Who better to ask about the state of education than teachers themselves? Scholastic has teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
to ask teachers for their feedback on topics such as raising student achievement, teacher evaluation, and providing resources for teachers. Primary Sources: 2012, America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession
(PDF) compiles the results of these surveys and offers critical insight into how educators, administrators, and parents can play an important role in improving America’s school system.
The first section of the report focuses on what would boost student achievement. The most important factors identified by teachers were parent involvement and setting high expectations for students. Common standards, a clear curriculum, and strong assessments also appeared on the list. While methods for improving parent involvement could still be addressed, the new Common Core State Standards will introduce a new set of expectations for students at each grade level and will provide focused and coherent guidelines for teachers. Still, many of the teacher respondents feel unprepared for implementing the CCSS.
Twenty-seven percent of teachers surveyed feel somewhat/very unprepared to teach the standards, and only twenty-two percent say they feel very prepared. Among the tools that teachers say they need to effectively implement the CCSS are student-centered technology, formative assessments, and new curricula and learning tools aligned to the Common Core.
Check out the full report for teachers’ views on standardized tests, the growing challenges that students face in and out of the classroom, and how to retain the best teachers. How prepared do you feel for the CCSS? Do you have other ideas for how to make teachers more effective in the classroom?
Over the past few years, educators and experts all over the country have been investigating how we can advance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education and close the achievement gap in these disciplines. Although research and policy has focused primarily on K-12 education, recent studies show that we can build a foundation for STEM success in early childhood.
In a study conducted at the University of Chicago, researchers found that engagement with “number talk” in early childhood is actually a key predictor of math achievement once children enter school. The study revealed a large variation among the participating families in terms of how many number words parents spoke in front of their young children (ages 14-30 months)—many children heard as few as three or four number words in an average day, and these children tended to struggle with basic math concepts. Journalist Annie Murphy Paul, in an article published by the education web site MindShift, aptly commented: “Many of us feel completely comfortable talking about letters, words, and sentences with our children—reading to them at night, helping them decode their own books… But speaking to them about numbers, fractions, and decimals? Not so much.”
This “number talk” in early childhood provides another tool we can use to promote STEM achievement. The MindShift article
provides some simple tips for incorporating math words into conversation with young children:
- Read numbers on road signs and in store windows.
- Ask a child to count toys, books,… or the number of broccoli florets the child has left on the dinner plate.
- Count down the hours to bedtime or the days to a holiday, and discuss temperatures in a weather forecast.
- Talk with older children about quantities in their favorite subjects and pastimes, such as sports scores or science projects.
Please share any additional tips on promoting “number talk” at home or in the classroom!
Above image provided by Chad Elliott.
A few months ago, I was searching the Web for a tutorial on basic statistics and stumbled upon Khan Academy, a non-profit group founded by Sal Khan to provide “a free world class education for anyone anywhere.” I started digging around the website and found myself browsing through a library of over 2,600 educational videos and 200 practice exercises ranging from K-12 math to biology and physics to history and test prep. Assessment exercises are adaptive so users can practice at their own pace and all of the problems can be broken down into single steps.
The website is available to anyone—students, teachers, principals, parents—absolutely free. Users create their own profile so that Khan Academy can record what they have been learning and whether or not they are achieving their goals. Points and badges keep students motivated and engaged in their own progress.
The Gates Foundation has helped to support Khan Academy since 2010. Bill Gates, in a video clip posted to thegatesnotes.com, identifies Khan as a “pioneer” in the movement to use technology to provide learning tools that so many people can access. Indeed, his tutorials are viewed almost 100,000 times each day.
In the last month, however, Khan Academy has received extensive mainstream media press. On March 9, Khan delivered a TED (Technology, Education, Design) talk, and a couple of days later the 60 Minutes news show featured a segment on Khan Academy. Since then, Khan has appeared in articles on Edweek, Yahoo, The Huffington Post, and more.
Check out a few of the hundreds of developmental math videos and let us know what you think!
Late last year, Google added a graphing calculator to its growing list of utilities raising the age old question every teacher has faced: why do students need to learn basics if they have a calculator? For a long time teachers could effectively retort, “You won’t always have a calculator with you.” However, in a world where anyone with a smart phone has unprecedented computing power in their pocket, that response is becoming less and less satisfying.
Yet even as students’ have greater access to machines, they should remember the answers those machines provide are only one small part of being a successful math student. Because computing is everywhere, mastering, presenting, interpreting, and attaching significance to those answers is as important as arriving at the right answer.
Math Solutions’ Lessons for Algebraic Thinking provides clear and effective lessons plans that teach traditional algebraic basics like variable relationships but also takes the lessons one step deeper. The real value added by these new plans is the emphasis on interpretation dialogue between a presenter and an audience and creating meaning out of the answer. In one lesson plan, students are not only taught to graph estimated-versus-actual weight but are also asked to think of conveying the data to an audience. “What should a person know by looking at your scatter plot?” is a critical question for interpretation and presentation. Similarly these plans ask students to create meaning: what new information does a correlation line convey, what does it mean for a correlation line to slope upwards, or what is the significance of a point position lying above or below that line?
Now that all students can compute answers with technology, educators should teach the skills needed to arrive at deeper understandings. Math Solutions’ Lessons offer a framework for adapting teaching to complement students’ increasing access to technology.
What techniques or technology do you use to help students present their data and interpretations to others?
This post first appeared on the NBC News “Learning Curve” blog. Dr. David Dockterman is an Adjunct Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Chief Architect of Learning Sciences at Scholastic Education. He began developing technology for schools in the 1980s and is one of the country’s leading experts in educational game development.
