Monday, April 29, 2013

Computer Thinks You’re Dumb: Automated Essay Grading in the World of MOOCs

Pedagogical Lessons Learned as Students in Mas...
Pedagogical Lessons Learned as Students in Massive Online Open Courses (Photo credit: BCcampus_News)
by Mark Gregory, RMIT University

Let us consider the following scenario.

You have enrolled in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offered by a world renowned university.

After four weeks of solid work you have completed your first assignment and you sit down to upload the essay.

Within a second of the essay being sent for grading your result appears declaring your essay to be a less than stellar effort.

But the essay might not have even been seen by a human, but instead been graded entirely by a computer system comparing your essay to sample essays in a database.

EdX, a non-profit MOOC provider founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, introduced automated essay grading capability in a software upgrade earlier this year.

But should automated grading systems be used for essays? And how good are these systems anyway?

The MOOC phenomena

The hype surrounding MOOCs reached fever pitch last year. MOOCs were initially brought to us by prestigious American universities - offering the same content that students paid for, to anyone for free.

Australian universities soon jumped on board and homegrown MOOC platforms quickly followed.
Australian schools and universities have been using automated grading systems for multiple-choice and true-false tests for many years.

But EdX has moved one step further using artificial intelligence technology to grade essays - a controversial step given this approach is yet to be accepted.

EdX’s president, Anant Agarwal told the New York Times earlier this month that “instant grading software would be a useful pedagogical tool, enabling students to take tests and write essays over and over and improve the quality of their answers.”

Agarwal said the use of artificial intelligence technologies to grade essays had “distinct advantages over the traditional classroom system, where students often wait days or weeks for grades.”

Robot graders

Automated grading systems that assess written test answers have been around since the 1960s when the first mainframe computers were introduced.

The New York Times reports that four US states (Louisiana, North Dakota, Utah and West Virginia) now use automated essay grading systems in secondary schools and in some situations the software is used as a backup which provides a check on the human assessors.

Automated essay grading relies upon the system being trained with a set of example essays that have been hand-scored. It then learns from the example essays and results provided for other student’s essays, and includes an analysis of indicators about phrases, keywords, sentence and paragraph construction.

Automated essay grading systems can be fine-tuned by getting humans to grade a sub-set of the submitted essays. But this limits the ability of the automated grading system to provide instantaneous results and feedback.

The artificial intelligence technology can then step in to make the process more sophisticated, using knowledge gained from human marked essays.

Can a computer really grade an essay?

There has not been general acceptance for the use of artificial intelligence technologies within automated grading systems. And recent moves by online education organisations to use artificial intelligence technologies for high-stakes testing has caused concern among academia.

This concern culminated in an online petition against machine scoring of essays launched earlier this year by a group of concerned academics and research staff. Over 3,600 signatures have been collected so far including from high profile intellectuals like Noam Chomsky.

A statement on the petition website argues that “computers cannot ‘read’. They cannot measure the essentials of effective written communication: accuracy, reasoning, adequacy of evidence, good sense, ethical stance, convincing argument, meaningful organisation, clarity, and veracity, among others.”

Les Perelman, a researcher at MIT, is highly critical of automated grading systems and has provided a critique of the state-of-the-art of artificial intelligence technology use in automated essay grading systems.

Perelman states that “comparing the performance of human graders matching each other to the machines matching the resolved score still gives some indication that the human raters may be significantly more reliable than machines."

In June 2012, Perelman submitted a nonsense essay to the US Educational Testing Service’s (ETS) automated grading systems called e-Rater and received the highest possible grade.

ETS uses the e-Rater software, in conjunction with human assessors, to grade the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) and Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), without human intervention for practice tests.

Both these tests are high stakes - the former decides entrance to US graduate schools and the latter the fate of non-English speakers wishing to study at American universities.

Testing times

In the rush to adopt MOOCs, Australian universities may skip important debates on what forms of assessment are acceptable and how to ensure educational outcomes are valid.

Central to the value of MOOCs as a pedagogical tool is the method used to assess course participants. Artificial intelligence technologies have been advancing rapidly but have they reached the point where automated grading systems can replace teaching academics?

Please tell us what you think - do we need real live humans to grade essays or do you believe computers can do the job just as well? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Gregory does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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A Secret Formula to Learning? Extra Money and Quick Fixes Won't Improve Education

Education@Edunation (Photo: blogefl)
by Jason Lodge, Griffith University

Everyone, it seems, has a “fix” for education.

The government has staked improvement on extra funding while others say a higher bar for teaching graduates is needed, and some view the prestige of the profession as the core issue.

Meanwhile, the federal opposition is touting free online learning as a way to reduce the costs of higher education and the government has slashed over A$2 billion from the higher education budget to pay for their school funding reforms.

These solutions and cuts all share common assumptions; that our education systems can be improved or made more efficient with relatively straightforward policy changes.

Of course, the right policy settings and sufficient resources are important, but there is no one formula for an education system just as there’s no one formula to perfect learning or teaching.

A brainy formula

What is being asked of teachers at all levels of education in the 21st century is no mean feat.

In what is an increasingly complex social and technological environment, be it the physical or virtual classroom, teachers are charged with making lasting and positive changes to the most complicated piece of machinery in the known universe, the human brain.

This task is made all the more difficult in that a history of practice-based research has failed to provide simple formula for ensuring students learn what they need to learn. Even if such formulae did exist, technology is changing the landscape constantly meaning they would soon be out-dated.

Scientist, writer and medical practitioner Ben Goldacre, who is noted for his strong stance on rigorous scientific evidence, recently called on the British Department of Education to foster an evidence-based approach to teaching.

In his discussion paper, Goldacre argues that the randomised control trial should be a central feature of educational research in much the same way as it is in medicine.

These trials work by treating randomly selected people with different clinical interventions to see what works best.

Goldacre is not the first to make this argument. In the early 2000s in the United States, there was a concerted push into what became known as the “what works” agenda as part of the “No Child Left Behind” policy.

The basis of this agenda was that rigorous scientific evidence, gained predominantly from methods such as randomised control trials should underpin teaching practice.

