Wednesday, March 12, 2014

10 Ways to Use 10: The Rule of 10 in the Classroom

A recent piece in the Huffington Post, 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned For Children Under the Age of 12, has gone viral. The post (column, piece) has spawned intelligent criticism from many fronts, very good ones found in the Huffington Post and in Slate (read together, these are a terrific example of how the written word can make both argument and opinion.) Undoubtedly this is largely because of the provocative nature of Rowan's proposition, but I suspect an additional reason is the piece's construction: any post with a title beginning "10 Reasons" will be read.  There are currently 601,000,000 results for a Google search on this phrase.

Why is this?  Maybe because we are a decimal culture.  Maybe because 10 is stronger than 5 or 3, but not overwhelming like 50 or underwhelming like "a dozen." The power of 10 is as great as, but very different from, the power of 3.  

I teach both The Rule of 3 and The Rule of 10 as essential elements of literacy.  "3" is concise. It is a comfortable number of repetitions that can be changed incrementally without the reader becoming lost or bored. It is symmetrical but also edgy. In almost any array of 3, no matter how presented or communicated, one element will come first, one will be in the middle, and one will be at the end, which is both satisfying and suspenseful (variations on this are more interesting).  "3" is the foundation of the standardly taught paragraph and the 5-paragraph essay (BOO to both).  

However satisfying, The Rule of 3 is also childlike in its simplicity. It is the stuff of tales that wrap up neatly and of short-lived arguments.  It is about keeping within the frame.

On the other hand, "10" begs for busting out.  Any list of 10 is really just a tenth of a list of 100. Any list of 10 can easily be expanded. Readers intuitively understand this. A list of 10 is affirming, authoritative, solid, and, potentially, endlessly entertaining.  

The Rule of 10 is about growth and possibility, change and conflict, energy and age.  I have also always found something compellingly chilly in the combination of the loneliness digit and the emptiness digit.  Flipping them creates a neat reduction, repeating them results in a confusion of binary code streaming across a pale green monitor... 10 is the stuff of the digital age as well as The Age of Kings.

The Rule of 10 is a rule for today's students.  

So how can we make it work for us in the classroom?  Here are 10 Ways to Use of 10 at any grade level:

  • I think lists are basically boring, but if you must make lists, require 10 items.  10 favorite...  10 examples of... 10 expressions...  10 adjectives...  10 poems...  10 novels... Where once you stopped at 3 or 5, to make it easy, make it challenging with 10.  Work with ordering or sorting the list in various ways.  4 + 6 is calming.  5 + 5 is a study in antithesis.  3 + 3 + 3 + 1 is a powerful structure for making meaning and conveying emotion.  Write about choices made.
  • 10 letter words are wonderful.  There are many collections online. Study them, record them rolling off your tongue, play vocabulary games with them.  Require them.
  • A great middle school exercise to improve listening and communication is pair-drawing.  Allow only 10 lines.  On partner draws (allow 10 seconds) behind a screen.  He then gives oral directions for his partner(s) to create the same drawing.  Practice!
  • Read 10 (blog posts, articles, opinions, analyses, summaries, novels, poems).  This can also be applied to visual literacy.  Draw 10 connections.  
  • Write (draw, illustrate, record) 10 different/connected/overlapping...  
  • Memorize in groups of 10.  Old school, yes, but it worked then and it works now.  Use the same groupings from #1 to create mental collections.  Very powerful skill.
  • Model the 10-sentence paragraph (most students will quickly see how this can be expanded).  In fiction study, have students seek out 10 sentence passages that convey meaning, theme, etc.  Share them and use them as models.
  • Study The Gettysburg Address.  It has 10 sentences.  Why?  How is it organized?  
  • Apply The Rule of 10 to a longer text as a framework for analysis.  Where is the Rule found?  How does it improve or effect the overall construction?  (characters, chapters, settings, conflicts...)
  • Expand or contract something 10 times.  This is a ripple or pattern exercise that can be used for multiple outcomes: a slippery slope argument (or the reverse, which I call "up the ladder"), brain storming, visual thinking, story-telling, creative narrative, description, development of arguments, coding...  I like to start with If You Give a Dog a Donut and also to use a simple paper-chain group activity to demonstrate how 10-step growth can create a complex or straightforward product.  The math link is obvious (multiplication, division, permutation - and what is a fraction anyway?).  
And why stop at 10?  If you remember playing Crack the Whip as a kid, on the field or on the ice, you know that the longer the whip the more forceful the lash. 3 is simply not much fun. Sometimes it hurts to be at the end of the whip, but it's worth it.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

