Ecology of Education exploring the landscapes of learning, one voice at a time Mon, 06 Apr 2015 17:40:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Games in the Classroom Mon, 06 Apr 2015 17:40:20 +0000 Gamification in Education

One of the new, at least newer, aspects of education is Gamification. This is basically the use of games to teach, review, and intervention for the students. With the constant, exponential expansion of online and blended learning it was only a matter of time that computer and video games infiltrated the classroom experience.

However, there is nothing really new about this. The only major mitigating change is the medium which these games are presented in. John Hunter, whose decades in the classroom have exemplified the need and necessity of gamification in education. His internationally known and used “Peace Game” not only is a key component in numerous classrooms around the world, but also important enough to have garner Hunter the opportunity to share this experience in a TED Talk.

You can enjoy the video at this URL:

Also, a documentary and book exploring Hunter’s experience with gamification in education has circulated. However, Hunter is too often overlooked in the buzz about gamification in education. This is primarily due to the fact that Hunter’s game is a board game, not an electronic game. However, this does not remove any of the efficacy or energy which Hunter’s game engages students with throughout the world.

Yet, bringing the creativity and perspective of board game design to the electronic medium, which numerous game designers do is crucial to making educational gamification successful.

Implementing games in the classroom, regardless of forum, is crucial to successfully engaging students. Give it a try. Whether it’s modifying Solitaire for the Periodic Table, Risk for the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Napoleonic Wars, or using games such as Max Payne or Halo to discuss crime and punishment as well as first contact, it all works.

Good luck and GAME ON!

]]> 5
Break the Speed Limits, Mind the Stop Signs Tue, 09 Dec 2014 21:13:25 +0000

When working with teachers, a colleague of mine often asks, “Why do people speed?”

The inevitable list of reasons include but are not limited to:

  • time
  • lack of awareness
  • everyone else is doing it
  • just going with the flow
  • no-one else is around
  • etc, etc, etc.

Her response is always, “Hmmmm. No-one mentioned it was to annoy the police?” At which point everyone realizes her analogy. The question, “Why do students act out?” often leaves us educators feeling that it is to annoy us, but more often than not, they aren’t doing whatever they are doing because of us — its more about them, their developmental age, and school culture’s unexamined rules of the road.

Then she asks, “Why do people stop at read lights and stop signs?”

The reason is fairly predictable:

  • Safety

The stop sign/red light have a clear purpose and reason for existing. We follow that rule (usually) because the consequences of not following it could be dire.

What are the elements of your room, your school that are the red lights and stop signs and which are the speed limits? The rules that (most) students follow for one reason or another and the ones that students routinely bend?

I wonder these things because it seems differentiating “discipline” is important in teaching the whole child. Perhaps students break the “speeding” rules because they don’t see the point, or it is easiest and safest to “go with the flow,” or because they aren’t even aware of them.

Or perhaps they inhibit the kind of learning that drives students.

Do I issue “tickets” (consequences) for rules that may lack relevance to the students or do I focus on the red lights and stop signs that align with student safety — emotional, physical, social?

As I evolve as an administrator, it seems that when it comes to speeding, my focus should be on the culture of the school and helping cultivate an atmosphere where autonomous individuals can discern the nuance of when is the right time to press the gas and the right time to ease off.

When it comes to the stop signs and red lights, these are the rules of the road that allow us to take the kinds of risks learners need to in order to have transformative learning experiences. These are the rules that need to be understood and agreed to.

For now, I think I’ll let the (reasonable) speeders slide and will focus instead on building understanding about the stop signs that make the school a better place for us all.

Photo Credit: Braden Gunem via Compfight cc

]]> 1
Rewriting Teacher Credentials Mon, 27 Oct 2014 17:51:14 +0000

Coauthors: Gentzke, Scott; Kartheiser, Geo; Keith, Cara; Riddle, Wanda; Sonnier, Andrea; Stone, Adam; Tibbitt, Julie; Zimmerman, Heather; Yuknis, Christina

Background: We are doctoral students and a professor at Gallaudet University learning together in a course called Education Policy and Politics. This class incorporates technology and social media using avenues such as Google Drive, Twitter (follow #EDU860), and blogging to discuss course topics in and out of class. In addition, all of our class sessions are organized via a web-based videoconferencing software allowing both distance learners and on-campus students to participate in class together.  This blog was typed live via Google Drive as an in-class project and the work below is a collective and collaborative effort between all members. It is still a little muddled, but then again, so is most discourse in education.

