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Science Fair 2.0: Let's Bring the Science Fair into the 21st Century

From the article:

Looking for some really good ideas from teachers that are currently running very successful science fairs? We’ve captured a few of the conversations that are happening on the MSP2 social network. You can contact any of our “guest speakers” by posting a comment on their MSP2 wall.

In addition, we’ve highlighted some resources that will provide other great ideas for you and your students. Please add to the list if you have other resources that have been helpful to you. Click on NSDL Login in the upper right hand corner of this page and register so you can share your knowledge with other teachers!

If you want substantiated justification for making your students participate in science fairs, have a look at the NSDL Strand Map Service. These maps illustrate connections between concepts and across grade levels. Several contexts are associated with science fair including Nature of Science, Nature of Technologyand Habits of Mind. An image of the middle grades (6-8) only part of the Scientific Investigations map appears below. This map is one of sevne under the heading Nature of Science. Clicking on a concept within the maps will show NSDL resources relevant to the concept, as well as information about related AAAS Project 2061 Benchmarks and National Science Education Standards. Move the pink box in the lower right hand corner of the page to see the grades 6-8 learning goals.

Associated articles:

Science Fair 2.0 from NPR Science Fridays
“The science fair is a nearly century-old right of passage for students. What role does the traditional science fair play in the digital age? How can these competitions be reworked to include broader participation and encourage students, and teachers, to explore hands-on learning?”

Totally Awesome Science Fair Planning Guide

Education Malpractice Part 2: Time to Call out the Fake Science Teachers in Oklahoma

Earlier this year, I wrote about how we need to start calling out “science teachers” that don’t understand or even believe that what they are teaching is correct. The title of the article was "EDUCATIONAL MALPRACTICE: TIME TO CALL OUT THE FAKE SCIENCE TEACHERS"

Essentially, I said that if you do not think evolution is a real thing, and if you teach Biology, then you are committing educational malpractice.

As follow up to that article, a survey that came out this week of science teachers in Oklahoma that showed a significant number of them simply did not understand evolution.

The survey showed:

  • 25 percent strongly or somewhat agree with the statement, “Scientific evidence indicates that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time in the past.”
  • 36.8 percent strongly or somewhat disagree with the statement, “Complex structures such as the eye could have been formed by evolution.”
  • 40.8 percent strongly or somewhat agree with the statement, “‘Survival of the fittest’ means basically that ‘only the strong survive’.”
  • 17.1 percent strongly or somewhat disagree with the statement, “The earth is old enough for evolution to have occurred.” (And, 3.9 percent were “undecided.”)
  • 32.9 percent strongly or somewhat agree with the statement, “Evolution is a total random process.”

We cannot say we are professionals if we don’t even understand what we are teaching. Evolution is one of the fundamentals of science. A lack of understanding of a fundamental of science is like having a mechanic that does not understand how an engine works, or a football coach that does not know what an offense is.

As the authors of the study say:

"As teachers are critical determiners of the quality of classroom instruction, it is vital that they be capable of making professionally responsible instructional and curricular decisions. For biology teachers to make such decisions about evolution, they must possess a thorough knowledge of evolutionary theory and its powerful role in the discipline of biology.

Second, when teachers hold science misconceptions, they may critically impede student conceptual development of scientific explanations. Teachers with misconception-laced subject knowledge will convey inaccurate or incomplete ideas to their students, resulting in a less than accurate biological evolution education, likely fraught with errors…. Therefore, teachers may be a primary factor in the acquisition, propagation and perpetuation of students’ biological evolution-related misconceptions.”

We have got to call these teachers out and we have got to either educate them or get them out of the classroom. Come on Oklahoma. Lead the way!

Here is the entire survey and its results:
Apr 9

Does Opting Out Help or Hurt? Opinion

There seems to be a growing movement among parents, led by folks such as Diane Ravitch to encourage or to actually remove their students from taking state standardized tests.

