Monday, September 18, 2017

Not Fair!

My wife teaches in a school where 80 page IEPs are common. She's had students whose accommodations have kept them from taking any assessments at all or from having to do any homework. To teach a student without expecting the student to demonstrate any learning quickly gets absurd. How can one learn without practice?

Not every learning difference can or should be accommodated in a mainstream class.  That said, this case  really bothered me.  This Nobel prize winning scientist's career is over because he refused to share his PowerPoints with a learning disabled student. I just can't understand why he chose to die on that hill. It is an utterly reasonable accommodation. The student is still responsible for showing mastery just as every other student must show it. Why the utter refusal to share his slides in advance? I think it comes from confusing fairness with treating every student the same way.

If I can make it so a student can learn, am I not obligated to do so? Isn't it arrogant of me to refuse to help? I'm sure this Nobel prize winning scientist thinks he is somehow protecting the integrity of the course. Yet there is more than a trace of arrogance in this.

I'm thinking of the physically challenged students I teach. Some don't see as well. They could never take notes. Others don't hear as well. Others aren't dexterous enough to write notes. How dare I say they can't learn? How dare I not modify my teaching to make sure more students can succeed?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Deck Toys Review

I tested out Deck Toys today. I had never heard of it until reading this ed tech team post today.
I'm very much intrigued by anything that gamifies learning. Students like games. Teachers have used review games for years and years and they are usually popular activities.

I liked some of the features of Deck Toys- such as it allows for self-paced game play, it offering a variety of game play options, and it being easy to use, Kahoot favors the quickest thinker. Students can get everything right in Kahoot and not do well compared to peers. Kahoot is fun but learning shouldn't be measured via Jeopardy! rules.

I didn't like the clunky visuals in Deck Toys and cluttered (ad-filled) screen (at least on the student preview screen through which I played one of its games) made it hard to read the graphics. I also didn't like that the game is primarily geared to factual recall.

If you are looking for an alternative to Kahoot, definitely take a look at Deck Toys. I don't think it is a "game-changer" but it will be useful once in awhile as a change of pace in the classroom.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

If We Were Starting From Scratch....

In every aspect of our lives, we have blind spots. We make assumptions. Last year, I wrote a post about making a change- a very obvious and much needed change- at the day camp which I run. It took me years to even consider the most obvious option. The reason I didn't change was because I made all sorts of assumptions, unthinking assumptions about how things were supposed to be and couldn't see the obvious answer right in front of me.
Teaching looks fundamentally much the same as it did 800 years ago.
 Think about that.  

Today in my International Relations class, which contains two Chinese citizens, I shared this sentence on the board and asked students to count the "Fs"

Go ahead, you try. Count the Fs:

How many Fs did you count?
(I counted 3.)
The correct answer is 6. 

David Brown shares this simple test on his website. He suggested that most native English speakers see 3 Fs while non-native English speakers see 6. While not a large enough sample size to prove anything, my American students except for one of the all said there were 3 Fs and my two students from China correctly counted six. 

Orwell had it right when he said, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

What is right in front or our nose but we cannot see when it comes to the field of education? I'd posit that we make enormous assumptions that school is just supposed to look a certain way. This certain way consists of content delivered through lecture, discussion, labs and practice problems and is assessed through papers, labs and especially tests. This learning is then "graded" according to a A-F scale that was invented at the turn of the 20th century. 

Technology allows us to think about teaching and learning in fundamentally different ways. Brain science tells us all sorts of things about how the brain works. Yet, in a world where virtually every other industry is changing rapidly, the field of education has been remarkably resistant to change.

As a thought exercise. If you were starting truly from scratch, what would schools look like? 

For me, I start with deciding what matters and what is worth knowing in 2017 and beyond. Usually in schools, we just add new stuff. New history content is added. Maker and STEAM is added. Yet we also keep almost all of our legacy content. 

We should consider what skills are essential for this world and what ways of knowing are needed for success and happiness. 

We also will need to redefine the role of the teacher. Jane Hart, in this article  suggests a change of name entirely from teacher to "modern learning advisor". Okay, I admit it is a mouthful. How about simply "learning advisor"? There will always be a place from some direct instruction. But I've found I teach more effectively when I'm not doing most of the talking. 

Students should have real choice in what they study. Yes, some basic numeracy and literacy must happen but not necessarily in the same order or with the same methods we currently use. Yet, Wolfram in his famous TedTalk points out that most of us equate numeracy with calculation skills. Higher order math thinking is reserved for the very few. So I'd even suggest that numeracy and literacy may need to be redefined.

I don't have all the answers. But I find this thought exercise to be most interesting because starting from scratch can let us move past our blind spots and basic assumption of what things are supposed to be like. 

Featured Post

Whoa. Amazing, amazing tools.

I've written quite a bit about using digital tools to enhance student reports, projects and publications. While an exciting visual...