Friday, February 26, 2010

Practicing learning....

Major thunderstorm with hail and over 4 inches of rain right now in Jerusalem. It was clearly a good day to catch up with my RSS reader and I came across the recent Will Richardson post titled Teachers as Master Learners.  I've been trying to reconcile Will's post with Jim Heynderickx's post on Comprehensive Learning Spaces.  Creating classrooms and teachers for the future will require schools to not only re-think what being a teacher means, but what a classroom is, too.  Needing a whack on the side of the head, I looked up when Noa said, "Dad, look what I did!"  She had downloaded TrippingFest 2 - Drawing and Sketching Lite, and wanted to show me her creation.  It was pretty cool.  I asked her if she could show me how she did it.  She replied, "No, but I can TEACH you!"  This is what Will is talking about.  As to the learning space.  Sorry, room sofa was our classroom.  On the other hand, the fact that Noa was teaching me to use a drawing tool outside of a traditional classroom was a perfect example of how learning can occur anywhere, anytime.  Oh, to see Noa's drawings, you could go to her Facebook page....or admire them below.  Thanks, Noa.  It was fun having you teach me!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Beit Sefer Huberman

Back to Petach Tikva I travelled yesterday.  This time, I accompanied Rafi Davidson and his team of teacher educators from Kaye College in Be'er Sheva.  Rafi was trained as a biochemist and his group had a definite science bent to it.  I met the group and we attempted to find the school.  I had distracted Rafi just long enough for him to forget to give the driver directions....and I practiced picking up Hebrew for left and right!  Turns out the school is not difficult to find, but it is in a neighborhood with a series of one-way streets.  The school staff literally provided real time GPS navigation over the phone!

Sign outThis school was proud to have us visit, they gave us folders upon our arrival.  I felt like a visiting dignitary.  At the entrance to the school building, two youngsters were ready to play a clarinet/flute duet at a signal from the principal.  Hail to the Chief is peanuts compared to the intensity with which these two kids played!  Once inside, we were treated to an amazing rendition of a Star Wars song by a young.....trombonist!  This school is all about music.  Everybody plays something.  Moist-eyed, we were ushered into a conference room to learn a bit about the school.  Beit Sefer Huberman has 450 students, 45 computers, and some of the most dedicated teachers in Israel.  After a brief overview, once again with great snacks (PNAIS visiting teams don't have it this good!), we moved to a class which was using the 10 laptops.  They were engaged in rhetoric and debate lessons.  This school had kids present what they learned during the lessons and how using the computers enabled them to go further than they thought possible.  Then it was off to the computer lab to see a 5th grade class.  The English teacher in this class was also the ICT person for the school.  I finally saw my first Hitachi Starboard!  Nice looking piece of hardware.  Click here to see this class in action.  I chatted with a tech guy whose title is "municipal guy in charge of allocating tech hardware in schools (OK, that's not his real title, but that is his job.)  I don't envy him.  He would like to install a projector, interactive whiteboard, and as many computers as the teacher needs in each classroom in Petach Tikva.  He doesn't have the budget for that type of outlay in one year, or even three years.  So, his model is installing a projector and computer (with a monitor in a wheeled cart which HE designed!) in each class.  Each school gets one interactive whiteboard which is then used to train the rest of the staff.  Teachers who demonstrate the need for an interactive whiteboard might get one eventually, or the school just shares the lab....which is too big a hurdle once time conflicts occur.

Having seen all of the computers in this school, we retreated to the conference room once again for more snacks and presentations.  Then we were transferred to a municipal center used by teachers for professional development.  I was struck by the high quality of the municipal facility. Just like Mofet, it contained state of the art computers.  I realized midway through the afternoon presentations that Israel is a "Moodle" country.  Every teacher is creating a moodle page to share content with classes.  I haven't yet seen that teachers are sharing class pages with each other or connecting lessons between teachers.  I think I need to ask about that.  Deep in thought by this time, I was aware that the conversation level had quieted and that the whole room was looking at....ME!

Now, my Hebrew has improved these past 60+ days, but not to the point where I catch more than a snippet of the topic at hand.  So....I smiled, and a couple of folks made the suggestion that they wanted my opinion on matters.  After all, they reasoned, I had traveled nearly half way around the globe to observe the Israeli school system.  What did I think about what I had seen today?  Oh, my, I thought....extemporaneous speaking....good thing I have been working with Noa on this.  So, I shared a bit.  Afterward, an Israeli colleagues said I did fine.  Pam and I are going to practice this since I have a feeling it will happen again.

