Friday, April 27, 2012

What BYOT Looks Like: A Photo Series

after the #BYOTchat about marketing, the @40ishoracle came up with the idea of the photo essay. We will be posting these photo essays of BYOT at Brebeuf Jesuit on JD's fancy new Pinterest Board

Should we expand this to include more schools? Feedback always welcome :)

Source: Uploaded by user via JD on Pinterest

The Vendor Corollary to Lord-of-the-Flies: an open letter to edtech companies on Twitter

Save Our Tweetups
When the head of the Indiana Department of Education and I agree completely on something, it is a special time. So when I heard him refer to twitter as an excellent source of professional development, I noted it as that rare convergence of educational worldviews.

I currently devote about 5 hours of my life (more for curation) each week to the low-impact professional development, personal learning networking, and link-and-learning available on Twitter. Hastag chats are near and dear to my geeky little heart: #byotchat, #edchat, #flipclass with a strong pull to #isedchat, #pblchat, and, if i ever figure out when they regularly converge I will add, #digcit and #edtech.

These are great places to be affirmed, to learn new techniques, to ask questions, and to pull tons of resources (which i routinely tag and then go back to read and add to @pearltrees -- although they need an ANDROID app in such a bad way. *hint*).

But, in a variation of what often happens in a capitalistic society, whenever two or more are gathered in the name of anything, someone is going to try to sell you something. And so, it is with a heavy heart but a great deal of optimism over the power of the human spirit that i offer this corollary to my Social Media Lord-of-the-Flies Rule: Student, left to their own devices in social media, will create their own norms of behavior.

The EdTech Vendor Corollary: 

Educational Technology Vendors, without guidelines of appropriate conduct, will attempt to hijack, dilute, and flood every professional development opportunity. (or something like that)

Follow the Trends:

This has happened in all sorts of social media spaces. I was following the trend with mommy-bloggers a couple of years ago as the social media mommy market exploded and the brands took notice. Over the course of time  I saw partisan lines develop over the affiliation with branded products, I saw an increasing amount of posts about that issue rather than about the things that made mommy-blogs popular, and i watched  new entrants to the medium fail to see value because it had been diluted with pitches, thinly veiled paid endorsements and little real content.

This happens with celebrities too. Fans like to follow the real lives of celebrities and call foul when a celeb who has been so good at interaction and personal sharing gives the account over to a professional media company. The cool and slick varnish of a marketing person sticks out like a sore digital thumb in the twittersphere. I have not investigated if there is a decline, but i have seen the backlash first hand.

My Proposed Rules of Conduct for #EdTech Vendors:

1. Keep Chat Times Generic Ad Free
It is to the advantage of an advertiser to post information when the most eyes are looking at it. This rules has been true since the Mad Men days. Thus it makes sense that Advertisers will want to set up their auto-ads to play when fifty or a hundred or a few hundred are looking rather than just a few.

But when i log into #edchat, it is with dread that i wait through the rush of generic ads from vendors large and small that often have absolutely NOTHING to do with the topic which has been voted and deliberated by educators who are a part of the community.

Solution: use the 5-10 minutes before the chat and after the chat. Many of us log in early and stick around afterward. Those who visit later scroll through. It's not as many eyes, but you will get more respect from those of us in a position to take advantage of your services.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Teaching the (non)Controversy Part II: Information Literacy in the Age of Infowhelm

In Part I we looked at the way that information gathering and viewing has changed in such a way that we need some fundamental changes to how we teach research. To Recap:

  1. In the pre-information age, there were gatekeepers through editors, universities, etc. to wide print/publication and distribution. Information was generally vetted through these sources. While these gates still exist, they now compete with self publishing and alternative sources of information that do not filter.
  2. As it does in academia, there was a general trend for ideas to come into and fall out of favor based on their popularity and validity. Ideas that fell out of favor had a difficult time coming back in vogue. Ideas, particularly ideas at the fringe of conversations often remain in the social dialog through archives, Google searches, message boards, etc.
  3. Competing objectives such as ratings and pageviews have made the desire to have a matter "settled" take a back seat thoroughly examining every opinion and idea on the matter. These ideas, readily available as a result of the archiving of all thought on the internet, can be brought back to the public discourse as needed 
It is in this environment that we must teach our students to find, validate, and report on research.

