The Delphian School

Thinking About Visions Of The Future

Maria Schriver said “You have to be willing to let go of the life you planned in order to make the life you’re meant to live.” 

John Lennon said "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."

Two different viewpoints about life.  

I talk to my students at length about being the causative agents in their lives, being the ping pong player (not the ping pong ball).  At Delphian we talk about the dangers of being a tumbleweed, just going where the wind blows.  

A major goal of education is to help students of any age make life and career-goal decisions. These decisions require information (lots of it), intelligent analysis and most importantly, tapping into a student's dreams and visions of the future.  When asked if it was bad to be blind, Helen Keller said, “It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.”

I want my readers to think about education so they can improve it.  I ask you to look at your children’s education and the education for the children in their community and state and country.  Are students being educated so that they are the causative agents in their lives (the ping pong players), or are they being asked to fit in and become a cog in someone else’s machine (ping pong balls)?  Are they inspired to have dreams?  Are they tapping those dreams, or are they told their dreams are unrealistic and a waste of time?   Are they asked about their passions and what they want to do with their lives? Are they developing their own visions of the future - a future that means making this world a better place to live?

That’s a pretty good way to start the new year if you want to join me in thinking about education.

Posted by marks on Tuesday January 7
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Thinking About Privacy And Educating Our Children

My good friend Jeb Bladine (editor and publisher of the local News-Register) recently wrote an editorial “New Technology Threatens Privacy”.  He concludes, “Privacy, it appears, is on the chopping block in America.” I have to agree. Why? Because he sent me off to watch a story on 60 Minutes called “A Face in the Crowd: Say Goodbye to Anonymity”.

Bladine notes that news about the National Security Agency monitoring personal communication raised major concerns, but far more shocking to him was the widespread availability of “tracking apps” that turn mobile devices into portable spying devices. (I searched that term and found out he was right.) 

This quote from the 60 Minutes story about the current state of facial recognition software is enough to keep me up tonight!:  “Alessandro Acquisti is a professor at Carnegie Mellon who does research on how technology impacts privacy. He says that smart phones may make ‘facial searches’ as common as Google searches and he did an experiment to show how easy it could be. He took photos of random students on his campus. He then ran the pictures through a facial recognition program he downloaded for free that sifted through Facebook profiles and other websites. And he was able not only to identify many of them instantly, he also got their personal data, including in some cases, their social security numbers.” Yikes!!!

We knew government surveillance could be a problem, but now our friends and the businesses we patronize are contributing to our loss of privacy.  Is privacy in America on the chopping block? Something to think about...all by yourself! This is certainly a topic to take up with students when we think about education!

Posted by marks on Thursday September 5, 2013 at 03:13PM
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Education Gone Badly - Avoiding Death by PowerPoint

I love humor, and I laught at the many funny powerpoints, videos and books about Death By PowerPoint.  (I also love "pointless graphs"; if you search that topic, you will find yourself laughing.)  Just below the humor I think we all realize there is something terribly wrong with the world of presentations using PowerPoint, meaningless slides, etc.

There are many good articles on the topic of good and bad PowerPoints presentations, and I’d like to share this one by Alexei Kapterev .  But before you click away and never return to this blog, here’s what I think, based on my years of public speaking to an ever-widening range of audiences across the country..

 1) You should be able to make an effective presentation anytime, anywhere, as long as the audience can see and hear you.  

Prepare your talk as though you have no audio-visual tools.  Check out one of my favorite speech coaches Patricia Fripp’s site.  Watch some of her speeches and you will see what I mean.  I’ve never seen her use slides!

2) Something’s wrong if audience members get your PowerPoint handout and walk out before you start.

Simply stated, a PowerPoint presentation should augment, supplement, and add to your presentation.  But you are making the presentation!  The audience should be there to hear and see you!  Otherwise, publish your speech content in text format or a handout and stay home!

Always prepare your presentation (Point 1 above), then see how you can make it more effective through the use of presentation tools.  Remember - PowerPoint is just one of many presentation tools!  Visual aids have been around forever, and many have been used effectively!

As a general guide, I refer folks to Say It in Six: How to Say Exactly What You Mean in Six Minutes or Less by Ron Hoff (available used).  Can’t go wrong starting there.  Here’s a good video on improving your presentation.  

3) Presentations using PowerPoint can be done well or poorly (and most are done poorly). Good ones are prepared, practiced and refined.

You can give great presentations, if you do your research on effective presentations.  Before you go off and do your research, I think that this short video by Don McMillan is one of the best because it makes the important points while making you laugh like crazy.

 A good short blog for students and teachers on this subject is by Holly Clark.  

 4) Practice

Enough said.  