The Question: What should teacher credentialing look like? How can we leverage the political system to make this a reality?

The Problem

We realize that there are multiple aspects to consider when discussing teacher credentials.  First, each state has a different set of teacher certification requirements. For example, Illinois has a 44 page documentelaborating the process of obtaining a teaching license.  Maryland has their own complex set of requirements.  In fact, states can’t even seem to agree on what to call this: a license? A credential? A certificate? These diverse, yet convoluted processes for applying for a teaching license do not make it easy to navigate the system in any state, let alone help us understand how the United States educational system determines what is a highly qualified teacher.  What follows is our proposal for what should be required in order to become a credentialed teacher as well as our suggestions for how to make this happen in a highly contentious and labyrinthine political landscape.

There are many issues with the current credentialing system. Below we raise some issues with the current system then propose some requirements.  We have already established that there is a lack of interstate agreement on what constitutes a qualified teacher. Moreover, states have wildly differing rules for recognizing and honoring credentials that were earned out of state. There should be a consensus on credentialing across the nation. This requires a broad multi-state agreement on credentials; such an agreement will undoubtedly enhance the profession as a whole.

Proposed Requirements

Within this issue there are two primary considerations: earning a credential, and maintaining it.

Earning a Credential: Teacher Preparation Programs should be nationally accredited along with a balance of “theory” and “practical” courses. The whole process should be primarily qualitative in nature, while incorporating, yet de-emphasizing certain quantitative elements (e.g., a Praxis score). By that, we mean a teacher’s portfolio should be the gateway to employment – and that should include an assortment of multiple measures demonstrating experience, skills, and qualifications.

We propose that credentials should be based not only on education background, license, certifications, qualifications, etc. but also on effectiveness. By effectiveness, we are referring to teachers’ performance and impact on students’ learning.  So, while a teacher may need to obtain some form of license to begin practicing, licensure alone is not enough to determine whether a teacher is highly qualified.  A study has shown that obtaining advanced degrees does not ensure greater effectiveness in the classroom. Regardless of how many degrees, how many years of experience, and how many certifications obtained by an educator, these altogether are insufficient to determine the quality of his/her teaching. Rather, it is all three factors in addition to teacher effectiveness  that should be taken into consideration when measuring whether a teacher is highly qualified or is in need of support (i.e. professional development, additional schooling, etc.).

Keeping a Credential: We propose a residency program for new teachers. In this system, certification is “initial” for a few years. Resident teachers focus on gaining in-classroom experience with the guidance of veteran teachers. Official measures of teacher quality should not begin until after a teacher has experienced at least 3-5 years in the classroom. Exit from a residency program requires permanent certification through evaluations and observations by a team of professionals (not only the teacher’s supervisor who may not be qualified to evaluate a specific subject area).  This team should include master teachers of the same subject area and perhaps even evaluators from the state department of education. Teachers should have some type of portfolio they need to complete so that their evaluation is not just based on student achievement, especially for those who are teaching in impoverished areas or work with students who have disabilities.

If we suggest these modifications, we also need to consider the possibility that teachers may have less direct contact with students in order to have more time for preparation and professional development. We recently read a story about Finnish teachers having far less hours of student contact so they could focus on developing quality instruction; this seems to have supported their high rates of student achievement.

Specific Considerations

Beyond Academics. While it is important to ensure that certified teachers know the content material and how to provide instruction, credentialing should also look at how the teacher addresses social-emotional needs of the students.

