"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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How Should One Teach English-Language Learners?

Most Filipinos do not speak English in their homes. Thus, it is safe to assume that a great majority of students in Philippine public schools are English language learners. There should be no argument why it is necessary to learn English. Becoming fluent in English has become a requirement since most human disciplines have embraced English as the global language. Much of academic success now hinges on how well a student comprehends in English as textbooks, learning materials, as well as research papers are now almost exclusively written and published in English. Hence, there is no longer any doubt regarding the importance of learning English. Unfortunately, what program works best for English language learners is still very much debatable. Any claim otherwise only means dismissing or choosing selectively research studies that have attempted to answer this question. It should also be pointed out that this area is marked with poorly done research. The experiments are very difficult to perform and the studies are usually inadequately designed and sample sizes are often very small to be meaningful or transferable. Research is continuing however, as this is not only relevant to developing countries, but also to the United States because of its growing immigrant population. Although there is no final word yet as to what works best, there have been a few excellent studies that now offer some sort of direction. These studies may not yet give the final answer, but it sure raises the bar in terms of what studies should be worth at least our attention. One example is from Valentino and Reardon of Stanford University:

Effectiveness of four instructional programs designed to serve English language 
learners: Variation by ethnicity and initial English proficiency


In this paper we provide a descriptive and quasi-experimental analysis of the relationship between four elementary school instructional programs designed to serve English learners (ELs) and EL students’ longitudinal academic outcomes in English language arts and math through middle school. We also consider differential program effectiveness by child ethnicity and initial English proficiency. Although bilingual education has been well studied, little research has examined the effectiveness of programs longitudinally, most has focused on academic outcomes only in literacy, and most research from the U.S. has exclusively focused on Spanish-speaking ELs. In this paper we find considerable differences in program effects between programs (i.e. transitional bilingual, developmental bilingual, dual immersion, and English immersion), between students of different ethnicities (i.e. Chinese and Latino), and across academic subjects. 
One obvious characteristic that this study does not share with others is its longitudinal nature. The English programs here have not been evaluated by just running the program for one year and assessing at the end. Instead, the academic performance of the students have been monitored through eight grade. Furthermore, the sample size of this study is huge:
...The data used in the current study comes from a large urban district that serves a sizable EL population. Our analytic sample follows 13,750 EL students who entered the district in kindergarten sometime between the 2001-2002 and 2009-2010 academic years.... 
The four programs examined in this study are as follows:

Above table copied from Valentino and Reardon (2014)

Friday, August 29, 2014

What We Teach Reflects Who We Are

Back in high school, although there were both male and female students, there were specific subjects in which boys are separated from the girls. There was "Home Economics" in which female students were enrolled and there was "Practical Arts" which male pupils took. This was almost four decades ago when gender roles were still prevalent. This was how most Filipino families were set up while I was growing up, the woman was a full time home keeper while the man was the breadwinner.

Schools are indeed reflections of the society since after all, we do choose what we teach our children. Take for instance the various states in the United States. In places like Massachusetts, there is no debate on whether to include "Intelligent Design" as part of the science curriculum while in some "red states", the discussion still goes on. The curriculum, what we want our children to learn is shaped by what we value. It is drawn according to our image.

The objections raised in this blog regarding DepEd's K+12 center more on the implementation side, asking the question of what works and what does not work in education. Anyone can easily list standards and skills that need to be covered, but in the end, the real question is whether pupils would learn the material or not. This blog has raised the importance of the early years, the great significance of providing as much resources as needed to kindergarten and the elementary years. The blog has often focused on the central role a teacher plays in education. This blog has questioned the way science is being taught. With regard to the curriculum, however, one may actually be going beyond the walls of a classroom.

Some may brag about a 21st century curriculum. Human knowledge has expanded greatly. It is hoped that human wisdom has been refined as well. This is how a curriculum changes with time. The science curriculum is shaped by practicing scientists as they discover and realize what needs to be taught inside schools. The same goes with math, reading and the other subjects. For this reason, debating what is inside a curriculum goes far beyond education. DepEd's K+12 is flawed not because of its curriculum, but because of its implementation. And it is really just the implementation that can be evaluated using research-based evidence. Thus, stating that DepEd's K+12 is faulty in its implementation is equivalent to saying that DepEd's K+12 is wrong. It is the only part that can be evaluated. Whether K+12 prepares the youth for employment is a curriculum question. How one answers this issue depends on one's values. It is outside the science of education.

