Monthly Archives: November 2016

“I really hope it works:” Digital Technology for Instruction


There are many classrooms like English teacher Amy Furman’s featured in a 2011 article Classroom of the Future: Stagnant Scores.

Amy’s thirty-one students are studying Shakespeare’s As You Like It, taking advantage of 21st century digital technology.

Amy is not “giving the students notes” but is circulating among her students observing, offering comments and suggestions as her laptop-equipped students engage themselves with the play in very nontraditional ways.

In the place of an essay on the play’s plot, the students are blogging, or creating Facebook pages for the characters, while others are writing about why the love-smitten Silvius would like a particular rap by Kanye West.

Amy expressed her pleasure with what is going on in her “very dynamic classroom” adding “I really hope it works.”(Richtel, 2011)

This technology-rich classroom is one outcome of a 2005 referendum in which the voters passed a bond referendum that gave the Kyrene School District in Arizona $45 million to “transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide for students who will learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.”

The high cost of the technology needed for the transformation makes the question whether it works a matter of concern.

In 2011, as now, the evidence that such investment in digital technology has been at best ambiguous. Overall, the data that supports the use of technology is “pretty weak” according to Tom Vander Ark, former executive director for education and an investor in educational technology companies.(Richtel, 2011)

In the eleven years after it passed its technology referendum and five years since Amy Furman expressed both the pleasure of teaching in a technology-rich classroom as well as her “hope” that it works, Kyrene School District remains a technology-rich school system. The students in its nineteen elementary and middle schools perform above average, earning an “A” ranking in the Arizona school accountability system.

Its 2016 Website cites the district’s “technology enhanced curriculum” and the fact that

Throughout the entire district, every classroom is enhanced with a variety of technology tools: wireless laptop computers; many with multi-touch display, a projector, a document camera, and iPads, so that students have hands-on access to technology as part of their everyday instruction and learning. Elementary classrooms also have interactive whiteboards. Students use industry-standard word processor and spread sheet programs, specialized graphics and education software, and web-based applications and information sources. Teachers participate in regular staff development and mentoring programs to help them to better use these incredible tools. (Kyrene School District)

Is Kyrene’s success the result of its rich technology or because in it also has both technology along with a well-developed system of instructional support for its teachers: academic coaches and educational technology specials for all subjects?

In education there are no “silver bullets” whether educational technology, textbooks or curriculum.   “One-to-one laptop programs may simply amplify what’s already occurring—for better or worse—in classrooms, schools, and districts. (Goodman, 2011)

If Kyrene is a positive example of the implementation of educational technology, what happened with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Instructional Technology Initiative (ITI) is a negative one.

The debacle began in 2013 with a district investment of $1.3 billion that was to put an Apple iPad loaded with instructional software from educational giant Pearson in the hands of every child in every school. But by 2015 the district wanted out of the deal claiming that the software didn’t work and that the iPads had fatal security holes.

An observer noted that if one of the largest school districts in the nation, one of the largest educational publisher and the largest technology company couldn’t successfully integrate instructional technology into classrooms, who could? (Lapowski, 2015)

The answer lies up the coast from Los Angeles,  where the Milpitas Unified School District also has made a significant investment in personal technology and has successfully used blended learning to create personalized instruction for its students.

The contrast between the two school districts in how their instructional technology programs came about is instructive.

In Los Angeles, the Instructional Technology Initiative began at the top as did the Milpitas project. However, in Milpitas, Cary Matsuoka, the superintendent began by asking his principals the question: “If you could design the school of the future, what would it look like?”

His goal was to “give principals and teachers the autonomy to determine what would work best for their schools.” Mandating from the top, he reflected, and you “get compliance, where people go through the motions.”

The answers also got him and his district to the understanding that one-to-one wasn’t needed because the principals proposed a “rotation model” in which students would  use the devices in shifts.

The district chose Chromebooks; they are less expensive than iPads because they are cloud based, central management and updating are less of a hassle.

As a departing Board of Education recalled about his eight years on the Board”We went through both academic and sport renewal and modernization, implemented blended learning and common core, build a high-tech infrastructure and new athletic facilities.… For the past eight years, we saw student achievement improved significantly, we are also financially solid.” (Mohammed, 2016)

The contrasting examples provided by Kyrene and Milpitas versus the LAUSD debacle support the contention that educational technology if it is implemented based on a shared vision that include the identification of the actual problem to be solved, if the school and district leadership supports all aspects of the implementation. Implementation requires the development of a technology infrastructure and a culture of professional learning that includes the community, parents and guardians, all school personnel, and the development of a coaching/mentoring model. This last is important because the technology will be a catalyst for changing the connections between learning and instruction.


