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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

8 Film-Makers for Students: Free, Cheap, and Easy

I love film-making! My children love it and so do my students.




Film-making is such a great way for students to express their understanding and learn from other students. These days there are so many drag-and-drop programs, that even the least techy person can create a professional-looking and imaginative product. The great thing, too, is that many of these programs don't require any special equipment. A class computer, tablet, or the student's smart phone will work just fine.

Seriously, if you haven't tried film-making (whether you're a student, teacher, administrator, parent, grandparent....), I highly encourage you to try it. Really, it is so much fun!

Here is what we love about film-making:

Student 1: The film-making part is really cool, because I like to be on camera.

Student 2: I like the film-making part. It's fun to try out new things.

Student 3: I love to see my "likes" on my YouTube channel.

Student 4: It's better than presenting in front of the class, because then I can think about what I'm going to say first.

Elizabeth's daughter: The editing is the best part, because that's how it all comes together.

Elizabeth: It gives me an outlet for artistic expression. I am creative, but can't draw, paint, or sculpt. I love to create digital masterpieces.

So, here it is: 8 film-making programs we love to use.

All (but one) of the videos shown below are my first creations with each of the programs, so you can see what a beginner product might look like.





Pros: Easy to use
         Can make your first video in an hour
         Students can type text instead of write

Cons: Difficult to use on a computer
          Can't upload to YouTube or Vimeo
          Can't download to your computer
          Can't edit voice recording.
          Requires Flash
          Doesn't save partially made videos, so you must film all at one time. (MAJOR flaw)

Elizabeth's Thoughts: There are definitely some limitations to this program, but it is very easy to use, especially for beginners. This is my "go-to" app when I need a quick demonstration video.




       

Pros: Can easily upload to YouTube, Vimeo, Edmodo, MyBigCampus, Google Docs
         More options than Educreations
         Tablet and computer options
         Can save videos in production

Cons: Not as easy to use as Educreations (Whiteboard apps for intermediate)
       






Pros: Fun and engaging cartoon style
         Easy to use
         Lots of options
         Can upload to YouTube or Vimeo

Cons: Some of the options are only available on the paid version
          The number of options can lead you to spend hours perfecting your video.
          Requires Flash

Elizabeth's thoughts: This is my FAVORITE program! It is so much fun to use!


4. Plotagon




Pros: REALLY easy to use
         Can type in the text, so you don't have to record your voice
         Can upload to YouTube or Vimeo
         Cheap upgrade options

Cons: Limited options

Elizabeth's thoughts: This is one of the easiest ones to use. You could easily make a video in 30 minutes or less. 

5. Moviestorm



Movie Note: This is a rough draft of the video I am creating for my gamification for next year. Very, very rough, but gives you an idea. Zombies rule!

Pros: Many pre-made templates and themes
         This is the best program to make movies that will be really engaging for students.

Cons: Ok, so technically this isn't free. It's $60 a year, but it also has a free 14-day trial.
          This is the supreme in non-professional video editing.
          Only one auto-sync voice, so you would have to record different character voices.

Elizabeth's thoughts: Minecraft for movies. This is definitely not a plug-and-chug application. The above video took me about an hour to create, and it was far from polished. 

6. Windows Movie Maker


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly from Elizabeth Venegas on Vimeo.

Pros: Already installed on most computers
         Easy to use
         Very similar to PowerPoint, so it will feel familiar

Cons: Only clip art is available for images
          Limited music selection

Elizabeth's Thoughts: This is very similar to iMovie but offers a little less. I think it's easier to use than iMovie, but my daughter disagrees. Great choice for PC and Windows users.


7. Splice



Video Note: This is my 11-year-old daughter's video. She captured all the images (except the ones of her, obviously) and edited this herself. She had no help on the creation of this. This is a good example to showcase what your students can do.

And here is one made by my 7-year-old:




In their words:

Pros: Many students already have this on their iPhones
         The quality of the pics are really good.
         The transitions are really cool.