Interlude: Oh, and Another Thing -- The Wikipedia Conundrum

Where were you the day Wikipedia went dark?
Under the traditional research methodology, Wikipedia stands out as clear violation of the gatekeeper mindset. The crowdsourcing of information stands in stark contrast to the vetted-by-publisher mentality. Thus we spent many years in education pointing out how easy it was to corrupt the system while Wikipedia and millions of users spent the years making the system harder and harder to game. 

In 2006, Thomas Chesney made an empirical analysis of Wikipedia, determining that 
"the experts found Wikipedia’s articles to be more credible than the non–experts. This suggests that the accuracy of Wikipedia is high. However, the results should not be seen as support for Wikipedia as a totally reliable resource as, according to the experts, 13 percent of the articles contain mistakes."
other similar research has put forth increased accuracy claims and comparative claims with more traditional reference and technical resources. There are two important things to draw from this:

  • First, our credibility goes down when we criticize Wikipedia as "unreliable" when the students' lived experience is that it is highly reliable for most things.
  • Second, we miss out on the opportunity to investigate the weaknesses of Wikipedia (heated political issues, issues with a high degree of interpretation of specific terms or ideas, current events) when we dismiss the platform as a whole.

[End Interlude]

Monday, April 23, 2012

Teaching the (non)Controversy Part I: A Marketplace, Corrupted

In celebration of passing 5,000 page views on my blog (THANK YOU SO MUCH), I thought I would change things up a little by mixing the typical rant up with a problem that I don't necessarily have an answer for yet.

(Please note, I will be writing about "controversy" in this blog. Please take the content of my claim into consideration even if you disagree with the examples)

But first, check out my Pin (Pinterest Board)!:

(ok, in all honesty, I am also trying to figure out a use-case for Pinterest in education as well. According to some of my students I won't get it, because I am a not a girl...ha!)

Interlude 1:

One of our numerous resources
The debate topic a few years ago in Lincoln-Douglas was over mandatory vaccinations. As we clarified issues such as individual autonomy and social responsibility, the topic of Autism kept coming up. As all good coaches and competitors do, we went to the research, eventually focusing on two sources: Autism's False Prophets and The Vaccine Book. One of the fascinating things we learned through these sources, peer reviewed journals, discussion with physicians, etc. was the "controversy" of the link between Autism and Vaccination was non-existent -- there wasn't a link.

Despite other books
Despite celebrity spokes people
Despite air time on evening news programs and screen time on websites

The scientific community had put this "controversy" to rest through the process of epidemiological study, scientific method, and peer review. But if you google this topic, the controversy appears to be live and well.
In fact, the third link (when I looked it up for this blog) refers to a March 2011 study published in a peer-reviewed journal that "sheds new light" -- It actually appears to affirm a number of the issues with the original Autism-Vaccine link claims but studies other areas that could be open for investigation.
[End Interlude]

Thus, the full understanding of this issue (which I do NOT claim to have) would require a careful study of published literature, a grasp of the process of Peer Review and its relationship to the scientific method in assessing the validity (or invalidity) of various hypothesis, and an ability to carefully and closely read information beyond the first few paragraphs and analyze carefully the implications of a statement.

Sounds like 21st Century skills to me.

Teaching the (non)Controversy - What went wrong?

I think there are a  lot of issues that are at play here, not the least of which include strongly held religious beliefs that may come into sharp contrast with commonly accepted scientific theories (see how I just went there with evolution without making it the focus of my essay? #savethedinosaurs). I am not going to focus on that one, but instead want to look at  how the information age has influenced this issue.

First, Back in the pre-PC days, it was difficult to get writing (any writing) in front of a large number of readers. Most academic publishing was controlled by universities and, because of the practice of Peer Review and the necessity to maintain an academic reputation, it was difficult for theories to be published without strong scientific grounding. Thus, if you were researching information in a library, it had likely gone through an editorial process or a full-bore system of Peer Review.

