Math teachers feel they’re poorly prepared

One thing that most of us remember best about school is our teachers. Thus, when solutions are proposed for reforming American schools in response to critical reports or disappointing test results, teachers are always among the first to be singled out, Scientific American reports. Proposals often turn first to improving the teaching force by focusing on higher quality. For example, in the NCLB [No Child Left Behind] era, considerable emphasis has been placed on a highly qualified teaching force. Districts must certify what percentage of their teachers is highly qualified. However, the states and school districts define what they consider highly qualified, resulting in a great deal of ambiguity. What does it mean to be a highly qualified teacher? The definition of a high-quality mathematics teacher has never been standardized. Therefore, although improving the quality of teachers and teaching is a common cry when we seek to improve schools, there is little agreement and scant empirical evidence that indicates what characteristics define a high-quality mathematics teacher…

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Educators sue Google for defamatory blog takedown

Two New York City school officials are suing for Google to unveil the identity of a blogger who has accused them of pedophilia, incompetence, rape and racism, the New York Post reports. Norman Thomas High School Principal Philip Martin Jr. and Assistant Principal Neil Monheit say the anonymous blogger is spreading false information and wish to clear the air. The allegations appear in a post under an allegedly fake biography of Philip Martin Jr. The heading reads: “Philip Martin Jr, Pedophile, NYC Department of Education.” The Blogspot entry accuses the principal of being late to work, early to leave, being unable to read and write properly, and having “unprotected sex” with “female teenagers.”

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What do your teachers and students really need from systems supporting blended and eLearning?

The average school technologist, let alone the average teacher or administrator, has a lot to wade through in terms of selecting systems that support blended learning initiatives, says Christopher Dawson, education blogger for ZDNet. Sure, most principals know that their school needs a platform where students and teachers can share information, assignments are readily accessible, and teachers can curate resources for students. But if the Blackboard-Moodlerooms-Sakai deal was suprising and confusing to those of us who follow this for a living, how can educators be expected to sort out a much larger market?

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Union President blasts ‘not credible’ data dump

New Haven’s teachers union president Wednesday boycotted the unveiling of new school data that he called a glossing-over of serious problems—and that district officials hailed as a sign of success, the New Haven Independent reports. The union president, David Cicarella, avoided a press conference Wednesday at Ross/Woodward School where top officials gathered to announce results of annual “school climate” surveys taken by parents, teachers, students and staff. The district initiated these surveys as a key way of evaluating the success of New Haven’s ambitious school reform drive. (Click here to view school-by-school results.) Superintendent Reggie Mayo announced that all of the city’s 43 schools and transitional programs scored “satisfied or better” on the district’s rating scale. Satisfaction scores “rose significantly” in 18 schools this year, and dropped significantly in four schools, he announced.

“Feedback is getting stronger, and it’s getting better,” Mayo announced…

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How Twitter can be used as a powerful educational tool

Learning how to filter through tweets will bring clarity and meaning to Twitter and will get you past the mosh pit of random thoughts and lackluster chitchat.

(Editor’s note: This is part three in a series of articles about how to build students’ web literacy and research skills. In case you missed them, here are parts one and two.)

On Feb. 10, 2011, the world was transfixed on the protests raging in Egypt. We all watched as thousands gathered in Tahir square, where they had been for the past several weeks, to listen to a speech by President Hosni Mubarak. Many figured this would be his resignation speech. Instead, it offered the citizens of Egypt very little in the way of change, even if it was being presented as something positive. For outsiders looking in, it seemed that the situation would only get worse.

What Mubarak might not have known is that while he was trying to maintain his iron grip on power, thousands of Egyptians were tweeting about their frustration with the dictator. Eventually, the people on the street, armed with nothing more than a cell phone and a free social media site, changed the course of history.

If you are a middle or high school social studies teacher, and you wanted to provide your students with a close-up view of the events unfolding in Egypt, you could turn to a traditional news service. Or, you could follow the hashtag #Egypt on Twitter and tap into the real-time pulse of unfolding events by people on the streets of Cairo.

Through our previous articles, we have introduced you to three pillars we believe are essential to be web literate. We have shown you how to use advanced search techniques to raise the quality of information found on the web, and we have explained how the information you find can be organized into a comprehensive library of knowledge using powerful web tools like Diigo. In this final part to the series, we will demonstrate how tools like Twitter can allow a researcher to share what is learned with the world, tap the knowledge of others to help make even stronger connections with the material, and even provide students with real-world problems at a moment’s notice.

