and is for the sole reason to bleed these companies dry. The ultimate goal is to have these two companies fight the issue until one folds. Congress can no longer hide in these situations. There will always be situations like this in the future. 20 years ago, this would go unnoticed to the public. Not today. Our world is increasingly getting more and more transparent. I love it. Until next blog...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Emphasizing the Process

Opening up my reader, I came across a great post by Carolyn Foote about what we celebrate.

" We celebrate the visible things, like winning teams or competitions, academic test scores, etc. But are we celebrating equally our daily academic successes? Are we celebrating lessons that work, transformative uses of technology tools to deepen understanding, a classroom that has struggled and is now finding its way intellectually?"

She definitely asks some great questions in this post. I added a somewhat wordy comment to her post which is below...

"Great Post. Celebrating the process almost never happens. We always reward and celebrate the final product. This happens as a theme in our society. What I have found to be successful…I explain to students “why” we are doing certain activities. I teach Science to 2-5 graders. Even with their young age, I feel that it is important not only to tell them “why” they are learning what they are learning, but “why” I am teaching the way I am teaching. Getting the students involved in my thought process begins to get them involved in the teaching process. Students begin to feel as if they are teachers also. They have an honest inside perspective as to the questioning aspect of teaching and learning. The process has been emphasized rather than the end product. The students have become more interested in how they learn as well as what they learn. Just as I question ideas, students are open to question ideas. Last week, a 5th grader decided to question “why” we were coming up with ideas to fix the beach erosion problem in Ocean City, MD, if Ocean City had already began fixing the problem. This began a 10 minute discussion with the class. Instead of sounding like a group of 5th graders talking about a topic, they sounded as if they were a group of environmental/geologic engineers discussing land conservation and ethics. It was a powerful 10 minutes. To sum things up…Until teachers make the process important, we will continue to celebrate the end product."

The entire education system is built around rewarding the final product. I believe we need to start getting honest with our students. Getting honest involves explaining "why" we are teaching the way we teach. Bring the students into the teaching process so they can own how they learn. The students can then question the process as well as the outcome. If something doesn't work, bring the students knowledge into the equation. Have the students come up with teaching ideas that they think will better enhance their learning. This sounds time consuming, but I think once the students understand their role in the learning and teaching process, real learning will bloom. Students in my science class have become more engaged in each lesson. I invite questions about the process. They dig that they have a voice. Until next blog...

Credits: Carolyn Foote's blog "Not So Distant Future" post What do We Celebrate?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Online Predators?

It brings evil images into ones head. When I hear the phrase, I automatically think of a middle-aged man sitting in his basement, waiting to spark up a conversation online with a child. Television shows like "To Catch a Predator", reveal that these are people that we may interact with every day.

This is a new report from American Psychologist, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

The report, Online ‘Predators’ and Their Victims: Myths, Realities and Implications for Prevention, sure does put a new twist into the definition of an online predator.

Many eye opening statistics are revealed in this report... You can read it for yourself.

This brings up the importance of education when it comes to children using the internet. How can we expect a child to make decisions about what information not to share online? This would be compared to sitting a child in the seat of a tractor, and telling them to plow a field without any knowledge of how the tractor operates. They would obviously make many mistakes before they figured it out. This is what we are doing with the children.

Online predators are not going anywhere. I'm sorry to say, but they are here to stay. As children continue to use tools online at an earlier age, these types of instances will continue to occur. If parents are not willing to educate their children about online relationships, someone has to. Is this the job of schools? I would argue that it may be.

I tend to integrate knowledge of online child participation into my science classes on a daily basis. We have conversations as to how to properly use the internet, what information is safe to give, and what information you should never give out. I lead by example, explaining to the students how I publish information online. I show them my blog, use wiki's, and speak of what is acceptable to publish. I explain the digital information trail that one leaves behind on the internet.

These are conversations that need to happen in schools. Until next blog...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Do Something About it

Are the majority of teachers happy with the public school system?

I ask myself this question periodically. As I talk to educators, I get the feeling that they don't enjoy their job. I make it a point to always ask teachers... "How's your day going". I usually get the response... "As good as it can go, I guess". I get the feeling that many teachers have no interest in what they do at school. They from time to time act as if they care... (like when they are at a meeting, talking to an administrator, or talking to a parent). It seems like a front that is put on for the people they need to answer to. I think it is interesting when teachers act different when someone "important" is in the room. What about the importance of the "students".

I hear teachers complain about testing, students, and the amount of work they do, but never see them doing anything about it. What are they doing to make their job easier and make more sense. Are teachers questioning the infamous "tests"? Are teachers finding new ways to create more time? Are teachers really understanding the issues of their students?
I don't have the answer, but would imagine that some teachers are doing these things. I get frustrated when I hear teachers that I like to call "the complainers". They always complain, but do nothing about it. They talk about how many years they have before they retire. They blame everything on the students and parents. They talk about students openly with other teachers in the lounge. They label students based on the test scores.

