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Home | Tag Archives: tim holt

Tag Archives: tim holt

Op-Ed: We are teaching kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet – A 2019 Update

“We are teaching kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet.”

Most teachers have heard that phrase, or some variation of it, during a professional development somewhere along in their career journey.

It became popular around 2007 along with a video by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod called “Shift Happens” which successfully started many conversations about what schools need to do to get their students ready for a world that we a) cannot see b) cannot imagine and c) are not prepared for.

You can see the latest version of the video here:

That phrase about “jobs that don’t exist” has been used to ask educators about what is important in education, and has been a stimuli for a multitude of sessions, where educators look at what is really needed in education.

For instance a question that comes up again and again is whether or not students need to know “factoids,” those little pieces of information that they probably will never in their lives need to know expect to impress someone at a dinner party, but can be easily looked up on the internet.

Does a student need to spend time learning that the General that led the Union Soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg was Major General George Gordon Meade? Probably not. Yet some classes spend inordinate amounts of time learning those kind of minutia.

Now, the conversation has shifted even beyond that, with some questioning if students need to learn how to do such intricacies as differential equation problem solving, when there are faster and much more accurate technology means to do the same thing.

Perhaps, some like Wolfram Alpha founder Stephen Wolfram have speculated, that students should learn more about what type of problem to be used in what situation, and let the computers do the “heavy lifting” of computation.

Any decent education system should focus on the future, that place where students will spend the rest of their lives living in. However I think that the statement about preparing students for jobs that do not exist needs to have a corollary question to go along with it: “Are we preparing students for jobs that will not exist in the future?”

One doesn’t need to take a trip into a time machine to see that many jobs we currently have are going the way of the Dodo bird. Speaking at a recent workshop, EdSurge founder Betsy Cocoran said that “Any job that can be systematized can be automated.”

What does that mean exactly, to “systemitize” a job? Essentially, any job that currently requires steps, from A to B to C to final product can be systematized. Think of making a car. That is a very systematic process.

Part 1 is added to Part 2, to Part 3 and so on until a car is born. An assembly line of almost any kind is ripe for automation. But often , we think of “systematized” jobs as those in big industries like manufacturing.

Now, with artificial intelligence, jobs that we once thought could not be systematized are indeed on the verge of being sytemitized. Everything from CPAs to lawyers, mortgage brokers, even entire fields in medicine like X-ray technician and sonogram reader are on their way to the dustbin of history.

Machines have already shown that they can read and identify cancers in mammograms better than humans , can diagnose disease better than humans , and can even tell strikes and balls better than human umpires. It is not hard to see that jobs that require drivers, from trucking to airlines are going to be automated in the near future.

Newspapers today are using “robotic journalists” to write stories without any human help. You probably have read a robotic news article and had no idea it was written by a machine. And it was possible because every single one of these examples can be systematized. Truck driving, cooking, hamburger flipping, plane flying, bank tillering CPA-ing, lawyering, are all on the AI chopping block.

Are we training students for jobs that are not going to exist in the future?

If it can be systematized, then yes, we are. Education needs to be looking at training students for jobs that require a new way of looking at the job market. What kind of jobs SHOULD we be training students to have in the future? According to Career Addict, there are three types of careers that are pretty safe for now from the rise of systemized automation:

  • Creative Jobs: Artists, scientists, writers, poets, musicians, actors, Those job require inspiration, something AI just won’t have in the foreseeable future.
  • Relationship Based Jobs: Even though AI has its foot in the procedural doorway of medicine, there still will be a need for doctors and other types of professions that rely on building relationships with people.
  • Unpredictable Jobs: Those jobs that require someone to be in an unpredictable situation such as an emergency service worker, a plumber (or any trade that requires immediate help from an unpredictable situation).

Are we preparing our students for jobs that won’t be affected by AI, perhaps even teaching them to be in AI as programmers and not receivers of the programs, or are we preparing them for careers that won’t exist 15 or 20 years from now?

Good educators should be preparing students for the future. Great educators should be preparing students for how to navigate it.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Hey kids: Let’s learn a useless skill!

Here is a little game you can play with your coworkers: try to find a document at your work that is written in cursive from beginning to end. Go ahead I will wait.

How many did you find? I suspect that it was very close to zero.

Here is the next game you can play: Try to remember the last time you had to read a document that was written entirely in cursive. Go ahead, I will wait. Was it last week? Last month? Last year?

Can you even remember a time?

Here is another: When was the last time you were asked to write something in cursive for your work? Received an email in cursive? Read a book in cursive? Read a road sign, a billboard, a loan application, a mortgage, a car lease, a divorce decree? The truth is, unless you have a job as a calligrapher, you do not need to use cursive writing at all in today’s modern world.

Writing in cursive simply is a skill that is no longer necessary in today’s world. Sorry fans of longhand. The ship has sailed. The train has left the station. The toothpaste is out of the tube.

You are reading this online, in print type, where I would venture to guess nearly 100% of the writing is presented in non-cursive format. Have you been negatively impacted by that fact? Has your brain suffered? No, you don’t even realize that nearly all writing is in print format because print is so ubiquitous. Thank you Mr. Gutenberg. Your revolution is nearly complete.

Yet, despite a nearly 100% lack of any kind of need, starting next year in elementary schools all across Texas, resurrected like a character in the Walking Dead, cursive writing as part of the newly adopted English Language Arts TEKS will begin to be taught again.

Proponents of this “kids need to learn a dead skill” initiative cite several reasons for bringing it back. The first is the disproven notion that students need to know cursive writing in order to read historical documents like the Constitution. (Debunked about a year ago). In fact, you don’t need to know how to WRITE in cursive in order to READ in cursive. Those are two completely different skills.

A student can be taught to read cursive in about 30 minutes. You don’t have to know calligraphy in order to read the Coca-Cola logo, do you?

The second is that learning to write cursive somehow improves hand-eye coordination in little ones. Perhaps this is partially true, but so does learning to play an instrument, painting a picture, drawing, and playing video games. Data from research indicates that cursive writing has no greater benefit to students than any of those activities, yet we don’t have “video games” as part of the standard curriculum.

So why the push to bring it back?

The TEKS , those standards that your child is mandated by law to learn and school districts are obliged to teach, are not free from political influences and pressures. What your child learns in school is subject to legislative arm twisting, lobbying efforts by hundreds of organizations, and hearings by multiple committees and departments.

In a red state like Texas, we often are pressured by lawmakers to return to a fantasy world that never existed, where mom stayed at home dutifully vacuuming the carpet daily, dad brought home the bacon, and all the little white children were above average. You remember those days, don’t you?

Those days were the days when all the little children learned how to write in cursive, so that they could send Grandma a Christmas card each year, handwritten, making her so proud. You remember right? No you don’t.

The problem, of course, is that world didn’t really exist, except in the imaginations of politicians who continually mistake ’50’s and ’60’s TV sitcom families for reality. The fact, separate from the fantasy and the voices in their heads, is that many of the skills taught back then are not needed today. We taught Latin as a matter of course in many schools “back then.” We don’t teach Latin, except in some select places, anymore. And good riddance. Latina mortua est.

Cursive writing was put back into the TEKS because of some crazy longing for “the good old days” that really never existed except in the minds of east Texas white Tea Party Republicans. Qualem blennum!

Cursive writing, like Latin, is nearly dead. Want more proof? After 5th grade, there is not a single TEKS that revisits cursive writing. Not one. In any subject. In other words, the skill is completely ignored after students leave elementary school, never to be seen again. T

hat is 4 years (2-5th grades) that is wasted on a skill of very little value other than to make some east Texas blue haired ladies that taught elementary school in the 1950’s happy. For the next seven years a child is in school, they will not be asked to write a single thing in cursive. Not a single thing.

The STAAR test won’t be written in cursive, and the written responses can be submitted in cursive or printed format. Of course, if they are taking the test online, print is the default.

