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?


Which STEM skills are you teaching?

The A8N VM CSM, an ASUS microATX motherboard

The A8N VM CSM, an ASUS microATX motherboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was recently reading an article from Elearning ( where it states that “only 15% of college students (United States) are in Engineering and Science, where many of the high-tech jobs reside. That number compares to 50% in China, 67% in Singapore, and 47% in France.”  I found this alarming as the future economy depends upon technological advancements, inventions, applications, and products.  I also found this relative to a previous article that I wrote about students learning to code software as all of these devices need instructions (software) that tell the device what to do.

In addition, the article stated that “Leland Melvin, head of NASA’s education programs and head of the President’s STEM council, said that there are 1 million jobs that can’t be filled because people lack the requisite skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).” It seems logical then to encourage students to study STEM skills at younger ages and to provide them with unique STEM courses to explore the future.  In fact, there might be a need to develop stronger STEM programs in our public schools.  It might even mean a shift in how school programs are offered.

I have seen many independent private schools build new science buildings in the past decade to tackle this need, and I am noticing that the local public high schools in my town are offering a pre-medical type program, an international baccalaureate, and a technology magnet school program for qualified applicants.  While we are moving in the correct direction, it appears that we have a long way to go.

If you have some time, please share what unique STEM skills are being taught at your school.



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Improving Technology Usage Among Faculty

The title simply states a goal for all administrators and school communities.  As technology improves so do the needs for teachers to teach with those technologies and to provide lessons that allow students to create with those technologies.  Because teachers have little time to be trained, timing is always an issue, and realistic goals should be assigned to allow for these changes.  Also in class sessions, while valuable for teachers, are only successful when “just in time” learning approaches are designed to support the teacher during the school year.

arcsAs we look at the ARCS model of adult learning theory, educational technologists need to keep in mind that most adult learners especially teachers know what they need to learn.  Therefore, making that learning relevant (the R in the model) is extremely important.  One on one sessions with faculty can help them design lessons that use the current technology or that can help the teacher create better learning scenarios with that technology. Teachers also find satisfaction (the S in the model) by getting immediate feedback in a personalized learning environment where they can ask a technology expert for specific skills or creative lesson planning that is unique to his classroom.

Confidence (the C in the model ) is extremely important for an educational technology program as teachers who do not feel confident will simply not use the the tool nor provide the projects for the student.  Educational technologists need to be present for the “just in time” support as teachers do not always know what the technology will bring about in the process of teaching or what students will need during the project.  Open labs with after school support and free period support are great ways to increase confidence among students which then leads to the teachers seeing value in assigning these types of projects again.

Attention (the A in the model) is the hook to get the student and/or teacher to try the technology in their projects.  Teachers know that technology grabs student attention, and they know that the technology can be a valuable tool for knowledge transference.  However, what are we doing to remind them of that?  Best practices must be researched and provided as additional resources for teachers in your school.  They can understand a great project (end result) easily, and they will use or modify the best elements of it in their own lessons.  New approaches and best practices are in constant need of sharing.  A community that shares ideas either within the school or through local conferences with other schools is growing from the reflection of others and the evaluation of how technologies can work in their individual classrooms.  Educational communities are better when they are reflecting the craft, sharing ideas, and improving lessons, and educational technology should simply be an extension of an this type of educational community.

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Next computer? What to buy?

I am frequently asked by students, teachers, parents, and friends where to buy the next computer and what model should be purchased.  In the past this was a daunting question for me because I felt that a good model for me was not necessarily the best model for the average user and I was concerned that if I chose the wrong model for the user that I was somehow responsible for their success or failure with a new computer device.  Today, however, I ask a few questions to help them determine their needs;  I teach them about current models and options; and I expect them to help make the final decision.  I expect the user to reach an educated conclusion.

The first question that I ask is how portable do you need to be.   Tablets today are a great option for the average user because the portability can’t be beat.  However, tablets are not currently great devices for heavy processing and high end development such as video production or intense graphic development.  Tablets usually require additional newer technologies to connect to externals such as printers, projectors, and more storage.  Today, the laptop option is usually suitable for the more complex processing needs such as computer programming, animation development, graphics, and video.  If portability is not important then I refer users to all in one type computers such as those from HP and MAC.

The second question I like to ask is the PC or MAC question.  I remind potential PC users that while the device is more common, more compatible, and usually more inexpensive on the front end there are some costs associated with PC’s such as support, viruses, frequent updates, and software expenses.  The downtime alone on a PC can be costly and should be clearly discussed.  The MAC environment has a better track record for support issues and while the software can be expensive there are some very enticing free programs that come with the operating system.  I have used great models on both platforms, but I am trending personally toward a MAC environment at home due to the countless hours of time saved via no support issues.  However, I do like to remind people that I favor good computers, and I am not brand name loyal.

