Educating without ‘Bricks and Mortar’

Online learning doesn’t have to be second best, argue Jeffrey Scarborough and Raymond Ravaglia in Bricks and Mortar: The Making of a Real Education at the Stanford Online High School.

As a seventh grader, my daughter learned algebra through Ravaglia’s Education Program for Gifted Youth, an early distance-learning venture. It got her out of a badly taught “new new math” pre-algebra class.

Apprentice teachers learn what works


Bianka Mariscal with a student at Aspire East Palo Alto Charter School (Jim Wilson/New York Times)

After a one-year apprenticeship, new teachers learn what works in the classroom, reports the New York Times.

Aspire Public Schools, a charter system with schools in California and Memphis, pays teacher residents a stipend while they’re learning their craft. “Mentors believe that the most important thing that novice teachers need to master is the seemingly unexciting — but actually quite complex — task of managing a classroom full of children.”

At Aspire, where most students come from low-income families, residents spend four days a week in a single classroom working with a mentor from late summer through the end of the school year. On the fifth day, they take seminars, role-playing typical situations and deconstructing videos while practicing almost scripted approaches to teaching. If they complete the program, they each earn a master’s degree and a teaching credential through a partnership with a local university.

David Nutt, 26, a Dartmouth graduate who’d taught Palestinian fourth graders in the West Bank, started out in a high school science classroom, but struggled to learn the material while also learning how to teach. In mid-year, he transferred to an Oakland elementary school. That proved to be a good fit.

One March morning, Mr. Nutt jotted division equations on a white board and the students eagerly volunteered to check the work using multiplication. (Mentor Rebecca) Lee, who had gone through a residency herself, filmed him on a Flip video camera and an iPad Mini.

After school, Ms. Lee showed Mr. Nutt the videos. He realized he had dominated the lesson and needed to give the students more time to grapple with math concepts on their own. The pair worked on a plan to double the student talk time.

After his year-long residency, Nutt was hired as a third-grade teacher.

Bianka Mariscal 22, the first college graduate in her family, returned to her old K-8 Aspire school in East Palo Alto as an apprentice — and now a first-grade teacher.

Aspire pays “residents” $13,500 and spends another $15,000 on their training and benefits, reports the Times.  It sounds like a good investment.

The U.S. Education Department is putting some grant money into teacher residency programs.

The shadow knows

 

After 14 years in the classroom, a teacher turned learning coach shadowed two students for two days. She scribbled notes, did a chemistry lab and took tests with her host students, a 10th grader and a 12th grader.

It was exhausting — and enlightening, she writes. Over the two days, students spent 90 percent of the time sitting passively and listening (or not listening).

If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately:

Offer brief, blitzkrieg-like mini-lessons with engaging, assessment-for-learning-type activities following directly on their heels (e.g. a ten-minute lecture on Whitman’s life and poetry, followed by small-group work in which teams scour new poems of his for the very themes and notions expressed in the lecture, and then share out or perform some of them to the whole group while everyone takes notes on the findings.)

Set an egg timer every time I get up to talk and all eyes are on me. When the timer goes off, I am done.

. . . Ask every class to start with students’ Essential Questions or just general questions born of confusion from the previous night’s reading or the previous class’s discussion. I would ask them to come in to class and write them all on the board, and then, as a group, ask them to choose which one we start with and which ones need to be addressed.

She’d also set a personal “no sarcasm” goal and ask students to hold her accountable for it.

“Teachers work hard, but I now think that conscientious students work harder,” she concludes. All teachers should spend a day as a shadow to build empathy for their students.

‘Free’ college won’t help needy students

“Free community college” programs won’t help low-income students because they already pay little or no tuition. Nearly all benefits of the Tennessee Promise and Chicago’s new scholarships will go to middle-class students who aren’t eligible for Pell Grants and other aid.

Why teens sext

About a third of older teens have sent a naked photo of themselves, usually to a boyfriend or girlfriend, writes Hanna Rosin in Why Kids Sext in The Atlantic.

Why do teens sext? Because they’re stupid?

Michelle Obama: Advice to my teen-age self

Michelle Obama: Advice to My Younger SelfWhat advice would you give to your younger self? People asked Michelle Obama.

