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Tuesday Trivia: April 21, 2015

How much do YOU know about Marquette University and the College of Education?
Test your knowledge (and win cool prizes) every Tuesday!

In honor of Earth Day tomorrow…

EarthDay11

Who wrote Silent Spring, a book that documented the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment and on birds?

 

Claim your chance to win by leaving the correct answer in the comments section below anytime today between 7am – 11pm. And don’t be afraid to play, even if someone has already posted the right answer! One winner will be randomly selected from ALL correct answers and announced the following day.  The winner will be posted on our Facebook page and notified by email.  Please note that you must have a valid email address listed in your comment or WordPress profile to win.

On Student Loans, Teacher Loan Forgiveness, and Free Teacher Education

Student-Loans-5By Nick McDaniels — If this post comes off as self-interested, that’s because it is.

I, like many American teachers in their twenties and thirties, have student loans to repay.  I, like the same American teachers, hope they are repaid before I must begin paying for my daughter to go to school.

Teachers, in the past and today, including I, have found some relief from student loans through repayment and forgiveness programs specifically designed to reduce the burden of loans on teachers teaching in low-income schools.   However, these programs have become harder and harder to take advantage of as more and more teachers are receiving loans which make them ineligible for forgiveness or repayment programs, or are faced with the prospect of teaching and paying on loans for 120 consecutive monthly payments before a forgiveness opportunity kicks in.

The economics of this for me means I likely gain just as much benefit from paying these loans off as quickly as possible rather than waiting for potential repayment incentives which might even match the interest I’ll pay over the amount of time waiting for the incentives to kick in.

If this is the case for me, as it must be for some others, then our incentive program is not that much of an incentive at all and should be overhauled.  If we are considering an overhaul, we must consider a few things, and we’ll pretend that it is not an option to make college education free to all Americans:

1) Is teaching a career that we want to incentivise with student loan forgiveness programs?

I think when comparing the balance of social importance of teachers with the relative low pay, making teacher training costs less of a long term encumbrance on teachers is likely a good thing.

2) If we want to incentivise teaching as a career choice, then how can we do so through student loan programs?

I think the answer here is simplicity.  If a program is devised that allows 18 year old future teachers to enroll in a program that will guarantee them if they teach in a certain type of school until they are 28 years old or 32 years old and the entirety of their student loan balance will be repaid, no matter how much they have paid, no matter how much they owe, no matter what type of loans they have, then we have created an incentive where the choice is much clearer for the soon to be teachers.  In other words, the closer we can get to a “you agree to teach, you go to school for free” program, the more impact it will have as an incentive.

3) If we want a simplified method of years-of-service/location-of-service oriented teacher loan repayment, how would that system dovetail with the current system we know?

The answer is likely to create a separate class of student loans designed specifically for future teachers.  These loans would then have to be easily transitioned into other types of loans in the event that the person receiving the loans became no longer eligible under term of repayment.   Having a separate, profession-specific track of student loans would give policy makers the freedom to determine the value of having good teachers relative to the value of having those same teachers encumbered with student loans.  This could open the possibility of having more profession-specific tracks of student loans to incentivise the building of certain professions.

In the arena of trying to convince young, bright people to become teachers, creating financial incentives is part of the process and a serious look at the seemingly ineffective teacher incentives provided by the current student loan scheme is necessary.

What does “brain science” actually tell us about learning?

Human head with wheelBy Laura Sumner Coon — You can barely escape the lingo these days in education.

It usually begins, “Brain science tells us ….” followed by some prescription for education linked with what scientists are discovering about how we think and learn. The phenomenon is frankly …  mind-boggling.

How do we know what is credible and has value in our roles as educators or future teachers?

A team of three people – two cognitive psychologists and a storyteller – have collaborated to write a book, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, that attempts to set us straight. They reviewed, and in some cases conducted, empirical scientific research undertaken in the last 40 years that can boldly claim how we learn. The work, co-authored by Henry Roediger III, Mark McDaniel and Peter Brown, was published in 2014 by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. And although reading just one more book in this season of finals may make your head spin, I guarantee you it would be well worth your while – grade-changing, even.

