Wednesday, May 30, 2007

It's My Book in a Box

Another Bush tries his hand at edumacating students:

“The kids are so into the video games,” Ms. Hodges, a veteran teacher of 27 years, said as the children watched a cartoon character named Mr. Bighead, who switched hats rapid-fire to portray the British, French and Spanish perspectives on the colonies. “We have to entertain them, or we lose them.”

The clips emanate from a purple plastic box, known as a COW, for Curriculum on Wheels. They are the brainchild of Neil Bush, brother of the president, who is president of Ignite! Learning. The company has sold its science and social studies curriculums, aimed mostly at middle school grades, to 2,300 of the nation’s 85,000 public schools, and is seeking to expand its business to China, Japan, South Korea and the Middle East.

Video games are always fun, but let's withhold the fervent faith in COWs for the time being. Technology can be useful but it does have its drawbacks. If you recall, one of the largest counterarguments to having laptops in the classroom is that they've had virtually no positive impact on students' standardized test scores, the only benchmark we have in ensuring equity in the education students are receiving across many communities. In fact, computer-based instruction in general carries the same dead weight:

A recent extensive study of educational software by the federal Education Department, which looked at 15 reading and math courses used by nearly 9,500 students in 132 schools, found that computer-based instruction, while expensive, had no effect on student achievement. (Mr. Bush’s curriculum was not studied.)

There have not been any definitive studies yet suggesting that COWs specifically are having an impact on student achievement, although results from some recent research should be available shortly.

I am, however, lacking confidence in this program because of what I've read so far. On the COW website, Ignite! Learning, clicking on "results" takes you to a page with positive teacher testimonials, as if making teachers happy and students excited is an important "result" of education. Navigating to the "research" subsection offers a few vague percentage increases in performance from unexplained research studies, although with more information about the study currently undertaken. "Results" is probably not a good name for this section.

The article and COW website both note some devastatingly-backwards responses to the COW way of life-- textbooks are to blame for our educational troubles:

Mr. Bush said his curriculum made social studies and science more accessible. “Middle schools use 19th-century technologies to teach 21st-century kids,” he said. “Textbooks honestly have failed middle school children. They rely on children’s ability to read, and they’re boring.”

Textbooks can't fail students. Textbooks are inanimate objects. They are educational tools that must be correctly utilized to be effective. You can't blame a hammer and nails for the shoddy construction of a chair or table.

Mr. Bush is suggesting that books are somehow past their prime, and that differences in reading capabilities should be side-stepped by having students avoid reading altogether.

Educators are being asked to trust a man who is implying that illiteracy is unimportant? As per the Achievement Gap, nine-year-olds growing up in low-income communities are already three grade levels behind their peers in high-income communities, half of them won't graduate from high school, and those who do graduate will, on average, read and do math at the level of eighth graders in high-income communities. We need students to read and write as much as possible to change this. We don't need more video games in their lives.

But instead of focusing on the glaring problem of these inequities, let's burn the books and have Mr. Bighead teach textbook concepts with flashy graphics. This is Mr. Bush's strategy for improving education. And other bigheads are biting:

On the company’s Web site are testimonials from teachers and school officials, some of whom say that they have been able to toss out their textbooks because the COW is so comprehensive.

Maybe we should hold off on dumping the textbooks until we know for sure of the impact COWs have on student achievement. After all, we will not defeat illiteracy by ignoring the one way students will learn to read and write--by reading and writing.

Technology is not a panacea for our nation's educational woes. Creativity and innovation are tools that educators can use, but the focus must always be on students attaining large academic gains.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Different Perspective #2

Here's a video from Alex, a 16-year-old boy with Aspergers Syndrome. Aspergers is a form of autism, as Alex explains, and through the miracles of MS Paint he recounts his experiences with Aspergers and how it impacts his learning style and his interactions with others.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

In San Jose

I'm back in the South Bay, and will start posting more regularly. That's all I really have to say.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Let the Credits Roll!