Greaves, T., Hayes, J., Wilson, L., Gielniak, M., & Peterson, R. Project Red: Revolutionizing Education: Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectivenss. Retrieved from

Goodman, B. (2011). Research Says…/One-to-One Laptop Programs Are No Silver Bullet. EdLeadership, 68), 78-79. Retrieved from

Lapowski, I. (2015). What Schools Must Learn From LA’s IPad Debacle. Wired. Retrieved from

Mohammed, Aliyah (2016). Milpitas: School boar names permanent MUSD superintendent. The Mercury News, November 17, 2016. Retrieved from

Richtel, M. (2011c). In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores. New York Times. Retrieved from


ESSA, Measuring the Benefits of School Improvement: And How To Do It

Even by the crudest measures, education benefits the individual in terms of earnings and the economy as a whole in more productive workers. The longer an educational system holds on to students, the better for both the individual and economy. The years of education is a measure is called “educational attainment.”

Dissatisfaction with the number of years of schooling as a measure of economic impact led Eric A. Hanushek and two international colleagues to develop a measure that better captures what students have actually learned during their years in school. As Hanushek, et. al. describe educational attainment: “…it hardly matters how long one sits at a school desk if one learns little while occupying the seat.” (Hanushek, Ruhose, & Woessmann, 2016)

The model developed by Hanushek, et. al. uses a measure which they call “knowledge capital” which is a state’s NAEP mathematics scores over time. This measure,  added to traditional measures provides a way to document the long-term impact of student-achievement levels on economic growth, as well as the value of the monetary return for school improvement efforts, state by state[1].

By measuring the growth of each of the fifty U.S. states for the period 1970-2010, the authors show that a state’s knowledge capital is related to the state growth in per-capita GDP.

States like Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, and Utah suffered from both low math achievement and low economic growth, while states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Virginia had both high levels of math achievement along with higher levels of economic growth.

While there are exceptions to the general findings, the authors conclude that “achievement levels that are 1 standard deviation higher — for example having the average worker in a state achieve at the 69th  percentile rather than the 31st   percentile of the overall distribution of cognitive skills — yield an average annual growth that is 1.4 percentage points higher.” (Hanushek, Ruhose, & Woessmann, 2016)

The article includes a an interactive map that can be used to project future gains in GDP growth under four different reform scenarios.

For example, first scenario describes what would happen if all the states were able to take actions that would increase the knowledge capital to the level of Minnesota (the best in the U.S.). Under that scenario “the overall gains would equal, in 2015 dollars, $76 trillion, or more than four times the current GDP of the United States.”

South Carolina ranks 40th  in terms of growth 1970-2010. Its per-capita DGP is $31,819 and has grown 1.99% over the period.  Under the “all states to the U.S. best” scenario, the value of South Carolina reform efforts would be $992 billion which equals 485% of the state’s current per-capita GDP and would increase the state’s GDP by 41% by 2095.

Hanushek and his colleagues are careful to point out that school reform is a long-term project. They assume that it takes a decade of effort before a reform is fully implemented, with student skills steadily improving over that time.

The message from Hanushek, et. al, is that the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives state and local educators a great deal of flexibility to take decisive action that will improve their state’s knowledge capital.  Given the potential of large gains for taking the right actions, the question becomes what kinds of action would help the state build its knowledge capital?

Massachusetts underwent a serious reform effort that began in the late 1980s. Its example suggests the necessary conditions for sustained and successful reform.

The success of reform in Massachusetts is supported by the fact that if it were an independent nation it would rank among the top ten nations in student learning. Its eighth graders rank number two in science and sixth in mathematics. Low-income children of color do much better than their peers in other U.S. states.

It wasn’t always that way.