Teachers must possess the knowledge, skills, and critical consciousness to help students’ critical thinking skills. With critical thinking skills, students have the ability to question authority and evoke personal and social change for the betterment of their community.  Teachers also need to know how to help students develop critical thinking skills so students are prepared to become critical thinkers who can question authority and become change agents. As Henry Giroux, a critical theorist, has noted, people who are able to deconstruct and critically analyze are those in the best position to disrupt the status quo.

Content Mastery. However, in speaking of content material, there should be requirements for the different subject areas that teachers need to demonstrate mastery over.  For example, a teacher hired to provide art instruction needs to be able to create art, interpret art, analyze art, and critique art (at least according to NYS Learning Standards for Art).

Praxis scores are a part of the overall picture, but they do not accurately reflect the pedagogical skills of potential new teachers. Part of our concern with the Praxis exams, beyond the concept of how well a standardized test can measure teaching skill, is that each state has their own cut off scores of what is acceptable in order to earn a license.  One state may have a significantly lower cut score than another for the same test!

Internships and Mentoring. Enhancing teacher preparation requires a two pronged approach, such as intentional mentorship and robust internship. Mentorship is a key aspect of teacher preparation. Teachers should be required to work with a Teacher-Mentor (a veteran with at least five years of experience) not only during teacher preparation but also after earning their credentials for a specified time.  Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit educational organization, claimed in Waiting for Superman that he was a terrible teacher the first few years before finally mastering the art of teaching in his fifth year. It is critical to have a system in place that will permit teachers to master their craft without hindering children’s optimal learning opportunities.

Another important component of teacher preparation is internship or practicum. Internship can be improved by extending the duration to at least two years. During this two years, the interns will take courses to learn pedagogical concepts that they can then apply in their instruction.  It is important to observe other teachers in classroom teaching to gain better understanding of what good teaching looks like.

Additionally, candidates will have long-term mentoring and a potential job offer post-graduation and post-licensing. This is particularly important in marginalized populations like the d/Deaf community. For example, if teachers of the Deaf intend to serve in a Deaf Residential school or program, teachers must have extended internship or practicum in order to be able to serve the said population better.

Emergency/TFA Credentials: In order for the teaching profession to be valued and respected there is a need to lessen the amount of emergency credentials or Teach for America-type programs, which are sending the message that anyone can become a teacher after a summer boot camp and/or minimal preparation. Also, while permitting persons who are qualified to teach but need some more time in earning their credential, we need to ensure that they are provided with close supervision as they work in our schools.

In Conclusion

How can we make these changes happen?  First, we recognize that changes to an institution, particularly one as fragmented as teacher credentialism, do not come quickly or easily.  We understand that this process will take several years to complete.  However, the issue is already part of the political agenda and is being discussed in several forums and arenas.  Thus, the timing is apt for this proposal.


]]> 1
Using Twitter in Higher Education Mon, 01 Sep 2014 23:36:37 +0000


Politicians are increasingly using social media to engage with their constituents, and it has been said that President Obama skillfully used social media, particularly Twitter, to engage younger voters and win both of his presidential elections.  As such, it is important when teaching about policy to ensure that students know how to skillfully navigate Twitter in order to advocate and engage with their elected representatives and increase their civic participation.   This review will present research on the use of Twitter in educational settings, particularly at the higher education level. It has guided my work as I seek to establish the integration of social media into my instruction.


Twitter is a social networking website and microblogging platform that connects people and organizations to each other through the use of short messages, called tweets, which are a maximum of 140 characters.  Connections are made through following other Twitter users, tagging users, and using hashtags.   Twitter was launched in 2006, and the concept was simple. Keep a message to 140 characters or less.  By 2007, the hashtag was born as a suggestion from a Twitter user.  In 2009, when the US Airways plane crashed into the Hudson River, Twitter was the first to carry images and word of the crash, even before traditional news outlets. There are currently over 271 million active users worldwide sending 500 million tweets per day.  Potential educational uses for Twitter show up as early as April 2008 in an international conference for elearning.

