Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Great City Needs a Great Maker Space

     A maker space is like a community center.  They have tools, technology, and various art and manufacturing equipment.  They are wonderful places where people can play, create and learn.  Maker spaces create new opportunities for the public.

     There are No actual maker spaces in Nashville today.  However, there are organizations which have some maker space elements.  There is a co-working space for makers called Fort Houston. Most of the clientele right now seem to be small businesses.  I think a similar space is being built.  Although these have maker space elements they are not complete maker spaces. There is also studio NPL run by Nashville Public Library but it is only for teens.  Because it's geared for minors the programs are very directed.  Hacker Consortium, Bon Homme Collectif and many others maker spaces have all gone defunct.  Similar to libraries, they are tricky to monetize without nonprofit funding (grants, gov support, others) 

     Maker spaces should be: 
  • Accessible- reasonable price points for individuals
  • Self Directed- people learn and create the things they choose 
  • Welcoming- communities with egalitarian cultures
  • With outreach to under-served populations
    We were able to hear from Rice University and Georgia Tech at Vanderbilt on Friday about the surprising advantages of maker spaces. 

    Some of the advantages they have found that maker spaces:
  • Aid in retention
  • Make the curriculum stronger
  • Let people access tools and skills they would not be able to reach otherwise
  • Seem to improve gender parity and increase confidence in underrepresented populations
  • Matches the outline of ways students tell us they most like to learn with hands on real world experience as opposed to lecture
...And the artists they attract increase the rate of revitalization of blighted areas.

     Make Nashville is wanting to establish a maker space and they have been working on it four years.  They have gained traction by having a kick starter.  They ask individuals to give $100 to become a founding member. If they could get 40 people to give then they would receive a dollar for dollar match.  They now have 56 people, including the founder of JS Foundary. This opportunity closes December 31.

     Make Nashville has several pieces of donated lab and maker equipment and donated furniture. They have funding. They are currently seeking space.  If you would like to help support this movement you can donate at:

If you aren't in Nashville but want to get your geek on:


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Learn all the Things!

I was recently approached to build a website for pay.  The person who was negotiating to hire me told me he had no idea how technology worked and I felt sorry for him.  Not knowing technology is a little like not knowing how to read.  So I said I would happily teach him how to build a website.  It is not difficult.  He replied, "You are the geek, you do it."

This was a shock to me.  Later, I was sharing the story with a friend who codes in Python full time.  He said, "Congratulations you are now a programmer."  While I am delighted to be a part of the "club", I am dismayed that people wouldn't want to give this a try.

This reticence to try new things which develops in adulthood for many people is another good reason students should be taught coding from the moment they can read and write.  If they have a chance to familiarize themselves with these skills I believe they would be more likely to take it up later when they are grown.

Education is not about producing widgets for corporate America to use up.  Education is about passing on the collective soul of our community to the next generation.  Children need exposure to many disciplines and skills so they can find and hone their unique giftedness to share with society.

Since school time is so limited it is possible that many of us will not discover our knack during that time.  That is why I would like to encourage us to not only enrich the school experience for children but enrich the educational experience for ourselves.  Too many adults allow society to push them into a cubby and allow their work to define them.  Many of them never open another book after high school or learn another skill they aren't required to learn.  Not good.

Attend a class you have never attended, try something you have never tried before and meet people you have never met before.  I have found that when I do this it opens up all kinds of opportunities, gives me a store of skills I may someday need qnd it makes me happy.  Unlike storing items these skills do not take up any physical space.  We can keep them for the someday which rolls around more often than you might think.

The best place to start learning programming on your own is with Scratch. Here is a resource which may help.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Plethora of Options

     I received a lovely letter and resume from a young man tonight who would like for me to help him find an internship in tech.  I am delighted to help him but suddenly I realize how vast the field is.  His request would be similar to asking to learn about the new industrialization 160 years ago.  I could simply place him in any tech company and hope he learns what he would like to learn.  Instead I wrote back and asked him what he would like to learn. I am interested to see how he responds.

    He may ask me to help him narrow it down.  So now I am thinking about how to classify the jobs in tech that I know about. 

    There has been an explosion of types of jobs available.  In the early 80s every job known could be listed in a single thick book.  Now I am not sure you could contain them in an encyclopedia set.  In fact, I bet you couldn't.  How do you help narrow something like that down?

      I suppose you could start with categories.  I think I will give him a set of a few categories and hope if I point him in the right general direction he can find work that suits him.  There are so many choices to consider, even as a novice.  He could consider work building webpages or collecting data from web.  He could go to a company which focuses on a programming language like Ruby, PHP, C++ or my favorite- Python.  He could study one of the operating systems like Windows, Unix, or Linux.  He could learn about hardware and computer repair or networking, Information security or even robotics.  It's so hard to narrow down. With this list I haven't even scratched the surface.  I didn't even mention local opportunities in the game industry or animation.  I just hope he knows what he would like to study otherwise it may take a while to narrow it down.

Fortunately for this young man I have a map and a compass.  We will figure it out.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Questions about Special Ed and No Child Left Behind

       Last night, I went out to have supper with a couple of friends who work in Special Ed.  While there, of course, they started talking shop.  Special Ed is not my forte so I just listened and I learned something I did not know.  No child left behind initiated inclusion in Tennessee.  However, Tennessee does not implement inclusion the way other states do .  Here, in Tennessee, a decision was made to replace most of the self contained classrooms with inclusion models.  