Dockterman will be part of a panel examining the potential for gaming to help struggling students during the Celebration of Teaching & Learning conference on March 17th, 2012. If you’ll be at the conference, don’t miss it!
Failure is hot. The Harvard Business Review devoted an entire issue to the power of failure last year. Noted economist Tim Harford wrote a fabulous book about it – Adapt: Why Success Always Comes from Failure. And 10s of millions of children (and adults) happily subject themselves to it everyday. They play video games.
One of the reasons video games are so compelling is that you fail a bunch of times before you “win.” Without the struggle there’s little satisfaction. You try, find out right away that you failed, adjust and repeat the process likely several more times. And when you finally figure it out, it feels pretty good. That’s because the brain’s reward center provides a satisfying dopamine hit to help validate the effort.
We could call this failure-adjustment loop “learning,” and fundamentally it’s nothing new. Thoughtful (and not so thoughtful) trial-and-error is a tried and true mechanism for learning across the animal kingdom and always has been. Well-designed video games, though, provide a vehicle for really focusing and scaling learning through failure in lots of disciplines. Four key elements are required:
1. The tasks must be about the content to be learned. You can find lots of “educational” video games in which the game is the dessert for eating your educational vegetables. Using the carrot of racing around obstacles or shooting monsters as the reward for completing some math or vocabulary problems not only doesn’t leverage the power of the game for learning, it sends the wrong message to kids. It reinforces the notion that learning is boring and distasteful, requiring an external reward to justify it. Look for games in which the learning tasks – whether about improved speed and accuracy or completing increasingly challenging puzzles — are central. We want the learning to be its own reward.
2. Feedback must be immediate and meaningful. Immediate feedback is a fundamental quality of video games. You find out right away if you’re right or wrong. For the practice of routine tasks – those the child already knows – like spelling or math fact retrieval, immediate corrective feedback ensures that adjustments get made and bad habits don’t get repeated over an over again. For novel tasks, immediate feedback should be more thoughtful. We want kids thinking, “Hmm…that didn’t work, I wonder what will.” Look for games with useful visual feedback and careful use of hints.
3. Progress must be transparent. Lee Peng Yee, one of the main thinkers behind the system of math instruction in Singapore, once told me: “If you think you can catch the bus, you will run for it.” It’s a great image, and good games keep players in a recurring cycle of running to catch one bus after another, all leading to reachable goals. Look for games that keep the next milestone in sight and constantly show progress toward it. Seeing yourself get better at something is incredibly motivating.
4. The stakes must be low. Failure is the norm in many video games. It wouldn’t be satisfying if you didn’t struggle. In fact, you fail more often than you succeed. Failure in video games is a key part of the learning process. I wish schools and parents embraced failure as readily as most games do. All too often students are afraid to raise their hands in class or explore their thinking because the stakes of being wrong are so high. The expectation in many classrooms is success, and failure is humiliating. Better, some students think, not to try than to try and fail. Games can provide a safe haven for trial and error, for using failure as a steppingstone to understanding and eventual mastery. Look for games that keep the social exposure to failure low. Competition against others, particularly when the skill levels are uneven, can be very discouraging for a kid who usually finishes near the bottom. A focus on self-improvement and personal mastery keeps the stakes low and the progress transparent.
Maybe we can leverage some of these game elements into everyday learning in school and at home.
| Photo by albertogp123/flickr
Earlier this month, Robert Glaser
, a cognitive psychologist and long-time advocate of criterion-referenced testing passed away. Criterion-referenced testing, adopted in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), measures students against their previous test results rather than against other students in order to track their improvement and learning. Dr. Glaser encouraged teachers to use test results to tailor their lessons to suit their students’ needs, but warned that test scores are only “fallible and partial indicators” of achievement and should never become the goal of instruction.
As testing time approaches, it’s time to think about how you can best prepare your students. How can you focus on learning as well as review and practice in the upcoming weeks? In Educational Horizons Magazine, Anna Martin has compiled a few effective strategies for relieving some of the anxiety and time pressure associated with the tests. Her suggestions range from creating a calendar of learning, review, and practice lessons to teaching relaxation techniques in the classroom. Students must be ready for both the content of the assessments and the testing environment. If you maintain a confident and calm attitude toward the tests, your students will be more likely to feel the same way.
Ms. Martin points out that testing is only one measure of student learning. It’s important to allow students the time and opportunity to showcase their learning in other ways. Dr. Glaser, like most standardized assessment researchers and developers, always warned of the limits of standardized testing. While the results can be informative, they alone do not reflect what your class has learned over the course of the year. So as you prepare for standardized tests, think about the ways to maximize your students’ performance while putting the tests in perspective. What are your strategies for getting ready for test day?
The recent Edweek
article, Educators in Search of Common-Core Resources
, highlights a growing frustration among educators: the lack of available resources to help them implement the Common Core State Standards for Math (CCSSM). As educators and district leaders from the 45 states that have adopted the Common Core Standards struggle to find course materials, one has to question if a 2014 implementation of the standards is at all realistic.
A prime resource for the math standards is the Math Common Core Coalition—a group composed of the chief math education groups. The website contains information and tools to help educators implement the math standards. The Coalition will also collect data on the implementation and assessment processes of the math standards, which will shape future revisions of the standards. The Illustrative Mathematics Project, founded by creators of the math standards, provides examples of tasks for each standard and by grade level. Progressions, also supported by creators of the standards, illustrates how math expertise and knowledge develops in each domain.
Resources for implementing the math standards are clearly taking shape, but will these tools be comprehensive enough to support the rigor of these new standards? What do math educators need, first and foremost, to support faithful implementations of the CCSSM?