Technology in the Classroom: Bridging or Widening the Gap?

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The ability to engage our students with technology, devices and apps, in the classroom is undeniable. Witnessing students who are engaged in activities that are only available in a technology environment can be inspiring. Students who are collaborating on a group essay, in real-time, with a student that is presently sick at home- was once thought to be impossible. So what could possibly be “Dangerous” about the current and future environments of our classrooms?

America’s development of our educational system has been one that continually adapts to deliver the vision that everyone is entitled to an equal education. From urban to rural educational systems, and everything in between, there are legal battles to ensure that our youth is grounded on equal footings to make the most out of themselves- no matter what their background and where they grow up. While we have succeeded in many areas to level the playing field, it is common knowledge that there continues to exist a gap in education when it comes to wealth.

As we look to technology and the World Wide Web to provide content and information to anyone, anyplace- we must be conscious that while the claims of opening the playing field and bringing global competition may be true, this playing field is only open to those who can afford the equipment to play. Comparing the sporting world to the educational classrooms, one can clearly see the danger I am referring to.

When you look at the sporting events that are truly open- Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Soccer- one can clearly see (just drive by your local fields/parks) that any child can afford to participate in these sports by simply getting equipment, make shift equipment if needed, and a group of kids. in comparison, select sports are still exclusive and not truly open to all- Golf, Tennis, Gymnastics, and Hockey. Whether a need of wealth for equipment, access to playing surface, or both: these sports are predominantly participated by players who have access to the funds to do so.

The same can be said when we compare technology in the classroom. Walk into the classroom of an affluent neighborhood, and you are almost guaranteed to see some form of a 1:1 environment. Can we say the same if we are to tour our urban area schools? Where are we likely to experience a Google Expeditions lesson taking place? While the message being sent is to open up experiences for those who normally couldn’t afford it, is this the experience being delivered? Which environment can afford the iPhones necessary for 25-30 students in just one classroom to go on this Expedition?

While I applaud the creation of Google Expeditions, iPads, Chromebooks, GAFE, Office365, and the countless Apps that are beneficial to teachers and the classroom- I will continue to advocate for the use case where by all students are able to take advantage of these advances in technology to better themselves and the world around them! There are advantages that wealth provides, however, we must limit this divide in our classrooms. We must be attentive to providing every student the opportunity to an equal education with technology.

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Thank You!

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5 Steps Parents can take for a Successful School Year

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With all of my former colleagues heading back in for another exciting, inspirational school year, I feel it necessary to advise my fellow parents on some steps to make this year a success for their kids. Every year, both student and teacher enter the classroom on a clean slate, but it will not be long before the hazards of a “Bad School Year” become apparent (Pun Intended). Here are 5 simple guidelines to help avoid it.