     The problem with inclusion is that it excludes some of the students in Special Ed.  For example, one of the students attends a music class where the other students are playing instruments. Due to the pace of the class this child cannot keep up.  If his assistant tries to help him it disrupts the entire class.  This child is unable to transition quickly.  To stand up and sing and then sit down and do an activity is very difficult.  Or consider the child who is learning how to feed themselves.  Should that child be in the cafeteria with all of the other students in his grade who can watch him struggle.  How about a newly verbal autistic child who is placed in a gen, ed. classroom where they are expected not to talk. This child needs to be encouraged to talk or he could lose his small but significant gains. It seems we have taken a one size fits all approach to something that should be custom tailored for the needs of the child.

      We are all wondering what the original intent of NCLB is for Special Ed students.  Did the legislators who drafted this consider the wide variety of needs which must be addressed? Is Tennessee approaching this correctly?  What are other states doing?  Although I realize inclusion is cheaper, it sounds like there are student falling through the cracks who need greater support.  Are we producing citizens who can join the workforce when they are sitting in a gen.ed. class coloring pictures?

      The issue is not with the teachers.  There needs to be more tools available for them to provide the support the children need.  The issue is not with the students.  Many of them have their own gifts and they need to be honed.  They also need the opportunity to socialize with their peers.  The fault, once again,  is with a policy which is disconnected from the realities of the classroom.  These misinformed policies are putting so much extra strain on good teachers.  When I hear people discuss the need to retain good teachers, it's easy to see that one of the first things that needs to happen is our policies need to line up with the reality of actual schools.

        We would love to hear how your district is addressing Special Ed with inclusion, especially related to students with co-morbid conditions such as blind students with auditory processing issues or situations where inclusion has the potential to humiliate the exceptional ed student.

Co-written with current education professional

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Change of Venues

    As of this week I am no longer teaching in a Public School.  I have been tapped by the Nashville Technology Council to head up their K-12 initiatives.  I spent the weekend at Phreaknic19 in Murfreesboro learning Python, Info Sec and Basic Networking.  I am looking forward to sharing what I have learned with teachers, volunteers and students across the Southeast.

    I am still an educator/trainer but my venue has changed.  This blog was originally written to give an in classroom perspective from the war on our public schools.  I no longer have the vantage point to do that well.  So if you are currently teaching in Public Schools and would like to share a story from your classroom I would be glad to share it on my blog.  When I do not have a story to publish by a teacher I will blog about some type of tech education.

I will be back in touch next Sunday.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Restorative Justice is not the only Important Tool

      Although I like the concept of restorative justice I have learned it cannot be the only tool in the toolbox of professionals working with poverty populations.  I realize someone will say you need great relationships with the students.  I don't disagree.  Relationships are vital. But these two things alone are not always enough.

        I saw someone teaching on wisdom literature.  I bring it up because she mentioned there are 3 types of foolish people.  There are people who just don't know any better.  These are the people restorative justice reaches easily.  One you teach them the right thing to do they make changes and all is right with the world.

       Then you have the other end of the spectrum.  There are a few people that no matter how well you teach the correct behavior they will not make changes.  Sometimes even discipline will not turn them around.  Thankfully these young people are not the majority.  The majority of people are somewhere in between these two extremes.

      The vast majority of people follow the expectations because they do not want the consequences.  They see someone who will not choose right punished and they decide they don't want that.  Children are not the same as adults. Students do not have the life experiences of adults and they may need more immediate consequences.  That is why I now understand that ISS may be an important part of a successful inner city school program.  I think all school systems wishing to create success for these schools will bring in something in addition to restorative justice to help provide some noticeable consequence for young people who cannpt be reached by restorative justice alone.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

An Over Reach of a School Board with Solutions

A sick day threw off my count. I am still scrambling to catch up from the day out to care for my sick child. I am on track to have given an additional 10 hours of 'volunteer time' beyond the school day. It would have been more but I have other responsibilities that cannot wait. I will plan to be at school early tomorrow so I can start the week ready.

This week, Amy Frogge posted about the the state of Tennessee School Board overturning an MNPS School Board decision to block unneeded charters. In Metro, supply of Charter School seats far outweighs demand. These all charter seats drain a disproportional amount of money from our local schools.

When the funding model was selected to pay funds per student I understand they simply took the funding provided utilized in the district and divided it by the number of students to get an average. However, the cost to educate every child is not the same . Students struggling with poverty or with special needs are require more funding to educate. I am not sure the higher cost of educating exceptional children has been considered. Charter Schools do not serve these population. I think there could be a two fold solution.

First, it seems over reaching for a non elected board to overturn a decision by an elected board. If the state school board is going to overturn local decisions of elected representatives, then this state board does not need to be an appointed board. We need to hold elections for these positions as soon as possible. Any decisions this non-representative board has made need to be on hold until the people can weigh in, by choice of representatives.

Second, the children should be weighted by cost to educate. Since Charters choose the students who are the least expensive to educate and further cut the cost by violating copy write and refusing to provide supplies such as textbooks and computers, they should only be paid for the education they are providing. Education using public funds should not be a fiscally profitable endeavor. A formula can be created to make educating children here a truly non-profit effort. If we only pay for the seats the children are using and if we only pay for the cost of the education these students are being provided Nashville will become a less inviting market for profiteers.

