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science classroom
I’m going to be straight with you. For an article that talks a good deal about science, I have no studies to back me up. No statistics. Not even a chart. What I have purely anecdotal evidence—the result of conversations with several teachers—but that’s all. Keep that in mind.

Professional educators are likely to be put off by some of the language I use in this article. I’m sticking with layman’s terms because I am a layman, and because the terminology of teachers can not only be as dense as that of micro-paleontologists, with the an extra layer of obtuseness because it varies quite a bit between states and even districts. One teacher’s SSD is another teacher’s CEI. So the terms I will use are my own, not that of the teachers. If they bumble into the unclear, the out of date, or even the offensive, I apologize.

The teachers I've spoken with, from different areas and in different grades, feel that there’s a decline in the classroom environment. This decline may not be immediately evident in test scores, though many of these same teachers also feel that test scores are a poor marker of what they’re trying to achieve in the classroom, particularly with middle school children. Even so, it’s highly obvious to teachers who have spent more than a few years in the classroom that there’s a serious problem. I'm focusing mainly on middle school science, because that's the area where I have had the most feedback.

What’s harming the education of children, and particularly damaging the teaching of science? The problems are: innovation, caring and devotion.

But, as you can read below the fold, not quite in the way you might expect.

Innovation: Technology in the classroom

The idea of weaving more use of technology into the science classroom seems both obvious and sensible. After all, science is just one part of a “STEM” curriculum. Students who have an interest in science are also often engaged by technology, and there’s a constant outcry to direct more students along this path. It seems only reasonable then that technology in the school first be introduced in teaching science. The problem is that what’s sensible on paper doesn't always pan out in the classroom.

There are certainly instances in which technology, both simple and complex, can augment the classroom experience, connecting students with information and environments that no school budget could deliver first hand. In addition, technological tools often require from students the same kind of logical approach that serves them well in other aspects of science. However, neither of these factors is reason enough to force technology into places where it’s been poorly tested, and where it interferes with classroom instruction.

For example, dropping traditional textbooks in favor of tablets or PCs means that the teacher must not only be proficient at their subject, but also become tech support for more than 150 eager 12-year-olds, each of whom is more interested in seeing what their device can do, rather than dutifully pulling up PDFs or web pages on the day's topic. You can expect that making this replacement means having the teacher devote some part of each class time to halting games, dealing with a flurry of instant messages, and redirecting students from websites that have nothing to do with the subject at hand (other than occasionally touching on biology in a way that’s not all that fitting for a 6th grade class).

Those are the issues that have to be dealt with before the teacher gets around to addressing issues where firewalls or “white lists” on the devices fail to allow access to classroom material. It’s before the teacher has to deal with the tablet that’s run out of batteries, or simply ceased to function  It’s before all the cries of “I can’t find that site.” It's before the the teacher can help the student who has forgotten the pin code on their device. It's before she can help the child who has accidentally erased the school's lengthy WiFi password... again.

These problems are made much more difficult with a philosophy of "Bring Your Own Device." The BYOD issue is one that many companies are facing, but even for the most technologically savvy businesses this is a difficult hurdle. It takes planning, discipline, and great support to smoothly integrate a multitude of devices into a company. Even then, most companies have limits on the devices, operating systems and browsers they will support. Very little of that support is available in a school setting, where the teacher has no ability to dictate the devices students bring. Students come through the door with iPads, with Samsung Notes, with Kindles and MEMOPads and Nooks. They come in with inexpensive tablets purchased at the grocery store or the bargain bin at the local big box. They bring tablets which are running some version of an operating system years out of date, or which have been so heavily modified that the basics of Android or Windows are lost in the muck. And teachers are expected to deal with it all.

Everyone who has experienced the phenomenon of a four-year-old eagerly tapping away at an iPad has had a glimpse into the instant affinity that can occur between children and devices. However, this natural kinship does not extend to informing a child on IP addresses, port issues and other network arcana. It doesn't make them any better at remembering a fistful of passwords than anyone else. And it doesn't apply to every child. The truth is: A roomful of children are not naturally better at connecting to web sites and handling applications than the people in your office. In fact, they’re worse.

As a result, in a class period that rarely exceeds 50 minutes; the teacher will spend five minutes, 10 minutes … or more, just addressing the technological issues that must be handled simply to get everyone looking at the same material. In every class. Every day. Every time the source of information is changed. And while you’re trying to solve one student’s in ability to reach a site or open a document, the next two students start up a game of Flappy Bird. Again.

This isn't to say that this technology doesn't have a place in instruction. Certainly there are wonderful materials available on the internet: games that instruct, videos that explain, whole courses that help turn the most difficult material into (literally) child’s play. A variety of devices means that many students are able to connect to the internet and work with applications, even if they can’t afford, or simply don’t like, the most popular model. It’s wonderful in many ways. However, none of that makes these tools immediately suitable for use in the classroom. There is a necessary and intrinsic difference between those things that engage a student individually, and those things that are suitable for use in a group.

Doggedly replacing textbooks with technology turns devices and material that could be used to engage the students into both a distraction and a net loss of instruction time. It also forces the teacher to be a one-person tech shop, ever able to deal with issues on an alphabet soup of devices.

The technical challenges may be solvable by some teachers in some circumstances. They may be trivial in a few years. That’s not the case now.

If there is value in classroom instruction, that value cannot be found by placing in student's hands devices that carry them away from the classroom. It has to be found by having the students engage with the teacher, not a device, no matter how cool.

Caring: All-in-one Science

Most middle school English teachers today face teaching an advanced class, one or more levels of remedial class, and often a class targeted at students for whom English is not their initial language. Math teachers face a similar array, and preparing the requisite lesson plans for these varying classrooms certainly represents a daunting load.

However, the situation for science teachers in the middle school is drastically different. In nearly all cases, there is no differentiation in middle school science. All students, at all levels, are mixed together. For many students working at a more remedial level, this may be the only class during the day in which they are in the same classroom with students working on or above grade level. In several cases, this broad spectrum of ability is made even wider by bringing in students who have special requirements and who are brought into the science classroom for socialization and exposure to other students.

Why use a topic already so difficult for many students as an opportunity to socialize? Because few of the instructors for special requirements students have experience in teaching science, and because schools often view math and language as core subjects, while science is ... on its own. Remedial science (and advanced science at the middle school level) is a very rare class

The result of this extremely wide spectrum of ability is that science is taught at a level well below where it should be. It's hard to do otherwise. Both English and Math have options for those struggling in those subjects, but science—which requires a strong ability to handle both language and math skills on a daily basis—has no such relief. The struggles of those who cannot read the science text, or who cannot do the requisite math, have to be dealt with in the science classroom alongside those working on or above grade level.

Are many students bored with their science instruction? They should be. While challenging projects can be provided to those students actively looking for work, this is no substitute for engaging, teacher-directed, classroom instruction. These are children, after all, and very few have the ability or desire to seek out work on their own and to stay engaged with a class that isn't forcing them to engage.

But with all that said, few teachers I spoke with really want this structure to change. So few, that the actual number was zero.

For many parents, and not a few teachers, anything that smacks of "tracking" has a sour feel to it. It brings with it connotations of a kind of academic determinism, something that can all too easily become a form of social, economic, or racial segregation in which students who are already ahead are given advantages that put them even further ahead. Are the best teachers, the most engaging, exciting voices, going to be instructing in the remedial class, or are they going to be given the advanced class? Are students in every class going to get the same field trips? The same exposure to Science Bowl, FIRST, and Science Olympiad?

In addition, there are many instances in which having students with a broad array of abilities working together can be uplifting, rewarding and enriching. There's a good argument to be made that placing students with special requirements into a classroom with students who they would not otherwise have the opportunity to work alongside is as important as anything that can be taught, not just in middle school science, but in any subject at any level. When it works, the results can be amazing. Students at all levels can be given opportunities to experience empathy, express kindness, and develop crucial social skills.

Every teacher has seen some moment of grace.

But it doesn't always work, and it's not always helpful for any of the students involved.  That demon time, the ticking clock counting off the all too brief period in the classroom, can frustrate the best intentions. Parents can hold so much expectation for their child's progress, that they don't see beyond the test scores. And really, there are some students who are not well served by being thrust into a noisy, crowded classroom--even if that noise comes from enthusiasm.

Teachers aren't asking that middle school science be rigidly tracked. They are asking that schools provide some flexibility in how classes are composed, and that they listen when teachers bring up problems. Schools need to react quickly to situations where teachers are unable to provide a positive environment.

Which brings us to the next issue ...

Devotion: Experiments that never end

There are 13,809 public school districts in the United States. Every one of them, and every one of the 98,817 public schools within them, is an experiment. In ways large and small, each school and each district varies from every other. They vary by their ability to provide facilities, teachers, and material because of financial limits based on the archaic and intrinsically unfair practice of tying school funding to local property taxes. They vary because of regional attitudes, cultural backgrounds, population density and physical climate. They vary because some school boards are full of dedicated adults who are truly interested in doing what’s best for the kids, while other boards are populated by would-be-politicians out to make a name for themselves by making a show out of stomping on teachers. They vary because some teachers are simply better than others.

We often talk of the states as being the hothouses of democracy; each of them an experiment in finding the right mix. The states don’t even begin to touch on the variability found in American schools.

And that’s before you begin considering the 5,277 charter schools in the United States—each of which is almost guaranteed to be the absolute expression of an individual experiment; a statement that something is wrong with the way that education is being done in those other schools, so we’re going to approach education differently. By gum. Ditto for the 22,079 religious schools, the 6,916 secular private schools, and the roughly 1.5 million students spending at least part of their academic life being home-schooled.

There’s nothing wrong with experimentation. Experimentation, observation, determining cause and effect—it would be hard to advocate science and be against these principles. Evolution through natural selection, perhaps the greatest single triumph of reasoning, requires an environment rife with experimentation and variety. In principle, the variation in our educational system should be a good thing, leading to an ever more refined method of instruction.

But that’s only true if a mechanism exists to weed out bad results. Unfortunately, it doesn't.

Experiments in education are often carried out for reasons that have far more to do with principles of politics than with the results of previous experience in educating children. Experiments instituted to show that "private companies can always out think the government" or "you can hire better teachers if you get away from the union" or "sound instruction should be based on the theories of (your favorite philosopher or religious tome here)" may generate good results. Often, they do not.

Sadly, many of these institutions--public and private--are far more devoted to the idea behind their brand of education, than they are to the children acting as materials for their experiment. Teachers may be whipsawed between different approaches to the same problem, but it’s rarely because schools are acting on feedback from teachers or from any sort of semi-objective result. The experiments change when trends change. They change when a new school board is elected, or a new district administrator appointed, or a principle determined to “make a mark” arrives. They change because someone in the district office gets a sweet kickback on a truckload of material.

All too often, they don’t change at all. Because of devotion. Because those running the school are more dedicated to a vague notion of guiding principles behind the institution than they are to what’s proven effective in the classroom.

These principles can be fixed, central and obvious—you’re unlikely to find a school established along fundamentalist principles embracing a modern view of biology, no matter how badly it impacts their student’s chances in life. They can also be subtle and to all appearances benevolent.

