Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Advent II – By JD Ferries-Rowe | Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School

Lest you think I only rant about Common Core and the beauty of Robots...
I was asked to write a reflection for the school website for the 2nd Week of Advent.

After a decade at Brebeuf Jesuit, I am still sometimes struck by how much a Jesuit idea or way of thinking (we call them “Charisms”) can reveal itself in the strangest places. The idea that I have been reflecting on the most as we approach the Christmas holiday…particularly as I think about what it means to get ready for Christmas…is the idea of the counter-cultural response. 
When the Jesuits were formed, St. Ignatius did not want a cloistered monastery. He wanted priests who would be active in the affairs of the world, providing an example and occasionally guidance to a world that sometimes struggles with focusing on God. Thus, the Jesuits needed to be the counter-cultural response…living in the world, living with the people, but always pointing out when the cultural norms of the day became a stumbling block for people seeking God or trying to make the world a more just place for everyone.
That brings me to Advent.
You can read the rest here:
Advent II – By JD Ferries-Rowe | Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School:

Comments always welcome and appreciated.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, November 21, 2013

For the Greater Glory...On Means, Ends, and Lessons Learned from Robots

There is a Jesuit catchphrase for just about everything. One of the most common in educational circles is AMDG - an abbreviation for a latin phrase which translates to "For the Greater Glory of God". Many Jesuit schools require students to write this in the header of their papers, other schools have signs and posters, our school made it the student e-mail domain.

It's a big deal...

Interlude: What's in a Name?
Two months ago, a group of students decided to form a robot club. Their goal was to have Brebeuf Jesuit participate for the first time in the Indianapolis VEX robotics championships. This event, sponsored by the Mayor's office, offers free registration and robotics kits to any school willing to field a team.

As I was filling out the online registration, i was faced with a huge question: Team Name. I felt the cold sweat breaking out. This was HUGE. We needed something that could capture the spirit of our school, the care-free but driven attitude that made up our team, with just enough nerd-cred to show that we were the real deal. After a few panicked seconds I typed: AMDGeeks.
End Interlude.

This Saturday was the two-day culmination of our Robot Team's hard work. And it was pretty awesome:

Much has been written and will be written about the use of robots and practical "real-world" problem solving (and to be fair, i want to live in a world where building small-scale competitive robots is the "real-world" -- its like pokemon, but with robots). This is what I observed:
  1. Problem Identification: What is the scope of the problem? What are resources available?
  2. Complex, Strategic Thinking: Given the limitations in time and resources, what will be the best solution
  3. Hypothesis Testing: Build it, test it, note the results, modify, try again.
  4. Research: Yes, it started with YouTube and Google. But it also included talking to physics teachers, calling in experts in fields from welding to general construction.
  5. Cooperation: Each team member had strengths that were drawn upon throughout the tournament. Each team was allied with one or more other robot teams for individual rounds.
  6. Empathy, Emotional Control: Students were reading feelings, supporting one another, etc. 
Quite a bit different from your typical testing environment
A collection of corporate sponsors, educators, politicians and student-coaches, some as young as ten years old, were creating an environment that was a celebration of the development of college-preparatory and 21st century skills!

What struck me as I looked in the audience of hundreds of parents, students, teachers, administrators was the lack of teacher-evaluation. Stick with me here, this might be important:


iAspire: one of numerous
Teacher Evaluation Apps
  • There was no principal in the stands of the Banker's Life Fieldhouse with an iPad App that allowed her to quickly check off the common core standards that were being met.
  • There was no Lexile, no Acuity, no Terra Nova pre-test of cognitive potential.
  • The only analytics collected were in service to teams figuring out from one round to the next what was working and not working...how to work with one team in an effort to defeat two more.
Yet, in this environment with all of its chaos and shouting and stress and fun, real learning was taking place. Students from a variety of backgrounds and schools were learning to work together, communicate effectively, and devise complex strategies to achieve a common goal.
  • It was a demonstration of student learning and real-world application.
  • It was the lived experience of preparation for 21st century skills.
  • It was one of the best observable environments for implementation of many of the  common core state standards.
and yet...no evaluations were made and no test score was given.

AMDG, Common Core, and the Fight for Education
Critics of the Common Core State Standards are often painted as lazy educators who do not want their work held up to the scrutiny of science and data. Accusations often imply that any who do not support the CCSS and its integrated regime of corporate testing, textbooks, computer management systems, and teacher evaluation tools must not really want kids to succeed.

The problem that educators face in discussing this issue with politicians and parents are that the CCSS has become the ultimate goal of education -- education's AMDG. Anything that works toward the #CCSS (read, anything that is "COMMON CORE ALIGNED") is automatically GOOD because it works toward the ultimate goal. Anything that criticizes that ultimate goal is automatically EVIL.

This is what leads to the shock and almost dismissive attitude in state legislatures when teacher's try to explain the flaws in the CCSS-Testing regime. Because the CCSS has the mantle of the ultimate goal, the advocates for teachers, whether they are administrators or unions, are hesitant to go directly at the issue and instead beg for more time or increased professional development.

Educators and Parents and Politicians need to step back from the CCSS-Testing megalith and realize that despite the political spin that has deemed it as the ultimate goal -- it is actually a means to an end. In Fact, built within its purpose and rhetoric are the true ultimate goals of education according the CCSS's designers, the true ends: College and Career Readiness, Development of Leadership Potential, Citizenship.

