Common Sense Missing in Debate on American Public Education

Common Sense Missing in Debate
on American Public Education

by Elizabeth Evans

A recent New York Times article on Common Core uniform standards to help raise the bar on what we want our students to achieve had me mesmerized and agitated. Experiencing the Common Core roll out through the eyes of nine-year-old Chrispin, his mother, and a teacher is the perfect way to see how far removed policy and practice can be. The article highlighted the many ways policies intended to improve our public schools get twisted by politics, carelessness, implementation mistakes, and the lack of stakeholder input along the way. (I also wanted to shout about 100 times, “Common Core is not about the tests!” But, that’s another story, for another time.)

Like so many words in our public discourse, “Common Core” has taken on coded meaning designed to scare, distract, confuse, and polarize people. The intended beneficiaries of this effort to improve public education outcomes have, once again, become victims of this corruption of public policymaking. The cynic in me is not surprised at how effective government opponents are at manipulating public opinion about the value of government. The parent in me is confused and angry at the idea that anyone would question a concerted effort to help our children reach their full potential.

Two years ago, I had the chance to work with a group of charter school teachers in Arizona, who were early adopters of Common Core. They embraced the opportunity to deepen the content of their work with students and bring more professional independence and creativity back into their instruction. They gave clear advice to their state superintendent of education about what would happen when every school in Arizona made the transition to Common Core.

I wish all of the Common Core skeptics and supporters had considered their advice, which was published in the report Arizona Charter Teachers Guide to Common Core Implementation: “Advice From the Classroom.” These teachers made it clear that educating and engaging the public, teachers included, is the goal behind Common Core, and the strategy to reach that goal was of utmost importance. They flagged the need to make adequate investments of time and money in both changing curriculum and textbooks for students, and professional development and support for teachers. They also were clear that if Common Core was implemented in each state with effective dialogue with stakeholders and deliberate investments in content adjustments, testing would play a supporting, not primary, role.

Unfortunately, the professional agitators, on both ends of the ideological spectrum, didn’t heed that advice. Instead, they seized another opportunity to undermine change and re-litigate ideological debates about the value of government and the importance of government services.

Change is hard and change is scary. So, it’s all the more important that when we’re making big changes — especially to essential public services like education — we take more care to focus on the goal and bring all the stakeholders together. If we are ever going to overcome ideological gridlock, we have to return our collective attention to where it belongs: the best way to improve public good through the smart allocation of public resources. That means hearing and heeding Chrispin’s teachers in Brooklyn, the Arizona teachers, and their peers across the county, including those who have reasonable critiques, who are working to make the most of the opportunities Common Core offers. It’s their professional experience that will drown out the manipulators and ideologues, fulfilling the core goal of Common Core, raising the floor on student learning, and elevating professionalism in teaching. That’s common sense.

Americans Think We Have the World’s Best Colleges. We Don’t.

Americans Think We Have the
World’s Best Colleges. We Don’t.

by Kevin Carey

Americans have a split vision of education. Conventional wisdom has long held that our K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while our colleges and universities are world class. While policy wonks hotly debate K-12 reform ideas like vouchers and the Common Core state standards, higher education is largely left to its own devices. Many families are worried about how to get into and pay for increasingly expensive colleges. But the stellar quality of those institutions is assumed.

Yet a recent multinational study of adult literacy and numeracy skills suggests that this view is wrong. America’s schools and colleges are actually far more alike than people believe — and not in a good way. The nation’s deep education problems, the data suggest, don’t magically disappear once students disappear behind ivy-covered walls.

The standard negative view of American K-12 schools has been highly influenced by international comparisons. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, for example, periodically administers an exam called PISA to 15-year-olds in 69 countries. While results vary somewhat depending on the subject and grade level, America never looks very good. The same is true of other international tests. In PISA’s math test, the United States battles it out for last place among developed countries, along with Hungary and Lithuania.

America’s perceived international dominance of higher education, by contrast, rests largely on global rankings of top universities. According to a recent ranking by the London-based Times Higher Education, 18 of the world’s top 25 universities are American. Similarly, the Academic Ranking of World Universities, published annually by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, gives us 19 of 25.

But there is a problem with this way of thinking. When President Obama has said, “We have the best universities,” he has not meant: “Our universities are, on average, the best” — even though that’s what many people hear. He means, “Of the best universities, most are ours.” The distinction is important.

PISA samples the whole population of students. When Mr. Obama said, “In eighth-grade math, we’ve fallen to ninth place,” he was referring to the average score of eighth graders. He didn’t say anything about how many of the world’s 13-year-old math geniuses were American.

International university rankings, moreover, have little to do with education. Instead, they focus on universities as research institutions, using metrics such as the number of Nobel Prize winners on staff and journal articles published. A university could stop enrolling undergraduates with no effect on its score.

We see K-12 schools and colleges differently because we’re looking at two different yardsticks: the academic performance of the whole population of students in one case, the research performance of a small number of institutions in the other.

American College Graduates, Trailing in Math Skills

Average score on numeracy test, among
6- to 29-year-olds with bachelor’s degree

The project is called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (known as Piaac, sometimes called “pee-ack”). In 2011 and 2012, 166,000 adults ages 16 to 65 were tested in the O.E.C.D. countries (most of Europe along with the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea) and Cyprus and Russia.

