"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Friday, February 23, 2018

Student Activism in the United States and in the Philippines

Even the late night shows here in the United States are in awe. Student activists from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The discussions on gun-control legislation do not appear to fade as quickly as previous times. At this point, it seems that teenagers are no longer going to sit down and tolerate the deaf ears of their politicians. Hundreds of miles away, here in Virginia, students from the middle school my son attends have also staged a walkout. My son's principal, Maria Eck, writes in an email addressed to the parents of middleschoolers:
About 40 of our students walked out at in honor of the 17 victims from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Staff members directed them to exit the front of the building and stand by the flagpole. Students exited and reentered the building in an orderly fashion and were outside for 17 minutes before returning to class.

FCPS (Fairfax County Public Schools) respects the rights of our students to engage in peaceful protest and express their opinions through speech and other ways as long as it is done respectfully, does not interfere with the rights of others, and does not disrupt learning in the school. Our school is committed to providing an environment where everyone is treated with respect and encouraged to help others.

Our teachers, administrators and staff continue to reinforce a sense of positive school community and we ask for your partnership in working with your child to discuss meaningful actions that they can take to engage in their community.
Students are protesting on an issue that lies so close to their hearts, their own safety inside campuses. There is no partisan politics. Their message is clear.

Above copied from Vanity Fair

Across the Pacific Ocean, students are also walking out of their classrooms.

Above copied from CNN Philippines

These students are protesting against several issues: charter change, federalism, tax reform law, and martial law in Mindanao. Students from the University of the Philippines are also joined by vendors and jeepney drivers. Vendors are affected by the tax reform that now imposes additional tax on sugary and unhealthy drinks while jeepney drivers are voicing against the government's plan to phase out their heavily polluting and energy inefficient vehicles. The chancellor of the university encourages the students to participate in these activities as part of their education. Students in the United States are speaking out because they no longer feel safe in their schools. Their campaign called NeverAgain seeks both legislation and action from the government to prevent these mass shootings in schools. On the other hand, students from the Philippines seem bent towards only one goal, destabilize and topple the Duterte administration.

Blogger Tricks

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Teacher-Student Relationship

Showing a special handshake for each of her 20 students, Mueller Elementary school teacher, Ms. Jerusha Willenborg, finds herself in a viral video. Making that connection especially for a white teacher with minority students can indeed bring positive emotions from any viewer of the video. We all remember those teachers we had in grade school that made us comfortable, safe and confident. These teachers provide a climate in which we can regard the classroom as a second home. Research is clear on how important a teacher-student relationship is to a child's social and emotional development. The effect on academic outcomes is less clear but there is no doubt regarding the impact of a teacher on how we begin to view ourselves and school. How a young child copes with the social challenges inside a classroom is definitely linked to the quality of the relationship that child has with his or her teacher.

Above copied from KWCH12

In a recent study, Rucinski and coworkers find that "Higher child-reported relationship quality with teachers predicted lower child-reported depressive symptoms in spring, controlling for fall levels." Students that do not have good relationships with their teachers, on the other hand, are more prone to conflict, agression, and poorer performance in English Language Arts, but not in Mathematics. This study includes more than 500 3rd to 5th grade students and 35 teachers.

When examining how a teacher factors in academic outcomes, it is important to keep in mind that so many factors play important roles in a student's learning. There is, of course, the huge influence of socio-economic status. There are also known correlations with gender and race. For elementary school children, the quality of preschool education also matters. Nonetheless, the study by Rucinski et al. finds that there is a connection, although weak, between a teacher-student relationship and social-emotional as well as academic outcomes. And this study is especially unique as it extracts the specific contribution of the individual relationship a student has with his or her teacher, apart from the general climate of a school. And as Wichita, Kansas schoolteacher Ms. Jerusha Willenborg demonstrates, it is important to have a "personal handshake" with each of her students.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Personality of a Teacher