In order to have a discussion about the role of robotics and STEM or times for reflection or appropriate use of lexiles or the need to read non-fiction vs. 18th century literature, teachers and parents and educators must first have a discussion about Goals and Ends for education. We need to discuss education's version of AMDG.

The common core state standards are a politically popular and well-funded MEANS to reach the end. Yet they are discussed as if they are the END itself. Common Core and its implementation (and all of the testing and data and expense that accompanies it) is a path, an interpretation about how to reach the ultimate goals of education. 

One can believe that the Common Core and its associated baggage is not the right direction for a school or state or nation without being against education itself. One can reject a particular MEANS without rejecting an separate END.

CCSS is not AMDG.

Need proof? Watch the robots.

(More on this tomorrow...)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Instinct Gone Awry: On Traffic Jams, Distracted Behavior and the Myth of MultiTasking

One of the most fascinating non-fiction books I have read in recent years was called, Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt. The book breaks down a number of behaviors that seem completely natural for creatures that developed over thousand of years, but that can be non-sensical when in control of a few tons of metal and plastic travelling 10 times faster than a normal person can run. This basic juxtaposition comes up again and again in the book: naturally evolved intuitive reactions do not always make sense behind the wheel of a car.

I have been thinking about that book and how it applies to the teaching of technology in schools, both with students and in the context of professional development with teachers.


Put simply, our natural inclinations may be wrong.


Interlude: The Data Dilemma
Our school suffered a catastrophic data loss this spring. It was one of those two-fold, perfect storm type disasters that had multiple causes both human and structural. The end result was that a number of teachers and administrators lost data permanently. It was a blow to the tech department and the trust we had built up over the years.


Flash forward five months. A teacher brings in his laptop that is no longer opening files. Long-story and much investigation later, we were able to find a crypto-locker virus on his computer that had been given permission to bypass our virus screening by the user. This particularly nasty ransom-ware encrypts files and then offers to unlock them for a payment of a few hundred dollars worth of bit-coin.


  • Me: “I think our best bet is to pull your files from backup. Did you have everything on the [School home drive]?”
  • Teacher: “No. After what happened, i don’t use that anymore.”
  • Me: “Not a problem. Where are you backing up files?”
  • Teacher: “I keep them on the computer. So they are close to me and safe.”
End Interlude


This teacher’s reaction was completely natural, completely animalistic. It is the same reaction we have regarding our children: Keep them close; keep them where we can see them. All will be well.


But in the world of data, the safest thing to do is to put copies of that data in as many places as possible, as far apart as possible, so that one or two mistakes or disasters do not cause loss of important information.


In the world of educational technology, we are not just fighting against the ignorance of “...but I didn’t know”. Sometimes, we are battling instinct and that is a much more ingrained adversary.

Which bring us to the focus of today's blog (yeah, its one of those long ones!):


Interlude: The Distraction Dilemma
While teaching a summer school #digcit class, students were given time to work independently to gather research. I became fascinated watching one girl work on her assignment while checking her phone. In a ten-minute period, she looked at her phone 18 times. Each time was less than 10 seconds, many times under 5.


Me: “Did you know that you are constantly looking at your phone?”
Student: “Not constantly...just when i get a message. I am still working”
Me: “Show me what you have done so far”
Student: “Well, I am taking notes on this webpage.”
Me: “Show me the notes.”
Student: “I just started, so I don’t have much yet.”
Me: You started that document over 10 minutes ago. You haven’t moved the screen past the first paragraph and only have 14 words typed on your notes.”
Student: “Ten minutes? No way!”
End Interlude


On the ancient plains, it was important to be able to quick-glance our environment. To stop eating or caring for the young and take a quick survey for predators. But this comfort in an ability to quickly disengage from a primary task, instinctively survey (a secondary task), and return to the primary  task at hand is VERY different from engaging in two cognitive tasks like RESEARCHING and carrying-on a time-delayed, written CONVERSATION. Put simply, human beings are bad at it. Worse, we don’t realize it:


We - the people we talk with continually said, look, when I really have to concentrate, I turn off everything and I am laser-focused. And unfortunately, they've developed habits of mind that make it impossible for them to be laser-focused. They're suckers for irrelevancy. They just can't keep on task.
- Dr. Clifford Nass, Professor of Communication at Stanford.  NPR Interview


Dr. Nass wins awesome title award
Nass continues, explaining that as the number of screens increase, we maintain a belief that we can handle the attention spread of an increasing amount of data and distraction. “There's some evidence that there's a very, very, very, very small group of people who can do two tasks at one time but there's actually no evidence that anyone can do even three.”


As teachers and technologists, part of our job is to help students develop the skills and habits of mind that they will need to survive and thrive in a world where instinct can lead them astray. As with all education that matters, this can be done with a combination of setting context, gaining experience, and promoting reflection that leads to change and action.



1. Setting Context:
As part of our professional development focus on distracted behavior, we had each adult keep a distraction journal over the weekend. Adults by and large were shocked at the amount of distracted behavior they found in themselves, analogous with the student who had no idea how much time she spend on a one screen vs. another. This personal context can be supplemented with reading research (or summaries of research, depending on the age level) so that students know this is not just the old folks complaining about the young whippersnappers and the gadgets and what not.