Seeing the following exam question (posted by Renato Reyes Jr. on Facebook), one should pause for a moment and realize that this is beyond DepEd. This is in fact a reflection of Philippine society:

The question is in Tagalog, so here is the English translation:

Place a "check" mark if the activity is for males and a "cross" if it is for females:

______1. Plowing a field
______2. Cleaning the house
______3. Driving a jeepney (a public means of transportation in the Philippines)
______4. Washing and ironing clothes
______5. Market shopping

With this post, Reyes asks the question, "Dear DepEd K-12 curriculum planners: What in the world were you thinking?" I think a more appropriate comment is that this only reflects how the Philippine society still thinks. This is so much bigger than DepEd. The curriculum is simply a mirror that reflects our own image....

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Teaching Science: What Works?

It is quite easy to be impressed by innovations in education. After all, how something should be taught can be a lucrative business venture. Like any advertisement, learning resources and methodologies can be promoted by appealing to some sort of common sense. Take teaching science as an example. Providing students with kits that they could actually touch, see, hear and smell seems like a guaranteed way of learning science. After all, how could "hands-on learning" fail? It must simply work. Right? Well, education must be treated like medicine. There needs to be evidence.

To illustrate why research-based evidence is important in education, we could explore one example: the Full Option Science System.

Above copied from FOSS Introduction

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Global Innovation Index - 2014

A new report is available from Cornell University, INSEAD (The Business School for the World) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The report ranks 143 economies around the world using 81 indicators that measure human innovation. The productivity and creativity of a nation depends on its citizens. Thus, a major part of this evaluation looks at education. The ranking highlights the dire situation of education in the Philippines especially when compared to its neighbors in south east Asia. With the upcoming integration of these countries into one economic bloc, the data only forebode a grim predicament for the Philippines.

Overall, the Philippines ranks 100th out of 143 economies:

Above figure developed from Global Innovation Index 2014 - Data Analysis
The above table presents only the countries in East Asia and Oceania Region. The Philippines ranks 15th in this region, well below its neighbors, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The index uses several indicators grouped under the following seven categories: Institutions, Human Capital and Research, Infrastructure, Market Sophistication, Business Sophistication, Knowledge and Technology Outputs, and Creative Outputs. 
Copied from Global Innovation Index 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Additional Years Should Decongest, But DepEd's K+12 Does Not

Adding years to basic education is not necessarily a bad idea except for the fact that it lengthens the time a child must be in primary and secondary school before entering higher education. When the number and scope of subjects covered in basic education are simply too much, it is a must to either eliminate some subjects or add years to schooling. Basic education is obviously congested if a child has to be in school from 7 in the morning till 5 in the afternoon. That is a ten-hour school day. Add two hours of commute, a child can possibly spend 12 hours just for school. This cannot be good since an adolescent needs about 9 hours of sleep to remain healthy. Here is a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The main reason why the American Academy of Pediatrics is focusing on the school start time is because of what happens at puberty:

Decongesting the curriculum can definitely add flexibility allowing for less hours required to be inside a classroom. And certainly, this could be achieved by adding years to high school. It defeats the purpose, however, if the two additional years come with additional subjects. Here are sample class schedules for the additional senior high school years of DepEd's K+12:

Unfortunately, the above is only one example from the myriad of wrong things with DepEd's K+12....

