Editorial Ideas

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and may not reflect the opinions and policies of my employer. I always aim to be discreet in posting about events in my professional life, and when relating examples they must first provide some illumination for those reading this blog, or assist me by sharing a problem I am looking for an answer to. Also, I multi-talk in my writing jumping as my brain does from one idea to the next. I hope you can get the connections and read between the lines I don’t express succinctly due to time limitations.

April 9, 2017 – Coding in the Arts

“ESSENTIAL ARTS” Houston Chronicle April 8, 2017 … “The arts can transcend trauma, color, education.” National Endowment Arts leaders say the NEA budget is not extracurricular or extraneous; it is essential. Job creation is a prime goal of presidential leaders and is essential too. But, are the robots going to take our jobs? Online entrepreneurs are coding their own websites like Maya Penn, 14 year old entrepreneur, philanthropist, artist, and eco-designer.

Technology is about solving problems with limited resources. There will never be enough money or time, so the system needs to change. Building 21st century job skills is essential for our future economy. With limited funding and time, combining computer science and art can save both time and money.

It is essential that teachers learn these skills to they can understand the power of computing in learning. FREE training is available from code.org and WeTeachCS.org and many others. And parents and community members can be code buddies and learn too, as computer science is a way out of poverty since it builds high demand job skills. This can start with FREE lessons such as code.org/frozen, scratch.mit.edu, pencilcode.net and turtleart.org created by Seymour Papert’s daughter.

A quarter of the people on the Goldman Sachs trading floor aren’t traders; they’re coders, writing software to automate the routine grunt work of employees. Studies predict 47 percent of American jobs could be lost to automation in the next 20 years. Computer science education should be a top priority. HB395 is a very important bill to help scale this as it brings weighted funding to computer science. Time in schools is allotted to testing, I am just asking for equitable time to build mindsets for computational thinking. How else can we find “Hidden Figures” in our classrooms?

March 6, 2016 – Code Buddies scaling White House CS for All Initiative

“Outlook weakens for jobs market” was a headline in Houston Chronicle March 5th. Every job area uses computer science, yet very few schools teach the foundation. The Computer Science For All initiative, www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/01/30/computer-science-all, offers a solution. You can learn to code and build job skills while looking for a job. Be a code buddy in a school. Spring Branch ISD has a place for you. See sbisdsnapshots.blogspot.com/2015/11/we-need-hour-of-code-volunteers-code.html.

My neighborhood section wrote an article, http://www.chron.com/neighborhood/memorial/news/article/Spring-Branch-ISD-volunteer-promotes-coding-6879289.php. I would like to see this information shared with all of Houston. If the public does not know about the importance of teaching computational thinking starting in elementary schools, schools will continue to put their resources into testing and remediation, and in a decade will continue to talk about the problem of educational reform.  And most CS for All lessons are FREE. So why with all the educational funding cuts, schools don’t use FREE, I just don’t get.  Could be they just don’t know and need education.

June 4, 2015 – Beyond the Bubble through ART

As long as administrators continue to make test scores a priority in time and funding decisions, they will, as was just reported June 6th in the Houston Chronicle, “HISD pupils Lag on STARR”. A solution can be found on the same front page, “Mini-murals brighten city, reduce graffiti.”

Instead of continuing to offer “snapshot” exams every few weeks at the end of lessons, formative assessments must be project based such as communicating through math art and murals. Linda Darling-Hammond in her books, “Beyond the Bubble Test” and “Next Generation Assessment” presents an enormous amount of research to support this.

Ken Robinson has been saying this for decades and is as frustrated as I am in trying to get this paradigm shift away from desks in a row lecture classrooms. His newest book, “Creative Schools,” should be the handbook for principals, not test data. The graffiti in education is testing; it needs to be painted over with creative products of learning.

April 29 2015 – Solution to Houston School Report Card

I offer 5 zero-cost solutions to improve school report cards:

  1. Give teachers ownership in decision-making instead of keeping them outside the administrative circle. And I am talking about retired teachers and associate teachers too. They have lived with the problems and observe what is happening. I am one of those teachers having taught at Alief Elsik HS and HISD Piney Point ES, both with low scores on the Children at Risk School Report Card.
  2. Reduce the use of B&W worksheets. Eliminate staff members who are hired to make copies and move them to classroom PBL support. Take the saving here and move to dedicated substitutes.
  3. Hire dedicated substitutes and eliminate the call-in sub system. If subs are not needed on a given day, they become classroom PBL support. If an overflow is needed non-classroom staff on the district and school level become the substitutes.
  4. Change the classroom environment to support PBL by eliminating desks in a row and lecture mode classrooms.
  5. Have clubs during the school day like highly rated HISD Pin Oak MS. Every teacher offers a club around their passion and expertise.

My 5th grade grandson offers his solution, “Eliminate B&W Worksheets and grades.” He says that when he is doing an applied math project and is not graded he is motivated to work harder and learns more. The above solutions are steps to move in that direction so next year maybe we can scale improvement in our Houston area schools. Having retired, I continue to volunteer to support teachers in the classroom. And I will continue the battle until we leave no teacher behind. After all, they are the only ones who can leave no child behind.

December 14 2014 – Big Eyes

Are you driven more by pride or profit or passion?

A question I wrote after watching CBS Sunday today. As many of my posts, this show sparks Big Eyes, that is big ideas in my brain. I sent the following letter to Keane, as she motivated me to keep working on my passion, building creative brains:

The special that appeared today on CBS Sunday was so empowering that I ordered my first Big Eyes poster, “Loves Makes a World of Difference.”

