NYC Department of Education Releases a Social Media Guide for Students That Says…Nothing?

A lot of local media press is swirling around the new social media guide put out by the NYC Department of Education this week.  At first glance that sounds great.  Administration is stepping in to help kids navigate social media, provide tips and guidance and empower kids to make smarter choices online – or so you’d think.

But in fact if you read it, it is not a guide – it is a set of cliché ridden guidelines.  Complete with links to multiple Chancellor’s Regulations – because there’s nothing kids won’t enjoy more than reading the A-831 regulation to understand peer sexual harassment.

This guide contains such gems as this advice if you are cyber-bullied and would like to report it to the adult in charge at your school,”If you are not sure who your school’s Respect for All Liaison is, please look for their name on the RFA posters.”

And this warning about crossing the personal-school life boundary, “Sometimes, personal social media use, including off-hours use, may result in disruption at school and the school may need to get involved. This could include disciplinary action such as a parent conference or suspension.”

In other words, this is NOT a social media guide, it is a set of regulatory guidelines, and we shouldn’t be giving the NYC Department of Ed a big hurrah for publishing them.  They are not curriculum or actual teaching tools.

The good news is that there is a media literacy bill right now in the New York Legislature that would mandates the Department of Ed will develop standards and provide resources for incorporating media and social media literacy in K-12 curriculum.  And, it will make teacher training available for media literacy as well.
https://www.facebook.com/rebeccalevey/posts/10202911221120416?stream_ref=10

THIS is worth your time in sharing and talking about so we can actually create media savvy kids.

Twitter is NOT for 1st Graders – and other things teachers should know

no twitter allowedToday I read an article in Education Week summarizing some of the “mind-blowing” professional development tips given to elementary school principals at The National Association of Elementary School Principals Conference.  These lessons in how to integrate and open up their classrooms to tech were dished out from a professional developer named Alan November of November Learning.  One nugget of tech advice that made my head spin was this gem:

There are so many things wrong with this that I had to read on to see if this was actually what he was suggesting to principals.  And, yes, it was.

First and foremost what is upsetting about his advice – being given under the auspices of a tech “expert” – is that kids under 13 are not LEGALLY allowed to have Twitter accounts.  Or Facebook accounts.  Or Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat – the list goes on. Why can’t they?  Because there is a privacy law, which I’ve talked about endlessly on this blog and elsewhere, called COPPA.  That law is meant to protect kids, their personal information and their data.  (I don’t even know if I could possibly write about it more than I already do!)

To not let that little fact be known to principals who are now going to go back to their teachers – their employees – and say,

“Hey, we should be using Twitter, it’s a great (free) tool!  Now we’re using tech in the classroom, woohoo!”

is malpractice.

I don’t know what the full agenda was at this conference, but ANY conversation with principals and teachers looking to integrate tech into their school has to begin with a discussion about privacy.  Just as parents need to understand it, so do teachers.  You cannot introduce apps and websites into a classroom without knowing what kind of data is being collected and why.  You most certainly cannot introduce children – 1st graders! – to a website that specifically bans them as users!  Maybe they should learn to mix cocktails as a science project – that would be some good real world job skill training!

He also told principals they should use Khan Academy to teach math.  Just this past year I did just that with my daughters when we were preparing for a middle school exam based on math one grade level above their own.  It was truly awful.  AWFUL.  And my daughters are crazy smart math girls.  But watching Khan Academy math videos and then trying to fully grasp the concepts and then execute them on their own?  That was a huge waste of time that made us all frustrated.

I’m sure some people have had success using the online math tutorials, but the majority of stories I’ve heard have been similar to my own.  I can’t imagine if a bunch of kids had to watch on math on a screen every day.

Young kids need to be hands on – with math, with writing, with creating.  They also need to learn how to be safe online since that is where a good part of their life will be lived.

There are so many wonderful tech tools, apps and sites that can engage and excite kids in interesting and new ways.  We have many wonderful teachers using KidzVuz in the classroom as a tool for getting kids to write and produce video book reviews – but our site is built FOR KIDS!  Just using tech because it’s novel is a waste of time and money – and that slapdash approach won’t help a teacher with their ultimate goal – producing true thinkers and innovators, and kids who want to learn.

I hope this article was just a snippet of what was presented to those principals.  And I really hope that NONE of them go back to their schools and get their 1st graders on Twitter.  Most of all, I hope the people in charge of teaching the teachers do a responsible job.  There’s a lot of money being tossed around to so-called experts, but I’m not sure who is truly vetting them.