Second, there was a lot less news in those days: fewer channels, no Internet, and no 24/7 news cycle. Additionally, the news was not in intense competition for nielson ratings and page views as a primary driver. With less competition, news agencies could afford to be less sensational.

Third, if you did have an extreme minority opinion and you did want to exercise your 1st amendment right to throw that idea out there, your method of transmission was severely curtailed. The paper flyer you hand out on a street corner lends some opinion on the validity of the thought in most people's minds.

Fast-forward to 2012. There is more information created in a single day than a human being could ingest in his or her entire life. Much of this information is unvetted through either a publisher's editorial department or the formal peer review of academia. The Internet has become the great publishing equalizer, allowing people's opinions to appear as fact and ideas without evidence to exist with the same amount of shiny and pretty (and sometime even more) as venerated news agencies, academic publications, and scholarly research.

In this environment, news agencies are fighting for every precious eyeball. While we like to pretend that we each want more feel-good stories, ratings go up when there is human drama and the best way to initiate this on a news show is to have two or more people yelling at eachother over their heartfelt beliefs. Thus, the creation of "equal time" policies serve the dual purpose of showing "all sides" of an issue while creating a system most likely to create entertaining television. The flaw in this system, of course, is that careful consideration must be made to determine just how big that other side of the issue actually may be.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Practically Applied: Digital Media Project -- Criticism and Creation

This is a new type of blog post that I am working on, a variation on the #FLIPCLASS DIARY theme where I am attempting to give some technology integration lessons in a simple format, focusing on the overview, applications used, and impact on the lesson.

In all honesty, i am also trying to avoid doing taxes so I am guaranteed to accomplish that goal at least. As always, love the feedback (here or on social networks) and the Retweets. I am beginning to gauge which blogs are working (Flipclass and BYOT commentary) and which ones don't (3 rants in a week cannibalize on themselves).

Creating a Multimedia Presentation - Part I
Objective: Students will create a multimedia presentation that includes narration, text, photographs with the option of adding video and secondary audio.

Primary Tools:
Multimedia creation: iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, PowerPoint, weVideo

Secondary Tools:
Storage and Sharing: Box, Dropbox, Google Docs
Audio Capture: Soundcloud, Audacity, PowerPoint
Picture Editing: Picsay Pro, Skitch, Google Docs Drawing, PowerPoint

Classroom Applications and tools: - Backchannel
Google forms - Group assignment and prelection
Post-it paper and markers

Prelection and Context Setting: Preview and Day 1
[Note: my favorite part of this lesson]

Overview: many of our students come into highschool with a pretty decent formal or informal ability to create multimedia production in either PowerPoint or one of the basic movie software programs. What seems to be missing is the ability to think about the projects in terms of quality, achievement of message, or goals beyond completion.

Students were assigned to read the Isaac Asimov Essay, "The Relativity of Wrong". Its a great essay for high school students and has some nice things to say about the state of assessment in education. (the copyright of this is still bothering me, but it is out there so...)

Today's meet provides instant backchanneling
for live discussion
We created a backchannel using Today's Meet. I love backchannels so much more than clickers. Backchannels empower students to give more than a fill in the blank response and give them the opportunity to engage withe each other as well.

a few pointed reading check questions were asked to start things off:

  • What is the overall point of the essay? What does the author want you to come away with?
  • What is one description, example, or point that is made that struck you as insightful or interesting?
This puts students into the mode of responding and gets the neurons firing. It also served as a setup for the next section. 

Students then watched a YouTube video of "Relativity of Wrong" created by a fan of the essay. I was very explicit to explain to the students that i thought there were some things executed very well and some things that need a lot of work.

As they watched the video, they were to fill in the back channel with observations about the presentation. They were to focus on what was executed well and what needed work to improve it. Through the course of the backchannel (11 pages long when printed) the students pointed out on their own, elements that would have made any English teacher...well, any teacher...proud:
  • Too much text and the screen
  • Monotone voice
  • Could use some animation
  • Good use of photos to underscore ideas
After the backchannel, we reflected on the ideas presented. Students developed their own set of working guidelines for making a presentation (Dos and Don'ts). From a social media/digital citizenship side, the students were able to criticize without personalizing and even complimented others on good points.

