Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Thursday 8/28/14 Rally for Public Education in Ann Arbor

Here's some information about Thursday's Rally for Public Education:

Yup, I took this from the other day's post.
Find out where this cute picture comes from here!

Thursday, August 28th
5:30-6:30 p.m.
Liberty Plaza, downtown Ann Arbor off Liberty St. 

State Rep. Jeff Irwin (Ann Arbor),
AAPS superintendent Dr Jeanice Swift
AAEA president Linda Carter
Oakland Co. Clerk (and now Lt Gov candidate) Lisa Brown. (As a state representative, Ms. Brown served as the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.) 

There will also be brief readings by Ann Arbor student poets.

The rally is being organized by a newly formed group, Michigan Teachers and Allies for Change - a group of Ann Arbor-area teachers and other concerned citizens getting politically active to support public education. 

For more information, and to RSVP (helpful but not necessary), please see the event description posted on Facebook:

P.S. I can't be there. But if anyone wants to take pictures and send them to me, I will turn that into a blog post (and...special could get a photo credit!).

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Our Public Schools, Our Pride: A Bit of Manchester Schools History

A meeting at a Manchester school building took me past Alumni Memorial Field. I liked the sign, and when I saw the plaque, I knew there must be a bit of history there.

Alumni Memorial Field in Manchester, Michigan. The stone pillars
are from the 1939 dedication and the sign is from the 1991 dedication.
Photo by Ruth Kraut.
The plaque reads: "Alumni Memorial Athletic Field. Dedicated September 13, 1939 As a Memorial to Teachers Evan Essery and Minnie Sullivan Spaford. Rededicated July 18, 1991 in Remembrance of All Manchester Alumni and Faculty." Photo by Ruth Kraut
I figured that when the field was rededicated, the memories of Evan Essery and Minnie Sullivan Spaford had faded for many people. I started looking to see what I could find.

According to the Manchester Historical Society records, Evan Essery was a school teacher and then served as the Manchester Schools Superintendent for fifteen years. In 1908 he was replaced by Frank E. Howard.

[Side note: if you haven't already done so, you should take some time and check out some of the archives of our local historical societies--they are awesome.]

About Minnie C. Sullivan Spaford, at first all I could find was that she was a graduate of the class of 1881, which had ten graduates.

But then--doing searches in a variety of ways--I found some dates and names that matched, only the name was Minnie C. Sullivan Spafard. And that Minnie lived from 1861-1927 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, just off W. Austin Road.

Then I found, online, a .pdf of an article from the Manchester Enterprise on the 1991 field rededication, which explained some of the history, including that the 1939 dedication was a two-day festival!

On September 13 and 14, 1939, as a part of Gala Days and Homecoming celebration, the field was dedicated as Alumni Memorial Field because it had been purchased by the Alumni Association and donated to the school district. Acquisition of this field took our athletes out of Albert Kiebler's cow pasture, off Grossman Road, just south of West Austin Road. It also broadened the possibilities for community events such as Gala Days, track meets for rural schools, the Fair, and finally, the Chicken Broil.  
The stone pillars you walked between to enter the field for your chicken dinners were constructed in memory of two well-loved teachers. Minnie Sullivan Spafard taught in the high school until she married Fred Spafard. . .  Evan Essary was superintendent of schools but in those days, the superintendent also taught full time.

Screen shot from the Annual Circular
of the Manchester Public Schools for 1899-1900, 
found online here. (Take a look at it, there is
some interesting information about how the
schools ran then!
I think the back page of the Annual Circular of the Manchester Public Schools for 1899-1900 really sums things up. Alumni Memorial Athletic Field, and the Manchester schools in general, have been a source of pride for the local community. As public schools should be, for all of us.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Can an On-line Course Teach Poetry Slams? A Guest Post by A3 Teacher

This is Part 2 of two posts about online learning by A3 Teacher. Here is Part 1.

Last week I wrote about my experience as a student taking an online course. In my experiences, as both a student and teacher, critical thinking skills are better developed in a traditional classroom.

Many on-line schools would like to give you the idea that you can teach or do (almost) anything virtually that you can do in person. For example, for the past several years, the Michigan Virtual University has hosted a Poetry Slam Contest.  Check out the video below.

Anyone who has been to an Ann Arbor Poetry Slam will be able to clearly see, hear, and feel the difference.  

Screen shot from a Communicator article which featured
the high school poetry slam. Videos are embedded
in the article.

[Editor's Note: I couldn't figure out how to embed any of these videos, BUT if you click on the link you can watch several videos from an Ann Arbor Poetry Slam.]

In this case, I believe that the coaching, mentoring, and collaboration of face-to-face meetings results in a drastic comparison.  This is just one comparison that is an example of the depth of learning and skill-building that can happen in a classroom.  

Classrooms benefit from face-to-face interaction and discussions.  Most private schools in the Ann Arbor area do not offer online classes but instead focus on the development of relationships and cultivating inquiry and deep critical thinking skills.  Some classes are taught “seminar-style” where discussion about topics and texts is in-depth and focuses on critical engagement and theory work.  Programs such as International Baccalaureate build on the concept of mastery through the intense development of discussion, verbal practice, and depth of knowledge. Certain assessments for the IB are audio recorded and sent to other countries for objective assessment.  

