"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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

To Loop or Not to Loop: Evidence Based versus Anecdotes

Recognizing coherence and progression as important factors in effective education combined with the philosophy of taking into account where the students currently stand, it is quite tempting to suggest that teachers should be assigned to a class and stay with that group of students for a period of years. The practice of placing the same group of students with one teacher for more than one year is referred to in education as looping. I experienced this when I was in grade school. My teacher in Grade 5 also taught me in Grade 6. The entire class plus the teacher was therefore identical for two years. It was like a family, at least for two years. I liked the teacher so I had a positive experience with looping and obviously with two years in a row, that teacher knew a lot about us. Recently, at Georgetown, I had the rare opportunity of teaching one class of chemistry majors three of the eight semesters they spent in college. I taught these students General Chemistry and Physical Chemistry and since most of them opted for the Department's honors program, these students also enrolled in a graduate course that I instructed on Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy. Similar to my experience in elementary years, I also got to know these students quite well. 

Looping and Spiral

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On Classroom and Textbook Shortages

"Let us move on to education. Our goal is to raise the quality of learning that our children undertake, so that once they finish their schooling, they can seize the opportunities now opening up in society: accomplished. We have finally erased the backlog we inherited in books and chairs, and if Secretary Armin Luistro continues to demonstrate true grit, even the backlog we inherited in classrooms will also be erased this year. And there is even more good news: Now, we also have the ability to prepare for the additional needs that the implementation of the K to 12 program will require."

-President Aquino, SONA 2013, English translation,

On Classrooms:

Photo downloaded from Anakbayan Philippines Facebook Page
Wala na daw classroom shortage sabi ni Noynoy Aquino sa kanyang SONA. Ganito ba ang ginawa nila para masabi yun? Nilagyan ng mga divider ang basketball court at tinawag ng CLASSROOM?
On Textbooks:

Most textbooks in public schools obsolete--teachers

Public school teachers said yesterday aside from the late delivery of learning packages especially for Grades 2 and 8 students as part of the implementation of the K-to-12 Program this year, most of the textbooks currently available for students might be "obsolete." 
While the Department of Education (DepEd) maintained that the textbook shortage in the country's public school system has been fully addressed since 2012, the Teacher's Dignity Coalition (TDC) maintained that in subject areas like Filipino for instance, "there is no provision of books for a decade now" while the other textbooks are already considered "obsolete."

Lessons and Myths on Basic Education

The staff at InformEd has assembled 18 myths that quite a number of Americans believe. Some of these myths are indeed a bit contentious, as admitted by the InformEd staff, but a reasonable effort has been made to support their conclusions. These cannot be easily dismissed. Take, for example, the belief that some people have, not just Americans, that private schools are better than public schools. Do the data really support this belief? Apparently it does not:

Above figure copied from "18 Myths People Believe About Education"

Monday, July 29, 2013

Stories Add Spice

In a previous post in this blog, "State of the Heart", reasons for storytelling by Pamela Brown Rutledge in "The Psychological Power of Storytelling" (also posted in Psychology Today) were highlighted:
  • Stories have always been a primal form of communication. 
  • Stories are about collaboration and connection. 
  • Stories are how we think. 
  • Stories provide order. 
  • Stories are how we are wired. 
  • Stories are the pathway to engaging our right brain and triggering our imagination. 

Daniel Willingham recently brought to attention recent evidence supporting the notion that storytelling does help in boosting learning outcomes. Willingham's "Storify: Make science tell a story" shared the findings of Arya and Maul (The role of the scientific discovery narrative in middle school science education: An experimental study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 1022-1032.) Willingham shared excerpts from passages regarding Galileo's use of the  telescope to illustrate the difference between an expository text and a narrative (storytelling) one.
And with this simple, powerful tool [Galilean telescope], we can see many details when we use it to look up into the night sky. The moon may look like a smooth ball of light covered with dark spots, but on a closer look through this telescope, we can see deep valleys and great mountain ranges. Through the telescope, we can now see all the different marks on the moon’s surface
When Galileo looked through his new telescope, he could see the surface of the moon, and so he began his first close look into space. He slept during the day in order to work and see the moon at night. Many people thought that the moon was a smooth ball with a light of its own. Now that Galileo had a closer look through his telescope, he realized that the moon’s surface had mountains and valleys.
Fresco by Giuseppe Bertini depicting Galileo showing the Doge of Venice how to use the telescope
The differences between the two are quite subtle. The narrative paints a personal story. In a way, the narrative one is closer to what one might get by gazing at Bertini's painting above. Students who received instruction via the narrative version performed better in recall tests given immediately after the lecture and one week after. 

