Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Push for Technology

The video posted above proves that the world is expanding at an astonishing rate. In fact, this video was created in 2009 and most of those statistics are probably more astonishing now. The statistics stir up some important questions, especially in the field of educating future generations of students.

One of the most important questions the video asks is if schools are preparing their students for the dynamic world we live in today. Teaching students information is useless these days. Schools need to put more and more emphasis on teaching skills. These skills include everything from using computers and publishing information to evaluating and analyzing data. The estimate made by the U.S. Department of Labor states that today’s students will have had 10 to 14 jobs by the time they reach 38 years old. This means that tomorrow’s workers need to be able to switch jobs easily. Teaching students raw information simply won’t cut it for future generations. Skillful individuals will have the most success because they will be able to change with the ever changing world.

This clip also highlights the rapid expansion of technology in the world. It really proves that schools in the United States need to incorporate technology into classrooms today, in order to stay competitive with emerging countries such as China and India. Todays students will be dealing with computers for the rest of their lives and it only makes sense to raise them and educate them amid all of this technology. The computers that will be used five years from now will make today’s computer obsolete; therefore, it only makes sense to get students utilizing computers today, because they will be exceedingly more powerful tomorrow.

It is apparent that today’s classrooms are just too slow at incorporating technology. Today, cars look like the ones artists in the past would predict they would in the future. They are sleek, powerful, and safe. However, classrooms were also imagined to be flooded with technology with infinite amounts of information. These days they just aren’t. There isn’t a futuristic robot voice that greets you when you walk in and there isn’t the kind of unimaginable types of interactive computers that help students learn. There really are only a few smart boards and Power Points used in classrooms. Both of these kinds of technology are nothing more than glorified blackboards. Where are the interactive computers that allow students to walk into a virtual reality world and learn about the Ancient Egyptians by talking to them? If there was a greater push for technology in schools we could probably have mind blowing technologies being used to educate students that will be dumped into a dynamic world of technology.

Monday, December 20, 2010

IPad: Hot or Not?

By Sean Scarpiello

Schools across the country are now investing in IPads for instructional use in classrooms. The IPad is an amazing device and to be able to implement these on a large scale for education purposes is quite a concept. But will these cool gadgets work out in the classroom?

Initially, IPads could be an ideal item to use in education because they can completely replace the use of textbooks. Textbooks are expensive and heavy and needed for each subject. With an IPad, teachers can download the eBooks onto their Ipad and then download the same book onto each of the students’ IPads. A student could have one IPad with all the textbooks for each of his/her subjects. So schools can really only pay for a textbook once and use it for the entire class. The IPad also has interactive games and applications that can be efficiently used to teach students. Keeping students interacting with the information is also advantageous to learning as opposed to the typical textbook, notebook and blackboard lecture style of learning. Students also think it is neat to be using a computer that fits in their hands during class which can hold everything from homework assignments and lesson plans to a syllabus and text books. They could even take notes on the IPad. There are likely even future technological advances with IPads that may further improve education.

There are some setbacks that come along with the IPad. The price is a bit ridiculous and Apple typically does not budge pricewise when purchasing their products, even when buying in bulk. Considering they can replace multiple numbers of expensive textbooks, the price may be reasonable depending on what the charge is for each electronic textbook copy.

Another flaw that can be said about any piece of technology in the market today is its terrible quality. Whether it is an IPad or a dishwasher, products have constantly been decreasing in quality. This brings to question the IPad, which may be dropped by a 2nd grader multiple times a week. Would an IPad stand up to the potential damage that it could be exposed to in a lower grade classroom setting? Replacing IPads often would likely be a drain on a school district's bank account. Stealing of IPads could also become a problem. It is unlikely that a school, except for a college or university, could require that a student be required to purchase an IPad.

I have heard that Apple, the manufacturer of the IPad, is extremely unreliable when it comes to replacing their products, when found to be faulty. The internal battery is a flaw because the entire system must be replaced when it no longer holds a charge. Also, in general the screen and structure of an IPad will usually not survive a drop from the hands of a 3rd grader onto a tile floor. Even with a warranty, it is likely that when you call up Apple for a replacement, they will just explain that it was user error and tell you to buy a new one. If they were cheaper and could more easly be fixed by the schools IT guy, it might be a different story. If the IPads were built to a high military spec, like a military grade cell phone, that can practically be dropped from 3 stories and be fine, the IPad would be great for educational purposes in schools.

In all, the IPad may prove to be to a milestone in bringing cheap and efficient technology into the education field. If we could only figure out a way to make the IPad strong enough to handle grade school students across the country, then it would be a valuable option for educating more people at lower prices.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Priceless Education at No Cost

By Sean Scarpiello

What if there was a form of education that accepted practically everyone, was free, and you were guaranteed a stable job for a few years upon graduation? In the US, especially with today’s economy, it sounds impossible. In fact, it is very possible and it is one of the most overlooked benefits of being an American. It is called the military.