Teaching cursive handwriting should go the way of the educational Dodo bird. We have quite a few of those dead skills and classes that we, as a society, have tossed aside because time and technology have made them useless. Sliderules, keyboarding, “Home Ec” and how to shoe a horse are among the thousands of things we have relegated to the dustbin of educational history.

It’s time we send cursive writing there as well. Let’s teach kids skills that they actually will need to succeed in their futures, not some politician’s fantasy past.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Teachers That are Not Connected Take Away Opportunities From Students

Have you ever mentally kicked yourself in the butt for missing an exciting opportunity because you never knew about it? Missed that $49 Southwest ticket to Hawaii because your best friend who usually tells you about great deals didn’t text you this time? Don’t you hate that feeling?

Sometimes you miss an event because of extenuating circumstances, sometimes you miss because what normally happens didn’t happen, and sometimes you miss out because you weren’t tuned into the possible opportunity. Most of the time we miss events on accident.

We don’t purposely try to miss something of importance.

More recently, you may have felt that same kind of feeling because you may have not have access to particular media. When everyone else is watching Star Trek Discovery or Game of Thrones, you are not a subscriber to CBS All Access or HBO.

Missed opportunity because you weren’t connected.

Now, how would you feel if the same were happening to your child because your child’s teacher refused to get connected? Refused you say?

Yup. Refused.

In my experience, I have come across teachers that have said to me that they refuse to have internet at their homes because they “don’t want to be bothered with all that “internet.”

I once had an elementary teacher tell me that students didn’t need to know “all that stuff” until they got in high school. She used that as a justification to leave her laptop at school, have her son do anything that required after hours internet work, not have wifi at home, and never use the provided tools that the school district purchased.

And she is not alone.

One teacher celebrated her “cutting the internet cord” in a blog entry “Disconnected: How Cutting My Home Internet Access Saved My Teaching Career”

The fact is, there are still many educators that simply refuse to connect to the resources and opportunities that are freely available to students either during or after work hours. Those that refuse to connect are missing a world of opportunities for their students. Those that are connected give their students an advantage that the others are missing, simply because their teachers do not look for learning opportunities.

There is indeed a “digital divide” between those that do, and those that do not.

Take for instance this little video:

In it, Chris Hatfield, perhaps the worlds most famous astronaut, held a world wide “sing along” with students all over the world, live, from the International Space Station. Silly? Perhaps. But students all over the world were able to actually interact with an astronaut, in space. Live. What an excellent experience, and it only happened in classrooms where the teacher was connected enough to know about the event.

Did your kid participate? I bet they would have told you if they did. But chances are, your kid’s teacher wasn’t connected.

How about this? How often does your child have a chance to talk to a famous scientist like Jane Goodall? They can you know. And teachers that are connected have a much better chance of knowing about it than teachers that aren’t. Yeah they can do it here on April 2 or April 9.

Think your kids are doing that? Or participating in any of a million different opportunities that are available to students and teachers on the internet? If their teacher is not connected, actively looking for these opportunities, then they are not exposed to these types of opportunities.

For instance, there are Virtual Field trips held throughout the year in SKYPE:

“From the Earth’s ecosystem to the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, our world is connected. When we begin to relate one piece of learning with another and then another, the connections create a more complete picture of our complex world. Students can experience this through integrated curriculum, as well as using technology to literally connect themselves with others in the world. Our brains crave familiarity and connections, so let’s provide that for them. -Ginger Lewman”

If today’s educators, which are supposed to be preparing students for their future, are not connected to the opportunities that are available online for their students, then they are, effectively, committing educational malpractice.

The Texas state standards for education, known as the TEKS, specifically require teachers to be giving their students opportunities to practice the four “C’s” of modern learning: Collaboration, Connectivity, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.

How can a teacher teach students to collaborate for instance, if they do not collaborate? How can a teacher show students proper ways to connect with each other of they are not connected?

Some educators might say “I am connected.” But what being connected means in their mind is often that they personally are connected online to their children in college perhaps, using Facebook or finding lesson on Teachers-Pay-Teachers.

As a professional, teachers need to look beyond the geographic boundaries of their schools, districts or states and connect with other educators across the globe. Connected does not mean going up on Pintrest and looking for an unvetted lesson plan or paying $1 for something a teacher in Enid Oklahoma did with his students.

Connectedness means being able to get online, and seek the answers to questions and having a wide network of colleagues that can help you answer the questions or find that online opportunity. online professional learning communities are more powerful than almost any other educational tools a teacher can use.

If a teacher has no online PLC, they they are depriving themselves, and their students of opportunities that others are experiencing.

Of course not every teacher is going to find every opportunity. But there are places on the internet that aggregate learning opportunities. The Microsoft Educator Community comes to mind immediately. Those are the kind of places teachers that are not connected get started.

Teachers that ignore or shun such opportunities for their students are not doing any favors for their students or the community. And even “successful teachers” that have not become technologically connected, no matter how good, are setting up their students for future failure.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Lack of Critical Thinking by Students and the Media. Example #34523195323

A recent piece on a local news station depicted the supposed problem of “milky” water coming from a water fountain at a local high school.

Indeed, a semi-viral video was taken that shows what appears to be the suspect water with some kind of white substance, flowing into someone’s receiving hands.

“This is what y’all are drinking?” was the phrase embedded in the video.

What could it be?

Anyone that has lived any amount of time in this city knows that what the students were actually looking at was a situation where tiny bubbles are released when the pressure or temperature changes inside a water system, not unlike what happens when a bottle of soda is opened. It is the public tap water version of carbonation.

Those billions of tiny bubbles, in the right lighting, make the water appear to temporarily look whitish.

The reporter then went on to ask students if the taste of the water was different (it wasn’t) and, to his credit, even linked to a US Geological Survey webpage that explained the phenomenon, which occurs so often in El Paso that it can’t be considered phenomenal.

However, to students who grow up with prepackaged water from a plastic bottle, the appearance of anything that is not “perfect” must mean something nefarious is happening. (All bananas must be yellow, all tomatoes must be red, and anything off the norm must be bad is what these students (and reporter) are saying here and what they have been taught by society to accept as truth.)

Conclusion of the story: It wasn’t water laced with Round Up, milk, or some nefarious carcinogen. It was tiny, harmless, bubbles.

After thinking about that piece for a while, it occurred to me that while this was a non-story that somehow ended up on the air, the reporter did not ask the students any basic questions, did not have the person that created the video on air, did not look critically at the video itself (does this happen anywhere else), and had to take a “something must be wrong” attitude in order to even do the story.

Why didn’t the reporter ask for a sample of the suspect water?

Why wouldn’t the student who created the video want to provide further evidence?

Non-critical reporting is not taught in journalism, but seems to be par for the course in El Chuco.

Concurrently, the students that created the video demonstrated a total lack of critical thinking. Did the water look like that after 10 seconds? 20 seconds? Half a minute?

Consider that this event took place at a high school. High schools have science departments, including chemistry classes. Most modern high schools have equipment for testing water, some even equipped with sensors that can detect dissolved and precipitate matter in water.

Why didn’t these students think to first take a sample of the water to one of the Chemistry teachers at the campus? There are 22 science teachers at the campus, including AP Chemistry.

Surely one teacher could have easily given the students a beaker, taken a sample, and tested it, or better yet, have the students test it. If there was no problem, case dismissed. If they found an irregularity, THEN report it to the campus administration. None of that seems to have been done in this case.

Every moment is a teaching moment if we make it so or teach students that way.

Probably, teachers weren’t even aware of the student concerns in the first place, which bring to mind the question “Why aren’t students trained to seek ways to answer their questions first?” That is what the scientific method is all about.

In this case, these particular students did not seem to remember a single lesson taught on problem solving.

Students, who are always accused by adults of spending too much time on the internet, apparently spent no time looking up what might have caused “milky water” in the first place.

A simple Google search on “What causes water to look milky?” brings up hundreds of websites in less than a second.

Why wasn’t this done by the students? Why didn’t the report ask them?