Like PISA, Piaac tests people’s literacy and math skills. Because the test takers were adults, they were asked to use those skills in real-world contexts. They might, for example, be asked to read a news article and an email, each describing a different innovative method of improving drinking water quality in Africa, and identify the sentence in each document that describes a criticism common to both inventions. The test also included a measure of “problem-solving in technology-rich environments,” reflecting the nature of modern work.

As with the measures of K-12 education, the United States battles it out for last place, this time with Italy and Spain. Countries that traditionally trounce America on the PISA test of 15-year-olds, such as Japan and Finland, also have much higher levels of proficiency and skill among adults.

Of course, all 15-year-olds are required to go to school. College is voluntary. But when the Piaac numbers are calculated for people with different levels of education, America stills falls short of most other countries.

Only 18 percent of American adults with bachelor’s degrees score at the top two levels of numeracy, compared with the international average of 24 percent. Over one-third of American bachelor’s degree holders failed to reach Level 3 on the five-level Piaac scale, which means that they cannot perform math-related tasks that “require several steps and may involve the choice of problem-solving strategies.” Americans with associate’s and graduate degrees also lag behind their international peers.

American results on the literacy and technology tests were somewhat better, in the sense that they were only mediocre. American adults were eighth from the bottom in literacy, for instance. And recent college graduates look no better than older ones. Among people ages 16 to 29 with a bachelor’s degree or better, America ranks 16th out of 24 in numeracy. There is no reason to believe that American colleges are, on average, the best in the world.

Instead, Piaac suggests that the wide disparities of knowledge and skill present among American schoolchildren are not ameliorated by higher education. If anything, they are magnified. In 2000, American 15-year-olds scored slightly above the international average. Twelve years later, Americans who were about 12 years older scored below the international average. While American college graduates are far more knowledgeable than American nongraduates, creating a substantial “wage premium” for diploma holders, they look mediocre or worse compared to their college-educated peers in other nations.

This reality should worry anyone who believes — as many economists do — that America’s long-term prosperity rests in substantial part on its store of human capital. The relatively high pay of American workers will start to erode as more jobs are exposed to harsh competition in global labor markets. It will be increasingly dangerous to believe that only our K-12 schools have serious problems.


Why It’s Imperative to Teach Empathy to Boys

Why It’s Imperative to Teach Empathy to Boys

By Gayle Allen and Deborah Farmer Kris 

When searching for toys for their kids at chain toy stores, parents typically encounter the following scenario: toy aisles are color-coded pink and blue. They shouldn’t bother looking for LEGOS, blocks, and trucks in the pink aisle, and they certainly won’t find baby dolls in the blue aisle.

While parents, researchers, and educators decry the lack of STEM toys for girls — and rightly so — what often goes unnoticed is that assigning genders to toys harms boys, as well. Too often children’s playrooms reinforce gender stereotypes that put boys at risk of failing to gain skills critical for success in life and work. The most important of these? Empathy.

Meg Bear, Group Vice President of Oracle’s Social Cloud, calls empathy “the critical 21st century skill.” She believes it’s the “difference between good and great” when it comes to personal and professional success. Researchers at Greater Good Science Center out of the University of California, Berkeley, echo Bear’s assertion. They define empathy as “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

Why is empathy important? First, empathy breeds courage. In a recent study of nearly 900 youth, ages 11-13, Nicola Abbott and Lindsey Cameron’s, psychology researchers at University of Kent, found that participants with higher levels of empathy were more likely to engage in “assertive bystander behavior.” In other words, they were willing to stand up to a bully on behalf of someone outside their peer group. This kind of courage can be life changing for a victim of bullying and prevent the damaging effects of social isolation and exclusion that often lead to anxiety and depression.

Empathy also yields happiness. People with empathy have stronger interpersonal connections and are more eager to collaborate, effectively negotiate, demonstrate compassion, and offer support. They’re team players, and employers recognize this. So important has this skill become that a research team in England, after engaging in a six-month review of its schools, submitted a report that placed empathy in the top three of important outcomes for its students. Similarly, employers, when asked to compile a list of the “20 People Skills You Need to Succeed at Work,” placed it fifth.

Empathy drives thoughtful problem solving. Empathic problem solvers put themselves in others’ shoes in a way that allows them to design life-saving baby warmers, easily collapsible baby strollers, and energy-saving car sharing services. In addition, they’re often willing to work with others to solve persistent and, at times, larger problems. Rather than hoarding their knowledge and expertise, they open themselves up to what Greg Satell calls cognitive collaboration, in order to serve patients, clients, students, and even their respective fields, more effectively.

It’s clear we need to cultivate empathy in all children, but gender stereotypes — often reinforced in playrooms — risk leaving boys, in particular, with a social deficit.

What Parents Can Do

Play with dolls. Parents will find that boys can be  just as interested as girls in playing with dolls. Just watch little boys when they interact with an infant: they want to pat the baby’s head and see the little toes, and their faces show distress when that baby starts to cry. Recognizing the importance of young children’s interactions with babies for building social skills, organizations like Roots of Empathy do just that. They bring babies into elementary school classrooms as part of their empathy building, evidence-based programs. Don’t have a baby at hand? Dolls allow young children to simulate dressing, feeding, calming and caring for babies – particularly if adults participate and model this care. For parents of boys, it’s worth a trip to the pink aisles to find one.

