Worthwhile Reads

I recommend the following articles from the past month:

Graeme Wood, “The Future of College?The Atlantic (September 2014)

Sara Mosle, “Building Better Teachers,” The Atlantic (September 2014)

Ben Hewitt, “We Don’t Need No Education,” Outside (September 2014)

Brenda Santos, “Embracing the Challenge of the New AP U.S. History Exam,” Perspectives on History: The Newsmagazine of the American Historical Association (September 2014)

Nathan Heller, “Poison Ivy,” New Yorker (September 1, 2014)

Michael Muhammad Knight, “I understand why Westerners are joining jihadi movements like ISIS. I was almost one of them,” Washington Post (September 3, 2014)

Alexis Okeowo, “Freedom Fighter,” New Yorker (September 8, 2014)

Joe Dejka, “New AP history course outline takes flak from the right,” Omaha World-Herald (September 13, 2014)

Nick Paumgarten, “Take Picture,” New Yorker (September 15, 2014)


The Learning Pond, “Template for Faculty Poster Conference via St. Andrew’s, Potomac”
“Poster sessions have been a cornerstone of academic conferences in many disciplines for decades – but not education. And this is strange because it is a perfect forum to share, examine and reflect on the work we do. This event not only professionalizes our pedagogy, but it also encourages an informal, creative space and time for conversations among colleagues to happen. This event is a beacon and a forum. It inspires us to keep rigorously and enthusiastically addressing that fundamental question, ‘what is great teaching?'”

Granted, but…, “On Feedback: 13 practical examples per your requests”
“As readers may know, my article on feedback in the September edition of Educational Leadership has been one of the most widely read and downloaded articles of the year, according to ASCD data. That’s gratifying feedback! . . . But numerous people have also written saying that while they liked the piece, they wished that I had provided more specific examples of how to design in such feedback, how it all works in practice. So: Voila! Below, find thirteen examples of how teachers have made feedback (as opposed to advice and evaluation) more central to their work with students.”

New York Times, “Regrets of an Accomplished Child”
“I was one of the middling sort, endowed with a reasonable amount of natural ability. But, I figured, if all went according to my carefully hatched plan, I could graduate with all my “to do” boxes neatly checked off, my teachers impressed if not wowed, and the ultimate achievement: an acceptance letter from the Ivy League college of my choice. It all went as planned. I didn’t learn much of anything.”

The Historical Society, “San Francisco, the 1906 Earthquake, the Progressive Era”
“San Francisco has become for me the quintessential Progressive Era city for another reason, too. In 1905, a photographer attached a camera to a trolley car traveling along Market Street. The result was a nine-minute recording of urban life before the reforms of the Progressive Era. There are no stop signs, no traffic lights. Children are playing in the streets and running in front of the cars. People are walking, horses are pulling carts, and automobiles are in a free-for-all on undivided roads. It makes you realize how many of the world we take for granted today was, in fact, a product of the efforts of reformers to draw up some rules to make the modern world safer.”

The New York Times, “A School Distanced from Technology Faces Its Intrusion”
“Past the chicken coop and up a hill, in a spot on campus where the wooden buildings of the Mountain School can seem farther away than the mountains of western New Hampshire, there sometimes can be found a single bar, sometimes two, of cellphone reception. The spot, between the potato patch and a llama named Nigel, is something of an open secret at the school in this remote corner of Vermont where simplicity is valued over technology. ‘We’re at the periphery of civilization here,’ said Doug Austin, a teacher. But that is about to change.”

Blogg-ed Indetermination, “Left to Their Own Devices”
“But schools are foremost places of learning and teaching and the role of IT is to facilitate rather than to encumber these ends. Given the role that technology plays in the lives of teachers and students it therefore makes sense that IT departments provide a safe haven in which its users to become self-sufficient, confident managers of digital devices. Yes, some users may screw up their computers. Some may inadvertently download a computer virus. And I can practically guarantee that many users will store personal data on their computers. But I also know that if you treat people with respect and given them responsibility that the vast majority will demonstrate that they deserve your trust.”

