Sunday, December 30, 2012

A New, State-Run, Online University

By Sean Scarpiello

Recently in Florida, government officials have come up with revolutionary idea for education in their state. This goal is to create another university—Florida’s 13th overall. The idea at first sounds absurd, as the economy is still poor and universities cost millions of dollars to build and maintain. However, this new university will not cost millions of dollars, as it does not need new academic and administrative buildings, labs, a gym, or dorms. This is because this new university will be based solely on online learning.

This idea is great for a number of reasons. First, this will act as one of the main pilot programs which full online universities and education professionals will be able to draw from to improve online universities in the future. Furthermore, since this university is created and run by the state of Florida, we can expect that the credits gained by the students at the school will be recognized throughout the country. At the moment, programs such as Udacity are great for learning, but the courses students take do not count as college credit. Udacity and similar programs teach students that are looking to improve their own skills and knowledge. However, this new online university is state run, so it will need to go through an accreditation program that certifies the school. All other colleges in the United States must pass certain requirements to ensure that courses are detailed and rigorous enough to meet certain standards. This would in turn allow students to take a computer science course online, and then transfer to another college or university to have the credits transfer. Although programs like Udacity are led and taught by credible professors, the institutions themselves are not accredited, therefore courses through these programs do not count at other colleges. It will be interesting to see how this plays out because this is an entirely new realm in education.

This probably means that online courses would need to meet the same criteria as a traditional course. However, due to stark differences in the way education is delivered, a whole new system of accrediting an online university may be needed. This will hold especially true as more and more education professionals are pushing to bring education available to more people at lower costs. This may also mean that programs such as Udacity would also begin to try and become accredited under the same standards, thus leading to the creation of more privately owned and operated online colleges.

In light of all of the reduced costs to create this university, this does not mean it will be a simple feat. Government officials looking to create this online university will need to seek help from education professionals. This is because so much more than the course material goes into teaching a course. Teaching needs to be tailored to needs of individual students on a large scale. It is not enough to simply post lectures online or pages of notes online, then expect students to pass tests. In addition to all of this, professors and other education professionals need to be involved as well. Many college professors are not in a position to record themselves lecturing, post videos or notes, and determine grading requirements. This is made even more difficult when designing classes like biology, chemistry, or physics, where time in a lab is required for credits. Even in classes such as political science or English, professors need to find ways to access learning effectively and efficiently. For example, it would be extremely difficult for a professor or a group of educators to grade thousands of essays at a time, all based on the same criteria. So we really need to find ways to access students’ ability to write, but without them writing a lot-- which will be very difficult to do.

Overall, we can see that a new online university will lead to a number of changes in the education field. As the program is state run, it will probably need to meet accreditation requirements to be recognized by the academic world. This in turn will lead to other institutions looking to also enter this new market by meeting these same requirements. Although the low costs and other benefits to online education are appealing, this will not be a simple endeavor. Education professionals and professors need to be kept in the picture while designing and implementing the new online university. If not, the program is sure to fail.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Schools should move the lectures from a lecture hall
to the Internet.
Last spring, MIT offered an online course in circuit design,
called circuits and electronics.
It was free; anyone could take it.

According to a recent discussion of the course in Technology Review, 154,000 people enrolled.
Of those, 7,157 passed the course.
It is stunning.

It took traditional-classroom MIT 40 years to teach that many students circuits and electronics the old-fashioned way.
If one semester of online class can have the output of 40 years of traditional class,
you can bet big changes are coming.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Structuring Online Education for the Laziness in Us All

By Sean Scarpiello

When it comes to designing effective online education programs, there are many things that need to be taken into account. One piece of the puzzle in formulating the ideal learning program needs to be the intrinsic psychology of a student. Therefore, educators need to take into account the different motivations and mindsets of students. We need to identify these areas and ways we can avoid related problems. We also need to ensure that this education is not too specialized and appeals to more than one type of student. Online programs need to be versatile enough to include all types of learners with different mindsets. This is not an easy task, so it is best that educators look for similarities that all students share.

One of the first similarities has to do with the mindsets of students. I think to some extent, that all humans are innately lazy; however, their true potential is discovered when a lot is asked or expected of them. For example, given the choice between reading a book and watching television, most students will choose television, because it requires less thinking and is less work. Therefore, this means that educators need to find new ways to keep the course material engaging. Plus, since the program is based on the computer and internet, educators need to ensure that the material is much more interesting than distractions like video games, social networking, and more. For educators to make the material more interesting, students need to be actively participating, answering questions, solving problems, and applying principles all throughout their learning. This also needs to be formulated in a way that lets students understand and relate to the material. For younger students, things like silly cartoon characters or easily identifiable figures should be used. For older students, real world applications should be mentioned, as older students quickly begin to ask “when will I ever use this in life?” If these sorts of ideas are not put into place, students will be in a situation where they are alone with their computers and asked to read a book online while they have access to a vast array of distractions.

This sort of laziness is even found in schools today. In one of my college English courses, the professor described in the beginning of the semester that our assignment for the entire year is to read three certain books and then write a 5 page paper for each. She also described that all three papers were due by the last day of class, but you could turn any of them in as they were completed. We were not required to go to class unless we wanted to share our ideas from the readings, which we assigned ourselves. Although we didn’t have homework every day, we really had a lot of homework every day -- it was only up to us to assign it. For many of my classmates, this ended in a disaster as everyone struggled to turn in 15 pages of well written material on highly analyzed topics in each book during the last two weeks of class. In light of this, we can see that all students would procrastinate and do only the work assigned as it is due. Therefore, an effective online learning program would also take this into account. One way to carry this out is make assignments due daily or putting time limits on the assignment. It is, however, important to make sure the time limit is not too short, so slower learners are not cut short. One other novel way around this would be to have online programs designed with a sort of placement test. This would allow the program to judge the strengths and weaknesses of each learner. The program could then take this information about the learner and apply it so students have customizable degrees of challenges facing them as they learn. Therefore, slower learners would not be rushed along by the faster-learning students, as in the many of the traditional education structures.

