My day at TEDxNYED

Yesterday I was able to go to TEDxNYED, an independently organized TED event with some great speakers from different spectrums of the education field in New York. I wish every teacher went to TED talks, it gets you inspired and pumped up to do something great after you finish listening. I really enjoyed every teacher I met yesterday, they were friendly, innovated and so excited to do what they did. With all this talk of teacher assessment in NY right now I wish that could be a form of teacher assessment in itself: did you attend TEDxNYEd (or watch it on livestream) and get pumped after hearing about innovating and creativity in schools? Awesome! This honestly says a lot more than the ridiculous, inaccurate teacher evaluations published publicly in some big time NY press.

I just wanted to highlight a few speakers I especially enjoyed:

Jose Luis Vilson explained the importance in redefining the teacher voice: a voice that balances emotion and reason, is confident, and continues to put students first.

Jim Groom gave a hilarious short talk filled with animated GIFs. I love animated GIFs. He also began ds106, a open online digital storytelling course, where students have done some really awesome stuff.

Sree Sreenivasan is the Dean of Student Affairs at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and he teaches in the digital media program, including social media and digital entrepreneurship. (took that bio straight from my program book!) I was excited to hear him speak because I really wanted to go to Columbia School of Journalism’s Social Media Weekend, but I didn’t for some reason or another (money? sold out? I don’t remember). His talk was about 10 minutes, so it certainly didn’t make up for an entire missed weekend but I was excited just the same. He made some excellent points about the realistic value of social media.

Tony Wagner spoke. His talk is really great, I actually saw a similar talk he made last week at the Skillshare Penny Conference via livestream. You can watch it here.

Bre Pettis, the founder of MakerBot, explained how schools don’t allow students to make things anymore. Classes that have been removed from our school like Shop and Home Ec, these were all opportunities for students to make things with their hands. (I had woodshop, but my brother doesn’t take it 10 years later. They let me play with jigsaws, wood burning pens and huge sanders at 12 years old… sweet!) He discussed how empowering it can be, especially as a child, to make something and also be able to fix it later. That is something a lot of kids aren’t able to do anymore.

Frank Noschese is a high school physics and chemistry teacher, and he’s moved away from that typical worksheet based high school science class that has zero relevance to student’s lives. I never took Physics because I knew I would have failed horribly, but I honestly would love to be part of Frank Noschese’s Physics class. The students are given a scenario and they come up with their questions and collect data based on what they want to learn about the situation. My favorite thing he showed: his students had two different robotic cars that went at different constant speeds and they had to calculate where they would meet in the 3 ft area of the hallway outside of class. (The classic two trains leaving the station problem you see on worksheets worldwide!) The students calculated their answer and placed a piece of tape on the ground where they thought the cars would collide. They let the cars go and they collided right on top of the piece of tape. I was excited just watching the video, the students all cheered and high-fived when the cars collided. Noschese also lets his kids come to class with problems on their own, for example they once saw a ridiculous commercial with Kobe Bryant running and jumping straight across a swimming pool to dunk a basket. Was this possible? He allowed this question to become the focus of his class lesson. As someone who has hated math my entire life: this really did look like a great time.

Some of the talks are already available on the livestream website. I assume the rest of the talks will be available later. Take some time today to watch a few! Also as a side note, if you have an iPad I really recommend the TED app. I love to watch talks before going to bed.

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Increased Performance

A while back i wrote a post about The Value of Teachers, where I tried to make the point that good teachers don’t come from better salaries and standardized teacher evaluation systems, they come from a positive and innovative environment where people are excited to foster learning in students.

Recently I saw this post from Staffroom HQ that linked to a speech made by Dan Pink called “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.” I’ll include the video at the bottom of this page. Pink discusses various studies where workers were given monetary incentives to do work. In physical/mechanical tasks the more you were paid the harder you worked. But when even rudimentary cognitive work was required, a larger reward lead to lower performance. Crazy, right??

So what incentives are needed to foster increased performance in cognitive tasks? They discovered that higher performance happened when workers experienced  Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

Pink was able to say more eloquently and factually what I’ve been thinking for the past year in regards to gaining “better” teachers.  Many people seem to think the best way to see increased teacher performance is to create a standardized evaluation system. This system can rely on student standardized test scores. People like Michelle Rhee would like to see evaluations lead to higher pay for those with good results. I’m not naive, I also think teachers must be evaluated in some way, they have the serious responsibility of educating our children and they must be held accountable for it. But this standardized way of evaluating teacher and student performance is actually hindering performance for both parties involved.