  1. Stop thinking a “C” represents Failure- over the last 10-15 years, there has been a shift in the mentality of the grading system in schools. Along the way, the prolific idea of getting Straight A’s became the movement of the norm. Getting an A used to be reserved for students who went above and beyond the actual work needed to be completed. Today, however, students are receiving As just for completing the work on the average requirements- yes, AVERAGE?!  Should your child receive a B or C from this year’s teacher, do not jump to the conclusion that your child is failing, even if they received straight As the year prior. The work they did the year prior has no indication on the work being asked of them this year, nor does it have any indication on the requirements of the current teacher. The expectations of each teacher will vary, which does not mean that one teacher is better than the other. It simply means that your child will have to reach or exceed the new expectations set forth by their current teacher. Be ready to explain that receiving a B from Mr. High Expectations, is better than the A given to them by Mr. Easy. Remember that a C represents “average”- as defined, 1. the typical or normal quality, degree.  Is it really a negative to be of typical or normal quality? If you honestly believe that an average student deserves an A, then I would suggest that your standards need to be raised.
  2. Open your mind to the possibility that it may be “your child”- I have had a running joke with one of my former colleagues for over 10 years because of these situations. Her child happened to be attending the same school we worked in, and a teacher approached about a situation involving her child. In a classic parental reaction, the exact words of…”What? Oh, no, not my child!” were exhaled. Now in defense of my colleague, her child was and is a poster child of excellence, and admirable qualities, however in this instance, it was her child. The situation was handled accordingly, after retracting said words, because of the willingness of the parent to trust the teacher. Many situations are mishandled or blown out of proportion due to the fact that as a parent, you choose to side with your child without trusting the teacher or the facts in each particular case. Yes, there are cases where a teacher has developed a vendetta on a particular child or parent, but these are extremely rare and have usually developed over time (showing a pattern). Teachers are in the classroom to teach and expect the conduct of their students to respectfully allow every individual their right to an education. The goal of every teacher is to create a safe and encouraging environment for all, and if your child is disrupting this, it needs to be dealt with. Trust me, no teacher is ever excited to make a disciplinary call to any parent.  They are made as a last resort, and your support is greatly appreciated! If upon receiving such a call regarding discipline, your reaction was to state “My child already informed me of what happened….” and you then ask “What did YOU do?”, then you are part of the problem.
  3. The way you learned is not the way your child will learn- First, let’s simply acknowledge the known fact that all students do not learn the same way. Good. So what would make you think that your child must learn in the same fashion that you did? We must also acknowledge the fact that education is transforming to meet the needs of today’s students for tomorrow’s careers. We must also allow the education system to do its job and educate our children. Using Math as a prime example- simply memorizing that 2 x 2=4 is no longer good enough. Students are being asked to understand why this is so. Students are required to provide the correct answer, however, they are now being given the opportunity to learn and understand the different options that lead to the correct answers. It is similar to the change in parenting where you actually explain an answer to your child, rather than express “Because I said so!” Should your child have some homework that you do not understand, simply document this in a note to the teacher to inform them of the troubles your child had. Please do not force them to complete the assignment the way you learned, as it limits your child’s ability to expand their learning and understand the lesson at hand.
  4. Your child’s grades are not the best indicator for future success- If you have spent any time on FaceBook, you will see many parents announce and exclaim the success of their children by posting their report cards every marking period. Every parent should be proud of the work their child is doing, but the report card is not the best indicator of success. As a matter of fact, every teacher will tell you that the report card actually holds little value, other than to update a child’s progress. I had a conversation once with a mother who claimed that because I gave her child a B, I would cause her to not qualify for Harvard! Folks, if you believe that Harvard is worried about what your child received in 4th Grade, YOU are one of THOSE parents! The best indicators of your child’s success will be based upon 2 ingredients: Effort and Social Skills! The level of your child- above, average, below- is irrelevant. You must focus on the effort your child is putting forth to improve. No student is getting paid to learn, but if they were, their grade does NOT indicate they are learning. Learning is indicated by the gaining of knowledge from current levels. Thus, your focus needs to be on the effort to gain knowledge, not that your child is an A student. Second, and most importantly, your child’s social skills- or lack of them- will be a huge factor of success or failure in the future. The world is built on communication skills, and the ability to work with others. Whether in a partnership, or in a group, the jobs of tomorrow will demand that your child work well with others. Let’s be honest, even if you are extremely intelligent, you will have a hard time keeping a job if you can’t relate to others. Do your part as a parent and make sure it is……not my kid!
  5. Be Thankful for the teacher- Whether or not you agree with the policies, the grades, the discipline, or the work- just be thankful that the teacher is willing to place him or herself in front of your child every day to do their best to educate them. To think that every year will be a blessed year for your child is impossible. There will be teachers who make a lifetime impact, and unfortunately, there will be teachers who make education a nightmare (Hopefully not). Either way, the year will be a learning experience for your child and can provide them with a foundation to be successful in the job market. We will all have bosses that impact us positively and negatively just the same. Make sure to support your teacher irregardless of your personal feelings towards them. A teacher’s job is hard enough, and the last thing any teacher wants is to have issues with parents. What other career is being guided by politicians at the federal, state, and local level; Departments of Education at the federal, state, and local level; So-Called Educational Leaders; Billionaires and their Foundations; Administrators at state, local, district, and school levels; and Board of Educations? Most of whom have little to no experience actually running a classroom. Support your teachers, support your schools, and try not to be that parent! In the end, every teacher wants to help every student- no matter what you do as a parent. Trust me though, you will get a lot more from a teacher you support than from a teacher you are fighting against.