One final way educators can avoid the innate laziness of all students is encouraging learning to occur in a controlled environment. For instance, when I need to do work, my house or my college dorm room is the last place any work gets done. This is because we associate these places with relaxation and fun; plus, they are full of distractions. However, in an environment such as a library or café, students are surrounded by others who are working, so they feel obligated to as well. It would even be possible for students to continue to go to school and extract the benefits of the school’s controlled atmosphere and social settings. Many educators feel that the future of education will be without physical schools where students learn each day. This is the exact opposite of what students need. Although it is expensive and time consuming to transport students to school every day, students still need to learn with their peers and interact with each other socially. If not, society would be setting up future generations to be extremely antisocial.

In all, we can now identify where the natural degree of laziness in all humans could affect the learning process of students. As online educators are now beginning to construct the framework for the future of education, it is important that we understand these traits in humans and find ways to avoid flaws in the system. When these traits are taken into consideration by education professionals, online programs will be much more effective for both students and teachers.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Online Education: Not a "One-Size-Fits-All" Approach

By Sean Scarpiello

As education moves online via programs like Khan Academy and Udacity, we are seeing many changes to the process of educating. Using online resources, both teachers and students are experiencing this huge shift in the conventional education process. For Stanley Thrun, the Stanford professor who started Udacity, this online jump has caused increased accomplishment in his Intro to Artificial Intelligence class. In 2011, he offered this class for free and many of his students in Stanford took the course. Surprisingly, 170 out of the 200 students in the course preferred the online version of the class. Most importantly, Thrun found that students taking the online course had significantly higher grades in the course than those students taking the class in the traditional method. So what does this mean for the future of education? To many, this sounds like schools and online programs will soon be pumping students through the education system like a factory. Others feel that everyone will receive a “one-size–fits-all” education that doesn’t take into account students' innate differences.

Although education appears to be moving in this direction, there are still many benefits education has in the online medium. First off, online education allows students to learn on their own terms and at their own pace. With online education, students won’t be forced to wake up at 6:00 in the morning and stumble into math class half asleep and hardly retain the material. More importantly, it allows students to learn the material at whichever pace they feel most comfortable, whether this be fast or slow. This holds true for classes like math and science where information is given to students, then they need to apply principles and concepts quickly. Currently in my physics class, we spend the first 20 minutes of class reviewing concepts, then the last 30 minutes going over a handful of problems. Many students feel we are moving at a fast pace. They are struggling to remember or understand the concepts, and then get further behind as the rest of the class moves forward solving the problems. Once these students begin to understand the concepts in class, it is too late, as the problems are already solved by the professor. Online education allows students to stop and start the lecture whenever they want. It also allows them to view the lectures multiple times so they can be sure to fully understand what is going on in class.

Also, with online education there is an abundance of videos and tutorials on class material available everywhere. For classes from English and Social Studies to Science and Math, websites like Khan Academy and, students can learn and solve problems at their own pace. One other benefit from these websites is that they are very diverse. This helps students out even more when it comes to learning because everyone thinks differently. In Math for example, a student can watch five (5) different videos on solving a long division problem and find three (3) different ways to solve them. Students are then able to pick and choose their favorite method or the easiest method for them to understand.

Probably the most important quality of most of these online education sites is that they are free. This is great because students can use them when they want and multiple times. There are no confusing accounts or passwords to deal with. Furthermore, when students are struggling with material the night before a big test, they can simply go online and get help instantly.

In all, it may seem that online education is inherently taking the differences of individual students out of the process of education. However, with closer examination, we see that is not all true. There are several benefits to online learning, as it allows students to learn at their own pace and get different perspectives, all at no cost. As education continues to advance in the online medium, we can expect even more changes, but as these changes come, we can still expect that the component of student individuality remains part of the learning process.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Journalist are Teachers, and MOST would Flunk the Teaching test.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A GREAT copyrighted AP story about -
American Federation of Teachers union calls for teacher certification exam”
Read more: 

“The American Federation of Teachers called for a tough new written test to be

by stricter entrance requirements for teacher training programs, such as a minimum grade point average.”
Is that how you spell -

Friday, November 30, 2012

Preserving Collaborative Learning in the Future of Education

By Sean Scarpiello

A couple weeks ago, I was emailed a link to an article entitled “Facilitating Collaborative Learning: 20 Things You Need to Know from the Pros,”and I was intrigued. As education progresses, we can expect to see more technology becoming integrated into the learning process, but less personal interaction. Essentially, this means that education could be done cheaply and effectively using technology, but without collaboration among students in the learning process. However, as we move forward, we can see that this should not be the case. One of the main purposes of receiving a quality education is to obtain a good job. Almost every job on the market requires some degree of team collaboration and working with others, so it imperative that we keep collaboration within the learning process.

The article on collaborative learning and implementing it effectively listed 20 ideas to keep in mind when implementing collaborative learning in classrooms and online. Among the 20 ideas, there was much overlap; however, the majority of the ideas could be lumped into three main goals. These three goals include staying motivated, incorporating diversity, and keeping the group challenged. In the real world, each of these aspects are plentiful in effective teams of workers. But now we ask, how we can ensure these traits make it into the future of education and technology.

The answer to this is simple. When online learning program curricula are designed they need to take into account certain degrees of collaboration. In our digital world, it is easy to let technology isolate us from each other, so we need to remedy this by simply creating teams of students to work on group projects together. These groups of students will need to be 4 to 5 people in size and have a rich diversity of ideas. In our online world, this would be easy, as we are able to connect to people on the other side of the planet with just a few clicks of our mouse. Also by creating collaboration groups online, instructors or educational programs can easily find ways to keep challenging the group so that debate and discussion are used to best solve problems. This type of education is important because although everyone can read the material found in a textbook, different people bring different experiences and their own strategies for solving problems. It is on these online collaboration sessions where students are offered the opportunities to learn from listening and teaching others.

