"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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Another Year, Another Chance

The year 2013 is about to end. Another year has gone by. While it is usually the time to reflect on how to make things better, it is also en excellent opportunity to look back.

"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 

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.” - Brad Paisley

These two quotes crystallize the intersection between past and future. That point is always the day at hand, the present. This blog has gone through another year. This is a blog that shares findings from research on education as well as aspirations for the years to come. 

This past year is marked with data that emphasize the dramatic impact of poverty on education. Education is often seen as a way out of poverty. But in reality, education is seen by society as a way to get ahead. In pursuit of excellence, competition is nurtured. Collaboration takes a back seat. As a result, equity is often compromised, education therefore fails to fulfill the promise of serving as a vehicle for social mobility. 

Education is frequently seen through the eyes of an individual. Through these lenses, anecdotes and sound bites rule the world of education reform. Our opinions do make good stories. They are interesting. They may even have bits of wisdom. Unfortunately, these individual stories are usually exceptions to the rule. Thus, in spite of good intentions, measures drawn to uplift basic education fail because these are not based on good evidence. Actions taken are not transferable for these are learned from specific cases and are thus, are not applicable in general. Data that guide future directions must be obtained from good studies. This is how we should write a new book for education. 

2014 provides new opportunities. It is another chance to make a difference in education. It is another "blank page" for us "mortals to achieve immortality".

Happy New Year to all.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Massive Open Online Course: Only 4 Percent Kept Coming to Class

Here is a figure and a table relating Northwestern's Youngman's MOOC experience. This was about a course offered on Coursera called “Understanding Media by Understanding Google”. (These are copied from "Thousands of People Sign Up for Online Classes They Never End Up Taking", The Atlantic, 21 November 2013)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Girls and Physics

Statistics informs. The usefulness of the information depends however on the analysis. Oftentimes, important trends may be buried under an aggregate. For example, a gender gap clearly exists in the fields of science and engineering in the United States. Data compiled by the National Science Foundation (excerpts are shown in a previous article in this blog) show that the percentage of females in these fields is lower than the percentage of females in the general population. By examining the data more closely, additional and more specific trends can be discovered as illustrated in "Not Lack of Ability but More Choice: Individual and Gender Differences in Choice of Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics" in which the authors concluded:
"Our study provides evidence that it is not lack of ability that causes females to pursue non-STEM careers, but rather the greater likelihood that females with high math ability also have high verbal ability and thus can consider a wider range of occupations than their male peers with high math ability, who are more likely to have moderate verbal ability."

The above trend is discovered by looking further and deeper. In this case, an explanation is provided for the existing gender gap in science and engineering. "The Gender Gap in High School Physics: Considering the Context of Local Communities", published in the Social Science Quarterly journal, looks at the statistics from a community perspective. Going beyond the aggregate, this paper examines the enrollment in physics courses in high schools. The results show that although taken as a whole, more United States high school male students take physics, in terms of individual schools, however, there are schools where females outnumber males in physics classrooms. In fact, the number of schools where there are more girls enrolled in physics is similar to the number of schools where boys outnumber girls:

Figure captured from
"The Gender Gap in High School Physics: Considering the Context of Local Communities"
Taking this analysis one step deeper, the authors find that the schools where female students are as likely as male students to enroll in physics are in communities where there is significant participation of females in the STEM labor force. The authors conclude:
Additionally, the analyses show that the degree of gender difference in physics course-taking varies in relation to the gendered context of the local community labor force. The male advantage in high school physics is significantly smaller or nonexistent in schools situated within communities where more women are employed in STEM professions. This association is net of a host of rigorous controls to capture potentially confounding effects, including women’s representation in professional fields across all specialties.
A blueprint is a drawing of something you desire to build. In life, children grow up browsing through various blueprints. These are the adults children encounter early in their lives. They are usually called "role models" but these people seem to serve a similar purpose as blueprints do. They are copies of what children may aspire to become when they grow up. Parents are, of course, are the most obvious role models for young children. Outside the home, when children begin their formal schooling, teachers take this role as well. As children grow older, they get introduced to other role models. Indeed, the choices become numerous with increasing exposure to other people. These various role models are in fact options that a child may choose to imitate. Children begin to dream of what they want to become in the future.
The statistics upon closer examination does support the above hypothesis. Oftentimes, we look for solutions in education that aim to address challenges in a society. What if the challenges education faces are actually rooted in the problems society faces?

Friday, December 27, 2013

All I Want for Christmas...

by John H. Thomas

This is a repost from Chicago Theological Seminary's blog of Rev. John H. Thomas.

While the old holiday song suggests that children might want two front teeth for Christmas, this year I’d like to suggest an alternative: “All I want for Christmas is a teacher.” Sunday’s New York Times* reported the stark impact of the recent recession on schools, namely, the massive loss of public school teachers since 2008. According to Labor Department statistics, public schools across the country employ 250,000 fewer people today than they did prior to the recession. Meanwhile, pupil enrollment has grown by 800,000 students. To maintain pre-recession staffing ratios, public schools nation-wide would have had to add 132,000 jobs.

What does this look like in the classroom? In Coatesville, Pennsylvania, a declining steel town forty miles outside of Philadelphia, the professional workforce of 600 prior to the recession has been cut by twenty percent. This means that some of the thirty students in one fourth grade class sit halfway into a coat closet. In a middle school social studies class one teacher handles twenty-five students, ten with special education needs, four who know little or no English, and several others who need advanced work to stay engaged. He used to have two aides to help; not any more.

All of this suggests to me that what children may really want for Christmas is a teacher! Think how much better a teacher would be as a Christmas gift than an expensive doll or a pricey electronic game.
  1. Toys get broken or discarded within months; a teacher will last for a lifetime. How many of us remember the gifted teacher who made a difference in our lives? Teachers truly are the gift that keeps on giving.
  2. Teachers really are “educational.” We love to label toys “educational.” It makes parents feel less guilty or anxious spending money at Toys R Us. But marketing can’t really make a toy anything other than a toy. A teacher, however, is not entertainment dressed up as education. A teacher is education, through and through.
  3. Teachers don’t need batteries. They come with amazing energy born of their passion for children. Of course, some do burn out, losing the spark that called them to this vocation. But that’s usually because no one took care of them and supported them, or because public policies have forced them to become test administrators rather than educators, or because politicians and so-called reformers have created a demeaning drum beat about them, blaming them for the fact that our poorest children struggle to learn. But take care of a teacher and he or she will hum along for a long, productive career.
  4. Toys don’t love the children who play with them. But teachers do. In one Chicago school this year the principal and teachers bought Christmas presents for their neediest pupils to ensure that everyone had a present. And they did this out of their own pockets! It’s a tradition that’s been going on for years. How’s that for a value added gift? A gift that not only children love, but that loves children back!

