Friday, June 13, 2008

Visit Our Website

Part of this course involved developing a website centered around urban education in some way. I am one of four co-creators of a website called Urban Curriculum: A Webguide to Best PRactices in Urban Education. The group has linked the website to our blogs, but we have'nt informed the blog readers about the site. You can visit the site here: . We have included pages within that focus on urban teaching for the content areas of science, social studies, and English. Let us know what you think, and feel free to tell us about how we can improve the site! I will leave you with the urban science page.

Unique to the disciplines of the natural sciences is laboratory work. Science classes lend themselves to experimentation using hands on, real-world experience. These experiments require that the students work together in order to perform the experiment, and interpret the data collected.

The internet is an invaluable resource for ideas on inexpensive, cultural, uncomplicated, and even impromptu lab exercises. Believe it or not, youtube has enormous potential for learning, and that includes demonstrations of interesting lab experiments to students, and/or gathering ideas on experiments that you might try with your students.

There are many inexpensive experiments that demonstrate very important concepts. These protocols could prove very beneficial in urban settings that do not have sufficient funds for all the desired equipment.

Because the purpose of our website is to provide useful practices for urban teachers, I will provide you with a few brief examples of lab experiments that can be utilized to demonstrate central concepts from each biology, chemistry, and physics as examples to the kind of lessons that may prove very effective in an urban setting.

Biology lab: Probability and its Relationship to Genetic Processes

The instructor can preface this lab with a discussion of the various combinations of physical traits among the students in the diverse racial and ethnic class.

The lab itself only requires a quarter for each of two lab partners, and demonstrates the probability rule of sum as it applies to several genetic processes, including the law of independent assortment, and the probabilities of a genetic outcome in a cross.

Chemistry Lab: Miscibility

The instructor can begin the procedure by asking the students about various kinds of liquid ingredients that their family or culture uses in cooking, or even asking them to bring some liquids into class for use in the experiment. The instructor can then ask the students to mix various combinations of any two of the liquids (cream, oil, water, juice, vinegar, etc.) to find out which one's mix. The lab can conclude with a discussion of polarity, and why the substances behave in the way they did.

Physics Lab: Reaction Time

This protocol can be prefaced with a discussion of the importance of reaction time in the students favorite sports players, karate fighters, race car drivers, and any other cultural interests with which the students identify.

The experiment only requires one meter stick between two lab partners.

For links to the protocol of these labs, and other information, visit our website.

Final Reflcetion - Course Feedback

The most valuable portion of the course were the site visits. I have never been to an urban school, so seeing was believing. I do believe that we should have visited some of the more struggling schools in addition to the schools we did visit, but just visiting the city gave me an idea of the enviornment. The most valuable of the site visits were the time we spent in the classroom, observing student-student and student-teacher interactions. We should spend more time in the classrooms, and less time with the formal presentations given by the schools. I also really wished we able to visit the high school that focused on science, although, through no one's fault, that was just not possible this time.
The course's organization was favorably, as we had some time before we visited urban schools, although the schedule was a bit "last minute". We weren't penalized if we couldn't make all of the site visits for the entire time (I hope). I appreciate a flexible course. I am struggling a bit to finish 15 blog entries, it would be helpful to have more assigned blog entries.
I enjoyed most of the readings, and found most of them to be quite pertinent to the course. However, I did not find the reading on utopia to be very helpful. I am useually very interested in philosophical concepts and readings, but that text did not expand my understanding of urban education very much. I would like to read more about urban psychology, and concepts framed around psychology and urban environments.
As I mentioned before, the course was valuable for even those who do not have any interest in urban education. I learned a lot of practical information that all teachers should know. I am also very appreciative of the knowledge of blogs and websites with wehich this course provided. If we had a full semester for the course, I would suggest a project that involves developing a lesson plan (group or individual) that is geared to an urban environment. I would have also liked to participate in more community of inquiry type discussions with the class.
Overall, I am happy with what I took from this course, even if I never wind up teaching in an urban environment.