2. Providing Experience:
Much of this discussion will ultimately come down to whether students who have been immersed in multi-screen worlds find value in focusing their attention on one screen or, at minimum, one cognitive task at a time. Part of the development of this habit of mind will come down to a lived experience. This can take the form of neurophysiology games played in the classroom, such as this example from an NEA Article:

Remove the face cards from a standard deck and select 15–20 random numbered cards. Have your subject mentally add the black cards and subtract the red cards from a running subtotal as quickly as possible, while being timed.  (Younger students simply may add all card values.) Next, call off a list of 15–20 random alphabetic characters while the subject mentally keeps track of the number of vowels recited, while being timed.  Then add the times of both exercises.Finally, repeat the first experiment, but this time interrupt the subject’s addition periodically with recited alphabetic characters, while the student attempts to keep track of both results simultaneously.  Odds are that the final experiment will take measurably longer than each exercise conducted individually.  (It is likely that the final experiment will yield fewer correct answers, besides.) - NEA


3. Reflection and Action:
At the point that the context and experience have made an argument for single-tasking, the teacher (and parents) should be ready with some concrete suggestions about how this can be accomplished without setting the world on fire (or you know, not texting your friends, which can be the same thing emotionally).
  • Design study time around focused time and texting breaks. Research is showing that undistracted learning yields better long-term and more adaptable use of knowledge. Thus 20 minutes of concentrated studying (TV off, phone on silent) followed by 10 minutes of un-interrupted texting or pinning, should yield more efficient results than a half-hour of study and text. Done as a non-threatening experiment at the high-school and middle school level has yielded good discussion and reflection -- and even some changes in habits.
  • Work on following suggestions from the American Association of Pediatrics. There was a lot of buzz last week when the AAP released recommendations for limits on screen time, but the two strongest suggestions for families were: -- limit recreational screen time to two hours a day (this would be about a 75% reduction for the average teen). --create screen-free zones, especially in teen-and-under bedrooms to promote uninterrupted sleep. 
  • Model. Ultimately, it is difficult to advocate a focused or multi-input single-tasking while working on three different projects on two or more screens. Teenagers see through the artifice and, perhaps more importantly, there is no evidence at this point that the problem gets better with age.



Technology is a game changer.

  • It has increased the speed of our lives beyond what we are naturally able to cope.
  • It has increased the amount of data available to us in general and at any given moment
  • It has increased our need for awareness of our own habits and our instinctive reactions to the world around us.


But to shun technology entirely is not going to better prepare our students for a life of Google Glass and self-driving cars. Better to understand where our instincts will conflict with reality and where we must develop new habits and new skills.

Nass explains that the brain is plastic -- malleable and able to change, adapting as best as possible to a multi-cognitive world. But it is not elastic. Once neural habits are formed they can be very hard to change. We should begin the dialogue and the practice of screen-control young and reinforce it at home and school, training the brain to control the screens and not training it to barely keep its attention-deprived head above the distracted waters.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Of (Mickey) Mice and Copyright -- A Teachable Moment

John Steinbeck wrote Of Mice and Men in 1938.
First Edition Cover
75 years later, it is a book that school children still read. The tale is a powerful one and it has captured a place in the American literary canon.

With a little bit of searching, you could find a .PDF copy on the internet and download the text. With a little bit more work, that PDF copy can be transformed and distributed to a classroom of iPads. An entire classroom of children could be exposed to this character study of two men in the the early 20th century...for free

But -- and this is important -- that is illegal.

Interlude: Copyright Basics
  • Society values creativity. As John Keating said in Dead Poets Society (a movie that may have inspired more wanna-be teachers than the TFA), "...medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."
  • In order to encourage creative types to be creative, society allows said creative types to make money off of their work in a number of legally binding ways. This ownership of a creative work is called COPYRIGHT. (it's even in the constitution): 
"the Congress shall have power . . . to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." - Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8
  • Society also acknowledges that creativity spawns creativity. Thus, after a reasonable period of time, society deems that creative works should enter THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.
  • Society also finds that there are instances where the absolute control of a creative work can be outweighed by another benefit to society, such as education, critical review, or even for parody. In the United States, these are collectively called FAIR USE EXCEPTIONS.
  • How and when creative works become a public good is a subject of debate and is ultimately determined by a society's government (and the corporations who pay lots of money to provide opinions to politicians).
End Interlude

Steinbeck, who passed away in 1968, had sold the rights to this book to a publishing house which continues to make money off of the 2 million or so copies sold each year. The copyright was renewed in the 1960s and extended to a total of 95 years. Seven years ago, his family sued to win back the rights to the book.

By all current laws, the book enters the public domain in 2033. If by some strange circumstance it becomes unavailable (e.g. goes out of print), it can be used by schools because of an exemption in the current copyright law. That is unlikely to happen.

If classes want to read this book, the schools need to pay for it.

What about Educational Fair Use?
Educational Fair Use is awesome and powerful. It allows teachers and students to use excerpts of works for educational reasons and to incorporate a variety of copyrighted materials into presentations and lessons without needing to pay copyright holders for every single work.

But it is limited. It is limited by the amount used, by the nature of the original work, and the intent and purpose of the use. And it is limited by the impact on the market: If the only reason to make twenty copies, digital or otherwise, of an entire book is to keep from buying twenty copies of that book, fair use protection does not apply.


Interlude Two: What Does this have to do with Mickey Mouse?
Used proudly under Fair Use Guidelines
Mickey Mouse debuted in 1928. By the laws of that time, he would now be freely available for use. However, the US Congress has strengthened copyright protections and extended the length of copyright in such a way that the House of Mouse can sue anyone trying to put "Steamboat Willie" on a lunchbox until 2023.