On Listening to Poetry



The New Yorker has launched a new free podcast series, The Poetry Podcast.  Each episode, hosted by Paul Muldoon, contains a New Yorker poet reading a poem that he/she has selected from the magazine, followed by a conversation about that poem.  The poet then introduces and reads one of his/her own pieces.  

What a powerful tool for the study of poetry!  In this age of poetry minimized as paired text, often read only thematically, it is important for teachers to locate and use tools that support the reading of poetry as essential, elemental, text - deserving of both a leisurely and a personal reading.  

I quote from my own Scoop of this announcement:

Muldoon writes, "the eye is not the only buyer into, and beneficiary of, the poem. The ear has been in the poetry business for much longer, given poetry’s origins in the oral tradition."  What a model for classroom reading of poetry as text!  Share this episode, in which Philip Levine reads and discusses "What did I love about killing the chickens" by Ellen Bass.  A sure winner.  Some students might want to just visualize, some to draw while listening.  The text of the poem is in the New Yorker archive: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/poetry/2013/02/04/130204po_poem_bass.  Connections are made to Whitman, Bishop, Harte Crane, Williams, Randall Jarrell and others during the discussion of the power of the poem's structure and diction.  Levine also reads and discusses his own poem, "In another country" :  http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/poetry/2013/02/11/130211po_poem_levine. You might discuss how much - what, if anything - Levine's introduction adds to a reading of the poem.  Perhaps some students should read the poem before listening to the poet. 

I would add now that a careful listening to the discussion reveals not "close reading" but a very personal closing in on what makes this poem special.  I discuss this a bit in a previous post called Close Reading and Poetry. Were Levine and Muldoon to methodically attack the poem's use of image or antithesis, the poem itself would lose its life.  

There are other apps for listening to poetry.  The Poetry Foundation currently lists 1165 Poems with "related content," which includes a reading of the poem by the poet.  I am listening to/reading Douglas Kearney's "Every Hard Rapper's Father" as I write this - a fascinating experience.  His recording brings sense to the inventive presentation of the text as well an an emotional depth that can be missed without audio.

The Poetry Archive of poets-reading-their-own-poetry is another great source. Students can create and share a favorites list and browse by theme, poetic element or form.  Did you know Margaret Atwood wrote poetry?  Try "The Immigrants" for a contemporary (and historical) connection every bit as powerful as most Holocaust YA novels.  

Poetry Out Loud is another good source of audio. Navigate to the Listen to Poetry archive of readings. Additionally, and perhaps more powerfully for the student, are the videos of the Poetry Out Loud contest winners and finalists.  This used to be housed on the web site, but is now found on a YouTube channel.  I have used this to engage middle schoolers in recitation, oral reading, and (for the feint of heart) choral reading.  It often opens the door to a poet's work.

Student readers, as soon as they can read independently or memorize effectively, can create their own audio and video recordings and discussions of poetry.  VoiceThread is a great tool for this, but there are now many, many others.  In fact, just about any "presentation" or whiteboard app will do the job. 

One interesting tweak, and a useful one for many students, is to charge them to play the role of Paul Muldoon.  Find an adult or older student reader who will select, read, and discuss a favorite poem.  You are moving toward a PBL unit!  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why are so many novels about death? A PBL Unit for HS

Cutter Man Dead Death Skeleton Bony Spirit

I once taught a 6th grade English class in which a student complained loudly that we read too much about death.  It served to broaden my curriculum significantly.  But the fact of the matter is, much of great literature deals with death.