Monday, August 25, 2014

K+12 and College Readiness

Readiness is a state of being fully prepared for something. Oftentimes, readiness is confused with actually doing the thing one is preparing for. The new DepEd K+12 curriculum is supposed to prepare high school students for higher education through one of the four strands in its academic track: Accountancy, Business and Management (ABM), Humanities and Social Sciences Strand (HUMSS), Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and General Academic. Looking at these strands demonstrates that not only should students be choosing whether to prepare oneself for work or college, but also commit to a particular area or discipline. The first question that comes to mind is whether public schools in the Philippines have the teachers qualified to teach these subjects. Looking at the strands in greater detail sparks even greater apprehension. For instance, Fr. Tabora, S.J. has this comment on his blog:
"In fact, in the presentations given by Dr. Tina Padolina on the Science, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) strand and by Dr. Maria Luz Vilches on Humanities in Senior High School, many of the subjects like Qualitative Research and Quantitative Research “sounded very HEI” – like belonging more to college or even graduate school education rather than to basic education. I squirmed to find out that future nurses shall be categorized under STEM and so be required to take even modified calculus. Is this really necessary?"
DepEd's K+12 overall misses the point of what basic education really entails and what preparation really means. Even in the United States, where precollege education takes more than 13 years especially with preschool becoming widespread, there are still students that come out of high school unprepared for higher education. A study by Grubb and coworkers estimates that nationally, colleges assess about 60% of new college freshmen as needing remedial courses (Grubb, W. N., Boner, E., Frankel, K., Parker, L., Patterson, D., Gabriner, R., Hope, L., Schiorring, E., Smith, B., Taylor, R., Walton, I., and Wilson, S. (2011). Understanding the “crisis” in basic skills: Framing the issues in community colleges. Working paper. Policy Analysis for California Education) The reason is simple, these students are not able to master the basics. The early years are very important. Remediation is very difficult and it usually fails. Students cannot simply move forward when they are left behind. Remediation, for example, in mathematics is one challenging area and a recent study from New York shows that students are more likely to pass college-level, for-credit statistics than remedial algebra. Here is a figure from InsideHigherEd that summarizes the current status of remediation:

Above copied from InsideHigherEd

This is the data from the United States. It is definitely something to think about....

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Putting Money into Education

Increasing the budget for public schools would improve the quality of basic education. Is this statement correct and true? The answer is "yes" only if the funds are used to provide the necessary resources for learning. For instance, there is no point in building classrooms in places where these are not needed. Classrooms must be built where schools are badly congested that multiple shifts are already employed. Multiple shifts place a severe restraint on any school. Morning and afternoon shifts do not provide enough flexibility and space for extended instructional hours as well as breaks. Anothe example, textbooks must be provided since learning does not only occur inside the classroom. In fact, a lot of times, learning occurs outside the classroom during peer discussions. Most importantly, teachers must be given adequate pay so that they can concentrate and focus on their work. If the basic needs of a learning environment are not met then the quality of schooling is severely compromised.

Of course, there is data that show that greater spending may lead to higher quality in education. WalletHub recently ranked public school systems in the United States using the following criteria:

As back-to-school season arrives, WalletHub compared the school systems among the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. We used 12 key metrics, including student-teacher ratios, dropout rates, test scores and bullying incident rates to assess the quality of education in each state. By highlighting the best school systems, families relocating in the near future can use the available information to compare schools for their children.

The corresponding weights we used are shown below. The two categories under which the metrics are listed were used for organizational purposes only and did not factor in to our overall rankings. 

School System Rank 
  • Presence of Public Schools from one State in Top 700 Best US Schools: 1
  • Remote Learning Opportunities from Online Public Schools: 1
  • Dropout Rates: 1
  • % of Children Who Repeated One or More Grades: 1
  • Bookworms Rank: 0.5
  • Pupil/Teacher Ratio: 1
  • Math Test Scores: 1
  • Reading Test Scores: 1
Education Output & Safety 
  • Safest Schools (Percentage of Public School Students in Grades 9–12 who Reported being Threatened or Injured with a Weapon on School Property): 1
  • Bullying Incidents Rate: 1
  • Percentage of People (25+) with Bachelor’s Degree or Higher: 0.5
  • Champlain University High School Financial Literacy Grade: 1

Sources: Data used to create these rankings is courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Educational Statistics, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Education Association, the Kids Count - Anney E. Casey Foundation, the Center for Financial Literacy - Champlain College, Stopbullying.gov, U.S. News & World Report and K12.com.
Following the above methodology, the ranking is as follows:

Overall Rank
School System Quality Rank
Education Output & Safety Rank
1New Jersey12
4New Hampshire415
20New York277
24South Dakota2518
26North Dakota1847
31Rhode Island3129
37North Carolina3817
42South Carolina4428
45West Virginia4526
46New Mexico4610
51District of Columbia50

Combining the above with information on how much a state spends on public school education WalletHub produces the following graph:

Above figure copied from WalletHub
The states represented by green circles in the above figure spend more and have better school systems while those shown in red spend less and have under performing schools. Of course, not everything is green or blue, some are grey. One group of grey states spends a lot, but do not have a strong school system. From the above, these are Arkansas, Rhode Island, Wyoming, Delaware, Michigan, Hawaii, District of Columbia, West Virginia, and New Mexico. Perhaps these states are facing problems in education that are beyond merely providing resources. And there are states that in spite of relatively low spending on education still manage to produce very good school systems: Virginia, Ohio, Washington, Missouri, Maine, Nebraska, Texas, and Utah. These states may well be the smart spenders. All in all, there are 17 states (out of 51 (since this list includes DC)) that are neither red nor green, but 34 states do follow the correlation between spending and quality in basic education.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Filipino Does Not Unite But Only Divide Us

Spending my first year at the Ateneo was somewhat horrible when it came to language. I felt forced to read, reflect and write in a foreign language, English. My high school days were part of an experiment of the Marcos regime during which most subjects except English were taught in a bilingual manner. As a result, I did not have that much opportunity to think, converse and write in English. I felt a fresh breath of air during my last two years in college during which had the option of learning philosophy using my mother tongue. Yet, at that time, I did acknowledge that in order to master chemistry, I must become proficient in English. The reason was very simple. All the textbooks in chemistry were in English. Slowly, I started thinking in English while learning chemistry.

At Georgetown or any other university that has a graduate program and accepts foreign students, proficiency in English is required. Graduate students are required to serve as teaching assistants, thus, they must be able to speak English so that undergraduate students would be able to understand. Based on experience, both undergraduate students and professors are quite accommodating when it comes to accents. Grammar rules are likewise relaxed as long as the chemistry is correct. It is truly amazing how much respect and understanding is extended when it comes to language. Language is indeed a part of ourselves. It is the medium through which we express ourselves. It is the bridge crossed by our own emotions and thoughts. Without language, it would be difficult to share our ideas and feelings with others. Language is the blood of our own being.

In the Philippines, the debate on language continues and it is not pretty. David Michael San Juan provides not just one but twelve reasons why it is necessary to save the Philippines' national language on Rappler:

Of course, there are people who do not share the same view and to these opponents, this is what David Michael San Juan has to say:

Unfortunately, it does not really matter how many reasons are provided for imposing the national language on everyone because there is no reason that could erase the following fact. There are so many languages spoken in the Philippines:

Above copied from "Many Voices, One Nation: The Philippine Languages and Dialects in Figures"
Although Tagalog, on which the national language is based, garners the highest percentage of households, one cannot deny that the other languages have a significant share of native speakers. Percentage is not really that important, but right to one's mother tongue is, so it really does not matter whether a language is spoken by the majority or not. In terms of percentages, there is really no native language in the Philippines that is spoken by more than half of the households:

Above copied from "Many Voices, One Nation: The Philippine Languages and Dialects in Figures"
Tagalog does have the highest number, but it falls short of fifty percent. And in terms of linguistic rights, even the smallest dot in the above figure has a say. One could promote a national language. One could make up a language and claim that it is a mixture of all the above languages. But no one should impose such language. It is bad enough that all students in the Philippines are forced to learn this made up national language through K+12. It is an attack on one's identity and culture to impose the same in higher education. The use of English as a medium of instruction in higher education should not be seen as an imposition of a colonial foreign language. This choice is not based on any ideological ground. It is purely academic and only practical. On the other hand, imposing a made up national language is based solely on a false sense of nationalism. It is based on a fantasy of having one language uniting all of Philippines. This is not the true Philippines. The Philippines is a very diverse country in terms of tongues. We must embrace that and not make up something artificial that places us against each other. Our only objective is to help children realize their part in this globe. Our only mission is to teach our children, not to brainwash them with something we have only imagined and created.