Faculty Use of Social Media

Faculty use of social media has been of particular importance to researchers, particularly in trying to understand the types and ways of social media used (Chen & Bryer, 2012; Lewis & Rush, 2013; Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011), differentiating professional and personal uses (Veletsianos, 2012; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2013), concerns about using social media (Chen & Bryer; Veletsianos & Kimmons), and how they incorporate social media into their courses (Chen & Bryer; Moran et al.).  The most common social media site used by the participants is Facebook (Chen & Bryer, Moran et al.), although other sites are used as well including LinkedIn, YouTube, Blackboard, Blogger, Elluminate, SecondLife, and Twitter.

Faculty members discussed concerns around maintaining privacy, establishing boundaries, considering intersections between online and offline professional identities, and considering the ethics of using social media (Chen & Bryer; Veletsianos; Veletsianos & Kimmons), and, in the case of the participants in Veletsianos and Kimmons’ study, preferred to maintain social media for personal use.

Despite these hesitations, some faculty members do find usefulness in building online communities via Twitter (Lewis & Rush, 2013; Velestianos, 2012).  Veletsianos explored the ways in which scholars use social networking sites professionally, specifically Twitter.  Forty-five scholars from various disciplines who actively tweet were included in the sample.  After analyzing the most recent 100 tweets of these scholars, seven themes emerged: sharing information and resources, expanding learning beyond the classroom, requesting assistance, sharing life activities, managing digital identities, connecting and networking, and highlighting social presence on other networks.  Findings indicate that scholars use Twitter in complex and multi-faceted ways, and there is a blurring of professional and personal lives.

Finally, Moran, Seaman, and Tinti-Kane (2011) found that social media use is not limited to professional networking.  Approximately 68% of faculty they surveyed reported using social media in their classes.  Online videos, podcasts, and blogs are the most commonly used social media used in classes.  Facebook and Twitter are rarely used as part of a course.

Student Perceptions

Gikas and Grant (2013) examined the perspectives of undergraduate  students on their experiences using mobile devices for educational purposes.  They found that students discussed the advantages of quick information access, constant connectivity, multiple learning paths, and situated learning as advantages to using mobile devices.  Specifically, students shared that posting comments to Twitter was easier than logging back in to the course discussion board, as they were already using Twitter. Integration of the course content with social media was more natural. Students also shared that Twitter provided opportunities to interact with their professors and other researchers informally.  Students also discussed three disadvantages: anti-technology instructors, device challenges, and device-as-distraction.

On the other hand, when Ebner, Lienhardt, Rohs, and Meyer (2010) studied social media use in graduate students, they found students initially resistant to posting private information, and thus changed their directives to focus on course only work.  Despite this reluctance, they found that the students increased their level of non-course communication throughout the study.

Instructional Use.

Perhaps this last Ebner et al. (2010) finding is related to how the instructor establishes the use of social media in the classroom.  For example, Junco, Elavsky, and Heiberger (2013) found that when faculty members engaged with students on Twitter, student engagement with the course also increased.  This suggests that the ways in which faculty implement social media have an impact on the outcomes.  Additionally, when Twitter was a required part of the course, course engagement online also increased (Ebner et al., 2010; Junco, Heiberger, & Loken, 2011; Junco et al., 2013).

When Twitter is a required part of the course, then the frequency of tweets by students is a data point of interest.  Ebner et al. (2010) found that the number of entries and discussion about course content increased over time, but both Junco et al. (2011 & 2013) found relatively flat engagement until required assignments were coming due.  At that point, the number of tweets increased dramatically.  None of these studies set a limit on the minimum number of tweets students were expected to send.  However Kassens-Noors (2012) did establish a baseline for the number of tweets expected, and she found that students did not meet the expectation.  No rationale was offered for why this occurred.

Influence on Engagement and Learning Outcomes

The influence of Twitter use on student engagement and learning outcomes is mixed.  Ebner et al. (2010) found that using Twitter resulted in higher student engagement in course content and in more informal learning.  Junco et al. (2013) conducted two studies and had mixed results.  In the first study, they found that students required to use Twitter had higher engagement and collaboration than students required to use Ning.  Additionally, the students using Twitter had significantly higher grades at the end of the semester.  (Incidentally, these results align with a previous study by Junco et al. (2011).)  However, the second study indicated that, when given a choice, students opting to use Twitter did not have significant differences in engagement or grades.