Of course, not all parents can afford to give their children a teacher for Christmas. They can’t send their children to an elite private school, or they live in a poor school district where low and declining property values depress school budgets, particularly in harsh economic times. Thirty-five miles from Coatesville the affluent Lower Merion School district has been able to increase its property taxes every year since 2008. Class sizes remain in the low to mid-twenties and elementary students get to study a foreign language. Coatesville and towns like it don’t get the press that Philadelphia or Cleveland or Chicago do for their draconian school budget crises. But there are more and more Coatesville’s today in an economy increasingly divided into winners and losers.

Some think the answer is cheaper teachers. Privatize the public school system with so-called public charter schools and you can circumvent teachers’ unions, paying far below professional standards. Or bring in a bunch of bright, enthusiastic college graduates willing to work hard for less in programs like “Teach for America.” While their zeal for service in poor districts may be laudable, the fact is they have no real training beyond a short orientation, no education degrees, and are able to teach only because the federal government waives the normal certification requirements. And, like cheap toys, cheap teachers don’t last long. Cheap teachers come and go, depriving children of the quality one expects from teachers who are well trained and who have years of teaching experience.

This year many of our children, whether they know it or not, want – and need – a teacher for Christmas. But unless our priorities change, unless we radically rethink how we allocate resources for all of our public schools, and unless we begin to recognize the real value of highly trained, well paid, experienced teachers, many of our children will find little more than the proverbial coal in their stockings.

By the way, the song “All I Want for Christmas” was written in 1944 by a public school music teacher who had asked his second grade pupils what they wanted for Christmas. He noticed that almost all of the students answered with a lisp because they had at least one front tooth missing. Chances are Donald Gardner wouldn’t be teaching these days. More and more school districts are laying off their music and art teachers, their guidance counselors, librarians and nurses. Local property taxes simply won’t provide this crucial component of a full education. And programs like Obama’s “Race for the Top,” on which much federal funding is based, don’t test whether children are learning how to sing or play a musical instrument. That’s more than sad in this merry season.

John H. Thomas
Christmas, 2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Kindergarten Is Now Grade One?

This is a sequel to "Kindergarten is not daycare". Jill Walston of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) has prepared an excellent set of slides showing data regarding how kindergarten education in the United States has changed over one decade. The changes are dramatic and these are captured in the following figures (copied without permission from Walston presentation).

The first figure shows how much kindergarten teachers' perception has changed. A greater majority now expects kindergarten children to learn how to read.

Kindergarten in the US is now mostly full day programs.

With this increase in hours, however, subjects like music and art have not gained additional slots in a kindergarten child's schedule. Worse, times when children are offered art and music have decreased.

Consequently, preschool is now viewed differently by teachers.

The focus on math and reading is disconcerting. It clearly shows the emphasis on these subjects because these are covered by high stakes standardized exams. It is no longer emphasizing what is developmentally appropriate. It is all about those test scores which now decide which schools will remain open or be shutdown. It is all about those scores that help determine who among the teachers and supervisors will receive additional paychecks.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Naughty Or Nice?

Naughty or nice? It is not that easy when it comes to evaluating teachers.

Early this year, the Philippines' Department of Education (DepEd) through Order No. 12 s. 2013 established a performance-based bonus system for public school teachers. This system is based primarily on students' test scores in the National Achievement Exam, the school's dropout rates, and proper liquidation of maintenance and other operating expenses. Perhaps unknown to DepEd officials, evaluating a teacher's performance using students' test scores is very much prone to error. Here are the reasons why such evaluation system is flawed.

Weeks later after the DepEd issued the order, a lecture was given by distinguished psychometrician Edward H. Haertel of Stanford University. DepEd should have listened to this lecture. The lecture can be nicely summarized in the following figures (All of these are copied from RELIABILITY AND VALIDITY OF INFERENCES ABOUT TEACHERS BASED ON STUDENT TEST SCORES):

First, research has shown that albeit teacher effectiveness does impact learning. The difference between a good and a poor teacher does not really influence students' test scores that much. Out-of-school factors such as socio-economic status have a much greater effect on students' performance. Teachers are therefore being evaluated on something they are hardly in control and that is simply unfair.

Second, students' test scores are not on a linear scale. For example a 10 point gain associated with an improvement from 90% to 100% is much more difficult compared to an increase from 50-60%. The former requires that a student gets all the answers correct, not even one mistake. 

Third, year over year comparisons are likewise prone to errors because there is learning loss during school breaks. This loss has nothing to do with what the teacher does. In this case, out-of-school factors are of greater significance.

Lastly, the scores are not stable. This is illustrated by data from elementary schools in five different counties in Florida. In the following figure, 10 percent of the lowest scoring teachers came from the top scoring ones a year ago, and vice versa, 10 percent of the highest scoring teachers came from the bottom quintile in the previous year. The scores are very unstable, which should not be surprising since the measures being used are not really valid for evaluating teachers.

This is what research is clearly saying. Yet, DepEd continues to ignore what teachers' groups like the Alliance of Concerned Teachers have been saying:

The Performance Based Bonus of Aquino really belongs to only one place, the trash.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas to All and a Happy New Year

The year 2013 is about to be over. It is holiday season. It is always a perfect time to reflect and look back. Blogs about education usually take a break at this time as well. This morning, however, I happened to come across an article in the Huffington Post entitled "This Is The Type Of Holiday Gift Every Teacher Wants" by Rebecca Klein. It was about a note math teacher Jennifer Davis received from one of her students:

Reading this note made me look at back more than a decade ago when I was still new at teaching General Chemistry at Georgetown University. At the end of each semester, students at Georgetown are given the opportunity to comment anonymously about the course they just took. The following are the comments I received from one class ten years ago.
  • I didn't do particularly well in this course, yet I think Prof. de Dios taught me much more than many of the classes I have done well in.  This applies to life and chemistry.
  • Very challenging.  I liked the fact that we learned from and did problems based on research papers.  Perhaps, more in-class problem solving would prove beneficial.  I think that Professor de Dios was an outstanding Chemistry professor.  I really enjoyed coming to class and never felt bored, because he was always so enthusiastic and entertaining.
  • Prof. de Dios seemed very well prepared, and his website was extremely helpful.  Overall was a very great experience.  Thank you.
  • It is much easier this semester to register the concepts into my head because you learn the "tricks of the trade", but I wish the logic behind them can be explained more often and in more detail.
  • I feel that I will definitely come out of this course with an ability to apply material learned and problem solving skills to a higher degree that I had felt possible in the past.
  • actually learned stuff this semester not just a whole "memorize for the test - forget about it the next day" thing
  • I really like Dr. de Dios' style of teaching.  I think the material was harder than the previous semester but he made me want to do my best.  His style of teaching encouraged me to do well.  He was always available for questions.  The problem sets are very helpful.
  • I enjoyed coming to class and was very interested in the material, though it was very difficult.  I think Prof. de Dios is an excellent teacher.  He taught us many valuable things about chemistry, but even more importantly, I learned a lot about being a better person.  His lecture on the last day of class will be fresh in my memory for a long time to come.
  • de Dios made class interesting by applying Chem to real world situations.  He was always helpful when I came to see him in his office.
  • As difficult and frustrating as chemistry can be, your encouragement and confidence in our class helps me to keep everything in perspective.  First semester was rough, but I'm glad that I stuck with it.  You are one of the best instructors that I've had at Georgetown.
  • I am not a huge chem fan but the class was good.
  • Excellent.
  • Dr. de Dios was an outstanding professor.  I have learned much more this semester than last semester.  Not only was he excited about his subject and enthusiastic about teaching us, but he also gave us ways to apply chemistry to everyday life.  He has made this class interesting to attend.  He was personable, friendly and willing to help the students.  He encouraged us and told us he believed we could do this.
  • Professor de Dios was the best professor by far that I have had here.  He is able to bring real life into the classroom which is difficult to do considering the subject being taught.
  • Topics were presented clearly and practice problems were a good practice for tests.  Always well prepared with problems to demonstrate topics.
  • I was often confused in the lectures.  However, I found his problem sets and old exams very helpful.
  • Prof. de Dios did a great job teaching us.  I really liked the fact that he applied chemistry to our lives.  Although I may never continue my study of chemistry, I will always appreciate its importance because of Prof. de Dios.
  • Professor de Dios was one of the most outstanding professors I have had here at Georgetown.  His commitment and dedication to teaching are evident in his thorough lectures and his availability in office hours.  He taught a challenging course and I definitely learned a lot.
  • Chemistry is definitely not one of my favorite subjects, but somehow I was able to enjoy it by the style of teaching.  I was challenged to look more thoroughly into chemistry and it was a great thrill when I understood something and actually enjoyed it also.  I never liked to miss any of the classes because of the professor.  Thank you so much for your your enthusiasm in teaching.  You are able to express the objectives of the class wonderfully.  I did not only learn about chemistry, but I was able to learn about myself as a person.
  • I thought the class was taught well, and I liked having the website which provided problem sets, lecture notes and practice tests.  Professor de Dios was an extremely creative professor and I feel he has prepared the class with a good chemistry base.
  • I enjoyed how this course emphasized understanding the material.  First semester, I found myself memorizing but never seeing the overall picture in chemistry.  After this semester I am able to see how chemistry is not a list of separate subjects, but different concepts that work together.  The one thing you taught me this semester that I think is the most important to me is confidence.  You were very inspirational and made me think I was more than capable of something and pushed me to work harder.
  • The website is extremely helpful.  Eventhough the material covered can be difficult to grasp, the site allowed is to have constant access and confirmation of topics covered.  I attended every one of your lectures and especially enjoyed your guitar and singing!  The material was easier to understand through lecture, and you always guided us through, making sure that we were not too overwhelmed or frustrated.  You were very available and helpful during office hours.  First semester chem was torture, but this semester was slightly less.
  • This has been the most difficult course I have ever taken, yet Dr. de Dios inspired me much more than any other professor and should be honored for his techniques and integrated approach.
  • General Chem is not a course that can be easily taught and understood by students.  The fact that this class was interesting and didn't make me fall asleep is something of an accomplishment.  Just kidding, but still I did learn a lot in this course, but most of what I did learn was beyond what a textbook can offer.  There was a lot of heart in this course.  It's a rarity to find this, but it's also peaceful to find heart, love, kindness and faith in a course.  Keep it up!
  • Thank you for being a real teacher, to take your work so passionately.  You've been an inspiration and you've opened up a lot of issues that I've had a hard time wrestling with such as competition and learning (real learning), how to affect the world, but having the skills to do so, and these are very important issues.  I hope you continue to teach and learn this way.  Talking with you made me think a lot more about what is more important and what road to take.
  • Web design was convenient, very useful for when I needed to miss class.
  • This course has been challenging, demanding, yet also enjoyable and fascinating.  Professor de Dios is one of the most outstanding professors I have had the pleasure of being taught by thus far at Georgetown.  He always project an admirable and impressive enthusiasm for what he teaches.
  • In my opinion, you should be signed to a big name record label.
  • This course was much better than last semester.  Prof. de Dios is my best prof. this semester.  He made the material understandable and interesting.  I enjoyed this course.
  • Contents of the course, while difficult, were always presented in an interesting fashion.  Guitars always add to the value of a course.  The web site, in addition to the problem sets, were also tremendously useful, and added, not detracted from the course.  Professor de Dios, you are undoubtedly the best professor I have had in college.  Georgetown needs more professors like you.
  • Chemistry is an interesting subject and in this course, all the necessary topics were covered completely.  Professor de Dios is always prepared for class.  He is constantly finding new ways to present material and in so doing, clarifies topics and makes them interesting for everyone.
  • Professor de Dios has been one of the more memorable instructors that I have had in my first year here.  He has been humorous yet helpful.
  • Prof. de Dios genuinely cared about us as a class and people.  I think that is rare and should be commended.  I would enjoy having Prof. de Dios as a teacher for a smaller class.
  • The instructor did a wonderful job.  He taught the material well, and things were graded fairly.  He also helped us to apply the class to our lives and didn't just teach chemistry.
  • I thought it was great.  I think he tries really hard to make the class interesting and also informative.  He also seems to be one of very few teachers I have ever had that cares for his students sincerely, not only how they perform in class, but as persons.
  • Chem is my hardest class, but is necessary to go where I want to go - Prof. de Dios made it a more enjoyable class this term.  Prof. de Dios made the class very challenging - but taught the material in a way where I was motivated to study the material and was able to understand new concepts by using his website and going to lectures.
  • de Dios was good - always prepared.  He should slow down sometimes and write on the chalkboard, instead of relying on the computer.
  • Quite a difficult topic, but Professor de Dios did a great job staying on target and getting us what we needed to know every lecture.  No time was wasted.  Well done for a general intro. science course.  Professor de Dios is great.  He tries various new and fresh things (singing, phone calls, models) to bring interest to an otherwise would-be long lecture.  Handing back the tests and talking helps, as he gave me a pep talk when I needed it, after not doing so well on an exam.  He always encourages one's personal best and is fair.  Thanks!
  • I definitely liked this course better than first semester.  Although the material was challenging, it was broken up in a very good way.
  • Professor de Dios is the best!  I can see that he truly cares about his students and is passionate about chemistry.  He is always ready for lecture and is always willing to help us whenever he can.