Cons: Only available for iPhones and iPads.
          It takes a long time to load.
          The audio is not that good.

My thoughts: The cost is about $3, which is expensive to install on a class set, but since many students already have it, you may not need to.

8. Animoto


My True Love

Pros: BY FAR, the easiest to use. The above video took 15 minutes, including registration time.

Cons: Very limited options
          Can only create a 30-second video with the free version

Elizabeth's Thoughts: There isn't much to this program, but it's super easy to use and is great for creating sentimental videos. If you are a beginning film-maker, this is a great place to start. 


RECAP

Whiteboard Apps
Educreations (Beginner)
Doceri (Intermediate)
PowToon (Advanced)

3-D Animation
Plotagon (Beginner)
MovieStorm (Elite)

Video Editors
Windows Movie Maker (Intermediate)

Slide Show
Splice (Intermediate)
Animoto (Newbie)


Special note: I did not write about iMovie, though that is a perfectly fine program as well. I just prefer Windows Movie Maker, and my daughter prefers Splice. I know many who prefer iMovie, so I encourage you to check that out, too, if you are an iFan.

What else.....did I miss something great?


RELATED POSTS

Gamification One of the newest buzzwords of education is GAMIFICATION. Put shortly, gamification means using game principles to engage and motivate students. Gamification is NOT putting a student in front of a computer all day, every day

How Not to Use Technology in the Classroom Technology should be used to engage and enhance, not to distract and ignore.

Digitally Illiterate Parents I realized that many of our parents do not have the technology literacy for this type of communication. This made me wonder: What responsibility do we have in educating our families about technology?

Learning vs. Laundry: 12 Ways to Engage the Online Learner The power of online education extends far beyond providing access to non-traditional students -those who are limited by time, location, or expense. It has the power to transform and revitalize the educational experience for the learner.

Outgame Your Online Learners My high school years were the beginning of the end of the paper-age. I first searched for a digital image at 15 (Remember Dan's Gallery of the Grotesque, anyone?),








Friday, March 21, 2014

Outgame Your Online Students

I am the digital equivalent of the obnoxious student in class, jumping out of my seat, proclaiming, "Done! Done! Finished!!!" Whenever there is even the slightest uncertainty about anything, I have to be the first to Google the answer. And no, I am not smirking when I find the answer while others are still debating. Ok, maybe I am, but just a little.

My high school years were the beginning of the end of the paper-age. I first searched for a digital image at 15 (Remember Dan's Gallery of the Grotesque, anyone? No? Well, don't look it up.), entered my first chat room at 16, got my first email address at 17, and bought my first eBay item at 18. The digital age still blows my mind.





Jump forward 20 years, and now I'm not entirely sure that my phone hasn't grown into an extra appendage. 


I love online learning. I love everything about it. I love blogs and articles, quizzes, videos, and social media. Clearly I'm not the only one, or we wouldn't have Google, Blogger, Instagram, Huffington Post.... There's something very exciting about the spontaneous nature of digital environments, with its capabilities for learning from friends, families, professionals, and amateurs. The online platform is the perfect host for authentic learning....it is natural, engaging, meaningful, relevant, learner-driven. One easily moves up and down the levels of learning, from concrete to abstract. It is truly the ideal learning environment!

Official online courses (at universities and for training) are obviously far more structured than this and understandably so, as they are still greatly dependent upon traditional classroom foundations. They are typically linear with all students learning the same thing within a set period of time. The class moves together and the instructor controls the learning.

Many tout the benefits of convenience for online learners, especially for non-traditional students - those constrained by time, money, or distance. But, I think that is the wrong angle to market. Online learning isn't just about busy schedules; the real emphasis needs to be placed on transforming the educational experience. A great online classroom should only mildly reflect its predecessor.

I've taken far more university-based online courses than I can remember (probably around 40) and several massive open online courses (MOOCs). Most of them were very similar to an in-person class....readings, video lectures, forum discussions. Some are merely ticket-stamping events, with little teaching and no learning. A few have been exceptionally novel, especially considering the designers were older tenured college professors.