To me, this is a sad commentary on the critical need to teach students basic problem solving, not about “milky water” at one high school.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Positive Deviance: A Different Way to Solve Problems

Chances are you have never heard of the term “Positive Deviance.” Positive Deviance (PD) is a way of problem solving. Instead of looking at the bad and trying to correct for it, one looks at the good and tries to replicate it.

Positive Deviance has implications for how we try to fix problems in education. But first, let’s look at the most famous example of what positive deviance is:

During the 1990’s, nutritionists led by Jerry and Monique Sternin of Save the Children went to Vietnam to try and resolve a nationwide childhood malnutrition problem. No small task: solve a nationwide problem. To begin to fix the problem, the team went into a small village to investigate the practices of the villagers.

In the past, the model to fix a problem like this was to supply the affected villages with food. Problem solved. (Donated food is only as good as long as the donations keep coming. Once the donations dry up, the problem returns.)

The teams noticed that certain children did not show signs of malnutrition. These children were the poorest of the poor in the village. The team found that these children were drinking water from a pond that was for the “lesser” members of the village. These parents collected and prepared foods considered unsuitable for children like sweet potatoes, weeds, and crabs, washed their children’s hands before meals, and fed them three to four times a day instead of the typical two meals a day provided for other children.

All considered unusual. Yet, the pond contained microscopic brine shrimp, which provided nutrition to the children. The “dirty water” was actually better for kids because of the shrimp. The sweet potatoes, weeds, and crabs also were full of vitamins that other children had deficiencies in .

Even though it was a “dirty” pond to drink from the deviant behavior (drinking from the pond) provided positive results. Likewise, eating the sweet potatoes and greens also provided nutrition, even though considered “low class behavior.” Positive results from deviance. With the knowledge of what worked, the Sternin’s team was able to affect change on a large scale in Vietnam. So much so that a 65% malnutrition rate in children changed to a 85% wellness rate in a few years.

Since then, the idea of positive deviance as a driver for change has spread across the globe. Researchers at UTEP for instance, have looked at PD to cut down on recidivism of former inmates.

How can we take the lessons of positive deviance and apply them in an educational setting? Consider how educators solve the problem of low test scores: When a student fails, educators look at what the student did. They look at the reasons for failure. According to Positive Deviance, they are looking in the wrong place. Teachers need to look at successful students and ask: Why were they successful?

When looking at graduation rates for certain groups of students, instead of focusing on what the non-graduating students did wrong, a school should consider what similar students that did graduate did right.

One of the main ideas of PD is that the group probably has the answer to the problem. Whatever the problem is. One needs to tease the answer out.

There are six specific tenets to PD as stated in Wikipedia:

Communities already have the solutions. They are the best experts to solve their problems.
Communities self-organize and have the human resources and social assets to solve a problem.
Know-how is not concentrated in the leadership of a community alone or in external experts but is distributed throughout the community.
The PD enables the organization to seek and discover sustainable solutions to a given problem because the demonstrably successful uncommon behaviors are already practiced in that community.
It is easier to change behavior by practicing it rather than knowing about it. “It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting”.

In education do we look at the low performing and try to fix, or do we look at the successful and try to make that the model?

Next time you have problem, instead of trying to solve it the “old fashioned way” try positive deviance. The answer to your problem might be right under your nose all along.

Read all about the Power of Positive Deviance:

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

 

Op-Ed: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Stephen Covey, in his book on highly effective people, has a chapter entitled “Seek First To Understand, Then Be Understood.”

He states:

“If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating.”

I was ruminating about Covey’s thoughts and about how many bloggers and commenters on social media create posts that are purposely designed to stir the pot without adding the ingredients of thought first.

For instance, a blogger might be writing about an issue with a local school district, or with a local politician’s decision to do something. The sum total of the blog entry might be: “This XXXX is a problem!”

That’s it. No backing info. No pre-discussion. Indignation reigns as the blogger might ask “How can this be happening?” “Who is overseeing this problem?” The blog post might end with a call to protest or ask the readers to comment on the supposed problem.

Of course, the readers of the blog or the Reddit, or whatever, are self-selected to agree with the blogger, and quickly chime in, many times with the civility of Black Friday Walmart shoppers trying to get to the $125 55-inch TV or $25 microwave oven.

Outrage. Indignation. Umbrage. Disgruntledness. The daily butt hurt. Lots of CAPS locks and lots of exclamation points!!! How dare they XXXX!!!???

“Because most people listen (or read) with the intent to reply, not to understand. “You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say…”

More often than not, responses are pre-thought, with little or no critical thinking taking place. This is especially true of the responder can continue a narrative that they have been virtually yelling about for months or years.

Public schools bad! Trump bad! Politicians Bad! Liberals Bad! Taxes bad! Yea America! Boo socialists!

I have a keyboard, hear me roar!!!

How many of these types of posts could simply be solved by calling the organization that there is a question about and getting clarification? Five minutes would be all it takes for the blogger to get clarification.

But that is not what happens.

Here is a sample of what actually happens:

A blogger that specializes in stirring the political pot, will post a single slide/handout/screenshot from a much larger presentation, or perhaps quote a single line from a longer interview, expressing anger or confusion about the contents said single slide/handout/screenshot.

“How can this be happening?”

“What is going on here?”

We are doomed!

No context is provided other than that lone nugget of information. From that mote, the writer will then create a narrative about poor outcomes in local XXXX or school districts, or taxpayer abuse by local politicos, or how the little guy is getting screwed by the local secret cabal of well connected background unelected leaders who really run things.

“See?” The author might loudly proclaim, this proves my point! The deep state is alive and well! From that, the “Comments” section becomes a bombastic plethora of nattering nabobs of negativism. Agnew would be proud.

The commenters are not in any way trying to find an answer. They simply are anonymously yelling their confirmation biases at their fellow anonymous nabobs from within their own self centered anonymous echo chambers. And while Agnew was complaining about the press, his phrase pretty much describes any comment section of Youtube, Facebook, or blog.

What would be more interesting – to me at least – would be an article that poses the question or problem and then tries to find out an answer. For the vast majority of local blogs that have issues with local government or school districts, the answers to the question is simple: Call or email the entity that is giving you grief and ask for clarification on the topic.

That slide from the presentation showed something that upset you? Call the presenter and ask for clarification.

That school district official said something or did something that was unclear, call them up. Get them to explain themselves. Of course it is much easier to simply present a problem and let the crowd do what the crowd does.

But rarely, if ever in these posts or comments does any kind of viable resolution present itself.

Then the blog entry becomes much more interesting when the author first seeks to understand the problem and not just comment that there is a problem. Here is the problem that I perceive, here is who is responsible, here was their response to the questions we posed (or perhaps they did not respond, but that becomes part of the story as well), here is why I agree or disagree with the results.

Now I, as an author, understand the problem AND the solution, and here is why my readers can now understand the situation as well.

Instead of planting bombs of indignation, confusion and anger, plant trees of knowledge and understanding. Readers should be allowed to respond of course, but it would be very interesting to see if the negativity persisted if the blog post were written in that style. (And let’s not even discuss the how the elimination of “Anonymous” or the use of pseudonym comments would cut the negativity to close to zero.)

Seek first to understand. Don’t just seek first to be angry. Then write the blog entry. Then be understood.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: The Definition of An Expert Has Changed While You Weren’t Looking

I really like Marco Torres. I first saw Marco at any event that Apple put on an 2005 for El Paso educators.

Marco made a name for himself by teaching, while incorporating technology, to students that most other teachers would give up on, in a school that could best be described as a 5000 student, low income, first-generation American school with 400 teachers, that had chewed through seven lead administrators in span of four years.

At the conference I attended, Marco was the closing keynote speaker and he gave a great talk that I think everyone who stuck around for the last day was glad to hear. I will generalize here, not quote verbatim, but essentially he asked the gathered educators what an expert was and why they thought they were experts.

The teachers responded that the reasons that made them experts varied, such as degrees they had earned, certifications, knowledge of the topic, et cetera.

