The forthcoming Common Core (CC) Assessments are the next generation of standardized tests in the US, and will meet the testing frequency requirements of the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act also known as No Child Left Behind unless congress should act to change this, which is most unlikely. Forty six of the fifty states have signed on to voluntarily administer the exams that will be written to meet the standards of the Common Core. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is one of two consortia that organizes the architecting and contracting for the Common Core assessments; SBAC is responsible for about half of the member states, including California.
I have examined the SBAC’s RFP’s for testing design and delivery of the CC assessments, and the consortium managed to construct a guide for contractors that even Finnish educators would admire. It is difficult to tell from the website, but it appears that the SBAC employed work groups that engaged school practitioners, or at least retired practitioners, to shape the tasks.
The winning bids for exam design, delivery, and reporting for the SBAC, have all gone to Wireless Generation, a company turned down by the New York Department of Education at least in part because of the parent company’s (Newscorp) role in mishandling personal data. This actually concerns me less (for now) than does the challenge that the private, for profit Wireless Generation (WG) must meet to deliver on the promise of the Common Core.
I am hopeful that WG can construct a multiple choice administration tool that is adaptive and requires less time of students to assess what multiple choice tests can; namely, what a student does not know. Call me cynical, but less time spent taking multiple choice tests is a win at this point.
I had a mentor early in my career, also named Jack, who was a very well respected and well liked business owner. I worked at his company in the summers of my high school and college years as a delivery boy. Jack took me under his wing and would entertain my questions about the systems he employed in his business; an interest I have spent my entire career translating to education as a practitioner.
I was particularly intrigued by Jack’s incentive system for his delivery people; and not just because this impacted my bottom line. Growing up wanting for little, my adolescent motivation was not moved by financial incentive structures. Like many product-based business managers, Jack employed his delivery force as salesmen. We were given bonuses for new account creation and upsells. All of the incentives were financial. Even route preference awards were ultimately financial because of the potential for new accounts they held.
Call it what you want; the digital revolution, the cloud migration, one-to-one. The move to pervasive use of computing as the medium for education is underway. Schools around the world have moved beyond teacher websites, and are empowering students to both access curriculum and create products to demonstrate their learning entirely in the digital medium.
To derive benefits from the move to the digital environment that go beyond the known merits of increased messaging between learning community members, schools must be able to access, save, and store student work in a way that provides meaningful insight to educators. Portfolios are an example of a meta-product that requires a student to curate his own efforts, and can help learners to extend their understanding by offering them an opportunity to make connections between the learning experiences they have had.
The assessments rooted in the Common Core standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics begin this year for 45.5 out of 50 states. Minnesota is the 0.5 because they decided only to adopt the English Language Arts standards. Other than Texas and Alaska though, I bet you would have a hard time guessing that Nebraska and Virginia are among the hold outs. Virginia? Really? Any change from the current panoply of state level assessments (un)inspired by the most recent incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act we call No Child Left Behind would be a welcomed one. But just how different will the the new tests be? And what makes for a good test?
Let’s do a comparison of the standards for second grade reading and writing under the old standards and under the new ones. To make it challenging, and easier to grok, I turned each of these four sets of standards into a word cloud, and placed them in a random order in the slide show below. See if you can pick out the new Common Core writing and reading standards and distinguish them from California’s No Child Left Behind inspired Standards for the same two areas..
I bet you couldn’t do it. I can’t even do it, and I made the word clouds! As a science teacher, I have not been intimately familiar with the NCLB English Language Arts standards here in California. Nonetheless, I did expect to see a dramatic difference when I read through the standards in preparation for this post. To my surprise, I did not. The English Language Arts Standards that were written for the Common Core very closely resemble those that were written for No Child Left Behind. So why is everyone so excited about this change?
Three weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting down for lunch with a group of experienced educators at the New England GAFE Summit who are all using Google Apps for Education in their practice. I posed a question to the group, “What would you do with Google Glass?”
Let me back up. As a resident of Menlo Park, California, nearby to Palo Alto, I have seen Google Glass prototypes in the field. These are heads up displays (HUDs) that allow a person to augment their daily experience with an overlay of information relevant to their immediate experience. Think of Schwarzenegger’s sunglasses in the Terminator that helped him find Sarah Connor. Those are an example of a heads up display; only the current version has a graphical interface that is far superior to that donned by Arnold in 1984 – really.
“Facial recognition to learn names.” Offered one of the teachers.