To pick one small example of the later, consider notebooking. Having students build notebooks of their work is a popular trend that’s been instituted at many schools at various times, but has been especially strong in the last decade. Just as with bringing in technology, it has an immediate appeal. The idea of turning all those rooms of children into modern versions of 19th century naturalists, sketching out the parts of a flower and making their own observations on the day’s topics, is charming. It’s also put forward as part of a plan to extend writing into every classroom, which is an idea that’s hard to argue against. It's even posited as a replacement for the godawful decision to remove art courses from many schools.

The problem with notebooking is not in giving students paper and pen to draw out their ideas. Many students deeply enjoy the process, and find that it gives them an outlet for creativity that might not be immediately obvious in other forms of work.

The problem is in integrating notebooking as an everyday activity. The problem is when notebooking turns from an opportunity, into a requirement. The problem is when schools become devoted to the idea that notebooking is an unmitigated good.

Forced to pull out their notebook and record the everyday happenings of class, notebooking experiments trend quickly downward from creativity, to note taking, to transcription. It places children in the position of copying machines and leaves teachers faced with the task of determining how to grade several hundred pages a day of hand written text. Even assuming you can interpret the results, do you really want to evaluate which child did the best job of scribbling down every word spoken in class (or which drew the most accurate image of a frog’s intestine)?

Reserved to a sometime thing, notebooking is a fantastic way to allow the students to provide their own interpretation of what they've learned, but driven by administrators who have made notebooking not so much a classroom activity, but another marker of "innovation" they can hold up on parent night, it hampers the ability to teach.

And like to many experiments in schools, it continues on. And on. And onnnnn … long after it’s been demonstrated to have little value.  It's a tiny example, even a petty one, but it's emblematic of a system driven far too often by trending notions than by proven processes.

What these teachers want, and what their students need, is a an educational infrastructure that's more nimble on its feet. One that embraces technology, but allows for flexibility. One that challenges students to work together, but doesn't push stubbornly on with arrangements that aren't working. One that is willing to experiment, but equally willing to end an experiment.

They want science class to act like science, where conducting an experiment sometimes means admitting negative results.


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Comment Preferences

  •  A moment of grace (118+ / 0-)

    A story that happened to one of the science teachers. Names changed to protect everyone involved.

    At the start of the year, the teacher was assigned a kid named Billy who was beset by a disorder that had been diagnosed as severe autism, but which seemed to include some form of muscular disorder. He didn't seem to interact with the other students, and was constantly expressing odd motions. His head rolled on his shoulders and his hands were always waving and jerking around. He never looked anyone in the eye and he constantly stood up, took a few uncertain steps, wobbled on his feet, then staggered back to drop loudly into his chair. He fiddled with things.  Dropped pencils and papers. Mumbled constantly under his breath.  Occasionally he blurted out a loud noise or few words.  His speech was very slurred and hard to understand. In short, he seemed miserable, was a distraction in class, and most of the kids looked on him as weird.

    For months, the teacher dreaded the class this kid was in, because she knew she'd have to shout to be heard over his mumbling, put up with his noises, and tell him a dozen times to get back in his chair. Naturally, there was no assistant.  Just as naturally, Billy's parents didn't even show up for the parent-teacher sessions. They just sent a note that they didn't want their son in any of "those special classes."

    However, there was another kid, Chris, who got into the habit of following Billy around.  He carried Billy's books, picked up the things he spilled. Stuck up for Billy when the other kids tried to pick on him.  Chris isn't related to Billy, but he somehow became Billy's self-appointed guardian. The teacher took to calling this kid "Saint Chris" out of appreciation for how much help he provided.

    Then just in the last couple of weeks before Christmas, as the kids were doing presentations that were part of the quarterly grade, the teacher was standing behind Chris and Billy for several days.  After a couple of days, she realized that if she tried hard she could make out what Billy was mumbling.  And what he was mumbling went like this: "Come on Ashley, you know this. Good job, Ben, excellent. Oh, Mary you'll do better next time."  Under his breath, Billy was cheering for all the other kids.  All of them, even the ones who were cruelest to him.  And the longer that the teacher listened the more she realized that Billy knew their names, knew what they were good at, knew what they had problems with, remembered things they'd answered right in class. More than that, when they were presentations that involved a series of physics problems, Billy slurred out the answers long before the "normal" kids, working with pen and paper, were able to get through the math.

    Sitting back there and realizing this, the teacher looked across at Chris.  Chris just looked back at her and nodded.  This one kid knew that Billy wasn't just the weird kid in the corner.  

    Right before the break, she took Chris and Billy to the counselor and had some tests run.  When school started up again, Billy actually did go to a special class. He went to advanced placement math. And Chris went with him.

    True story.

    Oh, and the classroom at the top of the page is actually a Japanese science classroom. It amused me that it seemed so familiar.

    •  Great story, thanks. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Oh Mary Oh, trkingmomoe, jessical

      I can see why this wouldn't take place in an American public school, however. 1.) We glorify cut-throat hyper-individualism. 2.) We promote an "in-groups/out-groups" mentality in education and in all phases of public life.

      In an American school, Billy wouldn't have had a "saint" to follow him around and be helpful; lacking social skills, he would have been shunned.

      It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

      by karmsy on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 06:25:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Actually (20+ / 0-)

        It did happen in an American public school, and within the last five years.

        Astounding things still happen in classrooms. I think every teacher has stories like this to tell.

        They just wish they had the opportunity for more.

        •  Well, that's a shocker, a good one. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          trkingmomoe, StrayCat

          Sorry I misread.

          It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

          by karmsy on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 07:44:39 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  for what is is worth, middle school kids (6+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            wasatch, trkingmomoe, karmsy, cjtjc, elfling, BYw

            are generally still good kids!  Sure there are issues with bullying, self-centeredness, and over-competitiveness...but also lots of compassion and joy.

            •  Middle school kids and science ed (8+ / 0-)

              In my experience, middle school classrooms offer the best and too-often last chance to reach students who are inclined towards science. "Inclined toward" is a pretty lame phrasing, I will admit. What I mean is that I have witnessed, both among my own children and students that I work with in my job (genetics education) that >90% of elementary-grade level students exhibit the evolved human trait of curiosity. Their intellectual development is providing opportunities each day to ask Why? Why? Why? and their evolving skills at problem solving -- taking a systematic approach to answer those questions, complete with the requisite controls-- empowers them to think they can actually figure stuff out.

              Every 6 year old I've ever met is a scientist by nature. Regrettably, by the time they reach puberty, they've learned that science is too hard, that knowing facts and stuff is for nerds and that math is for geeks. Even the best pedagogical approach is no match for the hormonal floods overwhelming our students in the middle school ranks. Layer atop that issues related to poverty and hunger, the "one size fits all" approach to education in all subjects and at all levels, and you have the recipe for delivering dismal educational outcomes.

              I won't presume to suggest answers to the problems that afflict the US educational system, science ed in particular. It's a really tough nut to crack and we do what we can, tinkering at the margins that delineate what is possible in our times. That being said, I vaguely recall another time, back in the '60's and highlighted by Apollo moon missions, that proficiency in science and math were highly valued traits amongst our students, their teachers and their schools.

              I miss those days.

              "It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important." Martin Luther King Jr.

              by Arabiflora on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 01:05:31 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I agree that by the time (0+ / 0-)

                students reach middle school our systematic way of educating them has already failed them in many ways.  From my own teaching experience, at the fifth grade level, it was very clear that many teachers were uncomfortable or incompetent teaching all six subjects a day.  We either didn't have the expertise, or interest, or both.  Most teachers I worked with focused on what they were most interested in, usually science and math or language and social studies, and I was no different. Science was particularly neglected.  For example, I was the only teacher (out of more than 25 teachers) to use the dedicated science lab during at least two quarters.  And I was a newbie! This was a new school with a stable, middle class student population.  We had wonderful science kits centrally located by grade level with the fifth grade kits located in my storage closet.  The other fifth grade teachers rarely made use of them.  After a couple of years with a dedicated science lab which was seldom used, that valuable real estate was given over to other uses.  No more science lab.  
                IMO students at the elementary level would be better served if teachers at that level could specialize like teachers do at the middle school level. I loved teaching science and math, but I always felt it was at the expense of the language arts.  Balancing a time schedule to fit in six subjects each day was killer for me.  Everyday I felt like I was short changing a subject or student.  Teaching is the hardest job I've ever done.  I was pretty good at it and would have gotten better, but I decided not to continue.  My hat is off to teaching professionals who continually want to improve and who care about their students.

        •  Great diary, thank you! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I'd like to see the average US teacher's salaries raised to a level worthy of their contribution to our country's future. :-) I know that salaries aren't the only issue, and some teachers are paid well, but they are one issue of many.

      •  you are talking about me (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DrSUSE, Blue Intrigue, JG in MD, elfling

        as a result of it, at 39, I am disabled(SSI RSDI disability insurance) with atypical panic in dsm-4 but in actuality I have C-PTSD not PTSD.  Its an accumulation of injuries over time (starting at 6 years old) NOT mental illness. I do not respond to psychiatric medications.
        example of what we are worth to society despite our impairments:

        I was responsible single-handed discovering a Flaw with billing policy and procedures in  Minnesota Medical assistance program with spend-down, QMB and medicare and offering a fixing the state used to correct the problem so the state was no longer violating federal 1997 bill balancing law.

        This problem existed since 97'  i discovered and got the state to fix the problem in 2013.  I was the only one to discover and get them to correct the problem. None of the people who dealt with it every day saw it.

        point is that us unique people need to be taught differently and it is worth the effort. We have a lot of worth to contribute.

        one way to do that is have the schools invest in tablets with a contract if kid breaks it family replace it like school books.  Use a standardized setup for whole school. (Not district this let you upgrade piecemeal so not shocked having to do the whole school system at once.) on rotating upgrade system you can learn from previous school how to improve the glitches corrections.

        You lock the tablet in a manor that prevents the kid from messing with how the tablet functions, provide easy access power connection in class so use cord instead of battery.

        Then Have teachers use a master teaching tablet that can slave the students tablets to eliminate many of the tech issues.  so the teacher can send the link of site directly to the tablets of the students for example.

        in place of the passwords use biometric print that is set up at the moment that the student gets the tablet.

        Make damb sure the tablets all open-source that way you don't have to rely solely on tech companies that have no interest in fixing glitches because they already got their money selling the initial software.

        Then you have a tech team maintaining the tablets, like you have custodial team maintaining the function of the school itself. this takes the biggest burden off the teacher.
        on the students tablet they have easy access chat box directly linked to tech support, so the student can get tech help as long as the tablet functions.

        Stay the hell away from proprietary OS like windows. and other proprietary software.

        educating our young should be a collaborative effort not a freaking competition.

        competition should be standalone events.  learning is an individual process based on how the person is wired in the head.

        Oh by having teacher with master tablet they can customize the lessens of students individually if necessary or smaller groups. Then send it to student. teacher can do that on their own time setting up the leveled teaching info.
        this way students learn at level they function at.

        problem with the tech in class room is that your trying to use hardware software made by adversarial companies that do NOT have the students at heart (beyond making a profit off selling the tech and locking the student into a lifetime customer.)  Example microsoft is NOT going to modify its OS to fix a problem or add a feature the school needs.  Open source like linux can.

        •  Schools are not run like businesses (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          elfling, BYw
          Then you have a tech team maintaining the tablets, like you have custodial team maintaining the function of the school itself. this takes the biggest burden off the teacher.
          My district invested heavily in technology, but not in the tech support to keep things running smoothly. It's about the money- the biggest expense for a school district is salary and benefits of the employees, not the cost of the technology itself.  In my district one tech was covered many schools, and there seemed to be constant turnover in the positions.

