Traditional Learning

Again, from the MOOC I’m taking about e-Learning Ecologies…. this course is really far bigger than e-learning. It’s about transforming education to the 21st century.

Great quotes:

Long-term memory in traditional education is remembering it until the day after the test.

This one is fabulous. The goal of the learning is learning how  to find information. If a student has researched, found the information, and presented it somehow,

The empirical details [about a subject] are irrelevant. They don’t need to be remembered because you can always look them up again.

Maverick Superintendent

My local school district is looking for a new superintendent after a long tenure (17 years, I believe). The current sup is much loved and revered by some — he’s done a great job keeping the district fiscally sound and has weathered the ebbs and flows of student enrollment. He closed schools early on and is now having to add space. He’s led the district through significant demographic change and is responding to the changing demands. He saw the introduction of the first 1:1 iPads in the district this year.

I did have the opportunity to participate in a focus group to give input on the new hire. No idea if they’ll listen to anything we said…. Just saw this great article about a maverick sup in NJ — THIS Is what I’d like!

Why? Highlights:

…we’ve redefined what public education should look like, to include creative problem solving and social and emotional well-being to be as important as academic success.

…we reframed what teaching and learning looks like by focusing on project-based learning.

I ask teachers all the time, if you can Google it, why teach it? Because we have so much information today. How do you help kids navigate that? That’s critical thinking and creative problem solving.

[businesses] want kids who can solve problems and think critically.

I am not anti-testing. I’m concerned about the policies associated with the testing regime and how they may detract from the quality and purpose and the use of tests.

Let’s bring this guy in!!!

More about Student Choice/Freedom

Sam Tanner writes,

High school students are not used to freedom in academic work.

I agree, and am pleased that he has just done the assignment he knows pushes them. They are in charge of demonstrating their mastery, in whatever way works best for them.

Saw a blog post today with a similar message, “Demonstrating learning doesn’t have to look the same for every student” by Amber Teamann. She talks more about elementary students, but the theory is the same.

In our particular situation, the vast majority of assignments at my daughter’s high school involve demonstrating her mastery of the subject through a prescribed, teacher led task. At least in her experience, it’s been a rare instance when she could do this in whatever way she wanted. In most cases, Mr. Tanner’s class being the exception, she’s struggled with this – as have her peers. They have been so trained to do what they were told that they cannot think for themselves.

In her particular situation, the way she’s being asked to demonstrate mastery is through word-based tests. This is not her strength, and she has not always done “well” (when measured by grades.) This can lead to a learned helplessness, so eventually the student stops trying. Learning becomes all about the grades and performance on tests, not about learning and analyzing the material.

Yet, when she found the confidence (in Mr. Tanner’s English classes) to explore and explain her mastery as she wished, she created elaborate projects that accomplished the goal: show what she learned. She integrated an entire trimester’s worth of learning into one art project.

This is life, people. There isn’t a teacher always telling us what to produce. Yes, certain jobs require this, but for the most part, we choose the jobs that fit us. We develop solutions to problems. We communicate to others — and we often choose to do this in a way that suits our personality and strengths. Why aren’t students encouraged to do this, too?

Achievement Gap or Culture Gap?

Great article in the Washington Post by James Boutin, a teacher near Seattle, “We are trying to close the achievement gap all wrong.”

I served on a couple of committees for our local school district. We’d get extensive reports about the “achievement gap” — how the test scores of certain ethnic groups were lower than the scores of the majority group. Were there big differences? Yes.

But I kept asking why the only measure of success was these certain tests. The admins looked at me like I was crazy. The other parents also looked at me like I was crazy. I tried to explain there were two reasons I asked this question:

  1. Standardized tests test a certain type of learning and not necessarily the kind of learning that is, in the end, valuable.
  2. Standardized tests are culturally specific. They are often culturally biased and reflect the values of the majority culture. Besides, how do we know that other cultures valued succeeding on these tests?

Boutin’s article explains this much more eloquently than I ever did.

Ironically, I would say schools continue to disservice students because they’re so hellbent on closing the achievement gap of standardized test scores.

Students who have to spend the vast majority of their day doing reading, writing, and math instruction geared toward helping them pass tests lose valuable opportunities to practice other skills and learn things critical to being human and participating in American civil society. Why don’t we spend more time teaching students about interpersonal communication or nutrition or personal finance in public schools? Why do we still cling to a curriculum that is outdated and thin?

He goes on to talk about how different groups value post-secondary education. He gives an example of a student who wasn’t looking to go away to college because the family needed them close. As he discusses in this quote, the culture that values individual success isn’t the culture of all the students.

It reminded me that I come from a family and culture that puts great import on individual success. Different people and cultures will define success differently, and our public schools must be a place that accommodate those differences, particularly regarding how we talk to students about their post-secondary life and aspirations.

Early in my career, I had the good fortune to work closely with a group of Ojibwe people. The cultural values around home, family and success were so different from mine. Going away to college was not desirable – it brought back memories of the days when Ojibwe children were forcibly taken from their homes to go to boarding schools. Kids who did leave for college often returned before graduating, as they found it difficult to live away from their family and culture.

I’m sure there are many cultures in today’s schools that have similar cultural values. Why is the mainstream culture measure of success the only one we value? Why is that the only way to get ahead?

“Successful” Students

The following is a response I wrote for a Coursera MOOC I’m taking, “The Art of Teaching History.”