Here is what I have learned:

a great online program > a great traditional class
a good online program > a good traditional class
a mediocre online program > a mediocre traditional class
a bad online program < a bad traditional class

Bad online classes are far, far worse than bad traditional classes. In a traditional class, I have the benefit of learning by osmosis. By listening to a teacher drone on, I more than likely will pick up at least a few pieces of knowledge. But in a poor online class, I won't learn anything. Not a single thing. This is a REALLY important concept to understand if you have or are thinking of creating an online course. I cannot stress this enough. If your course is poorly designed, your learner won't learn a single thing. You are better off not creating it.

The first online course I took was a hybrid course at a state university. We still had the traditional massive lecture hall of 500 or so Freshman, but our homework was to be submitted online. I went to this class exactly three times. All the questions for the midterm and final came from the online quizzes. The quizzes could be taken as many times as I wanted but new questions would populate each time. I "took" the quizzes enough times to generate all the questions from the bank and saved them on a file. (Yes, this was a 3.5" floppy, if you must know). I memorized the answers before the midterm and the final. I got an A in the course and was asked to be an undergrad teaching assistant for the next semester.



I had outgamed this very novel (for the time) course.

I am not averse to learning or hard work. Actually, I am quite the opposite. But, if I am in a course I don't really, really care about (i.e., mandated training or prerequisite course), I will do my best to outgame it. I will click on the boring, unnecessary videos and go do something else. I will memorize the quiz answers and retake it. I may very well be learning, but it won't be what the instructor wants me to learn.

Check out my video about engagement....



But, if it is a course that is well-designed (regardless of my interest in the topic), I will engage. Think about this. We do this all the time. We watch movies about things we couldn't care less about, if they are well-made. We listen to brilliant songs outside of our typical genre. We read books from unknown authors. We build farms and we click flappy birds repeatedly. It is all about the design, the structure, the flow, and the engagement.

To further illustrate, let's compare board games to video games. Board game sales have declined significantly with the rise of video games. Why? Both are premised in fun, competition, advancement. So what's the difference? Video game makers did not simply take a board game and place it online. That would have been dreadful! Instead, they took those same elements of fun and transformed them into an entirely different experience.

If you are creating an online course, do not simply put your board game online.

When moving from traditional to digital, the experience must not be copied or moved, but transformed entirely. 



RELATED POSTS

8 Film-Makers for Students: Free, Cheap, and Easy Film-making is such a great way for students to express their understanding and learn from other students. These days there are so many drag-and-drop programs, that even the least techy person can create a professional-looking and imaginative product.

Schools in The Apple Revolution: The User Experience What if we could design a program that allowed students to choose their best learning mode?In the Apple-inspired world, they can.

Learning vs. Laundry: 12 Ways to Engage the Online Learner The power of online education extends far beyond providing access to non-traditional students -those who are limited by time, location, or expense. It has the power to transform and revitalize the educational experience for the learner.

The Flipped-Then-Re-Flipped Classroom As exciting as flipped classrooms are, the question is always asked, "What about the students who don't have the technology?"

Digitally Illiterate Parents I realized that many of our parents do not have the technology literacy for this type of communication. This made me wonder: What responsibility do we have in educating our families about technology?

Gamification One of the newest buzzwords of education is GAMIFICATION. Put shortly, gamification means using game principles to engage and motivate students. Gamification is NOT putting a student in front of a computer all day, every day.

How Not to Use Technology in the Classroom Technology should be used to engage and enhance, not to distract and ignore.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I'm Not Afraid of Test Scores and You Shouldn't Be Either



I'm a masochist. No, really. I am. I have a sick, uncontrollable yearning to read the comments underneath news articles. You know the ones - the comments on a NASA article blaming Obamacare for Justin Bieber's arrest - the ones where people make grandiose oversimplifications, like "poor people just need to make better choices" and "all doctors are idiots."