In this month of death in the Philippines and remembrance of death in the veteran's cemeteries (including the one in which my dad lies), I find myself returning to the topic.

Begin with this list from a blog comment by Shiny Red Robocalypse (that blog post has the same topic as this one - some overlap):

It is reassuring to know that I am not alone.  Others commenting in this stream recommend additional great middle school titles: Bridge to Terebithia, Tuck Everlasting, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bless Me Ultima, Charlotte's Web, The Graveyard Book...  As Zoomba comments, "Great children's books and death are practically synonymous."  Ditto tween books and YA fiction.  It seems to me that death is absolutely trending.

Why is this so? I can offer up my own theory, but it seems to me that high school students should be addressing this question; the fact is that the synonymous relationship between death and fiction extends into YA and adult book lists as well.  

The challenge of answering my question - "Why are so many novels about death?" - would make an excellent PBL unit at the HS level.  These students will have read a wide range of mid-level books for background and there are endless great YA and adult titles to extend understanding.  Oh, and informational text as well.  

Kickoff: a speaker or better yet a panel: a religious, a psychologist or counselor, a survivor, perhaps a courageous terminal patient

Product: What might be an authentic learning product?  Perhaps a student designed all-day event on the topic.  Perhaps a media product (interviews or i-Journalism would be my choice, but an original video or stage play would be fascinating).  Perhaps a counter-death product, such as a comedy, or an investigation of "black comedy" and "dark" superhero movies.  It is not, after all, just in novels that we find so much death.  For the activist student, perhaps a Twitter-based "Read Something Funny Today" would be interesting.  

Assessment: Use the BIE (Buck Institute for Education) free Critical Thinking Rubric for PBL - follow the link to the appropriate rubric (grade level, CCSS aligned or not)

I give you below some of my recommendations for texts.  I have not included films, but death and film seems to be a natural fit these days.  Some students might want to look at the culture of violence in film and gaming, especially gun violence.  I also have not included graphic novels, but I have attached to this blog a page of recommendations in this genre.  Many of them are (no surprise) about death in some way.

Apps - zombie apps, war apps - death is hard to avoid if you are a gamer who likes more than candy, but here are some interesting takes on the genre

Day of Death - Google download for Android devices - with your name and birthdate as input, tells you when and how you will die
The Death App - you will need a QR reader to access the URL for this app, which looks promising but does not work on my IOS devices

Quirky Fiction

The Machine of Death - also available in a less expensive edition - This is How You Die is the sequel - all available from Amazon -  short story pieces, all with the premise that The Machine of Death has generated a slip of paper telling someone how he/she is going to die, but not when or where or any other important details - darkly delightful work from Wondermark's David Malki and friends.
A Monster Calls - this moving gem from Patrick Ness does not neatly fit into a category
Nation - Terry Pratchett - the recent horrific typhoon in the Philippines is a natural twin for this alternative history novel - death appears early in the story and never leaves it - much fodder for discussion, a different place to find deep loss and, perhaps, hope after disaster

Children's Books - the best children's books are for all audiences - rather than introducing cutesy picture books, I would begin here and perhaps some students will follow up with the cutesy

The Giving Tree - OK, so you can spin it positively, but this is really about death
Pierre - Sendak's "cautionary tale" and his Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life
Rose Blanche - Innocenti's grim allegory of the Holocaust should pair with other Holocaust readings
Klassen's This is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat Back present death as natural

Realistic Fiction - not that these are totally realistic - students might consider why and how elements of imaginative fantasy appear in each

