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I find it interesting that many well know magicians are renown skeptics, Penn and Teller perhaps the most famous.  I think that once you know how the trick is done, you can see it when it happens in other forms.  Siegfried and Roy really don’t make the tigers disappear, it just looks like it.  Since they are on stage, we really don’t concern ourselves with whether it’s real or not.  unfortunately, there are a host of things that are passed off as real that are easily faked. 

I find it fascinating when a TV show uses a game or three card monty or find the Queen.  The hero can always find the Queen while others can’t.  Yet it’s a simple card trick.  There are about a dozen moves or passes that allow the dealer to control where the Queen is or whether it’s there or not.  Yet people stand around and bet on a magic trick. 

When things are done for entertainment, all well and good.  However, it can be harmful and even deadly when done to deceive for other purposes.  It’s easy to fake a medical cure because a placebo will work in 30 to 50% of cases.  (Basically, a lot of things get better on their own.)  So if you create a device and claim it cures something, at least 30% of the time it will.  That’s a lot of positive testimonials for that product.  Think of a claim that a natural herb promotes weight loss.  Well it will in 30 to 50% of cases.  Equally as well as a sugar pill.  So people waste their money on basically a magic trick. 

I found this interesting quick clip about Astrology.  For entertainment purposes only.

In a corporate setting, it’s rare to find someone who is good at curriculum design, writing training and presenting training in a classroom.  They are very different skill sets that take a long time to get really good at.  As a result, most organizations hire different individuals to fill these roles.  Traditionally teachers have done all these roles and I would suspect, some are better and some of these than others.  It also leads to making every classroom different.  And based on normal statistical distribution, some are excellent, some are mediocre and some are really bad.  Therefore, I think it only makes sense to reexamine what teachers do to see if the quality can be more consistent and that teachers focus their time on what they do best or that we find teachers to fill much more defined roles.

Since my degree was in teaching history, I’ll use it as an example.  However, what I purpose should work for anything.  First, there is a lot of history that is simply about telling the story.  While there is a lot of disagreement about interpreting the story, that basics of what happened are fairly standard.  So what’s the best way to tell the story about the War of 1812.  I think the worst way would be a lecture.  For one reason, once you’ve heard it, it’s gone.  And second, half the class is already nodding off.  While there may be great lectureres, the vast majority of history teachers probably don’t hit that standard. 

Last week I saw a history channel special on the War of 1812.  Because of the reenactments and the high production values, I really learned a lot that I had never heard before.  While these are expensive to produce, if the cost is divided among 150,000 classrooms each year, year after year, it’s probably not.  The idea of giving the same content in a high quality is attractive to me.  Maybe if you identified the best lecturer or the top 10 and they gave all the lectures via web conference that might work as well.

No the teachers role is to discuss how to intepret are to apply the lessons of the events.   However, every teacher doesn’t need to figure out how to do this.  This can be standardized using the best practices and creative input of the best of the best.  A teacher can focus on practicing and getting really good at being a discussion leader and coordinating the learning activities recommended.  If this is structured well, class should seem more similar than different.  I shouldn’t make that much difference which school you were in.

I know your saying, but what about the differences in students.  While some students do need more help that others, they all need to learn the same things.  I think it’s important to not affect those who are doing just fine by those who aren’t.  Other teachers could specialize in helping those who need more.  Some may simply need to repeat things two or three times.  Trying to do everything for everyone in each classroom is a losing proposition. 

Finally, let’s talk testing.  For history at least, I’m in favor of eliminating all multiple choice, fill in the blanks, matching and true/false tests.  While  they are easy to score and compare, they really don’t test deep understanding and the ability to apply what’s learned.  Tests should all be writing and speaking on a topic.  In fact, I don’t like to do these as a surprise.  I think students can be told on day one what they will need to write and speak about so they can prepare along the way.

If these same type of testing is done year after year, students ability to write and speak about history will greatly improve and that’s really the point of teaching history.  This does put the pressure on other classwork to teach writing and speaking but I’d say that was a good thing.  Learning how to write well takes a lot of practice and it’s not just English classes.  Think about how many pages a student should write in K-12 to become a good writer.  If everyone wrote a page a day, that would be about 2,400 pages.  Maybe about 500 presentations.  I think that might do it.

Bottom line until we challenge the idea of teachers doing traditional things in traditional classrooms we will always have the good, the bad and the ugly of education.

Have you ever heard of a Mondegreen?  No, it has nothing to do with the environment.  It’s usually relates to music where you hear something different than the actual lyrics.  Sometimes happens with a bad recording or poor enunciation by the singer.   For the etimology go to Mondegreen.  It comes from an old ballad where a young girld thought the last line was and Lady Mondogreen.  The real line was And Laid Him on the Green.

So here are some famous Mondegreens you may know:

Jimi Hendrix (Purple Haze)    —   Actual — ‘scuse my while I kiss this sky  — Heard — ‘sxcuse me while I kiss this guy.

Neil Diamond — Actual — Forever in bluejeans — Heard –  Reverend bluejeans

Better yet, here’s a video with a nice string of mondogreens.

The model of a teacher in a classroom repeated 150,000 times is so highly variable that it’s virtually impossible to deliver consistent, high level education.  Imagine going to 150,000 factories that make something like beer.  You’d get some great beer, some mediocre beer and some terrible beer.  Sit in 10,000 1oth grade history classes.  Some would be great, some would be mediocre and some would be terrible.  With the current model of education, this will happen no matter what you do. 

Often teaching is geared toward teaching one student or one class.  That’s fine in a small world.  But the task is to educate millions at a time.  Ironically the strength of education in the past, buildings, teachers, school boards, etc. have become the immovable object to change.  So my prediction is that real change will come from outside the system.  It will come from the world of better, faster, cheaper where the innovators and entrepreners live.  Things like IPODS, Google, Facebook, etc. didn’t result from gradual improvement, they came about from completely changing the game.

When the model of teacher and classroom ends, real innovation will happen.

Music Fest Monday

Sometimes you just need to have a little music on Monday.  Here are a few to wake everyone up.

I’ve uncovered some of my research for a book that I want to write, book #6. I’d like the book to be short statements by highly successful people, hopefully tops in their fields. The statement is an answer to 2 questions:

1. How did you really learn to do what you do?
2. Would you have done anything different?

The underlying question is how close is the way these people learn to how we teach people to do things. And if so why?

Doing any technology training.  You might find this helpful.