Through this collaboration, students benefit from this type of learning because society is quickly moving towards a state where it is just as important to apply knowledge as a group as it is to learn information. In our current and more traditional school setting, collaborative learning is easy to implement, as students are all readily available to work together. Now, as education professionals are designing online programs that are quick and efficient through the learning process, it is easy to forget about the importance of collaboration. This holds especially true when the course load is packed full of material and educational programs are trying to get information from textbooks into the students’ heads. If these new programs are not designed with collaboration in mind, one’s knowledge would be shallow in the subject matter. In classes like foreign language, math, English, and science, concepts mean nothing if they cannot be applied, analyzed, and questioned by students. Therefore, we cannot approach the future of education in a way that pumps out a lot of students that can memorize a list of physics equations but cannot apply them to solve challenging problems.

Overall, we have seen the importance of collaborative learning in schools today, so now we must ensure that this same style of learning makes it to future of education which is on the horizon. If we do not implement these advanced learning processes, students will have a poor understanding of the material and a difficult time solving problems collaboratively as a team or group.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Effective and Efficient High School Spending

By Sean Scarpiello

There was recently an article in Philadelphia Magazine which ranked the top 100 high schools in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. Along with each rank, the article listed other statistics, such as number of students, the percent of students that move onto college, and the amount of spending that each school spends per student. Upon reading the article, I began to look for my high school along with my friends’ high schools to see how they ranked. Overall, there were a few surprising trends and facts about the different schools.

One of the first and most unexpected trends I noticed was that the top ranked schools did not spend the most money on each student. In fact, the correlation between rank and money spent was nearly random. This shows that it is not important how much money that is spent, but rather how the money is spent. For example, the top ranked school spent less than $7,000 per pupil. Compared to the other schools, this was much less that the majority of other schools. In fact, the majority of the lower ranked schools spent well above $8,000. One even more astonishing trend among some of the higher ranked schools was that not only did they spend less per student, but they also had a lower number of students enrolled in the school. At first, one may think that lower enrollments means more individualized attention in the classroom. However, if the school is smaller this means that the school is spending money even more efficiently. This is because in a large school, learning resources can be brought to more students at lower costs. This makes a lot of sense because whenever a business purchases resources in bulk, each unit is cheaper than buying a few of the same resources. In effect, it would make sense that a large school should be spending less on each student, whereas, in theory, a small school should be spending more per student.

This essentially shows us that it is possible to provide high quality education to students at very low costs. The key to this goal all boils down to effective spending and efficient teaching. When comparing some of the smaller schools to the larger ones, I was again surprised with a similar trend. One way that large high schools can improve is by trying to lower costs wherever they can. Since these large schools are educating thousands of students, even decreasing the amount spent per student by $100 can save the schools hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It would next be logical to ask about different ways that small schools act to decrease costs. This can be done in a number of ways. By collaborating with other schools, administrators can learn about other methods schools in adjacent areas are using to cut costs. This may be a difficult task because all schools have a very different makeup of students. Also, there are several other factors that administrators would be unable to change, such as parental involvement in school and the life of students outside the classroom. Even though this is a daunting task, we can often learn from those around us and benefit off of each other’s advancements and mistakes.

Overall, we know that it is possible for schools to provide high quality education to students simply by ensuring money is being spent and utilized effectively and efficiently. It is surprising that small schools can pull off such as feat, where numbers and costs are working against this idea. Therefore, if larger schools can look to others and even reduce costs by a few hundred dollars per student, schools will see a massive amount of savings.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Allowing Parental Access to Grades in School

By Sean Scarpiello

As technology is advancing at such a rapid rate schools are always looking for new ways to implement new technologies. One innovative way to do this is by allowing parents access to every grade their children receive through an online system. Some schools have been doing this for the past few years, but overall not enough schools are taking advantage of this opportunity. There are several benefits to this idea for the students, parents, and teachers.

When I was a young student, my teachers would always try to keep our parents involved in the learning process. They did this by requiring us to have our daily assignment book signed by a parent and by having parents sign our graded tests. At the time, students had dreaded taking home a bad test grade, so some students would try forging signatures. Some students would even try turning the big red F on the top of the test to a B, in hopes of avoiding trouble with mom and dad. As I got older, we began to hear about programs online that would give our parent full access to all of our grades in class. We all dreaded the idea that this would be implemented and luckily for us, the technology was too expensive at the time. At this point in time, technology is further along and this option would be a cheap and effective way to get parents involved in their children’s education.

In college, we have a program that allows us to access our grades as tests and projects as they are graded. We are also able to view our participation grade and any other comments our teachers have for us in class. By implementing an online program where parents can log in and check up on their children’s progress, parents will be able to keep an eye on their children. This idea in and of itself is extremely important. Studies show that students with parents that are actively engaged in the learning process are more likely to succeed in school. A program such as this would offer parents and easy way to stay involved with school. This allows parents to keep their children on track with any readings or projects, along with any special questions or comments from the teacher. It also allows parents to ask their children how school was each day without the typical “nothing” response from their children. Plus, if parents place importance on school, then the student will also, thus ensuring success.

From the teacher’s perspective, students will succeed because parents are involved in their children’s schooling. This will also make it easier for parents to communicate with teachers for all sorts of reasons, whether it is good, bad, big, or small. When I went to school, a phone call home was always a bad thing. Now, with a program such as this, teachers will be able to give positive and negative reinforcement. These sorts of online programs also act as an electronic grade book, where teachers can update their grades and weigh different assignments in different ways. Many of these programs are so well designed that they completely eliminate the need for attendance sheets, progress reports, and more. By allowing running progress reports for parents and students, everyone can stay involved.

In all, there are a variety of different programs that schools can choose from to allow parental involvement in schools. By giving parents access to updated grades, comments, questions, and concerns from the teacher, there is a greater level of communication between school and home. This makes it easier for parents to stay actively engaged in their children’s class so that success in school is inevitable.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Redesigning Classes for Success

By Sean Scarpiello

As a society, America is moving extremely quickly. Technology is moving at such a fast rate that it seems as if there is a new cell phone or laptop with the latest innovations released every month. We are now able to bring more advanced technology to even more people at cheaper costs, all due to these redesigns in technology. This idea does not apply only to technology. Modern science and medicine is also subject to these fast paced changes. As scientists discover better and more efficient ways to do things like save energy, create new compounds, and cure disease, the rest of society is rushing to catch up and implement these latest and greatest innovations. Since fields like technology and science are moving at an extremely fast pace, it is often difficult to keep up. One area where this is highly visible is in education.

