Education Evolutions #72

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Alright, two weeks in a row is a good way to restart this little pet project. I must admit I am trying to streamline things a bit more and I may have to use a new method of distribution in the near future. More on that later, perhaps.

Last week I did not include the “If you read only one article…” bit, but this week would have to be the last two pieces. We all need reminders from time to time about the young people we work with every day. Plus, many of us are parents and have a bit more instruction and care to give. Those articles are good medicine, I think.

As we close out September, have a great week.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Misreading the Reading Wars Again (and Again) – Radical Eyes for Equity –  PL Thomas (6-minute read)

I love a good takedown as much as anyone and this is a good one. There is a lot of pretty terrible education journalism out there. And here, Thomas exposes a National Public Radio story about lagging reading levels in children and why educators are failing, highlighting the flawed premise, poor sources, and biggest factor that is routinely taken as a given.

Like a lot of false claims about education, some lies never really go away. To suggest that schools do not teach reading well is comical if one takes a minute to consider that we are at a point where more students graduate from high school and attend college in this country than at any point in human history. As Thomas explains, beating the drum of poor reading instruction always opens the commercial door for a solution.

I deeply appreciate how Thomas unmasks the sources used to support this story. While journalists cannot know everything, they ought to at least know something about the veracity of their sources. What’s worse is that it would seem that neither the reporter for the original article nor anyone in an editorial capacity is capable of understanding some of the fundamental theoretical tensions in the field.

My favorite part is the section about the accountability era’s corruptive and corrosive impact. As tests have become more important than ever, they have reduced reading to a mechanistic operation, as well as the reductive issues that Thomas raises. Additionally, I would argue that his final section defending teacher preparation is actually connected to the accountability regime. The teaching profession has been under attack for decades as a result, which is one of many factors that drive top-down, purchase-a-program mentalities that compounds the problems rather than offering solutions.

What teens wish their parents knew about social media – The Washington Post –  Ana Homayoun (5-minute read)

I am not sure that this article raises any earth-shattering information but it serves as a good reminder of just how different things are for today’s teens. The proliferation of always-connected devices and permissive parenting practices has created some pretty challenging circumstances. Yet, what never changes is the tension teens feel between wanting to become independent and autonomous and occasionally recognizing that maybe they might need some help from adults.

While the secrets should not be terribly surprising to anyone paying close attention, the real value is the suggestions. The idea of not engaging a teenager about their social media habits and preferences as a parent seems to me to verge on neglect. Conversation over attempts to control seem like the only meaningful way to provide support without being completely ignorant – for both parents and their kids. Any parent that is willing to hand their kid a mobile phone with the ability to access nearly any kind of content in the world and not have some hard conversations is probably headed for some real trouble.

What Teens Think of the Kavanaugh Accusations – The Atlantic –  Joe Pinsker (6-minute read)

I don’t know about anyone else but the unfolding drama around the current Supreme Court nominee confirmation has been engrossing. Aside from the sheer melodrama of the political theater in Washington, it seems like we are in the midst of a profoundly historical moment as if a number of cultural tectonic plates are colliding simultaneously.

In the world of American politics, there seems to be no end of examples where we let down our young people. Ploys purely played for power that set dubious precedents in our national politics are not lost on the young people that are paying attention. Plus, is there a teen alive that does not have a heightened hypocrite sensor?

This article actually gives me some hope. The thoughtfulness and understanding displayed by young people is a powerful reminder that kids today have something going on. Working in education it is easier to see that on a daily basis but it is also easier to grow a bit jaded too. Adults in the wider world would do well to have a look at this article and the one above to get a clearer picture of where the next generation struggles and what they have to offer.

Science & Engineering Fair Participation Surges

Note: This post originally appeared on HPS Digital.

This week, the library hosted the annual high school science and engineering fair. This year’s fair grew markedly in both size and scope from the previous year.

The total number of projects rose to 28 this year with 13 from freshmen, one of the highest totals of recent memory. Even more exciting for the participants, 12 projects will continue on to the regional science fair March 10. Of that total, half of the projects advancing are the products of underclassmen.

Photo: Participants in 2017 Regional Science & Engineering Fair

Students advancing to
the regional science & engineering fair.

Principal Evan Bishop noted the level of achievement on display, “The quality and amount of the projects is impressive considering the students do this work outside of class. We have double the amount of projects this year.”

