One anonymous teacher who is quoted in my book, claims that her district is not using DIBELS because administrators and teachers want to use it or because it gives helpful information, because it doesn’t, she claims. “We’re using it because Reading First requires it,” she says. “Some schools are posting fluency scores of children … and then the students have race cars, in the form of bulletin boards, where they are trying to race to the speed goal. On the phoneme segmentation part, some kindergarten classrooms have been known to drill and practice the segmentation while kids are in line waiting for the restroom.”

DIBELS is not just an early literacy test. Teachers are required to group learners and build instruction around the scores. They’re evaluated on the DIBELS scores their pupils achieve. Publishers are tailoring programs to DIBELS. And academic and life decisions for children, starting in kindergarten, are being made according to DIBELS scores.

I believe this period in American education will be characterized as the pedagogy of the absurd. Roland Good, a DIBELS developer, told the U.S. House of Representatives’ Education Committee during a hearing last April that three million children are tested with DIBELS at least three times a year from kindergarten through third grade. New Mexico provides every teacher with a DIBELS Palm Pilot so the pupils’ scores can be sent directly to Oregon for processing.

Kentucky’s associate education commissioner testified at the hearing that the state’s Reading First proposal was rejected repeatedly until they agreed to use DIBELS. The DOE inspector general cited conflicts of interest by Good and his Oregon colleagues in promoting DIBELS.

Another teacher, quoted in my book, claims that while the DIBELS test is used throughout the school year, any child who receives the label “Needs Extensive Intervention” as a result of the first testing must be monitored with a “fluency passage” every other week.

No test of any kind for any purpose has ever had this kind of status. In my book, I analyzed each of the subtests in depth. Here are my conclusions:

•   DIBELS reduces reading to a few components that can be tested in one minute. Tests of naming letters or sounding out nonsense syllables are not tests of reading. Only the misnamed Reading Fluency test involves reading a meaningful text, and that is scored by the number of words read correctly in one minute.

•   DIBELS does not test what it says it tests. Each test reduces what it claims to test to an aspect tested in one minute.

•   What DIBELS does, it does poorly, even viewed from its own criteria. Items are poorly constructed and inaccuracies are common.

•   DIBELS cannot be scored consistently. The tester must time responses (three seconds on a stopwatch), mark a score sheet, and listen to the student, whose dialect may be different from the tester, all at the same time.

•   DIBELS does not test the reading quality. No test evaluates what the reader comprehends. Even the “retelling fluency test” is scored by counting the words used in a retelling.

•   The focus on improving performance on DIBELS is likely to contribute little or nothing to reading development and could actually interfere. It just has children do everything fast.

•   DIBELS misrepresents pupil abilities. Children who already comprehend print are undervalued, and those who race through each test with no comprehension are overrated.

•   DIBELS demeans teachers. It must be used invariantly. It leaves no place for teacher judgment or experience.

•   DIBELS is a set of silly little tests. It is so bad in so many ways that it could not pass review for adoption in any state or district without political coercion. Little can be learned about something as complicated as reading development in one-minute tests.

Pedagogy of the Absurd
I believe this period in American education will be characterized as the pedagogy of the absurd. Nothing better illustrates this than DIBELS. It never gets close to measuring what reading is really about-making sense of print. It is absurd that self-serving bureaucrats in Washington have forced it on millions of children. It is absurd that scores on these silly little tests are used to judge schools, teachers and children. It is absurd that use of DIBELS can label a child a failure the first week of kindergarten. And it is a tragedy that life decisions are being made for 5- and 6-year-olds on the basis of such absurd criteria.

On March 12, 2020, the world lost another giant with the passing of educator Dr. Kenneth Goodman at the age of 92. Ken Goodman was responsible for developing the theory underlying the literacy approach known as whole language – making him one of the most important, vilified, and courageous educators in history. He is survived by his wife and colleague, Dr. Yetta Goodman.

Ken Goodman was Professor Emeritus in the Department of Language, Reading and Culture at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He was Past-President of the International Reading Association, The National Conference in Research in Language and Literacy and the Center for Expansion of Language and Thinking. His research on oral reading miscues led to a sociopsycholinguistic transactional model of the reading process which has achieved world wide recognition.

Dr. Goodman wrote extensively for teachers including the book, What’s Whole in Whole Language?, which sold over 250,000 copies in six languages and was most recently updated in 2014. Other books remain classics, including On Reading and The Truth About DIBELS: What It Is – What It Does. Goodman also authored countless academic papers and journal articles.

Regrettably, I never met Ken in person, but we did work together when I was Editor of one of the first online education publications of the nascent social media era, The Pulse – Education’s Place for Debate, from 2006 – 2008. Ken was one of the first people I asked to contribute to The Pulse.

Thanks to The Internet Archive, I was able to recover Dr. Goodman’s Pulse articles. Not all of them are timeless, but many are. Too much educational wisdom, even recent writing, has been lost to history. Therefore, I am proud to archive and share Dr. Goodman’s articles here.

The DIBELing of Little Children
Today’s parents of five year olds are hearing a new answer to the age old question, “What did you do in school today? “I got DIBELed.” Within a few days of entering kindergarten, hundreds of thousands of five year olds are given their first opportunity to taste failure in their ability to say the names of letters in three seconds,

Education for a Diverse Society: What Ever Happened to the Comprehensive High School?
One of the most remarkable achievements of American democracy was its provision of free universal compulsory education for all its children and young people. No society had ever committed itself to universal education.

