Are we on the verge of a mass Common Core repeal?

Are we on the verge of a mass Common Core repeal?
People protesting the Common Core education standards demonstrate near the hotel where the meeting of Tennessee's Education Summit is taking place on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. Thursday's event titled "Progress of the Past, Present and Future" will involve elected officials and representatives from 24 organizations focusing on K-12 and higher education. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

By Emmanuel Felton

Last month’s election spells trouble for the Common Core, a set of expectations for what students should know in English and math by the end of each grade. With the standards increasingly being assailed as an unwanted federal intrusion into public education by conservatives, the Republican sweep of state legislatures – the party is now in control of over two-thirds of state lawmaking bodies – will likely lead to a new round of scrutiny of the standards and the tests tied to them.

“To be clear there will be bills in some states,” said Michael Brickman, national policy director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and member of the ever-shrinking chorus of conservative Common Core supporters. “But once you get past the politics, once you get past the history of the Common Core, there is near universal support for high college and career ready standards.”

Thus far, anti-Common Core politicians have chosen from a few paths in their efforts to undermine the influence of the standards: some states have formally dropped the standards but replaced them with standards that are not a great departure from the Common Core, others have put the standards under review or convened committees to write new standards, and some have kept the standards but dropped the tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced – the two federally funded state-led groups that created Common Core tests.While the standards originally enjoyed broad bipartisan support from education reform communities on both sides of the aisle, elected officials across the country are lining up to demand changes ahead of legislative sessions starting in January.

In many states, party leaders are placing vocal Common Core opponents in key positions.

In West Virginia, for example, the incoming vice chairwoman of the state senate education committee, Republican Donna Boley, has promised to push a bill that would delay testing students on the new standards. Last session, when Democrats controlled the chamber, she unsuccessfully attempted to put the standards under review.

To the southeast, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Tennessee, a Republican, isn’t mincing words; he told local media, “Common Core is going to be replaced. It’s just a matter of what we replace it with.”

After years of support, the state’s Republican governor has been backing away from Common Core in recent months, calling for a review of the standards.

Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress and a Common Core supporter, doesn’t think that many states will move too far from away from the Core, however.

“There is nothing wrong with a review process, standards should be reviewed,” said Martin at a seminar for reporters hosted by the Education Writers Association. “Except Oklahoma [which repealed the standards last summer], at the end of the day when conservatives have asked themselves what is the best thing for our students, they have kept the standards or something very close to them.”

While three states have repealed the standards, only Oklahoma has adopted standards that are substantially different from the Common Core, says Martin.

After dropping Common Core, Oklahoma lost its waiver from federal requirements that all students be proficient in math and English by 2014 – putting some federal funding in jeopardy. The U.S. Department of Education has since granted the state a new waiver, after the state’s higher education system deemed the state’s decade-old standards, which are currently in place, sufficient. The state’s education department is currently in the process of writing yet another set of standards to take effect in 2016. Oklahoma’s waiver may embolden more states to move away from the Common Core.

“All states need is to get their higher ed system to say yes these kids will be ready,” said Brickman, who spoke on a panel with Martin at the conference. “There is no Common Core policeman.”

Oklahoma State Board of Education member Cathryn Franks holds a glass with ice to her head during a board meeting in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. The board has again voted to delay a formal plan for adopting new education standards in math and English amid opposition to the proposal by three education groups that represent public school boards and administrators from across Oklahoma. (AP Photo)

The opposition isn’t just limited to Republicans in red states. “There is not only conservative pushback but liberal pushback as well,” said Carol Burris, principal at South Side High School in Rockville Center, New York and a frequent Common Core critic, at the same event. “Look what happened in the New York [Democratic] primary with Zephyr Teachout. The group she most courted was teachers, she made a big deal about teacher evaluations and Common Core, and she got 35 percent of the vote.”

Toward the end of his reelection campaign this fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, called for a moratorium on using scores from Common Core tests in decisions about whether to promote students to the next grade after opponents attempted to link him to the controversial standards.

Burris is hopeful that elections will force politicians to review problems with the standards.

“I think it will be an issue in close races,” said Burris. “And I think over time there will be revisions especially around making sure the standards are developmentally appropriate for the younger grades and around calculus readiness in the higher grades.”

Even before the onslaught of anti-Common Core rhetoric in the recent election cycle, the original promise of the standards’ commonness had already been compromised says Michael McShane, an education policy researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, speaking at the EWA seminar.

“Forty-three states and D.C. nominally say they are part of the Common Core, but only 27 are using [PARCC or Smarter Balanced] tests. That’s a big change from a couple of years ago,” said McShane. “If a state is using its own tests, setting its own [pass] scores, and using its own materials, to my view that is not common.”

An education book that changed me: favorite reads revealed

An education book that changed me: favorite reads revealedOne of the recommended books was written 100 years ago, another dates from 1748.
by Louise Tickle

Is there a particular education book that has excited
or influenced you? Here are some recommendations.

Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power Of Practice, by Matthew Syed

Recommended by Professor Tim Brighouse Written by a former table tennis world champion, this book makes you think: “If I can find out what a kid is really enthusiastic about, and put in the right support, they can become really, really good.” And I think once people become good at something it’s brilliant for their confidence and they become good at other things. I was talking to 35 headteachers in Gloucestershire this morning and five had read it and all could relate to what the book is saying. It’s definitely having an influence; since Bounce was published (in 2011), schools really are now, from year 7, looking out for what kids are good at and then helping them improve.

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, by Amanda Ripley

Recommended by Doug Lemov, author and managing director of Uncommon Schools in New York, New Jersey and Boston, US Ripley goes worm’s eye and bird’s eye, comparing schools in the US to those in South Korea, Poland and Finland, using both broad research and by following around American students studying in each country. Her insights are brilliant, balanced and agendaless. She’s not trying to use one system to prove some point. She just looks and describes and reflects on the intersection of schools and culture for better and for worse. Useful to parents and teachers everywhere.

Overschooled But Undereducated: How the Crisis in Education Is Jeopardizing Our Adolescents, by Heather MacTaggart and John Abbott

Recommended by Chris Sylge, former headteacher who resigned to return to the classroom. Now teaches French at an 11-18 academy in West Yorkshire. This book spoke directly to my belief that the whole way education is structured is completely unsuitable to what adolescents need. We often talk about adolescence as a problem, something to be endured, rather than understanding that for society to thrive, the next generation has to kick against their parents and authority in order to think and act differently from them – and better. This book is a plea for a different way of schooling. It’s also a tirade against relentless measurement: we now tend to value only the things we can measure, such as exam results and “levels of progress” and these aren’t necessarily the things that are important in education, such as developing compassion, open-mindedness, inquisitiveness and emotional resilience.

A book I hate is In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman. So much stuff that’s written about leadership and management is a codification of the bleeding obvious and this very famous book is a perfect example.

Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness
Inside Room 56, by Rafe Esquith

Recommended by Viv Grant, ex-headteacher and now headteacher-coach, London This amazing book was introduced to me by a former teacher a couple of years ago. It is the book that I wish had been around when I first started my career over 25 years ago, in the inner city schools of Brixton, south London.

Rafe Esquith is an American teacher. His school, Hobart Elementary, serves some of the most deprived communities in Los Angeles. Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire documents his approach to “turning kids on to the wonder of learning and the power of imagination”.