“Take more pictures.” Said another.
For a few minutes, we convinced ourselves that the HUD is just a fancy camera that would let us take more pictures and learn names of students at the beginning of the year more quickly. Then, the ideas began to flow. Read more…
Is there a difference between watching Sal Khan on the internet and having him teach you face to face? According to Sal’s cousins there is. In his TED appearance, Sal reveals that his cousins told him they prefer his internet videos to his in-person tutoring. The reason they prefer their virtual cousin to the real one is that they can pause, rewind and playback his teachings – at least that’s the reason they shared with Sal.
A more data-based answer to the above question may exist, but in my limited survey of research I found only a few relevant studies to help us out here. Both studies were in the post graduate medical education field and indicated that virtual teaching in that environment is about as effective as face to face teaching (Cardall, Barker). Your first question is probably the same as mine, “What if the learners are not quite as highly motivated as training professionals?”
Do you remember this ad slogan for Trident gum?
“4 out of 5 dentists surveyed would recommend sugarless gum to their patients who chew gum.”
I was a kid when that slogan aired on national television stations in the early 1980’s. Even then, I remember thinking to myself, what exactly does that last phrase mean? Incidentally, for this post I found this information from The Straight Dope, about the study. As you would expect, that fifth dentist probably refused to recommend chewing gum at all. And for those of you who had the other question that I had, apparently 1200 dentists were surveyed. Compared to most research in education, the Trident commissioned study of dentists was air tight.
It was when I attended grad school in science education that I was first exposed to the concept of a quasi-experimental study. Prior to that I had studied physics, and my concept of research was divided into two worlds. There were hard sciences where you limited the scope of your study, and therefore the scope of your findings, by controlling every possible variable so that you simply had one independent and one dependent variable to examine. Oh, to be an undergrad! The second part of my concept of the research world was social science where qualitative data was gathered using heuristic, and inherently limited methods.
My view of what makes for a valuable contribution to a given field of study has changed since then, and so has research in general. I was ill conceived back then in my belief that the physical sciences had a lock on truth, limited as it may have been. Perhaps because of the burden placed on them to demonstrate their worth, social scientists like Richard Shavelson, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University, took statistical analysis to places that many in the physical sciences would do well to emulate. The preponderance, ease of access, and reward for quality analysis of data in our digital age are making it easier for researchers in any field to do quality analysis that can guide our policy and local decision making.
Unfortunately, despite the availability of treasure troves of data in education, very little high quality research happens. This is about to change.
For the last day and a half I felt like a hungry kid in an edtech candy store. As a participant in Jason Calacanis’ Launch Education and Kids, I got to see thirty-three education startups pitch to a mixed audience of entrepreneurs and teachers and a panel of venture capitalist judges.
Twitter is aflutter with short reviews of the spotlighted products. Search the hashtag #launchedu. Thankfully, this saves me from feeling obliged to offer a comprehensive list of reviews in this post.
Instead, I will offer some commentary about what is soon to be available to teachers and students, and the potential impacts for practice.
First, the trend of making products available to the consumer for free is still alive. Many of the edtech companies that pitched at Launch EK offer at least some part their service for free. Some then make money by upselling services that you will want once you begin using the tool and become a convert. Some make money providing user data trends to other interested parties (not necessarily selling your email address).
Me outside of school:
- Jing screencasting
- Google site reading and commenting
- Goorulearing.org collection re-ordering
- Assessment co-creating
- End of project survey writing
- Frantically laptop cart fundraising (1/3 of the way there as of this writing)
Students in my classes:
- Braingenie watching and quiz taking
- PhET simulation running
- 3x more labs doing
- MIT style group problem solving
- GoSoapBox class discussing
- Google site documenting
- Administrator tour tolerating
I ran an electronic survey today in two of the blended classes; sixty two responses in all. I asked students to compare the various types of learning that we do in class in this new blended method against our prior unit that I taught in a traditional fashion. Here are some of my takeaways.
..and why we should be concerned.
Love. That’s what I felt when I first landed on TED’s new site for educators and students, Ted-Ed. From the hosts of the 18 minute talks that have inspired some of the most interesting lunchtime discussions in my classroom over the last few years, comes a site brimming with equally fascinating talks that step off from the platform of content commonly addressed in sixth through twelfth grade.