As educators, we should be excellent communicators, and be ready, willing and able to help fellow educators avoid Death By PowerPoint.  We owe our audiences and our students more. So do your own research, click on the links above, buy books, hire a coach, attend a class and read articles on the subject.  Educate yourself so you can learn to make better presentations.  That's thinking about education!

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Monday August 12, 2013 at 10:56AM
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Young People Are the Geniuses Who Change the World

In my recent blog about the importance of listening I wrote, “Students are really brilliant, you know.”  In my recent blog about creativity I wrote about Erik Wahl’s book, ““Ask a roomful of five-year-olds how many are artists and every hand will shoot up.  Ask a roomful of thirty-five-year-olds the same question and you get one reluctant hand.”  Well, I just read another blog by Angela Maiers that is really good.  That led me to Choose2Matter, a site that is really, really good.

She took my blog concept in a whole new direction, which I love.  I am including it in large part here but I encourage you to read all of the examples that follow this:

“At Choose2Matter, our opening line in speaking to young adults is, ‘You Are a Genius, and the World Needs Your Contribution.’  Next, we tell them they can change the world.

Why do we say this?

“Because studies show that, at the age of five, 100% of students believe they can, and will, change the world. When I visit with first-graders, they always confirm this by enthusiastically charging the stage en masse when I invite them to share their genius and tell me their ambitions for changing the world.

“By the age of 9, only half of students believe they are geniuses who can change the world.

By the age of 16, just 2% of students believe they are geniuses who can change the world.

When I visit high schools, I see something very different than I do in elementary schools. The genius is still there, but it’s buried under years of schooling. How? I’ve actually had educators and parents comment on my posts that we shouldn’t tell students they can change the world, because it sets unrealistic expectations. My response: unrealistic for whom?

“Fortunately, I’ve seen again and again how little it takes to bring this genius back to the surface and set students on their path to changing the world.”

She then shares examples of how the remaining 2% of students share their genius with the world.  There is a theme here.  Children are brilliant, creative and they can change the world.  Think about it, and think about how education should enable a student’s ability to change the world!

Posted by marks on Friday August 9, 2013 at 08:28AM
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Thinking About Education, Technology and Social Media

Part of my day involves ed tech (educational technology).  While I’m not an expert in this ever-evolving world, I try to stay informed so that my school (and I) can do the best we can for our students.  I have been using an LMS (Learning Management System) for my seminars and activities, and traveled to finalsite University in June just to learn more about their new LMS.

But hold on, maybe you don’t know much about ed tech.  Today I found out that I don’t know as much as I thought.  I found a list of  24 Ed-Tech Terms That All Educators Should Know.

It was really good, and it was really helpful.  For example:

“2. Adaptive Learning. Software that adapts its content and pacing to the current knowledge level of the user, so it’s almost like having a personal tailor for your education.”  

I’ve seen this in action.  Adaptive testing rapidly takes a student up from level to level and quickly settles on the level the student has mastered, without having the student do lots of boring, easy problems, or frustrating and impossible ones.  “Adaptive” rejects the “one size, fits all” category.

More importantly, this is a short, simple definition.  If you read all 24 ed tech terms, you will know a lot about the field, and will immediately see where your (or your child’s) school is doing well, and where the gaps are.

The list above is a text list in a blog I found.  It is also available in infographic format.

You can’t really think about education today if you aren’t familiar with at least this list of words and concepts.  Hope this helps!

Posted by marks on Wednesday August 7, 2013 at 03:17PM
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Thinking About Education and the Importance of Listening

A wise young teacher once told me, “What my students have to say is more important than what I have to say.”  I gained a lot from that mini-lesson. I thought I’d pass on some thoughts about it, and the concept I saw below the surface (of what appears to be a crazy generality that goes against all we know about education).  Sometimes I reword it - “What students think is more important than what I think.”

We want students to learn to think for themselves.  That’s what we want for our students in the United States, and for all the students in the world.  One of the ways this happens is students say things, hear what they’ve said and then think about it.  They often see that the idea as expressed doesn’t make sense and it needs to be reworded or rethought.  That process of “fixing your thoughts” or “correcting an opinion or conclusion” wouldn’t have happened if the student hadn’t been allowed to speak up and freely express it in the first place.

How often has a teacher started a class with, “Today we are doing to discuss....”, but the teacher does all the talking?  Worse, current factory-model, lecture-method classrooms can’t allow real student participation or questions.  If each student in class asked one question or gave one thought....well, you do the math.  The lecture couldn’t even get started - we’re out of time..

So here’s my big thought of the day.  Let’s all listen more to our students and give them more opportunities to speak up.  

