ac*count*a*ble |əˈkountəbəl|
adjective
1 (of a person, organization, or institution) required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible : government must be accountable to its citizens | parents could be held accountable for their children's actions

That is the definition from my Apple Dictionary for a word that gets tossed around a lot in education.  My professor, Dean, just posted his thoughts on the word the other day.  And it has been coming up a lot around the light of recent events.  Back in 2010, the Saskatoon Public School Division announced a policy for its high schools that mandated late assignments and plagiarism be "reported in student evaluations, but not reflected in academic assessments" (CBC News, September 2010).  Here is CBC's short video reporting the story:
Needless to say, people had a lot negative opinions about the new policy.  One comment that stood out to me was written by the alias, raceguy:

        "The whole approach to this dumbing down of the system by officials in Sakatoon [sic] is absurd. Should
        we not be looking at opportunities to drive our students to success and excellence by improving the
        education progams [sic]. 
        The fact that there are no provincial or national standards to measure students academic achievements
        is even more of a concern. I personally would have loved to know how my children were stacking up
        against students from other communities in Saskatchewan while they were in high school.
        Oh, sorry that would mean making teachers and the school system accountable to someone. Good grief,
        don't want to pick on the good teachers but isn't it time to hold some of these useless educators
        responsible for their actions?"

This type of attitude is exactly the one that Dean mentioned, that lowers teachers from their role of professional to that of a factory worker, administering tests.  Education is a topic everyone has an opinion about, and rightfully so.  It is something that everyone participates in to some extent.  I just wish that people would gather all of the facts before making a statement like the one above, requesting accountability through standardized testing.  I invite anyone who thinks that ranking teachers by test scores is a good idea, to read about how this worked out for teachers in New York.

Along the same story, in a CBC Radio interview* (September 2010), Saskatchewan's Premier made it very clear that he was opposed to Saskatoon's assessment strategy.  He gave an example of one of his own children losing marks for turning some things in late and how he appreciated the repercussions because he thought it had taught his child a lesson about life in the real world.  I would imagine that Brad Wall provides a stable and supportive home environment, yet if his children struggle to get their homework done sometimes, how about the children who are responsible for providing the care of younger siblings?  Or the students who live on their own and work to support themselves?  I have had many professors extend or negotiate the deadlines on assignments because students had approached them about conflicting schedules.  Life happens and teachers need to be flexible to allow for that.

But maybe instead of the directive coming from the administration that teachers are no longer to hand out zeros for late or plagiarized assignments, that they instead mandate teachers to be flexible with deadlines on a needs basis and use less punitive approaches to punishment when problems do arise; turn a mistake like plagiarism into an opportunity for growth and learning instead of assigning a zero without explanation.  In the radio interview, Mr. Wall agreed that teachers need to make special considerations for students they know are struggling and admitted that teachers are the ones who are working alongside the students and would therefore know what is best for them.  But instead of allowing teachers to make that call, he feels that more standardized approaches are necessary for consistency.

There are no standardized students or standardized classrooms.  Teachers do not come in a standardized package like houses in new subdivisions.  Why would standardized tests be the answer?  This again comes down to what Dean said about teachers being reduced to factory workers instead of the professionals we once were.  I worry that we are headed in the direction of the United States, where schools and their teachers are ranked according to obscure test results.  It will be a sad day for education if that is the case.  Our children deserve better than that.

*I did not have permission to share the radio interview, otherwise I would have posted it here for you all to listen.  If I am able to get permission, I will post it for your listening pleasure!
 
 
Earlier this week Dean invited Instructional Technology Specialist, Alan Levine to steer our live session on the topic of Digital Storytelling.  During his presentation, Alan mentioned a website called DS106, an online course for Digital Storytelling that you can join anytime and sort of use as you like.  Dean asked us to check it out and complete two assignments from two different categories.  Let me begin my saying that my archaic operating system and lack of Photoshop made this very challenging for me.  I wasn't sure where to start, so I clicked the 'gimme a random one' button at the top.  You might be thinking, "That's the spirit!" or "How brave!" but I clicked that button close to 20 times, looking for an assignment that interested me and that I could do with the software I have.