  • The course meets its objectives well, but there should still be consideration for those who have no chemistry background.
  • Very interesting and much more informative/interesting than last semester (CHEM 001).  Topics covered were difficult but important.
  • Very good singer and model Atenean.
  • I truly admire the incorporation of Jesuit ideals into this class - This is one major reason I chose Georgetown.  This class was very challenging and helped me realize in what areas my talents lie.
  • Very well thought out and organized.  Dr. de Dios is an engaging professor with a true passion for chemistry.  He took chemistry beyond the textbook and exams and made it relevant to our development as human beings.  Thank you.
  • Professor de Dios is an amazing instructor.  He definitely made chemistry fun and more understandable for me.
  • He was interesting and funny.  Kept me interested enough to attend class regularly.
  • If you aren't involved, you'll flunk.  Dr. de Dios always gave 110%, even when ill.  It took a lot of courage for him to play the guitar for us.
  • Very effective at presenting the scientific and humanity issues of the subject.
  • Course requires effort and time, but manageable.  Instructor is consistently enthusiastic, available, patient, accessible and helpful.
  • de Dios is a very good professor who genuinely enjoy teaching and does everything he can to help his students learn and succeed.
  • Instructor not only tried to make chemistry interesting with real life applications and examples, but he also tried to "educate the whole person" by leaving us with moral questions and messages.
  • Problem sets very helpful, as well as lecture notes.  Review sessions before the hour exam pointed my studying in the right direction.  Exam returns in person gave me a sense of a one-on-one relationship that you have with each of your students.  It is obvious that you care a great deal about your students.  Thank you for the semester, I learned a great deal of information about both chemistry and life.
  • This course is a great intro course for students with and without a chemistry background.  The course is taught well and promotes an interest in chemistry.
  • The instructor clearly displays a mastery of the subject matter and presents it in a comprehensive way.  The instructor is always eager to help and gets the student eager to learn more about chemistry.
  • Best professor yet at Georgetown.  Seems to care about actually learning the material.  Always working hard to make class great.
  • good - interesting topics, well-prepared, nice, funny - sometimes in his own world but in a good way.
  • I think the instructor is very dedicated and really cares that the student learns from the class.
  • Sometimes a little confusing, but eventually would explain things in a way which made sense.  A good lecturer.
  • Prof. de Dios makes chemistry interesting.
  • Dr. de Dios is one of the best professors I have had yet.  The only problem I had with him was when I went to get my tests back - I felt somewhat overcriticized.  Other than that, this was a good class - I learned a lot.
  • It was stimulating, challenging and interesting.  de Dios is an excellent instructor because he attempts and succeeds in applying what we learn to the real world.  He was supportive and helpful, always encouraging us and giving us the tools to do our best.  He has been a memorable professor.
  • He is really committed to the students and is less concerned about the numbers involved in grading than in actual improvement and learning.
  • Prof. de Dios made class interesting.  He was always well-prepared, obviously knew what he was talking about, and established high standards while at the same time trying to keep us grounded and realistic.  I would recommend his class to anyone, even those who don't necessarily like chemistry.
  • I feel the test were not an accurate reflection of knowledge acquired.  large pt. values were deducted for small errors and small pt. values attributed to difficult questions.
  • de Dios taught the course in a manner that was easy to understand and direct.  As an STIA major I found his emphasis on history and topically relevant issues refreshing.  I've learned an extraordinary amount from this course.
  • I really appreciate your efforts to include the spiritual elements of Jesuit education in your course.  You should be a model for all professors at GU.
  • Very animated, worked hard to make lectures interesting and seemed to actually care about the students.  an excellent professor.
  • Best organized instructor I've had.  All problem sets, lecture notes, practice tests were laid out for anyone willing to work hard and learn it.  Material was not easy but he made it very accessible!  Thank you.
  • The instructor is well-organized, intelligent - always able to explain complex subjects in an interesting and simple manner, made every effort to assist and be in contact with the students.  A great person.
  • The instructor is always extremely well prepared but sometimes unwilling to quickly review an old topic that relates directly to a new material, because "we should know it by now".
  • All science professors should learn from the way de Dios present somewhat  boring material in an interesting way.  This was a great class.
  • This is an excellent course for freshmen because it is designed to encourage students to go on into the sciences, instead of weeding them out.  de Dios is one of the best I have had.
  • Professor de Dios is among the best professors I've ever had.  It was amazing to realize how much you could learn about yourself and life from a chemistry course.
  • Thank you for making chem a little different and more exciting.  I like the new dimension you gave to the class.
  • Professor de Dios was well prepared and very organized in his lectures.
  • Prof. de Dios is truly one of - if not the single most dynamic and interesting professors I have had thus far at Georgetown.
  • I would recommend this instructor to any student.
  • This course was a great improvement from Gen Chem I.  Professor de Dios is an outstanding professor, not only does he have strong pedagogical methods, but he is extremely fair and personal.
  • When I came in for help, very terse and confrontational, didn't really allow me to voice my concerns, was there for office hours but seemed forced and not helpful in that regard.
  • Very positive and encouraging, I always felt comfortable speaking with him outside of class.
  • This guy is a fruit cake.  I'm hear to learn chem, not listen to him play the guitar.
  • Prof. de Dios was vital to inspiring me to do better in the class.  Had he not met with us all individually for the first test, I would have not tried at all for the rest of the semester.
  • This course was very informative - a good mix of review from high school and introduction to new concepts.  It was very well taught- with all of the topics covered clearly in depth.
  • Prof. de Dios was an amazing teacher.  He taught lucidly and in depth and was always available for help when needed.  He impressed me with his intellect and ability to share that intellect with his students.
  • The course was kind of tough but it was a good class.  I really enjoyed the professor.  He is a very nice man and he is not that intimidating.  He makes students feel comfortable and he never puts anyone down.  He always has words of encouragement.
  • Problem sets rock.  Prof. de Dios made it easy to understand the material through lectures, demonstrations and sample problems.
  • Doing sample problems in class was a very helpful review; lecture notes and what was said in lecture did not always match up well or it was difficult to see the correlation.
  • Very good job, he kept things funny yet informative.  I really enjoyed the class, Play Guitar!
  • I think the talents of this instructor are better suited for teaching higher level chem courses.  He's very good, but seems to be beyond accessing students who need more basic help.
  • The course covered a broad scope of essential and challenging material which taught me much.  Professor de Dios is a great lecturer, giving stimulating lectures, which are a pleasure to attend.  He is helpful and clear, and challenges us to do our best.
  • Prof. de Dios was great.  His guitar playing was a nice break from the norm.  I enjoyed his class, but moreso him as a teacher.
  • Overall, course was challenging, yet very effective.  Tests represented material well.  The instructor is very entertaining and stimulating, while still always giving the "take home message" of the course.
  • The course was challenging and caused me to work hard.  I learned a lot from this course.  Professor de Dios was always prepared for class and was willing to help.  He tried to make General Chemistry as relevant as possible.
  • I liked using the online lecture notes with the book.  The exams were the most fair I have even taken at Georgetown.  I am also very impressed with how fair they were graded.  There is very little I would like to see changed.  I think Professor de Dios is one of the best lecturers at Georgetown.  I cannot express how wonderful it was to have the "raw chemistry" with the politics or background to how things were discovered.  I also greatly appreciate his "Jesuitical" approach to teaching and learning.
  • The professor was very involved and always accessible.  He succeeded in helping me to develop an appreciation for a course that I have always disliked and been intimidated by.  That is a big accomplishment.
  • Dr. de Dios' presentation of the material was more invigorating and challenging than reading from the book.  He was able to tie in other aspects from last semester and make them more clear.
  • The course was well-run and very organized.  Dr. de Dios was consistently well-prepared and organized.  He continually established very clear expectations for our work and saw to it that even those of us who do not have a strong science backgrounds has the tools to complete the work and understand the material.  The class was very challenging, but Dr. de Dios was very flexible and accommodating when challenges arose.  I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have participated in his class.
  • Despite the fact that this is a huge class, Dr. de Dios seemed to know everyone and keep track of how we were doing individually.  This made a hugely positive difference for me.