          Kids are hard on technology, and without adequate tech support, a lot of teacher's time is wasted.

          And then we could talk about the shortage of custodians, but that's another subject....

          Good thing we've still got politics in Texas -- finest form of free entertainment ever invented.- Molly Ivins

          by loblolly on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 06:54:51 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Invested in tech for show. (0+ / 0-)

            I've seen a lot of schools in the larger towns and cities in my county by the hardware just to show they are keeping up with the affluent towns.  But they don't hire support and so their programs never succeed.  

            America, where a rising tide lifts all boats! Unless you don't have a boat...uh...then it lifts all who can swim! Er, if you can't swim? SHAME ON YOU!

            by Back In Blue on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 06:01:06 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  It is difficult to get people to recognize (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BYw, MissGayle

          the need for tech support.

          No one would expect a 500 user company to go without a dedicated tech support person - they'd insist on a team in fact. Enough people to cover 24/7 with vacations, probably at least two people on at any one time.

          Lots of schools of that size have no full time IT.

          Confounding the problem is that teachers are so poorly paid. It is a hard sell to add a brand new tech person who is paid as much or more as the most experienced teachers on site, let alone a team of them.

          Most schools are very tight on budget and are already running without key personnel as counselors, librarians, etc.

          And these tablets won't save money on materials. The batteries can be expected to last maybe two years and are $100 each. The publishers aren't going to charge less for the curriculum, and worse, they will insist on having money for every seat every year - you won't be able to decide to just make do with the existing textbooks for a couple more years to save money. When they change the materials, you have to send the teachers out for fresh training... which also costs money.

          So while there are advantages to tablets etc educationally that may create many benefits, they're going to cost more, not less, money.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:25:37 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Linux Thin Clients in Atlanta Public Schools (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Two colleagues and I engineered and carried out a pilot installation of 2,200 thin clients, all running Linux, in seven elementary and middle schools in the Atlanta Public Schools district.  A lot of the hardware was pre-existing, having been bought during the district's E-Rate scandal era (background here).  We laid in around 5 to 10 thin clients (these are little PCs that boot over the network and, in our implementation, display applications that are actually running on a server) per classroom, up to about 500 per school.  There would be one file server per school and one application server for about every 100 thin clients.  The license cost for all the software utilized was exactly $0.00.  The TCs could run Firefox for Web browsing, OpenOffice for word processing, spreadsheet, presentations, drawings, Blender for 3-D modeling, and a huge pile of learning/drilling apps.  We set it up so that as if a student went from room to room in a school and logged on with an account (which wasn't necessary; you could just walk up and still do stuff but you couldn't retain any files you saved), all the files and folders on the desktop would follow him or her around.  The real beauty of what we did - at about $600 a seat, including our consulting cost - was that it Just Worked.  No viruses, no gradual slowing down, no bloat.  When we lit up the TCs in a school, kids would be using them productively immediately, and they'd be showing other kids - some of whom had never seen a PC before - how to work stuff.

          One of the things we observed while working in a school was one teacher who had 24 kids in his class and eight TCs.  He divided his class up into thirds and had one third run a math drill app on the TCs while working with the other two-thirds, one on one as necessary.  Then he'd rotate the kids so the next third was on the TCs, and so on.  By systematizing the combination of hands-on teaching with computer drilling, he was moving the kids along through the material such that they really, really got it by the end of class.  

          The way our services were secured, we wound up going through someone else - I'll call her Ms. X - who added no value but who pocketed a share of the money.  When APS put out an RFP to do the rest of the district, we got with an established government contractor whom I had worked for before basically just to get their name and reputation involved in exchange for a cut of the money (nothing wrong with that as long as the percentages are fair) and we mapped out a process for scaling up what we had done from 2,200 seats to perhaps 10-15,000.  This would require us to lease commercial space and set up an industrial operation such that we could roll up to a school with an 18-wheeler and dump out plug-in-ready tables fitted with thin clients and monitors on a Friday afternoon and have them all lit up and running by Monday morning.  But what wound up happening was that Ms. X bid on the contract and all she did was job it out to A Very Large IT HW/SW/Services Company - who worked on the project for months and wasn't even able to replicate what we'd done.  

          We simply walked away from the pilot project when it was done but for the most part the TCs just kept on working, with a little ongoing maintenance from a guy with the district's IT services provider who had been working with us.  My understanding was that it was all eventually replaced with Windows; none of it worked well and it all fell into disuse.

          Had we gone on and done the rest of the district, we were going to leverage smaller, faster TCs that bolted directly to the backs of the LCD monitors and we were going to improve on our somewhat slapdash mechanism for setting up schoolwide accounts such that the accounts would follow students from school to school when they graduated or transferred.  

          One of the sad lessons learned - and I think this is in no way limited to APS - is that school IT initiatives generally play out in such a way that someone makes a whole crapload of money (and in the APS E-Rate case, that was accomplished through bribes) and effectiveness be damned.  We saw hundreds and hundreds of laptops stacked up in piles, many of them inoperable, from previous initiatives that came to naught.  My colleagues and I - and the contractor we partnered with - weren't seeking to make huge amounts of money for ourselves, nor did we need to.  Our operation was going to cost, sure, but we also knew we could deliver good stuff at a reasonable price point.

      •  I actually recognized this story (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Had a similar experience in my own middle school; my student had behavioral and verbal issues, and his "saint" was a great kid, if somewhat frustrated.

        So, recognizing it, I wonder how often it happens.

        You're right about the lessons we want our children to learn, but I don't always think they pay attention to us :)

    •  actually... (17+ / 0-)

      I don't really buy any of your three reasons.  Two of the three examples you gave (tech and "experiments") are both examples of things that can be done well or poorly.  Tech - specifically data collection probes are incredibly powerful tools when used properly.  Increase of tablets-- I've seen good and bad implementations.

       Notebooking -- any teacher that turns an "interactive notebook" into just something for transcribing notes is doing a crappy job of implementation.  A good science notebook (or other subject) is one that is used with specific attention given to meaning-making.  I just finished a three-year project where teachers in a district from grades 3-12 all implemented a notebooking approach where they regularly used specific prompts to help students make sense of the different "inputs"  - lab activities, readings, and other sources.

      --So, let me thrown out a couple, in no particular order--

      1.  A trend towards hiring generalists instead of specialists.  By the time students get to middle school, they need teachers that have a deep content and pedagogical knowledge of how to teach science.

      2.  Crappy textbook series and schools that use those crappy textbooks as the curriculum.  Textbooks provide superficial attention to concepts (over facts) and trivial investigations that do not provide students an opportunity to make sense of what they are doing.  Science becomes memorizing vocabulary.

      3.  An insistence that "rigor" is defined as the amount of stuff that can be crammed into a course.  In general, so much is packed into a course that students do not have time to dig deeply into content.  Understanding challenging science content takes time.  You can't shortcut the learning process.  Phil Sadler, an excellent science ed researcher, found that students that study one biology concept in depth (at least one month) in high school do significantly better in introductory college courses.  Roger Bybee, anotehr excellent science ed leader, likens a typical 8th grade class to channel surfing for 30 minutes and then being forced to take a test on the plot of a specific show.

      Philip Sadler also said, "Anecdotes are not data."

      •  OMG..... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        eagleray, StrayCat

        Talk about a "I don't know how to do it, therefore it can't done" attitude.

        Need the kids to get to an online resource?  Use a QR code and put it up on the big screen.

        Don't want kids playing Flappy Birds? That's called room arrangement (interior loop), proximity, and doing something worthwhile and interesting.

        "I Welcome Their Hatred." - FDR

        by dehrha02 on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 07:32:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think we are on the same page... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
        •  Uh, huh (25+ / 0-)

          Hate to say it, but it's that kind of attitude that is pissing off the teachers I've spoken with.  We're not talking about disinterested teachers, teachers with little experience, or teachers that don't understand science. Just to give one example: one of these teachers was a state teacher of the year last year, led her students to the state science Olympiad (missed the nationals by a hair), and was called on stage to be recognized by high school students accepting the national merit award as the most influential teacher in their lives—even though she hadn't seen them for six years. And it was far from the first time for any of those things.

          She's retiring this year. Not because she's tired of teaching, but because she's tired of being told the kind of teaching she's done for twenty-five years is no longer allowed. Because after serving on text book committees for a decade to finally land a decent text, she had the books physically removed from her students and her room by a district that insists she now teach from an online resource she had no hand in selecting. Because any time she complains, she's told OMG you're so stupid to not intuitively grasp every aspect of this technology and how it should be used in your classroom, even though she was given all of two hours training to prepare. Because she sees that grasping QR codes and Android upgrades is now valued above her years of experience in teaching and her multiple degrees in both science and education.

          •  anecdotes are not evidence. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            dehrha02, Mark Sumner, StrayCat

            I have no doubt that the person that you mentioned above was an excellent teacher and bad decisions were made.

            I too know many excellent teachers that are doing excellent things with their students (with and without technology).  I know too many teachers that are frustrated, burnt, and overwhelmed with politics, poor decisions, and initiative fatigue.

            However, I also know too many science teachers that don't read NRC reports and resist efforts to unburden their curriculum.

            It isn't as simple as the 3 points that you provided...or the 3 points that I provided.

            •  Yes, I think I said (7+ / 0-)

              Much the same thing back up in paragraph one.

              If I was to rewrite this in one sentence (which is hard for me, since running off at the keyboard is my default state), I'd just say "the teachers that I spoke with are generally frustrated that they are not being allowed to continue with techniques that have given them success, and feel that they don't have the flexibility to opt out of approaches they feel are mistakes."

              Really, that is the single point I was trying to make... though clearly, I wasn't doing it very well.

            •  Anecdotes ARE evidence (5+ / 0-)

              Evidence that is usually swept aside by those too incurious to bother to figure things out.

              An anecdote is a sample set of one.  With two anecdotes, you can take an average.  With three anecdotes, you can calculate a standard deviation.  With hundreds of anecdotes, well then you can start to do some real study, look for trends, group subsets of data, and look for multi-factor interactions.  

              Science moves forward by explaining the anecdote.  For a long time, the precession of the perihelion of Mercury remained an anecdote, but it WAS evidence.  Evidence that Newtonian mechanics had a flaw that needed to be corrected.  And when Einstein explained that piece of evidence with his theory of relativity, more pieces of the puzzle fell into place.  

              So I'm interested in hearing anecdotes.  People who dismiss "anecdotes" belong in the same category as climate deniers who can cherry-pick the facts into supporting their assertion that the Earth is getting cooler.  For them, each physical manifestation of climate change is merely an anecdote to be dismissed.

            •  Wrong. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Anecdotes are evidence. We call them "interviews." As a qualitative/quantitative mixed methods researcher, we use interviews and anecdotes scientifically in a variety of ways.

              People who discount anecdotes often don't want to listen.

          •  That's a commentary about the leadership, (0+ / 0-)

            And the implementation models imposed upon teachers over the decades.  You could substitute "technology" with all sorts of other topics.

            "I Welcome Their Hatred." - FDR

            by dehrha02 on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 08:21:26 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Hmmmm. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              And is leadership totally separate? Are not teachers subject to the sometimes arbitrary rules made by the leadership?