The first one that caught my eye was Letters in Your Surroundings under the Design Assignments.  It looked snazzy and creative which is right up my alley, so I set to work.  This week I had also learned the importance of using images off the internet under the Creative Commons, so I began searching for the letters I needed to create my name.  After I had downloaded all of my images, I pasted them into a Word document and formatted them to be the same height.  From there I saved my document as a PDF in iPhoto by selecting the option from a drop down list in my printer dialogue box.  Then I opened the image in iPhoto, cropped out the extra white space, and was left with this!  The pictures are a little blurry, but that's what you get when you don't have a proper photo editor.  I still think it's pretty cool. 
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Images Used Under Creative Commons From (Left to Right): John-Morgan, Camera Eye Photography, *Ann Gordon, p_a_h, isconniethere, Nina Matthews Photography, janetmck, Nina Matthews Photography
I went back to the random assignment generator, and clicked a few more times and came up with the Comic Book Effect assignment under Visual Assignments.  I was determined not to let my lack of a photo editor bring me down, so I went into the App Store on my iPad and bought the Halftone app for $0.99.  I then uploaded a photo I had taken of my cat, Hank, earlier this week with the Hipstamatic app and added some magical comic book effects.  It was really easy to use and looks pretty cool.  I emailed both of the pictures to myself so I could upload them here for you to see:
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Before (Jimmy Lens, Kodot XGrizzled Film, No Flash)
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Comic Book Hank
There are hundreds of assignments to choose from which would give students tons of choice if you decided to use DS106 in the classroom.  There are lots of connections that could be made to areas like literacy that would provide an alternative to boring old book reports.  Check it out and post your creations below!
 
 
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My twitter feed has been buzzing for the last week about an Edmonton teacher who assigned a zero, despite his school's No Zeros Policy.  My classmates have been blogging, the news has been reporting, and now my brain is struggling to sort through this information to get my thoughts organized into words.  I guess I will start by admitting I had only been reading little snippets of other people's opinions up until today.  This can be attributed to the overwhelming number of responses that came pouring out of the floodgates after the media released the story last Thursday. The first blog I sat down and read from start to finish, other than my classmates', was School Isn’t Like a Job byJohn Scammell.  The title of his post comes from the shared opinions of many community members about the role education plays in the lives of children and youth.

My first question was, "is school a job?"  I can quit my job at any point I become dissatisfied with the work I am doing, and have some choices about the fields of work I enter into.  I can choose whether or not I accept a promotion and can base my decision on things like remuneration, hours of the job, whether or not I think I will like my new boss or if I think I can work well with my new coworkers.  When I compare these to the choices I had in school, none of them come to mind until maybe University.  Children are expected to attend school until they are at least 16 years old in Saskatchewan, regardless of their interest, and have no choice about areas of study until high school, at which point there are only a few up for negotiation.  Each year students are shuffled on to the next grade and are assigned a teacher and a group of students they are expected to work alongside for the next 10 months - little to no exceptions there either.  So in that sense, no, school is not a job because it is not a choice and the pay is non-existent.