The growth and success of the program continued to include some of the high school’s best and brightest students. It even brings back a number of past students.

“I am just so impressed and proud of these projects and the communication skills of these students, solving real world problems. It’s exciting. It’s also exciting to see the number of former graduates come back and participate as judges. I think it really speaks to the kind of community we have here,” said Principal Bishop.

Included in the group advancing will be this year’s top finishers which look similar to last year. First through third place proved a shuffled version of last year’s places with an added team.

Photo: Top Three Places for 2017 HHS Science & Engineering Fair

Top three placed project winners
(From left to right)  Kate Woelflein,
Emma Beale, Himanshu Minocha,
Freya Proudman, and Brian Best.


In first place, Himanshu Minocha developed a software application as part of his project Campus Safety Warning and Notification System Using 3D Geofencing.

In second place, Brian Best built upon his project from last year with Music Math: Does Music Follow a Zipfan Distribution?

In third place, the spoils were split. Tied were Freya Proudman continuing her work in the behavioral sciences with her project Young Women’s Optimism for Their Futures and the team of Kate Woelflein and Emma Beale who investigated The Effect of Global Warming in Spider Silk Proteins.

After finishing second as a sophomore, Minocha continued his evolution as a software developer, “I have been building applications since seventh grade. This year I wanted to build a heavier application that would do more complex computations and build upon the computer science knowledge I have gained,” Minocha said.

Last year’s winner and this year’s third-place finisher, Proudman captured the spirit of all the participants, “I think science fair is so special. It’s such a joy to share your research with others. It allows you to explore what you’re passionate about in science. It’s a really wonderful opportunity.”

Photo: 2017 HHS Science & Engineering Fair Mentors

Some of this year’s mentors
(From right to left) Tricia Noblett,
Kristen Baldiga, and Val Lechtanski.

High school chemistry teacher and mentor, Kristen Baldiga celebrated both the students and those involved in making the fair reality. “People have been able to dedicate their time and really step up. It really makes me proud to be in this department,” said Baldiga. “This is really a testament to the work Devon Grilly has done the last few years.”

The science and engineering fair would not be possible without contributions from the science department, the generous support from the Hopkinton Parent Teacher Association, Bose Corporation, Perkins Elmer, as well as the many individuals willing to donate their time and energy to helping the students explore science regardless of economic status.

Innovative Smartphone Photography Course Grows

Reflecting on her experience taking Smartphone Photography at the high school, senior Sadie Morgan explained, “If you commit to the class and really do the projects, you can end up with really cool stuff from it. You learn so much that you can use in the future. It is cool. I now use one of the editing apps whenever I do smartphone photography and certain tips on composition.”
Photo: Sterling Worrell

Photography teacher Sterling Worrell.

Last year, Sterling Worrell created and began teaching Smartphone Photography, a hybrid course, in the high school art department. The course focuses on the fundamentals of photography, specifically creating with the tools and technology available using mobile devices. It is one of the school’s more innovative efforts that integrates technology and teaching in new ways that capitalize on changes forge new possibilities. Since the beginning, the course and students have featured at major educational technology events in the commonwealth, including Learn Launch’s 2016 Across Boundaries Classroom of the Future and Massachusetts Computer Users in Education (MassCUE) fall Global Connections, Digital Learning conference. Looking back on the inspiration for the course, Worrell said, “Two things: I was looking forward to the challenge of utilizing mobile devices in the classroom, instead of banning them like so many teachers do. Also, there are just a lot of bad pictures taken with phones. So I wanted to teach students how to treat their phone like a camera.” Worrell has been teaching film and digital photography for years, making this course a natural progression. “This is taught like a photo course. It is almost all about how to take good images. The focus is on the type of technology and learning how to use the tool to create the images. Each kind of camera has different pros and cons.”
Photo: Paige O'Connor editing photographs

Paige O’Connor reviewing photographs with fellow students.