It was time to say goodbyes and head home.  My head was filled with all that I had observed and I was asking my questions than I was answering.   But wait, one more test was in store for me....while waiting for the bus, an Israeli military vehicle (large) slowed and a soldier (in uniform) asked me Hebrew!  Talk about the blind leading the blind!!!  Enjoy the pictures of the Beit Sefer kids, they are a hardworking group!  For the here.

Parrothead Post

Yesterday, I returned to Petach Tikva to visit Beit Sefer Huberman.  More on that later....As the Egged (bus) driver pulled out of Jerusalem, I was thinking, "Another morning commute...."  A few minutes later, I heard familiar music, but couldn't quite place it until Jimmy Buffet began singing Come Monday.  Most Egged drivers listen to Israeli talk/news radio, but this driver was different.  He had his own ripped CD with nothing but American Country/Western tunes.  Many of them were the karaoke version....the driver was singing along!  He drummed the steering wheel, rocked back and forth and sang along with his tunes.  I found myself smiling and the trip down the hill never went faster.  I was totally cracking up when Toby Keith began singing The Taliban Song.  I even turned around to watch my fellow passengers' reactions.  Nothing, they were either wearing their own headphones or too far back to really hear the music.  Great way to begin the day.  Best Egged driver ever!  Approaching Petach Tikva from the south, they have a public art display....

Monday, February 22, 2010

What if there were art class only once a year?

Today's Haaretz, Israel's leading, and by many accounts, best daily newspaper ran a story about the Fichman School in Haifa.  Click here to read the story....then, return to the blog for my comment.

If you are reading this, you have now read the story.  Schools are dropping art?  I don't believe it for a minute.  Every piece of brain research conducted in the past fifteen years practically screams at the importance of art in learning.  The Fichman kids were treated to the best art has to offer because their principal made time for the biennale artists to spend time at the school, not just talking AT the kids, but getting them involved in the creation of, reaction to, and thought about art.  "Draw a map of yesterday?"  What a fabulous concept for kids to think about and discuss through art!  Chewing gum as a medium?  Think of the budget savings!  And, what a great use for all that chewing gum residing on the undersides of thousands of school desks and tables.  Kids were dancing, laughing, and thinking "outside the box."  Of course they were.  That is what art allows and encourages kids to do.  

So where does the idea come from that art is being dropped?  Perhaps it is because, unlike math or reading, art is rarely, if ever, tested.  There can seldom be a "right" answer to an art question.  Oh, sure, kids could be asked if a given painting were in the style of Duerer or Monet, but that isn't really an art question, it is a history one.  Yes, paintings are often included on multiple choice tests, but their meaning is usually political or historical.  Kids aren't being asked what they "think" about a painting, photo, or cartoon.  Art has to be dropped in schools in order to allow kids to have more time to read and calculate.  As the kids at Fichman School will probably demonstrate, more art time will actually lead to higher scores in other areas.  Go find some white t-shirts, sit down as a family tomorrow night and draw a map of yesterday.  Feel free to post photos of your art in the comment box.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Brandon's Story

This qualifies as an Israeli post because I'm enjoying another 75 degree day in sunny Jerusalem, light breeze blowing through the living room.  Recently, a blogger I admire, Richard Kassissieh, wrote that Catlin Gabel had acquired a Kindle for parents to test.  Full disclosure....Richard is also a colleague (and an admired one at that.)  While reading the post, I thought back to my conversation with Brandon Goodfliesh, currently at the American School in Japan.  I met Brandon on a Mexico cruise a couple of years ago, when I was still considering the purchase of an iPod touch.  Brandon patiently showed me how he used his touch as an e-book reader, downloaded books from sites such as Amazon and Project Gutenberg, etc.  I wasn't convinced.  "How do you annotate pages?" I asked.  Brandon explained how he could annotate pages, but was more likely to take notes a different way.  Still more than skeptical, I observed Brandon reading throughout the cruise.  His touch ever at hand, he was seriously enjoying the books he was reading, including a novel or two his English teacher had assigned over Winter Break.  Fast forward to this past fall.  I finally acquired an iPod touch.  I began reading novels on the plane trip to Israel.  I just finished NurtureShock.  E-book readers now have sophisticated note taking software (even the BN reader which is the lamest of the readers I use.)  I know that colleges such as Reed in Portland are experimenting with Kindles.  I believe these experiments will not go well.  We need to let students choose their e-readers.  Kids who already carry laptops and smartphones will probably choose e-readers which work on the smartphones.  Why carry another device?  A common complaint about annotating is that it is awkward.  I am not sure that kids who are lightning quick texting with their thumbs will have any difficulty at all.  Schools will be led by students in this area.  Wikipedia has a couple of interesting comparison charts on formats and hardware.  Sometimes following isn't such a terrible thing.  Thanks, Brandon.  I hope you are well.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Visiting Savyon School