              The big difference for me is technology is by itself often a complete subject. We used to teach it separately. Where are the computer science and programming courses in high schools now? Twenty years ago, I took BASIC and C programming in high school.

              Now, a teacher's supposed to teach both technology basics AND their disciplinary science content simultaneously.

          •  What I get out of that anecdote is (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            elfling, denise b

            the common mistake a lot of people make when approaching technology.  

            First two facts:

            The technology is just the deliver medium for the content.  There obviously needs to be support for the delivery technology and for most schools that should start with a tech support worker in the school to assist with that.

            Content is still content.  Whether delivered via an ipad or a textbook, one can still view identical content either way.  Your teacher should have been involved in the content selection.

            Unfortunately some naive people think that as long as it is on computer, "it's the future" and "it's the latest thing" and even more insidious "it's good quality and factual information".

            Not everyone misapplies technology though.

            I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

            by Satya1 on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 08:19:52 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  The problem (17+ / 0-)

          is 1) every time a new tool or function is added there's just another thing that can break and throw your whole day into the shitter, and 2) there's a limit to how much IT knowledge or trouble shooting teachers or anyone else can be expected to do on short notice.

          One day at work after a big update our tool bars disappeared. Not the deal where you have to right-click to get it back, it was gone on everyone's screen, no more faves for example. That entire day was spent with IMs and emails blurring about "Do you know where this is, do have that stored, was that deal on our server or was it a webpage and if so where?" etc. The entire shift was destroyed. The next day it came back. No one ever offered an explanation of what happened. I don't think anyone knew. But obviously it wasn't magic, someone somewhere fucked up royally.

          If something like that happens in a classroom where you have a 50 min period to adjust, and you have 30 kids in there looking for excuses to goof off, it's unrealistic to expect a teacher to be able to effectively surmount the hurdle.

          Fact is, our technology sucks, we like to pat ourselves on the back and say how great it is, but it sucks, it's unreliable, it's confusing, and we have little or no power over glitches even if we do get an explanation.

          •  solution (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            suzq, joseph rainmound

            suck it up spend more on teachers make the classes smaller 10 or less students to teacher.

            tax businesses and write it into law that the business must pay the education tax out of its profits and not pass it on to its customers.

            Why?  its the businesses that need the expertise so make them pay the education.   Businesses want skilled labor so they damn well better pay for it.

            look to family farm for example  the parents taught the kids starting young how to farm so by the time they age they become productive workers for the farm knowing all the nounces that make it work and such.  The parents paid the education of their kids to learn how to operate their farm.

        •  Ok, now you have to deal with kids who often (4+ / 0-)

          each have different devices with different OS versions (5 different Android versions and three iOS versions) depending on factors such as what they can afford.  Do you really expect most teachers to know the difference between TouchWiz, Sense, AOSP, and AOKP as well as all the different versions of each?  Or what different radio firmwares (which is completely separate from the Android OS which is the "ROM" firmware) there are for each device and how they can affect wifi performance.  Not to mention possibly having to teach a student and their parents how to root a tablet and use a kernel exploit to unlock the bootloader (how many teachers even know what a kernel exploit is?) because the version of Android that it came with is buggy (and then install the Xposed framework or Cydia substrate so that rootcloak can be used)?  Yes, BYOD is quite a pain in the ass to deal with especially since quite a few students will have cheap low end devices because they and their parents can't afford a fancy $400 tablet.

          You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

          by Throw The Bums Out on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 10:54:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for the story (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Until you got to the meat of it, and showed what Chris knew about Billy before anyone else did, I was dreading the inevitable "Inclusion just doesn't work" moral and more disapprobrium raining upon the heads of Billy's parents for not attending the "special meetings."

      I'm willing to bet they had had their fill of these meetings because for years the same things were always said and Billy's abilities never got written into the IEP.

      Darling, you didn't use canned salmon, did you?

      by JrCrone on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 09:11:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  This ASD parent thanks you for the followup. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
    •  I can relate to that story (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      but it brings up many questions.  In too many schools kids are mentally categorized by some "educators" to fit in buckets: gifted, behavioral issues, slow, etc.  And what this shows is that kids are human, not bucket contents.  They are multidimensional.

      The anecdote also convinces me that every school age child needs to have some testing at kindergarten or first grade to identify potential asynchronous development issues.  Wechsler works well for many situations.  Those test results need to stay with the child's record so that each year teachers can review them.

      Does that sound like extra work put on a teacher's already burdened schedule?  Maybe.  But I would be willing to bet that a little insight into a handful of challenging students can potentially save more teacher's time overall and reduce stress.

      Sometimes parents perform this function if they are not already overwhelmed by the issues along with other children and their own day jobs.  If they are lucky, watchful parents can spot problems, pursue questions and finally find a good testing psychologist who can help.  Then those parents can take that test to each of the child's teachers at the beginning of the year to discuss learning style choices, etc.  But there are too many kids who lose whole years of opportunity early in life because no one commits to uncovering what is going on.  Most parents are not trained to spot or understand this.  Most districts don't have the resources or outreach programs to execute it.

      I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

      by Satya1 on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 08:11:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  asdf (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, Oh Mary Oh, elfling

    guess who gets to pay for a new crappy overpriced laptop when my kid's "free" one doesn't  last for all for  4 years of high school?  me.  Will any cheap chrome google laptop last 4 years? I doubt it.

  •  One problem I can see with (18+ / 0-)

    "bring your own device" is that it clearly divides the "haves" from the "have nots" -- what about those who can't afford even the bargain basement tablet? Before the prices started coming down on them, even college students struggled to afford things like graphing calculators for advanced math classes, especially when the lesson plan specified a particular one like a Texas Instruments device. I can see that being an even bigger problem with tablets that can vary widely in price, and where replacing them if they're broken, lost or stolen can be beyond many families' budget.

    There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- goddammit, you've got to be kind. -- Kurt Vonnegut

    by Cali Scribe on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 06:22:25 PM PST

    •  On the other hand... (6+ / 0-)

      ...sticking with old technology due to financial concerns can hamper our education system in the long term.

      I'd say the issue is more easily resolved (and not by much) with funding schools enough to be able to hand those devices out as permanent, not school property, and using a combination of raising taxes on high earners (for what it's worth, I consider this to be advocating for raised taxes on myself) and working with the vendors to provide free or reduced price gear.

      There's a reason why so many school's computer labs back in the '90s had Macs in them...Apple was giving them away or providing them at a steep, steep discount compared to PC clone manufacturers.  I'd imagine that Samsung, HTC, Apple, Microsoft, and others would trip all over themselves to be "the tablet of American education" and have a chance to be the default option the next generation of customers would consider...because that's what they grew up with.

      Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. -- Clarke's Third Law

      by The Technomancer on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 06:29:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  many schools are turning back to Macs-- (7+ / 0-)

        When you consider depreciation, macs are actually at a very good price.  If I remember correctly the lifetime of a mac is about twice that of a pc laptop.

        Apple also has developed a pretty good leasing program (including tech support) for districts.

        •  I did tech support for a couple school districts, (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DarkSyde, Metric Only, loblolly, elfling, BYw

          once upon a time. Specifically, Mac support. My main job was to upgrade old Macs for further use.

          It turned out the best bang for the buck was to add RAM, update system software, and throw in the occasional hard drive for ten year old Macs, which they successfully used for another four years before replacing them outright. And even then, most of them went to kindergarten classrooms.

        •  That's (8+ / 0-)

          a good point about what device or platform works best, and one of the things Mark brought up, and I didn't think about it much until he did, is this stuff isn't standardized. Not only that, it resists being standardized. Because technology changes, fast.

          Books on the other hand are quite standardized. And cheap. And durable. Drop that math book off the top of the bleachers and it still works. Lose it and its cheap to replace.

          I have a few teachers in my family and one of their biggest gripes is the sheer amount of technology they're constantly having to learn, and then junk and relearn when someone higher up changes everything, with basically no formal training. The "training" such as it is usually consists of being sat down n their free period and shown bullet points about this or that new program, maybe one they'll use only a couple of times a year during tests or evals -- which hardly gives them any proficiency.

          •  That's an excellent point. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            La Gitane, elfling, BYw

            My job is to keep up with and evaluate the latest and greatest server software.  It's a much narrower field than what we're talking about here, and it can still get overwhelming, especially with so many projects moving to continuous release cycles.

            I hadn't even thought about it that way.  Thank you.

            Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. -- Clarke's Third Law

            by The Technomancer on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 11:28:07 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  This is a problem in many fields (6+ / 0-)

            Not just the classroom. But, it's most critical in the classroom where we're dealing with kids' futures. With the continued advance of technology, sometimes there is a growing bifurcation between the professional and the IT expert. Are we going to hit a point where each professional in whatever has to have their own personal IT assistant? Where someone who is an expert in their field can't do their work anymore because the knowledge to use the tools requires another profession completely? If it gets to that point, then I think the technology is impractical and unusable.

            Bringing in technology should only happen when there's an identifiable benefit to doing so. Is there some valid, quantifiable reason why tablets are necessary instead of books, or is it just kickbacks, or trendy?

            If there is a reason, then the tablets should be the same and standardized to only contain the relevant content. I'm sorry, but I find it absolutely shocking that Billy and Suzy are using fully equipped tablets. There is no need for them to have random web access, instant messaging, or access to games?!? What are they, ordering pizzas too??

            As someone without children, but has many friends that do, I am more and more shocked every day by the stories I hear about what is going on. It shouldn't be this complicated; we need to set minimum federal curriculum standards, period. Funding needs to be equalized on a national level. There can certainly some autonomy in the districts, but it is obvious that this power has been abused, at the expense of our children. How dare people wage political wars, ideological battles and ego trips when the future of our country is at stake??

            Just another thing that people have FUBAR'd in this country.

            "Mediocrity cannot know excellence." -- Sherlock Holmes

            by La Gitane on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:58:43 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  That's one reason why I think BOYD is a mistake in (0+ / 0-)

              a school situation. All the kids should have their own school-provided device.

              However, it's trickier than you think, because the kids often DO need random web access to do various kinds of research. Just not when the teacher is talking about other things.

              Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

              by elfling on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:37:59 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Not exactly (0+ / 0-)

            -Books aren't updated. Most textbooks contain outdated, inaccurate information.
            -Books can be ripped and damaged, and with students often are.
            -Textbooks can't be lent home in many schools.
            -A new algebra textbook can cost $240.00. Cheaper than an iPad, but not by much.

            The training part I agree with wholeheartedly. Most of the "trainings" schools provide are utter bullshit.

      •  One of the reasons the textbook companies (0+ / 0-)

        are very excited about online content is that it means that they can enforce being paid a license for every child accessing their curriculum every year. They also can make old curriculum unavailable, obligating districts to send teachers for new (and pricey) publisher-provided training on the changes.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:36:00 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Heck, many of the students I taught during (24+ / 0-)

      the course of my teaching career had families that were hard-put to replace broken eye-glasses.

    •  Thirty percent of my students (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      had no device. I just checked. That was out of 180. So.

    •  In California, it is not legal (0+ / 0-)

      to require a child to purchase anything to access her free public education. Technically, not even a pencil.

      You absolutely cannot require kids to have devices, or home internet.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:33:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Experimentation (6+ / 0-)

    That last point is one I've been harping on for a long time. Districts act like they're all snowflakes and nobody could possibly understand the unique issues they face. Bull. I'm betting that your poor, urban district is more similar than dissimilar to another poor, urban district than you'd like to think. And with all those poor, urban districts doing all their snowflaky things, some district might be hitting it out of the ballpark. Try doing what that district does.

