15 minutes?

I’m not sure that I can put in to words how much I enjoy the 30 minutes that I get for lunch each day. Besides $5 Pizza Friday, I rarely even eat – it has much more to do with the people I am there with and the fun that we have in the middle of our days. It’s a respite from everything else and it is extremely rare that a week goes by that I haven’t laughed until I’ve cried at least once or twice. But when the phone rings in that room, it’s an immediate downer. When the phone rings and it’s for you, it’s even worse. And when you’re told by your Principal that he needs you to come up to the office and he’s arranging coverage for your class? Well, it took me right back to 1988 and being called up to see Mr. Albaugh…

So that’s how things started for me yesterday – and that’s a long walk up to the office when you have no clue what’s going on! Once I got there, however, I learned that Governor Wolf had eliminated the requirement that students pass the Keystone Exams in Biology, Algebra, and Literature in order to graduate and that Ashlie Hardway from WTAE was here to get student and teacher reaction to this announcement.

And then a different type of nervousness set in – what the heck am I going to say? How in the world am I going to get my feelings on this topic — which are strong, and by no means concise — into an acceptable soundbite? Am I going to make an absolute fool out of myself? Ugh…

WTAE report

I watched as a student I had the fortune of working with last year, Nicole, totally crushed her interview. Surely she had more than a couple of minutes to prepare, I thought. I am so proud of not only the way she handled herself in this situation, but also the way she represented our school and all of our students in this process. She spoke of how much pressure she felt when taking these tests — of how much she worried beforehand and the sleep she lost. Keep in mind that this is one of our best — a “high flier” as our Principal properly called her — and this is the effect that these High Stakes Tests had on her.

I thought about the end of unit project that she created for The Book Thief and how she had transformed a book into a piece that explained in no uncertain terms what she took from her reading of Zusak’s novel. And I thought about the fact that no standardized test would ever let her display this type of learning.

fandelproject

After the spot aired I received a bunch of calls and texts and tweets, and several people were a little confused on what I had to say concerning accountability. Make no mistake about it, I believe in accountability — for both teachers AND students. I just don’t believe in High Stakes Tests being the way that this occurs. There are so many outside factors that come in to play with a test like this — to think that these truly measure a student’s learning is just flat out naive.

Want to see if I’m doing my job? Come in and take a hard look at what I’m doing — and come in over a period of time. I don’t care who you are or what position you hold — you’re always welcome — that door is open. Want to see if my students are doing their job, improving their skills and (hopefully) being challenged in the process? The offer above stands.

Come in to see our students write about Scout coming of age in To Kill a Mockingbird while relating it to their own struggles with the same; come in to see our students try to come to grips with the stark realities presented in Night that Elie Wiesel faced as a prisoner in a concentration camp during World War II; come in and watch a student perform her original take on the events portrayed in Zusak’s magical piece about children coming to terms with the perils of life in Germany during the Holocaust — and if you’d like a glimpse of what you’d see, here you go:

There are plenty of issues with our educational system — nothing is perfect — but this is a step in the right direction, in my opinion. After all,

standardizedtesting

True words?

 

(ps – I can’t speak highly enough concerning how Ashlie Hardway and her photographer handled these interviews. I truly wish that all of my Mass Media and Yearbook students could have seen the entire process — they were on point the whole way through. Beyond that, she and I have had several interactions on Twitter and it was great to finally meet face to face).

The most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard about the Common Core Standards…

I know, that headline is promising big things. And they’re coming. I’m going to do my best to keep this short and sweet.

I have struggled with my thoughts on the Common Core. On one hand, I do believe that national standards can benefit many, many people. Overwhelmingly, however, I keep coming to their assessment, and I just can’t get past the ways in which these standards are being assessed with high stakes tests that negatively affect both students and teachers alike. (I know, those are just two of the issues at hand, there are many, many more!)

And then I had the pleasure of reading this headline today:

“Florida lawmaker is sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Common Core standards will make your kids “as homosexual as they possibly can.”

I mean, really? This has to be false, right? Nobody could possibly be that idiotic. And then my mind took me to one of my all time favorite quotes as said by Mark Twain: “It’s better to appear stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Seriously, Mr. Van Zant (and I use that Mr. loosely), you are an absolute idiot. The people of Florida should be completely ashamed that you represent them. I cannot possibly imagine anyone ever agreeing with something this idiotic (although I have a feeling that there are many who do and that this will undoubtedly become a talking point.

I mean, how could the following NOT become a talking point?

“Bizarrely, the Republican lawmaker seems convinced that officials who support the Common Core have an “LGBT agenda,” which includes “attract[ing] every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.” Though surely in some cases, these kids won’t be capable of becoming very homosexual at all.” 

