Testing Skills

Ran across this great post by Alife Kohn (ok, what writing by Alfie Kohn isn’t great?) about some core principles about education . The reference to the posts referred to this as progressive education.

I was particularly drawn to the last principle:

Standardized tests assess the proficiencies that matter least.  Such tests serve mostly to make unimpressive forms of instruction appear successful.


We recently opted our daughter out of her last state mandated test. This is one very good reason.

I’m furious because it will show up on her transcript as “parent refusal.” 

Read the rest of the post. It’s good.


My Case For Social Media and Technology Use In School

This is a great post about why schools should use social media and tech. The points made here are excellent — and to me, it’s a no brainer. I’m really not sure why my kids’ schools find this so difficult.
I was even more excited to find another parent blogging about these topics! The parent voice is not very present in most of these discussions, except on the Twitter chat #ptchat (this blogger is a big part of that chat.) George Couros advocated for increased parent voice/presence in a presentation at the #TIES13 conference in Minneapolis in December. I agree, and am happy to find other parents in the conversation.


www.sxc.hu hand_on_keyboard

Today, yet again, I have heard people question if and why we should be using various pieces of technology and social media in school. It has been almost 40 years since personal computers were successfully marketed and sold to the general public. It has been over 20 years since the “world wide web” (www) was launched. It has been 10 years since the launch of Facebook and 7 years since the first iPhone was released. These things will continue to evolve in capabilities and how they are used – but they are not going away.

Besides the fact that we are supposed to be educating our children for tomorrow’s world, here are the reasons I can  think of off the top of my head as to why social media  is of importance in our schools (some of it relates to tech – but honestly, I think it’s a no-brainer as to…

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Why Tech?

Great article about just jumping in and trying tech in the classroom by Kathy Cassidy, “Technology in the Classroom: Embrace the Bumpy Ride.”

Her point to teacher who are reluctant or overwhelmed is to take it slow, try something, and the real point: to use tech to teach better. Don’t just have it as an add-on, or something more to do.

Technology should help us to teach better and in more meaningful ways. It should be used to connect us. It should give us choice and allow us to share.


Use technology when it allows you to do something in a better way than you have done before or to do something that was formerly impossible to do.


Examples include using blogs to give student writing a broader audience and communicating with families in an immediate way.She suggests using Skype to connect with another classroom in another state. Use video and photography to allow for a non-textual representation of a learner’s thought process and to demonstrate their learning.

She also reminds us that an iPad or computer is just another tool, like a pencil or crayon. You can have problems with these tools, too!

We use technology not just because it is technology, but because of what it can do. It engages us and helps us to learn.

Teaching History

Wonderful article about the art and philosophy of teaching history from The Atlantic,You Have to Know History to Actually Teach It” is an interview with Eric Foner by David Cutler.

I taught history many years ago – before the internet, before Wikipedia, before this testing craze. Even then, I told my students it wasn’t the goal to memorize a bunch of dates and facts. The goal was to know how to find the information (remember, pre-internet) and analyze. In my current work, we promote the analysis and critical thinking about historical resources — not the memorizing of dates/facts to spit back on a test.

So you can imagine my glee in reading this interview with Foner.

I’m strongly in favor of students knowing the facts of history, not just memorizing or having it drilled into their heads. I’m certainly against this testing mania that’s going on now where you can judge whether someone really understands history by their performance on a multiple-choice test.

My daughter’s history classes have pretty much been multiple choice tests. That’s about it. Her AP history last year? Read 10+ pages of dry text, take notes and take a huge test. She (wisely) chose to not to AP U.S. History this year to avoid more of that slog. Her “regular” U.S. History course is still filled with multiple choice tests (although not as bad) but is so stuffed with content and the need to cover all the standards that there is no room for analysis and thinking.

Yet, my daughter chooses to watch historical documentaries on her own. After watching one on the Dustbowl (such an uplifting topic), she’s been finding connections all over the place. It’s stuck with her.

Foner encourages the teaching of history to teach students the skills they need to be citizens. Funny how the skills he identifies are the skills we promote in the concept of 21st Century Skills.

We try to teach people the skills that come along with studying history. The skills of evaluating evidence, of posing questions and answering them, of writing, of mobilizing information in order to make an argument. I think all of that is important in a democratic society if people are actually going to be active citizens. Teaching to the test does not really encourage emphasis on those aspects of the study of history.


I also really appreciate his sense that it’s the teacher that matters — the ability of the teacher to convey their passion for history:

the training of the teacher, the ability of the teacher, the knowledge of the teacher, and the teacher’s ability to inspire students by conveying his or her own enthusiasm for the subject.


How can tech integration help with this? It has tremendous potential. The ability to find information and sources. The opportunity to create projects that allow students to think critically (analyze) sources and information. Moving towards the use of visual sources, not just text. The opportunities are endless! Is it as easy to assess as putting a Scantron test through the machine? Nope, but it’s far better.

The 5 Most Dangerous Creativity Killers – 99U

Interesting post: “The 5 Most Dangerous Creativity Killers” from 99U.

I saw this in an email for museum professionals, but how does it apply to learners in school — both the adult and kid learners?

The five “creativity killers” sound very much like the traditional school system:

  1. Role Mismatch: the post uses the Einstein quote about judging a fish on its ability to climb a tree, comparing that to the workplace. While we need to be sure to challenge learners to new things, we also need to be sure that they are in a place and role where they are comfortable. Why can’t we allow students to do different types of projects? Why do they all have to take the same assessment? Some learners might be better suited to writing while others are better suited to visuals.
  2. External End-Goal Restriction: wow, that sounds like school to me! The “end goal” is almost always restricted by an external source – whether it’s a state telling teachers what to teach or what tests to give, or a teacher telling learners exactly what to learn and exactly how to demonstrate that learning. According to the post, “external restrictions are almost always a bad thing for creative thinking.”
  3. Strict Ration of Resources: in this case, mental resources, especially time, is the most important resources. Schools are always so crunched for time because are required to get through and extraordinary amount of material for the “standards.” Learners are overloaded with homework from a number or classes, and the perception is that college admission requires a zillion hours of extracurriculars, volunteering and a full slate of AP classes. There is no time remaining to be creative or do much beyond rote. Schools also have a very set time schedule: be here at 8:10, do algebra until 9:05, etc. Why do we expect all learners to need the same amount of time?
  4. Lack of Social Diversity: Yup, let’s put all kids who were born in this set time frame together because that means they’ll be at the same place. Well, no. Why do we assume that just because a child is 7 that they should be at point A in reading, B in math? While I do feel that it is often – not always – important for learners to be with others who are at the same place (e.g. learners who need to move quickly through content or those who need a different pace or approach), it does not mean all of the same age.
  5. Discouragement/No Positive Feedback: Wow — can we say schools? Testing? While some students may get positive feedback from scoring 95% on all the tests, there are far more students who get negative feedback from testing and just being in school day after day. Why not allow for mastery of content with assessments that allow for redoing tests, doing projects that fit or challenge, or doing real world projects that have real impact?

I’m going to go looking for the post about the 5 Things that Encourage Creativity.