Values and character are indeed caught and not taught. Teachers as models inside the classroom influence how students view themselves. Students feel supported when the teacher shows tolerance, energy and care. Students can also feel positive about themselves when they receive compassion, acceptance and confidence. Teachers are humans. Each one has a personality. We remember teachers who are kind and caring. Teachers who are strict are equally memorable. Derrick Meador at ThoughtCo. lists the following traits as helpful for teachers and students: adaptability, conscientious, creativeness, determination, empathy, forgiving, genuineness, graciousness, gregarious, grit, independence, intuitiveness, kindness, obedience,passionate, patience, reflective, resourceful, respectful, and responsible. How the personality of a teacher affects students is an important question in basic education. Recent research shows that the personality of a teacher correlates with how we view ourselves but not with how we perform academically.

Above copied from ThoughtCo.

A well-known model in psychology divides personality into five big traits:

  • Openness : adventurous, curious, inventive
  • Conscientiousness : organized, disciplined, reliable
  • Extraversion : outgoing, energetic, assertive
  • Agreeableness : friendly, compassionate, cooperative
  • Neuroticism : nervous, anxious, emotionally unstable

Lisa Kim et al. in their study have looked at 20 schools, which included more than 2000 students, and about 75 math and reading teachers across Australia, to draw relationships between the personality of a teacher and the following student outcomes: teacher academic support, teacher personal support, personal self-efficacy, and grades.

Their conclusions are as follows:

  • A teacher's conscientiousness is important for a student's belief that a teacher can support him or her academically.
  • A teacher's agreeableness is important for a student's belief that a teacher can support him or her personally
  • A teacher's neuroticity negatively correlates with a student's sense of self-efficacy
  • A teacher's personality is not correlated with  students' academic achievement

The finding that a teacher's neuroticity translates to a student's weaker self-concept shows that values are indeed contagious. A student seeing an organized teacher as more academically dependable, and a student regarding an agreeable teacher as a good emotional support, are both not surprising. The fact that a teacher's personality does not correlate with a student's academic achievement demonstrates that a teacher's personality is much more important in a student's socioemotional development.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Direct Instruction

While people have become aware of the mistake made by the Aquino administration with regard to a mass vaccination program for Dengue, a much larger fiasco continues in the country's basic education system. The DepEd's K to 12 curriculum has always been touted as learner-centered and inquiry-based. The curriculum is now largely based on fads such as learning styles. Instead of focusing on evidence-based and proven methods of teaching, the Aquino administration has chosen to emphasize process instead of content, leaving the classroom leaderless. Aquino's education reform is both romantic and ideological but is an utter failure in evidence and efficiency.

Above copied from K to 12 Toolkit

Jean Stockard and coworkers have published a meta-analysis of fifty years worth of research on Direct Instruction. The results are crystal clear. From over 300 studies, substantial positive results are obtained for a style of teaching called Direct Instruction. The method is found to be effective across races, genders, socio-economic status, and subjects. Its effects are long-lasting and are even more pronounced if the method starts as early as kindergarten. The advantage it provides is very significant that it can stand to wipe out current achievement gaps based on race and income. This blog in the past has highlighted Direct Instruction on numerous occasions. In one post, four years ago, "Best Evidence Encyclopedia": Proven Programs in Basic Education, the three most successful programs in the United States are mentioned. These are "Direct Instruction", "School Development Program", and "Success for All". Among the three, only "Direct Instruction" corresponds specifically to a curriculum. "School Development Program" treats the school as a professional learning community while "Success for All" emphasizes equity in education.

I use "Direct Instrution" in my profession. It will be impossible otherwise to cover the topics in General Chemistry in a year without "Direct Instruction". It is indeed mind-boggling why people would choose "learning styles" and other unproven methods of teaching. I guess the reason is partly the misconceptions some of us have regarding "Direct Instruction". So, perhaps, it is useful to remind ourselves again of the myths. The following is a repost of "Best Evidence Encyclopedia": Proven Programs in Basic Education:

Created by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education (CDDRE) under funding from the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, the website, "Best Evidence Encyclopedia", provides a clearing house for innovative education programs. The CDDRE staff basically combs through scientific reviews of programs, taking note of the quality of the methods employed and applicability of the findings. It separates "the wheat from the chaff", "the diamonds from the rocks", to put simply, it separates what works from what does not work. Education is a huge endeavor of a society. It is a huge investment of time, resources and manpower. Embracing a reform that is not based on evidence is extremely wasteful and harmful. The education field truly has so much to learn from health care and medicine. Fortunately, efforts such as the Best Evidence Encyclopedia begin to help chart the correct direction for education reforms.