    We shouldn't limit ourselves to those 14K districts in the United States, either. There are school districts all around the world -- some of them in countries with crippling poverty that makes our own problems seem like a dream in comparison -- that manage to educate their children with a wide variance in available resources. Why can't we learn from their experiments as well?

    •  I agree with this--- the challenge often becomes (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Technomancer, Lujane, suzq

      finding a way to transfer across districts.  Heck, even between schools in the same district.

      There is very little infrastructure in the U.S. to share working models with any amount of detail.

      •  Working as designed. (4+ / 0-)

        Because Slappy McTeaParty's right to indoctrinate his or her spawn and run for a school board position when s/he has no credentials to qualify one for such a post is freedom, while having a functional federal education system that would allow for such collaboration and not leave it to the whims of the states.

        Because right now, Slappy McTeaParty, Jr.'s A in high school biology from Assbackwards, Alabama whee s/he learned about Pandas and People devalues the high school biology A of a student who received a proper education in 10th grade-level biology in a public school not run by crazies/fundies.

        Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. -- Clarke's Third Law

        by The Technomancer on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 06:51:51 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  This also speaks to the technology problem. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        providence, elfling, BYw

        Teachers would not need to be tech experts if the machines were correctly designed as teaching machines. And if that design were shared!

        Outside the classroom they should be computers--inside they should not be able to get off topic.  Once proper standards for their operation are set (and implemented), that problem should go away.

        Shouldn't take over 20 more years to accomplish that.

        "Our problem is not that the glass is half empty or half full, but that the 1% claims that it is their glass." ---Stolen from a post on Daily Kos

        by jestbill on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 10:58:28 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  they have this technology (0+ / 0-)

          it is called Netops - but it is really really expensive and reserved for the places most needed.   Schools cannot afford it for every device.

          Oddly apple had a great product that did just this - worked great - came free with the computer but they abandoned it when they moved to OS X.   They moved from education to business model. They might have called it something else and licensed and charged separately but I never found it.

          • is probably (0+ / 0-)

            what became of that.
            Unfortunately it looks like a swing and a miss.
            The page about their "Vision" system talks about catching a student surfing for porn.  They got a screen capture and were proud of themselves.
            The "filters" that the guy got around needed to be locked doors.  The system has to be designed with the specific lessons in mind and no way to "surf" out of bounds.

            Reminds me of the joke that you should have an open mind but not so open that your brains fall out.


            "Our problem is not that the glass is half empty or half full, but that the 1% claims that it is their glass." ---Stolen from a post on Daily Kos

            by jestbill on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 02:30:06 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Districts in California (0+ / 0-)

        that are in the CORE consortium are experimenting with pairing schools to collaborate. They speak remotely most of the time, but they'll be bringing people together at a conference as well. I think this is a very valuable approach and I hope that if it proves effective that a way can be found to utilize it and expand it more generally.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:41:22 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Absolutely (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      palantir, MPociask

      This is an area where the federal government could do a unique job of assembling valid info from genuine properly controlled studies. The NSF should be active in guiding the studies, not just the Education establishment. The results won't always be to our liking, but we've got to break out of the endless cycles of the same old trends and countertrends to make some systematic progress.

      Michael Weissman UID 197542

      by docmidwest on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 06:50:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  For what it is worth, this is happening. (5+ / 0-)

        The NSF regularly hosts meetings to share across the Math Science Partnership grants that they fund (I've been to a bunch of these).  They also fund knowledge synthesis projects to look across funded projects and communicate results.

        The National Research Council produces excellent synthesis reports.  You can access these reports for free at the National Academies Press -- America's Lab Report, Taking Science to School, Ready Set Science!  How People Learn Science and Math, etc.   Most recently, the Framework for K-12 Science Education.

        However, teaching has been de-professionalized.  How do you get this work implemented in the classroom when it isn't read or acted on?

        •  right, but (0+ / 0-)

          the total funding for serious randomized controlled studies is small, compared to the magnitude of the needs.

          Michael Weissman UID 197542

          by docmidwest on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 07:31:33 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Can you elaborate (0+ / 0-)

          on what you mean when you write that "teaching has been de-professionalized?"

          My experience with my child's teachers has shown them, for the most part, very serious professionals trying to keep up with research and best practices.

          I understand that this may not be the experience of too many people with children in public (and private!) education.

          Darling, you didn't use canned salmon, did you?

          by JrCrone on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 09:30:36 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  We can't learn from other schools (6+ / 0-)

      because it would mean observing what other teachers are doing in their classrooms, talking to other teachers after class was over, and generally spending time training and collaborating, teacher to teacher.

      Teachers are not allowed to take the time it would need to do this.

      Even in schools where time is allocated for 'collaboration' to spread 'best practices' among teachers in the same school, that time is quickly scheduled by the administration for things other than teacher to teacher collaboration, regardless of what the school tells the state, the district and the parents.

      "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

      by Orinoco on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 08:35:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Conservatives say the districts know best. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Southern Lib

      The next time someone says that and the next time some candidate for Presidency stammers about which cabinet level agencies he wants to eliminate....oh yeah, Department of Education.... someone needs to ask this question:

      What makes the folks in Alabama so special that they need to learn different things than in Mississippi?

      Now this is not to be confused with providing options for different learning styles.  But unless an entire state has been classified with a learning disability, some general, national standards on content, level of support and best practices for different needs should be encouraged.

  •  an impression from this is more that there (3+ / 0-)

    may be as there has been for years problems in quality and quantity of STEM teachers and teachers colleges especially as you point out in the consistency and IT capability of the pedagogy

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013 (@eState4Column5).

    by annieli on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 06:26:11 PM PST

    •  Teacher pay has a lot to do with this. (9+ / 0-)

      Take computer education, for example.

      The expertise and education it takes to become a teacher qualified to teach this at an entry level starting salary of ~$30k/yr qualifies the same individual for entry-level or better work in the technology field with a salary twice to three times that.

      The disparity is even greater once continuing education requirements get our example here a Masters, where even a doubling of that starter salary is half or less of what they could earn working in the industry.

      To me, that raises this question -- do we raise teacher pay across the board, or increase it according to demand and industry pay?

      I don't have an answer for that.

      Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. -- Clarke's Third Law

      by The Technomancer on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 06:38:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  this issue is really hitting home in Wisconsin. (8+ / 0-)

        Undergraduate students entering into secondary science and math teacher ed programs is dropping dramatically.  At the University I teach at, we are not even hitting out cap for social studies and english language arts.

        It is just as much about pay as about respect.  Wisconsin has shown pretty dramatically that it does respect the work of teachers.

        •  This, too. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          annieli, suzq

          Even with all the fire the tech industry and its workers have come under lately, it's nothing compared to what teachers go through and have gone through for decades now.

          Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. -- Clarke's Third Law

          by The Technomancer on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 06:54:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  If you raise salaries in STEM (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        suzq, joseph rainmound

        Then all the teachers gravitate there, and they get to pick the best and the brightest. And the others teach reading and writing, without which you can't do quality STEM instruction. School is integrated, you need reading to do math, you need math to learn science, you have to understand history to grasp political science, PE and music complement it all. All teachers are essential in all areas. That's why the NEA is fighting sTEm grants that pay bonuses to teachers whose students pass certain tests. Those students don't pass if they don't have good second grade teachers, and those teachers don't get the bonus.

        Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Gabby Giffords.

        by Leftleaner on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 02:08:18 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  In our district, there are two HS STEM programs (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Leftleaner, elfling, BYw

          for advanced students.  My son took the tests and his teachers filled out the applications.  He didn't get in, alas, but the regular program he will be in is pretty top notch.

          The director of the one program explained why they asked for profiles from the English teacher, along with the Math and Science teacher.

          "We ran the stats," he said, turning to the stats teacher, who nodded."  The highest best predictor of success, the one with the highest correlation with grades, was the English teacher recommendation.

          Then, he went on to clarify.  No, the STEM-smart kids aren't the best writers.  Not be a longshot.  But they do understand the language and how to communicate.  They can manage their workload (daily or weekly readings) and have good reading comprehension.  So yes, it's all important.

          •  In WA state a few years ago (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            elfling, BYw

            They found that the best predictor of passing the math portion of the state test was reading fluency. The math problems were so complex that reading was the most crucial point.

            Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Gabby Giffords.

            by Leftleaner on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 11:39:35 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  This is the experience of the teachers (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              BYw, Leftleaner

              I speak with also.

              Starting in 3rd grade, the language around the problem becomes more and more complex. So the experiment you can do is to take the same exact numbers and problems and then present them purely numerically, and in various word forms.

              It shouldn't surprise anyone (but it always does) that the same student can get dramatically different scores on those tests covering the exact same mathematics.

              If you read through sample tests for the various proficiencies, you'll see that careful close reading is ~ 50% of the problem, and it doesn't take all that much to push most kids off the scent. This is especially true for kids of limited english proficiency.

              Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

              by elfling on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:46:59 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  add to all of this the intrinsic differences (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      in gender methodology necessary to teach STEM, not made any easier by bias at the highest levels (Larry Summers)

      Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013 (@eState4Column5).

      by annieli on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 06:55:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have always been sceptical about requiring (5+ / 0-)

    kids to work on computers during class.
    An unfortunate but seldom-expressed belief seems to be that computers will make students smarter.

    •  I don't think that teachers hold the belief about (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Elizaveta, dehrha02

      computers making students smarter.  The issue is that computers often come without appropriate professional development on changing to teaching that can allow them to properly integrate.

      Check out Paul Andersen @ Bozeman Science for an example of how technology can transform a classroom to increase a teacher's ability to work individually with students.

      •  I used technology in my classrooms regularly (0+ / 0-)

        You're right--it isn't teachers who generally think that computers will automatically improve the quality of student work. Computers do work when a lot of training and forethought go into the ways they can complement classroom work.
        Unfortunately, it's often administrators (especially those removed from the actual day-to-day of classrooms--I don't mean school principals) and school boards who seem to believe that computers alone are the answer to student achievement.
        When computers weren't such an ubiquitous feature of schools (mid 1990s) I listened to many lectures at faculty meetings about how students would engage more with their subjects at home once they possessed a computer--discussing science online with well-known researchers! getting extra help with all their trouble spots! This assumed a level of independent scholastic motivation quite unrealistic given the ages of the students involved.
        Perhaps I mispoke when I said the belief was that kids would be smarter--the people who used to say this kind of thing assumed that students' engagement with education and motivation would improve just with the introduction of a computer.
        Giving each student his/her own laptop is often expressed as a primary goal of school reformers, quite apart from other needs that cry out for funding.Charter schools often tout the fact that all of their students will be given laptops to take home. Having a computer in his/her possession will not automatically improve student performance, and that's what I objected to.
        As often as I could I pursued professional development as to how computers could enhance my classroom instruction. In my last school district I was fortunate to be offered constant opportunities to do so.
        I spent a summer as a fellow with the National Writing Project, working on ways to use computer programs as well as social media to boost the engagement of ESL students in writing.
        Prezi, MarcoPolo, MovieMaker, BrainPop and BrainPop Junior--the list of resources I used with good result goes on and on.
        My point was that many folks who should know better assume that just the possession of a computer will help.

