Debunking Viral Facebook Posts: Part 1

I use Facebook. I’m not ashamed of that. I think it’s a great way to keep in touch with old friends and keep far-away family updated on everything happening in my life (baby girl is turning 1 next month! Expect an onslaught of photos, everyone).

Every now and then, however, one of my friends shares one of those viral news stories/images/articles that just reek of a hoax – you know the ones I mean…those posts that fill your news feed with vague statements and amazing “facts” that have no sources or legitimate citations? I love stumbling on those posts because they give my brain a little workout. It’s like a challenge to see just how many logical flaws I can find in debunking them. The only problem is that most people don’t like being told that they’ve been taken in by faulty logic, so rather than call those people out on Facebook, I’ve decided to post my findings here instead.

I figure that this is relevant to my classroom because teaching critical thought and evaluating resources are two of my primary goals in my lessons, so let’s see if you saw what I saw…

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Synergy *almost* works!

Edupoint has made a lot of updates to its Synergy software that (almost) make it functional! Here is a quick tribute to their “improvements” with some visuals to show how they *almost* worked.

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Committed to Education

I follow Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, on Twitter. Since he’s a politician, Mr. Duncan’s tweets usually have the rose-colored “candor” you’d expect from a public figure earnestly trying to avoid controversy. Needless to say, I roll my eyes a lot when I read his tweets.

Secretary Duncan is in Haiti for two days, and he made this poignant observation while visiting a school there:

arnetweetI agree with Mr. Duncan in his praise. That is an amazing commitment to education, and I wish more American students were so dedicated to learning; however, I have to pause for a moment and wonder…what would happen if these 16-year-olds, living in one of the poorest nations in the world, suddenly got the opportunity to come to America?

Would they flourish under the guidance of well-trained American teachers? Would they be able to excel, given the opportunity to learn in classrooms equipped with Promethean Boards, iPads, and document cameras? Would they be able to use their drive and dedication to become successful individuals and make themselves into confident, intelligent human beings?

No.

In America, based on their age, they’d be thrown into high school with no preparation, forced to learn English in 12 months, given a standardized test over curriculum they don’t understand in a language they can barely comprehend, and told they’re failures when they don’t meet the standard. And we’d blame their teachers.

They’re in second grade because that’s the level of educational attainment they have. When they’ve mastered second, they’ll move to third, and so on. That’s logical. That’s how education should work, regardless of age. That’s not how we do things in America because one size fits all, right Mr. Secretary?

Maybe we should reevaluate our own commitment to education, Arne. Dare I say, maybe we should be more like Haiti??

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An Open Letter to Edupoint

Let’s get something straight right off the bat: I’m a teacher.

I’m not a web designer. I’m not a programmer. I’m not a tech guru.

I do, however, think I’m pretty tech savvy. Like most guys, I refuse to use the owner’s manual when I get a new phone or computer. I just boot the thing up and start clicking stuff until it does what I want. Most professional programs are intuitive enough that, with a little time and energy, I can figure them out. That’s how professionally made programs should work. Manuals are good for reference, but if the GUI is well-designed and the code is good, the program should be easy enough to figure out.

With all of this in mind, Edupoint’s Synergy application is, for lack of a more professional term, crap.

For those of you who (thankfully) don’t know what Synergy is, it’s a web-based application that schools use for attendance and grading. My county has decided that this should be our new platform this year (as soon as everyone got comfortable using the old, efficient platform). Let’s take a look at some of my issues with this application, shall we?

Internet Explorer…Really?!

After about a week of trying to use this application, the county apparently sent Edupoint an email saying “All our teachers are saying your application is terrible and won’t work.” To ameliorate this “terrible and won’t work” issue, Edupoint responded with this advice:

***Use a NEW Internet Explorer browser unused by any other application/no other application may be opened in the same browser.  Do not open other applications in additional tabs in the browser – Synergy must be the only application used in one instance of the browser.***

That’s literally the email I got from the county via “our Synergy contact” – all the bold, italics, and stars were in the original email. That’s right…our Synergy contact apparently punctuates his emails as if he’s sending an electronic chain letter circa 1998.