John writes that some people believe that the grade is the pay check, but goes on to discredit this theory because in the real world, pay is based on a number of variables including hours worked and productivity.  School isn't like a job in that sense either.  Marks are based on what students are able to show in terms of outcomes, not how much time they spent acquiring that knowledge or the number of worksheets or projects they produced.  How does this relate to zeros?  Well, a large portion of the population believes that assigning zeros for work not completed sets students up to take responsibility in the real world where if they fail to do the work at a job, they get fired.  Essentially a zero is the educational equivalent of losing your job.  John summed up his views on this false comparison:

        "A bright kid who does no work (I assume people are talking about homework here) and still writes and
        passes my tests will pass my class. He has to. He has shown me he can do the math.
        A weak, hard-working student who does every single thing I assign, but fails the tests will fail my class. He
        has to. He has shown me he can’t do the math.
        Any student, weak or strong, who doesn’t write my tests cannot be assessed. I make him do the course
        again. I have to. He hasn’t shown me whether or not he can do the math, so I can’t pass him.
        The bottom line is that I can’t assess work. Doing work just isn’t in my curriculum. Knowing math is. That’s
        all I can assess."

This is where Mr Scammell lost me.  Is making a student repeat a course not essentially the same thing as assigning a zero?  My equation of a fail to a zero is actually incorrect and the difference I found explained by Cherra-Lynne Olthof, a middle-years teacher from Alberta, here.  On the topic of zeros, she wrote:

        "I give out something called an Insufficient.  People have told me this is a fancy way of saying 0 but it really
        isn’t.  When I write INS on an outcome what I’m saying is, 'I have no idea if your child can do this or not.  I
        have no evidence with which to make this judgement.'  That is much different then giving out a 0 which says,
        'Your child knows 0% of the content of this subject.'"

My lack of understanding on the difference comes from my inexperience in the field.  I didn't know that "INS" was an option, and maybe that's because it isn't one in Saskatchewan.  I honestly have no idea.  Maybe one of my Saskatchewan teacher-friends can help enlighten me on that one.  The other part is that I am not specializing in the area of high school education.  I am studying to be a primary educator where the ownership of responsibility is still slowly being transferred.  However, after reading and listening to multiple perspectives on the issue including the initial news story, opinions from respected educational bloggers, and the comments that ensued from both, the issue seems to be viewed as one of two things:

                    1) Should formative assessments be assigned a mandatory grade?
                                                            AND
                    2) Who is to blame when students don't do their assignments?

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To answer the first question - no.  Formative assessments are ultimately used by the teacher for the teacher to help guide future learning experiences based on what the students are and are not picking up.  They are not an indication of a student's ability because the learning is not yet complete.  If a student decides not to check in with his/her teacher, essentially they are the ones who will suffer in the long run.  And not because some teacher is going to give them a zero, but because they will have no way to gauge their learning or have the opportunity to receive clarification as needed.  This may or may not be reflected in their final grade, but having the opportunity to show what they know is all that matters.  Reporting is all about outcomes and indicators which is based on a final product, not about the steps along the way.  Of course teachers should assess more than one time per year, but if a student chooses to only complete the final assessment, the added stress to perform is on them.

The answer to number two is related to number one, and is less about blame and more about concern.  If a student is not completing a teacher's assignments for some reason, that reason should become the concern of the teacher.  Teaching is intended to be a reflective practice that is always changing to meet the needs of the ever changing students.  Sometimes lessons that were expected to wow, end up bombing.  It happens!  The important thing is that teachers reflect on what went wrong so that changes can be made if the lesson is attempted again.  The same goes for assignments and assessments.  The biggest indicators of student engagement at the high school level are attendance and completion of course work.  While it may be difficult to accept part of the responsibility for lack of student participation, it is important because the education belongs to the student - not to the teacher.  It really doesn't matter what the teacher thinks qualifies as an awesome lesson - it matters what the students think.

In the end, I don't believe that handing out zeros benefits those who receive them most.  If the argument is around teaching responsibility, students who do not complete the assigned coursework are less likely to pass any type of assessments the teacher needs to make an informed decision about what the student knows.  If a teacher is unable to assess a student with sufficient evidence, the student will have to retake the course.  No one said that they were passing students with zero proof of learning!  If the argument is around fairness, education is meant to be fair, not equal.  Fairness is not giving everybody the same thing, it is about giving everybody what they need.  If a student feels that they don't need to participate in certain learning activities, then that is a decision they are allowed to make, pending an understanding that their decision may impact their future mark because of a lack of comprehension.  That to me is teaching a student responsibility and consequences without the use of a threat or punishment of a zero.  Seems more effective to me.

