more ramblings of a retired teacher
commenting (maybe ranting) on education - even my own

May 2024
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Filed under: General, Education, coding/programming
Posted by: Algot @ 3:05 pm

Turtle Python

Back in the days when we used the AppleII at the middle school where I taught, we used a package called Delta
which had some of the features of Logo, the language developed by Wally Feurzeig and Seymour Papert to help develop early programming skills, even for elementary students. For a while Logo was
popular, but as administrators challenged the value of “Programming for
Everybody”, it fell by the wayside as BASIC had earlier. Apparently neither Logo nor BASIC were important enough to be part of the “back to basics” thinking that came with budget cuts.

The STEM initiative (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is having some success in education circles these days. In that context programming
is making a resurgence with the support of some heavy hitters in the tech world having political impact.
The “Hour of Code” effort is popular. Python is one of the languages
with traction, too. Python has Turtle Graphics available as a built-in
module. It is possible to use Python programming to do turtle graphics
in almost the same way they were done in earlier Logo implementations.

Turtle graphics are a very good way to introduce the concept of functions in Python.

I purchased a book from a member of the MathFuture Google Group.

Hacking Math Class with Python: Exploring Math Through Computer Programming by Peter Farrell [Link]

His book begins with a section on turtle graphics.

Typing the following code into the command line (Python interpreter
running) window will produce first a square and then a circle in a popup
window (using the built-in tk windowing tools).

from turtle import *
def square():
   for i in range(4):
def circle():
    for i in range(36):

You might not be surprised that those instructions made a square and circle.

If you learned Logo, you will recognize the fd 100 as meaning “move
the turtle forward 100 steps.” Likewise, rt(90) was rt 90 or right 90
depending on the implementation of Logo you used. What is different is
the indenting of Python and the use of parentheses to indicate the
functions in use along with the Python structure of the loop which was
different in Logo.

Implementing a Logo-like turtle graphics environment in Python does
give us immediate access to visualizing the concepts expressed as
functions, a real leg up in the concept of functions in math.

That, of course, lead me to remember the “flowering” of my earlier
Logo days, and I made the rotations of both square and circle that were
such a rush for me back then.

I exemplified a bit of my sponsored wordnik word “explore” by making a
challenge to do a stack of polygons with one side overlapped

>>> clear()
>>> lt(60)
>>> octogon()
>>> hexagon()
>>> pentagon()
>>> square()
>>> triangle()

I think I may enjoy going further in the book.

1 comment
Connected Educator Month
Filed under: General, F/LOSS, Education
Posted by: Algot @ 4:21 pm

I think of myself as a “connected educator” and there are a lot of people around the country and the world who also think of themselves that way. October of 2013 is officially Connected Educator Month, with even the US federal Department of Education giving it support. There are lots of activities planned. There are many different ways to get involved

One link to get you going is

As former Massachusetts Congressman Tip O’Neil once said, “All politics is local.” Maybe the idea applies for Connected Educator Month, too. Maybe it takes some traditional face-to-face discussion and support to get online things started for your peers. After all, you use social media (Twitter) effectively. Perhaps you have a blog and maybe much more. You are enjoying the feeling of a shared experience with online experts and eager peers.

Maybe this is the year you will expand to being the local connectedness guru. Take the leap. Start right away. Get a local cohort in your school building into the online habits which you find so valuable. If you start right now, you’ll have almost a full month of prep time to get your plans in gear. This will be authentic, peer driven professional development.

I hear a comment from the back row.
I need a poster to announce the idea.

The following poster is available for download in two versions:

The posters are released with a Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication to encourage their wide use. Yes, remix to your heart’s content.

The main font is “FreeSans” and the narrow font of the link is “Kenyan Coffee” which are both free fonts you would need on your computer to make your own simple modifications. You could use other fonts, of course.

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Standards, Conformity, Education and Tomorrow
Filed under: General, Education
Posted by: Algot @ 7:03 pm

The tweet stream flows by. The conversations are not always obvious. Even the meaning isn’t obvious. Sometimes, though the brief message sparks something.

Now, I don’t know what “Uber” is, and $3.5 billion is beyond my level of finance. So what did this message spark?

It made me wonder what we are building for tomorrow in our public school system.