He then looked at the group and asked “So, what knowledge do you possess that a 16-year-old kid couldn’t look up on Google and in 30 minutes know just as much as you do about the topic?”

What a great question!

What knowledge do you possess that a 16-year-old kid couldn’t look up on Google and become an instant expert? He went on to show how his students were able to get the level or exceed the”experts” in a variety of fields including making superior political posters for local candidates, and a 17-year-old who showed Apple how to make a commercial for its new iPhone.

The most impressive was the student of his who turned a dull research assignment about “voting” into a powerful four-minute video on how one vote has changed the course of history. Because of it, she became the Executive Director of MTV’s “Rock the Vote.”

Experts indeed.

I think the idea of an expert being a person that holds vast sums of knowledge is no longer a viable definition. Information is no longer the purview of the chosen few. The Internet has made information of the uncommon common, or as Thomas Friedman said “flattened the world.”

So just having information does not make you an expert anymore because anyone can access that information in the collective knowledge of the rest of the world that is the Internet. There is very little that you can tell students about general topics that they cannot find on the Internet, and from a variety of sources, not just your point of view.

Who is an expert now? Maybe on my list would be:

Doctors, plumbers, musicians, artists.

What do the above professions having common? They all can apply knowledge they can take separate pieces of information and turn them into something meaningful or new eye doctor knows the parts of the body, the symptoms of a disease, pharmacology to of a drug, all discrepant pieces of information by the way, and take those and synthesize them into a diagnosis with treatment.

An artist can take the knowledge of color, the white paint looks on different media, the look of how particular particular brush leaves a mark on a canvas and that artist can synthesize those discrepant events into a work of art. They take information and transform it into something new.

The problem solved, much like Torres’s students who took an empty palette and created new works he was teaching them how to become experts. The new era learning skills. The things that businesses are now pleading that our educational system teach our children to do, yet we sometimes seem stuck in the education systems of the past.

What are we doing to make the higher order thinking skills a reality in our classrooms and when are we going to kill the lecture as the sole source of information?

The lecture is dead, or at least it should be put on life support. I suppose that lectures still have their place like in churches, but as for classrooms, well, they should at least be heading towards the door.

If you are a teacher at any level, kindergarten through graduate school and your primary method of information delivery is the lecture, then you are out of touch with the realities of your students today.

You need to change your delivery method.

This is not news to anyone familiar with business and education, but it does suggest that there’s a big shift coming on what is important in education. Do students really need to know how many people died at the Battle of Gettysburg or that the battle took place and what was the outcome and how did it affect the Civil War?

Now can I take the information about the Battle of Gettysburg and apply it to today’s headlines, the wars around the world? Or take the lessons learned and apply them to today’s headlines? Can I take the information from the Civil War and create something new from that knowledge?

Ken Burns did a pretty good job of taking discrepant bits of knowledge about the Civil War and created a masterpiece of television history. Nothing that Burns told was new information to historians, but the technique and the delivery was completely new. Now it is a standard.

No, the term expert has got to be redefined in education and elsewhere.

Expert has now got to include the ability to apply the knowledge, beyond just knowing something. Expert has to equal problem solver. Someone needs to be able to take knowledge, apply knowledge, and create with knowledge. Just knowing something is no longer how we should be teaching our children, period.

Teachers of gifted students probably remember the urging from the 1980s to “Move from sage on the stage to guide on the side.” Timely advice almost 30 years ago, timely advice today.

Prakash Nair, a futurist and one of the world’s leading designer of educational spaces, also bridged the new idea of expert when he told his daughter “I don’t care what major you taking college, just make sure that no matter what you do, you’re the only person in the world that can do it.

I wonder how we are training our kids to do that?

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Here’s an IDEA – Do the Smell Test First

The citizens of El Paso are surviving veterans of the Lorenzo Garcia reign of errors in EPISD.

Shady testing schemes, leadership by intimidation, staff being reassigned or removed merely for asking questions, multiple interim leaders, and a complete take over by the State of Texas.

Not our finest hour for sure as a city, or as a district, but we survived.

And we got smarter because of it.

One thing we all should have been able to recognize after Valdomort was defeated was that we collectively should have been able to recognize a scam when we saw one.

Or at least we should have been trained be able to smell something that wasn’t quite right.

Fishy, as they say. And not in Denmark, but in El Chuco.

The new IDEA Public Charter Schools moving into El Paso like a haboob from the south and eastern parts of Texas has me thinking something is giving off the smell of old pescado.

In the next few years, IDEA plans to increase from one school today in El Paso to over 20, making them larger than either the Anthony, Canutillo, San Eli, Fabens, or Clint ISD’s in terms of number of campuses. (“IDEA’s big goal is to serve 100,000 students by 2022” in Tejas according to the IDEA website.

That would make them larger than Ft. Worth or Austin ISDs, which each have about 88,000 students each.) Of course, local districts are concerned because they get funding based on the number of students attending. Less students means less money. Even if it is for a year or so, as parents find out IDEA is not such a good fit for their kids. Less funding means more crowded classes, elimination of popular programs (say adios to that Mariachi band your young Vicente Fernandez wanna-be is in).

That is why public school educators are wary of the charter school movement.

Let’s put aside the discussion about whether charter schools are academically good nor bad (most research says that they are neither better or worse than similar public schools) for students. Let’s also put aside for now, the discussion about whether school choice or vouchers are good ideas (they aren’t).

Let’s instead, look solely at the idea of the IDEA Schools. The history, the advertising, and their curriculum.

Public charter schools like IDEA use a combination of taxpayer funds, grants, and large-scale private donations to operate. Like public schools, they are accountable to meeting standards, but unlike public schools, they are businesses, beholden to those with a financial vested interest in their success or failure.

Did you get that? They use your taxes to fund their business. You are paying for them whether they last a year or a decade. They can, as a business, pick up and leave at any time, shuttering their doors with no notice as many charter schools have done across the nation. Nothing prevents this.

And like any business that needs to grow to get money, they have to advertise. Check out the slick work of this ad agency on behalf of IDEA.

Smelly.

Public schools in Texas have locally elected officials, that are responsible for watching the checkbooks of the districts. Don’t like the way money is being spent? You can vote them out and replace them. Not so with Public Charter Schools like IDEA. The Board of Directors of IDEA schools are mostly made up of well-to-do east Texas business people.

Think your kid is represented at the table? Check out the IDEA Board. Look like people from El Chuco? Yeah, maybe a meeting of the El Chuco Millionaires Club, but other than that, no, they are not your type. Unless you think that Dallas and Houston millionaires are your type.

Stinky.

IDEA schools have a model of teaching that looks something like this: Curriculum is canned, pre-scripted and designed in such a way that even non-teachers can conduct classes. It is designed solely to focus on the standardized tests, that all students must pass. It is homework-heavy even though study after study has found that a heavy homework load is probably overall detrimental to students learning. Failure on tests mean dismissal from the school.

Sorry kid, we don’t take no dummies.

Since it is a scripted curriculum, IDEA can hire non-teacher teachers, ones that do not have any kind of education experience or degree. Think about that: Anyone that can read a script can teach at IDEA. That is perfect for young, inexperienced Teach-for-America rookies, from where IDEA likes to recruit their teaching ranks. Less experience equals less expensive to pay.

Less pay means the chances that the teacher can deal with “non traditional” or troubled students is low. Want something for your kid that is innovative? Don’t bother enrolling at IDEA. Success is measured by how many pages the teacher can plow through in a week on the way to the test.

Smells bad.

Interestingly enough, IDEA likes to tout that their students all are accepted into college, at a 100% rate. That means, to mostly gullible parents, that if their kid gets into IDEA, they are going to college. (By the way, parents on El Paso’s west side are getting voice mails saying that their child has miraculously been accepted into the new IDEA school! (Never mind that since they are a public school , they HAVE to be accepted.) But there is a reason for that crazy 100% claim: Acceptance into college is a REQUIREMENT of graduation.

