Who do you want as your skydiving training partner? (A lesson in Standards-Based Learning)

Who do you want as your skydiving training partner?

I would really love to skydive one day, and I would also love to tell my kids and grandkids about what it was like to go skydiving. My point is, I want to jump out of an airplane and live to talk about it. Therein lies my fear: choosing the right person to train me.

skydive 2The first time anyone skydives they are paired up with a skilled partner. That partner passed some type of certification program, and that person is still alive, so they must know what they are doing. In fact, every trainer there has the same credentials: they all passed their certification test, and they are all still alive. But I want to know more about the person I am going to trust my life with. Surely they can tell me more about their actual knowledge and skill level.

Pretend that I have two possible training partners standing in front of me. One earned an A in skydiving school, and the other earned a B. It would make sense to pick the one who got a higher grade, because an A inherently implies that the person learned more than the one who earned a B. So that’s who I should go with, right? Not necessarily. An overall score of an A is good, but it doesn’t tell me what areas of skydiving they are good at and the ones that need work. I want more information before I choose my training partner.

Let’s say there were 10 topics covered in skydiving school. I know there is much more to learn than 10 things, but this is just an example so go with it.

  • Jim is the first trainer, and he scored 100% in every area except for “ground landings” in which he got a 40%. He is excellent at everything EXCEPT landing on the ground. His overall average is still 94%. Solid A, right?
  • Felix is the second trainer, and he scored 90% in every area except “water landings” and “flip and barrel rolls” where he scored a 60% in each. His overall average is 84%, which is still a B.

skydiving score 2

skydive 5
Jim scored very low in ground landings. (Not an actual photo of Jim)

So who should I pick? This is my first time skydiving, and we are going to land on the ground. Felix is much better than Jim at ground landings. In fact, I have no faith that Jim can help me land without breaking at least three bones. Felix is not good at landing in the water or doing barrel rolls, but we aren’t going to do that on my first day. I don’t need those skills from him. In this case, I am going to avoid Jim, the A student, and go with Felix, the B student, because of their specific competencies.

The owner of the skydiving place might want to know his employees competencies as well. I’m sure he them to be excellent in all areas. He’s not going to make them re-learn all 10 topics. Instead, the owner will give Jim extra training only in ground landings, and he will have Felix work on water landings and barrel rolls. In fact, Jim and Felix can probably help each other. Students are often willing to help each other, especially if the can identify where they need help.

Skydiving school, like all schools, would benefit from standards-based grading

Like Jim and Felix, all students could benefit from the extra feedback of knowing where their strengths and weaknesses lie. One single letter grade for each class does not tell them where to put their time and effort if they want to improve. One single letter grade on a test does not provide the information needed to go back and review the specific areas that they should go back and review. Traditional grading – one score for every assignment and test averaged together for a single letter grade – does little to inform a student on where to practice, where to reassess, where they need to improve to become proficient in all areas of the subject. With standards-based grading, a student can take one test yet receive feedback in multiple areas of learning. As these learning standards are measured and progress is tracked throughout the year, the student receives continuous feedback as to where strengths and weakness lie. That student has the opportunity to practice learning targets throughout the year and also helps the student to spend more time on the standards where he or she is not proficient while still maintaining understanding of the other standards.

Mark Welchert, tandem parachute instructor, and Derek McMullen, 19, of Old Monroe, Mo., land safely after jumping from 12,000 ft., recently at the Hannibal Airport in Hannibal, Mo. via Rapid Descent skydiving (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Mark Welchert, tandem parachute instructor, and Derek McMullen, 19, of Old Monroe, Mo., land safely after jumping from 12,000 ft. in Hannibal, Mo.
(H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)

When students understand their own strengths and weaknesses they can help each other with their learning, just like Jim can help Felix with water landings and Felix can help Jim with ground landings. Metacognition – knowing what we know and what we don’t – helps the individual to help him or herself, and it also allows him or her to help others. It allows every student to become independent and proficient with his or her learning.

The more feedback we can provide our students, the more they can help themselves become competent in all areas of their learning. Even A students can improve, but without specific feedback, often based on learning standards, they do not know where to spend their time and energy. A standards-based learning approach not only informs the student of their overall learning, but it also helps their teachers, parents, or even classmates provide support as well.

Author’s Note

If you are an active skydiver, please do not be offended by my lack of knowledge regarding what it takes to become certified. My knowledge is in the use of standards to inform learners, not how to jump head first out of an airplane. I respect your expertise, and hopefully you respect mine. Thanks.

Cut the cord (or, how to cancel your cable TV and still be happy)

Cutting the cord

I know a number of people who are considering getting rid of their cable TV package, and most often it is because cable has become too expensive or they simply don’t watch much TV anymore. They want to know what it means to “cut the cord” and live without their cable box. So where does someone begin? The options listed below are listed in order, from less to more, of how much TV you really want in your life.

Live TV
mohuStart with the basics: you want to watch good, old-fashioned television shows during their regular time slots. CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and PBS are all available for free. Your TV needs to have an ATSC tuner built in. Most TVs have one, but if not you can buy one which is covered in the Hardware section below. You will also need an HD antenna. These new antennas, like the Mohu Leaf 50, are small and light enough to set on a shelf or hang on a wall inside your house, or you can buy larger ones, like the Mohu Sky 60, that get a stronger signal and mount inside your attic or on the side of your house. One thing to look for is the range. An antenna will say that it works up to 25 miles, or 35 miles, 50 miles, or more. Make sure you get an antenna with the correct range. My recommendation is to buy several different antennas from a store with a friendly return policy; test them all on the same day to see which one works the best and then return the others.