The last major debate on this issue in 1998 was nicknamed the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act". Sonny Bono (he of "& Cher" fame) held the hands of that sweet, innocent corporation and proclaimed, "I got you, Babe" and secured big-D another 20 years of mouse-exclusive merchandise.

So while there is some hope that we can one day read the almost century old works of Hemingway or Steinbeck without paying a large per-book cost, the show is not over until the politicians are paid...and Disney has deep pockets.

End Interlude


We live in a world with easy access to all sorts of media. Freshman enter the #digcit class every day with the expectation that movies, photos, stories and ideas are readily available and should be free of charge. Put bluntly, they believe some stealing, while illegal, is not really bad.

When questioned, there are a number of reasons:
  • Movies are too expensive to buy
  • What if the movie is not good? then you just wasted your money
  • I want to watch it now, not when it comes out on DVD
  • Studios make so much money anyway. 
  • I am not the one who "stole" it. I just downloaded it.
  • etc, etc...
We as educators need to take a different tact than reinforcing the idea that copyright in the modern age is meaningless and that taking what you want because it is readily available is a digital right.

At the same time, we need to empower students to understand the way that corporations and politicians can change ideas and the laws that enact them in ways that may ultimately hurt society. We need to write to politicians and publish letters to the editor. We need to show students how to change the system by becoming active. Thus, I humbly offer the following template:


Dear Politician who Accepted Money from Disney, 
I know that it's hard to believe in this day and age, but schools don't have a lot of money. We have reduced the number of teachers, eliminated librarians, and practically dismantled the unions. But tests and pre-tests cost money and between Acuity and Lexiles, we're flat broke. 
We would like to teach a book called OF MICE AND MEN. Maybe you've heard of it. I think there's a movie. But due to copyright extensions that moved Public Domain from 28 years to 70 years after the author's death (or 90 years for corporate-owned works), this book is not yet available to be freely read on our iPads or downloaded from Project Gutenberg
So we were wondering if you could send us some of that Mouse Money you got for protecting Disney from the ravages of exploitation. We checked at Half-Price Books and a paperback printed in 1993 is only $5.36 cents. If you wanted to be awesome, we could get a digital copy to read on our shiny new iPads for $9.99 - this is the digital age after all.  
Thank you for your consideration,  
Teachers and students at a school trying to show respect for all laws, even the silly ones.

On Reflection...
The extension of copyright law has added to the cost of teaching Literature and may deny some students the opportunity to learn from certain works.

But Literature's loss could be Social Studies' gain. Rather than throwing our hands up in exasperation or giving in to social pressure that pretends everything on the Internet is public domain, we can explore the impact of laws and capitalism, of creativity and social good in a real and authentic way.

We can read...
We can debate...
We can analyze...
We can persuade...

As teachers, our job is to model to and advocate for our students. But more importantly, we should create environments where they can be advocates for themselves: Students should be able to take a stand and work to make their lives and the lives of others better.

We might be able to do that by stealing a book...
but we might be able to do it better by figuring out why it is stealing in the first place.


Sources: 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Presentations, Webinars, Upcoming Appearances OR JD was feeling guilty about not posting anything

A number of you have pointed out my lack of ranting/blogging in recent months. I have lots of ideas and am still active on Twitter but am finding it hard to keep up with the writing. Call it writer's block, overwork on the other parts of my life, or just blame a household filled with three girls (that's what I do). What I have enjoyed doing a lot of recently is chatting on Twitter and Google Hangouts. As always, feel free to strike up a conversation or ask questions. I am @jdferries or +jdferries just about everywhere :)

In the meantime, below are the gSlides of some recent presentations. The first is a look at how schools can think about and begin programming for Digital Citizenship, including aspects that often get lost in the hype about cyberbullying and risky student behavior.

The second is an outline or our pilot program using G+ as the foundation for a classroom community complete with increased student ownership, tight integration with Google Calendar and gDrive, and creative use of scripting tools like gClass Folders, Autocrat, and more.

At the same conference, Jen and I unveiled our first post-1:1 presentation outlining some of the changes in the school, both in terms of teaching and infrastructure, that took place AFTER we went 1:1. So much for kicking back and eating bon-bons.

Finally, proving that JD does more than read comics and rant about the Common Core, JD presented an introduction to his favorite type of debate at the recent IHSFA coaches' clinic.

UPDATE: by request, I am also posting the Blackbaord Engage Webinar that Jen and I presented in August. JD did a live version variation of this presentation with an emphasis on BYOT called "Engaging Students in a 1:1 BYOT World" at Blackboard World 13 that was recorded by Echo360.

Measuring the Effectiveness of a Digital Classroom
Presented by Webinar for BlackBoard Engage and Regional Service Centers in Indiana w/ +Jen LaMaster August 28, 2013



Digital Citizenship: Beyond Cyberbullying and Selfies
Presented by Webinar for Jesuit Secondary Education Association w/ +Jen LaMaster
October 17, 2013


You can hear both @40ishoracle and myself in all our audio glory HERE.

