Thursday, March 03, 2011

Florida Schools Need EETT!

EETT (Enhancing Education Through Technology) is a program that began under No Child Left Behind and provides grants to states directly funding educational technology.  Its funding was initially supposed to be $1 billion per year, although it has never actually been funded at more than $700 million per year. It’s been cut steadily since 2002 and has not been reauthorized for next year.  This year, its funding is down $100 million, but now even that is endangered.  EETT is axed completely under the U.S. House’s continuing resolution for the remainder of the fiscal year.  

In Florida, EETT has been used for everything from laptop programs to digital literacy and content creation initiatives (the type of thing 21st century students need more, not less, of). The funds have been disbursed to districts through a combination of entitlement grants (using the Title 1 formula) and competitive grants.

Under Governor Rick Scott’s budget, overall education cuts will be around $3.3 billion. Hardware, software, professional development-- all of these require funding which, as Florida educators, students, and parents are aware, is in increasingly short supply for school districts. EETT has been vital in funding ed tech projects in Florida, and those funds are highly unlikely to be replaced by the state if EETT goes away.  

Florida schools need to stay relevant and competitive, and we need EETT to do that. E-mail, tweet, or call your representatives and senators. (An easy way to e-mail your reps:  visit the Ed Tech Action Network's home page and type your zip code in the upper right corner. Read over and personalize the letter, add your contact information, and send.)   

Monday, February 21, 2011

Defining Curriculum

I am in my last week of the Curriculum course of my graduate certificate program at Johns Hopkins.  I have taken probably four or five college courses with "curriculum" somewhere in the title, but this course has made me look at the curriculum development process with a more holistic-- and critical-- viewpoint.  

Previously, the working definition of curriculum that I have used, at least during formal curriculum development projects, was the set of content and skills (usually a list of standards and objectives) that students should master as part of their education. When I look at many curriculum documents, that seems to be the definition of curriculum that underpins them, even if the developers never explicitly stated or even realized it.  

That list of standards/objectives, however, is only a part of curriculum. What exactly does a quality education look like?  Is our goal to prepare students for college?  To provide a steady, reliable labor source for the economy?  To ensure that our country is peopled with responsible citizens?  The answer(s) will fundamentally shape the curriculum development process.

What attitudes and characteristics do we want our students to develop?  We need to think about not just what we want our students to be able to do, but what we want them to be like as learners and members of a community. In Developing a Quality Curriculum, Glatthorn refers to this as "the organic curriculum,"  which is nurtured rather than directly taught, but which certainly requires careful consideration when planning curriculum. 

Does our curriculum demonstrate an "everything but the kitchen sink" mindset, or are depth and quality emphasized?  What are the gaps between what is written, taught, and tested-- and what do those gaps say to our students about what we really value?  For example, when teachers ignore any standard that isn't on the high stakes test, it is obvious to our students that what counts is the test score. 

If we skip the tough questions and jump straight into lists of objectives and lesson ideas, we short-change the process, and our students.   Putting in the time and effort to address them may be difficult, but doing so provides a stronger foundation upon which to build our curriculum 


Monday, February 14, 2011

LIteracy Redefined

In his essay on socio-technology trends in learning, Stephen Wilmarth describes how once upon a time, development of a symbolic alphabet moved us from “orality” to “literacy.”  Movable type and the printing press later redefined literacy.  The Internet has redefined literacy again, and in fact with the speed of new developments (Web 2.0, the cloud, mobile computing) we have very likely entered an era of constantly shifting and evolving literacy. 

Teachers and administrators   have to get past the chatter on whether this is “good” or “bad” and recognize it as reality. 

What educational themes emerge in this new reality?

1)   Students as content creators – Rather than passively consume information, students need to transform and interact with it.  (This, of course, has always been true!)
2)   Collaboration and “collective intelligence” – Students need to interact with each other and make positive contributions to each others’ learning
3)   Social media as identity creation – Trying on different personas has never been as easy as it is now.   The personas we create online help to define the relationships we have with others. Students need guidance in navigating the risks and benefits of this process.

Wilmarth concludes that education is moving “from cathedrals to bazaars.”  The longer administrators try to keep their schools ivory towers, the more irrelevant those schools will become.  Instead, we need to embrace the “messy, non-linear, highly organic process of learning—at least the kind of learning that seems to be at the core of what it takes to be a successful citizen of the 21st century.”

Wilmarth, Stephen. (2010.) Five Socio-Technology Trends that Change Everything in Teaching and Learning. In Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Back to Basics: Why are we here in the first place?

We must remember that intelligence is not enough.  Intelligence plus character -- that is the goal of true education.  The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The author Daniel Pink tells a story about a woman who told John F. Kennedy, “A great man is a sentence.”  Pink asks readers to consider this idea:  “What’s your sentence?” What is it that you want people to remember about you?  When creating my sentence, I considered the above statements by Dr. King about the two-fold nature of a complete education.  My sentence is:  “She guided students toward making their way in the world, and toward making it a better place.”

The first part of my sentence concerns knowledge that makes life possible.  Our students need to know how to communicate with one another.  They need to know about reading, writing, mathematics, science, along with the body of knowledge belonging to the careers they pursue.  They must be familiar with the backgrounds of their culture and of other cultures.  They need to understand how to effectively participate in civic life.  More than this, they must be skilled at the science of thought: how to learn, unlearn, and relearn long after their formal schooling ends.

The second part of my sentence leads me to ask, “Are my students willing and able to change the world for the better?”  This question connects to knowledge that makes life worth living.  Art, music, and appreciation of nature are examples, along with the principles of how to value differences in other people and how to make the best of each situation.  Students need to be encouraged to find their passions, develop their strengths, and share their gifts with the world.  They need to learn to see through the eyes of others and to have the courage to act when change is needed.  This is the type of knowledge that runs deep, that forms the foundation of who a person is.  It is often ignored or overlooked, because it is not easy to measure or to express with a few statistics.  However, a society neglects this type of education at its own peril, as we have seen over and over when intelligent, educated people have ruined the lives of many through unethical actions. 

Are students prepared to make their way in the world?  Are they willing and able to make it a better place by their presence in it?  These are the larger questions that define our responsibility as educators, and they are the questions I return to when making choices about curriculum, methods, and everyday interactions with my students.