Two Scandals
Congressional scandals, one covered by the media and the larger one about education policy remained unspoken.

Making NCLB the Key Legislative Issue of the 2007 Congress
In spite of the scandal in the administration of Reading First uncovered in the Inspector General’s report and in spite of the alarming number of schools throughout the country being falsely labeled as failing schools , NCLB was not a major issue in the mid-term elections.

Ignorance or Obfuscation? Misrepresentations of “Grade Level”
Recently my local newspaper reported the shocking fact that in a Tucson middle school, labeled as failing, half the students were “reading below grade level.” That would also mean that half are reading above grade level, a fact the article did not report..

Scientifically Based Research: 120 repetitions in NCLB
When the exact same phrase is used redundantly in the 670 pages of the NCLB law (strictly speaking the 2002 NCLB revision of the ESEA law) it would seem that there must be a compelling reason for such redundancy.

Undoing the Damage Done Through Illegal Implementation of Reading First
The inspector General of the US Department of Education has documented flagrant conflicts of interest and illegal impositions of curriculum in negotiating the NCLB state contracts. Here are my views on what is needed to even partially undo the damage done.

One Minute of Nonsense
I believe this period in American education will be characterized as the pedagogy of the absurd. Nothing better illustrates this than DIBELS.

Making Reading First Fair and Flexible
Within the past two years the Inspector General of the Department of Education has issued a series of alarming reports on conflicts of interest and violations of the NCLB law that occurred during the implementation of Reading First by Department of Education staff and its consultants and contractors.

The Power of the Book
Why is Harry Potter author, JK Rowling, suing a middle school librarian?


Scratch is a miracle. It’s popularity as a creative computing environment and its ubiquity around the world are truly impressive. Millions of children use the environment and have shared tens of millions of projects for others to enjoy and remix.

Scratch is a descendent of the Logo programming language. Logo was the first, and I would argue best, programming environment ever designed for children and learning. Logo is over fifty years old. While this would seem to be a million years old in technology years, Logo not only remains powerful in the hands of children, but benefits from a half-century worth of research, project ideas, and collective pedagogical wisdom.

Scratch adds media computation to the Logo bag of tricks available to kids. The sort of storytelling projects created in it appeals to adults who value kids being engaged in creative acts. A large part of Scratch’s appeal is the enormity of its project library full of projects that look like anyone can make them. It is also worth remembering that Scratch was originally designed for use in afterschool programs where teaching could not be guaranteed. Kids look at Scratch and know what to do. These are powerful and legitimate design features that contribute to its popularity.

Logo on the other hand was designed as a vehicle for education reform and created a “microworld” in which children could be mathematicians rather than just be taught math. Kids using Logo often fell in love with mathematics and felt intellectually powerful for the first time. Logo introduced the concept of the turtle, a representation of the child’s place in physical pace, and turtle geometry, a math connected to movement in the real world. The turtle matched the intensity of children, captured their imagination, and was their collaborator in constructing mathematical knowledge. In 1968, Alan Kay first imagined the Dynabook, the progenitor of the modern laptop or tablet computer, after observing children programming in Logo. Kay recalls being amazed by the sophisticated mathematics young children were engaged in. Fifty-two years later, I feel the exact same way every time I use Logo with children.

*Today, a 5th grader came bounding up to me to announce, “Look what I accomplished!” She had taught the Logo turtle to draw a fraction, a bit of curricular detritus that normally invokes dread. In the process, she simultaneously demonstrated understanding of fractions, division, angle, linear measurement, and was on the verge of understanding variables all while teaching the turtle to draw. Turtle geometry may be the greatest mathematical prosthetic ever invented for learners. Logo creates a Mathland in which “messing about” and learning mathematics is as natural as a child develops oral language.

 

Math is the weakest link in every school. It remains the center for misery and instructionism in most. Seymour Papert taught me that the teaching of math ultimately jeopardizes all other efforts at educational progress. There is no gap as wide as the gulf between mathematics – a jewel of human intellect, and school math. Papert believed that even the most progressive schools become undone by the traditional diet and pedagogy of school math. He often discussed the need to create a mathematics children can love, rather than inventing tricks for teaching a “noxious” irrelevant math. Papert convinced me that no matter how project-based or student-centered a school happens to be, there remains a part of the day or week (math time) when coercion is reintroduced into the system. That is ultimately coercive to the nobler aims of the institution. Logo is and has been one of the few Trojan horses available for helping teachers rethink “math” on behalf of the kids they serve.

I fear for the future of such experiences in a world in which software has no value and there is no incentive for modern Logos to be created. Scratch benefits from mountains of government, university, and corporate funding, making it the 900-pound gorilla in coding for kids.

I just spent several hundred words stipulating that Scratch is a good thing. However, decisions were made in the evolution of Scratch that undermine its ability to make mathematics comprehensible, wondrous, relevant, and accessible for learners of all ages. Scratch could maintain fidelity to the powerful ideas inherent in Logo while adding all of the storytelling, animation, and media manipulation in a Web-based programming environment, but the designers of Scratch have decided to do otherwise. In fact, the most recent version, Scratch 3.0, has made it either too difficult or impossible to create the sorts of experiences I desire for my grandchildren and the children I’m privileged to teach.

I truly do not wish to step into the minefield of arguing about everyone’s favorite software, but my concerns are legitimate. I know readers may be thinking, “Hey, design your own software if you love Logo so much!” This is impossible in a world in which software has no value and there is no incentive for modern Logos to be created. Scratch benefits from mountains of government, university, and corporate funding, making it the 900-pound gorilla in coding for kids. That’s a good thing, but it could be better. My hope is that as Scratch evolves, consideration is given to bringing back some of the powerful mathematical ideas that have been lost.

