5 Minute University

Saw this on Twitter…. too funny. Things haven’t changed much in the 30-odd years since Father Guido Sarducci blessed us with his wisdom.

Best quote:

It don’t matter how long you can remember anything as long as you can parrot it back for the test

Homework was a Cold War fad

I love Cold War history. It’s probably my favorite period of American history. Going to Los Alamos was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done – it’s a whacky place.

This article, How Sputnik Created Homework and Hurt American Kids, by Ryan Klein, just makes me love the Cold War even more.

…homework was a Cold War fad. Before then, Americans had always thought of homework as a bad idea because it distracted kids from families and chores. Many schools banned it altogether. But during the Cold War, Americans were desperate to get ahead, and a “we’ll try anything” mentality led to a new idea: Maybe homework does distract kids from good things, but if it makes them smarter—smart enough to beat the Russians—then we’re all for it!


History Case Studies

How do you make learning history dull, boring, monotonous and tedious? Teach broad survey classes with lots of multiple choice questions!!!

Sound familiar? Yup – that’s how most of us learned history and how most history courses are taught now, sadly.

Not this class! The article, “A Better Way to Teach History,” by Christine Gross-Loh outlines a college history course modeled on the Harvard Business School pedagogy of teaching through case studies. Professor David Moss gives students the arguments on both sides of a controversy. Students read, discuss, argue and make a decision. Only then does he tell students what actually happened. This method uses critical thinking, primary source analysis, decision making skills and communication skills.

Traditional history teaching values facts over skills, something that has long been debated. I fall strongly on the side of teaching skills over content. Even back in the early 1990s, pre-internet, I taught students that it was the process of finding information and analyzing it that was important. I gave only open book assessments – rarely, if ever, did I give “tests.” Today, it’s even more useless to memorize tons of facts. It’s not possible. It is possible to teach students to find information. Do students need a minimal amount of historical content in order to analyze? Of course. But that can be learned in the process of analyzing and doesn’t require excessive rote memorization.

Multiple choice tests definitely favor facts over process. As the article states, there is little context to facts in a multiple choice test. This article promotes the use of narrative over fact – one I wholly support. Narrative gives context, reason, rational, instead of random, disconnected facts. “…the narrative provides context and a more effective way to learn and remember.”

Love this quote:

The argument I make all the time is, it’s like if I were to ask someone to assemble a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle without the box-top picture of it. You could of course eventually put it together but the effort to match shapes and colors on each piece would be monumental, and you’d likely give up quite quickly. Such is what happens to many kids in school


Broken Child

I have to reblog this. It breaks my heart. It hits so close to home.

This is by one of my favorite bloggers. I have tremendous respect for her honesty, her approach to life, her love for children and her love for books. I have tremendous respect for her teaching. She had the courage to completely change how she structured her class. She empowers students in a way not seen frequently.

This is a post about one of her children. I wish I could tell her that no, her child is not broken. Her child is lovely, wonderful, creative, caring. It’s not her child who is broken — it’s the school system. It is hard to tell a teacher that the school system is broken, but she knows it. She changed who she is in the classroom to address the very issues she’s seeing now in her child.

As one of the commenters said,  a world where kindergartners, first graders, etc., are expected to sit still is unnatural. Some kids thrive in it, but certainly not all. We crush the spirit of those who don’t fit that expectation. Why is that the value? Why do kindergartners need to read? Why is it that the only valuable learning occurs at a desk?

I saw this happen in my house. I was stubborn — too stubborn — and thought if my child only tried harder, if she only cared. I watched her spirit get crushed. I watched her frustration. I watched her self-esteem plummet. I watched her level of anxiety increase to the point of being incapacitating. All this for similar reasons — she couldn’t focus no matter how hard she tried. If I could do it all over, there are so many, many things I would do differently.

I wish I could just say to this blogger to follow her heart. Do what you need to do to honor your child. That’s what’s important – not what the expectations are of society, or of school.


Pernille Ripp

She’s got my eyes, you know.

Blue mixed with gray depending  on the weather.   She’s got my long legs, arms for miles, and a laugh that comes from her heart.  Her hands look like my grandfather’s who gave her her name.  And those feet of hers are just like mine, growing too fast for her shoes to keep up.

She’s got her daddy’s sense of humor, always ready to make you smile.  And also his artistic eye, declaring one day she will be an artist.  She will paint the sky with every color she knows.

But she doesn’t have my skills of sitting still.  Of staying quiet.  Of focusing in.

She doesn’t smile easy or understand when others are kidding.  Friendships are sometimes hard to find.

Some would say she is a broken child.  Some would say she is a broken child.

We come up with fixes to help…

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Long but very worthwhile piece about standardized testing and the role big $ corporation plays in it.

Our family has opted out of testing. My daughter did not take the standardized tests last year as a junior, and my son attends a private school that does not do testing. I will continue to voice my opposition to these tests even though my kids are done with them.


