Life is Messy – Rethinking Educational Reform - Part 1, SBAC

This weekend, I’ve been thinking a bit about educational reform and have stumbled across several different interesting discussion. It started off when a discussion about the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, tests which have recently been administered at our schools.

A board of education member was fiercely defending the SBAC tests. She believed that the concerns with the tests were overblown and that the tests were properly administered. I opted my daughter out of the SBAC tests for many reasons and the feedback I’ve received about the tests do not square with the board members assessment.

The board member did admit that there were some difficulties, but there are always difficulties with any changes, and we eventually need to test changes in the real world. Setting aside the issue of whether or not there is real benefit to the changes that SBAC brings, I question whether there was sufficient testing prior to using the SBAC tests, and, perhaps more importantly, whether using the tests on students was wise, or perhaps even, ethical.

Having worked with computers for years, I recognize the importance of different aspects of testing, moving from unit testing to systems testing and integration testing. To put it into more contemporary terms, when do you move a system out of beta? Were the SBAC tests really ready to be moved out of beta? Where they properly tested? It does not seem so, from my perspective.

Yet there is a bigger question, about the efficacy and ethics of the testing. Thinking in terms of the scientific method, what was the hypothesis being tested? How will this test of the SBACs help prove or disprove the hypothesis? I have not heard this properly addressed. Working in health care, I constantly hear people talking about the importance of double blind tests. The SBAC tests were very far from this standard of testing. In fact, students were told that the tests wouldn’t make a difference, it was just a test to see how well the test works. As a result, I’ve heard many stories of students making up silly answers on the tests, something that wouldn’t happen if it were a real test that mattered.

I don’t know how much this really happened, and how much these are the sort of stories middle school students like to tell, but it does raise serious questions about the validity of SBAC experiment.

Yet this takes me to a bigger issue. In 1961, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram ran a series of experiments measuring people’s willingness to follow orders, even if it could cause harm or death to others. In the experiments, the subjects were told to give shocks to students who failed to properly answer certain questions.

Many have questioned the ethics of these experiments and the Milgram experiments are regularly brought up in discussions about institutional review boards, or IRBs.

As I thought about the discussion with the board of education member, I had to wonder, are SBAC tests being administered in a way that would be approved by an IRB? Are risks to the subjects, or children in schools, minimized? Do the benefits of moving towards SBAC tests outweigh the risks to students? Are students, and their parents, adequately informed and asked to consent in ways that are free from coercion or undue influences? What measures are being taken to protect vulnerable populations?

There is a role for testing students in our educational system. Yet these tests need to be well thought out and administered in a fair way that benefits our students. In my mind, the SBAC tests fails this.

At the #CTDemConvention

It is a rainy Friday evening as I sit in the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. The Pledge of Allegiance and the prayers have been made, the convention has been called to order, but mostly delegates just spend time talking with one another. There isn't much suspence at this convention, instead, a chance for friends to reconnect and to talk about various coming elections.

I've been wearing my Google Glass which has been a good topic of discussion. Congressman Jim Himes tried them on, and the folks at the Kevin Lembo nerd table found the glass to be particularly nerdy. Unforunately, for some reason, low batteries, heavy network traffic, or the latest upgrade has caused Glass to be very slow.

After the nominating speeches for Gov. Malloy, they started playing a video. Almost no one seems to be paying attention.

It has been a while since I live blogged a convention, but I hope to have additional updates through out the day.

UPDATE 6:10 - I streamed some of Gov. Malloy's acceptance speech via Google Glass, after recharging it and then rebooting it. They are now nominating Nancy Wyman for Lt. Gov. and I'm recharging Glass a little bit more.

Samsung Gear 2, Week 1

I have now been wearing a Samsung Gear 2 Smartwatch for close to a week, so I feel that it is now time to write some initial thoughts. One of things that particularly caught my attention about the Gear 2 smartwatch is that it runs the Tizen operating system. I used to write code for my Nokia N900 which ran a predecessor of Tizen, so the idea of running a Linux based operating system on a smartwatch especially caught my attention.

However, I’ll aspects about Tizen for a later post. The upside is that it may be a much better, more open operating system. The downside is that it appears locked down, at least right now, and setting up the development environment is not as easy as I would like.

I am also interested in the smartwatch as another player in the rapidly growing wearable computing field. I’ve been wearing Google Glass for nearly a year now, and I continue to wear it at the same time as I wear Gear 2. One of the nicest features of both of these devices is the more instantaneous notification than a smartphone. When a notification comes in, glance up for Glass, glance at your wrist for Gear 2, or pull your smartphone out of your pocket, pick it up off the desk, or whatever.

On Glass, I get notifications about twitter, text messages, various news sources and gmail. Gears gives me access to corporate email and text messages. I’m starting to experiment with other notifications. They look promising. If you want a device for quicker notifications, Gears 2 seems to be a good way to go.