Pretend play helps children self-regulate, develop a strong “theory of mind,” and integrate positive and negative emotions. When kids adopt different personas, they face dilemmas and solve problems “in character” – in essence, they’re taking empathy for a test drive. Play researcher Dorothy Singer, Senior Researcher at Yale University’s School of Medicine, contends that make believe helps children “be anyone they wish.” Through it, they “learn how to cope with feelings, how to bring the large, confusing world into a small, manageable size; and how to become socially adept as they share, take turns and cooperate with each other.” Parents can expand boy’s empathic skills through pretend play by blurring the traditional pink-blue boundary lines. Toy kitchens should co-exist with trucks, doll houses with action figures.

Read together. Researchers have shown that reading fiction promotes empathy. Children’s book author and illustrator, Anne Dewdney, echoes that finding when she argues that, “When we open a book, and share our voice and imagination with a child, that child learns to see the world through someone else’s eyes.” Sadly, studies reveal that parents in the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain spend less time reading and telling stories to their sons than to their daughters. In fact, in as early as nine months, researchers found a gender gap in literary activities. To address this, turn to picture books as empathy primers. Together parents and boys can look at a character’s body language and facial expressions and then identify corresponding emotions. Parents can pause while reading to ask: How do you think that make her feel? How would that make you feel? What would help him feel better?

Empathy, “an understanding that other people have feelings, and that those feelings count,” is a learned behavior. For boys, as for girls, that learning begins in infancy. As University of Wisconsin’s Carolyn Zahn-Waxler aptly notes, “There is no gene for empathy.” Parents play a key role in nurturing empathy, from explaining others’ feelings to encouraging prosocial behaviors with friends and siblings. Playroom toys and forms of play are equally important. Given all the benefits associated with empathy for success in life and work, it seems like now, more than ever, we need to mind the gap.

Is Academia Archaic?

Is Academia Archaic?

by Shawn Paustian

Recently, I started seeing more articles that a college education was starting to lose value and that millennials are just debt-ridden. Reading all these articles and hearing all these thoughts made me question, “Is academia archaic?” School, for me, began to be less about studying to learn to think of new ideas and thoughts critically and creatively, but rather a way into creating a network and becoming a useful commodity for a business. While certainly not the most horrific change, it got me to thinking about what has happened to the original essence of what academia means.

The pursuit of education and the desire to learn and discover theories lead to the genesis of many universities, including the one I attend now. However, education has seemed to turn towards creation and usefulness due to a focus on mainly consumer technology. The desire to theorize about new laws and principles has been put on the back burners in education. Even in high school and middle school, the basics of being business ready seemed to be the forefront of everything I learned instead of being college ready, granted my schools had a low college matriculation rate. The majors that have the lowest unemployment rates are very utilitarian.

Empirically, most of my colleagues have agreed that being proficient in programming and IT are what will probably get you the job more than your college degree. Unfortunately for me, I took programming courses before, and I found programming to be too unintuitive. Call me an inept programmer, but regurgitating code is not an enjoyable experience nor do I ever want to do it. This realization automatically puts me behind many other people, and I have come to think that my connection to 18th century academia puts me behind the curve in terms of the job market.

If Newton, Voltair, and Locke were to live in current day New York City, I would have a feeling that they would be unemployed as their skills, writings, and research are too vague and impractical to be useful in app development and big data. In terms of the word research in R&D, meandering, thinking, and conceptualizing around with random ideas and thoughts would not seem to fit under any company’s culture as it is inefficient and would most likely lead to nothing profitable. Sure gravity is a cool theory, but how does that help us financially, Newton? While there are definitely answers, they don’t exactly seem to be the exact reason for making a company be in the black.

My affinity towards Ted Talks has always been because of the main headline “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Watching videos ranging from rethinking how we view the universe to learning how to be happy, I garnered a fondness towards being able to just listen to random and even crazy ideas. Some ideas have no use in any consumer or business good, but are extremely fascinating. Sharing these videos with my family, I’ve come across a spectrum of “brilliant and newsworthy” to “what’s the point and that person probably doesn’t have a real source of income.” I mostly heard the latter. Does this mean that some ideas just have no use?

During my time in college, I always was told, “No question is stupid.” That said, I never heard, “No idea is stupid.” Thinking differently and having it diverge from the expected answer, lead to F’s, D’s and C’s, especially in the hard sciences (except for that one rare time there was nothing wrong with one of my exam answer but was different from the key in my organic chemistry class and got full points). What I have gotten out of college is that, everything presented is correct enough to get you a job. There is no need to think beyond what you have learned and question these ideas. While many of the concepts and theories taught have never been proven wrong after hundreds and thousands of experiments, the ability to think different should not punish students to the point of them becoming subordinate in fear of lowering their GPA and potential marketability to companies and professional schools.

Practicalness is useful and has been a driving force of many of the products we use today. However, the products we use are based on the theories founded by the forefathers of scholarly research and academics who created universities and colleges to allow us to follow in their footsteps. Based on the current trend of education, very few people are following these steps. Universities and colleges are trending more on the side of being that of a vocational school–to become business ready. Perhaps after we plateau with the use of the theories already founded, the view on what going to a university means will change.

While some Masters and most PhD programs follow more of the trend of thinking radically, I believe that younger students are not as naive as once viewed by the baby boomers and the focus on research and scholarly pursuit should be fostered into a bachelors degree. Ideas, however wrong, have created foundations under which theories have been built upon and have been tested through time. Think of Galileo’s and Copernicus’s theories of heliocentrism redefining previous notions of Earth’s place in space.