If control is returned to the voters through properly held elections then local gate keeper can stem the waste of taxpayer funding. This money is flowing through these 'non-profit' front school companies to line the pocket of people out of state. Please contact your local representative to let them know what has happened here. Together we can stop the starvation of our local public schools but only IF we speak up.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

An Idea for a Request for Proposal to Evaluate Teacher Evaluations

Current Update: For the first three weeks in an inner city school I averaged 55 hours per week. This week I am down to 51 hours.

      During this month, I have met several teachers of note. They go above and beyond the expectations of a typical teacher. These women and men create posters for every standard they teach and post them in their classrooms. They study responsive classrooms and other pedagogy and share the things they learned with one another. For many teaching in this school is their profession, hobby, evening plans, and subject of study.

      Often students are seen working in small groups during class, after school and during the teachers' duty free lunch. These folks have multiple degrees and honors posted in their room and they are well loved in the community.

      Many of them are rated as a one out of a scale of five under Tennessee's rating system. Ratings are based on test scores. These ratings do not reflect the levels of professionalism, ingenuity, and sweat I observe these teachers investing in their school every day. I have a suspicion the issue could be the test, not the teachers.

      Here is my suggestion for a RFP, I propose we test whether the teachers are truly at fault for the low test scores in these poverty schools.  I propose the faculty and administrative staff for this  school switch buildings and clientèle to one of the upper level schools for one year.  I hypothesize, if the schools were swapped, the test scores for the teachers at my current school would go through the roof and the teachers who had high scores would suddenly have low scores.

    If I am correct we would know the issue is not teaching, the churn of teachers is not improving education; and we may need to step back and re-evaluate how we evaluate.

 Thank you to the teachers who are fighting this difficult fight.  You are all heroes to me.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lets talk about Play

Children use play to understand their world. They set up a scenario to work out the details of something they may not quite understand. They choose roles and then they act it out. Sometimes it's silly stuff they see on TV. Other times it is real life situations and issues. 

It makes sense that you can see what things are occurring in the children's lives by watching them play. Professionals have used children's art and play to determine if there is stress, issues or dysfunction. Play is important for children and can be diagnostic.

I notice play is changing. My son asks my daughter if she would like to take a test. He draws something on the page and asks her to tell him what it is. She will tell him what the picture is and he will tell her she is wrong. He will identify the picture by the color. 

“ No, It's blue.” 

The questions change but the outcome is always the same.

 “No your answers are not correct.” 

 The target keeps changing so there is no pattern to follow and no way to get the right answer. It's clear the answer changes after she has answered.  The answer changes to insure she will not get it right. This game is similar to the “impossible quiz” on line my students love to take. If you would like to give it a try you can find it at addicting games.

Remember children use play to grapple with difficult situations. Why are the children playing these type of games? What are they mimicking to try to understand? It's clear to me they are attempting to manage the stress of the high stakes testing  The pressure from testing is affecting children in so many ways including play. The outcome is a weaker more narrowed education and stressed kids. Could we please consider the warning signs?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Unsung Hero

In my journeys as a teacher I have been able to meet many remarkable educators.  Today I would like to highlight a teacher who goes above and beyond.  She gives up her lunch and planning to meet with parents.  She is often working with students after school and she is usually one of the last teachers to leave the building.  The 50 to 55 hour weeks is not unusual for her. She has managed this schedule for months.

The community, parents and students respect her.  She has become part of the foundation for this school in her community.  She deserves to be celebrated.  She has asked me to keep her name confidential because...

She told me this would be her last year teaching.  The workload has gotten so much heavier and she said she often feels like a failure.  Her feeling do not match reality. She has brought nearly all of her students up to passing under the new grading for learning standards.  I have seen how much effort she put into her students success. Her successes are just not being measured in appropriate ways. She works so hard but the bar has been set too high with no means to reach it.  She is being held accountable, accountable for things which limit her students success, accountable for circumstances she is unable to change. See this former blog post to understand the things we cannot change.

Sometimes people need some external appreciation or they are more likely to suffer burnout.  There is no real mechanism to acknowledge the teachers who strive to help students the way this she does. She goes far above and beyond her job description. She has so many markers of true excellence which go unnoticed as the reformers drive profit motivated changes in local education.  The people who have the greatest chance of making a change in a students life are driven over and driven off.

If we do not wake up and stop these harmful changes we are going to lose the people who make a real difference for our children.  Please oppose profit driven reform and support the teachers who are willing to fight this difficult battle for the sake of our community's children.

Enjoy your Fall break.  I'll see you in a week.

Right now I am reading/listening to Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers.  It's essential for anyone who wants to understand how people find success and the recipe for success. It was not at all what I expected it to be. You can find a copy at

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Accountability" Might be the Match that Sparks a Revolution in Public Education

Three weeks ago I transferred to an impoverished school because my former school needed to lose another teacher.  Not enough students attend now to support a programming teacher.  We lost our Chinese teacher the month before.  So many teachers over 40 had been constructively dismissed by the administration in the year prior I took the opportunity to escape.  I moved to a new school and I am glad I did.

The administrative team here is supportive.  The teachers are forging a culture of camaraderie to do the improbable. The school offers art, dance, music and socio-emotional learning opportunities which make it a good place to be.  The students are good kids but there are still barriers in place due to the poverty of the population.

Parents are so busy trying get the complex needs of their families met that aren't able to give as many opportunities. If it is going to cost $8 to put everyone on the bus to go to the free day at the Frist. The free day on Oct 18 becomes a $16 day. That $16 may be needed to pay the light bill. The issues these children are facing are not the fault of their families or of the students. Poverty is a handicapping condition.