In a 1991 report authored by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education it was reported that the state faced a crisis because “the public education system is failing to provide its students with the knowledge and skills necessary for them to be productive, informed citizens in coming decades…The inability of many public school students/graduates to qualify for entry-level jobs or to compete successfully with their counterparts from other industrialized countries is a clear signal that the education system needs to undergo dramatic improvements soon.”(MBAE, 1991, pp.  ES-1)

Noting that Massachusetts over the past two decades has been consistently near the top of any list of states with the most successful school reforms (it ranks 2nd  in the Hanushek, et. al. analysis), looked at the decisions Massachusetts made beginning more than 20 years ago and which resulted in sustained improvement in the state’s knowledge capital.

In the Achieve analysis, there are six “key strategies” identified. It seems to me that two of these stand out because they are the most difficult to do but seem to the ones that set the Massachusetts reform apart from those in other states.

What stands out in Massachusetts was what was termed the “grand bargain” are two factors: equitable funding and the political will to stick to the plan.

First, a change in how the schools were funded began in 1993 with the promise that within seven years, all of the town and city school departments would have the resources to carry out the goal of student mastery of the state standards. “In our poorest communities in particular, [state] aid is the lifeline that brings a high quality education within reach of children and frequently supports more than 80 percent of the total expenditures of in the neediest districts.”(Chester, 2014, p.  6)

The second remarkable aspect has been the consistent support from state’s leadership,  governors, business leaders, and legislature. The support helped maintain the reform even “during the highest levels of political opposition to the reforms. Governor Jane Swift never blinked on the MCAS high school graduation requirement. Governor Romney also kept the momentum going by sustaining the foundation budget for the K-12 public education.”(, 2009, p.  9)

Note: Schools in New England states are generally departments of the town or city they serve. Instead of a school district, the schools are a department of the town. So it is the school department rather than the school district.

Resources: (2009). Taking Root: Massachusetts Lessons for Sustaining the College and Career-Ready Agenda. Achieve: American Diploma Project Network. Retrieved from

Chester, M. D. (2014). Building on 20 Years of Massachusetts Education Reform. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Hanushek, E. A., Ruhose, J., & Woessmann, L. (2016). It Pays to Improve School Quality. Education Next, 16(3). Retrieved from

MBAE. (1991). Every Child A Winner. Retrieved from


Every Student Succeeds Act, education, economy, knowledge capital, school reform, Massachusetts

[1] The analysis used data from the U.S. census to make adjustments for the migration of workers in and out of each state. While workers move from state to state, 87% of students receive their K-12 education in their birth state.

Dynamic Facts


Great fleas have lesser fleas to bite em; and so on, ad infinitum

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of September 21, 2016, there are a total of 3,358 cases of Zika in the U.S.. 43 of these were acquired by being infected by local mosquitoes; 3,314 infections were acquired outside of the U.S.; 28 cases were acquired by sexual contact; with 1 having been acquired in a laboratory. There are also 8 cases of Guillian-Barré syndrome;  “a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your extremities are usually the first symptoms.”These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body. In its most severe form Guillain-Barre syndrome is a medical emergency. (Mayo Clinic)

The case of Zika provides insight into our natural world. The questions of why Zika, a disease that originated in a distant forest in central Africa and why it has become of particular health concern in the U.S. can be understood by looking at how natural phenomena appear to work.

Natural phenomena can be thought of as facts but are perhaps better understood as facts that are in dynamic relationship with one another: insects, viruses, humans, environments. The facts you think you know now are busily changing into new facts that.

Insects have a variety of ways of getting their nourishment: they can sip (like butterflies); they can chew (locusts); they can pierce and suck (mosquitoes).  The mosquito way of dining is different for males and females. The males are sippers; their mouthparts are adapted to collecting plant nectars.

Females can both sip nectar but in order to successfully lay eggs that will hatch, they need vertebrate blood and its protein and iron. To get this mother mosquitoes use their mouthparts to pierce and suck reliable sources of blood like humans.

Valerie Choumet, a scientist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris captured the process used by a female mosquito to get her blood meal.

As the female mosquito pushes its bundle of six mouth parts (two maxillae, two mandibles, a double tube (hypopharynx and labrum) into the skin, the labium or sheath folds back. The two mandibles and a pair of maxillae are used to saw through the skin and then to anchor the insect so that she can push a double tube (hypopharynx and labrum) to search for a blood vessel. While the tube appears to be stiff, it is actually highly flexible and is fully controllable by the mosquito, even bending it at right angles.

She spits saliva down the hypopharynx, this prevents blood from coagulating and the labrun is used to pierce a blood vessel and to suck up the blood.

