Test Side Effects-Africa doesn’t exist…a reality check from Jim Gates

From Jim Gates’ blog today:

Jim Gates’ Blog

Test Side Effects – Africa doesn’t exist

Here’s the gist of a conversation from today.

Upon hearing of a wonderful middle school project on Africa, this coach sent it off to her middle school teachers, suggesting that it would be a lot of fun, etc etc. The response she got back, “We wrote Africa out of the curriculum three years ago.”

They are devoting more time to Western Civilization topics. Nobody else has picked up the topic, either, although one person does refer to it in a geography class.

This HAS to be because Africa doesn’t appear on any state tests. Why else would you stop talking about the world’s second largest continent? It has both the largest and the smallest countries, deserts, rain forests.. and AIDS, and Darfur, and … oh my. We’ve heard speakers at TED talking about how Africa is the world’s hottest emerging market, too.

Oh, and they’re now debating removing the Middle East next. I HAVE to believe that SOMEBODY at the high school will at least address that topic, tho. Don’t you? But, who will do Africa?

Can you hear me screaming? “Wait, Jim. Investigate first. Maybe they DID just shuffle it around to another grade.”

Yes. That’s it. That’s what’s happening. I overreacted. Hopefully.


Collaborative work in the arts classroom…

The Art21 blog is a great place to reconsider how postmodern art and artists might redirect the way we teach and think about teaching.
A recent post, “It Takes Two…or Two Hundred” is an interesting discussion about the fact that many postmodern artists work collaboratively. The end of the post raises the following questions:

Students in art classes today are most often engaged with working on projects alone. Why do so many teachers resist collaboration? Is it solely the organizational challenges? We’re certainly aware of the benefits it offers to both students and ourselves. How can we overcome the fear of planning collaborative work to more realistically reflect contemporary practice?

I often have students work collaboratively. The two main reasons that I think most visual art teachers might shy away from collaborative work are:

1) Issues with Assessment
It’s sometimes hard for kids to work collaboratively. Not each child can play an equal role. Sometimes ideas that meld everyone’s ideas aren’t the best ideas. How do you determine what score/grade/feedback students should receive?

2) It requires a different type of classroom and behavior management.
Group work requires the support of the physical space. Desks and tables arranged in lines are potentially detrimental to group work. Students talk more when facing each other (but you want them to talk, after all…it’s a collaborative project). Sometimes group dynamics create interesting behavior issues that may not have existed if students are sitting in their neat rows doing their own project.

In a massive clean out of my office, I came across some questions that can be used to help a group self-assess. I believe this came through the Getty Listserve. It seems that these questions might be a good method to use in order to get each student reporting what happened in their group:

  • Who was good at listening to others on your team? Explain with examples.
  • Who was good at suggesting ideas for your team? Explain with examples.
  • Who was good at asking good questions that helped us think? Explain with examples.
  • Who was good at keeping our team focused and productive? Explain with examples.
  • Who was good at technical things and skills? Explain with examples.
  • Who was good at composition and design? Explain with examples.
  • What ways did you contribute to your team effort? Explain with examples.

What barriers exist in your classroom? What tips and tricks do you have that help facilitate collaborative projects? What are the pros and cons of assigning jobs?

Cheryl Warrick

On Friday I ventured to Messiah College’s Aughinbaugh Gallery to see the work of Cheryl Warrick. I decided I must see the exhibit in person after checking her work out online. I couldn’t find my favorite piece from the show anywhere online, but here is one that will serve as a good substitute:

She also does digital illustrations that you can see on her blog. I particularly like this one:

I recommend spending some time looking at her work. I like how it represents ideas in her life, and that it uses representative icons juxtaposed with more traditional landscapes and/or abstract backgrounds. Enjoy.

The things I learn in schools

When I was a teacher who had a student teacher in my classroom, often folks visiting from the University would describe what I was like as a teacher…even though they had never seen me teach. At first it bugged me. The funny thing was, the descriptions were rather accurate.

I am in public schools a lot. Since last January, I have been in more than 45 schools observing student teachers and in-service teachers. I have done this in two different states for two different universities, as well as for part of a federal grant where I am coaching in-service teachers. You would not believe what you can learn about a teacher by the type of space/climate that they create in their classroom. And it only takes about 2 minutes (or less) to get a good read on the type of mentoring and experience our student teachers will have with them. The more I’m in schools, the better I get at this “sixth sense.”

I also like what I am learning from these teachers. Sometimes they have clever things on the wall that serve as significant distractions…usually I’m supposed to be observing the student teacher, after all.

This particular poster was a thought-provoker. Ironically, it is hung in the hallway of one of the most traditional, non-risk-taking schools I have ever been in.

This quote is from James Bryant Conant (1893-1978), Educator and Diplomat.

Lunch / Reading

I had an art teacher email me and ask to have lunch with me today to talk about issues of advocacy and curriculum. It feels nice to be able to sit and talk to art teachers about their reality/ies. It is a nice break from reading about art teachers. All this education won’t mean squat if I’m not able to use it to transform the field. So, for today I’m putting “academia” on hold for “education” and expecting to be energized by it.