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Ames High band: Modeling innovation, risk-taking, and feedback

I’m pretty impressed with the Ames High School band directors. Not only are Chris Ewan and Andrew Buttermore facilitating a great band program musically (250+ students who give amazing performances), they also are modeling instructional innovation and risk-taking with technology. When our district provided laptops for students, for example, they immediately jumped on the opportunity for band students to record themselves and then submit their digital files for review. Many students are using SmartMusic to help them practice and – even cooler – marching band participants now can see what they’re trying to accomplish on the field because they’ve been sent a Pyware video that shows them what it looks like from the perspective of those of us in the stands. [Next up, Ohio State!]

But I think the most enthralling thing they’ve done to date was a video that they showed us during Parent Night last week (feel free to pause at any time to get the full effect):

How do you help a group of incoming 9th graders realize what it looks like when they’re out of step? Put a video camera on the track at foot level, of course!

BRILLIANT.

Imagine you’re a brand new band student… You’ve only been marching for a few days. You’re juggling learning new music with learning how to step in time. It’s difficult to see what everyone else is doing. Your opportunities for feedback are relatively limited in the large group. And so on. It’s easy to feel like maybe you’re doing better than you really are. Heck, you didn’t hit the student next to you today with your tuba, right? But the video doesn’t lie… “Wait, those are MY feet! And I’m not there yet.” And that other video from up in the stands that shows that our lines need work too? Also useful for helping me see where I fit into the overall picture…

Why do I like this video so much? Because it models creative ways to give kids feedback and because it uses technology to help students learn how to get better. As Chris Anderson noted in his TED talk, video often allows us to innovate more rapidly. Want your 9th graders to ramp up their marching band footwork as fast as possible? Show them – don’t just tell them – what it looks like…

How is your school using technology to help kids SEE how they can get better? (and, no, I’m not talking about ‘adaptive’ multiple choice software)

Test makers should not be driving instruction

In a post about the difficulty of New York’s Common Core assessments, Robert Pondiscio said:

Test makers have an obligation to signal to the field the kind of instructional choices they want teachers to make

via http://edexcellence.net/articles/new-york%E2%80%99s-common-core-tests-tough-questions-curious-choices

I’m going to disagree with Robert on this one. I’m fairly certain that test makers should NOT be the ones driving instruction…

What testing should do for us

Multiple choice test

John Robinson said:

‘We would like to dethrone measurement from its godly position, to reveal the false god it has been. We want instead to offer measurement a new job – that of helpful servant. We want to use measurement to give us the kind and quality of feedback that supports and welcomes people to step forward with their desire to contribute, to learn, and to achieve.’ – Margaret Wheatley, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time

Want to know what’s wrong with testing and accountability today? It’s more about a ‘gotcha game’ than really trying to help teachers improve their craft. Over and over ad nauseam, those pushing these tests talk about using test data to improve teaching and thereby student learning, but that’s not what is happening at all.

via http://the21stcenturyprincipal.blogspot.com/2014/08/time-to-dethrone-testing-from-its-godly.html

Image credit: Exams Start… Now, Ryan M.

Why meaningful math problems are defined out of online assessments

Dan Meyer said:

at this moment in history, computers are not a natural working medium for mathematics.

For instance: think of a fraction in your head.

Say it out loud. That’s simple.

Write it on paper. Still simple.

Now communicate that fraction so a computer can understand and grade it. Click open the tools palette. Click the fraction button. Click in the numerator. Press the “4″ key. Click in the denominator. Press the “9″ key.

That’s bad, but if you aren’t convinced the difference is important, try to communicate the square root of that fraction. If it were this hard to post a tweet or update your status, Twitter and Facebook would be empty office space on Folsom Street and Page Mill Road.

It gets worse when you ask students to do anything meaningful with fractions. Like: “Explain whether 4/3 or 3/4 is closer to 1, and how you know.”

