Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Test

Sharing a few highlights from The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Testing– But You Don't Have to Be by Anya Kamenetz.  With PARCC testing less than a month away it was worthwhile reading about the history of standardized testing as well as some of the fallacies associated with standardized testing.  Additionally, it was intriguing to see the approach other organizations are taking to collect data about students.  Two points resonated for me.  One, was that PARCC is just another data point, not the only or most important data point.  Unfortunately, the connection between PARCC results and teacher/school/district effectiveness complicates matters. However, the idea that results on a standardized exam given in March and May supersedes other data collected throughout the year is a failed concept.  Secondly, we can do better and we can do more to collect meaningful data about student growth.  The hysteria over PARCC is not worth it considering the exams narrow scope.  Instead, energies should be directed towards supporting diverse, authentic assessments which render information on a range of academic and non-academic skills.

Scores on state tests do not correlate with students’ ability to think. In December 2013 MIT neuroscientists working with education researchers at Harvard and Brown Universities released a study of nearly 1,400 eighth graders in the Boston public school system. The researchers administered tests of the students’ fluid intelligence, or their ability to apply the reasoning in novel situations, comprising skills like working memory capacity, speed of information processing, and the ability to solve abstract problems. By contrast, standardized tests mostly test crystallized intelligence, or the application of memorized routines to familiar problems. The researchers found that even the schools that did a good job raising students’ math scores on standardized tests showed almost no influence over the same students’ fluid intelligence

The anxiety doesn’t end when students go home. The pressure of high-stakes tests is driving parents to act against their own values. “Parenthood, like war, is a state in which it’s impossible to be moral,” wrote Lisa Miller in New York Magazine in 2013 in an article in which she describes sending a fourth grader to school with head lice so she could take the state-mandated English exam to get into competitive middle schools

In a 2011 paper, “Getting Teacher Evaluation Right,” the Stanford researcher Linda Darling-Hammond and three other education researchers concluded that value-added measurements should only be used alongside other means of evaluation and in a low-stakes way. Their research showed that ratings for individual teachers were highly unstable, varying from year to year and from one test to another.

Promoting a single standard of proficiency for every child may be efficient for policymakers, but it flies in the face of current educational theory, which celebrates the individual learning path of each child.

A diversity of achievement and talents would naturally persist even if our society did the utmost to promote the advancement of each person. But nonetheless, the idea that tests represent only a snapshot, a moment in time, puts a huge responsibility in the hands of everyone tasked with bringing up children.

They conceptualize proficiency as a fixed quantity in a world where what’s important is your capacity to learn and grow. They are a twentieth-century technology in a twenty-first-century world. Which brings us back to argument #10: it’s only going to get worse as we attempt to upgrade our academic standards while administering the same kinds of outdated tests. Unless we rethink the way we do things.

Emotional and social intelligence, both internal and external, can be viewed as a subdomain of the twenty-first-century curriculum. But it’s equally valid to look at these qualities, sometimes called noncognitive skills, as necessary prerequisites for success in any field. In the past decade, research from psychology and economics has strongly reinforced this view

But subjecting our kids to year after year of standardized tests perversely reinforces this view. “We did some informal research on this,” said Dweck. “Many kids believe these tests measure how smart they are and how smart they’ll be when they grow up, that the tests can really predict their futures.” Think of eleven-year-old Lucas at the Leaf School tells me the tests are “life or death.”

“We really recommend looking at models of growth: not just where students are today, but where they’ve come from and where they need to go.” The Scantron score sheets of the past focused on static “achievement” or, even worse, “aptitude”; today’s technology, in theory, could enable schools to focus on growth. The snapshot is replaced with a video

It would be more helpful for educational purposes and more hopeful for individuals to understand a student’s capacity for growth and her particular learning strengths and weaknesses rather than merely take that snapshot of whether she is above proficient or below proficient in a specific subject at a given point in time. One way to get at this is so-called dynamic testing.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Worth Reading...

Sharing a few highlights from the past few weeks.