Ms. Keane would make an amazing role model for the American Association of University Women. Believe or not, we are still battling for equal pay. My battle is to support teachers who do the work while watching administrators take the credit. In Houston ISD stipends are paid for test scores. But, the art teachers are not part of that individual incentive. And we all know that it is the fine arts that motivate students more than any test.

I am a retired computer science and math teacher bringing FREE professional development supported by code.org to every K5 teacher in Houston. I am trying to find a way to empower teachers to be entrepreneurs whose expertise is recognized and not controlled by others, like Ms. Keane was controlled by her husband. So, I bought this painting as I think it tells the story: “Love Makes a World of Difference.” Please give my thanks to Ms. Keane for sharing her story, it has empowered and motivated me to keep volunteering to help every child build their brains through art.

Can’t wait to see the movie Big Eyes!

Happy Holidays

FrozenHappyHolidaysGraphic

Made with CODE – code.org/frozen

November 23 2014 – Tear Down the Wall of Lesson Plans

“Teachers try new approach by Iowa professor” What’s new … an approach in which they won’t know for sure what tomorrow’s lesson plan will be until they’ve finished today’s science class. I have been saying this for decades. I teach students not planned lessons. Time to trust the teachers and not waste so much time on administrators checking. The fear I see in teachers doing something different from what is in their lesson plans is a roadblock. This must be changed.

November 9, 2014 – Tear Down the Wall

Tear down this wall …

On the anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, I am urging those with the power to control what happens in the classroom to take down this archaic divide between 21st century learning and the TEKS controlled lecture classrooms. I remember when I walked the path of the wall in Berlin decades ago on a 2 month trip to Europe made possible because I was a teacher with summers off to create visions in my mind. Those visions still remain as I fight for classrooms that focus on creating visions and ideas in the minds of our children.

… an edgy art scene. Can still see the boundary from space, but after 25 year on the ground the divide is gone.

We need to break down the wall of competition … like the basketball competition heard around the world … Makes me cry. We must take down this competition in the classroom too, the GPA game that thrives on the failure of others. I experienced that wall coming down yesterday in a Code.org workshop observing teachers being kids in the classroom with pair programming. Creating apps and art together in Code Studio, talking, communicating and building ideas. My hope is that this little technique that has been used in teaching computer science for decades, can be scaled in the classroom with pair learning and pair teaching.

For the first time in my 30 years of teaching, there is finally an organization that is providing FREE resources for teachers to do this. The only barrier is TIME. So, I am asking, begging, every administrator out there to give every child an hour, just an hour, to learn the power of programming that just might be the spark that builds the motivation to persist and work a little harder. To learn that failure and collaboration is a solution to build brains for our future.

Please help tear down the wall of learning by joining the Hour of Code revolution.

August 3, 2014 – Parent Mentors

In posting this I realized it has been awhile since I submitted an editorial.  Guess reading the book DRIVE and my upcoming trip to Code.org training has reinvigorated me.  Any training on building parent mentors on coding, will increase their job marketability too as well as literacy skills.

With the start of a new school year, I wanted to reinforce an article from June. Yes, mentors for students are needed, as shared in the Houston Chronicle “Education on their minds” – June 11, 2014. But, time to add something different, such as a parent mentor program in low-preforming schools where parents of successful children mentor other parents in their neighborhood. This could provide extra income for low-income families who are paid based on the success of the families they help. This is no different than paying teachers based on test scores. Use the money going to pay teachers for test scores to pay parents, as Cy-Fair ISD Superintendent Mark Henry says, teacher incentive pay does not work. Teachers are short-term as usually only work with a child for one year, parents are long-term and offer the best solution. Principals, since you are key to a successful school, I challenge you to increase your parents as teachers too.

And if you are reading this and saying this is a crazy idea, I ask, why don’t you say the same thing about incentive pay for teachers? It is time to build on the solutions from “DRIVE” by Daniel Pink and move to increase intrinsic motivation.  We must create a success mindset that builds on failure as a learning process.

October 6, 2013 – Houston A+ Finland Solution

Comment I submitted on the HC Article Sunday Conversation: Nonprofit leader on education reform</a>

I want to thank Houston A+ Plus for sponsoring these inspiring events. I have had the privilege of attending these for many years. I was lucky to have worked under Scott VanBeck at Westside and received a Houston A+ plus grant to implement a combined computer science / algebra I course. The comment, “Kids in Houston are lucky if they get 45 minutes a day spent on problem-solving” is the problem and the solution. You asked about US falling behind in math. There are solutions. One of them came from the speaker from Finland at the HMFA – trust the teachers. I have a Masters in math education and 30 years experience as a teacher with solutions. Just like many classroom teachers. But, too many ideas remain unused due to time testing mandates and vendors marketing their product. The solution lies in giving teachers time to collaborate and build on what they know works. That too is something said from Finland.

Was trying to be politically correct. What I wanted to say is I have solutions, why don’t you use them? I am free and you know me. At least Spring Branch ISD is implementing my ideas. Just trained a teacher from all 26 elementary schools after they purchased $14,000 worth of robots to teach math and computer science through programming. Maybe one day HISD will want to use my ideas too. For now, I will work with those who support my vision for solutions to math. Will be fun going into the schools to work with K-2 children and hopefully build their brains to solve problems.

June 2, 2013
A letter to UH Chancellor Khator – make CS part of UH Teacher Education Programs

Thank you for what you are doing for UH!!