Hanging Out: Creating a Classroom Community with Google+
Presented at Indiana Computer Educators on October 10th, 2013


So You've Gone 1:1 -- Now What?
Presented at Indiana Computer Educators on October 10th, 2013 w/ +Jen LaMaster 


Essentials of Lincoln-Douglas Debate
Presented September 6th, 2013 at the Indiana High School Forensic Association Coaches' Clinic



The soon-to-be-popular Jen and JD Show should have our second episode of the semester sometime this week (the school is going on Fall Break - Yay!)

What to catch us live?
November 13-15: Higher Education Computer Consortium, Indianapolis, IN
November 13-15: Jesuit Secondary Education Association, Technology Coordinators (Just JD)
November 17-21: Jesuit Secondary Education Association, Assistant Principals (Jen has this one)

January 26-29: Jesuit Secondary Education Assosciation, Librarians (Jen has the Keynote!)
January 28-31: Florida Education Technology Conference (JD has 2 sessions)

April 22-24: National Catholic Education Association (Jen and JD are back together for a roadtrip!)

...and we are waiting to hear back from ISTE :)

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Return of the Jen and JD Show! Goal Setting for 1:1, Reflections, and Guests!

Returning to blogging and vlogging with the awesome @40ishoracle.

Today's episode (about 20 minutes) features a reflection on our 1:1 BYOT implementation, some thoughts about setting goals for a 1:1 program, and an interview with two students in an iPad 1:1 school (who may or may not be my daughters during a parent-teacher conference inspired Take-Your-Daughter-to-Work day).



Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Quick Thoughts on Canaries, Coal Mines, and #EdReform

This is (Maybe) not going to be a TL;DR blog post. I am in the last week of setup before teachers return and have two labs, 40 teacher computers, two renovated classrooms and more to finish.

Yesterday, AP reporter Tom LoBianco broke a story that Tony Bennett, then State Superintendent was heavily involved in reassessing the Indiana A-F school grading system on behalf of one particular charter school.

Late yesterday afternoon, State Impact released an article where Bennett justifies the approach:
But Bennett, now Florida Commissioner of Education, defended his actions, saying Christel House is one of four charter schools widely recognized as the best in Indiana. 
“Tindley, Signature, Herron and Christel House — I made many comments that by any measure those would be four A schools,” Bennett told StateImpact Indiana. 
Bennett says his department ran into problems when initial calculations indicated the school would receive a C under the statewide accountability system, which didn’t sit well with the then-superintendent. 
“So when we looked at our data and saw that three of those schools were A’s and Christel House was not, that told me that there was a nuance in our data,” says Bennett. “Frankly, my emails portrayed correctly my frustrations with the fact that there was a nuance in the system that did not lend itself to face validity.”
Now lots of people will be talking about this over the next few days (Ravitch's Blog is LOL funny), but the debater in me noticed something that may not be picked up in all of the gleeful shouting.

Tony Bennett is basically running a "Canary in a Coal Mine" defense (named for those brave little birds who sacrificed themselves so that miners would have a chance to escape carbon monoxide poisoning).

If we believe that a) The charter school in question is clearly on par with the others named and b) that all four charters are clearly what "we" mean when we refer to an "A" level school. Then for any of those schools to not receive an "A" indicates a flaw in the system.

That is a consistent pleading. But in debate world, it opens itself up for a dilemma style attack. Either:

1. The accountability system which impacts school grades, reputations, teacher evaluations, grants, and more is flawed enough that it was worth a quick-scramble fix to "get it right" before the powers-that-be got upset

or

2. Bennett and his team hold that a school in which only 1/3 of the 10th grade students passed the Algebra test can still be an "A" worthy school:
E-mail response from Joe Gubera, Chief Accountability Officer
What is interesting, is that neither of these positions seems consistent with the #edreform rhetoric that calls for strong, data-based accountability that is well-researched and not prone to political influence. Teachers have been arguing for YEARS that there were problems with hanging a school by a few data points, particularly when the analytics experts themselves haven't quite got a handle on the data (see last year's Educational Analytics post which was confirmed this year by the head of BlackBoard's Data division).

The response has been that "we" (being the whiny teachers who are against #edreform and the invasion of #EdBiz in our schools -- or, you know, are skeptical of amorphous data -- or, you know, that think) just need to get on board and trust the numbers. Of course, that would fly in the face of proposition 2. Because those numbers do not look good from an accountability standpoint.

Bennett's solution?

E-mail from Tony Bennett, Same source as above

What would "solutions" that are "not explanations" be? The idea that this school might not be up to "A" snuff is not even considered. The Canary died so it is time to fix the problem.

When a dilemma is revealed, the best thing to do is to take a deep breath and step back.
Analyze your presumptions and premises. Something is wrong.

The problem isn't that Tony Bennett discovered that something is wrong. The problem is that the thing that was "wrong" flew in the face of his deeply held beliefs in how teachers, schools, students and education should be measured.

Maybe now we can have that discussion on a larger scale.
Maybe Bill Gates can accept the consequences of his role on this world of high-stakes accountability. Maybe other states can join (hopefully) Indiana in stepping back from PARCC before we enter into that can of murky data and expensive investments in non-educational resources.

We have a dead canary on our hands. This is our chance to escape.
Let's make sure that the problem we fix is the right one.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Guest Post: Parenting in a Post-Post Racial Society -- Teach Your Children Well

Opening up the space to guest-bloggers may become a more regular thing this year. This post comes from Elizabeth Ferries-Rowe (the seldom posting +Elizabeth Ferries-Rowe or @wishbabydoc), mother of 3 and Chief of OB/GYN at Wishard Memorial Hospital in Indianapolis, IN. She happens to be married to me, but after reading her thoughts this weekend, I felt it was important to expand her audience beyond FaceBook.