Read on for yourself, please. Please watch the video. Please share this idiocy. And please keep in mind that this man was elected by the people of Florida.

The Common Core will turn students gay.

 

More on theory vs. practice…

I had a chance to see Will Richardson present this past summer while at a retreat sponsored by The Consortium for Public Education. He was engaging and pushed the envelope and forced me to think about many of the things I have been doing in my classroom — all things I desire and expect from a speaker. Richardson didn’t disappoint.

One of the things that really stood out to me, though, was Richardson telling us (I’m paraphrasing) that if we weren’t up on MOOCs, then we were way behind in education. I looked around and thought to myself What the heck is a MOOC??? Man, you’ve worked hard to stay up on things and you don’t even know what a MOOC is? You are out of it!

It took me all of about a minute to google it and find out that I just hadn’t heard of them being called this acronym. Whew, I thought — it’s all good, you’re not a total idiot. I had read about what Stanford and MIT and Harvard were doing and had certainly been intrigued. Making this type of content available to anyone is certainly intriguing, right?

Beyond this, I was also prepping my own online course for the Intermediate Unit in our county and anxious to see how their eAcademy would work. Would I be working with the best and the brightest as I’d been led to believe — or those simply using the opportunity as a way station before dropping out, as I suspected? I feared the latter, but had been promised the former, with some growing pains thrown in for good measure, which is certainly understandable.

Clicking on this image will take you to its source, a great page with an infographic on MOOCs.

Clicking on this image will take you to its source, a great page with an infographic on MOOCs.

But let’s get back to the MOOCs before I go any further about my experience with online education. Richardson was all over them. He explained to us that this is the direction of education and that we needed to get on board the train. We could either get on board or watch it pass us by. I remember thinking that same thing about the use of the internet about 15 years ago and we all know where that has led. So what he was saying made sense to me, even though I am not willing to make the jump to this in isolation completely.

My personal feeling is that these ideas/methods need to supplement the things we’re doing in the classroom — not replace it. Perhaps there are students who have the discipline that it takes to make this type of learning work. Perhaps they don’t. Perhaps there are bigger issues at hand that need to be addressed. @RyanLSchaaf posted this link to twitter — it’s an infographic on To MOOC or not to MOOC and I think it lays things out pretty well. Having said this, I think it’s important to say that I still value the classroom teacher and believe that my interactions with students are vital — fancy that.

Which brings me back to my experience with eAcademy teaching. If you don’t know how this works, and the benefits to a school district, here are the basics. Students have the ability to enroll in a cyberschool — and if this happens, then the tax money that would have gone to the school district instead goes to that cyberschool. In my district, this number is a little over $8,500 per year. The cybers have marketed themselves incredibly well and the fatcats have gotten fatter. I don’t blame the school districts one bit for getting in to this business. Have some students benefitted from this? I’m sure that some have. But this is a pretty special kid.

So it didn’t take long for the schools to wisen up on this and figure out a way to recoup this money. Instead of just watching these students leave for cybers, many have created their own version of the cyberschools, and in the process (in my biased opinion) provided a better learning experience — and kept that money in house, so to speak. But remember that idea of a way station I spoke of earlier — without going in to the gory details of my own experience with the online classes, this is what I saw it to be.

Now let’s get back to theory and practice, which was the original purpose of this post (and was the subject of my last post as well). The more that I’ve thought about Richardson’s comments, the more I’ve respectfully disagreed with them. I don’t believe that MOOCs are the future of education in isolation — not at the collegiate level, but especially not so at the high school level. I just don’t think that the typical student has the drive and determination that this style of learning takes.

And as a teacher, I’m very biased toward that idea that my personal interactions with students matter.

Yet I didn’t have anything other than a gut feeling about MOOCs and Richardson – well, he IS Will Richardson.

I didn’t have anything other than that gut feeling until this, that is. Essentially, the article says that a study was done and we need to put some breaks on the idea that these are the immediate savior some have claimed them to be. Take a few minutes to read that — you’ll see that 4% of a million students actually completed a free course. You read that correctly — 4%. Now that can very easily be spun to a realization that this means 80,000 people got through a free course. Or you could also take a hard look at it and realize that 920,000 did not. More than anything, to me, it tells me that this isn’t the immediate answer.

To me, again, I believe that they should be used as a supplement rather than as a substitute or only option.

And again, I will say that I believe that this is another prime example of an idea that is terrific in theory but not so much in practice. And boy, this sure seems to be permeating Ed Reform by some of our best and brightest lately.

Ugh…

As some of you may know, I teach not only English and Yearbook, but also Mass Media and Communications. I’ve always loved reading the newspaper, and when I was originally hired at Greensburg Salem, I was informed that I would have to teach the Journalism classes (that’s what they were called then.