In a similar vein, a committee set up by the Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC) reported in 2009 that there are significant and exciting opportunities to be gained by incorporating the learning sciences and neuroscience into education.

Although this committee stopped short of recommending the use of randomised control trials in the manner Goldacre has, what can be gleaned from their conclusions is the same: education is not informed by rigorous scientific evidence and it should be if we are to see meaningful improvement.

Quick fixes

While there are without doubt great opportunities for relying on more rigorous approaches to better help our teachers do what they need to do, the randomised control trial will not achieve this in isolation any more than a quick policy change will.

Nor can the learning sciences be easily adapted so that we can produce the magic learning formula or algorithm for ensuring all students meet specified standards.

The problem here is that rigour does not necessarily mean relevance. The context in which a school or university exists is itself complex in terms of socio-economics, availability of resources, student diversity and teacher capacity and capability, making it difficult to experimentally control.

These contextual factors introduce too much noise to make any meaningful comparisons between “treatment” and “control” conditions.

As Goldacre succinctly argues, the challenge for the teaching profession is to become more about evidence-based practice. This requires investment in determining not just what works but what works in every educational context for every student.

Asking universities to rapidly become more efficient or throwing large sums of additional money at schools do not guarantee improved educational outcomes.

Teachers need the most up to date, cutting edge practices and tools at their disposal and need to be shown how to use them properly in their classroom.

In short, teachers need the type of evidence ecosystem of multiple academic disciplines and professional development opportunities that are available to medical practitioners.

Goldacre is right that improving education requires a greater emphasis on rigour and evidence, particularly as technology plays a greater role, but that is only part of the solution.

The real problem

The greatest hurdle in improving education is bridging the gap between rigour and relevance.

The only way to give teachers the tools and knowledge they need is for learning scientists, neuroscientists, educational psychologists, instructional designers and teachers to all work together to solve pedagogical problems and enhance education.

Governments also need to have the foresight to invest in this type of research and not just expect simple answers to be provided by quick policy fixes.

Enhancing education is a complex, wicked problem because learning and teaching are multifaceted phenomena, involving biological, technological, psychological, social, economic and pedagogical factors.

Solving the problem of enhancing learning for our students is not to be found by altering one part of this equation by, for example, shifting large sums from one level of education to another, but by taking a multifaceted, multidisciplinary evidence-based approach.

Sadly, the capacity for our institutions to be developing the required evidence base is being further eroded as continuing cuts and political posturing bite.

Jason Lodge does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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BOOK REVIEW: "Raising the Stakes": Unis Up Against the Odds on a Heavy Track

Picture of the University of Queensland St. Lu...
University of Queensland, Brisbane (Wikipedia)
by John Harrison, Online Opinion:

When Peter Coaldrake was deputy vice-chancellor at Queensland University of Technology he visited every school once or twice a year to meet with staff.

He would come in, talk briefly to 10 minutes about "how the joint was going", and then say: "I'm here to take your questions on anything except parking".

In the real world, where I was employed before coming to higher education over a decade ago, we called that "management by walking around".

Coaldrake has also been one of the key drivers of QUT's creative industries precinct in the inner-city Brisbane suburb of Kelvin Grove.

While the jury may still be out on 'creative industries', and there are those who regard it as an ideology, rather than a sound academic platform for post-disciplinarity, Peter Coaldrake deserves full credit for being a risk taking innovator, and modelling the behaviour we all say is needed in academic leadership.

So it is encouraging to see Coaldrake as an Australian vice-chancellor, not bowed down by random budget cuts, brawls with staff, and battling increasingly intrusive bureaucracies, and producing a book length reflection on the state of universities in Australia, co-authoring with his long time academic sidekick Lawrence Stedman.

The book, published by UQP and launched this week is called Raising the Stakes.

The key to solving the many and varied problems within our universities according to Coaldrake and Steadman lies within the institutions themselves. As it has always been for much of the seven centuries universities have existed. 
Arguably, it was only with the advent of what is called the "new public sector management" that bureaucrats and bureaucracies, and more importantly their political masters, began to exert influence on universities.

Take, for example, the recent argument in The Australian (23 April) newspaper that four science ministers in the last 16 months is stultifying scientific research in this country.

Absolute rubbish, of course, from an organ of the press that holds academics and the Academy in great esteem, and is basically clueless about what really happens in universities.

However, in the good old days, the golden age of universities that never existed, scientists would have simply carried on with their work irregardless of who sat around the cabinet table wearing a hat labelled Minister for Science.

Coaldrake and Stedman start out by looking at a number of myths about higher education. These myths, according to the authors, include:

· University vice chancellor are spineless and complicit in the destruction of public universities;
· Research and teaching are inextricably linked;
· Universities can regain the golden age by resisting neoliberalism and managerialism;
· The advent of new massive online courses from prestigious universities are about to hollow out the traditional university model.

Some of the most useful discussion in the book is about the rise of performance metrics in higher education - global ranking systems, the Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) exercise, and the development of instruments to evaluate graduate outcomes.

Given we now live in the world of "big data", there is an inevitability about the use of performance metrics, not just in higher education, but across government, business and the not-for-profit sector.

This is to be welcomed when it leads to evidence-based practice, and moreover when it leads to the exposure of the myths that Coaldrake and Stedman have identified.

Anyone interested in how clever universities are in using the existing available data to enhance teaching and learning should read the article on "Penetrating the fog: Analytics in learning and education", in Educause Review, 46(5), 30-32 by George Siemens and Phil Long.

Coaldrake and Stedman's other useful discussion is about the changing nature of university teaching, and rise of MOOCs, massive open online courses. There is a meme in my university that "if you are afraid of being replaced by a video, then perhaps you should be."

Implicit in this aphorism is the principle that genuine and transformative value is added in higher education through face to face interaction with students (whether in person or mediated). In this context, one of the most interesting observations (p.243) is about the blurring of distinctions between academic and professional staff.

This book is not a clarion call to arms to rescue universities from the four horsemen of MOOCS, budget cuts, government interference and dodgy systems of rankings. It is a sober, accurate and thoughtful reflection on the current situation in higher education.