Stressed out students in poverty do not retain information as readily as their less stressed peers.  For example, I taught them the day before about a blue moon being an event where there are two full moons in a calendar month. The next day they asked me to tell them how the moon turns blue.  They remembered the term blue moon, which is good, but none of them remembered the concept.

They do not have the same baseline knowledge.  I gave them an article on the Pope coming to speak at a poor school in Harlem.  I thought they would be excited to hear about the papal visit by a pontiff who has compassion for kids living in similar situations.  I asked them to write any vocabulary they did not know on the board so we could go over it.  They wrote Pope, Catholic, and Cathedral. I doubt you could understand the text without these concepts.  I used it as a teaching moment.  I may create a humanities center for my classroom.

I gave a Math test using the questions formulated by Pearson because these questions are supposed to be very much like the questions my students will face on the upcoming TNReady, a thinly veiled Pearson exam.  I taught the ways I've always taught. I have high scores so my methods have demonstrated success.  My new students did not do well on this test.

I began to deconstruct why they performed poorly.  The test questions are high level word problems. If you cannot get the meaning out of the text and find the right algorithm, then you never get to show you know the Math.  We will attempt to train them to survive the test but we are told we must.  That's really not a great basis for a full, rich, broad education.

This lovely little school will live or die by these upcoming test scores.  Survival looks bleak with the form of testing we are facing.  I now see clearly how elitist education reforms have become.  For our high stress, low income, students who struggle with reading and vocabulary this test is unnecessarily burdensome and is limiting their education. We need a revolution. We need education that hones each child's unique giftedness instead of forces conformity to an unreasonable testing standard.

Sir Ken Robinson has written a book to highlight the path.  The link to Creative Schools is listed below.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

So this teacher walks into a Maker Faire

Last week, Nashville had an embarrassment of riches.  There were so many things to see and do.  The Greek Festival, the Italian Festival,Tennessee State Fair and so many others.  Since I am a geek I chose to attend Nashville's geek festival, the Mini Maker Faire, sponsored by Make Nashville and the Adventure Science Center.

We were able to watch 3D printing, aluminum smelting and science demos, all of which were delightful.  But the best part was the chance to see so many creative people channel their creativity in unexpected-brilliant ways.  I stood inside a responsive-geodesic dome a woman had built and was programming to have the images move and dance with the people who were in it.  My daughter held the bridle of a dinosaur.  I learned some things about paper from the origami artists who meet at Plaza Art that were mind blowing.

This weekend was the same.  I simply could not choose.  There were Arduino classes that showed us how to connect motors of all sizes to controllers.  I am so glad to have been able to attend these classes.  There are so many things I want to build.

Tonight we are attending Nashville's inaugural Game Jam.  There are multiple opportunities to learn by doing in Nashville.  There are so many users groups to join, attending the meetings alone could be a full time job, a dream job.

In the last year we have attended events with The Global Game Jam,  Hack Nashville, Make Nashville, Middle Tennessee Robotic Arts Society, Nashville Women Programmers and so many others.  Every time my family and I attend an event we learn something we would not have learned otherwise and new opportunities keep opening.  Right now I just had a guy ask me if I can create a sprite.  Of course I can.  I will learn the basics of a new program and create something I would not have know how to build otherwise. I love this town and the free chances to learn that are available here.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Teach In!

SO I went out to lunch to plan the week with one of the teams I work with.  We located a coffee shop with wifi and staked out a booth to spread out our curriculum, books, computers, and lunches and began the work we do all the time.  But today was different.  We were in a public place and we begin to hear comments.

"What are they doing?"
"They are teachers getting ready for the week."
"Oh my G--, I had no idea that was so involved."

I realized then John Q Public really has no idea what is going on in our classrooms or what is involved in the job of teaching.  We have to know our curriculum, where our students are in the learning process and decipher what they need next.  When children are failing we have to figure out how to reteach them so they learn it.

In four hours we had a plan to create rotating groups for the week, re-mediate children who had fallen behind, teach responsively, provide memory scaffolding, review and test on the curriculum for science and math.  The people around us were surprised and I hope a little impressed.  They should be!  Effective teaching is awesome and so is this team of teachers.

Two things have occurred to me.  The first, I have put in more than 50 hours this week on my work. The kids are worth it but I am going to need to begin to limit myself to 50 hours or less.  The other thing I realized is Nashville and other school districts could really benefit from a 'Teach IN'!

I just came up with the idea today.  I would like for every teacher to select one Sunday afternoon on the calendar and go out to lunch to plan with colleagues.  Regardless of your political stripe or professional affiliation, this is something that all of us can do easily.  It will give the non-teachers in our communities an inkling of what we do and why we do it.  We teach for the benefit of the children of our city. We are bright, capable, dedicated professionals.  The rhetoric of 'bad teachers' is light years from the reality.  Educating the people we help could help turn the tide to save our public schools.  We just need to pick a day and spread the word.  Thoughts?

Monday, September 7, 2015

This Labor Day I'm thinking about Little Abner

Little Abner was a brilliant comic strip by Al Capp.  It was written before my time but I remember my father telling me about it.  It was one of his favorite comic strips when he was young.

One of the recurring characters was a Shmoo.  Shmoos are so sweet and super accommodating.  They have a huge rear end and were written to represent the American worker.  The Shmoo liked nothing better than to be kicked in the pants.

Mr Capp noticed the American worker would bend over backward to keep the boss happy even when it really hurt.  They would not stand up to improve their situation.