Final Reflection - Self

I am not sure of my expectations for the course. I knew I did not
want the course to be pushing an agenda, or trying to indoctrinate the
students into urban teachers. I don't think the course had either of
those qualities, so I suppose my expectations were met in that
category. I checked "rate my professor" before the first day, and the
general idea was that the course would be challenging, but that it
would open your eyes into the world of urban education. It was not an
unrealistic amount of work by any means, and it did "open my eyes" in
ways, as I had little or no experience with urban education before
this course.
The political/bureaucratic side of urban education disagrees with
me most strongly (is my biggest challenge). I know it sounds very
cynical (because it is), but I do not have any faith in politicians.
I take most of them to be narcissistic, egotistic, self-serving,
power-starving people, whose primary goal is stay in power. For this
reason, I have very little interest in the political/policy content of
the course, it simply does not interest me.
My greatest accomplishment in the course was the insight I
received regarding urban education. As much as I learned in the
classroom, I learned so much in the short time I spent in the urban
schools we visited. Experiencing urban education first hand was the
most valuable part of the course for me because, as I have mentioned,
I had not had any experience with urban education before this course.
Urban teachers need to be conscious and sensitive to all kinds of
diversity: class, race, religion, gender, sexuality, interest,
ethnicity, values, etc. This will allow an urban teacher to convey
concepts to students by relating the material to thw students'
experiences. It is important for urban teacher to connect with their
students, and become involved in their students lives. By this, i
mean that urban teachers should get to know his or her students, their
interests, likes and dislikes, their background, and their current
life situation. This will give the teacher valuable information about
the student, which will help him or her to effectively teach the
students. It will also give the the student additional support. The
student may see that the teachers really cares, and feel close enough
to the teacher to go to him or her if the student is in trouble, or
has a problem, or needs to talk about something bothering the student.
We learned that parental involvement is often inadequate in urban
settings, and this can help students greatly. These are the two most
important qualities urban teachers should exhibit. Although I have
not yet started teaching, I will consciously embrace diversity in my
classroom. I am sure that as future biology teacher, Many of the
views of my students will conflict with some of what biologists
believe. It is my job to explain that they are encouraged to hold
their own beliefs, and makes sense of the world in their own way, and
that what I teach them is how the study of biology makes sense of the
I will not say that urban teaching is not for me, but it is not
for me right now. I am familiar, and therefore comfortable with
suburban school settings, and as I student teach and then just being
to find my bearings as a teacher, I would like to learn how in a
comfortable setting. Before I took this course, I was convinced urban
teaching was not for me, and I have reconsidered after seeing what is
possible during the site visits. I also think that many of the
qualities and practices we have discussed in class apply to all good
teachers, not just urban teachers. Being caring, not sweating the
small stuff, getting involved, using student diversity as a strength,
as well as other qualities apply to all good teachers in the inner
city, the suburbs, and rural schools. I was also really satisfied
with the technical skills I took from the course. I learned how easy
to create, and powerful to use blogs and websites are in a school
setting. I plan on using the technology in my classroom, perhaps as
early as during student teaching.

My Close Family Friend

I have a family friend that is for all intensive purposes, a member of the family. Hes a very smart person, as he attended Cornell and just graduated from Harvard Law school last week. He's extremely humble, very easy to talk to, and just an overall great guy. He grew up Queens, and attended a very "rough" public high school in NYC. He told me that students had to worry about looking at other students the wrong way, literally. I talked to him yesterday to see what what he thought about his education.
He was in all the best courses that his school had to offer, and excelled as a student. He never got involved in all the negative influences around him, and avoided getting into any trouble. I asked him what it was that made him so successful in a school where many students were not. He told me that he always had a drive to do well, and better himself. He understand that education was the vehicle by which he could achieve great things, and he certainly has, and will.
He also mentioned his mother, who supported him along the way. He said that she has helped me see how important education is, especially in an urban area, when the students may not have as many other opportunities to fall back on.
He shows me that, with the right mindset, and ambition, one can dictate their own level of success, even in urban areas. It takes commitment to the idea that, against all odds (in some cases), education is the key to accessing greater opportunities in life. And sure, there are people like Bill Gates, Kobe Bryan, Kanye West, Johnny Depp, and many other who have achieved great things without a complete education, but they are exceptions, as most of us will see muh more success with an education.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The News is Not Helping