Anyone in this education 2.0 world knows the theories that gaming brings out a whole different approach to learning. My kids recently watched a TED talk (I think by Jane McGonigal) about gaming not actually being a waste of time. 🙂

IMG_1953Here’s a screenshot from a popular game my kids play. I don’t even know what it’s called, but I do see them trying over and over and OVER again to get past certain levels. While failure at school means a bad grade and the implied NO COLLEGE FOR YOU, failure at these games means pick yourself up and try, try again.

My daughter worked for six weeks to get past one level. She just kept trying different strategies and approaches. Talk about scientific method. Try one way, if it doesn’t work, try another until you get it to work. Was she frustrated? Sure. Did she give up – nope. She kept coming back until she figured it out.

I admit it cracked me up to see that FAIL! screen come up over and over again. It just so strongly flies in the face of the traditional approach to education. This tenacity of trying over and over again is never rewarded at school. I know the practical reasons, but I don’t like the outcome and what that teaches kids.

Rising Testing Opt-Out Movement

The Opt-Out or Refusal movement is gaining traction. According to this article by Laura McKenna in The Atlantic, nearly 5% of students in some districts are refusing to take the tests.

She relates a personal story about students becoming part of the movement. Of course kids are going to ask parents to let them miss the test. This is excellent — as long as students know why they are refusing the test. It’s not to have a morning off. It’s to let decision makers (which usually is not at the district level. It’s at a state and national level) know that students want education that does not fit into a standardized test.

Students AND parents need to be part of the conversation about testing. It is not up to the companies that profit from it, and who do you think has better access the legislators?

These protests should also serve as a reminder for decision-makers that parents and students are stakeholders in education policy and that community outreach must be part of any reform.

Then, too, they must justify WHY we need the tests. What do they prove? What benefit do students gain from them?

Legislators should not be the ones making the decision alone — or with the testing companies.

Learning without Testing? Can it be so?

I’m taking another MOOC – big surprise! It’s about Content Strategy – one of my favorite concepts. It’s not a class about education – it’s a professional development class, with content that directly relates to the work I do.

Quote from the first lecture:

Since it is for professionals, there will be no grades and no tests. It’s not a college course. It’s a program for you as a professional to master, and then be able to use what you learn here and take it back to work. It’s knowledge that will improve your effectiveness….

Yes, you really CAN learn even if there are no tests or grades. Imagine that.

Letter to a School Board about Test Refusal

Courtesy Fort Worth Squath. CC license

Courtesy Fort Worth Squath. CC license

It’s testing season again. I have had conversations with a few parents about opting out, or as I’m seeing it now — refusing the test. Because my daughter is a senior, she doesn’t have to take them. My son (a freshman) is at a private school, so no tests. My family’s days of test refusal are over, but I dug up the email I sent to the school board last year explaining why we opted out. To be clear, my daughter was a junior at the time. She was very involved with the decision. It was not something we forced on her.

We sent a version of this to our state legislators as well.

Our Letter to the School Board

To the ISDxxx School Board and others,

This past school year, we opted our daughter out of MCA testing, and wanted to let you know why. She’ll be a senior next year, so no testing. We would definitely continue to opt out of MCA testing if she was younger.
We have long felt that there is too much emphasis on standardized testing that takes away from real learning. We were grateful that the Legislature changed the graduation requirements last spring, so she could opt out this year.
Here’s why we chose to opt out:
  • Test taking skills: when our daughter was in 8th grade, her math teacher told us she spent 3 weeks preparing the students for the MCA test. THREE WEEKS of valuable class time teaching them how to take a test?
  • 19th century skills: standardized, fill-in-the-bubble multiple choice tests test one type of learning and encourage memorization. They do little to allow students to demonstrate 21st century skills, such as creativity, critical thinking or collaboration.
  • Lifelong Skills: We’ve been in the workforce for over 25 years. We have yet to need to take a multiple choice test as part of our jobs. I’d prefer my kids were taught the skills needed in the current and future workforce, which include not only 21st century skills, but things like computer coding, visual literacy and creativity, and digital citizenship.
  • Teacher Merit Pay: basing teacher pay on student test scores is offensive to teachers and students alike. It encourages focus on test taking skills over and above less “data” like creativity. Our kids are more than a number on a test, and that is why we pay fantastic teachers to get to know our kids as people.
  • Stress/Anxiety: I hear from teachers and students about the stress and anxiety these tests cause. Teachers hate making kids take tests, kids hate taking them. Why put everyone through this for such little gain?
  • Delay in reporting: With the MCAs, tests are taken in the spring. Results come back months later, thereby practically useless.
  • Profit: the only people who profit from these tests is the companies who make them. They are expensive, there’s no accountability and there are proven errors. Why are we paying these companies so much money? This goes for the MCAs and the AP tests — cash cows for those companies.

We realize the School Board doesn’t make the decisions about the MCAs. We will also send this to state legislators, who in spite of not being educators, make the decisions about these tests that so impact our children.

The Board does make the decisions about teacher merit pay. This issue is complex, and I don’t pretend to understand it. However, I’d encourage you to reward the wonderful ISDxxx teachers based on things that really matter: the relationship they build with students.