Let me get specific. The following examples are a non-exhaustive list of the ways in which Scratch makes my life more difficult as a teacher and teacher educator concerned with providing authentic mathematical experiences.

Putting the turtle out to pasture
Perhaps the most enduring and kid-imagination-capturing metaphor of Logo programming goes like this:

[Teacher] “The turtle has a pen stuck in its belly button. What do you think happens when it drags its pen?”

[Kids] It draws!

This sounds simple, but is at the heart of what makes Logo a powerful, personal experience. Placing a transitional object representing ourselves inside of the machine is an instant personal invitation to programming. Drawing, with a crayon, pencil, or turtle is the protean activity for representing a child’s thinking.

Drawing or painting with the mouse is fine but denies children opportunities to express mathematical formalisms in service of drawing. There is fifty years’ worth of scholarship, joy, and powerful ideas associated with turtle graphics – often a user’s first experience with thinking like a mathematician and debugging.

Scratch 3.0 inexplicably demotes its pen blocks (commands) to software extensions. The extensions are hidden until the user un-hides them. All of the other Scratch 3.0 extensions support either external hardware control or more advanced esoterica like interactive video, language translation, or text-to-speech functionality. I appreciate that part of Scratch’s success is its clean design and lack of clutter. However, pen blocks are seminal and were integrated into previous versions. This design decision has several negative consequences.

  • It complicates the possible use of turtle graphics by requiring finding the location of the extensions button and clicking on the pen extensions
  • It implies that turtle graphics (drawing) is not as valuable a form of expression as animation.
  • The symbol on the extensions button is highly non-intuitive.
  • The pen blocks, once the extension is loaded, appear near the bottom of the block palettes, far from the motion blocks they rely on. This makes block programming cumbersome when the focus is turtle geometry.

The turtle has a pen stuck in its nose? Ouch!
In Scratch, the sprite draws from the perimeter of its shape, not its center. This makes precise movement, predictions about distances, and drawing precision much more difficult.

There are no turtle costumes for sprites
The turtle head points in the direction that matches “Forward” commands. This is obvious to even the youngest programmers. In Scratch, even if one wanted to use the turtle, there are no turtle costumes. Neither the turtles found in systems, like Turtle Art, MicroWorlds,  Lynx , or even the old 70s-80s era turtle  are provided. While it is possible to design your own Scratch costumes, you would be required to do so for every project, rather than merely adding sprite costumes to the system.

It is easy to explain that the “turtle may wear other costumes you design,” telling the kids that “the sprite could be a turtle that you can dress in custom costumes,” adds needless complexity.

No Clean, CG, Home, or CS
Nearly every other version of Logo has a Clean command for erasing the screen, CG, or CS for erasing the screen and repositioning the turtle at the center of the screen with a compass orientation of zero. Commonly found, Homecommands, send the turtle back to the center of the screen at coordinates, [0 0]. These are all simple concepts for even young children to quickly grasp and use.

Scratch’s pen extension Erase All block wipes the screen clean, but neither returns the sprite to home nor reorients a “dizzy turtle.”

Program for clearing the screen and sending the turtle/sprite home

Sure, if a teacher wants students to have a block performing the roles of Clearscreen, Scratch allows them to Make a Block.

The problem with doing so is that Scratch leaves the blocks you create, complete with their instructions, in the blocks palette – cluttering up your workspace. The definition of the “new” block cannot be hidden from users, even when the new block appears under My Blocks. Even more critically, there is no simple way to add pseudo-primitives (user-created blocks) to Scratch 3 for use by students each time they use the software. Therefore, you need to recreate Clearscreen in every new project.

[Making your own blocks is buggy too. Make your own blog. Drag that stack of blocks, topped by Define, off the screen to delete it. Press Undo (Apple-Z or CTRL-Z). The definition stack of blocks returns, but not the new block under My Blocks until another block is created.]

The default sprite orientation is 90
When you hatch a sprite in Scratch, its orientation is towards the right side of the screen with an orientation of 90. If one hopes for children to construct understanding of compass orientation based on Mod 360, orienting the sprite/turtle to 0 is more intuitive. Since the turtle is a metaphor for yourself in space, your orientation is up, or 0 when facing the computer to program it.

No wrapping
For many kids, one of the most intoxicating aspects of turtle graphics comes from commanding the turtle to go forward a large number of steps. In many ways, it’s a kid’s first experience with big numbers. Turn the turtle and go forward a million steps and get a crazy wrapping pattern on the screen. Add some pen color changes, turns, and more long lines and math turns into art turns into math.

Scratch has no wrapping due to its focus on animation and game design. There could be a way to toggle wrap/no wrap. But alas…

Units are unnecessary
Not only are they unneeded, but educationally problematic. Far too much of math education is merely vocabulary acquisition, often devoid of actual experience. I go into countless classrooms where I find a store-bought or handmade “angles” poster on the wall listing the various kinds of angles. My first question is, “Who do you think is reading that?” The kids certainly aren’t, but more importantly, “Who cares?” Kids are forced to memorize names of angles too often without any experience with angles. Turtle geometry changes all of that.

If you watch me introduce turtle geometry to children, I show them that the turtle can walk and turn. It walks in turtle steps. I never use the terms, angle or degrees, until either kids use them or much much much later. After kids have experience with angles and a growing intuition about their units of measure will I mention the words, angle or degrees. After experience, those labels hang nicely on the concepts and the terms are understood, not just parroted.