I have lived in Houston for 64 years and taught in Alief, Fort Bend and Houston ISD. I received my Masters in Math Education from the University of Houston in 1985. Not only did I earn Math Certification, I was part of the first teachers awarded certification in Computer Information Systems. And, I have been an advocate of Computer Science education ever since I taught FOM Math using an Apple IIE, Basic and Logo, and Consumer Math by programming a TI Calculator. I experienced in the classroom how programming can be an fabulous tool to practice math.

I loved your comment in the Houston Chronicle June 2 Sunday Profile: “I have always been stubborn, I don’t take no for an answer that easily.” I remember when an administrator called me a troublemaker. I pushed him on why, and he said, “You never take NO for an answer.” I was battling for computer science education as a tool to inspire students to learn math, and did not understand the logic of why this was not important in his decision-making.

So I thought I would write you, as I have the same problem with your UH Education College not finding this idea a part of their teacher education programs. I have been talking to UH staff and writing for a decade to please include computer science as part of their Masters of Technology and U-Teach programs. Maybe you can help make this happen. Now that math TEKS and HB 5 include programming and computational thinking the laws are in place, but it takes universities to include this as part of teacher education programs. You can read about my advocacy and efforts on my blog www.build-a-brain.com.

Thank you for your consideration 🙂 Karen North

June 1, 2013
Logic and Discipline: Cupcakes and North Forest takeover by Houston ISD
Instead of spending money on cupcakes to feel “nice and frosty ” doing something that is bad for my body, I am going to donate savings to the Cristo Rey School. It is innovative models in education that emphasize working toward healthy choices that need to be increased, not my waist size. Emphasizing discipline and exposure to real-world work experience should be the model in all schools. The North Forest teen Rashaan King was lucky he had the opportunity to attend an exceptional school. It is a shame that KIPP, YES, Harmony and other innovative schools are not given the opportunity to turn around the North Forest district and open schools like Cristo Rey. Houston ISD has too many failing schools they need to focus on, instead of taking on another burden. Just like wasting money on food that is obviously not good, I don’t understand the logic of turning over North Forest to HISD. Articles in the Houston Chronicle June 1st, 2013 inspired these comments:

· Cupcake fans feel nice and frosty downtown

· HISD takeover of North Forest …

· Educational inspiration editorial by Beliza Rios

· Rey of Home – Preparatory school is a workaday miracle …

February 24, 2013
Edu. Sec. on sequester: “Not rocket science” to stop “dumb cuts”

The Expanding Your Horizons Conference that I chaired yesterday was empowering. I want to thank the 100 AAUW volunteers and 100 presenters that made this possible. As, it is those caring individuals who are a powerful solutions to education. That along with the 100 teachers and parents who took the TIME to bring our 450 aspiring students. Now to put into action, the feedback part of the problem solving cycle. One thing I saw at the conference was overuse of Powerpoint and lecture, instead of the hands-on learning taught in the training. Maybe next year will just not have projectors available, or maybe just say Powerpoint must be primarily graphics, with only 5 words per slide. But, I have to get feedback from the students, facilitators and presenters first.

For me as the chair and reflecting on the day, I do what I do every Sunday, watch CBS Morning Shows, and get inspired to write something. This something was watching Arnie Duncan on Face the Nation. I added the following comment, which was the first. 🙂

Mr. Duncan, how can I help you get IT? It is about “Learning how to solve problems with limited resources.” Something I taught in my public school classroom, learning to solve their own problem using the resources they have in their hands. IT is about building solutions using the other 6 resources when money is limited. Those are time, information, energy, materials, people and machines. My lessons, videos, editorials and solutions from my 25 years as a public school mathematics, computer science, and career and technology education teacher can be found at www.build-a-brain.com and my Web 1.0 site http://teachertech.rice.edu/Participants/knorth/.
IT is about giving power to those in the classroom who are tired of “dumb mandates” by those who don’t live with the problem everyday in the classroom. Those in the classroom who have solutions, the “rocket” that can propel education forward. It really is not “rocket science,” let the teachers who take the TIME to share solutions that have worked for them take control.

February 9, 2013
Editorial below was submitted to Houston Chronicle. Lets see if they publish. It has been a while since my thoughts were printed, and I wonder why. But, wondering WHY is the only thing that results in change. Wondering and questioning … After all, Knowledge is Answers to Questions.


I went into teaching 30 years ago. Two reasons: (1) to have the summers off with my 3 children so I could be their primary teacher. (2) I could have an assistant in the classroom that never complained, did exactly what I asked, and was quite efficient. I had an Apple IIE computer, which came with two programming languages built-in, Logo and Basic.

What I have seen in the last 30 year of computing in the classroom is the digital device is used more as a babysitter then an assistant. The testing mania is killing our children’s creativity. I fear the HISD laptop program is like putting a gun in every kid’s hand without training of parents on monitoring the use, training of teachers on computational thinking and computer science, and motivating children to use their device for brain building instead of entertainment. Please, Dr. Greir, do not use laptops for tutoring systems to improve accountability scores, instead use them to build each child’s unique entrepreneurial spirit with 21st century skills.

I have written articles for the College Board, editorials in the Houston Chronicle, and have uploaded my lessons in the cloud for the last 20 years. My first 1.0 website is 100% coded in HTML, the language of the Internet that every child should learn. I now use a blog, as that is much more user friendly, www.build-a-brain.com. Please take a look at my work over the last 20 years and tell me what you think?

