Archive for April, 2009

Virgina Pilots Teaching with Video Games

The state of Virgina has implemented a pilot program to use a math video game called DimensionM, which uses 3-D graphics and math orientated missions, to teach algebra. In 2008, the University of Central Florida conducted a study of students who played the game and concluded that it improved students’ understanding and significantly raise test scores.

According to eSchool News:

Students in the experimental groups who played Tabula Digita video games over an 18-week period scored significantly higher (in some cases, twice as high) on district benchmark tests than students in the control group who did not play video games, researchers said.

Also, four out of five teachers (and all 15 students) who were interviewed reported that students’ math understanding and skills improved as a result of playing the educational video games.

Often video games are given a bad name, but they also have the potential to increase learning if used in an educational way. I have heard anecdotes of schools in Japan issuing the Nintendo DS to students and there are many educational games available on the iPod touch that can exercise the mind or improve vocabulary. One of the reasons that video games can help learning is that it is fun and engaging for students. Also, games often have specific goals that must be accomplished to win, which can motivate students to keep trying until they successfully solve problems. This can build student’s resiliency when they can’t solve a problem on the first try, which author Malcom Gladwell argues is an important component of educational performance. Gladwell argues in the book Outliers, that one of the main reasons Asian students score better in math tests is because they have been ingrained with the habit to keep trying, a trait that is generally less present in American students. It seems that video games may not rot the brain after all.

photo by hiperia3d

Free Printable 2009 School Calendar

You can get a free printable 2009 school calendar by signing up for the free version of Tandem for Schools, called Tandem Basic. This allows the school admin to create an attractive free annual calendar that can be posted online for public viewing, or printed out as a PDF.

This is ideal for schools who want a free printable 2009 school calendar with a list of key dates for the upcoming school year, such as holidays or school breaks.

Additional features of the free version of Tandem for Schools, is a way to sync the school calendar with Outlook, iCal, Cozi, and Google Calendar. You can also upload the school logo to the calendar, for additional visual appeal. Parents and students can also subscribe to an RSS feed of the calendar.

To get access to the free annual calendar for schools, you just need to fill out a registration form, but we think it’s well worth it. You can sign up for the free calendar at

The Standard and Plus full versions of Tandem provide many more benefits for schools such as being able to manage all the school events on a single online calendar. School administration can save significant amounts of time by easily entering schedule information into Tandem, which automatically checks for any scheduling conflicts. Schools can communicate to parents and students more effectively with the online calendar that is publicly viewable online and instantly updates any changes or cancellations made. The Plus version also allows coaches and staff to request facilities or changes to the schedule, which can be easily approved by the calender administrator.

Will the Stimulus Funding Be Canceled Out by Local Budget Shortfalls?

With an unprecedented $100 billion being invested in education from the federal level, is it possible that the investment will be canceled out by local budget shortfalls?

The Washington Post describes one county that is cutting their school budget in direct response to increased federal funding.

After hearing that an initial batch of $11.8 million in federal funds would soon arrive in Loudoun County, supervisors slashed $7.3 million from the schools budget. They also made clear that if more federal recovery money flows to schools, schools might be asked to give back an equal amount of county dollars.

This is a frightening case study because if budgets are slashed at the local level because the local governments know that they will be receiving federal funds, then the billions in additional funding could end up merely sustaining the status quo.

However, Secretary Duncan has warned schools of using such tactics. According to a Washington Post article:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has warned states against playing “shell games” with money aimed at schools. The stimulus law and regulations have strings to protect against big drops in education funding but allow the most cash-strapped states to seek some flexibility. “Where we see a state or district operating in bad faith or doing something counter to the president’s intent, we’re going to come down like a ton of bricks,” Duncan said in a March conference call with reporters.

The administration has high expectations for schools to show progress in order to receive subsequent rounds of funding and a share of the “Race to the Top” pot of funds. The “historic opportunity to reform education” may be in jeopardy if federal funds to improve schools are being used just to refill local budgets to necessary levels to avoid job cuts. With some communities already being forced to cut hundreds of school jobs, it may be mission impossible to reform education in this environment.