Until academia returns to its original form, I guess I’ll be trying to brush up on my C++ and start studying for the GMAT to get an MBA. Maybe graduate school is a bit different.

The Most Extraordinary Speech Ever By A Graduating MBA

The Most Extraordinary Speech
Ever By A Graduating MBA

by John A. Byrne

It’s rare that a commencement address rises above the ordinary, a nice got-to-have speech filled with cliches about fulfilling one’s promise. It’s even rarer that a graduating student shows up the official invited speaker at a commencement to deliver a highly memorable and moving speech.

But it happened last month at Harvard Business School when one of the some 900 graduating MBAs stepped behind the podium and in front of the mike.

With surprising poise and self-confidence, Casey Gerald rose to the occasion, delivering the most inspiring and stirring speech we have ever seen given by a graduating MBA.

His 17-minute Clintonesque exhortation–without notes–to fellow students even overshadowed Khan Academy Founder Salman Khan who returned to HBS to deliver the official address to the Class of 2014 at the annual pre-commencement Class Day ceremony.

Gerald spoke movingly about a near-death experience with armed gunmen in his hometown of Dallas, and how that changed his life forever. “A strange thing happened as I accepted that I was about to die: I stopped being afraid.” He then decided to “give my life to a cause greater than myself.”

After arriving at Harvard Business School from Yale, Gerald said that HBS “changed who we were; it reminded us who we could be. It reminded us that we didn’t have to wait until we were rich or powerful, or until we actually knew finance, to make a difference. We could act right now.”

With three classmates, Casey founded a non-profit, MBAs Across America, which is a movement of MBAs and entrepreneurs working together to revitalize America. “We saw the signs for hope in entrepreneurs who were on the front lines of change. They showed us that the new ‘bottom line’ in business is the impact you have on your community and the world around you — that no amount of profit could make up for purpose.”

Last summer, Gerald set out on an 8,000-mile journey across the country with three other classmates to talk to people in “nooks and crannies, and the unbeaten paths,” to discover the interconnectedness of people’s lives, dreams, and aspirations.

The conclusion of his speech was a remarkable exhortation to his classmates, leaving little doubt that Gerald has at least the potential to become the next Obama.

“After all the miles and the memories of the last two years, now I see the biggest sign of hope: You, my friends, my fellow graduates, not because of what we have done, but because I know we have more work to do. In your hands as well as mine lies the hope for a new generation of business leaders in which each of us becomes a pioneer, in which each of us commits our time and talent not just to the treasures of today, but to the frontier of tomorrow where new dreams and new hopes and new possibilities are waiting.

“As we leave this place for the last time, some as Baker Scholars and some by the seat of our pants, we take up the work of not just making a living but of making a life. For if all we have learned here are Four Ps, and Five Forces and Six Sigma, we will prove William Faulkner right, that we labor under a curse, that we live not for love but for lust, for defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, for victories without hope, and worst of all without pity or compassion, that our griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars, that we live not from the heart but from the glands.

“No, my friends, we have more work to do, hard work, frightening work, uncertain work and unending work, work that may test us, work that may defeat us, work for which we may not get the credit but work for which the whole world depends. The time is short and the odds are long but I believe that we are ready nonetheless, with the love of those who raised us, with the lessons of those who taught us, with the strength of those who stand beside us as we face what lies ahead. I say let us begin.”

Study smarter, learn better: 8 tips from memory researchers

Study smarter, learn better: 8 tips from memory researchers

by Joseph Stromberg

The way most students study makes no sense.

That’s the conclusion of Washington University in St. Louis psychologists Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel — who’ve spent a combined 80 years studying learning and memory, and recently encapsulated their findings with novelist Peter Brown in the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.

The majority of students study by re-reading notes and textbooks — but the psychologists’ research, both in lab experiments and of actual students in classes, shows this is a terrible way to learn material. Using active learning strategies — like flashcards, diagramming, and quizzing yourself — is much more effective, as is spacing out studying over time and mixing different topics together.

McDaniel recently spoke with me about the eight key tips he’d share with students and teachers from his body of research.

1) Don’t just re-read your notes and readings167068424

“We know from surveys that a majority of students, when they study, they typically re-read assignments and notes. Most students say this is their number one go-to strategy.

“We know, however, from a lot of research, that this kind of repetitive recycling of information is not an especially good way to learn or create more permanent memories. Our studies of Washington University students, for instance, show that when they re-read a textbook chapter, they have absolutely no improvement in learning over those who just read it once.

“On your first reading of something, you extract a lot of understanding. But when you do the second reading, you read with a sense of ‘I know this, I know this.’ So basically, you’re not processing it deeply, or picking more out of it. Often, the re-reading is cursory — and it’s insidious, because this gives you the illusion that you know the material very well, when in fact there are gaps.”

2) Ask yourself lots of questions457326795

“One good technique to use instead is to read once, then quiz yourself, either using questions at the back of a textbook chapter, or making up your own questions. Retrieving that information is what actually produces more robust learning and memory.

“And even when you can’t retrieve it — when you get the questions wrong — it gives you an accurate diagnostic on what you don’t know, and this tells you what you should go back and study. This helps guide your studying more effectively.