Sure, maybe I just have a twisted nature that seeks pleasure out of this sort of misery, but I have a deeper fascination that often leads me into the dark world of reading similar commentary on the failure of teachers. Have you seen these? They run nearly as rampant as the blame on the President.

Apparently, we are all lazy, overpaid, incompetent, and boring. We only teach because we couldn't handle a "real" major. We hate our students, and we want them punished, but at the same time, we are overindulgent and praise their every effort. Children are rude because of us. Teenagers push down the elderly, because teachers made them that way. We teach to the test, and we don't value critical thinking or authentic learning. We should listen to them, because, after all, these commenters are taxpayers, so technically, we work for them.

Interesting perspective.

And, of course, true to form, I also love to read comments about high-stakes testing. In a couple of months, the media will publish the results of our upcoming testing. Join me in my masochism, and you will see what I mean. The headlines will promote some sort of doom-and-gloom ideology, and the blame will flow. Remember, we are all lazy, overpaid, incompetent, and boring.

When we speak out against testing, it is because we are afraid of it. We fear being seen as the terrible teachers we are. According to this paradigm, good teachers would embrace test scores as an opportunity to show off. We would welcome merit-based pay as a token of our brilliant teaching skills, and those with poor test scores would be pushed out of the profession.

I know many believe these statements to be true, but this thinking is misguided.

I am not afraid of my test scores, but at the same time, I welcome them with the same enthusiasm as a patient accepting chemotherapy.

For any naysayers out there, let me be clear. My test scores are high enough that I'm confident I won't have a reporter writing about my failure as a professional...as a teacher...as a person. I don't worry that test scores will "hold me accountable" for the otherwise poor job I'm doing. I am in a unique position as an intervention specialist. Getting kids to pass their test IS my job. It is why my job exists. It is why my job is funded. My students only come to me after they have failed the test. To be good at my job, I must get them to pass the next test that will then disqualify them for the services they desperately need.

The ultimate catch-22.

I am not ashamed of my test scores, but likewise, I am not proud of them. There's nothing wrong with my test scores, and I am very proud of my students who have worked hard to meet their goals. But I'm not proud to be part of a system that cycles students into a pattern of repeated failure.

Do I teach to the test? Yes, of course. It's my job. I try to make it fun and exciting, meaningful and relevant, but ultimately, yes, I teach to the test. If I don't, my students will fail. Again. The effects of failure significantly impact a child's future to the degree that he will be statistically more likely than another student to drop out of high school. One test has that effect. Multiple failures are devastating.

I know each of my students who did not pass, and I carry their futures in my heart. That is what drives me. Not negative comments. Not accountability. Not merit pay.

Years ago I went to a training with some very enticing title, such as "How to Get Every Student in Your Class to Pass the State Math Test." Wow! Pretty cool, right? What brilliant tokens would he offer? What secret miracle did he have? The presenter showed charts and graphs and data, all validating his claim of low-income minority students "beating the odds." His e-books were flying off the proverbial shelves. Teachers and administrators were ecstatic!

This presenter, quite gifted though he was, had discovered how to beat the test. By teaching my students a few charlatan moves, they, too could pass. It wasn't about math knowledge, practice, and skills. It was about tricks, eliminating bad answers, manipulating numbers to find the answer. Passing the test was only smoke and mirrors and was actually quite easy to do.

I left that seminar without my magic beans.

Fascinating, isn't it? So much stress, time, and money is put into something that, in reality, means very little. Could I increase my scores by sharing these magic beans with my students? Probably, but I'll never know. You see, as much as I want them to pass, I am far more concerned about next year, and the many years to come. Teaching them the skills they need to pass the test is essential. Preparing them, so they know what to expect is important. Teaching them to manipulate the test is not.

These tests aren't that difficult to pass. Any teacher could (and some have) learn to beat the test. But, is that what we want?

When we are more concerned about passing a test than building solid educational foundations, we have failed.


