Herding my kitties

I love my students. They are so much fun sometimes. But getting them to walk in an orderly fashion to lunch might as well be herding cats.

“Single file,” I say to one girl.
“This is single file,” the girl answers.
I explain that walking next to your friend does not qualify as single file.
She smiles at me and sidles a bit to the right, closer to her friend.
“Single file,” I repeat.
The girls smile and give in, one moving behind the other.
But if I shift my position in line and go back to work on another chatty couple, the girls will return to their original positions, like cats jumping up onto the counter when their human walks out of the room.

Eduhonesty: Perhaps we should eliminate a few rules. Who cares if they go single file? No teacher in this school is winning the single-file game. Some are losing much more dramatically than I am. It seems best not to impose rules that are difficult to enforce when so little benefit is derived from good results.

On the other hand, these hallways were genuinely unsafe a few years ago. The rule is serving a purpose. Surely, though, we can find a medium between single-file with no talking and throngs of random students caroming off one another like starving, lunch-bound bumper cars.

My notebooks

My room is filled with notebooks packed with recommendations from professional development seminars.

These notebooks have far too many good, not-so-good, and just-plain-silly pieces of advice. We need less professional development. It’s not that I haven’t picked up useful, pedagogical tips along the way. I have been impressed by a number of seminars I attended (and utterly unimpressed by others) and have implemented strategies suggested to me.

Eduhonesty: We need to remember that professional development often comes out of instructional time. America would be better off if teachers had more time to get ready for their classes. America would be better off if fewer substitute teachers covered classes while teachers learned for the 10th time about the Common Core Curriculum. I’ve been attending seminars on the Common Core for awhile now. Enough already.

The information I need is pretty much all online anyway.

Revisiting the topic of attention span

We are adapting to the attention spans of our students. Can’t work for twenty minutes without playing a videogame? We’ll find you a computer game to teach you math. Can’t read for 15 minutes straight? Some educational theorist will advise schools to break instruction into 10 minute sound bites. Lecture is becoming less and less fashionable, replaced by strategies designed to help students uncover information for themselves.

Eduhonest: Damn, education can be nuts nowadays. How are students supposed to uncover what they don’t know? Teachers are told students need to go online to research topics. But sometimes students don’t have the vocabulary to understand the on-line explanation.

From Wikipedia: “A volcano is an opening, or rupture, in the surface or crust of the Earth or a planetary mass object, which allows hot lava, volcanic ash and gases to escape from the magma chamber below the surface. On Earth, volcanoes are generally found where tectonic plates are diverging or converging.”

It’s tough to read the above if you don’t know what rupture, crust, planetary mass object, lava, magma chamber, tectonic plates, diverging and converging mean.

Students also sometimes have trouble uncovering and sharing what they DO know, or at least expressing that knowledge to one another. As Student A tells Student B that stars are dust and rocks that are on fire, a teacher has to figure out how to intervene in this latest think-pair-share gone awry. Since that teacher has maybe 30 some students, many of these scientifically novel explanations will go unchallenged.

Eduhonesty: Maybe we should try to force the little nippers to sit in their seats, take notes, and actually focus on the material. Sitting and taking lecture notes is good practice even if it’s not fun. Students should not be providing instruction. They certainly should not have to figure out important portions of their curriculum for themselves — at least not in elementary and early middle school.

You can’t build skyscrapers with toothpicks.


I don’t know where resilience originates. I don’t always know it when I see it. But I know that in our poorest schools, resilience can prove to be essential to success. Those kids who lack this magical quality seldom triumph over poverty and instability, seldom manage to fill in their educational deficits.

Eduhonesty: We spend too much time looking at instructional techniques and not enough time looking at the kids themselves. We need to learn why some 2nd grade readers will slog through 5th grade books and others just stuff that book in their locker. I can cite a few factors that obviously matter, but I can also find kids along the way without school supplies, computers, quiet places to work, or even available, supportive parents, who nonetheless regularly blast their way through their schoolwork with enthusiasm.