His book is a reminder that deprivation can never be an excuse for failure. However, unlike much modern day rhetoric on school improvement, his voice counters the argument for a prevalence of tests and assessments. Instead, he puts forward with much humor and candor the case for a values-centered approach to learning, that is both about teaching children to read and write and about helping them to “become better human beings”.

Shooting History, by Jon Snow

Recommended by James Johnson, history teacher, Deer Park school, Cirencester, Gloucestershire This isn’t a history book in the conventional sense. It’s memoir of Jon Snow’s time as a journalist all over the world – covering the Iranian revolution, interviewing Idi Amin in the 70s, reporting on the first Afghan war, then being in Iraq – and it made me think: “This is what history teaching should be like.”

His reportage of on-the-ground events as they’re happening is really exciting but, crucially, the book is also full of analysis about what the impact of those events has been. History is about investigation, about getting out there and seeing for yourself, then reflecting on the wider strands running through historical events and connecting them, and then looking at how all that is relevant to today.

The book’s focus on that style of history has definitely influenced how I write a scheme of work. It’s less about me as a source of information, and more about getting the kids to find an experience that they connect with, and then analyzing it. I want them to question and search around for more information and start to form their own understanding of, for instance, why we’ve been at war in Afghanistan and why British forces are active in so many parts of the world – and then interrogate the morality of those events, in the context of what has led up to them.

The Beautiful Risk of Education, by Gert Biesta

Recommended by Debra Kidd, author and former teacher, Glossop, Derbyshire.

This is the third in a trilogy of books in which Biesta outlines his theory for education and I found it beautifully hopeful. Biesta challenges current thinking on education – on our quest for certainty and conformity which is driving the profession towards a belief that it is possible to be in complete control of outcomes for children – and instead asks us to consider the beauty of the uncertain and the unknown. It offers a really timely riposte to the views of the right that what is needed is a return to tradition and asks big questions about the purpose of education.

It was published this year and so it’s too early to say how it has changed my practice, but it made me sigh with relief that I was not alone and that there were other voices thinking along similar lines.

A book I don’t like is Progressively Worse by Robert Peal. I deplore the language and attitude towards teachers, the suggestion that they’ve been neglectful, and the assumption that private education is better than state.

Help Your Child Love Reading: A Parent’s Guide, by Alison David

Recommended by Michael Rosen, author and former children’s laureate

This is ideal for teachers to use as a way of talking with parents about reading for pleasure. It’s a book that lives in that space between education in school and education at home. A thousand times better than those books of worksheets telling you “How to pass Sats” that sit on spinners in newsagents.

Beyond the Hole in the Wall, by Sugata Mitra

Recommended by Thrisha Haldar, home-schooler, Stroud, Gloucestershire.

A few years ago, Sugata Mitra was a computer programmer in Delhi, when, by some accident, he managed to leave a working PC with mouse attached out on the street by his office. Some kids came to play around on it, and he quickly realized that, entirely off their own bat, they were getting good at using it. He had the idea of taking PCs to a few remote villages to see if the children there would do the same. And they did – kids of all ages were helping each other to access the internet to teach themselves English. Then he introduced a supportive adult – not a teacher – who the children could go to for encouragement or to ask a question, and their achievements became even more astonishing. Mitra calls this “self organized learning”, and he explains why he believes it’s more powerful by far than structured school learning. He acknowledges that it’s very hard for an adult to be hands-off. I read this book just as my daughter turned six, and it gave me much more confidence in our decision to home-school her, especially in the odd moments when I have a little wobble.

The Schoolmaster, by Arthur Christopher Benson

Recommended by Robert Peal, teacher at West London Free School

Benson was a writer and critic, who taught English and classics at Eton. I came across this book during my first year of teaching, and it was a reminder that, in an age of gimmicks and fads, there is much that is timeless about good teaching. You might think that a book by a public school beak written over 100 years ago would offer little guidance to a teacher today, but you’d be wrong. From the need for classroom discipline to the dubious nature of training teachers, which he compares to training people in the art of good conversation, so much of what Benson writes rings true today. He describes the ideal lesson as involving blackboard, rapid questioning, some simple jesting, anecdote, disquisitions and allusion if possible to current events.

A book I don’t like: The Perfect (Ofsted) Lesson by Jackie Beere. A cynical, stupid, and deeply misguided bag of tips that is destined to make you a worse teacher.

Seven Myths About Education, by Daisy Christodoulou

Recommended by Professor ED Hirsch Jnr, founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, US

The best book about education I’ve recently read is short and pungent, and British. Daisy Christodoulou is an experienced classroom teacher who has herself been subjected to the Seven Myths About Education, which she deconstructs in this clear, well written exposition. Some of her deconstructions are addressed to insiders. Normally intelligent citizens outside the education world would not have entertained them – except for this one: “We should teach transferable skills.” That’s a widespread myth inside and outside the education world. Thanks to this book everybody should come to know that general, transferable skills don’t exist. The experts in the field use the term “expertise”, which makes clear that so-called skills are always tied to deep subject-matter knowledge and practice. The skills delusion is the myth of myths inside and outside the education world.

An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, by David Hume

Recommended by Tom Bennett, blogger, teacher in Dagenham, Essex, and director of ResearchED conferences

My background is philosophy, and in this book Hume tries to analyze how the human mind works and how we learn anything – and he’s doing it in 1748, centuries before anyone else. He sets out what today we’d call the theory of empiricism – the idea that we gain knowledge of the world through our senses. Then he lays out the foundations of what it means to know something. This influenced me massively. I often argue that in educational research the loudest voice wins; a lot of educational junk has found its way into the classroom just because it’s “noisier”. Hume cuts through all that, and says if you cannot prove that something works, then it’s just opinion. Hume demands evidence that something has worked, not just that you liked doing it or that the kids liked doing it.

A book I don’t like: Building Learning Power by Guy Claxton, because a lot of what he says is unsubstantiated, in my opinion.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey

Recommended by Vic Goddard, principal, Passmores academy, Harlow, Essex

I read this book as I started applying for headships and it made so much sense. Covey talks about the journey from dependence to independence to inter-dependence. I love its fundamental tenet: that as a society, when you co-operate, you achieve something you couldn’t have on your own. That mirrors the journey of a good school. When they come in, the year 7s need a lot of guidance. As they move up they become more independent, but bit by bit you’re encouraging them to be more co-operative, which is, of course, a highly communist thing to say! It’s about understanding that as part of an effective and interdependent organization, you make a bigger difference. As a teacher and a head, that’s a journey I’ve been on too.

A book I can’t stand: Getting The Buggers To Behave by Sue Cowley. I detest any of these “this is the way to do it” books. They’re too prescriptive.

Collected Writings on Education and Drama, by Dorothy Heathcote

Recommended by Lyn Gaudreau, senior education adviser, Dorset county council In this book, Dorothy Heathcote expresses how we need to give the responsibility back to children. This collection of her essays isn’t just about drama, it’s about excellent teaching. Instead of saying “let’s do a play about a rainforest”, she encourages you to start with a really rich question, giving children autonomy in how they respond.

Never Mind the Inspectors: Here’s Punk Learning, by Tait Coles

Recommended by Phil Beadle, teacher and author Coles is the most radically leftwing of the newer education writers, and Punk Learning contains everything I want in a book about teaching: it’s challenging, provocative and experimental. He takes lessons from punk luminaries and applies them to the art of teaching. He reconnects readers to the dwindling idea that teaching is a politically subversive act. The punk metaphor is tricky, and could be uncontrollable, but Coles is remarkably cohesive. It is, for me, the antidote to the priggishness that is currently the vogue in educational debate, and is the teaching equivalent of John Lydon’s (aka Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols fame) advice to the working class, “Get smart. Read as much as you can, and find out who’s using you!”