I admittedly do not watch the news very often. I do not have very much interest in the news, as I'd rather watch a movie if I want drama. As often as I watch the local news, I see at least one report on an act of violence, often homicide, in an urban area. Many times the news will report multiple acts of violence in one hour: shootings, stabbings, rape, assault, vehicular assault, domestic abuse, child abuse, arson, gang-related violence, drug-related violence, the list continues.
Are the media lying about these occurrences? I don't believe so. Are these things NOT happening in the suburbs and rural communities? I would say they definitely do. But the media is a business. The media needs to attract viewers in order to satisfy advertisers, like any television station. Consequently, news programs are littered with these stories of violence and moral degradation in urban areas.
What effect does the news programs' reporting have on the community? This is what I would like to know. I remember learning that children who are frequently picked on begin to believe that what their bullies are saying is true. They begin to believe that they are not worth much, that they are losers, and that they are not capable of achieving success. This is the effect that I suspect the local news reports can have on the urban communities they portray to be so morally bankrupt. The members of the communities see that the news is effectively telling the "local world" that they live in a bad place full of bad things and violent people, and it must have some negative effect on them. The effect can snowball, so to speak as well. The members begin to think poorly of their community, and the attitude begins to spread to others who are influenced.
In this situation, how could education not be affected? Many students are going to school with the attitude that they come from an undesirable place, and that they can't do anything to better themselves. They have no hope, and do not see education as the key that unlocks the door to success, and rising above the unfortunate situation that many of them have been born into, to no fault of their own. Like I said, I don't watch the news very often.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

"Sight" visit to Newark

Two days ago, I traveled to visit some schools in Newark, NJ, with the goal of gaining first-hand experience with education in an urban setting. Newark is under state control, meaning that the state of New Jersey has taken control of the district in attempt to improve the education system there. The first school I saw was an elementary school. From what I saw, the school was very nice. The school was in a nice neighborhood, and the faculty and students appeared happy and eager to teach/learn. Some of the school staff explained their experiences at the school, and as well as their recent trip to Japan. It was interesting to find out that some of the staff members had received a grant allowing them to observe some of how Japan's education system functioned. The disctrict I was educated in is an upper-middle class suburban district, and the staff in my district have never been afforded the opportunity for professional development in another country. The school also had air conditioning, which is a luxury my district has not yet enjoyed. In a first grade classroom I visited, there were fifteen students and three staff members in the classroom: a teacher, an aid, and an inclusion specialist. This ratio is a more ideal ratio than the classes in my town. The kindergarten teacher who was leading the tour for the group I was in showed us her classroom. The room had a few computers for the children to use, a teacher's computer, and it even had a small refridgerator. From my observations, this school's student body were being provided more than adequate resources for quality learning to take place.
I asked a student, who also lead the tour, what he had planned for his future, and he told me that he aspired to attend Harvard or Duke and study law. His answer demonstrated that there was a sense of agency in the school, that the students believed that they could achieve great things. As I have previously discussed, agency is critical to the success of students. Students could be provided with all the resources possible, and they would not be useful without the student's sense of hope.
The most valuable experience I had in Newark was on the second day, in another elementary school. The school offered the visitors a significant amount of time in a classroom with students and a teacher. I visited an eighth grade math classroom for approximately 35 minutes, and I was able to observe the workings of the class, ask the teacher questions and interact with the students as well. The teacher was very passionate about his class, and he explained that the state-mandated curriculum was called math connections. In this curriculum, the the students are given a problem and are required to work through the problem without being first instructed on the method. The method allows students to develop problem-solving skills, and now become reliant on memorizing procedures. It really requires the students to understand the problem, and what it is asking in order to be solved. The teacher assigns partners, which allows students to create a dialogue, and feed off of one another's ideas. The teacher told me that he paired students to complement one another's strengths/weaknesses. From what I observed, the students were doing well with the method. The method seems, at lewast in theory, to foster crtitcal thinking skills.