I think we need to get kids away from electronic devices and in the garden, the kitchen, dancing, and creating products of learning. It is project based learning (PBL) that is the solution for building brains. It is teaching a process to solve real-world problems that connects, integrates and allows practice of academic areas. As long as the computer is used for consumption of technology instead of creating technology we will wonder why in 10 years we have the same problem in schools we had 10 years ago. And I am speaking from the point of view of a certified Math, Computer Science and Career and Technology Education teacher. I hope this offers some food for thought from the public school classroom.


January 20, 2013

Comment I added after watching the GE commercial “Fly into the Future”:

And we still use B&W worksheets in the classroom … How to Reform education – get classrooms into the 21st century. Provide time during the school data for innovation, invention, entrepreneurship, robotics, engineering and computer science. Reduce the use of Carnegie Units and truly integrate what is now known as the academics. GE, can you help? All businesses can help by stopping tutoring and support creating products of learning – volunteer to build products. Don’t give your time and money to teach to the test.

 September 23, 2012

“Attracting the most creative, educated and brilliant workforce of tomorrow … Amazing research from Klineberg shows arts in Houston are vital in long-term future,” from the Houston ChronicleAdmiring the Arts 9-23-12.

How much money went into this research, and how much money is going to classroom teachers to implement solutions? Also vital are Computer Science and Information Technology, as they are predicted to be 60% of the future STEM  jobs.  And yes, the ARTS are part of CS and IT.  These forces are powerful when combined for our digital age children.

Combining the arts with the most lucrative job area, computer science, is what I have been working on for decades.  I teach programming through the arts.  If only my research and student work was scaled and sustained, maybe there would be some solutions in place. Students in my elementary school GirlTech Club created a robotic line dance in 2007: http://cscurriculum.shutterfly.com/35. Students in my Technology Systems programming module at Westside High School coded the graphic below in 2004.

<!    Sarita and Christlyn    4th period    3/31/04>

Programmed School by Two Girls 2004

As a retired public school math teacher I am continuing my battle for emphasis on arts, music and CS education.  That army is growing with the support of Schlumberger’s Computer Programming Initiative led by HISD school board trustee Paula Harris.  The battle now has a weapon that includes the new Texas math and technology application standards passed by the SBOE, which includes programming and computational thinking TEKS.

The teachers who touch our children everyday must be empowered with time to implement innovative lessons, and training for creative lessons such as programming through the arts and robotic line dancing.  If the trend to overload teachers continues, Klineberg’s research will be repeated in the next decade, and teachers like myself will wonder why our solutions are ignored. If you want to help, please go into your local school and see how much time is allocated to building creative, innovative, imaginative unique dreams in our young children

March 29, 2012

Why not eliminate math and English tests, as it is the application of math and English that motivate practice.  History and Science apply and motivate study of English and math, as those are needed.  Or even better, eliminate Carnegie Unit and seat time and move to project and module assessed through badges or other PLB tools. And to that add technology, that is engineering and computer science, the foundation of innovation and the economy.  My response to Huffington Post Articles on Virginia only testing math and science.

March 6, 2012
It is time to use social networks to eliminate this testing idiocy. All parents need to be aware of what is happening to their children and take the time to write their school boards and legislat0rs. Hands are tied for teachers. This was my comment when sharing this graphic by Lee Perkins on Facebook:

Graphic by Lee Perkins

Please see Houston Chronicle editorials from teachers. … “My daughter was an excellent teacher, but after 2 1/2 years fighting the administration, she quit” …

I spoke before the Houston School board June 9, 2011 about my concern for testing kinders every 3 weeks, but I heard nothing from them:

I made a teacher cry.
And I cried with her.
She cried over frustration.
She cried for her students.
She cried because teaching was no longer fun.
She cried because she wanted more time to sing to her students.

The rest of the comments can be found at: http://knorth.edublogs.org/editorial-thoughts-right-or-wrong/. We both retired this year.

I wish every teacher would just say NO, but they need their jobs. The parents are going to have to say NO more.

October 29, 2011
CBS Sunday Morning October 23, 2011, there were 3 stories that inspired connecting to my quest to change the focus on a one size fits all education. This was also spurred on by my presentation at a local technology conference.

Martin Sheen said he did not know how to balance a checkbook on CBS Sunday October 23, 2011. On the same show Nancy Giles talks about bank fees for debit cards. What she should be adding is lack of finance education starting in elementary school and continuing unabated through college. Since Martin Sheen’s interest is social injustice, maybe he might want to take on the problem of finance education, something he did not master.

Two classes that were eliminated in the state of Texas were Consumer Math and Computer Math. Want to solve educational and finance problems at the same time? Reinstate these classes instead requiring all kids to take Algebra II for graduation. If a student is not fluent in algebra I concepts and takes algebra II they are on the dropout of high school road, as everyone wants to be successful. Consumer Math and Computer Math build algebra I skills through practice, which builds the fluency needed for success in algebra II. And, this just might produce computational thinkers and STEM workers who can be one of the problem solvers of the future. How Many People Can the Planet Handle? This is from the CBS “Fast Draw” on the same CBS Sunday Show. That depends on how many people create problems instead of learning to solve their own problems.

October 16, 2011
CBS Sunday special on Mary Donnelly, Island Nurse, 1000 things to do, but instead I write and wonder. So I looked her up and added this comment to one of the link that came up on a search. The video Island Nurse tells the story of Mary Donnelly, now 81 years old, who has served the Block Islands small isolated community.

