The Bridge International Academy (BIA) came across my gaze this week in a feature article from Wired Magazine. Guest edited by Bill Gates, the issue highlights several of his philanthropic investments around the world.
There is edtech, of course, but it is supporting instruction behind the scenes. This global network of schools uses frequent formative pencil and paper assessments, the results of which are compiled into the cloud by school personnel away from the students and assessed at a central office far away, to drive instruction and shape teaching practice.
The results are noteworthy. BIA schools serve more than 50,000 students in Kenya (with plans to expand in Africa and India) and outperform their local neighboring schools on nearly all measures of Reading and Mathematics performance.
I have nothing but praise for the BIA team, founded and directed by former SV entrepreneur Jay Kimmelman, but I do have questions about whether the model would translate to the relatively impoverished and underserved in our industrialized nations. BIA schools are tuition schools. In a place where families make less than two dollars a day, BIA schools charge five dollars per month of tuition. Does this select for a more (relatively) entitled population that is likely to test higher anyway? Does the commitment a family makes when they pay for their child’s education have a psychological effect that increases performance? Regardless of the answers to or relevance of these questions, it seems that BIA is expanding quality education in places where it is scarce, and they are doing it with frequent formative assessment.
Put aside for the moment that segregation of public schools in the United States is at its highest level since 1968; our country has backslid. During the more than three decades from 1954 (Brown Vs Board of Ed) and 1988 (peak desegregation in the US), achieving racial equality, or at least access to equal resources was arguably a more polarizing issue than immigration, gay marriage, and abortion are today. Currently, standards-based testing, and in particular, the changes that will be effected by the voluntary adoption of the Common Core, is occupying nearly all of the mindspace of educators, administrators, and education policy makers alike. Our obsession with testing will seem trivial, however, when we begin to confront the tectonic shift in paradigm that will be inspired by Google Glass.
I have argued before that all of the edtech we have seen in the last decade, cool as it is, has not significantly impacted how well we educate our youth. Few technologies, even expertly applied, have had an impact on the end product of K12 education. STEM scores have risen slightly in the last decade, though this is probably a result of myriad federal and state programs aimed squarely at placing more highly qualified STEM educators in classrooms. Diligently applied software programs to enhance reading ability and numeracy have shown some nice improvements on student test scores; though it could be argued that any mindful application of an educational protocol, employing technology or not, will increase student test scores.
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.
Reflections on a year of Blended Learning with 1:1 Chromebooks
Physics teachers have a unique privilege in most high school settings. Most of us work with students that have elected to take our academic course, and with the exception of a growing number of physics first programs, we teach older students. Consequently, we tend to serve a population of learners that are more likely to match our enthusiasm for ideas, and entertain our whimsical diversions than might an average sampling of the student body as a whole. Many of us take advantage of the opportunity presented by this context to innovate with novel uses of technology in our practice. I am no exception to that rule.
When my idea of teaching physics in a one to one setting with Chromebooks was met with enthusiasm by both my colleagues and my administration eighteen months ago, I jumped in with both feet. Now, in April, at the cusp of another punishing two weeks of low quality standardized testing, it is time to reflect on the first year of the blend.
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. Continue reading
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?
What would Maria Montessori say about the use of the edtech available to us as we approach the year 2013?
Heaven forbid any actual Montessori educators should read this post. My summaries of Montessori ideas and structures most certainly do not do justice to the wonderful body of work Maria Montessori left behind, nor do I adequately represent the many mindfully conceived and executed programs based on Montessori’s work. For this I offer an a priori apology.
Maria Montessori was a revolutionary in education. During the first half of the 20th Century, she commanded global attention for her work with pre-kinder Italian street children, and later for her inquiries into the education of children of all ages. The Montessori Method requires an observer scientist’s habit of mind for educators of children and adolescents, which relies upon a carefully constructed environment that promotes individual determination. Further, the Montessori teacher becomes a student of each child, observing them work, and carefully noting their accomplishments and challenges so as to be ready to introduce the learner to an appropriately timed task that suits both his interests and abilities.
There are many benefits for educational institutions that adopt Google Apps for Education. Many of the benefits are not visible right away, however. There are online resources and communities to help us find the hidden gems and guide us in best practices. In this post I will list all of the support structures that I am aware of, and that the few folks I consulted on this shared with me. Undoubtedly there will be many that we missed. Please tell us of other resources in the comments and I will add them to the original post as they come in.
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.Continue reading
A guy from New York showed us how three Nexus devices running Android could simultaneously allow students to compose and edit each other’s work on the same document – without typing a word! The voice recognition is now good enough and the web-based collaboration capabilities of docs are now robust enough that this actually works.Continue reading
A few months ago, I answered this question on Quora.. If given $1 Billion, what would be the best way to improve education in the U.S.? My answer, currently with 2 votes, ranks in about the middle of the pack (thank you Cameron and Ally!). It is interesting to note that of the 37 answers, I was one of only two teachers to respond, and Michelle Rhee has one of the top ranked responses.
Brian Greenberg, formerly the leader of Oakland’s Envision Schools, and the Fisher Family Foundation, together, have answered a similar question. How could we spend $25M on edtech to really get this movement off the ground? Their answer is the Silicon Schools Fund (SSF). Over the next five years, The SSF plans to invest in 25 Bay Area Schools that intend to open with a blended learning model or transition their current instructional model to a blended one. The SSF press release identifies four specific benefits of this targeted philanthropy:
The Bay Area will become a hub of entrepreneurial educators committed to starting and sustaining blended learning schools.
The high-tech communities will be able to partner with local SSF grantees to promote innovation in schools.
SSF grantees will become a part of a network of cutting-edge schools using blended learning that can share and learn from one another.
The model of a regional fund can be replicated in other cities throughout the country.
