For this month, I have found a dozen or so cartoons that poke fun at the culture of Silicon Valley and life with technology. Enjoy !
This post marks my seventh anniversary as a blogger. I want to thank those readers who regularly read my twice-weekly posts, those who have dipped into them occasionally, those who have subscribed to the post, and finally those who have taken the time to write thoughtful comments. Nearly 1.4 million viewers from around the world have clicked on to the blog since August 2009. Not exactly viral but, for me, most gratifying.
For the 852 posts I have written since 2009, I have followed three rules:
For anyone who blogs or writes often knows that sticking to these rules has been no easy task. Yet after seven years, it has been very satisfying. I remain highly motivated to write about policymakers, administrators, teachers, parents, and students–all who inhabit the policy-to-practice continuum–and all who in different ways, with varied ideas, seek to improve schooling.
To me, writing is a form of learning and teaching. The learning part comes from figuring out what I want to say on a topic, researching it, drafting a post, and then revising it more times than I would ever admit so that the post says what I want it to say. Learning also has come from the surprises and mistakes I have found in the suggestions and comments readers post—“Did I really say that?,” “Oops!,” “Sorry, I didn’t expect what you said, “ or “I had never considered that point.”
The teaching part comes from putting my ideas out there in a clearly expressed logical argument, buttressed by evidence, for others who may agree or disagree about an issue I am deeply interested in. As in all teaching, planning enters the picture in how I frame the central question I want readers to consider and how I put the argument and evidence together in a clear, coherent, and crisp blog of about 800 words. When readers send in thoughtful and engaged comments–that is the precious interaction that teachers need for learning to occur–I respond and the act of teaching (and, yes, learning) occurs.
Because of my background as a high school teacher, administrator, and historian of education I often give a question or issue its historical context. I do so, and here I put my teaching hat on, since I believe that current policy-driven reforms and their journey into schools and classrooms are deeply rooted in the past. Learning from how earlier generations of reformers coped with the complexities of improving schools and districts, I believe, can inform current reformers about the tasks they face. Contemporary reformers, equally well intentioned as their predecessors, in too many instances ignore what has occurred previously and end up stumbling and repeating errors that occurred before. These frustrated reformers then blame teachers and principals (or “the system”) for not executing properly their reform-driven policies.
Knowing the historical context is important in understanding the cornucopia of policy-driven reforms that have spilled over U.S. public schools for over a half-century. For those unacquainted with that history, in every decade since World War II, policymakers have sought to use public schools–an essentially conservative community institution–as engines of reform to solve national and local political, economic, and social problems. From ending racial segregation in schools to defending the nation against the Soviet Union to ending poverty to growing a strong economy, national leaders have turned to local public schools to end vexing problems. This steadfast belief in education curing problems has trumped time and again political action in the larger society to alter deep-seated economic, political, and social structures that have created and sustained many of the problems afflicting the U.S. That reluctance to look beyond public schools as the solvent for national problems is just as evident in 2016 as it was in 1950.
In the upcoming year, I will look anew and historically at the policy-to-practice continuum in my continuing effort to persuade viewers that adopted policies are merely words unless put into practice. And because too many reform-driven policymakers are inattentive to what has occurred in past efforts and what occurs daily in classrooms, chances of full or even moderate implementation approach nil. It is that journey from making policy in decision-makers’ suites to K-12 classrooms that has occupied me for decades. And so I continue for another year.
Again, readers, thank you.
We have the opportunity to completely reform our nation’s schools. We’re not talking about tinkering around the edges here. We’re talking about a fundamental re-thinking of how our schools function—and placing a focus on teaching and learning like never before…. With the first decade of the 21st century now history, we’ve committed to securing the vitality of our nation by transforming the way we teach our students. U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, 2010
Transform the way teachers teach and how children learn by replacing group-based, teacher-centered instruction with personalized, learner-centered instruction….
Transform the quality of work life for teachers, administrators, and support staff by transforming a school system’s organization culture, its reward system, job descriptions, and so on, to align with the requirements of the new teaching and learning processes….