    •  It's not about smarter at all. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Computers can do the following things, all of which are valuable:

      - They help learning disabled students who cannot write well take accurate notes.

      - They can help transfer lab data accurately so that everyone has the same information.

      - They can provide different learning tools to help students with different learning needs, such as videos for visual learners, lectures for audio learners, etc...

      - They are a mini library at your an extent...but when you are pressed for time or resources, not a bad resource.

      As long as you understand the tools and match the tools to the student, you're fine.  It's not a substitute for a teacher--for most kids.  Although, studies have shown that without a teacher, computers can provide lots of self-learning opportunities.

      •  I agree (0+ / 0-)

        And many schools post links-or at least lists-of terrific educational and fun websites targeted at specific grade levels on their home pages, so kids can access them out of school.
        Self-learning opportunities are definitely there.
        Sometimes, however, the assumption is that just having a computer will help all children do better in school, and that they will automatically use computers for that end.
        As a result, scarce resources may be directed primarily to buying electronics for students, overlooking other areas--like art and music, for example--that are at least as important to education as technology in the ways they support student development.
        I'm no luddite--I used technology virtually everyday with my students, even the kindergartners.

    •  If they want to introduce computers into school (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      have the students learn what scientists use computers for, and how to program them, not just as a substitute for their textbook or their teacher.

      "Nothing happens unless first a dream. " ~ Carl Sandburg

      by davewill on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 02:25:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Questions for educators (0+ / 0-)

    1. What is the standard form of elementary and middle school education in America today?  In my day, it consisted mostly of general rote knowledge prior to taking one of the big four (Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics) by 8th or 9th grade.  Is that still typical?  Was it ever typical?

    2. What value does elementary and middle school science education offer in terms of cultivating knowledge and proficiency required in for more advanced learning (specifically, collegiate)?  If convenient, I'd appreciate a brief review of the literature on this topic.

    3. What alternative arrangements are there staging science curricula in the K-8 grades?  Is there any model in which elementary and middle school science is dropped entirely in favor of say doubling the math load?

    I ask question 3 because I don't see an obvious progression between stages of (what I'll call) textbook science education. Note (entirely from my own experience) there appears to be three stages: rote knowledge in K-8, a preliminary sample of the four major disciplines in 9-12, and a far more rigorous collegiate classroom experience.  None of these bears much resemblance to how new scientific information is communicated amongst working graduates, post-grad academics and professionals.  We usually exchange papers [say in journals], presentations, and datasets.  And while the textbook once served (for many still does) as a manual for the occasional refresher, the Internet has pretty much eclipsed it for many of us.

    •  Take a look at the NRC's (0+ / 0-)

      Ready, Set, Science!  & Framework for K-12 Science Education for good summaries of what science should look like at earlier grades.

      •  I'll plough through the citing references (0+ / 0-)

        but right off the bat, RSS reads like a monograph of prescriptions rather than review of the science justifying a particular curriculum and its place in the sequence.  Sure, there are some juicy bits about kid's capacity to absorb certain methods and knowledge, but it's lacking the context of what else kids can learn (or, more importantly, can't).

        Honestly, I have some serious reservations about how pedagogical literature is edited and presented.  Much of it reads more like essay writing than scientific reporting.

    •  Texas just dropped . . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

         Algebra II as a requirement for graduation.

    •  In our district in Maryland (0+ / 0-)

      there were two, district-wide science labs in grade school: one was raising a butterfly and the other escapes me at the moment.  Having all the students do the same lab throughout the system gave all the kids something to talk about when they got together.  From grades 1-5, kids don't exactly understand all the nuances of the scientific method.  But they do understand trial and error and observation.

      In Middle School, my oldest son has done lab experiments quite frequently.   Science usually involves two science disciplines a year, rather than the "round robin" rotation in grade school.  In High School, there are dedicated classes to once science at a time.

      I noted with some amazement, that they were offering Physics to my incoming freshman son, who is taking Algebra 1 in 8th grade this year.  I recall my high school physics and remembered that I wish I understood the math better.  At my school the progression was Biology, Chemistry, Physics.

      •  That's why I asked these questions (0+ / 0-)

        While it may be true that kids understand trial and error (and some of the literature I've been pointed to makes this assertion), that's still a ways away from saying "kids should take this particular sequence of science from K-8" or "K-8 science education should be taught contemporaneously and in equal load with math" or even visa versa.

        Because right now it seems to me that we do things this way because we've always done them this way, and I find it disturbing that an essential component of establishing and communicating scientific knowledge by professionals is effectively absent for nine years of childhood education.  

  •  I notice that no one here confronts the (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mickT, MPociask, JrCrone, maracucho

    root problem: doing science ultimately requires measurement and calculation, and that in turn requires knowing math and algebra.

    Cultivating students' curiosity and their interest in play/experimentation is the easier part. Yes, I-pads can be used to look things up; yes, notebooks can record observations of an experiment. But the real problem is that EXPLAINING outcomes requires mathematical ability (for example, calculating in moles the substance in a solution). Our schools have not been terribly successful in teaching math, algebra, and calculus (Texas schools have just dropped Algebra II as a requirement for graduation), and many students are terrified of the subject.

    This must be the "dirty little truth," because I seldom hear anyone discussing it. We continue to imagine we can teach science through Cargo Cult magic: just give labs the latest equipment, encourage lab play and notebooking, and somehow- voila!- we're producing scientists!

    •  I mostly agree.... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Metric Only, loblolly, suzq, elfling

      Deep understanding of science at the high school level requires decent mathematics ability (especially physics, chemistry, and advanced bio).

      However, students can absolutely build an understanding of science concepts appropriate for K-8 without Algebra.

      Work out of ASU (Modeling Physics) has shown that students taking a good HS conceptual physics course (using algebra) have a better understanding of introductory physics concepts than those taking many college "calc-based" physics courses.

    •  At some level, yes. But is it the root problem? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Elizaveta, elfling

      To succeed in high school chemistry or physics, you're certainly right.  You certainly need a degree of mathematical literacy to understand either of those subjects.  And you can do a lot in middle school to teach mathematical reasoning, numbers, and ideas that will later help them learn high school algebra and basic geometry.

      But I'm not sure if in this age cohort if that's what we want to be doing in science instruction.  We also want to impart some basic "facts" about the world, and about natural history.  And we arguably want to teach something about "the process" of doing science -- observing things and noting them, asking questions and seeing if we can see things that help us answer them.

      I'm not sure  what skills in grades 6-8 we need to emphasize.  I'm not even sure if what serves the needs of general scientific literacy is consistent what what you'd want a future scientist or engineer to learn at that age.

      I'm in a field where I actually use math of various kinds.  And you need to prepare some number of children to ultimately fill the places of my generation in these fields.  But very few of them will do that.  I'm not sure what we need from the point of view of our future work force.  I'm not sure what we need from the point of view of citizenship.  Or of the needs of growing people who will be good stewards of the earth.

      You're certainly right for people who actually use science and math as adults.  I'm honestly uncertain how true that is for most children.

      Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

      by mbayrob on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 07:25:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The skills (or practices) for middle grades (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        (and elementary and HS) are well defined in the Framework for K-12 Science education (National Research Council 2012).  Asking questions, modeling, planning investigations, analyzing & interpreting data, computational thinking, making explanations, argumentation, obtaining and evaluating information.  

        Of these, use of evidence in relation to modeling, explanations and argumenation is probably the most critical.

        As for making future scientists... K-12 should focus on scientifically literate & keeping the door open.  Scientists become scientists in grad school...

        •  What's a good link for that? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Metric Only

          More people need to understand how we create goals for the public schools in general and for science education in particular.  I'd love to read some of this stuff.  Where can I find it?

          Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

          by mbayrob on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 07:45:26 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  What's 'appropriate' for K-12 (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        is going to be redefined by two considerations:
        1) the increasing demand in colleges and businesses for students who can succeed as STEM majors (i.e., who can actually DO science). The new priority is to produce more scientists and engineers.  
        2) the realization that since at least the 1970s US public schools have fallen behind European and Asian schools in math education. In Europe Algebra and Calculus are introduced much earlier than in the US. (I remember Izaak Wirzsup warning about the gravity of this problem way back in 1973.)

        Part of the reason I feel so strongly about this issue is personal experience. As a kid I was always attracted to the culture of science and dreamed of becoming a biologist or astronomer. But around 7th grade I tuned out my algebra teacher and fell behind in quantitative skills. By SR High I was floundering in Chemistry and Biology courses. I realized by that time that the door to a scientific career was already forever closed to me.

        To how many other students is that happening today?

        •  My experience was similar. My math teachers were (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          horrible.  And since I was a girl, no one really cared.

          My options, once I got to college, were limited.

          I've noticed one big difference from my experience as a student some 40 years ago.    These days, grade schoolers bounce around from concept to concept.  They are introduced to statistics, functions, and formulas at an early age.   In middle school, students then transition to one subject for the whole year.  In high school, you get greater depth.   In our district, kids who are more advanced get more advanced work.  Kids who need remedial help get that as well.  I was a little put off by "common core" at first, for math, anyway.  Now that I've spent some time with it, I rather like it.  My kids, for a variety of reasons, both had to switch schools mid-year.  Common Core will prevent the lag that happens when that occurs.  The math curriculum is pretty good overall.

          Today, also, teachers provide Youtube video tutoring for homework and assignments and even if some don't. there are online videos all over the place that can help students with different learning styles.  

          I don't exactly buy the "Europeans and Asians are ahead of us" because Europe and Japan are not the United States.  The US is far more economically and culturally diverse than any of the nations to which we are compared.  When you adjust for socio-economic class, US kids perform just as well as those in Europe or Asia.

          What I find fascinating is that we are doing to our entire nation's school systems the same thing we are doing to our most disadvantaged students:  We are holding them to impossible standards without acknowledging that their task is more difficult.  

    •  math needs (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gramofsam1, suzq, elfling

      I think your onto something, but we have to be careful about not asking too much. There are elements of basic algebra that are essential- it's hard for me to even remember what the world seemed like without some idea of functions, slopes, etc. However, emphasis is often put on particular little techniques (I'd include solving quadratics) that are important only for a small subset of the students. That helps fuel the popular anti-algebra rants of Andrew Hacker.

      Another area that is seriously under-taught is statistics, essential to most reasoning about the world. And most of the teaching of it was worse than useless. I've been lucky to watch my wife develop serious teaching of beginning stats to non-math types, successfully, for many thousands of students. So it can be done.

      Michael Weissman UID 197542

      by docmidwest on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 07:52:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  spelling needs (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:


        Michael Weissman UID 197542

        by docmidwest on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 07:53:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Stats...SO IMPORTANT! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        docmidwest, elfling

        Kids in elementary school are introduced to all those things these days in a round-robin approach that seemed confusing to me at first.

        By 5th grade, however, both of my kids seemed to have a pretty good grasp of basic statistics.  

        My 8th grader actually overheard a discussion between me and a friend of mine who is a statistician.  She was explaining her latest assignment to me and my son interrupted her.  "If your boss just asks for the mean, he might not understand the nature of the skew if he doesn't do the median as well."

        Why wait for high school to teach that?  Kids can understand that in 6th and 7th grade.  

  •  Everyone's kids are our future. (5+ / 0-)

    Doing better by and for them isn't an option, it's our most important obligation.