As I Lay Dying - Faulkner's glorious, difficult walkabout with the family of Addie Bundren
The Bride of San Luis Rey - Wilder's exploration of the randomness of death - a little read classic
The Fault in Our Stars - a bit oozy for my taste, but many teens love it
Going Bovine - running from death?  running with death?  wonderful Cervantes-style romp across America
The Orphan Master's Son - pulitzer prize-winning novel of North Korea - I have been pummeled by this book, but it should be read
A Holocaust book must also be read - I suggest Night (not fiction, but grouped here as well as below), Once, The Book Thief,  and Milkweed - be sure to discuss how style and narrative voice are used to effect in each title
As this article makes clear, suicide is another topic that should fall into this unit - this goodreads listing is a good one for HS (with the exception of Gatsby)
School shootings are well covered in this goodreads listing
And always there is war: Atonement, Red Badge of Courage, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Things They Carried (to list a few great ones)

SF and Fantasy - the dystopian and monster genres walk arm-and-arm with death, but a few titles rise to the top.  Some of them:

The Giver - Lowry's classic about both giving death and escaping a deathly life - high schoolers who have not read it, must read it
Something Wicked This Way Comes - Bradbury deals with death in just about all of his work, but this one takes it head on - I like to pair it with Morgenstern's The Night Circus
The Ocean at the End of the Lane - death is both tired and noble in this little wonder from Neil Gaiman
Hoban's Riddley Walker which treats with the death of not just characters, but cultures - ditto A Canticle for Leibowitz, which also has the undercurrent of religious salvation gone awry
Never Let Me Go - powerful dystopian look at death in a high tech, low morality world - The Adoration of Jenna Fox and Unwind are easier on the same topicany one of these will shock students deeply

Mysteries, Detective Fiction - these genre almost always involve death - I list here my favorites, books that treat death not as curiosity or spectacle, but with sensitivity and cultural understanding

Collin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun series - The Coroner's Lunch is the first of these magical mysteries set in Laos - read them in order
Charles Todd's Inspector Ian Rutledge series - A Test of Wills is the first in this series of a Scotland Yard inspector haunted by the ghost of a battlefield execution

Drama & Other Narratives - I have included a few poems here just to remind you to include them - they are not hard to find

Greek tragedy used to have a place in HS English and death figures in most of them - I perfer Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides, or Medea - these treat death differently, but both are deeply concerned with life-taking - The Oresteia is another choice
The Death of a Salesman - Miller seems to have disappeared from the classroom - a tragedy, as Willy Loman is a contemporary figure
Shakespearean tragedy - for the classroom, MacBeth, R&J, Hamlet and Julius Caesar - but obviously most will do, and what is more deeply felt than Lear or more horrific than Richard III - performances (viewed and done) are necessary
Beowulf - it is not really that long and ranges from truly graphic monster-death to the poignant death of the hero - I suggest Ian Serraillier's Beowulf the Warrior
The Iliad - pick and choose from many deaths and contemplations of death - I like Fagles
"Death of a Hired Man" - Frost's matter-of-factness is just the skin on the fruit - "Design" is a more abstract take on the topic

Non-Fiction - the daily news is an endless source of material for the classroom, but here are some print titles to consider

Marley and Me or Marley - it is important to include pieces about the deaths of our pets and other animal companions
"Death of a Pig" - E.B. White's essay/memory piece about a real pig
Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo - almost unbearably blunt recounting - not all of death, but it is the deaths that linger
Night
The Devil in the White City - Larson's intertwined history of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and a horrific serial killer begins and ends with one of the most poignant contemplations of death's finality that I have ever read
In Cold Blood is Capote's revolutionary documentary of a family's murder - just one of what is now a genre (including The Devil...)
May of the titles I listed in my i-Journalism post would fit into this unit
Brian Piccolo: A Short Season is a classic sports bio turned into a classic movie, Brian's Song

Is this really a good idea?  I think that discussion has to be enjoined, especially in light of today's endless reporting of global deaths, teen suicides, gun violence, sports violence, and ubiquitous onscreen/movie death.  Why are we so fascinated by death as a culture?

Is it possible to turn this around?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Product and Process and Ferris' Wheel

Source: LoboStudioHamburg, Pixabay
This morning I read a post from John Spencer's Education Rethink, Process or Product?  Reflecting on the sometimes poor quality of his classroom projects, and the contradition inherent in valuing Product in an environment that stresses the learning value of Process, John muses, "What if the driving force is the product and the journey and learning are a part of the reflective process?" and " I realize that school is more about conceptual development and skill mastery than about product creation...I'm wondering if we're accidentally making it artificial when we place the learning on the journey as the driving force."