Kassens-Noor (2012) had three main findings related to using Twitter in one course.  Tweeting fostered prolonged interactive engagement and encouraged continual communication with team members.  In this way, it worked as an active learning tool.  However, due to the constant barrage of messages, it did not support self-reflection as much as personal journals (the control group) did.  Finally, since the group using Twitter had ongoing interactive discussions, they were more likely to use responses supplied by others in the group than the group using journals.  That group had more time to reflect on their own thinking and writing and less interactive dialogue, thus their responses were more self-generated.


Faculty engagement with social media for personal and professional purposes is increasing (Ebner et al., 2010). As faculty become more comfortable with the possibilities opened by social media, particularly Twitter, they are beginning to use it in their instruction.  In all of these studies, it appears that Twitter has mixed results regarding usefulness for promoting student engagement with course content and supporting higher achievement (see Ebner et al.; Junco et al., 2011; 2013).  Success may stem from how the instructor structures the use of Twitter in the course, but since the literature is young, the results are inconclusive at this time. However, the literature does highlight variations in how Twitter is is applied in academic contexts, from a group tool to an optional tool to an actual assignment.

In none of these situations was civic engagement a goal of the study, so it can only be extrapolated that Twitter will be useful in increasing the civic engagement of graduate students.  Since the basis of Twitter is that it is an interactive platform that relies on user-generated and peer-to-peer content, it is a natural bridge to promoting interactions with politicians and other civic leaders.


Chen, B. & Bryer, T. (2012). Investigating instructional strategies for using social media in formal and informal learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 3(1). Retrieved from:

Ebner, M., Lienhardt, C., Rohs, M., & Meyer, I. (2010). Microblogs in higher education – a chance to facilitate informal and process-oriented learning? Computers & Education, 55, 91-100. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2009.12.006

Gikas, J. & Grant, M. M. (2013). Mobile computing devices in higher education: Student perspectives on learning with cellphones, smartphones & social media. The Internet and Higher Education, 19, 18-26. DOI: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2013.06.002

Junco, R., Elavsky, C.M., & Heiberger, G. (2013). Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement, and success. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(2), 273-287. Doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2012.01284x

Junco, R., Heiberger, G., & Loken, E. (2011). The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27, 119-132. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00387.x

Kassens-Noor, E. (2012) Twitter as a teaching practice to enhance active and informal learning in higher education: the case of sustainable tweets. Active Learning in Higher Education, 13(1), 9-21.  DOI: 10.1177/1469787411429190

Lewis, B. & Rush, D. (2013). Experience of developing Twitter-based communities of practice in higher education. Research in Learning Technology, 21, 18598. doi:

Moran, M., Seaman, J., & Tinti-Kane, H. (2011). Teaching, learning, and sharing: How today’s higher education faculty use social media. Retrieved from:

Veletsianos, G. (2012). Higher education scholars’ participation and practices on Twitter. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(4), 336-349. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00449.x

Veletsianos, G. & Kimmons, R. (2013). Scholars and faculty members’ lived experiences in online social networks. The Internet and Higher Education, (16), 43-50. DOI: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2012.01.004


]]> 11
Flip the (Teacher Tenure) Question Fri, 22 Aug 2014 20:17:00 +0000

Frank Bruni’s recent piece, “The Trouble with Tenure,” is yet another example of an uninformed and un-nuanced op-ed on education reform in the New York Times. This one even has the audacity of claiming to add a positive note to the ongoing discourse.

Unfortunately, it only further muddles the debate rather than shed enlightenment. After spending 400 or so words on the need to get rid of bad teachers, Mr. Bruni ends with this:

(Mike) Johnston frames it well.

“Our focus is not on teachers because they are the problem,” he said. “Our focus is on teachers because they are the solution.”

Hardly an inspirational, solution oriented piece. Johnston — a TFA alum and former principal, now a state senator — has sponsored and helped to pass legislation eroding tenure in Colorado. Presumably, “Because teachers are the solution.”