    Punxsutawney Phil has been unfriended.

    by jwinIL14 on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 06:58:39 PM PST

  •  I started with slide rules (10+ / 0-)

    in my high school career. When I started teaching in the late 70's cheap calculators were becoming available, and we kept a batch in my room for kids to use in class (but not to take home). When new technology came around, I was always the first to try it out. I was happy with some things, and totally unimpressed with others.
    I had the flexibility to experiment. I was never told "You have to do things this way." I was trusted by my boss, my peers, my students and their parents.
    After only 35 years I retired from teaching. I'm sure the reformers would not want me back. I'm willing to bet that the kids would.

  •  PW (6+ / 0-)

    resets alone are an incredible time sink, a productivity black-hole. In my last job I had to sign into no less than a dozen different things, some had to be with alphanumeric characters, some couldn't be, and they all had to be changed regularly. I can't imagine having to do with that a class full of 12 year-olds.

  •  the science classes (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rodentrancher, my2petpeeves

    in those grades, for the schools I was in, way, way, back, were possibly better set up than current ones.
    No, we had no technology as such - it didn't exist. We had no special labs, and barely had equipment. But we did have one science teacher for each grade, who didn't teach anything else.

    (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

    by PJEvans on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 07:06:22 PM PST

  •  a couple things (8+ / 0-)

    First, technology is everything we use.  A pencil is an incredible piece of technology.  If you don't know the innovations that got into a pencil, it is a fascinating story.  Henry David Thoreau family was in pencils.  I bring this up because a fundamental issue in science is that we don't appreciate the history of the tools, the history of the science.  We are always focused on what is in front of us, the immediate gratification, and the intense science and application of science that has given us the most simple pleasures.  It is the appreciation of the process that makes a STEM education, not the use of a particular piece of machinery. (as an aside I know that students do not get a proper education because when I call the pencil a machine, they argue, not knowing that is a lever).

    In middle school computers can be a distraction.  The purpose of using computers is to teach kids how to use them as a tool.  To teach the kids self control.  To teach them a tool for learning.  I don't know if you have seen kids spend an hour breaking their pencils and tearing up their notebook.  Technology is not very useful until a kids know how to use it.  Content has to wait.  Otherwise kids are just going to watch Hulu.  And blocking it is counterproductive because then the kid is not learning self discipline.

    Second, middle school is an age group that has special requirements in learning.  For instance, I can quiz a 10 year old on Dinosaurs and they will know every at a recall level.  The are advancing to more abstract thought, but they are incredible at recall and some basic application.  Over middle school their minds are changing.  I have seen them totally lose a lot of recall knowledge as they reorganize it into a more abstract form.  Here is the difficulty.  Much research is done around age 8.  We know everything and can create perfect grade 2-4 classrooms.  All other research is extrapolated.  It is like when all we knew in heart research was male centered.

    Again, if one is going to talk about middle school, it is impulse control.  Everything else is secondary.  You are setting up kids for success by teaching them habits.  The problem is that too many schools focus on scores.  This means that advanced students are free to run amok while the other students are controlled but never taught how to learn which leads to failure in high school.

    Which leads to science.  Real science is automatically going to scaffold to various.  Inquiry science is aromatically going to scaffold to various levels.  What it won't do is scaffold to the reluctant student who refuses to play. This is the student that hides his notebook.  This is the student that breaks the toys.  I know most students will rise to expectations if required.  A few others can be dealt with over time.  The problem with science is instead of directing it toward the majority of students who will play, we direct it to the minority who are hard core reluctant student, where every task is a battle of wills.  

    There is no reason why every middle school class cannot be a box of parts that are to be put together and then experimented with, with lab notebooks, and inquiry, and discussion, and the all important learning of self discipline.  Maybe only one thing gets done every grading cycle.  So be it.  Memorizing the planet names or the value of gravity or the speed of light it meaningless.

    Which brings us to the last point.  The only thing preventing such a class room in middle school is standardized testing.  You can't make sure that most of the students know what is on the test if they are playing with experiments and writing in notebooks.

    •  Well said. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Elizaveta, elfling

      I am the parent of two "toy breakers."  We spent much of their grade school career trying to figure out why they were breaking the toys.  Turns out, both had attention and executive function disorder.  They were also both gifted and talented.

      Because they were GT, we couldn't get special accommodations for them.  Those accommodations were only for kids who couldn't make the grade (even though they don't really grade in grades 1-5 in our district.)  We tested them on our dime, instead and got them the help they needed.  

      You see, the LD kids, whether they are GT or not, will be a problem to you if parents and teachers don't work on their needs in grade school.  It's not fair to you and your time.

      But the school system is too busy testing for meaningless academic standards rather than testing for the sorts of learning challenges that, if addressed, can make a real difference.

      Neither one of my sons could write in third grade.  This was a MAJOR PROBLEM.  I didn't understand why, exactly.  And if it was such a problem, why not test to find out why they can't write?  No, no.  They're smart enough....this went round and round for years.  

      There are parents who don't have the time, energy, inclination or understanding to fight this.  And so you get the toy breaker in your class who eats up most of your time.  What a shame.

      By the way, I tell everyone I know that the middle school science curriculum could be written by Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage (the Mythbusters.)  Sounds like they would approve of your curriculum quite heartily, from what it sounds.  Middle schoolers are doers.  A lot of learning comes from doing and they just need the time to practice so that when they're doing it for serious grades, they aren't intimidated.

      •  toy breaker (0+ / 0-)

        There are more GT students with these kind of issues that are generally recognized.  The reason is that they kicked out of GT classes for being disruptive.  As you mentioned, this really is ashamed.  Real GT students are special because they are inquisitive, they are active, and they will not just sit in a desk.  I would like to see more GT schools focus on active learning, as my public school did.  As mentioned, middle school is so focused on teacher control and standardized tests there is no real way for them to teach kids how to deal with their special skills.

        Many of my friends and I have issue like this, and we were lucky to go to not horrible middle schools, and get into very understanding high level high schools.  It really made all the difference.

  •  The problem with technology in the classroom (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mommyof3, lorell, Mark Sumner, suzq, elfling

    Is that it is often presented as a solution to education's ills rather than as a tool to aid learning. Schools love to tout the latest tech acquisition as a step forward.

    For technology to be an effective tool, the kids and the teachers need to be trained on just the technology and the programs before getting using it in the classroom--that's a class unto itself.

    We're all wowed by how quickly kids adopt technology, but the truth is, the depth of understanding of programming, of how computers work, of commonly used programs (thinking Excel) is minimal.

    My daughter has been in classes that required PowerPoint (or Prezi) presentations, but no one really knew how to use the program. Most people don't. Most presentations that use PPT aren't well done. Add to that students that don't know the basics of presenting and you have a mess that on the surface looks cool because PPT, rather than cut and paste visual aids, looks tidy and has cool effects.

    A friend told me students in his son's class were graded down if they didn't create a cover on the computer, but did something by hand instead--in the fifth grade.

    On the other hand, my son's school is allowing him to use an iPad to deal with his dysgraphia (physically writing with any efficiency is really difficult for him), but he uses it only in the classroom and only at certain times--like the time the students spend journaling. And he uses voice-activated software at home.

    He's about to start using apps for voice recognition at school--in a room away from the class while they are journaling with pen and paper--it's a writing exercise.

    In this case, technology is giving him a voice that he otherwise wouldn't have--he's actually pretty well-spoken and a decent writer.

  •  What works, and what is the goal? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Elizaveta, lorell, suzq, elfling

    I don't have kids in the public schools, and it's been a very long time since I was in middle school :-)  So I don't know what people are doing now, and I barely remember what people were doing back-in-the-day.

    But it's genuinely not clear to me what we want to do with children in grades 6-8.  Ultimately, it seems to me that we want children to develop a general appreciation of "how the world works" -- a layman's version of scientific "common sense".  Or we may want to make sure that some children develop the background and the passion to study scientific subjects in high school (biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, etc.), or at the university level.

    I'm not sure how compatible these goals are, and I'm not sure what skills or experiences we want a child in middle school to have or develop in order to get us to those goals.

    Technology, notebooking are just means to the end.  But what's the end here?

    And if we can define what the end is here, how do you even know what means are effective in achieving them?

    I don't have any answers here, only questions.  For those of you who are currently involved in science education at any level, or have a good sense of what your children are doing in their science classes:  what are you seeing right now?

    Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

    by mbayrob on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 07:13:28 PM PST

    •  I would agree with your goals-- (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lorell, Elizaveta, suzq

      1. An understanding and appreciation for how scientific knowledge is created.

      2.  "Keeping the door open" for students to continue pursuing science at the next level -- both interest and capacity (foundational knowledge).

      •  How much important are "facts"? (0+ / 0-)

        Certainly, a lot of what science teaching does is impart "facts" about the world.  Why do we have seasons?  Why does the sun go down?  How do plants grow?  Where did animals come from?  How do vaccines work?  Why do you need to eat vegetables?

        Science teaching should help impart this.  At some level, this is not simply science, but also cultural knowledge.  Certainly, we want people to be curious about the world, and to know how science is "done".  But we also want people to develop common sense about the world.  Because there are consequences to scientific illiteracy, as we all know.

        I'm not sure how well this is done today.  Certainly, this was overemphasized 50 years and more ago.  But we really do want to impart some amount of factual knowledge, in addition to the other goals we might have.

        Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

        by mbayrob on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 07:34:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  yes -- I consider this as "foundational content" (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dehrha02, suzq

          But, I think our schools still have too much emphasis on facts and less on the big ideas of science --

          •  One thing lamented by several teachers... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Metric Only, Sharon Wraight

            Was something I'd never known about in layperson land—the passing of discrepant events.

            At least a couple of teachers waxed lyrical over discrepant events, and how their ability to pose a puzzle to students helped them frame a portion of their curriculum as a "story" that included plot points with twists and turns that kept up children's interest.

            But they felt that this kind of teaching was no longer respected by the districts they worked for. That it didn't hit the current buzzwords, and was looked down on.

          •  Once you understand the scientific method (0+ / 0-)

            you can pursue the answer to any question you may have.

            As I've been learning throughout most of my life, facts can be transitory sometimes.  For years, I thought Pluto was a planet and the sun was a big ball of gas.

            Not so!

            How different the discourse would be today if people understood what the concept of scientific theory was.  That's way more important than the distance between the sun and the earth or memorizing the parts of a cell.

  •  Not to mention that science is... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bruns, Elizaveta, suzq, elfling, my2petpeeves

    something that we DO...

    Students need to DO science... not just read about it.  Notebooking, as you said, can be a good tool for learning, but it is not a magic cure-all.

    I hope that the technology stuff evens out.  I am a fan of integrating technology, but not for the sake of the technology itself.  The tech isn't the point... in this case, the science is.  If the technology isn't helpful, then it isn't serving a purpose!

    Our country can survive war, disease, and poverty... what it cannot do without is justice.

    by mommyof3 on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 07:21:10 PM PST

  •  I have to get to back to work... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mark Sumner, suzq, elfling, denise b

    I'm working with future science teachers tomorrow--helping them to understand how to help kids use evidence to explain scientific phenomena.

    but, I want to add two more thoughts.  Both of these need to be addressed before we will see any improvement to science education (or education in genera).

    1. (most important)  Find a structure that allows professional growth and rigorous planning to be part of the normal work day.  The OECD Average for "face-time" with students is around 850 hours.  The U.S. Average is 1150 hours.  U.S. teachers simply do not have a schedule that allows them to take action (at scale) on what we "know" works in the classroom.