What John means, of course, is hypocritical. There is nothing accidental or artificial about the decision to place learning importance on "the journey." It is, in my opinion, key to the educational philosophy that has been driving reform and change for quite a while. I share John's unease with this paradigm; I left the following comment on his post: 
"Kids have always wanted a reachable standard for product.  Every teacher has had the experience of students madly improving media (and other) products at the last minute to reach a standard set by another student. This is a good thing.  It is "real world" stuff.  The trick, I think, is the "reachable" part.  The teacher's product - the assignment with rubric and model - is hugely important.  It has to be doable by all (which in my experience means scaling down), but it also has to open up doors for creativity and learning outside of the information box.  Bad teacher product = poor student products.  Students are sensitive judges of themselves and of others - this extends to schoolwork too, something some teachers forget.  Of course product is important!"

But I realize that this is just one way of thinking about the relative values of Process and Product.

I am thinking now about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair as recounted in Larson's fabulous book The Devil in the White City.  This is a book about the driving force of Product: the Fair was a point of national, personal, and local pride - shoddy work, failure to meet the highest standard, were not a choice in the eyes of the architects, the workers, the designers, the engineers, the politicians, the businessmen, and the society figures involved.  This is true also of the parallel story, where the Product was the flawless manipulation of innocents with the end result of undetected murders.  With a Product in mind, all of the players in the book engage in learning activities, whether it be collaborative or competitive, deep research or spontaneous response. With few exceptions, the learning driven by Product is not an end in itself; it is a necessary cog in the wheel driving toward Product. There is little sense of learning as a cultural, social or personal change-maker. Learning in any of its format - new knowledge, problem-solving, critical thinking, creative expression, understanding - is necessary to achieve a goal or overcome a challenge. This is real world stuff.

On the other hand, The Devil in the White City is a book about the driving force of Process: the pride of its architects, workers, designers, engineers, politicians, businessmen, and society figures leads them to create new technologies and methodologies, to think critically for the first time about old problems, to invent, to adapt, to compromise, to broaden their thinking. In the background, national and global Depression propels the Processes of individual and national decision-making and of cultural change (labor unionism).  This is also true of the parallel story, where the Process of designing and constructing a "murder hotel," and then of manipulating victims, drives H.H. Holmes.  The Process of plodding, relentless detection drives the investigator who eventually finds the evidence. It is only because his Process is a little bit shoddy that Holmes is eventually caught. With few exceptions, the learning driven by Process does not happen in a vacuum; it is a technological change-maker with wide ramifications. With the possible exception of Holmes, the players are deeply aware of this. This is real world stuff.

It is the story of Ferris's giant Wheel that provides the best analogy for the classroom. Here are the key comparisons:

As you can see, there are many Challenges/Limitations and many (maybe) Advantages on the student side.  I think that these are exactly the factors that forestall or impede Process and, as a result, negatively impact Product.  

With the exception of Time (and even that can generally be compromised in the classroom, although rarely in Real Life), each of these factors can be manipulated by the teacher to improve both the Process and the Product.  In some cases, this means specificity in the Challenge (assignment).  In the case of support from the teacher and communication with knowledgeable peers, time and opportunity for both need to be built into the Process (this may mean use of social networks, etc.).  

The factors involving access and availability will vary with school and student populations.  In my experience, equalizing and maximizing these leads to the most successful Process time. If necessary, the Challenge needs to be adapted to ameliorate gross differences in access and availability.  It is the teacher's job to make this determination, just as it was Burnham's job to understand that most bids for the Fair engineering challenge were not doable, whereas Ferris had the access and experience necessary to make his Wheel a reality.  