You can view the video here.

The mosquito’s blood dinner will pay off when she lays her eggs in or near water. The eggs nourished by the proteins and iron from the blood will hatch out and eventually become mosquitoes. If the female mosquito is herself infected with Zika, the eggs will develop into mosquitoes that are also infected with Zika.(University of Texas at Galveston, 2016)

But the blood dinner has another another organism with a different purpose. There is a whole group of viruses that have adapted themselves to using the mosquito as a way to get into vertebrates where they can breed. These are known as arboviruses (from arthropod borne viruses).

When she sucks up the blood of a human who has the virus in his blood, the mosquito becomes infected. The virus does not grow in the mosquito but will remain in the mosquito until she spits, along with the spit the virus particles will hitch a ride, putting the virus into the blood stream of a vertebrate where it can fulfill its destiny.

The  mosquito and its  passenger virus are apparently well-adapted to one another.  New research has shown that the saliva of the mosquito “causes an inflammation that helps the virus particles multiply and quickly spread to other parts of your body.” (Kupferschmidt, 2016)

The Zika virus is little more than RNA covered with a protein coat shaped as a 20-sided polygon called icosahedron, resembling “sinister Christmas ornaments.”

The virus attaches itself to the surface of the host’s cells, penetrates, turns its RNA into DNA and “hijacks the internal machinery of the host’s cells to copy its own DNA and make new cells. Like commandos invading a town and converting its car factory into a bomb factory, the virus makes thousands of copies of itself. Eventually the cell explodes, and the viruses are released to attack other cells, spreading the illness.” (McNeil, 2016, p. 23) You can see a more detailed animated account of this process the HHIBioInteractive Website .

The Zika virus was first identified in 1947 by researchers in the Zika forest on the northern shore of Lake Victoria in central Africa. The infected animal was an Asian monkey. The first human case didn’t occur until 1952.

In the early cases the Zika virus caused a fever along with body aches and discomfort but cleared up with no apparent ill-effects.

The twentieth century has seen changes like  “a combination of warmer weather moving mosquitoes north, of cheaper, more frequent jet travel helping people reach new continents with viruses still fresh in their blood” meaning that even obscure diseases from remote parts of the world can quickly become notable in highly populated places. (McNeil, 2016, p. )

Zika appeared in the western Pacific on the island of Yap, then in Tahiti, in French Polynesia.

It made its appearance in the Western Hemisphere in 2014 with  grim discoveries in the maternity wards of hospitals in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco.

Doctors and nurses noticed that there were suddenly new borns with “this thing we had never seen…” “Children with normal faces up to the eyebrows, and then you have no foreheads…The doctors were saying, ‘Well, I saw four today,’ and ‘Oh, that’s strange, because I saw two.’” (McNeil, 2016, pp.13-14)

Later it was realized that what they were seeing was microcephaly, a birth defect that was the result of the fetal brain failing to develop. Further investigation revealed that the mothers whose children had microcephaly had also been infected by the Zika virus. It was also the case that apparently it didn’t matter at what stage in their pregnancy infection occurred.

Our habit of teaching science as sets of facts makes it easy to forget that facts are dynamic; the natural world is constant motion.  The genomic revolution has made it possible to investigate change at the level of the mechanisms of change.

In an research paper that focuses on dengue, a relative of Zika, Ciota & Kramer (2010) observe that in order to survive the virus cycles back and forth between vertebrates and blood-eating arthropods. This means that there is a premium on the virus being “plastic” in order to be able to take advantage of new environments. RNA viruses like Zika are subject to rapid replication as well as large error rates. These two factors may explain why such viruses are able to undertake “quick exploration of fitness landscapes and production of variance which may have an advantage in different host environments.” (Ciota & Kramer, 2010).

It is therefore not surprising that the Zika, in its travels around the world, would evolve new ways of spreading itself (crossing the placenta barrier; sexual transmission) and developing new targets for infection (nerve tissue).


Ciota, Alexander T. & Laura D. Kramer (2010). Insights into Arbovirus Evolution and Adaptation from Experimental Studies. Viruses. 2010 Dec; 2(12): 2594-2617. doi:  10.3390/v2122594

You can watch a detailed account of how a flavivirus (Dengue) “hijacks” a cell at HHMI BioInteractive (2016. Dengue Transmission.

