Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Increasing student interest in science, math

Read an interesting article in the times about Obama's attempt to spurt students to purse science..

As a teacher of Math and Computer Science, I completely agree with the fact that not enough students are pursuing these fields. While I doubt that having movie stars or athletes promoting science will do anything, some of the other initiatives might make a difference. Read the article to learn more.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sleeping During Testimony

I spent 2 years in the New York city public school system at a rough inner manhattan school and, during that time, knew of 3 different teachers who received enough unsatisfactories to be 'tried' to see if they should retain their licenses. Now, I myself was never in their classrooms so I'm not writing to judge them or my school--but I couldn't help but be amazed by a recent article in the New York Times education . Apparently, 1 artibtrator who was in charge of deciding the fate of a new york city teacher's job and (I think license) actually feel asleep during testimony. Here's a direct quote from the times's article:
Arbitrator Goldberg’s sleep ‘episodes’ were witnessed by three department attorneys, as well as two hearing witnesses.”

Just had to share this one. Sometimes is truth is stranger than fiction

Monday, November 2, 2009

NYTimes article on education games

Don't have much time here but jst a quick post--read a great article in the New York Times about how education based video games are becoming more and more popular. Give the article a read.

Personally, my favorite site for math games is The Math Games.com

Sunday, November 1, 2009

New York Tutoring

Another interesting article on new york tutoring--one of my favorite subjects and one I've written about before.

I sometimes wonder what tutors can make in other suburbs. $125 to $140 an hour for high school level tutoring in new york

I'd be curious to know what the going rate for calculus tutors in other places like Boston, San Francisco is .

Test Prepping in New York and Los Angeles

Read an interesting article here --the basic premise is that students do not have enough play time at school--that nowadays students's schedules are much more structured with little 'choice' time. Here's a direct quote:
Among the findings is the fact that kindergartners in New York City and Los Angeles spend almost three hours a day engaged in reading and math instruction and test preparation, leaving fewer than 30 minutes for "choice time," or play.

Apparently teachers in New York city and LA are doing a lot of test prepping. Now, I've certainly never taught in the elementary levels, but I can definitely say that the same emphasis on test scores pervades both of the New York high schools where I have taught--one of which was an inner city school in Manhattan and the other is a high nonperforming district in Westchester county. For better or for worse, No Child Left Behind has imbued schools and teachers with a sense of the importance of standardized tests-- after all, a large factor in your school's ratings has to do with these test scores so it is only natural.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Obama--radically change teacher education schools

I just read an interesting article (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091022/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_obama_teachers).

It looks like the Obama administration wants to change the education prep schools. Read the article for the full low down but a quick summary is--
education schools are 'cash cows' for universities becuase lots of teachers enroll in them and the schooling costs the universities little but these schools, according to many teachers, don't really prepare teachers for the classroom.

I took classes at two different graduate education schools including Columbia University's Teachers College (one of the top ranked ones both in New York state and the nation), and I definitely agree that the schools are heavy on theory and light on the real experience and mentoring that would better server teachers new to the profession.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Obama and Extended School Year

If you're a teacher , you've probably read about Obama's desire to increase the school year in an effort to increase America's competitiveness internationally. I understand the logic in this proposal which goes something like 1) other countries' students do better on international tests than we do 2) other countries have longer school years --> therefore we should have longer school years to get better test scores.

However, nothing operates in a vacuum and, in my opinion, until America's culture shifts and students and families start putting more responsibility on the student--it really won't matter much how long the school year is --because students just don't work that hard. Yes, they might work a few more weeks under this proposal but if those weeks consist of the diluted efforts that characterize much of American students's work--then the benifit will, in my prediction, be marginal at best.

I'm sorry to say it--but a lack of work ethic pervades the attitudes of a large proportion of our youth--and I say this as someone who teaches in one of the 'top 100 public school's in the US (according to those newsweek). Until more families start to place greater responsibility and value on doing well in school, a few weeks here and there won't have much, if any, of an impact on the international academic standings of our students.

Some related articles
1) the negative economic impacts of this proposal

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Trying to Earn a Buck as a Teacher!