Education is being constrained by budget strain (nothing new), and Common Core State Standards imposed by a coalition of state governors (very recent). These constraints are drawing down the scope of what children will encounter during any given school year. Art, music and all sorts of electives are under pressure. In some places they are already gone so that schools can focus on preparing students for the Common Core standards in English language and Math. Science is getting a chance with a push to get STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) connections built on top of the math standards and their high stakes standardized tests. Flexibility and options are fading away, being replaced by conformity, standards and accountability.

I always thought that education offered children (as it did for me) the chance to see what we currently know and to learn how to build tomorrow’s version of the world from that stable base. The Common Core State Standards seek to make everybody’s base the same. That sounds commendable. However, in doing that, they may actually be consolidating the way things are, imposing limits, restricting experimentation and individual growth. The effect of the Common Core isn’t apparent because its application to the K-12 sequence is just beginning.

I fear that the result will be to make today’s students ready for “the way things are” instead of the way they will be, much less the way they “should be.”

What are we optimizing?

K-12 education has been blamed for being mired in last-century methods, sometimes called the “factory model” of education. I personally do not see how the Common Core or the slavish accountability of standardized testing will help children become adaptable, creative, enthusiastic stewards of tomorrow. Remember, tomorrow will not be the same as today…unless, of course, you really work hard to standardize it that way.

Be ready, kids. Good luck.

Now, adults, the guides of our children, what is your definition of “ready”?

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Self Effacing?
Filed under: P2PU, Education
Posted by: Algot @ 1:02 pm

A blog is a writing opportunity. A blog is sharing (in case someone else is reading). I’m a retired teacher and have no qualms about writing, especially since this computer thing replaced my Smith Corona manual typewriter. Back then, the thought of retyping anything kept me back from getting the ideas down and then editing. It always surprises me how many very educated people seem reluctant to grasp the opportunity to express themselves.

As a case in point, Tom Whitby writes a blog called “My Island View.” He is a connected educator and isn’t reluctant to write about his experiences while sharing educational views at conferences and on line, centered on the Twitter #edchat tag. His recent post “Sharing is not Bragging” lead me to post a comment.

It has seemed strange to me that teachers are not usually producers of student-directed material. That they are reluctant to share what they have produced certainly fits.

Teachers have spent immense amounts of time preparing for their jobs, not to mention the money which they have paid for college or advanced degrees. Teachers then enter a classroom day after day and engage students by sharing their expertise. Yet, most teachers also rely on somebody else’s textbooks, xeroxed worksheets, and more recently, apps and Internet links. As a rule, teachers do not produce their own teaching materials. Given the chance to “publish” a blog or web site, almost none of the staff of almost 200 in my school took the step, even though the learning opportunity was free.

A few of those teachers did make worksheets of their own, but not most.

Sharing daily with their students is a verbal exercise, lecturing, questioning, nudging students along. It isn’t done through personal writing very often and, perhaps because of that, does not translate into sharing with other adults.

How often do “faculty” meetings find a faculty member speaking? Aren’t the faculty most often returned to their student/listener roles while yet another level of educator lectures, questions and nudges?

Also published:

Whatever encouragement it may be, I hope anybody reading this blog is motivated to grab their keyboards, set up a blog or a whole website (P2PU Webmaking 101 can help you get started) and start writing, creating and sharing. If my experience is any indicator, it can make you feel good.
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Change and Comfort
Filed under: Education
Posted by: Algot @ 5:58 pm

If a person stays a teacher for more than a couple of years, one might assess that they are comfortable in the environment. After all, each teacher is probably a product of success during their own K12 sequence. It isn’t common to find a successful teacher who hated school as a kid.

Adults, by nature, are habit oriented. We have *learned* what works for us. Our habits have developed through many repetitions. As a bunch, teachers aren’t much different from other ordinary adults. We have learned to fit in.

Changing oneself is accomplished not through comfort but dissatisfaction and discomfort. We must first be unhappy with “the way things are.”  It would certainly be odd to think that the majority of those planning a teaching career would have disliked or even “hated” school.

So, it is those who are less normal, those who are restless, uncomfortable or fit some other description of dissatisfaction who change. Maybe they change jobs, change subjects or grade levels, change to be an administrator. Are they seeking “change” or are they seeking a role that “fits”? Are they seeking comfort?