Learning, they argue, is vastly misunderstood, and we approach it all wrong. Learning, they say, is all about “acquiring knowledge and skills and having them readily available from memory so you can make sense of future problems and opportunities.”

With that in mind, they are pretty emphatic about a few things. Learning requires memory. This may be a challenge for those who think rereading notes and books under the flicker of the midnight oil and studying blocks of subject material to cram for an exam is learning. That kind of “learning” is misguided and very temporary.

Rather, these scientific folks say that forcing yourself to retrieve material presented to you by memory and making certain you have made some cognitive connection of this new material with previously learned information is real learning that stays with you, like the ABC’s or the i-before-e grammar rule.

If you want to uncover some sound cognitive tips for learning as a student or for teaching students, this book is a precious resource. While I’ll let you discover its full benefits, let me leave you with a few tips from the authors that may improve your performance on this semester’s finals.

  1. First, know that this kind of real learning is difficult and takes more time, but that you certainly have the ability to master this kind of learning.
  2. Practice recalling the things you have learned from memory first. Quiz yourself. Use flashcards. Make yourself write it out in an understandable paragraph. Then, check yourself for accuracy and repeat. But here’s the catch …
  3. Repeat this “memory retrieval” process after a little “forgetting” has set in. This forces us to nudge that new material into our long term memory. And…
  4. Don’t study just one subject or type of problem at a time. Try to clump related subjects together and interlace your study of them, making connections when you can. This kind of “interleaving” recall is much more difficult, but has much stronger staying power.
  5. “Elaborate” about what you’ve learned. Put it in your own words. Relate it to a story or something you already know in order to lace it up in your memory.
  6. To do that, you have to be “reflective.” Take some time to mull over your new learned information and ask yourself – what went well, what could go better, of what does this remind you?
  7. Have some tricks up your sleeve that prompt your memory. These are called “mnemonic devices,” ways that assist you in remembering theories, facts, or new information. You might even try making up stories in a setting that helps you remember a process or sequence of facts. “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” is a mnemonic device just about every new music student committed to memory in order to learn the lined notes in the treble clef, for instance.

While theories may abound about the best learning strategies, the authors of Make It Stick have boiled learning down into an understanding way that offers readers an abundance of simple, accessible tactics to teaching and learning.

Pick up a copy of the book or try some of these simple strategies. I think they are bound to make a difference. Happy learning!

The Adventure

58616872By Taylor Gall  — College is stressful.

Why, it was just a few weeks ago that I laid down in the back of my car after observing and listened to the Arthur theme song and shed a tear or two, thinking of nothing but the three papers and two tests I had to study for.

Now, Arthur can only do so much for me. I mean he’s an armadillo and I don’t know if he’s legally allowed to solicit advice to a struggling college student/student worker/board chair/sorority member/student blogger/secret nighttime crime fighter. He was, however, a childhood favorite and was what I wanted in my time of stress.

There comes a point in every college student’s career (or maybe this is a daily occurrence for some) when they are in over their heads. There is always another paper to finish up, another group project to begin, another phone call to make, another friend to call, and another email to respond to. There are mornings I wake up and stare at my ceiling and say:

“OH GOD WHY. THERE ARE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE DOING COOL THINGS IN SYDNEY AND PARIS AND BEIJING, BUT I’M HERE IN MY FLANNEL PJS, FEELING UNDER-PREPARED AND OVERWHELMED. I CAN’T FIND MY LEFT SNEAKER AND HAVEN’T GONE GROCERY SHOPPING IN 2 WEEKS, SO I’M EATING MARINARA SAUCE FOR BREAKFAST.”

There are plenty of days that I question myself as a student and as a young adult. It’s difficult to hear about my friends’ adventures abroad and my peers’ adventures in the “real world beyond college” and not wonder why I’m slaving away in a fluorescent-lit library so that I can write yet another seven page lesson plan that my students might not even like.