At first, most people cringe at the idea of storming to a beach in amphibian assault vehicles while being under fire. As much as the media dramatize the military, 99.9% of the time it is completely skewed. Today, the military is rather safe, even though the US is at war. I’m not saying that there is no danger at all, but it is better than most imagine. Plus, if you definitely don’t want to see action, there are ways of getting around it. For example, join the Air Force where no more than 2% soldiers actually fly planes. There is still the other 98% of this branch of the Department of Defense that are responsible for the support for the pilots and the airplanes.

Also, just try to avoid the most dangerous branches of the military like the Army’s infantry, the Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and the Marines. The only reason people are scared of the military are because it is these, most dangerous yet heroic, branches that get the most media coverage.

There is nothing wrong with being the guy behind the scenes that loads ammunition on jets and fixes the engines on tanks. These are relatively safe jobs that the military needs in order to operate. While doing these sorts of jobs, you gain skills useful to life as a civilian. If you can repair the engine on a tank or aircraft carrier, small cars and boats will be a breeze when you retire from the military. Some people find that the military is for them and stick around many years longer than anticipated and they can rank up and retire with a pretty good pension plan and medical benefits.

One of the other perks of being in the military is when you do retire, companies are quick to hire veterans because they have a distinct character and integrity that sets them apart from the rest. Veterans are highly respected because they have made the commitment to potentially risk their lives so that friends and family in the US can keep the freedoms we have today. The military gives Americans a priceless education, rich in both knowledge and experience, at no cost for most, but at a high cost for the few that give up their life for our freedom.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is Bigger Really Better?

By Sean Scarpiello

Currently in New Jersey, there has been a huge cut in education funding. This has left school districts with the job of finding cheaper ways to educate students. One of the main ways districts have reduced costs is by laying off teachers. This then causes class sizes to increase. What effects does this have on the quality of education being given to students? Perhaps larger classes may benefit students, or maybe not.

In the field of education, experts are always arguing that smaller is better. Students get more individualized attention and can get the help they need. It also gives teachers the ability to focus on individuals in class and get them where they need to be. The idea of smaller classes being better holds true for only two groups, students in grades 1 to 8 and special education students. Younger students will definitely benefit from having more one on one contact with teachers, as well as students who can’t learn in a regular classroom and need extra help in learning the basics.

Other than that, there hits a point when you are around 15 years old and you have to become more independent. In actuality, a classroom with 30 to 35 students is not going to affect your learning. If anything, it will be a good transition for junior high and high school students as they prepare for college. Many will argue that teachers in English and Math will overlook struggling students because of this large number of students. That is not a valid argument. Starting in 6th grade, teachers have always made themselves available for extra help at lunch or after school. There is a point in high school where students need to sink or swim on their own. If students cannot be somewhat self-sufficient and independent by this time of their lives, then they aren’t ready to be accepted into colleges and universities. Each of these characteristics is vital as most college students are attending larger colleges and universities with even larger classes.

Within the past few years, parents have caused their children to become more dependent of teachers’ authority. There have even been cases where schools have banned playing tag at recess and avoided contact sports in gym class due to their argumentative nature. This sort of authoritative voice which accompanies smaller class sizes is ruining students’ independence in school. In the real world, everyone has to settle arguments and learn to deal with different sorts of people; it would make sense that children learn to compromise in school. Smaller classes in high schools are not helping students as much as experts tend to believe. This example is just the start of how smaller classes are turning teachers into replacement mommies and daddies, which only hinder independence and intelligence for students.

There is also the argument that teachers will assign fewer papers and make easier tests so they lessen their increased workload. It is pretty rare that this would be the case because most junior high and high schools have very rigorous curriculums which are highly monitored by the school’s administration. In schools where this is a problem, there is an easy fix. It’s called unemployment. If high school teachers were getting laid off because they needed less teachers to teach larger classes, teachers would be working harder than ever to avoid getting laid off or fired and placed into a sector of unemployment where there is a low demand for teachers and a large supply of them.

Although I preach the bigger is better theory, some students are more comfortable in a smaller setting for high school and college classes, and there is nothing wrong with that. The point is that to provide a cheaper, yet equal quality education, an increase in high school class sizes will not hurt the students in the long run.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

The National Center for Academic Transformation

By Sean Scarpiello

The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) is one of today’s leaders in reducing costs in education. NCAT is a nonprofit organization that works with colleges to redesign course structures and learning environments in the most efficient manner. Therefore, students excel in learning while the college saves masses of money.

With programs for both 2 year colleges and 4 year colleges, NCAT, led by Dr. Carol A. Twigg, uses its experience and information technology to create the Program in Course Design (PCD). To date, there has been over 150 course redesign projects which have been a huge success. Here are some of the staggering statistics as described by Dr. Carol A. Twigg:

"The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) has worked with more than 150 institutions to redesign a set of core courses since 1999. NCAT works with institutions to break down their instructional model­-mapping who is involved in doing which activities­-to identify how to most efficiently leverage technology, faculty, graduate students, peer interactions and other learning resources, to improve quality and efficiency. NCAT has found that on average, costs were reduced by 37 percent in redesigned courses with a range of 9–77 percent. Meanwhile, learning outcomes improved in 72 percent of the redesigns with the remaining 28 percent producing learning equivalent to traditional formats. Based on a review of the participating institutions, NCAT has identified six redesign models that vary in format, student experience, and use of technology."