Photo by artemfinland

Is Obama’s Fundamental Strategy for Education Same as Bush’s?

Clues are now emerging on Obama’s strategy for improving education from language used in the economic stimulus law Obama signed in February. These clues suggest tougher standards, standardized testing, and rewards for states that show improvement. Sound familiar? Some are criticizing these ideas as an extension of No Child Left Behind.

A recent article titled “Education Standards Likely to See Toughening” in the New York Times discusses the potential direction of the Obama education strategy and some of the opposition it is generating.

“Obama’s fundamental strategy is the same as George Bush’s: standardized tests, numbers-crunching; it’s the N.C.L.B. approach with lots of money attached,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian often critical of the education law, said in an interview.

In a recent blog Ms. Ravitch wrote, “Obama has given Bush a third term in education policy.”

If the plan is to improve on Bush’s strategy, will schools really improve? Hopefully we will see more innovation in the plan above implementing stricter standardized tests. What do you think?

Photo by changedotgov

Sir Ken Robinson Discusses How Schools Can Kill Creativity

Sir Ken Robinson discusses how our modern educational system can kill creativity. Most children are educated in the same way they have been for the past 100 years. Generally the norm is for students sit in a class and listen to a lecture by the teacher and then are expected to prove that they learned what they were supposed to by answering sets of multiple choice questions. Instead of learning to optimize their individual gifts, schools often makes kids into generalists who are good at everything, but not great at anything. Robinson also argues that students are taught to avoid risk because they are afraid to make mistakes.

Syncing the School Calendar with Personal Calendars

Often times it can be very helpful for parents to be able to sync the school calendar with their personal calender, such as Google Calendar, iCal, Cozi, or Outlook. Tandem for Schools is an online school calendar that can export information into these personal calendars.

Caitlin DiMare-Oliver writes over at Type-A Mom:

“Cozi has a great, friendly interface that’s incredibly easy to use. Appointments can be color-coded to represent each family member – or all family members. You can even add your kid’s school calendars so that events are updated and added automatically if your school publishes their calendar to Tandem for Schools.Talk about convenient!”

“Talk about convenient” is right! We know that, many times, the most important events on a families’ calendar revolve around the school. We are excited to provide an easy way for families to get the key school events they need on their online calendar, be that Cozi, Google or whatever digital calendar they choose to use.

What is the Best School Online Calendar?

Tandem for Schools is a dynamic and comprehensive tool for managing events for a school or even a district.

According to Bob Wright Supervisor of Technology of Boardman School District in Ohio:
“I spent much time looking at calendar programs from various vendors. I even worked a considerable amount of time developing my own with FileMaker Pro database. There were shortcomings in all that I looked at…tried. Tandem for Schools was the best fit overall.”

What Tandem for Schools allows an administrator to do is put all the events onto one calendar, which helps simplify the calendar management process.

According to Liz Wiggins, Assistant to the Superintendent at Cascade Christian School District in Washington State:
“The most useful benefit is the ability to schedule all the yearly events in one or two sittings. This used to be a task that would take days to put together. For me it was a solid week of calendar entry and review and refining, and I would have to mess with the formatting to make things fit, and it was just a nightmare. Now we’re looking at where someone at a campus says she can do it in maybe a couple afternoons and we’re looking at hours instead of days and for me it is more of quality control than a daunting task that takes weeks to get done.”

Tandem for Schools has a visually appealing user interface, can be customized with your school logo, and is easy to use.

Staff at the school can submit events and requests to use facilities and they can be approved or denied with a click of the mouse by the person in charge of the calendar. This makes it easy to manage school facilities and prevent double bookings or schedule conflicts.

Parents love having all the school’s event information in one easy to access place online, reducing the need to call the school for information. Parents can also sync the school calendar with their Outlook and get automatically notified of any schedule changes.