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At first glance, Twitter doesn’t appear to hold much value. Who cares about Justin Bieber’s haircuts! In fact, we both saw it as a waste and quit using it two or three times until we truly understood the organizational structure of information within this tool. Learning how to filter through tweets, organized using hashtags, will bring clarity and meaning to Twitter and will get you past the mosh pit of random thoughts and lackluster chitchat.

A hashtag is nothing more than a word or phrase (with no spaces) that is preceded by a # symbol. Examples include #edchat, #london2012, and #youthvote. Simply type a hashtag like one of these into Twitter’s search box to immediately generate results that are focused around the topic of your choice. Tagging is a beautiful thing, and a tag is something you can invent at any moment.

If you’re interested in a topic, but you don’t know of a hashtag that will be helpful with your research, simply do a search in Twitter using a keyword rather than a hashtag. Then, scan the results to see what hashtags people are using when they are discussing that particular topic.

For example, Brian did this the evening of President Mubarak’s speech, and he discovered that the two most popular hashtags being used at that time were #Egypt and #Jan25. By looking through the resources he found, he was able to see what the world was saying about this event. But then, Brian took it a step further.

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Readers: Five ways to motivate students

“Students need to know that someone truly cares about them when they are in a classroom,” said one reader.

We recently highlighted a report from the Center on Education Policy that looked at how schools can motivate students. Now, here are some of the best ideas from our readers.

We asked readers: “What are some ways/tactics/activities you implement to motivate students?” Their advice ranged from “be there for your students and let them know you care about them,” to “entice them with technology they use with their friends.”

Here are five of the best responses (some comments have been edited for brevity). What do you think of these ideas? Do you have any stories of your own for how to motivate and engage today’s 21st-century learners? Be sure to leave them in the comments section!

1. Give them access to Web 2.0 tools.

“Like many school librarians and classroom teachers, I capitalize on 21st-century students’ internal motivation to be producers of ideas and information who create for authentic audiences (especially their friends!). [Here] are three ways educators can stimulate these components of student motivation: (1) Integrating Web 2.0 tools into the learning process through mind-mapping or storyboarding; (2) Viewing, deconstructing, and evaluating electronic media in preparation for creating students’ own media; (3) Producing software- or Web 2.0 tools-facilitated final products to demonstrate learning.

“When school librarians and classroom teachers co-plan and co-teach these technology-infused lessons, individual students and small groups get more support for developing their creativity, communicating their knowledge, and presenting their understandings in the electronic world—the world that matters most to students themselves.” —Judi Moreillon, M.L.S., Ph.D., assistant professor, School of Library and Information Studies, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas

2. Put them in charge of their own learning.

“Hands down, the best environment to stimulate intrinsic motivation is PBL (problem-based learning)—a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject in the context of complex, multifaceted, and realistic problems (not to be confused with project-based learning)!

“Dan Pink, in his book, Drive, identifies three elements of environments that will stimulate intrinsic motivation (extrinsic motivation, or carrots [and] sticks, don’t work): autonomy, mastery, and purpose. For PBL, autonomy comes through student control of the projects, mastery is encouraged through the need … to address the project, and purpose comes from the choice of real-world project areas interesting to students—especially with student choice of specifics.” —John Bennett, emeritus professor/associate dean, University of Connecticut, Coventry, Conn.

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High schools slow to adopt standards-based report cards

For many high schools, there’s a reluctance to move to an unfamiliar, nontraditional system.

Those A’s, B’s, C’s, and, yes, even F’s are still coming home on most high school report cards, despite moves to scrap the grading system in favor of one that gives parents more information about a student’s progress.

Numerous elementary schools around the country have moved to so-called standards-based grading and report cards. Many middle schools are on board, as well. But high schools have been much slower to embrace the change.

“It’s a big leap for people,” said Denise Khaalid, assistant principal at South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, S.C.

There’s widespread agreement among educators that the standards-based report cards are more informative than traditional ones, and proponents say they’re more accurate and fairer, too.

“As a parent, my child would come home with a C on a report card, but what does it mean?” said Sally Jo Gilbert de Vargas, the house administrator at Whitman Middle School in Seattle. “Are they not getting their work done, are they not getting A’s on their tests?”

