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

August 2013
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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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Implementing a Spoiler
Filed under: P2PU, coding/programming
Posted by: Algot @ 2:36 pm

In 2013, I implemented a “spoiler” feature in my book list pages.

It was a bit clunky, making a jolting page shift to display the hidden spoiler text.

I recently reimplemented the technique. I’m happier.

If you are interested, check the description of how it was done.

The core JavaScript code was:

    function toggle_visibility(id) {
       var e = document.getElementById(id);
       if( == ‘block’)
 = ‘none’;
 = ‘block’;
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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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Browser Irony
Filed under: P2PU, coding/programming
Posted by: Algot @ 4:20 pm

In pursuit of web development skills, P2PU is a great peer support group.

The range of learning options includes many others, too. One I have been using is W3Schools where I came across interesting statistics about browser usage and also encountered a bit of irony shown in the next screen capture.

On the screen reporting a steady decline of visits with Internet Explorer since the start of the site, from 85% down to under 12% in 2013, Microsoft has an ad:

Of course, this site is mainly of interest to programmers and web developers, a small subset of the public. Still the statistics don’t match well with the contention of “one of the most popular browsers today” in the ad.

If the public still thinks Windows and Internet Explorer are the way to go, perhaps developers have a different point of view.

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Counting with Class
Filed under: P2PU, coding/programming
Posted by: Algot @ 12:55 pm

Little snips of JavaScript can add some significant power to web pages.

A good example is this new trick:
Let JavaScript count how many books I’ve read this year.

The explanation is easier to read at this other location.

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Apple Touch Icon
Filed under: P2PU, coding/programming
Posted by: Algot @ 3:55 pm

Periodically, I check my website statistics. One of the most interesting segments is the Failure Report. It shows what requests from visitors are failing. Any time a file accumulates a bunch of failed attempts, it catches my eye and I try to track down the problem.

Today, I noticed a new Failure. I had no idea what was wrong. A web search cured my ignorance.

Apple, Inc. has implemented a substitute for the “favicon” that standard web browsers put into the tab of a page. The idea is that mobile Apple devices can save copy of a page which interests the Apple user. When they do that, the designated “apple-touch-icon.png” is used as a launch button on the device.

Being the conscientious webmaster, I quickly remedied the problem by creating my very own apple-touch-icon.

Mobile Apple users, thanks for visiting.

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The River has Tributaries
Filed under: P2PU, coding/programming
Posted by: Algot @ 4:26 pm

Writing html with a text editor ( Kate for me because I use KDE on GNU/Linux and because it is a very good editor ) is becoming reasonably comfortable. I’ve almost completely given up using the Kompozer visual Web editor. Almost, not quite, though. I have one page which functions well with a table to organize clipart image thumbnails and download buttons for the svg source. Until and “if” I change that page with CSS, Kompozer is easier to use to maintain and add new images.

Still, it is nice to see the web pages display the way I intend. Combining the html with a growing understanding of cascading style sheets is beginning to make sense. The results aren’t too ugly either.

A bit of JavaScript has helped me make a consistent navigation section appear on each page where it is appropriate. I love being able to modify just that one js file to add a new section to the site. Today, I even enjoyed rearranging the links into a much more sensible sequence.

Web development isn’t a single track or well-ordered sequence. At some point, the different skill sequences begin to blend into a very personal mix. The learning becomes a stream with tributaries of what you have learned of html, css, JavaScript, php and more.

Let the process develop. Make web pages build around things you enjoy. Let the pages become better while you work on your ideas. Go back later and make the content consistent with your new skills. Not all of your pages will need to be “the same” until you are doing a corporate site as a paid gig. Until then, have fun. Grow and keep learning.

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Far Afield and Back Again
Filed under: P2PU, F/LOSS, coding/programming
Posted by: Algot @ 2:39 pm

This month, I was drafted into running the meeting of our local FOSS user’s group. The group’s founder was off on vacation in France. While we were meeting, he and his tech-savvy wife were drinking honest French wine with real French cheese and speaking real French (with a strong American accent, from what he reported by email).

That meant preparing demonstrations. They were fun to develop, lots of html coding. One of the topics involved demonstrating the forum software phpbb. I didn’t put the software on my hosted server. That seemed too permanent. If we decide to run a forum for the group, it makes sense to do it on a server “owned” by the group, not on mine. So I set up a “sandbox” installation on my home server. That meant getting the group access to the server.

Recently, I read in Linux Journal, about doing a little trickery to make “do-it-yourself DNS” which seemed cool. The forum demo was a chance to put the trick to the test. As you may know, the Internet-facing IP address of a home router isn’t a fixed IP. Verizon, like many other service providers, can change the IP address as often as they want.

Some people use a Dynamic DNS service. That costs extra to do it well and the concepts from Linux Journal article worked for me. I ultimately did a script which hourly contacts my hosted server and executes a php file there which makes a text file to give me the current Verizon-assigned IP.

The problem was, I also needed to make it easy enough for the FOSS group’s users. My initial efforts involved too many link clicks. Eventually, though, all the coding study of recent time came together.

I read about server-side-includes and was able to use the tricks from that to add a link to the changing IP address (within an hour, anyway). That link went into the demo page and got the group users to my home server’s index page. There were still too many links to click to reach the server.

Some of the members of the group are new to FOSS, and some are also self-styled novice computer users. The fewer clicks necessary to reach the forum, the better.

A bit more study to understand how concatenation works in PHP and there we were. PHP concatenation is tricky because it isn’t coded the way concatenation is done in other programming languages.

Now all a group member needs to do is reach my main hosted server and with a single click on the forum link, they are there. Two steps. I’m happy.

Coding is fun. For me, there are usually many tries and retries. That’s OK. The feeling of getting a working solution is marvellous!

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