However, it seems to me that the whole tenure question is a red herring in transforming student learning. Instead of focusing on conditions under which students thrive and that promote vigorous learning, we are focused on using test scores to fire teachers.  In short, we are asking the wrong questions and the net result? We are finding the wrong answers.

It’s time to flip the question. Rather than, “How can we get rid of bad teachers?” let’s ask, “How can we attract and keep the best teachers?”

The fact is, over 50% of teachers leave the profession in the first five years. They leave for complex and myriad reasons, many of which boil down to just one: Job Conditions.

Low pay. Long hours. High stress. Increased pressure. Higher and higher expectations with fewer and fewer resources. Greater focus on testing and test scores. Low morale made all the worse by a steady stream of pieces such as Mr. Bruni’s. It is no wonder teachers leave in droves.

With baby boomers beginning to retire we are on a collision course with a serious teacher shortage. And, because teaching conditions can be so demoralizing, the shortage may be exacerbated by a trend toward teachers spending less and less time in the classroom. (TFA cadres, for example.)

Interestingly, the New York Times published an insightful millennials piece in the Sunday Styles section by Sam Tanenhaus, titled, “Generation Nice.” Using data and findings from a Pew report on millennials (“Confident. Connected. Open to Change.“) Mr. Tanenhaus reported on millennials’ collective  trend toward doing good rather than doing (financially) well. He writes,

Taken together, these habits and tastes look less like narcissism than communalism. And its highest value isn’t self-promotion, but its opposite, empathy — an open-minded and -hearted connection to others.

It is time, in my opinion, for us to reconsider where we as a society put our education reform focus. Rather than ponder how to fire teachers, we need to ponder how to engage and sustain the brightest minds in the classroom. What classroom conditions make for engaged learners (teachers and students alike)? What do classrooms that are designed to leverage the good will of millennials run like? Feel like?

We need to think about the teaching conditions that can leverage and take advantage of what millennials might bring to the job — their connectedness, their drive to do right by the world, and their creativity. What would it take to make teaching an attractive career before and after entering the field?

What does learning and schooling look like when it is inspiring to both teacher and student? It is time we flipped the question and start pondering conditions in which learning happens best. And less on how to hand out pink slips.

Image: Roland O’Daniel, under CC License.  

]]> 1
The Highly Qualified Teacher Limbo: How Low Can It Go? Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:49:53 +0000

What do you think about when you read or hear people talking about the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirement that every child should have a highly qualified teacher (HQT)? Perhaps you envision one of your favorite teachers from school: someone who was warm and caring, knew their content area, provided engaging instruction of that content, and probably had been teaching for several years. If you are a parent, you might picture a HQT as someone who has a teaching license, has graduated from an education program, and who has training in both teaching and content. In fact, these are the basic tenets in the section of NCLB on HQTs.

You probably do not imagine that a teacher considered to be HQT has only had six weeks of training in how to teach, has no experience, and is not yet licensed. Nor do you imagine that the person is still in his or her teaching program. You also probably do not imagine that the person is only committing to teach for two years. Yet, Congress decided that this is adequate for an HQT designation in 2010. It was supposed to be a temporary fix while NCLB (also called the Elementary and Secondary Act) was being reauthorized. Since that hasn’t happened, people who have no teaching license or experience and very little training (typically participants in Teach for America, as students in traditional teacher preparation programs do not qualify) will continue to receive an HQT designation through at least 2015-2016. This, in fact, puts non-qualified teachers (forget “highly,” they are not even qualified) into the classrooms with the neediest kids and hides the fact that this is going on. Legally.

To understand how HQT has become so politicized and far removed from any classroom or child, we must begin with an eye toward the demographics of the teaching workforce. When NCLB was authorized, teachers in high-need and high-poverty schools were more likely to have lower qualifications for teaching (indicators include licensure, experience, and training). Students in wealthier schools typically have experienced teachers with licenses who are teaching in the subject area of their study. Incidentally, these trends have not changed much as of this writing. NCLB intended to remedy the situation and attempted to move higher quality teachers into the neediest classrooms, or at the very least, to balance out the distribution of highly qualified teachers among all students. Which, has not happened (also here) because Congress moved the bar so low for HQTs that even a zombie could be designated one.