Education Rethink, “Post-Election Thought”
“What if the other side isn’t heartless or lazy or even misinformed? What if they simply see the world differently and cannot fathom the notion that you have the same end in mind: a healthy, strong, free, safe nation? This isn’t a call to put aside our differences. If anything, I think it might be a time to clarify the big questions about the role of government in our lives and what that means in both social and economic terms. Howeevr, this is a call to recognize that the differences in worldview do not mean the other side is inherently evil.”

it’s about learning, “Gijs van Wulfen’s map for innovation”

The History Channel This Is Not…, “Historical Haikus – Final Exam Edition”
“So, I just finished administering my Fall Trimester final exams and am now in the midst of grinding through the grading in order to maximize my holiday merriment. However, I stole an extra credit idea from one of my colleagues who had offered a few additional points on the exam for writing pertinent historical haikus. This idea turned out great, as a number of students wrote very entertaining and some pretty insightful haikus. I’ve posted a number of them below, and for the sake of haiku fidelity, I omitted any that veered from the syllable pattern in spite of the fact that some of those were really good. . . .

Sparta and Athens,
Fighting over their power,
Caused damage to both.

Away with the knights
And down with Feudalism
Renaissance begins.”

The Historical Society, “Christmas Creep and Other Joyous Holiday Traditions”
“Remember the time when Christmas was simple and less commercial, when you could step out of your door into a Currier and Ives print.  No?  How about a $29 Thomas Kinkade ‘Memories of Christmas’ print?  Precisely.  One of the greatest of all holiday traditions is recalling a holiday seasonhistorian Stephen Nissenbaum reminds us in his superb book, The Battle For Christmas—that never existed at all.”

John Fea’s Virtual Office Hours

it’s about learning, “Brain Food: Education @Unboundary”
“We also enter this challenge offering Brain Food: a proven approach for shifting the din of idea-sharing into a useful design-thinking discussion. Brain Food is curated provocation. It is both question and answer. It is both perspective and focus. We welcome you to Volume One, Number One of Unboundary’s Education Brain Food. And we look forward to the discussion it opens among us.”

Seth’s Blog, “Non-profits have a charter to be innovators”
“The biggest, best-funded non profits have an obligation to be leaders in innovation, but sometimes they hesitate. . . . The magic of their status is that no one is expecting a check back, or a quarterly dividend. They’re expecting a new, insightful method that will solve the problem once and for all. Go fail. And then fail again. Non-profit failure is too rare, which means that non-profit innovation is too rare as well. Innovators understand that their job is to fail, repeatedly, until they don’t.”

October has been a blur (as October usually is). I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping up with my own reading, but I just couldn’t find the time mid-month (or even end-of-month) to distill it into a list of articles and posts worth sharing. Here it is, all at once and a few days late. My first goals reflection of the year is also forthcoming.

New York Times, “Scientific Inquiry Among the Preschool Set”
“When engaged in what looks like child’s play, preschoolers are actually behaving like scientists, according to a new report in the journal Science: forming hypotheses, running experiments, calculating probabilities and deciphering causal relationships about the world. . . . ‘There’s a lot of pressure from parents and policy makers to make preschools more and more like schools. This research suggests the opposite.'”

To Keep Things Whole, “Heed the Dodo”
“Until recently, schools and teachers maintained power and control primarily because they were the means of access. Naturally, schools grew in forms that established this sense of control in both overt and more subtle ways. Departmentalization, classroom design, curricular organization, age groupings, standardization, rigid assessment criteria, library collections—each is hierarchical and prescriptive. . . . Now, however, the hierarchies are tumbling, the prescriptions being shredded. . . .  In this emerging world, schools still can have an absolutely vital role. But will they?”