First of all, Internet Explorer. Again, I’m no web professional, but is there any app developer out there who, when designing a web application in 2013 says, “you know, I want to make this marketable and profitable, so I think I’ll make sure it only works reliably in Internet Explorer…and only when it’s literally the only thing running in that window.”?

For those of you unsure of my issue with IE, I’ll let this graphic explain my point:

credit to nealcampbell.com

credit to nealcampbell.com

Make sense? Designing your application to run reliably in only ONE browser is a HUGE programming no-no, especially when that one browser is Internet Explorer.

Moving on…

Errors, Errors, Errors!

I understand that no program is perfect. There will always be flaws and errors and such. I can deal with that. Most developers find and fix these errors in beta testing, and they fix any newly discovered problems with patches after the release, but the essential functions of the program are usually pretty kink-free when the application is rolled out to the public – especially when the public is PAYING for the program.

Synergy is so wrought with errors that it actually merits using the word ‘wrought’ to describe how error-ridden it is. I receive errors for everything. New students added? Error. Students dropped from classes? Error. Want to access the grade book? Error. And I’m not talking about one-time issues, here. These are still going on even after six weeks of reporting the issues to Edupoint.

How exactly did the company respond when we told them about these errors? Edupoint informed us that we were doing something wrong (apparently clicking ‘ok’ is wrong), and they gave me a 167 word workaround. That’s ridiculous. In fact, here’s the workaround so you can see the asinine hoops they want me to jump through instead of clicking ‘ok’:

If you receive an error when clicking OK on the Add/Drop acknowledgement box, log back in and when you get the acknowledgement again, UNCHECK the “Add To Chart” box for each student, then click OK.

If you have no open seats in your seating chart, click on the “Preferences” tab and change your “Seating Chart Dimensions” making the grid large enough to accommodate your new students. Go to the “Students” tab, click the “Edit” button, then click the “Fill Open Seats with Students” button. Click “Edit” again.  Click “Save”.

If you have no open seats in your seating chart, and you are using custom seating charts, you will have to go back to the “Details” tab. Click on Edit Seating Charts, create a new seating chart, click Save and Return to Seating Chart. CHOOSE your new seating chart from the drop-down list (located above the “Edit Seating Charts” button), then go back to the “Students” tab, click the “Edit” button, and Add all students to the chart.

TL;DR: The summary is this: Synergy is programmed poorly. I shouldn’t have to do any of that. Synergy should automatically detect when my seating chart is full and make the appropriate adjustments. Then, it should give me a little pop-up saying “There were no seats left in your seating chart, so we added enough to fit your new students. Have a nice day, you sexy beast!” You can alter that message however you want, Edupoint.

AND, this “solution” doesn’t take into account that I HAVE NO “ADD TO CHART” BOX TO “UNCHECK” WHEN I ONLY HAVE DROPPED STUDENTS, yet I still get the error. Good job, Edupoint. Good job.

Oh, and Synergy will NOT allow you to log in from multiple places or computers. I guess that’s a security issue; however, it continues to happen to some teachers regardless of whether or not they’re actually logged in elsewhere. Solution?: I don’t know, maybe provide a “log out of other locations” option when you enter your password? I’m just throwing stuff out there, Edupoint…

The Look and Feel

My biggest complaint about Synergy is that it’s not intuitive at all. Intuitiveness is the “feel” of the program: buttons are conveniently located and functional, windows can move and adjust easily, the layout is pleasing and not overwhelming…that sort of stuff.

Synergy fails miserably here. I can’t adjust window size or location. Icon sizes are too small. It’s too complicated to adjust seating charts. Entering grading categories requires a magnifying glass and Google Maps. It’s ridiculous.

And none of the menus look related. What’s up with that? The attendance screen, grade book, and grade book dashboard all look like they were independently put together by completely different design teams. The colors don’t even match! That’s just unprofessional.

And by the way…while Synergy will lock you out after a set amount of time or prevent you from logging in from multiple computers for “security reasons”, it WILL NOT allow you to sign out or lock the program from the grade book dashboard. Oh, it has those buttons, but they don’t do anything more than refresh the page. Solid security, Edupoint. Glad you’re looking out for me.