I had the opportunity to visit Savyon School this week. Savyon is a residential neighborhood just east of Tel Aviv. Quiet, tree-lined streets led us (took Jay with me) to the school, one of the largest I have seen in Israel. OK, full disclosure, Savyon has been described as the "Beverly Hills" of Israel. After negotiating the usual school-gate security (the guard lets you talk to the office and the office buzzes you in), we found our way to Ruth Ben-Yishai, our host for the day. We observed a dynamic math lesson with Dana who began with an entertaining computer activity. After warm-up, Dana had kids working individually. Kids could choose to use manipulatives (more should have), or work the problems out in their math tablets. One thing that struck me was that the problems were presented and solved horizontally. I always thought it was more helpful for visual learners if problems were presented vertically to reinforce the concept of keeping like units together. Perhaps Israeli tests display horizontal problems? The third graders clearly enjoyed working on math problems and it was fun to observe their interactions with each other and their teacher.

After third grade, we observed sixth and eighth grade classes. Sixth graders purchase laptops, many of which are then decorated to match the personalities of their owners, through the school and are supposed to bring them everyday....but some forget power chargers, CD drives, etc. They then share with classmates. Rooms have been retrofitted with power and network cables. The effect of this added infrastructure is that furniture is locked in place (literally) Kids were extremely comfortable using laptops. We even had to kick them out of class during a break to enjoy the sun. After a brief introduction from Ruthy, kids went straight to work using HighLearn to get their assignment, complete it in pairs, and post it back to a forum. Yes, there was lots of time spent formatting the page, choosing colors, fonts, etc, but kids completed the assignments in the allotted time. In the eighth grade class, kids were learning about how mountains were formed. Again, they were adept at using the laptops. They closed them to listen to Ruthy, helped each other, rebooted when all else failed, and used HighLearn, sort of a version of BlackBoard, to access digital textbooks, Wikipedia, etc. Thanks to their laptops, kids could finish the assignment at home. Some kids chose Word to present information, others chose Powerpoint. Kids were empowered to make the choice on their own.

Talking with Ruthy afterwards raised some interesting questions. There are teachers in this 1:1 school who do not teach with the laptops the kids have. Why not? Too much uncompensated effort is required to either keep up with student work/create new lessons. 9th graders often move into high schools which are not 1:1. What happens to their skills/interest in school/learning? Mofet might consider sponsoring a study to follow kids who move from 1:1 schools to "traditional" ones. Lots of pictures and video can be found at the links below.....Savyon is clearly well-supported by its community, loved by its students, and a great place to teach....I can't wait to go back!
Savyon pictures
Savyon videos

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Study in Ennui

No, I didn't fall off the planet.  The past couple of weeks, we have been on the road.  Fulbright treated us to a tour of Northern Israel, then Dad and Louise were visiting and we were in Zefat, Tel Aviv, and Mitzpe Ramon.  We took lots of pics, Pam and Noa will blog the travel part.  While visiting David Ben Gurion's home, Jay called (I love cell service in dropped calls since we arrived,) and asked if I wanted to attend a conference where the results of a three-year study in how technology was being taught/used in Israeli Teacher Colleges.  I have learned that a Jay suggestion is worth considering so I made arrangements to attend.  The conference was scheduled to start at 10:30.  In Israeli time, that meant we got going at 11.  Turns out, this was an internal release of the survey results and many of the people were the very people surveyed.  In other words, the people attending were considered innovators in technology use in training teachers.  Some results were predictable.  More educators are using technology now than three years ago.  Some were surprising.  Most teacher colleges were not rated as innovative by either the professors OR the students.  While some teacher candidates reported they felt qualified to teach using technology, this enthusiasm quickly disappeared within the first few years of teaching.  Reasons varied from no support to no tools to too much time required to create lessons using the tools they had.  No one seemed surprised at the results.   As the afternoon wore on, there were calls for greater technology integration.  This will require a great deal of cooperation among different institutions and agencies within the Education Ministry itself if progress is to be made.  I'm not sure if this one study will push people to develop a common vision.  There may be some turf protection issues which require bulldozing.  As Andrew Beyer once asked me, "How many sacred cows will I have to grind into hamburger to achieve this goal?" I have met people from the teachers' colleges, various subject (curricular area) offices, the Education Ministry itself, Mofet, K-12 schools, ORT schools, and Arab schools just to name a few.  In addition, there are private sector companies trying to change the education system from the outside.  An education vision would be helpful, but is probably difficult to achieve right now.  As with so many meetings, I learned that the Israeli education system cannot be reformed quickly or that reform is even a common goal of all interested parties.  This Mofet meeting reminded me of what the American school system was like at the height of segregation.....but that will be a different post.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Let's Play What If.....