For comprehensive school reforms in basic education, Best Evidence Encyclopedia has examined 29 widely implemented programs in the United States. With this study, only three have been identified as programs that have shown strong evidences of effectiveness:

Table copied from http://www.bestevidence.org/csr/k12_meta_borman/top.htm
The list above is actually very enlightening. None of the catchy phrases often heard from education reformers is present. Instead, the list starts with "direct instruction". Is this true? "Consensus and collaboration in drawing school plans" is so much against a central authority dictating what must be done in all schools. "Success for all" shoots for equity not excellence. These simply cannot be right. Well, these are the programs that are proven to be effective based on sound scientific studies. When teachers are given the opportunity to collaborate and work as a true team, schools in South Korea, Singapore and Finland do well. Aiming for equity and not excellence is indeed a hallmark of Finland's educational system and amazingly, students in Finland achieve excellence at the same time. But I would like to focus more on "direct instruction". 
"Direct Instruction (DI) is a model for teaching that emphasizes well-developed and carefully planned lessons designed around small learning increments and clearly defined and prescribed teaching tasks. It is based on the theory that clear instruction eliminating misinterpretations can greatly improve and accelerate learning."

DI is an educational program that has often been misunderstood. In fact, so many misconceptions have been associated with "direct instruction" that there is an urgent need to debunk all of these myths. And no less than the creators of "Direct Instruction" or DI have provided a list of myths

  • DI programs are rigid and unenlightened because they treat all instructional tasks as if they have right and wrong answers. In math, science, reading and writing, there are, of course right and wrong answers. Denying this fact is a complete misconception of what education really is.
  • DI is wrong because it is based on a hierarchy of skills. Is it really possible for a child to do algebra before learning how to add?
  • DI does not recognize developmental progression and developmental theory. This is true because DI works on the premise that all children can be taught and all children can learn. Developmental theory simply describes how a child progresses. Nowhere in the theory is a prescription that education must be delayed to accommodate low performers. This delay will simply exacerbate the problem. One must recognize where a student is and start at that level. This does not mean, however, that one must dilute what needs to be taught simply because a child is starting with a weak background.
  • DI stifles creativity. Creativity in teaching manifests in a teacher's ability to follow and grow with the students. Creativity from students cannot come from a vacuum. Creativity requires mastery of basic concepts. Creativity can only spring from a strong foundation. Thus, DI promotes creativity.
  • DI programs are only for weak students. DI has made high performers out of weak students so it must be equally effective for quick learners as well.
  • DI promotes passive learning. DI promotes mastery. How could mastery be passive?
  • DI ignores individual differences. DI has provisions (as any good teacher does) to accommodate students of varying skills and abilities.
Sara Tarver of the University of Wisconsin has her own list in "MYTHS ABOUT DIRECT INSTRUCTION And RESEARCH THAT REFUTES THOSE MYTHS". "Direct Instruction" has long been known to be effective. The Education Consumers Foundation has reviewed and summarized the numerous research  studies that have examined and analyzed DI in "Direct Instruction: What the Research Says". A figure like the one below, in which DI is compared against other reforms decades ago, simply puts DI in a league of its own. Unfortunately, education reformers choose to ignore and eagerly embrace other programs that are not based on evidence.