The remaining factors, the four *'d (maybe's), are the most critical.  They are certainly the factors that John Spencer finds most worrisome. Dissonance arises from the fact that Process as driving force is aimed at developing these factors, while at the same time Process and any learning from it are only as successful as a student's ability to demonstrate each factor.  

For most students, the expectation that they direct their own learning Process results in confusion and mediocrity. A Process is either wildly creative and original but without a disciplined structure of thought ("all over the place"), or it follows a model so strictly that there is little creativity or originality in the final product.  In either case, a teacher is hard put to identify "learning" in the Product, despite the amount of information it contains.

There are five suggestions that I can offer:
  1. Rethink the concept of "what is learned" to separate information from skills from "learning traits" of the student.  Design challenges that focus on success factors separately, scaffolding students up to a challenge that integrates all three.  It is helpful if a grade level team is able to do this concurrently.  In every case, score student performance on the learning factor that is being developed.  If it is "communicates effectively with teacher/peers for support and guidance," score that (0-3 is generally effective).  If the factor is "demonstrates ability to create a slide show in a tool of his choice," score that.  If the factor is "demonstrates intellectual curiosity about subject," score that.  Once the language for assessment is developed, it should be used and reused throughout the year (or better yet, the student's school career).
  2. Ditch lock-step or 1-tool projects and focus upon open-ended challenges that truly require students to demonstrate an integration of success factors.  Save the word Project for these challenges and develop small, discrete challenges for each factor.  Students who have demonstrated facility with the factors necessary for success should not be asked to complete the same level of project.  Some educators design A-level, B-level, etc. challenges to deal with this reality. Others use conferencing.  It is tricky when assessment time comes, so...
  3. Consider grading Process but not overall Product.  By nature, Murder Hotels aside, Products are conspicuous in their mediocrity, success, or failure.  If they are displayed to a wide, authentic audience, no culminating "grade" should be necessary.  Instead, assess the individual steps and learning factors - everything needs to be submitted (notes, outlines, drafts...).
  4. The traditional Science Fair contains an interview element that serves to measure learning, often beyond what the physical product demonstrates.  Embed this in all Projects.  I always included a peer interview phase, averaged peer assessments with my own, and handed out peer response sheets along with assessment results.
  5. Make time a factor in Product focused projects.  This is tough, but absolute deadlines are not only real life stuff, they serve to force the student to refine Process, greatly improving learning.  "Chunking" with deadlines is often necessary.  Consider what I call the "Favreau requirement": Students who do not meet a deadline stay in school until the task is completed.
It is a lesson of The Devil in the White City that Product is ephemeral. Nothing remained of Ferris' grand wheel two years after the Fair. Process, on the other hand, is a stepping stone. The technological inventions and adaptations that made the wheel possible were lessons well learned; many are still being built upon.  

In fact, most students will, when surveyed, remember with pride and pleasure the smaller learning challenges at which they succeeded, but not mention big Projects.  Does this mean we should eliminate Product focused projects?  No, I don't think so, much as I dislike them generally. Without an occasional Ferris Wheel (or Google or Facebook or iPod or To Kill a Mockingbird...) there is little to inspire the student to continue learning and trying.  That deepest and most intrinsic of motivations comes with time.

Monday, May 13, 2013

From Apple to HP in Maine

Source
I have moved back and forth between the Apple and PC platforms regularly, both for home and for school use. I don't see platform as a big issue.  Yet my teeth grated when two weeks ago Maine's governor Paul LePage announced that the 1:1 contract that has been placing Apple devices (laptops and iPads) in the hands of students for 10 years is basically defunct.  A new contract has been awarded to HP for as-yet-to-be-announced (for absolute certain) laptops and tablets.