(Total Lives Used: 999+)

Goodbye for now, Berkeley!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Asian-American Journey

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and CNN has a special report on the group's many cultures and voices.

Monday, May 14, 2007


How appropriate that the last final of my Cal career will be the most epic and decisive battle I have ever waged. My graduation is riding on the outcome of this test, and it slithers forth in less than 12 hours.

*Cue epic music*


Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Different Perspective #1

With hopes of livening up some of my recent material and presenting issues of diversity in another form, I've started a new segment of this blog I'll tentatively call "A Different Perspective". YouTube and video blogging (or vlogs) offer us great sources of entertainment and perpetual procrastination breaks, however there is a wealth of material out there that needs to be discovered just for its insight and educational value.

Many of such videos feature folks simply conversing one-on-one with the camera, detailing aspects of their lives in ways that are personal and unique to them. Sometimes folks describe what values they possess and how their respective communities have impacted them. Sometimes folks define the hardships in their lives and how they have overcome. A single voice from a different perspective, while not representative of an entire group, can offer valuable understanding of an unfamiliar part of society, and expose viewers to issues and topics that hitherto they've not experienced.

Our first video is an interview with deaf gymnast Aimee Walker Pond, who discusses her introduction to gymnastics and the hearing world.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Anonymous Confessions Online

In case you're not in the know, the Spring 2007 Berkeley Anonymous Confessions is online. Come procrastinate studying--or if you have come to terms with your inability to study, come spend your freetime-- by reading others' secrets. And post your own....

Thursday, May 10, 2007


I am currently celebrating graduating from Berkeley by studying in the academic center for my physical chemistry final. Stay tuned for more exciting developments.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007



Tuesday, May 08, 2007

My Graduation Speech

In light of impending finals and tomorrow's graduation ceremony, I'll take this moment to quickly address my college years: I loved every minute, every challenge, every chance for failure here at this institution, and I know that success would not have come had I not picked myself up after hitting rock bottom time after time. There is no stopping someone that can survive Cal.

I wrote the following as a speech addressed to my peers at graduation, but it was considered too traditional and subsequently nixed from the event. I certainly hope you are not offended by its appearance here, as its author might be of the traditional variety:

Good afternoon! I would like to take a quick moment to dedicate this speech to those who have had a lasting impact on my life: to Mom, to Dad, my sisters, Tata, the rest of my friends and family,

And to you. To all of you, sitting here before me, behind me, above me. All of you.

Seniors, this is our graduation. As some will say, this is the end of our time together; this is where our lives begin. On the verge of this new frontier, let us stop and ask ourselves, is this really the end?

Let us ask ourselves, why are we all here today?

It’s not just because we earned enough units to declare candidacy. It’s not just because we want to shake the Dean’s hand, although he is a great guy and all.

Seniors, we are here because we have grown—spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, entirely. We are all, in nearly every aspect, different from our freshman counterparts a few years ago, and we have everyone here to thank.

In the time we have remaining before we each strut across this stage, I want you to think of all the people you ought to thank. Start now. Make a mental note of any person that has made a difference in your life. Think of all of the important character-defining interactions you’ve had in your college career, and pinpoint the person responsible. As you continue with this mental exercise—and don’t worry, it’s not graded— you might miss quite a few names from your list. Also ask for the names of every person sitting in your row, the girl across from you, the guy 3 seats behind you, and every other capped and gowned smiling student along with those close to them, as you’ll need to include all of them in your list, too.

Seniors, all of us sitting here are sitting here as Berkeley’s Class of 2007. Though our college careers have spanned multiple semesters of work and more work, we may not all know each other, and we may assume that the strangers we sit near are insignificant in our lives, but feel confident in each of your abilities to influence the growth of others around you. We each have created a tangled web of interactions with those who are close to us, and they in turn have done the same with others. We are all connected to one another, like a supportive web that threads through each of us. That’s how we have matured.

Through every problem set that had us collaborating together into all hours of the night, using books as study tools and pillows, where we all wore the same bags under our eyes in class the next day, that’s how we have matured.