And while the writing is not scintillating, the authors at least unpack the issues without hyperbole. Given this, I hope we are smart enough to figure out the answers for ourselves.

About the Author

Dr John Harrison teaches journalism and communication at The University of Queensland. An award winning journalist and higher education teacher, he is at the forefront of the development of new ways of learning using digital mobile media.
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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Phonics and Whole Language: A Debate?

Learning to read. Zambia
Learning to read. Zambia (Photo credit: GlobalPartnership for Education)
by Scott T Sharp

I am always bemused that the phonics versus whole language debate is, well, a debate.

Education systems swing back and forth between the two, much to the annoyance of many educators and to the detriment of children.

First I will give you an overview (admittedly simplified) of each approach.


The 'phonics approach' to learning to read can be likened to climbing a ladder. Children build their skills and knowledge one step at a time. Under this approach, children begin by recognising and learning the sound-letter relationships; that is, recognising letters and their corresponding sounds.

The next step in the 'phonics ladder' involves understanding that these sounds can be combined to make words and represent meaning, and learning more complex letter patterns.

Whole Language

In the whole language approach, the path to learning doesn't involve children learning to combine sounds to read words. Rather it involves immersing the learner in literacy as a whole; that is: reading, being read to, and writing.

The focus is on making meaning from texts and using language in authentic contexts. Spelling and grammar will come in their own time and of their own accord.

When educators subscribe exclusively to only one approach, children miss out. To become a competent, well-rounded reader, a child needs exposure and opportunities to practise the skills both philosophies offer.

Either Or?

A robust reading curriculum involves aspects of both approaches.

To begin, children need to understand that the letters on the page carry with them sounds, and that the sounds can change depending on placement and letter patterns.

They need to know that these sounds combine to represent words. This is a very important base for reading, but it is only part of the skill set of a competent reader.

Children must learn sight words as whole units, not broken into their individual sounds. Yes, most of these sight words follow phonetic patterns and can be decoded (worked out) by applying learnt rules, but that is missing the point.

A whole language approach to sight words teaches children immediate recognition of these words, thus increasing reading fluency.

Here it is important that we look again to the phonics approach, because not all words need to be learnt by sight. It would be folly to force beginning readers to attempt to learn all words by sight.

When beginning readers encounter words they don't know by sight, they need to be able to access their phonics knowledge to decode the word. To do this they need a good understanding of phonics.

Throughout the process of learning to read, children need to be immersed in literacy. Children must read, read, read and write, write, write. They need exposure to fiction, non-fiction, brochures, magazines, posters, menus; they need to write stories, lists, diaries and book reviews.

They must understand texts, realise the purpose of different texts, and most importantly enjoy reading; all things which the whole language approach heavily advocates.

Children who are lucky enough to learn within a system that recognises the value of each approach will have a greater chance of finishing with a finely tuned skill set and a love of books. These are children who will become life-long readers.

We need to give our children a well-rounded approach to reading. Scott runs the completely free website aimed at helping parents assist their children's reading. It also includes a free tutoring service at

Article Source:

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Curriculum & Resources: The Food Project

the Food Project logo
The Food Project logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Yes! magazine:

The Food Project not only grows good produce, it grows good people.

Based in the Boston area, The Food Project works with more than 125 teens and thousands of volunteers each year to grow over a quarter-million pounds of chemical-free food - donating thousands of pounds of produce to local hunger relief organizations and selling the remainder through community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm shares and farmers markets.

Just as important, The Food Project is a resource on sustainable communities. Their wisdom and experience are accessible to organizations and individuals worldwide.

This venerable organization’s wealth of information and knowledge is available through materials, workshops, videos, and more.


Here are just a few of The Food Project’s resources. Classroom teachers, informal educators, and community organizers, be prepared to be inspired!


The Food Project's manual series captures the nuts and bolts of each of its acclaimed programs and address the fundamental principles, structures, and philosophies vital to the success of any youth-based program.

Manuals include how to run a sustainable production farm while integrating thousands of youth and volunteers; how to engage young people throughout the school year with community-based programs; and how to establish food lots in urban areas.

EXPLORE The Food Project Manuals


How do you successfully establish trust and rapport with teens and thousands of volunteers? From ice breakers to team building, The Food Project shares its tried-and-true games that build reliance and camaraderie in any group of youth and adults.

Activities to introduce groups to specific issues, such as food systems and hunger, are also offered.

EXPLORE The Food Project Activities

Curriculum on Sustainable Agriculture

Teen participants with The Food Project not only are taught to plant seeds, they are also taught the science and merits of sustainable agriculture.

The eight-part series is an accumulation of years of experience, with units that cover the principles of sustainable agriculture and food systems; the importance of compost and fertile soil; the role of insects in farming; and - my favorite - weed management (if only …).

EXPLORE Curriculum on Sustainable Agriculture

For additional resources, visit The Food Project’s official website

Since 1991, The Food Project has built a national model of engaging young people in personal and social change through sustainable agriculture.

Each year, they work with over a hundred teens and thousands of volunteers to farm on 31 acres in rural Lincoln, Mass. and on several lots in urban Boston.

They focus on identifying and transforming a new generation of leaders by placing teens in unusually responsible roles, with deeply meaningful work.
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LEARNING RESOURCE: The Page That Counts: Spring 2013

English: Median weekly earnings of full-time w...
Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers, by sex, race, and ethnicity, 2009 (Wikipedia)
by Yes! magazine:

Percentage by which a male college graduate’s hourly wage was higher than a female’s in 1979: 11
Percentage by which a male college graduate’s hourly wage was higher than a female’s in 2011: 24 [1]

Percentage of its energy demand that Denmark has pledged to fulfill with renewable resources by 2050: 100 [2]
Percentage that Germany has pledged to fulfill using renewables by 2030: 50 [3]
Percentage that the United States has pledged to fulfill using renewables: 0 [4]

Percentage of people worldwide who identify as atheist or not religious: 36
Countries in which atheism is punishable by execution: 7
U.S. states with constitutional provisions barring atheists from public office: 7
U.S. states in which atheists may not testify as witnesses in courtroom trials: 1 [5]