Not all educators are alike. Some are more the “thrill seeker” sort. But much of that energy is expended on free-time activities. Teachers go skiing, climb mountains, hang glide, whatever. Maybe even the thrill seekers are glad to return during the school week to a safe haven.

So, what about baby steps, what about change?

An example: Our system offered email to all teachers and for two years, some people did use it, while the majority didn’t regularly use it, until it was the only way administrators sent student absence lists around. Even then, some teachers would ask a neighbor to print a copy of the email for them.

Top-down isn’t the answer, but somehow we need to systematically provde a change-engendering “discomfort.”

One suggestion I’d like to make is that all administrators change “faculty meetings” into edcamp experiences where the faculty is questioning, seeking, asking and answering…leading.

All too many current teachers tell me it is still the same for them as it was for me. Faculty meetings were the time when I heard announcements (which could have been emailed) and district plans and almost never a teacher voice.

I don’t know if that’s a baby step or not. If the teachers assume the responsibility for control of the faculty meeting, perhaps they’ll assume more responsibility for the structure of the school and feel the “comfort” to change, maybe even change in a big way.

Posted as a comment to “My Island View”, the blog of Tom Witby

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CSS Simple Look
Filed under: P2PU, Education
Posted by: Algot @ 6:31 pm

I’ve been exploring Cascading Style Sheets.

I have a long way to go, but one experiment is getting a simple layout that has just a single column, but has a better look than a plain html page. While it is not part of the specific tasks of P2PU Webmaking 101, I’m including the effort as an extension of that activity.

Here’s what I’ve come up with for now.

/* simple.css stylesheet */

body { background-color: #eee; background-image: url(’’);}

h1, h2, h3, h4 { font-family: “DejaVu Sans”, Helvetica, FreeSans, Geneva, Arial, sans-serif;

h2 { font-color: #999;

#main {
  /*old width:68%; */
  border-top: 10px solid #800080;

#footer {
  font-family: “Droid Sans”, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;
  margin:.2em auto;

To see how it looks in action:
And remember to check the html source, too (usually accessed with the Ctrl+U keys to display a browser window of the source.)

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Common Core vs. Diversity
Filed under: General, Education
Posted by: Algot @ 12:43 pm

The Common Core State Standards may have unintended consequences.

As a ground floor upon which to build a rich education, some kind of “basics” are a good thing. However, much can go wrong during the implementation of nationwide education standards. People will be held accountable on the basis of tests. That is not good. Tests are a weak point in the education process. Tests are the tools used to generate grades. Grades tell students “you’re done” more than any other thing. Work till you get a grade, then stop.

Worse than that is the destruction of diversity. Through the common core, we are dismantling the strength and resilience of our culture.

I’m unique. I am also similar to many other people. Similar, yes. Duplicate, no.

The famous bell curve is not a prescriptive thing. It is derived by observation from the range of any normal population for a given measurement. The bell curve does not tell us who will be a the middle nor who will be at either extreme. It tells us that variety is NORMAL.

The common core does not appear to value the diversity of a natural population. The common core seems to imply that bulldozing the ends toward the middle is in our best interest educationally.

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P2PU Webmaking 101
Filed under: P2PU, Education
Posted by: Algot @ 1:26 pm

P2PU is part of my recent upgrade process.

Webmaking 101 has been under way for a while for me. Not steady, but behind the scenes, I’ve been working. Occasionally I make comments on somebody’s new blog or try to offer a brief encouraging remark.

I thought I’d created a blog for the Webmaking course some time back, but I cannot find my notes. I *think* it was on Posterous, but now I cannot check. Posterous is no more. Somebody bought it out and has closed it.

I’ve had my own site for a while, but have made very little other use of this blog space which is provided through my Hostway service.

I’m going to use this to be my P2PU connection.

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Education Reform
Filed under: Education
Posted by: Algot @ 3:18 pm

Education reform, two words which inspire the public to call talk shows and tell the anecdote about the bad teacher they had 20 years ago; the two words which have encouraged politicians to put public service on the hot seat, reducing or eliminating collective bargaining rights for teachers; two words which lead to passing a national law called “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB), the law that Education Secretary Arne Duncan thinks could judge 82 percent of all our nations schools as “failing” during the coming year.