Some scientists are indeed colorful figures. One story even made it to Broadway and won the Tony Award for Best Play, Best Featured Actress in a Play and Best Direction of a Play. The play "Copenhagen" is about a meeting between two physicists, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. And in 2002, the play was adapted into film and broadcast on PBS. The following is a key scene:

Key Scene: Heisenberg and his Uncertainty Principle

A good story, one with conflict, struggle or controversy, adds spice. So perhaps, this indeed helps in learning.

Friday, July 26, 2013

"Should Spanish-Speaking Students Be Taught in English Only?"

This is the title of a report from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) aired on 18 July 2013. It is about a school district in New Britain, Connecticut. Most of the students in this district have Spanish as their mother tongue. Currently, only one in four students in the district can read proficiently at the end of third grade. One of the major problems the schools face in New Britain is absenteeism starting in kindergarten. Out of 1000 students, about 300 have missed at least 18 days during the school year. Among these students who miss kindergarten often, more than eighty percent are behind reading by the time they reach third grade. Home visits reduce the rate of absenteeism from 30 percent down to 18 percent, but test scores in reading are still far below satisfactory. A large majority (about 85 percent) of the students whose mother tongue is Spanish are still failing Connecticut's reading test. The new superintendent, Kelt Cooper, is working on changing this by implementing the English Language Development (ELD) method. Apparently, in Texas, Cooper had some success. The school district in Texas Cooper supervised rose from near the bottom in English proficiency scores in the state to near the top:

Captured from PBS video
"Should Spanish-Speaking Students Be Taught in English Only?"

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Public School in Annandale

"Americans think the nation’s public schools are troubled, just not the public schools their kids attend." This is the first item on Brian Langley's "When Talking Education: Five Lessons to Inform Conversations". This past school year, I could not really relate to this issue first hand since my son was attending a private Catholic school. This coming school year is going to be different. My son is transferring to a public school, Mason Crest Elementary School, "Home of the Tigers". "Tigers" is already a good selling point for my son since big cats always capture his undivided attention. 

Mason Crest Elementary School
Assistant Principal Diane Kerr and Principal Brian Butler
Photo copied from Mason Crest Elementary School

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Science High Schools

I am a product of a science high school in the Philippines, Manila Science High School. Without doubt, it is one reason why I became a scientist. Public high schools with a specialized science curriculum are regarded as the place for the cream of the crop. Enrollment in these schools usually require passing an entrance exam. Moreover, the perceived greater challenge in the curriculum adds both value and prestige in the diploma received from any of these schools. During my high school days when we were still required to take the National College Entrance Exam, the verdict on the quality of the education we received in a science high school was quite clear. Our scores in the exam placed all of us within  the top 1 percentile of all test-takers. Such feat is probably comparable to what Rhonda Rosenberg highlighted in her article in EdWize, "The Great Divide in High School College Readiness Rates". As any fresh graduate from high school, I did not really grasp then what our performance really meant, but Rosenberg sparked a real concern by presenting the following figure in her article:

Figure copied from Rosenberg's "The Great Divide in High School College Readiness Rates"

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Character Education Inside the Classroom

Returning to my elementary school days, I remember the times when the class had to pursue a learning activity quietly while the teacher attended a task outside the classroom. To maintain silence and order inside the classroom, the teacher usually assigns one of the students to serve as a noise monitor. Equip with a chalk and standing near the blackboard, this student keeps track of who is talking too loud and too much. There is a running list on the blackboard for everyone to see. When the teacher returns, whoever is on the "noisy" list receives a punishment. During my time, this measure did work. Our classrooms were generally quiet even when the teacher was not around. My father used to joke with me that the reason why it was working was that the teacher usually picked a student who was likely to be noisy to serve as the noise monitor. I then told my father that I was rarely called to do that job.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words,State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2013

Photo copied from Tonyo Cruz' Facebook page
"Concertina, razor sharp barbed wires along Commonwealth Avenue, the main road leading to Batasan Pambansa, where Mr. Aquino will deliver his SONA"