A child cannot graduate UNLESS he or she is accepted into a college. And, that can be any college by the way, Community College, Southwest University trade college, or Harvard. They don’t care. And by the way, there is a good chance your kid won’t make it to graduation anyway, at least not at IDEA.

According to the Huffington Post in the article “Charter Schools Break the rules and Don’t Seem to Care:”

“…IDEA pre-sorts its applicants to weed out potentially difficult students. According to the network’s student handbook, students with a history of disciplinary problems that include a criminal offense, a juvenile court adjudication, or other disciplinary problems can be excluded from enrollment. Once a student is accepted, IDEA uses other methods to convince weaker students to leave. All IDEA enrollees must pass fifth and eighth grade state test to be promoted. One report found that IDEA’s key to its miraculous success was to enroll “lower percentages of economically disadvantaged students, special education students, bilingual education students, [and] students requiring modifications or accommodations on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), and students scoring below average on the TAKS mathematics or TAKS readings tests.” The report also concluded “If we consider the number of students starting in the 9th grade as the cohort of students of interest, then the percentage of IDEA students entering post-secondary institutions of higher education is, at best, around 65% for the cohort of 9th grader students in 2009.” By any calculation, 65% only equals 100% in the charter school alternative universe.”

Foochie.

Over the past few years, IDEA has grabbed tons of Federal and State funding, part of the GOP effort to shift money away from public schools to private schools.

In the article “Why is the federal government building the 7th largest school district in Texas?“ the author points out: “So if you calculate the approximately $160 million in bond revenue in those two issuances was spread around 14 campuses (28 schools) then IDEA’s estimated future facilities finance needs would be around $500 million (for their project 90+ new schools per their plan above). I hope someone in Texas figures out where democratic oversight ought to take place over this private charter district and its un-elected CEO Tom Torkelson.”

That is a nice chunk of change. Now consider this: On top of the millions in Federal funds that the State has awarded to IDEA, if they achieve their goal of having 100,000 students, that means, that every year, $915,000,000 will NOT be going to Texas’ traditional public schools, you neighborhood school, but into the hands of for-profit businesses that have little to no local accountability.

Drive by any of the IDEA Public Charter Schools and it immediately becomes apparent what all those big bucks are going into. There are no stadiums, no baseball or softball fields, no soccer fields, no large tracks, no tennis courts, no gymnasiums.

Go inside and see what kind of services are in place for severely handicapped students (Hint: there are none). In fact, if you look at the curriculum from the IDEA website, it says, for instance in Grades 9-12:

  • Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate Courses
  • The Road to and Through College Class
  • College Field Lessons
  • Robust Choice of “Elective Classes”

Fine arts? Drama? Dance? Football? Basketball? Soccer? Where can a marching band march? Oh never mind, there is no marching band. UIL competitions? Don’t look at IDEA as a place to get those. Services like counseling (other than college prep?) are not included. If your daughter got pregnant her Junior year, chances are she would not finish in her IDEA school. In traditional public schools, where programs are in place to handle students with difficult needs, her chances are greatly improved.

It just doesn’t smell right, does it?


Yes, all traditional public schools can improve. Yes, they can work harder to get all students ready for life once they graduate. Yes, all of them can innovate more. Yes, God knows, traditional public schools have had scandals.

But if you are considering sending your child to a Public Charter school like IDEA, check first to see if the exact things that impress you about IDEA are not already in place with better support, with more years of experience, with more experienced teachers, and with greater emphasis on the whole child (and not just your child as a test taker) at your local public school.

Chances are, the things you want in a school for your child tomorrow are already in your neighborhood schools today.

Do the smell test.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Textbooks are obsolete. Get over it.

Recently, in their annual letter where Bill and Melinda Gates reflect on the things that they (and their billions of dollars in charitable donations) think are worth thinking about, the worlds most philanthropic couple stated that “textbooks are becoming obsolete.”

Gates went on to say: “But now, thanks to software, the standalone textbook is becoming a thing of the past. Suppose you’re taking high school algebra. Instead of just reading a chapter on solving equations, you can look at the text online, watch a super-engaging video that shows you how it’s done, and play a game that reinforces the concepts. Then you solve a few problems online, and the software creates new quiz questions to zero in on the ideas you’re not quite getting.”

Those of us that have been watching closely over the years collectively said “Amen and good riddance to bad trash.” Traditional textbooks, like those first written by the Greeks and then mass produced by Gutenberg six centuries ago, have changed little in either form or substance over the years.

Since their inception, traditional textbooks have had a number of issues including, but not limited to:

  • Assuming all students learn at the same rate
  • Assuming all student read at the level of the text
  • Are instantly out of date as soon as they are published
  • Schools are stuck with them for years, or even decades depending on funding
  • Are 100% one way communication tools with no interaction allowed by the user
  • Are overpriced
  • Are overweight

And those are just for starters. Fact of the matter is, the textbook has not changed with the times. In years past, perhaps when you were in school, the teacher would use the textbook as the main source of information for the course.

Classes would dutifully march through the books form Chapter One on the first week of school all the way to Chapter 36 by the end of school (If you were lucky. Classes often never made it to the end of the book, where the “fluff material” was usually relegated.)

Gates rightfully points out that digital tools have transformed how information is obtained, shared and taught. Textbooks, alas, have been left in the dustbin of disruption and can no longer justify their high prices.

The big-time textbook publishers have known for years that the internet has changed the game on how information is delivered and updated. In a recent “textbook adoption” a school district teacher noted to me that one of the “new adoptions” was almost a word-for-word the same as the previous adoption seven years earlier. The only difference was packaging.

It seems even the textbook publishers are starting to see the writing on the digital wall. The internet is where information is now housed, not in cumbersome textbooks that are designed more to strengthen lower back muscles than brain cells.

To be fair, some textbook publishers have started to migrate to digital content in an effort to stay relevant, but many are now so late to the digital content game that they are are trying to play catchup to a world moving faster than they can adapt their business models to. Indeed, instead of lowering prices and adding features, most textbook publishers simply repackaged existing material and charged more.

When Apple faced a similar particular economic crisis, Steve Jobs famously said “ Apple will innovate our way out of this.” What came next was the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. Devices that changed history.

Textbook publishers apparently never heard of Steve Jobs. Their motto: We will raise our prices and hope the suckers will pay. It has worked for 600 years, why stop now?

Young, disruptive companies and services are taking a bite out of the publisher’s formerly undisputed monopoly, often offering the same content the traditional textbooks offer but for free.

Take for instance the CK12.org online Flexbooks 2.0: These modern digital textbooks can be modified at will, on the fly, by any teacher, contain visually stunning interactive tools, include assessments that are designed to teach as well as assess, and can be personalized for the individual learner, even adopting to the language of the learner.

Want a Spanish version of their Physics books? Click here and “Viola!” A Spanish version. Oh, and all of that is free, as are college level and Advanced Placement approved OpenStax textbooks from Rice University. Why would any school district pay for something that they can get for free?

Publishing companies are having a hard time competing with free, and are reduced to taking teachers to semi questionable “trainings” which provide info about their books and smoozy dinners to convince them to adopt their books. “Hey, our entire business model is about 20 years out of date, but our burgers are yummy!”).

Consider the “Big History Project” which is partially funded by the Gates Foundation: This 100% online History of the World course is a 100% free, online social studies course for middle- and high-school students. It is engaging. Visually stunning. Understandable. Oh, and did I mention 100% free. And you wish you had that as your history course in school.

Again, consider the history courses you took in school and compare them to The Big History Project. You only wish your World History course was that cool.

Free can no longer be associated with low quality or second hand. Free services and information are transforming how students learn and how teachers teach.

If your child is still learning only from a textbook, you need to march to the school and demand to know what century they expect their students to live in.

If they say they cant afford “all that fancy new stuff,” tell them that free, online resources are as good, if not better than what most publishers are offering now.

And they can afford free.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: What is ROI?