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The "S-Word" - Don't Call Kids "Smart"! Over the past decade, I've happened across several articles/people/instances urging adults to stop calling children "smart."  They warn that by labeling them "smart," students will become lazy.

What If We Could Choose Our Schools Like We Do Our Restaurants? What if we stopped trying to find the best, most-researched, proven-effective, one-size-fits-all program for education?

Why Educators Should Listen to Pharrell Recently I heard Pharell summarize my entire educational philosophy in one profound statement. When asked where he went to school, Pharrell replied: The universe is my university.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Learning vs. Laundry: 12 Ways to Engage the Online Learner

The power of online education extends far beyond providing access to non-traditional students -those who are limited by time, location, or expense. It has the power to transform and revitalize the educational experience for the learner.


Online learning is more than providing a new environment for the same learning; it is about educational revolution.

Read my 12 tips below to see how you can create an engaging learning environment for your e-learner.

1. Accept that you have lost your captive audience. In a live setting, the presenter has the benefit of politeness. Even if a learner is not completely engaged, he will typically at least mimic learning. By placing your course online, you are now competing with Facebook, texting, other homework, laundry, cooking, and family. Many online learners are motivated by the perception of multi-tasking, and so they will (often erroneously) believe they can learn while completing other tasks.


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2. Don't be intimidated by losing your captive audience; instead, embrace this opportunity to transform the learning experience. Simply placin an in-person training on a digital platform is not transforming the learning experience. Online learning is about creating an educational environment for each individual learner, so that they can customize their experience and take control of and responsibility for their own learning.

The focus must move from the presenter to the learner.

3. One significant benefit is the dismissal of group effect. The larger the audience, the more the learner will disengage, believing this learning is not designed for them, that this is not relevant. With an online course, however, you can lead the learner to believe you are speaking directly to him.


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4. Speak directly to the learner. Use "you." Ask the learner questions and give him time to respond. Give the learner a task to complete while watching the video. This concept is what has made preschool on t.v. programs so phenomenal. Children believe Mickey is asking them to dance; Dora wants them to count with her.


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5. Online learners are excellent at gaming the system. They know exactly what to click to "get done," without learning. It is possible to get an "A" in many poorly designed online courses simply by clicking the right buttons. If you allow multiple chances on a quiz, the learner will take it once, copy the answers, and take it again. You need to outgame the learner.

6. Short, powerful segments are best. Break your content into small units of information. Check out this graph, examining the percentage of video watched. 80% of 30-second videos are watched, whereas only 50% of 2-3 minute videos are watched.



7. Think: How can I make this interactive? How can I make my learner do something? This doesn't have to be lengthy. Maybe he needs to answer a question embedded into the video. Maybe he needs to journal after each 3-minute video segment. Draw a picture? Take a short quiz. 

8. Think: If this topic were not my passion, how long would I engage? Choose a topic of minimal interest, then look at your online module through that perspective. If you were only mildly interested, would you game this system?

9. Romance your learner's eyes. Design each element of your course, from the larger structure to each individual component, to be visually appealing. Break apart large chunks of text with graphics, images, and videos. Integrate and embed. Link blog posts into your document; embed quizzes into your videos; implant YouTube clips into the blog; provide a natural space for comments from readers, rather than an external link.

10. Let go of the linear. Your learners are smarter than you give them credit for, and they have been engaged in an online world, at least on some level, for several years. You do not have to create one and only one distinct direction for every learner on your site. Allow elements of choice. Design your course to have multiple pathways.

11. Touch your learner's heart. Give them a purpose to learn your material. Engage them in your passion. Tell your story. Make this learning meaningful. 

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 12. Challenge your learner. Ask them to make discoveries in their own world. Tell them to apply their learning in their own environment. Challenge them to use this learning experience for a greater purpose. 