Being a parent is scary. You keep your kids close for a short time, and you teach them what you can to keep them safe when that time is up. Sometimes, though, that isn’t enough. When I heard the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, my first thought was of my friend Rana. We’ve known each other for years. We were residents together, and we joined the same practice after graduating residency. We’ve had our kids together, and we’ve shared the struggles of raising a family as busy full-time moms. We’ve swapped stories of pumping milk for our babies between C-sections at 3 a.m. and laughed as our precocious kids learn to speak like grown-ups through tiny mouths. Of course, as our kids get bigger, we’ve started to see where our parenting experiences will differ. I have three girls, and Rana has two boys. Also, Rana’s family is black.

The early commentary on the verdict has been revealing. From a legal standpoint, the verdict seems to be justified in light of Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law*. The law permits deadly force and does not require a person to attempt to escape a situation where he or she is threatened. The problem, of course, is that the degree to which one feels threatened is subjective. George Zimmerman reported to police that he feared for his life, and a jury of his peers believed that he was right to fear. What was it about that night that justified his fear in the eyes of a jury? Trayvon, 160 pounds and armed only with a bag of Skittles, was not perceived as a credible threat based on superior physical strength or overwhelming firepower. The jury accepted that Trayvon posed a threat because he was young and male and black. Of course, some will argue that Trayvon was a bad kid, and that bad outcomes are inevitable when you make bad choices. After all, he had a history of marijuana use and fights at school – as if those would justify his death. When George Zimmerman aimed a weapon at him that night, though, he knew none of that. He knew only that a young black man was walking through the neighborhood after dark - and that alone was enough to justify following him through the night, and ultimately killing him. If Trayvon had been anything other than who he was – white, or female, or elderly – and all other facts in the case remained the same, I doubt that Zimmerman would have been acquitted. If Zimmerman had reported fear for his life when faced with a 16-year-old white girl, the jury simply would not have believed him. Not that this theoretical 16-year-old white girl and Trayvon Martin would be meaningfully different in the threat they posed – only that Trayvon’s very person made him legitimately dangerous to those determining Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence.

The crime of being young and black is hardly news, despite our self-congratulatory claims of being a post-racial society, and I do not pretend to understand how it must feel to raise children under that cloud. We all face our parenting challenges. As my eldest hits puberty and only gets taller and blonder and tanner with every passing day, events like the sexual assault and social media humiliation of a teenage girl in Steubenville, Ohio last year make me wonder how to best protect my girls. Should I tell them never to attend parties? Should I tell them to be afraid of boys as they grow into young men? Should I tell them to be cautious that the way they dress doesn’t imply openness to sexual advances? I shouldn’t have to, but part of parenting girls in our society is teaching them that they can’t count on others to treat them as human beings, and that they must make smart decisions to protect themselves. The difference between me and Rana, though, is that I can teach my girls how to minimize the risk. I can teach my daughter not to wear short skirts, lest some young man conclude she was “asking for it”. How can Rana teach her boys not to black? Why should she have to try?

On the night of the verdict, I sent Rana a text: “Thinking of you tonight. Give your beautiful boys a hug for me, too.” She responded: “Thanks E. I’ve already cried…and will continue. My babies are not safe.”

I don’t know where to go from here. The case highlights the flaws of the “stand your ground”, but to focus only on that is to miss the bigger picture. There are a multitude who are more learned and more articulate that I am on the stereotype of the Angry Black Man in America, but I know that until we find a way to see a 16-year-old boy in a hoodie as just a 16-year-old boy in a hoodie, our society will continue to be constructed around fear. Rana’s boys are smart, funny, unique little people. When she sends them out at night in a few years, though, they will be smart, funny, unique young black men. It’s up to all of us to find a way to help her keep them safe.

* In light of the attention this article is getting today (Thanks, FARK :) ), the author (and wife) pointed out that she had corrected the Stand-Your-Ground line on her Facebook page as the details of the case were being publicized. Since I am not on FB much, I missed the update: 
"The early commentary on the verdict has been revealing. From a legal standpoint, the verdict seems to be justified based on the premise of self defense. The law permits deadly force and does not require a person to attempt to escape a situation where he or she is threatened." 
There is probably some room for discussion about SYG influence given the statements of at least one juror (example HERE), but I will leave that topic for the Fark message board. :)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Speed Dating -- A Redhead, Mixed Messages, and a #BbWorld13 Call to Action sans Notes

It began with an invitation that was given to all of the #BbWorld13 Bloggers: Come for a reception that will include food, drinks, a digital sketch artist, and SPEED DATING.

wow. I mean, you have to understand, not only am I very happily married, but I am intensely introverted. I am the blogger that scared off other bloggers and made them feel bad about talking to me. I practically invented the hashtag #tweetfrom10ftaway.

Was I ready for this? Well, I did look pretty good in my Google Glass and I was wearing my lucky Dr. Who shirt. So, with a lot of hesitation, I entered the a live-action version of the blogosphere.

They plied us with food and drinks. The sketch artist was AMAZING (I'll share the pic soon, but I never got my digital copy). And then one of the organizers approached me and said that I would be paired off with @MedinaTech.

Catalyst Winner,
@medinatech
Wait a minute? That isn't how speed dating works!