Teaching is oftentimes a thankless task. But sometimes we do find gratitude. A Happy Christmas and a Joyful New Year to all the readers of the Philippine Basic Education blog.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Myths and Facts Regarding Vocabulary

Language is one medium through which we express our ideas, observations and inquiries. Language is the bloodstream of learning. Language is our window and door to the world we live in. Language begins with our mouth and ears. Formal schooling then works through the first three years of elementary education, teaching us to use our eyes. Language, of course, contains structures. Without grammar or rules, language appears no different than a mere mixed bag of words. Without spelling, words appear no different than a random arrangement of letters. Throughout basic education, these language skills are supposed to be learned. The foundation of all of these is vocabulary. It is where language learning starts in the early years. It is where language learning continues in the adult years. Learning words is key to learning a language. Thus, it is necessary to look into evidence-based research to see what works and what does not work in vocabulary instruction.

Susan B. Neuman and Esther Quintero have compiled a set of myths and facts regarding word learning in their book, All About Words:

Here is the list (copied from the Albert Shanker Institute blog):

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Reasons Why Other Countries Are Better Than US In Basic Education

Based on the recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), adolescents in the United States are below average in math, reading and science compared to students in other developed countries. The New York Times recently published an editorial offering three reasons why students in the US have not been performing as well as students in Finland, Canada and Shanghai:

Here are the three reasons:


Finland provides quality education to all children regardless of socioeconomic status. Children of both poor and wealthy families attend the same school. Finland shoots for equity when it comes to basic education. On the other hand, for teacher education, Finland aims for excellence. To demonstrate how difficult it is to become a teacher in Finland, out of 6000 applicants, only a tenth of these aspirants are accepted into universities for teacher education. To top this, the applicants already come from the top quartile of the high school graduating class.


Canada adheres to equitable funding of schools. In the United States, schools are usually supported by local taxes derived from property. Thus, schools in neighborhoods where real estate is pricey tend to get greater funding. Unfortunately, schools with a greater number of students coming from poor families are inside communities that do not fare well with property taxes. Schools with greater needs therefore do not get the resources they badly need. In Canada, resources are distributed equitably. Schools with greater need receive greater support regardless of the socioeconomic status of the communities they serve.


There is no elitism in Shanghai schools. Students, whether poor or wealthy, whether gifted or challenged, whether advanced or delayed, are all schooled under one roof. There are no special schools that separate students from each other. This is education for all, and the same quality is provided to all. If a school is weak, administrators of strong schools take over. Effective teachers are sent to low performing schools. Weak schools also receive improvements in infrastructure as well as increased funding.

By comparing the US against the above three school systems, one thing becomes crystal clear. It is actually just one reason. It is equity. It is the secret behind a successful basic education system. It is such an old lesson but we all refuse to listen....

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Yet Another Graph Between Poverty And Test Scores

The data from the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) are now available. These are educational progress measures for large cities in the United States. For instance, the following are the average scores in 4th grade math:

Included in these assessments are the demographic profiles of each urban district. Thus, the percentage of students who are eligible for reduced price or free meals (another measure of poverty level) in each district is likewise available:
To put these two pieces of data together, the following graph can be drawn relating the average 4th grade math scores of each district to its poverty level:

Urban districts with lower poverty levels have higher math scores. This is no different from the other graphs previously displayed on this blog. Looking at the details, three urban districts seem to be performing much better than what is expected based on their poverty level: New York City, Houston, Boston and Dallas. On the other hand, Jefferson County in Kentucky, Washington DC, Baltimore, Fresno, Milwaukee, and especially Detroit seem to be performing worse.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Teachers Are Neither Ignorant Nor Lazy, They Are Powerless