Sunday, July 21, 2013

How True Is This Claim: DepEd Says K to 12 Will Help Ease Unemployment

The Philippines' DepEd secretary, Bro. Armin Luistro, has made this claim. See, for example, a news article in the Philippine Star:

DepEd: K to 12 to help ease unemployment

MANILA, Philippines - High school  graduates under the K to 12 program can find employment or start their own livelihood because they will be trained in vocational and technical skills, according to the Department of Education (DepEd).
Education Secretary Armin Luistro said the additional two years in high school are intended to further hone the skills and talents of students for their chosen career path – in arts, sports, technical vocational and entrepreneurship – or tertiary education to help ease unemployment in the country.
“It is expected to give graduates better choices in the field of work or further education,” Luistro said.

On the other hand, Vencer Crisostomo wrote the following article in the Philippine Online Chronicles, stating the opposite:

K-12 myth: The promise of employment

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Shortages, Lack of Budget Still Afflict Public School System

Despite government claims that it has been increasing the budget for education, still the public school system is hardly coping with the shortages, and state universities and colleges have been raising tuition, thereby making tertiary education inaccessible for the poor.


MANILA – The administration of President Benigno Aquino III said that the Philippines has “undergone a radical transformation” in the past three years. But for public school teachers, that transformation did not solve the problems besetting the ailing public school system.

The National Achievement Test in the Philippines

There is information to be gained from data. Tests in schools can be informative. Scores of students provide a quick glimpse of the current state of education. Thus, it is useful to have these numbers. These numbers may not tell everything in detail with high accuracy. Nevertheless, test results allow for a useful perspective. The National Achievement Test administered by the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines, a set of standardized tests addressing the major subjects taught in school, is an example. These tests are given to Grade 3 where students are assessed in both English and Filipino (These two subjects comprise two thirds of the exam) and Math and Science (These two account for the remaining one third). A different set of tests is given to Grade 6 pupils where each of the following 5 subjects is assigned 40 items: (Science, Math, English, Filipino and Social Studies). Another set is administered to fourth year high school students (This is currently the last year of basic education in the Philippines since K+12 has not been implemented yet for the additional two years in high school). The scores in these exams are reported as percentage of items correctly answered. A mean percentage score (MPS) of 75 percent is currently set as the goal of the DepEd. The following are data from a presentation made by the National Education Testing and Research Center, entitled "NAT Overview and 2012 Test Results".

Friday, July 19, 2013

Judging the Quality of Information

Kristen Purcell, Judy Buchanan, and Linda Friedrich of the Pew Internet and the American Life Project recently provided the following report, "The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools". This report summarizes results of a survey of 2,462 Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers. Since these teachers are in charge of advanced classes in US high schools, it can be safely assumed that their responses to the survey are based on their interactions with high school students who have chosen to take a more challenging curriculum. These are the teachers of some of the most academically successful students in the US. Their responses are shaped by the cream of the crop, hence some of the findings may be of even greater concern and significance. An example is shown in one of the graphs presented in the report:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Third Elementary Education Project

The "enhanced" K to 12 curriculum of the Philippines' Department of Education (DepEd) is estimated to cost PhP 150 billion. More than ten years ago, the Philippines embarked on a project called the Third Elementary Education Project (TEEP). This project was about PhP 10 billion. First, the project identified the 23 most depressed provinces, which are shaded in the following map:
Above map copied from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00220388.2012.700395

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"I already know so this must happen" versus "This is what I see, now, I know."

Lions sometimes hunt elephants. The deadliest animal in the world is the mosquito. After all, the female Anopheles mosquito is the vector of one of the world's deadliest disease, malaria. These are few examples of facts that bring astonishment to my son's young mind. These carry an element of surprise because even at an early age, a child is already developing a library of information in his mind. Psychologists would characterize a child's way of thinking as mostly "experiential". It is fast. It relies mostly on memory. Learning or being exposed to something new that seems to be out of place in that small library inside a human mind challenges human thinking. It is at this point when the human mind must make an adjustment. It is the beginning of what psychologists refer to as "analytic" processing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Oh English, How Do We Mangle Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

by Dean Bocobo
Copied from Philippine Commentary 2013 with permission

hat follows is a verbatim transcription of the Reading Text beginning on Page 3 of an instruction module handed out to University of Makati Grade 11 students this past week identified as ENGLISH FOR GRADE 11 WITH FILIPINO LEGACY INTEGRATION. I have taken the liberty however, of marking in red passages that, in my opinion, represent erroneous, deficient or unsatisfactory English instruction--for being negative examples.  
[My own interspersed comments are in aqua. --DJB]

Monday, July 15, 2013

When Schools Divide ....

