How is a kitchen remodel like distance education?

I have to admit that when I came up with this topic that I was thinking it was an interesting title but that it should not take too long to make the connection.  I then said to myself this needs to be about my most recent kitchen remodel and that the readers need to understand that I just remodeled a kitchen at a rental property that was at a distance (some 140 miles away to be exact).  Now, of course, everyone would get it.

Not Quite!

Then I thought explain to them how you remodeled the kitchen without stepping one foot on the property until last Saturday to review the completed work.  Yes, right now they would understand.  Well, OK, I need to explain a little more.

So, during the most recent kitchen remodel, I knew I had one big problem.  Time and Distance.  The costs are real so I started using the Internet for resources.  First stop was Angie’s list where I found a great kitchen remodeling company with good reviews.  I contacted them and asked them to give me a quote.  I compared the quote to other companies, and I decided it was reasonable based upon comparisons over the internet.

Next I had to coordinate and settle upon a contract with the vendor.  The details were discussed, a contract was sent via text, signing occurred, and a four to five week wait was needed while the factory took the measurements and created the counter tops.

Also during that initial contract time I needed to visit Home Depot (one mile away) to pick out the Formica brand counter top number and style as well as sink, faucet and drawer options.  All information was communicated via text images and writings via a smart phone.

Obviously payment plans were easy over the phone and I set up a before, during, and after completed installments.  It was even nice to use the Bank of America 3% back on all purchases credit card.

I then reached out to my tenant to coordinate a convenient time for final measuring and future installation.  The installers waited for the counter tops to be built at the counter top factory then on two quick days (that were clearly communicated to all) it was installed.  During the installation process, I received timely photo updates from my tenant and communicated constantly with both the company and tenant via cell phone and email.

Then just this last Saturday I visited to see a wonderful kitchen remodel that has improved the value of this distant property.

Oh yes, so how is this like distance education?

To me, this series of events is similar to design of a distance education project.  I knew my subject matter ( a kitchen in a house that I have lived in previously for many years ).  I researched a company on a service that provided checks and balances, coordinated a clear project design document, and established a payment plan of checks and balances.  I communicated via email, text messaging, and phone calls with the project manager and the tenant at various phases during the project.  I was involved with the project, but I let experts do their job and gave ownership to key constituents.  I was at a distance so I never met or communicated with the installer but there were checks and balances in place to make sure it was done well (payments, project company, tenant).  Finally, I checked in, and  I followed through on the project.  And Yes, I recorded on iPad video the final project for documentation.

The kitchen is great, and so are distance education projects.  Project based learning really is the way to go to prepare students for a complex world that could easily give them a project that needs to be completed remotely.  Checking in with your students at various stages is extremely key in distance education as it promotes regular and effective contact, insures that students are following the rubric, helps you teach at a distance, and models what distance education is about for your students.   Always create checks and balances in your projects while leaving room for student creativity, engagement, research, and problem solving.

Thanks for listening to my crazy comparisons and as always I appreciate your positive feedback.  I am glad this did not end up the The Goldbergs kitchen remodel!

Student Elections

Thomas Paine; a painting by Auguste Millière (...

Thomas Paine; a painting by Auguste Millière (1880), after an engraving by William Sharp after a portrait by George Romney (1792) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have worked in education for nearly 25 years, and during that time I have worked at several schools across the country.  These schools are located in different states such as Texas, Tennessee, Washington DC, Maryland, New Mexico, and California.  I have also attended schools in West Virginia, North Carolina, and California.  Even though these regions of the country tend to differ in political and educational policies, I have noticed one thing in common with these schools and educational policies when it comes to school elections for students, and I wanted to share a list of rules that most schools use in order to elect their student candidates.  Yes, I think there is something we can learn.

  1. Student candidates are given the same amount time to speak about what they would do to make the school a better place and community.
  2. Student candidates are not allowed to criticize other candidates or name call anyone in the administration, teaching staff, or student body.
  3. All religions, socioeconomic statuses, family styles, and gender identifications will be respected.
  4. Written advertisements are allowed in a certain style and must be posted in only certain areas.  There is a set limit that cannot be exceeded for advertising.  There is a clear limit on advertising that can not be exceeded.
  5. Favors of any kind are not allowed to be granted.  This includes personal favors and any act of giving that appears to be a gift to voters.
  6. The student voters are encouraged to discriminate between the candidates, but the candidates themselves are not allowed to express that opinion and/or difference.  Student voters are allowed to make up their mind for themselves.  They are respected as thinkers.
  7. There is a clear spending limit.  Excessive spending will not be tolerated and the principal will have to step in.  It is a reasonable limit that all candidates can attain at that school. Supplies are given to candidates for advertising.
  8. Student candidates are not allowed to campaign outside of school.
  9. False statements will be investigated by the administration and the teaching staff to clarify for the student body should there be a misunderstanding or teaching moment.