Temperature in degrees Fahrenheit reached by prey-stunning bubbles shot from a pistol shrimp’s claw: 8,500 [6]
Temperature in degrees Fahrenheit of the sun’s surface: 9,980 [7]

Percentage of Americans who received any inheritance between 1989 and 2007: 21
Estimated households that will pay estate tax in 2013, with exemption level at $5 million: 3,770
Estimated households that would pay estate tax in 2013 with Clinton-era exemption level of $1 million: 47,710
Estimated revenue that will be lost in the next decade due to the new exemption levels: $375 billion [8]

Number of countries in Latin America that have government-run credit scoring agencies subject to public oversight: 17
Number in Europe: 7
Number of government-run credit scoring agencies in the United States: 0 [9]

Miles flown by a bar-tailed godwit in the longest nonstop bird migration ever recorded: 7,200 [10]
Miles flown in the world’s longest nonstop, non-refueled helicopter flight: 2,213 [11]

Percentage of Americans who felt in April 2011 that the political changes brought about by the Arab Spring would lead to lasting improvements for the citizens of those Middle Eastern countries: 42
Percentage of Americans who in October 2012 foresaw lasting improvements: 25 [12]

Percentage of the banking industry’s assets held by local community banks: 14
Percentage of small loans to businesses and farms that are made by local community banks: 46 [13]


1. Economic Policy Institute, 2012.
2. Danish Energy Agency, 2012.
3. German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature, and Nuclear Safety, Jan. 1, 2012.
4. Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, 2012.
5. International Humanist and Ethical Union, 2012.
6. Nature, Oct. 4, 2001.
7. Scientific American Review, Oct. 21, 1999.
8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dec.20, 2010.
9. World Bank, 2000.
10. United States Geological Survey, Sep. 12, 2007.
11. The International Air Sports Federation.
12. Pew Research Center, Oct. 2012.
13. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Dec 2012.
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Free to Be Me: Free Schools

Photo by Gia Rae Winsryg-Ulmer
by , Yes! magazine:

Gia Rae Winsryg-Ulmer grew up primarily in New York City. She has studied Swahili in Tanzania, Spanish in Guatemala and Mexico, aromatherapy in Morocco, Ayurveda in India and Reiki in Manhattan. 

In addition to teaching the Dolphin Group (ages 5-7) at Brooklyn Free School, Gia is an amateur videographer, photographer, and a writer. Gia is currently working on a science fiction novel and planning a trip to Tanzania this spring with BFS students and families.

At "free schools," kids take ownership over their learning, deciding what they want to learn and when they want to learn it. They move and learn in a way that's natural to them. 

Gia Rae Winsryg-Ulmer knew she found her place to teach when she walked through the doors of Brooklyn Free School three years ago. See how Gia and BFS honor children's rights to be themselves and become the happy, healthy, and independent thinking people they are meant to be. This is Gia's Story.

When you walk into Brooklyn Free School, you are first drawn to the “Big Room.” Most mornings, you’ll see kids and staff serving themselves breakfast, reading the newspaper, having conversations about current events, movies, and books, and playing chess or card games.

Twice a month, we gather here for our all-school democratic meeting. Downstairs of the church building we lease, rooms are transformed into playhouses, fort villages, jam sessions, and dance parties.

There’s also a snuggle corner with a feather bed and pillows for curling up to read, and a writing area known as "the office." The sanctuary of the church is where many of the teen classes take place. 

Morning classes include philosophy and math. Following our family style lunch, are afternoon classes, like Intro to Chinese, Black Studies, Art, Spanish, and Revolution. Welcome to our school.  

"I believe that at its core, the free school movement is the struggle for children’s right to be themselves. Before anyone knows that they are black or white, rich or poor, man or woman, gay or straight, they are children."

My work in education began ten years ago as a teaching artist in New York City. At the time, I was working with students who had been labeled as emotionally and behaviorally disturbed, but who were all highly intelligent and creative young people.

Much of the energy of the schools I was exposed to was spent getting students to sit quietly. Later, as an 8th grade teacher in a Harlem charter school, I began to feel as a teacher, like a soldier in a war I didn’t want to fight, a war against kids.

While working towards my master’s degree, I visited Brooklyn Free School, a K-12 independent school of 60 students in the South Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

BFS is located in the midst of a working class neighborhood peppered with bakeries, 99-cent stores, hipster cafes, and laundromats. I knew after that first visit that this was a different kind of school, that this was the kind of school where I could work.

Brooklyn Free School is one of the most diverse communities I’ve encountered - not just in terms of race and ethnicity, but in terms of class, political views, and kids with different learning styles. There are students who in a conventional school might be labeled as school-phobic and kids who would be labeled as geniuses.

There are families who come here because they love the philosophy. Others connect because their kid couldn’t imagine being in a school that makes them sit down all day. But all of our students and families have the sense that they are somehow not entirely part of the mainstream.

The main thing that stands out about a free school is that kids move in a natural way. They aren’t following adult’s concepts of what’s organized and what’s appropriate. Here, you’re entering a world that, though it is not run by kids, reflects what’s natural to them.

Our students are not forced to learn anything that they don’t want to learn - they take ownership over their learning, deciding what they want to learn and when they want to learn it.

I think it’s fair to say that many people, including teachers, either don’t know much about free schools, or hold some ignorant assumptions about this alternative approach to learning.

When people hear some of the basic ideas behind free school education they think of themselves and what they would have done as a child if they were free to choose what they did all day. They think that they wouldn’t do anything but play all day.

Some kids do play most of the time, but there come a point when they decide that there are other things they want to do, a point where make-believe play turns in to play-writing, where tag turns into martial arts.

Free school students, like most students, are curious about the world and how things work. They take apart computers, they want to understand why a volcano spews lava or how to make puppets from string and cloth or puff pastry. Kids are always asking questions. They want to learn. It’s a normal, basic thing!

Learning happens between student and teacher when there is mutual trust and understanding.

For example, my students know that I love books and am working on a novel. I ask the kids,  “Do you want to create a book? They trust me, knowing that this is something I love to do.