The mid-July issue of Newsweek, linked below, was sitting on the coffee table at the Tahoe cabin of a friend of mine this past weekend. My interest was piqued by the cover image so, despite the fact that it was dated, I picked it up.
The author of the feature article, Is the Web Driving Us Mad?, Tony Dokoupil, presents what I will call a deeply researched opinion piece that does more than just suggest our brains are being negatively effected by our increased interaction with computing devices. I have reprinted his final paragraph below.
But in a way, it doesn’t matter whether our digital intensity is causing mental illness, or simply encouraging it along, as long as people are suffering. Overwhelmed by the velocity of their lives, we turn to prescription drugs, which helps explain why America runs on Xanax (and why rehab admissions for benzodiazepines, the ingredient in Xanax and other anti-anxiety drugs, have tripled since the late 1990s). We also spring for the false rescue of multitasking, which saps attention even when the computer is off. And all of us, since the relationship with the Internet began, have tended to accept it as is, without much conscious thought about how we want it to be or what we want to avoid. Those days of complacency should end. The Internet is still ours to shape. Our minds are in the balance.
Catlin Tucker sat beside Sal Khan and Andrew Ng on the theater stage in front of a packed house of the local business community, the media, and selected classes of students with their teachers. Secretary Duncan played the role of discussion moderator, and provided the panelists the opportunity to showcase their work. While Khan and Ng shared the excellent work of their edtech websites that are bringing education into the cloud, it was Tucker who stole the show.
Grounded in the practice of a classroom educator. Tucker talked about the very real challenges of getting to a one to one device for each student, and high speed internet access at home for students of little means. She raised the roof, and the Twitosphere, when she told Secretary Duncan that great edtech tools alone would not take us very far, but great tools in the hands of great teachers just might. Sal nodded.
It’s not about the hardware. No laptop, tablet, lapdock, or webtop is going to change education by virtue of its screen resolution, haptic capabilities or processor speed. However, a proliferation of free, cloud-based, high quality, curated curricular materials (videos in particular) just might.
Sal Khan is not the harbinger of a revolution in education because he is a great lecturer. Khan is a revolutionary because he has boldly stood up in the cloud to tell us that there is nothing holding us back from making educational materials free and ubiquitous. Dozens of others have risen to Khan’s challenge; many of whom are making high quality video that can replace traditional classroom lectures.
Harvard Computer Science Professor and former Dean of Harvard College, Harry Lewis, has written an article in this month’s Harvard Magazine about his experience blending a preliminary computer science course entitled, Discrete Mathematics. While reading his first person account of this pilot course, I kept nodding my head in agreement as he recounted both the challenges and the successes he experienced in this foray into 21st Century Learning.
After some preamble in his article entitled Reinventing the Classroom, Lewis puts into prose one of the major motivating factors behind the blended, hybrid, and flipped classroom paradigms..
“I believe that if the videos exist, then all my students should have them—and they should have my handouts too. In fact, I think I should share as much of these materials with the world as Harvard’s business interests permit. I could think of ways to force students to show up (not posting my slide decks, or administering unannounced quizzes, for example). But those would be tricks, devices to evade the truth: the digital explosion has changed higher education. In the digital world, there is no longer any reason to use class time to transfer the notes of the instructor to the notes of the student (without passing through the brain of either, as Mark Twain quipped). Instead, I should use the classroom differently.”
It is easy for a middle-class, Washington outsider to become skeptical about our political system that, by some metrics, operates more like a polarized plutocracy than a socialistic democracy. However, in the same week, three members of a Russian girl punk band got two years in prison for playing protest songs in the face of the Russian Christian Orthodox Church, I attended a most democratic, egalitarian gathering of intellectual sharing of best practices.
Edcamp as a concept is in its infancy. Inspired by barcamp, a similar gathering for hackers to share best practices in their technical profession, teachers and educationists in Philadelphia organized the first edcamp less than three years ago. In that time, the edcamp concept has spread like Facebook. See edcamp foundation wiki, and an article about edcamp on edutopia.
What’s the purpose of this video from Good Magazine and University of Phoenix? Is it to encourage the community to get that, “One win?”
I am as big of an edtechnophile as they come, but something about this video just doesn’t sit right with me. I felt the same way after seeing this that I feel after seeing any of the myriad infographics pumped out by the online learning advocacy associations. The feeling is the same one I felt when watching the aging population line up at the Soylent Green factory to take their long vacation. Something isn’t quite right.
If you don’t have the full twelve minutes to watch, at least listen to what Sal Khan has to say beginning at about the eight minute mark. Let me know what you think.
Four weeks ago I was sitting at Sharon Park Starbucks in Menlo Park chatting with two colleagues about the currently ongoing Connected Educator Month. A young man with a Cheshire Cat grin approached our table with a, Yes, there are raffle tickets in my back pocket that I would like to sell you, look on his face.
“May I bother you for a moment?” He asked.
We must have looked uncertain because he pushed harder.
“I only want to ask you one question, and it won’t take more than thirty seconds.”
At this point a female friend of his appeared from behind him with a laptop.
For a moment I considered leaving my years of service in education behind in favor of a new career in music mixing. I can play a little guitar. I’ve picked up some piano since my son Cody, age 7, began taking lessons a year ago. But, I have no raw talent and have never been disciplined enough to have the confidence to perform for others.
No matter. When Cody and I visited the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation today, my self doubt was dwarfed by an overwhelming compulsion to mix music from different cultures into a fusion that in my mind’s eye could be the 21st century equivalent of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
Earlier this year Corning released a viral video, A Day Made of Glass 2, showing the potential of multi-touch surface technology applications for home and educational use. Most of us thought it novel, but dismissed the portrait as blissfully optimistic. Today, I discovered that future is already here.