Please talk to your child every day and encourage them to simply “Try your Best!” Keep your expectations high, but also be willing to explain why you are still proud of your child’s effort even if they are not a straight A student. As a teacher, I have so many more stories of inspiration from my C students, as many A students didn’t have to work as hard. If your child is PROUD of their effort, as the parent you need to be PROUD of your child! Work together with your child’s teacher to make the most of the school year, and the results will come. Your child will never give 100% effort to learn if they know you do not support their teacher. That responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders! Best of luck to a great year. Remember that every year, every week, every day can be a fresh start to their education!

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An Apology to Current Generations (Teachers and Students) in Education?

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As you walk into your classroom for a new year, excited and inspired, I want to apologize for the days you are destined to experience. Through no fault of your own, your classroom has been set up for failure.

It has nothing to do with the seat you will sit in, the desk you will use, the lack of technology, the old textbook, nor the artistic bulletin board for sure. You will hopefully still have a room filled with love, kindness, creativity and inspiration!

However, there are many who have come before and now lead you blindly into the future….Many who have been taught by old school word of mouth, or writings in text…..Many who continue to declare your learning environment to be uninspiring, to be failing….

Continue to declare your schools to be failing

Continue to declare your teachers to be failing

Continue to declare your parents to be failing

Continue to declare you to be…………..

Failing in a classroom THEY are failing to transform.

They talk about a “Flipped Classroom” as if it is transforming, but yet it has existed since the textbook was brought into the classroom. Do you remember having to read (learn) Lesson 2 at home to discuss the next day? placing the lesson in a video format may make it more engaging, but not transformational. Hopefully you have a teacher that will use technology for communication while you are outside the classroom to better inform him/her what you are and are not learning.

They also talk about “Station Rotation” as if it is also transforming, but yet, every elementary, middle, and high school has used some form to differentiate instruction. Simply bringing technology into the mix does not make it transformative. Hopefully you have a teacher the will use technology to make the stations engaging and efficient so when you are on your own in a small group, you are making the most of your time there.

Every student and teacher is asked to look into the mirror and judge the reflection, so look into the mirror and tell me what it says about you! Are you a Failure? I know NOT! You are a generation with more knowledge at your fingertips than any generation prior, and you use it! Whereas I learned in an offline world filled with deceit, you are tasked to learn in a world filled with deceit, both offline, and online! Whereas I grew up being careful of other who were two-faced, you are learning to be judgmental of many who remain faceless behind the screen of their computer! You have to adapt in a world that is changing EVERY DAY! Be Proud of Yourself!

In fairness, let’s ask the so-called experts to do the same and take the time to look into the mirror and tell us what they see? In true irony, the P.A.R.C.C. reflection clearly spells what their statistics mean. As for the Smarter Balance, better known as S.B., initially the reflection is clear that they too are full of it. You see, YOU are not a reflection of your test results, and neither are your teachers. Both you and your teachers are a reflection of your hard work and dedication to your education. Their test can only evaluate your effort on that particular day of testing. Their test can only evaluate how you answered their questions on that day. Have you ever panicked and did poorly on a test? Have you ever had at-home factors negatively affect you in school? Where it fails is its lack of ability to evaluate you or your teacher as a person, the drive to be better, the ability to overcome obstacles, and the pride you have in your heart!

I sincerely apologize for the failings of the older generations to provide you with a better learning environment. We are trying. We will get it right. As students and teachers, make sure to focus on the task at hand inside of your classroom! Keep your nose to the grindstone, stay inspired, and be Proud of your work!

Please Feel Free to Share, Like, or Comment!!

I am looking for submissions from anyone willing to share your stories of inspiration in Education!!