Higher teacher salaries are not going to increase performance. (Although it is a real issue that some teachers don’t get paid enough.) An environment with more freedom to customize lessons to the interest of the teacher or students would increase performance (Autonomy). If teachers were  given time and partial stipends to attend professional development workshops or enroll in a courses about topics in their content area, we would see increased performance (Mastery). Respect from families, administrators and the general public would help increase teacher performance (Purpose).

One little anecdote: foursquare has hackathons every once in  a while where developers drink beer, work together and hack away over the course of the weekend. At the end of the weekend the hackers have created games, websites and other cool things using the foursquare API. Some of these things probably suck. Others are silly and will never amount to a profit making product, but they are still really fun. Timehop, a viable startup, was born out of a foursquare hackathon, then called 4 Square & 7 Years Ago. The people at these hackathons are smart and creative, and they have been given the autonomy to work on whatever they want. The result: a large amount of innovation and improvement in the short period of 48 hours. They don’t get paid in any form other than beer and food. Yet they work hard and create great stuff.

I’m fully aware that taking this and transforming it into an activity that would work at a public K-12 school may be difficult. Startups are small, private and there isn’t much at stake for the general public if they fail. Public schools are enormous, funded by tax payer dollars, and the future of our country is at stake when they fail. But as Dan Pink has showed us, money and standardization are NOT going to improve teacher performance. So we need to figure out what will. (And although it wouldn’t sit well with most, I personally love the mental image of teachers drinking beer and staying up all weekend creating new and innovative teaching strategies.)

Here’s the Dan Pink talk:

The Hunger Games

I caught the bug. I started reading The Hunger Games last Monday. My friends and I were out on St. Patrick’s day and one of them told me she was obsessed with the books. I had little interest in them, I thought they would be like Twilight, which I tried to read a few years back and gave up half way through the first book because I absolutely hated it. But I figured if my friend was obsessed I’d give them a shot.

I started reading the first book on a Monday. I read the second book from Friday-Sunday morning and I read the third book in a single seven hour sitting on Sunday. They really were addicting, really similar to how I felt while reading Harry Potter. I think only Young Adult literature can suck you in like that.

The series is so clever and Suzanne Collins was able to include commentaries on several different aspects of our society in a single story. People have compared it to the Japanese film Battle Royal but from what I’ve heard they only sound slightly similar. (I should watch the film before I say anything.)  There is so much evil and dark in the book but the main characters are very likable and the story is highly engaging. I can’t write book reviews, I don’t know enough about literature, but I know these books are well thought out with amazing characters and a highly engaging plot.

Last night I saw the movie. The beginning of the movie was impressively spot-on in my opinion. But by the end they sped things along and left out a lot of the character development and dialogue that are some of my favorite moments from the book. Books turned into movies rarely work out well for me. From a readers point of view, it is slightly annoying to see them change the dialogue between characters, or leave out key details. But what annoys me even more is my friends and family that only watch the movie and then think they have a valid idea of what the book is about. They don’t fully understand what is happening because the movie had to skim. They root for the wrong characters because they don’t know the important dialogue and actions that happened between characters in the book.

So I haven’t left you with much valuable information, but I would recommend reading the novels if you have the time. (They are quick, highly addicting reads. Great for a vacation or commute.) And if you don’t have the time, check out the movie. But I warn you, you won’t have any idea what is actually going on!

“Slacktivism”

Recently I posted the KONY2012 video… that was before the insanity of it  going viral. Yesterday the African Union announced it will lead a mission of 5,000 to assist in process of capturing Joseph Kony. I’ve been paying attention to this issue for the past four years so I know that it could have been a coincidence that this happened so soon after the video came out. Obama for example, sent 100 American troops into Uganda to help strategize with the Ugandan military last December, before this film came out. (Although I think the actions of other Invisible Children videos helped in that process as well, but whatever.) But I have a large hunch the video and its crazy viral spread did have an influence on this decision.

So this leads me to one big criticism (I’m not addressing the other dozen criticisms here) Invisible Children has faced, but lots of other issues have faced as well. (For example, right now a lot of attention is being brought to the murder of Trayvon Martin.) This idea of “slacktivism”, sharing and discussing an unjust issue and admitting that we need to do something about it, but taking hardly any physical or tangible action towards solving that unjust issue. Social Media has made it so easy to be a “slacktivist”. In fact I’m sure this this term didn’t even existed before Social Media. (Not to say it didn’t happen.) People post the KONY2012 video and we all know that we don’t like child soldiers and we don’t like terrorist groups. But what is a 30 minute video that I watch and share on facebook going to change about it? We all feel terrible about the death of Trayvon Martin, but if I post an article about his death and write “RIP Trayvon” in the description, how is that going to justify what happened to him?