Homework: Find an essay, piece of writing, portion of book, etc that you will use to make a five minute multimedia presentation from. 

Preparation and Storyboarding: Day 2-3

The next day, students created small group and discussed each individual idea for its pros and cons. Many of the elements identified the day before came up in the discussions (practical reinforcement) and students began to discuss their plans. By the end of the day, each group had filled out a GoogleFORM (survey) that identified groups, topics, initial themes and focus points.

One of the more popular tools we demo is a
mobile App for ANDROID called Picsay Pro
#FLIP video: Preparation That night, students watched a flip video that gave them an overview of non-linear video creation (this is the most common type of video/multimedia, used in iMovie and Windows Movie Maker among others). The video also previewed the use of a number of tools that would be good options for adding captions to photos, simple animations, and sharing the files that students would be collecting for their projects ("the bin").*

*NOTE: this is key to a #BYOT environment. It is not about teaching the specific buttons to push. it is giving the overview that allows student the time and the space to experiment with tools.

In-class: Storyboarding After a brief demonstration that walked students through the basics of storyboarding, they were off to work on their own. I was able to meet with each group at least three times over the course of the next day and a half of class. During these discussions we talked about advantages and disadvantages of specific tools, questioned the level of specificity on some of the boards (and how the lack of detail might cause more work later on).

Again, the focus was not on the specific tools that were being used. Most groups had the basics down. And for students who were struggling with a specific technique, it was much simpler and more effective to show that one students (and any others interested in learning a specific process).

By the end of Day 3: most groups had completed their preliminary Bins of material to include. A number of students had begun working on captions and title slides. One group had decided, based on the types of transitions and animations that they were planning, that they would be better off using PowerPoint, with its numerous transition and motion effects rather than iMovie which was more limited when dealing with 5 simultaneous effects on 5 different photos.

Over the weekend, no homework was assigned, but a number of groups had created a GoogleDoc that was shared in order to write voice-over scripts and hash out any details they needed before production began in earnest.

So far, I have been very pleased with this assignment. It has allowed the students to focus on the objectives of the project (creating an effective multimedia presentation) by empowering them to use the tools with which they are most comfortable.

Beyond this, they have found a benefit in planning, preparing ahead of time, and working collaboratively in real-time and asynchronously.

This week, students will close the loop by reviewing each group's creation for message communication, technique, and overall message -- the same as was done during the prelection exercise.

Please feel free to Like, Comment, Repost, Retweet, +, etc. As always, we are interested in feedback and commentary. I would love to know if this type of post is useful to my tens of followers -- and if you are interested in a part II. :)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Assessing 21st Century Assessment: A Meta with Peeps - Happy Easter

  • Industry and business sends up the call for increased problem solving skills, collaborative ability, creativity. 
  • College professors complain "kids these days cannot write!" but what they mean is that students have difficulty connecting primary assertions with supporting evidence in a coherent fashion (more of the critical-thinking thing).
  • The schools mission demands we cultivate and nurture students who are loving, open to growth, religious, and committed to justice as well as intellectually competent -- these things are what we should write assessments to measure. 
Have you read the common core recently?
Having exact answers, and having absolute rights and wrongs, minimizes the necessity of thinking, and that pleases both students and teachers. For that reason, students and teachers alike prefer short-answer tests to essay tests; multiple-choice over blank short-answer tests; and true-false tests over multiple-choice.
 But short-answer tests are, to my way of thinking, useless as a measure of the student's understanding of a subject. They are merely a test of the efficiency of his ability to memorize.

- Isaac Asimov, "The Relativity of Wrong" 1989
(Full versions available online - did not link due to copyright)

Those of you who regularly read both this blog and @40ishoracle's know that, probably because we work about 15 feet away from eachother, we tend to talk about the same things. So it is probably not surprising that assessment has been the topic of choice for awhile.

