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It’s mind-boggling that there are any makers in this world over the age of 10

Leslie Pralle Keehn says:

“Don’t turn on the computer until you are told to do so,” “don’t pick up your markers until you are given permission,” “wait for instructions,” “sit patiently until I get to you.” It’s mind-boggling that there are any makers in this world over the age of 10.

via http://rethinkredesign.org/2013/12/18/my-day-as-a-maker/#comment-4760

Cramming is indisputable proof of the superficiality of most classrooms in America

Cramming

Marion Brady says:

The Procedure: 1. Take notes during lectures, and hi-lite key sentences in the textbook. 2. Before a big test, load the notes and hi-lited passages into short-term memory. 3. Take the test. 4. Flush short-term memory and prepare for its re-use.

The Procedure, of course, is called “cramming.” Do it well and it leads steadily up the academic ladder.

But here’s a question: Does The Procedure have anything do with educating?

Learning – real LEARNING – starts when, for whatever reason, the learner wants it to start. It proceeds if the aim is clear and what’s being learned connects logically and solidly to existing knowledge. It’s strengthened when mistakes are made, clarifying the potential and limitations of the new knowledge. It’s reinforced when it’s put to frequent, immediate, meaningful, real-world use. It becomes permanent when it’s made part of the learner’s organized, consciously known “master” structure of knowledge.

Slow down for a moment and think about it. Cramming is indisputable proof of the superficiality and inefficiency – even the failure – of what’s going on in most classrooms across America. What’s crammed wasn’t learned or there would be no need to cram; what’s crammed isn’t learned or it wouldn’t be forgotten.

In the real world, where it counts, the gap between crammers and learners is vast, and tends to widen over time. Unfortunately, the thus-far-successful “reform” effort to cover the standard material at a standard pace, and replace teacher judgment with machine-scored standardized tests has further institutionalized cramming and hidden the failure its use proves.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/12/the-procedure-and-how-it-is-harming-education

We’ve been doing a lot of this over the past week as my daughter prepares for her AP U.S. History semester exam (100 multiple choice questions in 90 minutes). I hate it…

Image credit: Cram time (winter+spring), Svein Halvor Halvorsen

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

Emulating downward: Iowa’s misplaced idolization of Florida’s retention policies

Dunce cap

The Iowa Department of Education (DE) was quoted recently as saying, “We really aren’t looking at [3rd grade retention] as being punitive.” The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t matter how we as adults perceive retention. What matters is how the retained 8-year-olds perceive retention. And four decades of research is very clear that retention is viewed as extremely punitive by those students that are retained. In fact, students rate academic retention as a life stressor on par with losing a parent and going blind.

John Hattie, author of Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, notes that “it would be difficult to find another educational practice on which the evidence is so unequivocally negative” (p. 99) and that “the only question of interest relating to retention is why it persists in the face of this damning evidence” (p. 98). Study after study, researcher after researcher, finds the same few things about retention:

  • No long-term achievement gains. Being retained does not increase academic achievement in the long run. Let’s say that again: being retained does NOT increase academic achievement in the long run. Sometimes we see short-term score bumps but they always wash out by the upper grades. This is true even in Florida, whose educational ‘miracle’ Iowa is apparently desperate to emulate despite having better overall academic achievement, high school graduation rates, etc. A quick comparison of NAEP proficiency rates shows that Florida may have found ways to artificially inflate its 4th grade reading scores – results always look better when low-achievers have been removed from the grade cohort and/or students have had an extra year of schooling – but by 8th grade its students revert back to the lower half of the national rankings. [Quick aside: if Iowans want to reclaim our place at the top of the state education rankings, shouldn’t we be adopting practices of the states that do better, not worse, than us?] This means that – despite intuition and anecdotes to the contrary – there are no long-term achievement differences between students who are retained and those who are ‘socially promoted.’ One more time in case it’s not clear: “there are more positive effects in the long term for promoted students than for retained students – even when matched for achievement at the time of decision to retain or promote” (Hattie, p. 97).
  • Significantly higher dropout rates. Students who are retained don’t do any better academically in the long run but they do have a significantly higher risk of dropping out. For example, one study showed that 65% to 90% of overage children in grade 9 do not persist to graduation. Retention has found to be a stronger predictor of student dropout than socioeconomic status or parental education. That extra year is a killer – literally – when it comes to retained students’ secondary school completion rates. Florida’s graduation rate is 43rd in the country, while Iowa’s is 5th. Again, why are we emulating downward?
  • Lower life success. Retention has been shown to negatively impact long-term life success factors such as postsecondary education attendance, pay per hour, and employment competence ratings. Retained students also are more likely to display aggression during adolescence.
  • No increase in motivation. Retention – or the threat of retention – is not a motivating force for students. Students don’t try harder and aren’t motivated to do better after they’re retained. Instead, retention greatly diminishes student self-concept and impairs self-efficacy. Just to make clear how wrong DE’s statement is, research shows that students would rather wet themselves in class in front of their peers than be retained.
  • Discriminatory impacts. Students of color are four times as likely to be retained as their White counterparts, even when they exhibit the same academic achievement. Students in poverty also are more likely to be retained than their more affluent peers. The burdens that come with being retained are borne primarily by those students whom already are traditionally-disadvantaged by existing schooling practices.