Kupferschmidt, Kai (2016).  Mosquito spit helps viruses make us sick. Science, June 21, 2016.

DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf5794

McNeil, Donald G. Jr. (2016). ZIKA: THE EMERGING EPIDEMIC. W.W. Norton & Company, New York.

Yong, Ed (2013). NOT EXACTLY ROCKET SCIENCE: Here’s What Happens Inside You When a Mosquito Bites. (August 8, 2013).

Wang, Lulan, Stephanie G. Valderramos, and others. From Mosquitoes to Humans: Genetic Evolution of Zika Virus. Cell Host & Microbe. 19(5), pp. 561-565. May 2016.


University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. (2016, August 30). Female mosquitoes can transmit Zika virus to their eggs, offspring: Killing only adult mosquitoes may not end Zika outbreaks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2016 from



Zika, arbovirus, mosquitoes, transmission, adaptation, organisms, environments

Truly Modern: More Room for Learning

In 1909, one of the years during the decades when the American K-12 school system was taking its modern form, Charles Eliot, Harvard’s newly retired president was consummating a deal to publish a “five-foot shelf” of books that would contain all of the important knowledge needed by an educated person.

As first printed in 1910 each set of “The Harvard Classics” consisted of 50 hefty volumes containing the works of 300 authors. Eliot claimed that these fifty books could serve as a “portable university” making available six distinct courses of study: “The History of Civilization,” “Religion and Philosophy,” “Education,” “Science,” “Politics,” and “Criticism of Literature and the Fine Arts.” Eliot further claimed that reading the complete set would provide the equivalent of a liberal college education.  (Kirsch, 2001)

Although we are more than a century beyond the five-foot shelf, the idea that there is a fixed body of facts and procedures to know remains embedded in the DNA of our educational culture.

The modern version of the five-foot shelf is also to be mastered largely by reading the essential texts under the supervision of teachers who will monitor student progress using a system of regularly scheduled tests.

Significantly, both Eliot’s five-foot shelf and our schools were developed well before we understood very much about our brains or how people learned. (Sawyer, 2006, pp. 1-2)

It is only in the recent three or four decades that the study of learning has been based on findings in psychology, computer science, philosophy, sociology, and other science disciplines.  The new understandings have shown that many of the assumptions underlying traditional educational practices programmed into our educational DNA are seriously flawed.

During the decades when the assumptions and practices of the modern school emerged it was believed that children were essentially just smaller, ignorant adults.

To become proper adults they needed teachers who would stuff them full of improving knowledge such as that found in Eliot’s five foot shelf of books.

To illustrate: During a nationwide tour of American schools in 1892, pediatrician Dr. Joseph Mayer Rice, recorded his impressions of a New York City elementary school and in particular of the pedagogical views of its principal: “She believes that when a child enters upon school life his vocabulary is so small that it is practically worthless, and his power to think so feeble that his thoughts are worthless. She is consequently of the opinion that what a child knows and is able to do on coming to school should be entirely disregarded, and he should not be allowed to waste time, either in thinking or in finding his own words to express his thoughts, but that he should be supplied with ready-made thoughts is given in a ready-made vocabulary…Each child is treated as if he possessed a memory and the faculty of speech, but no individuality, no sensibilities, no soul.” (Rice, 1893, pp. 30-31)

But in contrast to the beliefs of Rice’s principal, the research findings from the past four decades have shown that human babies possess a brain; and that this brain is a system of organs of computation, designed by natural selection to solve the kinds of problems our ancestors faced in their foraging way of life, in particular, understanding and outmaneuvering objects, animals, plants and other people.” (Pinker, 1997, p. 21)

One of the contributions of computer science to our understanding of the brain has grown out of attempts to create intelligent machines or artificial intelligence (AI). Early explorations in AI involved the development of artificial neural networks to simulate the the brain’s neocortex with its billions of networked neurons.

Advances in technology (more powerful processors and larger storage in addition to more sophisticated mathematics) have created larger and more powerful artificial neural networks.