Not safe for assessment?
my  #savethedinosaurs post became a little moot this week since NYC DOE backed off of its proposed list of 50 banned words. While I am hesitant to beat a dead tyrannosaurus (yeah, i had been saving that one), what I have been thinking is that this is an example where a lack of assessment goals (or possibly the wrong assessment goals) leads to some really awkward decisions about testing guidelines.

If the primary purpose of an assessment is to measure the ability to solve a certain level of equations, link a topic sentence to supporting sentences, and follow the basic rules of grammar, then it is easy to say that an assessment tool can be create which avoids uncomfortable topics like politics, evolution, and candy-peeps (mmmm...peeeepps).

Context: Computer Applications and HTML programming

At Brebeuf Jesuit, all freshman are required to take a digital citizenship course called "Computer Applications" (Course titles change about as fast as the Titanic could turn). One unit of this course is an introduction and overview of HTML programming. As the teachers discussed this unit in light of our new focus on "civilizing the digital natives", we began to unpack the assumptions in this topic.
  • HTML programming gives students an opportunity to experience the rigor and close attention to detail that is necessary for the discipline (and useful across the curriculum).
  • HTML programming, at a basic level, makes for more efficient blogs and other web communications that will become used more and more w/o relying solely on WYSIWYG editors. It is a communications imperative (and looks great on that intern job application).
  • HTML programming gives students an idea about what it takes to build the webpages that they interact with everyday and this affective appreciation is helpful.
Looking at these objectives, a traditional assessment (multiple choice or matching to identify <tags>; a "revise the miswritten code" section; defining key terms like "attributes", etc) would not be able to successfully measure a student's ability beyond a basic understanding of the second objective.

Experience: Designing an Assessment Experience for HTML


  • Practical application of tags, attributes, and common processes such as links, formatting, and image control
  • Use of critical thinking including disciplined attention to detail, consistent rechecking of method to results, interpretation of instructions
  • Appreciation of the code that is working in the background of webpages


Instagram of Old-School Programing
  1. Students will complete a webpage based on instructions given in written from by the teacher. The written form will be a combination of text that should be replicated and highlighted instructions of how to format the text. for example:
    The Font of most of the text on this webpage is [Describe the color HERE]. Text should contrast with the background or it can be hard to read. [the word “Contrast” in the last sentence should be a link to this website:].
  2. Student may use the web, notes, tutorials, etc. But the page must be created in NOTEPAD
  3. Students will have one day to work on the test. At the end of the period students will have an opportunity to save progress to date and told that they are NOT to work on the exam at home (paper is collected) but that they may study and practice anything they would like.
  4. Students turn in the completed (or nearly completed assessment) on the end of the second day

Reflection:  How well we have trained them not to think

"This was by far the hardest test we have had all year", remarked one student after the test.

As I have already been accused of being the hardest teacher in the school multiple times, I decided to pursue:
  • "With a math test you are just following the steps until you get the answer and then you are done."
  • "In English, even if you have to write, you just write about what you talked about in class. You don't have to constantly think about it."
  • "This wasn't a test. You couldn't guess at anything. If it was wrong you had to figure it out."
  • "I can't believe we have a test where you have to study in between the test. Heck, I had to study during the test!"
The students were thrown off for a variety of reasons, but primarily it fell into two categories:

 Outcome/Feedback Check: 

Web on left; Code on Right
Refresh to check
In designing a webpage, you typically (in notepad or in design-software) have your screen split to view the output on one half and the coding on the other. During the testing situation, the students did the same. They immediately knew if the coding was wrong because the output was incorrect. This would be the equivalent of completing a math problem, and immediately being told by the teacher it is wrong and should be corrected. Immediate feedback is disquieting for students used to the delayed feedback of the grade ("I totally bombed that test, but at least it is over").

Technology affords educators the opportunity to design assessments that are closer to the real world. There is seldom a final exam in a career-path job. Projects are assigned, drafted, submitted for feedback, returned, revised, given to colleagues. This process is essential to the collaboration and problem solving called for by the industrial complex, but is absent from traditional assessment.