“Asking questions also helps you understand more deeply. Say you’re learning about world history, and how ancient Rome and Greece were trading partners. Stop and ask yourself why they became trading partners. Why did they become shipbuilders, and learn to navigate the seas? It doesn’t always have to be why — you can ask how, or what.

“In asking these questions, you’re trying to explain, and in doing this, you create a better understanding, which leads to better memory and learning. So instead of just reading and skimming, stop and ask yourself things to make yourself understand the material.”

3) Connect new information to something you already know

“Another strategy is, during a second reading, to try relating the principles in the text to something you already know about. Relate new information to prior information for better learning.

“One example is if you were learning about how the neuron transmits electricity. One of the things we know if that if you have a fatty sheath surround the neuron, called a myelin sheath, it helps the neuron transmit electricity more quickly.

“So you could liken this, say, to water running through a hose. The water runs quickly through it, but if you puncture the hose, it’s going to leak, and you won’t get the same flow. And that’s essentially what happens when we age — the myelin sheaths break down, and transmissions become slower.”Screen_shot_2014-06-19_at_11.29.27_am

4) Draw out the information in a visual form

“A great strategy is making diagrams, or visual models, or flowcharts. In a beginning psychology course, you could diagram the flow of classical conditioning. Sure, you can read about classical conditioning, but to truly understand it and be able to write down and describe the different aspects of it on a test later on — condition, stimulus, and so on — it’s a good idea to see if you can put it in a flowchart.

“Anything that creates active learning — generating understanding on your own — is very effective in retention. It basically means the learner needs to become more involved and more engaged, and less passive.”

5) Use flashcards

“Flashcards are another good way of doing this. And one key to using them is actually re-testing yourself on the ones you got right.

“A lot of students will answer the question on a flashcard, and take it out of the deck if they get it right. But it turns out this isn’t a good idea — repeating the act of memory retrieval is important. Studies show that keeping the correct item in the deck and encountering it again is useful. You might want to practice the incorrect items a little more, but repeated exposure to the ones you get right is important too.

“It’s not that repetition as a whole is bad. It’s that mindless repetition is bad.”

6) Don’t cram — space out your studying


“A lot of students cram — they wait until the last minute, then in one evening, they repeat the information again and again. But research shows this isn’t good for long term memory. It may allow you to do okay on that test the next day, but then on the final, you won’t retain as much information, and then the next year, when you need the information for the next level course, it won’t be there.

“This often happens in statistics. Students come back for the next year, and it seems like they’ve forgotten everything, because they crammed for their tests.

“The better idea is to space repetition. Practice a little bit one day, then put your flashcards away, then take them out the next day, then two days later. Study after study shows that spacing is really important.”

7) Teachers should space out and mix up their lessons too


“Our book also has information for teachers. And our educational system tends to promote massed presentation of information as well.

“In a typical college course, you cover one topic one day, then on the second day, another topic, then on the third day, another topic. This is massed presentation. You never go back and recycle or reconsider the material.

“But the key, for teachers, is to put the material back in front of a student days or weeks later. There are several ways they can do this. Here at Washington University, there are some instructors who give weekly quizzes, and used to just put material from that week’s classes on the quiz. Now, they’re bringing back more material from two to three weeks ago. One psychology lecturer explicitly takes time, during each lecture, to bring back material from days or weeks beforehand.

“This can be done in homework too. It’s typical, in statistics courses, to give homework in which all of the problems are all in the same category. After correlations are taught, a student’s homework, say, is problem after problem on correlation. Then the next week, T tests are taught, and all the problems are on T tests. But we’ve found that sprinkling in questions on stuff that was covered two or three weeks ago is really good for retention.

“And this can be built into the content of lessons themselves. Let’s say you’re taking an art history class. When I took it, I learned about Gauguin, then I saw lots of his paintings, then I moved on to Matisse, and saw lots of paintings by him. Students and instructors both think that this is a good way of learning the painting styles of these different artists.

“But experimental studies show that’s not the case at all. It’s better to give students an example of one artist, then move to another, then another, then recycle back around. That interspersing, or mixing, produces much better learning that can be transferred to paintings you haven’t seen — letting students accurately identify the creators of paintings, say, on a test.

“And this works for all sorts of problems. Let’s go back to statistics. In upper level classes, and the real world, you’re not going to be told what sort of statistical problem you’re encountering — you’re going to have to figure out the method you need to use. And you can’t learn how to do that unless you have experience dealing with a mix of different types of problems, and diagnosing which requires which type of approach.”

8) There’s no such thing as a “math person”


“There’s some really interesting work by Carol Dweck, at Stanford. She’s shown that students tend to have one of two mindsets about learning.

“One is a fixed learning model. It says, ‘I have a certain amount of talent for this topic — say, chemistry or physics — and I’ll do well until I hit that limit. Past that, it’s too hard for me, and I’m not going to do well.’ The other mindset is a growth mindset. It says that learning involves using effective strategies, putting aside time to do the work, and engaging in the process, all of which help you gradually increase your capacity for a topic.

“It turns out that the mindsets predict how well students end up doing. Students with growth mindsets tend to stick with it, tend to persevere in the face of difficulty, and tend to be successful in challenging classes. Students with the fixed mindset tend not to.