Freshman Paige O’Connor underlined the importance of capturing and making high-quality images. “The angles and composition of you place your subject is so important,” O’Connor said. “I enjoyed just learning how to compose, how to compose, and bring the audience’s eye to the actual subject of the image, as opposed to all of the other things that might be in the picture.” Course alumnus Morgan had previously taken film photography and explained some distinctions, “This was different in that you can see right on the screen and take as many pictures as you want. It was a cool course to take because I got to learn different functions that were on my phone that I didn’t know that were there and basically how to take good photos.” With such a sharp technical focus on how to take a good photograph with a phone, Worrell can be more flexible in the course. While there are tasks to develop keener vision, like lessons in composition or light and shadow, students drive the goals and inquiry of the course. One significant and consistent development is student interest in how to skillfully edit their images. This has become a theme in every iteration of the course so far.
Photo: Sadie Morgan in art class

Sadie Morgan inking a drawing for art class.

“It is a different kind of platform that you are working with. Everything can be so easily edited on a smartphone. There is such instant gratification with smartphone photography,” Morgan said. “We learned the best apps to use for editing, the best ways to edit without overdoing, so you can make a nice photograph. You learn to edit yourself, instead of just using Instagram filters.” The hybrid nature of the course means that class meets three times face-to-face in traditional classroom sessions and two sessions are conducted completely online. It is a format that the high school has employed for several years now, a blended learning experience that also includes flexibility in scheduling. Worrell helped pioneer the approach in Hopkinton beginning over six years ago. Worrell has been an avid advocate for hybrid courses and sees multiple benefits. “It gives students the chance to be more efficient. They have more freedom to do what they need to get done during a day. Another thing is if I present something online, the student that already knows it can move on and the student who might need more time can review it as much as they need. No one has to be limited to the speed of my presentation.” Online sessions provide lesson content delivery based on course themes and broader opportunities for student-to-student interaction. Using the learning management system (LMS) Canvas, students access project tasks, review photographic works from professionals and fellow students, as well as engage in virtual critiques which compliment the face-to-face ones that are at the heart of any art course.
Photo: John Thornton edits photographs

John Thornton editing photographs for class.

Current student and senior John Thornton has found the hybrid schedule to be truly beneficial. “It’s given me the first and last periods free which has given me a lot more flexibility with my schedule, especially with applying to colleges and managing my other classes. I can actually do more,” Thornton said. O’Connor added to the benefits of the hybrid aspect, “It’s good because you can do a lot on your own with more independence.” The course also attempts to develop responsible and effective use of social media to find and reach audiences for student work, although negotiating the division between personal and school presences online poses a challenge. The pros and cons of personal versus professional accounts on social media channels remains a theme that is discussed in the course. “We use VSCO as our portfolio but we don’t spend as much time on the sharing of work on social media,” Worrell said. Still, considerable amounts of student work are made public with the possibility of reaching broader audiences. In fact, the culminating project for the class is ambitious with Worrell challenging students. “They have to use photography to make the world a better place, to bring awareness, and try to provoke change around their topic of choice. Then get it to their target audience,” Worrell said.
Photo: Student editing photographs on smartphone

Student reviewing photographs from a recent shoot.

The project requires students to research and speak through photographs about a concern of interest. It can be personal, local, regional, or even global. Students are asked to bring attention to the topic and use photographs to provoke others to act. It is driven by the challenge of empowering young artists to institute change through their work. The project yields thoughtful results. Morgan’s final project examined human obsession with media and digital devices. “It is a common theme in pretty much all the work I do,” Morgan said. “It is so prominent in people today. It is a problem that I have too. So I wanted to get that across, that it is important to disconnect, and see the world a little bit.” O’Connor’s “The Bystander Effect” project responds to the stormy topic of bullying. “I wanted to show the effects of bullying and its bystanders. So I have someone covering their eyes, ears, and mouths,” O’Connor said. “If they didn’t see anything, they pretend nothing happens. If they didn’t hear anything, they can pretend nothing happens. If they didn’t say anything, they can pretend nothing happens.” Thornton’s The Faces project takes on an even more politically charged topic. “It’s a collection of portraits of queer students at our school. Because of a lot of contemporary media, we can’t have “coming out” stories anymore. So, I wanted to show more than that narrative about this community.” Photo: From "Overconnected" photography project by Sadie Morgan Photo: From "The Faces" photography project by John Thornton The course serves as a gateway to a more formal study of visual imagery, its ability to communicate power and provoke. Worrell sees additional benefits as well. “It definitely is attracting kids that are not usually taking art classes.”
Photo: Group of students reviewing photographs

A group of students reviewing photographs after a class shoot.