My questions:

1) How can we cultivate resilience?

2) How can we protect the resilience of those students who are still in the game despite all the odds against them?

Take a deep breath before you legislate

Barely Any Women, Minorities Or Wyoming Residents Took the AP Computer Science Test Last Year
By Jordyn Taylor | BetaBeat – Mon, Jan 13, 2014

Nobody in Wyoming took the AP computer science exam.
The demographics of the 2013 AP Computer Science exam’s test takers have been released, and the results are pretty depressing, tbh.
30,000 students took the AP Computer Science exam in 2013, which is great, because those kids might actually be able to find jobs one day, when everything is made of robots. But on the downside, less than 20 percent of test takers were female, and Hispanic and African-American students accounted for only eight and three percent of test takers, respectively. Ugh.

The rest of the article will tell you that few students in the U.S. take this test. Nonetheless, many issues underlay the above statistics. Schools are attempting to get more girls and minorities interested in math and computer science. The degree to which they fail reflects feminine preferences that are well-researched, as well as social and other factors. The minority picture remains less researched and murkier. While only eleven AP computer science exams were administered in Mississippi, Montana and Wyoming in total, the absence of any female, Hispanic and African-American test-takers in those states naturally sets off alarm bells.

Eduhonesty: Counselors and teachers know the money flows toward science and engineering. In many high schools, most of the math teachers are female. We push girls and minorities toward science, math and technology.

Why do our efforts often fail? Studies document that many girls prefer more social careers, careers that encourage conversation and social interaction. The key word is interaction. Problem-solving for the sake of problem-solving only appeals to a small subset of our students. Most students solve problems for grades and/or praise, working to keep teachers and parents happy. Some of these pleasers may decide to pursue math and science careers for the money.

Here’s the problem no one can solve: Social sciences may not pay well. The job prospects may be bleak. But social sciences are both much easier and more fun to study than math, science or engineering for the vast majority of students. On campus, students know that liberal arts majors have more free time than their engineering counterparts, sometimes ridiculously more free time. More than once, I’ve heard phrases from liberal arts majors like, “yeah, I did all the reading for the class the week before the final,” or even, “I never did the reading. You could pretty much figure out test answers without the reading.” This is true in high school as well as college. Creative writing is much easier than Calculus. Graphic Design is much more fun (for most) than AP Statistics.

What can we do to attract women and minorities to science, math and technology? One idea I favor is loan forgiveness. We need petrochemical engineers. Why not provide better loan rates, along with programs for loan forgiveness, for students who study in these areas?

Beyond that, I hope the government will mostly stay away from this issue. We can provide students with the information they need to make good choices. But in the end, when “Johnny” decides he has too much homework in his chemistry classes and switches his major to Gender Studies, there’s not much to be done. If there were, the paying parents of America have done it already.

Relative to what standard? A hidden trap for bilingual students…

Here is one challenge that complicates the life of bilingual teachers:

Students arrive from poor countries. If they are older, they may end up entering the work force pretty quickly to help out the family. Work is expected.

Suddenly, these kids are making more than their parents in some cases, more than any relative back in the home country. They may be able to buy that beater of a car and the new cell phone without family aid. Aside from the problem for family dynamics that this newfound prosperity poses, it’s hell on the higher education agenda. Why go to college?

These kids at 16 may be richer than anyone they have ever known. They are sometimes running their households by virtue of the fact that they speak more English than their parents. The idea that they should climb the English-language mountain to pay for college may not make much sense to them. As far as they can tell, they have made it already. They put shiny pictures of their cars on Facebook and take smiling selfies with their new phones.

Eduhonesty: Simply put, we have an agenda to sell the poor on educating their way out of poverty. One reason this agenda does not always work has to do with perceptions. I may know that my students technically are living below the poverty line; this does not mean that my students feel poor. Depending on where they have come from, they may even feel relatively wealthy for the first time in their lives.