For many educational institutions, especially in primary and secondary education, teachers can often times get into the habit of teaching the curriculum in the same style each year. The individual curriculums do not change much over the years, so there is often times little motivation to change. This is not due to laziness, but rather the comfort all humans have with familiarity. The problem with this small degree of change is that although the curriculum changes little, technology and the rest of society is changing a lot. So by missing out on making these changes, educators are missing out on new ways to teach their classes. In fact, these changes may make learning easier or more fun for the students and more efficient or cost effective for administrators.

One area I have experienced this first hand is in my education. In high school, my sister is taking the same English course that all high school seniors are required to take. In this class, they are currently reading the same books and discussing the same topics in a similar manner that I had when I was in high school. In three years, there has been little change made to the teaching of the course and even less integration of innovations like technology. On the other hand, many of my college professors are struggling to keep up with the almost daily updates in technology. Last year, I had asked a few students a year ahead of me what to expect in a genetics class. The idea that they had conveyed was much different than what I had later experienced. The updated course had implemented things like online discussion forums and webinars over the internet where students could ask the professor questions. These new applications in class ended up increasing class average when compared to those of previous years. In many cases, professors implementing similar ideas not only found that students succeeded more, but it also decreased costs.

Many schools are looking into programs that help educators redesign their classes. In fact, there are several organizations whose purpose is merely that – to redesign class structures. One such organization is the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT). This is a non-profit organization that offers conferences and free webinars to education professionals interested in redesigning their courses. In many of their past cases, they have been found to not only improve the success of students, but lower costs for the schools. These kinds of redesign programs are offered at low to no costs for schools and can greatly affect the ways classes are taught in schools. They also encourage teachers to take on new perspectives and ways of thinking, so classes are taught differently.

Overall, the low to no cost programs offered by organizations like NCAT provide new and innovative ways to increase academic success and lower costs, often times by implementing technology. These kinds of “nothing-to-lose” programs will allow teachers to look at their class and curriculum in new ways so they can change it for the better. In all, educators could all learn a thing or two to help improve class time and student success.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Implementing iPads and Notability in Science Class

By Sean Scarpiello

Earlier this week, my classmates and I were sitting in our organic chemistry lab when our professor entered the lab with a large cardboard box with the Apple logo on it. He then told us that our lab section was going to a part of an experimental project. Our small group out of the large class was given iPads to see if it is possible to succeed in a class as rigorous as an organic chemistry class using these devices. The purpose of the experiment was to see if it is possible to go completely paperless in an upper level class which typically requires a lot of paperwork. Organic chemistry is one of the few classes notoriously hated on campuses across the country for its tendency to ruin GPAs and its large workload. The material is largely visual so the idea of using an iPad which makes the information interactive can be a plus. But will this experiment with the iPads prove to be beneficial, or far from it?

Before we each received our iPads, we signed a waiver that stated if anything were to happen to our iPads, we were held responsible. It was at this point where reality set in. We were happy we would each have our own iPad, but what if these iPads are more trouble than they are worth? We are college kids which are always dropping, spilling, and breaking things. In addition, we will be using these in a lab full of dangerous chemicals and materials which could easily ruin the iPads. Most of all, we were wondering: we have enough work keeping up with the class on paper and now we have to adapt to using iPads for all of our assignments. How would we make this work?

When we each received our iPads, we discovered that they came in protective cases. The cases did not make the iPads indestructible, but they provided a bit of relief. Also, we were given styluses which we could use on the screens. These make it possible for us to have more precision when writing down notes and also keep the harmful chemicals on our gloves off of the screens. Next, we were instructed that templates for all of our assignments were available on the college’s website. This allowed us to all log on and download these templates to use during our lab experiments. Once downloaded, we had the ability to write notes onto the iPad which we could pull up as a PDF file later to email to our professor.

Each iPad had an application called Notability which was already pre-downloaded. Using this application, we were able to take pictures of the lab apparatuses and other results. We were then able to add these pictures to our final lab report. Another nice feature of this application was a dictation function. We are able to speak into the microphone and the application translates this into words on the spreadsheet. Each of these functions allows the lab reports and other assignments to be done more efficiently and quickly.

In all, when implementing iPads in a classroom setting, we found that we were originally apprehensive about the new technology. However, we discovered that we quickly adapted to the technology and now we can complete assignments with more details in an efficient manner. Using applications such as Notability, we were able to increase our clarity in assignment due to its extra functions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bringing Blog Articles into the Classroom

By Sean Scarpiello

As more and more forms of media are being created by the internet, schools are trying to keep up with fast paced changes taking place in the media. Many school administrators are pushing to get the latest technology in the classroom to keep up with the ever-changing trends. Although it may seem like a daunting task, incorporating the latest trends into the classroom does not need to be difficult. One of the most notable creations after the rise of the internet was the blog. Since blogs have been growing in popularity over the past few years, we can expect them to be around for a long time. Today’s students will be exposed to blogs for the rest of their life and at one point, many of them will write them in the future. So why not start writing them in school?

We have all had to sit through class with the teacher that assigns long and tedious book reports, especially in English classes. If teachers began to have students write daily or weekly blogs on their readings instead, students would definitely benefit. First off, by assigning blogs, instead of a book report, teachers can keep their students more involved in the class. Students can formulate their own opinions in their blogs, and discuss how they feel about certain topics, themes, or ideas in a class. Also in their blog, students can discuss what areas of the reading they found difficult, confusing, and even interesting. By having students write blog articles, teachers are forcing students to think critically about subjects. Often times, students will find themselves learning more than they thought possible because they entered a reading or text with a certain mindset.