Transform the way in which educators’ create change by replacing piecemeal change strategies with whole-system change strategies.... Francis Duffy, 2010
Computers, the Internet, online courses, smart phones, cameras, interactive whiteboards, and other digital tools play an important role in improving and, yes, transforming schools. The role of technology in schools will increase, and as we use these new tools wisely, they help make schools more effective and engaging. Andrew Zucker, 2012
Harness Technology to transform your School: With technology, anything is possible and today’s students experience and use technology every hour of every day. Shouldn’t your classrooms have the technology products and solutions to help your students move forward? Advertisement for conference on technology held by HB Communications, 2016
If you enter “school reform” in a Google search you will get 12, 100,000 hits. But were you to type in “transformed schools,” you would get 111,000,000 hits (as of May 17, 2016). When it comes to school reform, as the quotes above indicate, the word “transform” hits the jackpot of overhyped words in reformers’ vocabulary. Another highly touted word that has become puffery is “disrupt” as in “disrupting schools through technological innovations” (which got a measly 1,430,000 Google “results” on May 19, 2016). But for today, one overrated word is enough. I will concentrate on “transform”
But “transform” applied to institutions is less biological, less genetic and far more hand-made. Humans manufacture changes. But not just any change. In the world of school reformers, “transform,” implies not only dramatic changes but ones that make better schools. Also implied is that “better” means fundamental or radical, not incremental or tinkering changes. Moreover, these fundamental changes are instituted speedily rather than slowly. Here are some images that capture the range of meanings for the verb and noun when applied to individuals and organizations:
This post, then, is about this over-used, pumped-up word and its implications especially how meaningless it has become in policy-talk. Keep in mind that historically there have been proof-positive “transformations.” One-room rural schoolhouses in the 19th century changed into brick-and-mortar age-graded schools with scores of classrooms by the end of that century. A few decades later, reformers launched the innovative comprehensive high school. Previously about 10 percent of students had graduated high school in 1890; a century later, about 75 percent graduated the comprehensive high school. Those are “transformations” in school organization that strongly influenced teachers and students in schedule, curriculum, and instruction (see here and here).
Think about the Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954) and the subsequent Civil Rights Act that enforced school desegregation. With court-ordered desegregation in district after district, by the mid-1980s, more black students in the South were going to schools with whites than elsewhere in the nation. That was a “transformation.” With subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that returned authority to local districts in assigning students to neighborhood schools (thus, reflecting residential segregation), re-segregation has reappeared (see here and here).
Yes, I have gotten allergic to the word “transform” when it is applied to schooling. That allergy has prompted me to ask any policymaker, researcher, practitioner, high-tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist, or parent using the word, certain questions about what he or she means.
1. What does “transform” mean to you?
Sometimes I use above images (e.g., like a before/after photo of an overweight man? A butterfly?) to prompt the picture of the change that resides in the head of the person .
2. What are the problems to which “transformed” schools is the solution?
Is the problem academic achievement falling behind other nations? Or is it the long-term achievement gap between whites and minorities? Or is it the technological backwardness of schools compared to other industries?
3. What exactly is to be transformed? school structures? Cultures? Classroom teaching? Learners?
Public schools as an institution are complex organizations with many moving parts, some being tightly coupled to one another while some are often unconnected to one another. What, then is the target for the “transformation?”
4. Transform to what? what are the outcomes that you want to achieve?
This is the key question that gets at what the believer in “transforming” schools wants to be better. It reveals the person’s value about the place of schooling in a democratic society and the kinds of teaching and learning that are “good.” Of all the questions, this cannot be skipped.
5. How fast should the “transformation” be?
Nearly always, believers in “transformed” schools believe in speedy action, grand moves while the window of opportunity is open. Not in making changes slowly or in small increments.
6. How will you know that the “transformation” will be better than what you already have?
Ah, the evaluation question that captures in another way the desired outcomes, the better school.
So, if viewers want to end the promiscuous use of a word leached of its meaning in policy-talk, I suggest asking these questions. To do so, may lose you an acquaintance or colleague but, in the end, both parties gain a larger and deeper sense of what the words “transform schools” mean. And maybe I will stop sneezing when the word comes up.
After spending six years working for pharmaceutical companies, Edward Lin who had tutored students while working as a chemist, decided to change careers. He went to University of California, Berkeley and secured his state teaching credential. Attending various career fairs for teachers, Lin heard about Summit, researched the school, garnered an interview and was hired as a chemistry teacher. He has been at Summit Rainier for two years.
On March 16, 2016 I observed Lin teach from 11:25 to 1:00 a lesson on metals (including a Lab) to 17 students sitting two to a table facing the “smart” board at the front of the portable classroom. A Periodical Table hung from one wall of the classroom. A sink in the back of the room students used to wash hands, vials, and get water for experiments. Tubs of equipment, goggles, test tubes, and other paraphernalia, rested on tables also at the rear of the classroom.
Lin has prepared a series of activities, beginning with the Warm Up, on slides and shows them to students as he segues from one task to another over the course of 95 minutes.
