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Showing posts from February, 2014

G.P.A.'s and Test Scores Are Worthless....

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It is common nowadays to stumble upon something that is patently false. Still, these wrong ideas capture headlines. It only shows how critical the public really is. Take, for example, the statement made by Google's senior vice president of people operations, Laszlo Bock: "G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything." This is one of the many grossly misleading statements out there and this particular one has been recently resurrected by Thomas Friedman in his New York Times column.

Bock's conclusion can not be possibly justified by the data (Google's employees' G.P.A.'s, test scores, and performance) for one simple reason: It comes from only one company, Google. I could likewise claim that scores in the SAT or G.P.A. do not correlate with a student's performance at Georgetown University. Both, unfortunately, are misleading. Georgetown university is highly selective in i…

"Learning Science in Everyday Life"

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There seems to be a disconnect between science and what is popular. Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times"Some of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates." It is ironic when a great number of issues and challenges the world currently faces require a science perspective, scientists are deemed irrelevant. The perceived chasm between what is discussed inside the classroom and what happens in the "real world" perhaps originates from the fact that it is usually not straightforward to abstract. This definitely brings back memories on how a lot of people during my childhood thought that all I knew was from "books", implying that I virtually had no practical value.

Along this line, it is not surprising to see a great need to engage students in science. The popular notion seems to be working against science education. Popular media as well as soc…

Philippines DepEd Failed to GRASP - K to 12 Grading System

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One of the most viewed pages in this blog is "DepEd's K to 12 New Grading System". My guess on why this page is quite popular is because most are confused with regard to DepEd's "new grades". The confusion is quite understandable. A colleague of mine got a headache just trying to read the memorandum (DepEd Order No. 73 s. 2012) that tells teachers how to assess learning outcomes. First, it defines learning outcomes in terms of levels. Right at the very beginning, DepEd seems to be confused as well, not knowing the difference between assessments and outcomes. Assessments are simply our attempt to measure learning outcomes. Before I show you excerpts from the DepEd memo, I will use several slides from the Georgia Department of Education in the US that do a much better job explaining what "performance assessment" really is.



The presentation starts with a clear description of what assessment entails. It shows, for example, various assessment strategie…

Quality Education Research

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Research productivity in education and psychology in the Philippines is dismal. A previous post in this blog highlights the fact that in the past forty years, the Philippines has managed to produce only 214 papers (75 in education and 139 in psychology). On the other hand, the National University of Singapore produced 430 papers during the same time period. Of course, writing and publishing papers is only the first step. An equally important issue is quality. There is indeed a long way to go. What is surprising is the number of "so-called experts" in education in the Philippines. One must therefore wonder.

The journal Educational Researcher has devoted an issue to a discussion of quality in education research:


The issue contains commentaries from five scholars. Surprisingly, the focus of these opinions is on science and how the education field can learn from the sciences. In a way, it answers why a chemist like me seems to be preoccupied with issues and challenges plaguing b…

Single-Sex versus Coeducational Schooling

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There are certainly a lot of ideas out there that sound plausible. Take for example tailoring education according to the learner's preferences or styles. It does sound logical. One specific instance is single-sex education. Gender confers enough differences that one may be able to design approaches or strategies that work better with one gender. Some say girls are "better listeners", thus, teachers spiking up the volume will be more appropriate for an "all-boys" classroom. Some say girls are more cooperative while boys are more competitive. Lessons ideally can be made more effective if a teacher is able to choose a strategy that works best with a particular classroom.

Back in the Philippines, along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, one will find Ateneo de Manila University, which offers basic education only to boys,

and Miriam College, which provides elementary and high school education to girls.

Seeing that elite schools in the Philippines subscribe to a single…

Acids and Bases on a Snowy Valentine's Day

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Schools can make up for snow days. Children in kindergarten and elementary schools, for instance, may be celebrating Valentine's Day in their classrooms on Monday (President's Day has been designated as a snow makeup day). Making up, however, does not address the need for distributed practice in learning. Students need to spread their effort over time as opposed to cramming. School closings are disruptive. We may easily cover topics at a later date, but making up can not address the loss in pace. This is certainly one avenue through which technology can help. Of course, unlike being inside the classroom, students are not required to be on their seats at a given time. The instructor likewise would not know if you have silenced your cellphone, closed Facebook, and turned off email notifications. But since you are here, hopefully, I have your attention.

Practice problems as well as an online homework are still up. In addition, we do have a textbook that you could open and read. W…

Quality Education

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Male and female, old and young, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, more than a million people in the world have been asked what our priorities should be. And the voices around the world seem to sound as one: A good education is priority number one.

Although it is not surprising to see so many aspire for good education, the road to a good educational system is still quite elusive. One may think that a good education is easy to define and that factors that lead to quality schooling are likewise straightforward to identify. But in a world of limited opportunities and resources, it is much more difficult. It does not take a lot of effort to make a "wish list". Everyone can do that. Everyone can aspire. The more challenging task is to figure out how we could reach such an objective.

The route to a high quality education is not that obvious. Evidence from peer reviewed research is important. Take, for example, preschool education. There is almost no argument against teaching …

Approximate Number Sense

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Animals seem to be able to know the difference between large and small. In battles, being outnumbered is an important piece of information. It strongly suggests that one should retreat and not fight. It likewise pays for herbivores to know where there is more food. Knowing which is more without doing exact counting is an instinct that humans share with animals. On the other hand, taking the square root of a number is perhaps exclusively human.

The instinctive ability to make estimates is called by psychologists as the "Approximate Number Sense" (ANS). It is distinct from the "Exact Number System" (ENS) which humans learn by going through school. Arithmetic, in which children learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide, involves exact counting. Arithmetic is the first step in ENS, followed by algebra, trigonometry, and later on by calculus. The relationship between ANS and ENS has been of great interest. It is even part of the "nature versus nurture" debat…

Critical Thinking: When Facts Elude Us

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Who can trust politicians? I guess the proper question is "should we?". Politicians make promises during campaigns. Some fulfill while some break. What allows people to gauge a politician's performance is the record. Unfortunately, data provided to the public can be deceiving. In the United States, there is PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize winner for national reporting. It started first as a fact-checking report for the presidential campaign in 2007. Now, it reviews statements made in public by candidates, elected officials, political parties, interest groups, pundits, talk show hosts. Here are some of the latest from PolitiFact:


Philippine basic education would benefit greatly if a similar effort is made by the media to help inform the public. Instead, what Filipinos receive are headlines like the one shown below from The Philippine Star:


With multiple shifts still present in a lot of schools, with schools destroyed in the Eastern Visayas region, the misinformation in the a…