1. Video Games and Making Math More Like Things Students Like (Meyer)- presentation by Dan Meyer on what we can do to elevate student interest in math class

Video Games & Making Math More Like Things Students Like from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

2. Creating Culture: An Imperfect Recipe- thoughts about fostering a specific type of culture in your organization.  For schools an important point to consider is how do we foster a culture which is progressive an innovative.  In part, how do schools function pas start-ups and support an entrepreneurial spirit.

Culture is an output of a bunch of inputs that have to come together the right way. Specifically it is the collision of people and their context, how they interact with each other in that context, and then how that context evolves based on those interactions as they multiply. 

3. What the Best Education System Are Doing Right- looks at education systems from around the world and highlights unique structures which are contributing towards student success.  Interesting commentary at the price some pay for success.

4. School Libraries Shelve Tradition to Create New Learning Spaces- shares examples of how some schools re-envisioned their media centers, turning them into more dynamic creative spaces.

The senior school library is based on the medieval idea of a cabinet of curiosities and is designed to be a place where older children can encounter information and knowledge in intriguing ways and make unexpected connections. It hosts temporary exhibitions, making full use of its location in Cambridge to source suitable artifacts for displays, which so far have included the Great War, Sherlock and a history of medicine. It also uses iBeacon technology to trigger information relevant to particular parts of the library directly onto students’ iPads as they move around.

5. Equipped for the Future- takes a critical look at the CCSS emphasis on close reading.  Compares the CCSS stance on college career readiness to commentary expressed by the National Work Readiness Council.

The problem with the Common Core’s mission to improve college and career readiness is not that these expectations are too high, but these standards are too narrow and specialized, so they do not prepare our students for the diverse real world reading and thinking challenges of life, school, and employment.

6. The Agile Classroom (Kiang)- an agile classroom is an environment in which your students are motivated to do their best work and feel invested in the class as a whole.  Teacher leans on background working in a start-up to support an agile, nimble, collaborative classroom environment.

Better yet, create a culture where kids don't have to ask permission. Successful startups don't wait for permission from other companies, and they don't wait for someone else to beat them to the market. Be the first and the best. In my classroom, when we prepared for our own pitch event, kids who had experience making movies held impromptu training sessions to introduce classmates to the app. Other kids formed their own panels to help provide feedback to groups as they rehearsed. These ideas came from the kids themselves, because I had created an environment where they felt encouraged to innovate and empowered to act.

7. The Table Master (NPR Morning Edition)- cool interview with Zakir Hussain, globally recognized percussionist.  Interesting snippets about his life and how his passion for drumming has been nurtured.  Bonus track to a collaboration between Hussain, Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck.

But Hussain's mind was opened to new things — including the music his dad would bring home from his world tours. He says he was the only kid on his block who would walk around with a boombox on his shoulder, blasting rock songs like The Doors' "Light My Fire." Hussain even considered swapping his tablas for a drum set at one point. He wanted to be a rock star — until an actual rock star set him straight.

8. Afterglow- it has finally gotten cold in this part of the country and we have had a few snowfalls recently.  As one of those easterners who like winter I want to share this movie by Sweetgrass Productions.  Very cool idea worth watching even if you do not love the cold or skiing.

AFTERGLOW - Full Film by Sweetgrass Productions from Sweetgrass Productions on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Worth Reading...

A few posts to read while on the plane, at the beach or sitting in front of the fire this holiday season.

1. How a Teen Knew She Was Ready to Teach Computer Coding Skills (Sung)-  Ming Horn was debating her sense of readiness earlier this year when she set out on an ambitious plan to teach code to teens at the Future Light Orphanage in Cambodia. Horn, then a junior at Berkeley High School in California, had never taught a classroom of students, nor did she have any fluency in Khmer. What she did have, however, was her experience as a learner.