A Blog About School, “What does this blog want?”
“I’ve posted about a lot of topics here — authoritarian education, behavioral rewards, standardized testing, school lunch periods, and many more — but if you asked me to identify the central fact about K-12 education, I’d say this: Kids don’t get to vote. And when you don’t get to vote, you get screwed. I’m not saying that six-year-olds should get to vote; kids are disenfranchised as much by their circumstances as by any law. But disenfranchised they are. And the history of enfranchised groups acting “in the best interests” of disenfranchised groups is a particularly sorry one. Think of the history of African-Americans, of women, of mental patients, or of prisoners. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that people cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of disenfranchised groups.”

Education Rethink, “Technology Will Not Fix Education”

New York Times, “Chinese Parents Sue Consultant After Sons Are Rejected by Harvard”

Gerald and Lily Chow, who lived in Hong Kong, were so eager to get their two sons into an Ivy League school that they invested heavily in a plan from Mark Zimny, an educational consultant, who aimed to get the boys into Harvard . . . Two years and $2.2 million later, the Chows’ investment in Mr. Zimny’s consultancy, IvyAdmit, failed. (The sons did wind up at top universities, The Globe’s Mary Carmichael writes, but neither of them went to Harvard.) Now the Chows are suing to get their money back, claiming that Mr. Zimny lied to them and committed fraud and breach of contract.”

PHD Comic, “notFinal.doc”

The Learning Pond, “Believe in Dewey? School of the Future Today at Meridian Academy, Boston”
“21C skills are not embedded in their classes; 21C skills are their classes. They iterate the heck out of their work. All of their assessment is based on preparing projects and presenting them to an internal and external audience sevral times a year, and since they are presenting their own work, they want it to be good.  Both the teachers and students told me that it is nothing for a student to want to rewrite a paper or poem 8-10 times before being satisfied they have done their best.”

New York Times, “Penn State Students Explore Sandusky Abuse Scandal”
“Groggy and a bit cranky at 9 in the morning, some slouched in chairs near the back. A few gossiped. Some doodled. Others brought coffee and browsed Facebook. But everyone expected the professor, a thin man with glasses and peppered gray hair, to go easy. Summer lingered. Above the murmuring, the professor, Jonathan Marks, asked, ‘Should Joe Paterno’s statue have been taken down or left up?’ Chaos ensued. Nearly every hand shot up. ‘It felt like a bomb had exploded in the middle of the room,’ said Nick Kmetz, a student in the class.”

Granted, but…, “A Roman aqueduct and the teaching of history”
“So, I found myself thinking all day as we walked the bridge about human thirst and human waste. And a bridge that had once seemed just pretty became quite intriguing: how did all this Roman technical knowledge get acquired – then, lost for more than a thousand years when thirst and waste are so universal and pressing? How historically have societies addressed the need for potable water and sanitation? From a bridge and thoughts of toilets, to an Essential Question or two.”

Not Your Father’s School, “Let the Dialogue Begin: Another Take on Our Public Purpose”
“This might be just a modest and slightly romantic proposal, or perhaps it’s an idea whose time has come; since our pathways began to diverge widely right around the start of the No Child Left Behind–standardized testing era, the things [independent schools] have been free to do have been in some contrast with the constraints under which that public schools have been living. We have been free to experiment and try things out that even charter schools—subject to testing mandates—have not been able to attempt, and some of the work our more forward-thinking schools are doing is pretty exciting. . . . I don’t think that we have all the answers or that our schools are ‘better’ than others, but I do think we have both an opportunity and an obligation to express our public purpose by inserting ourselves more energetically into the national conversation about effective education—for all kids.”

The Historical Society, “The Battle of Antietam and War Photography”
“Photographer Alexander Gardner, working for the great photographer Matthew Brady, brought his camera to Antietam two days after the guns fell silent. . . . The import of Gardner’s images from Antietam stretched far beyond the fall of 1862. Never again could war be distant, so long as photographers could be there to record what they saw. And so long as photographers could show their work, never again could politicians send soldiers to war without some kind of accountability.”