Parents such as LA Times journalist Karin Klien pulled her daughter out of testing after realizing that they do not actually help the learning process:

"As a journalist, reviewing an early state test that had been leaked to the paper by a teacher, I saw how thin and fault-riddled it could be. One question asked students to mark what they thought would be the best title for a certain reading passage. The answer the test sought was obvious; the title was direct and on topic, though flat and uninteresting. There was another choice, a better one, it seemed to me. It wasn’t as obvious an answer; it struck me as the one that a director would pick for a movie rather than the one a test creator would pick. The difference, if you will, between “Star Wars” and “Luke Travels in Space and Shoots Down a Big Weapon.”

I really have no argument here. I do not think the tests as they are currently structured actually help anything more than the testing industry and real estate people who want to sell higher priced homes around “the good schools.”

National organizations such as Fair Test have sprung up challenging the notion that student have to take “the test.”

I get it. I really do. But I wonder if the method will end up hurting the message.

Some people are choosing to opt out their children because they don’t see an academic benefit, like Klien.

Some are opting out their children because they see the stress on their children.

Some are opting out their children because they have a political agenda and “want to send a message” although what exactly they are protesting (NCLB, Common Core, Race to the Top, Pearson, ETS, taxes, Obama, Arne Duncan) is pretty nebulous. “I am just pissed at something so I am pulling my kid dammit!”

But I can’t help but wonder if these parent opting out their kids actually help their cause any?

Schools are still accountable.
School safe still beholden to the scores.
The law does not change just because someone choses to pull their precious snowflake out of a test.
The results are still going to be published.
The schools are still going to be ranked based on the test scores.

And who exactly is being pulled out? I would bet, although I have no data to back me up, that it is upper middle class connected parents like Klien pulling their upper middle class children who would pass the test anyway.

Why do I feel that way? Because the message is posted on social media: Facebook, Blogs, Twitter. You know, where the middle and upper middle class folks hang out. (I am sorry, but I simply don’t think that there are a lot of lower middle class or poor folks reading Diane Ravitch’s blog or reading the opinion section of the LA Times. I may very well be wrong, and I will change my mind in a minute of you show me data. ) Not connected to the net? You aren’t getting the message. Who is not connected to the net? You go ahead and guess. (It is no secret that test passing rates are directly correlated to family income. )

So what does that leave schools with? If the kids that were pretty much gonna pass the test opt out, the ones left are the ones that were either NOT going to pass or were on the bubble of passing.

You can guess what will happen to scores on these tests. It is similar to having your best players injured right before the big game. (Ask the Notre Dame women’s basketball team how well that turned out.)
Just as a rising tide raises all ships, a falling tide lowers all ships.

Schools are still accountable.
Scores still count. A principal or teacher cannot use the excuse that all the “good kids” didn’t take the test.
Politicians and state education departments look at the data and only the data. Scores drop, then there is something wrong with the school or district. Period. They don’t care if the star didn’t show up that day.

Jobs will be reassigned or lost based on these scores all because you didn’t like Arne Duncan. So all the STUFF that happens when a school does poorly, all the extended pressure, all the extended professional development, all of the tutoring, all of the EXTRA TIME AND EFFORT used to pass the test is multiplied.

By opting out, I suggest that the exact opposite effect will happen: It will do nothing to help improve the schools. It will have the opposite effect because schools will go into permanent “pass the test or else” mode when scores go down. The Sisyphusian task of getting a school into an “acceptable” score is made harder all because someone decided to pull the kids out that would have made the task less difficult.

Apr 7

From the series I do called “10 in 10” here are 10 things an reader can do.

10 Science Sites in 10 Minutes

One of the new series we are doing called 10 in 10. 10 ed tech topics in ten minutes. This show is on science education websites.
The best behaviour modification going is engaging students in meaningful work that matters. -David Truss

The best behaviour modification going is engaging students in meaningful work that matters. -David Truss

(Source: recitethis.com)

10 in 10: ELA Websites

Looking at ten awesome English Language Arts Website in ten minutes.
Got a few minutes, check it out.

Every Data Point Tells a Story: Making Mental Post It Notes

Think about the last time you listened to a presentation that had a lot of statistics in it. For instance, student test data. Now think about how much of that data you actually remember.

Chances are, you don’t remember too much. You may have remembered the gist of the presentation, you may have remembered the setting, but chances are the actual data is lost to your memory.