Baker and coworkers in their report to the National Research Council in 2008, "Adequacy Estimates and the Implications of Common Standards for the Cost of Instruction", cite an evidence-based study in Arkansas that quotes the increase in resources required by schools with students predominantly coming from poor families. In this study, schools that cater primarily to economically disadvantaged children cost 22.5 percent more than schools with no poor children. Arkansas reports the lowest estimate. Minnesota, for example, arrives at 167.9 percent. Looking at the various numbers coming from the states, it appears that the increase in costs is somewhat inversely proportional to the baseline cost estimate. Minnesota expects to spend more on poor children because the state is spending less on each student ($4900) to begin with while Arkansas' baseline number is already much higher ($6100). Nevertheless, even with dissimilar numbers, one trend is quite clear, schools with students coming from poor families require more resources. In addition, seeing that states have these numbers mean that there is indeed an awareness among K-12 policymakers in the US that economic stratification is a major impediment to attaining equity in public education. Thus, states do emphasize school integration as well as channeling additional funds to schools with higher incidence of poverty.

Inequity in education does not stop at the basic education level. The Century Foundation Task Force on Preventing Community Colleges from Becoming Separate and Unequal recently submitted a report, "Bridging the Higher Education Divide" highlighting the inequity problem in higher education. In one of the sections of this report, How Social Composition Influences Curriculum, Expectations, and School Culture, Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson, authors of the award-winning book, Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities, were quoted:
“Students learn from each other. Being surrounded by highly capable classmates improves the learning environment and promotes good educational outcomes of all kinds, including timely graduation.” With respect to expectations, Bowen and company suggest: “The high overall graduation rates at the most selective public universities unquestionably create a climate in which graduating, and graduating with one’s class, are compelling norms. Students feel pressure to keep pace with their classmates.”
How then does one see an education divide? The following figures from the Century Foundation Task Force help illustrate this divide.

Seventy percent of students enrolled in the most competitive colleges in the US come from the top Socio-Economic Status (SES) quartile. On the other hand, more than half (58%) of students enrolled in community colleges comes from the bottom SES half. In looking at these numbers, one should also keep in mind the following statistics: In 2012, only 66% of high school graduates in the US are enrolled in colleges (College Enrollment and Work Activity of 2012 High School Graduates) and 46% of these undergraduates are in community colleges (Report of The National Commission on Community Colleges). Back in 2000, college attendance from lowest quartile is only 39% (Fair Access to College). These numbers taken together crystallize into the fact that community colleges in the US are predominantly serving students from poor families. This segregation alone as expected from peer influence affects the curriculum, expectations and culture inside these schools. The divide, unfortunately, does not end at this point. It is exacerbated by the following:

Image captured from Trends in College Spending
The Century Foundation Task Force also has the following slide:

Image captured from Bridging the Higher Education Divide

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Adding Tests to Enhance Learning

An online platform can serve as a good arena to test ideas regarding learning. Experiments can be designed easily and with digital resources, the experiment can be easily scaled up. One hypothesis that can be tested is how regular tests aid in learning. Although tests are usually associated with assessment, tests can play a role in enhancing learning. It is a source of motivation. It helps guide the students and in so many ways, refocuses and reminds what concepts are key. Karl K. Szpunar, Novall Y. Khan, and Daniel L. Schacter of Harvard University recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academies USA:

Interpolated memory tests reduce mind wandering and improve learning of online lectures

The recent emergence and popularity of online educational resources brings with it challenges for educators to optimize the dissemination of online content. Here we provide evidence that points toward a solution for the difficulty that students frequently report in sustaining attention to online lectures over extended periods. In two experiments, we demonstrate that the simple act of interpolating online lectures with memory tests can help students sustain attention to lecture content in a manner that discourages taskirrelevant mind wandering activities, encourages task-relevant note-taking activities, and improves learning. Importantly, frequent testing was associated with reduced anxiety toward a final cumulative test and also with reductions in subjective estimates of cognitive demand. Our findings suggest a potentially key role for interpolated testing in the development and dissemination of online educational content.
The results are summarized in the following figure:

T, RS, NT correspond to Tested, Restudy and Nontested groups. Above figure captured from Interpolated memory tests reduce mind wandering and improve learning of online lectures

Tests given during breaks between segments of a lecture improve learning on three measures: less mind wandering, taking notes, and performance in the final exam. The tested group even performs significantly better than those who restudied the material. For the restudy group, the interpolated memory tests were likewise provided but with the correct responses. This demonstrates that there is something inherent in testing that helps learning outside of simple recalling of key concepts. In these experiments, the online lecture segments are about 5 minutes long. The lecture is on basic elements of statistics. The break between segments is three minutes long, the first minute is on solving simple arithmetic problems and the following two minutes are either a test on the previous segment (tested) or additional arithmetic exercises (nontested). For the restudy group, the individuals are just shown the test questions together with answers during the final 2-minute period of the break. 

This is quite a small study, but its findings are significant. One point worth mentioning is that each segment here is only 5 minutes long. One might ask why there are too many breaks. Is the length of the segment the longest one could bear while watching an online lecture? The fact that interpolated memory tests are given at such high frequency provides useful insights on how online learning should be tailored to improve efficiency. But clearly, the above experiment has only scratched the surface. Substantially more research needs to be done.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Learning and the "Testing Effect": Research Inside Classrooms

Daniel Willingham recently posted an article on his blog entitled "Better studying = less studying. Wait, what?" It is really about what effective studying really entails. It requires motivation. And tests apparently motivate learning. I look at a children TV show like "Animal Atlas". The show has quizzes and it is not surprising how such activities can help reinforce the information a child is receiving from these shows. The following are examples:

Downloaded from http://media.wix.com/ugd//8f7c0c_9a53afdebf9a776c6e854b792dd2c2d0.pdf

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Operating in the Dark"

There are three public elementary schools (Paete Central, Quinale, and Ibaba) in the town of Paete, Laguna in the Philippines. When I first met the three principals, I found that each one was affectionately called "apple" by teachers as well as local government officials. I thought that was kinda cute. At that time, I was visiting the schools to see how the computer classrooms were operating. The photo below shows how much the schools prepared for my visit. I was even treated to a folk dance show.

Photo taken during my visit to Paete Central Elementary School in 2004

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Parenting and Basic Education

Parents and caregivers are children's first teachers. What happens inside a child's home contributes to a child's education. Homes, daycare centers, and preschools provide the environment and experience to a child in the early years. Even after a child enters formal schooling, the home still exerts a significant influence on a child's education. Since parents are the children's first teachers, it begs the question of whether a parent's educational attainment is crucial for the next generation to succeed. Do parents need a high educational attainment in order for their children to achieve the same. My father did not finish high school. My mother finished an elementary teachers' program. Together, my parents made it clear to me at the very beginning how important education was. When I made it to the star section on my third year at the Manila Science High School, my father was very happy. My father felt at that time that I was already guaranteed to finish high school. He was with me when I was enrolling in high school. We walked back and forth from one place to another, since we did not have money for transportation. It took us the entire day, getting a chest x-ray, obtaining a physical examination, getting and filling up forms from various offices. At that time, my father only had hope. After learning that I would now be in the top section in the high school, my father no longer had just hope, but a sense of fulfillment.

Sociologist Jennifer Lee wrote in the Society Pages, "Tiger Kids and the Success Frame". In this article, she presented an analysis of the Immigrant and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles survey data. Her findings are summarized in the following two figures:

Figure downloaded from Tiger Kids and the Success Frame

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Reading: On-Screen Versus In-Print