I’m really not sure if I was even able to contain the smile that quickly formed across my face or not once I heard this. I’m going to get to teach Journalism? Really? Pinch me.

A lot has happened in these past 13 years in the field of Journalism — both good and bad. The worst thing, in my opinion, is just how divided the media has become, especially when it comes to the hot button issues. Like politics. Like religion. Like war. Like education.

Seeing as we’re early on in the semester, we’re still working with a lot of the background things that make up the mass media — its history, the vocabulary — the tools of the trade, so to speak. I was prepping a lesson on the vocab of a paper this morning and needed to use an editorial page in order to teach the facets and vocab of this specific page — it was then that I came across today’s Mallard Fillmore, written by Bruce Tinsley.

Admittedly, I’ve never really found it to be funny, but this morning’s strip just absolutely set me off. See for yourself:

I’d love to know when Mr. Tinsley was last in a classroom. I’m guessing that it’s been some time, but I could certainly be wrong.

In a write up that summarizes what Mallard Fillmore is about, I found the following: This right-leaning duck consistently addresses hot button issues, lampoons liberal politicians and the media alike, and skewers cultural establishments.

I think that it’s missing something about how ignorant it is as well — at least today’s strip, I should say.

I’m sick and tired of this perception that certain organizations push out there  that students sit and do nothing all day long. This just isn’t what’s happening in education today whatsoever. Our teachers are doing great things, we’re working our butts off on a daily basis.

We’re constantly adopting new teaching and learning styles and have embraced the use of technology in our classrooms. We’re constantly under fire from people who push ideas like what you see above, and that’s a shame.

Mr. Tinsley, I teach in Room 273 at Greensburg Salem High School, located at 65 Mennel Drive in Greensburg, PA. I challenge you to come in to my classroom — and please do so unannounced, I don’t want anybody thinking that I’m putting on a show — and let’s see if what you’re presenting is anywhere even near to being close to accurate.

What a graphic…

…or, it’s difficult to defend the media, part deux…

Leave it to the creatives to come up with a graphics that put yesterday’s events completely in to an easily understood form:

ARREST_large

If that’s too difficult to read, you can go here to get a better look…

 

It’s difficult to defend the media in this day and age…

Many of you know that I teach Mass Media and Communications — Journalism is encompassed within this broad title — and have done so now for 11 years. As a person who has read the newspaper for as long as I can remember, I must say that, while it can certainly be a challenge at times to teach this subject, it can also be very rewarding. As an aside, when I first interviewed at GS, I was informed that the person who got the position would have to teach the Journalism classes — it was said to me almost as though this was a shame, but it was included, take it or leave it. I had a hard time containing my excitement at this possibility…

I have had the opportunity to work with some great kids in all of my classes — seriously, I get to teach Honors 10, Mass Media and also Yearbook??? — I know that I’m fortunate. I’ve had the chance to embrace teachable moments in all and have had the opportunity to guide many students in their study of what’s right and wrong in many instances. In many cases I’ve been challenged by their line of thinking and their reactions to events as they apply to a young person. It’s immensely rewarding.

But one thing we don’t take for granted in the course is the importance of ethics. Past students who might be reading this know about the ethical scenarios and discussions about running pictures and article and picture placement and the gray areas. They learn about stakeholders and how something seemingly harmless can affect somebody so greatly. They learn about Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg and Janet Cooke and the mistakes they’ve made and the ultimate hope is that they learn from these mistakes, making sure to consider all the angles when out on their own.

They learn the importance of getting it right first, not getting it first and maybe it’s right. And I want to make sure that this is very clear — there are still some very good journalists out there — the problem is this, they don’t get the credit enough and the screw ups take it away from them even more.

And that’s something that has deteriorated in our world of media today. This idea — of getting it right at all costs first — just isn’t adhered to enough. (Sure there are some stalwarts out there, make no mistake about it). The media machine, which for quite some time now expanded to a 24 hour cycle, chews people up and spits them (and their ethics) out.

In just the past couple months we have seen horrible events occur in our country — as well as horrendous mistakes in their coverage. I’m a twitter user and have used it for quite some time now, but it’s to the point that when something big is happening, the safest thing to do is to simply ignore it. The chance of getting something reliable through social media is next to zero. And that’s a shame. Picture people with ethics using this tool appropriately. I don’t mean just a few — I mean all journalists.

I remember finding out that there had been a school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary through Twitter and I remember watching as agencies rushed their news — some went so far as to publish a picture of the “identified” shooter — who just so happened not to be the shooter. Think about that — let it sink in. (Another one of the tenets of strong journalism is that the more controversial an issue is, the more sources you get to verify). Can you even imagine what the twitterverse would have been like had it existed on 9.11.01? My head was already dizzy that day just from watching the news on tv. I may have imploded — and I don’t say that to be funny.