Some people are so disgusted by this trend, and blame the youth of our country for being naive, believing they are making a difference when in reality they are just sharing on facebook. But I don’t see it that way. This is the way I see it.

There are two types of people: observers/slacktivists and doers/activists. And both of these groups of people use facebook and twitter. Observers/slacktivists will always read an article, be upset by it and post it on facebook.  They themselves are doing nothing to push the cause forward and get stuff done. But the beauty of social media is that the doers/activists see the posts that the observers/slactivists left. The doer reads this upsetting article and flips out, immediately tries to rally a group of people together and get something done! These are the people that will make change in our world, the doers/activists are the change makers. But the great thing about these observers/slacktivists is they are the fuel for the change maker fire. They bring the issues to the attention of doer/activist and they in turn do something about it. Observers/slacktivists are never going to do anything, regardless of whether or not they post that article on facebook. But because they do share it, if enough doers/activists see it the opportunity does arise for change to be made. Like these troops the African Union is deploying to South Sudan. I also believe that because of this attention George Zimmerman will, in time, be arrested and imprisoned for the death of Trayvon Martin. The are just two cases, there are hundreds of others.

These doers/activists are all ages. Some are older and many are young as well. People who criticism observers/slacktivists for being unproductive are much less productive themselves. Stop being cynical. If someone posts something on facebook but you know they aren’t going do do anything about it, don’t waste you time complaining that they didn’t take action, just take action yourself. Theres no harm in a slacktivist as long as we still have some activists around to make some change.

One other quick point: I also really dislike people blaming the youth for not being motivated to make change. 1. A lot of youth is motiviated to make change, which is really surprising because 2. adults and schools have done a fantastic job of making youth feel like unimportant members of society that have no control over their lives. Social Studies classes in US public schools consist of memorizing the Bill of Rights or stuff Andrew Jackson did. Civics is about memorizing the balance of powers and the elastic clause. Why would these kids think that this stuff applies to them when nobody ever tells them that they can make change unless they have awesome parents or they themselves are awesome enough to think outside the box?


The Debate of Unpaid Interns

I read this article earlier in the week. I find it interesting that right at the time that I was interning these unpaid intern debates began.

Internships are weird to me, but I’ve spent the past year accepting them as a fact and sometimes even a privilege. I paid full tuition to be a student teacher for a semester. That means I paid money to New Paltz so I could wake up at 5:30am get to school, teacher 120 students, plan units and lessons and grade work. I would typically get home around 4:00 and prepare work for the next day.

I interned at foursquare… that was a sweet deal. I got paid to be there and it was a great learning experience. I had a short stint at Hot Bread Kitchen. That internship was unpaid, but they were always thankful and appreciative of any work I did. World Wide Workshop paid for my transportation and it was a good learning experience as well.

I would never want to sue any of the companies or school I interned with. I thank these people for the privilege of getting to learn from them and build my skills.

But with that said, I’m not crazy about unpaid internships. Legally you can only offer an upaid internship if you promise to give compensation in the form of an education or mentorship. (See this really good video here for a clear run-down and what is ok and not ok in internships.) If someone does work for you they should be compensated. If you can’t pay them then you don’t need the help enough. I like the idea of internships being required as a part of graduation for school, similar to what I did for student teaching. But I shouldn’t have had to pay full tutition that semester. You should be required to have an internship in college, but you should see a smaller tuition bill the semester that you have your internship. After you graduate college you should not be allowed to have an unpaid internship. Sure, you might be learning, but you still should be compensated because you are a skilled worker. If you can’t pay someone minimum wage then they shouldn’t give you their time.

I don’t know if lawsuits are the best way to address this issue. I wonder why these two interns put up with these internships if they now want to sue the company. Why not just quit the internship? But I do think that a lot of companies are using  “unpaid” interns to get free workers to do their mundane tasks, and that’s not ok.

Kony 2012

I have lots of things I’d love to write about on here and I hope to soon. Today I want to show this video by Invisible Children. From sophomore year of college (2008) until this past spring (2011) I was part of the New Paltz Invisible Children Club. I was a founding member of the club, but that was only because my close friends were interested and I tagged along, halfway interested. Somtime during junior year I started taking things more seriously and took a more active role in the club. I managed the club blog, but I also did a ton of other stuff. (When a small group of college girls are running something you typically don’t have a formal job title for your responsibilities!) It was a lot of fun and some of my fondest memories from college are part of that club with my friends.