Currently, NCAT has proved to be a leader in the fight to reduce higher education costs, without reducing the quality of education and its enjoyment among colleges. There are workshops all across America run by NCAT in order to spread their knowledge about their ideas to reduce education costs.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Advertising in Schools for Lower Education Costs

By Sean Scarpiello

These days, schools are run like businesses and just as other businesses struggle in a poor economy, so do schools. Unlike other companies, public schools cannot file for bankruptcy and escape with the little money it still has. On the other hand, schools do have hundreds of customers that are required by law to show up every day. Administrators should take advantage of this by reaching out to large corporations for advertising. Advertising in schools should definitely be utilized in order to give your child a higher quality education at a lower price.

When the extremists hear about advertising in schools, they scare parents into believing their 2nd grader is going to be exposed to Guinness and Marlboro advertisements in their cafeteria. That will never happen because the target market for those companies are not people who still need to hold someone’s hand to cross the street. Other disparagers of the idea complain that schools will become the battlefield of Pepsi and Coca Cola. My question for them is….So? These same little kids are going to go home, turn on Sponge Bob and be bombarded with the same ads from Pepsi and Coca Cola. If your fear is that little Johnny will get fat because he drinks soda at school every day, just give him the 45 cents for milk or juice instead of the $1.50 for the Coke. Also, it is argued that parents will lose the ability to control their children’s lessons and values, because at school they will go out the door with ads everywhere. This goes back to the fear parents have that their children will develop poor eating habits because of school advertisements. How is this going to happen? Parents have 16 other meals per the week teach their children healthy eating habits. Also, the only way to hide advertisements from your child is to lock them in a closet. Everyone has been the target of advertising from every imaginable form of media. This includes everything from the State Farm Insurance billboards that line highways to James Bond’s Aston Martin.

The point of my argument is that not all school advertising is bad. For the most part, the same ads kids are seeing on their favorite TV shows will be the ones popping up in schools. Some are even being clever in their advertising. For example, companies like Disney are incorporating Mickey Mouse and company into word problems in math class (1). Everyone knows these characters already so what’s the big deal about reiterating these characters to students in order to decrease the price of education? Even if local businesses paid to put up posters on schools’ walls. Small businesses like play zones or birthday party entertainers can build reputations as schools use their money for new computers.

Companies will pay big bucks to have their advertisement posted below the school’s scoreboard. In fact, a good contract with a major soda company can get a school district $100,000 to $300,000 (1). At this point, the extremists need to back off so this country’s education system can benefit from large corporations. Then we will be able to bring higher quality education at lower prices.


Friday, October 29, 2010

The Point of Technology in Education

By Sean Scarpiello

A typical Monday morning in General Psychology class begins with each student dragging into the lecture hall and grabbing a small clicker the size of a playing card. Today’s topic is “Gender Differences.” The first slide on the power point asks the question, “Do women talk more than men? Using your clicker, answer A for true, B for false.” After about 30 seconds the class results are in. The professor goes on to the next slide and there is a pie chart showing the results of the answers, showing percentages of true verses false. Now the class can have a discussion on the results and their opinions.

This technology is called TurningPoint. It is software that is available for both PCs and Macs which works with power point to poll students on their opinions. This kind of technology makes learning more interactive and thus more interesting. Students are allowed to add their opinion on a subject without having to elaborate in front of a large class, unless they want to. Also, it helps teachers by opening debate that otherwise may be ignored. These debates allow for the spreading of ideas among peers, which allows students to get a better grasp on interesting and even boring topics.

The clickers work over a high tech radio frequency so answer choices are completely anonymous to other students in the classroom answering the questions. This technology allows teachers to play review games before tests with TurningPoint. It then gives instant feedback with the graphs to tell the students and the professor what items students know, and the things they have to study. This software is so versatile; some teachers will give tests through a power point presentation. Since each clicker is numbered, teachers can assign a clicker number to each particular student and then have them take the interactive test. Later, the teacher can pull up the answer choices of each clicker and match it with the students and their grades. Since each clicker is completely personal and silent, it is virtually impossible to cheat on tests. Plus, if students change their minds on answers, they simply have to push the letter of their new answer choice and it is automatically changed. There is also a count on the top of the screen to show how many people answered the question, so the teacher knows if someone hasn’t answered and when to move on or not.

The software works great in all types of classes, but the price can make or break the success of the technology. After searching for 5 minutes, I found websites that would let you download the software for free. However, the software is useless unless you buy the radio frequency sensor and clickers, which cost about $42 each, but the company that produces them has special deals if schools buy them in large quantities. So overall they are expensive, but they are very versatile tools which can be easily transferred between classrooms.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to Diagnose Inner City Schools’ Problems

By Sean Scarpiello

It is 2:30 on a Saturday morning when my roommate and I fall onto the couch in our dorm room after a night of how all pre-med and pre-law students spend their Friday nights...studying. My roommate clicks on the TV and after ten seconds of surfing the channels, finds a show called “Teach: Tony Danza.” We are both intrigued. The basic premise of the show has Tony Danza, the actor/boxer, teaching a 10th grade English Class at an inner city school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From my research for writing previous blog articles, I have discovered data that reflects that it is the inner city schools’ students who are pulling down the rest of the country’s test scores, which are ranked internationally. I figured that this was an opportunity to see just what was going wrong with the inner city schools system, and maybe see a TV actor/boxer flip out at some kids.