This is the natural way.  Humans are herd like animals. When on their own they get kicked in the pants, A-LOT but when they organize they begin to look less like Shmoos.

When a group of workers organize they have rights they would not have otherwise.  They can discuss working conditions, organize as a group and even critique management.  These rights create checks and balances in large organizations where the employees work.

There are some barriers to organizing right now.  Workers rights have been eroded and sometimes organizers face punitive action.

In 1948 the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated, “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”  Times have changed and these rights are not being protected under the current legislation.  But Fear Not!  New legislation is being considered which would add the right to organize to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This would allow workers to sue in federal court if they are discriminated against for trying to organize.  But what can we do until this legislation passes?

What can you do to strengthen existing rights?  You can join a related association. A trade association, a union, or a group like BATs may be what you need.  If you are a teacher there are many to choose from. Research carefully and choose the most effective for your purposes.  

Support local action to protect your own rights and the rights of your fellow workers.  This is important because our working conditions are the students learning conditions.  Unless we all work together to improve working conditions, teaching will become a high-churn, low-quality environment.  I don't want that for my fellow teachers or my students.  For the sake of all stake holders teachers need to stand up and insist on proper working conditions.  

Today I am grateful for the active, volunteers who earned Labor Day, eight hour work day, minimum wage and so many other rights.  Even though they are long gone their actions reverberate down through the ages.  Do not be afraid to join together with others to make improvements.  It may be the only thing that can save public education today.  

I am posting this tonight as a grateful member of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  I am looking forward to working with other members and other teachers to rebuild our public schools into what they can be.  

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Looking forward to a weekend spent with family

This weeks post will be a little later than usual due to the holiday weekend.  I am going to imagine it's still teacher summer and soak up some rays to rejuvenate for the week ahead. I hope you enjoy your holiday.  I'll talk with you soon. Amy

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Where have all the imaginatives gone?

Neil Gaiman has written a well thought out article on the importance of creativity and imagination.  I was surprised to know the ladders and stair wells to these places in the minds of the younger generation are being eroded or simply torn out. Various places are shuttering their libraries and are not introducing students to excellent fiction.  You can read his work here:

One of my favorite sections in this missive was a quote from Albert Einstein:'"If you want your children to be intelligent," he said, "read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. ' Children need a world where they play creatively and spend some time away from the controlled play of video games. They need to be read with and too and invent great stories with adults.

This generation of children are not as literate as people who were born before personal computers.  Many do not know how to play and something has happened to the natural curiosity I observed even ten years ago.  It has not been as evident lately. 

In the mornings I sit in the hallway and greet students as they enter the building.  One morning I brought an Arduino project which I assembled using an Arduino, LEDs, as many different colors of wires as I could lay my hands on, and a bread board. 
 If you pressed a button three lights would light in succession then an alarm would sound.  

I sat the device on top of the box on my lap.  Most of the children greeted me but walked by without a second glance at the device.  A couple of 5th graders stopped to look but they did not ask any questions.  I am concerned about this.

Isaac Asimov once said, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...' "- Brainyquote.  Those two little words, 'that's funny', are said when people are curious about something they see or notice and their imagination begins to work.

We need to change the direction of our educational system to allow time for unstructured creative play and reading for pleasure so children have time to let their imaginations breathe. We are treating education as if it's main job is to create workers.  The best education starts with the child in mind not the adult worker in mind.  It fosters a sense of wonder, creativity, and imagination.  Great education creates memories children cherish and tell their grandchildren about someday.  These experiences go into the 'favorites file' in their memory. 

If I could search through the favorites files of people education in our schools I would find examples of play time, related Arts science experiments and connections.  I suspect I would not find single memory of a favorite bubble test.  Tests are not favorites. Tests do not build creativity but they do build anxiety which is anti-creativity.  I think it's past time to return to an educational design which fosters imagination. Let's build schools where the whole child can be educated and flourish.  And let's head to the library or local bookstore this weekend to pick up some of our favorite fiction books from when we were children to share with young people in our lives.

Do you want to know what fiction the folks at teachersandcompany and their families are reading?  Here are some links:

The Cricket in Time Square

Myth series by Robert Aspirin

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

We would love to hear what you are reading or recommend in the way of great, non-dystopian, fiction .  I am trying to build our library of hopeful fiction for young ones.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Should We Do Away With All Textbooks?

Dollars in the books, isolated on white background, business tra
Schools put a lot of money in textbooks 

       E-book readers or other electronic devices allow the students to read pre-loaded copies of their books. These devices are superior in several ways to last centuries text books. Basic E-book devices are much less expensive than providing a set of commercial textbooks. Online textbooks never become outdated if they are properly maintained. Parents can access texts from a home computer to see what the students are covering in class. Being able to use E-book readers could make life easier for middle and high school students because it would mean they could carry around a lightweight device instead of a library. 

        If you travel down I-24 from Nashville to Chattanooga along the way there is a smallish, often-over-looked town called Tullahoma.  My kids know it only as a favorite spot along the way to the aquarium but something unusual is happening here.  Tullahoma is outpacing the Metropolitan areas with a new innovation that is making life easier for students and teachers and is saving their district money.  Tullahoma has created their own on-line, opensource textbooks for use on E-book readers.

       TCS, Tullahoma City Schools is using their texbook fund to pay teachers to create the digitaltextbooks that are being used across the district.  The books are aligned with whatever the current standards are today and can be quickly changed when the standards change again.  Many of the examples and pictures in these textbooks are local. Local stories and pictures allow the students to learn local history and culture.