What is Invisible Children? Its a not for profit organization that was created in 2003 and aims to bring attention to a war that has reeked havoc over Central Africa (specifically Uganda and more recently CAR, DRC and South Sudan) for the past 26 years due to Joseph Kony and his rebel army (LRA) which is predominately made of child soldiers. IC also raises money for some really ingenious funding projects to help rehabilitate war victims and improve safety and communication for the more remote villages affected by the conflict.

Two reasons I like Invisible Children: 1. They are really great at getting young people to care about a social issue. Most IC supporters are high school and college students. 2. In regards to the donation part of IC,  This is not a run of the mill charity organization that tries to provide food for the “poor people of Africa.” The money that IC raises is used in ways the people in Uganda and the DRC, not Americans, have decided it is best fit. This includes school rebuilding, free tuition scholarships for students, employment opportunities and economic courses for women who escaped the rebels,  and radio towers to improve communication lines between villages. The people affected by this conflict are well educated and extremely capable, they have just been put in a very difficult and dangerous situation. IC simply helps provide resources and word of mouth via technology and videos that these people would not be able to do on their own.

Each year Invisible Children has a concept that they promote. Every semester they have teams of “Roadies” visit schools throughout the country to show a new film and discuss the current situation of the war. This year their initiative is “Kony 2012.” Joseph Kony is the leader behind this senseless rebel group, the Lords Resistance Army (LRA),  that has killed and abducted thousands of adults and children. He is ranked the most wanted criminal by the International Justice Court. So why has the majority of the population never heard of him? Why isn’t he as famous as George Clooney, Jay-Z or Taylor Swift? 2012 is the year to make him infamous to the world.

I could talk about Invisible Children for hours. If you have any questions for me feel free to leave a comment, but I leave you today with the newest Invisible Children film. Take a few minutes out of your busy day to watch this film!

**Update** I am blown away by how viral this video has gone in the past two days and I find it interesting how controversy  has also been surrounding it. Here’s my opinion: Invisible Children has been creating movies very similar to this one and initiatives like Kony2012 for the past 8 years, this is not new. If you just heard about them yesterday then you have 8 years of this organization to catch up on.

Also, if you want to criticize the organization after doing thorough research, then you have every right to do that. If you are interested in doing some research on Invisible Children here are some facts straight from the source: http://www.invisiblechildren.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/critiques.html

Leaving College Confused

Today I came across this Washington Post opinion piece by Ezra Klein, entitled “Wall Street Steps in When Ivy Leave Fails” and I think he really hit a nail on the head.

To make this short: We live our K-12 lives waiting for college. Junior year is a whirl of SAT’s, ACT’s, AP’s, followed by the crazy fall of senior year where everyone is applying to their schools (sometimes upwards of 12 applications) and the calm of spring after everyone has been accepted. Your parents and family are so proud. You graduate and everyone is so excited… you feel like you’ve accomplished the hardest challenge of your life.

Then you go to school and learn some really neat things, meet awesome people and learn to be yourself. Is it valuable? Yes. Does it leave you feeling confident that you will excel in the work force? (oh right, that’s why we went to college isn’t it?) Not really.

So why are Wall Street and Teach for America (polar opposities of one another) able to get most of this new Ivy League talent?  It’s because both of these positions have something extremely important in common: they give college students what they know best. An application to fill out, and interview and the promise that you will learn the skills you need to be successful and will finish off their two year commitments able to do anything you want.

Wait…an application to a program with the promise to provide skills for future careers? That sounds a lot like college, right?

Exactly, it’s all we know and it’s [almost]  all we were taught.

The Danger of a Single Story

It’s TED talk week here! Sorry, I always love TED talks but this week I’ve seen two really stand-out talks. If you’re anything like me you love an excuse to watch a good TED talk anyway.

This talk is from Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian author. I came across it because Globaloria shows this video to students as a part of the curriculum early in the year. This week we have been looking at the curriculum, seeing if we can build up the empathy and social understanding portion. Globaloria is a game design class, so these things don’t have to be a huge part of the curriculum, but I think each class in every school should devote some time to the importance of respecting others and embracing people of all backgrounds and orientations.

I would love to see our schools put more effort into informing students about the dangers of “a single story.” But right now we live in a country where many teachers, administrators, politicians and policy makers also live by one story. This is probably one of the biggest reasons I wanted to be a Social Studies teacher. Students see things like the Holocaust or the Civil Rights movement, and they can see that the way Jews were treated was horrible, or that the way Blacks were treated before 1970 was inexcusable. But we still have so many more subtle instances of racism and hatred today because many people believe ideas that they were told and think it is right to make judgements about all people from one background based on a single story they have heard.