In Scratch, the turn right and turn left blocks include the label for “degrees.” This is quite unfortunate. The design of these blocks is particularly odd since they do not even use the words, right and left, but arrows instead. This is most peculiar when juxtaposed against the rest of the motion blocks which are excessively chatty with extraneous text for their inputs.

Why use symbols for right and left and not a straight arrow for move?

To make matters worse, the default degree value in Scratch is 15. Kids naturally turn in 90 degree increments. If the default were 90, as it is in Turtle Art, kids quickly realize that there are turns smaller and larger when seeking angular precision. This is a much more effective sequence for understanding angle measurement from the syntonic to the abstract.

One tacit, yet profound, benefit of teachers teaching with Logo is that they gain experience teaching mathematics without front-loading vocabulary. In too many classrooms, kids are “taught” terms, like degree or angle, absent any experience. Logo-like environments offer the potential for teachers to appreciate how students may engage in mathematics unburdened by jargon. After children enjoy meaningful experiences and “mess-about” with the turtle, it is easy to say, “that’s called an angle,” or “the units used to measure angles are called degrees.” Those terms now have a powerful idea to hang their hat on.

Starting with units is not just unnecessary, it’s pedagogically unproductive.

Asymmetrical movement
Why are there blocks for turning right and left when there is only one move block? In Logo, Forward (FD) and Back (BK) are incredibly simple for children to understand and act out by playing turtle as a formal activity or in the course of programming. Move is ambiguous. Which way should I move? Forward and back make perfect sense.

Frankly, having a default of 10 in the move block is also a drag. For decades, teachers have experienced success by asking children, “How far would you like the turtle to go?” Kids suggest values and then are surprised by them. 10 is an arbitrary number. I might prefer 0 or a random integer as the default value for move. Such a change would force children to make a decision about the distance they wish to travel.

If you want the turtle to move backward, there is no back block. You are required to turn 180 degrees or move by a negative value.

Premature use of negative numbers
Introducing negative numbers and vectors the moment one encounters the turtle is premature and likely developmentally inappropriate. There is no reason for little kids to deal with negative numbers so soon when forward (fd) and back (bk) blocks could have been in the system, or at least as primitives under the pen extensions.

Multiple forwards provides kids practice with repeated addition, leading to multiplication.

Consider this simple example:

fd 20
fd 30
fd 100

Now you want the turtle to return to the midpoint of that line segment.

You can achieve that goal three ways, not including all of the repeated addition that might be used if a kid is not ready to divide 150 by 2 or figure out that a U-turn equals 180 degrees.

bk 75
rt 180 fd 75
fd -75

It is the possibility of solving even simple problems in multiple ways that is central to the genius of learning to think mathematically with Logo and the turtle. Sadly, the Scratch use of “move” to replace forward and back makes what was once a natural simple act, complicated or impossible.

PS: One more annoyance
Why are ask and answer in the Sensing palette? They get information from a user, but do not sense anything. Either move them or rename the Sensing palette, Data. Again, why lead the witness with the arbitrary “What’s your name?” value?


*Notes:
This was largely written after a recent day teaching kids. I spent months deciding whether to share this with the world. The great Cynthia Solomon contributed to my thinking and Sylvia Martinez read a draft. Seymour Papert is in my head all of the time.

Resources

  • Scratch – web site for Scratch software
  • ScratchEd – online community and resources for teachers teaching with Scratch
  • LogoThings – Cynthia Solomon’s collection of artifacts on the history of Logo
  • A Modest Proposal – ideas for using Scratch to learn computing and reading
  • Lynx – web site for new generation of Web-based Logo
  • MicroWorlds – web site for MicroWorlds software
  • Turtle Art – web site for Turtle Art software
  • The Daily Papert – archives of Seymour Papert writing, audio, and video
  • The Logo Exchange – archives of the long-running journal for Logo-using educators
  • Logo history discussion – video interview with Cynthia Solomon and Wally Feurzig, two of Logo’s creators

Selected bibliography

  • Abelson, H., & DiSessa, A. A. (1986). Turtle geometry: The computer as a medium for exploring mathematics: MIT press.
  • Harvey, B. (1982). Why logo? . Byte, 7, 163-193.
  • Hawkins, D. (2002). The informed vision; essays on learning and human nature. NY: Algora Press.
  • Newell, B. (1988a). Turtle confusion: Logo puzzles and riddles. Canberra, Australia: Curriculum Development Centre.
  • Newell, B. (1988b). Turtles speak mathematics. Canberra, Australia: Curriculum Development Centre.
  • Papert, S. (1972). Teaching children to be mathematicians versus teaching about mathematics. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 3(3), 249-262.
  • Papert, S. (1993). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books.
  • Papert, S. (1999). Introduction: What is logo and who needs it? In LCSI (Ed.), Logo philosophy and implementation (pp. v-xvi). Montreal, Quebec: LCSI.
  • Papert, S. (2000). What’s the big idea? Toward a pedagogical theory of idea power. IBM Systems Journal, 39(3&4), 720-729.
  • Papert, S. (2002). The turtle’s long slow trip: Macro-educological perspectives on microworlds. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 27, 7-27.
  • Papert, S. (2005). You can’t think about thinking without thinking about thinking about something. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 5(3), 366-367.
  • Watt, D. (1983). Learning with logo. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.
  • Watt, M., & Watt, D. (1986). Teaching with logo: Building blocks for learning. NY: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

The Papert articles (above) are available here.