I cringe whenever someone speaks about education, or students, or teachers, in business terms. There just seems something morally wrong about the idea that children are widgets, that teachers are factory workers, grade levels are cogs in a wheel, and that schools are factories.

Yet, for people outside of education, and even many inside, there is this tendency to “business speak” about things that probably should not be spoken of like that .

However, in these days of “Data driven decision making” (a business term)  it is not hard to see why non-educators use business as the vocabulary of a non-business enterprises.

I once attended a panel discussion with some Texas legislators that focused on the discussion of technology in the classroom.

The panel consisted of two GOP legislators and one Democrat, led by a moderator, who asked general questions about their thoughts on what the Texas Legislature was doing about education technology that year.

The democratic panelist, considered a “friend of education” and a “good friend of technology in education” didn’t take too long to say something to the effect legislators were looking for a “Return on Investment” in ed tech.

After all he said, lots of money is spent on technology, how much of it is making a difference? How do we know it is worth the cost? Is it helping students “achieve?” What is the Return on Investment in ed tech? he mused…legislators want to know.

The question boiled down to this: Does educational technology help students achieve? (That is code speak “Does technology raise test scores?) So that is where we are at: Spend money on instructional technology, and scores better go up. That is the bottom line. Not does technology keep kids interested. Not does technology engage them. Not does technology help attendance. Nope. Does technology raise the scores?

The legislator went on to state that he had never seen any kind of study that showed that the use of technology improved test scores. Never, saw anything that said there was a positive Return On Investment (ROI), another business term by the way.

The idea seemed to be this: Since HE never saw a study, then there must not be any studies. (I tweeted during the event that he obviously has never heard of Google. The reason I did that was because I knew he was following the conversation on Twitter.) There are many studies that show there is a positive ROI, such as, at the time, the finding of Project RED.

Almost the entire report showed how the more technology you put into kids hands, when used properly, the higher the student achievement. There was, the report found, a direct correlation between technology use and student achievement:

“Substantial evidence shows that technology has a positive financial impact, but for best results, schools need to invest in the re- engineering of schools, not just technology itself. Properly implemented educational technology can be revenue-positive at all levels—federal, state, and local.Project RED respondents report that technology contributes to cost reductions and productivity improvements—the richer the technology implementation, the more positive the impact.”

Since then, multiple research studies have found that the proper use of technology in school leads to increased scores, lower absenteeism, and lower overall operating costs. The state of Maine has one of the oldest 1:1 technology programs in the nation. What have their results been? According to research:

“Researchers found that students were more engaged and more actively involved in their own learning; this was especially true of students with special needs and those who were at-risk or low-achieving.”

and

“Students at the demonstration schools scored significantly higher in science, math, and social studies than did students at the comparison schools.”

North Carolina has had similar results as have many states since Project Red was first published, many research studies have reinforced the idea that getting technology into students hands not only is a great equalizer, but also a game changer especially for students who come from families that cannot afford technology.

This “Return on Investment-because schools-are-businesses” silliness has been going on long enough, and it is time that politicians and ankle- biting political gadflies stop looking at educational technology as an expense outside the learning tool experience. Education technology simply IS a part of the learning experience.

Each year it seems,  we have to not only justify technology expenditures in schools, but also training for instructional technology as budgets are cut locally and federally for both.

It is no wonder that cash strapped Texas districts have to hold bond elections to purchase tech for their students. It isn’t the expense of the devices, it is the slow strangulation of the funding for all education from both the state and federal levels that hits districts the hardest.

We never seem to justify spending money for textbooks, pencils, construction paper, whiteboards, and air conditioning, yet don’t these also affect student achievement? When was the last time anyone has asked if having air conditioning affected student achievement? Do the millions of dollars the state spends on old school, cumbersome textbooks actually improve student achievement?

I have a suggestion: Let’s start looking at all those things we just assume are good for students to see if they really have a positive ROI: Let’s evaluate high school football and see how that affects student achievement.

Do all kids benefit or is it just a select few? If a school district spends $70,000,000 on a football stadium what is the ROI for all students in that district? Is there a positive return on investment?

Until someone can show a positive correlation between the expenditures on football and all student achievement,  then shouldn’t we just stop playing football in high school in Texas?

See how silly it seems when the argument is made for something OTHER than education technology?

Perhaps we should start asking what the ROI in education is on the people asking about the ROI in education. That would be a really interesting study.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Teaching Bible Literacy in Public Schools is a Terrible Idea

Recently, after getting his daily national security briefing from the trioka of talking heads on “Fox and Friends,” which horse-whispered to him “at least six states…have introduced legislation this year pushing for public schools to offer Bible literacy classes” our president tweeted out the following message:

“Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible. Starting to make a turn back? Great!”

Great.

 

 

 

 

 

Putting aside the incredible irony of a lying, possibly traitorous, misogynistic, tax evading, adultering billionaire suggesting that the teachings of the Bible are a good thing to be followed, this idea, like many he tweets from the warm confines of the Presidential residence during his special “Executive Time” is an incredibly bad idea.

One could make the case that he is just playing to his base of red hatted evangelical sycophants and grovelers who simply refuse to see that their emperor wears no clothes.

Or one could make the case that he is trying to really MAGA to those days in the good ol’ US-of-A when everyone was literate about the Bible and all it stood for when homebound moms vacuumed the house while wearing pearls and a dress, eagerly awaiting dads to return from a hard days work of slapping the secretaries’ behind, where every child was above average and America was a Mad Men fantasy land.

Oh, and every family was very white and went to church every Sunday. You ‘member, don’t you?

Fact is, that America never existed, except in the minds of Hollywood writers and Madison Avenue ad executives. Yet that America, that fiction, is one of the driving forces behind the recent movement about the return of “bible literacy,“ to get Jesus back into classrooms, where in fact, he was never banned except in the minds of evangelical snowflakes.

Who is behind this push you might ask? Is it an altruistic movement bent on improving ethics and civility in today’s youth? Educators who know the needs of students? Parents clamoring for a return to the good old days? No, it is politics. And right winged politics at that. Ever heard of Project Blitz, the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, the National Legal Foundation or the WallBuilders ProFamily Legislative Network? They are the ones behind the push to get bible literacy in front of your kid. Notice Jesus is nowhere on that list.

There are multiple states that offer some kind of Bible literacy classes in High School. (Some states have offered Bible literacy classes since the beginning of public schools, as being able to read the Bible was one of the original reasons to teach reading in Puritanical days.) However, many of these current courses are shrouded in the factually inaccurate idea that only the Hebrew and Christian bibles were the basis for many of the ideas of how our country was founded. Never mind that Jefferson said:

“That our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than on our opinions in physicks or geometry. … We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any relig[i]ous Worship, place or Ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

What did Jefferson know anyway? He just wrote the Constitution.

But heck, we live in Texas where the Social Studies standards falsely claim that Moses was a major influence on the Constitution and the roots of our nation’s political systems are found in the Bible. So in Texas, high school students can sign up to take:

  • Independent Study in English: Hebrew Scriptures
  • Independent Study in English: New Testament
  • Independent Study in English: Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament
  • Special Topics in Social Studies: Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament)
  • Special Topics in Social Studies: New Testament
  • Special Topics in Social Studies: Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament

Notice anything about these courses? Hmm, could there be a slight slant to the point of view that students are exposed to? America is a vast country with many point of views, ranging from fanatics to non-believers. Courses like these should not be limited to a single religious perspective. Yet, there you are.

And even though these are largely courses that are offered as electives and count only for local credit, what happens in small rural districts where a lot of students could take these courses and one or two don’t?

“What’s wrong with Crystal? She isn’t taking Bible Literacy like all the rest of us! She must not love the baby Jesus.” Crystal may be forced to wear the scarlet letter of avoidance. Never mind that Crystal might be Hindu, or Muslim, or her family a member of a denomination that thinks religion should better be left in the confines of a church or even atheists. In small districts, just like at Cheers, everybody knows your name. And your business.