 Assessment simulating Life, an open book:

In addition to the issue of immediate feedback, students had every resource available to them to complete the task. They had been given a week to work with simulations and had those same simulations available during the test and during the overnight study period. Deep down in dark places where excuses come from, each student knew that there was little reason to not be able to complete the exam perfectly. This created a lot of resentment and complaint. Indeed, the students who did the worst on the assessment instrument were not ones who did not know how to code; they were the ones who did not research in the intervening night, did not carefully check work, and did not have the care to complete the task.

Conversely, it also was fascinating to watch the thrilling smile creep across a student's face as she realized by poring over sample code and comparing it that her closing tag was in the wrong location. Like the feedback loop, there are few situations beyond traditional testing where you cannot refer to some other resource to help verify an answer or procedure. Knowing when you need to seek assistance may be more important than knowing the information initially.


Technology is only one of five 21st Century skills 
Our challenge than, as educators of the digital natives, is to take advantage of the technology and this critical moment in education to create a new kind of assessment. By clearly identifying the skills and knowledge that we expect students to have (OUTCOMES) and designing environments that demand access to that knowledge and use of those skills (ASSESSMENTS) then we are well on our way to transforming education.

The key becomes defining those outcomes, through discussion and collaboration (and maybe even student involvement - scandalous) in such a way that it acknowledges the broad strokes of 21st century skills and does not become mired in the details which, ultimately, can be looked up on Wikipedia.

Assessments grow out of those outcomes and, here again, we must be on guard to not sacrifice the big picture (career skills including flexibility and adaptablity; Learning skills including problem solving and systems thinking, etc.) for the easily scored details that should be the tools by which skills are demonstrated.

Because if they can think, let them eat Peeps.

Monday, April 2, 2012

#savethedinosaurs - What NYC DOE's attack on the Terrible Lizards reveals about Education

UPDATE: The New York DOE has backed off of its banned words list, relegating my #savethedinosaurs campaign to pithy quotes of the past. But feel free to read on for some nice hypothetical discussion. -- adding a few updates from social media comments too.

If you haven't followed, heard about, or laughed out loud at the latest educational gaff from a Department of Education, you can read about it in a CBS news report or any number of blogs like this one. In short, the New York City DOE has proposed a list of 50 words (and concepts) that should not be used on standardized test for fear of their potential to be upsetting or create an unpleasant testing environment.

I sat on this for a few days...ok, I tweeted about it, but i refrained from blogging for a few reasons. First, I was infinitely hopeful that NYC DOE would back off of the statement (They haven't. Originally, they were attempting the "but Florida does it too" defense that is so popular among my seven year old's Sunday school class). Second, there are much better general education writers out there (looking at you, Answer Sheet), and I wasn't sure if my voice had much to add to the discussion. Third, I was really struggling on the best format: I considered a McSweeney's style letter to the Dinosaur, a classic rant decrying the downfall of education due to big government short-sightedness, etc.

So why write?
  1. I think #savethedinosaurs is a meme that really needs to take off
  2. One thing that i haven't seen written yet is the intersection between this testing mandate and our current reliance on testing as an evaluation tool for schools, teachers, and students alike.

For lack of a witty subheading -- Seriously?

I am not going to include the full list in this post (the links above do a good job of listing), but I am willing to call out some things that I haven't seen mentioned yet (or at least not enough).
Extremely Sensitive: The initial claim is one of sensitivity -- not creating an unpleasant testing environment (Florida generally avoids the use of "hurricanes" for fear of PTSD triggers).Yet there are a number of items on the list that seem to be following this guideline in only the most general of terms:
  • Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)
  • Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)
While I understand that there are religions that do not celebrate another-year-around-the-sun days, I am hard-pressed to find evidence of a birthday-related question triggering a stress-event that skewed a test (in fact, the only mention of this situation during my search was in reference to the NYC Banned Word list). It is common in our society today to base policy on the hypothetical rather than the actual (closely related to Generalization from Fictional Evidence, but if you know what the actual fallacy is, please let me know in the comments). 

While I understand the need to be boy-scout-level prepared in as many situations as possible, we do ourselves a disservice to create general policy to cover every situation...better to create a general policy that, through care and sensitivity, can allow exceptions (the Jesuits refer to this hallmark of effective education as cura personalis -- an understanding of student context, caring adults who are able to be flexible in the moment, etc. (Note: this is not en vogue in education practice today).