      Tullahoma is using an open-source, fair-use copy write so the work could be used in other districts with some changes to line them up with other local areas.  These books are designed to improve educational outcomes but they are not designed for commercial use, so a school could use them but a publisher cannot print and sell them,  That's a good thing.

       Other districts could take the work Tullahoma has put into these books and build off the texts to create their own open source version, micro-brewed for their own population. If you would like to see the works TCS has created go to: This page has Social Studies and the fresh off the press Mathematics texts for Middle School.

      The books can be loaded on to an E-book reader or other device.  The director of schools, Dr Dan Lawson, said he could make individual copies at a local copy shop for seven bucks. So the lack of access to devices is not a barrier to using this high quality source.

        Switching to E-books is compassionate. In 2011, one of my students backpacks weighed 70 pounds.  The child herself only weighed 87.  We can do better than asking her to carry her body mass around on her back.

          My students would welcome an opportunity to save their backs and their backpacks.  My son busted his backpack last week carrying his library of textbooks to class.  When I told him about the new initiative in Tullahoma he asked if we could move there.  I would instead like to see this become the new way we teach in Tennessee.  I am hoping the changes will be made soon but until then we will get by with some muscle and a bag of holding to carry everything in.

        My son's new bag of holding is sturdy and seems to hold a lot more than it should.  You can check it out using the link below.

       So, Should We Do Away With All Textbooks?  I think we would better serve our students, parents, and teachers by dumping the textbooks and using digital books instead.  It can be less expensive, easier on the students and their equipment, and easily updated.  If you agree with me you can reach out to your local board and let them know you are ready to switch to digital.  Together we can bring local schooling into the 21st century.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

How do we save our Public Schools from a teacher shortage?

In my life time I have had two friends with neuropathy.  This is a condition where the nerves, in this case to the feet stop working.  It's a problem for two reasons.  First the person can have trouble standing or walking.  There is so much information we receive from these nerves which help keep us upright and moving around.   The second issue is that infection or injury can occur without the person knowing about it.

I mention it because it is very similar to what is occurring in public schools now.  Many states are experiencing sudden debilitating shortages of teachers.  Some are holding special sessions of state congress to study the issue, some are taking any warm bodies they can find to stand in, some were resigned to teachers only wanting to work less than 5 years.  Unfortunately the problem has become so great it will no longer be ignored.  The symptoms are serious and require immediate attention.  And the problems could have been averted if information was traveling from the ground up.

The 'doctors' / PhD's are looking for answers.  They are trying to regain balance and restore health to the public school systems.  They are putting their heads together and trying to guess the problem. They are trying to figure out why no one wants to teach for them any longer.  They think they are so smart they can get into a legislative session and figure it out. All of the information is readily available but it is not accessible to them.  The lines of communication from the ground have been severed.

It doesn't take Einstein level brilliance to understand what is happening.  Instead it takes a listening ear.  The decision makers need the information from the teachers who have recently left and are still working.

When humans get neuropathy the disease usually cannot be reversed.  They can only manage the effects.  When systems like governments and schools get ' neuropathy' the cure is available and other institutions have self healed.  Communication and action can repair the damage.

One approach which could help is to use a Kaizen model.  Kaizen means continuous improvement and has guiding principles.

  • Good processes bring good results
  • Go see for yourself to grasp the current situation
  • Speak with data, manage by facts
  • Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems
  • Work as a team
  • Kaizen is everybody’s business (bullet points reprinted from

Much has been said and implemented around improving education.  These changes have occurred and some of them have been designed to block 'nerve' signals.  By ignoring issues raised by the teachers who serve our countries children we have lost many of our best and brightest from the profession.  We have some new teachers who are willing to fill a warm body slot for a bit but it takes longer than 5 years to become a solid teacher.  Many new teachers today will not stay that longand fewer are agreeing to try the work at all.

If we implemented a Kaisen strategy to restore the health of our public schools what would that look like?

1. Good processes bring good results-  You cannot create good processes without all of the information. Teachers would be involved in the dialogue. Actual teachers not solely union or professional organization representatives.

2, Go see for yourself to grasp the current situationPoliticians would take the course to be a successful substitute teacher.  They would then sub, tutor and volunteer in local schools without the photo op nonsense we see today.  If they will do this they will see the situation.  By doing so decision makers will meet some teachers and students. They will learn real ways to retain and attract great teachers and build solid public schools.

3. Speak with data, manage by factsRealize genuine working condition data should be collected.  This is typically not able to occur through multiple choice survey. Teachers should be protected from punitive action when they share specific facts with the authorities able to make the changes.  Principals who lose more than 1/4 of their staff  should be placed on focus.  The working conditions in that local school should be closely scrutinized.  Unless the admin is able to justify the loss he/she should face demotion or termination.  Our teachers are valuable and their loss should not be taken lightly.

4. Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems- When the issues become evident we will make changes to restore our schools.  This may mean replacing crumbling buildings, creating open source teacher driven texts/ tests and managing issues which have been so uncomfortable we would rather ignore them, such as the effects of childhood poverty.  If we want professional grade teachers we will need to restore teaching to a profession.