I was wrong. On Tony’s first week teaching the 10th grade English Class, he was brought to tears by the class. He had all different types of antagonists working against him the entire time. One student, who probably reads the Oxford English Dictionary for kicks, was constantly complaining how the class isn’t challenging enough. Another student who is considered gifted, behaves like others in the class; which either don’t do assignments or claim they have a learning disorder.

First off, I don’t want to criticize or come across as saying that students with learning disorders are lazy, but I feel as if students who don’t want to do the work use the excuse as a crutch. Overall, I was shocked to see how most of these students had a cavalier attitude towards schooling and would simply not do the work or the assigned reading. Half of the class failed Tony’s first test, which I later found posted online. The test didn’t seem too difficult as I went through answering questions from the book “Of Mice and Men” from my rusty memory of the piece.

Ultimately, I found myself thinking up ways to fix this problem. Students could be clinically tested for learning disorders every few years. That will help the teachers to be aware of the students who have a legitimate reason for not understanding the text, and to be wary of those who were just playing the new Halo videogame all night, instead of reading.

The school’s resource center was made specifically for the learning disabled students. The busy resource center was often full of lazy students, along with some students with learning disabilities. At one point in the show, Tony Danza was disciplined by the school’s principal because he denied students who requested access to the resource center. It seemed like the entire school’s administration was oblivious to the fact that some students will lie so they can get away with not doing homework. If schools could implement this idea of having recorded clinical diagnosis, then a lot more students would have to do the work until they’re able to drop out or worse…a call to mommy and daddy, as well as attend summer school.

This also brings up the question of allowing students to drop out of school. In South Korea, it is extremely rare for any students to drop out and they rank high in the international test scores. Perhaps it should be illegal to drop out of school. Or maybe we should raise the age of eligibility to drop out of high school. In my opinion, either method would work.

I feel that “Teach: Tony Danza” is a good representation of the typical inner city school and is raising the awareness of inner city school life. The show may help America diagnose the problems of its inner city students and help us see what needs to be improved. If America can fix their inner city schools, there will be a drastic improvement in this country’s test scores and ranking amongst the rest of the world. It would also keep the US among the world’s superpowers. At the moment, India has more honor roll students than America has students. This means that the US needs to maximize their human resources and make every student count in this ever-changing world. This especially includes inner city students, because according to US census, 80% of the US population lives in urban areas (cited below).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Spanish Class that Saves Money

By Sean Scarpiello

Lately in the state of New Jersey, there have been major budget cuts in the field of education. In order to continue instruction, New Jersey schools were forced to find ways to save money and be more efficient. In Randolph, New Jersey, the Ironia Elementary School has found a way to save a little under $100,000 each year. They have decided to replace language teachers with the software Rosetta Stone. Many students have found their new language classes more interesting, but will the program be successful in the long run?

Rosetta Stone is a great way to teach someone a new language quickly and efficiently. The software isn’t expensive for use on large amounts of students and it is formulated to work with the capabilities of the human brain so students can learn quickly and efficiently. When you ask an American person, who’s first language is English, to think of a dog, the first thing that pops into their head is an image of a dog. When you ask the same person who has a typical knowledge of Spanish as a second language to think of a “perro,” they think of the word “perro” and translate it quickly to “dog”, then the image of a dog pops up into their head. Rosetta stone is aiming to completely eliminate the behavior of quick translation that occurs in just about every person with a mediocre education of a second language. By associating new words with pictures, Rosetta Stone helps students learn faster with better understanding of the new language. The software also allows students to hear and speak the language into a microphone, allowing the software to cover a full understanding of the language through writing, listening, and speaking.

Ironia Elementary School made a good choice picking Rosetta Stone as a replacement for a teacher, but my question - why are they teaching elementary school students a second language? In reality, it is important to teach students new languages, especially in this constantly changing world, but elementary school is not the time to start. Physiologically, elementary school students have a high aptitude for learning languages, but it is tough to teach children a new language when they don’t yet completely understand the English language. Elementary school is teaching the elements of English, and it’s tough to teach a third grader the preterite or imperfect tense in Spanish when they don’t yet fully understand the past tense in English. It is similar to teaching a medical school student to take out a kidney, but without teaching him where to find it and what it does. When I was in elementary school, I had five years of instruction in Spanish and I escaped it with nothing more than a knowledge of colors, the ability to count to 30, and a perplexing attitude towards second languages.

The best idea would be to begin second language education in middle school, when students have a decent knowledge of their first language and use Rosetta Stone up until eighth grade. Upon entering high school, placement tests should be given to see how students progressed, and place them in high school language classes where it is easier and more efficient to teach large amounts of students languages efficiently and with the use of a teacher.

Regardless of the fact that teaching elementary school students languages is just plain inefficient, I think it is fantastic that the education field is finding new ways to stretch their dollars when the government funds them less money for instruction. Schools in New Jersey should be applauded for their resourcefulness in such a difficult time during the state’s transformation.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Promethean Board: Hot or Not?