We start by sitting down together and they tell me their stories. I help write them down, and the kids illustrate their written pieces. and we read the book together. Shoulder to shoulder we read their books, decoding the words that they get stuck on, until they know them all, and then, it’s on to the next chapter or the next book.

When kids have doubts about trying something new, I say, “You know if you don’t like it you don’t have to keep at it, but taking a risk can be very powerful and make you stronger as a learner and as a person.”

Ultimately, it’s an empowering conversation for the child. It’s not about saying I’m forcing you to do this. You’ll thank me later. It’s about them making the decision about what’s right for them.

Sometimes I think about the hours that I wasted in school learning things I quickly forgot because I just wasn’t interested and it didn’t make sense. These kids won’t ever have to feel that.

Many parents get nervous thinking about their child having full control over their learning. If their child is not at the same reading level as other children in the class, they may worry about his or her learning abilities or question the school.

But, that kid may eventually decide, You know what? I want to get this thing and I’m going to teach myself. Or, I’m going to figure out who can teach it to me and I’m going to learn it.

I’ve seen my own students before and after they make this decision to learn something for their own benefit - that is true self-empowerment and initiative, and you can’t teach that. You have to let children find it themselves.

Our students have all of this time and space to work out social issues.

The biggest rule we have is the “stop rule.” If someone’s doing something to you, to someone else, or to the planet that makes you feel uncomfortable, you tell him to stop. If he doesn’t stop, you sit down with him and hash it out in a meeting.

I’ve seen six year olds who last year would have had a tantrum if someone took their toy but who have since learned how they approach that same person and explain in a meeting how they feel about a situation. 

There is fluidity between Brooklyn Free School and the world beyond its walls. We have a weekly internship program for all teens, and every Friday is Field Trip Day.

This past week I took the kids to look at Halloween decorations, and to the Museum of Natural History. When we’re on a field trip, there are different expectations for what is respectful and responsible.

By regularly being out in the real world, students learn that they have freedom, but freedom is always in context with community.

"If we teach our children that to live is to do what other people tell you to do and to give up what you really want for yourself, your family and your community, then we will always live in a racist, sexist, classist and homophobic world". 

"If we want a world free from injustice we cannot start by enslaving our children to an educational system that forces them to lay down their vision of themselves and of the world to the vision of others."

If we can create a culture where people are working things out, doing the problem solving, holding democratic meetings, and following the stop rule, then we can better address broader issues that are going on in the world. But this does not mean that free schools are inherently socially just places.

This year BFS has created a social justice committee to ensure that our school is a place where social justice is part of our culture, and a place where racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and oppression in general, are openly discussed and actively challenged inside and outside of school.

I believe that if we create a school culture that encourages difficult conversations, honest introspection, and action, then the young people who leave Brooklyn Free School will continue to demand justice in the world and in doing so they will transform it. That’s my hope for our free school. 


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Australian Students Rate Their University Experience Positively

University House, ANU, Canberra, Australia
University House, ANU (Wikipedia)
by ACER:

Results from the largest survey of Australian university students ever conducted reveal that 80 per cent of students rate the quality of their educational experience as good or excellent.

More than 110,000 students completed the University Experience Survey, which was developed for the Australian Government by a consortium of organisations led by ACER and was conducted between July and October 2012.

The Commonwealth Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education released the national report in late March.

Report co-author, ACER Higher Education Research Director Associate Professor Hamish Coates, said the survey provides universities with analytic information on the nature and quality of the student experience.

'The insights captured via the University Experience Survey will be instrumental in helping institutions further improve the quality of teaching and learning,' Associate Professor Coates said.

The survey is the first to investigate at a national level whether students feel adequately supported by their institutions.

Eighty-three per cent of students reported there being at least some support services available at their institution, and 82 per cent reported that the available support services were helpful.

However, around half (53 per cent) of Australian students reported being offered very little or no support relevant to their circumstances.

On the question of whether students received appropriate English language skill support, 27 per cent responded ‘not at all’ and 13 per cent responded ‘very little’.

The survey was also the first to examine the impact of certain external factors on students’ university experience.

Nationally, 44 per cent of students reported that their living arrangements had at least some impact on their study, 51 per cent of students reported that financial circumstances affected their study and 52 per cent of students nationally reported that paid work had at least some effect on their study.

Associate Professor Coates said the survey results set a baseline for further monitoring. 'It takes about three to five years of ongoing design, formative review and development to fully contextualise a new data collection of this scale, given the stakeholders, change and consolidation required,' Associate Professor Coates said.

The national report includes 15 recommendations for the further development of the survey. Among these recommendations is a call for non-university higher education providers to be included in future administrations, and the need for strategies to enhance the level of student participation in the survey.

'Foundation stones have been laid and new frontiers tested but substantial work remains to convert this fledgling survey into a truly national vehicle for improving and monitoring the student experience,' Associate Professor Coates said.

The 2012 University Experience Survey National Report is available from:
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State of Tuition-Free Universities in Europe for International Students

English: Helsinki University of Technology, au...
Helsinki University of Technology (Wikipedia)
by Ikenna C Odinaka

Countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark etc offered tuition free universities for international students in the past.

The question now is, "What is the current status of tuition free universities for international students?"

"Are there still higher institutions out there offering free education for international students from developing countries?"

Lets answer this question here.


Sweden used to be one of the few countries in Europe that did not charge fees for both domestic and international students. All students - regardless of nationality - were funded by Swedish taxpayers.

However in 2011, the Swedish parliament passed a law to introduce tuition and application fees for students not from an EU/EEA country or Switzerland, starting from the following academic year, which has already taken effect.

This fee however is supplemented by scholarship programs in Sweden.


In Finland, while some universities charge tuition fees for international students, others are tuition free.

For instance, at the moment there are no tuition fees for foreign and domestic students at the University of Eastern Finland, but the students must be able to cover all their own living costs in Finland (minimum of 500 Euros per month for a single student).

At Aalto University, most programmes charge a tuition fee of 8000 EUR/academic year for non-EU/EEA-citizens (international students). However, the university offers Aalto University scholarships for non-EU/EEA-citizens to study at the university.