The third question that I ask is about the research that they have completed.  Frequently little to no research has been started by a user, and they are looking for a quick fix.  Consequently, I point them in the direction of Consumer Reports and Costco.  Consumer Reports has a great process for evaluating the best computers and then compares them side by side in nice charts to help you see how much you want to spend and how effective and efficient they are.  I have found Consumer Reports very reliable.  I have also found that the Costco computer department follows standards similar to Consumer Reports, and I usually recommend the computers that are on both reports to make it easy for the user.  Costco tests their devices too before purchasing in bulk so there are few models.  Those models are usually quite reliable and current.  If you are buying a MAC then I simply recommend buying it online from the Apple store in order to save some money.  Mac prices do not fluctuate in price due to that fact that they have a stronger control over where the new MACs are sold.

Finally I remind users that this is a major purchase like purchasing a car, and you should expect to use it for at least three years without problems and that the user should be actively involved in the process.  It is going to be your device that you will take to family events, the work place, and cafes.  Don’t leave everything up to the sales person.  I have been in many stores where sales persons have told me things that were completely wrong, perhaps fabricated, poorly researched, or simply hid the fact that they did not know the answer to a tech question.  I won’t reveal those store names, but I will caution you that there are many models of computers that are still in testing phases and should have never been released to the public.  Computer Science is a practice of trial and error, but business has a responsibility to the consumer.  So I recommend that you do your research and take the advice from Consumer Reports and Costco as a starting point if not a purchasing point.  More reviews are better than one, and I am not going to tell you what to buy.   Please do contact me with unique purchases that you make along your journey, and let me know if there are better reports that what I am recommending.

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The Danger of One Way Emotional Emails

A friend of mine recently posted upon Facebook her concerns about emotional lengthy emails and cautioned those with a lot on their minds to pick up the phone or to set up a meeting for direct communication.  I responded to her concern with a cheer, but I also stated that as an educational technologist I have been teaching this to parents, students, teachers, and administrators for years, and while I believe they can respond in class and upon tests regarding what to do in those situations, I am seeing little evidence of this in real practice and interaction among individuals.  In fact, there are many one way emotional emails being sent to teachers and administrators that need additional two way feedback from all parties involved, but is that happening?  Are these inquiries and/or complaints being properly handled to resolve conflict?

In my presentation of a one way emotional email, I am referring to those emails that are intended to define in great depth a problem with varying points of dissatisfaction.  These emails are harmful to the person of subject, but these emails are rarely sent to that person.  These emails are also sent without discussing topics with those involved.  I call them one way emotional emails because they remind me of politicians in front of a camera, a preacher on television, or a paid 30 minute advertisement on TV.  There is very little time for rebuttal or real open discussion from the other point of view, but there sure is a lot said about the other party, consumer, religion, or product.  It generally seems like a one sided and most likely biased document of frustration.

In my experiences in schools, one-way emotional emails have taken the form of various parent concerns such as academic goals, social circumstance, and disciplinary actions.  However, I have also seen teachers concerned about student behavior, school policies, and modern learners, and let’s not forget administrators intending to improve the school environment, student learning outcomes, and community visibility.  While I am not perfect in these matters either, lengthy emails of extreme frustration or emotional content are not always the best response to a situation because frequently parties that are involved are not understood, questioned, or expected to respond.  Conflict is defined.  Thoughtful resolution is not.

Well, without continuing to create a one way blog, I am seeking your advice.  How do you feel about email used to describe well documented frustration?  Should email be used to complain in such depth?  Is it valuable or is it defining a generation of complainers who can not solve problems through direct conversation?  Are we solving problems or just telling another person in hopes that some else will solve the problem?

What is a school?

Because I see a society that has so many views of and associations for the word school.  I began studying the Merriam-Webster definitions for the term school.   With references to the actual buildings, groups of thought, and an institutionalized organization, the word itself can imply a variety of meanings and can be used in many references that simply fall short.   Society’s definition and understanding of the word school can miss the most important points of learning interactions among scholars and teachers.  Therefore, I prefer the definition as a group of scholars and teachers pursuing knowledge together.

With this in mind, I am concerned about how the news reports upon our schools.  I can easily read articles about new multi-million dollar buildings being built, expensive technologies implemented, sport team championships, and famous visitors.  While these stories reflect important aspects of schools, they do not investigate, demonstrate, or present what really needs to be defined for the American public . . . a group of scholars and teachers pursuing knowledge together.  Consequently, I believe lesser informed parents, politicians, citizens, and critics of the school system have not understood the complexities of the profession nor the benefits of what currently exists.

Groups of scholars and teachers are pursuing knowledge together on a daily basis in a majority of classrooms across the nation, and the process is as complex as the human brain.  The media needs to interview that, capture that upon its cameras, and display that to the world.  Buildings, Technologies, Sports Teams, Performances, and Other Extras are simply that . . . extras.  The school is a group of scholars and teachers pursuing knowledge together.  When that happens a school can grow, move, adapt, excite, challenge, produce, innovate, transform, plan, develop, solve, predict, experiment, construct, improvise, and invent in any educational environment.