And, let’s just listen, instead of waiting for the nearest break to instruct or correct our students. Students are really brilliant, you know, and if you let them work things out for themselves, they learn many things in the process.  More importantly, when you let them talk things out, they can sort out their own illogics and slowly develop better communication and logic skills.  Just as we develop other skills, we learn to think for ourselves by doing a lot of thinking and expressing ourselves, orally and in writing.

We must ensure lots of student thinking, talking and writing happens in our schools!  Why? Because it is important that students think for themselves, and that’s one of the ways to get there.  

Are you listening....(smile).....

Posted by marks on Friday August 2, 2013 at 11:36AM
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“...our school systems actually lied to children and to families and to communities”

Now that I have your attention, here’s the full July 5, 2013 story from NPR (“Education Reform Movement Learns Lesson From Old Standards’)

“‘For far too long, our school systems actually lied to children and to families and to communities," says Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a recent speech in Washington. And what made those lies possible, according to Duncan, was the one thing most of these state standards had in common: They were low.”
The NPR story talks about the Common Core, “the new set of national education standards in math and English language arts... This move toward a single set of standards has been embraced by a bipartisan crowd of politicians and educators largely because of what the Common Core standards are replacing: a mess.”
That’s where the lying comes in, because each state had different standards. NPR notes that a  “fourth grader in Arkansas could have appeared proficient in reading by his state's standards — but, by the standards of another state, say Massachusetts, not even close.”
The article notes that many students met state reading standards but did poorly on federal tests.  In Tennessee 90 percent of fourth graders met state reading proficiency standards but only 28 tested proficient in reading on federal tests.
I’m not saying that Common Core standards aren’t controversial, but something is wrong and needs to be fixed.  Tennessee Governor Bredesen said in the article that “his state's standards had been low for years.”  One study showed that more than half of the states had very low benchmarks.
Think it can’t get any worse than having low state standards out of sync with higher federal standards?  The article says, “It gets worse. Between 2005 and 2007, some 15 states actually lowered their proficiency standards in reading or math, according to a report from the Education Department. Why? Under the No Child Left Behind law, passed by Congress in 2001, states were held accountable for failing schools. But the law had a fundamental flaw.
"’It mandated that students at all schools be proficient,’ says Mark Schneider, vice president of the American Institutes for Research. But it ‘allowed states to set their proficiency standards.’”
Folks are concerned that “the first round of student scores in 2015 will be honest, and bad — so bad they shock parents and strike fear into politicians.”  Former Tennessee Gov. Philip Bredesen has this advice:
"’The scores are gonna look like they're falling, and they're not,’ Bredesen says. ‘They're just being tested more honestly, and we've got to stay the course.’"

Many folks responded to this news on the NPR site and I love the first two responses.  Skip Mendler makes the point I try to make over and over again:
“The real problem is with the concept of ‘performing at grade level’ - the assumption that educational progress is strictly a function of chronological age, and that all kids develop all kinds of knowledge at the same rate. Lumping kids together in age-based cohorts, and then expecting them all to march through the curriculum in lockstep is absurd on its face.”

Mary Leonhardt  has her own blog Teaching a Love of Reading.   She writes “this whole Common Core issue is making me crazy, as it is driving the very curriculum that makes kids hate reading.”  

In response to the NPR story, she says that after 37 years of teaching high school English, she’s learned that only avid readers can reach the Common Core standards.

“The kinds of literacy skills the common core requires are skills only developed through wide, voracious reading.
“Which gives us the perfect catch-22: The very activities that develop high-level literacy skills are the very activities that are discouraged by the test demanding them. Schools are awash now in curriculum that requires students to pick apart, in excruciating detail, pieces of literature that are boring to them in the first place. Really, it’s hard to think of a better way to discourage avid reading among children.”
“... Children acquire oral language through having a multitude of people speaking to them and listening to them throughout the day. Little kids fall in love with oral language, often talking themselves to sleep at night, and continuing, without a letup, first thing in the morning.”
She closes with, “That’s what needs to happen with reading.”  I agree!

Some of us can’t stop thinking about education!

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Wednesday July 31, 2013 at 09:31AM
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Thinking About Creativity - It's Important!

I have been thinking about creativity.  A few years ago I moderated a panel of experts on the topic of creativity at a Digital Education Leadership Conference.  It really changed my views on creativity and made me realize just how important creativity is.  Recently, two separate “creativity” moments prompted this blog.

“Today’s schools lack creative teaching and learning, study says” is the July 2nd, 2013 headline in eSchool News of an article by Managing Editor Laura Devaney.  She writes about a 2013 study by Adobe of 4000 parents and educators (K-college) in the US, the UK, Australia and Germany (note the possible bias, but the facts do speak for themselves).