There is a big old world out there, and I feel like I am missing out on it. I know for a bonafide FACT that I am missing out on it. There are flamencos being danced and mountains being climbed. There are camels being ridden and adventures being had, but I remain here in my armchair in the College of Education lounge.

But here is the thing that I/we/you need to remember when you get a case of the “missing outs”:

By missing out on THAT, you are able to experience THIS…

-You are able to wake up every morning to a campus of 12,000 students just like you.

-You are able to walk around a campus where people know your name, where there are people who genuinely care for you.

-You are able to live in one of the weirdest and most fun little cities around.

-You are able to be a silly young adult and do things like go on ice cream runs at 3am and hang out with your friends every second of every day.

-You are learning about the world in classes taught by awesome professors.

-You are able to get a great education that will help you change the world one day.

-You have been told a million times and it is true: College is the most unique and exciting four years of your life, so live it up. Enjoy it while you can.

You may not be climbing a mountain (you may just be climbing the stairs in the AMU), but you’re in the adventure of a lifetime and you don’t even know it. Seize your adventure every day, breakfast of marinara sauce and all!

Thank Goodness for Spring Break!

imagesBy Shannon Bentley — I’m an alumna of Milwaukee Public schools. And I recall that nothing was better than waiting for Spring Break to appear around the corner.

I became anxious, and anticipated the likely things that I would do during break with my family or friends. My favorite thing in the world to do was go to Wisconsin Dells and enjoy swimming in the resort as my mom relaxed by the pool either reading a book or taking a nap. Spring break was an exhilarating moment as a child and teenager, because I was able to take a break from my teachers and the schoolwork that exhausted my life.

Spring Break was only a week long, but when you are younger, you learn to make use of the time off that you’re offered. My emotions would go from low to high in a split second and all I wanted to do was have the best fun ever. Even though I went to college, the spring breaks still continued with adventurous fun with my best friends and working a part-time job to make some money on the side. No matter what – Spring break was the moment to live life to the fullest.

Now that I am older and a student teacher, I realized one thing – I was STILL excited for spring break to come! It had nothing to do with what I was going to do over break, because I noticed that I am over the essential partying or going out of town. Spring break is the best way to take a break from my students and begin new when we return. Staying in school begins to frustrate students and they too become anxious to take a break. School requires a lot from their students like state mandated testing, regular classwork, and extracurricular activities. Students aren’t able to be themselves until the day before Good Friday approaches. Therefore, everyone experiences that anxiety from students and hopes that their breaks will bring new and fresh attitudes.

Nonetheless, I still want to continue to enjoy myself. Teaching is hard work that deserves a 24/5 commitment for a great number of students. I am a dedicated teacher, however, teachers have to have fun too right? We are human and need to make use of the break as well, so that we can continue to be strong for the students whom we serve to teach.

Tuesday Trivia: April 14, 2015

How much do YOU know about Marquette University and the College of Education?
Test your knowledge (and win cool prizes) every Tuesday!

TuesdayTrivia

In honor of Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day (sorry folks, the nearest Ben & Jerry’s is in Glenview, IL)…

Where and what year did Ben & Jerry’s first begin?

ben-and-jerrys-free-cone-day

Claim your chance to win by leaving the correct answer in the comments section below anytime today between 7am – 11pm. And don’t be afraid to play, even if someone has already posted the right answer! One winner will be randomly selected from ALL correct answers and announced the following day.  The winner will be posted on our Facebook page and notified by email.  Please note that you must have a valid email address listed in your comment or WordPress profile to win.

eLearning? eAcademy? eLegitimate? My Conversation with a Direct Mailer

By Claudia Felske — I am about to have a conversation with a direct mailer.

Advertisements for virtual charter schools have been clogging my mailbox, making full-color oversized promises of educational utopia in an attempt to lure away yet more funding from already cash-strapped local schools.