Currently, tuition is free for undergraduate, MSc and MA studies for EU/EEA students as well as for students participating in an exchange program in Universities in Denmark. However, this is not the case for international students or students from developing countries.

As far back as 2006, a tuition fee system was introduced for international full degree students outside the EU-European Union and EEA-European Economic Area countries.

Scholarships and tuition fee waivers for international students, however, are available from institutions and the government (the Danish Ministry of Education scholarship fund) for Master's degrees.


In the past, Germany did not generally charge tuition fees. But this has changed. Some federal states are charging fees, others are about to abolish them. You'll have to contact the university of your choice to find out whether it charges tuition fees.

Initially, fees were introduced for long-term students, visiting students (i.e. from other universities) and for participants of postgraduate and Master's programmes.

Now, however, some federal states also charge tuition fees of around 500 Euros per semester for first degree (undergraduate) courses, such as Bachelor's, Diploma, or Magister programmes.

Most Master's programmes charge tuition fees. Tuition can amount to between 650 and several thousand Euros per semester.


Foreign students are admitted to universities and other institutions of higher education in Norway mainly through international programs and bilateral agreements with comparable institutions abroad.

As at the time of writing, no tuition fees are charged at any Norwegian universities, except special programs and private and specialized schools. At all public institutions in Norway, higher education is free for international students as well as for Norwegian nationals.

This means that, at present, Norway is the only country in Scandinavia where higher education is still free for all (well in Finland, there is a mix of free universities and paid ones).

While some parties believe that education will continue to remain free in Norway, there is still uncertainty as to what could happen in the near future.

Need a comprehensive list of free tuition universities? See list of Tuition Free Universities in Europe.

 Ikenna Odinaka writes about financial opportunities for students at

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Community Colleges Cutting Back and Universities Raising Tuition: What About Adult Education?

Adult Education (song)
Adult Education (Wikipedia)
by Lance Winslow

Not long ago, I was talking to an adult education professorette. She specializes in teaching people ESL (English as a Second Language).

ESL is completely important for full integration especially for immigrants as it keeps them from becoming economically enslaved for generations.

In fact, we have many first and second generation immigrants who don't speak English, and that's a travesty, and it certainly limits their upward mobility in our society and civilization.

Well, she was quite concerned because it turns out that out here in California they are cutting back at the community college level and the universities when it comes to adult education.

In the area where I am at, often high schools are used in the evenings for adult school. They use the same classrooms, and a new instructor comes in to teach those types of job retraining things that people need, along with ESL.

Without that funding, and without sharing the costs with the high school, the high schools also have a challenge with their budgets, as they lose those economies of scale.

All this is happening at a time when the universities are raising tuition so high that fewer and fewer people are going to be able to abort colleges without taking out huge loans.

Worse, many community colleges are cutting back, and the kids graduating from high school can't get the classes they need, or the prerequisite classes so they can go onto a four year University, or even if they can, it takes them longer than two years to get through the program.

Often they are a few units short even to get their AA to move on.

Further, as I sit in the local Starbucks and watch the college students from both the University and the community college come in with their homework, they often complain about the increased costs of community classes, textbooks, and wonder how they will ever pay off those student loans once they eventually graduate from the four year University considering the job market.

Many of them know that once they do get their degree from the University, there may not be any jobs in that sector.

They too will be economically enslaved just as if they didn't speak English, albeit for a different reason.

We have a problem out here in California with our colleges, universities, and adult education programs. I don't believe we are addressing it correctly, nor do I feel that the people in charge now know how to fix it.

Rather they are asking for more taxpayer's money and throwing more good money after bad on the taxpayer's dime as they create an even larger bubble in the academic industrial complex. Please consider all this and think on it.

Lance Winslow has launched a new provocative series of eBooks on the Future of Education. Lance Winslow is a retired Founder of a Nationwide Franchise Chain, and now runs the Online Think Tank;

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Australia Doesn’t Need Gonski, Instead it Needs a New Education System

(Photo credit: SurfGuard)

by Jamie McIntyre, 21st Century News:

[Ed: Hi readers, here is an interesting proposal for fundamentally changing the way we educate our 21st century citizens. I would be very interested to read your comments].

Governments don’t need to waste more on education, instead, western countries need to adopt a 21st century education system writes Jamie McIntyre.

The Australian government mistakenly thinks that the solution to improving the Australian education system is the Gonski report which basically involves throwing more money at education.

This trend is similar to other western countries as well. However, it is a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.

Following the footsteps of UK and US, ever since the current government in Australia has come into power, the education budget has risen by 40 per cent. Yet, the standard of education is simply going backwards despite billions of dollars being spent on it.

Recently, Prime Minister Julia Gillard proposed the implementation of the Gonski reforms with a $14.5 billion education package as recommended by businessman David Gonski.

The aim of the Gonski reforms is to bridge the gap between underperforming and high performing students.

In a COAG meeting on Friday all states rejected her proposal. Ms Gillard wants state governments to increase education budgets by three per cent a year in exchange for a 4.7 per cent rise in federal funding.

However, throwing more money at a flawed and inept education system is simply wasting billions of dollars.

The education system doesn’t need more money thrown at it; it needs the scrapping of the 19th century industrialisation era’s outdated and badly designed education system to help students perform better, learn more effectively and secure a better future.

The need is to implement a modern day 21st century education system - something I have been lobbying for 15 years now.

A modern day 21st century education system can not only deliver results tenfold to the current one, but with the use of modern day technology it can be delivered for a fraction of the cost.

For instance, many classes can be delivered via DVD or videos downloaded online. Similarly, work sheets for lessons and tests can be downloaded. These are valuable resources to help teachers provide a better quality education and improve student learning.

In fact with the uptake of Apple, iPads are an engaging learning tool moreover apps are giving teachers and students greater resources for learning at their fingertips. This can help revolutionise our education system.

Last year I spoke to Apple co founder Steve Wozniak, who is also passionate about transforming the world’s education system.

According to Mr Wozniak, with breakthrough technology, computers can be trained to provide a teaching role to students that are one-on-one with personalised curriculum.