My Culture Project

Culture is defined as a group of people’s shared way of life. Race, class, gender, sexuality, language, and religion influence, and are influenced by culture. The two are ever coevolving. The underlying theme is the classic dichotomy of nature vs. nurture. One’s race, gender, and sexuality (possibly) are all biologically determined, while class, language, and religion are socially determined factors. The two categories are in a constant interplay of such great complexity that it is very difficult to determine what exactly make someone “who they are”, so to speak. For example, one might consider a supermodel to be in a high social class because they are beautiful, famous, and are very wealthy. One could attribute the model’s beauty to their genetic makeup, but beauty differs across culture, making the model’s beauty a social construct. Other factors play into the fate of the hypothetical supermodel. For example, the model might never have pursued the high-status career in modeling if she was of a particular religion that instilled into the model a moral opposition to modeling. Let’s get back to the point.
One’s class, language, religion, race, sexuality, and gender are one’s culture (not exclusively). These factors are what shape how one views the world around them relative to themselves, and these are important factors that allow individuals to share a way of life, to connect with others like themselves, and to recognize differences among themselves and other. These factors make up one’s culture. If race, class, gender, sexuality, language, and religion form one’s culture, then they certainly affect how one views race, class, gender, sexuality, language, and religion.
I consider myself to a member of the American, upper-middle class culture. This culture has afforded me a college/post-college education, and freedom of ideas. The political system of a society can significantly affect one’s culture. I take for granted how the political system of American society can affect one’s culture. A free society allows its members to practice any religion, have any sexual preference, and move up the socioeconomic latter. As an individual who has grown up in an upper-middle class environment, I strongly believe in the notion that one can be as successful as they want to be in our society. I also believe in the strength of an individual. In an article we’ve read, Bulman describes the focus on individualism as a middle class value. Bulman would describe me as the product of the middle class. Individuals have made incredible contributions to our society. Our society allows individuals like Bill Gates and Howard Hughes. These are individuals who had ideas, and believed in them to the extent of transforming all of society, and the world. Because my socioeconomic class has afforded me the opportunity to achieve a higher education, I view myself as intelligent, educated, hopeful, and confident, but also sheltered in some ways. As an upper-middle class strait, white male, I have never had a very challenging life. I have not had to overcome poverty, racial discrimination, religious oppression, or violence in my neighborhood. I have not had to adapt to a new culture, or learn a new language as many immigrants do. I have never had to work a job in order to help my family make ends meet. For these reasons, I am sheltered from what are the harsh realities of life for so many people in the world.
My culture has positively affected my experiences and attitudes as a learner. I attended a safe, healthy, high school that was very conducive to learning. I attended a private college where I received a thorough education. I did not have to worry too much about the debt that I would incur because my parents helped me pay for school. Perhaps the most important contribution that my culture has given to me as a learner is my attitude toward learning and succeeding. I believe in myself, and my abilities to learn and adapt to new situations, and without the sense of hope and pride in my abilities, I would never had arrived at my current state.
It is imperative that I am conscious of culture in the classroom. Culture shapes the way each student understands the world, and it is my job to convey ideas in a way that resonate with their understand of the world.
My conception of culture is in large part the result of my education. Culture has been a theme in many courses I have taken in high school and college, and these courses have showed me that differences in people and cultures should be embraced, and used to gain different perspectives on issues and ideas. Some of those who have not been afforded the quality of education that I have may be closed minded, and place little value on beliefs and values that differ from their own.
Culture can play an important role in the classroom. Culture affects people in different ways, and different cultures can lead to greater understanding of a concept in a classroom. Different perspectives on a subject can generate various questions and conceptions of a topic, and dissecting a concept from many perspectives can lead to greater understanding.
Aside from this, culture can affect a classroom in many ways. In impoverished communities, where students are deprived of the opportunities of other communities, students might not believe in their ability to succeed. Students might view teachers as disciplinarians in this setting. They might be victims of the pedagogy of poverty. Teachers may feel as though they are not making a difference in this setting. In very wealthy communities, students might not value education because they don’t feel the need to make something of themselves. Students may view teachers as wasters of their time in this situation. Teachers may believe that they are wasting their own time, as well.
The best culture for learning occurs when the students believe in their ability to succeed, and have a genuine eager for learning, and teachers appreciate cultural differences in the classroom, and utilize differences to enrich the students’ learning experience.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Computers, Computers, Computers!

