Archive for April, 2011

Samsung M910 Intercept

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I bought a no-contract Android phone last week with service through Virgin Mobile. It is now possible for anyone to access the web virtually anywhere at anytime at a moderate price. I paid $190 for the phone and have an unlimited data plan for only $25 per month without a contract. The Samsung Intercept that I purchased can be purchased for as little as $150. The service fee would remain the same. My intent is not to advertise for Virgin, Samsung, or Google’s Android OS; however, I felt it necessary to reveal both the affordability and availability of this kind of mobile technology for the vast majority of U.S. consumers before continuing with this brief post.

I tweeted last week that I was impressed with the number and quality of free and low-cost educational applications available and that I would soon review a few of them.

I must confess that the majority of the educational apps I have downloaded and tried are geared toward early literacy, meaning pre-K through K. Here are a couple of apps I found interesting, research-based, and useful in that category:

  1. iStoryBooks, which can be located on Facebook at There are a number of free books available that are read by “Maya” and with which early readers could read along. Many stories are available free and include selections of fairytales, fables, and folklore. The stories display on mobile media…my second-grade daughter was delighted to read along with a few of the stories over the weekend, so there is some appeal to the stories through primary grades.
  2. KidsPhonics ABC is a free app (there is also a full version for purchase) that allows young learners to learn letter sounds through a variety of interesting games and challenges that include auditory processing, kinesthetic learning styles, and visual processing. One of the practices is quite similar to something I do as a literacy tutor to develop early literacy skills: students take puzzle pieces and connect them to make words, which they can then understand by blending the sounds together.
  3. Beyond those two apps the only other purely educational application I have tried is one called sight words. Not much further explanation required…it is what it says. The app presents sight words and then pronounces those words for the reader to learn. Again, this would be a good early literacy skill or supplement for a primary student struggling with Dolch words.

What fascinates me more however is the potential use of non-educational applications in the classroom. One such application about which I have read is the use of QR codes in the classroom. One teacher (I will post a link here later) has used QR codes for math assignments. Another has introduced them as a means for completing research…seems like an enhanced version of the popular web-quest.

As they used to say at Florida’s Walt Disney World: “The future is NOW!”

College tuition

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When I graduated, or walked across the stage anyway, from a well-known regional four-year liberal arts college in 1994, tuition, room, and board was less than $13,000 annually. Graciously, because I did not qualify for financial aid, my father paid the tuition for me. I confess that he was a well-paid business professional; however, even at his income level, he would be hard-pressed today to come up with the $40,585 dollars annually for today’s tuition, room, and board at the same institution.

Using FAFSA‘s Federal Student Aid FAFSA4caster, today, given the same Federal AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) that my father earned in 1990 (which, if he were still working would be much higher) I would qualify for about $7000 in Federal Aid, including work-study, for which I did not qualify in 1990 either. The EFC (Expected Family Contribution) would be $14,319–$1500 dollars more than my father actually paid in 1990. That would leave an additional $19,000 for the first year alone–not to mention books, fees, recreational expenses, gas (which is nearly 4x higher per gallon than it was between 1989-2001)–and sure to be more in the ensuing four years. I can reasonably assure you that I would not have been able to attend the same college, and I don’t think it would make sense to if I had to leave with an $80,000 debt burden that I would likely carry for the rest of my working life!

Scenario #2: If my father had the same job, and his AGI were $58,000 more than it was in 1990 (very probable) I would still receive no financial aid; however, the burden on him would be 13% higher…27% of AGI as opposed to 14% in 1990. A lot to expect.

Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index Calculator, I determined that my father’s income would have increased by about 40%, while the tuition at my alma mater has increased nearly 70%, and don’t forget the outrageous doubling of his anticipated contribution…nearly 30% of his AGI! Certainly, this would have hampered his ability to save for his retirement needs…especially at this time when Social Security can hardly be counted upon!

One must also consider that current wage increases barely cover the cost of inflation (see Matthew Scott, “The wages of recession: average 2010 raises will barely cover inflation,” Daily Finance, 2/9/10, Accessed 4/9/11.)  Additionally, if we consider median wages (because average wages are irrelevant) workers are earning nearly 7% less in 2009–the last year for which data is available–than they earned in 1990. (My methodology here was to use the CPI calculator to determine real buying power). It must also be noted that the ratio of “median” to “average” wage has declined over the years…an indicator that those at the top are earning more, a known fact, and everyone else is earning less…. In essence, students are paying substantially more for the privilege of earning less while compounding massive debt-loads in the process.

What does all of this have to do with the value of a college degree? For starters, one needs to consider why the U.S. Department of Education tells us that 70% of jobs in the future will require a college degree? Really? Really?! Most of the best paid jobs I have held required nothing more than a high school diploma, and if it is our goal to increase student performance in our primary and secondary schools–so students can go to college of course–won’t those same students be better prepared for the well-paid positions that don’t currently require a college degree? What purpose does it serve to insist that a route delivery person must first attain a college degree? A tractor-trailer driver? Bus driver? Elevator repairman? All of the preceding are relatively well-paid to well-paid positions; particularly when one considers that in 2009 that median income fore-mentioned (median can be considered “dead-center”: half the working population earns more and half the population earns less) was $26,261.29 according to the Social Security Administration. Having worked for two different vendors as a route salesperson, I can assure you that the typical vendor earns more than a typical teacher. Having worked as a city transit driver, I can assure you that at an hourly wage of $15.25, I was within the “top half” of wage earners. Why does a bus driver need a college degree? Over-the-road truck drivers, while they earn less in real dollars than they did in the early 1980’s not only outpace the median wage but earn more than the meaningless “average” wage, too. Why does a truck driver need a college degree? I have yet to determine from where this 70% figure originated, but it seems specious.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am glad that I earned a B.A. and an M.A. I am a better person for it, but what purpose does it serve to require a bachelor’s degree of employees when the bulk of job growth is in the service sector? Most service sector jobs pay substantially less than $26,261.29 annually, and with minimum wage now inflated to $7.25 per hour, I wouldn’t expect much increase in the pay-rate for service sector jobs. Couple this with the current national trend toward downsizing hourly government employees, and one can see an alarming trend towards privatization of a number of service-sector jobs, and with high unemployment, private business can pay “bottom-dollar”….

Again, I am not advocating that college is without merit; however, if a young person does not have a very clear picture of what he or she wants to do, it would be wise to determine a career path prior to entering college when the costs and the stakes are so high. Additionally, since we now know what the rental car companies seem to have known for decades–that the human brain is not fully developed until age 25–it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to wait until one’s 20’s before entering college. At that point, a person will have a much better understanding of himself or herself and will be more apt to take college very seriously. If a young person has a clear idea of what he or she wishes to accomplish, then by all means, pursue that dream.

A college education is a good thing, but it really shouldn’t be required of every or even 70% of workers…especially not when the cost of attaining a degree, even from a public institution has become so prohibitive. We need to consider why we want or even need for more people to attend college if so doing may be more likely to hamper their future with debt than to actually increase wages. Food for thought. I would love to hear your comments!

Eaglet, hatched .04.02.2011

First eaglet hatches in Decorah, IA

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Click the above link to see a photo of the first eaglet to hatch, 04.02.2011, from the Decorah EagleCam provided by Xcel Energy. At present, the main EagleCam site at UStream is overloaded, so you can try going to Xcel’s cam directly (no sound) but I haven’t been able to get there.

What an amazing world in which we live!