“I don’t know how computer science classes are taught, but I know how I learn — project-based, experimental, asking people in the community,” she told an audience this week at the Big Ideas Fest hosted by ISKME. “My time was spent writing pitches, emailing people, developing the curriculum and learning on the fly.” Pulling off this project “was not about your coding skills, but really about your organization.”

2. How Deprogramming Kids From How To Do School could Improve Learning (Schwartz)- shares the story of how one teacher changed his class.  The article reminds of others teachers who have come to a similar realization that by a certain point students have mastered the art of playing the game of school and that there is a need to create an environment where learning, empowerment, creativity, and even failure are rewarded and not compliance.

“It wasn’t perfect and it didn’t turn my kids into all physics majors, but for the kids who were on the border, it made a difference,” Holman said. Discussing their learning with them, switching grading policies and assigning more inquiry-based, hands on lessons all helped Holman’s students feel he trusted and respected them. And they rose to the challenge. “I think the kids were just waiting to be let loose and to be treated like adults,” Holman said.

3. We Need Schools to be Different (McLeod)- the impact the digital revolution / information age has on the way schools are structured and what is expected of students- points to the fact that schools cannot exist in a bubble isolated / immune from larger societal shifts

Essentially, we now have the ability to learn about whatever we want, from whomever we want, whenever and wherever we want, and we also can contribute to this learning environment for the benefit of others. The possibilities for learning and teaching in this information space are both amazing and nearly limitless, but right now this learning often is disconnected from our formal education institutions.

4. The Gift of Education (Kristof)- a poignant reminder of what education means from a global perspective

A few days ago, we saw the news of the horrific Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar. The Taliban attacks schools because it understands that education corrodes extremism; I wish we would absorb that lesson as well. In his first presidential campaign, President Obama spoke of starting a global education fund, but he seems to have forgotten the idea. I wish he would revive it!

5. 10-year-old tells school board: I love to read..I love to do math.  But I do not love PARCC.  Why?  Because it stinks (Strauss)- standardized testing from the perspective of a elementary school student

6. Learning From What Doesn't Work: The Power of Embracing a Prototyping Mindset (Carroll)- what is gained by having students, tinker, experiment, fail, rebuild...

7. The Random Events That Sparked 8 of the World's Biggest Startups (Fast Company)- Light-bulb moments don’t happen on command, and brainstorming sessions rarely produce extraordinary results. More often it’s a random remark, event, or memory that sends an entrepreneur down the rabbit hole of innovation. From Airbnbto Yelp, here are the surprising origin stories to eight of today’s hottest companies.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Worth Reading

Passing along a few interesting posts from the past couple of weeks

1. A Miami School Goes From Blank Canvas to Mural-Covered (Allen)- large art installation project to change the appearance of a school to better reflect changes in the neighborhood

In a school courtyard, an artist who goes by the name Leza One paused in his work on a wall that has a floodlight in the center. On the wall, he painted a young woman who appears to be illuminated by the floodlight. "I play with the light actually. My mural is about darkness and light. So, the light here is a metaphor that represents hope," he said.

2. Twenty-Five District Worth Visiting (Vander Ark)- review of district and schools across the country that are supporting innovative educational programs

Leading a public school district is difficult and complicated work but done well, there is no other job where you can change how a community thinks about itself, its children, and its future. Following are 25 districts that are changing the trajectory by working on blended, personalized and competency-based learning. Most are making career preparation--including communications, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration--a priority. They are big and small, urban and rural, east and west--representative of the American education challenge.

3. How Dissecting A Pencil Can Ignite Curiosity and Wonderment (Schwartz)- developing creativity, inventive thinking, and problem-solving skills through establishing thinking routines in the classroom

One big emphasis in the project so far has been on looking deeply at even the simplest of objects. In a thinking routine called “parts, purpose, complexity” students are asked to carefully observe the individual parts that make up an object. When each part has been thoroughly explored they start discussing and wondering about the purpose of each part. Then they think about how even a simple object can be complicated when broken down into its component parts.