5. Work as a team- Like one body- head, hands, heart and feet

6. Kaizen is everybody’s business- which is why I am writing this article. I have two children in public schools. Both have great teachers and I want those teachers to stay in the profession. I know that my teachers' working conditions are my children's learning conditions.  Lets improve those conditions together.- Amy Flatt (These thoughts are my own.)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Contrasting Pond Gap and Community Achieves

I have spoken with Jill Speering. She traveled to see the Pond Gap Program I referenced in last week's blog. Dr Bob Kronick has miraculous success with students in poverty he works with his after school program. During this program professors from the University of Tennessee spend time with small groups of students . They lead them through activities that teach them in non-classroom activities. Such as writing a play about a subject the whole group needs to learn about or engaging in activities similar to those you might see in Science Olympiad. Late in the afternoon these schools hold workshops for parents.  Before everyone goes home for the day families may be fed a meal made form plants grown in the programs garden.

This program not only provides high quality enrichment on core subject topics it also provides wrap around services for the families in poverty. The people in the community are surveyed to find what services would be the most helpful for them. Dr Kronick brings Social Services, Medical/ Dental services, laundry services, charity ministries and any other services the people in the community indicate they need. Each program is custom tailored for the children and families in that community.

Now I know that even though Community Achieves is attempting to address some of the effects relating to poverty it is not the affiliated with the work of Dr Kronick.

Which leads us to some interesting questions which could make a great beginning for universityn level studies. Are all wrap around services programs equally effective? What are the differences between the type of program Dr Bob Kronick creates and the community achieves program? And Finally- What are the best practices that make a wrap around program the most effective?

 I would love to see someone replicate Dr Kronick's work here in an MNPS school that is not in the Community Achieves program but has a high population of struggling families. Then I would love to see the results compared to the works Community Achieves is doing. If you are a doctoral candidate or you are part of a grant funded organization looking for an opportunity to create a high interest study this could be just the ticket. It would also be dream job for someone like me who would love to see children set free from the wicked downward spiral poverty creates.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

MNPS is Finally Implementing Full Service Community Schools!

This morning I attended a meeting on full service community schools organized by a group in MNPS called Community Achieves.  I have heard of them prior to the meeting but I was not familiar with the function of this group.  So many new programs have come and gone since I began keeping up with MNPS, researching this was not on my agenda.

I almost missed learning about Community Achieves at this meeting and that would have been a shame! This program is everything I have been asking for since I began researching poverty affects on scores and wrote this article  It is still my most popular post with almost 11.000 hits and visitors from around the world.  If you haven't read it yet go ahead and pop over and give it a look.  Don't worry, we'll wait.

The Community Achieves program is based on the research and work of Dr. Bob Kronick.  He developed full service community schools program at the University of Tennessee.. He began his work at the Brushy Mountain State Prison. It was a maximum security institution. His greatest take away from his work there was he knew he did not want children to end up in this prison.  So he began his life work on breaking the prison pipeline.

Kronick states, "There is a systematic destruction when you lose black men to the prison system." This loss destroys families and communities.  This loss is a direct result of the effects of generational poverty.  The main focus of his program is to keep people out of prison.

Dr Bob Kronick then said, "American loves victim blaming." But victim blaming is not addressing the issues.  We need to switch to systems thinking.  Poverty does not happen in a vacuum. There is an entire system that creates the issues around poverty and it's effects.  We will have to treat the whole system.  

He told us system thinking is difficult.  It requires collaboration and listening to the people in the community. Boiler plate does not work in these situations.  Every community is different and each program is tailored to the needs of the community.

In order to gain funding for any program you have to show the program is effective.  This program is the single most effective program I have ever seen for improving scores and outcomes for children in poverty. I was most impressed by his data on behavior referrals.  Behavior referrals are zero! That is unheard of in this population.  This behavioral change creates teachable moments in the school day which helps to fuel the students success.  Truancy rates are down. Math scores are up. Spanish boys are top in math but reading scores were down.

Why were reading scores low? "Because the test is on computers and none of our students had computers."  That changed. The students were given computers and then the scores began to go up.

He recognizes Human Services are fractured and difficult to figure out. It(Human Services) is a system and you have to figure out how to enter the system.

 They help families get into the system so they can get the help they need.  They also bring laundry facilities, counseling, GED programs, what ever is needed is provided in after school programs at Pond Gap School.

Why should these services be provided in schools? "You want to deliver services at schools because that is where the families are."

The program in Knox County has become so effective Pond Gap has become a destination school with families moving into the district.  These families are getting out of poverty at Pond Gap but are choosing to stay in this community.

If you would like to read more about his work, I found his book on Amazon:. Just click this blue link and it should open in another window for you :

Because of Dr Kronick's heroic work these families and this community are forever changed.  I am so excited we are bringing a program like this to MNPS. Over the next few weeks I will tell you more about Community Achieves run by Dr Tony Majors and we will talk about Jill Speering's trip to visit Pond Gap.

I want to say a special thanks to Jill Speering, Shelley Baldwin, Amy Frogge and  Dr Tony Majors who have all fought valiantly for our schools to address poverty . Special thanks also to Bill Freeman.  Bill Freeman is running for Mayor and plans to expand full service schools programs to see that all children in poverty in MNPS have ways to get out.  Bill I hope you win your race.

Tune in next week for the next blog in the series on addressing the poverty gap.  So proud of all of our change bringers!

Some of our change bringers pictured from left to right: Amy Frogge, Dr Tony Majors, Bill Freeman, Dr Bob Kronick, and Jill Speering.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Win-Win Rocks!