So when yet a third direct mailer recently entered my home from eAchieve Academy, a virtual charter school within Waukesha public schools, that little voice inside me, often squelched in the interest of good manners, demanded to be heard, and so, it shall.

eAchieve logoIn the following dialogue, eAchieve Academy (eAA) will be represented by its own words as quoted from its direct mailers, and I (CF) shall play the role of myself, a public school English teacher and technology integration specialist, more than a bit skeptical about the claims of eAchieve Academy and the merits of sitting a child in front of a computer and calling it a superior education.

eAA: “Is your child happy in school?”

CF: Happiness, while important, is not the first question one should ask a student about school, ever. Happiness to a teenager may mean a jar of Nutella and a spoon, a string of easy A’s, or the opportunity to watch a viral cat video over and over and over again, yet I hardly think any of those define a quality education. A better question might be “Is your child learning?” or “Is your child sufficiently challenged in class?”

eAA: “What if there was a tuition free alternative to traditional classroom based school?”

CF:  Nothing is free, period. As is the case with all charter schools in Wisconsin, state aid follows the student, so “free tuition” is taxpayer provided tuition, tuition which would otherwise contribute to the working budget of that student’s local school.

eAA: “[We offer] the ability to go to school from home in a safe environment free from classroom distractions, social drama, bad influences and bullying.”

CF: a.k.a. your child can avoid all potentially unpleasant social situations, can elect not to interact with others, can refrain from hearing differing points of view; in essence, your child can opt out of being a part of the larger world in its complexity, diversity, richness, and  yes, conflicts, but I hardly think this will give him/her an edge in our increasingly diverse population and global economy.

eAA: “[We offer] experienced, state-certified professional teachers.”

CF: On your website, I found rudimentary teacher bios, but nowhere could I find how long any of your teachers have been teaching, kind of a biggie when you’re boasting of an “experienced” staff.  I also wonder why teachers would opt for online teaching, especially when I learned from Principal Rick Nettesheim (I had questions about my mailer, so I called) that the average virtual high school teacher has 300 students (over twice what traditional teachers have). Why would an experienced teacher opt for a less personal relationship with students, and a much higher student-teacher ratio?

eAA: “[We offer] flexible scheduling with the opportunity to work at your own pace.”

CF: Knowing both students and human nature, I can see this working well for maybe 10% of the student population, tops.  Let’s be  honest here: we are, by nature, procrastinators, which in part is why in-person learning works, why teacher encouragement and face-to-face motivation helps, why the human element is essential. This seems to be corroborated by the low graduation rates of virtual schools (more on this later).

eAA: “[We offer] a wide range of technology-rich class options including honors, AP and elective classes.”

CF: Yet, when I look on the eAA website, I see that music offerings consist of music appreciation and music theory – no actual playing of music (this was confirmed by Principal Nettesheim). Furthermore, AP classes have no in-person dimension. Having taken some virtual graduate courses, I can attest that online discussion boards are “to do” tasks rather than rich human interactions. The same can be argued of online science labs. Hands-on learning and face-to-face interactions are essential to higher-order thinking.

eAA: “[We boast] a 10-year track record of success” and have “the best graduation rate of any Wisconsin virtual schools.”

CF: When I asked how “success” is defined, I was directed to the website where it became clear that eAA chose its words very carefully:  in comparison to other virtual schools, it does perform well, but in comparison it to Wisconsin brick and mortar schools it fares poorly.  Looking at the most recent comparatives (2011-2012) eAchieve Academy has a 69% graduation rate while Waukesha West High School has a 96% graduation rate and the Wisconsin state average is 89%. This means that eAchieve Academy has a 20% lower graduation rate than the state average and a 28% lower rate than the brick and mortar high school in its own school district. This is a curious definition of “success.”

eAA: “Aspiring athletes or performing artists find it difficult to pursue their passions in life when they are stuck in a school building all day.”