This is a follow-up to the previous post, "Teachers are ignorant, not lazy". The study highlighted in the previous post, Fryer's "Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools", comes with a clear evidence that performance based bonuses do not have an impact on student learning. That part is quite clear from the data. What is much less straightforward to see is the explanation on why bonuses do not work. My answer is that teachers are neither ignorant nor lazy, they are simply powerless.
Classroom photo from Sidney Snoeck, http://my_sarisari_store.typepad.com 
Donut production line from Krispy Kreme doughnut shop (Wikipedia)
To understand this, the following anecdote from the book "Reign of Error" by Diane Ravitch is particularly useful:
In 1991, a businessman named Jamie Vollmer gave a speech to a group of teachers in Indiana. He was an executive at an ice cream company who had come to conduct an in-service program for educators. He told them they needed to operate more like his company, whose blueberry ice cream had been recognized by People magazine in 1984 as the “Best Ice Cream in America.” He told the assembled teachers, “If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business for long.”   
As he later told the story, he explained to the teachers that the schools were obsolete and that educators resist change because tenure protects them from accountability. Business, he thought, had it right. It operates on principles of “Zero defects! TQM [total quality management]! Continuous improvement!” 
Not surprisingly , the teachers reacted with sullen hostility. When he finished his speech, a teacher innocently asked about his company’s method of making the best ice cream. He boasted of its “super-premium” ingredients, nothing but the best. Then she asked a question: 
“Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?” In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap … I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie. “I send them back.” She jumped to her feet. “That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!” In an explosion, all 290 teachers , principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians, and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, “Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!” 
Jamie Vollmer had an epiphany. From that day forward, he realized that schools could never operate like a business because they do not control their “raw material.” They cannot sort the blueberries and reject those that are bruised or broken. They take them all.
It is indeed important to consider how much a teacher can actually influence a student's learning. As Fryer noted in his paper, there are instances in developing countries where bonuses seem to have worked. These cases, however, involve a lot less complicated condition in order to receive additional pay. For instance, teachers are given bonuses if they improve their own attendance in some schools in India. In this particular case, absenteeism of teachers is reduced with the bonus scheme. That is simple enough and the outcome is clearly in the hands of the teacher. Much more complex outcomes do not really fall squarely on teachers' shoulders. Take, for example, decreasing dropout rates. This is in fact a lot simpler already than the more common measure used to decide teachers' bonuses, improvement in standardized test scores. The problem is: Do students really drop out of school because of their teachers? It is therefore necessary to look into what causes school dropouts. In places where poverty is widespread and child labor is not outlawed, school leaving rates are high. Children whose parents did not finish school are more likely to stop schooling as well. School dropout rates are really way beyond a teacher's sphere of influence.

Learning outcomes in schools are not solely determined by teachers. In fact, the teacher is not the major factor influencing students' performance in schools. The community plays a very important role. How important education is perceived by society affects how motivated students are in schools. In a society where meritocracy is not the rule but the exception, taking schools seriously becomes an impossibility. A society in which what matters is who you know and not what you know sends a very clear message to all of its young citizens. School is a waste of time. How much of these are  really within a teacher's influence? When all the programs on television glamorized ignorance and myths, what can a teacher really do inside a classroom.

We are quick to embrace sayings like, "It takes a village to educate a child". Unfortunately, we are too slow to see that we have placed so much on the shoulders of our teachers. Worse, we even think we can make teachers do a better job. Teachers do not need merit pay - what they need are just salaries, respect from society, and cooperation from everyone. The teaching profession can only be elevated if we do make it above others. Otherwise, we reap what we sow.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Teachers Are Ignorant, Not Lazy"

"Teachers are ignorant, not lazy" is the title of a section in the conclusion of Harvard's Roland Fryer Jr. article in the Journal of Labor Economics. The paper, "Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools", finds that instead of improving learning outcomes, performance-based bonuses do not affect student performance, and in some cases, leads to deterioration. To understand correctly the phrase "Teachers are ignorant", the following quote from Robert Sternberg may be helpful, "There is no recipe to be a great teacher, that's what is unique about them".

Within this context, it can be explained why performance-based bonuses do not work in teaching. Fryer writes in his article, "If teachers only have a vague idea of how they could increase student achievement, then there may be little incentive to increase effort.". However, part of the study includes a questionnaire through which teachers can in fact increase their likelihood of receiving bonuses. And surprisingly, as Fryer points out, "teachers did not even put in the minimum effort of filling out teacher surveys in order to earn the bonus." It is an enigma. Is it ignorance? Is it laziness? Fryer thinks, based on the data, that the reason is that teachers do not really feel empowered to make the desired changes happen. 

Whatever the explanation is, the study demonstrates that performance based bonuses do not work. Margarita Pivovarova of Arizona State University provides a simple summary of Fryer's article in the blog Vamboozled: 

A randomized experiment, a gold standard in applied work of this kind, was implemented in more than 200 hundred NYC public schools. The schools decided on the specific incentive scheme, either team or individual. The stakes were relatively high – on average, a high performing school (i.e. a school that meets the target by 100%), received a transfer of $180,000, and a school that met the target by 75%, received $90,000. Not bad by all accounts! 
The target was set based on a school performance in terms of students’ achievement, improvement, and the learning environment. Yes, a fraction of schools met the target and received the transfers, but it did not improve the achievement of students, to say the least. If anything, such incentive in fact worsened the performance of students. The estimates from the experiment imply that if a student attended a middle school with an incentive in place for three years, his/her math test scores would decline by 0.138 of a standard deviation and his/her reading score would drop by 0.09 of a standard deviation. 
Not only that, but the incentive program had no effect on teachers’ absenteeism, retention in school or district, nor did it affect the teachers’ perception of the learning environment in a school. Literally, the estimated 75 million dollars invested and spent brought zero return!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Digital Versus Print

Reading on a computer screen provides quite a number of advantages over reading on paper. The "search" or "find text" capability is really awesome. Using the right keyword, one can easily jump to the relevant section without browsing through so many pages. Not all books in print have indices and an index is usually a fixed set of keywords in print. It is not a matter of choice from the reader. With "copy and paste", it is also easy to take down notes. The flip side, however, is not taking one's memory into task anymore. It seems no longer important to remember something when that piece of information is so easy to retrieve.

