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.
What strikes me about the model of BIA is the conspicuous lack of edtech in the hands of the students. In stark contrast to frequently cited education experiments like Negroponte’s airdrop of tablets into Ethiopia and Sugata Mitra’s similarly hyped computer in a wall experiment, that emphasize the transformative power and compelling nature of computers for the learner, the BIA schools do not give students any new technology at all.
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.
I didn’t get it at first, but I’m an experimenter so I persisted. To me Facebook is a bit of a nuisance. I have a profile that I created a few years after everyone else in the world did (or at least after about 500 million of them did). And like many of my generation, I made the mistake of friending all of my old high school classmates that were already there, lying in wait.
I did the same things you did; searched for an old girlfriend or two, and joined some groups, thinking that the conversation might be a bit loftier. It wasn’t. I even started a group of my own and tried to seed it with what I thought were provocative posts that would inspire discussion. Fail. When my youngest brother’s maniacal posting rate about food justice clogged my feed, seemingly to the exclusion of all else, I nearly shut it down; my account, that is, not Facebook. Then I learned how to block.
Blocking the posts of all those that I did not want to offend by unfriending them, re-invigorated my interest in Facebook for a while – even if only because it satisfied my desire to clean up the mess that I felt I’d made by joining this social network in the first place. But even blocking was not enough to sustain my interest.
It has come to this: Facebook is the place I go when I want to see what my young teen nieces are up to. They have yet to reach the age where they don’t want the older family members commenting on their posts. If my nieces lose interest in Facebook, I suspect my account will go the way of my Yahoo email account; a ghost town that occasionally haunts me with the fear that my unwatched profile might be an inroad for an identity thief. One major difference is that I don’t need Facebook as an email address when online shopping so that all my junk mail stays away from my gmail account.
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.
I got my hands on a Chromebook Pixel this week and released it into the wild. For some background on what the Pixel is, check out this review. In sum, killer laptop with incredible resolution and touch screen interface.
Students use Chromebooks in my science class. They check them out at the beginning of each period and return them before the end. On Tuesday, I substituted the slick, aluminum body Pixel for one of the older Samsung Series 5 machines.
Curious about how a student might best use the touchscreen interface, I rigged the test by handing the Pixel to one of the more active and curious students in this particular class. The lucky student (guinea pig?) was Zach.
Read more at the Hapara blog..