“So for teachers, the lesson is that if you can talk to students and suggest that a growth mindset really is the more accurate model — and it is — then students tend to be more open to trying new strategies, and sticking with the course, and working in ways that are going to promote learning. Ability, intelligence, and learning have to do with how you approach it — working smarter, we like to say.”

Top students shun teaching careers

Top Students Shun Teaching Careers 

THE nation’s best students are increasingly deciding
against becoming school teachers, research shows. 

A REPORT compiled by the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership obtained by News Corp Australia shows more than 40 per cent of students entering the profession in 2005 were drawn from the top echelons but by 2012, the number had dropped to fewer than 30 per cent.

At the same time, the proportion of students entering teaching with poor Year 12 results rose to 13 per cent from less than 10 per cent.

Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos has told The Australian the union supports measures to increase teacher education entry levels and believes a cap on the number of places available is needed.

Mr Gavrielatos also questioned why Education Minister Christopher Pyne had commissioned a review of teacher education and excluded issues relating to enrolment standards from its terms of reference.

The institute’s report, which uses customised data provided by the federal Education Department, reveals a startling attrition of the brightest students out of teaching.

It also finds that one in five teaching students are from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared with 15 per cent in other degrees, and teaching also has a greater representation of students from regional areas: 26 per cent compared with 20 per cent.


Beyond You’re vs. Your: A Grammar Cheat Sheet Even The Pros Can Use

Beyond You’re vs. Your: A Grammar
Cheat Sheet Even The Pros Can Use

by Hayley Mullen

Because grammar can be tricky and we don’t have time to Google everything.

Grammar is one of those funny things that sparks a wide range of reactions from different people. While one person couldn’t care less about colons vs. semicolons, another person will have a visceral reaction to a misplaced apostrophe or a “there” where a “their” is needed (if you fall into the latter category, hello and welcome).

I think we can still all agree on one thing: poor grammar and spelling takes away from your message and credibility. In the worst case, a blog post rife with errors will cause you to think twice about how knowledgeable the person who wrote it really is. In lesser cases, a “then” where a “than” should be is just distracting and reflects poorly on your editing skills. Which is a bummer.

I like to think that my grammar is pretty good for the average bear, but when I’m writing or editing things I’ll often turn to Google to make sure my instincts are right (especially when it comes to proper punctuation and its weird little tricks), or realize they’re not and quietly sob at my desk before composing myself and moving on.

Which is why I created this list (originally for readers of the Uberflip blog)— to have on hand for when you’re not quite sure, find the answer and get back to that article you were working on. It’s a work in progress that I dream of one day being the ultimate cheat sheet that addresses everyone’s biggest grammar pet peeves. If I’m missing something you think should be added, let me know!
Repeat Offenders

You probably already know these, but a grammar cheat sheet just wouldn’t be complete without them.

Their is possessive, meaning it owns something. There refers to a place or an idea. They’re is a contraction for “they are.”

Example: Their grammar was impeccable. There were no mistakes to be found in the article. They’re probably going to be promoted soon.

Then refers to timing — you did one thing, then you did another. Than is comparative.

Example: I ate McDonald’s for dinner, then followed it up with a bowl of Haagen Dazs. Still, my eating habits are better now than when I was in college.

Its is possessive, like their. It’s is a contraction for “it is.”

Example: It’s a shame we missed the baby ocelot exhibit but its lineup was way too long, even for an ocelot show.
Your/You’re (because I can’t resist)
Like its and their, your is possessive, meaning you own something. You’re is a contraction of “you are.”

Example: Your car is being towed because you’re the type of person who doesn’t read signs.
Other Commonly Misused/Misspelled Words


There is no “A” in definitely.

Example: “Definately” is definitely not a word.

Affect is a verb, as in something is affecting something else. Effect is the result of something being affected.*

Example: The effects of construction in Toronto greatly affect how rage-inducing my commute is.

*This isn’t actually a hard rule, as effect can be used in certain cases as a verb. For example, “I effected a solution.”
A lot

A lot is two words.

Example: People write “alot” a lot, but it’s a whole lot of wrong.

Loose refers to the tightness of something. Lose is used when something is lost.

Example: If your doorknob comes loose and falls off, you lose the ability to leave your apartment. Please send help and/or non-perishable food items.

Weather is all that temperature and precipitation stuff. Whether expresses a condition.

Example: I’m determined to wear shorts today, whether or not the weather complies.

Both of these are used to imply that something could happen or could have happened. May is used when there is a greater likelihood of something happening, while might is used to indicate there is little chance.

Example: I may have time to catch up on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills tonight, but I might use that time to go for a jog instead.

Continual indicates something that continues over a long period of time, with intervals of interruption. Continuous indicates duration without interruption.

Example: Joey played Angry Birds continuously during class. His teacher would continually ask him to stop, before deeming him a lost cause and giving up.

Lay requires a direct object. Lie doesn’t require an object. The past tense of lay is laid, while the past tense of lie is lay.

Example: I lay my head down on the pillow/I laid my head down on the pillow.

Example: The rocks lie near the stream/The rocks lay near the stream.

Use that when you’re writing about something, and who when you’re writing about someone or a group of people.

Example: The apartment above me is the one that all of the noise is coming from. Jillian, the woman who lives there, owns several parrots.

That is used to introduce a restrictive clause which, if removed, will make the sentence nonsensical. Which is used with a nonrestrictive clause. Think of it as adding more information.

Example: My dog that is small has a total Napoleon complex.

