All posts by Michael Bromley

Founder and President of School4Schools.com LLC & The A+ Club, Bromley taught Social Studies for seven years at Archbishop Carroll High School in NE Washington, DC. Bromley is a historian, published author, entrepreneur, and dedicated teacher. School4Schools.com LLC and The + Club are Bromley's expression of enthusiasm and love for students.

Tech proficiency: got yours?

We like to think that our kids are technologically proficient.

They love new things, they love using the latest thing, and so on.

Really?

Not in my experience as a teacher. There’s always a kid or two who really knows and loves technology, who might be labeled a “geek” even. If that label ever applies it means that the rest are not geeks, thereby not technologically proficient. The rest know a few things but are too easily trapped within what they know and don’t learn new things. The reason why “apps” are so meaningful to kids is that they encapsulate many functions that can already be done elsewhere but that users don’t know. With this idea in mind, go through a list of apps and you will be amazed at how redundant so many are, both to each other and to better ways to go about doing the same thing.

Schools have no interest in student efficiency, yet kids are graded on it all the time: is the bibliography formatted correctly? Are the web sources acceptable? Did the student get the teacher’s email? Does the computer have a virus, or is it so slow from unintended program installs that it just doesn’t work right? Was the file saved properly? On and on to the trouble I see in students all the time.

It’s not just a matter of functionality. How much time do you waste working for your computer rather than having it work for you.

Check out this video …

I will only use the keyboard during this video.

See here for a list of Microsoft keyboard shortcuts:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/126449

Pretty cool, huh?

You can get more done and with less frustration if you learn a few tricks.

– Michael

What is your level of technological proficency?

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The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

College bound: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac?

laptop_MH900405386Another broken or stolen laptop? Are you sure about that?

Are you going to be that one who calls home begging for another computer because your laptop was stolen or it dropped out of your backpack. Mom may lose patience with that one after having forked over $2k for the MacBook Air. Besides, do you really need it?

Let’s think this through carefully. What do you really need?

Here’s my assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of your computer options (on Scale of 5):

Desktop PC Laptop PC Tablet Mac desktop Mac laptop
Ease of Use  5 4 2 5 4
Portability 1 4 5  1 4
Reliability 5 4 4 5 4
Capacity / Function 5 4 2  5 4
Cost 5 4 4 1 1
Risk of Loss or Breakage 5 2 2 5 2
Overall Score
(total ÷ 6 categories)
4.3 3.6 3.1 3.6 3.1

 


Here for updates on this topic:
The Best Computers for College: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac? pt 2
Laptop, Tablet, or Desktop? Google Docs or Office 365? Which technology is best for high school and college?


Desktops are old fashioned, you say?

Desktops have become, like cars, an afterthought: the average age of American cars is eleven years now, the highest it has ever been. That’s because they’re built better than ever and have all the functions consumers need. What hurt GM, Ford and Chrysler as much as anything over the last five years is that they’re products are very, very good, so people don’t need to buy new ones as often as before. A 2003 automobile is as good as a 2011, and there’s not much a 2013 offers that the ’03 can’t — other than the built-in Bluetooth or a few overly redundant safety features.

And these cars are lasting a long time now. Same goes with PCs: Microsoft’s biggest problem with Windows is that the Windows 7 program is very, very good, very very stable, and there’s little reason to upgrade it anymore (they tried for years to dump XP, which is still solid, useful and widely used). So desktop PCs aren’t so much old fashioned as they are, like a good car, just there.

Now, if you want a Mac, go for it. But you’re gonna pay for it, be it a desktop or a laptop. A Windows 7 PC will cost you less than your smartphone, and you will have a hard time breaking the screen or leaving it on your seat at the movies.

A Windows 7 laptop costs about the same as a desktop and has the added benefit of portability. But do you really, really need to carry your computer around? Some teachers will allow it in class, although I hear more and more about professors who ban them from classrooms because kids are on Facebook rather than focused on class. If I were in college, I’d have a laptop. The ability to take it with me is just that important.  BUT… I’d probably break it or lose it inside of the first semester.

Above all else is cost, which is why 82% of college students use a PC, i.e., Windows-based desktop or laptop. (I’m guessing that most of those are laptops.) As the expert is quoted in that article:

Another reason PCs are winning out with students: price. Desktop PCs are at their cheapest during September when students are going back to school… with prices starting at $200 for a dual-core desktop PC. (The iPad Mini
costs $329.) “The desktop PC is simply a wiser, more realistic investment for any student this fall”

I strongly recommend a decent new or lightly used Windows 7 PC or laptop. As the article points out, a decent PC will start around $200, and there’s no need to go much higher than that, even with a full desktop setup with monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers.