I will give it to BlackBoard, they really did their homework. She was a 40-something, midwestern mother of three two. She was a redhead. Sure, she was a little into checking her phone, but who among us is not? I mean, there seemed to be no downside.

Then they told the two of us that we were speed dating together and that our first table had another two people already at the table! Well, I certainly knew where Blackboard sat on the political spectrum. Talk about innovative!

My introverted sensibilities were reeling. What had I gotten myself into?!? But, WTH, we were in Vegas after all....

Speed Dating Table #1: Social Learning
We were paired off with two experts in social learning. And then came that awkward moment where we had to break the ice. What to say?

  • "So, think this twitter thing will ever take off?" - stupid
  • "Are LOLcats the zen koan of the modern age?"  - i mean, i want to be generous, but how do you even hold a Big Mac with those paws?

Greg, casually dropping bombshells
Then I realized. I was a blogger. I was here for the hard-hitting questions!

"So, think Blackboard will ever make a play for MySpace?"

A silence fell over the table. In a hushed whisper, our social media guru looked at us and said "No. That is not going to happen"

Mind. Blown.

At our first table. On the first real question...

We had discovered a company that Blackboard would not buy!!

and then it was time to move on...

Speed Dating Table #2: Mobile and Mosaic
Oh this guy was smooth.

He made us feel comfortable by lulling us into a conversation about whether he was table #1 or #2 or #3. He used latin words like de jure and de facto. I knew from my time on the interwebs that girls go for Latin men. Would @MedinaTech be swayed?

He was there to sell. He had a product called Mosaic. It's a big deal here at #bbworld13. It is social and mobile and gives news and...stuff. I would love to tell you more but just as the conversation was getting interesting...

It was time to move on (look, I told you in the title I didn't have my notes).

Speed Dating Table #3: Analytics
(NOOOOOOOOOOooooooo! - emphasis added by jd)

He tried to cover it up with words like data analysis and aggregation. He talked a good game, but finally I sussed it out: "Wait, you're the analytics guy!"

Now long-time readers of this blog (or, you know, from yesterday) know my feelings about analytics. I switched into debate mode. I had one of the enemies of education in my sights and I was ready for it!

He began talking about the systems he worked on that allowed institutions to pull information from a variety of sources and generate reports based on student demographics, course content, common core state standards, up-time, usage logs...you name it.

Oh. I had him.

"Soooo, you do a great job pulling information, but is education really at the point that we can do much with this information? I mean, we aren't Google or Amazon. Insurance Actuarial number-geeks had years worth of data before they were willing to say anything other than smoking was bad for you."

Ka-Boom

Paraphrased Response:
No. You are absolutely right. We don't even know what some of the matrices and permutations are yet. This is a very early field and we are just beginning to tap into the power of numbers. It takes a lot of thought and lots and lots of data for the experts to begin to tap into the long range potential.

Um...yeah.

"So, does Blackboard provide this analysis?"

"No. We give the tools to generate the reports. Figuring out what to do with the data is the responsibility of the individual institution. It's complicated but there is some really great information you can get even at this early stage."

...and it was time to move.

Speed Dating Table #4: MOOCs
If you haven't heard, "MOOC" (which is Massive Open Online Classroom) is the "Flipped Classroom" of 2013. Every company is an expert. It will be a game-changer. It will solve all the problems of education without addressing a single social ill (that actually has some of that analytic validity).

Internet History, Technology
and Security Badge
I was still off my game from the analytics guy basically agreeing with my whole problem with the movement in Big Data.

Then this guy (he is the pretty awesome @drchuck) gave me a sticker. Oh, man, he is good. I am a sucker for an external motivator. I am totally taking his course! -- this could be the one...my first MOOC I actually complete!

That led into a conversation about the online class movement. Dr. Chuck, one of the original players in the field, was concerned with the proliferation of "experts" both corporate and consulting that didn't really understand how students learn or how technology can and cannot be leveraged to address these needs.

We talked about the potential of MOOCs beyond 5th year differential calculus. Could it be used for remedial education? Is there a chance to access the motivational barriers that derail so many people. Do these motivational solutions arise from the MASSIVE or the ONLINE?

Exciting stuff...but it was time to go *sigh* -- I am not cut out for speed dating.

Speed Dating Bonus: Are you a Man or a Puppet?
and then I saw him.
From across the room.
I couldn't believe he was here.
I mean, there was a rumor that he had applied for a press badge and been soundly rejected (and by that, I mean no one replied to his tweet).

But here he was. And he came to see me!

A man's puppet. An #edtech legend. Interviewer extraordinaire:

Wokka Patue and his handler Sam
Maybe I am pretty good at this speed dating thing after all!

On Reflection: Calling Blackboard to a Become Digital Citizen and Educational Advocate
What I like about Blackboard, despite their categorization as an educational business and all the profit motive angst that goes along with it is this:

At its core are people who are excited about the potential for the future of education and the role of technology within it. They have people who know what it means to be on the cutting edge and the uncertainty, exploration, occasional failures, and potential payoff that comes with it. 

These are people who site at the core of some of the major movements in educational technology not just for this year or next year but for 10 years from now.

So, my question for Blackboard is "where are you in the conversation?"

When the Gates Foundation's paid politicians talk about the data gleaned from a glorified digital bubble test as if it is the analytic cornucopia that bypasses years of teaching experience, do you tell them publicly "We are not there yet!"