Example: My car, which I’ve had for 10 years, still runs as well as the day I stole it.

A compliment is what you pay to someone or something. Complement refers to something going well with or enhancing something else.

Example: Emily has been getting a lot of compliments on her sweater today. People say the color complements the green in her eyes.


Nor is negative. Use nor with neither, and or with either.

Example: Neither Debbie nor Alison will be coming to the baby shower. Either they have food poisoning or we should expect an invite to their own showers about 8 months from now.

Comprise refers to what something contains, while compose refers to what something is made up of. You’ll know which one to use depending on how it is speaking about the subject of the sentence.

Example: One day in world wide web comprises more tweets, blog posts and emails than you can imagine.

Example: The United States is composed of 50 states.


Who is used when referring to the subject, or the person doing something. Whom is used for the object, or the person having something done to them. Tip: Who can often be applied when the answer is he/she/they, while whom works with her/him/them.

Example: Who forgot to close the back door and let the ‘possums in again?

Example: To whom is this suspiciously unmarked package being delivered?


Using I or me in a sentence when you’re referring to you and another person/people also depends on whether you’re the subject or the object. If you’re the subject, use I (or we). If you’re the object, use me (or us).

Example: If Heather and I get to the cottage first, we’re claiming the best bedrooms.

Example: They told Alex and me to go outside and get some fresh air.
Everyday/Every day

Everyday is an adjective used to describe something that occurs daily or is commonplace. Every day means “each day.”

Example: Drinking coffee is an everyday habit for me.

Example: I drink coffee every day.


Colons are used after an independent clause that precedes a list, or to separate an explanation or example of the preceding clause.

Example: The Uberflip blog is a great resource for everything content marketing: social media, inbound marketing, copywriting, SEO, and more.*

*Shameless plug 1 of 2.

You can use semicolons to join independent clauses where connectors (and, or, but) and commas aren’t used, or to separate long or complicated items in a series.

Example: Everyone hopes this summer will be a good one; after the soul-crushing winter we’ve had, some serious sunshine is in order.

Place a hyphen between a two-word description that refers to the thing it’s preceding.

Example: Place a hyphen between a two-word description that refers to the thing it’s preceding.

A dash is like a comma in that it introduces a related element. A dash, however, is more dramatic as it interrupts the flow of the sentence. This dash, an em dash, is different from an en dash, which is shorter and usually only used to indicate a range of numbers.

Example: An Uberflip Hub is the best gift you can give your content — it’s much better than having everything live in sad, lonely silos.

Example: I’ll be out of the office from July 18-July 21, so don’t bother emailing.

Semicolons, colons and dashes always go outside the quotation mark, while periods and commas always go inside. Question marks and exclamation points are placed either inside or outside, depending on whether they apply to the quotation or the sentence itself.

Example: Did you mean the movie or the country when you asked if I want to come to “Madagascar”?

Example: When I asked my nephew who his favorite person is, he replied “Aunt Hayley!”*

*A chocolate bribe may have been involved.

If a single thing or person owns something, use an apostrophe before the “s”. If the thing or group you’re referring to is plural, put the apostrophe after the “s”.

Example: The Uberflip office’s ping pong table is in high demand at lunch time.

Example: A second table may be needed to accommodate all of the team members’ thirst for ping pong.
Comma Splices

Comma splices most often occur when a comma is used without a conjunction (like and, but, or as) or in place of a period or semicolon that divides or joins two thoughts that could be complete sentences on their own.

Example (wrong): Stacey was the nicest girl in class, she always shared the rainbow frosting from her Dunkaroos.

Example (right): Stacey was the nicest girl in class, because she always shared the rainbow frosting from her Dunkaroos.

Example 2 (right): Stacey was the nicest girl in class. She always shared the rainbow frosting from her Dunkaroos.
The Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma is the name given to the final comma in a series. It’s completely optional, but personally, I’m on team OC.


That’s all for now! Here’s hoping it saves you one fewer Google search (or potential grammar fail).

PS. I’m fully aware that writing post about grammar on the Internet means my own grammar will be ripped to shreds. So have at it! I can take it — that’s what wine is for.

The Paradox Of The Modern Teacher

The Paradox Of The Modern Teacher

by Terry Heick

22 propositions in an attempt to etch out the paradox of the modern teacher.