Reasons:
  • HP's bid was lower by about $33 per seat per year for laptops 
  • According to the governor, the PC is the tool our students must use because it is what they will "see and use in the workplace"
  • HP convinced the governor that the PC is the tool our students must use because it is what they will see and use in the workplace
  • An Apple tool is an elitist tool which most students will not encounter in "real adult life"
[update 4/14/13]  Since this post, the governor and his DOE commissioner have worked hard to sell the concept of choice.  In today's announcement of the purchasing decisions made by Maine's schools, the following data is given:
"This fall, 39,457 students and educators will start using Apple’s iPad tablet ($266 per year, per seat with network), followed by 24,128 using Apple’s MacBook Air laptop ($319 per year, per seat with network) and 5,474 using the HP ProBook 4440 laptop which runs Microsoft Windows 7 ($286 per year, per seat with network)...
Teachers in schools that went with Apple’s iPad will additionally receive a MacBook Air to use over the four-year contract..."

It seems that the vast majority of Maine's schools have rejected the HP choice, made because "Governor Paul R. LePage and Department of Education leaders wanted to ensure schools had options, including equipping students with the PC and Microsoft technology they are most likely to find in the workplace." (source).  Perhaps this is because of the arguments I made, and still make, against the switch:]

- The cost of retraining Maine's teachers and IT personnel was not part of the announcement. 
- The cost of replacing/re-contracting for apps successfully used in Maine's classrooms was not part of the announcement. (But today, coincidentally, there is an announcement that Google is launching an Android app store, Google Play for Education, so it will be easy to spend the money districts don't have for apps.  Considering that the announcement contained this sentence, "And, as long as each student has their own Google account, teachers can deploy their app selections to the tablets for an entire class or grade from their own account",  it might not be as easy to use as the announcement announces.)
- The cost of replacing Apple machines and apps purchased for district and school administrative use was not part of the announcement.
- The cost in time of (some) IT staff for reinstalling/reconfiguring server-side software was not part of the announcement.
- The cost of virus and malware prevention/detection/management apps and implementation was not part of the announcement (yes, I know few viruses are written for Macs...).
- The cost of new laptop cases/tablet covers (as needed) was not part of the announcement (it may be part of the contract, I don't know).
- The cost in time for transfer of student portfolio and teacher instructional materials from OSX or iOS-specific file formats to Windows 8 (or 7 - this has just changed and may change again) document formats was not part of the announcement (for schools not using Office for Mac).
- The cost to teachers in time lost for addressing the important areas of curricular expansion and adjustment due to new CCSS and Next Generation Science Standards was not part of the announcement.
- The additional cost to low-performing (D or F) schools and their districts, already shouldering higher budget demands in the name of test score improvement, was not part of the announcement.
- The cost to parents replacing Apple devices purchased for home with PC devices - was not part of the announcement. 

The additional cost to districts and schools wishing to maintain the Apple platform as a choice was part of the announcement.  This could range from relatively small to the equivalent of a teaching position, or more.

Districts will come out even or lose, depending on local vote, which might be by the school board or town meeting.  Most will lose economically.   Or make changes in the classrooms that will directly impact student learning and educational programs.

MacDaily News had this to say: 
"Only iPad has a meaningful library of apps. Only iPad can access school textbooks via iBookstore created by iBooks Author. Only Mac can run iBooks Author. In fact, only Apple Mac can run all of the world’s OSes and software. Only Mac. Only iPad."
(Read more at http://macdailynews.com/2013/04/30/state-of-maine-tells-schools-to-buy-hp-notebooks-running-windows-8-instead-of-apple-macs/comment-page-3/#hf3ry8iJ1FhgjXmX.99 ")