Don’t just believe a story.  Never assume someone is a certain way because of their background. Find out for yourself. It’s always ok to change your mind and alter your thought processes. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, I actually think it means you are so very strong.

My Thoughts: Short and non-descriptive.

I’ve been reading a lot of education blogs lately, especially blogs that discuss technology in education. It has brought a lot of ideas to the front of my head; some new, some I’ve already thought but I have just forgotten about over the past few months. This is a list of some of my beliefs. I’m not going to go in depth to describe them. These are thoughts and there are definitely some generalizations in here. If you wanted to talk with me further about something that would be awesome, feel free to do so in the comments.

The average student in a public school today is often bored during the school day. 

Much of the content being taught in an average public school does not properly reflect what many Americans do when they graduate and eventually go out into the “real world”.

Our public schools do not put enough focus on what students are interested in. 

There is no incentive  for a teacher to go outside of the comfort zone of typical structured lessons based on core standards and test prep. This is what the administration and eventually our students expect of them.

A teacher that does try to step out of this comfort zone, in order to engage or challenge the students, will not necessarily be supported or praised for this decision. It is very unlikely they would receive increased benefits or a higher salary. 

Technology is a valuable tool in schools. But technology could never replace strong instruction and student support from a guiding teacher.

Technology is not going to be used in innovative, modern ways if you don’t have someone innovative and modern there to use the technology. Because of that there is no point in shoving  technology down each teachers throat. But make sure you do have innovative people in your school. They will be the ones that use technology effectively, and will slowly help other teachers grow fond of the possibilities technology offers their classrooms. 

Teachers should not have more than 20 children per class until college. I think class sizes should be even smaller than that before Middle School. Around 10-15 students per class. 

Standards and curriculum should focus more on skills and less on content. Creative thinking, problem soloving, writing skills, critical thinking skills, reading comprehension, logic, organization, time management, etc. SKILLS are what we are judged on when we go into the workforce. I do not need to remember what moles were in Chemistry (what are they?) I do not need to remember the quadratic formula. We don’t need to know what the last battle of the Revolutionary War was. 

High School should have a career resource center similar to colleges to help students prepare for internships, part time jobs, and give students someone to talk to when they start considering their future. There is a life other than/after college, but you wouldn’t know that if you walked into many high schools today. 

High schools are not in touch with the current job market. You can be “anything you want” in this country, but you probably don’t even know most of the careers you can have when you leave K-12 school.

I realize these are all negative. Nobody likes someone who complains about a problem but has no solution. I plan to write another, more positive list like this suggesting some solutions in the future.

I want libraries to become the new MTV

I’m getting a kindle in the mail on monday because books are too bulky for my commute. One reason it has taken me so long to get a kindle is I don’t buy books, I rent them from the library. Once I get my kindle I want to try out the e-book service my local library has. I have no idea how that works but I’m excited to try it out.

I started thinking about what’s going to happen to libraries in the next decade. Sure, now everyone claims that they still want paper books. Right now we still need them. But in 10 years…so much can happen with technology in 10 years, and I really feel that books are going to be a dying art. Even with an e-book rental system, soon enough we are all going to realize we shouldn’t have to go to the actual library to rent an e-book. But libraries are a great resource to a community. They host important community events and they are a safe, quite and friendly place to learn and do research. I love libraries and I would hate to seem them die out along with paper books.

That’s why I am making the analogy that libraries need to become the new MTV. MTV, which stands for Music Television, devotes maybe 8% of its airtime to music videos and music related content. They realized they can get much higher ratings when they show bizarrely addictive reality television shows about guidos and teen moms. Music television may be a dying art, but MTV isn’t dying with it.

I want to see libraries remain just as strong. I’m obviously not saying libraries need Snooki and JWow to stay current. But instead of devoting most of their energy to books, I hope libraries are able to realized what is most valuable to their communities and focus on that. Libraries can offer their community state of the art technology, valuable classes and programs, kindle rentals, e-book clubs. Paper books will always have a certain niche… children’s books for example really are best in paper form. (What is childhood without a few books on the shelf with bite marks from when you were two? You can’t do that to an iPad!) And I’m sure a library will always embrace paper books. But I hope they can change with the times and create a new system for themselves so they stay a timeless and valuable part of our society long after paper books are removed from the shelves. It might seem weird for a library to focus on technology more than books, but MTV is doing just fine with little focus on music.