For instance, current technology, such as “Siri” on the iPhone, can answer most questions. Using technology akin to this and turning computers into a one on one personal teacher isn’t so farfetched.

Such technology would decrease the cost of delivering education because computers cost less than a sole teacher’s annual wage.

It is time for a change- a change that involves proper training for teachers. Teachers are effectively educators and hold one of the most critical roles in society, therefore they need more support.

For instance, top teachers should be rewarded with performance bonuses and there should be consistent reviews to eliminate the low performing ones.

In a 21st Century education system, teachers need to be trained also in public speaking; NLP, psychology and they should know how to teach accelerated learning and how to engage an audience effectively by imparting an education system for today’s world.

Moreover, a part of a teacher’s job should be to inspire and influence students positively in order to have them truly motivated so that those students can go on to add massive value to the society.

The curriculum for a modern day 21st century education needs to include areas such as:
  • Life skills
  • Financial literacy
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Health
  • Social and relationship skills
  • Technology skills for the digital age including options to learn ‘coding’
Generalist skills that can be used in almost all vocations not just specialised skills:
  • Creative problem solving skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Communication skills
  • Marketing skills
  • Entrepreneurial skills
A ‘results’ based education system working closely with parents and employers will deliver students that are ready, willing and able to advance our society to higher levels with their passion, dedication, intelligence and emotional fulfilment.

I have designed below a framework to change the world’s current education system into a 21st Century Education System:


Create, design, and implement a modern day, global 21st Century Education System and replacing the out-dated 19th Century industrialised education system.


To be the catalyst for worldwide, systematic change and to empower, inspire, and educate billions of youth globally thus reshaping the entire planet positively.


1. Form a Global Think Tank of leading business and thought leaders to both support the initiative and contribute ideas and resources. The following business and thought leaders are currently being invited to join the Global Education Initiative to help change the world’s education:

• Sir Richard Branson - Founder of the Virgin Group
• Anthony Robbins - Self-help author and motivational speaker
• Robert Kiyosaki - Financial literacy activist and author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad
• Tim Ferriss - Entrepreneur and author of The 4-Hour Workweek
• Sir Ken Robinson - Author and international advisor on education in the arts
• Oprah Winfrey - Media proprietor, talk show host, and philanthropist
• Steve Wozniak - Co-Founder of Apple
• Bill Gates - Co-Founder of Microsoft
• Arnold Schwarzenegger - Actor, Bodybuilder, politician and businessman

Plus, Apple, Google, Samsung, Facebook and Microsoft are being invited to be involved due to them showing interest in reshaping the world’s education system via technology.

2. Develop a non-profit foundation to help create, design, and implement a new 21st Century Education System.

3. Develop websites and apps providing access to resources for Governments, teachers, and educators worldwide to immediately improve the current education system and to have involvement of leading technology experts to expand the resources available.

4. Convene an annual gathering of the 21st Century Global Education Think Tank leaders plus a national one for each major country.

Challenges to overcome

Funding the creation, design and implementation of a new, modern day 21st Century Education System.

Funding is not likely to be an issue for schools and Governments, because a new, modern day education utilising existing technology can increase the quality and efficiency of the current education model.

This will reduce costs that can then be redistributed to more resources, ensuring a modernised education system is implemented effectively at a lesser cost than existing education budgets.

Class size debate

Perhaps the debate should not be about the optimum class size; instead it should focus on the quality of the education being taught, and the ability of the educator to reach out to the student through skill and the power of influence.

For example: why can Anthony Robbins (one of the world’s leading educators) intimately influence and impact 5,000 people in a room, while a teacher with no public speaking training struggles to teach 25 students in a classroom?

How to implement a new 21st Century education system

It’s suggested that both a grass roots and a top level down approach be used.

Therefore, that would involve providing educational resources and tools for teachers worldwide along with lobbying and assisting National Education and State Education Ministers to work with the Think Tank to replace the current, out-dated and largely ineffective education model and curriculum.

It’s unrealistic to expect teachers who were former high school students and then spent only three years training at university (in Australia only three years is required), to be able to teach with any level of real life experience.

In Australia, a majority of teachers are female, contributing to a loss of male role models, which requires rebalancing as well.

One idea is to have Super Classes once a month where regional schools attend a large auditorium for one or two days to learn from leading edge educators, business leaders, and other thought leaders. Some speakers would appear live and some via video.

This enables students to access a higher level educator and higher standard of education, consequently increasing the real life and experience based education, which is sadly missing even now.

It also creates synergy, with students mixing with various schools. It also enables a variety of topics to be taught, making learning more fun and varied.

Such an education can be delivered at low cost with Super Classes occurring in 3,000 to 5,000 capacity auditoriums or greater.

Moreover, many successful educators and leaders would happily donate their time. These are cost effective measures that also boost the quality of education. Many companies would also send leaders and executives to contribute as they all benefit from better educated students joining the work force.

‘One Size Fits All’

The ‘One Size Fits All’ model does not always work; perhaps, the “one curriculum fits all” model needs to be changed to “choice of self-selected curriculum”.

The “One Size Fits All” is a critical complaint in the current education system by students and teachers. It is a major reason many students lose interest, and fail to learn because it does not accommodate students who have different learning abilities, like Sir Richard Branson had for example.

Branson was dyslexic and at school he was perceived as a slow learner, or poor student. However, in reality he was a fast learner with incredibly resourceful traits that led to his business success with Virgin.

When Steve Jobs went to college he complained that he had to attend pre-set classes, which was not what he wanted to do as a result, he simply refused to attend.

How many leading entrepreneurs have dropped out of school and university/college because of the lack of a supporting learning environment that encouraged passionate, rewarding learning … and then gone on to be hugely successful?

As Mark Twain famously said, “Never let schooling get in the way of a good education.”

A new, modern 21st Century Education System designed for today’s world, based on empowerment and teaching students how to get a PhD in results versus rarely used theory, could revolutionise the world more than any other single action.

The world demands results when students leave school so let’s prepare them well with a result based education designed for today’s rapidly changing world that can evolve our planet to higher levels of consciousness and productivity.