 

How High School Students Can Financially Prepare for College

How High School Students Can Financially Prepare for College
Two high school students studying in library
By Kristen Kuchar

Preparing for college can seem overwhelming. The truth is, it’s never too early (or too late) to take steps while still in high school. There are plenty of things you can do to prepare both academically and financially for your big college adventure:

Take Challenging Courses and Choose Wisely

Many colleges prefer that you take more than just the basic math and science classes, according to the U.S. Department of Education. And your high school graduation requirements may be far different from college admission requirements.

The  Department of Education has a list of preferred courses for an idea of what to take if you’re headed to college. The department says many colleges prefer four years of English, three or four years of social studies subjects (history, geography, economics), three or four years of math, three or four years of science, and also a foreign language. And taking a language in high school may allow you to test out of a foreign language requirement.

For electives, take enriching and challenging courses: Skip the study period, and opt for art, journalism, or another course outside the usual curriculum.

If Possible, Enroll in AP Classes

Along with taking challenging courses, try to take Advanced Placement, or AP, courses. They can earn you college credit, which means fewer courses you’ll have to take in college — which can mean more savings.

Also, some colleges offer grants and scholarships to those who have completed AP classes, and such classes are likely to look impressive on a college admission application. Talk to your counselors and teachers about enrolling in AP courses.

Meet With Your Counselor Regularly

Finding challenging courses and enrolling in AP classes are just two of the ways your counselor can help you. Meet with your counselor for help planning a course schedule that will both satisfy your high school requirements and aid your college admission. Counselors can also be a good resource for learning about scholarships and other ways to fund your college education.

Consider Taking the PSAT/NMSQT

This exam can provide excellent practice for taking the SAT, while indicating how likely you are to succeed in AP courses. The exam is also used as part of the initial screenings for those interested in pursuing the National Merit Scholarship Program, which recognizes academic achievement in high school. For more information on the PSAT/NMSQT, visit their website.

Prepare for the SAT and/or ACT

You’re no doubt aware of how big a role college entrance exams play in determining whether you get into your preferred schools, and high scores can also qualify you for scholarships. But many students don’t take time to prepare for the tests.

Of the 1.8 million students who took the ACT college entrance exam in 2013, only one-fourth met the “readiness benchmarks” in all four core subjects (English, math, science, and reading), according to a report by ACT Inc. Those who meet those benchmarks are 75% more likely to pass the first-year college course in that subject, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Ask if your high school offers ACT or SAT prep courses. If they don’t, you can find other places for test prep, such as Kaplan.

Check out CollegeBoard.org, which offers free sample practice questions and other guides and courses for a fee. Visit Khan Academy’s free SAT prep, which offers real SAT questions and tutorials. There are plenty of books that offer tips for success, practice questions, and what you’ll need to know — check your local library.

Keep Your Grades Up

There’s truth to those lectures you’ve probably heard: Making the most of your classes will lead to good grades, which will help you get into college and land scholarships.

But focus on the content as well as the grade, so you’ll  understand what’s being taught, thus increasing your knowledge and helping you succeed on the SAT or ACT. Plus, this content can help you test out of basic classes when entering college. The fewer classes you need to take, the less money you may need to spend.

To keep your grades up, stay organized and create a schedule. If you’re struggling, ask your teacher for recommendations or see if you can find a tutor. If you can’t find a tutor at your school, find one through WyzAnt or another tutoring service.

Make Good Connections With Teachers

In addition to offering valuable advice, teachers may be willing to write letters of recommendation to use for college applications and scholarships. If you’re struggling with a subject, your teacher is your gateway to assistance. If you’re excelling in a subject, your teacher can introduce you to classmates who need a volunteer tutor, which can look great on a college application.

Apply for Scholarships

It’s never too early to start thinking about scholarships. Many scholarship deadlines can be as early as the end of junior year, according to the Department of Education. But you can start your scholarship quest as early as freshman year. Here’s how:

  • Start researching qualifications for scholarships early. Get an idea of what it’s going to take to earn scholarship money. What can you do now to improve your odds?
  • Make a list of different scholarship avenues to explore. You can find scholarships based on your ethnicity, talents, club and organization affiliations, from your parent’s employers and affiliations, and much more.
  • Talk with your high school counselor about scholarships. 
  • Search online. When it’s time, search for scholarships online with the U.S. Department of Labor Scholarship Search and other search engines such as Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com.
  • Ask the schools. When researching colleges, ask their financial aid departments about what types of scholarships they offer incoming freshmen.

Get Involved

Becoming active in high school is a great way to explore what you want to do and also make friends. Volunteering, joining clubs, participating in community activities, and playing sports can also help land you a scholarship and look great on your admission applications.

Start Researching Colleges

What majors do they offer? What resources are available for students (e.g., job fairs, internship support, on-campus outlets)? What’s the cost of living in the college’s metro area?

Attend college fairs to explore what different colleges offer. Request information from colleges, but also shoot any questions to an admissions counselor. Visit the campus, take the tours, and ask to shadow a student or sit in on a class.

Familiarize Yourself With Financial Aid and Student Loans

Start learning how the financial aid process works and about federal and private student loans.

For example, federal loans are generally a better option. They usually have a lower interest rate than private loans and can offer more benefits, such as the option for the government to pay the interest while you’re in school, income-based repayment plans, and even the ability to have the loans forgiven. Check out our Student Loans 101 article for a glossary of helpful terms.

Make a Financial Game Plan for College

Don’t wait until senior year to start thinking about how you’re going to pay for college. Talk to your parents about what, if any, preparations they made for your college education. You can use the FAFSA4caster, which can help estimate your eligibility for federal student aid.

Once you know what help you’ll get from parents and financial aid, you can see where you stand and plan accordingly. You can consider what colleges you can afford, such as opting for a school in your state so you can qualify for in-state tuition. Here are some more ways you can reduce your student loans.

Get a Part-Time Job

If you’re able to, work while you’re in school to earn money for college. But working part-time is also going to look great on college and scholarship applications. Your supervisor could be a good source for a letter of recommendation or reference. Working part-time will also teach you excellent time management and cooperative skills, perfect for succeeding in college.

Research Majors and Careers

Don’t wait to start thinking about what you want to major in and what you want to do for a living. These factors could ultimately determine the college you choose.

Plus, if you do your research in high school, it could reduce your chances of changing majors in college. Changing majors can extend your time in college and cost you more money. Visit MyNextMove.org, a tool provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, to help you decide what you want to do and explore career paths.

Create Your ‘Resume’

It’s never too early to start your resume. It can help when applying for jobs or summer internships, and will make writing college admission essays and applying for scholarships much easier. Update your resume regularly with skills you’re learning, awards, honors, any volunteer work and/or community involvement, sports you’re participating in, and any other clubs or extracurricular activities.

Fill Out the FAFSA

During your senior year, as soon as you can after Jan. 1, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This will determine what type of financial aid you can get, including grants (money you don’t need to pay back), federal loans, and work-study.

Utilize Your Summers

No one’s suggesting you don’t enjoy your high school summers with your friends, but don’t let the summer pass by without doing something productive. CollegeBoard.com suggests high school students spend their summers doing an internship (or creating your own internship), shadowing careers, or volunteering.