Used Equipment

We work with our students to make sure their equipment is available, proper, and functional. I can get a good Win 7 desktop (with monitor etc.) or laptop from anywhere between $100-$200, depending on the capacity, and with a 1 year warranty. Not bad. So let me know if you’re interested.

My Own Equipment

I use four computers, three laptops and a desktop, all PCs, and all HPs. My laptops can serve as a desktop when I plug it into a wireless keyboard, mouse, speakers, and external monitor setup. One laptop is for upstairs, one is for taking with me, and the other is my old workhorse, a seven year old HP that still goes and goes. I bought my desktop because I wanted a better 2nd monitor and higher overall performance, storage, speed, and so on.

So you know, I run Windows 7 on the old laptop and Windows 8 on the others. I also have a Windows Phone that syncs beautifully with my 8 machines and all my Office Programs, especially OneNote (organization) and Outlook (email). I’ll probably buy a Surface tablet, but I’m waiting for built-in mobile broadband, which is coming later or next year. I can wait. That’s me.

What about you, and what about for college?

What about cell phones?

You can do all that on a smart phone. But not very well.  And a little better on a tablet, but, again, not very well. A laptop does it all, with portability. But that, too, comes at a cost in functionality and risk of damage or loss. The best solution for that list is, I hate to say it – a desktop.

Next

I will next post my Computer Tool Kit list for you with essential programs, features and file management tools. Feel free to call or write with any questions.

Technology should not be a problem!

– Michael

What about the students?

Bromley and students

Bromley and students

A Furor but in whose interest?

A blog of mine provoked a bit of a furor two summers ago when I sat in as guest-blogger Rick Hess’ “Straight Up” blog on Education Week: Teacher Pay (Aug 3, 2011)

Huffington Post ran with this title:  Michael Bromley, Washington, D.C. Teacher: Teachers Are Overpaid and on the two or three re-postings of my blog, its readers added a few thousand comments, so angry, so offended — and many unthoughtful, although many quite funny. The overall theme was that I couldn’t possibly be a school teacher if I believed that teachers are overpaid. Have fun on it, if you will, but my point was not about the pay itself (on average teacher pay is right in the middle of Americans’ income, $56,000 a year).  My point was that teacher pay is unrelated to any meaningful measurement of teacher performance. Union and school district negotiations set teacher salaries, not teacher performance, and certainly students and families.

I’m not saying that student achievement should set teacher pay. My idea is that students themselves should set teacher pay. The difference is significant: critics of student performance-based pay are correct that measurements of student performance are often arbitrary and poor indicators of actual teacher performance. or, worse, student performance tests drive rather than measure learning (see this 2011 Freakonimics post on merit pay and a more recent debate on it in Michigan).

My problem with teacher pay is that it is removed from the actual consumers of education, children and their families. Certainly many jobs out there are not set by consumers of the products they deliver, especially in public service where client inputs are absent. That said, any time client input can indicate provider pay, there will be higher performance — and higher pay, especially as the non-performers are weeded out. The only input education consumers have on teacher pay comes indirectly and is always filtered through administrators, union contracts, local politics, and PTAs. While private schools are more responsive to their clients, even they do not directly link teacher performance to client input. Good teachers are generally rewarded, not specifically, the reverse with problem teachers. My objection is not to high teacher pay, it’s to paying all teachers on the same scale regardless of performance. My solution is twofold: 1) allow the real customers of education to have input on teacher pay; and 2) pay the good ones a lot.

The subject has bounced back into the news recently, first with North Carolina’s decision to halt Master’s degree salary hikes for teachers, another, also from the Wall Street Journal, on the $4 Million Teacher in Korea. What they found in North Carolina is that to reward teacher performance with higher salaries based upon advanced degrees does not necessarily lead to better classroom performance. What’s going on in Korea is that some good teachers are able to command huge salaries as advanced tutors, as that education market demands the extra learning these excellent teachers can provide. The subject is generally mute, however, and continues to function merely as a negotiation tool whenever teacher pay comes up for renewal in local systems. Try it, Google, or, as I do, Bing it, and you’ll be inundated with cries of unfairness by the teachers.

But what about the students?

All this discussion gets lost in “student performance,” but nobody cares about what the students themselves want and need. At The A+ Club, we remind the kids that they have no say in teacher pay: no matter how bad that teacher, no matter how unfair that grade, no matter how boring that class, you the student will never, ever change how much or if that teacher gets paid. You can’t fire him. You can’t reduce her pay. Instead, we redirect students to consider what they can control, namely their own tactics on how to approach a problematic class or teacher. Even if those teachers are truly unfair or flawed, it just is, we tell the kids. Instead of assigning blame to the teacher, see what you, the student, can do about it.