Implementing blogs, instead of book reports can also be beneficial because students are learning to write in new ways. They are asked to write down their opinion or view on a topic -- something that has never been asked of them before. This new form of writing can help them in other classes where they need to write persuasive reports or analyze a set of bias data. Writing blogs is relevant life experience.

Teachers can also become creative with the blog assignments. They can have students focus on certain themes, topics, or characters in a book. Then students can focus on how an individual idea has evolved through the text. Some teachers may feel that blog writing cannot completely replace report writing. This is definitely true. However, it would be unwise to not implement blog writing because it may seem like less writing. If a class is reading a book over the course of a few weeks, teachers could assign a one page blog article weekly, or a half page blog article due every few days. Over the course of a few weeks, these pages of blog articles add up, and may even encompass more than a book report. At the end of a book or text, the teacher could ask the students to sum up all of their blogs and analyze the evolution of an idea or the course of a character throughout a book.

In all, assigning blog articles to a class would definitely be beneficial to students. It would keep students engaged in class and mix up the general routine of class time. In the long run, it would be even more beneficial because students can take what they learn from writhing blog articles and use these skills in the real world.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Website for Teachers by Teachers

By Sean Scarpiello

Every year, teachers are faced with the daunting task of planning lessons that fit into the school district’s dynamic curriculum. For many experienced teachers, this may not be difficult because after years of teaching the same material, it is easy to fine tune the course. For other less experienced teachers, this can be tough. It may take several years of teaching a subject to gauge what students can easily digest and what they have difficulty comprehending. In both cases, a group of educators collaborated online and created a website called Here, teachers at all different levels can purchase the lesson plans of other teachers. The site also offers free products for teachers looking to improve their classes or add something new to class.

The concept of this sort of site is novel. Every year, teachers make lesson plans which are often not shared among teachers. Since each teacher makes a lesson plan, it would only make sense to get other opinions on plan. By collaborating with other teachers, teachers can bring more experience into their class rooms. When a teacher buys one of the lesson plans for sale on this website, they are able to see how another teacher would teach a similar class. The teacher may like some aspects of this new lesson plan and incorporate these good ideas into their own class. They may also see some things that do not work and can decide to leave these ideas out. Overall, by seeing the class through another teacher’s eyes, a teacher can look at their class in a new way. They will be able to adapt their lessons to fit the class better by using others experience and essentially collaborating with their counterparts.

This concept is also great because teachers of Kindergarten to 12th grade can use the site. Also, teachers at all levels of experience can benefit from the site. A new teacher can go to this site and get an idea on how to run a certain class. They can learn about what works and what doesn't. By learning from the successes and mistakes from other teachers in the same position, newer teachers can improve their classes rapidly. Older or more experienced teachers can also benefit from this site. Teaching the same subject year after year with little change can become monotonous quickly. These types of teachers can go on this site, purchase some material, and use what they learn to spice up the lesson plan. They may find new, interesting, or ingenious way to teach a difficult subject. Also, they will find ways to keep the class engaged in the class. Either way, if used properly, all teachers can find innovative ways to allow their students to get more out of class.

Some people may argue that the site would allow teachers to become lazy and just completely adopt the new lesson plan. This is highly unlikely because the curriculum of each school district and state differ slightly. Also, each curriculum is changing a bit each year and needs to be updated and fine-tuned. Also, the majority of the lesson plans are cheap. This allows teachers to purchase several different plans and take a little from each. On the contrary, if teachers do not want to buy anything from the site, there are still many free downloads and blogs for teachers where they can find new ideas to bring to the class room.

In all, offers and abundance of materials that all teachers can use. Teachers can buy fully made lesson plans or browse ideas and concepts in the free download or blog sections of the site. Essentially, teachers at all levels of education with varying levels of experience can find way to improve their classes and improve their students’ learning experience.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

OnLine Learning solves several school problems
Parents Involvement - They could choose the subject their child takes.
Teachers Unions - It would be a Student's Responsibility to get Educated.
Deteriorating Buildings

No School Buses - Less Traffic
Tax - Less Taxes
No Charter Schools
No Vouchers
What is YOUR Take on OnLine Learning?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Mandatory Electives" in High School

By Sean Scarpiello

By the time we enter high school, many of us have different outlooks on our future. Some of us know that we definitely want to move onto college, some of us know that they want to enter the working world right as they graduate, and still others have no idea what they plan on doing upon graduation. The majority of people probably fall into this last group where many of us enjoy the thought of going to college, but we simply do not know what we would be studying when and if we get there. Many freshmen in high school simply have not found their passion in life just yet.

When I was in high school, everyone needed to take 4 years of math, science, English, history, and physical education. Each student had to take 8 classes total, so each year students could pick three electives of their choice. Many students fill these three classes with throw away classes such as cooking, typing, and fashion. Now it is fine if you have a true passion for cooking or fashion, but these classes were notoriously filled every year by students looking to get an easy A. Part of the problem with this is that students are seeking these easier classes when they could be studying more difficult topics which they may find to enjoy.

One way high schools may be able to improve their curriculum is by creating a new set of required courses. Each year, students could be required to take classes that they could major in at college. These “mandatory electives” could include classes in business, psychology, sociology, and philosophy/law. These social sciences are some of the most popular majors in colleges which high school students never get a chance to learn. There are tons of psychology majors in college who never took a psychology class until their freshmen year in college. In high school, there may be a lot of students who are extremely interested in a class like philosophy, but since they are never exposed to it, never find their passion in the field. If these types of classes are made mandatory by schools, many students may take a class and find that they like it enough to push them to go to college and study it further.

This kind of “mandatory elective” option would also allow for students to pick other electives, such as art, music, foreign languages, and other upper level classes. Therefore, students would not be given a list of all of the classes they need to take in the next four years. By allowing for some flexibility, students could pursue upper level business courses if they find they enjoy them. If they find that they still do not like any of these mandatory courses, they still have the option to seek out even more subjects such as graphic design, politics, economics, wood shop, and more.