Email me at ojlowe@optonline.net

Who Suffers Most in Education Today

Education in America is in a fight for survival. Whether its Common Core, Technology, or Bullying, Education is at the forefront of many discussions. Visit your nearest water cooler, or turn on the 24 hour News channels, sit back and enjoy the experts discuss what is wrong, and what would be their solution. You just might hear, “Bill Gates built an enterprise like no other, we should listen to the group he has formed to help education.” “Common Core is a mess and asks students to show abilities that are above their developmental level.” “Digital technology is the best avenue for our student success”, and yet “it is also the worst.” “Our attack on Bullying is weakening this country by raising sissies.” Heard any of this?

One of the hottest topics is how American students have “fallen” behind our international competitors. You will hear some say they believe we led the world in education when they were growing up in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Really? You will hear how our students are ranking in the range of 20-30 and how China now ranks #1 in the world! Sadly, the facts are all being taken out of context. Do you know that International Testing (PISA) was initiated in 1997 with the first test being given in 2000 and every 3 years after? Would it change your view to know that we have ranked around 20-30 every year? Even as more countries join the testing? Would it help to know that China only lets certain kids in Shanghai who prep for the test to take it, and first joined testing in 2009? Does it really matter?

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Ladies and gentlemen, let’s make one thing perfectly clear, Education around the world is changing. Our mentality of being scared of change has opened a huge door for critics to attack our educational system. Unfortunately, it may lead to the false claims becoming true. The ones who have been able to keep our Educational System afloat are being attacked from the flanks and it is quickly weakening their positions. As a teacher of 15+ years experience, I have seen, first hand, the damage that these attacks are having on the profession. The negativity has relations from teachers to parents, students, and community strained and continues to force the very best of educators to leave the profession they truly love. More importantly, it is tearing down the structural integrity of the classroom and the control a teacher can have. History has shown that the most damaging of attacks take place silently without detection. We must be very conscious of the damage that the wave of adult negativity can cause in the structure of the educational system, especially in the classroom, as it eventually filters into the eyes of the students.

We are undermining every teacher’s effort in the classroom and thus weakening the educational system. The true power of our Educational system lies in the influence our teachers can have on our students. The so-called experts don’t understand this. Bill Gates and any other “non-experienced” expert can talk about studies and research, but there are instincts and factors to teaching that just can’t be measured. Yet, we listen to these experts tell us that our teachers are failing? In reality, it is THEY who are failing our teachers! Mr. Gates and his committee have produced the Common Core State Standards (they may be a great step forward), but did they train and equip the classrooms and teachers to perform to these new standards and way of learning? NO. Did he follow the same “business plan” with Microsoft by setting new standards of work for his employees, but never equipping them with proper training and material to do so? Did he tell his Secretary to produce documents in Microsoft Word by giving her a user’s guide, however keeping her on a typewriter? Of course not. 

Education is changing around the world. The difference is that the rest of the world continues to show respect for their teachers. The best of the best are known to openly respect all teachers on the same level we respect doctors and lawyers. So while they also go through the shift with technology, their framework around the classroom is solid and supported by the surrounding community, parents, and students. We, the American community, must not continue to damage the structural integrity of our classroom, for a collapse will be on our teachers, leaving our students alone to fend for themselves. Be careful America, when we begin to listen to experts in the field of business on Education,you must ask, What is more important: My child’s education, or the Bottom Line?

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Hidden Agenda vs Public School Education?

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The Common Core State Standards are leading the way to improve the American Education System.  Based upon their performance on PARCC and Smarter Balance Testing, students will be expected to show “Mastery” and their teachers will be evaluated based upon those results.  Supporting individuals clearly state that this is a great check and balance system with high expectations and standards that will be consistent for each and every child.  What is wrong with having high standards?  Especially with our educational system in a free fall, becoming engulfed by the rest of the world? Well…….