These are simply common sense approaches to elections in schools as per school communities coming together to solve problems with school elections.  We do this out of the love for our children; however, I think out of the love for our country that we could apply some of these rules.  I think that our democracy needs a firmer set of rules to insure a democracy exists for future generations and that the process intelligently elects a future leader.  What I am hearing today in our elections is scary to me, and I believe a press that is afraid to ask everyone one the same types of questions is an irresponsible press, and I also believe that when candidates resort to a senseless approach of name calling and exaggeration of policy that the American public is being manipulated.  And as for advertising, I don’t even know where to begin to discuss the inequity that exists in that “paid for by candidate and friends” time.

I believe that the United States of America is better than this, and I am still searching for common sense in our general elections.  I wonder what Thomas Paine would have written if he were still around.

Creating Unique Project Assignments, Written Prompts, and Long Answer Test Questions

Although I wrote my last thought about creating unique tests per student and discussed how to harness the computer for automatic grading purposes, I firmly believe that those types of assessments are only valuable as formative learning moments when students need to understand basic facts prior to creating higher level thinking assignments or prior to moving to the next level of understanding.  The real observation of a student’s growth is in the project, written response, presentation, and long answer question, and this is why it is so vital to make unique prompts to promote individual responses and not easily copied responses.

Students are going to use the Internet, your textbook, its resources and links, friends, and the library’s resources to search for ideas when they are writing responses so your prompts need to be unique, clear, and scaffold.  For example, I know of a history teacher that writes prompts that put the learner in a time period and place, and he requires the learner to write from the perspective of a normal person during that time period.  I also know of a communications instructor who actually makes students go out into the public with their project and communicate to live audiences.  Both of these projects include clear rubrics to help the learner reach the desired goals of the instructor.

As for math and sciences, I have seen teachers ask students to teach a math problem, and I have watched very interesting descriptions of “my life as a cell”.  Once again projects are written that force unique perspectives from the student with clearly written rubric guidelines for the desired outcomes.  These projects, hence, are difficult to copy.

Many instructors who are new to this type of project creation are concerned about grading.  This is why you must create a rubric for the desired outcome and tailor the project clearly with scaffolding.  Once you create the first one, you will see how easy it is to change the rubric slightly and the project scaffolding slightly from term to term to continue to get unique project submissions.  In conclusion, these projects not only force unique responses, they require a generation to think, to express, to present, to support with fact, and to discern the material.  Isn’t that what we need in today’s world?


Online Testing – Generating Unique Tests per Student

Most online learning management systems have quiz creation tools with unique settings on them to insure unique test generations per student; consequently, online teachers can deliver unique instances of their tests or quizzes to their students so that cheating possibilities are limited.  These capabilities are allowing instructors to rethink the test taking time in more traditional settings also and many teachers in hybrid and on campus courses are beginning to set up quizzes and tests for remote test taking too.  If you are planning upon implementing this strategy in your course, make sure that you implement some of the most common settings of your quiz tool in your course management system.

One important feature setting is simply time.  Setting the timer for a student who takes your test is important.  By limiting the time a student may be involved with your test, you are forcing the student to be well prepared with the knowledge prior to taking your test.  Do not be lenient with this time as you can make exceptions for individual needs by allowing special access for an individual or letting another individual retake the test if needed.

Additionally most learning management systems allow you to randomize quiz question answers and quiz question order.  Because these systems just need you to specify a correct answer, you can manipulate the test engine to produce a random order of questions and a random order of question answers per question of an individualized student test.  For example, student A could have question 1 with answer B as correct, but student B would have that same question appear as question 9 with answer C as correct.  The power of computing gets harnessed when these settings are applied, and students will have to concentrate upon their own test and own test answers instead of their friend’s test.

Furthermore most course management system quiz tools are allowing you to take a set of questions from a pool of questions.  Which means that you are able to create unique sets of questions based upon many questions of the same value.  Many teachers are combining textbook questions with their own personalized questions and they are finding that they have too many questions for a test.  Consequently, if valued properly a teacher could have the computer select a set of questions from that pool of questions.  For example, two students could receive different questions or some partially different questions on a test instance that selects ten questions from a pool of twenty questions.

With all of the above solutions applied, you can begin to see how a test could be unique per student.  A student could have a unique set of questions in a unique order with unique answer orders that have to be completed in a limited amount of time.  Thus eliminating reasons for students to even try to collaborate on your exam because there are too many factors that would create false or antiproductive cheating scenarios.  For further information or more detailed examples please feel free to email me directly upon this topic.  I like the way computer science can be applied to test questions, tests, and test settings to create a unique environment that gets graded automatically.

