Friday, September 9, 2011

In the Classroom: Technology

In 2002 Google launched it's Google Books project that sought to answer a simple but important question: "how long would it take to digitally scan every book in the world?" Years later they're still working at it, but educators and education administration alike were thrilled by the prospect that so much information can be at our children's fingertips in even the most remote areas.

Digital libraries and technology in general are touted as the wave of the future in education, but the question Matt Richtel of the New York Times asks is will technology really change the classroom? He recently wrote an article titled In Classroom of Future, Stagnat Scores that examined why, in classrooms completely outfitted with the latest technology, are test scores still stuck at the same levels they've always been?

Richtel seems to answer his own question. Innovative and engaging teachers who put that technology to good use produce creative and intelligent kids. The Quick & the Ed explains this well:
"In another vignette a teacher projects a true or false question onto a large screen: “Jefferson Davis was the commander of the Union Army.” Students used clickers to give their answers and, just like on a game show set, a computer instantly compiled the results. It was an electronic show of hands. This is the kind of right-or-wrong question that only calls on students to regurgitate what they know. Whatever the  response methodology, the question wouldn’t lead to a rich discussion in which students had to defend their answers with historical evidence. A better question would be to ask students to discuss why Davis, who was trained at West Point, fought bravely in the Mexican American War, was a U.S. Senator and served as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, was loyal to the Confederacy. They could research the answer on line—on their own or as a class."
Richard Lee of The Quick & the Ed goes on to ask the followup questions regarding technology in the classroom:
"Q. How does it change the role of the teacher? Q. Does the technology make it easier for teachers to understand students’ thinking? Where they need extra help? Q. Does it make it easier for students to learn from one another, perhaps using social media? Q. Does it help students learn basic material more quickly so that more class time can be devoted to in-depth discussions and applications of knowledge to solve problems? Q. Does it extend learning effectively beyond the classroom?" 
Ultimately, though technology in the classroom is a very exciting prospect, we must not forget the importance of a good teacher to make good use of it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New Chicago Schools Chief Talks With WBEZ Callers

 The new CPS chief, Jean-Claude Brizard, took calls for an hour last night for the first monthly installment of WBEZ's program Schools on the Line. Students, parents and Chicagoans called in with their questions. Here are a couple of excerpts from his answers:

"Bottom line is that when you look at the school day in Chicago compared to New York, or Houston or Boston, we have the shortest school day, school year of the big systems in the country." 

"We have kept class size constant despite the massive shortfall in the budget that we've experienced for this school year."

Listen to the entire hour on WBEZ's website and tune in the first Thursday of September for the second installment. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Matt Damon's Take on Teachers

This is a followup to our post The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman which explored the film that offered a rebuttal to Davis Guggenheim's famous documentary, Waiting for SupermanWhile Guggenheim's film explored perspectives on tenure, ED spending, unions and charter schools through the lens of some of the nation's most powerful figures and institutions, this latest documentary claims it has captured the voice of the people working in the trenches - the parents, teachers, social workers and ed reform advocates.

On July 30th 2011, was at the Save Our Schools March, where this film were screened. Michelle Fields spoke with attendees and speakers like actor Matt Damon, author Jonathan Kozol, and historian Diane Ravitch that support the stance this new documentary takes. See what they had to say:

The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman...the movie

There has been much ado about the documentary film Waiting for Superman. In many ways this film has done much good for the education reform movement. It got people motivated. But there are many people, primarily parents, teachers and activists, who voiced that the film was too simplistic and destroyed much of the momentum towards true reform. states, "[Waiting for Superman] touted corporate reformers as education "experts" and painted teachers, tenure, and the unions that protect them as the enemy. The film completely ignored the effects of broader social problems like poverty and racism, while pointing to charter schools and privatization as magic solutions." (read more about Waiting for Superman on our blog post Join the Conversation: Charter Schools)

A new documentary claims it has captured the true voices of education reform from parents, teachers and community members. It's called The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.

According to Diane Ravitch (in the film promo above) Waiting for Superman's message demoralized teachers. "It takes a village to raise a child and the corporate reform movement has caused the village to fall into distension and people are fighting each other. At the same time the budget for education is being slashed and corporate taxes are going down." She says, "we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore." 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Escaping Endless Adolescence. Why are teens growing up so slowly?

I just found an interesting Newsweek article written by Po Bronson reviewing the book Escaping Endless AdolesenceThe book's authors, Dr. Joe Allen and Dr. Claudia Worrell Allen, asks the question, "Why are teens growing up so slowly?" In other words, why does it take teens today so long to mature and be ready for the world? Their answer to this question is reflected in the current education reform discussion.

Structural changes in our school system is part of the national conscious when it comes to education reform, whether it's extending the school day, extending the school year, block scheduling, starting the school day later, or any of the other ideas that have been tossed around, it's been part of the mainstream conversation. What these authors have concluded is structural change is needed and should provide real-life, hands on experience that better prepare our children and offer them options to explore their talents, creativity and maturity.

"We place kids in schools together with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other kids typically from similar economic and cultural backgrounds. We group them all within a year or so of one another in age. We equip them with similar gadgets, expose them to the same TV shows, lessons, and sports. We ask them all to take almost the exact same courses and do the exact same work and be graded relative to one another. We give them only a handful of ways in which they can meaningfully demonstrate their competencies. And then we’re surprised they have some difficulty establishing a sense of their own individuality... We don’t give teens enough ways to take risks that are productive.”

At Urban School Foundation we're trying to provide this opportunity through entrepreneurship education. We're creating a program in which students actually start a business and run it. All proceeds from this business are then donated to the school program of their choice.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Business Promo Videos

Urban School Foundation takes a look back on our first year of our entrepreneurship education program. We had some really creative businesses. Here are the promotion videos for the top two business plans:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Entrepreneur in Focus: Jake Nickell

For this round of Entrepreneur in Focus I was eager to write about one of my favorite hip Chicago businesses, threadlessbut I didn't have to. So many people love theadless that my job was already done for me. In fact, I've probably had more trouble choosing the video that best portrays this plugged-in, Generation Y company. But let me indulge in a short who-is-threadless-intro. 

Who Is threadless?
Threadless is a online apparel store run by skinnyCorp of Chicago, Illinois and driven by the graphic arts community. Co-founders Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart started the company in 2000 with $1,000 in seed money after entering an Internet t-shirt design contest. How does threadless work? Members and artists submit t-shirt designs online that are open to the public to choose what designs they like the best.  A small percentage of submitted designs are selected for printing and sold through an online store. Creators of the winning designs receive a prize of cash and store credit. It's a company the relies heavily on crowdsourcing and web 2.0 to connect to the public, and it's this open connection and two-way communication that laid the foundation for this company's success.

This is a great documentary that explains the history of the company.

And in case you can't watch this video at the moment, here's a great blog post that Jake Nickell wrote about the history of his company. You can find the post on the threadless blog, here.

Some insight into threadless' interesting corporate culture:

10 Years of Awesome!!! from on Vimeo.