Governor Patrick Announces Readiness Project

Governor Deval Patrick announced a major new statewide education initiative over the last several days.  The report’s title, Ready For 21st Century Success, The New Promise of Public Education, conjours up images of students and teachers struggling to succeed in a global world.  A quick analysis of the report’s cover shows a diverse group of K-12 students with images of:

  • crayons
  • a school bus
  • a calculator
  • a chalkboard
  • a laptop

If we were to poll our students, which item do you think they would find most valuable?  I’ll select the laptop! Whenever I bring my laptop into a classroom, elementary students always ask, how much does it cost and can we use it?  Students offer that they have a desktop computer in their homes, but they covet the portability of a wireless laptop.

On page six under the title, Our Challenges, with the headline, International competition, an outdated curriculum makes the flattened world case that our school’s need to teach a whole new sets of skills.  The Framework for 21st Century Skills graphic from the Partnership for 21st century skills looks reasonably refined until you dig deeper.  Ready…

This problem is exacerbated by an outdated curriculum and too heavy a reliance on 20th century tools and teaching strategies. We must strengthen and modernize the curriculum in science, math and engineering, while increasing our focus on world languages, geography, civics and the arts. We must emphasize 21st century themes such as global awareness, financial, business and entrepreneurial literacy, and health and civics literacy. Heightened attention to these topics, using modern information technology with interdisciplinary, collaborative hands-on learning as the norm rather than the exception, will enable students to master the skills and competencies that work, life and active citizenship require.  [page 6]

The problem for U.S. schools, based on recent international math and science testing, is that our students are moving the wrong way in the rankings. The call to action embodied in the above excerpt is astoundingly ambitious.

My interpretation of the Patrick administration’s goals are:

  1. Broaden the meaning of student achievement beyond the basics and engage all learners.
  2. Pay talented educators a decent salary.
  3. Encourage all students to continue their education after high school.
  4. Reward and nurture school innovation.

The forth goal proposes the creation of readiness schools that would have greater autonomy to implement innovative ideas within public school districts.  One idea, that I think should be considered, is a 1-to-1 laptop program that puts the single most important technology tool in the hands of students and teachers.  What do you think?

My LinkedIn Professional Networking Profile

After receiving several email invitations to join LinkedIn I finally decided it was time to check out the site.  My first reaction was that I really didn’t want another site to login and maintain especially if it was just a ploy to sell my personal information.  I dutifully populated my profile with the basic facts of my professional life; education, job history, and skills.  Once I concluded that there was enough information in my profile I was ready to connect to my colleagues.  I used two methods to connect:  (1) The “Are you feeling lucky?” approach where you simply type the name of someone you think already has a profile.  If they are there, it’s like opening a door to reveal a surprise. You see the person’s name and enough info to recognize that they are the person you know.  Click on their name and select Add {colleague} to my network. or (2) Enter the email addresses of everyone in your address book and let Linkedin tell you if there are matches.  I found (1) to be more efficient, especially since my web-based email program doesn’t allow the export of my email contacts.  By the end of my first LinkedIn day I had 5 connections and 5 pending invitations.   One thing that took me some time to figure out was how to add bullets to lists of items in the various fields.  Since LinkedIn doesn’t allow HTML tags to create list with <ul> <li> <li> </ul> you need to use text symbols.  On MAC OSX Option + 8 will create the appearance of a bullet using plain old text.  Navigating to the Promote your profile page I found the code to add this button:

View Robert Simpson's profile on LinkedIn

Instructional Changes with a Student Response System

Return the lost vertebrates with a SRSThink of how many times you have given PowerPoint presentations and had to stop to ask the audience if they understood what you were presenting.  Maybe you just trudged through the presentation just to finish in time to beat the clock.  What if you could capture the audiences thoughts and understanding?  Would it change the way you present?  Would your students connect with your content?

Student Response Systems (SRS) have made a major push into the educational world in the last year.  Last year at NECC 2007, I had the opportunity to test drive a few of these systems on the exhibit floor.   A SRS consists of a set of remotes that wirelessly communicate with a receiver attached to a computer and projector.    Coincendentally, I was involved in writing a Technology Enhancement grant proposal to the Massachusetts Department of Education focused on 1-to-1 laptop computing.  One grant outcome was to evaluate changes in student use of classroom technology and whether it would aid in the acquistion of content knowledge.  We decided that a SRS would be a useful tool for assessment.   We chose the Qwizdom system with Q4 student remotes and the Q5 teacher remote.  The system uses Radio Frequency (RF) technology to transmit meaning that you don’t have to be in the line-of-sight of the receiver.

Poster Q&A sharing student resultsTeachers participating in our Laptops in American History grant experimented with the Qwizdom SRS in a high school history classroom.   In preparing the PowerPoint presentations, teachers had to consider the effect of asking questions that probe student background knowledge to ones illiciting student opinions about an image.  The analysis of political cartoons and posters from the World War II era became a highly interactive and assessment rich lesson due to the SRS.  Every student’s response was recorded and displayed with summary graphs on the computer projector.  One especially powerful teacher outcome was the ability to assess student understanding of isolationism versus interventionism during the lesson.   The teacher was surprised that students had not mastered the distinction between the two concepts and choose to review the concepts at the start of the next day’s lesson.

What biome do I live in? Poison Dart frogAnother group of elementary teachers used the SRS to teach a new grade 4 science unit on biomes.  Students enthusiatically embraced the SRS and teachers were excited by the increase in student engagement.  In order to drive home the student inquiry nature of the biome unit, it was critical to capture student misconceptions about the world’s land biomes such as where they are located and their climatography.  The SRS enabled teachers to visualize these misconceptions and encouraged students to discuss their written observations.  Students also learned to use observational skills to predict which biome an unknown animal belonged to based on the their physical appearance.  Which biome do you think the red frog to right calls home?  If you said, Rainforest, you are as smart as a fourth grader.  Teachers were so impressed with the ability of the SRS to support student-centered instruction that they applied for a Qwizdom Educational Grant.  Good Luck!