In the video I’m responding to, the instructor talks about what he thinks makes a “successful” history student. I admit I bristled at this a bit. Who defines a “successful” student? I’m sure there are many definitions/thoughts about success. What is “successful” for one student is different than might be for another. I tried to watch the video with an open mind.

Anyway, here is the response I posted on the course forums:

A “Successful” History Student

I struggled with the definitions given for “successful history students.” They were:

  1. Knows history/significant knowledge of history
  2. Reads and writes well
  3. Thinks analytically and historically

I do agree with #3, but the first two give me pause. In my work, I teach and develop content about state history primarily for 6th grade students. Perhaps these definitions of success apply better at an older age — more like undergrad — but I can’t apply them to 6th grade, middle school, or even to high school.

If the knowledge of history was the measure of success, we’d be testing facts. We don’t want to do that. We want to engage students in history, give them a sense of their place in the world and how the past has influenced where we are — where THEY are — today. For 6th graders, we strive to build a base of historical knowledge, of course, but our measure of success is not that they know the date of statehood. We want them to understand the factors that created the state, what were the positives and negatives about how the state was made. Who were the players? How do past events impact them today. We want them to understand the “So What” questions — why does it matter that we study history. We want them to know HOW to find historical detail and information. It is not necessary that a 6th grader memorize minute details, dates and more.

I also feel strongly that teaching history is part of the process of creating readers and writers, but this is a text-centric approach. Students today need to be able go beyond text and into visuals, audio and more. Our culture is moving from only text into communicating strongly through visuals (images, art, video) and sound. Students of today need to be as fluent – if not more so- with these modes of communication. They also need to be able to express their knowledge through these modes. Producing a video requires many skills: organizing information, determining important and non-important information, creating a thesis, writing a script, choosing appropriate visuals and audio and more. This, to me, is far more than writing, and we as educators and parents are responsible to see that students can do all this. Focusing on the academic historical essay is doing a disservice to all students except those planning on graduate work in history — and can be saved for the high school or undergraduate work.

iPad Implementation

Interesting piece in about successful iPad (or 1:1) implementation, “5 Critical Mistakes Schools Make with iPads.

I’m watching my daughter’s district get ready to roll out iPads to 7/8 next year. Since my daughter is older, I’m not directly involved, although I have a good sense of what they’re doing from conversations with teachers and admins.

The five errors this article addresses:

  1. Focusing on content apps
  2. Lack of teacher prep in classroom management
  3. Treating the iPad as a computer/laptop
  4. Treating iPads as multi-user devices
  5. Not having a good answer to “Why iPads?”

From my vantage point, the district is handling a few of these well, while falling right into these errors on others.

Apps: I’m not totally sure what apps they’ll be recommending, but from my conversations with teachers and the questions I hear at a couple of committees, the focus is on content apps. I’ve reviewed a few grant requests for iPads, and they tend to list 20+ content apps. As this article discusses, the powerful apps are the “consumption, curation, and creativity” apps, such as iMovie, Educreations, etc. These are the apps they should be requesting.

Teacher Training: I definitely see a lack of teacher prep, both in classroom management and in how to use the devices to provide better education (and isn’t that the goal?) The district did give teachers an ipad, but as the blog post suggests, that isn’t enough. I was at a recent meeting about professional development, and it was painfully obvious that the teachers want more training. How sad that the Tech Training in next year’s PD schedule was in February. FEBRUARY!!! iPads are rolling out in September!

The best PD is training teachers do themselves, but they need to provided with that paradigm. They need time to work with the devices, to see the tools modeled and used in setting that are not threatening or have 30 kids sitting in the room. I’d love to see them do an EdCamp (I’ve offered to run it) or to create learning cohorts with teachers teaching themselves.

I have seen the admins at conferences, but have yet to see a teacher from this district. That, to me, is a big error.

Multi-user: Fortunately, they are going 1:1. They did a limited pilot last year, and found that classroom sets didn’t bring much change. The best results were in a 1:1 setting. I agree, and am happy to see them going down this path.

Communicating “Why?” There has been some good communication and reasoning around why they are using the iPads. One principal said it was to improve “individualized instruction, immediate assessment feedback…” Another said, “…to go beyond the classroom, giving kids a world view…” These are good goals.

I am concerned about this message, “…the iPad initiative will be monitored to see whether student learning increases and test scores rise.”  Student learning is not best measured by tests.

Opting Out

I was sent an article from our local paper about a family that is opting out of the state standardized tests. WOW! “Process is more important than filling in circles.”

I am excited. I will be calling the district first thing tomorrow to do the same. Interestingly, last year I was told we couldn’t opt out of the MCA’s (state tests) because they were required for graduation. I believe they actually were then — but the legislature passed revisions in the spring.

I can’t find anything about this on the state education site or our district site. Here’s what the state site says:

Based on new legislation, the graduation assessment requirements have changed. Additional information will be provided as soon as possible once a comprehensive review of the new requirements is completed.  cite

I might go so far as to contact the reporter. Wouldn’t it be awesome to get a group of parents together to talk about opting out of these tests?


I’ve tried calling the district. No response. I’ll keep trying, then will perhaps try to find my way through the maze of the Dept. of Ed to get an answer.

The scarier part for me was talking to my daughter about this. She’s a junior, so would be up for the Math MCA. If it’s true that they no longer need it to graduate, there is no benefit to her of taking the test. I proposed the idea of opting out. She did not like the idea, I think because it would make her different. It would rock the boat, yes. But it is a bigger concern to me that she’s been “brainwashed” into doing whatever the school says without questioning why.