So now, Congress has a chance to rectify this situation in the reauthorization process. However, they are not discussing the issue at much length. The House of Representatives voted on HR5 in July 2013 completely eliminates the HQT provisions of NCLB. The Senate is “still” discussing their bill, Strengthening America’s Schools Act (S. 1094), and that act provides HQT status to individuals still enrolled in a preparation program.

Since Congress is stalled (who’s surprised by this, seriously?), Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the US Department of Education have decided to come up with their own plan, Excellent Educators for All. Unfortunately, there are not many details yet on whether “excellent educators” includes people still in teacher preparation programs (such as Teach for America) or whether it includes actual highly-qualified teachers.

What can you do? Everything! As a constituent, you have more power than you think you do. Contact your representatives – frequently – and tell them what you would like to see in the law.  Meet with them.  Become an activist to raise the bar on what teacher makes a teacher “highly qualified.”

]]> 2
Education HAS – Applied Content Mon, 21 Jul 2014 17:52:56 +0000 As learners ourselves, we have been recently deluged with a myriad of opportunities to pursue higher educational goals in the form of Ph.D. programs. By its very nature, a Ph.D. is a terminal degree in the philosophy of a particular content area. However, more and more for-profit universities and colleges are shifting their focuses in these realms to career specific knowledge and skills.

Perhaps there is something for K-12 education to learn from this particular perspective.

With the increased emphasis on student achievement as measured by standardized tests, the need for Humanities and Arts departments in the K-12 spectrum to understand what these for-profit schools have realized is relevant. Instead of arguing for the necessity of Arts and Humanities education when discussions of budget cuts arise, it is time we show it.

The goal of Arts and Humanities education is not necessarily to pump out artists. This is a rare and celebrated achievement, but for the most part it is not an outcome which can be banked upon. Yet, the knowledge, skills, and experiences which Arts and Humanities education provide for students is invaluable.

Some of these include the obvious critical and creative thinking skills, but also the ability to perceive other perspectives and embrace something unknown is priceless. This is the fertile ground which innovation is cultivated.

Without a doubt, there is a certain body of rudimentary body of knowledge within the specific disciplines in the Humanities and Arts that is required. Yet, focusing more on applying this small body in order to revive and cultivate the Arts and Humanities is far more important that arguing over the canon, or even the necessity of this form of education.

In other words, it is time for those of us teaching in the humanities and Arts to show the worth instead of constantly decrying the continuing erosion of budget and seemingly public importance. Perhaps it’s high time for us on the proverbial other side of the desk practice some of the advice we give out students…

“Show, don’t tell.”

]]> 2
Paradox of Students’ “Deficits” As Society’s Strengths Wed, 09 Jul 2014 14:54:21 +0000

This post by Jason Flom was originally published at All Kinds of Minds.  

The Economist article, “In praise of misfits,” lays out the business-related benefits of what the author  calls “creatives,” “anti-social geeks,” “oddball quants,” and “rule-breaking entrepreneurs.” While the entire article is well worth the read, we have pulled out a few quotes to help frame the idea that we should work tirelessly to help our school system to support these “misfits.”

Rather than treat their uniquenesses as deficits, we would do well to build on their actionable strengths and affinities — qualities that are proving to shape our present, and will surely impact our future.

From the article:

Recruiters have noticed that the mental qualities that make a good computer programmer resemble those that might get you diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome: an obsessive interest in narrow subjects; a passion for numbers, patterns and machines; an addiction to repetitive tasks; and a lack of sensitivity to social cues.


Similar traits are common in the upper reaches of finance. The quants have taken over from the preppies. The hero of Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short”, Michael Burry, a hedge-fund manager, is a loner who wrote a stockmarket blog as a hobby while he was studying to be a doctor. He attracted so much attention from money managers that he quit medicine to start his own hedge fund, Scion Capital.

