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Answers as Good as the Questions November 30, 2005

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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Online Tools Today the Wiley Publishers were in the building offering free food and free desk copies of new textbooks. It was a little like an early Christmas party with professors nibbling on the ‚ÄúLeonardo da Veggie‚Ä? sandwiches and loose grapes while chatting with colleagues and looking over the latest texts. It turns out Wiley is desperately looking for technology texts and something that could merge with Educational Leadership.

The reps asked me, once again, to provide them with a prospectus of some sort for a text idea I might have with promises that they would shop it around. The last time they asked me to do that it came to nothing but I ended up on a few e-newsletters and received a much greater volume of advertisements for sister publishing groups. It actually felt a little like a scheme to probe the needs of the teaching community and report back to the mother ship.

On another note, as if there were not enough acronyms in my life I finally cracked the cover of THE Journal and saw a new one: D3M. Apparently, my ‚Äúdata‚Ä? needs to be ‚Äúscrubbed‚Ä? to be ready for D3M. I tried to figure it out without reading ahead. This is one of the pitfalls of trying to make more academic or professional your particular field of endeavor.

D3M is an acronym for Data-Driven Decision Making. Now, I have been working with tools for data-driven decision making for a while now but had never heard it referred to as D3M. So now I am officially clued in. I may be hip and able to rattle off the lingo-du-jour at the next faculty party, but I am still a little confused.  How were administrators making decisions before? Data-Free Decision Making? Do people think educators just woke up and decided to change a school bus route, adopt a different textbook, or shift a writing curriculum in a different direction entirely on a whim?

It turns out that we do many things on a whim, but the new trend in education is to ensure that our students are doing things in classes based on numbers generated by tests and other means of assessing progress in school. This is fine, but the new technology allows teachers and administrators to crunch numbers more efficiently and exactly so that, for example, you can tweeze specialized populations of learners out of the numbers.

Did more special education students succeed because of a new program? Did one ethnic group of students missing fewer than three classes per semester do better than the same or a different ethnic group who participated in after school tutoring? The questions you can generate are numerous and perhaps that is the inherent weakness of the D3M movement, if you can call it a movement. The lessons you learn from the data are only as good as the questions you pose.


More on Teaching November 30, 2005

Posted by Michael McVey in Students.
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adolescents.jpgAnna Quindlen wrote a powerful essay on teachers and teaching that was published in the November 28 Newsweek today. Inspired by Frank McCourt’s book, Teacher Man, she reminded her readers about the job teachers do and the role of teachers in society.

More startling was her reminder that one teacher in five would leave the profession after the first year. That is why I try so hard to encourage and prepare young teachers by helping them to use some technological tools that will better prepare them to do their job and to help them to survive and even flourish in that first year.

I try to teach not only the tools, both the hardware and software, but I try to make them aware of online tools that can give them inspiration and comfort in the first years of their career as teachers. Joining listservs, receiving lesson ideas by e-mail, and reading blogs by teachers and experts in their field can all help young teachers feel that they have somewhere to turn when things get tough.

Read the full essay by Anna Quindlen online. An excerpt:

According to the Department of Education, one in every five teachers leaves after the first year, and almost twice as many leave within three. If any business had that rate of turnover, someone would do something smart and strategic to fix it. This isn’t any business. It’s the most important business around, the gardeners of the landscape of the human race.

Social Mapping November 29, 2005

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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Online Tools Mapping is not just for cartographers any longer. Social scientists are getting in on mapping using some unique online tools. One of my favorites because of its¬†potential is www.commoncensus.org. This site asks each visitor, almost 30,000 since September, to tell where they think the main “sphere of influence” is in their area. For example, I live in Tucson, Arizona and¬†I see the city of Tucson as the most influential city in my life. I read Tucson news, hear Tucson gossip, focus on Tucson issues, and relate state issues to Tucson. It would likely be similar were I living in Phoenix. My sphere of influence would be everything Phoenix.

However, roughly between Phoenix and Tucson is a town called Casa Grande. Where would residents of that town see their sphere of influence? And what of the many rural areas of the state? By which major city would those residents say they were most influenced? Good question. Check out the map CommonCensus has generated thus far. Please follow the link to their site for a view of the map with magnification.


Map of US

Where this is intriguing to me is that this map is based on perceptions of boundaries not determined boundaries. I would like next to see¬†illustrations and visualizations of complex interrelationships that exist in offices, in local politics, in schools, and in families. ¬†Let’s take schools, for example. It would be intriguing to see how people perceive their own collection of associates and friends mapped against, say, Departmental organization. It may turn out the rumors that they Principal doles out extra favors to the Math Department because of a larger number of perceived friendships. A superintendent, seeking favor for a particular issue, might well be advised to consult such a social mapping to determine how to best frame the message or direct a communication.

Foremost, we teach November 28, 2005

Posted by Michael McVey in Students.
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6 Prior to leaving Denver this morning I came across a guest column in the Denver Post by Mark Moe, a retired English teacher. The full column will remind you about the population we hope to reach with our new technological tools.

An excerpt from the article:

Or, perhaps more to the point: “Why don’t we step inside this classroom where, soon, 32 hormonally crazed 15-year-olds – who haven’t done their homework and are already hopped up on that Big Gulp Mountain Dew that was their breakfast – will arrive in various states of virulent adolescence? After you.”

So, you’ve got five classes ahead of you: three sophomore English, one freshman basic skills, and, thank God, a senior humanities seminar where you can actually spend most of the period teaching. Almost 140 students in all, who, over the course of a school year, will collectively write about 800 essays. That’s about 2,000 pages. Ever read a 2,000-page novel? Well, I am impressed! Ever grade a 2,000-page novel? Written by a 15-year-old? No? Then you don’t know what fun is!

First, you need to skim the essay globally to see if it coheres – if it’s on topic and makes sense. If it passes this little speed bump, then you can begin the arduous, painstaking, line-by-line assessment, which includes corrections of grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure and so on.

Reading this and I am reminded of many nights spent grading papers as a high school English teacher. I was reminded of the joke about the next Survivor pitting seven executives in an urban school where they must teach several classes of uninterested and unmotivated ninth graders.

Among the many things I read this holiday weekend, between sudoku puzzles, was an interview with Frank McCourt who has just released Teacher Man, a memoir of his days as an inexperienced teacher. An excerpt:

“I knew I had to find my own way of teaching,” McCourt says, his brogue still present. “I certainly couldn’t be telling them about grammar or analysis or whatever.”

So he told stories instead. On his first day of class, at McKee Technical and Vocational School in 1958, the young teacher learned to keep the students quiet by telling them about growing up poor in Ireland. Then he returned the favor by asking them to write down the best excuse note they could think of.

Today, creative writing classes call this workshopping, but back then it was revolutionary, and McCourt was forever on the verge of getting fired.

I cannot tell you how much his experimental approach to education paralleled my own experiences. Both of us were in survival mode to some degree, always on the lookout for something that would hook our students and connect the curriculum to their lives. Now, many years later, I am still tinkering and trying to see how the new tools of technology can fit into Higher Education.

First Ink November 28, 2005

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment.
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Michael in CanadaThis post is entitled First Ink but, of course, this isn’t ink at all unless or until you print it. But let this be the starting point for a discussion about instructional technology at The University of Arizona’s College of Education. I would like to think this college represents a microcosm of the larger world of higher education where discoveries are made by instructors on a daily basis about how to use technology in their teaching. It also is a place where individual instructors determine the limitations of technology as well as its potential.

I would like to use this blog to demonstrate the best of these insights and to continue to heap praise on those who join me in this journey of discovery and growth.