I was scanning the newspaper this afternoon when I stumbled upon the funnies. I began to read them, and noticed that four of the comic strips (Dilbert, Beetle Bailey, Adam@Home, and Grand Avenue) had jokes centered around the use of a computer. I began to think about the texts I have read, most recently Preparing Teachers for "Monday Morning" in the Urban School Classroom", which describe the lack of resources in some urban schools. The fact that many inner city schools and students do not have enough computers, or internet access, while four of the comic strips in one day base their jokes on computers shows that any students without computer knowledge and computer skills will be at a grave disadvantage in their future.
The frequency with which computers serve as subjects in something as trivial as comic strips is a demonstration of how common computers have become. My household has more working computers than it does residents. We take owning computers for granted. We take our access to irtually unlimited information (the internet) for granted. Most people would be appauled if they suddenly lost their ability to find answers in seconds using search engines. Much of the nation's youth wouldn't know what to do with themselves if the social networking websites they use were suddenly shut down. Academia wold have trouble acclimating to a world without internet research databases that allow them to search for scholarly articles. The internet is jsut part of the power of a computer. Computers can be used for presentations, graphs, word processing, design, and peforming calculations and measurements that humans simply could not perform with any degree of efficiency.
At this point, I have a hard time imagining the world without computers/ internet. However, there are plently of people who have never used a computer, and some of those people are inner city students. Most desirable occupations require at least basic computer knowledge/skills, and all of those who are deprived of computer knowledge are in a technological prison, restricted from the oppurtunities that those who are embedded (at least moderately) in the modern world; the world of computers.

Memorial Day and Urban Education

Memorial Day is a day reserved for those of fortunate to be among the living to remember all the fallen heroes. In addition to serving as a day off from work and school, and a grace day useful to nurse a hangover, Memorial Day allows us to reflect and honor all of those who died in war, specifically but not limited to the Civil War. When I ask myself how Memorial Day and urban education are related, I cannot help but transform the association to relate urban centers and war with one another. Urban centers are often very significantly affected by war, as they often disproportionately serve as sources for soldiers. Many inner cities have pockets of poverty, leading the inner city populations with fewer opportunities than other populations.
When people are removed from a community and enlist or are drafted into military service, their community is losing resources: families are without mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. Communities are losing workers, patrons, coaches, and taxpayers. The strength of the community, the networks, social ties, and communal institutions are negatively affected. The schools are affected as well. When resources leave a community, the community loses wealth, and human capital. The community loses parents to help with homework, and motivate their children. The community loses members that might have attended college, and returned to the community to acquire high-paying jobs. There are many ways in which one person can positively contribute to his or her community, and strong, healthy communities tend to have stronger, better education systems. It is a cyclic phenomenon, meaning better education systems ultimately build stronger local communities. Historically, war has siphoned resources from urban areas, weakening urban communities, and both directly and indirectly affecting urban education.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Ill-Informed, Media-derived Assumptions about Urban Schools