Overall, this option would work well in high schools at introducing new fields of study to students in a way that forces them to become engaged in the material. While there are many math, science, English, and history majors in colleges, there are just as many business, psychology, sociology, philosophy, arts, and more. By exposing students to these fields early, they may find a true passion and become motivated to succeed in these fields as an adult.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Courses that Improve People

By Sean Scarpiello

Last spring as I was choosing classes for the fall semester, a few of my academic advisors had looked over my schedule and pointed out what seemed to be a problem. All of the science classes looked normal, but then I had a miscellaneous class—public speaking. Each of my advisors had pulled me aside and asked why I wanted to take this public speaking class. The class would not fulfill any requirement courses or count towards my major in any way. When all of my advisors asked me why I wanted to take it, I simply described how I want to improve my public speaking skills.

As the class is entitled “Principles of Public Speaking,” it is often taken by freshmen or seniors as a class that will yield a high grade without much work. However, within the first week, the professor had everyone standing up in front of the class giving speeches. The class is not at all what we had expected, in regards to both the course load and to the general setup of the class. Many of the students taking the class figured that they would only be learning about the principles of public speaking, not applying them in weekly speeches. Also there is much more to the class than just speaking. The professor has already gone over the proper way to make an argument in a persuasive speech as well as the psychology of a public speaker. By learning about what is exactly going on in our heads, we are learning to avoid our nervous tendencies and stiffened postures.

One other element of the class that no one had predicted was the classroom. We are performing speeches in a full theatre. Everyone figured that we would be in a classroom with twenty desks performing in front of a small class. Learning to give speeches in a theatre takes the learning process to another level. It also allows us to be more relaxed in the future when giving speeches. After practicing in a huge theater in front of an entire college class, speaking to a smaller group will be no problem.

One of the points I am trying to make is that although a class may at first seem useless from a curriculum view, students are in school to learn. Taking a public speaking class is a whole new form of learning where students can take what they are leaning in class and use it in the real world instantly. In reality, the majority of the things we learn in school are not seen again unless we specialize in the field. Unless you are an architect or engineer, there is a good chance that you will not put to use the physics and algebra that you learned from high school and college. This public speaking class is great because everyone will be in a situation in their life when they need to speak publicly. We may find ourselves in this situation in a conference or presentation at work or even at a friend’s wedding. Everyone could probably benefit from a public speaking course not because it is something that will better your career, but because it will better yourself.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

SimUText: Stimulating Science Class

By Sean Scarpiello

As my classmates and I were dismissed from our first ecology class, we began dreading all of the new homework we were assigned. The work to do for our next class was not like typical homework. We did not have to read and take notes, or even complete worksheets. The homework we were assigned was all computer based on a program called SimUText. This software is designed to help science students understand new concepts by providing simulations which offer the material in a form where it is visualized in a much easier manner. So after our first assignments on the program, many students had their own opinions on this new method of learning.

First, we needed to download the software through the internet which did not take too long at all. After giving the site our school email address, the site recognized my professor’s account on the site. This allowed the professor to assign us only the lessons he thought were useful. This was nice because the site is extremely user friendly, which is important because it allows students to focus on the material without having difficulty navigating the site.

As we began to work through the assignment, SimUText was extremely clear in conveying the material and had a lot of visuals which kept us entertained. The simulations also worked well as they were easy to carryout and pertaining to material being taught. The simulations were also beneficial because they were not too restrictive. For example, one simulation’s goal was to show the evolution of a type of fish when exposed to different conditions. Although the simulation asked to expose the fish to one factor, we could branch off and test other factors over several generations. I was impressed that the simulations did not appear as if they were all predetermined and the same for everyone. In fact, if a student ran a simulation multiple times, the results would be different each time. This was interesting in the regard that everyone is not experiencing the same monotonous experiment.

One other great feature of SimUText was that it keeps the student active. Throughout the entire lesson, students are asked to make predictions and answer questions pertaining to the reading and simulations. By keeping the student’s mind involved in the material, the subject matter becomes interesting. It also ensures students are reading and not just skimming through the material. The program even allows the teacher to look in on how much time each student spend on different sections as well as their answers to the questions. Our teacher is looking at our answers and giving us a grade on how well we do. It is also nice because he can look in on everyone’s answers and determine which topics need to be reviewed in class.

When class rolled around after our first SimUText homework assignment, there were mixed reviews on the program. Overall, there seemed to be a love-hate relationship with SimUText. The majority of students thought the simulations were interesting and much better than having to read or take notes from the textbook. Others felt that the simulations wasted time because they could read the material in the textbook much quicker than going through all of the simulations. To this response to the program, the professor asked if students just read and took notes from the book, would they understand the material as well as if they had gone through the simulations. The answer across the room was “No.”

Overall, SimUText is a great tool to use in a science class at any level. By keeping students active in the material, students spend more time on the material and retain much more of the information as compared with to traditional textbook work. The program is extremely simple for students and teachers to use and all of the lessons are premade for the teachers. The ability for teachers to follow each student’s performance through the material is also a bonus as they can use the program as a gauge to see what the class understands and what needs to be reviewed in class.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Integrating Fun into the Classroom

By Sean Scarpiello

As the beginning of the school year quickly approaches, teachers are looking for creative ways to integrate new technology into the curriculum. Now that many schools have invested in the latest laptops and iPads, teachers need to decide which educational programs and applications to use in class. While most of the different software teaches the same material, teachers are stepping into the shoes of students to determine which programs will be the most effective in class. Aside from the scope of material being taught using these digital programs, teachers are finding that they need to take into account other factors such as clarity, difficulty, and entertainment value. From a teacher’s perspective, it is important to take into account all of these factors, especially entertainment, because if students can have fun while they learn, they will learn even more.

One of the best types of programs to incorporate fun into the curriculum is digital programs that are game based. Video games are huge right now so if teachers can bring the fun and competitiveness of video games into a learning environment, students will naturally learn more. Many students are innately competitive, so if students’ homework is getting to level 8 in a math adventure game or getting 2,000 points in a grammar puzzle, students will not view the homework as work. There are tons of different educational games on the market today, especially technology based games. Some of the cool games for students are adventure games where they explore vast digital worlds but must answer math questions to move around their surroundings. There are also many games where students race against the clock to answer questions in math, grammar, science, history, and more.