Of course, being a digital omnivore, I can easily imagine continuing to wear Glass and Gears at the same time. Ideally, I’d love to pair Glass with one of my phones and Gears with the other. Unfortunately, Glass requires at least Android 4.0.3 and Gears requires Samsung devices. I have a Samsung G4 and an HTC Insight, running 2.3.0. So, for the time being, Glass and Gear are both linked to my G4. When I get a chance, I will see if I can upgrade the HTC to Android 4 and see if I can connect it to Glass.

What differentiates Gears 2, from Gears 2 Neo and Gears 2 Fit is the camera. However, this is a 1.9 megapixel camera. These days, it seems like a 5 megapixel camera is the minimum, so I’ve been pretty unimpressed with the camera on Gears.

The Gears 2 Neo and Gears 2 Fit cost $200 and seem to be competing more with the Fitbit and related fitness bands. They cost twice as much as the competitors, and the camera makes it cost three times as much.

I did try the Nike Fuelband at one point and was very unimpressed. The fitness apps on the Gears 2 are nice. I’ve walked 6483 steps today. Well short of the 10,000 steps I’d like to be doing, but not bad. In fact, I’ve been over 6000 steps every day since I got the Gears. One thing that I wish it had was some way to download this information. There is a separate Exercise application, that doesn’t seem to share data, but does use the heart rate monitor. There is also a Sleep App which tracks how long and well you are sleeping. So far, no great insights from it, but it seems okay. It is supposed to be water resistant down to a meter deep. So, I’ve wondered about using it to track swimming, but I haven’t found an app for that. On Gears 2, you can share data from Gears Fitness apps as an image to social media. A nice start.

Ideally, I’d like to see patient portal type apps connect with Gears and that may be another test soon.

I have tried installing a few other apps on gears, but nothing has really caught my attention or worked nicely for me. The QR code reader seemed like a good idea, but hasn’t worked properly yet and the Facebook Quick View app seems flakey.

For me, the battery has lasted pretty well, I suspect it would run for two days between charges at the rate I’m using it right now. It recharges pretty quickly. I charge it while I shower and eat breakfast.

All in all, it is interesting enough for me to continue to wear regularly, experiment with, and explore development on. More later…

Mother's Day Reflection

I remember standing in the hallway to the front door. We used that door to run outside and play. When we had guests, which wasn’t all that often, they would come in the kitchen door next to the driveway.

On one side of the hallway was the coat closet, deep and dark. Besides boots and coats, there were various important papers, a collection of B.B. guns, and other things yet to be discovered.

On the other side of the hallway was a giant built-in book case. To a four year old that could only reach the first few shelves, it seemed like a three or four story building, although growing up in Williamstown, I didn’t have much of an idea of buildings that large. I often hung around these book cases. There were stories to be found there as well as great piles of paper from my aunt who worked in the paper mill.

One day, I decided to write my first book. I folded a few pieces of paper together and wrote a simple story. I don’t recall it exactly, but the title was something like “The Great Oak” and the story was something like “An acorn fell on the ground and grew into a big oak tree.”

My mother smiled and from then on, always encouraged me to write.

There was a big oak tree behind the house. It would shower the yard and the sandbox with acorns. Up in the oak tree was a shipping pallet, nailed firmly to a couple branches. That was our tree house. Further up the hill, there was a large rope, the kind you climbed on in school, hung from another rope between two trees. This was our Tarzan swing. We would climb up the hill, firmly grab the rope and careen out over the hill and back.

One day, I didn’t have a firm enough grip, so the rope flung me out over the hill and I couldn’t hold on. I’m not sure how far I fell, twenty or thirty feet, probably, and landed on my back in the bushes. The bushes helped break the fall so nothing else got broken, but it did knock the wind out of me and scrape up my back pretty badly.

I ran down the hill, trying to cry, but no sound would come out. No air would come out. I’d breathe in refilling my lungs, try to exhale and not have enough breath. Eventually, there was enough air in my lungs to let out a giant wail and my mother came running.

She tended the scrapes on my back, and soon, I was outside playing in the sandbox again. Another time, I ran out the front door of the house, my right arm extended to push the door open. But instead, I put my hand through the glass of the front door, and my mother tended those wounds as well.

It seemed that I was always accident prone, and my mother would to tend to the injuries, the broken arm, the concussion, the time I got hit in the head with a rock, which came fractions of an inch from killing me.

Beyond the injuries, there was always work to be done. We lived on a small farm and many of my memories are of planting seeds, pulling weeds and helping my mother can the vegetables. We would all sit around the kitchen table, snapping the ends of beans and cutting them into bite sized lengths. We would shell the peas, bag after bag of peas to be frozen, or we would husk the corn.