Recently, I came across an article in Nautilus, "Paper versus Pixel":

First, I thought the above image was a bit ironic, having the child hold the reading material in print, while the adult is reading on screen. Reading digital versus print materials are indeed two different experiences. One, however, cannot avoid the word versus. It means comparison. The author, Nicholas Carr, cites a scientific study that measured and compared reading comprehension between those who read print and those who read on screen. Carr highlights this study with the following inference:
"What we’re learning now is that reading is a bodily activity. We take in information the way we experience the world—as much with our sense of touch as with our sense of sight."
Published studies that compare between on-screen and print reading seem all over the place. One reason is that most of these studies are not well designed. For instance, in evaluating reading comprehension, several factors other than medium come into play. It is therefore necessary to perform these studies with a multiple regression analysis, taking into account the various conditions that can influence reading comprehension. The study that Carr specifically cites is from the International Journal of Educational Research:

The results of the above study are summarized in the following tables:

First, the study is quite recent. The participants are 15-16 year old 10th grade students in Norway. And as the authors describe, the participants are middle-class Caucasian, and hence homogeneous with respect to socio-economic status and ethnicity. The pretests as illustrated in Table 1 show that, on average, there is indeed no difference between the set of students who would read print and those who would read on-screen. Table 2 reports the results of a multiple regression analysis of the reading comprehension scores after the experiment. As expected, both word reading ability and vocabulary are strong predictors of good performance in the reading comprehension exam. Gender is not. However, the medium, whether it is digital or print, makes a difference. The coefficient is negative, which means that those who read on-screen scored lower in reading comprehension. Thus, the authors of the above study arrived at the following conclusion:

The results of this study indicate that reading linear narrative and expository texts on a computer screen leads to poorer reading comprehension than reading the same texts on paper. These results have several pedagogical implications. Firstly, we should not assume that changing the presentation format for even short texts used in reading assessments will not have a significant impact on reading performance. If texts are longer than a page, scrolling and the lack of spatiotemporal markers of the digital texts to aid memory and reading comprehension might impede reading performance. Furthermore, our results suggest that implementing both reading assessment tasks (i.e., text reading and response tasks) in the same medium – the computer – leads to additional cognitive costs. Hence, the ongoing digitization of response format in the Norwegian educational assessment system warrants extra consideration of important but hitherto largely neglected factors potentially influencing assessment outcomes, such as challenges pertaining to multitasking in a digital environment.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Honoring Education Support Professionals

Prior to Thanksgiving in the United States, Americans celebrate Education Week. Since 1987, one day in this week is observed to honor education support professionals. These are individuals who work behind the scenes to support students and teachers and help schools run smoothly. As Rev. Jesse Jackson has clearly stated, "Children need all school workers. A person is not ‘just’ a janitor, not ‘just’ a custodian. Janitors can see children when teachers don’t see them. And bus drivers recognize that children who are disruptive on the bus are likely to be disorderly in the classroom. They are partners in education. We need each other to make this work."

Working with teachers, these education support professionals provide invaluable service to our children. Treating them fairly and justly is the least the government should do in return. The Department of Education in the Philippines seems to have a different idea. The following are press releases from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers addressing an executive order issued by the Philippine government regarding a massive layoff of non-teaching personnel in Philippine public schools.

December 16, 2013
For Reference: Benjie Valbuena, ACT National President, 09162294515

Teachers to BS Aquino, Abad and Luistro: Your Christmas gift to us means catastrophe for non-teaching personnel and their families. Can you still sleep at night?

Last week, thousands of non-teaching personnel was shocked to learn that they will no longer be working for the Department of Education as indicated in the Department Order 53. This is pursuant to the implementation of the department’s rationalization plan as mandated by Executive Order 366. Its goal is to streamline government expenses for personnel services in the executive branch.

“EO 366 ordered all departments under the executive branch of the government to conduct strategic review of its operations and organization. This order resulted for massive displacement among other government agencies already. For the education department, it will strike down employees in the Central Office down to the Regional and Division Offices,” said Mr. Benjie Valbuena, national president of Alliance of Concerned Teachers.

Although the order exempted non-teaching personnel in the district and school levels, data obtained from the Quezon City Division shows that even employees in the school level are affected by this which will strike down at least 300 personnel. Most of these personnel are utility and security personnel. “This is alarming since security personnel are the ones handling security matters in the schools and firing them will compromise the security most especially of the students,” pointed out Mr. Valbuena.

“The Rationalization Plan (RatPlan) will immediately displace all DepEds contractual, casual and even those who are under the job order scheme by December 31, 2013 while the regular employees will choose to have between early retirement/separation or stay in the government service and have their permanent status converted into co-terminus with the incumbent status. This is a blatant attack on the security of tenure of the rank and file employees. There is no truth to the claim of the government that these employees or their positions are not needed because the education sector is evidently under staffed right now. The education sector even needs more. If this is done to streamline the expenses of the executive branch, why don’t they stop from stealing the people’s money? BS Aquino will even enjoy billions of money through his “pork” allocation as seen in the recently approved 2014 national budget,” stressed Mr. Valbuena.

For the 2014 National Budget, the congress approved billions of lump sum (pork) allocation for the executive branch which will be solely under the government’s discretion.

“Another reason for this rationalization plan is the government’s subservience to the dictates of foreign imperialists like that of IMF-World Bank which even uses this mechanism as a precondition before BS Aquino’s regime be granted to loan money again. IMF-World Bank wanted to make sure that government’s expenses be streamlined so that it will be in a better position to pay its loans. And this present government does so as dictated upon him without considering the ill effects of the said plan to thousands of employees nationwide. The effect is even double for those in the Visayan regions who are yet to stand from the devastations of the Yolanda and BS Aquino inutile response,” added Mr. Valbuena.

“It is already Christmas season and this is not a very bad gift from BS Aquino, Secretaries Abad and Luistro. For Secretary Luistro, is it the way a good Christian celebrates Christmas? We are protesting here in front of the DepEd Central Office to register our position for the junking of this proposal and immediately implement moratorium on the planned massive lay off of non-teaching personnel. Non-teaching personnel are humans that need to be treated justly and no one deserves to be given this kind of agony especially during the Christmas season,” concluded Mr. Valbuena.

15 December 2013
Reference: ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio L. Tinio (09209220817)

A massive lay-off will be President Aquino’s Christmas gift to DepEd employees.

This is what ACT Teachers solon Antonio Tinio revealed, with the issuance in December 3 of the rules implementing DepEd’s rationalization plan (RatPlan), which, within four months, will trim down the largest department in government.

The RatPlan requires DepEd to come up with a new staffing pattern for its central, regional, and division offices, with less or equal positions than the current roster. Positions in excess of the new roster will be declared non-vital or redundant.