  1. Teaching is just a word.
  2. As a word, it connotes the distribution of knowledge.
  3. Knowledge, as a word, connotes a blend of facts, perspectives, and abstractions.
  4. Collectively, these components cannot be distributed.
  5. Knowledge, therefore, cannot be distributed, but content can.
  6. In response, education parses “knowledge” into content, and content again into standards–then distributes content in hopes that knowledge results.
  7. Because of technology, it is less necessary than ever for teachers to distribute content. There are new roles, including connecting students with peers, networks, and content that is not packaged academically.
  8. This is somewhat at odds with the traditional sense of teaching. Teaching can be thought of as involving two phases: 1) An invitation to learning–the strategic interaction between students and content, and 2) Managing the response to the above interaction.
  9. This approach centralizes the modern teacher as the most crucial of all to the success of a learning process–a process that at the cognitive level is between the student and the content.
  10. This makes even the “best” teacher the bottleneck of every process–a process itself made of countless–and endlessly shifting–parts: people, content, technology, strategies, and trends.
  11. These parts are in a constant state of change, much like a liquid. They take the shape of local cultural (human), and technological (non-human) vessels.
  12. This suggests that teaching itself must also be like a liquid. If teaching is just a word, as with other words its meaning changes over time.
  13. Teachers are evaluated, in part, by their ability to manage learning processes. Their self-image and identity here influences how they fulfill their role in the learning process.
  14. That role will change endlessly. It isn’t critical, then, how it is labeled–facilitator, guide, coach, etc.–but it is critical how it is conceived and purposed by the teachers and their colleagues.
  15. As conditions change, teachers are presented with an apparent contradiction. They are asked to show leadership as well as “followship”; to innovate and to “buy-in”; to respect both wisdom and trend; to focus not on what they’re doing, but on what students do; to connect, to filter, and to shield.
  16. Through technology, students are increasingly exposed to more and more information–facts, perspectives, and abstractions.
  17. The modern teacher has the ability to control the flow of that information–to teach wide open, or act as a strategic filter. Go with the flow, or less is more.
  18. Curriculum, assessment, learning models, and technology may evolve recklessly, or refuse to evolve at all. The same with content, prevailing public opinion, social taboos, and so on. These are all practices and ideas teaching has to respond to. Teachers don’t have the luxury of refusing to respond.
  19. Not all change is good. Only over time can cause-effect be properly sorted out. Evolution, by its very nature, is neither good nor bad, but rather aligned or not with local ecologies.
  20. The truly “modern teacher” is then faced with a problem. They are, ultimately, defined by their ability to identify and respond to changing cultural, knowledge, and technological trends while instinctively being uncertain of the change, of their role in regards to that change, and of their autonomy in enacting it.
  21. The world is moving forward at breakneck speed, and every bit of that change–in ed policy, standards, curriculum, and technology–are all ultimately managed by the teacher where the rubber hits the road in the classroom.
  22. The paradox of the modern teacher can be thought of as this: As technology dissolves the walls of classrooms and connect students endlessly to everything, I am all that stands between the student and the world. How should I respond?

I’m a Teaching Veteran — Not a Dinosaur

I’m a Teaching Veteran — Not a Dinosaur

by Nancy Barile

A flipped learning guru from the west coast recently visited my school for an afternoon professional development session. He started his presentation by remarking about how impressed he was during his walk around our school building because “the faculty is young and vibrant. It’s such a breath of fresh air.” Excuse me? I may be 55 years old, but I still consider myself pretty damn vibrant.

That wasn’t the first time someone implied that veteran teachers are not as valuable as young teachers. A reporter from the Boston Globe wrote an op-ed piece about my high school in which he attributed part of our success to the fact that “Traditional pecking orders were scuttled. Skills trumped seniority.” Now, perhaps I’m being oversensitive, but I’m an English teacher — and that quote implies that because I have seniority, I don’t have skills. Instead of being happy about an article that celebrated my school’s success, my fellow veteran teachers and I were incensed.

A recent Facebook posting by a friend in California also raised my ire. He was applauding his state’s decision to do away with teacher tenure, writing: “Now we can advance younger, tech-savvy, good teachers.” But technological ability isn’t exclusively a domain of the young . In fact, my veteran colleagues and I have become quite proficient using technology. It’s a necessary skill for helping our students learn 21st-century skills. Technological expertise is just one tool in an expansive toolkit of strategies and pedagogical approaches that veteran teachers use to reach students.

What I want to know is: when did my age and length of teaching experience become the defining factor in my ability to teach? Just because I taught your mom doesn’t mean that I can’t connect with my 16-year-old students and engage them in exciting and effective ways. What happened to tapping into the expertise and experience of veteran teachers?
Instead of denigrating veteran teachers, let’s keep the focus on mentoring — both traditional and reverse — to create a collegial and mutually respectful environment where teachers collaborate in order to advance student learning.

It’s true that younger teachers often possess a different skill set than veteran teachers. It’s also true that most younger teachers are adept at using numerous software programs for instruction, assessment, and data collection. But technological proficiency is a transferable skill. You don’t have to be a “digital native” to negotiate the terrain.

I’m a National Board Certified Teacher, and I’ve been mentoring new teachers for over 13 years. I enjoy welcoming new teachers to the profession, helping them build content strength, and assisting them with everything from classroom management to communicating with parents. But I also appreciate the relationship building that takes place with reverse mentoring; I have always been open and excited about learning from new teachers.

For teachers like me who have no desire to enter administration and who want to stay in the classroom, reverse mentoring is absolutely essential. My current Director was once a student in my sophomore English class. Many of my former mentees are now experts in flipped learning and using iPads in the classroom. I frequently turn to them for assistance and new ideas — which is essential for continuing to improve and refine my practice.
Schools need to recognize the importance of reverse mentoring. Administrators should support cross-functional teams, such as professional learning groups, in which both veteran and novice practitioners share their knowledge and expertise.


Veteran teachers are not dinosaurs. We have mastered technology. We can still engage our students as well as any young teacher. The bottom line is that we need to encourage both traditional and reverse mentoring between veteran and young teachers because both can learn a great deal from one another. So rather than creating a schism that pits veteran teachers against new teachers, let’s work together to create flexible, collaborative school cultures that allow for the sharing of ideas, knowledge, and expertise. I’ve got at least ten more years in the classroom–so let’s grow and work together for the benefit of all students and teachers.