I started reading the report “Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Policies and Practices in LAUSD” from the National Council on Teacher Quality. The NCTQ bills itself as “a non-partisan research and policy organization committed to restructuring the teaching profession, led by our vision that every child deserves effective teachers.” (LAUSD is the Los Angeles Unified School District)

The report sets up a goal of making recommendations to improve the Los Angeles public schools. They collected data and did focus groups and interviews.

“The backdrop to these reform efforts is a $408 million budget shortfall for the 2012 fiscal year which likely guarantees significant teacher layoffs and furloughs for the third consecutive year. Teacher performance, student performance and solutions to the district’s financial crisis are interconnected to an unprecedented degree. These changes have dramatically changed the make-up of the teacher workforce; the number of teachers in the beginning of their careers has fallen by nearly 15 percent, due to seniority driven layoff policies.”[page1] “California law requires that districts use seniority as the determining factor in layoffs.”[page 12]

The teachers are dismissed from a position because they are young, new to the profession. The longer a person stays in the district, the more senior they become, and the less prone they are to dismissal for staffing reductions.

When reductions of staff do occur, the young teachers get a break though. They get to go into a pool of teachers that other schools in the district must hire before they (presumably) go outside the district staff to hire a new replacement. It is called the “priority placement” list. Unfortunately, the school principals don’t care for the list.

[figure from page 7 of Report]

“While teachers are displaced on the basis of seniority and not performance, there is nonetheless a stigma associate with being on the priority placement list. Principals and teachers both commented in focus groups that the excellent teachers who do end up on the list are snatched up quickly. LAUSD principals are frustrated with effectively being forced to hire teachers from this pool. Three-quarters of principals surveyed by NCTQ said that they were unable to hire their teacher of choice because they needed to hire from the priority placement list. Three-quarters of principals surveyed also said that teachers on the must-place list are rarely if ever a good fit for their school.”[page 7]

Here’s where I got hung up.

The phrase “displaced on the basis of seniority” in the above paragraph doesn’t make it clear, but, typically, displaced staff are the ones with less seniority.

Aren’t we hearing elsewhere that the teachers schools really want are those younger, less experienced teachers? Doesn’t the cry against tenure promote the idea of removing the “dead wood”, tenured, senior staff so the young teachers can shine?

Just how do these two ideas blend?

The teachers “displaced on the basis of seniority” are not on the list because they were the poorest performing teachers. The contract under which these teachers work and California state law forces these displaced teachers to be the least senior staff, young ones that the LAUSD hired very recently, that some principal recently thought were the best choice for the school, the district and the students. It is these same recently hired teachers who are displaced, made available to other schools, judged by other principals, judged 73 percent of the time to be “rarely” or “never” a good fit for their school.

Oops. If a recently hired teacher isn’t a good fit from the must-place list, why was that teacher hired by a different principal for their school? Is one school in the LAUSD that different from another? Isn’t there a one-size-fits-all solution for all the schools in the district?

It sounds as if the NCTQ wants senior staff, presumed to be of higher quality, to be placed into the must-place pool so they can be grabbed up for open positions. The report definitely says that 99 percent of the recently hired, younger, less experienced staff are seen as less than a perfect fit.

The report implied that trying to keep these young, recently hired teachers in the district was forcing principals to make poor choices. These recently hired teachers were apparently less desirable than outsiders, teachers either with more experience, or teachers with even less experience, teachers fresh from the pool of new graduates, teachers whose contracts would cost the district less. I certainly do not know the motivation of the principals. I’m not from Los Angeles and have never met any of these administrators.

It does seem to be a dysfunction in hiring practices. Principals reported that they didn’t like being forced into hiring from the must-place pool. But some other principal hired that young teacher, just a few years back, and that teacher isn’t put on the list because of poor performance, just because of low seniority.

Now, let’s look into the possibility that a change of contract would make schools able to put senior staff onto the must-place, reduction-in-force (RIF) list. The report implies that such a change would be good. Instead of forcing schools to give up their young staff, they could cut older ones. They could cut staff with higher salaries. They could RIF a senior teacher, probably on the basis that the teacher was performing less well than an younger one. Would these higher cost, senior, lower performing teachers be grabbed off the must-place list with more glee than is described for the current process?