So there we have it: incredible damage to students’ self-concept, substantial increases in students’ dropout rates, and significant reductions in students’ future life success – with bonus discriminatory impacts! – all for the mere potential of a statistically-manipulable, now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t test score bump for interstate bragging rights. And, if that weren’t enough, we also get to pay more and get a worse outcome! It would be difficult to envision an educational practice that has less going for it than retention. And yet it is now enshrined into Iowa law, to be made operational (and, apparently, rationalized) by our Department of Education. [One final aside: DE also tries to justify retention because “we really want to get parents to take their child’s literacy development very, very seriously.” Most parents care very much about their children’s literacy development, of course. Parents of struggling readers need help and support, not blame or stigmatization or penalization of their children.]

Retention is not a policy unknown. Even the laziest of reporters or legislators can do a quick Google Scholar search and see that decades of peer-reviewed studies are clear that retention hurts kids and will hurt Iowa. The real policy question here is why don’t we care?

Image credit: Children playing, 1908; Library of Congress

Content mastery is a means, not a goal

Grant Wiggins says:

There are really only 3 non-negotiables in UbD [Understanding by Design]:

  1. There has to be a clear, constant, and prioritized focus on ‘understanding’ as an educational goal. Content mastery is NOT a sufficient goal in an understanding-based system; content mastery is a means, in the same way that decoding fluency is a means toward the real goal of reading – meaning, based on comprehension, from texts. This logic requires teacher-designers to be clear, therefore, about which uses of content have course priority since understanding is about transfer and meaning-making via content.
  2. The assessments must align with the goals via ‘backward design’; and the goals, as mentioned, should highlight understanding. So, there can be quizzes of content mastery and questions on the exam re: content, but the bulk of assessment questions and tasks cannot possibly be mere recall of content kinds in an understanding-based system. The issue is therefore not whether or not there are final exams but what kinds of questions/tasks make up any exams given; and whether the kinds of questions are in balance with the prioritized goals.
  3. The instructional practices must align with the goals. Again, that doesn’t mean content cannot be taught via lectures or that content-learning cannot be what lessons are sometimes about. But a course composed mainly of lectures cannot logically yield content use – any more than a series of lectures on history or literacy can yield high-performing historians or teachers of reading. The instructional methods must, as a suite, support performance with understanding.

via http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/final-exams-vs-projects-nope-false-dichotomy-a-practical-start-to-the-blog-year

There are so many good things in this 3-item list. I love the emphasis on student performance; the reminder that content mastery is a means, not a goal; and the emphatic distinction between ‘recall’ and ‘understanding.’ Thanks, Grant.

When parents want to opt their children out of ed tech

Denial

I had a conversation with a parent a few weeks back during which she said something like this:

My husband and I are worried about how prevalent screens are in our children’s lives. We are striving to maintain some balance between screen time and other time for our kids. However, our high school’s 1:1 laptop initiative has made it much harder for us to do this with our son since he is now expected to bring the computer home and use it during the evenings and weekends.

Even the most ardent technology advocates usually recognize that others may have different beliefs and norms when it comes to children and computers. I found myself empathizing with this mother as she found herself in direct competition with an initiative from the school system that was intended to empower her child but instead was undermining her parenting.

Parents often have opt-out rights for some sensitive course or school library materials (e.g., movies, videos, books or other readings, sex education classes) but they don’t typically have opt-out rights for instructional methods or curricula. Should parents have the right to refuse or limit a 1:1 initiative – or other educational technology usage – for their children? If so, in practical terms how would that work (e.g., would schools be required to provide analog assignments and/or homework)? What do you think?

Image credit: karen’s denial, zen sutherland

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!

Sioux Central students are making trebuchets, learning physics [VIDEO]

Are your students learning physics by making trebuchets, catapults, and ballistae? Why not? Students in the Sioux Central (IA) Community Schools are and they’re having a blast! (literally)

Are you not entertained?! Great work, Dan Strohmyer!