It’s Testing Time in NYC!

I found this card in my 5th Grade daughter’s backpack yesterday.  It’s a good luck card from her kindergarten book buddy wishing her well on the New York State standardized tests – all 6 days of them.  It’s so sweet, but also so sad to me that even the kindergarteners know that testing is happening and feel the stress in the school.

good luck card

 

Supporting Art in Schools with Blick Art Room Aid

Blick Logo

As someone who has invested way too many hours in my daughters’ NYC public school and education issues beyond those four walls, I have come to realize that the worst thing educators and administrators can do is look at various subjects – math, literacy, science, art, music, gym, social studies – as isolated fields of study.  But, unfortunately that does happen, and more often than not the arts are deemed “extras” instead of integral to bringing alive math, science, literacy and the other “core” subjects.

In my daughters’ school the parents pay tens of thousands of dollars to supplement the meager art budget in the school.  We cover supplies for the art teacher, a separate art program through Studio in a School for the 4th and 5th Grades since they don’t get a dedicated art class, art supplies for the classroom teachers so they can do curriculum based art projects, and fund the school art show, chimes music program, dance programs, and more.  We are lucky.  Our parents have the means, time and know-how to fundraise this kind of money.  Most schools are not this lucky.  So, I was thrilled to participate in the Blick Art Materials Art Room Aid program.

Art Room Aid was created in 2009 by Blick Art Materials. As a company focused on educational and professional art supplies, Blick has also consistently supported arts education in diverse ways. Whether sponsoring art scholarships or creating lesson plans that address national standards of learning while easing the burden on busy educators, we at Blick understand just how important collaboration is. And we know that big dreams start small- after all, Blick is a family-owned company that began at Mr. and Mrs. Blick’s kitchen table in Galesburg, Illinois, 100 years ago.

Today, we’re continuing to nurture that deeply rooted investment in the arts and in educational communities with Art Room Aid. As the world becomes increasingly linked, skills like visual communication and creative problem-solving are more important than ever.

I knew I wanted to find a teacher who worked at a school that didn’t have the kind of support that my daughters’ school has and fortunately, my sister connected me with Laura Pawson, a Visual Arts and Special Education teacher at Juan Morel Campos Secondary School in Brooklyn.  The school’s population made up of  low-income students, including many homeless children, and almost 25% English Language Learners.

Ms. Pawson immediately jumped at the opportunity to stock up on supplies for a mosaic project she has been developing for her students.  She created a wish list through Blick Art Materials Art Room Aid that you can now help fund and fulfill!  In addition, she will be given $100 by Blick Art Materials to help kickstart this campaign and get these kids creating amazing art!

So, please click on over and help fund this fabulous project.  You can click here: Juan Morel Campos Mosaic Project and give as little as $10 to bring art into a child’s life.

My Daughters are Film Makers – Take Two Film Academy and What Makes a Great After School Class

As New York City 10 year-olds my girls have taken a huge range of after school classes.  From sports to cooking, arts to performing, we’ve covered pretty much every venue on the Upper West Side.  I’ve found that some classes are harder to do well than others, cooking for example is often nothing more than baking, often involving Pillsbury Crescent Rolls or assembling of ingredients rather than real cooking.  And I won’t even discuss the disastrous swim class we took where they put kids back in the pool after another kid had thrown up in it. So, I was definitely skeptical of Take Two Film Academy, kid focused film program, since most of our experience has been a “film” class that consists of a non-film teacher making videos on iMovie and the kids merely actors in the teacher’s script or ideas.  But, Take Two Academy seemed a lot more professional and worth a shot.

The first thing that impressed me about Take Two and their fabulous teachers was that they use real professional equipment. The cameras, boom mikes, and Final Cut Pro editing software challenged the students to make higher quality and richer movies.  But what I really loved was how they focused on the process and on collaboration – two things that are essential to good filmmaking.  The kids range in age from 8-15, not an easy group to get to work together, but they did.  They broke down into smaller groups, but each took bigger or smaller roles within each group – from writing, to acting, from directing to editing.  In just 5 days they produced 3 short films – each of them unique, interesting, and completely from their own voices.  And, they were all really proud of each other, the teachers took a total backseat to the students at the final viewing.