A global 21st Century Think Tank and non profit foundation is the next step to make this happen.
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Queensland Will Not Follow NSW With Gonski

John-Paul Langbroek
John-Paul Langbroek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by AAP, 21st Century News:

Queensland’s education minister says his state won’t follow the lead of NSW in signing up to Canberra’s schools reforms.

“We won’t be following at the moment,” John-Paul Langbroek told AAP. “We’ve made it very clear that we’re not going to do what NSW has done, which is rob Peter to pay Paul.”

Mr Langbroek said last year NSW cut $1.7 billion out of its schools. “It’s no coincidence that equates to the amount they’ve now been able to find to put back into the education system under the Gonski banner.”

The minister said he would not cut spending simply to rebadge programs under Gonski and denied Queensland was being intransigent for political purposes. “In any negotiation, it’s important that there be give and take.

“We’d like the prime minister to meet us halfway, but in the meantime we can’t sign up to something that involves more bureaucratic reporting, more red tape, and regulation that stops our teachers, principals and students from doing the best job they can".

Mr Langbroek says Queensland’s planned education reforms will deliver many of the things the prime minister wants to achieve.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and she spoke today about a number of things to do with her Gonski reforms that are exactly what we announced two weeks ago in Great Teachers Equal Great Results.”

Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk is urging the Queensland premier to follow his southern counterpart. “Obviously NSW is ready to put students first. Let’s hope that (Premier) Campbell Newman can put Queensland students first,” she said.

Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan said if the program is good enough for NSW schools, it should be good enough for Queensland.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to improve every Queensland school and Mr Newman should follow Barry O’Farrell’s lead and sign up to the deal,” he said.
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School Funding Broken, Says Review Member

Fund Our Future : Stop the Cuts - National Dem...
Fund Our Future: Stop the Cuts - National Demonstration (Photo credit: Matt Dinnery)
by AAP, 21st Century News:

The model to fund Australia’s schools is broken and needs to be fixed now or the educational gap with the rest of the world will widen, a member of the government’s schools funding panel says.

The federal government has offered state and territory governments a two-for-one-dollar deal worth $14.5 billion in total to be agreed upon by June 30 to boost spending for schools across Australia. So far, no state nor territory has signed a deal with Canberra.

University of Swinburne Chancellor Bill Scales says the current model to fund Australia’s schools needs fixing. “It is actually broken and what the panel did, chaired by David (Gonski) of course, showed quite clearly why it was broken,” he told ABC television on Monday.

Mr Scales said more funding along with other measures such as improving the quality of teacher training were needed to lift Australia’s standards as overseas competitors raised theirs at a faster rate.

“We weren’t saying that funding was the only issue but saying it is a necessary condition,” he said. “We have to get that right so we can get so many of these other things right.”

Mr Scales said the cuts to university spending, around $2.8 billion, to help the investment in schools was detrimental to the whole education system. “To take resources from one sector to simply give to another will in fact undermine the whole of the system so we will no longer have a coherent education system in this country,” he said.

He was one of six members of the review panel that presented its report to the federal government in late 2011 with a goal to boost schools spending by $6.5 billion a year.
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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How to Determine If Teaching Is the Right Career Path for You

"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...
Teacher with student (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Lee W Reed

Nationally, teachers are leaving the profession at the rate of 17 percent per year, and in urban areas, the number is 20 percent.

The national cost for this revolving door of teachers coming and going at such a rate is over $7 billion a year.

Teachers are leaving for a number of reasons, with low pay and lack of respect near the top.

That means two things for those thinking about choosing teaching as a profession.

First, it means that there are always new openings for good teachers, particularly in urban environments and second, it means that those thinking about becoming teachers need to do some serious soul searching before embarking on that journey.

Why would anyone want to enter into teaching? If low pay and lack of respect are the things driving people away, then why should anyone consider teaching as a profession?

The unmistakable truth is that there are few professions that are more vital to our success as a society. Teachers are quite literally preparing the next generation to assume leadership roles.

Hard as it is to imagine, it is entirely possible that one of the kids you teach could be a great inventor, poet, actor or politician in the disguise of a small human that desperately needs help with his/her ABC's.

For that reason, you would think teachers would how a position of honor in our society, but that has not been the case in recent years. Teachers, and schools in general, are under tremendous pressure to perform and a very high level.

Because the stakes are so high, tempers can flair and accusations made that make many feel like they are in an undesirable profession.

With the stakes so high, and the rewards so modest, why would anyone choose this profession? Clearly, there are rewards that are not a part of your employment package. The teachers who enjoy their work most, and perform best, are those who genuinely love working with children.

This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised by the number of people who have wandered into the profession who have little patience for kids.

So, how do you know if this profession is for you? The best way is to get some experience. Schools have programs for those who are working on there degree in education that requires them to spend time in the classroom, working with, and assisting a teacher.

However, this comes at the end of their college experience, near graduation, when they have committed to a course of action and feel the pressure to pay off their student loans. Spending time as a volunteer earlier in the process would make more sense.

Getting an accurate picture of what it is like to teach, both its challenges and rewards, is essential to make making a good decision.

Substituting is even better than volunteering in that it requires you to actually assume responsibility for the class. Interning for an experienced teacher can make the job look far easier than it really is. How much better to put yourself in the driver's seat and experience just how big the challenges are.

The requirements for subs vary from state to state, but if you qualify it is a great way to get experience, with the added benefit that it is also a great path to a full time job.

Substitutes work with the very people who make hiring decisions, and good subs are often given a fast track to permanent employment.

The other advantage to substituting is that it can give you a chance to teach at a number of different levels. More than a few teachers have entered the profession thinking they wanted to teach one age group, only to find later that they were far more comfortable in another.

Sometimes, just the difference in maturity levels between one grade and the next can make a difference in your perspective, and your success, in the classroom.

The industry needs good teachers. Indeed, all our society needs the best teachers we can get. If you think you might bit that bill, get some experience, see the job from the inside as much as possible before committing to take on such and important task.

No one will blame you if you decide you are shaped for something else. And if you decided it is for you ... you're in for an incredible treat, with a challenge to match.

Lee Reed is a teacher who writes extensively on matters of education, children and careers. You can join the discussion at:

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