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Showing posts from February, 2013

Teachers Should Be Seen and Heard

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I was chatting with a scientist from the California Institute of Technology a few days ago and I mentioned Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). I mentioned it not in a positive light. The scientist remarked that I must be a good teacher. I thought that was quite amusing. Seriously, when it comes to education, everyone seems to have an opinion. Some would even go as far as claiming to represent teachers and accuse those who do not agree as being so distant from the trenches.

Teachers should be seen and heard. This is not exactly the title of a popular article written by the 2009 United States National Teacher of the Year, Anthony J. Mullen.
Mullen's article is "Teachers Should be Seen and Not Heard". Mullen describes in the article a discussion over lunch during an education conference. Sharing the table with Mullen are three governors, a state senator, a professor from Harvard, and another person who volunteered to act as moderator. The conversation basically portrays Mul…

Test Anxieties: A Barrier to Learning Assessment

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Back in Chicago, when I was a teaching assistant in General Chemistry, the professor used the word "party" whenever referring to an exam inside the classroom. With every exam, the professor also added humorous cartoons on the first page. The purpose is to somehow relieve test anxiety which significantly impairs a student's academic performance. Taking an exam seriously and preparing for it is good. However, worrying about an exam needlessly with particular emphasis on scores as measures of success or failure is harmful. This is test anxiety. With education reforms, tests serve as measures of learning outcomes. Test scores are sought to gauge whether a given educational reform is working or not. With higher stakes, greater attention is given to scores in these tests. When tests are used not just to assess a student's learning, but also the future of an educational program, the pressure becomes higher. Grades, which are partly, if not dominantly determined by scores in…

Make Us Think or Make Us Sink

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I recently read an article by Anna Gabriell Balan, a psychology sophomore at the University of the Philippines, Visayas. This article, "Education in the Clouds" was published as an opinion piece in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Here are some excerpts: For sheer adventure, I was led to a place where science is taught but is often contradicted by practice. I had heard news of a series of deaths that struck a grade school. The incidents were ascribed to the supernatural because three students died without a logical medical reason, and more of them manifested the same symptoms......The school has nothing to boast of by way of innovation except for a newly purchased but outdated desktop computer. The roof posed grave danger, and one time a huge snake just dropped from it into the middle of the class. Anyway, the students have adapted to that, so no one let out an elitist scream. The library seemed to be a repository of ancient texts, with decaying books that still recognized Plu…

Poverty and Basic Education

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Statistics helps to inform. Proficiency exams are diagnostic. Their utility lies not so much in seeing who is better. An exam's greater use is helping us see where the problem lies. The National Center of Education Statistics in the United States has performed an excellent analysis of the student performance in the five most populous states (National Center for Education Statistics (2013).The Nation s Report Card: Mega States: An Analysis of Student Performance in the Five Most Heavily Populated States in the Nation (NCES 2013 450). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.)

These states do represent a significant fraction of the student population in the country. Trends seen in these states are likely to be present in the other states. Students in these five states can be categorized as shown in the table below:

The student:teacher ratios are more or less the same throughout the five states. California may be a bit high with 24 pupils per tea…

State of the Heart

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There is "state of the art". There is "state of the heart". Technology can deliver but only in the mind does imagination flourish. Without engagement, both text and images remain simply on the medium. The internet is no different from books in print. Everything remains there unless a seeking spirit captures it and takes ownership. Peter Guber writes in "The Inside Story" (posted in Psychology Today): PowerPoint presentations may be powered by state-of-the-art technology. But reams of data rarely engage people to move them to action. Stories, on the other hand, are state-of-the-heart technology—they connect us to others. They provide emotional transportation, moving people to take action on your cause because they can very quickly come to psychologically identify with the characters in a narrative or share an experience—courtesy of the images evoked in the telling...

...Navigating a Narrative World, without stories not only would we not likely have survived…

Digital is Cheaper?

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I often wonder what educators thought when televisions became readily available. It probably implied a revolution in education. Informational programs could be broadcast and children could view lessons in homes. Video tape recorders and players also came. With these new tools, students no longer needed to wait for an educational program. They could view programs any time as long as the tape was available. Audio tapes likewise had significant impact. With recording capability, one could store their favorite songs once it was played on the radio and had the convenience of playing it back, whenever, wherever. A "seek" button was a great innovation for it allowed to either fast forward or rewind back to a specific segment one wanted to hear. Digital video and compact discs were even better since there was much less "wear and tear" on the medium with repeated playbacks, rewinds and fast forwards. Indeed, these were all new technology that found some impact on our lives.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), Seriously?