We need more people like Mary to change the world. People who are not selfish but look to see what they can do to help others. I think her daughter was a little selfish; she should have said, “I am proud of you Mom, what I can I do to help you keep going.” Mary said, “What you can do here is never forgotten.” Mary loves life and is an inspiration as I move from teaching in public schools for 25 years and wondering if I want to keep helping my low-income students I left, or sit back and relax.

August 29, 2011
I have always worked from the “Think Globally, Act Locally” philosophy. As I was watering our baby trees with 3 students this morning, one student put an angel in my heart. She was telling me that her mother said when your stomach growls, that an angel is there. I asked my students (my butterflies in the garden) how you get an angel in your heart. Since they are ESL students, they looked at me quizzically. I said you 3 students put an angel in my heart because you volunteered to help me water the trees, and I gave them all a big hug. They got it. We then talked about how to get angels in your brain. Next time we water trees, I can asked them how their brain angels are doing.

It is the local groundwork with student that enables me to think globally. I am a grant reviewer for a $300 million funded federal education grant. Since I am a 27-year classroom teacher and never involved in the big picture thinking of school districts, this has opened my eyes. It reinforced why I retired this year – lack of collaboration between teachers and those empowered with making decisions. I retired because I have been sharing ideas about improving education for 25 years and was tired of my ideas going no where and being bottom on the totem pole. I needed TIME to work directly with students and teachers who were interested in STEM learning. My idea is pretty simple. Support hands-on engineering and computer science projects solving real-world local problems with interdisciplinary teams. Hence, solving the problem of watering the 50 new oak trees planted last Fall in our new school during the severe summer drought and over 100 degree weather.

This is like the severe drought in educational funding and wondering how to prevent brains growling because of lack of brain food. The priority for funding in schools is passing grades and accountability test scores, and that has not changed in two decades. Why is this? I think because there is no collaboration between teachers and principals. There is an administrative team in schools that make the decisions and tell teachers what they are supposed to do. In a 2010 National MetLife Survey of teacher and principals, they found 70% said collaboration among teachers and school district leaders has a significant impact on improving student achievement. So, why did I have to retire to globally have an impact on student achievement? And more important, how can this be changed in the future so highly effective teachers of STEM subjects stay in the classroom. And why is the STEM area losing new teachers?? Those with a computer science, math and engineering background can easily find another job in industry.

So, I will continue to thinking globally and blog my ideas in hopes that someone might give the time to solve a local solution and find the resources to implement their ideas. Please share your action plans at www.aauwwsf.edublogs.org or on this editorial page.

July 22, 2011

So, we have another “groundbreaking study” – this one on school discipline asking if the system is working? (Houston Chronicle reports July 19th, 2011) Nothing really new – where are the solutions? I was told year ago by my principal that 80% of the discipline problems are African American boys in a school that is 80% Hispanic. As I end four years studying math education in elementary school as a technology teacher, I have observed the majority of behavior problems are caused because the students are bored. Another cause is controlling teachers who tell students to follow their commands. When I allow students to choose their method of applying literacy and math skills, the motivation to work increases and rarely do I have a discipline problem. This is called project-based learning. It is the E in STEM – Engineering. It is the T in STEM – anything man-made. It is the applied learning part of the tested S&M subjects.

I would like to see added to this study the unique products of student learning correlated to discipline. This is easy in the digital age. Let me tell you about Walle and Keith, my two super-hero 3rd graders. In computer lab I found these boys to be very creative and excited to learn; only problem was getting them to stop talking about their ideas and take action by getting to work. They were major discipline problems in their classroom because that excitement did not conform to managing a large classroom; Keith was forced to sit at the front separated from other students. In computer lab he asked me if he could make a super-hero book. He brought in his comics and took pictures to use in a PowerPoint. Next thing I know his friend Walle wanted to make one. To print the book required changing the background color, which these boys figured out by working together. Their only challenge was when I suggested they add text to their story, and they met the challenge. These are two boys who failed the English TAKS test. When I asked why, one boy said the teacher made him mad so he did not try. The other said the teacher was boring so he didn’t listen.

Perhaps if the classroom teacher spent more time allowing these boys to write about things that interested them instead of studying the questions on TAKS tests, they would show the same self-discipline they showed in my class. Maybe it is time to motivate teachers to get beyond the test by making them accountable for products students produce that integrate the current 4 academic tested subjects. In the required lesson plan timing teachers tell me are required to follow, I do not see any time required for project-based learning. Most teachers incorporate this, as they know in their heart this is needed. I would like to see added to this study the percent of time students are producing unique projects in their classroom. In high school science classes 40% of the time must be spent on hands-on projects. Perhaps this rule should be applied to every classroom. Until the accountability system is changed where everyone is given the same question with the same answer, I fear the discipline problems, including the cheating problems, will continue.

It is time for a major paradigm shift in education. It is time to get rid of rows of desks. My love is computer science as that allows students to control their learning environment. But, the center of this Venn diagram could be art, sports, or whatever motivates the student. It is time to integrate accountability testing and move away from the square sides.

The current focus in accountability testing is on the 4 academic areas of math, science, English and Social Studies, which leaves out computing, engineering, creative design and algorithmic thinking.

The current focus in accountability testing is on the 4 academic areas of math, science, English and Social Studies, which leaves out computing, engineering, creative design and algorithmic thinking.