I will preclude this entry by stating that I have never had any experience with an inner city education. I have grown up in a typical upper-middle class suburb, and most all of my notions of urban school environments are the result of what I have seen on the television, read in articles, and been taught by my teachers. I may compare urban centers to suburbia simply because it provides a frame of reference that with which I am most familiar. With this said, I would like to formally state that nothing I write in this post is meant to offend anyone, and I hope that no one receives the wrong impression of my beliefs and values from this entry.
A belief of mine about urban centers is that they are generally less wealthy that suburban regions, but there are always exceptions. I believe urban centers are more culturally, nationally, ethnically, religiously, and racially diverse. Because of the low socioeconomic position, and because of the different cultural characteristics of the urban population (listed in the preceding sentence) in many urban centers, I believe that the crime rate is higher in inner cities than in the suburbs. I have seen stories of shootings and gang-related violence in cities on the news almost nightly. Popular rap lyrics also often paint a picture of violence and poverty from the city in which the rap artist came. Although drug-use is often portrayed in movies and shows about urban life, I do not necessarily believe that drug use is more prevalent in inner cities. I have seen rampant drug and alcohol abuse in my community; perhaps the wealth of the community contributes to the community’s drug use. From my experience, my suburban community is representative of the drug and alcohol use of other suburban communities like mine. I also believe that there are more single parents in urban communities, as this has been portrayed frequently in movies and television programming. These assumptions, or preconceived notions of urban centers shape my view of inner-city schools, teachers, and students as well.
I imagine inner city schools to be less-adequately funded that suburban schools, and therefore the schools provide less resources for the students. I believe that urban schools are often required to take more precautions in attempt to prevent violence in the schools. Movies have portrayed urban schools with metal detectors at the entrances, and have showed gang/race-related acts of violence within the school. I believe that many inner-city schools struggle academically, as the movies and shows I have seen portray the students as inadequately educated. I have learned in class that urban school districts are frequently Type I districts, meaning that the school board is appointed by the mayor, and the people of the community do not vote for the school budget. This gives the members of the community less influence in their community’s school decisions.
I believe that inner city students are less adequately prepared for college or the work force than suburban students, as I have seen movies that depict inner-city students as incapable of achieving the minimum basic skills at a secondary level. Movies have also led me to believe that inner-city students have less pride and interest in their school and education. Movies have shown the hallways, bathrooms, and even classrooms of the schools to be covered in, sometimes explicit, graffiti. I have recently learned about Haberman’s notion of Pedagogy of Poverty, which describes the situation that many impoverished schools face. The Pedagogy of Poverty fosters passive compliance of the students, and what is superficially perceived as a high degree of order and control from the teacher. The school’s administrators encourage the Pedagogy of Poverty, which is seemingly the most convenient pedagogical method for the school to exude order.
I learned in class that some teachers play a large role in perpetuating the Pedagogy of Poverty in urban schools, assuming the role of authoritarian in the classroom. Movies have portrayed urban teachers in two opposing ways; the relentless, unorthodox hero, and the apathetic, ineffective burnout who serves only to maintain order in the classroom. I also believe that teachers have higher salaries in affluent suburban districts than in urban area.
These beliefs could affect my interaction with the teachers and students with whom I will work, in both positive and negative ways. Firstly, these largely uninformed views may deter me from looking for a teaching position in an urban area. I fear that my lack of experience with urban communities and their culture would render me less effective in teaching in an urban area. However, I do believe in the individual’s ability to make a significant difference in anybody’s life. I have the potential to learn as much as the students do in an urban setting. I would learn about diverse cultures, attitudes, belief constructs, and then I would learn to adapt to the complexity of teaching to the culturally diverse students together. I might have students who have English as their second language. In very impoverished districts, I might have the challenge of captivating students who have larger concerns than academic excellence. These obstacles would most likely make me a stronger, more adaptable, more experienced (better) teacher.
The challenges of teaching in some inner cities might draw teachers together as a stronger support system, which might create stronger teacher-teacher bonds. This could open avenues for interdisciplinary endeavors, and things of this nature.
The classroom I would like to create fosters critical thinking, varies instruction method, creates meaning, is sensitive to diversity, creates a teacher-student dialogue, and embraces spontaneity and students interests. Teaching in a diverse classroom would allow many worldviews to be expressed, and would allow the students and myself to learn about a subject from many viewpoints. A diverse class would also mean diverse student-interests. My classroom will accommodate and diverse interests by allowing students to select topics to for projects and presentations. As a biology teacher, it is particularly important for me to be sensitive to the diverse religious beliefs of my students. The major theme in biology is evolution, and it may conflict with many of the students’ religious beliefs, particularly the students’ creation story beliefs.
The professional I hope to become will understand multiple viewpoints, be sensitive to all cultural backgrounds, and show empathy for individual’s life situation. My professional attitude will be hopeful, levelheaded, and positive. The assumptions I hold might deprive an urban school of all I expect to offer as an educator because my ill-informed assumptions may lead me to apply to a suburban school. I am familiar with suburban schools, they seem to pay teachers higher salaries, and there may be fewer challenges in teaching in a suburb.
The resounding questions that this paper provokes are, “How closely do my assumptions match reality?” I’d also like to know if I would be an effective urban educator, and if I would enjoy teaching in an urban area? I hope that this course and my first-hand experience in Newark will provide answers to these questions.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bio-English: Annotated Bibliography

Jones, Marge. "Bio-English." Active Learner: a Foxfire Journal for Teachers 1 (1996). 22 May 2008.