These sorts of game-based education programs will be effective because they allow students to learn interactively. They can pick up the basics of the class material from the teacher, but then test their skills on a colorful computer screen, rather than a bland worksheet. Also through this type of learning, students will be driven to get the farthest in the class or gain the highest amounts of points. Even though the students are driven to beat the game or be the best, they are also becoming self-motivated to learn. In fact, many students may enjoy the game-based education so much that they forget that they are learning. This keeps students actively engaged in their studies without becoming bored or struggling to find uses for education in the real world. Students will actually end up learning more than they thought they would. In addition, they may not view school as boring or intimidating.

Teachers will also enjoy the games because they can find that their students are more engaged in class and in homework. Also, since the programs are computer-based, teachers can monitor and track the progress of their students. This allows teachers to base their lesson plans around the difficulties of the class as a whole, as well as target the individuals who are struggling. This sort of individualized education comes with all technology based education programs and is beneficial for both the teacher and the student.

In all, the game-based educational software would definitely be a good choice for teachers to integrate into their curriculum. They keep students active in the learning process and ensure they do not get discouraged or bored. Throughout the summer, a lot of these students are entertained through video game systems, so why not carry on that entertainment into the classroom. Here, students will have fun, while learning more than they thought imaginable.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Khan Academy Enters Next Era With iPad App

Offline learning is the latest tool for the unorthodox education organization. Here's how that and other new features will power Khan Academy's new app.

Khan Academy, the wildly popular YouTube lecture series, has launched its free, new iPad app in Apple's store. The enhanced version of Khan Academy includes time-syncing between devices--no Internet connection required--an interactive transcript of the lectures for easy searching, and a handy scrubber for moving between parts of the lectures. Perhaps more importantly, now that more schools have begun adopting Khan's lectures for their own classrooms, the iPad app could possibly replace or supplement textbooks, saving cash-strapped schools and students a lot of money.
The major benefit of the app is offline learning. "If you're going on a road trip or if you're taking mass transit and you don't have cell service, or whatever, you can get the content," says Khan Academy Lead Designer Jason Rosoff. The iPad frees Khan Academy from the constraints of a laptop and Internet connection. Rosoff says the app will remember where users left off viewing and sync progress between devices (though, for the initial version, both devices will need to connect to the Internet before going offline to sync).
Second, with inspiration from TED, Khan lectures will now have an interactive time-stamped transcript, which is a convenient search function, considering some of the lectures can be quite long.
Last, just like a textbook, users flip back and forth between different parts of the content. "People scrub a lot in our videos," says Rosoff. The app will have an enhanced version video scrubber (the scroll bar at the bottom of a video) that makes repeating areas less painful.
For the growing number of schools that are adopting iPads, the most impactful potential for the app is for Khan Academy's "flipped classroom," in which lectures are watched at home by students, and then assignments are completed collaboratively in class, where a teacher is present. "The teacher is free to do a lot more of the human interaction," says Shantanu Sinha, President and COO of Khan Academy.
Intrigued by the idea of the flipped classroom, a pilot program in the Los Altos school district in California has started using Khan's online lectures for a substantial portion of the learning. Teachers use visualization software that could track student progress in the lectures, and they've discovered that some students were often mislabeled as "at-risk."
"Very often, students who thought they were horrible in math, who were labeled bad in math by schools ... in many cases, they were just struggling with a very specific topic," Sinha says. "Without the ability to explore lectures at home, struggling students were left behind as teachers progressed through the lesson plan. But, when students could focus on problem areas at their own pace, they could overcome weaknesses and catch back up with the class.
The initial version of the iPad app doesn't include the visualization tools and exercises necessary for a Khan Academy classroom, Rosoff says, but once the tools are part of the app, schools may adopt the Khan lecture series as a electronic textbook replacement. That'll also give Khan more time to address early feedback about the tools in later app updates. 
Find the new Khan Academy iPad app here
Follow Greg Ferenstein on Twitter or subscribe to him on Facebook. Also, follow Fast Company on Twitter.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Is College Worth It?

By Sean Scarpiello

For many high school students today, college education is quickly becoming harder and harder to achieve. Regardless of the poor economy, college tuition continues to rise each year. As these prices increase, less students can afford to go to college. Many students who take loans to pay for college end up struggling to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Also, some highly educated people have a very difficult time finding jobs after college and many of these people end up taking jobs which are readily available. Although these people are overqualified for their positions, they need to take any job available to them simply because they need to begin to pay back college loans. Consequently, many high school students and their parents are beginning to ask whether or not a college education is worth it.

Statistically, it is true that, on average, college graduates end up making more money during their lifetime  compared to non-college graduates. Although this is true, there are always exceptions to this rule. Some people, such as Bill Gates, have dropped out or not gone to college and have still been very successful. This idea does not apply only to geniuses like Bill Gates. There should be no shame in entering occupations such as an electrician, plumber, or handyman. In fact, many people in these professions end up making more money than some lawyers and other highly educated people. Plus, there will always be a need for these kinds of workers. If a thunderstorm causes a town’s power to go out, everyone relies on the local electricians to fix this problem, even highly educated CEOs, college professors, and politicians.

With all this in mind, students should not look upon a college as a guarantee to make more money. A college education only increases one’s chances to make more money. From a business standpoint, college is an investment into oneself. For this reason, it is important to make the investment pay off. Picking the right classes and doing well in these classes should be a top priority. If not, college graduates simply will not find a good return on this investment later on down the road. After college, the product graduates are trying to sell is themselves. By increasing the level of intelligence at college, one learns greater abilities and can therefore be more profitable. For example, doctors go through years of highly specialized training because the product they sell is their knowledge. This applies to all jobs, including math, business, political science, art, and more.