RELATED POSTS


Outgame Your Online Learners My high school years were the beginning of the end of the paper-age. I first searched for a digital image at 15 (Remember Dan's Gallery of the Grotesque, anyone?),

Gamification One of the newest buzzwords of education is GAMIFICATION. Put shortly, gamification means using game principles to engage and motivate students. Gamification is NOT putting a student in front of a computer all day, every day.

How (and Why) to Level Assignments One of the most important practices I keep is "leveling assignments." I do this with nearly every concept I teach.

How Not to Use Technology in the Classroom Technology should be used to engage and enhance, not to distract and ignore.

Schools in The Apple Revolution: The User Experience What if we could design a program that allowed students to choose their best learning mode?In the Apple-inspired world, they can.

Digitally Illiterate Parents I realized that many of our parents do not have the technology literacy for this type of communication. This made me wonder: What responsibility do we have in educating our families about technology?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Schools in The Apple Revolution: The User Experience

Tomorrow's schools will look drastically different from today, and a significant amount of credit is owed to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, but maybe not in the way you think.



Increasingly, classrooms are now equipped with iPads, iPods, and MacBooks. Teachers can individualize lessons, engage students, and flip the classroom with one-to-one devices. These specific devices, in and of themselves, however, will not transform education, but rather it is the concept behind them that will.

Apple's focus on the user experience has created a world where technology is not only accessible for the average non-techy person, but it is also fun, engaging, and mesmerizing. Computers were no longer about the developer, about his desires, his interests. This paradigm shift meant developers now focused entirely on the consumer, on using technology to create an "experience" for the user. Steve Jobs' advice:

  Start with the experience and work backwards to create the technology. 




Translating Jobs' words into school-speak: Start with the experience and work backwards to create the lesson. Online learning is beginning to permeate education. K-12 schools are offered entirely online and Tier 1 universities are conferring reputable degrees in both common and obscure fields. Traditional schools are rapidly increasing the number of minutes that students learn digitally.

It all started with: Where can we take the customer?

The result is that educators now have the opportunity to customize the experience for the learner. Like a video game, learners can choose the world they want to explore. Students can work at their own pace, and when they struggle with a concept, they can easily find support embedded into their curriculum. In today's schools, teachers present lessons in different ways to reach different types of learners. One day students may play multiplication hop-scotch and the next they may listen to multiplication hip-hop. This is good teaching because it reaches different learners, but it also means students spend a significant amount of time in an environment opposite to their learning style.

What if we could design a program that allowed students to choose their best learning mode? Learners could explore different options and decide for themselves their preferred method of learning. In the Apple-inspired education world, they can. A learner can further customize each lesson by choosing from videos, printed resources, and interactive activities. Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences could develop spontaneously, as learners discover their own strengths, weaknesses, and forms of intelligence.

Could we design schools that are as enticing for American children as the iPhone5? 

Could we design schools by starting with the student's experience?


RELATED POSTS

8 Film-Makers for Students: Free, Cheap, and Easy Film-making is such a great way for students to express their understanding and learn from other students. These days there are so many drag-and-drop programs, that even the least techy person can create a professional-looking and imaginative product.

Outgame Your Online Learners My high school years were the beginning of the end of the paper-age. I first searched for a digital image at 15 (Remember Dan's Gallery of the Grotesque, anyone?),

Learning vs. Laundry: 12 Ways to Engage the Online Learner The power of online education extends far beyond providing access to non-traditional students -those who are limited by time, location, or expense. It has the power to transform and revitalize the educational experience for the learner.

Gamification One of the newest buzzwords of education is GAMIFICATION. Put shortly, gamification means using game principles to engage and motivate students. Gamification is NOT putting a student in front of a computer all day, every day.

Grades vs. Experience Points Last week I had the opportunity to discuss gamification with a team of professors at Texas A&M University. As I presented my understanding of this concept, I came to an important realization on the negative impact of grades.

How (and Why) to Level Assignments One of the most important practices I keep is "leveling assignments." I do this with nearly every concept I teach.

The Flipped-Then-Re-Flipped Classroom As exciting as flipped classrooms are, the question is always asked, "What about the students who don't have the technology?"