She writes, “A new survey reveals that creative teaching and innovative learning are stifled by an over-reliance on testing and assessment, forcing teachers to stay inside a restrictive curriculum that will limit students’ ability to excel in the future workforce...

“‘[T]ransformative change’ is needed to inject a creative boost into the current education system, and that despite a worldwide demand for creativity and creative thinking, today’s students are not prepared to enter a workplace that requires inventive thinking.”

I get it.  The demand for creativity and creative problem-solving is increasing, but we aren’t preparing our students to be creative.  Parents and educators agree that one of the reasons is too much testing and assessment.  Another reason is that not all teachers know how to teach creativity or have the resources to do so.  The article tell us that “[A] majority of U.K. (17 percent), German (17 percent), and Australian (15 percent) educators said that their current education curriculum is the greatest barrier to teaching creativity in schools.”  Yikes!

I read the article and then I read the study; the article does the study justice.  The study is easy to read, with lots of graphics to make the point.   Check it out.

A few weeks ago I attended finalsite University and the keynote speaker was Erik Wahl, author of Unthink.  (finalsite is our website company, and each year I go to their annual university.  This year I gave a presentation - Emerging Trends in Proficiency-Based Education.)

Erik has a great website with some great videos that I think you will like.

In an excerpt from his new book Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius, he writes “We secretly believe that creative genius is reserved for the chosen few - for the poets, the painters, the writers.  The truth is that breakthrough creativity is in all of us.“   Wow!  Could he be right?

I haven’t read the whole book yet, but In Chapter Two of Unthink, he says, “Ask a roomful of five-year-olds how many are artists and every hand will shoot up.  Ask a roomful of thirty-five-year-olds the same question and you get one reluctant hand.”   I saw him get the same result when he asked us that question.  Later he asks, “Do you remember when your days were governed by your imagination?  You could be whoever and whatever you wanted.  You could travel around the world--even beyond the world--at the drop of a thought.”

Creativity is important, vital, the stuff of life.  Think about creativity, and think about how education can be used to stifle creativity or enhance and nourish creativity.

Posted by marks on Monday July 29, 2013 at 08:55AM
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Thinking About Health From A Scientific Point Of View

The subject of diet always stirs up arguments.  But despite the fact there are streams of infomercials and new best-selling diet-fad books, science is advancing in this area.  I wanted to share two items, because they relate to education, to science and to ethics and integrity.

I recently watched "The Skinny on Obesity," a 7-part series from UCTV Prime.  It featured Professor of Clinical Pediatrics Dr. Robert Lustig, at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) who argues that sugar is a toxin that’s fueling the global obesity epidemic.  It provided the science teacher in me with information I found very useful and clear, and a lot to think about.

Then I watched a TED video about the search for a cure for diabetes and its precursor metabolic resistance.  Dr. Peter Attia is now dedicating his life to this research topic.  Please watch or listen to his talk.  He closed with a fantastic and moving note about intellectual and scientific integrity because earlier in his life he found himself blaming patients for being obese, while his new research is now taking him in another direction.   (I added the bold.) :

 "I don't know how this journey is going to end, but this much seems clear to me, at least:  We can't keep blaming our overweight and diabetic patients like I did. Most of them actually want to do the right thing, but they have to know what that is, and it's got to work. I dream of a day when our patients can shed their excess pounds and cure themselves of insulin resistance, because as medical professionals, we've shed our excess mental baggage and cured ourselves of new idea resistance sufficiently to go back to our original ideals: open minds, the courage to throw out yesterday's ideas when they don't appear to be working, and the understanding that scientific truth isn't final, but constantly evolving. Staying true to that path will be better for our patients and better for science.  If obesity is nothing more than a proxy for metabolic illness, what good does it do us to punish those with the proxy?"

I think this is a vital message and a compelling story about ethics and integrity in the field of science (and life).  The educator in me hopes all of us can instill this level of integrity in our students.

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Thursday July 25, 2013
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The Short Commencement Speech That Wasn’t Given

I hear and read many high school commencement speeches.  I think the speaker’s goal is to share some eternal truth, wisdom, and insight with students who are now formally starting their lives as adults.  

I recently came across two items that together make the shortest commencement speech that was never delivered, but that has a message I wish all graduates could hear.

In his 1994 interview for the PBS documentary “One Last Thing”, Steve Jobs says:

“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

“That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is - everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

“The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

“I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

In her Invitation From the Head on our website, Delphian Headmistress Rosemary Didear writes:

“At the core of our philosophy is the desire to put students in control of their educations and their lives, and to help them realize that both are theirs to create.”

A message worth repeating when you think about education or talk about education. Pass it on!

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Monday July 15, 2013
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Proficiency Resources Handout - (Google Doc) I hand this out at all of my talks 

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