4. Self-Directed Learning: Lessons From the Maker Movement (Flores)- the impact and potential of the maker movement in education

For students who learn through the making of things, the reward shifts from the successful demonstration of learned facts (i.e., tests, essays, lab reports) to the joy and earned wisdom experienced through exploration and discovery. Growing evidence indicates that this process provides students with a deeper understanding of the way things work, as well as a stronger sense of purpose and autonomy. It builds confidence, fosters creativity, and sparks a deep interest in learning.

5. How Game Theory Helped Improve New York City's High School Application Process (Tullis)- 
Students list their favorite schools, in order of preference (they can now list up to 12). The algorithm allows students to “propose” to their favorite school, which accepts or rejects the proposal. In the case of rejection, the algorithm looks to make a match with a student’s second-choice school, and so on. Like the brides and grooms of Professors Gale and Shapley, students and schools connect only tentatively until the very end of the process.

6. Kid Inventors Come Up With Creative Environmental Solutions (Pilon)- solutions that came out of the Global Children's Designathon; an event took place on Nov. 15 in five cities around the world, and encouraged children to spend the day designing solutions to improve food, waste, or mobility issues in their hometowns.

The De-Waster 5000 is a helicopter that scoops plastic out of landfills and the ocean then uses a flamethrower to melt the trash into beds for homeless people. It’s not a real product. But it is a creative prototype that was thought up by a 10-year-old as part of the Global Childrens’ Designathon.

7. Teachers Take Student Data to the Micro Level In One NYC School (Collette)- examines how one school approaches data analysis

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Worth Reading

Passing along a few highlights from the past couple of weeks....

1. 1,021 Reasons Why This Family Built A Computer to Play Minecraft (New Tech City)- dad builds a computer with his two daughters so they can play Minecraft.

Keefe got to spend time with his daughters (and got his other computer back) and they got all the Minecraft they could ever want. The girls also got a useful lesson in building hardware in case they want to put together another computer for the next big video game that comes along.

2. Investigating Authentic Questions (Vincent)- discusses the need to create "driving questions" in the classroom as well as the need to provide space for students to develop their own investigative questions.

Albert Einstein is quoted, “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.".... Remember, the idea is that your students work harder than you. Admittedly, it is a lot of work to put in place contracts, establish procedures, check in with students, model search techniques, and manage resources. While you may not be busy spoon feeding your students, providing the conditions in which they can learn through investigation is a big job.
3. Center For Innovation Wows Board With Design Thinking and Game-Based Learning (Hellman)- updates from Scarsdale's Center for Innovation.  Teachers experiment with Design Thinking  as well as middle school teachers who use games and simulations to extend student thinking.
Games give players permission to take risks that would not be permitted in a traditional academic setting, and inspire students to create, share, mix, modify, curate, critique, and comment on content to which they might otherwise be indifferent. Game-based learning includes group work, interaction and a high degree of student engagement. 
4. Teachers "Showing Up" As Students (Richardson/Stommel)- developing trust through teachers  learning next to their students.
 work extremely hard to keep my own expectations from being the fuel that makes everything go. My only real expectation as a teacher in a learning environment is that students don’t look to me for approval but take full ownership of their own learning. And I work to develop trust by showing up as a student myself. 
5. The Hundred Face Challenge- examining the different ways students went about solving a problem
6. On Hope (Hunt)- making a case for providing an environment where hope, the chance to think, dream big is what is important and that it is OK for plans to fail.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Technology as an either or proposition

Recently I have been part of several meeting where participants tried to paint the integration of technology in schools/classrooms as an either or proposition.  The use of technology was seen as an agent to end to face-to-face interactions and furthermore, that important personal connections would dissipate as access became widespread.

I never understood this caustic view of technology.  I'm not sure if this view stems from fear of change or results from a lack of  understanding on how technology and physical exchanges can coexist in the same learning environment.  Leveraging technology in classrooms and even outside of schools by students does not signal the end of interpersonal skills.  Instead, for example, physical collaboration in the classroom and sharing ideas via an online learning network both hold a place of importance as one constructs knowledge.  The more important and productive discussion should center on how both the physical and virtual worlds can serve as tools students organically access to help construct meaning.