Again pushing aside the irony that the Right does not trust public schools enough to teach sex education or global climate change to their kids, yet they seem to have no problem when it comes to religion, there are many concerns that come up with any type of class in a public school being used to teach the teachings of any specific religious group.

Unlike say, Physics (where Force=Mass X Acceleration no matter the time or place you teach it) or Algebra where the rules for quadratic equations work across the globe, experience with the various denominations of the Christian faith include so many variations of a theme that one would be hard pressed to teach a class on Christian bible literacy without it becoming an act of proselytizing a particular point of view, which, by the way, is at the foundation of the entire religion itself.

Your denomination’s Bible teaches that homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord. Mine doesn’t.

Your’s says women should be subservient to men. Mine doesn’t.

Baptist’s believe that the Bible prohibits drink or dance. The Methodists say “have at it!”

Is the story of Noah’s Ark true, or is it simply a copy of the writings of the stories of Gilgamesh? Who is right? Who is wrong? Who is to judge? Whose bible literacy will we be using? Baptists? Methodists? Catholics? Presbyterians? Snake Handlers? The Reformed Asian Orthodoxy? The Greek Orthodox? The Russian Orthodox? The Needed Truth Brethren? The Messianic Jews? The Pentecostals? The Adventists?

Which Bible version, of the hundreds that are out there, would be used as the definitive one for a class like this? The “official” text? Are we going to teach about the Book of Wisdom from the Catholic version, include the Book of Mormon, or tell kids that their version “doesn’t count?”

Some Christian denominations take the entire Bible literally (six days to make the earth) some metaphorically, some a mixture of both. Denominations cannot even agree on what parts are metaphors and which aren’t. Some cannot even agree on what parts of the Old Testament they should be kept and which shouldn’t.

After 2000 years of study, the debate continues with little or no end in sight, because, frankly, no one group can agree on anything with any other group nor do they really want to. Imagine if we taught any other course that way? Imagine a math teacher trying to explain that 2+2 may or may not equal to 4 depending on where you were born and what your parents believe.

Imagine a teacher trying to teach that Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion may or may not be true depending on what version of text book they are using? Three branches of government? Maybe that’s true, but not in this State, because the legislature believes in only two of them.

Those are the kind of problems that would arise if we taught the Bible literacy.

The Bible as Literature? No problem. The Bible as part of a survey course about world religions? Great. But if you are trying to push your religion down the throats of impressionable teens, stop. Save it for church. Teach ethics in an ethics course.

Teach citizenship in a civics course. Teaching the Bible as a a course unto itself is simply a terrible idea.

How about teaching that?

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Teaching With Technology Should Not Be An Option: It’s The Law.

In Texas, the law requires schools to integrate technology into lesson in every curricular area in grades K-8. Period. The law is the law.

And after 8th grade, it is assumed that all grades in all content areas 9-12 will just continue the work of their K-8 colleagues and integrate technology into almost all lessons as the students should be “technologically literate” by the end of 8th grade.

Required by law you say? How can that be true? Well, since 1996 Texas has written education technology into the state standards of education. These standards are called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) are written for every single course taught in the state, from Algebra to Physics, to Yearbook.

Just as schools are required by law to teach students to read, multiply and divide, to understand the genres of literature, and the branches of government, they are also required to teach students how to properly use computers to complete assignments, keyboarding skills, communicate with others and other skills.

The TEKS for technology are called the “Technology Application TEKS” and have been, almost since their inception in 1996, largely ignored to the point where most teachers in grades K-8 could not name a single one of the six strands that make up the TEKS:

  • Be creative and innovative,
  • Communicate and collaborate
  • Research information
  • Think critically, problem solve and make decisions
  • Be good digital citizens
  • Know the proper technology tools, concepts and applications to use

Common throughout all of these “strands’ are students creating digital products using digital tools. Students should not be using computers as glorified typewriters. Indeed, according to the law, the TEKS, our students should be creating products and learning how to problem solve, communicate with each other and post work online as early as Kindergarten.

Kindergarten.

Let that sink in for a minute. Are your children doing that at school? By 8th grade, they should be creating products with a variety tools, working collaboratively with each other both in and outside of their school, working with mentors online, as well as be experts in word processing, spreadsheets, databases and presentation software, saving work online, and solving complex problems using online data,.

The K-8 Technology TEKS are unique set of state standards in that there is no single course attributed to them. Unlike say, English Language Arts, or Mathematics which have their own specific set of standards, the Technology TEKS are outside of any single curricular area, yet are supposed to be taught in all of them.

There are references, obliquely, in almost every single set of standards for almost every single other course, but they are not “required,” giving teachers and administrators an out by saying something like “The student may;” That means the student may NOT as well. Thus, they get swept under the proverbial academic rug, when it comes to curriculum.

No content area says the K-8 Technology TEKS belong “to them” thus many teachers and schools assume some other course or grade level will teach them, giving them the wrong impression that they can ignoring technology completely.  “That which isn’t tested isn’t taught” the old saying goes, and since Technology is a tool not a curriculum per se, it is ignored.

The mantra of “They will learn that in Middle School” has been used by some to completely ignore technology in almost all elementary grade levels at some schools. Sadly, many of our students do not “learn that in middle school.”

Because of this game of “TEKS hot potato,” the Technology TEKS are simply ignored in many cases. Even in districts that have some sort of digital initiative where students receive laptops or tablets, there are no real incentives for teachers to include them in lessons unless they are somehow self-motivated to do so.

Almost all school districts in the state of Texas pay for and use the Texas Resource System or TRS (https://www.teksresourcesystem.net), to provide suggestions and structure for teachers in all of the “core” academic courses.

TRS is used in over 80% of Texas school districts (including all of the local districts save Ft. Hancock) to provide a year long structure for courses, yet one would be extremely hard pressed to find a single instance where the TRS incorporates the Technology TEKS into their “instructional focus documents.”

Even the “standards authority” of the TEKS Resource System, which is a commercial product that districts rely on to provide guidance with what your child is taught, essentially seems to give a pass on the Technology TEKS and leaves it up to the individual teacher whether or not technology is taught and used in the classroom.

Consider this: ONE of the many skills that an 8th graders should be leaving middle school with according to the state law: “Students should be able to…create and manage personal learning networks to collaborate and publish with peers, experts, or others using digital tools such as blogs, wikis, audio/video communication, or other emerging technologies…”

That is just a single example.

If you had a child in 8th grade in any public school in Texas since 1996, they should have had that skill (among many others) before they left for high school. Did they? Have they? Will they?

If teaching what the law requires wasn’t enough of an incentive, the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS), the statewide method districts evaluate teachers, specifically mentions integrating technology in classroom lessons. A teacher simply cannot move up the “T-TESS Rubric” without properly using technology in the classroom.

The T-TESS is neither grade nor course specific, thus the state expects all teachers in all courses in all classes to integrate technology into lessons. (Integration means what the students are using digital devices for, not what the teacher is using.)

Of course it is up to each district to provide the tools to students and train teachers, but frankly, it is 100% up to the teacher whether or not technology is integrated into lessons. Even in 2019, twenty years into the 21st century, there are teachers who refuse to use available technology or incorporate it into lessons.

That is unacceptable, illegal, and educational malpractice no matter the reason.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed+Video: Transformational Technology

Take a look at the video above.   Pretty powerful stuff huh? I cringe whenever I hear someone say something derogatory about the use of technology in our schools.

“We buy anything with blinking lights.”
“Stop spending money on gizmos and doodads”
“If we just taught, then kids wouldn’t need all that fancy stuff.”

If I only had a nickel for every time I had heard something like that. (It usually comes from someone that either does not like technology, does not understand it, or is jealous that kids are getting better computers than they have.)

This video is about an autistic student names Dillan. It is, as Mashable said “…an important departure from the way many non-autistic people often think of autistic individuals, especially those who are nonverbal. People on the autism spectrum aren’t always given agency or control over their own narratives — their stories are often filtered through well-meaning family members and caregivers looking to spread awareness. But Dillan, like most 16-year-olds, is a teen with a lot of thoughts to express — and he can say them all. He just uses a tool to help.”