Education Rethink, “An Unexpected Ovation”
“I watch, almost from a distance, then involuntarily I cry. It’s been years since a class has seen me cry. I say that it’s ‘enjoyment’ that gets me here everyday, but it’s more than that. It’s this. It’s love. It’s grace, not as a religious concept, but as something spiritual, powerful, profound.”

The Learning Pond, “The Tao of Innovation in Education?”
“Education used to be a slow, deliberate, almost cautious business, long study and talks between cloistered dons and young men with time.  Since the dawn of the Progressive Era the pace of education has constantly increased. . . . On the other hand, we know  that the deepest understanding, moments of greatest clarity, epiphanies, the stuff that sticks with us and makes all the other stuff make sense, in other words the wisdom in our lives, comes not when we are racing down the 6-lane highway, but when we get off on the blue road, the trail, the quiet spots, the meditation space. . . . What I think Alan was saying (and if not, it is what I realized about an hour east of Kansas City on the two-lane section of Highway 50) is that leaning left and right of a central tipping point won’t achieve this balance. The calm centers of tradition, reflection, slowing down, and understanding our center in the moment have to exist at the exact same time as we rapidly ideate, pilot, and innovate.  This is the new Tao of education.”

for the love of learning, “The end of testsandgrades”
“Because the origins of public education and testsandgrades are mired in goals that have less to do with citizenship and critical thinking and more to do with compliance and labour, it is important that we engage those who have never been invited to reconsider their unexamined assumptions about school. The truth is that many people are reassured by signs of formal-traditional school and are disturbed by their absence, and what’s worse is that these same people are often offended when they are invited to rethink their preconceptions for what school should look and feel like.”

Living the Dream, “Kids, Voting and the Classroom”
“As educators, we are in a spectacular place to help bring awareness to students and empower them in this process of participating in the democratic process.  To waste this opportunity means that we do not value an active and informed citizenry.  Let’s move this goal up, in the long list of priorities we have for the classroom.  It matters.”

To Keep Things Whole, “Aiming at Goal”
“This past Saturday I was watching an English soccer match between Everton and Swansea. Everton was dominating the match, but the score remained nil-nil. One announcer brought up what has become a popular statistic the past few years by mentioning what a large percentage of possession Everton had. The other announcer, a former player, argued, ‘That’s technology driving that stat, that is. And it doesn’t matter. Only stat that matters is goals.’ While I am not that old school, his comments started me thinking.”

it’s about learning, “Making reality a school. #IDreamASchool”
“Typically, schools sub-divide into departments called “Math,” “Science,” “History,” “English,” etc. Curriculum tends to be categorized by these departments and divisions – by subject-area or topic. Often times, silos develop…sometimes intentionally, but more understandably in unintentional ways. But what if we re-imagined curriculum to be more about the issues and challenges that we face? What if we had departments like…

  • the Department of Energy
  • the Department of Justice and Equity
  • the Department of Education
  • the Department of Health and Human Services
  • the Department of Environmental Sustainability . . .

Imagine a Department of Energy in school. Student learners could explore and work in the fields of energy research and investigation, and they could employ mathematics and statistics as lenses through which to understand energy – math in context. They could hypothesize and experiment as genuine scientists working to discover the emerging, integrated sectors of biofuels, solar energies, and other non-fossil-dependent sources – science in context. They could research through lenses of historian, anthropologist, and sociologist, and they could write persuasive and expository pieces – humanities in context. They could examine the economics and psychology of energy consumption – interdisciplinary human studies in context. Design and visual prototyping could play an integrated role – industrial arts in context.”

Education Rethink, “I Don’t Believe in Research”
“Over the years, people have accused me of not ‘believing in’ research. And they’re right. I don’t believe in research. I either accept it or deny it. Research shouldn’t be about beliefs, but way too often it is.”