The article goes on,

Entrepreneurs also display a striking number of mental oddities. Julie Login of Cass Business School surveyed a group of entrepreneurs and found that 35% of them said that they suffered from dyslexia, compared with 10% of the population as a whole and 1% of professional managers. Prominent dyslexics include the founders of Ford, General Electric, IBM and IKEA, not to mention more recent successes such as Charles Schwab (the founder of a stockbroker), Richard Branson (the Virgin Group), John Chambers (Cisco) and Steve Jobs (Apple).

All that said, however, there must be balance between the “creatives” and what the article refers to as, “The Organisation Man,” or the “‘well-rounded’ executives.” The writer goes on to explain,

Where does that leave the old-fashioned organisation man? He will do just fine. The more companies hire brilliant mavericks, the more they need sensible managers to keep the company grounded. Someone has to ensure that dull but necessary tasks are done. Someone has to charm customers (and perhaps lawmakers). This task is best done by those who don’t give the impression that they think normal people are stupid.

All of this hints at the need for the real career-ready skill of knowing simply how to get along — to not just tolerate differences, but to appreciate and leverage these differences as opportunities to innovate and become more than the sum of our parts. Our learning communities can be (and already are) incubators of the social relationships that, in part, define a student’s path beyond graduations, for better or for worse.

What if we were so bold as to decide that each student is a learner, learning changes lives,  learning happens in different ways, and learning empowers, and therefore we need to ensure that each student feels the work of schooling matters to them and that their strengths and affinities are not only valued, but embraced and employed as essential to the success of the community?

Do we need to wait until these “misfits” graduate and enter the workforce to change the following?

Those square pegs may not have an easy time in school. They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties.

Because, after all,

. . . these days no serious organisation can prosper without them. As Kiran Malhotra, a Silicon Valley networker, puts it: “It’s actually cool to be a geek.”

We, as educators and advocates of all students, have the power to change this trend. There is no need for students to wait until adulthood to find that their strengths matter, and no research suggests this is in the best interest of students, especially those “creatives, oddballs, and/or square pegs among us.

Photo Credit: BrittneyBush via Compfight cc
]]> 0
Education HAS… Sun, 25 May 2014 17:51:18 +0000 Education has become the proverbial ground zero for an age old problem. Essentially the dilemma focused on what to teach. As our economy has become more diversified and the globalized world grows in specificity of jobs, many postsecondary schools, especially the for-profits entities, base their curriculum off of professional expectations proffered by employers.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that…Not at all.

However, this is a myopic point of view at best. For-profit education, at the postsecondary level, has adopted the Ford model of education, while adapting Taylorism in the digital classroom. This leaves out two important aspects which more stringent standardized tests and colleges prove students are still lacking.

These two aspects are critical and creative thinking.

As “trickle-down” education continues to seep into the K-12 spectrum of education, secondary classes are becoming to resemble more and more the for-profit, assembly line approaches. Decades of educational research has proven that this educational philosophy and instructional strategy fails time and again.

Perhaps it is time for a new, yet proven, approach.

HAS (Humanities/Arts/Sciences) focuses on ways to engage students at the critical and creative levels through problem solving. While this is not necessarily anything completely new, the perspective is original. In some ways, HAS provides a tool in which students can effectively “hack” their education.

This series will explore the HAS approach. Over the next few months, the columns will explore the instructional design and delivery in both standard as well as non-traditional classroom.

To end this introduction, perhaps it is best to ask a question of ourselves…”How did we best learn how to do what we do best?”

]]> 2
Book Release Tue, 01 Apr 2014 01:45:02 +0000 For the readers of my column, and all others, my book _Social Studies Comes Alive_ was released on March 1st from Prufrock Press in Austin, Texas. It is filled with cross-curricular/interdisciplinary classroom instructional approaches that I have used and modified during my decade in the classroom. Ready to use handouts are included with each chapter. Follow the link below to purchase your copy now.

Thank you for your support…

Casey Davis

P.S. – Coming soon, my series on the blending of the Arts, Humanities, and the Sciences…A new approach to STEM education. And yes, this approach was classroom tested by me and approved by my students.

]]> 2