You probably went to school and knew a kid like Dillan.

When I was in elementary school during the 1970’s, all the “Dillans” were placed in a room together and never mingled with the rest of the student population. Their room was next to the Kindergarten class.

The “Dillans” were “special” and even ate lunch and got out of school at different times than the rest of the population. We have come a long way over the years, and now the “Dillans” are integrated into regular classrooms as a matter of course.

But how many children like Dillan have something to say and cannot simply because they do not have access to the technology tools that allow them to speak?

How many kids did I grow up who had no voice simply because there was no technology available?

Harlan Ellison has a story named “I Have No Mouth Yet I Must Scream.” I think that title probably expresses how many, if not most of all those “Dillans” lived back in the day and probably many today where there is no money to purchase tools like the iPad that Dillan uses in these videos.

Of course, these are slickly produced videos from the largest technology company in the world, but the point is, technology, whether it comes from Apple or Google or Microsoft has the ability to transform not only the education experience of our students but, frankly in many cases, entire lives.

We just have to use it to its full capability. Dillan is just an example student. Technology, I believe, can transform the learning of ALL students, no matter the capability, from those that need a little extra help to those that are self-motivated to learn.

Next time you hear someone complain about all the money being spent on the gizmos and gadgets and doodads that school districts purchase for students, show them Dillan’s story.

Then ask them why aren’t we spending more?

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: The Green Book Is Divisive, And Maybe That’s A Good Thing.

“The Green Book,” a movie about a white New York bouncer that drives a gifted New York black pianist in the deep south through a concert tour during the Jim Crow 60’s.

The movie has three won Golden Globe awards and of course, like many movies that deal with racial issues in America, has caused some bit of controversy.

The controversy surrounds not only the actual facts of the movie (such as the main character’s estrangement from his family, a fiction his family has reported) but more interestingly the Hollywood perpetuated story of the white man saving the “magical negro.”

Think Sandra Bullock saving the gifted “magical” black athlete in the “Blind Side,” Sidney Poitier as “magical negro” in “The Defiant Ones,” or Whoopie Goldberg in “Ghost” to get an idea of what the magical negro idea is all about.

And while there may be some truth to Hollywood’s tendency to write stories that appear to have similar themes, I tend to not have serious problems with stories like “The Green Book,” specifically because they introduce, gently, subjects that might be lost to the current generation that would otherwise have been forgotten to time.

Consider just some of the topics that most young people are unaware of that come out of The Green Book:

  • The Green Book itself, a brochure that listed “safe” motels that allowed blacks as guests traveling in a South where blacks were not welcome to mingle with whites in many places.
  • Don Shirley, a gifted black jazz pianist. Had you ever heard of him before this movie came out? Probably not. Now, you have. Now you can look him up on iTunes, or Amazon Prime and enjoy his work.

And while the story in the movie is probably best sanitized to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, now we can open up the audio vaults on Don Shirley recordings, and students can research the Green Book itself.

(I strongly doubt if CBS News would have done a segment on it’s Sunday Morning News, which caters to a pretty white beyond middle class audience, about the Green Book if the movie had not been made.) Check it out here. 

I like it when modern artists look at older artists and story tellers and reinterpret their work or tell a story that has never been told to a wide audience. This allows a whole new generation access to the art they may not have been interested in previously.

I once got into a discussion with a friend of mine about Rod Stewart recording the Tom Waits song, “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen).” He said that Rod Stewart ruined the song. I said that Rod Stewart had just introduced Tom Waits to his millions of fans. Maybe a few them will now become Tom Waits fans. Tom Waits should be thankful. Making an idea or work of art available to many, even if it requires removing some of the gray areas, isn’t always a bad thing.

In my time when a singer like, Linda Ronstadt made several albums of songs from the great American songbook, it did not lessen the originals, but introduces older songs to an entirely new generation of listeners who probably would have never heard them before. Who was that Nelson Riddle? Who was Lerner and Lowe? Who was Bing Crosby?

Those new listeners, hopefully, will now be curious enough to go back and listen to the original recordings. Maybe a fan or two will be born. Rod Steward did a favor to Tom Waits.

So I didn’t have that much of a problem if a semi-fictitious story about a real person pushes the truth, if in the end, the audience is introduced positively to someone new, or something new. I suspect that visits to Wikipedia for Don Shirley and the Green Book went up exponentially after the release of the movie. That is what art does: it gets people thinking.

For some, the Green Book is divisive. To me, when people are talking about something they normally wouldn’t talk about, thats a good thing.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: We Need To Treat All of Education As If Computers Exist

Have you ever heard of the app “PhotoMath?” PhotoMath allows anyone with a smartphone or tablet to write out a math problem, point their device at it, take a picture, and the app will solve the problem, step by step, in less than 5 seconds.

From simple math to calculus and everything in between. Check out the video above to see how it works.  (Photomath app main features from Photomath Support on Vimeo.)

Suddenly, those 50 assigned algebra homework questions don’t seem so bad. And if PhotoMath can’t help, how about zooming over to Wolfram Alpha where it will gladly not only solve the problem step-by-step, but also graph, rewrite it in an alternative format, all for free.

Don’t you wish that PhotoMath were around when you were in high school?

Need to write an essay about Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby and it is due tomorrow? Or maybe Orwell’s 1984? Or how any of about 40,000 other books? No problem, scoot on over to enotes.com and have at it.

Plot, critical analysis, as well as hundreds of e-texts, all for free just awaiting you to come use them. Oh, and you can get math word questions answered there as well.

Technology has changed the way students have access to information. Where once students relied solely on teachers and librarians as their fonts of knowledge, now Google and smartphones are just as reliable and in many instances, more encompassing that any librarian or teacher could ever have been.

Unfortunately, the change in technology has not changed the assignments by much. Students are still being asked to solve 50 homework math problems, write reports on topics that can easily be looked up in Wikipedia and complete solo assignments as if classes were being conducted in 1979, not 2019.

Educator Alan November, in his TED Talk “What is the Value of a Teacher” calls this “old work with new tools.” Giving students assignments that were essentially developed 50 years or more ago, or hadn’t changed in any meaningful way in 50 years, to students that are using modern tools results in the same type of product that was produced 50 years ago: solo, quickly done, and without much learning taking place. Think about any report you wrote in high school. Can you remember the topic of a single one?

Probably not.

There is a saying among educators that if the questions can be “googled” for an answer, it probably is not a good question. Indeed, nowadays , questions that simply ask for facts (What is the address of the White House? What is the population of Houston Texas?) are considered trivia. Why waste time on a question that can easily be looked up?

The time has come for educators to realize that computers are a way of life, are not going away, and that the way students retain and receive information is miles apart from anything that happened prior to say, the advent of Web 2.0 in 2005.

Where is the White House? Who cares. What is more interesting is asking students if they were going to put the capital of the United States somewhere, where would they put it? The population of Houston? Who cares. But asking “Why do you think Houston has a population of 2.3 million and El Paso a population of only 750,000?”

Both of those questions do not have an answer on Google, or Bing, or anywhere else. Both of those require students to think. And both of those can be used to get students from different areas of the country working with each other on an answer.

If we continue giving yesterday’s work to today’s students using today’s tools we are going to still get the same results we always have. If however, we start using today’s tools to ask today’s questions to today’s students, then we will start changing the education game.

Conrad Wolfram, the guy behind Wolfram Alpha said back in 2018 that is was time for schools to build math curriculum “that assumes computers exist.” What he meant by that was, let the computers do the heavy lifting, the calculating.

Let the students do the thinking, coming up with the ideas of WHERE and WHEN the heavy lifting should be used.

But instead of just math, we need to rethink curriculum as if computers existed in everything: Science, Social Studies, Arts, you name it. Only then will we trust see the truly transformative nature of technology in education.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

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