Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Experience learning – the E3 Fair

We know that when students are excited about a subject, the effect of that enthusiasm spills over into other areas of learning and enhances performance.  We also know that experiential learning is internalized far more readily than passive learning.  Given the importance of such things, several blogposts over the coming year will be devoted to learning experiences that can be life changing because of the stimulation and new exposures they provide.

One such unique event is next week, the annual E3 Fair at the Rochester Institute of Technology.  E3 stands for Engineering -Exploration - Experimentation.  This fair is sponsored by RIT along with the Rochester chapters of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and AMSE (American Society for Mechanical Engineers).  Many local engineering firms also participate.  The objective is to provide students an opportunity to learn about engineering professions, to meet and interact with practicing engineers, and to begin learning how to "engineer" solutions to problems. 

Research has shown that the seeds of interest in STEM subjects are often sown in middle school, and this fair is for students in grades 6-8.  The students can participate in the fair by creating an exhibit about an experiment or project that involves engineering or technology, or by being part of a team of students who build a motorized LEGO vehicle or LEGO robot to perform a specific task.  In preparation for the fair, teams of students spend weeks working with mentors in their home schools to design and prepare their LEGO constructions for these competitions. 

Over the past two years more than 1400 middle school students from throughout the surrounding area have participated in the fair.  High school students also attend to talk with exhibitors about career opportunities in engineering and technology.

The fair, which is free to attend, is open to parents and community groups as well.  This year the fair will run from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM at the Clark gymnasium on the RIT campus.  For more information, go to the event website at .

Friday, April 13, 2012

Math Awareness Month - Mathematics, Statistics, and the Data Deluge

The American Mathematical Society, the American Statistical Association, the Mathematical Association of America, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics has announced that the theme for Mathematics Awareness Month, April 2012, is Mathematics, Statistics, and the Data Deluge.

In the world of education reform, few concepts have received more attention than data, or rather the acquisition of data.  Data and credibility are often seen as one and the same.  Some people believe data can replace verbs and adjectives to describe complex activities such as what makes up good teaching.  New data is used to create statistics, and for some purposes, statistical analysis is officially usurping judgment as the basis for decision making.

This pursuit of data and the interpretation of the statistics that result has fundamentally changed our education system.  The mass of data school districts are required to report to governing authorities has changed the job description of school administrators.  The need to collect and process this data has changed the nature of the work being done at BOCES.  The difficulty of creating a statewide computer system to process the data has plagued the State Education Department, which is investing new millions after old millions to try to get a system that can handle this ever growing mass of data.  Meanwhile at the district level Assistant Superintendents for Instruction are spending hundreds of hours learning how to evaluate their staff in a manner that supports the conversion to data.  These changes are driven by the demands of collecting data, not by what we learn from the analysis.

When new ways to create data are put into law or regulation without establishing the validity of that same data, major political problems result.  Case in point, witness the conflict over our state’s new teacher and principal evaluation system’s use of data to measure performance.  For educators who have lived through successive redesigns of assessment systems to measure teaching and learning, only to see each rejected by next set of leaders, the most recent assertion that everyone should accept and trust information gleaned from the new data is not sufficient to instill confidence. 

We are witnessing a growing urgency about measuring things that were not measured numerically in the past.  Albert Einstein had a favorite quote, "Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted, counts.”  

The theme of Math Awareness Month merits thoughtful reflection.  The data deluge the math organizations are concerned about is real. Most people don’t have the time or sophistication to determine if a statistic is revealing truth or obfuscating it.  Accumulating data should not become an end in itself and collecting data should not be allowed to disrupt the real work of education.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Health Insurance - Rochester Area School Health Plan (RASHP)

Health insurance is a difficult issue for our nation.  Depending on your perspective you may be a person trying to secure and pay for health insurance, a patient in immediate need of insurance coverage, an employer feeling the pinch of the cost of insurance, a doctor trying to negotiate overwhelming paperwork, or the US Supreme Court trying to make sense of conflicting arguments for how insurance should be obtained and provided. You may have one or even several opinions about how health care issues should be dealt with. 

But even though the major questions regarding health insurance availability, cost, and coverage are national in scope, local organizations don’t have to be passive about dealing with them.

Most school districts in Monroe County participate in a variety of cooperative self-insurance plans that enable employers to reduce insurance costs without reducing coverage.  By coming together in a group, districts can better control the risks associated with a self-insurance plan. 

Particularly notable among the local self-insurance programs is the Rochester Area School Health Plan (RASHP).  Although it took several years for RASHP to become the main source of health insurance for school employees, the effort to establish and build this cooperative has been very worthwhile.  Since 2009, RASHP has saved the school districts over $361 million (yes, million) compared to what they would have had to pay had they remained on the community rated plan.  By enabling districts to help contain the rising cost of health insurance, this cooperative has had a direct and positive effect on district budgets.

Information on the several local school district self-insurance plans can be found on page 30 of The Best for Less at