Our teachers need support. Our schools need support. Let us focus on what matters to learning. Let us emphasize what works. And we need to make sure that in doing so, we still respect each other's language, because language is part of our soul....

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Different Parts of the Brain

The brain is indeed a very complex system. The way it functions is likewise intricate. For example, when it comes to attention, neuroscientists consider the brain as having three modes: the task-positive network, the task-negative network, and an alert switch. The task-positive network is used when someone is focused and engaged on a particular activity while the task-negative network is associated with day dreaming. These two networks apparently cannot work simultaneously. A brain is either focused or wandering, but it can switch from one network to the other. The alert-switch prioritizes. This switch can also impede the other two networks. Just imagine sitting in front of a computer, writing a report or balancing a sheet, and a message comes up saying that you have a new message on your email or Facebook.

Inside the classroom, of course, we would want a child's brain to be on a task-positive network. In fact, it would be nice if we are all on task-positive network, fully engaged and conscious, making the most of the central executive part of our brain. But day dreaming may in fact be the place where innovations spring. It may just be the network responsible for our creativity. We also know that there are limits to the task-positive network. We all do need a break.

Along this line, this blog will take a real vacation. I am sure that there are various posts on this blog that still remain to be read and understood.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Music in the Early Grades

My mother had always regarded me as either tone deaf or severely challenged with pitch. Music, however, is so much more than just hitting the right notes. There is timing, there is rhythm, and hearing is one activity the brain depends on. I really wish I had more music training when I was in elementary school. Music in the early grades in Philippine public schools is currently part of Music, Arts, Physical Education, Health lumped together as MAPEH, so students probably go through some music instruction for thirty minutes once every four days. Unfortunately, thirty minutes a week may not be enough for musical training to be fully beneficial.

Nina Kraus, a professor at Northwestern University, has been working on how training in music affects the brain. In a special issue of Hearing Research, Kraus and her co-editors wrote:
"...It is worth pointing out that music is not only deeply linked to the auditory system but that it also engages almost every other neural system and cognitive function: motor, multisensory, memory, attention, and emotion are all part and parcel of music. Music thus essentially engages the totality of the nervous system, posing a challenge to understanding but also providing an opportunity to deepen our knowledge of the entire system...."
The fact that musicians do need working memory offers a glimpse at how music training can benefit learning. In May of this year, Simon Makin of Scientific American described Kraus' research in an article, "Music Lessons Combat Poverty's Effect on the Brain. Music lessons may help close the socioeconomic gap in reading ability": 
Kraus's team tested the auditory abilities of teenagers aged 14 or 15, grouped by socioeconomic status (as indexed by their mother's level of education, a commonly used surrogate measure). The researchers recorded the kids' brain waves with EEG as they listened to a repeated syllable against soft background sound and when they heard nothing. They found that children of mothers with a lower education had noisier, weaker and more variable neural activity in response to sound and greater activity in the absence of sound. The children also scored lower on tests of reading and working memory.
Contrary to what my mother thinks, no child is hopeless when it comes to music. Recent research by Kraus shows that even with just one year of instruction composed of two one-hour music classes per week, children can be taught to keep a beat:
Above copied from Slater J, Tierney A, Kraus N (2013) At-Risk Elementary School Children with One Year of Classroom Music Instruction Are Better at Keeping a Beat. PLoS ONE 8(10): e77250. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0077250
This study is continuing as it investigates transfer effects of musical training on other areas such as language skills and development. A preview of results from this ongoing research effort has been recently shared by Take Away:
"After just one year of music lessons, the reading scores of 9- and 10-year-old students from low-income neighborhoods held steady, while the scores of their peers, who didn't study an instrument, dipped. 
That's the finding of a new study from Northwestern University. The teamed with an organization called The Harmony Project to see how learning music impacts a student's academic performance."
We may not all be musicians by nature, but we could all be by nurture, and as an added bonus, it even helps us in our other subjects....