Here’s what one of their students (and star KidzVuz Reviewer) has to say about Take Two Film Academy:

And here is sample of one of the films my girls made:

It’s not cheap – but classes of this quality rarely are in Manhattan. I highly recommend checking it out for your budding film maker, actor, writer or performer.

Disclosure: I received a discount on the one-week film class in exchange for a review.  All opinions (and those of the kids) are unbiased and our own!

Support the Arts in Schools with Blick- an Artsy Twitter Party

Blick Logo
As most of my readers know I am deeply involved in education advocacy and issues.  One of my favorite topics is the importance and role of arts education in our schools.  I actually think that art can and should be integrated into all curriculum areas – and that art can help illuminate concepts from math and science to make it more interesting and engaging for all students.
So, I’m thrilled to be a part of the Blick Art Room Aid campaign, and we’re kicking it off with a very hands-on event:  A Twitter Party!
#BlickARA Twitter party detailsWhat: Do you believe art is an essential part of your child’s education? Then you already know how important art education is — and how schools are struggling to keep their art programs alive. That’s where Art Room Aid can help! A program of Blick Art Materials, Art Room Aid is helping teachers across the country enlist the aid of parents, families, friends, and other art advocates to fund their art projects and keep creative learning going.Want to learn more? Join this Twitter Party to find out how you can support art education, make sure art continues to play a role in your children’s lives, and spread the word about Art Room Aid in your community. We’ll be discussing projects you can do with your own kids, and sharing sources of inspiration.

When: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2 p.m. ET

Where: We’ll be on Twitter – follow the #BlickARA hashtag to track the conversation. See this Twtvite for more info and to RSVP: http://twtvite.com/BlickARA

Hashtag: #BlickARA

Prizes: We will give away five total prizes – two $25 Blick gift coupons, two $50 Blick gift coupons, and one $75 Blick gift coupon.

Hosts: @theMotherhood, @CooperMunroe, @EmilyMcKhann

Check out Art Room Aid here: http://www.dickblick.com/ara

Blick Art Materials website: http://www.dickblick.com/
Hope you can join the conversation!

Putting Education Reform on the Presidential Debate Agenda

Photo Credit: The petition site

Last week a petition went up, sponsored by The Mandell School in NYC, to demand that the Presidential Debate moderators ask questions about the candidates’ plans and ideas for education reform.  It seems like a pretty simple demand – after all, No Child Left Behind was a signature Bush initiative, and Race to the Top has been a major Obama initiative – both of them taking huge policy steps at the Federal level to shape education in what has traditionally been a very local issue.   If this trend continues then it makes sense that the men running for the top leadership position of the country should define where they stand on education.

It’s no longer easy to divide education ideas and programs along partisan lines.   Things like vouchers, charter schools, breaking down of the teachers’ unions, are now fair game on both sides of the aisle.  And the money is flowing from liberal-minded hedge funders as well as conservative think tanks.  Forget everything you know about public education in the 70s and 80s – those battles have been completely upended, and opposing sides may be voting for the same guy come Election Day.

But, we all know Obama’s thoughts on education reform.  You just have to look at Race to the Top and the horrible spread of standardized testing as the only measure of student progress and teacher effectiveness.  I don’t think this was the intention of  Race to the Top, but it has been the consequence.  And to be honest, I don’t think Romney will have anything interesting to say except platitudes about preparing our students for the 21st Century and how every student deserves a great teacher.  There’s not going to be any substantive talk about education either way.

Here’s what I would like to hear from the candidates – and not in a debate forum where the clock is ticking and the press is eagerly awaiting a zinger.  I would like Obama to talk about why he chose Sidwell Friends for his daughters – a private school free from testing, free to create interesting, project based curriculum, free to limit their class size, but not at all free in terms of tuition.  I would like Romney to talk about the heavily subsidized BYU, where the Mormon belief in a good education is put to work in terms of making the school very affordable thanks to the Church. And, since he  went to a very fancy private school – Cranbrook, where my husband also was lucky enough to attend – I’d like to know what he felt he got out of his education, what he valued from it, other than bullying kids with long hair.

As I usher my daughters through the  NYC Public Middle School application process this fall, I am more and more aware that our system that has too few seats, a crazy admission policy that varies from school to school, an obscene reliance on test scores that puts pressure on kids as young as 8, and no real data showing that any of this is good for kids in the long run or will produce more creative, smarter adults, I have to wonder – what could any politician tell me about education reform that I don’t already know or that I would believe?