Veteran educator Dr. Gary Stager is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Learn more about Gary.


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Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation by Jean Lave & Etienne Wenger – Boring, but essential

Thinking in Jazz : The Infinite Art of Improvisation by Paul Berliner – Learning on the bandstand

Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music by Tricia Tunstall – Hang in through the first few fanboy chapters for one of the best books I’ve ever read about teaching and learning.

The Long Haul: An Autobiography by Myles Horton and Herbert Kohl – Social and political activism learned for generations in an informal learning environment (students include Rosa Parks)

Comedian – You can learn more about learning from this film than almost any book.

Extra credit:

Emile: Or On Education by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Experience and Education by John Dewey

To Understand is to Invent by Jean Piaget

The Open Classroom: A Practical Guide to a New Way of Teaching by Herbert Kohl

Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood by A.S. Neill

Q: How can liberals prevent Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from destroying public education by being confirmed?

A: They can’t. Americans don’t give a rat’s ass about education policy as demonstrated by Ms. DeVos’ confirmation. Once elevated to Secretary of Education, DeVos can build upon the destruction wrought by Gates, Broad, and the Walton family and finish off public education once and for all.

So, what should be done? What can be done?

Liberals only have one choice. They need to join conservative Republicans and agree to scrap the federal Department of Education. That’s right exorcise the Department before it is inhabited by another demon.

The federal Department of Education is not an ancient governmental agency. It only dates back to 1980. Republicans beginning with Ronald Reagan have called for the end of the Department since less than a year after its inception. It is time for liberals to commit an act of political jujitsu and join the GOP in dismantling the Department of Education.

The liberal case for dismantling the Department of Education

Scholars like Linda Darling-Hammond document that the Black/White achievement gap narrowed to its smallest point around 1977, a few years before the creation of the US Department of Education. This success followed a decade or more of civil rights law and enforcement, desegregation efforts, bussing, and public sector jobs, including the CETA program. Kids were healthier, their parents had jobs, and government engaged in overt desegregation efforts.

Ever since the US Department of Education was created, public confidence in public education has eroded (and in the minds of some, schools have gotten worse). It is impossible to prove a correlation here, but the trouble began when Ronald Reagan said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem.”

Liberals and progressive educators have long argued that educational success is dependent on “wrap-around services” are required to adequately educate all children. Well, if we believe that poverty is a powerful determinate of educational success and are committed to providing nutrition, medical, dental, job, and housing services within the school system, perhaps it is time to return education to its predecessor agency, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Why not view childhood and education holistically?

I truly understand and appreciate that Title IX, Title I, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, IDEA, Title II of the ADA, and Federal financial aid are important. (thanks to Audrey Watters for the list). Most of these critical laws are established and now enforced by the Courts. Surely, these and other important civil rights could be maintained in another federal agency. The Justice Department under Jefferson Beauregard Sessions isn’t likely to enforce civil rights anyway. So, why not reach “bipartisan consensus” and exorcise the Department of Education?

Unqualified is not unprecedented

Betsy DeVos may be evil and will profit from education policies, but she is just as unqualified as most of her predecessors, a veritable Who’s Who of Who’s That?

Let’s review… (in reverse chronological order)

  • John King, Jr. – Mr. King was so unpopular and toxic that President Obama needed to install him via a recess appointment. In his previous job as New York State Education Commissioner, the state teachers union voted a historic, nearly unanimous, no-confidence vote against him. (more)
  • Arne Duncan – failed point guard for the Launceston Ocelots. Gave us Race to the Top and presided over era of rampant private higher education fraud.
  • Margaret Spellings – boring and unqualified. Now runs the University of North Carolina.
  • Coach Rod Paige – perpetrated the fraud of the “Houston Miracle” that was the model for No Child Left Behind. Champion of the obedience school chain, KIPP.
  • Richard Riley – (eight years, few accomplishments)
  • Lamar Alexander – presided over the Betsy DeVos confirmation.
  • Ted Sanders (acting) – four months in office
  • Lauro Cavazos – don’t remember him.
  • William Bennett – Third Education Secretary. First to call for the destruction of the Department. Right-wing talk radio demagogue. Founder of corrupt and mediocre “online charter school,” K12.com.
  • Terrell Bell – convicted Reagan to create A Nation at Risk. Believed that the problem with education is motivation.
  • Shirley Hufstedler – esteemed lawyer, judge, and public servant.

I often point out that in today’s anti-institution/public school bashing culture, unqualified is the new qualified.

Today’s Headlines

Sadly, Americans don’t give a damn about education policy. If we want to mitigate the potential damage done by DeVos and Trump, perhaps we should engage in some jui jitsu and agree with the Republicans about the Department of Education. It’s funding levels are approximately 7% and its negative impact is a whole lot greater.

Need convincing? Read today’s articles about Secretary DeVos.

Welcome To The Private Evangelical School Of Betsy DeVos’ Dreams – Teachers sign a statement of faith and kids learn about creationism and the Bible. It’s also the education secretary’s inspiration.

Newsflash! Betsy DeVos Opens Mouth. Nonsense Falls Out

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Those educators fortunate enough to attend Constructing Modern Knowledge 2013 will be greeted by an amazing faculty, world-class guest speakers, a mountain of LEGO, a plethora of electronics, piles of art supplies, a fully stocked library, assorted toys, tools and countless other objects to think with.

The goal is to have anything a learner might need within reach of every CMK participant.