Israel's are among the most politically active people in the world.  In the US, I can talk with folks about political subjects and while there are those who are politically aware, there are many who don't follow American politics let alone the politics of any other country.  Israelis have opinions....strong ones.  They wonder, for example, why President Obama neglected to mention Israel when he listed countries involved in Haiti.  Israel had a huge contingent of rescue workers, doctors, field hospitals, etc.  Yet, no American news outlet ever mentioned how much aid Israel was giving to Haiti.  Israelis are very suspicious of the American President right now.  An op-ed piece in today's Haaretz (the best daily read in all Israel) may explain why.....

Let's play 'what if'

By Karni Eldad

Assume for a moment that you are a Palestinian parent. Assume (really, let your imagination run free) that you are a Palestinian parent who wants peace. You would presumably want to educate your children in the same spirit. So how difficult is it, if it is even possible, for parents who live in the Palestinian Authority today to educate toward nonviolence, tolerance, recognition of the State of Israel and peace?

Sports are generally considered a good thing - a challenging, healthy activity. And that is certainly true of sports tournaments for children. A PA soccer tournament could be both fun and educational - if it were not named for the terrorist Dalal Mughrabi. She is the one who perpetrated the bloody attack on Israel's coastal highway in 1978, which killed 37 Jews.

According to Palestinian Media Watch, a celebration was held on Palestinian television to mark this terrorist's 50th birthday, sponsored by PA President Mahmoud Abbas himself. The event included a party at which a youth orchestra played in Mughrabi's honor. For the last two years, the PA has also run a summer camp named after this "martyr" (no, not Hamas, the PA - the good guys). Abbas funded a computer center named after her, and recently, a square in Ramallah was named for her as well, with Abbas' full backing. How heartwarming.

Later the article continues.....

If two PA schools are named after the arch-murderer Mughrabi, what will be implanted down the road in the subconscious of the children who attend them? That murdering Jews is a good thing, which brings you honor. If Palestinian television describes Palestine as extending "from Gaza and Ashkelon in the south to Haifa and, further north, Acre," if children are told that Tiberias is an important Palestinian city and Lake Kinneret a Palestinian water source, if Jaffa is called "Palestine's gateway to the world," what will your children understand from this? That there is no Israel. It doesn't exist.

In quiz shows on PA television and crossword puzzles in PA newspapers, children know the right answers to questions such as "Which is Palestine's most important port - Acre, Jaffa or Haifa?" Other questions include: "Name three states that border Palestine" (the correct answer is Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan) and "What is the area of the state of Palestine?" The correct answer to that one is 27,000 square kilometers - a territory that encompasses the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, including the entire State of Israel. It is clear from the questions, of course, that the state of Palestine already exists. And so on and so forth.

Your efforts to educate your children toward tolerance and acceptance of the neighboring Jewish entity are doomed to failure from the start. It is your word against the brainwashing inculcated by the schools, the television programs, the crosswords, the teachers, the textbooks, the songs. So what can you do? And how?

That is the challenge today....what should the Israelis do? How do they counter this Palestinian attitude? And, more importantly, how should Palestinian parents teach their children?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kibbutz Hatzor as a civics lesson