Many colleges offer summer programs for high school students. Columbia University in New York City, for example, offers the chance for high-achieving students to come live on campus for talks on the college application process, community outreach projects, and meet other students from around the world.

If you’re unable to work during the school year, summer is the perfect time to get a job. Search for part-time jobs on Snagajob.com.

Earn College Credits

Some colleges allow you to earn credits while you’re still in high school. For example, The Summer College at Georgetown University  in  Washington, D.C.,  lets high school students choose from more than 80 courses to take alongside other college students. With this specific program, you could earn up to six credit hours per summer. For more information on Georgetown’s summer course program, visit their website.

Check nearby colleges, including community colleges, to see what courses you could enroll in while you’re in high school. Just make sure they’ll transfer to the college you plan to attend.

You can also explore Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) to earn college credits. This allows students to take courses at local colleges while still in high school.

Ask if your high school is partnered with a college through the CIS program (College in the Schools), which offers college-level courses in high school.

Have You Been a Victim of Math Torture?

Have You Been a Victim of Math Torture?
Math Torture
by Rod Judkins

Schools methods for teaching math fail even the cleverest children.

There is a way to put right the crimes and misdemeanors of math education, a way to help children learn and enjoy math. Math is a subject in crisis. In middle school, two-thirds of students fall behind grade level in math classes. By high school graduation, less than half will be prepared for college level.

The way to improve student’s appreciation of math is to teach it like an arts subject.

I teach art and design at Central St Martins College of Art in London. I recently did a casual survey of a class of my students (age range 19 to 25) in a drawing workshop. I asked them what their experience of math was like at school. They were bright, energetic, enthusiastic and remarkably talented students. They all told horror stories of school math classes. The words ‘torture’ and ‘boredom’ were the most frequently used. Most were made to feel stupid and inadequate. Interestingly, they blamed their poor grades on their own lack of intelligence or absence of talent.
One of them pointed out that they are taught math at St Martins. Every now and then as part of my series of drawing classes I teach perspective. Perspective is a geometric a system depicting volumes and a sense of distance on a flat surface. Students learn one point, two point and other types of perspective. I used to hate teaching the subject because when students try it for themselves they can get it wrong and I have to show them the right way. Being right or wrong is not the usual way I think about art.

Because we tutors fear that the geometric nature of perspective classes could be boring, we try to make them as engaging and entertaining as possible. Not so much for the students as for ourselves. We show them medieval paintings before artists used single point perspective, then works by renaissance works by Raphael and others, then progress to de Chirico who used the rules of traditional perspective but subverted them and then on to contemporary artists who use 3D computer modeling. We show plenty of images and discuss the intellectual affect of perspective.

The students complete drawings and then they make the physical 3D model of the space. They become deeply engaged with the geometric puzzle and they enjoy the struggle. They are totally engaged in math. They felt what anyone who loves math feels, the fulfillment of thinking and the enjoyment of wrestling with a problem. They learnt the rules of geometry without even realizing it.

Math classes are not taught with imagination or inventiveness. Math could be taught using music, literature or art to make it more real and engaging. Math should stimulate students intellectually and get students engaged with making and playing rather than passively listening to a teacher. In the classroom math should be taught as a creative endeavor. Math should be an activity. As with music, art or writing, it’s doing the real thing that’s inspiring.

Research by Jo Boaler, a professor at Stanford University, shows that enquiry based learning that grounds math in real situations that students can relate to, is more effective. In her studies, different groups of students, which included a control group, were taught math in different ways. Her studies found that student’s who were actively engaged in mathematics learning, using problem solving and reasoning, achieved higher levels and enjoyed math more than those who passively practiced methods that a teacher had demonstrated. It’s no surprise that a war has been waged against her ideas and there have been vitriolic attacks by traditionalists.

The real problem is that schools don’t realize that math is a creative subject. The solution is to hand the teaching of math over to artists, actors or writers who would make it the engaging and entertaining subject it is.

Rod Judkins is an artist, writer and professional public speaker, delivering lectures and workshops that explain the creative process and help individuals and businesses to be more inspired in their lives and work. He is author of the international bestseller, Change Your Mind: 57 Ways to Unlock Your Creative Self.

Teacher: The day I knew for sure I was burned out

Teacher: The day I knew
for sure I was burned out

By Valerie Strauss

Ellie Herman became a teacher after working for for decades as a writer/producer for television shows such as “Desperate Housewives,” “Chicago Hope,” “Newhart,” etc., and as an author whose fiction has appeared in literary journals, among them The Massachusetts Review, The Missouri Review and the O.Henry Awards Collection. In 2007, she decided, “on an impulse,” she wrote, to become an English teacher and got a job at a South Los Angeles charter school that was 97 percent Latino and where 96 percent of the students lived below the poverty line. She taught drama, creative writing, English 11 and 9th grade Composition at a charter high school in South Los Angeles until 2013,  when she decided to stop teaching — a decision explained in the following post — and spend a year visiting classrooms and learning from other teachers. She has chronicled the lessons she has learned on her blog, Gatsby in L.A., as well as on LA School report, a website that covers the intersection of politics and education in Los Angeles, where this piece first appeared in November 2013. I am republishing it, with permission from Herman and LA School Report, because it is as relevant today as it was when it was written.

By Ellie Herman

I burned out after teaching for five years at a high school in a very low-income neighborhood. What made me burn out was not that so many of my students came in with reading skills several years behind their grade level. Nor was it that many of them also came in with a history of negative experiences in school.

No, my work in the classroom didn’t burn me out. Classroom work was always engaging and sometimes unbelievably rewarding.

What finally pushed me out the door was a monster we called La Bestia — “The Beast.”

La Bestia was a photocopier, the size of a Prius. On a good day, she could spit out 150 copies of an entire SAT practice test, all sorted and stapled. On a bad day, though, even if you just wanted 32 copies of a two-page Junot Diaz story, she’d throw a hissy fit, with flashing red lights and shrill beeps before stalling flat.

The day I definitively and conclusively gave up, it was after six o’clock and I was making 100 copies of 11 different scenes for my Drama class. I’d been at work since before 7 a.m.; it was dark when I arrived at school and dark now. Since our school was mainly windowless, and we were always too busy to leave the building during the day, I had not seen sunlight for three days. I want to say, in case you think I am a total slacker, that I came to teaching in midlife, having spent 20 years as a TV writer-producer. I am no stranger to long working days and, in fact, am something of a workaholic.

But teaching at a high-poverty school was different because no matter how fast or long I worked, I could not get everything done. I developed a body memory of exactly how much I could accomplish in five minutes, in one minute, in thirty seconds. I was always in a panic because I had limited control over my circumstances: if a kid threw up in the corner or no one could find the cart of laptops even though I’d booked it for the day, I had to make it work.

Everything felt like an emergency. And there was never enough time — to re-tool the grading system because a third of the class was failing, to call parents of kids who did not show up for after-school help, to do a fill-in-the-blanks version of the assignment for the English Language Learners and to find a great extra-credit reading for the brainiacs. There was no time to think. If I had to name the one thing that surprised me most about teaching, it would be how utterly unintellectual it is, or becomes, when you have so many students with so many needs all coming at you at once, and you don’t have the time each of them deserves.

Neuroscientists have identified a condition they call executive function overload, during which your brain, over-stimulated from continual crisis management, becomes unable to think clearly or feel emotions. I can see now that this happened to me. By the end of each day, I was numb. At night, I’d dream I was suffocating. I could not remember what joy felt like.