I wanted to write a quick post about teacher salaries--I have worked for some of the lowest and highest paying counties in New York state ----and , wow, I can tell you there is quite a range. At one private school--where I first started teaching, the salary was barely enough to survive and teachers did a lot of private tutoring to make up for this. There's a lot more opportunity to make some good tutoring to money in private schools where the parents are, in general, wealthier and more inclined to spend the money on home tutors. That said, there are some public schools --like my current one in WestChester County--that have a pretty darn high base line salary (starting salary is about 60K I believe and goes up above 6 figures--at 8 years you're already make about 90K!) My school is not even the highest paying in Westchester County or in Long Island. Talk about a quality of life change--moreover, these high paying counties have many of the perks that you would normally seein a private school including: 1) generally smaller class sizes albiet not as small as most private schoosl 2) generally motivated and high achieving students 3) more opportunties for private tutoring!

If you want to be a New York Tutor, check out Hubalub.com --I'll write a bit more about them in a future post but they're a site that helps New York based tutors find tutoring. The site only accepts certified public school teachers so if you have your certification check em out!

Other good Links for Tutoring in New York:

  1. http://www.mathwarehouse.com/private-tutoring/state/new-york/new-york-tutors.php a good low dow of new york tutoring including some of the best places to tutor in new york
  2. Jobs for teachers and Tutors in New York

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dept of Education report on Online Learning

A study just came out from the US Dept of education on the efficacy of online learning vis a vis traditional learning and, basically, the report states that classes that infuse online learnining are more successful than those that solely use traditional face-to-tace education.
Here's a quot4e from the Abstract:
The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.

If you have the time to read the full 93 page report, here it is (pdf file).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Obama Administration: Tests will matter more!

Just read a New York Times article about the obama administration's push for education. It seems that the emphasis on students scores is only going to increase. Here's a quote

“We’re mindful of all the criticisms about federal overreaching, about too much testing, of all the complaints about No Child Left Behind,” Mr. Cunningham [Education Department spokesman ]said. “These complaints come up all the time in conversations about all our programs, not just this one, with education officials across the country. The context that No Child has generated is the context that we have to live with.”

The administration is also pushing that teacher evaluations be more closely tied to student test performance-- Many teachers, including myself, find this problematic. If you're asking, yourself 'Why don't teachers want to be assessed based on student performance?' you're probably not a teacher. It is not because I do not want to be held accountable--but rather becuase associating teacher performance with student test performance opens a pandora's box of issues--only a few of which I'll discuss.

#1) If you get a strong vs a weak class, your test scores will unfairly affect your reviews as a teacher--for better or for worse. All of us who have taught know how true this is--a strong class will do well no matter who teaches them and some classes are unmotivated no matter what you do. Moreover, I get 1-2 'skewed' classes a year (strong or bad) and that's over half of the number of classes I teach that take a standardized test. In other words, more than half of the data that would influence my year end performance will, on average, be comprised by a 'good' or 'bad' class's performance. Moreover, what about the teachers who only teach 1 standardized test based class?

#2) States will have even more of an interest in making tests easier. Anyone who has taught Math in New York state just needs to look at how easy the Math A regents (or the new Integrated Algebra) have become over the last 7 years or so. Also consider this, how can you hold an Integrated Geometry teacher responsible for low test scores on the difficult Geometry test when the same students passed the prior year's integrated Algebra exam--even though the latter test is a complete joke requiring like 1/3 of the total points to pass?

#3) It's almost a gurantue that by encouraging teachers to 'teach to the test' the 'good' teachers who encourage true thinking and inquiry will have to replace thought provoking education will test tricks--trust me, test tricks work but they do not necessarily teach much else.

A Great New City Dentist

This post does not fit in with my normal one here--but I had to help promote this guy--he's a dentist that I just started going to and basically, he saved me from having to get a root canal! My prior dentist said I needed one, but went Dr. Auerbach who was able to fill my tooth : no root canal needed!