What if all the media surrounding Common Core State Standards and Standardized Testing is propaganda aimed at completely destroying any and all positive support for Public School Education?  Could there be a force sinister enough to collaborate behind the scenes in an effort to destroy the foundation of America that has educated many successful generations?  The first question that would need to be answered is whether or not our children are truly falling behind when compared to the rest of the world. When you look at the PISA and TIMSS results, it seems that our students have consistently ranked about the same year after year, slightly above average.  This is nothing to yell out in the streets about, but where does the panic of our declining educational system come from?  The 2010 Brown Center Report on American Education outlines the status of our educational system while debunking some myths surrounding it like the belief “that the United States once led the world on international tests of achievement. It never has.” We could argue why comparisons of educational systems via standardized testing is wrong and slighted, but it would do nothing to help identify what the problem is. As the rest of the world has invested into their own educational systems, they have dramatically improved. Does this mean that the US system has declined, or simply that many countries around the world are educating their students at a higher level that is now in comparison with the US?

So why the outcry about our “failing” school system? Well, it seems to me that anytime politics becomes involved, money is somewhere behind the scenes, so lets see where the money goes through my average joe eyes. Here in New Jersey, there are districts that are struggling to educate their children, especially in the inner cities like Newark and Camden. This is nothing new, and when you compare inner city students across the country, most are labeled as struggling. With that being said, one can easily see why these districts are targeted as if the blame is squarely on the inner city schools. Our Governor is pushing the development of Charter Schools, and personally, I have no issue with the development of any type of school that may help children, but it should never be at the expense of those in the Public Education field. The push is directed at these identified struggling districts because no one will question the attacks except for those stakeholders directly affected, and who is going to listen to the complaints coming from these inner city stakeholders? Even when the testing data shows that the Public Schools are outperforming the Charters, the propaganda drowns out the positive news. It is alarming to hear that in Newark, even though the Public continues to outperform the Charter, funding continues to be cut to the Public Schools. Do what you need to make the public schools perform negatively. This is a simple game of money and politics. All you have to do is look at who is being hired to run these Charter Schools, and simply connect the dots back to the politicians. It is an absolute shame because it is the children who suffer in this game. 

Our students losses are at Big Businesses gains! It has become big enough to even get coverage as an Investment Opportunity! In other words, the Charter Schools will do whatever it takes to make money, for that is the business it is in. Think about that……..Now think about what is best for your child? Sadly, it has never been proven that Charter Schools are better performing. When you look into it, what is truly different?  Are the classrooms different? Are the teaching styles revolutionary? Simply, the answer is No. In comparison, they are in the same class as a private school. One in which they get to select which students get to attend, and have the option to dismiss students who are not performing up to their level, both options of which a Public School does not have. The difference is that big business is playing with the guaranteed funds of our taxes. By preying on the hopes and dreams of the inner city school parents who are fed up with the failures of the inner city schools, these charter schools will continue to expand. If these charter schools simply educated our students better, then why is the focus in the inner city? If they simply educate better, and are the answer to making the US #1, then I along with everyone else would want my children to go there also.

The problem with America’s Educational System is that money and politics got involved! From NCLB to CCSS, our focus is to solve the propaganda that our educational system is somehow failing our students. The truth be told, we are failing our students………simply because the focus is on everything else, but THE STUDENTS!! I was lucky to have worked under the great leadership of Principal Joe Vicari and Asst. Principal Alan Ball at one point in my career who advised in one of our first meetings: “Ed, don’t make teaching too complicated. Truly care for each student, set high expectations, and the rest will take care of itself!” Many of my prior posts explain how I feel, and how my students believed in my classroom, so I want to be clear.  Spreading propaganda about a failing educational system is the work of those who would benefit the most to do so. Those who have gained the most are…….Politicians and Charter Schools. When it comes to Public Education and its funding, big business should have no business in it.  Why would anyone think that a better educational system is one in which the focus is on the bottom line? We need to place the focus back on the STUDENT(S) and provide the solutions necessary to meet each and every one of their NEEDS to succeed. Let’s get back to setting high expectations, identifying their needs, and caring for each individual child, so the rest can take care of itself!!