This past weekend, we were fortunate to be able to spend some time at Kibbutz Hatzor.  Jay invited us to meet his family and escape the urban Jerusalem life we had created.  We have not had a car in Jerusalem since we arrived.  There are many reasons for this, but the two biggest are the price of gas and the traffic.  Israelis complain about the traffic in Tel Aviv, but those who live in Jerusalem know their traffic is just as bad (not even going to include the parenthetical here!)  As a social studies teacher, I was fascinated with the communal side of the kibbutz.  Our first two meals were in the dining hall.  Lots of communal interactions to observe.  Jay and his family talked to other families.  His youngest daughter Hila (Hee-lah) was a clear favorite among all the younger children who came up for hugs, playtime, or just to say hi.  Tzippi, Jay's wife made sure we knew what we were eating and that our portions were big enough.  Friday night, Eitan, the oldest son was working in the dining hall. We observed multiple generations...a real community where everybody knew everybody else.  Aside from the white table cloths, there was no other sign this was Shabbat.  No communal candle-lighting, blessings, etc.  If this were done, it was all done privately prior to dinner.  After the meal, some of the adults went to a presentation on recycling, waste, etc.  The kids either went to the youth club (older kids, mostly) or hung out and eventually, watched TV (younger kids, mostly)  The kibbutz folk at the lecture discussed everything from rising use of plastic stuff to water use.  Everybody was astonished as they watched the slide presentation.  If you didn't just click on the link, please go back and watch is worth a couple minutes of your time.  Imagine our surprise the next day when water was served to the group involved in Tu' Bishvat plastic cups!

Back to civics....kibbutz housing is voted on by the members.  There is a limit to the number of houses/duplexes which can be funded.  And, of course, those living in "older" homes have to be able to "move up" to newer ones in an agreed upon period.  Because of this, one's immediate neighbors tend to be of the same age since they have also been on the kibbutz for the same length of time.  One can also see the private side of kibbutz life at Hatzor.  The homes aren't all equal.  Some duplexes have been built out.  Families drive kibbutz vehicles, but can also own private cars.  Even labor is now contracted out.  There are kibbutz workers who don't live on the kibbutz.  The kibbutz store carries multiple brands (used to only be one brand of soap in Israel.)  Hatzor even has it's own world-class sculptor, Zeev Krisher.  There was also a communal soccer game (ages 16-32!) where the goal was just to build community.  I spent much time thinking about the Catlin Gabel After-Rummage discussion.  Life at Kibbutz Hatzor was a blend of family, individual, and communal activities.  How can Catlin make the transition from Rummage to something else?  We live apart from each other, tend to drift away from the school if our kids have graduated/left, and are busy with our own lives.  What is the incentive to tackle another project.  Rummage happened because we needed a way to reuse items we no longer needed and found a way to include the larger Portland community.  Kibbutz Hatzor works because its members live, work, play, laugh, and eat together.  It is a living example of civics which continues to work because according to Tzippi, "Young people return as soon as they have children because their grandparents live here."

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Tragedy of the Commons

Israel and Catlin Gabel have garbage in common.  Israelis keep their personal spaces, homes, and gardens meticulously clean.  Catlin Gabel teachers keep their classrooms tidy and neat.  The problem is common spaces.  I have been following a conversation among Catlin Gabel Middle School teachers about the messy state of common spaces.  This mirrors our observations of Israeli common spaces.  There is garbage everywhere.  Most of it plastic, much of it recyclable.  Every teacher at Catlin Gabel agrees the problem is severe.  Israelis understand the problem, too.  This weekend, an Israeli friend commented, "It's terrible, just terrible.  Nobody cleans up."  Both Catlin and Israel have placed recycling containers so that it is easy to recycle paper and plastic.  There are garbage cans readily available in both spots.  Perhaps schools can be part of Israel's solution as well as guide Catlin Gabel.  The Northwest School in Seattle has environmental teams which serve three distinct functions.  Students in grades 6-12 have an interest in keeping personal and common spaces clean since they have to clean messy common spaces.  The bond created by environmental teams helps the school create a sense of community since environmental teams are cross-graded, cross-divisional, and cross-everything-else.  A sense of pride in self, school, and common spaces is instilled because the Northwest School students have rolled up their sleeves, grabbed rags, and plugged in vacuum cleaners.  Next time I visit an Israeli school, I'll have to check out the cleanliness of the school in addition to the technology.  On a larger scale, is the tragedy of the commons a symptom of civic disengagement?  As fewer people vote or feel connected to their civic institutions, do they feel less responsible about littering and picking up after themselves?  While hiking down Masada, Pam and I walked past an empty potato chip bag blowing in the wind.  It stood out, a glaring purple against the golden desert soil.  After two steps, we both stopped and looked at each other.  We were tired.  We had just hiked up and down Masada.  I turned around and hiked the 5 steps up to the bag which had already blown another 5 steps up the mountain.  I retrieved it, crumpled it up and threw it away at the Visitor's Center.  The tragedy of the commons is solved one piece of litter at a time.