Elementary School Memory

I was mowing the yard this afternoon when a memory from the past floated into my mind.

I was in the sixth grade at Druid Hills Elementary School. I was in a small group of undiagnosed ADHD boys who delighted in misbehaving. We were creative and effective in our techniques for undermining the teacher and disrupting the class. Our first teacher, Miss B, was fresh out of college – we were her first real teaching job. She quit after three months. Our second teacher, Mrs. S, was more experienced. (I remember that she read Lord of the Flies to us and cried at the end.) She resigned after several months.

Mrs C was the third teacher for this class. She appeared more confident than the other two. It didn't take long for the a test of her resolve to unfold.

Mrs C. told Pat, one of the boldest misbehavers, to do something. He responded "No!". The misbehavers were delighted and watched as Mrs C walked over to Pat. He stood his ground, very cocky, and looked her right in the face. She slapped him hard right on the cheek.

Everything stood still. The misbehavers were stunned. We knew immediately that our reign of mischief was over. We were a well behaved class for the rest of the school year.

By the way: Mrs C was Pat's mother. And she was a great lady.

New Math for the Internet Generation

From BusinessWeek, a new teaching strategy seems to be reaching students in ways that classrooms do not.

In August 2004, Salman Khan agreed to help his niece, Nadia, with her math homework. Nadia was headed into seventh grade in New Orleans, where Khan had grown up, but she hadn't been placed in her private school's advanced math track, which to a motivated parent these days is a little bit like hearing your child has just been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. In particular, Nadia was having trouble with unit conversion, turning gallons into liters and ounces into grams. 

Math was something Khan, then 28, understood. It was one of his majors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with computer science and electrical engineering. He had gone on to get a master's in computer science and electrical engineering, also at MIT, and then an MBA from Harvard. He was working in Boston at the time for Daniel Wohl, who ran a hedge fund called Wohl Capital Management. Khan, an analyst, was the only employee. 

Being a bit of a geek, Khan put Yahoo!'s (YHOO) Messenger to work to help Nadia, using the Doodle function to let him illustrate concepts for his niece as they spoke on the phone. Then he wrote some code that generated problems she could do on a website. With Khan's help, Nadia made it into the fast track, and her younger brothers Arman and Ali signed on for Khan's tutoring as well. Then they brought in some of their friends. Khan built his site out a little more, grouping the concepts into "modules" and creating a database that would keep track of how many problems the kids had tried and how they had fared, so he'd know how each of his charges was progressing. 

Messenger didn't make sense with multiple viewers, so he started creating videos that he could upload to YouTube. This required a Wacom tablet with an electronic pen, which cost about $80. The videos were each about 10 minutes long and contained two elements: his blackboard-style diagrams—Khan happens to be an excellent sketcher—and his voice-over explaining things like greatest common divisors and equivalent fractions. He posted the first video on Nov. 16, 2006; in it, he explained the basics of least common multiples. Soon other students, not all children, were checking out his videos, then watching them all, then sending him notes telling him that he had saved their math careers, too. 

Less than five years later, Khan's sideline has turned into more than just his profession. He's now a quasi-religious figure in a country desperate for a math Moses. His free website, dubbed the Khan Academy, may well be the most popular educational site in the world. Last month about 2 million students visited. MIT's OpenCourseWare site, by comparison, has been around since 2001 and averages 1 million visits each month. He has posted more than 2,300 videos, beginning with simple addition and going all the way to subjects such as Green's theorem, normally found in a college calculus syllabus. He's adding videos on accounting, the credit crisis, the French Revolution, and the SAT and GMAT, among other things. He masters the subjects himself and then teaches them. As of the end of April, he claims to have served up more than 54 million individual lessons. 
His program has also spread from the homes of online learners to classrooms around the world, to the point that, in at least a few classrooms, it has supplanted textbooks.

The Khan Academy has also been introduced in two seventh-grade classrooms for struggling learners in the Los Altos district, and the district is considering using it in all schools next year. "Their improvement has been dramatic," says Khan of the slow group, who notes that his studies are small, not peer-reviewed, and just intended for him to get a sense of whether Khan Academy methods are working or not. "We're seeing 70 percent on average improvement on the pre-algebra topics in those classrooms. It definitely tells us it's not derailing anything. All the indicators say that something profound looks like it's happening." 