While listening to the either or proposition I thought about NCTE's Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment (benchmarks provided below).  What it means to be literate has been reshaped by the ways in which technology is applied by a community of global users to communicate, collaborate, create and develop.  If we want students to embody NCTE's definition of literacy (personally, I cannot see why not) than the use of technology needs to be embraced.  The conversation should no longer focus on what is lost or at worst doomsday predictions in regards to technology.  The conversation should encourage educators and students to think about what is possible when access and the ability to connect is readily available to all.

Context for NCTE’s 21st Century Literacies Framework
The NCTE definition of 21st century literacies makes it clear that the continued evolution of curriculum, assessment, and teaching practice itself is necessary:

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Active, successful participants in this 21st century global society must be able to
  • Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology;
  • Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes;
  • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information;
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts;
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Worth Reading...

Sharing a few personal favorites from the past few weeks.

1. Why The Best Teachers Don't Give Tests (Kohn)- discusses why testing is flawed and shares more effective ways to gather valuable information about student progress

The most impressive classrooms and curricula are designed to help the teacher know as much as possible about how students are making sense of things. When kids are engaged in meaningful, active learning -- for example, designing extended, interdisciplinary projects -- teachers who watch and listen as those projects are being planned and carried out have access to, and actively interpret, a continuous stream of information about what each student is able to do and where he or she requires help. It would be superfluous to give students a test after the learning is done. We might even say that the more a teacher is inclined to use a test to gauge student progress, the more that tells us something is wrong -- perhaps with the extent of the teacher's informal and informed observation, perhaps with the quality of the tasks, perhaps with the whole model of learning. If, for example, the teacher favors direct instruction, he or she probably won't have much idea what's going on in the students' minds. That will lead naturally to the conclusion that a test is "necessary" to gauge how they're doing.

2. Testing As A Silo/Solo Act:  We Can Do Much Better (Reilly)- points out the disconnect between how we learn and create knowledge compared to the solitary act of testing

Our myopic attention to testing children individually renders them less college and career ready. Our methods are antiquated. Our attention on the individual is at best, romantic. In 2014, we isolate each child and remove the full power of connectivity even as we make the child sit at a computer/tablet in order to read/view the test and record his/her answers. 

Could we be anymore 19th century like?

3. Does Child-Like Thinking Produce Innovative Design (Peterson)- eighty of the fifth through eighth grade students from Nalanda Public School in Mumbai (part of the Clinton Global Initiative), India and sixty experienced design professionals from Seoul, Hong Kong and Copenhagen were brought together to create innovative concepts. The students were asked to design backpacks for students living in Copenhagen, Denmark and their designs were then compared with that of the designers, who had been asked to design a wide range of consumer products.

Judging from the energy and enthusiasm the Mumbai students displayed during their two-hour long design session - children thrive on design challenges. They love to learn new things and translate them into ideas of their own. Their sketches exuded passion and joy, something that can only help them in the future at becoming the very best that they can be in their chosen fields of endeavor.

4. Educators and Entrepreneurs: Get Thee to a Classroom and Observe Students (Hernandez)-  Alexis Wiggins, a veteran high school teacher, shadowed students for two days and recently wrote about her experiences on her father Grant Wiggins’blog. Her headlines: Being a high school student is “exhausting” and “you feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.” The post was read over 800,000 times since it was first published on October 10th and went viral among educators.

5. Eight New Attributes of Modern Educational Leaders (Richardson)- qualities educational leaders show embody/exhibit in the modern age

6. How Students Lead the Learning Experience at Democratic Schools (Vangelova)- insight into how a democratic school such as the Fairhaven School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland functions

The most significant responsibility at the school is that “you are responsible for what you make of your life,” McCaig says. To graduate, students write and defend a thesis that they have “prepared themselves to become effective adults in the larger community.”