What happened today...
I came close to walking out of our staff meeting. We were sitting in groups. We were given 2 pieces of paper each... The test scores, grades, and interventions of 2 students (one 2nd grader and one 5th grader... names weren't included). The students both had decent grades, but horribly low test scores. We were told to basically figure out what was going on with these students. I was disgusted. I raised my hand and said... "the only information this paper tells me is that these students don't like taking tests". I went on to say... "There is no way to know what types of intervention will be needed unless you know the student". We continue to label. Students have become a set of numbers with no name. Of course, many teachers agreed. Why was I the only teacher that spoke up?

The real reason for the meeting...
Showing the teachers that some of us may not be teaching toward the test. Hey guys... "Don't teach to the test, but you have to teach to the test". I love the way administration tries to sugar coat everything. I do know one thing... you can cover a rotten egg with powdered sugar, but no matter how you swing it, it's still a rotten egg. This is how I feel about whats going on. We love to make everything look like it's alright, even though it's not. I thinks it time that we start calling a spade a spade. Do something about it. Until next blog...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why We Fight

I have been meandering off the education path lately. I can't help it... some things are just too important not to write about. They are all tied together anyway. I had the opportunity to watch this documentary yesterday.

We are told on a regular basis that we fight with other countries to save "Freedom". We are told that this fighting is necessary in order to keep our way of life in the United States.

This documentary notes many instances in the past 60 years that have built up our military to insure that we are the only Super Power in the World. From the bombing of Japan with Nuclear Warheads to the invasion of Iraq to eliminate terrorism. These actions could have easily been avoided. Japan tried to surrender for 6 months prior to the U.S. dropping the bombs. We didn't listen. We wanted to show how powerful we could be. We wanted to put fear in everyones thoughts. America can't and won't be messed with.

On September 11, 2001 we were attacked by terrorists. Instead of informing the American people as to "why" we were attacked, our government just blamed it on the evil-doers. No explanation... just, the evil doers don't like us because of our freedoms. The American people bought it. There was no mention of past alliances and actions that the U.S. government had with these people. There was no mention about how "we" built up the Taliban to fight the Russians, then left Afghanistan in ruins.

For 60 years the U.S. Government has had 1 underlying plan... To be the one and only Super Power on this Planet, by any means possible. We attack any Country that may be gaining power in the world, under the false pretense that we are trying to help them.

I guess Countries like Sudan are not a threat.

Adding Darfur to the Curriculum

On a daily basis, I enjoy reading about what other teachers are doing in the classroom. A fellow Tweeter has, with another teacher, raised the bar in the classroom. Mr. Mayo has initiated a project to help spread awareness of the genocide taking place in Darfur. He is inviting students from around the world to participate. Many Voices for Darfur is designed to make it easy for students around the world to participate in the 48 hour blog project. Comments will open at midnight eastern Standard time on March 6, 2008. As of right now, there are 3 teachers on board... Mr. Mayo , Mrs. Drexler , and Mr. Moses.
Mr. Mayo and Mrs. Drexler initiated the project with their third and eighth grade students.
A wiki has been created to help spread the word and organize thoughts. The wiki is quite informative, including resources and del.icio.us links to browse.


Being that our own Government has overlooked this crisis in the Sudan Region of Darfur, it is refreshing to see that there are teachers attacking the subject.

Google Earth image of Destroyed Villages in the Darfur Region

It's great to know that there are teachers spreading the word in a meaningful way. Our Government doesn't seem to care about the crisis, but it seems as though some teachers and students will let the world know.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

We Need Change

I don't affiliate myself with any political party. I am a registered voter. I feel that I don't want to be a part of the political slandering that both parties take part in. I have friends and family that back both parties. We do have interesting conversations.

I couldn't vote in the primary election in Maryland... I'm registered as an Independent. The more I learn about the candidates, the more I am heading in one direction with my vote in the general election.

Politics has gotten out of hand. Big businesses are merging uncontrollably, Church and State are becoming one, politicians are taking money for votes, and the Education system is falling behind. One of the biggest issues that I have been looking at with the upcoming election is... Who can bring change that makes sense. Experience has nothing to do with my choice. In fact, experience in Washington is something that our Country does not need. We do not need another person in the White House that knows every trick and treat in town. We don't need a President that is power hungry. We need a President that wants to unify our Nation.