Now think about the last time you heard someone tell you a story as part of a presentation. A keynote perhaps, telling about how they struggled through poverty as a child, or overcame adversity, or a funny story that made you laugh.

Chances are here that you actually remember the presentation with the story better than you remembered the presentation with the statistics.


Take a moment to watch “Persuasion and the Power of Story” by Jennifer Aaker.

Aaker, a professor of Marketing at Stanford has some interesting things to say there don’t you think? One of my take aways is that story trumps data when trying to get people to understand a topic.

Story trumps data.

I thought about that when I thought about how schools present information to their parents and teachers. Often, they present just the raw statistics: Our school had this many pass the test. This many were exemplary, this many failed.

Indeed, in Texas, the yearly school reports that the state makes about each campus is called a “report card.” Statistics fill the report card. It is not very memorable and I suspect you would be hard pressed to find a parent that even can remember getting one, even though they go out to every parent in the state.

Harldy ever is there a story attached to that data. Yet, Aaker would tell us that without story, the data gets lost in the background noise.

Stories need to be woven into the data in order for the audience to become connected to it. “When data and stories are used together, they resonate with audiences on both an intellectual and emotional level.”

The power of the story is that the audience can personalize the story to themselves. (This has to do more with how the brain is wired than how the heart is wired, but suffice to say that without story, the audience remains detached from the data.)

So how can we present data in such a way that it might be meaningful using story?

Can stories be added to data?

I once heard about a school that had a “War Room” where all of the student data was posted on the wall. Teachers and administrators would use the “war Room” as a planning place to address student needs based on al of the posted data. Where the students were, where they need to go. The data was just that: points of information on charts and tables hung up on walls. Teachers would come in, look at the charts, and then leave.

The administration was wondering how to make the data more meaningful. How could we connect the numbers to the teachers in such a way that they would have an emotional attachment to the data? That is where story came in.

The principal decided that the teachers needed to understand that the data was more than just points on a graph. She exchanged the points of data with the actual student pictures.

Teachers began to see the STORY of the students instead of just the points when the picture of the student was placed with the data.

All of a sudden, the story and the data came together. Teachers began talking about the STORY of the student once the picture was , not just talking about the excuses of why the student failed or passed. The power of the story took over once the story, the students that they knew, replaced the nameless faceless points on a graph.

The power of storytelling is evident even in business. Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind wrote ” Story represents a pathway to understanding that doesn’t run through the left side of the brain.” In other words, the creative emotional portion of the brain makes a connection with a story.

In their book “Made To Stick" the Heath brothers spend a considerable amount of time speaking about using stories in order to make information "Sticky." They use the story of Subway’s Jared, a man who lost over 200 pounds on a diet of Subway sandwiches. His story was much more real, had much more emotion, much more "sticky" than the original marketing that Subway used where they just said they had 6 sandwiches with 7 grams or less of fat (6 under 7).

Brain Rules,” author John Medina says “When the brain detects an emotionally charged event, the Amygdala releases dopamine into the system. Because dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing, you could say it creates a Post-It note that reads, ‘Remember this.’

Storytelling is the post-it note for the brain. If you want something to stick, you need to add a story to it.

A good administrator will not only just present the date to their faculty, but also create the story that goes with them. Why is it important the Joe pass the test? What happens if he doesn’t? How does that affect him, his family, his future? What story does Joe have that we can help him with?

Stories are of course not the only way to present information, but they are a powerful tool, especially if you are trying to provide information that you want retained over a long time.

Five Guidelines for Choosing Online Professional Development

School districts are in a pickle: They know that the only way to create great teachers and thus great classroom experiences for students, is to provide exceptional professional development. The trouble is, with cutbacks in funding, the traditional model of professional development is slowly starting to fade away. Many districts have moved towards a Professional Learning Community model, where teachers are supposed to work collaboratively with each other to dissect student data and then sort of design instruction based on the needs of the students.

The trouble with that model is that for many teachers, the PLC experience has devolved into a data mining exercise where hours and hours are spent looking at reams of student data and in many cases, trying to figure out how to beat the test, not teach the students. Another thing I have seen happen with PLC’s is since they focus so much on students (not a bad thing I agree) they tend to ignore the needs of teachers. Because most PLCs are a small to medium sized group of individuals, their experiences are mostly limited to themselves and their own techniques. There is not much growth once that well of ideas has run dry, where do teachers turn to improve themselves as educators?