In addition to ordering tons of microcontrollers, electronics kits and components from Sparkfun, Adafruit Industries, and Chinese LED sellers, the following is a sampling of the “stuff” one will find at the greatest professional learning event of the year.

It’s not too late to register!


Invent To Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroomby Sylvia Martinez and Gary S. Stager. 

The first book to capture the tools and energy of the maker movement for K-12 classrooms. (Kindle & print editions)


Afinia 3D Printer H-Series
$1,599This entry-level 3D printer has received stellar reviews.

Books by CMK 2013 Guest Speaker Deborah Meier

Books by CMK 2013 Guest Speaker Eleanor Duckworth

I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath
$32.32

 

The autobiography of our legendary Guest Speaker, NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath


Brotherly Jazz(DVD) $18.99A musical documentary on Jimmy Heath & The Heath Brothers

 

Endurance
$14.99

 

The most recent recording by the Heath Brothers


Jazz Master Class Series from NYU: Jimmy and Percy Heath DVD
$17.96

In The Element
$16.98CD or MP3 

The debut recording by CMK 2013 Guest Speaker Emmet Cohen


The KnowHow Book of Spycraft
$6Lots of secret codes, tricks and disguises!

Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in All Schools
$21.36

The New American High School by Ted Sizer, Nancy Faust Sizer and Deborah Meier
$17.98″The late Theodore Sizer’s vision for a truly democratic public high school system.”

SunFounder 37 modules Arduino Sensor Kit for Arduino
$69.99This new 37 Modules Sensor Kit provides all kinds of funny and completed moduels for Arduino fans. These modules will output valuable signals directly by connecting Arduino boards. It is extremely easy for Arduino fancier to control and use these modules. This kit will help you control the physical world with sensors.

Ultrasonic Module HC-SR04 Distance Sensor For Arduino $5.18

Zoom Q2HD Handy HD Video Recorder
$179.99

Kodak PlaySport (Zx5) HD Waterproof Pocket Video Camera
$129I’ve lost several of these, one of my favorite cameras for little kids and shooting an hour of video on a charge.

GoPro HERO3: Black Edition
$399.99Gotta have it to capture all the fast-paced action!

Wacom Bamboo Splash Pen Tablet
$64Great low-cost drawing/painting tablet.

Akai Pro LPK25 25-Key Ultra-Portable USB MIDI Keyboard Controller for Laptops
$47.99

Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music
$13.50One of the best books about teaching and education reform I’ve read in many years!

microtivity IL185 5mm Assorted Diffused LED w/ Resistors (5 Colors, Pack of 50)
$8.99You can never have too many LEDs. We have thousands of them for all sorts of uses in Constructing Modern Knowledge and our new Invent To Learn workshops!

Post-it Self-Stick Easel Pad, 25 x 30.5 Inches, 30-Sheet Pad (2 Pack) $44.88

Hacking Electronics: An Illustrated DIY Guide for Makers and Hobbyists
$23.86The reference tool I’ve been waiting for!

Beaglebone Black Devkit
$45The new competitor to the Raspberry Pi in the sub-$50 computer market.

Raspberry Pi Model B Revision 2.0
$43.99The latest version of the Raspberry Pi computer.

Edimax EW-7811Un 150 Mbps Wireless 11n Nano Size USB Adapter with EZmax Setup Wizard
$10.97WiFi for the Beaglebone or Raspberry Pi

The Unofficial LEGO Builder’s Guide (Now in Color!)
$18.51Indispensible!

microtivity IM255 Assorted Switches (Pack of 15)
$9.49

101 Things I Learned in Film School
$11.26An amazing little book!

Extech MN35 Digital Mini MultiMeter
$19.43You need a multimeter if electronics projects are underway.

IOGEAR 12-in-1 USB 2.0 Pocket Flash Memory Card Reader/Writer GFR209 (Green)
$7.99

Avantree Pluto Air Mini Portable Rechargeable Bluetooth Speaker for Mobile/Tablet with Carrying Pouch
$29.99

On Stage CM01 Video Camera/Digital Recorder Adapter $9.95Turn a mic stand into a tripod!

ePhoto T69green/bag Continuous Lighting Green Screen Studio Kit with Carrying Bag with 6×9 Feet Chroma key Green Screen, 2 7 Foot Light Stands with 45W 5500k Bulbs and 2 32-Inch White Umbrellas
$129.99A complete inexpensive green screen studio in a bag!

Lexar Professional 400x 32GB SDHC UHS-I Flash Memory Card
$32.95My #1 camera needs some really big fast RAM.

Moby Dick: A BabyLit Ocean Primer [Board Book]
$8.99Moby Dick for pre-readers! 

Be sure to check out the rest of the series of “board books for brilliant babies!


SanDisk SDSDU-064G-A11 64GB Ultra SDXC UHS-I Card 30MB/s
$38My Raspberry Pi or Beaglebone projects might need a lot of RAM

Playful Learning: Develop Your Child’s Sense of Joy and Wonder
$16.23

Photo Tent Table Top Studio Light Photography Soft Box Kit – Size 19.5-Inch Cube
$31Essential for stop-action animation projects and close-up photography. 

Everything folds up into a carrying case!


Behringer Ultravoice Xm8500 Dynamic Cardioid Vocal Microphone
$24.99A good quality all-purpose microphone.

Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion Project DVD
$15.85One genius controls an entire robot orchestra with a guitar!

The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection
$44.17Kids have always made stuff. The difference between the Little Rascals and the maker movement is computation.