So if you live in or near Rockland county, New York and need a great New City Dentist check out his website or read about him on yelp.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Summer Time

Now, I want to first start this post by stating that I did not get a teaching job just so I could have summers off! That said, by the time June rolls around I ready for summer! I am in the last stages of getting my students prepared for the end of the year regents, God rest this course's soul after this year, and I just wanted to say...bring on the summer!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Teacher Observations

I have taught at both public and private schools . And there were, obviously, many differences between the two types of institutions. I have to say that maybe the greatest farce of public schooling has been the way in which teacher observations have been used by administrators. Please know that I've not had 'problems' with administrators. I work at a high paying, high performing public school and teach largely motivated students--it's quite nice. But I've always been intrigued and, at times, disturbed by the discrpencies between perception and reality vis a vis teacher performance. I have seen many good teachers get 'bad' write ups and vice versa. True enough, that being a 'good teacher' is a subjective judgement but regardless of what your personal opinion of good or bad teaching is, there is an inevitable farce that can occur during an observation.

If you assume that an observation is supposed to asses the normal conditions/teaching styles that occur on a daily basis, there is an immediate obvious problem: as soon as a strange person with a suite and tie or as soon as a well known administrator with a suit and tie enters your classroom... guess what? Students suprisingly do not act naturally. Of course, there are some exceptions--some students could care less whether or not principal is in the next seat, but those kids are rare. I know of classes that behaved great during an observation on a teacher--even though the students were known to dislike the teacher and believe that the said teacher was very very bad at teaching. And I know of examples where students interacted quite disrespectfully while a teacher who was quite respected was teaching.

So what can we draw from these observations?....that a teacher's control of a class or rapport with a class cannot be accurately assessed by an external observer who surprises the class by a once or twice a year visit.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Teaching in Hard Times

Well, it's not the first post about being a teacher in hard economic times, but I can say, as several of my friends find themselves either
A) Out of work
B) worried daily about the potential of soon being out of work.

It's yet again good to be a teacher! I actually had noteworthy conversation with one of my friends, a guy who recently lost his very lucrative wall street job, and he asked me what we teachers are going to do to help out--are we going to take a reduced pay or what? And I couldn't help but chidingly respond to him: "Are you going to give back all of your bonuses from the last decade?" Well, I could tell from his grin that he got my point!

If you need a teaching job, go her for teacher placement services. I've used both NAIS and Carney Sandoe(for private school job hunts) and can recommend both.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The TI 89 Graphing Calculators: They can do anything!

I have taught Math for many years and have generally used the TI 84, TI-83 Graphing Calculators--pretty cool calculators that can do neat things like add imaginary numbers and output the results in reduced form etc.. But the TI-89 is like getting used to a whole new machine. When you first encounter it, you might not even know how to use it as the main screen's menu and interface is completely different. However, if you work your way through learning it, the 89 can really do some powerful things including algebra! This of course raises the issue of whether or not it is appropriate to use such powerful machines to take a test; many tests, in fact, do not allow the 89's to be used. So before you go out to buy a graphing calculator like the 89, you should first make sure that it a) can be used on any standardized tests that you take and b) isn't too fancy for your own tastes.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Red Ink--is it that bad?

I recently had some professional development that focused on ways to cultivate positive relationships with students, something that all teachers (ideally) value; it's always a fine line to both support students's ideas while at the same time maintain respect for the truth during class discussions-- as a teacher in the classroom leading a discussion, you'll inevitably get some responses that are way off and, no matter how you cut it, are just 'wrong.' ...navigating these kinds of classroom discussions is definitely a skill that improves with time and experience.

There was one point during the PD that I just can't buy: that students' self esteem is effected by using red pens to correct their errors... that the very choice of ink color (red) is a factor that can demoralize students. The argument put forth, as best as I could tell, was that since red has been used so often to correct students that this ink color is a psychological trigger for students, one both demoralizing and damaging.
I must say that I wholeheartedly disagree with this. I use red pen simply to distinguish the color of my remarks from the color of the student's ink. Oftentimes, the comments that I write in red are quite positive or neutral. In the end, I believe that a teacher's rapport with students is what will demoralize or uplift the students' response to your feedback, regardless of whether you use red ink, blue ink or pink ink.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Teacher Resources Reviews I : Math Resources

I wanted to take some time to write about quality resources for teachers and try to get the word out about some cool things I've seen that might help you in the classroom as much as it's helped me.  One of the coolest math teacher resources  that I've encountered is Drexel's Math Forum . It's one of the first stops for newbie math teachers. On the forum, you can find all sorts of threads relating to instructional technology, teaching methods, and even content based threads about math.  