By Sean Scarpiello

Recently, it has been tough to Google “education” and avoid getting some sort of link that raves on the achievements of the Promethean Board. But is this amazing tool so amazing? Or are the owners and CEOs of the Promethean Boards just well-connected and know how to market their product?

The idea of a Promethean Board sounds great on paper. An interactive computer screen projected onto a touch screen which allows students to edit, highlight and write on documents with the use of a magical little pen. As a recent high school graduate, I have had hours of experience with the “Chalk Board of the Future.” The first time I used the board, it was amazing; however, that may have been the only time it was amazing. It seemed to lose its sashay after the first ten minutes. One of the flaws I found right away was that the pen doesn’t have an erase function directly on it, causing you to reach across to the onscreen tool box to get the eraser style pen, then erase, the go back to the tool box, to get the pen tool you were using before so you can continue writing. The pen itself is also faulty. When writing, there is a stall before the computer recognizes something has been written. Therefore, writers will over compensate different shapes and sizes of their letters due to the lack of visual feedback. This results in the most legible kindergarten teacher to have the handwriting of a raging alcoholic.

Another flaw is that the image is projected onto the board from a ceiling mounted projector. This means every time the teacher turns on the screen it must be recalibrated because a stray paper airplane might have set the projector off by a centimeter, causing the entire smart board to be altered. This recalibration only takes a minute, but a minute at the beginning of each lesson gets old fast. Plus it is inefficient when you consider all the other forms of technology in the market that practically finish your sentences. Also, since the image is projected, if a writer steps in front of the board while writing, the image will be projected onto their back and the writer will continue to copy notes blindly onto their shadow. At first it doesn’t bother anyone, but when you get up to the board it feels like you are bending over backwards to copy your algebra homework onto the board. The projector also limits the surface area of the board to a specific size. This is problematic when you are taking a lot of notes and you have to wait for everybody in the class to finish the notes, then erase it all, then continue on the same small space. With a typical whiteboard, you can just walk down to the other wall of blank chalkboard and leave the old material up for the slower note takers to finish copying. The price of this smart board is about $1,200 each, which isn’t bad for what you get, yet four walls covered in whiteboards will sell for about half of that. With the white boards, you can increase the total writing area ten-fold and still have $600 in markers to use for the decade

A real smart board should be similar to a giant iPad on the wall. It would be completely touch screen so you can write with your finger, then brush away any mistake with the back of your hand. Plus, it wouldn’t project. This allows schools to fit each board to the dimensions in their rooms, whether it is 3 feet by 4 feet or 3 feet by 10 feet. This kind of board would be much more expensive than the Promethean Board, mostly because a few square inches of Apple’s touch screen goes for $200 and a whole board would cost a lot more. The best idea would be to wait until technology improves before putting down any large sum of money to improve your school’s blackboard or whiteboard.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Waiting for Superman

A new documentary about America's failing public school system, Waiting for Superman, has sparked controversy about its intentions. The film, by renowned director David Guggenheim of An Inconvenient Truth fame, is being distributed by Paramount Vantage and opens in select theaters Friday. It was a winner at Sundance and has already received accolades from, among others, TIME magazine, who called it "powerful" and "compelling," and Hollywood Reporter, who called it a "moving, effective film." The project also has backing from Bill Gates himself, who even appears in the documentary.
The film, from all accounts, is a well-made, high-budget work intended to open the nation's eyes, particularly those of people who do not have children in underperforming public schools, and serve as a rallying cry for the country's citizens to become their own super men and women and help in any way they can. But are its purported intentions carried out? Detractors say the film is an unfair critique of the public school system, and to make matters worse, a high profile one at that; a film with a high budget taking aim at an easy target facing insurmountable budget deficits and money shortages. The film might as well be shooting fish in a barrel for monetary gain.
Having not seen the film, like pretty much everyone who has voiced their opinion in the blogosphere, I can't tell you whether that's true or not. But I can say that I believe Waiting for Superman has the potential to be a very important film and that such a film about such a subject needs to be made. It is undeniable that something, or a lot of things, is/are not working in our public school system, particularly in large urban institutions. Our nation's youth are 25th out of 30 "first world" countries in math and rank 21st in science. High school drop outs rates are glaringly high, public schools have abysmally low resources to work with, and yet the general public's attention and dollars are focused on other affairs, ones that in all likelihood will have less impact on future generations and thus our nation's future. It is simply another inconvenient truth that is largely going ignored. If it takes a high-budget film to re-shift attention so be it, as long as people are in fact paying attention.
As to the criticism that it is essentially preying on a broke system, unfortunately, that's part of the game. To compel people to watch, the film has to tell a story, and so certain elements have to be milked for dramatic effect. In this case, that means harping on statistics and portraying a tough reality lived by the children waiting at the school placement lottery. As for making money off the film without compensating schools, the documentary's website ( claims that for each advance ticket bought online, the purchaser will receive a $15 gift code to give to a classroom of their choice via
It cannot be underestimated the power that film still has today, both in its effect on the viewer but also how many people it can potentially reach. Other forms of traditional media are dead or dying, forms that previously reached tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of listeners, viewers, and readers. Today, those forms have been replaced by many more sources but ones that reach exponentially fewer eyes and ears. Movies, however, have not suffered in this way. They still reach a large audience, ones that unfortunately most proponents of educational reform can only dream of reaching. Waiting for Superman should be viewed as an ally in spreading the word and calling attention to the drastic changes and help needed by the public school system, rather than an adversary or a vulture profiting off a struggling system.