Of course, the immediate answer is “Why not just use the internet?” While the internet is a great source of information, you know there’s a lot of bad information out there, too much information out there and it’s really not vetted too well. Unfortunately, educators can be much like their students, searching Google and using the first pages as the guideline for results. So here’s some guidelines that you might consider when allowing your faculty to use online resources for their own professional development purposes.

So how do you know that a free professional development opportunity is a good professional development opportunity?
I think that if you have some type of lens to look through before you choose, then you have a better chance of choosing wisely.

Guideline 1: Close the Firehose: Don’t allow everything
There are tons of information out there that teachers can use for professional development. The question is what’s good and what’s bad? What’s been vetted and what hasn’t been bad? If it’s paid for isn’t good, if it’s free is it bad, where can we find it?

First you need to not allow all resources to be used everywhere. The analogy of course is it’s like drinking from a firehose. You can’t possibly know what your faculty is doing if you just let them choose from anywhere. There simply is too much information set up. So what you need to do is you need to start creating a menu of items from which they can choose from: It can be a large menu, it can be a small menu but the idea is that the be able to choose on their own from vet it sources that you yourself have chosen from.
There are lots of resources that are available out there from iTunes U to ConneXions from Rice University, to free material from professional organizations. A word of caution: Sometimes free is not free. Some organizations will provide what is known as a “freemium model” where there is just enough material to get you hooked, and then charge for the real meat and potatoes of the course. Beware, and make sure that free really does mean free.

Here is a way to start looking:
Choose from entities that have a track record for success. For instance, iTunes U has online courses from institutions of higher learning from all over the world. If a district is looking for improving reading strategies for instance, a simple search of iTunes U returns results from such diverse groups as the Virginia and Florida Departments of Education, to Cambridge University. One owed find it hard to imagine a school saying that a course on Reading Strategies from say, an Ivy League school is “not good enough” for their teachers.

Guideline 2: Choose a Theme
If the school needs help with reading strategies, then the theme for that year should be reading strategies. Start where you need help the most. If you limit the topics, you can control the types of sessions that your teachers are looking for online.


The themes can be very broad, like “21st Century Skills” or they can be very narrow as well, like “iPads in the Reading Classroom.”

The value of a theme is that all teachers have something in common when they begin to reflect on learning, or can share sessions that they might find online but do not wish to take themselves. Even if a particular session does not appeal to one teacher, it might to another.

In the past, I have seen themes that included PD that was based on university courses, with teachers that need the most basic PD starting at the “freshman” level, and the more advanced teachers taking “upper level” courses.

You can usually tell the level of the training simply by giving a cursory glance. In iTunes U for instance, many of the courses come with syllabi. Take a look at the syllabi and see if it meets the needs of your PD, or your campus’.

Guideline 3: Let the PLN decide on the free resources
Study after study shows that professional development works best when the people share collective responsibility to the learning. When teachers choose the direction and the school administration goes along, the development becomes more meaningful. Connecting the PD to the classroom is meaningful. Disconnected one-shot trainings are not.

Many heads are better than one, and that goes for FINDING PD resources as well.

Self directed works in group settings as well. By letting the group decide, then you allowing them to have ownership of the training. The we is better than the me, and the group can decide on the “big picture” of what needs to be trained and the individual can decide on the specific training.

This image is designed to show haw a connected student works, but it holds up if you apply it to professional development:

There are still MANY teachers that simply are not connected. Perhaps becoming a connected educator should be mandatory BEFORE any kind of district professional development initiative begins.


Guideline #4: Reflection is Mandatory for any PD
Everyone taking online professional development should be required to compete some type of reflection activity, be it by writing a blog, some type of group reflection, or completing some kind of work related activity related to the PD.

How many times have you been in a PD session, and left thinking that the information was valuable and usable, then forgot all about it within a week? By reflecting on the PD. one not only thinks more deeply about the work, but also can create an archive that thy can revisit. ,

I prefer blogging myself, or some other type of web based reflection because that allows for others to see and also to comment on the work.