A Plea to the County

Look guys, I’m sure we’re saving a ton of money by switching to Synergy, but honestly, it’s crap, and I guarantee you’ll continue to hear complaints from parents and teachers until we get some sweeping changes from Edupoint, or we switch back to last year’s application (the one we were all finally getting used to).

Thanks.

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Spambot Poetry

I frequently get spam comments that pass through my WordPress filter, but this one made me stop, read, and think. It’s almost poetic. The spam bot even included dramatic line breaks:

The sound of music should be pleasing to the ears and
only then will it be appreciated by people hearing it.
This method is similar to the first one as far as method; however,
it is more elaborate because it involves multiple drains connected
to several mulch basins. However, a UV filter runs around $25 and that
is well worth the investment to protect more expensive parts.

This is deep. I think I need to go reevaluate my life…and buy a new UV filter. They’re a steal at $25, and I hear they’re well worth the investment to protect more expensive parts.

spambotpoetry

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Absent-Minded School Districts

chair

So I read an article about a school in Texas giving a kindergarten student detention for being late to school.

Outrageous, right? I mean, who gives a six-year-old detention for being late to school? At that age, I was still trying to master the whole “bunny down the hole” shoe-tying concept, so how could I have been expected to provide my own transportation anywhere? How is a six-year-old accountable for that? Clearly this is a terrible policy instituted by a draconian school system. The administrators should be forced to change the policy, and the teacher who allowed this punishment should be reprimanded.

If you read the comments on that story, you’ll discover that’s a recurring opinion: stupid school and awful, union-protected teachers.

But let’s ask my favorite question: WHY? Why would a school system institute a policy that seems so obviously flawed? The answer is “AYP,” and you can thank your local congressman for it.

AYP stands for “Adequate Yearly Progress,” and it’s a residual policy left over from No Child Left Behind. Basically, AYP is a series of measures that indicates whether or not a school or system is improving. It’s tied to allotments and funding, so it’s a big deal if you’re a teacher or principal who, you know, wants to keep your job. Most of the measures for AYP are test-related (surprise, surprise), but there are a few other measures that matter. For elementary and middle schools, one such measure is attendance. Yes, a school can fail certain sections of AYP if students are absent too often.

Think about that for a minute. The SCHOOL can be penalized because students don’t come.

In essence, by adding an attendance requirement to AYP, the government is claiming that a school can control when students show up. Again…really, really think about that. So if I’m the principal of a school in which students are tardy or absent excessively, you can bet I’m going to find some way to curb absenteeism…but what options do I have?

“But wait,” you say, “this girl wasn’t absent. She was just tardy.” And yes, that’s true…but district policies on when a ‘tardy’ becomes an ‘absence’ differ. Early check-outs and late check-ins before or after a specific time are counted as absences, so if this girl was getting to school after that cut off, it wouldn’t matter; she’s considered absent as far as AYP is concerned.

I appreciate that the father in the story takes responsibility, and there’s a brilliant line in the Yahoo News version of the article:

Brooke’s family would like to see Olympia’s policy changed to punish the parents, not the kids.

Hmmm…holding parents responsible for things they control, and at the same time, not penalizing schools for something they cannot control? Sounds like a good idea. I wonder why no one’s ever considered that…maybe we need to add ‘common sense’ to the curriculum?

Nah…we’d probably just try to cram that into AYP too.

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Leading horses to water…

I will be accountable for my lesson plans.

I will be accountable for my instruction.

I will be accountable for creating differentiation to the best of my ability.

I will be accountable for the safety and well-being of my students to whatever end I can possibly protect them.

I will be accountable for my communication with parents, staff, and students.

I will be accountable for the collecting, compiling, and presenting of my data (no matter how useless and inane it may be).

I will be accountable for absolutely everything within my personal control as an educator.

Therefore, I will not be held accountable for students’ choices…because I cannot control their choices.

I will not be held accountable for parents’ choices…because I cannot control their choices.

I can control what I teach. I can control how I teach.

I cannot control what a student learns.

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