Student Cell Phones: Beat' Em or Join 'Em? When it comes to cell phones in class, though, the issue extends far beyond "beating 'em vs. joining 'em." I truly believe in the transformative powers of technology.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Education's Unicorn: Parents Who Don't Care

Students, this post is for you...
If you are Hispanic, this is especially for you....



Students, did you know that if you are Hispanic, you are more likely to be in basic remedial classes?
Fewer of you will be in AP and advanced classes.
More of you will drop out of school.
Many of you will not go to four-year colleges.

I know that you know this, because I hear you say....
I'm not going to college. I'm Mexican.
No, I don't know how to do that. I'm Mexican.
All the Mexican kids are in the stupid class.

But, did you know that WE also know this? We know that you don't have the same odds for success as your Black, White, Asian, and other counterparts. We talk about this with our friends. We discuss it at our teacher meetings. We read about it. We write about it. And when we go to grad school, we study it in nearly every class.

But we are lost. We want to help. We want you to have bright futures. We want to fix this, but we don't know how. We search for strategies that might be effective. We label you "diverse learners," in hopes this will help us understand you better. We try things that work and we try things that fail. When we have success, we brag and we share.

Keep an eye on these two girls, because they are going places!

But let me tell you one more thing that you probably don't know. For all of us, and there are many, who are working hard to fix this, there is always someone who passes the blame. No matter the time, place, group, or circumstance, there is always one person who blames the unicorn.

There are people out there who blame your parents. Your parents don't value education, they say. Not just your parents, but an entire population's parents. Hispanics don't care about education, they express woefully, with a pitiful expression on their face. They don't make their kids do homework. They don't come to parent-teacher conferences. They don't return my phone calls. They have enough money to go to Mexico, but they send their kids to school without supplies. We need to understand, you see, that some people aren't meant for college. 

I wonder, where are these unicorns? These enigmatic beings that birth and raise children, wanting them to fail? These parents who don't value education? These folks who don't care about their child's future? I really want to know, because I have yet to meet one.

I have never seen a unicorn, but here is what I have seen:

  • Parents sobbing when their child is failing.
  • Dads sitting in class with their disruptive sons.
  • A mom leaving her children for rehab, so she can make things better.
  • Parents whose experience in school was so traumatic that they are still bitter.
  • Parents who are afraid of being deported.
  • Single moms who work three jobs.
  • Children raising siblings.
  • Moms who are embarrassed by their limited English.
  • Parents sitting with their children in juvenile detention, struggling to understand what went wrong.
  • Grandparents struggling to do better as they unexpectedly raise children again.
  • Parents who attend every meeting, even though they don't understand the language.
  • Moms on welfare, without jobs, because they barely have a middle school education.
  • A dad calling from prison, wanting to know how he can prevent his child from making the same mistake.

Where's the unicorn?

It's time to stop blaming the parents. It isn't true and it isn't helpful. 

Education reform is no place for fairy tales and mythical creatures.


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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Why Educators Should Listen to Pharrell



REASON 1

Recently I heard Pharell summarize my entire educational philosophy in one profound statement. When asked where he went to school, Pharrell replied:

The universe is my university.

I believe we are just entering into a new universe of education that will be so drastically different from its predecessors that we won't even have words to define it. And just as with any group entering into a new world, there will be great triumphs, but there will also be unknowns, challenges, pain, and failure.

In education we talk about foundations and building blocks, pathways, and transitions. Education as we know it is linear, and at its core are a select group of truth holders. Those who possess the knowledge, those who confirm degrees, those who decide which knowledge is relevant. But did you know that the universe has no core? There are an estimated 500 billion galaxies each with their own core, their own center. Educators who cannot accept that they are no longer the center will be pushed to the outer realms, irrelevant and unimportant.

REASON 2

Listen to this message from Pharrell to a boy battling cancer.