Bio-English describes a successful experimental elective offered at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx. The elective course marries topics in biological science with writing, aiming to improve the students’ science vocabulary and grammar skills. The elective allowed students to form small groups, select their own topics, and set their own project goals, which ultimately increased the students’ interest in their work. The students also developed technological and research skills as they engaged in self-directed research from library resources and the Internet. The students selected and researched an array of topics including the effects of steroids on athletes, the linkage between gymnasts and eating disorders, exobiology, the effects of volcanoes on the ecosystem, and the physiology and psychology of domestic cats and dogs. During an evaluation of the elective at the end of the term, students responded very positively: some students requested to participate in the course again in the following term, while another student admitted that the course was his motivation for attending schools some days.
Marge Jones claims that the Principal of Theodore Roosevelt, Thelma Baxter, is an instrumental part of the school’s success, as she is well connected in the community, contending that Baxter has created a learning environment “where reform works”. She embraces elements of progressivism and incorporates the resources that the community can provide in order to maximize the opportunities for Theodore Roosevelt’s students.
Theodore Roosevelt is challenged with all the typical misfortunes of an inner-city education: poverty, crime, disease, and more. The extent of the elective’s success can credited to the DORR Foundation, which donated $12,000, which provided the students with the internet-equipped computers needed for the research-based projects.
The article’s author, Marge Jones, is an English teacher and Project Achieve coordinator at Theodore Roosevelt High School. She taught the Bio-English elective course at the school, and has been able to provide a primary account of the successes of the course.
The course is an example of pedagogical excellence. Bio-English is student-centered, interdisciplinary, project-based, and technologically relevant. The course allows students to be self-directed, and also provides the students with the opportunity to work in small peer-groups.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Teacher in the 'Hood: Hollywood's Middle-Class Fantasy

Robert C. Bulman argues that hollywood often inaccurately portrays the attitudes and outlooks of members of an innner city community through the urban-high-school genre of films. The genre typically credits a single, middle-class, outsider with the success of inner city students. The outsider, most often a teacher or principal, uses unorthodox methods to help the deprived students overcome thier socioeconomic status, and unfavorable environment in order to succeed, according to middle class values. The middle class, characterized as people who earn their income rom salaries and wages, and own their own homes, place a high calue on individualism. They value education and high-occupational status, and rationality, according to Bulman. The text argues that the middle-class values in the movies are a reflection of our society's values. Because the middle class is the dominant culture in the U.S., the movies that embrace middle-class values will do well in the box office. The effect is cyclic in ways, as the middle class feel content with the notion that members of urban communities can be saved by single teachers. The portrayal of inner-city students in movies perpetuates the culture of poverty, which asserts that the lack of motivation of the students is responsible for their inabililty to achieve middle-class values. Bulmer argues that the problems common to urban schooling requires political and social cooperation and reform, and that Hollywood unrealistically satisfies the middle-classes' indivisualist values by portraying the unorthodox teacher as the sole-hero.
While I agree with Bulman's description of middle class values, and also his claim that Hollywood may portray unrealistic solutions to the problems in inner-city schools, I disagree with a few things concerning the article. Firstly, Bulman virtually ignores the importantce of the family structure in education (and a students general well-being). In Lean on Me, Mr. Clark and his secretary (I believe) visit one of the student's living quarters because her mother was reluctantly planning on putting her 14-year old daughter into foster care. The mother of the student explained that she was a single mother, that she had given birth to her daughter at a very young age, and that she had been struggling with drug addiction. Mr. Clark convinced the mother that she must keep her daughter at any cost or that her daughter would not have a good chance of graduating or even surviving. My point here is that the scene demonstrates the importance of family structure in the child's well-being. I have not seen all the other movies, but I would wager that many of them show students from broken homes.
Call me a person of middle class values if you will, but I believe in the value of an individual's work. And although one person might not be able to transform every underprivledged student in an urban area into an excellent student, I'd like to believe that one teacher can make a difference, against all odds. I'd like to ask those who have worked in an impoverished district if they felt that they have made a significant difference in the lives of the underpriviledged students of theirs?