 
 
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Tonight a friend posted a plea for help on her Facebook.  It seems her three-year-old daughter was playing with her iPod and afterwards her audio book was playing in fast forward, despite attempts to power it off and back on.  I love to figure things out, so I did what I always do when I need to know something - I googled it.  And I was able to find a solution to said problem.  Love it! What I love even more is the way technology allows us to toss out a question to our friends and then go back to doing other things like washing dishes or doing homework.  It gives us the freedom to check back for the answer once we find another spare moment, and does not force us to do extensive research when we just don't have the time.  She was busy.  I was not.  Her problem was solved and everyone is happy.

Texting works the same way.  I am able to send little messages throughout the day to let my partner know how things are going, or that I'm thinking about him, and he is able to read and respond when he has a spare minute, and so on.  It allows us to stay connected when we are both caught up, doing our own thing.  This is important to me because when I am in school mode and he is working, our schedules just don't mesh.  And without the use of these technologies, we might go whole days without communicating on some level.  Some people believe that these types of technologies are diminishing traditional social interactions.  Maybe that is the case for some, but I still engage in other forms like face-to-face conversation, Skyping, or phone calls.  I think I just have more options than I did before.

Do you think technology helps or hinders your connections?

 
 
I am admittedly a little behind in watching the live sessions for my ECMP 355 course.  I am just coming off my mid-week that was full of papers, presentations, and exams and just haven't had a chance to sit and watch for an hour. Tonight I watched the session from last week which featured Alec Couros, professor of educational technology and media at the University of Regina.  He presented on the topic of Digital Citizenship and Identity. He talked about lots of things like the scare ads put out to encourage children to be safe about what they post on the internet, because you never know who might be looking at the content.  Here is one I found:
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Picture courtesy of http://www.softwarewithstyle.com/guides/13?page=5
This always reminds me of the cautionary tales the Faculty of Education pass down to us about school boards searching for new teacher hires on Facebook to see what they are up to.  This seems to cause some panic amongst my classmates which makes me wonder what they have posted on their profiles.  Personally, I am friends with my dad so I always think about whether or not it is something I would want him to see.  If the answer is no then chances are it isn't suitable for the internet.  Plus, I am partial to posting things like good recipes and prompts to encourage people to read this blog.  And every once in a while I do what I refer to as a "friend cleanse" where I go through and delete people that I don't actually consider a friend.  I have one criterion and that is if I would look the other way if I saw you in public, then we are not friends and I do not think you need to be updated on the happenings of my life.  Or the delicious things I made for supper.

Alec also talked about some of the positive things that have come from the accessibility of the web and one was a website called the It Gets Better Project, which is a site dedicated to giving hope to youth from the LGBT community who face a great deal of harassment.  It all started with one video by Dan Savage and is now something much larger with inspirational videos from US President Barack Obama, Anne Hathaway, and Lady Gaga. Here is a short video that Google Chrome put together about the initiative:
I had never seen this video before Alec asked us to watch it tonight, and it almost moved me to tears.  Then he mentioned the video that a young man by the name of Jamey Rodermeyer contributed about his experience. Unfortunately, Jamey ended up committing suicide a few months later due to the bullying he was experiencing because of his sexual orientation.  I watched his video and you could tell that he was trying to stay positive but that the hurt he was feeling was cutting quite deep.  It made me sad to think that his life had come to be so unbearable that it had become not worth living. But when I scrolled down to the comments on YouTube, it all seemed so blatantly obvious.