The most important points to be made about this decision (as of today, a done-deal) are these:
  • Industry does not widely use the buggy Windows 8 (probably the reason HP switched the offer to Windows 7 after the Maine announcement).
  • By the time a Maine 7th grader is "in the workplace" - let's assume he/she has at least 1 year of post-secondary education or training - no operating system will look like Windows 7 (or 8) and no laptop PC (if they even exist) will look like the HP ProBook 4400.  
  • Maine is, also according to the governor, concerned that not enough HS graduates complete secondary education before entering the workplace.  This adds 2 - 4+ more years of technological change between graduation and workplace.  
  • The academic world of today (post k-12 even in Maine) is platform independent.  Need a PC to study science?  We got it covered.
  • Not all work is STEM-centered or business-centered.  Even assuming that the PC platform is currently more visible in these arenas, a significant portion of Maine's graduates will enter the arts and humanities, and small or home business arenas, where Apple is a top player because it is reliable and family-friendly.  Maybe Maine's governor does not care about these kids -> adults, but I do.  
  • Kids are not workers - they are kids.  Apple products are, at this time, more consistent, secure, and app-rich (educationally speaking -> engaging) than the competition.  This is not elitism - it is the truth that comes from my long years of experience with both platforms in the classroom, with my adult children, and with grandchildren.  
  • Apple and Maine together have created a digital environment that supports k-12 learning.  Undoing this in order to meet the questionable needs of a workplace future is just plain short-sighted.  HP does not [I can not tell you my source, but he/she is highly placed] have a great track record with follow-through or quality control in this arena.
  • Even in today's workplace, most used-for-work apps and software are proprietary - tweaked  or designed for the specific use in the specific industry.  Think auto mechanics. Think hair dressers.  Think Maine government. Think industrial engineering. Think medicine.  Think food-supply inventory.  Think payroll.  Think Best Buy and AT&T geeks. Think office cubicle. Think your local graphic artist or writer. Think lobsterman.  Kids need to learn to be adaptable and creative with apps - hardware platform does not matter.  (This is not an argument for change when the total cost-of-change is considered).  From my point of view, today's most creative and creation-making apps (that are not web-based) are iPad or Apple apps.
  • iTunes is not supported in the Windows 8 environment.  What will happen to music and podcast libraries as the HP contract goes forward?  Oh - unless HP for ME stalls out at Windows 7.
On the other hand, I know that PCs are powerful tools.  Access is so much fun that I used to play with it every day (sorry - it is not in the basic Office plan for Maine's schools).  Numbers does not hold a candle to Excel.  Hacking Windows is really fun for hackers.  Powerpoint is used to be more powerful than Keynote, and it is used to be ubiquitous in the educational and business worlds.   Many programming language compilers are built only for the Windows platform.  The new Smarter Balanced digital tests are designed to run better on PCs.  I don't know specifically about Windows 7 or 8 (except what I read), but app integration on PC laptops has always been good on the PCs I have used and taught with. That's a plus. Same for the quality of graphical and video apps.  OK for kids at least, even though all of the pros I know use Macs (shouldn't our artistic, musical and publication creating kids be using Apple tools?).  And viruses can definitely be contained if users are vigilant (and the right apps are installed and updated on all machines and on the new servers).  

My take on this?  Maine can be forward-thinking, save money, and get more bang for the buck in the long run by addressing a few specific weaknesses in the HP-exclusive k-12 contract.  For example:
  • Invest in successful curricula and programs by using contract savings to support requests for desktop and laptop Apple hardware and apps, and mobile devices and apps, that teachers want because they will be used in classrooms and have no equal in the Windows environment.  The state should not be open to accusations of limiting educational growth on the student level.  Especially not in the arts.
  • Put state money into giving educational IT staff complete training in both platforms (including licensed repair of PC and Apple machines).  This will prepare the state for a platform-independent system by the time the next contract rolls around.
  • Design MLTI and DOE training sessions with three and only three goals.  Let all other app-specific PD be handled by in-house and local discipline-specific workshops (e.g. transitioning from iMovie or Keynote, from Numbers to Excel).  My big three goals for MLTI:
    • Teacher comfort and expertise in Google for Education apps and extensions/add-ons
    • Teacher comfort and expertise with web-based apps that support the new CCSS goals (the 4 C's, textual analysis, communication of mathematical thinking, authentic publishing)
    • Teacher comfort and expertise with management of cloud storage for educational use (Google Drive and Dropbox would be my choices, but there are many others).
  • ... can't think of another good idea.
End of rant.  If you want to visit the dichotomous, often vitriolic, environment this decision has spawned, visit As Maine Goes.  Let's hope "so goes the Nation" is a NOT.  

My next post will cross-evaluate the most highly evaluated apps for education.