Ink-free, 21st Century cheating

When I was in school, the kids who got busted for cheating on tests usually had smeared writing all over the insides of their hands. In this era, cheating is much neater — and, potentially, much easier. 

It’s also quite pervasive, according to a new report by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that advocates a safe and sane use of media and entertainment.

Here are the key findings from a recent poll: Continue Reading


Who needs textbooks, anyway?

An Oakland teacher and blog reader sent me a link to this story about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest idea for closing California’s enormous budget deficit AND reducing childhood back strain in one fell swoop.

I love this first sentence:

“Kids, as you all know, today are very familiar with listening to their music digitally and online and to watch TV online, to watch movies online, to be on Twitter and participate in that and on Facebook,” Schwarzenegger said. Continue Reading


Innovation in OUSD, despite OUSD

photo by Ray Chavez/Tribune staff

Joaquin Alvarado, one of the Claremont Middle School parents who managed to convert a run-of-the-mill computer room into a high-tech media lab — and a basic word processing class into a 3-D animation elective — doesn’t have much love for the school district’s central office.

In an interview this week, Alvarado said Second Avenue had been more of a hindrance than a help. For one thing, because of a new board policy introduced in the middle of the semester, the people contracted to teach Claremont’s animation class (and many other contractors, for that matter) weren’t getting paid. The PTA had to cut these teachers a check so that they wouldn’t up and leave, as others did. It’s supposedly been fixed.

OK, so central office bureaucracy is hardly a new story line. But what about that staff presentation about turning Claremont into a “school of choice for North Oakland families?” Wouldn’t this new media focus potentially further that goal? Continue Reading


Jemison: More women and minorities needed in the sciences

Dr. Mae C. Jemison, a physician and former astronaut, was the first African-American woman to travel in space. She is in town this week for a conference on science education, designed to urge industry leaders to do their part to bring more women and minorities into the science and technology fields, and I asked if she would write a piece for us. Here it is. -Katy

I travel a lot.

In my travels, I get to meet lots of people from all walks of life. Many of them ask me when I first got interested in science.

The truth is, I can’t remember when I wasn’t.

Like most kids, I was born curious about the world. As children, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what’s what — like the fuzz between the couch cushions, asking our parents why the sky is blue and being both fascinated and frightened by thunder and lightning.

Growing up and deciding to become an astronaut wasn’t hard. But finding people who looked like me – female and African-American as images to assure and guide me – that was difficult.

Today, much has changed yet much remains the same. Yes, we’ve elected our first African-American president, something of which we should all be proud, but as a country we haven’t done a very good job of bringing women, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans into Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) fields … and today, we need them more than ever.

While these groups make up roughly two-thirds of our nation’s workforce, they represent only one-quarter of the STEM workforce. That has to change. Why? Continue Reading


More on the custodians in custody

(New information has come to light! See the update below.)

Just last September, Sylvester Jack Lawson was one of 70-some Oakland school district employees who received an Expect Success award, honored for “for exemplifying the highest commitment to the success of our students and our district.”

Today, the 52-year-old Oakland High School custodian, who’s been a district employee for 15 years, stands accused of stealing district property, and even taking a kid’s lost wallet. He was formally charged today, and appears in court tomorrow.

Then there’s Kenneth Wayne Hill, 43, a janitor at Webster Academy in East Oakland. He had a 2005 felony conviction (smuggling Continue Reading


Busted: Three custodians with stolen property

Three janitors suspected of stealing computers and other electronic equipment from Oakland schools have been arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen property.

Police arrested the first employee Saturday, and the other two today, during an investigation of two burglaries that occurred last week – one Sept. 2 at the district’s human resources department, and the other Sept. 3 at Webster Academy in East Oakland, in which 22 brand new computers were swiped.

District spokesman Troy Flint said he could not release the names of the arrested employees because the district didn’t want to appear that they were holding the suspects up for public humiliation. While that rationale strikes me as odd — it is a matter of public record, after all — what can I do? It’s contract negotiation season. (Our police reporter is working on it…)

Flint said investigators found a large amount of stolen property – computers, VCRs, DVDs, among other electronics – in the suspects’ possession and believe that “it might be part of a larger pattern of theft.” Continue Reading


Wanted: pencils

If you want to learn more about the conditions in some Oakland schools, you need only pay a visit to DonorsChoose.org, or other sites on which teachers post their wish lists. Here are two excerpts I came across today, from different schools:

“There have always been shortages of pencils and crayons in the school district I work for. The upcoming $800 cut per student will make our situation even more dire. Without materials like pencils, notebooks, folders or a stapler, our class will not be able to function.”

This one was particularly vivid:

“The gray carpet is covered from years of stains, and there are large 2 foot by 8 foot patches where the rug has come apart entirely and reveals the underlay beneath. A new rug would help my students to take greater pride in their classroom and brighten their surroundings.”

The requests on DonorsChoose range from notebooks and art supplies to costly equipment, such as a $1,000 LCD projector screen Continue Reading


How one Oakland teacher spent her summer

Stephanie Butler, a technology teacher at Elmhurst Community Prep Middle School, recently completed a summer fellowship through Industry Initiatives for Science and Math Education. She wrote this piece about her experience. -Katy

Quite often we hear about what’s going wrong in the Oakland school district. This is about something that has been going right for me three years running. It is called IISME (pronounced “is me”). The acronym stands for Industry Initiatives for Science and Math Education. The program was established in 1985, and its objective is “to transform teaching and learning through industry-education partnerships.”

Translation: I work in corporate America during the summer with the expectation of applying the skills I’ve learned when I return to the classroom in the fall. It is a paid summer position at the end of which I must submit a report that explains what I intend to take back to the classroom. Once I have completed everything in the plan, whether it is a unit for my students or a professional development for my colleagues, I receive a grant.

My experience with IISME has been both rewarding and uplifting. The rewards have been vast. I am a fourth-year technology teacher, and I have built valuable relationships with veteran teachers from many districts who have been willing to share their expertise. This interaction alone is immeasurable. I believe every veteran teacher has a story to share that can help newer teachers Continue Reading


Give your old computer a second life, in a school

The yellowing, obsolete computer collecting dust in your attic might not be techno trash after all.

Technicians at the LinuxWorld Conference in San Francisco are refurbishing old, discarded computers on the spot and donating them to Bay Area schools. Their goal is to collect and retool 2,000 to 3,000 computers with free, open source software in collaboration with the Alameda County Computer Resource Center.

They’re accepting computer dropoffs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday in front of the Moscone Center, on Fourth and Howard streets in San Francisco.

ASCEND, Lockwood and KIPP Bridge Continue Reading