Well, actually, the report doesn’t suggest this change. The report suggests that the pilot, charter and school-based management schools schools not encumbered by having to hire off the must-place list at all.

Voila! The solution is clear. Eliminate the must-place list and change the RIF rules. Get rid of the senior, more expensive teachers, disregarding the benefits of experience. Keep all those young teachers who a moment ago were not at all desirable on a must-place list. This isn’t the way the report writes the conclusions, of course. They recombine their analysis later in the report, after showing examples of the other ills of the LAUSD and make their suggestions seem less like just a way to save money and more of a way to reform a broken system.

“About this study: This study was undertaken on behalf of the 672,000 children who attend school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.”[page 2]

Another instance of “It’s all about the children.”

Something tells me that the children are not what the report is really about.

[bracketed page references refer to the report listed below.]


National Council on Teacher Quality web


Blog post that got me to read the

Source of failing schools percentage:

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Career Teachers
Filed under: Education
Posted by: Algot @ 3:39 pm

Is a teacher a replacable widget?

I went to a retirement party this week. One of the retiring teachers, Mr. Gallerani, was ending a carreer of 42 years, all at the same school, teaching the same subject: social studies. He stressed study skills, expected attention from students (and got it), read widely in his subject area throughout his career and engaged students in his passion for the material he, himself, loved. Through the years, I’ve encountered students who went through the school where Mr. Gallerani and I both taught. Most remembered having me as a teacher because I taught everyone in the school about and with computers. But, even those who didn’t have Mr. Gallerani for social studies, remembered him. They had siblings who were in his classroom; they had friends who spoke of him; they went on the class trip to Washington, D.C. which he lead for over 30 years; they remembered him.

I’ve read that most who begin teaching also leave teaching instead of staying with it. “Teacher Career Choices”, a report of the National Center for Educational Statistics [1] determined that only 31 percent of those who went directly into teaching after graduation had stayed with it for ten years. Others did enter the job of teacher later, and the study is recent, so it doesn’t cover teachers like Mr. Gallerani.

Diane Ravitch, educational historian, has said, “Teacher longevity is very important. That’s the way a teacher changes lives. Not in a year or two, but by consistency, making a commitment.”[2]

I remember some of the teachers who helped to prepare me. The ones I remember best were not short timers. They had a style which made them stand out, a style which they had developed over many years and which created a special, individual relationship with their students. It wasn’t that they were super friendly or grumpy/stern. It wasn’t that simple. They engaged me in the subject we were studying. They pulled reaction from me. They made me change.

I’d have to say that I cannot always tell you the specific things they did which made the impression, though a few stand out. I do remember that Miss Erickson, a high school English teacher, returned every written assignment to us the next day, carefully corrected and marked with clear recommendations. We thought she was nuts to stay up as late as 4:00 A.M. to do it.

I do remember that Mr. Semple asked us to tell him what he was thinking when he referred to a page of the Newsweek we were reading for classs. It amazed me that we didn’t get it in September, but by June, we were almost all raising our hands and it didn’t matter which of us got called to give the answer. We got it. I remember my chorus/choir teacher who simply glared at us if we were off key. He was heartbroken when our choir was split by a school board decision to ship those from one of the towns to another high school.

You get the idea. These teachers made me focus. They weren’t just delivering a lecture from yellowing note cards. They were educators, drawing/leading us out of our childhood ignorance and limited viewpoints. We remember teachers because they recognized what we needed and gave it to us.

Teachers who are young may come in with great skills, of course, but I challenge you to think back. Are the teachers you remember typically the ones who blazed hot for a couple or three years and then left? Are they, instead, the ones who were like my teachers and like Mr. Gallerani, a 42 year veteran, a fixture, a dedicated, beloved, respected teacher. He will be missed by the students entering his classroom next year even though they won’t know it. I hope that in September, the room is occupied by someone like him, someone who isn’t just filling the seat behind his desk. I hope the “new” teacher becomes a beloved, remembered veteran.

I hope public education doesn’t become dominated by short time, widget teachers. Students deserve better than that. Are you listening, policy makers, educational reformers? Are you listening, teacher bashing talk show hosts and politicians?

For the record, I stayed in the same school district for 36 years. I started as a science teacher in grades 7 and 8. I finished as the district’s computer coordinator.


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