Joseph Gustav is a guest blogger.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Educational Facebook

By Sean Scarpiello

In the past month, thousands of college students around the world have just opened a new collaborating internet account. No, it’s not Facebook, but rather an educational spinoff of Facebook. The program is called Blackboard and it seems to be making quite the buzz.

The Blackboard platform is essentially a modern blackboard posted up onto the internet. The program is for all classes, kindergarten through graduate school. Teachers can post whatever they woud like up onto their course’s blackboard. Three of my four current college professors utilize the technology and post everything from biology PowerPoints and syllabi, to YouTube videos about split brain syndrome in psychology. Even my calculus professor posted some helpful links and practice problems. Teachers can also post announcements and reminders when class is not in session, due dates on a personal calendar, and individual notifications or alerts. Although I was not fortunate enough to encounter this program in grade school or high school, I have found it extremely simple to use. Schools can even set it up to use the exact same username and password that you use on their computers.

More schools should use this program because it makes studying more interactive for students; thus they have a more enjoyable time exploring the information each class has to offer. In fact, with a few modifications, teachers could teach entire courses to vast amounts of people across the planet, without ever having to meet in a classroom. Students even have the ability to seek extra help through the site. Blackboard even simplifies classes for students by allowing teachers to post full PowerPoint presentations so students don’t have to quickly copy the entire presentation during class instead of listening to the teacher’s important ideas. Therefore, students can focus on the instructor’s lectures and can later pull up the PowerPoint from any location with an internet connection.

The one downside to the program is that it costs money. But why? Millions of websites let people access tons of information for free because of advertising. This site should be no different. If Facebook charged an annual fee, it wouldn’t have millions of daily users. I am all for allowing advertising on educational websites and even in or around schools in general. I would much rather have to put up with seeing targeted advertisements to my demographic as opposed to paying for an online service. In fact, I think all schools should use marketing to their advantage. If the owners of Lucky Charms or Coco Puffs want to put up posters in the local elementary school so the fourth and fifth grades can get all new textbooks, then go ahead. These same kids are going to run home and see these same advertisements amid their cartoons and it will not make a difference.

Ultimately, the Blackboard program is extremely useful for all levels of students. It proves to be an exceptional learning tool that should be used by more students and teachers worldwide. The website is already available in forty-nine different languages. The only downside it has is a quick and easy fix that could eventually change the entire world’s view on education.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Best Idea Ever - Critical Thinking

By Sean Scarpiello

As I browsed article after article on the internet, I discovered some statistics which I found to be extremely interesting.

- The International Data Corporation (IDC) reported that within the last year, “the amount of digital information created, captured and replicated was 161 exabytes or 161 billion gigabytes. This is about 3 million times the information in all the books ever written.”

- The IDC also discovered that between the years 2006 and 2010, the amount of data added to the Internet increased more than six fold.

- Every two years, the amount of procedural information will double in size. That means if you are a college student attending a four-year university, 50% of the information you learn in your freshman year will be obsolete by your junior year.

- Former Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, reported that the top ten in demand jobs in 2010 did not yet exist in the year 2006.

- This gives schools the nearly impossible job of teaching students to perform jobs that don’t exist yet, using technology that hasn’t yet been invented. (Source below)

So what can schools do to keep up with the quick pace of technology? Probably the most important aspect of education for the future which gets overlooked in the American education system is the concept of critical thinking.

I had recently taken a psychology course where the instructor gave the class an activity which would determine whether or not we possess the ability to think critically. Out of the twenty-four people in the course, only six college bound seniors had the ability, myself included, to think critically. The basis for thinking critically is being able to view every side of an argument and extrapolate data from each vantage point. For example, many students will think about how horrid World War II was, but critical thinkers go on and ponder, “What good came out of World War II?” The reason critical thinking is so beneficial to the workers of the future is that critical thinking allows one to apply themselves mentally. This application of knowledge allows people to do jobs they did not foresee themselves to be doing in the unpredictable future. In fact, it’s the successful people driving around Porsches and Ferraris that are able to manipulate the different faces of arguments and utilize that data in their daily jobs.