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dropout Rates May Increase : Unintended Consequence of New Curriculum

The forecast of dropout rates in high school doubling has been made with regard to the introduction of a new curriculum. This prediction, however, is with regard to the United States' new Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. This is about an educational system far more funded and prepared to tackle changes in curriculum. There are new textbooks as well as assessments that are now aligned with the new curriculum. Yet, the forewarning is serious based on a report by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, "Opportunity by Design: New High School Models for Student Success".

Above copied from "Opportunity by Design: New High School Models for Student Success"

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Why DepEd's K+12 Must Be Scrapped

Basic education fails miserably when a child drops out of school. The number of school leavers is one important data point that should be emphasized in assessing any educational system. The logic here is really very simple. No curriculum would have an effect if a child is not in school. Before one even thinks of future employment which is one thing education alone really does not determine, one must focus first on school attendance. Basic education must be education for all.

With regard to this metric, school leaving, the Philippines currently does not have a good record. In fact, the Philippines is among the top five countries in East Asia and the Pacific in terms of the percentage of school dropouts at the primary level.

To provide an insightful perspective on where Philippine basic education currently stands, it is useful to look at another country. This time, the comparison is not going to be made against Finland or any of the other Asian countries that currently excel in international standardized exams. Instead, the comparison is made with Malaysia, another country in southeast Asia.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Should DepEd's K to 12 Be Suspended?

When it is clear that a direction taken will either lead to nowhere or disaster, it is important to step on the brakes. DepEd's K to 12 must not only be suspended - it must be scrapped. There is in fact a new community page on Facebook that carries such message:

There are various reasons why the program must be discarded at this point. Any one of these reasons is adequate enough to call for a suspension of the new curriculum.

The Early Years of Learning

It is no secret that problems in basic education in the Philippines are evident already in the primary years. Adding two years at the end of basic education does not address the problems in the early years. Cornelio Reformina of the Emilia Foundation describes this vividly using the following analogy:
"The k-12 program is like adding 2 floors to a rickety 10-story building on a weak foundation."
Lack of Resources

Classroom shortages are widely known. Poor facilities and overcrowded classrooms are widespread. Teachers are also overworked and underpaid. Learning materials are not available. The government simply does not have the resources to implement K to 12. The following photo taken and posted on Facebook by Genaro Ruiz Gojo Cruz speaks volume with regard to the current predicament of schools in the Philippines. One must keep in mind that this is not a photo from a school in one of the regions devastated recently by typhoons. This is a photo of a classroom in Cocob Elementary School located in Zamboanga del Norte. These needs must be met first. Otherwise, any curriculum is bound to fail.

K to 12 Is Simply Inconsistent

One of the justifications given for K to 12 is decongesting the old curriculum. Proponents claim that too many topics are forced within a very short 10 year period. If this is true, K to 12 does nothing to solve this problem. The subjects covered in the new grades 7 through 10 are no different from the old 4-year high school. Take, for instance, the math and science subjects. The only difference is that a spiral curriculum is implemented but the coverage remains the same, the four years of junior high school are taking biology, chemistry, physics and earth sciences. In fact, algebra is taught in grade 7, which is no different from the old curriculum. On the other hand, the opposite has happened in the early years. Kindergarten up till second grade now focus on oral fluency while reading and writing are postponed. One can only imagine what a student needs to do during grades 4 through 6 in order to prepare for high school. The added two years at the end of high school come with its own content. These years are not from the old 10-year curriculum so these do not really decongest. The added two years come with a menu that says, "choose what you like, but only if it is available in your local school". Herbert Vego writes in Panay News:
"Look at some of the new modules K-12 has enforced. To name a few: Handicraft Production, Bread and Pastry Production, Caregiving and Electrical Installation and Maintenance. 
Why ram them all into high school kids? Does Luisto expect high school graduates to bake cake or baby-sit for a living right after high school graduation?"
Wrong Direction

The most important point, however, is that DepEd's K to 12 is simply the wrong direction. While other countries are looking into ways to improve the early years and provide a stronger foundation for learning, DepEd's K to 12 looks in the other way. The problems in basic education including dropouts are already happening in the primary years. Any program that is added much later to basic education simply does not address these problems.

Time is running out. DepEd K to 12 needs to be scrapped before it causes further damage to Philippine basic education and a generation of children.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What Should a 4th Grader Know in Math?