“Last June, a Google deep-learning system that had been “trained by viewing” 10 million images from YouTube videos proved almost twice as good as any previous image recognition effort at identifying objects such as cats. Google also use the technology to cut the error rate on speech recognition in its latest Android mobile software. In October, Microsoft chief research officer Rick Rashid wowed attendees at a lecture in China with a demonstration of speech software that transcribed his spoken words into English text with an error rate of 7%, translated them into Chinese language text, and then simulated his own voice uttering them in Mandarin.” (Hof, 2016)

The method used to train the neural network so that it is able to accomplish these impressive tasks, speak, understand language, and recognize objects, “with the eventual goal…to get the network to consistently recognize the patterns in speech or sets of images that we humans know as, say, the phoneme “d” or the image of a dog…is much the same as how a child learns what a dog is by noticing the details of head shape, behavior, and the like in furry, barking animals that other people call dogs.” (Hof, 2016)

The wonders of what virtual neurons are capable of learning may divert attention from the ensorcelling power of human brains with real neural networks to learn, imagine and create.

While the virtual neural network needs lots of smart and expensive engineers to learn to recognize (most of time!) the image of a cat in a YouTube video, give a baby brain a safe, well-lighted place with humans to interact with and she can learn several languages that she can use by the time she’s four to wrap the adults around her tiny fingers.

Like living organisms, human institutions such as schools are more likely to survive in a changing world when practices evolve in the direction of greater consistency with new empirically-based understandings; such as that the brain has been shaped by evolution to solve problems of existence rather than as a passive storehouse of facts and procedures.


Bransford, John D., (2001)  How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Expanded Edition. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. 2001.

Fisher, Douglas, Nancy Frey, Carol Rothenberg (2008). Content Area Conversations. ASCD. Retrieved from

Kirsch, Adam (2001). The Harvard Magazine, November-December 2001

Hof, Robert D. (2016).  Deep Learning: With Massive amounts of computational power, machines can now recognize and translate speech in real time. Artificial intelligence is finally getting smart. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 10/7/2016


Sawyer, R. Keith ( ed.).  “The New Science Learning” in The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. 2006.



brain, neurons, virtual neurons, Artificial Intelligence, learning, DNA, Charles Eliot, The Harvard Classics

A Barrier Overcome: Residencies for Teachers

There is an awkwardly located pothole in the road that leads students from their professional education in college to a successful teaching career. The budding teacher has sailed through the content courses, the education specific classes like ed. psych, the instructional methods and clinical experience, but nothing has prepared the new teacher for the first year in a classroom.

As Goodman (2012) reports, the literature on first-year teachers has been very consistent about the problems they face.

First, teachers with three or fewer years of experience are challenged by the difficulties of managing student behavior.

The next challenge is curricular. The teacher knows her subject but she has little guidance about what parts of the subject should be taught to her students. Almost half (41%) of Teach for America teachers reported that neither the district nor their school provided useful instructional resources like lesson plans. Case studies of new teachers show them spending many hours trying to “come up with enough curriculum” and then struggling with how to teach it all the while juggling all the other duties, including paperwork, committees, after school clubs and so forth. (Goodman, 2012)

The “sink-or swim” challenges of classroom behavior and the mystery of curriculum are exacerbated by a professional of catch-22:  in order to become accepted the new teacher must demonstrate that she is good at precisely those things she has the most difficulty with—managing her classroom and successful instruction!

So new teachers report “difficult interactions with colleagues, from neglect by administrators to lack of cooperation or even hostility from veteran teachers.” (Goodman, 2012)

The new teacher’s struggles are often a disaster for his or her students who a likely to do more poorly than their peers being taught by more experienced teachers.

Teaching is a profession which means that solutions to the dilemma of inexperienced teachers must be professional solutions that give the neophyte professional experiences.

The accomplished physician, lawyer, or teacher has, in addition, to content knowledge about medicine, law, or pedagogy, what Lee Shulman called “the wisdom of practice.”

How do professionals acquire the wisdom of practice? New teachers often respond to the challenges posed by their inexperience develop survival rather than professional skills. A lecture appears to be a better approach to instruction than a project with its potential for losing control of the classroom.

A way to prepare the new teacher so that developing professional skills rather than survival skills has been found in the adaptation of one developed in medical education, the residency.

In the early 20th century, medical education was revivified when medical schools affiliated themselves with hospitals and added a multi-year residency in which the newly graduated physician treated patients under the guidance of accomplished physicians who were both medical school faculty as well as being on the staff of the hospital.