Some people don't believe that there are 2 America's. I have 2 America's as my friends and family. People hear what they want to hear. I'm tired of the conservatives and liberals arguing over policies that have nothing to do with unifying our country. Religion shouldn't be an issue... Abortion shouldn't be an issue. Why would I vote for a President that is a certain religion? What does their religion do to qualify them to run the Nation? We need a President that can think with their brain and make decisions that make sense to the growth of our Nation. One candidate has proved themselves to me. Now I want to see if any others can even remotely compare to that candidate in the upcoming months. This should be interesting. Until next blog...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Challenging Class = Challenging Assignment

I have a particular 5th grade class that can't seem to get the "why" part of school. Many of the students are wrapped up in other issues not being school related. Today, about 10 minutes into class, they decided that they were not ready to have our open discussion about our Erosion Projects. I told them to get out a piece of paper. Their faces quickly cringed.
One student said, "What, do we have to write the rules"? I said, "Oh no, I wouldn't waste your valuable time in school doing an activity like that. We are going to do a meaningful writing assignment". The students said... "We"? I continued to explain to them that I will do the assignment along with them.
The assignment...
Answer the Question... Why am I here? I gave them no other direction. They had nothing but questions, in which I didn't answer. For the next 20 minutes we became one class with the goal to think and write about why we were here.
20 minutes later, I had composed a 5 page paper answering the question. I found that I really didn't have enough time to express everything that was on my mind. Many students were amazed that I actually did the assignment sitting right next to them at the table. They had never seen a teacher do this. I was proving a point. I wanted them to realize that we were all there for the same reasons... learning, collaborating, teaching, sharing, questioning, and reflecting.
I know that it will take a few students a little more time to realize "why" we are here. We have nothing but time.
We will be sharing our thoughts the next time they come to class. It should be interesting, and I will write about this again to update. It will interesting to see how many students write about the same topics in which I touched on. Until next blog...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Earth Hour

A powerful gesture. How can we bring awareness to our overuse of electric power? Take part in "Earth Hour". The people of Sydney, Australia came together along with many businesses last year to turn off their lights for 1 hour. The effect was a reduction of roughly 10% of the power use for that hour. This is quite a large number. If we could spread the word, imagine what we could do as a global society. This will be interesting to see.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

One Month...

I get real disturbed every year around this time. It's February. This is the time of year when everyone drops their normal curriculum and begins teaching lessons about important Black Americans. Lessons about Martin Luther King Jr. are taught, his speeches reviewed, and his message related to the present time. Students read his speech at assemblies and we clap and talk about the importance of celebrating Black History. This entire month is dedicated to the black people of the United States that fought for equal rights in the past and continue to tread forward with the fight.
One Month...
Only one month set aside for the celebration of the Culture of America. This infuriates me.
We try to say that our nation has made progress in regards to equal rights and treatment among all individuals. Who are we kidding? We dedicate 1 Month to celebrate Black History, we make race the issue in an election, we still talk about a "Black Quarterback" in the NFL. We as a society accept the media's portrayal of black people. The media consistently puts the American people into groups and labels them based on race. We hear of the first black person in Space, the first black Quarterback to win a Super Bowl, the first black person to become President... Maybe this is what we need!!
It is noteworthy and historical to mention these accomplishments, but at what price. Maybe the media thinks that they are helping the cause for "equal rights" by mentioning these accomplishments. I would like to argue that they are doing quite the opposite. The media, by putting different races in sub-groups, has actually keept these cultures/races/sub-groups separate. We are constantly reminded that we are different from each other. I am white and he is black. We are thrown into this world of labels.
Schools are to blame too. We always talk about equal rights among all races, but celebrate the accomplishments of black people for one month. Why is that? I mean, does anyone else see something wrong with this? We label students based on race, socio-economic status, and behavior. Labeling is the gateway to segregation. We constantly segregate in our minds.
History should not be divided into months. We need to celebrate every individual that had hope for this Country and World.

The way I see Society...
The World is transparent. We are a Global Culture. America consists of people from everywhere. Everyone has a different story of how they became an American. The fact is that we are all here in this Country, some for different reasons than others. We all have different versions of the same dream... to be successful, loved and heard. I know that this is grossly simplified. Too often, there are people that try to disrupt the natural occurence of progress. We are progressing, very slowly, with regards to everyone having equal rights. Some want to make you believe we are progressing rapidly. This is not the case.