One slide lists the items today’s lesson will cover:
*Is it a metal? Lab
*Are atoms in your molecule metal or nonmetal?
The Warm Up (see slide 2 here) which introduces the unit asks students to identify common tools used in kitchen and around the house and answer questions about them. Students pair up and generate examples such as knives, wrenches, pencils, etc. in response to Lin’s request. Discussions engage each table as I scan the room. Teacher then asks students to answer three questions about each tool they identified: How does the tool’s shape allow it to do the job? What material(s) is the tool usually made of? Why is the tool usually made from the material(s)?
A whole group discussion of these tools ensues for about 10 minutes. Lin calls on students by name. Few raised their hands. As I scanned the classroom, most students were listening and responding to the teacher’s prompts. A few were not. Those who were not looked at their cell phones which were lying on their desks or were quietly chatting with table-mates. The teacher stops talking, motions to one of the chatterers and she stops. He continues to guide the discussion and makes the central point that these tools students identified are made of metal and other materials containing molecules with certain properties allowing the tool to do its work as a tool. The discussion continues until Lin moves to the next task of reviewing the entire project.
The teacher goes through a series of slides (see here, slide 3) covering what students have to do (e.g., choose a molecule they want to work on; produce a 2-D or 3-D model of the molecule each student chooses that can be made out of clay, drawn, crocheted, etc.; make an oral presentation (e.g., write and read an essay, present a comic book, do a PowerPoint lecture). Lin gives many examples for each of the tasks students need to complete and then asks students at each table–usually two and sometimes three–to choose a molecule in the next 15 minutes from the list that they have in a handout. Students use their Chromebooks to look up particular metal and non-metal molecules and ask Lin questions as he circulates around the class. Some of the students have quickly glommed onto the task and tell the teacher immediately which molecules they want to focus on. Lin takes down names and the molecules they chose. There is a flurry of activity when two different tables of students chose the same molecule (e.g., silicon). The teacher negotiates agreement between tables competing for the same element one team choosing another one.
Lin then segues to the handout labeled “Is It a Metal?” (see here) that will guide the Lab they do. The teacher had prepared samples of elements (e.g. lead, magnesium,calcium, copper, silicon) arrayed on two front tables. The Lab directions ask students to test each element and determine whether the element is a metal, nonmetal, or metalloid. Pairs of students are to get samples from the array of elements lying on the tables, test each one at a time, and record data, making observations of what they see happening (or not happening). Each element, say copper or aluminum, has certain properties (e.g., appearance, conductivity, brittle or flexible, reaction to acid). These properties are listed in handout. Students are to check the reaction of each element to hydrochloric acid and copper chloride. Based on the data students collect and the properties these elements have, they are to determine whether, for example, silicon, carbon, magnesium are metals, non-metals or metalloids.
Most of the students go to the rear of the portable where I am sitting and pull from various tubs of equipment, pairs of goggles and test tubes, return to their table and then go up to where the elements are arrayed at the front of the room and begin testing the properties of each one. A few students hang back and as they see others engaged begin to take part in Lab. Lin walks around the room answering questions, offering hints to puzzled students, and monitoring those less engaged in the Lab. Most of the students are working on the task. They carry their Chromebooks with them to record data and confer with one another in their group about what they see.
From time to time, Lin reminds students how much time is left to complete filling up the sheets and recording the data. One group of five students dip into and out of the Labwork as they do the operations chatting and laughing. The teacher sits down with a few of them to see how they are doing on the tasks. Other students have completed the Lab and ask Lin what they should do and he directs them to push ahead with otherparts of the unit that he had previewed earlier in the period.
At 12:45, the stop watch is at 0:00 and Lin tells students to clean up. Students line up at sink to wash out test tubes, dry their hands, and at their tables compare what they have found with other groups of students.
Lin then convenes the whole class–he counts down from 5 to 1–and says: “Let’s chat a bit.” He asks which of the elements are metals. Students call out answers: “copper,” zinc.” Lin follows up and asks what are the properties of these metals. More call-outs from students (e.g., “you can bend copper,” “when acid hit, bubbles came up in test tube”). One student is puzzled over silicon and Lin notes that and elaborates on the element. He then asks class about carbon. He clicks away on his laptop and student answers about each of the elements they examined appear on the screen. “Nonmetals are brittle, dark, not shiny, and barely conductive.” He then goes to Periodic Table and asks students to look at how metals, nonmetals, and metalloids are aligned on the Table. This is a mini-lecture with a handful of minutes remaining. Restlessness rises in the room. Lin concludes the summary and students pack up and move toward door of portable. In a few moments, the teacher releases the class to go their next one.