An historian of medical education observed that the educational power of the residency lay in  “… the quality of the house officers and faculty, the characteristics of the teaching, giving residents the opportunity to assume responsibility in patient management, the availability of time to reflect and wonder, the opportunity for residents to establish meaningful personal relationships with faculty, patients, and each other, the provision of manageable patient loads, freeing residents from too many extraneous chores, holding high expectations of residents, and conducting residency training in an atmosphere of professional excitement.” (Bank Street, 2016)

In fact, the year-long teacher residency is not something new. Programs already exist in which teacher training programs and school districts and schools are providing new teachers with year-long residencies.

The Louisiana’s Department of Education has devoted 2% of its budget to support the Believe and Prepare partnerships “to create stronger clinical preparation experiences.” According to the report, 60% of Louisiana school districts and 80% of preparation providers have voluntarily partnered in order for “aspiring teachers to work with skilled mentors before they can earn an initial teaching certificate.” (Bank Street, 2016)

U.S. Prep, a program developed at Texas Tech has impressive results with a 90% job retention rate of the teachers who have gone through the program.

According to Karen Demoss the programs like U.S. Prep are important because they help bridge the chasm for the young teacher. Working in a supportive environment with an accomplished teacher gives the neophyte educator the chance for a successful initial year, for both teachers and, even more importantly for their students.  “Students in classroom with residents have been documented to make larger learning gains than those in other classrooms, with strongest benefits going to those with the most need. Residency graduates are also more effective teachers. Rigorous studies have documented how their students outperform peers.” (Demoss, 2016)

The report “For the Public Good,” both describes exemplary teacher residencies and also provides ideas about how to fund such programs.

“For the Public Good” makes the case that if one examines the various funding streams available to states and their districts, it is possible to create a priority list with the year-long teacher residency high on the list given its importance for both beginning teachers and the students they will teach during a long career.

There are funds built-in to the current system to remedy problems that result from inadequate teacher preparation that could be reinvested to support residencies.  Teacher turnover costs school districts about $2.2 billion per year. There are also the costs that result from students who have experienced an ineffective teacher, such as costs for remedial summer school, tutoring, or students dropping out of school all together.

Districts can be thoughtful. For example,  a district might use a portion of the current budget for substitute teachers to hire a promising new graduate who would work four days a week co-teaching with an accomplished veteran leaving one day free when the resident teacher could serve as a substitute where needed.

At the state level the new Every Student Succeeds Act makes it possible to dedicate up to 5% of its Title II part A (professional development) funds to create competitive grants to colleges of education and public school districts to create model residency programs.

Teacher residency may appear to be an expensive luxury; failure to fully prepare teachers makes the luxury into a necessity.



Demoss, Karen (2016).  Five reasons teacher residencies often outperform traditional training. The Hechinger Report retrieved 10/16/2016

Goodwin, Bryan (2012). Research Says/ New Teachers Face Three Common Challenges. Educational Leadership May 2012 (69:8) Supporting Beginning Teachers Pages 84-85. Retrieved from

The Bank Street College of Education (2016). For the Public Good: Quality Preparation for Every Teacher. Retrieved 10/16/2016



teacher preparation, teacher residency, medical education, sustainable funding, The Sustainable Funding Project

Two STEAM Examples

We present two real world examples of ways that STEM and the arts can be connected.

In the first, art museum professionals partner with medical educators to improve medical practice.

In the second, art gallery visitors are guided through an exhibition by A.I. (artificial intelligence technology).

Examining Art to Improve the Medical Examination.

In June of 2016 Bonnie Pitman recently retired as the Director of the Dallas Museum of Art, convened a major conference entitled “The Art of Examination: Art Museum and Medical School Partnerships.  Participants represented sixty art museums and their partner medical schools at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Partnership between art museums and medical schools are part of an emerging field called medical humanities, an interdisciplinary field in which knowledge from the arts makes contributions to medical education and practice.

The conference served as a platform that “provided a sound overview of the fields’ best practices, goals, history, terminology, evaluation, and future directions.” Such partnerships at major art and medical institutions in the U.S. and abroad are advocates for such programs and build a bridge between the arts and sciences.” (Pitman, 2016)

Careful examination of the history, composition, themes presented by an art object marks the work of the art critic or art educator.

Similarly, a physician begins her work with an examination of the patient’s various physical and affective characteristics, some of which may be important to the diagnosis while others are not. The ability to discriminate between the meaningful from the inconsequential is therefore an important skill shared by the art educator and the physician.