Grade for this resource:  A-  (All right, all right I have high standards!)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Budget Cuts and Teacher Jobs

If you've got any sense of what's going on in the world, you know that the US and many other countries are in a recession, and you might be wondering if your teaching job is secure.  Interestingly enough, teaching is considered one of the more recession proof jobs  Nonetheless, even schools are tightening their belts and in some cases cutting down on their workforce.  From talking to teacher in other disctricts, the first jobs that are cut are, not suprisingly, the teacher aides, and some schools are also cutting down on the ranks of teachers. 

What does this all boil down to? If your the lowest person on the totem pole, especially if you don't have tenure, you might want to update that resume, to start networking with other teachers (A good place to meet other teachers is at www.facultyu.com --a social network for teachers!) 

When all is said and done though, we are in a much better profession than most during these tough economic times. My good friend, an investment banker, who for years has made much much more money than I... is currently unemployed.  If you're a teacher and looking for a job, here are some good teacher placement services--I've personally used Carney Sandoe, Independent School Placement and OlAS at one point or another (see previous link for more info).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Math B: Thank God it's Ending!

Today, I sat down with the rest of the math teachers in our department to grade the January 2009 Math B regents. I found myself thinking "Thank god the Math A and Math B sequence is coming to a close this year" For those of you who are ignorant (blissfully so) of what has been largely seen as a failure: the math A and Math B sequences divide up the traditional Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II sequence a little differently.  Rather than devoting one year to each of the aforementioned subjects,  Math A covers algebra I and some geometry. Math B covers the rest of geometry and Algebra II.  With few exceptions, schools teach these courses over a year and half. Anyone who has ever prepared a student for an end of the year standardized test like the New York Regents might immediately see the issue. There is a long amount of time and a large amount of material covered by the test.  At the end of June when studetns sit for the test, they must remember things from about a year and a half ago!  The Math B is particularly tough for most students becuase it covers a lot of  'real math' and the curve is much less forgiving than the Math A.  You also invaraibly get some curve ball questions like the logarithmic regression question, question 33.  The thing that was most annoying about this question is that you had to take a natural log regression--and natural logs are not even in the Math B curriculum

Having taught the course for years, I wondered to myself "Did I just not know that natural logs were on the curriculum." In the end, no teacher in our department could find anything about natural logs in the state's published curriculum! All you can wonder is ' what were they thinking when they wrote that question ?'

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Math Games: Ingredients of effective math games

I love making learning fun, and as a math teacher I often tried to create and/or use math games. All teachers know the value of a game. Putting questions into a jeopardy format, can make the must dull math like scientific notation , SOHCAHTOA, or a lesson on a parallelogram into something fun. Teachers of all disciplines would probably agree that turning a regular, chalk and talk lesson into a competition or into a  game increases the overall enjoyment of learning and power of a lesson.

That said, I was reading up on what researchers have to say about the value of learning with games. These researchers point out that embedding education into a game is a tricky task, and that oftentimes, game makers do not do a good job:
Although there are many excellent educational games on the market, some 'purchase children's motivation at the expense of learning,' says Lepper. For example, he has seen some games that provide the most gripping graphics when children lose, thus motivating them to intentionally forfeit the game as well as learning that might occur. (source)

I must admit that I've seen this problem in some games, but more often I have seen the opposite: dull games with poor graphics that just aren't all that fun! Now, I'm referring specifically to math games online, something that I've explored quite thoroughly as math teacher. The best site that I have found so far is themathgames.com; their games do a good job of making learning the objective of the game. For instance, look at this fraction game called fraction balls, you must use your dexterity to drop a fraction ball into the proper jar. As you can probably tell from the picture, you must use your dexterity and you mathematical knowledge at the same time! Now that's a fun and effective math game!

Another good fun game is Math Blaster. Although not an online game, Math Blaster requires you to use your skills and your knowledge simultanesouly. You can buy math games like math blaster at www.mathstore.net.

In the end, a good math game requires the player to 'play' the game while at the same time employ his or her knowledge. If the fun of the game is divorced from the learning, the game will probably flop. For instance, consider a game that has you shoot ten bad guys then in between levels asks you math questions on addition. Such a math game has thoroughly divorced the learning from the fun game play. A child is likely to find the math part annoying. An ideal game combines game play action and content knowledge at the same time!