Figure captured from http://www.education-consumers.org/DI_Research.pdf

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Person with a Gun Can Kill and a Person with an Automatic Gun Can Kill More

Sound bites capture us because of our emotions. Statements whether logical or illogical become effective only when the message is delivered in a succinct, easy to remember, and personalized manner. For instance, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.", was a very catchy statement made by the National Rifle Association president Wayne Lapierre a week after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Yesterday was Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday, yet, before the day was over, another mass shooting happened in a high school in Parkland, Florida. My family would often spend weeks in this "safe and beautiful" city of Parkland. This massacre occurred close to home. President Trump, in his first public address after the shooting, promised only to tackle "mental issues. Indeed, Lapierre's words could not be drowned. Years ago, Lapierre said, "How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active, national database of the mentally ill?"

Having mentally ill individuals is apparently the root of the problem. It is a simple message yet powerful. Guns do not kill, it is the person who does. And the message strikes a chord with people who hold the right to bear arms as sacred. Ironically, people do not seem to realize that a national database of mentally ill would equally impinge on another sacred right, the right to privacy. If gun control laws are difficult to pass, I am certain that it is equally if not more difficult to construct a national database of depressed, confused, deranged, isolated and angry individuals. In 2013, the State of Delaware could not even pass a bill that would impose stricter rules for mental patients' access to guns:

Above copied from WHYY
And research is very clear on guns and violence. Siegel and coworkers, in a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health, concluded:
We found no robust, statistically significant correlation between gun ownership and stranger firearm homicide rates. However, we found a positive and significant association between gun ownership and nonstranger firearm homicide rates. The incidence rate ratio for nonstranger firearm homicide rate associated with gun ownership was 1.014 (95% confidence interval = 1.009, 1.019).
That is a one-to-one correspondence between gun ownership and nonstranger firearm homicide rate. Guns do not make us safer. In 2017, Donohue and coworkers found that states that have passed "right to carry" laws should anticipate a doubling in their prison population.

The trend in school shootings is obvious: More deaths. But we choose to ignore the evidence. A Person with a Gun Can Kill and a Person with an Automatic Gun Can Kill More.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Raising Interest and Learning in the Sciences

Back in high school, we were required to participate in science fairs. We formed groups and attempted to discover something new. Our school was a science high school so we really took great pride in engaging in district, regional and national science competitions. One year, I was a member of a group that proposed to use bamboo both as a reaction vessel and catalyst for the formation of either ethanol or methane gas.  Experiences such as taking part in a science fair takes a considerable amount of time and effort. It is only reasonable then to ask if these exercises actually contribute to science learning. Recent evidence from research shows that these activities may also lead to a decline in scientific knowledge.

Using data from thousands of 6th and 8th grade students in the United States, Liu and Schunn from the University of Pittsburgh find that these extracurricular science activities do raise interest in science but unfortunately, these negatively correlate with learning:

Above copied from Liu, A. S., & Schunn, C. D. (2018). The effects of school-related and home-related optional science experiences on science attitudes and knowledge. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication.

Optional and additional experiences in the sciences inside and outside school do raise interest in the sciences. However, these apparently do not help in learning science. The negative effect on learning is even higher with school sponsored science activities. The study considers the following as examples of such experiences:

  • I talked to a science teacher about good science books or websites. 
  • I was part of a group that got together outside of class time to study for science class. 
  • I did my homework or projects for science class with other students. 
  • I did an extra-credit project for science class. 
  • I was part of a science club after school or on the weekends.

The study does not examine the quality of these optional school experiences in science. Whether these activities are aligned with the knowledge and scientific sensemaking assessments is also unknown. Most of these activities are peer-driven and the lack of a supervisor who is knowledgeable in the sciences may contribute to a general lack of quality. The authors note, "Many out-of-school programs are primarily staffed by teachers who lack a STEM degree, and who report feeling unqualified to teach science (Knapp, D. (2007). A longitudinal analysis of an out-of-school science experience. School Science and Mathematics, 107, 44–51.); they may be ill-equipped to guide students and correct any existing misconceptions about science, or may even unintentionally promote them."