Honestly, how many of you can readily remember the Professional development you had two years ago? A year ago? At the beginning of this year? Chances are, none of those required you to reflect o the learning.


Guideline #5: Be open to new tools
What is that old saying? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
If you do the same KIND of professional development and are getting the same results, then it is time to change.

And change does not have to be expensive or difficult. There are a wide variety of free tools, courses, webinars, books readily available. Districts must allow their professionals to choose for themselves this “just in time” training.

Perhaps to make the idea more palatable to districts, they can provide a menu of options that they will allow each year, created in consultation with teachers and campus administrators.

Here is a video I created on 10 different professional development tools:

Review: StopMo Studio for iPad | iPad Insight

From the article:

The user interface works well and crucially, doesn’t get in the way, which is important in video based apps. One of the initial cool features I found was a slider which allows you to fade an onion skin of your previous frame in and out of the live camera image (hence why the picture at the top of the page appears blurry). This is useful when animating as if you move something by accident, you can replace it in the right spot fairly easily. The frame capture button is large enough so that if you are trying to animate quickly, you can easily put frames in, and the options are nicely tucked away as small tabs on either side of the live picture.

Description: ** EDITOR’S CHOICE IN CANADA - Featured by Apple in more than 30 countries. ** ** The most complete stop motion app in the App Store. $0.99 special launch price. ** Shoot your stop-motion film in a simple and exciting way with this new casual creative app! With so many powerful tools, the only limit is your imagination. Learning the concepts of stop-motion animation has never been more enjoyable. The intuitive commands, ergonomic interface and full suite of features will have you filming your animated film in no time. Born out of the National Film Board of Canada’s legendary animation workshops, StopMo Studio takes decades of expertise and turns it into a one-of-a-kind stop motion tool. MOVIE-MAKING AT YOUR FINGERTIPS: 20 features even professionals will enjoy. CAPTURING TOOLS. • Capture images • Images per second • Time-lapse • Front-and-rear-facing camera • Onion skins • Grid EDITING IS SO EASY YOU WON’T HAVE TO LIFT YOUR PINKY. • Ergonomic film editing • Addition of an iTunes soundtrack • Sound recording • 4-track mixing board • Fade-in/out • Sound effects library (play with the sound library without altering your film) • Inter-titles • Add still photos • Draw on the images • Many brush settings • Solid Colours • Layers • Mp4 film export MAKE THE WORLD STOP AND TAKE NOTICE. Share your video on Youtube, Facebook, Vimeo and email directly from the app. Click on title to go to review

Physicists, Generals And CEOs Agree: Ditch The PowerPoint

The physicists are far from the only people moving away from PowerPoint-style presentations: The CEOs of Amazon and LinkedIn have eliminated the presentations from meetings. In his recently published memoir, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates calls PowerPoint slides “the bane of my existence in Pentagon meetings; it was as though no one could talk without them.” Gates writes that as CIA director, he banned slides except for maps and charts, but he could not do so as Secretary of Defense. Gen. James Mattis, former commander of U.S. Central Command, has said “PowerPoint makes us stupid.” Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster banned the presentations when he led a successful mission in Iraq, and he compared PowerPoint to an internal threat.

Click on title to go to article

2014 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?

INTRODUCTION This year’s Brown Center Report on American Education represents the third installment of volume three and the 13th issue overall since the publication began in 2000. Three studies are presented. All three revisit a topic that has been investigated in a previous Brown Center Report. The topics warrant attention again because they are back in the public spotlight.

Part I summarizes the recent controversy involving the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and its treatment of Shanghai-China. The PISA is a test given to 15-year-olds every three years in math, reading, and science. Sixty-five national and subnational jurisdictions participated in the 2012 PISA. When the scores were released in December 2013, no one was surprised that Shanghai-China scored at the top in all subjects. But what has been overlooked by most observers—and completely ignored by the authorities running PISA—is that Shanghai’s population of 15-year-olds is sifted and shaped in ways that make its scores incomparable to those of any other participant.