Alex Reichert, a recent graduate from UCLA enumerates the benefits of reading in a blog article on the Huffington Post, "The Reasons I Became an Avid Reader":
  • Improve your brain function
  • Discover an untapped passion lurking in your soul
  • Build your vocabulary
  • Relieve stress
  • Learn how to eloquently and articulately organize and express thoughts
  • Increase reading comprehension skills
  • Learn about the world
  • Learn about human nature
  • Learn from history
  • Reusability
The above is a personal list but I am sure a majority would agree that reading is indeed very important. With technology apparently disrupting education and paving better routes for learning, it is disconcerting to read a recent report from the National Literacy Trust in UK, "Children’s on-screen reading overtakes reading in print". At first glance at the title, one gets the impression that technology is indeed revolutionizing learning as children are now reading more from screens rather than books. But the details are troubling:
The research examines the influence of this technology on children’s reading abilities and their enjoyment of reading. It found those who read daily only on-screen are nearly twice less likely to be above average readers than those who read daily in print or in print and on-screen (15.5% vs 26%). Those who read only on-screen are also three times less likely to enjoy reading very much (12% vs 51%) and a third less likely to have a favourite book (59% vs 77%)... ...We are concerned by our finding that children who only read on-screen are significantly less likely to enjoy reading and less likely to be strong readers. Good reading skills and reading for pleasure are closely linked to children’s success at school and beyond. We need to encourage children to become avid readers, whatever format they choose. 
The above is simply a preliminary announcement of the National Literacy Trust on this survey of almost 35,000 children and young people aged eight to sixteen in the UK. There is a forthcoming report that presents the results of this survey. It would be interesting to find out how much it has changed from the previous survey in 2012 which had the following table, for example:

Captured from http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/4543/Young_people_s_reading_FINAL_REPORT.pdf

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Early Learning

Early childhood education is critical for success in basic education. During the past decades community and family structures have changed significantly. To make ends meet, both parents are now working. This is the case in most developed countries. In developing countries, both parents may not be working, but failures in basic education over several decades as well as high dropout rates in these countries have placed young children at a great disadvantage. In these environments, early childhood learning is inadequate. Children coming from these homes have been exposed to a smaller vocabulary. Children of parents who did not finish basic education are also unable to have a positive attitude cultivated and nurtured towards schooling. Of course, there are exceptional parents who can do these seemingly impossible tasks. Unfortunately, these are simply exceptions.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says that early childhood education, although long recognized as a critical component of basic education, has not received adequate attention and funding from the government. Part of the reason is 3 or 4-year old children do not vote. But the same holds true for kindergarten, elementary, middle school, and most of high school. Thus, it is really a question of prioritization. Budgets are limited and not every need can be met in this climate of austerity. It is therefore important to emphasize the critical nature of early learning and the fact that it is the best investment for the future generation.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Young Children Can Learn Math through the Arts?

Math and science are both human endeavors. We see both in our everyday lives. And yes, young children likewise do. Counting steps while dancing, recognizing shapes in art work, playing with colors - these are activities that offer great opportunities for young minds to begin exploring mathematics and the sciences. It is during these early years that children develop their interests and desires. The brain of a child is built to learn and grow. Exposure to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) during the early childhood years equips a young child with the path towards developing a positive attitude towards these disciplines.

The music and arts are ways by which we express ourselves. It starts as early as finger painting or working on a coloring book. While a child begins to master a language, he or she likewise explores other means. In these early works of art, a child begins to create, think and communicate. Children even begin to work with each other at an early age. STEM is also about creating, thinking, communicating and collaborating. These are skills that are likewise necessary to do well in math and science. Thus, early childhood education is really a continuum not just through the years, but across disciplines or subjects.

Math can be taught through the arts. This is the driving force behind a program pursued by the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in the state of Virginia. It is called "Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts". It aims to "hit two birds with one stone". As emphasized throughout the articles in this blog, priorities in basic education should be placed in STEM and early childhood education. Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts attempts to address both while taking advantage of programs in arts that naturally attracts young minds. The US Department of Education provides the following specific example:

Wolf Trap Teaching Artist Amanda Layton Whiteman leads a preschool class in movement as part of the Early STEM/Arts Program. (Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.)
Downloaded from 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Music and Reading

Take for example the two English words "dessert" (something sweet one eats after a meal) and "desert" (an arid land), there is really nothing significantly different in the way these two words are normally written down except for the fact that one word has two s's. However, when correctly pronounced the two words are easily distinguishable. Here lies one difference between oral and written language. Variations in syllable length, loudness and pitch constitute the prosodics of a language. With the Tagalog language, one can cite "mahaba" (long) and mahabag (have mercy). Since the meaning of a word depends on how it is articulated, stressed or intoned, reading accuracy involves correct pronunciation. A recent study published in the Journal of Research in Reading, "The effects of musical training on the decoding skills of German-speaking primary school children" demonstrates that music training helps in reading accuracy:

Saturday, July 6, 2013

An Elementary School in Pictures

Pictures do speak louder than words. Here are some photographs shared by Ibaba Elementary School, a school in the town of Paete, Laguna, Philippines. These are photos shared with the public in the Facebook page of the school. Captions are from the original posts.