I am not yet convinced that online learning has reached the ability to adequately serve even the highest achieving students.

Something different happens in a classroom discussion that cannot be replicated online.  In the on-line class I took, most of the time I spent posting to the online discussion took 5-10 minutes each.  I could also be very selective in what I read (whose posts I read) and which posts I responded to.  In contrast, a Socratic Seminar, or a discussion that pulls in students’ perceptions and opinions, or a real-time discussion that can go on for over an hour is an important skill for students to master (this being said, discussions can also go very poorly without clear parameters or an instructor who knows how to guide students).  

When students engage in sustained reading, writing, and thinking, they develop critical thinking skills that develop true depth and mastery.  A Harvard professor has students spend three hours in an art gallery staring at a painting as part of an assignment.  She states that “Every external pressure, social and technological, is pushing students in the other direction, toward immediacy, rapidity, and spontaneity—and against this other kind of opportunity. I want to give them the permission and the structures to slow down.”  This is crucial.  

When a student spends 45 minutes with a primary document, or 70 minutes discussing a 10-line poem, or 50 minutes debating the ethics of cloning, students learn how to slow down, listen, and think.  This does not mean that discussions won’t get messy (sometimes good discussions have no definite result or a clear decisive outcome), but it means that students will develop deep critical thinking skills that will benefit them in a variety of areas in life.  Students learn impulse control and to consider multiple viewpoints as opposed to seeing the world in a reactionary and simplistic way. 

Something different happens in the human brain when students spend long amounts of time thinking, reading, writing, and listening. These processes - reading, writing, and thinking - go hand in hand. Isn't that what we want?

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Experience with Online Learning: A Guest Post by A3 Teacher

This is Part 1 of two posts about online learning by A3 Teacher.

Online learning opportunities abound now. How well do they work?

This past spring, Jamey Fitzpatrick, CEO and president of Michigan Virtual University (a not-for-profit corporation), was interviewed on Michigan Radio about online classes for high school students. In a candid interview he talked about the benefits and drawbacks to online learning.  I was struck by the honest statement from Mr. Fitzpatrick when he stated that online learning is currently producing “a mixed set of results."

Mr. Fitzpatrick acknowledged that “lower-achieving kids are being directed to online learning” and as a result many Michigan schools are using online learning as a form of credit recovery (Credit recovery is when a student does not pass a class and must retake it in order to receive credit for graduation).  He further states that 

The concept of allowing high-achieving kids to use online learning as, really, a vehicle to go farther faster, doesn’t appear to be a strategy that Michigan schools are using in large numbers, which really, really surprised us.  We thought this was about how to help young people go farther faster, not necessarily help the kids that are struggling. 

This last quote struck me as I thought about the high achieving students that I have worked with.  While there is a presumption that online learning is a way to learn more at a quicker pace, I would argue that face-to-face learning is very beneficial to all types of learners.

My Own Experience: "Easy to Fake"

This spring I took a class, along with many other AAPS teachers, through the Michigan Virtual University.  The class was called “Teaching in the Online and Blended Classroom.”  I went in trying my best to keep an open mind--I wanted to be convinced that I could get on board with online learning.  Having used Blackboard, Edmodo,, and other online platforms, I consider myself a teacher who embraces technology when it augments student learning and growth.  I wanted to be surprised and perhaps even inspired to delve deeper into teaching through an online or blended option (I should note that I am still interested in blended learning and think that there are some viable options with this model).

"My biggest criticism of online learning is that it
is pretty easy to fake."
My biggest criticism of online learning is that it is pretty easy to fake.  It was easy for me to not do all of the readings, not watch the cheesy videos, and still complete assignments.  The “discussions” required me to post a response to an initial question and then respond to three others.  It was very easy to pull from a bank of canned responses:  
"I agree with your comments about…," 
"I thought it was really interesting when you said…,"  
"I find the same is true in my classroom...."

What About Developing Critical Thinking Skills?

These responses, I found, required little critical thinking on my part.  Often times I felt that I was doing them just to complete the assignment.  At the beginning of the class I would check back to see others’ responses to my posts, but after a few weeks the novelty of it wore off.  I found myself completing the required number of posting and not logging back in (what would be my incentive besides genuine interest?).

I completed the writing assignments as well, and as with the discussions, I stopped reading feedback from the teacher.  I just checked the number score and moved on (perhaps this part isn’t so different from what students can do in the classroom).  I found that the written feedback seemed canned (It felt as if perhaps it was cut and pasted) and impersonal.  Additionally, the feedback was almost exclusively positive with little challenging or constructive criticism.  Some of the writing assignments felt like they were using technology for technology’s sake (like pinning images to a Pinterest page that no one else would look at).  While I received full-credit for the course, I felt like I slid my way through with little interaction or struggle.

While there is potential with online learning, I have yet to be convinced that students--including myself--can develop the deep critical thinking skills that can happen with the combination of a traditional classroom and a highly skilled educator.     

Have you had an experience with online learning? 
How did it work for you? (Comments, please.)

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