The past you can't change, the future you can only contemplate, the present is malleable. That's why it's a gift because you can do whatever you want with it. So my suggestion to you is to take this moment right now and recognize this is the new you. 

We don't know what education will look like 20 years from now and we can't go back, but we can change today. We need to embrace the present, with all its strengths and challenges. We need to find and redefine the new "us."

REASON 3

Pharrell defies stereotypes. Black men have three profiles in our country: the hardened thug, the athlete, and the well-educated hero who defied all odds. This leaves only three options for our young Black males. They can live in their world as a criminal or, with tremendous talent and luck, as an athlete. Or they can go to college and live in the White world, but they can't do both. Pharrell is wildly successful as a rapper, producer, and entrepreneur, but what makes him a phenomenon is that his accomplishments cross racial barriers. He does not embody Black success, or White success. He is just success.



REASON 4

Young Black males need White advocates. Whether we like it or not, White people have privilege, and our voice carries far. White support for Blacks, their families, their culture, and their identity is critical to instituting change and lifting their community out of poverty. Embracing only the Black people who have assimilated into the White world is not accepting diversity.

Who else do you know that is redefining stereotypes?


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Saturday, March 1, 2014

What If We Could Choose Our Schools Like We Do Our Restaurants?


What if we stopped trying to find the best, most-researched, proven-effective, one-size-fits-all program for education?

The other day I was telling my daughter why Denny's always reminds me of my first teaching interview. We had driven six hours for this interview, and I was spending my last dollar. As a young single mom without a traditional teaching certificate, my options were limited. I was hoping that this tiny school on an Indian reservation also had limited options. The night before the interview my two children and I shared a stack of pancakes at the hotel Denny's. If I got this job, I could afford to take my children here once in a while, and I would know I "had made it."

My daughter was saddened by this story and could not believe there was a time in our lives when this was the best I could hope for. 

Years later, I still think about this every time I see a Denny's. Why is that? What is it about restaurants that evoke such emotions in people? When young girls dream of their perfect date, why do they describe the restaurant? Why do vacationers always share the food they ate? Why is Instagram flooded with images of savory and artistic dishes?

I think the answer lies, at least in part, with the element of choice. Not only do we have an array of choices (Mexican, Thai, Chinese, American, Cajun), and all the blends (Americanized Italian, Asian Fusion, Mexican with French flavors), but we can customize once we're there. No pico, hold the mayo, sub a whole wheat bun, can I pay the extra $2 for onion peels instead of fries?

What if we offered our families this level of choice in education? Yes, I know there are Christian schools, and private schools, charter schools, online schools, and homeschools? But what if the public schools offered choices? What if we stopped trying to find the best, most-researched, proven-effective, one-size-fits-all program for education?

Could we offer a variety of schools, and then let the parents choose? I don't mean offering ONE magnet school, or ONE gifted school in a district. I mean, what if each school was as different from each other as a Vietnamese restaurant is from a diner? What if we allowed students to customize their learning, like they do their dinner order?

What would parents do with this level of choice? I wonder if they'd be happier, or if they are so accustomed to educators making all the rules, that they would feel overwhelmed. I am one of those people that hates to decide the restaurant. When forced to, I look at the Yelp reviews, I ask around, I read the menu online. When I'm there, I scrutinize the dishes, I ask the server for advice, and I am never ready to order, even though I always order the chicken. Sometimes I hit and sometimes I miss, but I am always informed.

Texas is beginning down this path, though I doubt it will ever be close to this picture I've created. For the incoming Freshman, they've created endorsement pathways, similar to a college major. Students can choose from Science and Math, Arts and Humanities, Public Service, Business and Industry, and Multidisciplinary, or a combination of the above. They will still have their core classes, their foundation, but these pathways will help guide their choices in classes.

I think this is a great idea and certainly a giant leap forward. It seems many of the parents are excited about it, too, though they are nervous. We have never given them this level of choice before, and it's uncomfortable for them.

Parents, what do you think? Do you prefer choice or would you rather educators make the decisions?


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