Arduino Wearables $26.27

ProtoSnap – LilyPad Development Board
$59A brilliant way to get started with e-textiles! 

This set contains everything you need for simple wearable computing projects.


Epson POWERLITE 93 Plus 2600 Lumens XGA LCD Projector  

CMK needed a new projector!


Roland Cube Monitor / PA
$195A fantastic portable amplifier and mixer.

Bare Conductive ink Greeting Card Kit
$24.95Make interactive electronic greeting cards out of paper! A classroom set for 30 kids is available for $90.

Bare Conductive Paint and Conductive Paint Pens  

Paint and markers for paper-based circuits.


Copper Foil Tape (Conductive Adhesive): 1/4 in. x 36 yds
$17.91Conductive tape for all sorts of projects

Lots of inexpensive bulk LEDs 

50 PCS Blue LED Electronics 5mm $4.77

 

50 PCS White LED Electronics 5mm Ultra Bright $4.77

 

5mm Assorted Clear LED w/ Resistors (6 Colors, Pack of 60) $6.21

 

50 pcs RGB Full Multi color Flashing 5 mm LEDs $5.77


Makedo FreePlay Kit For One
$15.30 (larger sets are also available)

Wicked cool reusable connectors, hinges and child-safe saws for building cardboard constructions.


Rolobox Reuseable Wheel Kit for Boxes $13.95Wheel sets for cardboard boxes. You need these with Makedo!

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun
$15.67A zillion high and low-tech project ideas and suggestions for amusing yourself.

Super Scratch Programming Adventure!: Learn to Program By Making Cool Games
$13.92A full-color project book for learning Scratch programming. It even includes a chapter on using the external Picoboard!

The Big Book of Hacks: 264 Amazing DIY Tech Projects
$16.25Really cool and beautifully photographed tech projects ideas for kids and adults alike.

Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st-Century Families $13.59 

The latest addition to the three book Geek Dad series for girls, their moms (plus teachers, brothers and fathers)


The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide
$18.97A new full-color guide to building machines out of LEGO Technic! Mechanical principles are explained clearly.

Make: LEGO and Arduino Projects: Projects for extending MINDSTORMS NXT with open-source electronics
$19.75

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution$13.98 

This recent book about the Maker revolution is by the former editor of Wired Magazine.

 

However, Neil Gershenfeld’s seminal book, Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, does a better job of covering the “maker” revolution despite having been published in 2005.


Big Trak
$60 – 70My late friend, Steve Ocko, invented this programmable floor turtle (robot) for Milton Bradley in 1979. There has never been a more powerful easy-to-use robot available for kids since.The good news is that some lunatic bought the rights to the Big Trak and is manufacturing new ones 30+ years later.Kids from 5+ will play and learn with Big Trak for ages.

Makey Makey
$49.95 – $59.95There’s no adequate way to explain Makey Makey, “the invention kit for everyone,” but you need to own at least one of them!Learn more here.

LEGO WeDo
$129.95An early-childhood robotics construction kit that may be controlled via Scratch.

Sugru
various pricesMiraculous shapeable air-cured rubber, because “the future needs fixing!

Amazing book!Highly recommended! The Cryptoclub: Using Mathematics to Make and Break Secret Codes
$36.24 (and worth it!)This fantastic book makes real mathematics come alive for kids (and teachers) grades 5 and up through the exploration of cryptography. There is plenty to keep you busy for years within this book.

New York Street Games
$14.83A star-studded documentary chronicling the dizzying variety of street games invented and played in New York City, as well as the life lessons learned playing them.This DVD should inspire a great deal of play and creative “research” projects among young people.
The DVD

The book New York City Street Games
$14.95A terrific print guide to playing classic games including: Kings, Skellzies, Potsie, Stick Ball and Hit the Penny.The book even comes with bottlecaps, sidewalk chalk and a “spaldeen.”

Photojojo!: Insanely Great Photo Projects and DIY Ideas
$14.66This book is filled with insanely creative ways to turn your photographs into amazing products and crazy ways to capture photographs you won’t believe. Fun for the whole family!
Check out the exciting description of projects and photo techniques included in this unique book.

I love love love these LEGO construction books! Yoshihito Isogawa’s three magnifcent wordless books of LEGO Technic project ideas are like the holy books of LEGO construction. There are enough ideas contained within to keep you building for years!The LEGO Technic Idea Book – Fantastic Contraptions 

The LEGO Technic Idea Book – Wheeled Wonders

 

The LEGO Technic Idea Book – Simple Machines

 

$12-14 each


Painting Chinese: A Lifelong Teacher Gains the Wisdom of Youth
$7.98Legendary educator and education author, Herb Kohl’s beautiful meditation on life, teaching, learning, art and aging. 

This is one of my all-time favorite books. It makes a lovely inspirational gift for the artist or educator in your life.

For grown-ups

I’m in this book, along with Phillip-Seymour Hoffman, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie Perez, Bill T. Jones, Bill Ayers, Deborah Meiers, Lisa Delpit, Maxine Greene, Diane Ravitch and many others. The Muses Go to School: Inspiring Stories About the Importance of Arts in Education
$20.06Herb Kohl & Tom Oppenheim interviewed some of today’s most prominent artists about the educational experiences that led them to their creativity and then leading educators responded to each interview.

Surely, You’re Joking Mr. Feynman (Adventures of a Curious Character)
$10.85The first magnificent memoir by this Nobel-Prize winning physicist, raconteur and tinkerer. This is a must-read for anyone over twelve years of age. 

 

Feynman
$19.04

 

A fine biography in graphic-novel format. Appropriate for teens.