Connections make it happen
There is a grass roots movement occurring to build pathways to Tech Education for Middle Tennessee's children.  I have been involved with the tech community for 4 years and there has always been a wish to see ways opened to help students, especially poverty students, move into these lucrative jobs.  There were various camps held by different user groups which were funded by volunteers.  Each of the camps would serve 20 or so children.  They wanted to make a difference but the work was just a drop in the bucket compared to the 90.000 students in MNPS alone and many more in other counties, private schools and home school groups.

Lately I have noticed this trend gaining momentum.  Part of the change is due to the grants given by government to bolster Tech Ed.  There are groups like the Nashville Technology Council that are identifying the resources and needs in the area of tech education.  There are some innovative programs that have been adopted  by governmental entities such as the Nashville Public Library and Rutherford County Schools.

I was delighted last week to hear about the work Kandy Powers put into implementing a coding program in in ESP, the Rutherford County after care program.  Her programs requires a team of people working in tandem to create needed resources.  She partnered with the Nashville Technology Council, the local branch of United Way, TCAT Murfreesboro, Beth Duffield from the Rutherford County Chamber, and others to bring her programs to life.  She is a fantastic connector and deserves to be celebrated.

I am including an interview from WGNS last week with Bryan Barrett, Representative Mike Sparks,  Beth Duffield,  Kandy Powers and me so you can hear directly from these change agents about the programs they are implementing in their county.  Follow the link below to reach the page for a recording of this broadcast.

Two of the candidates for mayor would like to create similar programs in Nashville.  I have spoken to  Bill Freeman and Charles Robert Bone.  Both men have a plan to implement a program similar to the one Ms. Powers runs in Rutherford County.  I am excited to see these pathways open here.  The next step would see these pathways open in our regular public schools so children can learn about coding early in their education instead of waiting until upper middle school.  We also need to make the opportunities more widely available.  Currently only a few schools offer coding and the entire public school population is not served in after school programs.

So today I am celebrating progress and waiting for more.  There are so many tech jobs opening here in Nashville.  We have the potential to become a video gaming hub.  Talk about a dream job!  We need to get kids ready so they can create the next great game, social media experiment, and/or app.  When we do help them gain these skills the course of their lives and the affluence of our community will improve.  I love win win opportunities.  Don't you?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Rutherford County ESP Tech Teaching

        Last week there was a Coders Camp in Murfreesboro. Tennessee for the students in the Hobgood Elementary ESP.  The enrolled students explored aspects of the tech and maker movement.  Various students built robots, deconstructed toys, programmed on, created games and cards in scratch and built websites.  It was an amazing experience for my children
and fun to watch the children blossom into makers instead of end users.

       They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  I have been given permission by Rutherford County to share these pictures and the story of this Coders Camp.

We began the week with coding.

These two are working together to create a talking unicorn.

This student was the first to demo a game she created.

This young one would rather code than eat.  I was so happy that he was enjoying himself. We did eventually get him out the door for lunch. He was the first back through the door when lunch was over.

Getting to know micro controllers for the first time.

These young girls wired up this micro controller as if they had been working with these their whole life.
They were confident and competent. Their first project. a keyboard made from gummies, worked beautifully.

Working together to create an original drumming song for a video game.

Learning the volt-a-meter inside and out.

A group of students are gearing up to build a video game controller from a Micro controller and tin foil.

These young men are building their first robot from a bottle top and a pager motor.

 These pictures give the highlights but we covered a significant amount of material.  The kids were engaged and the parents we met told us how pleased they were with this camp experience.  The camp broadened the knowledge base and horizons of  the students involved.  It was made possible through cooperation between Rutherford County Schools, United Way of Rutherford County, Nashville Technology Council, Hobgood ESP and the Mott Grant which funded the camp.  We thank all of you for your efforts.

Want to make your own Micro controller art or other do-dad. Here is a link to point you to our favorite first micro-controller for beginners.

Visit us at

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Segment 3 of Dr Rules Notes- Division and Fractions to Enjoy

Division and Fractions

Division is to multiplication what subtraction iss to addition. They undo one another.
Fractions are a special case of division. Here are some things to remember and talk about one at a time with a child to build numeracy skills:

  • 1 and 0 are special numbers
  • All real numbers can be expressed as fractions
  • Fractional parts are between 0 and 1
    • ½, ¼, 1/8 all between 0 and 1
  • Zero is the line of demarcation which divides the positive from the negative numbers
    • It would fall into the category of an even number but it's not divisible by two
  • 0 cannot divide because the answer is undefined. I am going to explain why it's undefined in a minute.
  • As the number in the denominator gets small er the fraction gets larger
    • 1/4<1/3/<1/2<1/1<1/1/2( one over one half) 1/1/2=2 (one over one half equals 2)
    • 1/1/4 =4 (read one divided by one fourth equals four)
    •  1/1/10000=10000 - one divided by one ten thousandth equals one ten thousand
    •  1/1/10000000=10000000 One over one-millionth equals one million
  • As the denominator gets smaller the value gets greater
    • So 1/0 would be infinitely large
We call 1/0 undefined because we cannot comprehend infinity.
If you have 2/0 you would have 2 X infinity which we just can't wrap our mind around.

Another cool things about about fractions to remember. Fractions allow you to divide by multiplying. Its an advantage of fractions over decimals. You can multiply the reciprocal of the second fraction to divide.

Example: One half divided by One fourth = 1/2 X 4/1

I hope you enjoy thinking about these math curiosities this week and testing them as I have.  Next week I will share his thoughts on advanced Math and Math as a philosophy.

Can't stand to wait a week?  I understand.  Try: I love Theoni Papas books.  Her work is perspective changing.  A great math teacher.