New York Times, “The College Rankings Racket”
“The rankings exacerbate the status anxiety that afflicts so many high school students. The single-minded goal of too many high school students — pushed by parents, guidance counselors and society itself — is to get into a ‘good’ school. Those who don’t land a prestigious admission feel like failures. Those who do but lack the means often wind up taking on onerous debt — a burden that can last a lifetime. And U.S. News has largely become the measure by which a good school is defined. ‘U.S. News didn’t invent the social dynamic,’ says Carey. ‘What it did was very accurately empiricize them.'”

21k12, “Measure Creativity and Ethical Judgement Now! Robert Sternberg on Assessment”
“But if we could add a second element [to our current battery of assessments], in addition to creativity, let’s add ethical judgement. Sternberg said several times that the lack of ethical judgement, and wisdom more generally, is deeply hurting society. He was quick to point out that this addition will not improve GPA predictability, but then said it will, in a more abstract way, be predictive of successful life. He says that when businesses and business leaders fail or go awry, or politicians, scientists, and so many others, it is rarely due to low IQ– it is due to poor judgement and a lack of ethics.”

Note: My hope is that this will become a semi-monthly “department” of sorts here–a regular sharing of articles and blog posts that captured my attention and caused me to think about my teaching or about education in general.

AHA Today, “History Tuning Update: ‘History Discipline Core’ Now Available”
“The American Historical Association’s Tuning Project has released the “History Discipline Core,” the result of a collaborative effort by participants to “describe the skills, knowledge and habits of mind that students develop in history courses and degrees.” … The Discipline Core articulates a vision of what history is, what history students can do (a.k.a. core competencies), and how history students can demonstrate historical skills and perspectives (a.k.a. learning outcomes).”

Critical Explorers, “Reimagining a ‘Flipped’ Classroom”
“Yet for all the hype, the Khan Academy actually turns very little on its head. It continues to rely on the model of lecture/demonstration followed by practice/mastery. The locations of the two stages might be “flipped,” yet the very presence of those stages perpetuates what Paulo Freire called the banking concept of education, in which a teacher deposits information and skills into a learner’s brain and later retrieves them via a test of some sort. There is, however, an educational model that really does turn convention on its head. It does this not by having teachers and learners play their conventional roles in different locations or through different media, but by encouraging them to play different roles altogether.”

The Learning Pond, “Day 2: World As Teacher”
“It is a day like this that makes me want to smash every digital device in school and home and scream “it is all right here!” But that is rash and intemperate: each tool has its place. But I tell you what: if I had seen a family van driving alongside me today with kids glued to a Disney flick on the in-car DVD player, it would have been a knife to my heart and soul. Give me students and time to walk down just five miles of these hills, plunging down through the history of the earth, ask why that plant grows there and how water and soil and bungs and air all create high summer in one range and not in another.”

Education Rethink, “Getting Past the Lone Ranger Mythology”
“My students want to believe that history is a series of saviors . . . bolding taking on structures and systems alone. . . . History doesn’t work like this. . . . History becomes powerful, authentic, and approachable when we realize the hidden narrative that large, organized groups can produce amazing social change when they act both collectively and individually.”

it’s about learning, “PROCESS POST: Pushing my thinking evolution about master planning in education and schools”
“We spend enormous time, energy, and resources on physical-space planning, yet we don’t really do such with the core of what really exists at the center of learning in schools. . . . I wonder what would happen on a school campus if a small group of builders just squatted on a section of property and began building. What if this “rogue” group sawed, hammered, and nailed their creation without much coordination with the campus master plan. Not from spite or rebellion. Just from lack of clarity and collective connectedness. Such happens every day in the pedagogical and instructional system of a school. Lots of independent contractors not having the level of master plans to which they have contributed and from which they can coordinate.”