Link: BusinessWeek, Salman Khan: The Messiah of Math

Link: Khan Academy, http://www.khanacademy.org/

The Cultural Conservers Foundation at CulturalConservers.org

The mission of the Cultural Conservers Foundation is to support the conservation of the cultural heritage of the past and present by:

  • educating the public about the value and importance of cultural conservation
  • giving cultural conservation a presence and voice in the collective conversation of our time
  • assisting aspiring cultural conservers to plan and accomplish projects for the conservation of cultural resources
  • providing networking tools that cultural conservers can use to pool their knowledge and experiences
  • fostering the transmission of cultural heritage to learners and to the future

For more information on the vision and purpose of the Cultural Conservers Foundation, please see this article: Cultural Conservers.

Downloadable Files

Background Information

Blogs and Discussion Groups

Priorities for Education

School property tax money is being used for development!

Are the schools in Georgia meeting all expected standards of excellence and thus don’t need the money?

It’s easy to be cynical these days.

Link: Ruling jolts Beltline, other projects | ajc.com

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday that school property tax money cannot be used to finance Atlanta’s Beltline, a stunning decision that casts doubt on the future of dozens of similar projects across the state, including downtown’s Allen Plaza and Atlantic Station in Midtown.

The unanimous ruling is a victory for Buckhead lawyer John Woodham, who in a 2006 lawsuit claimed the Beltline funding mechanism was illegal. He argued that the state constitution explicitly forbids school taxes from being used for non-educational purposes such as the Beltline, a planned loop of transit, trails, parks and development around the city’s core.

The Supreme Court agreed, citing two earlier rulings, including a 1994 decision which held that DeKalb County school tax revenue couldn’t be used to pay for a nearby road project.

"It’s devastating," said Hal Barry, whose company, Barry Real Estate, is the lead developer at Allen Plaza, an eight-block project near the Georgia Aquarium. "To get this kind of a low blow is really . . . I’m speechless. I can’t think it through yet."

20 Web References Beyond Wikipedia

Link: Beyond Wikipedia: 20 References You Can’t Do Without | Mindful Ink.

Bartleby – This site has far more than quotes, you can find full texts here as well – poetry in particular.

Citizendium – This is supposed to be the more “professional” Wikipedia. So far it’s not really taken off, but the information here is often a bit more “elite” but usually not as detailed.

Answers.com – Answers.com is a sort of “commercial” Wikipedia. It makes use of the info on Wikipedia, combined with many other reference sties, to become a one stop shop. It also has a mobile site that I tend to use a great deal.

ePodunk – If you’re looking for information regarding a city or place, it doesn’t get much better than ePodunk.

Encyclopedia Britannica – I know it seems awfully “old school” but this site is an excellent source of information and much more authoritative than Wikipedia.

Scholarpedia – A step up from both Wikipedia and Citizendium in terms of scholarly respectability, it doesn’t have nearly as much information, but the articles have all been written by experts with peer review. An academic paradise!

Okay, two sources that your college probably gives you access to. If you aren’t a student, sorry… but these are too good to ignore. You’ll need to see your local school librarian to see how to access these (or you may have a library website you can access it through.)

JSTOR – You know all those stuffy journals around your professors office? And those articles in your course packets? This is pretty much that. For research it enormously useful.

Oxford English Dictionary – The definitive resource when it comes to the English language. Not just for English majors, the OED (as it’s known) is useful for almost anyone in the social sciences.

Wikiseek – When you absolutely, positively, must have the real thing – WikiSeek is Wikipedia with a better search engine. I would also suggest WikiMindMap for when you’re trying to get a better holistic grasp of a subject.

References for Specific Disciplines

Online Education Database – This is a strange site, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it – but this link lists over 100 specific search and research tools, often relevant to specific subjects.

MathWorld – if you have the great misfortune of having to take math, then this site can be of great help. Everything mathematics from Geometry to Calculus is covered by this site in great detail.

GeoHive and Fedstats – These are both statistics sites, so if you need to know how many people. Fedstats allows public access to public agency statistics. Geohive is a bit cooler, primarily providing global statistics (gender populations, coal reserves, etc). I know, it’s so exciting I can’t stand it.

