Sunday, October 08, 2006

How lucky we are...

Remember way back in the dark ages when dial-up was the only way people could really access the Internet? Remember how slow it was?

Last year, I spent a semester studying abroad inAdelaide, Australia. When I got there, I could not believe how technologically behind their Internet capabilities were! Here is an example of how slow it was: in order to check my email, I would open up gmail, go take a shower, come back and sign into my account, blowdry my hair, and a half-hour later I would be able to read my email. Don't let me forget to mention that this was on a college campus, where Internet access is vital. Even more frustrating is that the Internet was down so often that you could not count on getting your research complete.

When I came back to William and Mary, I was reminded how lucky we are to have such strong access to the Internet. Yes, it goes at times, but at least we can "Google" something and usually have an instantaneous answer to whatever obscure question we may have. It seems even cooler to me that the elementary school I have been assigned to, DJ Montague, has wireless throughout the school. What a wonderful resource for our students!


This past week I taught my first lesson as a pre-service teacher. It was a literature-based social studies lesson. I used "the ELMO" to read the book to my students. While I was really excited to use this piece of technology, I think that I would use it differently next time. The "ELMO" seems like a wonderful device to use when showing students something specific, but in terms of using it for an entire book, it felt like it was just in the way.

I thought that it would allow the students to see pictures in the book better while I was reading it, but the book was too big to have the whole picture show up on the screen. If I were to do the lesson over, I would probably not use it for reading the book. However, if I had thought to keep the machine on throughout the rest of the lesson, it would have been perfect to show the example I had made for their extension activity.

Vending machines in schools

Last week, I was doing some reading at Swem and after a couple hours, I could no longer concentrate because I was so hungry. I decided to go down to Swem Cafe to get myself a cheap snack from the vending machines. Much to my dismay, the machines were only stored with various types of junk food- chips, cookies, Pop-tarts, candy bars-- you get the picture. Furthermore, water was the only healthy option for beverages, as all of the drink machines were full of soda. Juice was out of the question, as the only juice offered was not 100% juice, and merely "juice drinks" full of sugar. I subsequently grew extremely frustrated with the lack of healthy snacks and drinks available. This made me think about the food available to our elementary school students. After reading a CNN article titled "Guidelines forged to ban unhealthy items from schools," I realized that efforts are being made to encourage schools to change what stocks their vending machines. However, the latest nutrition initiative taken by former President Bill Clinton, does not require schools to change the food they offer. Five dominating snack food companies have agreed to encourage schools to buy healthy foods rather than catering to their students' cravings. Clinton acknowledges that "the plan's success will depend heavily on the participation of schools, which will continue to be free to buy whatever they like."

Although such initiatives are a step in the right direction, it leads me to wonder if more pressure should be put on schools to give students healthier options. The nation is undergoing a "childhood obesity epidemic" and limiting students' options prevents them from making healthy choices. If students spend about 7 hours a day in schools, how can we expect them to eat healthily if we do not actively push them to do so by limiting their options to healthy foods?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Short Rant

While most blogs that I have read are in response to various intellectual articles or classroom experiences, this blog is a little different-- it is a chance for me to vent about the little appreciation that teachers seem to receive. After two semesters of being in the School of Education at W&M, I am sick and tired of being told that it is a "joke" and "the easiest major". I get very frustrated with these comments from students who have chosen different majors. Yes, our class assignments may not be deriving complicated calculus problems, but they are a challenge in a different way...

After reading an article about a 10-year-old girl named Lisa who has Down's Syndrome, it reminded me just how challenging being an educator can be. Lisa is only in third grade, but functions at the level of a first and second grader. She is two years older than her third-grade peers because she has already been held back. The ultimate dilemma in this situation is whether or not Lisa should be held back again so that she can be caught up academically, or if she should be promoted to the next level so she is not so isolated in terms of age. Furthermore, should Lisa be constantly pulled out of class for special services? Or would her needs be better served in a regular education classroom where she can be integrated with the other students? All of these questions are questions that have no clear answer and can be debated in circles over and over again.

Although such problems may not seem as complex as a tough math or science problem, the problem can get that much more frustrating when you realize there is no good answer. For this reason, I ask that all of my non-education friends who have looked down upon the education field, spend a day in a classroom dealing with 25 first-graders who all need special, individual attention.

Market Forces and Education: a Solution?

In recent years, public schools across the nation have been in the spotlight for accusations of decreasing test scores, mediocre standards at best, and a lack of social values. The escalating dissatisfaction with schools has led more and more parents to school choice. While criticisms of education in the United States continue to rise, some public and private schools have shown improvement. However, there is widespread variability in the amount of progress that schools are making. For example, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), New York City public schools had an average of 53% of students below basic reading levels, while Washington DC had 69% in 2005. New York City showed a 6% improvement rate from 2002 to 2003, and Washington DC had a 0% improvement rate in the same years. Such variations in school progress occur not only at the state level, but also according to district allocations and whether or not it is an urban or rural area. How do we explain these variations in school improvement rates?

Does introducing market-like forces, (i.e. competition among private and public schools through government issued school vouchers), into the education arena facilitate or hinder school performance? Assuming education operates in harmony with the basic market theory of economics, it seems logical that school choice will promote schools to improve test scores in math, reading, writing, science, and other essential subject matters from year to year. Schools that are unable to keep up in the “business” of education will then “go out of business”. Market theory generates the claim that treating education as a commodity will force schools to improve their test scores as a result of competing with other educational institutions.

However, while this argument theoretically seems to make sense, I question its merits. Doesn't introducing school competition fundamentally go against the American ideal of an equal education for all students? Furthermore, does providing certain families with school vouchers simply take away money from the public schools, causing them to further spiral downward?

These are all questions that I am exploring in my senior seminar- a class on education policy in the United States. I would love to get feedback on what you think about school choice. I will be sure to update this blog after conducting further information on the topic.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

On Second Thought...

After listening to the following podcast:, I have given the idea of blogging in the classroom a second thought. Professor Nussbaum-Beach and a teacher (Darren) who actively blogs with his students had a conversation with preservice teachers about blogging and how students benefit from it.

Listening to the conversation made me realize that blogging may offer more positive experiences for children than at first glance. The main point that Darren made that stuck in my mind was that blogging is a great experience for some of his quieter students who are less likely to participate in class. Blogging allows these students to participate with a certain level of anonymity. Shy students are much more likely to share their opinion if it is not face to face contact.

Furthermore, Darren mentioned that another positive aspect of blogging, is that students receive positive responses from people that are far away, making them feel that their thoughts are valued. Students also respond to others students in their classroom, providing an interactive environment.

Many people, including myself, often argue that the technological revolution has decreased human contact. Darren responded to this notion by expressing that his students have in fact become closer to one another through blogging. He says that because his students can speak with each other in a less confrontational manner, they are more likely to share their opinions with each other and bounce ideas back and forth.

Finally Darren made the point that students go home after school and "get connected." This means that students can possibly can go home and continue the academic enrichment their received in class. I admit, I was skeptical at first, but I have warmed up to the idea of blogging in the classroom.