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Maria Bustillos of The Awl recently wrote quite a lengthy essay, "Venture Capital's Massive, Terrible Idea For The Future Of College". The article was placed under "Bad Education". In the essay, Bustillos covered the reflective and polite debate between Aaron Bady and Clay Shirky. Clay Shirky suggests that the internet's effect on education will be similar to what happened in the music industry. In his blog, Shirky wrote: "The recording industry concluded this new audio format would be no threat, because quality mattered most. Who would listen to an MP3 when they could buy a better-sounding CD at the record store? Then Napster launched, and quickly became the fastest-growing piece of software in history. The industry sued Napster and won, and it collapsed even more suddenly than it had arisen.If Napster had only been about free access, control of legal distribution of music would then have returned the record labels. That’s not what happened. Instead, …

How Do We Assure Quality?

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National achievement exams for basic education are quite common in countries that desire to assess the quality of learning in primary and secondary schools. The top country in education, Finland, however, does not subscribe to testings, school rankings, and inspections. This actually makes sense since if these exams reveal inadequacies, it is too late in the process. Quality in Finland's education system comes from the starting point of basic education: Teachers. The requirements to become a teacher in Finland are very stringent, accepting only the cream of the crop. Quality assurance in basic education is best achieved by keeping an eye on higher education. Future teachers come from institutions of higher learning, the colleges and universities. Heads of schools do their postgraduate work in these institutions as well. An ailing basic education is a symptom of problems in higher education.
The Philippines is one country that that has the following specific statement in its const…

Games for Learning

Technology in the classroom can truly make a difference if it enables something unique inside the classroom. One unique learning strategy with technology is the technology itself. A lot of children play computer or internet games. Games seem to be engaging, if not addictive. How can games help in learning is a key question in designing effective technology inside a classroom. Designing games, of course, takes technology into a real educational level. Writing one obviously requires introduction to a structure and a language that allows translation of ideas into a computer, tablet or phone screen. Constructing a computer game introduces a child into how systems work while probing concepts in the sciences and the arts. A game, after all, should make sense, and, at the same time, should be appealing to the senses. Imagining a game paves the way to anticipating and participating in social online interactions. Games can indeed serve as a gateway for most children to digital literacy. Design…

Technology in the Classroom - The Real Deal

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The question of how technology inside the classroom really helps in learning is an important question. This question can be addressed at various levels. One is in terms of enabling. Technology can make new schemes possible. Take, for example, clickers. It is a new way of collecting responses from students. It can be made anonymous so that even the shiest student in the class can participate. A teacher can easily get feedback via quick quiz questions and feel the pulse of the entire class. Talks from other speakers as well as demonstrations can be presented inside a classroom. Conference calls can be made. There are other examples. Enabling, however, is only one factor that needs to be considered in evaluating the use of technology inside a classroom. A second important factor is efficiency, measured in terms of the results placed against the resources used. With this factor, money is crucial. The costs need to be compared. The following is a nice table and graphic that nicely illustra…

Peer Influence: A Cheaper Education Reform

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At the Ateneo, I actually took a class where the students were assigned seats. It was a class in Economics and the students were seated alphabetically. Having a last name that started with "D", I was seated near the front row. Seating arrangements were also employed in the small parochial school that I attended in Quiapo, Manila. In grade school, however, we were not seated alphabetically. Instead, our place inside the classroom was determined by our test scores. There was the "star" column and the top quartile was assigned to this column of school desks. The setup was quite similar to the photo shown below:

Facing the blackboard, the "star" column was the rightmost. In this arrangement, we were made quite aware of where we stood in the class. The seating assignment was adjusted or updated every quarter but throughout the years, there was really no movement. For years, the makeup of the "star" column was unchanged. In high school, some classes w…

Another Science Project in First Grade

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This Saturday was cold so it was not really a good time to visit the National Zoo. Most animals would be indoors so my son would probably see only a few on exhibit. So my son decided to do a project for his class. My son did a project last time on cheetahs. For his second science project, of course, he likewise chose to do something about wild animals. This new project, inspired by Animal Atlas (please see videos at the end of this post), required him to place animals on the continent where they were normally found in the wild. The first thing he did then was to make a list of animals for each continent:


The following was a tentative list. What he wanted to do was to find pictures of these animals and place them on a world map.


So he needed a world map and fortunately, there was one in the house that was quite durable as it was laminated:


After finishing the list, he then surfed the internet to look for pictures, and, at the same time, to check if he did assign the animals to their co…