Monday, February 12, 2018

Achievement Gaps in Elementary Mathematics

Children from low income families do poorly in standardized math exams. Children who are either Hispanic or Black in the United States also do poorly compared to Asian Americans and Whites. There is an achievement gap that can be traced to race and socioeconomic status. The Integration Project at the Center for New York City Affairs has now provided us a tool to see these gaps for its 220,000 pupils in grades 3-5 in one graph:

Courtesy of the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs

On the vertical scale of the axis are the scores in the 2016 State math test (a score of 3 means the student is performing at grade level), and on the horizontal scale are the estimated income of the student's family. We see mostly purple and orange (Asians and Whites) with both high math scores and high family income. Blacks and Hispanics, represented by yellow and green circles are mostly in the lower left side of the graph characterized by low scores and low family income. Students that belong to the same school are represented in the above graph by circles with lines connecting them. Below is an example.

Courtesy of the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs

This is P.S. 77 Lower Lab School, where the majority of students are white (the orange circle is largest), followed by Asians and a few Hispanic, and other race. The scores are all above grade level and there are no gaps. One, however, should take note that this school is really serving a well-to-do community. On the other extreme of family income, we see the following example.

Courtesy of the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs

The school, P.S. 111 Seton Falls, obviously serves mostly poor Hispanic and Black children. Students in this school are performing well below grade level in mathematics. There are schools in New York that have a diverse class. The following school even manages to have no achievement gap.

Courtesy of the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs

Black children in this school come mainly from much lower income families than the White children but the difference in their scores is very small. The averages for each ethnicity in this school are all in fact above grade level. This, unfortunately, is more of an exception among schools that admit by lottery. Below is what we see often.

Courtesy of the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs

Again, we are seeing the large green and yellow circles (Blacks and Hispanics) coalescing near the low score - low family income region.

The gaps are obvious. This is another illustration of how poverty affects basic education.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Debate on Dengvaxia Among Scientists

While there was a debate on Dengvaxia between the Philippines' Public Attorney's Office and the group called Doctors for Public Welfare, scientists from the University of the Philippines (UP) were arguing with scientists from Sanofi, the maker of Dengvaxia, in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. Antonio Dans and coworkers from UP Manila, the Asia-Pacific Center for Evidence-Based Healthcare, and McMaster University in Canada criticized the Dengvaxia clinical trials. They wrote, "The selective reporting and inappropriate subgroup claims mask the potential harm of dengue mass vaccination programs." Sanofi scientists maintained that the subgroup analysis was justified. Not convinced with Sanofi's response, Dans et al. wrote another comment where they stated:
"The failure to recognize the signals of harm in the Hadinegoro article has, through a publicly funded vaccination program in the Philippines, put around 830,000 schoolchildren potentially at risk, given that prior dengue serostatus in these children is not known. Companies such as Sanofi, and the scientists who work with them, need to acknowledge the harm signals before being pushed into doing so by public scrutiny. Such scrutiny will often be absent."
Worth noting in the response of Sanofi's scientists is the denial of antibody dependent enhancement, which has been recently demonstrated by Katzelnick et al. in a paper published in Science:
"Using multiple statistical approaches to study a long-term pediatric cohort in Nicaragua, we show that risk of severe dengue disease is highest within a narrow range of preexisting anti-DENV antibody titers."
Previous exposure to dengue is critical to the severity of a second dengue infection. This is the primary reason why Sanofi issued a press release stating the following:
For those not previously infected by dengue virus, however, the analysis found that in the longer term, more cases of severe disease could occur following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection.
Nevertheless, all of the above point to the conclusion that the mass Dengvaxia program launched in the Philippines was wrong. And the Philippines did have enough information back then to make the right decision. For one, a study on Dengue incidences in Cebu City in the Philippines definitely did not warrant a mass vaccination program of children aged 9 years and above. The study, published in PLOS in February 2016, provided the distribution of dengue infections in the population of Cebu City. The distribution shows that in the trageted age range, the benefit of vaccination is almost non-existent.