Since Senator Shapiro wrote an editorial on this, “Keep Kids in School, Out of Trouble” I sent her this email:
I returned yesterday from Austin testifying before the SBOE again. I was pleased that the computer science TEKS were approved opening up a major opportunity for Texas students. But, I fear that two decades of working on building computer science education will move on to three decades if there is not a major change in accountability. I read the report you did on discipline, so I sent the following editorial to the Houston Chronicle. I have been writing on this top for over a decade and saying the same thing. You can see my published editorials at http://knorth.edublogs.org/editorials-published/. I testified before the Senate Education committee years ago on my petition to have computer science count as a 4th year math course. This was turned down 2 times by the SBOE, but it was after talking to you that things changed. I don’t know what you did, but you are a power mover for education in Texas so sending you the idea below. I have retired this year to scale K-8 computer science education so our students will be ready for the new high school courses such as writing mobile apps and digital forensics.

June 9, 2011 – Concerns shared at the Houston ISD School Board

I am concerned that the emphasis on accountability testing is taking away from project-based learning that builds real-world experiences that put computational thinking into practice. How will we build the technology fluent, creative, innovative workforce that Houston needs when every HISD schools does not make computing education as important as testing? Increasing TAKS commended students requires hands-on problem-solving experiences with open-ended questions that students create themselves. I was glad to hear during the school board meeting that board member Anne Eastman has the same lofty goals.

It is so hard to take an experience and put it into paper and pencil words. Just like it is hard to energize learning with paper and pencil. In my computer lab class to inspire thinking and writing, I read the book “Three Little Birds” while my students listened to the song. 01 Three Little Birds A teacher needed help with her Palm; as we were waiting for the data to download Bob Marley’s words “every little thing gonna be all right” came across. After she left, I wrote this.

I made a teacher cry.
And I cried with her.
She cried over frustration.
She cried for her students.
She cried because teaching was no longer fun.
She cried because she wanted more time to sing to her students.

I cried when I heard she decided to retire, and she is a highly effective teacher. Testing kindergarteners every 3 weeks was just too much. She said, I don’t think everything is going to be all right. Instead of helping her download her test data, I would like to be helping her program Bee-Bots. I too am retiring to volunteer my time to scale computational thinking lessons for K-5 students. I would like HISD embrace this too. But, this requires technology teachers and support in every school. Since computing support is a local decision, there will be “have” and “have not” schools increasing the digital divide. How will we build the creative, innovative workforce that Houston needs? Tech mogul Thiel believes that innovation has stagnated in the U.S and radical solutions are needed to push civilization forward, so he is paying bright minds not to attend college and instead pursue real-world ideas. But, Aspire bonus money is paying teachers for test scores.

I am doing what I think is important. Like Bernard Shaw said, a man can never lose his self-respect doing that. I have opted out of Aspire money the last three years because I believe the quest for passing TAKS is taking too much time from project-based learning that uses computer science and engineering concepts. During the meeting Dr. Grier shared that the number of students taking AP tests increased. I wonder how many of HISD students took the Advanced Placement Computer Science test. I see computer labs being used for tutoring instead of creating. I cannot keep money that is based on multiple choices tests. So I donated my $1,400 Aspire bonus to Piney Point Elementary School to support computational thinking. Funds that can help maintain the STEM gardens that were started by Scotts and Comcast grants. The gardens that takes learning outdoors so students can experiment and build real-world learning experiences that put computational thinking into practice.

I was on the TEA Computer Science TEKS writing team and am excited about all the new high school CS courses such as writing mobile apps and the new K-8 computer science standards that will be part of the new technology application curriculum. I would like to see these 21st century skills be a part of the education of every HISD student. Teachers can access counting ability by observing a student use this Bee-Bot and online simulation and at the same time inspire a future career in the computational sciences. This motivates hard work. Testing is boring. And, testing kills the spirit of the young child who does not know the answer. Knowledge is answers to Questions – the more questions, the more knowledge. TAKS tests create the questions students must answer. Testing is expensive. As a cost reduction start, please board members, consider the elimination of testing in kindergarten so teachers can have the time to build rigorous and relevant lessons.


QUESTIONS – I WANTED TO ASK:

Goal 1, Sec. E: Increase the Percent of TAKS Commended Students – Superintendent’s priority item. Report to board showed they did not meet this goal.

DATA comparing 2010 to 2011 Commended TAKS scores showed that Piney Point ES had an increase of 59%, 38%, 10% and 32% in the tested areas. This was one of the top elementary schools. I can’t prove my implementation of computing instruction helped. But, I would like to know what did the schools do differently that had an increase in the commended numbers? I would like support from HISD next school year to research what makes a difference as you put your teacher leadership support staff into the classrooms. I am working with IEEE on free PD using tryengineering.org. Perhaps this group might benefit from engineering and computer science professional development. Will these staff members are support students who want to do “G/T” projects, as well as students who fail the TAKS test?

What is the percent of students labeled G/T that earned commended on TAKS? Have you looked at the district-wide report from Renzulli on projects and self-assessments completed? At Piney Point there were only 5 students who completed their project report in Renzulli and only 1 student who completed a self-assessment on the G/T project presented at the local fair. This is a key part of learning, as the next teacher, students and parents can look at and build on previous year’s projects. There was no district fair, how many students presented their projects to an audience at their school? Will the support staff going into schools work with teachers so they can use this project development tracking software with all students? What is the district going to do differently next year to meet the excellent goal of increasing TAKS Commended students by increasing project development for all students?