CF:  Our school buildings (the ones students are “stuck in…all day”) contain opportunities for those “aspiring athletes or performing artists” while yours don’t. We provide coaches, mentors, teammates, instruction, practices, performances, and competitions. You provide none of these, but instead require parents to become independent contractors seeking (and funding) private lessons, select teams, and other experiences outside of school to supplement their child’s education.

eAA: “Students with physical or mental health issues struggle to keep up when they miss class. Kids who don’t ‘fit in’ spend more time worrying about their safety than their studies.”

CF:  Here, you are correct. We support students with physical or mental challenges within a mainstreamed classroom environment because research shows that it is essential for student growth and well being to be part of a larger community, to grow in social settings, to gain real world experiences during adolescence instead of being isolated from peers and social interactions. We also believe the issue of bullying is one that must be countered with interventions and education rather than evasion or isolation.

eAA: “Your child does not have to spend another semester in an educational environment that does not match their learning style and individual needs.”

CF: I’m curious what “learning styles” and individual needs” can be met by a teacher sitting in front of a computer, juggling a student load of 300.  This sounds to me more like the warehousing of students than meeting individual student needs.

eAA: “Our rigorous, standards-based curriculum fosters critical 21st century skills needed to succeed in college, work and life; skills like self-motivation, time management, independent thinking and problem solving.”

CF: This sounds like 95% of  the public school mission statements I’ve read in recent years. Schools—whatever their shape or size—are exquisitely skilled at writing mission statements. Yet, perhaps the most essential of these “21st century skills” is sorely lacking in virtual schools: collaboration – critical opportunities for students to work cooperatively on authentic problem-solving tasks. Furthermore, employers repeatedly cite “inability to work with others” as a top reason workers are fired. This critical soft skill simply is not developed in a virtual school setting.

eAA: “[We are] empowering Wisconsin families through public education at home.”

CF: I wonder how many families are empowered through virtual schools. I wonder how many are actively involved in their child’s virtual education experience. I wonder how often—in this financially-trying time—both parents are working while students are unmonitored at home. And I wonder if this, in part, explains the low graduation rates of virtual schools compared to school settings where teachers and support staff are physically present to monitor and help students.  

eAA: “Too often, learning opportunities in traditional schools are hampered by rigid schedules, limited curriculum options, antiquated teaching methods or budget cuts.”

CF:  Wow.  You do know, eAchieve Academy, that you are a part of Waukesha Public Schools and, in turn, Wisconsin Public Schools? So why the public school bashing? Aren’t we in this together? Or has school choice created a civil war, pitting us against us? A most unfortunate state for education; still, these claims must be challenged:

  • We’re “hampered by rigid schedules”? — You’re hampered by a lack of structure (see human nature/procrastination argument above).
  • We have “limited curriculum options”? — The pot clearly calling the kettle black. I teach at a high school with less than 600 students, yet our course offerings far surpass yours, 48 more to be precise. We have a plethora of offerings to meet student needs from remedial to AP, and we have many courses not offered at eAchieve Academy including live music, hands-on art, physical education classes which are actually physical, tech ed, agriculture, robotics, STEM, and others.
  • “Antiquated teaching methods”? – We integrate technology into our teaching practices instead of largely replacing teachers with technology; we interact face-to-face with our students while leveraging a wide variety of teaching methods: lectures, activities, discussions, labs, interactive web tools, collaborative group work, student presentations and speaking opportunities.
  • “Budget cuts” – Okay, you got me there. Yes, we do have budget cuts thanks to many factors including charter schools such as yours whose advertising tactics and questionable claims do indeed lead to budget cuts. Kudos for taking ownership on that one.
20150410_105416~2

One of several eAchieve Academy mailers sent to my home

Don’t misunderstand me. Virtual schools may be a viable alternative for some individuals. What I find objectionable is not the existence of eAchievement Academy, but its barrage of direct mailings, its misleading claims, its the tone of not being with us, but against us.

What’s clear here is that schools are being pitted against each other. Wisconsin’s broken school funding system is forcing districts to cut corners, to engage in deceptive student-grabbing tactics, to put finances before learning. And once again, it’s the students that suffer.

No more mailings please.

I think many would agree – not a prudent use of taxpayer dollars.


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