Find out how Tandem for Schools can be a great calendar solution for your school. You can schedule a 30 minute personal demo on your own computer, try Tandem for Schools for 30 days, or find more information at the Tandem website.

Teaching Wisdom in Schools: Barry Schwartz at TED

Are schools teaching students to be wise? It can be argued that one of the problems with the traditional methods of teaching is that it teaches knowledge but not wisdom. Barry Schwartz says “The wise are made not born” and it is important for teachers to help people to gain wisdom.

The book Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell, describes Christopher Langan who has been reported to have an IQ of 195 and has been called the “Smartest Man in America”, however he once had to work as a bouncer. One of the reasons he has never reached the potential that you would expect from one of the smartest people in the world, according to Outliers, is that he never learned common sense. Students also need to learn the soft skills in order to successful at life.

iHigh: Virtual High School

A post at the  Digital Education blog describes a district in San Diego that is using virtual courses to supplement traditional classes and provide courses that aren’t available.

A couple of days ago I met with a San Diego school official to get a demonstration of the district’s new virtual school, iHigh. So far, 200 students are taking courses, and 30 are doing so full-time, through iHigh. The district gives each student a Netbook with a built-in Internet card that allows them to access the online campus and courses at their own pace. They are in touch with teachers electronically after an in-person orientation. The teachers make assignments, review the students’ work, and monitor their progress through the portal.

Virtual courses can be a good tool to challenge students to learn how to learn on their own, which can prepare students for college or the new digital workplace where more people work virtually. I like that it allows students to go at their own pace, which can be rewarding and motivating by helping students see the progress they are making. It can also be helpful to students who have difficulty in a traditional classroom settings. It also makes it possible for one instructor to be able to teach thousands of students at a time, for instance if the instructor records the video of a lecture, it can be viewed by thousands or millions of students at little additional cost. This could help make higher education more affordable by lowering the cost to access great teachers. The downside may be that if students take all their classes virtually they may not have the opportunity to build people skills that are also important to have in the work world and in life.

Photo credit

Is Teach for America Helping or Hurting Schools?

by Charles Sipe

I was listening to NPR Talk of the Nation interview Donna Foote, a journalist who followed 4 Teach for America recruits for a year and wrote the book Relentless Pursuit. You can listen to the interview here.

I have always admired Teach for America for their mission to close the achievement gap of poor communities where students face tremendous challenges in achieving an education. However, I was surprised to learn that there is criticism by some who don’t believe Teach for America helps, but actually hurts schools.

“Teach for America has a two pronged theory of change and one is that there will be catalytic change, but the more important one, and the one that is most likely to impact or close that achievement gap, is the idea that the experience in the classroom will be so transformative for these young leaders they will become agents of change and they will be the ones who will go on to affect the educational reform needed to close that gap.”

But one of the criticisms is that the recruits often leave the school when their 2 year commitment is up, and this constant turnover causes instability in the schools. However Donna Foote states “It’s not just teach for America teachers who are bailing, we have a major retention problem in this country, within 5 years 50% of all new teachers leave and within 2 years you’ve lost about 14% especially in inner city, hard to staff schools. So Teach for America would be crazy to think that these young people who could make many more dollars and have a easier job would stay in a teaching position that is not esteemed or valued in the country right now”.

Another argument is that Teach for America de-professionalizes teaching because it only requires a short period of training and the recruits are are ill-prepared when they start, and are not ready to be teachers. TFA recruits undergo a 5 week “boot camp” training that attempts to get new graduates up to speed in just a few weeks to take on extremely challenging situations. The book looks at the challenges facing the new teachers such as students who are living in very impoverished conditions or face the influence of gangs. However, proponents might say that often the alternative are long term substitutes at these difficult to staff inner city schools, and not that substitutes can’t be good teachers, but Teach for America is very selective and corp members are often very bright, energetic, high achievers who can positively influence students.

What do you think? Is Teach for America helping close the achievement gap? Let us know in the comments!

Image courtesy of boletin