Deped has yet to disclose the number of affected permanent and non-permanent personnel. However, a DepEd official estimated that about 10,000 regular, casual, and contractual non-teaching personnel, administrative officers, nurses, janitors, and other employees nationwide will be affected by the en masse lay-off.
Tinio questions DepEd’s hurried implementation of the plan, which DBM approved on November 15. Employees from several divisions have complained they were not even fully apprised of what will happen before being told of getting the axe. Under the implementing rules, yesterday, December 15, all casuals and contractuals were effectively fired with the abolition of their positions, except those qualified to retire. Regulars have until January 15 only to choose either “co-terminus with the incumbent” status or early retirement.

“Hindi makakatulong ang pagmamadaling ito sa karaniwang kawani lalo na’t papasok na ang Pasko’t bagong taon,” Tinio argued. “Panibagong delubyo rin ito para sa mga nasalanta ng Yolanda at iba pang bagyo pati na rin ang naapektuhan sa stand-off sa Zamboanga.”

Tinio urged Education Secretary Armin Luistro to, at the minimum, issue a moratorium against the RatPlan to give time to the affected employees to adjust.

“But scrapping the plan is Bro. Armin’s most humane course, as a massive lay-off is contrary to the sector’s demand for higher salaries, security of tenure, and additional positions.”

Tinio added that the lay-off plan will pave the way for contractualization of some services necessary to education, and warned that it will cause more overwork to teachers. “Isa itong porma ng pagtitipid ng gubyerno sa isang pangunahing serbisyo-sosyal, dahil hindi na niya kailangang swelduhan kada taon ang libu-libong kawaning may complementary functions sana sa pangunahing function ng ahensya.”

Starting Monday, teaching and non-teaching personnel under the banner of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers will be holding protests in the Central and Division offices of DepEd. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Light and Sleep, Technology and Learning

Sleep deprivation interferes with children learning and memory as well as their general physical and mental health. There is a hormone called melatonin, which regulates the sleeping cycle. Light suppresses the production of melatonin. In particular, the short wavelength (near blue) component of visible light reduces levels of melatonin. The bright sunlight in the morning wakes up a person while the less blue (more red) light during sunset signals the body to get ready for sleep. This rhythm usually matches the day and night period keeping a person alert during the day and drowsy in the evening. The absence of blue light during the morning and its presence during the evening can alter the wake-sleep cycle of a person. Without the required suppression of melatonin in the morning, the rhythm is not properly entrained and the expected onset of melatonin when the light gets dimmed is delayed. On the other hand, exposure to blue light in the evening hours continues to suppress melatonin production. Both can lead to sleep deprivation.

Artificial light, of course, is one of man's widely used technology. Incandescent bulbs light up a classroom. The main purpose of these bulbs is to illuminate so the light emitted is tailored to provide the highest efficiency for the visual system, which prefers longer wavelengths (far from blue). Exposure during the day only to artificial light therefore cannot provide the blue light necessary to keep the biological sleep-wake cycle performing at its normal phase. On the other hand, there are now a myriad of devices from hand held to computer monitors and televisions that make use of self-luminous displays. These are screens equipped with light-emitting diodes (LED) with a short wavelength (blue range). These two factors can indeed combine to make it difficult for individuals to get a good night sleep. For children, this can affect learning.

There are studies that have examined ways artificial lighting affects melatonin production. One study that looks at the effects of lack of exposure to blue light in the morning was made by researchers at the Lighting Research Center in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The article, "Lack of short-wavelength light during the school day delays dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) in middle school students", is published in the journal Neuro endocrinology letters:

One study that examines the other side, artificial exposure to blue light in the evening hours, is the following:

Evening exposure to a light-emitting diodes (LED)-backlit computer screen affects circadian physiology and cognitive performance

  1. Oliver Stefani2
+Author Affiliations
  1. Centres for 1Chronobiology and
  2. 3Applied Technologies in Neuroscience, Psychiatric Hospitals of the University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland; and
  3. 2Competence Team Visual Technologies, Fraunhofer IAO/University Stuttgart IAT, Stuttgart, Germany
  1. Address for reprint requests and other correspondence: C. Cajochen, Centre for Chronobiology, Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel, Wilhelm Kleinstr. 27, CH-4012 Basel, Switzerland (e-mail: christian.cajochen@upkbs.ch).
  • Submitted 7 February 2011. 
  • Accepted in final form14 March 2011.


Many people spend an increasing amount of time in front of computer screens equipped with light-emitting diodes (LED) with a short wavelength (blue range). Thus we investigated the repercussions on melatonin (a marker of the circadian clock), alertness, and cognitive performance levels in 13 young male volunteers under controlled laboratory conditions in a balanced crossover design. A 5-h evening exposure to a white LED-backlit screen with more than twice as much 464 nm light emission {irradiance of 0,241 Watt/(steradian × m2) [W/(sr × m2)], 2.1 × 1013 photons/(cm2 × s), in the wavelength range of 454 and 474 nm} than a white non-LED-backlit screen [irradiance of 0,099 W/(sr × m2), 0.7 × 1013 photons/(cm2 × s), in the wavelength range of 454 and 474 nm] elicited a significant suppression of the evening rise in endogenous melatonin and subjective as well as objective sleepiness, as indexed by a reduced incidence of slow eye movements and EEG low-frequency activity (1–7 Hz) in frontal brain regions. Concomitantly, sustained attention, as determined by the GO/NOGO task; working memory/attention, as assessed by “explicit timing”; and declarative memory performance in a word-learning paradigm were significantly enhanced in the LED-backlit screen compared with the non-LED condition. Screen quality and visual comfort were rated the same in both screen conditions, whereas the non-LED screen tended to be considered brighter. Our data indicate that the spectral profile of light emitted by computer screens impacts on circadian physiology, alertness, and cognitive performance levels. The challenge will be to design a computer screen with a spectral profile that can be individually programmed to add timed, essential light information to the circadian system in humans.

The above paper even compares the effects from two different computer monitors, non-LED versus LED:

And the effects on levels of melatonin are shown below:

Above figure copied from
Journal of Applied Physiology, May 1, 2011, vol. 110, no.5, 1432-1438
Technology affects our lives in more than one way. Technology affects learning likewise in so many ways. While there is so much cheering when it comes to technology supposedly transforming education, one must be extra cautious. Technology can have other unforeseen side effects....