Such a simple concept can be very easily integrated into today’s middle and high schools. In every subject, whether it is social studies, science or math, teachers can simply switch gears and reverse the argument. How did the US benefit from World War II? What positive effects could this chemical have on the environment? How would the solution change if x was a negative number? As students are asked these questions they will eventually learn to think critically. These students will even find practical uses of critical thinking during sports, videogames and more. It is amazing how such a simple concept can have a huge bearing on such a complex future. Critical thinking’s best aspect is that it can be taught easily, cheaply and effectively to produce infinite possibilities for an even infinite future.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Next Future Leaders of the World

By Sean Scarpiello

Why do countries educate their citizens? In fact, it would probably be easier to not educate an entire population. The reasons that so many governments spend hundreds of millions dollars each year is not only to advance the human race’s technology and living circumstances, but also to lead future generations. We educate our children so they can uphold the same US government that is viewed as the leader of the world. Ever since the end of World War II the United Sates has been regarded as one of the world’s superpowers. But how long can the US sustain such a title? Over recent years, it seems as if the US hasn’t exactly dropped its status, but rather stayed the same and allowed foreign countries to advance. New power houses, such as India, China and South Korea have slowly emerged. But what is the quickest advancing country, South Korea, doing right which the US seems to be doing wrong? The article “USA could learn from South Korean schools” (link below) offers many statistics and insight on what exactly the US is getting wrong.

South Korea’s government runs their schools in a much more efficient manner when compared to the US. When distributing money for schools, South Korea evenly and equally spreads out their money. In the meantime, the US government gives more money to the schools with higher graduation rates. This only makes it difficult for cities with low graduation rates to improve education. Plus, it drags the rest of the country’s educational and world status with it.

The American Dream may possibly be this country’s down fall in the education field. In South Korea, parents will do anything to get their children to colleges and universities. Parents will even spend as much as 1/3 of their yearly income on their children’s education. In the US, parents will go out and buy the latest big screen TV or stereo system, regardless of the fact little Max is flunking his math class. For the US to remain a major superpower in the world, it is going to take much more than government action. Americans are going to have to do their part as well. If we use our resources efficiently, we could maximize the amount of class instruction for each dollar that is spent. This could even be as simple as having the upperclassmen of elementary, middle, and high schools tutoring the students below them. Each hour can be counted as volunteer work which looks great on any resume.

The last aspect of South Korean’s education system was their (on time) graduation rate of 93%. Too many American students just drop out, whereas South Koreans rarely drop out, if at all. The fix for this could be making the option of dropping out illegal. We could also raise age of being able to drop out of school. At age 18, students are just going through the motions until they can be on their own. So by making the age 20 or 21, students will most likely choose just to do the work and get through so they are not in high school during their twenties. For the US to maintain its role as a leading power in this world, it has to change.

Main Article:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fixing New Jersey's Education System

Dr. David C. Verducci, superintendent of Glen Rock Public Schools, is yet another worker in New Jersey who has dealt with Governor Chris Christie’s budget cuts in the state’s attempt to lower the deficit. Christie’s cuts in funding have made it difficult for many of the school districts in New Jersey, but Dr. Verducci shared some of his ideas on improving education in New Jersey with Christie (link below). Here are some of my suggestions for improving the New Jersey education system.

A school is a business. Students are customers, teachers are employees, superintendents are CEOs and the school’s money is invested in other businesses in hopes to make more money. Schools are stockholders just like any other business and there’s money to be made with investing, and there’s money to lose. Unfortunately, your bank account wasn’t the only thing that took a hit with the recession; your child’s elementary school bank account did too. The only difference between your boss’s business and a superintendent’s business is that there will always be customers for the superintendent’s business, it’s required by law. If a school is going to invest its money, it should be in conservative stocks or mutual funds where an economical crash won’t doom the community. The point is that schools all across America have faced difficulty lately, but if everybody could run their schools in a more efficient manner, school districts like Dr. Verducci’s wouldn’t be in such frenzy.

Statistics have shown that Glen Rock School District spends about $16,387 on each student (1). Across the river in Pennsylvania, the Pennsbury School District manages to spend $12,056 on each student (1). When you do the math, 3 students in New Jersey go to school for the same amount of money as 4 Pennsylvania’s students. The difference may seem slight, but not when there are thousands of students. So what is Pennsylvania getting right? In Bucks and Montgomery County, where the populous is similar to New Jersey, school districts are beasts. Graduating classes of these districts are hitting close to 1,000 students. Across the river, bulk is better. The more students there are, the less they can spend on each student. It’s the same reason why buying a dozen doughnuts is cheaper than buying eleven. Plus, the larger schools offer more opportunities at cheaper prices than smaller schools. So combining school districts could act as a way to become more efficient.

Another alternative which is less drastic would be to lay off administrators and/or teachers. The average student to teacher ratio in New Jersey is 11:1. Is that really necessary? My high school’s ratio was 17:1 and I had never felt left out of a class conversation, even in a class of 25 students. Schools should be preparing students for college and ultimately the real world, both of which are places where individuals are not spoon-fed by their superiors. This recommendation would also get a chance to get rid of copious amounts of administrators. There really is no need for four administrators at a school with less than 2,000 students, a trend many New Jersey high schools seem to follow.

If laying off teachers also sounds too radical, I’m sure that teachers and staff would rather keep their job with the same salary than to then have to file for unemployment. Dr. Verducci claims that wage freezes wouldn’t be a remedy. In reality it would help, to run efficiently we have to save a little here and a little there. If you can save a few thousand dollars on things like instruction, maintenance and transportation, the savings add up to substantial sums of money. In addition, teachers could also pay a percentage of their benefits or insurance, just like the rest of the world. You also need to take into account that teachers are working nine months out of the year. Many of my former teachers have summer jobs where they could tack on another $10,000 to their already generous salary. These suggestions would definitely be a start to creating a more efficient school system where we could be more bang per buck.