On that day at La Bestia, she jammed somewhere in the middle of my job and I just stood there. All I could think was: I can’t live this way. And when the time came to renew my contract, I didn’t.

Here in the United States, we continually examine teaching data to understand why other countries are doing better than we are. One thing nobody ever talks about is that teachers in the U.S. have a larger workload than teachers in almost any other country. According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the average secondary school teacher in the U.S. puts in 1,051 instructional hours per year. Instructional hours are the hours spent actually in front of kids—in other words, about half of the job, the other half being time spent planning, grading and collaborating with other teachers. In Finland, the average teacher teaches 553 instructional hours per year. In Korea, 609 hours. In England, 695. In Japan, 510.

When teachers in other countries are not in front of students, they can do the other half of a teacher’s job: planning curriculum, grading papers, calling parents, conferencing with students, creating assignments that meet every student’s needs, meeting with other teachers, innovating, thinking, learning. Here in the U.S. we do not give teachers that time. With Common Core on the horizon for LA Unified, we’re planning to blow through at least a billion dollars to train teachers in an entirely new philosophy of teaching. I have to wonder exactly when this training is going to happen. There were literally days when I did not have time to go to the bathroom. What else could I cut out of my day? Breathing?

I miss my students every day. Despite everything, I loved teaching. For every dark day, there were moments of immense pride at what my students had accomplished. I plan to go back. But I’m terrified of burning out again. If the United States is serious about attracting and retaining good teachers, the first thing we need to do is give us the conditions we need to get our jobs done right. Just about every other country in the world does. Why can’t we?

8 fundamental Internet lessons to teach your kids

8 fundamental Internet lessons to teach your kidsKids-on-facebook
By Jillian Kumagai

With two things as rapidly changing as the Internet and a child’s development, sometimes safety settings aren’t enough.

Besides built-in precautions like Google SafeSearch, what should parents teach their children about the Internet, and when’s the right time to start?

According to Amy Morin, About.com’s child discipline expert and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, these lessons should start “right from the get-go.”

“The overall lesson is that the Internet can be a wonderful tool and doesn’t necessarily have to be dangerous, but that bad things can happen,” Morin says.

Chronological age and developmental age — a child’s psychological maturity — can differ from one another, so Morin emphasizes having continual conversations according to “whatever conversation is developmentally appropriate.”

As a grade-schooler, that means acknowledging the Internet has adult content and not to open up sites that Mom or Dad hasn’t opened already, while middle schoolers should know how to handle cyberbullying and pornography, as well as how much information about themselves should be kept off the Internet or hidden under privacy settings.

According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 69% of parents in 2012 were concerned about how their child’s online activity might affect their future academic or employment opportunities.

See list below for the eight Internet lessons you should cover with your kids.

1. ‘You don’t have to please everyone on the Internet.’

The most important lesson, Morin says, is that kids “don’t have to please everybody, that when they get approached by a predator or a friend is peer pressuring them into something, they should know they don’t have to do that.”

This advice is one way to set boundaries without policing too hard, by making sure your child is comfortable before telling him he can log off. You should also reiterate this lesson to your kids no matter how old they are, because it applies to children of all ages — both when they begin to encounter other Internet users and when they start messaging their friends on social networks.

2. ‘We’ll recover from mistakes together.’

Told my 7yo that there are things on the internet that aren’t
appropriate for children. “So, like, pictures of poop and stuff?” she said.

“Kids work hard to cover their tracks,” Morin says. Before they can start making mistakes — such as accidentally opening an inappropriate website or sending a picture they shouldn’t have — parents should make it clear that honesty is always preferable over hiding an accident.Morin suggests letting them know that “things can happen whether you mean to or not, and maybe it’s not even your fault.” The key is to plan ahead for these mistakes.

3. ‘Start simple.’

As children watch their friends or older siblings join social networks, they’ll want to follow along. This moment is when you should make compromises for the simpler social sites, especially at a young age.

Instead of allowing them to join Facebook and Twitter, where privacy settings can be complicated and private information is more readily available, Morin says that platforms like Pinterest, where they can share content about things they like in a private space, are a good gradual step to more complicated social sites.

4. ‘Rules still apply on the Internet.’

Jax Blunt
@liveotherwise

Best way for our children to learn about the Internet is to keep them off it?
Please. Apply that to rest of world, it’s nonsense

While Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest have age restrictions on users under 13 years old, many kids lie about their ages when signing up. (Twitter doesn’t have an age restriction, although it screens in order to restrict age-inappropriate advertising.) Kids should know that, just as it wouldn’t be OK to lie about their ages to get into R-rated movies, it isn’t OK to lie about their ages online, either.

While some kids below 13 may be mature enough to join these websites, Morin says, “Plenty of them aren’t prepared to handle it. They’re impulsive, so they’re much more apt to saying inappropriate things.”

Parents should determine whether their child can handle peer pressure and refrain from saying rude or mean things.

5. ‘Stick to what’s comfortable.’

On content sites such as YouTube, Morin recommends that parents set specific guidelines based on what their child enjoys.

“If you’ve got a child that likes One Direction, [tell her] you can look up One Direction videos,” Morin says.

However, parents should supervise nonetheless, because a video that looks age-appropriate at the outset could still have mature content.

6. ‘Don’t try to set privacy settings by yourself.’


Ana Gasteyer        
@AnaGasteyer

Dear Jesus, help me to raise children who don’t comment on the internet.
Privacy settings are often too difficult for kids to understand, so parents should set a time to talk about privacy settings when their children start joining social media websites.

Talk them through who can and can’t see what they post, and teach them that they should still be careful about sharing information. Their content could still be exposed to a lot of people, Morin explains, whether they change their settings accidentally or the site’s privacy policy changes in the future.

7. ‘Time online is a reward.’

Many parents treat time on the Internet as a reward for their child, even when he or she gets older and has a laptop for the first time. Morin agrees with the use of this policy, because it prevents bad habits from forming in adulthood.

“Teach kids that it’s OK to have time without constant screens. It’s OK for them to be alone with their thoughts,” she says.

8. ‘Certain activities will be supervised.’

Personal information, such as the password for the family computer or credit card information, should be entered by a parent as the situation permits.

Morin recommends letting your kids have online freedom gradually. For example, tell them they can only use the computer alone while in a common area. In terms of using retail websites like Amazon, “insist on some type of rule that if they shop online, [you have to] approve of what they’re going to buy until they’re in high school, and they have their own money,” Morin says.

The Value of Connecting the Dots to Create “Real Learning”

The Value of Connecting the Dots to Create “Real Learning”
Open Connections students inject shitake mushroom spores into logs. (Courtesy of Peter Bergson)
by Luba Vangelova

While leading problem-solving and creativity workshops for a company called Synectics in the 1970s, former schoolteacher Peter Bergson had a revelation. “I realized learning is a creative process—you are creating understanding,” he said. “The Synectics process was remedial, helping middle-aged businessmen develop thinking patterns that are natural to young people but get schooled out of them. What the Synectics process was doing was what the school process should have been doing—helping people develop their innate abilities to create and collaborate.”

He decided that conceptual development—the learner-driven creation of mental schemas that leads to an understanding of fundamental concepts and the ability to apply them to diverse situations—is the essence of what he calls “real learning,” because it leads to competence and possible mastery, in contrast to the typical “memorizing and regurgitating” that stops at mere awareness or else at knowledge that lacks practical value.

