Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mobile Portland Users Group

Last night I attended a meeting of the Mobile Portland User's Group.  Their topic of the evening was mobile technology in education.  Attendees included developers, educators, job seekers, programmers, and the like.  I sat next to a developer who it turned out had also graduated from Berkeley High School......24 years before I did.  Without a doubt, he and I were two of the most "experienced" people in the room.  Late 20's and early 30 somethings dominated.....which might explain the presence of snacks purchased from Whole Foods.....and the beer keg in the corner.  I can honestly say it was the first education related conference I've ever attended in the US where a keg was present.  Nice touch, though.  Since the whole meeting was streamed live and can be found here, I don't need to summarize.  Yes, the video guy got rid of the cricket chirp before the meeting began.

The tech tools present were an interesting mix.  No Unix or Windows users here....these folks were Apple all the way.  Their work environment may demand Ubuntu or some flavor of php, but the personal brand of choice was Apple....iPhones, iPads, MacBook Pros, etc.  were all being used.  I sat in the back row with my iPad, my $3 thumb tack style microphone plugged in, ready to test AudioNote, a new app I downloaded two days ago.  AudioNote recorded the meeting perfectly.  It picked up speakers at the front of the room facing me, audience members asking questions facing away from me and even the guy behind me who asked a question!  While it was recording, I was adding my thoughts and notes.  Each line I added was time stamped.  Those notes I made prior to beginning to record were stamped 0:00:00.  At playback, the notes I had taken turned blue as the time reached my notes.  I held my iPad on my lap the entire time, writing, taking notes, etc.  The tool worked as advertised and has exciting possibilities for my students.

For those wondering....Since I had to pick up Noa from soccer AFTER the Mobile Portland meeting, I did not taste the keg, but stuck to the bubbly Whole Foods lemon water.  Yummy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Conducting the People's Business

Today I spent nine hours in windowless rooms at a Portland hotel with the folks designing the newest teacher licensure tests for Oregon.  Beginning in September, folks who want to teach in Oregon public schools will begin taking a new set of tests.  All of the information about the tests can be found on the Oregon TSPC site.  My (and my colleagues) charge today was to recommend a passing score on the new test to the good folks at TSPC.  They will either accept our recommendation or they will change it.  While the work could hardly be construed as fun, it was personally rewarding on many levels.

I always enjoy meeting teaching colleagues from around the state.  To find out what is really happening in Oregon schools, just ask the teachers.  They will talk about class size, effects of testing on computer lab use, administrators, budgets, just about anything!  Right now, most are just happy to have jobs.  A woman in Colton just received permanent status, is low person on the 6 teacher totem pole, and is realistic about staying in the school.  Another teacher commutes over 35 minutes a day to his school.  To some this may seem like a short drive, in the Portland area, it is a schlep.

Setting passing standards is important work.  Parents like to know their children's teachers have the necessary content knowledge to teach effectively.   Our passing score recommendation does not guarantee employment or even interviews.  It serves as the benchmark for teacher licensure.  Reach the bar, you get a license, don't reach the bar, take the test again.  The test design and our conference are all data driven.  We received nearly instantaneous results of our scoring work.

So why can't I talk about the tests, the people, the company, or the recommended score?  I signed a Confidentiality Agreement.  Ask me about it in ten years!  A tiring, but rewarding day, for sure.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Outside the Lines

The following article appeared via Associated Press in the Oregonian newspaper this morning:

SALEM -- A Klamath Falls teacher placed on administrative leave after an uproar over a film clip containing profanity has won an Oregon Supreme Court ruling saying he is entitled to unemployment benefits. Robert McDowell was a probationary first-year high school language arts and drama teacher for the Klamath County School District when he showed his senior English classes a clip from the film "Glengarry Glen Ross," based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Mamet. The clip contained some profanity intended as a lesson about language use and misuse. McDowell resigned rather than risk being fired while on leave. But the state denied him unemployment benefits for alleged "misconduct," a decision the Oregon Supreme Court overturned today.

Over twenty years ago I was teaching 8th grade English at Cedar Park Middle School in Beaverton, Oregon.   Glengarry Glen Ross was being performed as a student matinee and I wanted to take my classes. I sent a letter to parents explaining what we would be doing, how it fit into our study of English, and invited them to opt their child out of the planned field trip.  Out of 90 families, one opted out.  The field trip was a smashing success.  Students questioned the actors after the performance about themes in the play, including the prolific use of profanity.  Mamet doesn't use profanity blithely in the play, it serves a particular purpose.  Prior to viewing the play, I shared a list of the profane words with the kids and asked them to let me know which they had never heard or seen.  An interesting discussion about the differences between spoken and written English ensued as there were words the kids had heard but had no idea how to spell as they had never seen them written.  I was surprised that, in this group of suburban eighth graders, there were no "unknown" words.

I have to believe the seniors in Mr. McDowell's English class had not only heard the profane words, but used many of them regularly.....out of his earshot, of course.  I've visited Klamath Falls.  Everybody uses the same profane words found in Mamet's play.  The Klamath County School District was wrong to place him on administrative leave and should offer to rehire him.  He should, out of principle, probably refuse their offer.  Too bad.  He has the makings of a superb English/Drama teacher, the kind students remember, treasure, and trust.  Glengarry Glen Ross is taught and performed all over the United States.  It should also be taught in Klamath County, Oregon.

Photo courtesy of http://pwoodford.net/blog/