May 16, 2011
It is coming to the end of the school year and the end of my paid teaching. Questions are still not answered. Such as what can be done to address the lack of computational thinking ability in young children. For instance, When Ms. G. brought her Kindergarten students to “invention” intervention time, taking a few back to class to tutor, I asked her what they needed to work on. She said “one more and one less.” Relard was working on Zoo puzzles and told me he wanted to do 5. As he finished each one, I asked him how many more he needed to do. At 3 puzzles, he said he needed to do 5 more. At 4 puzzles, he said he needed to do 6. I asked what was one more than 5. He looked at me with a blank face. He is not fluent in counting, which I thought should be mastered by now. Yes, they are in a bilingual class, but this student could communicate with me in English. Are they spending so much time on literacy, that they are leaving behind mathematical thinking brain development? A volunteer assistant wondered if it was the lack of English, interest, parent really getting them ready to learn.

March 26, 2011

On Fox and Friends there was a report on pre-school kids. So I wrote them as they asked to hear from the viewers.  I wanted to give them an earful and my opinion as a K-12 experienced teacher. I said:

Not only is the problem of lack of experimenting with learning happening at home, it is carrying over into the schools.  PK and Kinder kids are being tested to death. Not only is that frustrating for children who are not developmentally ready to read, it is taking time away from exploration.  It am ready to go to the legislature and request that 40% of all classroom time be spent on experimentation like is currently required in science classes.

I am a math, computer science and technology systems teacher in Houston ISD. In fact, I am retiring this year to do something about it. You see, teachers are required to be salesmen and PR employees, we are not allowed to be critics and reporters like you.  And this pressure is continued over into the home.

On November 15th below is one of my many editorials I have been writing for over a decade on this subject.

Will Everything be All Right?

November 21, 2010

We need to teach students to control robots, not be robots in a classroom controlled by teachers. We need to teach teachers how to teach students to create products of learning, not teach teachers how to be masters of testing objectives.

In this quest for data-driven instruction, we need to remember that the revised Bloom’s taxonomy lists CREATE as the highest level. In looking at percentages every educator needs to look at the percentage of time that students spend on freethinking and creating products of learning based on their interests. When I give students free choice, the majority of my elementary school students move to CSE STEM learning. Are we programming this love of computer science and software engineering out of student’s brains? The dendrites needed for thinking creatively and innovatively lost by the time a student leaves elementary school?

The national government believes computer science education is a solution to school reform and has declared December 5th – 11th a National event. I invite every Houston ISD teacher, administrator or concerned paper to my open computer lab open house at our new school, Piney Point Elementary, to observe what I am doing to teach computer science to young students. I helped write the new TEKS for computer science for the state of Texas. Please come see how you can be part of implementing 21st century CS tools. Career paths do being in elementary school.

NOTE: I am missing part of what I need to teach and need to learn from others. How can I do that when HISD does not value or support computer science education? I am tired of being alone and talking to other tech teachers who feel the same way. We would like to try something new in HISD beyond the typical literacy testing focus.

November 15, 2010

I made a teacher cry today. And I cried with her.
She cried over frustration.
She cried for her students.
She cried because teaching was no longer fun.
She cried because she wanted more time to sing to her students.

She needed my help to sync her Palm after spending the day testing her Kindergarten students. She was afraid that all the test data was lost. So I took care of her technology problem and as we waited for the network to send her data, I played the Bob Marley song, “Three Little Birds”.

As the words “everything is going to be all right” played, tears went down her face. They flowed for fear that everything she has worked for over 30 years in education was lost. She cried because she no longer had time to play and sing with her children she loves. She cried because she knew testing little children every three weeks was not good for building the foundation for a love of learning and excelling in new knowledge.

“Our goal is simple: ensuring that every HISD student learns from effective teachers every day” was in the weekly newsletter from Dr. Grier. This is a very, very effective teacher. She cries because testing does not ensure students learn. She wants to be trusted that she knows what her students need and she wants the time to build their little brains. How will HISD ensure effective very caring teachers remain in the classroom when tears stream down their face? Are we taxing little brains? Do we need a “Houston Tea Party” revolution to dump this costly brain tax?

Will everything be all right?

10-10-10

You can do a small thing and 10 years latter never know what impact it will have.
Six months making a bamboo art structure in New York.
Death is part of life. Take down and do it again. Life is a journey.

See my lesson on www.build-a-brain.com to see the connections to these quotes. The Power of Ten on this day that happens only once in 400 years. Time to make a difference so in 400 years we have a world.

Why do I take the time to do these lessons? Maybe one student will pick up their piece of trash that is polluting our oceans. Maybe one student will think and learn to follow rules so they will be a better citizen. Maybe in 10 years one student will remember what I taught them and think before they commit a crime. Maybe they will be a better citizen of our global world and THINK that what they do impacts other. You never know what small thing I do or say in the classroom today will make a difference. So, I keep trying.