So in 1978, he and his wife (since deceased), Susan Shilcock, who had also been a teacher, launched a hybrid learning center in the Philadelphia suburbs. Their vision was to apply the concepts of Bergson’s corporate workshops to the self-directed learning philosophy espoused by the likes of education reformer John Holt (author of “How Children Fail,” among other books), in a format designed to provide the best of two worlds: school and unschooling.

They called the center Open Connections because its primary agenda “is to nourish and extend the connection-making abilities of young people and families,” Bergson explains. The more skilled people are at making positive synaptic connections in their brains, the better able they will be to achieve their goals, because “connection making lies at the heart of the creative process.” The center’s students are officially registered as homeschoolers.

Thirty-five years later, Bergson is reflecting on this educational experiment as he explores the possibility of opening a second Open Connections in Philadelphia proper, where the clientele would skew heavily toward low-income families. Based on initial feedback from colleagues who serve that community, he expects the fundamental elements of the Open Connections approach could be retained in that setting, although some format changes might be needed (such as expanded hours to accommodate families in which both parents work full time and have inflexible schedules).

Students hook up a Lego cable car. (Courtesy of Peter Bergson)

LEARNING THAT PROMOTES CREATIVITY

Open Connections began as a one-room schoolhouse for the younger set. In 2001 it expanded to a 28-acre center offering a menu of one-day programs for ages four through 18. The program for four- to seven-year-olds is focused on free play; older students have a choice of group tutorials (covering a range of topics such as math, science and the humanities) and more narrowly focused programs, such as a naturalist program. (Open Connections differs from a democratic school by virtue of its part-time format and the presence of more structure, in the form of a menu of ongoing programs that are co-designed by adults and students.)

The majority of students attend two or three days a week; the rest of their time is spent learning at home and at various other venues. Open Connections admits anyone who wants to enroll and can demonstrate “an age-appropriate level of self-regulation,” as long as the parents are also committed to being partners in the child’s education, Bergson says. (The families run the gamut from the very wealthy to those needing to barter or receive assistance with tuition. Although there have been only a few minority applicants—and therefore students—over the years, this year the percentage of Asian Americans has jumped from zero to 15 percent of the incoming families.)

Open Connections is based on the premise that “learning is natural and self-motivated, does not have to be compelled, and is experiential, as in the Confucian proverb, ‘I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand,’” Bergson says. Its other core beliefs: There is variation in human development; there is inherent value in free play and taking pleasure in learning; collaboration is more useful than competition; learners have the right to pursue their own interests; and people learn best in mixed-age groups, in an atmosphere free of the anxiety generated by artificial grading and testing.

Out of these beliefs grew the following guiding principles:

1. A student’s thinking process is more important than getting the “right” answer

Blacksmithing at Open Connections. (Courtesy of Peter Bergson)

“When you figure things out for yourself, you learn you can figure things out, and that far outweighs any bit of information” you might absorb about the content itself, Bergson says. “My starting point is to assume that if a person wants my help, he or she will ask. If I see someone really struggling and seemingly wanting help, I might say, ‘There’s another way to do that, which I’ll be happy to show you if you want.’ That’s the key—and the hardest part—offering only after being invited to do so, and otherwise getting out of the way.”

But “freedom is not the same as license,” he adds, and practical considerations are also factored in. That means that in the workshop, for instance, “if a student is turning the handle of a vice the wrong way, my wish is not to intervene, because there is minimal risk. They’ll see it’s not getting tighter and will self-correct,” just as infants and toddlers do automatically. If, on the other hand, a student is sawing too close to the vice, “you don’t stand around and say, ‘This is an interesting opportunity for them to learn not to do that,’ because it would damage the equipment and come at the expense of the community.”

2. Offer activities that have practical value and hit the developmental “sweet spot”

“Self directed doesn’t have to mean hands off,” Bergson says. “We can’t know what we don’t know.” Children learn about new ideas and activities from talking to adults and peers, and watching them do things. So Open Connections seeks to provide a stimulating environment brimming with materials “that invite exploration and experimentation and invention,” as he puts it. It also strives to challenge students by offering activities that are just beyond their current conceptual reach, occupying “the space into which the developing mind is capable of moving at the present time. You’ll know you’ve found it when you hear, ‘Wait! Wait! Don’t tell me! I’ve almost got it!’ That’s when a new schema is on the verge of being created.”

The center also emphasizes “learning in the context of purposeful activity,” Bergson says, “where the learning is only a by-product of the doing, not its raison d’être. You are doing in order to accomplish a goal, such as build a boat, manage a business, eat food from your garden, heal your sick pet, change a zoning law, etcetera.” For example, some of the students are learning about biology and math in the course of helping Open Connections’ property manager monitor the growth of some trees (using a tangent height gauge) and study the environmental factors that affect their viability.

In the process, they’re forging multiple connections. “When you are faced with a situation where you’re trying to create something, either for the purpose of solving a problem or building something new, you sort of Google your mind,” Bergson says. “We never really know what data and conceptual development will prove useful in the future, but the more material we have on hand, the more options we have later. … So the next time they’re trying to figure out how to measure something, they can make the connection that there was this device to measure the height of trees, so why not also come up with a device or technique to allow us to indirectly measure something like levels of enthusiasm.”

3. Whenever possible, keep it optional

“We don’t need everyone to understand everything—we just need enough people to understand all the key areas,” Bergson says. “We don’t need members of the State Department to have a sophisticated knowledge of chemistry, for example.” Moreover, “who gets to decide what everyone should know? What you think I should know is highly speculative, because you don’t know my future. On the other hand, you can help me with my process—first by modeling, and second by getting out of my way.”

In practice, this means that instead of starting from the conventional premise of “I have things I want you to know, so I built this curriculum,” Open Connections starts by asking the students, “What do you want to know?” Bergson explains. “Their skill development is not my business. They own that agenda, and I trust that, absent such outside coercion, they will learn what they need to know to create a life that satisfies them.” Therefore “students freely choose their programs and have anywhere from a modest to a complete say in what they personally do when they attend them,” he says. Facilitators are encouraged to introduce students to opportunities, but the students are not obligated to take them up on anything.

This approach, Bergson writes in Open Connections’ handbook, fosters self-motivation and a sense of purpose, and also leads to “less resistance, confusion, frustration, distress and certainly rebellion.”

4. Avoid praise

Open Connections doesn’t employ external motivators such as grades, tests and honors, believing that such devices “decrease self-motivation and become means in and of themselves,” Bergson says. “Gold stars have nothing to do with genuine self-esteem, because they are external bribes, not internally derived acknowledgement of a job well done.” (Because the students are officially classified as homeschoolers, though, they are required by the state to take standardized tests when they are in third, fifth and eighth grades.)

Authentic assessment, on the other hand, is regularly employed. “We are tested every time we try to do something,” Bergson notes. “Does the boat you made or computer program that you wrote work properly? Does your essay make sense and convince your readers of your position?” Thus when a group of Open Connections teenagers created a multi-level playhouse for the younger students, its popularity and stability were a testament to the teens’ project management and client skills, as well as to their design and technical abilities (they developed the plans in consultation with an architect and engineer, then hired a contractor to execute them).

Praise is also eschewed because of the belief that collaboration is a more productive approach than competition. “All of the research shows that competition actually diminishes the quality of results—especially where innovation and creativity are concerned,” Bergson notes in the handbook. “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

5. Above all, do no harm

“We want to protect the self-esteem, self-motivation and sense of good will of others,” Bergson says. The facilitators are urged to pay careful attention to process, and to bear in mind a key Synectics learning—that there are always at least two agendas in every human interaction. One is about the topic at hand, while the other seeks to protect each participant’s self-esteem. “Whenever the latter is threatened, the former takes the back burner,“ Bergson says. Hence businesspeople prefer to defend their ideas rather than acknowledge their flaws and ask for assistance, and students in traditional classrooms are reluctant to admit to not knowing an answer.