Let’s stop talking about meaningful global empowerment for youth and start doing it (Online Model United Nations wrap-up)

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Lisa Martin, Kristin Rowe, and their students for taking over my blog for the past week. All of the guest posts regarding Online Model United Nations (O-MUN) are linked below.

This is the kind of powerful, global, student-driven learning that is possible if we adults are willing to make it happen. As school leaders, we say that we want meaningful, collaborative, cross-border interactions for our youth. We say that we want to empower students to make a difference in the world. Let’s stop talking about it and start doing it. As the O-MUN movement shows us, our children are willing and able to step up and help us…

  1. Connected global youth and the Online Model United Nations movement
  2. The nuts and bolts of online debating
  3. Palestinian-Israeli citizen calling for peace, making her voice heard through Online Model United Nations
  4. Online Model United Nations: Raising our voices
  5. Junior Online Model United Nations: Connecting masters and apprentices
  6. Why do teachers have an excuse when it comes to technology in the classrooms?
  7. Making connected learning the norm: What will it take?

Why do teachers have an excuse when it comes to technology in the classrooms? [guest post]

Hi, I’m Ugbad Kasim from Somalia (Northeastern part – Somaliland to be exact), a young lady who was fortunate enough to go to school and study in one of the best schools in the country. Although those schools are counted as the best schools, they are technologically behind. I’m not saying that they don’t have computers or the Internet but they don’t use them in education, which basically is a useless way of wasting resources. By the time I was in high school I was so bored of our traditional way of learning but I was not in a stage to change anything. But at that time I was lucky enough to have extra-curricular activities going on in my school like debating club, journalism club, art club, science club, etc. I soon joined the debating club as a deputy chairperson and the journalism club as an editor. That is when my passion for technology started.

I  tried to innovate the debating club and to use technology to debate but the school administration didn’t agree with me. I used to always get excuses like it’s destructive, it’s a waste of time, it’s hard to monitor, or there are not enough resources for everyone. It was very hard to get teachers’ attention on technology and how it could be useful for students when some of the teachers were not familiar with many of the technology resources that were available. So I basically finished my high school struggling between the traditional and modern way of learning.

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As soon as I started university, I found out about Online Model United Nations (O-MUN). I remember Lisa Martin explaining to me the whole program and how it works. I told myself, “Yes, this where I belong, this is what I was looking for,” and I joined the program as a delegate. I started debating with other delegates from all over the world without meeting or seeing them. What this experience brought to my life was much more valuable than any other thing. I never knew what Model United Nations (MUN) was before O-MUN because in my country we don’t have MUN programs running. I was able to participate in the program without any preconditions of who I am or where I am from or what color I am. Then I moved from a delegate to a moderator and finally to an Assistant Director for the Middle East and African region for O-MUN.

In O-MUN I have developed both professional and personal skills without moving from my room. I have gained skills like public speaking, writing, and debating. Most importantly, I consider myself as a multicultural person as a result of working with a diverse community. It changed my way of thinking and made me aware of what is happening around me. In O-MUN we use social media and I have learned a lot of useful resources that have made my life simpler: for instance, Mightybell, which acts as a research hub for O-MUN. Mightybell is a great resource area for preparation of students for conferences or even classrooms and I act as a focal person for O-MUN for Mightbyell. Without O-MUN, I wouldn’t have been able to use Mightybell or see the need for it.

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After seeing how useful the O-MUN platform is, I tried to take it back to my former high school but, unfortunately, the teachers didn’t see the aim of it. They didn’t see the impact it can have on students. They only considered their own benefits and the time they need to give to students to implement the program. They chose the easy way out, which was not to use it at all. Social media is an important component in students’ lives and they should have the right to access it.

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I have never been to a face-to-face conference in my life but now, after having participated in more than 30 debates as a delegate, moderator, or assistant director – and attending the Qatar Leadership Conference as part of the O-MUN team – I am no longer a stranger to the MUN world. Now I know that I am a change agent in my community at home. Even if the change I’m making is very small, I still now that I can do something. I know that my journey has just started. O-MUN gave me the opportunity to realize that with the help of social media. I believe that youth should be given the right to access social media.

Check out this collection of interviews conducted on O-MUN at QLC: THIMUN O-MUN, Our Stories

Previously in this series

Ugbad Kasim is 22 years old. She  recently finished her undergraduate degree in Economics at Admas University, Hargeisa-Somaliland. She is one of the Middle East and Africa Assistant Directors at O-MUN and hopes to study international development and trade for her Master’s. You can find her on Facebook

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