A good resource  about online math games :  http://www.squidoo.com/math-games-online

Public vs Private Schools: Part I : The School Administration

As a child I went to both public and a  private school (a well known boarding school with an massive endowment in the 100's of millions!) and now as a teacher with over 8 years of experience, I have spent about half my time teaching at private schools and the other half teaching at public schools--inner city and suburban.  

There are many, many differences between public and private schools, in fact too many differences to summarize in a single post so in this post I'll focus on the main differences in the administration.

The school administration  is indeed very different. I must admit that I was much more impressed by the administrators at the private schools; they were invariably intelligent and reasonable people.  Now, I'm sure there are some very sharp public school administrators and indeed I've met them....but I've definitely worked with some public school admins that aren't the best and the brightest, something that seems a pre-requisite to be able to deal with the kinds of parents you get in the privates. Both public and private school administrators are about as political as you can get--but then again so is all facets of modern education. Pubic school administrators by and large are under great pressure to have their students do well on Standardized Tests (thanks in large part to No Child Left Behind).  Private schools, in general, do not have take the  state tests. Of course, students have to prepare for  SAT's  but by and large parents can afford tutors for this. 

Both types of administrators are beholden to the communities of their school environments. In inner city schools, parents are less involved and therefore have little clout, but in suburban public schools and all private schools I know of--the parents have significant input. So what pressures do these administrators have to deal with?

  • private - demanding parents, particulary mothers, who often have no job ...ie a lot of free time on their hands to make look into what their child's teacher is doing/what the schoool is doing. 
  • pubic and urban/inner city: - the two greatest pressure for the administration is how to get control of students  who often aren't interested in school and how  to get these same students to study and pass state tests!  
  • public and suburban : Often times, schools in wealthy counties like WestChester, NY or Long Island are very similar to private schools--wealthy constituents with invoved parents. The main pressures here are similar to private schools. Often times though, there is an portion of students in these schools who aren't motivated and who still have to take teh state tests--of course, there are unmotivated students at private schools--I taught some of them myself!  However, unlike the generally affluent parents of private schools, public school parents may not be able to hire an entourage of tutors to get their child to pass!  Therfore, there can be some additional pressure on administrators to try to get these students to do well on the state tests.

In the end, much of the pressures facing administration spills over into the teachers who, of course, are the front line.  That said, teachers can be a stubborn lot...regardless of private, public, or suburban!

In the end, all school administrations are political creatures affected by their environs. There isn't as much of a difference between suburban public school administration and private school administration,.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Should teachers be responsible for so much?

If you take a graduate education course, especially one focused on urban education, you will probably be inundated with data about how the most important factor that affects a child's success in a classroom is the teacher. There's a well known study about how even high performing students will suffer if a they have a teacher who is incompetent. After years of teaching various subjects and having taught lessons well and having taught lesson poorly, I can certainly say that you can confuse even the best and brightest if your lesson is poor, so--yes, of course an incompetent teacher can bring down the best and the brightest. However, often times it seems that administrators have taken this research and run with it.

Based on my personal experience and stories from other teachers in other schools, it's very common for public school administrators to affirm that no students should be failing your classes. Ok 'no students' is bit strong. But in the public schools I've worked in and several others I know about, you actually become a target of the administration if too many kids are failing your classes--regardless of the actions of the students. If you have a really low functioning class full of students with chronic absences, lateness and behavior problems....well, it's still your fault if that class has a low passing rate.

SO what's the connection between the study cited up above and public school administrators?

Only that administrators seem to have taken the responsibility of a teacher to new levels and seem to have placed the onus of student success and student effort squarely and completely onto the shoulders of teachers. Don't get me wrong. Teachers do play a critical role in the success or failure of a student. However, the expression about leading a horse to water comes to mind here, and often times when you listen to administrators you wonder if they remember what it was like being a teacher. Do they remember that even the best lessons with PowerPoints, with hands on activities, with exploration and whatehaveyou still require an active and willing participant?

I was directly told once by an administrator that 'students do not have the right to fail' And I remembered thinking Did anyone tell that to the students?