It’s simple enough to write down an explanation. It’s also simple to speak that explanation out loud so that somebody can assess its meaning. In 2012, it is impossible for a computer to assess that argument at anywhere near the same level of meaning. Those meaningful problems are then defined out of “mathematics.”

via http://blog.mrmeyer.com/2012/what-silicon-valley-gets-wrong-about-math-education-again-and-again

Responsible educational journalism

Leslie and David Rutkowski say:

simply reporting results, in daring headline fashion, without caution, without caveat, is a dangerous practice. Although cautious reporting isn’t nearly as sensational as crying “Sputnik!” every time the next cycle of PISA results are reported, it is the responsible thing to do.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/03/20/so-how-overblown-were-no-1-shanghais-pisa-results

This holds true, of course, for all other assessment results as well. I am continually amazed at how many press releases become ‘news stories,’ sometimes nearly verbatim. Too many educational journalists have abdicated their responsibility to ask questions, to investigate claims and evidence, to cast a skeptical eye on puffery, and to try and get to the truth…

Picking right answers from a set of prescribed alternatives that trivialize complexity and ambiguity

Leon Botstein says:

The essential mechanism of the SAT, the multiple choice test question, is a bizarre relic of long outdated twentieth century social scientific assumptions and strategies. As every adult recognizes, knowing something or how to do something in real life is never defined by being able to choose a “right” answer from a set of possible answers (some of them intentionally misleading) put forward by faceless test designers who are rarely eminent experts. No scientist, engineer, writer, psychologist, artist, or physician – and certainly no scholar, and therefore no serious university faculty member – pursues his or her vocation by getting right answers from a set of prescribed alternatives that trivialize complexity and ambiguity.

via http://time.com/15199/college-president-sat-is-part-hoax-and-part-fraud

Data resisters aren’t Chicken Littles

Chicken in a pot

John Kuhn says:

The vocal opposition we see to data collection efforts like inBloom, to curriculum standards (which define the data to be collected) like the Common Core, and to tests (the data source) like the MAP can all be traced back, largely, to two things: (1) dismay over how much class time is sacrificed for the all-encompassing data hunt, and (2) a foundational mistrust regarding the aims of those who gather and control the data. If your dad brings home a new baseball bat, it’s a pretty happy time in the family – unless your dad has been in the habit of beating the family with blunt objects. Data is that baseball bat. A better analogy might be a doctor who causes his patients pain unnecessarily with his medical equipment. Patients are naturally going to resist going in for procedures that the doctor says are “good for them” if they know it will come with excessive pain. There is a vigorous campaign online and in the papers and political buildings to discredit opponents of school reform as just so many Chicken Littles “defending the status quo” and sticking their heads in the sand. A salient question, though, is this: has the sector-controlling school reform movement, going back to the dawn of No Child Left Behind, wielded data honestly, ethically, and constructively? If not, then yeah, there will be resistance. These people aren’t Chicken Littles. They’re Chickens Who Won’t Get in the Pot.

via http://atthechalkface.com/2014/01/03/johnkuhntx-the-tyranny-of-the-datum

Educators don’t trust the powers that be, and the powers that be don’t trust educators. And thus our dysfunctional systems and dialogues…

Image credit: 11.20.11 Every Sunday, Peas

Adaptive learning

Unit 1

Teacher 1:

In the past I have mapped out my school year ahead of time. I’ve planned how long each unit is going to take; identified the resources, activities, and assessments that I’ll use for each unit; and then marched students through the content. But this year, I’ve got an amazing idea! Before school starts I’m going to print off all of the worksheets, quizzes, and tests that the publisher sends with the textbook. I’ll also add in a few of my own supplemental activities, and put everything into numbered folders. Since kids like videos, for some units I’ve even got some VHS tapes on which I’ll place Post-It notes with time-marked segments for them to watch. Students will have access to a printed checklist for each unit that shows what they need to read, watch, and do, and they’ll also get an overview checklist of all of the units for the entire year. This way, instead of students marching to my pace, they can go as fast or as slow as they need to. They can even bounce around different units as desired, focusing on whatever they want to work on that day, and can skip stuff if they can prove mastery! I’ll also put some stickers into each folder. As students complete each reading, worksheet, quiz, test, activity, or video, they can put a sticker on their checklist showing that they’ve completed it. It will be just like getting points and leveling up in a video game! We’ll also have tracking posters stapled to the bulletin board so that I can monitor overall task and unit completion for each student, and intervene as necessary if students are moving too slow, need extra help, or are ready for enrichment activities. The system will be entirely student-driven, freeing me up to be a facilitator of learning instead of a ‘sage on the stage.’ I’m so excited to set up this system of personalized learning!