Theoi and Encyclopedia of Mythology – Both excellent resources on the subject of mythology and ancient religions. This is useful information all across the humanities.

Glossary of Poetic Forms – This will help you get through that English Literature class. You too can know the difference between a Canto and a Cento.

Now, if you’re in my fields – these next three are excellent resources.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Foldop – Both of these are excellent sources on just about anything philosophy related. I use the Stanford site all the time.

Religion Online – If you are a scholar of religion this is an excellent, excellent resource filled with many primary texts.

via Dr. Mercola

Instituto Thomas Jefferson

Atanu Dey visited the Mexico City campus of Instituto Thomas Jefferson recently (excerpts below). He was impressed. I am impressed with what he found. From what Atanu writes and my exposure at the University of Virginia to Jefferson’s thoughts on education, I think Mr. Jefferson would be pleased with this institution.

Link: Atanu Dey on India’s Development » Instituto Thomas Jefferson

What sets ITJ apart is not the fine 18th century hacienda in which the Mexico City campus is housed. What distinguishes ITJ is one word: values. The values of the founders form the foundation upon which the school is built and it is no surprise to learn that the school has been recently judged to be the best school in Latin America.

The school’s attitude of dynamism reflects the essential aspect of the world we live in, a world of growth, of advancement, of constant striving towards goals and ideals.

Here is just an aspect of that attitude. There is a department in the school which focuses on attempting to predict what the world is going to be like 15 years hence. It is what I call a “look ahead” – try to discern what is the world going to be like by the time the kids entering the school today graduate. By doing so, you can better prepare the students to meet the challenges of the world to be.

The “look ahead” program is called “Vision 2020”. ITJ uses in-house staff as well as experts around the world to make educated guesses about the skills that will be valuable in the future. Thus, for instance, the kids learn how to effectively use video conferencing; or the use of the best technology tools. They learn not just the subject matter but also the use of the most effective tools. Heard of “mental maps”? They use it at ITJ at the elementary level.

…they teach values. And how to be a good, effective, thinking person. They have a program which teaches how to effectively express your emotions. Subject matter is well and good but you need to teach kids interpersonal skills. They teach the kids to “STOP, THINK, and DO.”

The atmosphere in the school was one of happiness. Whenever I entered a classroom, I was greeted by eager faces. They were confident and did not shrink from expressing themselves. They posed for the pictures and told me excitedly about what they were doing in class.

Creativity matters to ITJ. They have a strong theatre program and every year they stage a Broadway play. I saw some pictures of the plays they have staged. Professional quality.

They do things in style. For example, in KG, while learning about, say, marsupials, the kids will then take a virtual tour of a zoo in NY or in Australia through video conferencing and interact with people in remote locations.

[School founder] Ricardo Carvajal was especially proud of their science curriculum. The school has taken the top three places in the National Contest for Chemistry. It has featured in the top 10 in the last nine years. They have video conferencing with NASA astronauts. ITJ is definitely the sort of place (unlike some school districts in the US) where evolution is taught. ITJ seeks out the best. It has relationships with Harvard University, and joint ventures with universities in Florida and California.

Bigger Is Better? Kids and Food

Dr. Mercola fears the McDonald’s is using a school program to supersize our kids.

Source: Dr. Mercola: The Golden Arches Strike Again….

…Fast-food chains like McDonald’s are gobbling up the real estate near public schools in urban areas.

McDonald’s is launching a national physical education program for elementary school kids, which many experts believe is no more than a clever advertising scheme tailor-made for the Golden Arches’ target audience.

Some 31,000 elementary schools in the United States, encompassing 7 million students, have agreed to use McDonald’s "Passport to Play" program this year, a great way for the fast-food giant to expose their toxic high-fat foods to a captive and impressionable audience.

No doubt in my mind the Harvard researcher who oversaw the recent fast-food real estate study had it right when she called the Passport program a Trojan horse that allows McDonald’s to maintain their brand-name awareness in our public schools.

If parents don’t take control over their kids’ eating habits in short order, they could grow up suffering from health problems typically found in middle-aged adults.

USA Today September 13, 2005

Poverty: Information vs. Entertainment

IBD concludes that the poor in America emphasize entertainment over information in their spending. I would like to see cell phone spending included in this analysis.

Source: Investor’s Business Daily stock analysis and business news.