“Stop being so afraid!,” she replied. “That’s really what strikes me when I look back – the sheer amount of time I spent tangled up in fears and doubts that were entirely of my own creation. I was afraid of not knowing the answer in class and looking stupid, or worried about what some boy thought of me, or wondering whether the other girls liked my clothes or my hair, or angsting about some offhand comment someone made to me in the lunchroom.”

I would love to go back in time and tell my younger self, “Michelle, these middle and high school years are just a tiny blip in your life, and all the slights and embarrassments and heartaches, all those times you got that one question wrong on that test – none of that is important in the scheme of things.”

When my daughter entered her teens, I shared my hard-won wisdom. “Other people don’t care about your hair or your clothes. They’re worried about their own hair and their own clothes.”

From ‘meh’ to ‘muahaha’

The Halloween Decorating Kit at Steve Spangler Science promises 10 activities to take your trick-or-treaters from “meh” to “muahaha.”

. . . make your home or classroom into the spooky and ghastly fright-fest you’ve always wanted. No more peeled grapes for eyeballs and spaghetti for brains and guts. You’re going to use amazing hands-on science to create an unforgettably haunting experience!

The kit includes “glowing ghost eggs, growing brains and, of course, toxic zombie blood.

Halloween: Too pagan for schools?

When some parents complained Halloweeen is a pagan holiday, a New Jersey school canceled the annual celebrations.

But Halloween is back on the schedule at Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood.

District officials decided they needed more time to discuss the issue.

Each year, students whose parents object to celebrating Halloween are given an alternative activity.

Parents who think Halloween is the work of the devil must be frustrated by how much fun the holiday is for its celebrants. It’s tough to compete.

Think tankers don’t like the Vergara strategy

Think tankers hate the Vergara strategy, writes Alexander Russo in linking to the American Federation of Teachers’ anti-Campbell Brown video.

Why? “Think tankers and others are feeling burned by the pushback against reforms of the recent era (the so-called “war on teachers”), they’re not as nearly familiar with legal strategies (as opposed to policies, programs, and politics), and they probably think they’re smarter than Campbell Brown, who’s leading the charge.”

LA Superintendent Deasy resigns

Under fire from all sides, John Deasy has resigned as superintendent of Los Angeles Unified. “Needless to say this has been hard work, in fact exhausting work,” Deasy wrote in his resignation letter. “I am proud and honored, but it is time for a transition.”

deasy2He’ll stay on for the rest of the school year as a consultant, while Ramon Cortines — the veteran reliever for urban school districts — will be interim superintendent.

Deasy’s three and half years were “mired in controversy over technology missteps like the rollout of a $1.3 billion iPad program and a court case that struck down teacher tenure laws in California,” notes the Hechinger Report.

However, test scores and graduation rates are up, while suspension rates “have dropped dramatically.”

Deasy testified for the prosecution in the Vergara trial, which overturned state laws governing teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal. He never discussed the case with the school board, trustee Steve Zimmer told the Hechinger Report.

Zimmer was particularly disturbed that Deasy seemed to enjoy taking down laws that were put in place to protect the 28,000 teachers he leads.

“You take something that needs a scalpel and careful instrumentation and instead you take out the sledgehammer,” says Zimmer. “Deasy wasn’t careful enough to avoid the perception that he enjoyed using the sledgehammer. He fought for things he really believed in, which is fine, but he wasn’t careful about how it would be perceived by the people who have to teach our kids everyday.”

Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., isn’t a big fan of the Vergara lawsuit, yet he admires that Deasy stuck to his principles. “For a superintendent to make it clear that he hopes his own district will lose a lawsuit in order to effect change takes a little bit of chutzpah,” says Hess.

Deasy was hired to shake up the system, says David Menefee-Libey, a politics professor at Pomona.

Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa brought Deasy into the district with backing from billionaire Eli Broad, with the hope of growing the charter school system, confronting the teachers union, and changing the terms of teacher employment in Los Angeles.

“Unless you think the status quo is just hunky-dory, you can sit back and do the same old, same old because it makes it easier or congenial,” says Joel Klein, former schools chancellor in New York City. “If you’re not willing to do things that are controversial, then in my view you’re not going to change things for kids, and if you’re not going to change things for kids, then why be a superintendent?”