Teacher 2:

In the past I have mapped out my school year ahead of time. I’ve planned how long each unit is going to take; identified the resources, activities, and assessments that I’ll use for each unit; and then marched students through the content. But this year, my school has an amazing idea! Before school starts I’m going to have access to an online adaptive learning system that includes all of the worksheet, quiz, and test items that the publisher sends with the digital textbook. There also are some supplemental activities, and everything is organized into numbered units. Since kids like videos, for some units the system even has some digital tutorials for them to watch. Students will have access to an online checklist for each unit that shows what they need to read, watch, and do, and they’ll also get an overview checklist of all of the units for the entire year. This way, instead of students marching to my pace, they can go as fast or as slow as they need to. They can even bounce around different units as desired, focusing on whatever they want to work on that day, and can skip stuff if they can prove mastery! The system also has digital badges for each unit. As students complete each reading, worksheet, quiz, test, activity, or video item, they get a digital badge for their checklist showing that they’ve completed it. It will be just like getting points and leveling up in a video game! We’ll also have access to an online data analytics system so that I can monitor overall task and unit completion for each student, and intervene as necessary if students are moving too slow, need extra help, or are ready for enrichment activities. The system will be entirely student-driven, freeing me up to be a facilitator of learning instead of a ‘sage on the stage.’ I’m so excited we have this system of personalized learning!

12 education guidelines from Alfie Kohn

Alfie Kohn says:

  1. Learning should be organized around problems, projects, and (students’) questions – not around lists of facts or skills, or separate disciplines.
  2. Thinking is messy; deep thinking is really messy. Therefore beware prescriptive standards and outcomes that are too specific and orderly.
  3. The primary criterion for what we do in schools: How will this affect kids’ interest in the topic (and their excitement about learning more generally)?
  4. If students are “off task,” the problem may be with the task, not with the kids.
  5. In outstanding classrooms, teachers do more listening than talking, and students do more talking than listening. Terrific teachers often have teeth marks on their tongues.
  6. Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.
  7. When we aren’t sure how to solve a problem relating to curriculum, pedagogy, or classroom conflict, the best response is often to ask the kids.
  8. The more focused we are on kids’ “behaviors,” the more we end up missing the kids themselves – along with the needs, motives, and reasons that underlie their actions.
  9. If students are rewarded or praised for doing something (e.g., reading, solving problems, being kind), they’ll likely lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward.
  10. The more that students are led to focus on how well they’re doing in school, the less engaged they’ll tend to be with what they’re doing in school.
  11. All learning can be assessed, but the most important kinds of learning are very difficult to measure – and the quality of that learning may diminish if we try to reduce it to numbers.
  12. Standardized tests assess the proficiencies that matter least. Such tests serve mostly to make unimpressive forms of instruction appear successful.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/10/30/a-dozen-basic-guidelines-for-educators

We’ve got extra funds! Let’s buy test-taking devices!

Amy Prime says:

I know of another administrator who sent out a happy email to her staff because the school had some extra funds and was able to purchase a classroom set of tablets for the teachers to use for classroom testing. How many of you parents out there, upon discovering your child’s school had extra funds available, would want that money used to buy test-taking devices?

via http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20131020/OPINION01/310200071/Iowa-View-Opt-Out-Movement-growing-schools-test-test-test

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