Won’t Back Down Movie Review: My (ex) PTA President’s Point of View

This week I went to a screening of Won’t Back Down starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  The movie is about a mom and a teacher who band together and use the Parent Trigger law (which is never mentioned by name) to take over and turn around a failing elementary school in Pittsburgh.  The film is loosely based on real events (though in my research I couldn’t find anything other than the Los Angeles based parent trigger law, which was backed by a big charter school organization), and produced by the same man who produced Waiting for Superman. As someone who has been deeply embroiled in the discussion and reality of parents advocating for better schools, for student and parent rights, and as a PA C0-President who has worked closely with many teachers and administrators, this movie got to me on many levels. So, I have decided to break it down in two parts: As a movie and then as a propaganda film.

The Merits of the Movie:

Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal are wonderful.  The acting is spot on and engaging.  The script however, is full of holes and clichés and desperate to create dramatic tension because just trying to get names on petitions isn’t all that interesting.  It could be interesting, of course, but the writer and director chose not to show any other parents other than Maggie Gyllenhaal’s plucky, positive, uneducated, but so endearing single mom on a mission.  They also gave Viola Davis a horrible back story having to do with being a mom who couldn’t deal with a colicky baby, rather than the more difficult story I think of how a once great teacher could lose her passion and desire and become completely mediocre.  Holly Hunter had the worst task of the movie playing the Pennsylvania Teachers Union boss – her role was so thinly written that people at my screening giggled when she gave her over the top pro-union scare speeches.  I wondered how members of the Screen Actors Guild (or the screenwriters for that matter that just went on strike not that long ago) could play a part that so demonized another union.   And that brings me to…

The Movie as Propaganda:

OK.  I get it.  There are terrible teachers out there and no one does a thing about it.  They really don’t. They cross their fingers and hope they’ll retire.  But, there are also a ton of great teachers, and a lot of average teachers.  In this school, they pretty much all sucked except of course the young, hot, Teach for America Teacher!  Though he toted a ukulele, not a Superman cape, he was clearly the hero.  For the sake of romantic conflict they also made him pro-labor so he and Maggie Gyllenhaal could argue.  But, don’t worry, once he saw the inhumanity of Holly Hunter he quickly realized the teachers union was the ogre and the cause of all public education woes and joined the turnaround crusade.

Here’s what never happened in the movie:  A discussion by the teachers about how much their principal obviously sucked and how they could push him out and start to collaborate to have the school they envisioned.  OR a discussion with their union leaders that they were unhappy about certain union policies and make themselves heard.  Also – parents and teachers NEVER came together during this process except at the end in the council meeting.  Seriously?  If all you have is a bunch of parent signatures on petitions but no parents showing up for meetings or in classrooms you do not actually have parent involvement.

There was one moment in the film where I thought for sure Viola Davis’s character was going to have a true conflict.  Her awful principal, who knew she was organizing this attempt to take over the school, suspended Viola Davis because of attendance tampering that she did at his directive.  Here we go, I thought, now she will need the union.  This is why teachers formed unions right?  To protect them against petty personal administrators (particularly when admins were dominantly men and teachers were women.)  But, no.  That would have taken away from the union as devil storyline.  So, instead of a real meaningful discussion between Viola Davis and Holly Hunter about what is right and wrong about the union – the two never meet.  I won’t go into the ridiculous scene where Holly Hunter tries to buy off Maggie Gyllenhaal with free private school tuition for her daughter.  Seriously.

I am all for parent power.  I am all for getting rid of the crappy, demoralizing teachers who should not be allowed to step foot in a classroom.  But, this movie made me sad.  I was really hopeful in the beginning of the film because it was about teachers and parents working together – not something you usually see in movies.  This wasn’t some public school movie where the wide-eyed liberal white teacher swoops in to the minority student school and teaches them violin and magically makes their lives better.  We don’t need any more of those either.  But, this was really a giant anti-union propaganda film that missed the mark.  And that’s too bad because it had the chance to really say something about how parents and teachers can make change – and how hard it really is to find great leadership, and what can happen if we put kids first.  There was NO mention of lack of funding at the school by the way, or lack of professional development for teachers, after school programs, etc.  Seems if you just hang lots of butterflies in the hallway and paint the halls you make a great new school.  That’s an insult to all the parents and teachers who really do work their butts off to make their schools better everyday.