Through every botched exam where we grieved with friends and family, and where they rescued us with enough kind words to make our grades seem like distant relics of the past, that’s how we have matured.

Through every moment that sparked any whim of competition between us, to nab that sweet summer job, to attain that elusive grade, that’s how we have matured.

By adapting to our environment and our situations, we in turn influence each other to adapt to us, and to learn from us. You all are in one way or another, directly or indirectly, the reason that I could develop enough composure and confidence over the years to address you today. And I am in one way or another the reason that you all are still paying attention to this speech. Hopefully.

Because I feel it of utmost importance to dissipate this rumor that with graduation comes the end of our time together. There is literally nothing final about today! We are here celebrating our class connection and how we have grown from it, and we must recognize that we would not be here as we are today were it not for all of us. We will always have our memories and our relations close at hand and heart, even if in the years ahead we forget who our old friends and acquaintances were. Whether we keep in touch or not does not change the fact that we have each made an indelible mark on ourselves, by merely experiencing life together. There is no justification to call this a conclusion, because these years of memories will continue to shape our lives forever.

We are here because we have grown together. We are here to celebrate our relations. We are here to recognize how significant these impressions have been.

And lastly, we leave here knowing that we shared our lives with the brightest minds of our generation. We must realize that this provides us with much responsibility for our society, responsibility for catalyzing the change we want to see in our world.

We must create a lasting impact on our future communities in the same way that we have done for each other, to share with others what we have experienced here.

Congratulations Graduates, and Thank You! Go Bears!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Boy in the Bubble says the misery will soon lessen:

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Day in the Life: a TFA Summer Day

The following is a sample daily schedule for Teach For America's hellish summer institute:

6:00-6:30 Breakfast

6:30-7:30 Travel to school

7:30-8:00 Classroom set-up and assist with student arrival

8:00-9:00 Teach a small group of students during the Math-Literacy Hour

9:00-10:15 Lead teach

10:15-1:00 When not lead teaching, do one or more of the following, depending on the day and on the corps member's individual needs:

* Participate in a differentiated curriculum session, focused on specific
curriculum objectives where the corps member needs support
* Conduct a focused peer observation of another corps member and complete a written reflection on it
* Meet with faculty advisor to debrief their observation of classroom
* Reflect and self-evaluate using the Teaching As Leadership rubric
* Plan for or rehearse future lessons
* Prioritize time strategically through the use of a personal action plan, calendar, etc.

1:00-1:30 Supervise student lunch; eat lunch; supervise student dismissal

1:30-2:45 Participate in a core curriculum session, focused on specific course objectives

2:45-4:00 Participate in a corps member advisor group session, reflecting on progress and challenges, and engaging in a discussion of issues within the curriculum

4:00-5:00 Travel back to the university site

5:00-6:00 Free time (work-out, nap, dinner, relax, etc.)

6:00-7:30 Finalize and rehearse tomorrow's lesson plan; grade student work

7:30-9:30 Depending on the day and institute, one or more of the following:

* Attend a workshop
* Participate in a regional meeting
* Attend an institute learning team meeting

9:30-10:30 Individual/Group activities:

* Write lesson plans for the following week, utilizing the resource room as necessary
* Meet with collaborative members to plan and discuss student progress and analyze student work
* Meet with corps member advisor for feedback session

Pssh, piece of cake.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Roles of Technology in Education

Laptops in schools:

So the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty — and worse.

Liverpool’s turnabout comes as more and more school districts nationwide continue to bring laptops into the classroom. Federal education officials do not keep track of how many schools have such programs, but two educational consultants, Hayes Connection and the Greaves Group, conducted a study of the nation’s 2,500 largest school districts last year and found that a quarter of the 1,000 respondents already had one-to-one computing, and fully half expected to by 2011.

Read the article. The arguments for and against loaning laptops to students both have their merits, although I'm slightly confused why so many students are able to cheat on exams by using their laptops.

It's a friggin' test. "Put your laptops away until the end of class." Is that so hard?