Standards-based grading breaks down the academic subjects into content areas and reports a child’s progress in mastering each of them, sometimes on a 1-to-4 scale or a proficiency scale. Work habits and behavior are usually graded separately. The system allows for different ways to measure whether a student has met the standards, Gilbert de Vargas said.

For more news and opinion about school reform, see:

Why Khan Academy is so popular—and why teachers shouldn’t feel threatened

District ‘Race to the Top’ rules spur mixed reaction

School Reform Center at eSN Online

“Everything doesn’t ride on one test score,” said Susan Olezene, director for student achievement, curriculum and professional learning for the Aurora Public Schools in Colorado. “There should be multiple opportunities for students to show what they know and are able to do in a variety of ways.”

So why the reluctance at the high school level?

At that point, grades count toward graduation or college admissions.

“One of the problems (with standards-based grading) is how do you convert that to the GPA?” asked Henry Duvall, spokesman for the Great City Schools, which represents large school districts around the country.

Robert Bardwell, director of guidance at Monson High School in Massachusetts, said parents need information about their children’s progress no matter what grade they’re in. Some high schools have moved away from the traditional grading, he said, and “students in those schools are going to college somewhere.”

For many high schools, though, there’s a reluctance to move to an unfamiliar, nontraditional system.

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Online tool helps high schools utilize student feedback

According to a report earlier this year by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, student feedback is better at predicting classroom success than teacher experience or graduate degrees, U.S. News reports—but while student surveys are standard practice at colleges and universities, most high schools leave this resource untapped. Yet asking students how their teachers are performing is a no brainer, says Rob Ramsdell, vice president of the consulting group Cambridge Education.

“If we think about it, who spends more time in the classroom, observing the dynamics of the classroom, than students?” Ramsdell said at a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., on July 10 regarding using student feedback to improve teaching practices.

Cambridge Education is hoping to mine those observations via the Tripod Project, a student survey system developed by a Harvard University professor. Tripod gauges student perceptions at the classroom level by presenting statements such as, “My teacher knows when the class understands, and when we do not,” and “My teacher has several good ways to explain each topic that we cover in this class.”

The survey has three versions tailored for students in grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-12. Student responses at the high school level include five options ranging from totally untrue to totally true. More than 3,000 K-12 teachers in six districts used the survey in 2009-10 as part of the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, sponsored by the Gates Foundation. Cambridge Education administers the survey and analyzes and reports the results back to schools, and those results provide valuable insight for teacher development, said Bill Hileman, vice president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

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Why Ultrabook sales have flopped so far—and why that could change

When Intel announced Ultrabooks a year ago, the chip maker predicted that these thin and light laptops would account for 40 percent of the consumer market by the end of 2012, writes Jared Newman for PC World—but according to Gartner, Ultrabooks have hardly made a dent in the now-stagnant PC market.

“This segment is still in an early adopter’s stage,” Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa said in a press release.

“It’s no surprise that the first wave of Ultrabooks hasn’t saved the PC market from slumping sales. Early models were expensive, with the best Ultrabooks priced well over $1,000, and the cheapest ones priced around $900,” Newman writes. “But now, I think the worst days for Ultrabook sales have come to pass. As my colleague Melanie Pinola recently noted, cheaper Ultrabooks are hitting the market, with starting prices between $600 and $800. … And of course, the October launch of Windows 8 will bring a new lineup of Ultrabook-tablet hybrids.”

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NYC expanding Wi-Fi coverage using pay phone kiosks

New Yorkers have been making fewer and fewer calls on the city’s 12,000 pay phones, yet the kiosks likely will be getting heavier use soon, reports the Associated Press: The city on July 11 announced an innovative pilot program that has converted 10 kiosks in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens into free Wi-Fi hotspots.

The plan is to expand the program to all 12,000 pay phones in the city, bringing wireless access to more city residents—including students—free of charge. “We are taking an existing infrastructure and leveraging it up to provide more access to information,” said Rahul Merchant, the city’s chief information officer.

Merchant said the program is part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to help New Yorkers and the 50 million people who visit the city each year stay connected. The pay phones remain, but a router is installed at each kiosk. The internet signal extends a couple of hundred feet, Merchant said. Users simply approach the kiosk with an internet device and log on; no password is needed. They can connect for as long as they need, 24 hours a day.

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