Pagpapadighay, pagpapaligo at pagbibihis sa sanggol...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Digital and Distraction

Matt Richtel in 2010 wrote in the New York Times' "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction":
"Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention."
Along a similar line, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center published a report in Spring 2012, "Print Books vs. E-books", in which the following figures summarizing its findings were presented:

Image captured from Print Books vs. E-books

Image captured from Print Books vs. E-books

Digital delivery of knowledge runs the risk of adding non-content related items to boost engagement to the point that readers are unable to focus on what needs to be learned. These additional spices may also train young minds to develop a superficial way of deciding which presentations are worth attention or not.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

What US College Students Think About Online Learning

With all the talk about disruptive education innovations such as "massively open online courses", "inquiry-based approaches", "flipped classrooms", "online tutoring", and "interactive content and gaming", one might get the impression that there is indeed a revolution occurring all over campuses in the US. Working in a university can help inform in what students really prefer. Thus, the question one may raise, "Are students excited about these disruptive education innovations?"

Millennial Branding, a Gen-Y research and management consulting firm based in Boston, Massachusetts, tries to answer this question. This firm recently released a report, "The Future of Education Study". The following is a snapshot of the blog article that states the findings of the report:

Snapshot captured 13 June 2013

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How to Make a Case for Online Learning

Demonstrating that a particular medium of teaching or learning is effective can be done in only one way, that is, by showing improved learning outcomes. This is how a drug passes clinical trials. It requires proof that it is both safe and effective. Nothing less must be expected with a proposed education reform. So far, the use of technology specifically online learning has been promoted with promises. It is surprising that even with just promises, capital is pouring in. Money amounting now to billions of dollars have now been flowing from venture capitalists into education technology start ups. Can the simple flow of capital provide the necessary impetus for meaningful reforms in education? This is an important question to raise especially with the amount of money and effort going into these technological innovations in education.

I was chatting with a professor from Northwestern University and he shared with me an informal study that they had with General Chemistry class. In one section, students are not allowed to use any technology, only pencils and papers, while in another section, students are allowed to use laptops, IPads, and other devices. For two years, the class that is limited to pencils and papers outperformed the other class that has access to technology. This is in fact the first question to ask. Does online learning really work? Does technology really enhance learning?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Natural Way of Learning?

My son is left-handed so it has been challenging to teach him tasks done by hands. The challenge comes from the fact that I could not show him how to do things properly with my left hand since I am right-handed. It is less challenging when it comes to tasks that do not require fine motor skills. My son can learn about animals and can retain information quite well in this area. Elaine of LittleSheep Learning posted an article, "Learning Styles: An Introduction" about a year ago. In the article, she wrote:
Children learn in a variety of ways and knowing the way your child learns can make it a lot easier to teach them – the different ways that people learn are called learning styles. 
The simplest way of demonstrating is by using an example – if you get a new gadget; to learn how to use it do you:
  • read the instructions?
  • get someone else to tell you how to use it?
  • or do you push and press the buttons until it all works?
These are all valid ways of learning how to do something and the method that you instinctively choose is your learning style.

Learning Styles: An Introduction from LittleSheep Learning

Monday, July 1, 2013

Cursive Handwriting, No Longer Necessary?

As I watch my son type "How long are wolves' canines?" on Google in his quest to compare wolves teeth against those of big cats, I wonder if the digital age has indeed paved the way for cursive writing to be a thing of the past. With a smart phone or an android tablet, my son could accomplish so many tasks by simply pressing or swiping the tiny screen in these gadgets. Sherry Posnick-Goodwin of the California Teachers Association writes:
"Should fancy loops and flowing letters of cursive still be taught to students? Is cursive writing an obsolete skill no longer relevant in today’s technological society? 
The new Common Core State Standards for English do not require cursive. However, under the new standards, states are allowed to teach cursive if they choose, and California still does. Some states, like Georgia, are considering abandoning longhand lessons altogether, since cursive is not on standardized tests."
Is Cursive Writing a Thing of the Past? Above image downloaded from Wikipedia