Required: HDTV antenna ($30 – $80 with no recurring fees)

Not-so-live TV
If you can wait one day to watch your shows, then Hulu is your best choice. You can watch the entire current season for almost all of your favorite shows that air on the basic channels like CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and PBS, plus access to some shows from your old cable package like A&E and F/X. While most channels only offer the current season of their shows, some offer all their past seasons as well. Hulu also offers their own exclusive shows and a limited amount of movies. The biggest drawback is that you do not have access to live sports, but that will be covered in the next section. Not all shows are included on Hulu, so my best advice is to check Hulu’s listings to see if it carries your favorite shows.

For an additional $9 per month you can add to your Hulu subscription Showtime’s current movies as well as some of their on-demand movies.

Required: Media streaming device (~$50); Hulu ($7.99 per month w/ limited ads; $9.99 w/ no ads)

Sling.com provides over 20 cable-only channels including ESPN.

Sports (and zombies and HBO)
The number one reason I hear from people who do not want to give up their cable TV is because they want to watch ESPN. If this is the only reason you are hanging onto cable, then you are essentially paying $60 or more per month just to watch Monday Night Football. Now there’s a solution to this dilemma. Sling TV is a service that you gives you more than 20 popular cable channels including ESPN, ESPN2, AMC (Mad Men and Walking Dead!), and the Food Network. It’s a great way to fill in the gaps between live TV and cable TV.

For an additional $15 per month you can add to your Sling TV subscription HBO’s current movies and on-demand movies.

Required: Media streaming device (~$50); Sling TV ($20 per month)

netflix youtubeNetflix by far is the largest movie streaming service, which is evident by the fact that it uses 35% of all peak-time Internet bandwidth in America, but it’s not your only option. Amazon Prime Video is similar in price to Netflix but also lets you rent movies for $2 to $5, gives access to a music library of over one million songs, and provides free two-day shipping on anything bought from Amazon. Both Netflix and Amazon also offer original programming. You might not want either one because Sling TV offers HBO for $15 per month and Hulu offers Showtime for $9 per month. Almost all of them offer a free trial of 7 to 30 days, so don’t be shy about trying them all out. YouTube also offers a great deal of programming as well, including some original shows as well as film clips and music videos. Most media streaming devices include the YouTube app.

Required: Media streaming device (~$50); plus one or more of the following services:

Hardware: Connect your TV to Hulu, Sling, Netflix, and Amazon
Soooooo… how exactly do you get this stuff on your TV? What connects to the television? Some TVs are called “smart TVs”. If you connect a smart TV to the Internet you will be able to access some of these services, but not all of them.

amazon fire stickFor those without a smart TV, including me, you need a “media streaming device” that can connect to your home WiFi. Some of the most common media streamers are the Amazon Fire Stick, Google Chromecast, and the Roku. They’re all very highly rated and cost less than $50.

There are more expensive options, and they have benefits that some will find worth the price. If you live in an “Apple house” where most of you have iPhones or use iPads, then an Apple TV might make sense for you. It connects to the songs and videos you have purchased with your iTunes account, and the new models allow you to play some iPhone and iPad apps. The one drawback is the Apple TV doesn’t include all media services, most notably Amazon’s video streaming. Cost: $150-$200

The Xbox One is a gaming console, media streamer, and can act as a TV tuner for free, local over-the-air HD television.
The Xbox One is a gaming console, media streamer, and can act as a TV tuner for free, local over-the-air HD television.

The Xbox One is a video game console, a media streamer, and much more. It has all the video streaming apps listed in this article, and with a small adapter you can also use it to view the TV listings and pause, rewind and fast forward live TV. It is anticipated that a DVR app will be added in the next year, allowing you to record all your favorite live shows and sports. I don’t recommend buying an Xbox One as a media streamer alone, but if you were trying to convince your better half that you need to get an Xbox for the house then maybe this will help your argument. Cost: $350.

Read the USA News article for one opinion on different media streaming options.

Total Cost
The total price of watching TV is going to be less than cable, but will still depend on what you like to watch. You can get live TV for free. For $28 per month you can get something pretty close to a typical cable TV package. Add HBO, Showtime and Netflix and your bill is still under $60. None of these services charge tax unlike cable, so that saves about $10 per month. See the charts below for a breakdown of the costs.

Cost of Live TV and Cable Channels

Service Initial cost Monthly cost
Live TV $50 $0
Media streaming device $50 $0
Hulu (one day delay of live TV) $0 $8
Sling TV (ESPN, AMC) $0 $20
Total $100 $28

Cost of Movie Channels

Add Ons Monthly cost
Netflix or Amazon Prime $8
HBO (needs Sling) $15
Showtime (needs Hulu) $9

If you’re still unsure of where to start, follow these steps:

  1. Buy a $35 small indoor HD antenna, connect it to your TV, and test it out to see what channels come in and which ones do not. In Chicago it is very hard (but not impossible) to get CBS because of the location of their antenna.
  2. Buy a $25 media streamer, like the Amazon Fire Stick or the Roku SE. Connect it to the Internet and connect it to your TV. Test it to see what you can watch for free.
  3. Start a free trial of Hulu. View their entire channel lineup to see if your shows are available and how many past episodes you can watch. Typically you can only watch the current season, but some have all prior seasons.
  4. Start a free trial of Netflix. View their entire movie and television show listings to see if it’s something you’d like to watch month after month.

Try this for one week. If you don’t like it, if it doesn’t work in your house, or if it’s too confusing, then cancel your subscriptions and return the antenna and media streamer if possible. It could take some getting used to, but if it works for you then you might save $50 or more per month by eliminating the cable TV bill.