Personalized learning, “You keep using that word…”

Many have pointed out how Star Trek predicts or shapes our use of technology. As our standardized test fetishization grew, computers become more accessible, and software became more complex, I worried that schools would become like the Vulcan academy. Students thrust through the standards at different paces and depth levels, while teachers become more like proctors.

If test scores are our primary focus, the machine can beat us and our teachers become John Henry.

As you look at personalized learning, keep asking some hard questions. What will be the role of the teacher? Where is the curriculum originating? How are students gaining agency?

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Why I don’t want my daughter to be valedictorian

This time of year valedictorians take center stage and often make boring speeches. More and more schools are doing away with the honor like this recent Indiana school.

“Next year, Noblesville will become the latest district in Hamilton County to ditch the traditional ranking system in an attempt to refocus high-performing students on bettering themselves, not competing with their peers.”

Some have pushed back that eliminating this honor has more to do with pacifying a participation trophy culture than changing a defunct system, but principal Jeff Bryant, points out that the current GPA system guides students to make choices not with their best interest, but rather with the intent of  gaming the system.

“This could cause some students to prioritize weighted classes to boost their GPA, perhaps over art or band, Bryant said. Other students may choose a class that seems easier over one they are interested in to try to boost their GPA.

“We want them to choose what courses to take based on their interest level and what is going to best prepare them for college,” Bryant said.”

Continue reading “Why I don’t want my daughter to be valedictorian”

Thinking about thinking

Metacognition saw a boost of interest in public education with the ongoing hullabaloo around growth mindset. Some good points around “thinking about thinking” were introduced, but some of the nuances were lost and some rightly criticized what was being practiced was more akin to Harold Hill’s “Think method.” Even Carol Dweck, the researcher who set the recent growth mindset movement in motion, had to clarify how the work was misinterpreted.

Hopefully this positive “thinking about thinking” will lead us to continue to coach metacognition to our students. A recent article, ” A Stanford researcher’s 15-minute study hack lifts B+ students in the As,” gives some evidence that strategizing about how you will study and why, provides an increase in performance.

In the study Chen led, researchers conducted two field experiments in which some university students were offered a variety of prompts to help them think carefully about how they studied, and how they might study more effectively for an introductory statistics class exam. The other students—the control group—simply received a reminder that their exam was coming up and that they should prepare.

Those who reflected on how they wanted to perform and what they needed to do to perform better outperformed those who did not, by an average of one-third of a letter grade. Those who received the intervention prompts twice did better than those who received it once.

“Our key insight in this research is the importance of being goal-directed and thoughtful about how one chooses and uses resources for learning—or to achieve any other goal for that matter,” Chen said.

The article states that much of this seems intuitive, that identifying resources and putting together a strategy for success is well known. The idea is to coach this as much or more than the content.

The survey then asked the students to reflect on what kinds of questions the exam might include, and to identify which of 15 available class resources they would use to study, including lecture notes, practice exam questions, textbook readings, instructor office hours, peer discussions, and private tutoring. They were asked to write down why each resource would be useful and how they would use it, effectively mapping out a study plan.

Getting students to become aware of their own awareness and thinking about thinking is better than any grade you can give them.

Side note: This article also reminded me of Daniel Pink’s reference to Dr. Mike Pantalon’s two irrational questions for influencing/motivating others.

How ready are you to take your math exam, on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means not ready at all and 10 means totally ready? 

If they pick a number higher than 2, ask, “Why didn’t you pick a lower number?”

We really are investing in edtech

We are continuing to invest quite a bit of money and resources in edtech. Recently from Forbes:

“Last year, David Bainbridge, CEO of UK-based Knowledgemotion, published an article on TechCrunch titled “Edtech is the Next Fintech.” According to Bainbridge, a new education world has begun with investments in edtech set to reach $252 billion globally by 2020.

Digital technologies are starting to transform education. The range of new learning begins in early childhood and continues with baby-boomers looking to continue their studies or learn something new. Also, increasingly more students are using technology in various ways to learn: through tablets, computers and on their mobile phones. Teachers are also using more edtech products and screens to strategize and modify their lesson plans. Online texts are replacing physical textbooks, and personalized learning provides students with the ability to learn and explore at their own pace and on their own time.”

This will have an undeniable influence on what education will become. Who will guide the curriculum? Will the “medium become the message?” (Look at the present influence of Google on these two questions.)

The article continues with looking at 10 growing edtech companies. Top Hat struck me as the most interesting and also cited as raising the most funds. The CEO, Mike Silagadze, gives a quote of how they are set apart.

“We looked for a gap in the market, in particular around classroom interaction and engagement and that was our entry point. We created the first cloud-based, BYOD engagement tool in higher education.”

Learning is our fountain of youth, with a little sweat

Life long learning seems to be another example of use-it-or-lose-it, especially when combined with exercise. We have known for a while the benefits of exercise on the brain, but the real benefit is when combined with learning.

Brain researcher Aga Burzynska studied Olga Kotelko, who began track and field in her late seventies. Olga lived to into her mid-nineties and cognitively remained ultra sharp to her death. A combination of our physical activity and continually challenging our learning keeps our minds sharp. So is exercise good for our brains as we age?

The answer seems to be yes, though the explanation is more complex than the standard “exercise is good.” Kotelko’s daily activity on its own was no doubt incredibly healthy for her mind and body. But the resilience of her brain late in life may have also stemmed from the fact that she never stopped challenging herself to learn, no matter how old she got.

Take away: We should be more concerned about encouraging regular physical activity and life-long learning as habits in our students, not losing site of nurturing this combination with our bloated curriculums and excessive homework.

You can read the whole article at Runner’s World.