The kids are right, though. Teacher employment is disconnected from student input, especially that most significant indicator of teacher success, teacher pay. My blog post on Teacher Pay got into some ideas on how to introduce market conditions into teacher pay. It’s whimsical and unrealistic, but I hoped to make the point that teachers and schools need to view students as a client base and not as a captured audience.

Students are consumers of education, and they deserve to be treated as clients who can exercise choice. Until that day, however, we gotta work with what we got. More importantly, thought academic outcomes belong to students, not teachers, so it really is up to the kids. Let’s talk more about that instead about what the teachers need.

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Student Success Podcast

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student-success-podcast_cover_1800The Student Success Podcast discusses students, parenting, education, and strategies for academic success. Our weekly broadcast features 20 minute interviews with students, teachers, administrators, experts, community and business leaders, and anyone who is concerned about education and how to help kids do better in school.

We aim for useful, interesting information that can be used by everyone engaged in our common goal of student success.

At School4Schools.com and The A+ Club, we believe that academic success starts and ends with the student. Everything we do is aimed at helping individual students find their individual success. Welcome to the Student Success Podcast!

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The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

The Learning Process

Or, where do grades come from?

Learning-Process_flow-chart4_noheader2

Where do grades come from? Click here to view my Learning Process flow chart. Grades and learning are not necessarily related… Ideally they are, but what, really, do grades measure?

Have you ever considered what, exactly, do grades measure?

They measure something, but can they really measure everything? And of what they do measure, is it fair, is it meaningful, and does it represent what we really want students to achieve?

At the A+ Club we work with students to appreciate what grades are really about. The first thing to understand is that grades do not measure, do not indicate intelligence. Nor do grades necessarily measure learning. Whatever schools have done to lead any students or parents to believe this need to just disappear. Of course students have different intelligence. But they also have different skills Good at math, bad at drawing. Good at football, bad at reading. Good at singing, good at science, too. Whatever, these are all different types of intelligences, as intelligence is purely contextual. I do wish I was a math wizard like my astrophysicist brother. Ain’t gonna happen, so I do what I can with what I’ve got. That doesn’t mean I can’t get a good grade in Physics. So how would I go about getting a good grade in Physics if I’m bad at math?

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

First some vocabulary:

  • Assessment: a measurement of something, such as a grade on an exam.
  • Grades: assessments of student performance based upon certain criteria, hopefully not arbitrary
  • Learning Expectation: what a teacher expects students to learn
  • Relevancy: the idea that something is important or meaningful
  • Prior Knowledge (PK): what you already know
  • New Knowledge (NK): new things you learn
  • Internalization: the process of turning NK into PK

Grades as measurements

If we consider that grades measure something but not everything, then we must first consider what it is that grades measure. If a teacher gives a grade for “participation,” what does that mean? Is it an impression? A concrete measurement. Or is it a measurement of a process, such as a requirement to show the steps taken to answer a math equation as opposed to just answering the equation. When teachers outline assessment expectations in advance, we call this a “rubric.” Ideally, every little grade has a clear rubric or clear understanding by students about its expectations.

Just about every student has a story about getting a zero on something because they forgot to put their name on an assignment. It was done. It was even done well, and the student learned. But the student got a zero. So, what’s the grade about? Well, putting your name on the page is part of the grade. (Some teachers throw out un-named assignments; I always keep them, as it killed me that a kid did the work but I can’t reward it because I don’t know who it is!).

The next lesson here is to follow instructions!!! Students who are impatient with process often skip the instructions and then miss out on important steps that lead to low scores. You may have had one of those teachers who puts a “trick question” into an exam just to see if the student read everything, such as “skip the next two questions for extra credit.” I get the idea and have tried it myself. Ultimately, though it is not fair, but the sentiment is true: “read me,” screams the test!

Grades reflect so much more than just learning. A few things that go into most school assessments that are so basic we don’t often think about them. But if we do, we are more cognizant of what it takes to get a good grade:

  • timeliness
  • completion
  • name
  • instructions

If you really consider it, there is far less “learning” in a grade than there is “process” and just meeting teacher expectations.

Student Success

At The A+ Club, we employ these ideas very simply:

  • are you aware of what is expected of you?
  • what learning is expected?
  • are you being graded on timeliness and completion?
  • what process is expected?

That last, process, is behind most low grades. Many kids believe they could just ace the test and get a good grade without having done any homework. Often enough they are correct in this. But hardly always, and it is always the case that students are graded on process as much as learning. The trick is for students to make it meaningful enough to bother to do it, or, better, to want to do it. The best teachers make everything meaningful to students, but that’s a rarity. Instead, kids have to take up relevancy upon themselves.

Our job at The A+ Club is to provide kids with the tools and strategies to make their work meaningful, if only to get a higher grade.

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.