In addition, it may be easier to invest the money saved up for a college education into a business. One of the co-founders of PayPal, Peter Thiel, has created a program called the Thiel Fellowship. Here, he gives $100,000 to students under 20 years of age to go out and use it in their own venture. Some of these fellows take the money to spend on education while others drop out of college or finish high school and use this money to begin their own business. The fellowship is an interesting concept. It is a good method for us to gauge the importance of a college education. It can essentially show that if people are self-motivated and intelligent enough to put their money into the best investment possible, then they will be successful, regardless of their level of education.

People should not view college or graduate school as a definite assurance of finding a well-paying job. Therefore, people should choose to go in the path that best fits their personality. If someone learns in a hands-on fashion and struggles in a classroom setting, a vocational school may be the option to save money and still be very successful. Likewise, if someone is innately driven and mature, they can avoid college altogether and invest their money into their own business. That being said, college still serves as an expensive, yet conservative, method of finding success through education.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Improving Education at Home

By Sean Scarpiello

As education professionals continue to invest large amounts of money into education, it is easy to forget about simple, cheap, and easy ways to improve the education of all students in the classroom. Many people in our world today focus only on the costs of cutting edge technology in the classroom as well as the high costs of transporting students and sustaining school districts. As parents attend school board and parent teacher organization meetings, many parents fail to realize that a high quality education starts at home.

When young students enter elementary school, they look up to their parents to see how they discuss and handle education. If parents take their children’s education seriously, then there is a good chance that the students will begin taking their education seriously. Parents need to become involved in their child’s education. Every night, parents can check their child’s assignment book and be up to date on the homework, tests, and projects which need to be completed. Another way for parents to stay involved is by reviewing each night’s homework assignment. This does not mean simply check it over after the kids are asleep. This means at a scheduled time each night, perhaps after dinner, go through each homework problem and make sure each question is correct with the student. If there are incorrect or blank questions, take some time to correct them and make sure that both the question and the correct answer are fully understood. Parents could also come up with their own examples based off of questions their children had difficulty with. This will allow students become more prepared in the future when they will inevitably be asked a similar type of question later.

This exact idea can be also be implemented with tests. If parents make a point to know when upcoming tests are scheduled, so will students. Parents can review the test material with their child and quiz them on questions which will be found on the test. Elementary school students are not at a point where they can read a chapter in a textbook and absorb all of the information. These students learn by doing; therefore, by asking questions which stimulate their minds, they will grasp the concepts and material easier.

Parents can also improve their child’s education by asking them about their day. Asking about their teachers, friends, classes, lunch, and other topics will give parents insight on the problems their children face on a day to day basis. This also shows children that they have a support system at home standing behind them all through life. Then, children will be more likely to seek help if they have a problem, whether it is in a math class or with a friend at recess.

One last easy way to improve a child’s education is by assigning them homework each day during the summer. They really won’t enjoy doing a worksheet of math and English every day during the summer, but in the long run it will ensure that they do not forget material over the summer. It again shows young students that their parents place a high amount of importance on education. This in turn pushes students harder in class and allows them to succeed.

In general, when parents stress the importance of a quality education, children will often follow suit. This method of improving a child’s education can be used in all types of school settings. Even as education is quickly becoming digitalized, parents can continue to encourage their children to do well. Teachers are also encouraging parents to become more involved because not only does it help the teachers out, but the students as well.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A New Push for Hands-On Learning

By Sean Scarpiello

The other day, I came across an article in the magazine “Fortune” on a new book which is challenging the ideas of traditional education. Harvard professor, David A. Kaplan’s book, Trusting What Your Told, looks at the way students are being taught and rethinks the ways to improve teaching. One of his overall ideas is to incorporate more hands on learning in the classroom and to have less structured instruction. He argues that students should be given the opportunity to ask questions and have them answered. How exactly will these ideas translate into the classroom?

Removing a lot of the structured curriculum mandated by the government in schools may sound like a terrible idea at first, but when we take into account what teachers could replace this time with, less structured time may be much better. If each class in school has a time devoted to simply asking questions, students may learn more. In addition, students’ interests may become peaked and they may find a passion for subjects in which they previously struggled. This, in fact, can end up boosting a student’s grade in the class. If teachers take 15 to 20 minutes at the end of each class to answer questions regarding all different areas of a subject, students may learn even more. If students do not have any questions, teachers can even come up with presentations that are thought provoking for students. Teachers also have the ability to look up the answers to many questions online and go over answers in class right as the questions are asked.

I myself would have liked the chance to be a part of such a program in school. For example, I had always found physics boring and tedious. However, if I had the opportunity to learn about the ground-breaking advances being made in advanced physics, I may have pursued the area. In classes like entry level physics, students are exposed only to the long formulas and intense amounts of math. If students were exposed to the topics advanced physicists are studying, such as string theory or faster-than-light speed, there would definitely be a growing interest among students.

One other idea I enjoy about Kaplan’s idea is that hands on teaching allows for much more learning. Currently, there is not much hands-on learning going on in schools. In my experience, I did not come into contact with hands on learning until my second year in college in Genetics class. On the very first day of this class, the professor handed out a worksheet with a pyramid of the different types of learning. At the bottom of the pyramid was memorization learning. At the top of the pyramid, there was analyzing, evaluating, and problem-solving based learning. This was the first class in my educational career where we were challenged to ask questions and evaluate our own questions. Also, all of us learned much more in this hands-on class than in other classes. This is because we were not being asked to simply memorize the material, but also put our knowledge to the test and work out problems. In addition, if students were exposed to more hands on learning earlier on in their education career, students would also develop critical thinking skills at a younger age. This would cause more students to not only be interested in certain subjects, but also be able to analyze and solve problems in these subjects at the same time.

In all, if education professions could implement some of Kaplan’s ideas into their curriculum, students would become much more adept in problem solving and critical thinking. Also, teachers would be able to motivate students to work hard in class by stimulating interest and introducing the interesting aspects of each subject being taught. Ultimately, this can lead to generations of students who are not only interested in the subject matter of courses, but also in learning.