The first such art museum-medical school partnerships was created in 1999 when Dr. Irwin Braverman (Yale Medical School) and Linda Friedlaender, (Yale’s British Art Collection) began to work together to develop the observational skills of medical students by training them to use the techniques and language of art criticism as they learned how to examine their patients. (Pitman, 2016)

The connections between art and medical practice have led to at least one hundred such partnerships currently. There were sixty at the conference from U.S. Canada, England, and Italy. Forty more were on a waiting list for the conference.

A growing body of research literature published in medical journals also attests to the power of the intersection of where art museum and art professionals work with medical educators to the benefit of both health care professionals as well as to the community at large.

Going to the Tate Britain with an (artificially) Intelligent computer program named Recognition

You can visit the Tate Britain in London in person or online to both see and interact with the exhibition called Recognition. (Do not delay: Recognition closes on November 27)

The development of the exhibition was stimulated by the offer of the 2016 IK Prize that offers incentives to promote the use of digital technology in the arts.

The Tate Britain’s “mission is to increase the public’s enjoyment and understanding of British art from the 16th century to the present day…” as well as to increase the numbers of people who come to view the art; particularly young millennials whom it is hoped will become the next generation of art lovers.

However, Tony Guillan of the Tate recognized that looking at art and seeing art are not necessarily the same, the difference being that looking is simple discrimination, “that’s a painting,” while seeing connects the art to reality.

The successful quest for the IK prize began with the insight that the project would use A.I. technology, “…because getting machines to do what humans can do is one of the most exciting frontiers in technology…Is there anything more human than looking at art?” (Dobrzynski, 2016)

To compete, Tate Britain enlisted a number of partners: Microsoft, JoliBrain, a French A.I. company, and  Fabrica, an Italian communication research company. Fabrica would lead the development of Tate’s entry.

The team at Fabrica began with the question: “What if we could link our everyday lives to the Tate’s collection to illuminate similarities between the present and the past?” They developed the idea that the goal could be met by allowing the viewers to “see the world through two different lenses,” how the world has been represented historically by artists and how the world is represented today, through the news media.  (Dobrzynski, 2016)

Under Fabrica’s leadership, the partners began to work: Microsoft provided programming support, JoliBrain  contributed their DeepDetect API (application programming interface, a set of routines, protocols, etc. that makes it easier to develop programs) as well as DeepDetect server where the program would be run.

Fabrica put a variety of artificial intelligence technologies together, “including computer vision capabilities, such as object recognition, facial recognition, colour and composition analysis; and natural language analysis; and natural language processing of text associated with images, allowing it to analyze context and subject matter and produce written description of the images comparisons.” (

As Recognition (or [re] [cognition]) works it creates a virtual collection of images by matching works from the Tate Britain collection with contemporary news photos from the news agency Reuters. The matches are based on similarities of objects, faces, composition, theme that the A.I. finds as it views images.

The human viewer can click to stop the process in order to examine any of the matches in the virtual gallery in order to give Recognition feedback by responding to the prompt: “what makes this an interesting match?”

A.I. has been used in health care and transportation but A.I. in art is “uncharted space” according to Microsoft’s Eric Horovitz which is why Microsoft was interested in working with the project. It is an opportunity to see how A.I. can be “creative and make mistakes and meander.” (Dobrzynski, 2016)

The humanities and science and technology are often seen as separate worlds; the one supposedly subjective, intuitive, vague; the other, objective, precise fact-filled.

But perhaps not. A medical student constructing her examination of a patient using language and insights from art criticism; Science? Art?

Human art gallery visitors are given a tour by an A.I. program that shows works from the gallery matched with news photos.

The humans are asked for their assessment of the match. The program uses the human generated assessments to refine its matches.

Humans and machine learn from one another. Humanities? Art? Technology? Science?

Time to reasses our categories.




Dobrzynski, J. H. (2016c). Artificial Intelligence as a Bridge for Art and Reality. New York Times, p. 18. Retrieved from

Sheets, H. M. (2016c). How an Aesthete’s Eye Can Help a Doctor’s Hand

New York Times. Retrieved from


Pitman, B. (2016). The Art of Examination: Art Museum and Medical School Parnerships. Proceedings from The Art of Examination: Art Museum and Medical School Parnerships, New York and Dallas.


STEM, STEAM, art museum-medical school partnerships, clinical practice, A.I., Tate Britain, human assessment, A.I. and art