Frustration. That’s what I feel as I read people tell me not to decry the media for their faults in reporting things like this. It’s just too hard to get it right, they say. Nobody ever said the job is easy. Quit making excuses for the fact that this is difficult. Get it right — and watch your reputation continue to stay strong. Woodward and Bernstein didn’t look for easy — they pounded the pavement against incredible odds and got it right. Walter Cronkite is surely rolling over in his grave on days like this.

Frustration. That’s what I felt yesterday as I learned that a suspect in the Boston Marathon Bombings  had been caught and then later learned that this was not true. Quite frankly, it doesn’t surprise me that CNN reported this then “un” reported this. Their track record isn’t the greatest. And that’s being kind.

But somebody at the AP got loose with their fact checking yesterday. And in case you don’t know what the Associated Press is, it’s a wire service that’s subscribed to by many, many news agencies. This is a screen grab of  their twitter feed yesterday afternoon:

ap

So if you read that from the bottom up (as it happened), you’ll notice that for an hour they ran with this as being true. Do you realize just how many news outlets that subscribe to the AP ran with that during this time period? Incidentally, the idea of using the word breaking in this day and age of immediate news is almost comical.

So now I can’t trust the AP, either.

I’m going to tell you who I know I can trust, though — Adam Gretz and Danielle Waugh and Natalie Bruzda and Maggie Graham and Libby Cunningham and Pat McAteer — all former students who are now working in the field of media in one form or another. I know I can trust them because I KNOW that the concept of ethics was driven in to their heads — but more importantly, I know this because I know that it MATTERS to them.

I just wish that there were more whom I know I can trust.

Bully…

So if you read yesterday’s post, you would have noticed that bullying has been on my mind lately. I’d like to thank Shane Koyczan for that — sincerely. After seeing his work and also after seeing some friends who posted about watching the film Bully with their kids (Thanks, Di and Ryan), I decided that I needed to check out the documentary for myself.

bully

I must admit that the movie disgusted me on so many levels. First and foremost, I was disgusted by the way that some students treated others. As a high school teacher, I haven’t seen much of this — not in this form. I’ve thought long and hard about my teaching career and I don’t believe I’ve witnessed this, let alone let it slide. The documentary centers around several different kids of different ages who all were bullied in some form. Two of the “strands” focused on families dealing with the aftermath of a child who committed suicide as a result of the bullying he endured. In addition, the documentary creates a villain in one Middle School’s Assistant Principal, Mrs. Kim Lockwood.

There’s not a doubt in my mind that much of what I saw could have been taken out of context in the editing process, so there’s a part of me that wants to hold back. But I’m telling you that there’s not a doubt in my mind that this woman should not still have her job after seeing the way she acted toward both students and parents. I was flat out appalled. I highly encourage you to check the documentary out and see if perhaps I’m overreacting in this case.

I also wasn’t exactly sure where the boundary line was for the filmmakers. This has to be tough, I’m sure, but at what point do you, as an adult, put the damn camera down and take a stand against some little 15 year old punk who’s continually stabbing another with a pencil while riding the bus??? After the second time? The third? The fifteenth??? I’m just really not sure that the filmmakers were completely responsible, either (although, in fairness, they did finally take their “tape” to the parents and to the school as well as evidence of what was going on). In what infuriated me to no end, Lockwood, after seeing this footage, told the victim’s parents that she had been on that specific bus before and that the kids on it were “good as gold.” Ugh…

The film is powerful enough that it needs to be seen and it needs to be discussed — in schools, but also at home. It needs to be watched as a family and discussions need to stem from it. Bullying, whether physical, emotional or through social media — which is the way I truly think it’s occurring at the high school level — has to be stopped. And I’m not sure where to begin.

As an elementary student I went to many different schools. I know what it feels like to be the new kid, to be different, to not be from there. I also know what it feels like to be picked on. Later on, at the high school level, I was no angel — I was an ass at times and wanted to impress my friends. I picked on many good people. I thought I was being funny, but many times I was cruel. I’m truly, truly sorry.

I’m fortunate to be able to embrace teachable moments in my classes. In Mass Media and Communications I we are currently working on how to properly conduct an interview, create a lead from said interview and then transition in to the actual article. We are between issues with the more advanced students. We’ve watched the documentary together over the past two days and will be conducting a “press conference” with a student who did her Senior Project on bullying. They’ve developed questions for her based upon their viewing of the film and the topic of her Project. They’ll be able to create articles based upon her research.

More importantly, I’m hoping that just one is able to figure out a way to put a stop to this.