Books by and about the ultimate tinkerer and scientist

For the frustrated parents of young tinkerers Not With Our Kids You Don’t! Ten Strategies to Save Our Schools
$18.69Parent activist Juanita Doyon offers practical advice for protecting your kids from destructive school policies like standardized testing.

Read out latest newsletter for creative educators. There you will find other book reviews and recommendations for stimulating learning adventures!


Add your email address to our mailing list for updates on CMK and for information on the forthcoming Los Angeles Education Speaker Series!

 

Articles

  1. Alfie Kohn’s, “How Children’s Play is being Sneakily Redefined.” (terrific article – will inspire provocative discussion)
  2. Hard Fun” a newspaper column by Seymour Papert. (high priority read)
  3. Does Easy Do It? Children, Games, and Learning ,” Seymour Papert’s exploration of gaming, fun and learning.
  4. Vivian Paley, “You Can’t Say You Can’t Play,” profile from This American Life. (12 minutes – audio)
  5. The Journal of Play
  6. I Wonder…” 2008 short article by Deborah Meier
  7. What Happened to Play?” 2006 short article by Deborah Meier
  8. Tinkering Resources compiled by Constructing Modern Knowledge

Books (click on author’s name for other books)

You Can’t Say You Can’t Play by Vivian Paley

Playing for Keeps: Life and Learning on a Public School Playground by Deborah Meier, Brenda S. Engel and and Beth Taylor

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by M.D., Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan

What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? by Susan Ohanian – Susan Ohanian’s web site

I’m in the Sierra Mountains skiing where the altitude has replaced sleeping with hallucinating.

So, unable to sleep, I read Will Richardson’s latest blog post at 4AM. Will expands upon a blog post by David Weinberger in which Weinberger asks breathlessly,

“Why did the world shatter at the touch of a hyperlink?”

Weinberger is a Web philosopher, so one can expect that in his world view, the universe is made of “the Web.” It is the answer to every question. He also makes the mistake (IMHO) in believing that human behavior, culture and institutions may be reduced to information access.

Weinberger, admittedly one of the smarter “Web philosophers,” nonetheless uses the bits vs. atoms analogy first expressed by Nicholas Negroponte in his 1996 book, Being Digital, not to predict technological innovation, but in order to paint a dystopian vision of the present in which “every discipline” is now “a fiction.”

Will Richardson expands on Weinberger’s theme and writes the following:

“And I’m wondering, deep down, have we known all along that this idea of an “education” was really a fiction, something we created out of necessity with the implicit understanding that in a world limited by atoms, it was never really the end all, be all, but it was the best we could do under the circumstances? And if we didn’t know that, can we admit that now?

The circumstances have changed. We’re no longer constrained by atoms. For 125 years we’ve been making the learning world small, and now the world is all of a sudden big…huge. All of a sudden, the walls have been obliterated. Learning is unbound, and “an education” is next.”

I fully appreciate Will’s impatience with the educational landscape, but I think I disagree with his thesis.

There was no omnipotent power forcing us to make learning small. Besides, some pretty great freakin’ stuff was invented over the past 125 years – including the World Wide Web. Diseases were eradicated and great social movements triumphed. The past century gave us Dewey, Patri, Papert, Malaguzzi, Piaget, Kohl, Kozol, Kohn, Sizer, Littky, Meier, Holt, Postman and countless others who reinvented education.

The 1826 book, “Last of the Mohicans,” was the most popular book in America at the time of its publication, but is barely readable by literate Americans today. 100-110 years ago, millions of Americans could read and play Ragtime sheet music on their piano. That feat surely “atomizes” the ability of a lot fewer people to demonstrate a whole lot less talent with a much simpler instrument like Garageband today.

We might turn President Obama’s recent proclamation, “We do big things,” into the question, “We do big things?

It’s weird playing the role of the conservative, but isn’t there a hell of a lot we (all) can do to make schools more productive contexts for learning? Can’t we teach interesting things in meaningful ways? Can’t we develop genuine expertise and share it with our peers and the next generation? Can’t we be receptive to the intentions of young people and learn from them – if not skills and facts, perhaps intensity?

It seems to me that the “blow up the past,” “extinguish everything that brought us here (good and bad)” stuff is really a cheap parlor trick – pure rhetoric.

Kids may discover how to play with a cello on the Web, but they’ll never become a cellist that way. We see how well factual knowledge is obtained when half of America is sympathetic to birtherism. We live in a society where most Caucasians don’t know someone of a different race, yet we embrace the “diversity of the blogosphere,” which is less diverse than a public bus. How does culture sustain itself and progress? Democracy?

So many questions…

Why do we congratulate ourselves for using Skype? Why do we limit children’s computing to keyboarding instruction, Internet research or burping into VoiceThread? Is nothing fixable? Do we need 21st Century skills to supplant time-honored intellectual processes?

Why do we so lack the capacity for self-correction. Why is it safer and more comfortable to behave in a way contrary to the interests of ourselves and the kids we are supposed to serve? Why has the slightest act of disobedience against the curriculum or administrative edict taken on biblical significance? What’s wrong with US?

Who can we trust to invent a future when so few of us have the courage to teach as well as we were instructed the first night of teacher-ed? The only reason for despair is if we are truly “the change we’ve been waiting for.”


If you’re interested in learning more from the wisdom of our predecessors about how to “educate” better, check out this collection of books provided by The Constructivist Consortium.

You should also check out The Daily Papert and Constructing Modern Knowledge!