China requires all citizens to hold a hukou, a passport-like document issued by a family’s province of origin. The system dates back to 1958 and the authoritarian regime of Mao Zedong. The original purpose of hukou was to control where people lived. Today it serves the purpose of rationing social services, including health care and education. Large cities in China are inundated with migrants who leave poor, rural areas in search of work. Admission to an academic high school in Shanghai is almost impossible for a student not holding a Shanghai hukou. In addition, students can only take the gaokao, the national college entrance exam, in their province of hukou registration. As a consequence, tens of thousands of Shanghai families send their children back to rural villages as the children approach high school age. The only other option is to leave the children behind in the first place, the fate of approximately 60 million children nationwide.

Hukou is hereditary. Children born in Shanghai to migrant parents are not entitled to a Shanghai hukou. In 2012, Zhang Haite, a 15-year-old student in Shanghai, took to the internet to protest being sent away to a rural village for high school, despite the fact that she had never lived there. The hukou system has been condemned by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for its cruelty in breaking up families and for limiting the educational opportunities of children based on their family’s hukou status. Not only has PISA been silent on the impact of hukou on the composition of Shanghai’s 15-year-old population, but PISA documents have also repeatedly held up Shanghai as a model of educational equity and praised its treatment of disadvantaged children.

From October 2013 to January 2014, a series of three essays on the Brown Center Chalkboard criticized PISA for ignoring the devastating effects of the hukou system. PISA officials were also criticized for several contradictory statements that cloak China’s participation in PISA in a cloud of secrecy. PISA officials and defenders of PISA responded to the critique. Part one summarizes the debate and offers lessons that the affair offers for PISA’s future governance. Several steps need to be taken to restore PISA’s integrity.

Part II is on homework, updating a study presented in the 2003 Brown Center Report. That study was conducted at a time when homework was on the covers of several popular magazines. The charge then was that the typical student’s homework load was getting out of control. The 2003 study examined the best evidence on students’ homework burden and found the charge to be an exaggeration.

Now, a little more than a decade later, homework is again under attack. In 2011, the New York Times ran a front page story describing “a wave of districts across the nation trying to remake homework amid concerns that high stakes testing and competition for college have fueled a nightly grind that is stressing out children and depriving them of play and rest, yet doing little to raise achievement, especially in elementary grades.”[1] A September 2013 Atlantic article, “My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me,” featured a father who spent a week doing the same three or more hours of nightly homework as his daughter.

The current study finds little evidence that the homework load has increased for the average student. Those with a heavy burden, two or more hours of homework per night, do indeed exist, but they are a distinct minority. The maximum size of the heavy homework group is less than 15%, and that’s true even for 17-year-olds. In national polls, parents are more likely to say their children have too little homework than too much. And a solid majority says the amount of their children’s homework is about right. With one exception, the homework load has remained stable since 1984. The exception involves nine-year-olds, primarily because the percentage of nine-year-olds with no homework declined while the percentage with some homework—but less than an hour—increased. Click here for an animated visual display of many of Part II’s findings.

Part III is on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Forty-five states have signed on to the Common Core and are busy implementing the standards. How is it going? Admittedly, the Common Core era is only in the early stages—new tests and accountability systems based on the standards are a couple of years away—but states have had three or four years under the standards. Sufficient time has elapsed to offer an early progress report.

The progress report proceeds along two lines of inquiry. First, a ranking system crafted by researchers at Michigan State University is employed to evaluate progress on NAEP from 2009-2013. The MSU experts found that states with math standards that were similar to the Common Core in 2009 scored higher on the eighth grade NAEP that year compared to states with standards dislike the Common Core. The current study examines data from the NAEP tests conducted in 2011 and 2013 and asks whether the same finding holds for subsequent changes in NAEP scores. Have the states with CCSS-like standards made greater gains on the eighth grade NAEP since 2009? It turns out they have not.

The second line of inquiry utilizes a rubric that categorizes each state on the strength of its implementation of CCSS. NAEP gains were again compared. Here the news is more encouraging for the Common Core. States with stronger implementation of the CCSS have made larger NAEP gains. The downside to this optimistic finding is that the difference is quite small. If Common Core is eventually going to fulfill the soaring expectations of its supporters, much greater progress must become evident.