By not making students feel like they’re being judged all the time, “[Open Connections] frees up each individual to devote his or her full energies to the task at hand,” Bergson says. “Having an emotionally safe environment increases the probability of success exponentially.” That’s one reason infants and toddlers develop so rapidly, he adds. “They don’t understand the concepts of ‘mistakes’ and ‘failure.’ … There are no mistakes, only different effects—that is, until they get corrected and perhaps punished. Then they learn to stop experimenting and wait for someone to give them the ‘right’ answer.”

To foster a productive, non-judgmental environment, facilitators are encouraged to ask only genuine questions to which they don’t already know the answers (in other words, to refrain from quizzing students) and to provide feedback using what Bergson calls “balanced responses.” These begin with comments reflecting what the person likes about what’s going on, followed by their concerns, and finally their wishes regarding change. (For example: “I’m happy to see you using the saw; it looks like you understand how to grip it. I will alert you that if the saw rubs against the vice, it won’t saw anymore, so I suggest you move to where you’re cutting away from the vice.”)

Students participate in chemistry lab at Open Connections. (Courtesy Peter Bergson)

A PARTNERSHIP APPROACH TO LEARNING

“Great solutions are not born,” Bergson says. “They are made, through collaborative interaction, and the same is true when the goal is developing skills and knowledge.” The Open Connections guidelines are put into practice by facilitators who must be skilled at understanding something from someone else’s perspective and connecting on an equal basis—and have the desire to do so. Therefore instead of trying to teach students what a poem means, a good facilitator starts “where the student is,” Bergson says. They might ask the student what resonated for him or her, what feelings the poem evoked, or what understanding it generated. The answers might then provoke a balanced response that begins by noting elements of the student’s analysis that resonated with the facilitator, followed by a different perspective that challenges the student’s thinking.

Facilitators are also responsible for promoting collaboration among the students and creating a stimulating but intellectually and emotionally safe environment. “The facilitator pays primary attention to the process of the environment, whereas the young people are largely in charge of the content of their activities,” Bergson explains.

Parents also play an important role. “They can talk with their youth about what he or she wants to do, learn about, create, etcetera, then offer them whatever resources the youth might need from them to get there,” Bergson says. “It may be that all the youth needs is free time to explore, experiment, and work it out on her or his own, or else he or she might need some money to pay for a trip or admission to a museum, or for a mentor, some supplies, or lessons.” Beyond that, parents can serve as important role models of self-direction, he adds.

Although Open Connections doesn’t systematically track its alumni, the anecdotal results mirror those of a recent survey of unschoolers, with the majority going on to lead satisfying lives and having productive careers. “The youths who fall through the cracks, at least temporarily, are victims of the same causes as schooled youths,” Bergson notes, such as “dysfunctional parents, genetic constraints, or lack of constructive opportunities to develop their interests.” Similarly, for the ones who found success, “one should not draw a straight cause-and-effect line from Open Connections to these achievements. Open Connections is only one part of each youth’s life. They, themselves, are the ones who got themselves into these colleges and work situations. What we do take credit for is encouraging them, by word and by deed, to build their flexible thinking skills and nurture their can-do attitude. This is what they tell us over and over again is the most important takeaway from [Open Connections] for them.”

EXPANDING TO THE CITY

As he explores the idea of opening a second Open Connections within Philadelphia’s city limits, Bergson concedes that “the first barrier to overcome is my own ignorance and the mistaken biases that we suburbanites often have with regard to city folks.” He has been striving to overcome this by consulting people who work in that community, as well as conducting focus groups with families to better understand their needs and challenges. Aside from some design differences (such as longer hours), he is confident that the same general approach can be used, citing examples such as the Big Picture Learning schools, “which have demonstrated that lower socio-economic youths can be just as passionate about their work and learning as their wealthier counterparts, if not more so.”

They are probably accustomed to “more overt forms of disrespect,” such as dilapidated schools with broken equipment, he adds, “so it may take some of them a bit more getting used to before they’ll realize that they are deserving of the same opportunities as their wealthier peers in the suburbs, but we are certain that they are just as passionate about growing and learning due to their being human beings.”

He expects that the presence of proactive adult facilitators would help them make the transition. He also anticipates that an Open Connections in Philadelphia would start by catering to younger children who have been exposed to little, if any, top-down instruction and therefore have not internalized “the notion that someone has to ‘teach’ them in order for them to learn,” he says.

As for replication by others, he recommends “visiting [Open Connections] and other places, then deciding what you want to create. Be clear about your motives, and then find some hard-working and passionate colleagues and, preferably, an angel investor or two. Don’t try to duplicate anything else; learn from others, but keep your own vision first and foremost,” Bergson said.

The future of higher education? Five experts give their predictions

The future of higher education? Five experts give their predictionsWoman with crystal ball
By Chris Parr

Ahead of the Jisc Digital Festival next week, for which Times Higher Education is media partner, five experts predict the innovations and trends that are set to change the face of higher education and research in the coming years

Expert: Matthew Ramirez, lead augmented reality developer and project manager for Mimas, a centre of excellence that develops technology to make information more accessible, based at the University of Manchester

“Augmented reality (AR) is likely to have a big impact on higher education and the entire student cohort, especially when it comes to inter-professional education (IPE).

“Take medical or healthcare studies, for example: there are a number of important procedures that medical, pharmacy, nursing and dentistry students need to be able to demonstrate as part of their practical assessments.

“Currently students have limited time with experts, who may demonstrate to them how to apply a cannula and IV solution or take an electrocardiography reading.

“With AR, it is possible for students to access 3D objects, supporting media and overlaid virtual imagery, reinforcing these practical skills.

“It will also enable students to study more independently, bolstered by ready access to personal devices. AR has already been adopted with great effect by the automotive industry and other commercial operations.

“With the clear benefits of enhancing students’ professional abilities and remedying the limited face-to-face time with specialists, I predict that AR will become a common feature in universities over the next few years.” 

Martin Hall, vice chancellor of Salford University and chair of Jisc:

“What we are seeing, I think, is a move from information technology as a platform for curriculum delivery to ‘virtual thinking’ being at the heart of learning and skills development.

“This is a major paradigm shift, which is why a vibrant and collaborative digital futures focus will be important across the whole of higher and further education.”

Rachel Bruce, director of technology innovation at Jisc:

“Improved sensor technology is likely to play a more prominent role in higher education, with the ability to collect more complex data on environment, wildlife, and people, with regards motions, position, temperature, sound, light and electromagnetic fields.

“We can see the combination of sensors and mobile technology evident in our everyday lives; for instance when your smartphone screen adjusts its position according to how you are holding it.

“The ability to collect and receive data via the improved sensor technology in mobile devices will have huge implications for research.

“These innovations are already happening. For example, Batmobile, a Jisc project developed at the University of Bristol, has discovered a way to easily record sound waves and detect the various bat noises.

“Developments in this technology using big data include Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world largest radio telescope which will collect the equivalent of 1,000,000 64GB iPad’s worth of data from space every day.

“These changes will improve research and opportunities for analytics to discover new things. But with it comes the challenges of processing data, storing data, and issues of privacy at scales not known before.