Next time, I will discuss creating unique projects for your students to lower the chances of cheating.  It is all in the language that you use, the expectations that you created, and the objectives of the assignment.

LGTV 32LD550

This past week my LG TV just froze at the startup screen.  After doing a little research with LG, youtube, and other frustrated customers, I found that the motherboard/circuit board needed repair.  There were various repair shops that wanted my business, but the cost of fixing, the fear of being taken advantage of, and the doubt of extended life were high in my mind.  Consequently, I tried a few things on my own.

The first which seemed logical was to open up the TV and investigate the circuitry.  Now if you have never worked with hardware before then I would not recommend opening up a TV, but because I had some basic experience building a computer and teaching students how to build computers I figured I could at least open it up and look at it.  To my surprise and delight I found that the TV circuit board was in great shape with no signs of burnout.  Consequently, I decided to disconnect all the wires, push a little button that looked like a reset button, and then reconnect the TV.  Upon turning it on again, I realized that did not work.  Sad, angry, and confused, I pushed on.

I kept searching on the web for an answer.  Finally I found what I was looking for at ( ).  Zedic recommended that baking a board would resolder bad connections.  I thought it was crazy until I read all the responses and researched how other computer hardware gurus had done the same thing with their older motherboards.  It began to make sense as the connections could have cracked or had air pockets.  So as a last resort I reopened the TV, carefully removed the circuit board, wrapped it in tin foil (as not to destroy our oven), baked it following the directions at Zedic, let it cool, inserted it, and then to my surprise everything worked.  I mean it really worked.  I danced, created a rap song, and was able to use my tv again.

Now I don’t know how long it will last, but at least I did not pay an absurd fee to get it repaired and I am extending the value of my original TV which should last longer than four years.  So why am I writing about this on this website called Absolutely Learning?  Well this is exactly the type of learning that needs to happen in our schools.  We need to create problem solving opportunities.  While I am not a fan of LG TV right now for its product, I do think there is something that can be learned in this.  No this is not a good business model, but yes this is a good learning scenario for life.  Absolutely Learning lives on once again.


Students are living in a world where imagination to product is quite a reality.  They are able to think of a script idea and turn it into a movie within days, they can write music, produce it, and publish it in hours, and they can write an article that gets referenced on nightly news in minutes.  The awesome affect of idea to reality is quick.  But is being the first mean being the best?

Obviously not!  Teachers need to teach design, evaluation, collaboration, and redo in their courses.  Students need to learn to evaluate their work, sources, affect on others, and overall quality in their deliverables.  Students need to see what they are creating and ask advice from potential viewers and/or share their music in testing phases to see what their potential audience might like to hear.  Students need to learn to self evaluate, slow down a little, and test their potential markets.  Students need to see what others really want.

While I am not advocating that students stop creating, developing, and producing, I am advocating design, evaluation, testing, and redesign.  There is much potential in a generation that creates great work quickly, but there can also be potential damage to others, history, facts, intentions, relationships, and potential coexistence.  Yes, we need maker spaces, but we also need logical evaluation and design.

Thank You, I am older and wrote this article quickly based upon experiences, past classes, and gained knowledge.  If you don’t approve of these writings then why are you still reading?

July 2nd – John Adams – What a brilliant failure?

With great enthusiasm for the event and an accurate understanding for the significance of the event, John Adams wrote that the July 2, 1776 approval for independence would be celebrated for years to come.  Off by two simple days, many might call this a failure.  However, I tend to view this proclamation to his wife as a clear understanding of the times and a brilliant prediction.  I also think he continued on as a great reminder of what America would become.  I think he was successful.

So then why do we continue in education to look for the discrete facts and tiny moments to evaluate success?  Why are we so involved with demonstrable test taking and fact memorization?  Is that what the future world needs from its workforce?  Is that where innovation begins?  Is this what the world is going to remember?  Do your most successful leaders have 4.0 or higher?

I think we need to find ways to incorporate project based learning into the classroom.  I think we need to lessen the rigorous approach to test taking.  I think we need to design projects that increase skills that are defined by the workforce.  Finding the right answer, reaching a consensus on the right answer,  debating an approach, presenting the circumstances around that answer, and evaluating your success in communicating the answer are much better predictors of success.

So to my ISTE 2015 friends, I am sorry that I went to Philadelphia two weeks prior to the conference, and I was unable to participate in the demonstration of project based learning through technologies. You might call that a failure since I missed it by two weeks. However, as I am listening to the great presentations and feedback you gave on YouTube, I sense that I am a small part of a growing movement.  I predict one day we will have digital learning that analyzes skills rather than content and produces wonderful citizens rather than “know it alls”.  Ouch, Happy Independence Day!