Dr. Verducci's Letter:




Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Don't Atrophy This Summer, Achieve

By Sean Scarpiello

In “The Case Against Summer Vacation,” David Von Drehle reports on a group of entrepreneurs, volunteers, and teachers from Indianapolis Indiana that are targeting the students in their area that need the most help academically. Studies show that this group of students has a lower socioeconomic status and their summer breaks result in more atrophy rather than actual achievement. Since these students do not have the kind of money to drop on a fancy intellectual achievement program, these pioneers in the education field need to find a way to provide a quality education during the summer that is not only effective, but cheap as well.

The pros of these summer enrichment programs are that the pioneers are reaching out to the community to find ways to keep the low income students away from the mind rotting capabilities of Jerry Springer and Xbox. In my community there are so many empty public schools, churches, and community centers which seem to wither all summer. Even a small meeting place may benefit by having activities available at low prices for students. Each child’s small contribution will add up and could even just pay the air conditioning bill for the balmy summer months. Not bad for an otherwise empty air conditioned community room and/or wasted resource. Local businesses also benefit from this opportunity because program leaders are reaching out to places such as public pools to barter over a cheap price of admission for bus loads of students looking for fun in the pool and candy at the snack bar. Program leaders are also utilizing the idea of “stealth learning” which is also fantastic because not many elementary or middle school students want to learn during their summer vacation. “Stealth learning” is ultimately teaching students math and reading through everyday activities such as measuring ingredients for cooking or determining specific dimensions in simple wood working activities. Thus it is learning without realizing it. Students also are exposed to another seemingly unexploited resource - themselves. The mere fact that students socialize and spread ideas amongst themselves is brilliant. Plus, it keeps students out of trouble in a way that makes teachers smile as an improved group of students arrive in September. In all, the general concept seems extremely efficient and an overall success. But is there any cons? The only one I can think of is that every community in the US isn’t taking advantage of such a great idea to improve the education of America’s future.

Original Article:,8599,2005654,00.html

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Native Exchange Students

By Sean Scarpiello

Middlebury Language Schools, located in a small town in Vermont, can teach anyone about two years of a language in only nine weeks. The general concept seems interesting, but does the program seem like a prudent investment?

The idea of cramming two years of instruction into nine weeks sounds difficult, but made even more demanding considering a foreign language is the subject matter. Language is all around us, and this program takes total advantage of that opportunity. By making students pledge to use only their new language, students are dropped into a different country where practically everything except street signs and food labels are recognizable in students’ native language. The effect is ultimately acting as a foreign exchange student in your own country. The complete transformation of language is pivotal in such an accelerated learning process. Another benefit the program utilizes is keeping class time to a minimum and maximizing time with everyday activities such as sports and personal conversation. My friend Carlos, an exchange student from Spain, claims he had learned more of the English language from soccer practice as compared to his actual classes in school. This is merely because conversations were on the interests of any teenage male, thus lacking the classroom pressure and boredom. The language camp is smart for utilizing the use of personal interests as the everyday life of each student.

The problem with the language camp is that the target market for the program is mostly high school and college students looking to get an edge in their new school year or next occupation. From a parent’s perspective, it would be quite difficult to send a child to go learn a language for nine weeks out of their summer. Nine weeks is rough for the typical social teenager and even rougher on vacations and much needed family time. The bill for the language camp won’t help much either. For just under $10,000 the program is barely economical for parents who will be opening their checkbooks for college soon, if not already. On the contrary, one could actually view this program as a replacement for a full semester of studying abroad. In that case, parents could see their students during the school year and put a credential that drives college admission’s offices crazy. Ultimately, it comes down to the decision to throw down a pretty penny for a program which offers a fast track in learning a new and exciting language which is sure to give anyone an edge in this ever changing world.

Main Article:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Street-Fighting Mathematics: The Art of Educated Guessing and Opportunistic Problem Solving

Sanjoy Mahajan

In problem solving, as in street fighting, rules are for fools: do whatever works—don't just stand there! Yet we often fear an unjustified leap even though it may land us on a correct result. Traditional mathematics teaching is largely about solving exactly stated problems exactly, yet life often hands us partly defined problems needing only moderately accurate solutions. This engaging book is an antidote to the rigor mortis brought on by too much mathematical rigor, teaching us how to guess answers without needing a proof or an exact calculation.

Street-Fighting Mathematics, Sanjoy Mahajan builds, sharpens, and demonstrates tools for educated guessing and down-and-dirty, opportunistic problem solving across diverse fields of knowledge—from mathematics to management. Mahajan describes six tools: dimensional analysis, easy cases, lumping, picture proofs, successive approximation, and reasoning by analogy. Illustrating each tool with numerous examples, he carefully separates the tool—the general principle—from the particular application so that the reader can most easily grasp the tool itself to use on problems of particular interest.

Street-Fighting Mathematics grew out of a short course taught by the author at MIT for students ranging from first-year undergraduates to graduate students ready for careers in physics, mathematics, management, electrical engineering, computer science, and biology. They benefited from an approach that avoided rigor and taught them how to use mathematics to solve real problems.