Another memory I have of my mother was standing next to her as she hung clothes out to dry. The clothes line was a long loop run on two pulleys. One end was attached to the side of the house and the other was on a tree at the edge of the woods. My mother would clip the clothes onto the line with clothes pins and give the line a little tug to move the wet clothes closer to the tree, and repeat the process. It was a quiet meditative time when I just enjoyed being around my mother. Yet for her, it was probably tedious. The endless clothes of four growing children must have been a burden.

The house was small and with two adults, four kids, and at times, a dog and a couple cats, very crowded. It was the top floor of a Sears’s kit and less that one thousand square feet. These days, it would be a trendy ‘tiny house’.

There was also all the cooking and baking to be done. My mother would bake our bread, as well as bake bread for communion at church. On special occasions, she would get together with other women of the community for sewing circle. That’s what girls night out was for her when I was young. They would gather and talk as they worked on the sewing or knitting that needed to be done. She would make two large tea rings. One, she would bring with her to the sewing circle, and the other was left at home for the kids.

She would bake our birthday cakes. For my birthday, we would get seafood from the Boston Fish Market. Money was tight, but I remember one year, we even went out to dinner at the Captain’s Table. That was the night that my Uncle Charlie, my mother’s brother-in-law, had a heart attack coming home from dinner and then spent a couple weeks in the hospital.

Yet I don’t remember much about parties on her birthday or on Mother’s Day. Perhaps it is too long ago and I have just forgotten. Perhaps, I was so caught up in my own world, that I don’t remember much about what was going on for people around me. Perhaps, some of it, was that Mother’s Day just wasn’t the big commercial event it is today, or if it was, we missed it because of how tight our cash was.

So now, I sit in my house, a year and a half after my mother died, doing what she always encouraged me to do, write.

Happy Mother’s Day

What a Week!

I started off May nicely, in the middle of a week where I managed to get a blog post up each day. Then, last Sunday, I hit the wall. Kim and Fiona had been fighting stomach bugs and Saturday night I started to feel queasy. I slept almost all day Sunday, but did manage to write a blog post about a recent poll.

Monday, I still wasn’t feeling 100%, so I powered through the day, and then didn’t manage to get a blog post up. Tuesday, my Samsung Galaxy Gears 2 smartwatch arrived. I set it up, but didn’t really get a chance to explore it much because I was going to drive to Boston for a wake. It seems like I’ve gotten to be an old hand at attending wakes, and I spoke with coworkers about wake etiquette.

Often, at wakes, there is the strange uncle babbling about something, or the dysfunctional family or work dynamics where one person tries to avoid another and others just keep a stiff upper lip. This wake was no different and I tried to help people focus on mourning the loss of a beloved sister, mother, aunt and coworker.

Afterwards, I went to East Coast Grill at Inman Square. It was a great dinner and an important time to decompress. East Coast Grill is known for its Hell Nights where food too spicy for me is consumed. During dinner, it was suggested that we head over to a magic show and several of us trooped down the street for this. It seemed somehow appropriate to the long strange day.

Hocus Pocus, hoc est corpus meam.

To end the evening, I headed over to my daughter’s apartment. We sat up talking about art.

The next morning, I drove over to the funeral. Wednesday morning, I was supposed to host a meetup back in Connecticut. I had sent an email to the group and another person volunteered to host the meetup at a different location. They sent out an email to the group, and I was glad that was settled.

However, on the way to the funeral, I received an irate phone call from a person who randomly attended a few of the meetups, but had never signed up for the mailing list. He went to the original location and found no one there. Afterwards, he called me. I explained that I was driving to a funeral and couldn’t talk. He said that he knew I was on the way to the funeral but was upset that he didn’t know the location of the meetup had changed. I told him that the message about the location change had gone out to the mailing list. He continued to rant, so I simply pointed out how inappropriate his call was and hung up.

It was a fairly traditional Catholic Funeral Mass.

And he will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.

After the funeral, I drove back to Connecticut, tried to decompress and started exploring the smartwatch. I’ve made a bit of progress and will probably have a few blog posts specific to the smartwatch coming.

Thursday, I tried to get back to normal, which included running late for dinner at my in-laws. When I did get home, I found that Wesley had had an accident. It was unlike him, and I wonder if he had eaten something he shouldn’t have. I believe it was also Thursday that the upgrade to the game Ingress came out. The highest level you could reach in Ingress had been 8, and I had been Level 8 for quite a while. They now expanded it to go up to level 16. I immediately jumped to level 10. I figure I’m still a month or two away from level 11.

Friday morning, I woke up with our cat Max on the foot of the bed. Normally, he doesn’t sleep there. Also, normally, when I head into the kitchen, he is under my feet, begging for food. Instead, he stayed on the foot of the bed. Did he eat the same thing Wesley had eaten?

At work, I focused on the upcoming symposium, writing about National Nurses week, and dealing with a couple communications issues. At the end of the day, I was exhausted. I stopped off for a drink with a co-worker, and headed home to dinner and bed.

This morning, I’m catching up a little more and will shortly head off to my daily chores.

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