Until we as a global society accept everyone... really and truly accept everyone as "people" with the same dreams, we will continue to progress slowly. I offer a view of one man. I do have hope. I see hope for a future that involves everyone being transparent.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Trust Issue

An interesting post by Carolyn Foote. She talks about wikis, students and trust.
This issue is one that weighs on my mind every day. Students use the internet to research information for reports and projects. It is natural that students will use sites that give them up-to-date information about a certain subject area. These sites happen to be in the form of open source sites such as wikis. Being open source seems to frighten some people. The fact that anyone sitting in their bedroom in their underwear can edit an informational site on the internet seems not trustworthy to some people.
What is trustworthy? I would like to argue that all informational text, be it in print or digital, is not trustworthy. When we read to gather information, we are absorbing information that in most cases is bias.
Is a Science Textbook printed 10 years ago trustworthy?
We need to be careful when we decide to take anyones ideas for fact. The important step that we miss sometimes is to question. My students often question me, and I welcome it. I feel as though this is a crucial step in the process of learning.
Open Source sites such as Wikipedia are more powerful than anyone can even imagine. These sites are constantly being questioned by everyone in the world. If you edit information, you better have done your homework, or it will be changed back almost immediately. Sometimes the back channel chats on Wikipedia are even more revealing than the front page.
To sum up the conversation, I think that open source sites are crucial to our learning environment in the 21st Century. In my opinion, trust shouldn't even be an issue. Until next blog...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

21st Century Skills Class

What a great idea for Middle or High Schools. A class that teaches students what will be needed of them in the 21st Century. This is what we need.
A post by David Warlick made me actually think about these possibilities. I wonder if this possibility has even been considered in my district. It seems as though an investigation will have to be done. If their is a way... I want to be involved. Many ideas are floating around in my head.

I think it would necessary to focus on ways in which the students are already communicating. This would be a great question to ask students that will be taking the course. Their ideas are probably more relevant than ours. There are many possibilities for the structure of such a course. I think the most important idea is that the class should be student directed and teacher moderated.
Some themes below…
Social Networks vs. Learning Networks
Digital Natives vs. Digital Guests
Digital Publishing
Information Editing (this is a big one)
21st Century Communication
Having your digital voice heard
Global Culture

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

America: Culture of Confusion

Questions below...
I am worried about the culture of the United States. I am worried about what we deem as important in our country. It seems as though we say what we want everyone to hear when it comes to morals and ideology. We say one thing, but practice something completely different. It upsets me when I see a parent pick up their child in an H2 Hummer, when their child is on a free or reduced lunch program. It worries me when parents pay a child for their good grades on a report card. This is projected upon our children.
I do not want to make a blanket statement. I am not claiming that these are the actions of everyone in our Western Culture, but it is a reocurring theme.
Children are sponges that soak up everything that comes their way, whether its an innocent puddle of water or a toxic puddle of antifreeze. We are a culture of "look at me, look what I have". I hear this coming from the mouths of 4th and 5th graders every day. Most of them are more worried about being accepted and wearing clothes that are fashionable, then actually learning.
Having a conversation with a class of 5th graders today, we got off on a tangent, talking about life. This happens sometimes in my Science class. I asked them a few questions about their lives.

1. Why are you in school?
2. What do you enjoy about school?
3. What do you not enjoy about school?
4. What do you enjoy doing at home?
5. What career do you plan to have in the future?

You could imagine the answers I heard from 5th graders. This sums it up...To learn, recess, work, watching t.v., rapper, basketball player, on television.
It would be interesting to go to another country and ask students these same questions. I don't know the answers that we would hear, but I would imagine it would depend on the Country.
The fact is that these are all learned responses. I'd imagine that these answers would have been completely different if I was to ask them one on one. The students are more worried about impressing their classmates then giving a truthful answer. It's a circle. It goes back to the Hummer. What are we teaching our kids? What ideals are important to the adults in this Western Culture?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Exploding Walls Project

Mr. Mayo is getting the word out globally with his Exploding Walls Project. His Eighth Graders have put together a video to capture the essence of what web 2.0 is all about... smashing the "old ways of doing things in the classroom". Check it out!

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Student Voice

Woody's Pictures 278, originally uploaded by wdelauder2002.

The project at hand...
Save Ocean City.

Scenario: Ocean City, Maryland is threatened by a force that is unforgiving. The beach is eroding at an alarming rate. The beach is getting smaller by the day. This is a problem that effects the whole community. Many people live in Ocean City year round and many businesses depend on the visitors during the summer to keep their business running. Without the beaches, people will not come during the summer. Houses, hotels and businesses may be washed out to sea if nothing is done.

Your Job: Your team of geologists have been hired by Ocean City to fix the problem. The team with the best solution will be hired to complete the job.

This week, we just completed 2 discussion sessions with the fifth grade. Sharing of ideas, questioning the process, and explaining the rationale behind their thoughts. Many ideas were thrown on the table. Questions were thought provoking and students were rich with suggestions. The students became alive with confidence in their creative ideas.

The troubling issue...
These students are not used to sharing their voice. It takes many months of explaining to them that their voice counts when it comes to school. When they leave science, they are back to the old worksheet grind. What a shame. These students have so many relative ideas to share with the world. We need to let go of the teaching leash that is connected to the students. One fact that I have learned in my short tenure of teaching... Students will give you what you expect from them. Expect creativity and you will get it. Expect the minimum and you will get it. Until next blog...