    2.  Addressing the "valley of death."  There is no infrastructure for continued professional development of teachers.  We have a pretty good idea of "what works" in the classroom, but no way to take it to scale.  A grant funded project lasts 3-5 years.  If it gets results, it can't be refunded because grants have to fund new things.

    •  Great points (0+ / 0-)

      We allow 5 days for teacher prep, training, and collaboration, aside from what can be cobbled out of an individual student attendance day. That is ridiculous. The solution in part ends up being taking teachers out of class for some of that training, which is also not a good solution. We could easily pay teachers for 10 more days and not be wrong.

      Giving teachers more time to observe other teachers and tools to collaborate (even if by videoconference) also seems very worthwhile.

      And finally: give teachers infrastructure. As great as Donors Choose is... that's a lot of time from the teacher to get money for supplies that they SHOULD HAVE BY RIGHT. They need copiers and printers that work fast and well. They need support staff to do clerical and routine tasks. They should not be constrained for science labs by the cost of rubber gloves. The amount of time and frustration wasted on such things should not be discounted.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 02:17:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I actually teach (6+ / 0-)

    Physics, mostly.

    Board Game Design for our Interactive Media and Game Development program--nearly unique course (had to write my own textbooks).

    Polymer dynamics, once.

    My take on technology is almost entirely negative.  

    Of course, I am old enough to remember slide viewers, 8mm film, filmstrips, language labs, programmed learning texts (those actually worked for me), somnohypnal learning, audiovisual language teaching (epic fail), language labs, computers, peer instruction, computer-aided instruction, libraries stuffed with books and journals, manual and electric typewriters, ditto machines, mimeographs, Gestetner machines, whiteboards (cost me a favorite sweater)carbonless carbon paper for suppressing dry-labbing (brilliant innovation), and people proposing you can take notes that are almost all equation on a computer (make Congressional Republicans look like Einstein).

    The technical innovations that really worked were:

    Compounded chalk, so I do not die of lead poisoning.
    The electric light, so students see clearly across the short winter days
    Climate control, because students who are sweltering or freezing are less attentive.
    Computers for word processing and demanding calculations.

    Readers will note that these innovations are less recent and fancy.  However, they actually work.

    George Phillies

    Restore the Fourth! Save America!

    by phillies on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 08:04:24 PM PST

  •  Jeez, Mark, can't you put an abstract (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mark Sumner

    above the old? I may not have many more years of life left, ya know?

    Dick Cheney 2/14/10: "I was a big supporter of waterboarding"

    by Bob Love on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 08:15:40 PM PST

  •  bad teachers (0+ / 0-)

    My daughter's science teacher is breathtakingly incompetent. I am teaching her the material because the teacher can't.

    •  educational decline (0+ / 0-)

      A paradigm shift is needed in American education, from pre school to university.

      Paradigm shifts are as rare as a while crow.

      Before long American  education will be controlled by corp America and they will outsource the education to    china or India to make better profits.

      American education is run by administrators and for administrators not for the teachers or the students.

      The classroom environment is teacher centered not student centered. massive stress on the teachers to always be on.

      In a result oriented society test scores will be the measurement not creating valuable educational systems of excellence for all students.

    •  I'm sorry to hear that (0+ / 0-)

      I hope you have taken the time to complain to the principal and use the other official channels to do so.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 02:20:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Speaking as a Math and Science Teacher.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:


  •  Shared with the Badass Teachers Association. (0+ / 0-)

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 08:35:09 PM PST

  •  3 years of mediocre middle school science ed (0+ / 0-)

    My eighth grader has, amazingly, not lost her interest in science in spite of what seem to have been 2.5 years of mediocre and uninspired science education, which seems to involve tedious notebook keeping, badly designed experiments and exercises, and so on.

    She loves math, loves language arts, loves dance, but the science teachers have simply been the low point of the middle school experience, as she describes it.

    I don't even know what a good middle school science curriculum would look like - but she sure doesn't seem to have one.


  •  need smaller classes but the effort (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Egalitare, loblolly

    by the RW inevitably leads to larger classes for most kids- except for those who can afford the private schools.

    and their constant sabotage of public ed to privatize it will continue to make discussion, problem solving, and implementation hard.

    This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

    by certainot on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 10:13:55 PM PST

  •  Your suppositions about computers in schools (2+ / 0-)

    are contradicted by the entire experience of the One Laptop Per Child program, which has supplied computers for millions of schoolchildren, including two entire countries, Peru and Uruguay. Several other countries intend to implement the OLPC program nationwide, with Rwanda in the lead. Others have plans for their own school computers, including Bangladesh (Doel computer, locally assembled) and South Korea. India says it means to do the same, but its $35 Aakash computer has been regarded as a joke, and actual deployments have not begun.

    Bangladesh is the first country to publish electronic versions of a full suite of textbooks in all subjects and at all grade levels, first in Bangla and second in English. South Korea intends to be the second. Some US states have such ideas, but are getting zero cooperation from textbook publishers that fear loss of profits.

    Nicholas Negroponte with refugee child at school in Gaza, as part of UNRWA education program providing One Laptop Per Child XOs to students.

    Nicholas Negroponte and Palestinian child with new OLPC XO in Gaza

    Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

    by Mokurai on Sun Feb 09, 2014 at 10:45:05 PM PST

  •  Sending this to my science teacher daughter (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to see what she thinks of your piece. She teaches seventh grade in an Atlanta suburb and taught before that in Colorado. There are certainly differences in different states and districts.

    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me.

    by plankbob on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 02:56:08 AM PST

  •  Best in class (0+ / 0-)

    Bad pun, and so I'll just add this:  Right On!

    If someone were to study the effects of reinventing the classroom over and over again,  the results- which nearly every teacher knows- would prove most telling.

    Technology in the school went like this:

    discovery>integration>fear of liability>security>lockdown>ruin.

    Too bad.  I was teaching middle school kids research basics, html, networking, and even photoshop (had a donated class set) in the 90s.  That would be impossible to do today at the classroom level.  And now an entire generation will grow up thinking today's norm is "normal".

    All to enable a few ego trips.

    Forty Percent Of U.S. Workers Make Less Than What A Full-Time Minimum Wage Worker Made In 1968.

    by jcrit on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 04:29:28 AM PST

  •  my two cents (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elfling, denise b

    the public school administration I just retired from after 20 years spends millions on technology and trying to figure out what makes kids learns like it is some kind of mystery.

    As a tech who spent the first ten years in the field traveling classroom to classroom it was obvious to me what the crucial elements were as it would be to anyone who spent time in the classrooms.

    the recipe is

    a teacher who likes children (you would be surprised at how many don't)

    a teacher who can control the classroom

    a teacher who loves his or her subject and can communicate that to the students

    an administration that supports the teacher and gets out of his or her way.

    students who come prepared to learn - meaning they have eaten and are not being abused (bullied or beaten) and not worried  about what is happening at home while they are at school.

    the rest is gravy -

    the classrooms that had these were dynamic and even I as a tech working on the computer could learn something in minutes about whatever the subject being taught was.

    The classrooms that didn't well...were sad places to be - some more like babysitters others downright abusive.

    Of course as a tech I didn't have a phd in education and those that did took my common sense approach and buried it in pedagogy.     I just could not figure out these administrators who went into the classrooms to observe and didn't see this.  To the lay person it was obvious.

    but it comes down to those elements every time

    sure glad my kids are grown and I am outta there

  •  Retired middle school science teacher here (4+ / 0-)

    The most first and most requirement for good science teaching is a good teacher, who ideally has a good background in actual science.

    I used to have a poster on the wall of my classroom that said " Those who do not stop asking silly questions become scientists." Science is not a collection of facts to be memorized to improve scores on high-stakes tests. Science is a process of discovery, and a  good science teacher knows how to engage students by skillfully raising questions, and provide them with opportunities to find answers through experiments, hopefully some of their own design, not those "cookbook" experiments, in which the students know the answer before they do the experiment. And then comes the most important part- figuring out what the results mean through class discussions guided by a skillful teacher.

    What to do about teachers who lack the science background not to mention the time to develop learning experiences like this?  There are excellent materials already developed, such as the Full Option Science System( FOSS) materials developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science. When my school district decided to put these in our classrooms, I was highly skeptical of kits for science classes, but I became a big fan of FOSS kits once I saw the inquiry lessons and how engaged the students became. You get a big box that contains a wonderful teachers guide and nearly everything needed to conduct a series of guided investigations students love to do, and which lead to deep understanding of concepts because the students learned by doing. Each investigation started with an intriguing question, suggestions from students on how to answer it, experimenting, and  follow up discussions on what was learned, and what to try next.
    My former students probably still remember how they learned about controlling variables by flying rubber band driven propeller planes, experimented with density by creating rainbow layers of colored salt solutions, or catapulted aluminum foil projectiles in an investigation of levers.

    Is technology part of the picture? Sure, but as the diary points out, teachers should be teaching science, not doing tech support. My district  invested in technology, but not the tech support to maintain it. We had class sets of laptops on mobile carts that teachers checked out. All of the laptops were identical at least, but students are hard on equipment, and every time we used them, we spent a lot of time on dead batteries, missing keys, etc.

    Good thing we've still got politics in Texas -- finest form of free entertainment ever invented.- Molly Ivins

    by loblolly on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 06:42:25 AM PST

    •  Actual middle school teacher -- WOW (0+ / 0-)

      Someone that actually knows something about the topic -- most of what is here makes about as much sense as us discussing the intricacies of dentistry because we've all been to the dentist.

      Notebooking is students making meaning and recording their understanding -- that's a good thing, a very good thing. The person that's doing the writing or the talking is the one that's doing the learning.  Just because the teacher "covered it" or said it or assigned it to be read about in a text book doesn't mean that any understanding takes place for students.

      Yes, handing every student an iPad or computer isn't the answer to all of education, but it does increase access to a crucial learning tool for each student. Spending time troubleshooting network problems is probably as useful as many of the middle school lectures -- one-sided discussions -- I've heard in the classroom.

      Listen to the teacher and check out curriculum like FOSS.

  •  "Integrated science" is a huge mistake. (0+ / 0-)

    We teach 'integrated science' at both the middle school and high school levels.

    Basically, it's a travesty.  What is presented to the kids is a mishmash of facts and disciplines with precious little 'integration' to be found.  The course moves from "oh, let's talk about force and newtons" to "now, about the periodic table" and "friction works like this", and the kids don't get a cohesive picture.

    I have no qualms suggesting that the greatest failing of our school district in the academic arena is that our graduates are woefully underprepared in the sciences.

    The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

    by wesmorgan1 on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 07:58:31 AM PST

  •  As a teacher, all I need (0+ / 0-)

    is unimpeded, consistent access to my students, and 1/10th of the current state testing requirements.

    "What we have is not a system. It's a health care catastrophe with an organization around it." -- Dr. Carl Olden

    by gtnoah on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 11:10:00 AM PST

  •  My daughter teaches seventh-grade science. (0+ / 0-)

    I sent her your piece and she wrote back:

    Hallelujah! I agree with a lot of what he says, especially the part about technology. Why have students look at an app that simulates a pattern or a phenomenon when we could actually go outside and observe it?

    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me.

    by plankbob on Wed Feb 12, 2014 at 06:05:21 AM PST

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