The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching

In The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching, Martin Haberman describes the inadequate, ineffective pedagogy thast has become alarmingly commonplace in urban schools. Without meticulously characterizing Haberman's "pedagogy of poverty", the system consist of teachers performing the most basic of functions, where the classroom environment rewards the passive compliance of the students, and establishes a disparate power structure between the teacher and student. The teacher assumes the role of authoritatian, and students take the role as passive observers.
I would like to spend most of this entry discussing Haberman's criteria for good teaching. Most of what he describes as good teaching practices are classic examples of critical/creative/caring/Philosophical thinking. Good teaching is occuring when students are examining human differences. This exemplifies the CT skills of making distinctions, and can dvelop a students ability to understnd different perspectives. Good teaching is about examining major concepts, big ideas, and general principals. These inquiries involve making generalizations, and constructing meaning through philosophical thought. Understanding big ideas allow students to grasp concepts, which leads students to become vested in the material. It is undeniable that students are more likely to connect with material if they understand it's important implications. Good teaching involves students "planning what they will be doing", according to Haberman, which involves student-centered learning. Again, no rational person would disagree that activities which incorporate the interests of the students are more effective than the opposing condition. Good teaching is occuring when students apply ideals like fairness, equity, and justice. Philosophically speaking, these are typical examples of common, central, contestable themes. Practically speaking, these ideals can be applied to many facets of life such as the student's life as democratic citizens, global human rights, ideal practices for living in a community, and often even religious ideals. Haberman claims that good teaching incorporates active learning and the active involvement of the students. This coincides with the project method, which disserts that effective learning involves students' active, hands-on participation. Real-life and hands-on experiences have no eqivalent substitute. Haberman also claims that good teaching is going on when students question assumptions. Questioning assumptions is a valuable dimension of critical thinking. He says that good teaching is occuring when students are redoing, polishing, and perfecting their work. These actions are examples of self-correction, which is another valuable critical thinking skill. Finally, reflective thinking is part of good teaching. Students who engage in this skill are more likely to improve their abilities, as they can act as sensors of their own actions, and can therefore benefit from changing themselves for the better.

The Promise of Urban Schools

The Promise of Urban Schools outlines five key components that are required for excellence in urban schooling. The five elements are provided in the acronym, AEIOU. The first componenet is "Agency". Agency is the "power to understand, act on, and effect positive change in one's personal and social context." "Equity and Justice" is the second component. Equity is different form equality, as some contexts may present an "equal but not fair" situation. Equity, in their description, would deliver equal outcomes for each student. Justice is closely related to equity, as justice ensures that resources and support mechanisms are provided fairly to the students based upon the students' needs. "Instruction and Curriculum" is the third ingredient for successful urban schooling. The authors assert that students must have "access to quality instruction", which requires highly qualified instructors. Students must be challenged by the material, but also allowed to learn through discovery and creativity. Students in urban schools must be afforded access to all the resources and materials that are provided to students in the most well equipped schools in the nation. "Outcomes and Impacts" describe the need to assess the multi-faceted intelligences of students. This certainly seems to be applicable to all students in all schools. Standardized tests quantify narrow avenues of a student's capacity, while lacking any representation of student's creative abilities, knowledge of the natural sciences, and creative writing skills. The last component is called "Urban Conditions & Context". This section desribes the general attitude of the public in relation to urban schools. According to the text, the public has little confidence in urban schools, and "many urbans schools are in disrepair and suffer from low morale and low expectations.

The two sections I most closely connected with are Agency and Equity/Justice. "Agency embodies a sense of hope and possibility...". This is absolutely paramount in education. All the oppurtunities and resources in the world would be useless to students who do not value the utility of education. It is the sense of hope and possibility that keep students motivated through struggle and overwhelming work loads. This notion applies to students in all economic classes and situations. I will illustrate my point using a personal example. I went to a high school that serviced students from my town and the next town over. The town adjacent to mine is one of the wealthiest in the country, and some of the students were on a path to take over their parents businesses, meaning that they would inherit multimillion-dollar paying jobs. Many of these students had no vested interest in their education. They had no sense of possiblity, and failed to see the importance and power of education. So you see, it is hope and possibility that help to drive the learning process.
Equity and Justice was the other facet of urban education that really moved me. The article states, "...Equity and justice can produce better-qualified, committed citizens who strengthen our democracy. School equity goes hand and hand with social and economic justice..." The quote exemplifies the notion of the school being an agent of social reconstruction. If we can instill in students the values of social justice and equity through education and practice, we can transform society into a more fair national community.

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