“Working collaboratively on these challenges and opportunities is essential so UK research (and knock on effects to learning) remains ahead.”

Mike Howe, chief curator at the National Geological Repository, British Geological Survey:

“As more and more resources, data and information become digitised and available online, I believe the use of 3D printing will expand in higher education and research.

“Currently the British Geological Survey has worked with Jisc on a project that has created the world’s first 3D virtual fossil collection.

“As a result, it is now possible for people to access, download and print thousands of 3D digital fossil models as well as view tens of thousands of quality images and resources.

“As a curator, I get a lot of requests from academics for models of fossils to study and for teaching, which can be time consuming. 3D printing will make this process much more efficient. It is still very much in the early stages, but as more data and resources are digitised and once the cost comes down, I envisage 3D printing will become prevalent in universities to enhance research, and as a way of engaging students.”

Andy McGregor, deputy chief innovation officer at Jisc:

Crowdsourcing involvement in research is not a new phenomenon – many people will remember the screensaver that allowed the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence project to use spare computing power. But it does seem to be entering an even more productive phase by incorporating techniques from video games.

“A recent example is Foldit which presents gamers with proteins, and challenges them to fold the structure of the protein. Researchers then evaluate the highest scoring folds to see if they result in new proteins that can be used in medicine.

“Foldit is only one of many examples of this approach. There is no reason to think that the potential offered by incorporating gaming approaches is limited to science or to research.

“Most students and researchers now carry around a powerful gaming device in the form of their smart phone, and simple games are relatively easy to develop. It is easy to imagine gaming techniques being used in many different aspects of education over the next few years.”

The Jisc Digital Festival takes place in Birmingham on 11 and 12 March.

 

Can you adopt Common Core math without changing how you teach? Maybe, but should you?

Can you adopt Common Core math without
changing how you teach? Maybe, but should you?

By Emmanuel Felton

The Common Core wasn’t necessarily supposed to change how math is taught, but in many schools that’s exactly what’s happening.

Many – some might argue most – American math teachers once followed a simple format: Explain a formula to the class, show an example on the board, then let students practice on worksheets.

Now, many of those same teachers are attempting to lead seminar-style discussions on the division of fractions or the Pythagorean theorem. They’re assigning longer-term projects in which students discover and experiment with math concepts, instead of training students in tricks like the “butterfly method” for adding and subtracting fractions.

Teachers are trying out these new methods even though Common Core – guidelines, which have been adopted by over 40 states, for what students should know in math and English by the end of each school year – don’t speak directly to how math should be taught.

“The Common Core is silent about how to teach,” said Phil Daro, one of the lead writers of the math standards. “When we wrote the standards we were prohibited from addressing how to teach, that’s not what standards are supposed to do.”

Student work in the hallway of Eastside Elementary shows the “partial product” method of solving a multiplication problem, one of many methods students have learned with Common Core. Many teachers say the new standards go deeper than the old standards and should not be dropped. (Photo: Jackie Mader)

But there’s a debate about whether the new content requirements alone are enough to improve students’ understanding of math. Many in the world of math contend changing how teachers organize their lessons and lead their classrooms is essential to making a difference.

Steve Leinwand, principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research’s Education Program, argues that the failings of the old format for teaching math has led countless Americans to the conclusion that learning math isn’t something they can do.

“We don’t have an achievement gap in this country,” said Leinwand. “We have an instructional gap.”

Like many Common Core supporters, Leinwand says the “I, we, you” model – where first teachers go through a problem for the class, then have the class work together on similar problems and finally have students work independently on problems – has dominated American math education for far too long.

“I, we, you sometimes makes sense,” said Leinwand. “But sometimes teachers need to turn it on its head with some version of you, we, I. That requires students to struggle, explore, share, justify, compare and debrief.”

Some experts question whether it’s smart or even necessary for teachers to overhaul both the content and their pedagogy at the same time, though.

“The problem was with what we were teaching, not how we were teaching,” said Daro at a conference of the Association of Mathematics Teachers of New Jersey. “Countries have varying levels of teacher quality but are still high performing.”

Daro thinks that the Common Core addresses the main problem of the math classes of yore – that curricula went a mile wide and an inch deep – asking teachers to cover so many topics that none were given appropriate attention.

“In higher ed, we were asking why were these students taking AP Calculus, when they needed to spend much more time on algebra,” said Daro.

And indeed, many states and districts – and teachers — are struggling with juggling the huge project of overhauling both their curricula and their teaching simultaneously.

“Are math standards going to help?” asked David Wees, a former New York City public school teacher and a formative assessment specialist for New Visions for Public Schools, a non-profit that advises 75 New York City public schools. “Yes, but there are the standards as written, there are the standards as practiced by teachers and there are the standards as students will receive them.”

He says districts shouldn’t expect for every teacher to master the new curricula and new teaching methods at the same time. Instead, he says districts should work on the changes more gradually.

“Professional development sessions, where you go over things with teachers very briefly, aren’t enough. They need to see it more than once,” added Wees. “ There aren’t very many model teachers in this country and they tend to be concentrated in only some schools. We need to create more model classrooms, instead of trying to fix the teaching of 3 million, we should be trying to fix the teaching of 1,000 good teachers so that their classrooms can be resources that other teachers visit.”

Where Should Teachers Go?

Where Should Teachers Go?

by Sonali Kohli

The best and worst places to teach in America

Columbus, Ohio. That’s where American teachers should go if they want the most financial stability over their lifetimes, according to a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The report looks at 2013-2014 teacher salary data from 113 U.S. school districts, including the 50 largest districts in the country and the largest district in each state.


Best Places to Be a Teacher in the U.S.

Data: National Council on Teacher Quality

This chart only includes the calibrated lifetime pay—earnings over 30 years, adjusted for cost-of-living expenses—for the average public school teacher. Some school districts report variations in earnings based on different performance benchmarks—standardized in this study as “average,” “above average,” or “exemplary.” Each of those districts’ salary levels are ranked separately. Taking those variations into account, Pittsburgh would be first on the list—but only for exemplary teachers, who make $2.74 million in adjusted lifetime earnings, while the city’s above-average teachers would rank sixth, with $2.25 million. Similarly, exemplary teachers from Washington, D.C.’s school district would be second on the overall ranking, with $2.64 million in adjusted lifetime earnings, while salaries for above-average and average teachers from the city fall lower on the list, to 13 and 32, respectively.

It’s worth noting that the rankings do not take into account benefits and incentives, which vary widely across states and districts. There’s also no reliable way to measure whether the differences in pay have an effect on student performance since achievement is measured differently across state lines, says Nancy Waymack, managing director for district policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality.

But, according to Waymack, knowing how much money a teacher is going to make over the course of 30 years is valuable in planning for a career and family, and the prospect of an attractive long-term earnings trajectory could help bring high-quality teachers to a district.

Another important factor is the cost of living in the area. Sure, teachers make more in New York City public schools up front, but Columbus has a much lower cost of living. That means New York’s maximum pay equates to only $23,200 in buying power, compared with $100,400 for Columbus teachers at the top of the pay grade, according to the council’s findings.

Nationwide, the maximum teacher salary is worth about $71,000 after adjusting for cost-of-living differences. According to the report, it takes Columbus teachers about 11 years to achieve that level of buying power, and New York teachers more than 30 years.

In fact, with the average teacher earning a cost-adjusted $1.37 million over 30 years, New York is by one measure one of the worst places in the country to be a teacher.


Worst Places to Be a Teacher in the U.S.