…the poor shun PCs and other valuable information gear for entertainment toys. In fact, their spending on color TVs — including big-screen TVs — is on par with the rich.

More than 34% of poor own two color TVs compared with 33% of the rich, according to the latest Census Bureau tables. And more than half own two or more color TVs. What’s more, fully 1 in 4 poor households have a large-screen TV (vs. 2 in 5 wealthy households).

Ibd_0831 According to the census, less than 20% of the poor own a PC, and just 15% have access to the Internet and its vast treasure of knowledge. In contrast, 83% of upper-income Americans own at least one PC, and 74% are online.

It’s plain to see the poor put a higher value on entertainment than information. The problem isn’t a case of "information haves and have-nots," as the media elite have played it. It’s a case of information haves and will-nots.

Learning From Lance

Thomas L. Friedman discusses America’s reluctance to sacrifice now for a brighter future in Learning From Lance:

I recently spent time in Ireland, which has quietly become the second-richest country in the E.U., first by going through some severe belt-tightening that meant everyone had to sacrifice, then by following that with a plan to upgrade the education of its entire work force, and a strategy to recruit and induce as many global high-tech companies and researchers as possible to locate in Ireland. The Irish have a plan. They are focused. They have mobilized business, labor and government around a common agenda. They are playing offense.

Wouldn’t you think that if you were president, after you’d read the umpteenth story about premier U.S. companies, like Intel and Apple, building their newest factories, and even research facilities, in China, India or Ireland, that you’d summon the top U.S. business leaders to Washington to ask them just one question: "What do we have to do so you will keep your best jobs here? Make me a list and I will not rest until I get it enacted."

And if you were president, and you had just seen more suicide bombs in London, wouldn’t you say to your aides: "We have got to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil. We have to do it for our national security. We have to do it because only if we bring down the price of crude will these countries be forced to reform. And we should want to do it because it is clear that green energy solutions are the wave of the future, and the more quickly we impose a stringent green agenda on ourselves, the more our companies will lead innovation in these technologies."

Instead, we are about to pass an energy bill that, while it does contain some good provisions, will make no real dent in our gasoline consumption, largely because no one wants to demand that Detroit build cars that get much better mileage. We are just feeding Detroit the rope to hang itself. It’s assisted suicide. I thought people went to jail for that?

And if you were president, would you really say to the nation, in the face of the chaos in Iraq, that "if our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them," but that they had not asked? It is not what the generals are asking you, Mr. President – it is what you are asking them, namely: "What do you need to win?" Because it is clear we are not winning, and we are not winning because we have never made Iraq a secure place where normal politics could emerge.

Oh, well, maybe we have the leaders we deserve. Maybe we just want to admire Lance Armstrong, but not be Lance Armstrong. Too much work. Maybe that’s the wristband we should be wearing: Live wrong. Party on. Pay later.

Edline: A Technology Solution That Helps Schools?

Edline is a comprehensive, end-to-end, web hosting solution that can be used to supplement your current school websites, or be used to completely serve all of your school or district’s web hosting needs. With Edline: The district and every school in the district receives its own website.

All school and district subgroups receive a complete website solution (no page or traffic limit):

Every class has its own website/homepage (with homework, grades, calendars, and more) within the district or school site.

Every team and club has its own website within the district or school site.

Every staff group or parent group (PTA, school committees, etc.) has its own website within the district or school site.

Link: Edline – Solutions.

Every student, parent, teacher, and administrator receives a unique user account for personalized security, permissions, and access (essential for making grades and other private information available at your school’s website).

The public can view general school information at any time without a password, but private information is visible only to visitors that login with a screen name and password.

Email alerts notify parents, students, and teachers of critical new information at your school’s website (attendance, new grades, policies, etc.) Works with any email provider.

Real Impact. Because Edline is easy to use (visitors to your school’s website are immediately presented with personalized links to the classroom, team, or other group homepages that apply specifically to them), comprehensive (everything from lunch menus to teacher-only resources to classroom-level progress reports for parents), and secure (you can post private grades and reports for personalized access with 128-bit encryption), Edline has tremendous impact on school performance and will enable you to:

Increase Parental Involvement.

Improve Internal Communication.

Reduce paper-based costs (photocopying, envelopes, etc.).

Improve Student Achievement