Fuzzy research

“The great tragedy of Science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”

~ Thomas H. Huxley (1825 – 1895) (From bob@LakesideAdvisors.com)

Eduhonesty: If we want evidence that education is no science, all we have to do is notice the number of administrative hypotheses that cannot be slain by ugly facts. The hypothesis did not pan out? The teacher must have done the experiment badly. The children did not improve? The instruction must have lacked rigor. The scores are stagnant? The teacher must have failed to scaffold and differentiate for the different levels of learning in the classroom.

If the teacher points out that almost no student in the classroom can actually read the book the district purchased, he or she may get a lecture on the need for increasing rigor.

Nowadays when I hear the word “rigor,” my mind silently tacks on “mortis.” (Latin: rigor “stiffness”, mortis “of death”) One of the recognizable signs of pie-in-the-sky curricula: Death of learning caused by inappropriate new strategies that incorporate irrational expectations, eliminating the pedagogical flexibility needed to help many students learn.

(If your students are newly arrived in the U.S. and are unwilling to converse because they are sensitive to their language deficits, obligatory activities that require verbal sharing aren’t the best — or even a particularly rational — demand.)

Googledoctopi Attack!!

I am sure this is not merely a school issue. This is a Google Docs issue. To quote Wikipedia, Googledocs “is a freeware web-based office suite offered by Google within its Google Drive service. … It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating with other users live.”

Sounds great, right? Often Google Docs is great. I make a PowerPoint presentation. I share it with a group. Presto! Everybody has a copy, right there on their own Google Drive, called My Drive. Interconnectedness takes one more giant leap forward.

Here’s my problem. Teachers share. Oh, do we share. I am buried in helpful files. I am not sure I could teach this many spiffy lessons in four years, let alone the next four months. These new files are obscuring vital administrative files which get lost in the flotsam and jetsam of other people’s desire to be helpful. I try to arrange and organize the files, but how many hours has that taken? And given the number of files I am organizing, how often will I lose files beyond all normal retrieval?

Eduhonesty: I am feeling a little overconnected right now.

English please!

One of my laughs for the week:

I ran into a former colleague, an excellent science teacher. I asked her how she was doing. She’s fine except her district moved her into a different position. She’s teaching English now.

Ummm… I respect this woman greatly, but English is not her first language.

“How’s that going?” I asked.
“I don’t know how to teach no English,” she answered, laughing.

I hope she was being ironic. I pray she was being ironic. The scary part is that I’m not sure.

Eduhonesty: This woman will do at least an adequate job. She’s a hard-working professional who cares about the kids. But this placement is silly. English teachers should be native speakers of the language who have passed a rigorous qualifying test. I’d take nonnative speakers who can pass that same test. I don’t believe my colleague could pass the test I visualize. The same is true for a fair number of bilingual teachers of my acquaintance. The ability to speak Spanish does not prepare anyone to teach English.

Sigh. She ain’t gonna do much harm, I guess. If she don’t know too much hard English, she does know how to use a textbook and present a lesson. She’s actually very bright. I can’t say the same about the people in her district office who were in charge of placing the professionals within their schools.

A last (for now) phone note

If I sound like the phones have taken control of the classroom, I’m exaggerating. My current school mostly has control of those phones. Many schools do. I had to give one and only one phone warning last week and the girl in question immediately put her phone away. Fear of having a phone seized is a powerful deterrent to its use.

But I still want the issue out in the open for discussion. For one thing, the phones go home and kids can then spend their whole afternoon — and sometimes night — on their own personal phone. They are endlessly texting, chatting and playing games. They are tweeting, posting selfies to their Facebook accounts, emailing those selfies to friends, and taking random pictures of snacks, dinners and just about anything else. Where does the homework fit in this picture? When will the reading happen?

Eduhonesty: That last question is the real kicker: When will the reading happen?

We learn from reading. We don’t learn from being taught to read. Almost everybody is taught to read. That education has very little benefit, though, if a kid never picks up a book.