I have never read such hateful and ignorant comments about something so serious.  Some had been written hours ago, some days ago, but they all had the same message of intolerance and were all being posted by the same user. I was astonished that no one was doing anything more then engaging this person in banter, so I took matters into my own hands and reported him/her to YouTube.  However, this was not as easy as it should have been.  It took me nearly 10 minutes to figure out how to report the inappropriate comments. I had to search in a number of places before I found the form here.  I am trying to stay positive about the situation by thinking that maybe other people had as much trouble trying to report the comments but weren't as persistent as me.

This whole situation reminded me about how easy technology has made it for people to spew hateful words at or about another human being.  It is much easier to say those things when you aren't confronted with the pain and emotion on the face of the other person.  Would that person have said those things to Jamey's face?  Or to the face of his grieving parents?  I doubt it.  I think I did the right thing tonight.  What would you have done?

“Always stand up for what you believe in…even if it means standing alone.” ~ Kim Hanks
 
 
After an informative presentation from Google Certified Teacher, Michael Wacker, I realized how little I know about the company and all it has to offer.  I have occasionally used Google Scholar to find articles for papers and Google Traduction was my lifeline when I was in Québec participating in the Explore program.  I also used Google Docs one time two years ago to create a group presentation.  But on the regular, other than using google as a verb and religiously googling everything under the sun (both pages and images), I consider myself fairly green to the world of Google.

At the start of this semester, Dean introduced us to the wondrous Google Reader.  I now use it to check my blog subscriptions two to three times per day.  And to think I almost missed out on that gem too. Close call!  A week after that I received some advice from my younger sister and signed up for Google Analytics to check the stats of my blog.  I am proud to report that my fan base is growing and that my visitors span across Canada from Victoria, BC to Charlottetown, PE and even into the United States.  Then came the presentation from Mr Wacker and now I can officially consider my mind blown.  So many things you can do in Google, you literally don't need much else.

I had created a quiz a few days ago in Google Docs using Forms and have now tallied my results.  I used Docs again to create pie charts representing the percentage of folks that selected each option, so read on to find out how you stacked up against everyone else who participated as well as some fun facts about the correct answers.
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Over half of participants guessed that 1985 was the year that the first cell phone was released to the public.  Motorola manufactured the first cell phone called the DynaTAC 8000x.  It became available for purchase on March 6, 1983, offered 30 minutes of talk time and was priced at $3,995. Children of the 80s and 90s may remember this model best as the phone that Zach Morris used on Saved By The Bell.  

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Again about half the respondents guessed that Myspace was the first social network site.  On the other end of the spectrum, no one was reeled into selecting Facebook.  You were all too smart to fall for that one! SixDegrees.com was the correct answer, coming onto the scene in 1997.  It was named after the six degrees of separation concept and allowed users to list friends, family members and acquaintances both on the site and externally.  Users could send messages and post bulletin board items to people in their first, second, and third degrees, and see their connection to any other user on the site. It was one of the first manifestations of social networking websites in the format now seen today.  It is still up and running, but only to people who were previously members of the site.  

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Another section of the pie devoted to half, but this time it was the right answer, short message service.  And again I didn't stump anyone with one option, smart management system.  SMS is the service component of text messaging that allows short messages to be transmitted between cell phones.

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I stumped you good on this last one.  Over 75% of you guessed the NOMAD Jukebox.  I couldn't fool anyone with the iPod, but only one person got the correct answer.  Audio Highway released its Listen Up player on September 23, 1996.  They began shipping the player to the United States a year later. The device was never mass-produced with only about 25 units ever made.

*All of my information and facts came from Wikipedia

Interesting results!  Of all the responses I received, only one person got all four questions correct.  Hopefully you all learned something you can share with your friends, "Did you know...?"  Now, back to my Google investigation. When you are on Google's homepage, you can access a "More" drop down list at the top which reveals an option "Even more".  Here is where the lesser knowns of Google exist.  One really cool product is Blog Search, which is another search engine, devoted solely to blogs.  Where was this feature two weeks ago?  I should have googled it. You can type in any subject that might be of interest to you and get millions of blogs in seconds. This would be a really great resource for teachers to connect with other teachers.