Above copied from
Alera MT, Srikiatkhachorn A, Velasco JM, Tac-An IA, Lago CB, Clapham HE, et al. (2016) Incidence of Dengue Virus Infection in Adults and Children in a Prospective Longitudinal Cohort in the Philippines. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 10(2): e0004337. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0004337

In the above graph, HAI refers to dengue virus hemagglutination inhibition (HAI) assay that identifies subclinical infections. Negative HAI are those individuals who have not been infected with dengue. These are also called seronegative. Monotypic refers to individuals that have been infected once. Multypic corresponds to more than one previous dengue infection. Dengvaxia is touted to be beneficial to those who have been infected once. And Sanofi has warned against its use for those who have not been infected. Looking at the 6-15 years group in the above graph, Dengvaxia will benefit only a very small fraction (about 5%), but can potentially harm a much larger fraction (about 20%). And it is completely unnecessary for 75% of the age group. Dengvaxia is not even warranted.

A friend on Facebook shared with me the following list of recommendations on how we could maintain trust in vaccines:

On all six guidelines, the Aquino's Dengvaxia's program has miserably failed. The growing distrust in the Philippines towards vaccines came from its government. That trust can only be regained if the Philippine government takes responsibility and holds everyone accountable.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

When Our Perceptions Are Wrong....

Teaching requires knowledge of where students are. Students do not enter a classroom with a blank mind. The same is true for everyone - we all have knowledge - we have our own perceptions. Unfortunately, some of these perceptions do not agree with reality. Wrong perceptions can make us arrive at incorrect conclusions. When an erroneous perception is made as a premise, we can really be misguided. Take, for instance, how much we perceive ourselves as connected by technology. All over the world, people actually overestimate our connectedness. We are not all on Facebook and not everyone has a smartphone. On these two, Facebook membership and smartphone ownership, people in the Philippines are found to be near the top in terms of overestimating how connected they are by technology. Filipinos think that out of every 100 individuals aged 13 and up, 87 have a Facebook account. That is so far from the actual number, 38. For smartphones, Filipinos have the impression that 86% have smartphones. Once again, this is a gross overestimation. The actual number is only 23%. These wrong perceptions can easily lead us to overestimate the impact of social media in the Philippines. There are other wrong perceptions found among Filipinos like overestimating teen pregnancy and car ownership. Filipinos, however, underestimate their religiosity. Overall, the Philippines ends up as one of the countries with the greatest amount of wrong perceptions.

Above copied from Ipsos Mori

The Philippines ranks near the top in terms of being least accurate. We must really address why we are among the most wrong.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Books Are Children's Windows and Mirrors

Books tell us about ourselves and books tell us of the world we live in. The Education Department in South Africa was brought to court in 2012 for its failure to deliver textbooks to schools in its Limpopo province. In his ruling, Judge Neil Tuchten of the North Gauteng High Court stated, "Textbooks have been part of the stock in trade of the educator for centuries. There is something special about a book. It has a very long life, far longer than that of the individual reader. It is a low technology device. It is accessible to anyone who can read the language in which it has been written. During the hours of daylight it can be read without any other supporting technology at all. It needs no maintenance except the occasional strip of adhesive tape." Research has long shown that textbooks are correlated with academic achievement. The availability of textbooks is found to be especially crucial in developing countries. In the 70's, the World Bank found that textbooks in the Philippines even have a greater impact on poor children. There is no question regarding the absence of textbooks and other learning materials in some schools in the Philippines especially with the newly developed curriculum. Unfortunately, there is also a problem of quality.

Several images are currently circulating in social media. The following were shared by writer and educator Rebecca T. AƱonuevo:

The above is supposed to be a puzzle. The following is my translation:

A symbol of weakness
honor is wealth
modesty is virtue
good looks is capital
life is simply borrowed
origin of all humanity

Answer: Female

The above obviously cannot count the number of children in the picture.

The above does demonstrate that books are mirrors. The above reflects some of the lingering attitudes of some Filipinos with regard to what is beautiful.

Seeing the above pages does make me wonder. Perhaps, it is better not to have these books.