SEPTEMBER 12, 2010

“I don’t have anything against education,
as long as it doesn’t interfere with your thinking.”-
Ben Cartwright to his son Bonanza 1959 remembrance on CBS Sunday

The results of my four year research in elementary school … education is interfering with student’s thinking. The drop-out problem starts in fifth grade as by then too many students are trained to follow-the-leader, instead of building independent creative thinking motivated by personal interests. That leader being the teacher who must teach standards that are tested. At a workshop yesterday a science coordinator said “chemistry is not tested so it doesn’t need to be taught.” What about the student who can be inspired by chemical reactions? And the Texas science standards eliminated systems and simple machines; There goes the big picture connections and engineering. The thinking equation continues with elementary school TEKS writing teams NOT including computer science and robotics to technology application standards. Add to that the class size increase, which goes from six 4th grade classes to four 5th grade classes at my low-income elementary school. High-need students who want to do their own thing become management problems or close-down. On top of that standardized testing is in English, where TAKS was in Spanish in 3rd and 4th grade so teachers who earn incentive pay based on one test emphasize Spanish. An volunteer assistant observed,

SOLUTIONS –

  • Transitional schools for 5th grade like 9th grade academies.
  • K-5 TEKS strand for computing and engineering.
  • Ancillary class for CS&E in addition to computer lab, music, art and PE.

Robotics should not be just an after school program. Every child deserves the opportunity to be build skills needed for the 21st century. As David Brooks said in “The Enlightened Economy” it is crucial we change what is happening in people’s minds. We need to give students the opportunity to take scientific knowledge and put it to practical use. We need a major shift in ideas and values in standards, not just material changes. American’s brightest minds are abandoning industry and technical enterprise for less productive fields because they are not given the opportunity for building challenging products of learning. We are under-investing in manufacturing goods that students can take home to continue working on in the 24-7 classroom. Yes, a gigantic slice of America’s human brain is vastly underused. It is impossible to do it all in school. We must inspire students to continue learning at home. Computer Science and Engineering need to be an academic area as important as math and science. Products of learning need to be added to the accountability system to make the paradigm shift to the 21st century brain.

AUGUST 22, 2010

As we start a new school year, I wonder if my new school replacing a 50 year old school will embrace 21st century learning. In response to a comment on Edutopia, I wrote:

Online learning sites like Learning.com and Renzulli make it easy. The problem I find is getting teachers fluent in using these tools. Also, giving students choices is easy by setting up blog sites like edublogs.org. I started last year (www.build-a-brain.com) and before I knew it had lots of links. The tools are there, the problem is teachers making the choice to use them and campus based support to help teachers make the shift to 21st century learning. If decision makers want to see a change, they need to give equitable resources to technology integration and not allocate the majority of their funding to accountability testing and intervention. As we know prevention is cheaper than the cure. This is like buying a car and never changing the oil or using the car for dream travel. It is time for a law that says 20% of all technology funding must go to the campus level support of that technology.”

JUNE 20, 2010 – A Letter to Alfred Thompson

I have the BP Feeling – a bunch of gook in my head. A special on Bill Gates on CBS Sunday Morning News brought me back to the circle of writing you for help.  Could we meet at ISTE and brainstorm?  Too many CS teachers in Texas are frustrated and retiring.  How about creating a retired CS teachers association to tap into their help.  I have written everyone I know across the country for help on developing standards for K-8 computer science and am getting few volunteers.  But, I know I can count on my old friend who keeps me thinking.

I push people to work hard; I push people to think, so they push back.  Two complements from a principal, “you teach a hard class” and “you are a good writer” motivate my work.  That, and thinking, how I want my 3 grandchildren’s teachers to motivate them to learn.

I am one of 5 teachers on the Texas TEKS writing team for computer science.  We have the “power” to do something powerful, but not sure the time. I am trying to write standards that correlate with each of the ISTE NETS for K-8 computer science.  What domain knowledge do students need for success in high school computer science?  I need standards for each grade level.  For instance take a major CS concept like inheritance or algorithms.  What can a PK teacher do, what can a 1st grade teacher do …

Computer science changed my brain. I could not write in high school.  I truly believe that teaching computer science changed my brain.  Articles on the College Board website talk about how I have seen the dendrites connect in student’s brain when programming.  Bill Gates got his start by climbing out a window at his house to start on his journey of creating Windows.  He wants to make the world a better place.  For the life of me I can’t figure out why he does not require computer science education in every school he funds.   Why he does not make school reform focus on computational thinking.

His parents in the CBS special said he resisted being told what to do.  I see that all the time in children in my public school classrooms. Yet these students do not have parents who “establish roots and give them wings” as his parents did.  I see students in elementary school getting in trouble for resisting being told what to do by a teacher.  Yet these same students are explorers in the computer lab and asking high-level questions. Students who “talk too much” in the classroom interrupting the teacher’s time in teaching required curriculum.  By fifth grade I see them give up and hate school, their spirit being killed by getting in trouble.  The 2 hours a month I see them in computer lab is not enough to teach everything computer science does.  Teach critical thinking, problem solving, work ethics, keywords and research…

JUNE 6, 2010

Those with the power to make decisions do not have the classroom expertise to understand the implementation details.  Guess I have no choice but to live with the design problem of a wall down the middle of the computer lab. Had I known before my MDPC computer lab volunteer told me, I would have suggested a change before it was too late.  She knows how I teach and was concerned.

One of the reasons I volunteer with  NCWIT and AAUW, to empower women. For me it is to empower ideas. If we had more women car designers we might have a place to put our purse saving us frustration.  If we had more women architects we might have enough restrooms saving us time.  If we had more women web designers sites might be more organized and less cluttered.  If we had more teachers as decision makers, we might finally get beyond educational reform to educational enhancement.  On CBS Sunday Zappos CEO said part of his success comes from letting employees make decisions.  They can give the time needed for their customers.  What would happen in schools if teachers had this freedom?

MAY 23, 2010

He can’t stop looking a beauty. Frederic Fekkai wanted to be an artist, but Dad said artists only made money when they die.  So went to lawt