Google Translate, or Traduction en français, is one I mentioned earlier.  I found this program critical when I was immersed in an unfamiliar language.  With Canada's growing immigrant population, this would be an excellent tool for teachers to use to help bridge the home and school for families and students who are still learning English.  If you have ever wondered how Google does it, check out this little video here: 
I am finding more and more that I need to either update the OS for my Mac or buy a new one, because most new programs require at least OS X 10.5 and I'm still rocking 10.4.11.  I am going to get left in the proverbial dust if I don't upgrade soon.  And I have already found so many neat things I want to try, but am unable to access them because my system is no longer compatible.  Geez, Miss W.  Get with the times!
 
 
Today I decided to add a Facebook like button to the about page on my site.  I searched in Weebly for the directions and followed the link provided to Facebook's easy instructions.  Once I had filled out my info and got my codes pasted into Weebly's HTML editor, I noticed that it was showing up on both my blog and my about page. I didn't want this because the blog already has a like button after each post.  So I went back into the HTML editor, created a new page type, copied the codes directly from the default page so my blog would look the same, deleted the Facebook codes I had added, and then went to the "Pages" tab in the editor bar and changed the page type of my blog from the default layout to this new page I had created.  So simple now that I have spent some time playing around with the codes.  Maybe I have a future in computer programming.  Either way, visit my about tab and "like" my page!
 
 
You might remember reading the above comment a couple of weeks ago from the link in my post, Dear World, Read My Blog.  I'm not sure what made me think of it, but I decided to go back and see if any of the blogs had responded to my initial comments.  And low and behold, Jordan had.  I think it is really neat how people all over the world are able to connect through the internet.  Imagine how excited he must have been when he saw that someone from Canada had stopped by and commented on his book review.  Feedback is a very powerful thing. As a future teacher, I strive to focus on the positive feedback.  I hope that my comment stays with Jordan a little while and inspires him to write a little more.

I encourage all of you to go back and check on a blog you commented on, and see if the recipient provided you with some thanks.  Share those words of appreciation below!
 
 
I spent a half day with my coop and the kindergartens yesterday morning and it was such a delight.  She has over 20 students in her room, which seems like a lot for kindergarten, but the routines she has established make transitions seamless.  She also has an EA in the room to assist a student who uses an iPad to communicate.  She was able to tell us what she did the night before by selecting the word/symbols she needed to create a sentence that the iPad spoke out-loud for her.  We are going to have another student next year in the Discovery Pre-School who will be getting his own iPad to use for the same thing.  I think it will be really neat to be a part of his learning experience as he figures out how to communicate with his new "voice".


Another exciting opportunity I will be participating in next semester, is the chance to help pilot a new web-based tool that is being developed to capture play based learning in the classroom.  I think five teachers in Canada are testing the program, and my coop and I will be one.  I had a quick look around at the site yesterday and some of the features it has are the ability to upload photos, videos and audio clips to the "learning story", include the names of the students involved in the observation, send the story to the involved children's parents, link the story to learning outcomes, and much, much more.  I am so excited to be a part of such an innovative program!

I am really looking forward to the upcoming semester.  Being in the classroom yesterday made me miss teaching.  I also recalled that a person cannot visit a room of kids and not come away with at least one funny story.  So, here goes.  Yesterday morning the kinders were lined up quietly in the boot room, waiting for the bell to ring for recess.  When it did, everyone went rushing outside.  A, who took off running with extra vigour, fell on the gravel just outside the door.  When I looked through the window, I saw him standing there pointing to his knee, with only one shoe on.  Immediately his friend T came running over to report.

T: "Miss S!  Miss S!  A fell and hurt himself!  He was running so fast that he fell and he blew a shoe!"

My coop and I looked at each other and laughed.  "He blew a shoe!"  Too cute!