When every vendor is fighting for a slice of the MOOC pie and struggling school districts are requiring online courses for every students, do you tell them that we really don't have the full picture on human motivation in the online world yet and that the students with the most potential to benefit might also not be ready for the technology being offered?

When Common Core stands as the good guy of education while the PARCC test stands in the wings waiting to give us another half-generation of test-obsessed, noise-ridden data, that has no actionable use in the classroom, do you shout from the roof tops: The Common Core demands that you assess students' ability to think critically, collaborate, and use the internet. PARCC does none of this, but our system can do it!

When the CEO, Jay Bhatt, calls for the company that leads the way in educational technology to become a better digital citizen, he has to come to the table with more than an auto-routing text service.

The teachers and the students of the nation need an advocate who can combat the half-truths and testing/publishing monoliths and deep-pocketed foundations. You have the knowledge and expertise and clout to be that advocate.

There is your gauntlet.
Please, pick it up.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Making Sure the Juice is Worth the Squeeze: A #BbWorld13 Rant

MMM. so much work
My wife has a simple rule about eating. She refuses to eat food, no matter how good it tastes, that is not worth the effort. No crab legs; no lobster. Fresh squeezed orange juice? right out. This typically works to my advantage since i get to look like a superhero just by cracking a lobster tail for her.


This thought was going through my head this morning as I started to reflect on the conversations that I had yesterday evening entering the vendor fair. If you have not been to one of these conferences, it is a sight to behold -- booths from all of the big names in Educational Technology: Blackboard (duh), Macmillan, Pearson -- you get the idea. If they have made money off of teachers and students (and, in this case, hook into the Blackboard ecosystem), they are here.


As I was walking in, I was wrapping up a conversation with two Blackboard administrators who were discussing the best practices for rolling out new versions of the software (a generally thankless task). They asked how we did this at Brebeuf Jesuit and I had to go into the elevator speech about why a school-geek would present at Blackboard World since we don't use Blackboard (our school uses the k-12 product that was acquired by the LMS-megalith two years ago: EdLine).


The conversation turned to our BYOT program and I made a comment along the lines of 
“but BYOT isn't limited to a device. We encourage our teachers to try new things and new products. They just need to link into it from the LMS so parents and students know what is going on." 
Sometimes these experiments cost a little money and sometimes the program grows big enough to warrant a site license or broader training and development (“Flipped Classrooms” are a good example of both of these).


The response was striking:
“That is a wonderful idea. That’s just how it should be. How do you pull in the data and activity from all of these different sources so that you can report it?”

My response: The juice isn’t worth the squeeze.


Interlude: #EdTech Worshiping at the  Altar of Analytics
My colleague’s question is legitimate in this day and age.  In modern education, if you can’t attach a number that can be processed as an analytic permutation that shows adequate yearly progress, personalized student growth metrics, or widgets per cognitive unit then your program is dead in the modern educational water.


We had a vendor who was very excited to come to our Jesuit school and show us a program that would give district level curriculum administrators incredible data with drill-down (a wonderfully popular buzzword) potential all the way down to the number of students within specific grade-bands who correctly answered a multiple choice question on an in-class quiz.


Think about that: Why would a district level admin need to know that 32 percent of students getting a "C" in Mr. Smith’s English classed missed question 3 on the pop quiz? She wouldn’t.


But that is what sells. Thanks Gates Foundation.
End Interlude.


My actual response:
"We don’t collect the data. Given the choice between forcing teachers to use only those products that can be effectively parsed for data of questionable value (see last year’s bbworld post on Analytics), we would rather err on the side of academic freedom."

But what I meant was "The Juice Isn’t Worth the Squeeze."


Some technologies being touted at Blackboard World ‘13:
  • Lockdown systems: create a browser that does NOT have access to the largest repository of human knowledge ever
  • Monitored Proctoring Systems: Use webcams to make sure that students are actually taking the test, paying attention, not using tools inappropriately
  • Lots and Lots of analytics w/ Drill-down
  • eTextbooks with student activity features including how many seconds each student spends on a particular page
  • "Flipped Classroom" video software that records the number of times a student watches a segment, quizzes them for attention, and notes the number of blinks per second (one of these might be snark).
All of these systems gather data and report it back in very pretty charts and graphs. Many of them, by nature of the blackboard ecosystem, can cross apply this data to grades and demographics.  Most of this makes data gurus (of which I am one) drool and harken to the Big Data Acolytes’ dreams of the future of education.


But very little of this has a practical application in the day-to-day life of the teacher. The day-to-day life of the teacher does not afford time to get through all of the class material, let alone parse and analyze data to find trends that might indicate an individual learning difference.


But it is for this data that we are willing to place handcuffs on the creativity of our teachers and our students and deny them access to emerging, innovative technology that is often free!
  • Before we invest in the newest product on the vendor floor...
  • Before we become dazzled by reports that may never be printed let alone impact our classrooms...
  • Before we forbid the use of tools or websites or apps simply because they don't contribute to AYP...
Let's take a collective step back and think about the purpose of data. When the CEO of Blackboard says in his keynote: "BIG DATA unto itself doesn't matter that much", it may be a good time to reflect.

Data is a tool that has the potential to inform our educational practices, to give new opportunities for students in the classroom, to provide appropriate and indicated experiences.

But at the point that we sacrifice new opportunities, innovative experiences, and best practices because it doesn't fit our data gathering methodology... The cost has become too high.

The Juice is no longer worth the squeeze.