To make the content more accessible, the Ted-Ed team seeks out inspired speakers from the education community and then pairs them with dynamic animators to make the material pop. There are videos that address epistemological questions, such as “The Power of Simple Words” and “Questions no one knows the answers to.” Then, there are slightly more concrete videos, including “How algorithms shape our world” and “How folding paper can get you to the moon.” The conglomerate is a medicine chest full of antidotes to the ill of adolescent boredom.
I am ready to jump in. For fifteen years I have been employing educational technologies in my high school science classes to increase student engagement and improve student performance. I have documented increases in both of these with my most recent foray into Peer Instruction with clickers over the last three years. Before that I dove head first into podcasting, video making, and blogging. Now, I am ready to take a real risk. I am ready to blend class time to free me up for more individual engagement with students, and to increase the differentiation of study in my classroom.
I will be honest. My first motivation is selfish. Read more…
First, a primer: when a student takes a test or writes a paper at the end of a unit of study, if that test or paper is graded and used as a component of that student’s overall grade in the course, we call this summative assessment. When students take standardized tests, as they must do in every academic subject at the end of every school year in high school, this is also considered summative assessment. The latter is often referred to as high-stakes testing because it can determine course placement for the student during the next school year, and it most certainly is a component of the school’s accountability metric under the current incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act known as No Child Left Behind.
Formative assessment is less discrete. Formative assessment, as the root of the word suggests, is used to assist in informing the instructive and learning processes. Formative assessments provide educators with ongoing feedback that shapes instruction both for individual students and for the class as a whole. Socratic questioning is a formative assessment. Looking over a student’s shoulder as they attempt a practice problem during class is another type of formative assessment. It is low stakes, and purely motivated by the desire on behalf of the teacher to be responsive to his or her students’ needs.
This is the second in a series of posts I am writing about what the traditional classroom could look like in the near future with already available and nearly available edtech. The first postexplored lesson planning.
By one edtech standard, my high school health teacher was well ahead of his time. He had videotapes of lectures given by another health teacher that he would show to us every day. Content delivered through video is part of the flipped classroom model that is in vogue right now — 25 years later. Teachers falling asleep in the back of the classroom while students watch the video — not so much in vogue.
When I sleep, I dream that my classroom no longer exists, and my teaching job has drastically changed. I facilitate learning in a much more flat infrastructure, drawing upon community and Internet resources alike to facilitate customized, interdisciplinary learning experiences for each of my students. Then I wake up, get in my car and drive to the school where I teach, and contemplate another decade of working to innovate within the same constraints of the industrial model.
I am not a fan of the white paper as a method for judging the success of an educational intervention. However, this particular white paper caught my attention because of the bold, specific claim, the fact that it was written about a year-long study, and because I like to take aim at the big publishing houses.
In brief, HMH studied a year long intervention at Earhart Middle School in Riverside Ca. An experimental group of students were given iPads with HMH Fuse Algebra. The study authors claim that twenty percent more students in the experimental group achieved proficient or advanced marks on the Ca standards exam for algebra (CST algebra) than did the control.
GameDesk, a SoCal based research nonprofit with an interest in gamification in learning, examined student improvement on understanding of certain fraction concepts after playing the Stanford Learning Design and Technology Program’s Motion Math.
The Key findings of the study are listed below..
Children’s fractions test scores improved an average of over 15% after playing Motion Math for 20 minutes daily over a five-day period, representing a significant increase compared to a control group.
Children’s self-efficacy for fractions, as well as their liking of fractions, each improved an average of 10%, representing a statistically significant increase compared to a control group.
All participants rated Motion Math as fun and reported wanting to play it again; nearly all (95%) children in the study reported that their friends would like the game, and that the game helped them learn fractions.
Taken together, the data from this experimental study offer solid evidence that Motion Math successfully integrates entertainment value with educational value.
No one would deny that education research is difficult to do well. Humans don’t behave like frictionless carts in perfectly elastic collisions. The gold standard of a double-blind study with randomly assigned subjects is impossible to accomplish in a school setting.
Education institutions would like to use data-rooted studies to effect positive change, but the students in first period algebra are not clones of the students in fourth period algebra, and Mrs. Farnsworth always seems a little more perky during third period after she’s had that second cup of coffee. Such variation confounds attempts at simple comparison studies.
My school is undergoing an accreditation cycle this year. Part of the process is demonstrating how our decision-making is data driven. This includes macro-scale decisions like scheduling, but also micro-scale decisions like how to teach mathematical factoring.