Not-So-Hidden Agenda
  • Bodily functions
  • Celebrities
  • Junk food
There is always a risk when we mix assessment instruments with social-norm change goals. Again, I have trouble visualizing the PTSD moment from being asked to answer a question about hotdogs and potato chips (or the ever-popular porkrinds). At the point that we move away from the sensitivity claim, it seems that we have a number of items that are taboo because in an ideal world, we wouldn't have to deal with them (celebrity culture, overweight children due to malnutrition and overeating, fart jokes, etc.).

This becomes a slippery slope. Have we as parents and/or educators abdicated our duty of what should and should not be open for analysis and discussion? Arguably some of these "social" issues would be better served by some analysis and critical thinking. 

Note: one discussion in the Teacher Resource Center, points out that it could be even more insidious -- how difficult does it become to criticize the government when you can't discuss natural disasters (#FEMAFail), Politics, or War. Far from creating the informed citizenry, this list specifically encourages us to avoid assessing the ability to critique the government.

Good Test Practice: Even some of the legitimate test-avoidant topics:
  • In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
are not really there because of cultural awareness/sensitivity. They are there because calling on specialized knowledge in a general question is a bad idea. So is writing a multiple choice question with one answer that is particularly long or a fill-in-the-blank that has the answer embedded in the question. Rather than giving a comprehensive list of words.verboten, the NYC DOE would be better off making the statement "write a good test".

Aside: this particular topic led to an excellent dinner table conversation hypothesizing "bad questions" based on this concept. My favorite was the ten-year-old's analysis that a question referring to pre-cellphone responses (contacting someone, emergencies, etc) would be impossible for most kids to answer.

On Backward Design - The hidden curriculum message in banning the Dinosaurs

Early in my teaching career, there was a battle being waged over the amount of standardized content that was appropriate in a classroom. Should every English teacher set his own reading list? are there a few must-reads and some flexibility in the rest? Is each book and each unit designed as a whole? -- While this argument has been settled in some schools, it is one of those classic discussions that appears to cycle about every 3-5 years.

As Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design (sorry, no KINDLE link) took off in schools, the system began to weigh in on how we shape assessments and understand what is taught in the classroom. It is a popular framework, but by no means universal. In way-to-brief summary:

  1. Identify the outcomes for the individual learner.
  2. Identify the evidence that would constitute acceptable demonstration (mastery, etc.) of those outcomes -- commonly, this is the assessment instrument
  3. Design lessons, activities, and experiences that lead to effective demonstration.
  • In its most negative interpretation, this is "teaching to the test".
  • In its most positive reponse, it is retorted "of course. If the objectives are sounds and the assessment is good, why wouldn't you?
But what if the assessment is not good?

The corollary of this mindset is that there is little-to-no reason to teach content that is not going to be assessed, because it is extraneous to the outcomes being worked toward.
  • Why teach a lesson on junk food and nutrition if it will not be assessed?
  • Why address issues of social injustice if there will be no questions about poverty, homelessness, or even computers that are owned by a family instead of the library?
  • Why teach evolution if it has been banned from the assessment?
Teachers have been told (particularly in NYC) in no uncertain terms that the results of these test-scores are direct reflections on their ability as teachers and that this ability will be publicly pronounced in the virtual town square for all to see and comment upon. At the point that I have been told, specifically, that this content will not be a part of high-stakes assessment, the only responsibility I have to teach this content is my prerogative as a good educator -- and the DOE and legislatures have done a pretty good job of telling me, again and again, that this is not enough.

And so we are now to prepare students for a test that does not encourage critical thinking, does not ask for analysis of topics which may be deemed controversial or uncomfortable, and which puts forth a multi-faceted social agenda.

This goes beyond critical correctness.
And the dinosaurs will not the only casualties.

As always, if you made it this far, I appreciate your thoughts, comments, likes, +1s and retweets. If you are so inclined to share, please include the #savethedinosaurs hashtag, because I think that would be cool :)