Almost forty years have passed since I took 4th grade math. I remember being asked to calculate how long a light year is in miles but that was already at the beginning of 5th grade. A light year is the distance light has traveled in one year so it requires knowledge of how fast light moves and how much time there is in one year. In this case, it only requires the relationship between speed, distance and time. There is no geometry required. Fourth grade math under the Common Core not only includes measurements and conversions between measurements, but also two-dimensional shapes. Looking at a prototype of a question developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the difference between Common Core's 4th grade math and the one I had forty years ago becomes much more obvious:
Above copied from The Mathematics Common Core Toolbox
The above question is indeed quite different from the tests I had when I was in 4th grade. In fact, it looks different from questions in the international standardized TIMSS exam for grade 4. Here is a sample question from TIMSS:
Above copied from TIMSS 2011
With the above TIMSS question, all the student needs to do is count the number of squares that have been shaded. There are six completely shaded squares and there are two squares that are each half-shaded. Thus, the correct answer is seven square centimeters. This is a lot more straightforward and yet, only 38 percent of US students answered this question correctly.

Improving math education obviously involves much more than just writing new test questions. First, one must take a look at what current assessments are telling us. Grade 4 students are currently finding the above TIMSS question already challenging. This question only requires finding how much area is shaded. Among all the education systems in the world that participated in TIMSS 2011, there were only four that scored 50% or above on this question. The international average is suggesting that more than two-thirds of grade 4 students are currently unable. Thus, it is not surprising that on the Education Week blog where the above PARCC question is also presented, there is one comment posted:
"Unreasonable is the only way I can describe these questions."
By the way, to answer the question of how many deer are in the park, one must know the following:

  • the perimeter of a rectangle is the sum of its four sides
  • a rectangle is defined by two dimensions: length (L) and width (W)
  • the perimeter of a rectangle is therefore equal to 2L + 2W
  • from the given length and perimeter: 42 = 2(8) + 2W
  • the width is therefore 13 miles
  • the area of a rectangle is the product of its length and width, so in this case, the area is 8 times 13 = 104 square miles
  • with 9 deer for every square mile, there are 104 times 9 deer in this park = 936 deer.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Reading Is Fun, Reading Is Essential, Reading Is Personal

At third grade, students are now expected to read in order to learn. It is hoped that the earlier grades and preschool had instilled a love for reading. Reading requires not only vocabulary but also motivation since reading demands both effort and time. Stories cultivate a young mind. From fairy tales to super heroes, from playschool drama to animal characters, a child is exposed to situations, plots and relationships. Some of these are entirely new while some may strike a resemblance to what a child may have already experienced, potentially providing personal connections to what a book unfolds. Reading during the early years therefore emphasizes a very active stance. Children are encouraged to make predictions by just looking at the title or cover page of a book. Children are trained to read aloud with appropriate expression, after all, the reading must take into account the mood underlying each passage in the story. A monotone does not convey the story at all if emotions are not taken into account. Young minds are also asked to draw images in their minds while they read. Reading during the early grades seems indeed focused on reading fiction. One therefore wonders how all of the above preparation comes into play when reading a book that is not fiction, but a textbook in General Chemistry for example.

Could a student really predict what the book is all about by simply looking at the cover? Should a reader be preoccupied in finding connections to one's personal life while reading the book? Should a reader be looking for emotions while going through each passage in such a textbook? In college, it seems that students do find learning from textbooks on their own extremely challenging. Willingham and coworkers have found that "some commonly used techniques, such as underlining, rereading material, and using mnemonic devices, were found to be of surprisingly low utility". The following table summarizes which learning techniques have been found to be of low utility:

Above table copied from Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14(1), 4-58

Ineffectiveness in reading is not only apparent in academic settings. People seem to have difficulty getting informed in general. Take for instance the following survey that shows that the US has the lowest percentage agreeing with the notion that climate change is man-made:

Above figure copied from Ipsos MORI
What is further disconcerting is that people seem to have a tendency to cling on misinformation. People seem to learn only those that agree with their preconceived notions. Both social and mainstream media illustrate what it takes to be popular. Post something on Facebook that simply validates your friends' beliefs and you will get many "likes". Post something that is challenging and threatening, prepare to be ignored. A study by Nyhan and Reifler showcases the observation that preconceived notions, beliefs, or political leaning prevent Americans from seeing facts especially when the data are presented in text. There is a slight improvement, however, if the data conflicting with one's political stand are presented in a simple graphical fashion, as illustrated by the following data:

Above figure copied from Nyhan and Reifler
Even in this particular case, the figure used to convey the information must only include pertinent features. Perhaps, even less would affirm the false information that global temperatures have decreased or stayed the same, if a graph simpler than the one shown below was used:

Above figure copied from Nyhan and Reifler
A paper published in the Journal of Educational Psychology specifically points out the deleterious effects of too many colors, too many pictures, or too many extraneous information on how children learn math as shown by the following data:

Above figure copied from Kaminski and Sloutsky
Based on the above data, children perform best when figures on a textbook are monochromatic and are free of extraneous ("No Extr" condition) materials.

Reading scientific literature can be challenging. As children grow up, they learn and accumulate knowledge. Information turns into beliefs. Reading scientific reports that challenge these beliefs then becomes a personal matter. And as Nyhan and Reifler show in their work, many people can embrace correct information if they find the new information not psychologically threatening.

At the Ateneo de Manila University, I was required to take several philosophy courses. In one of these courses, phenomenology was extensively discussed. This discipline must start with a state as free as possible from unexamined preconceptions and presuppositions. Let nature unfold. Let the book unfold....

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Bill Gates on Higher Education

Above copied from GatesNotes on Education

As one of the richest persons on this planet and as one of the few who not only had the vision, but also the commitment and drive to create machines that can operate flawlessly, Bill Gates may actually have something worthwhile to hear with regard to the challenges and future of education. Gates did drop out from Harvard and did not finish college but he left formal schooling for a reason. He saw a rare opportunity and perfect timing was key. He knew that the right time was then and no later. He knew of the competition and one thing he was really good at was beating the competition.

To an audience of pupils from a school in Bangalore, this is what Gates said when he was asked by a student named Nengneilam Haokip on why he left Harvard University:

So when Gates delivers an address to the business officers of colleges and universities at the recent annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), it is not surprising to see a mixed set of emotions and judgments. InsideHigherEd has an article entitled, "A More Nuanced Bill Gates". The article describes Gates' address as follows:
But his remarks, and his answers to a set of questions posed by Miami Dade College's Rolando Montoya, displayed a level of nuance and sophistication about higher education that would probably surprise those who have read his well-publicized comments urging state governors to emphasize disciplines that create jobs and envisioning a wholesale embrace of massive open online courses by community colleges.
In a clear critique of the Obama administration’s proposed college rating system, he warned against simplistic efforts to judge colleges' quality: he discouraged a singleminded focus on college "completion.” He described as "oversimplistic" the view that higher education is "just about getting a job with a certain salary” — “Citizenship, developing deeper understanding, other things, are all important," he said.
The above is really no different from his response to schoolchildren in Bangalore. Gates understands that the strength of a higher education institution lies in the community of learners it establishes. It is about face-to-face relationships.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Collaborative Learning

When I was an undergraduate student at the Ateneo, the number of chemistry majors is very small that in some upper level courses like physical chemistry, both third and fourth year students attend the same class. The physical chemistry laboratory course was pretty challenging as our professor, Amando Kapauan, simply listed the titles of the experiments we were supposed to perform. The very little guidance provided forced all of us to work together. What the professor could do inside a lecture room is quite limited especially when one objective of the course is for students to learn to become resourceful. Problem solving can surely benefit from a lecturer who could cover a myriad of strategies or approaches, but in the real world, we usually do not have access to an expert who could provide all the right guidance or direction. We usually have to learn from our friends, from our peers.

Collaborative learning not only pools everyone's resources but also promote engagement in the lesson or activity. Surely, there are benefits in running a laboratory course where every single work has to be individual, but there are likewise advantages in group work. Even in cutting-edge research, no one really works like an island. Research groups have regular meetings to discuss progress as well as challenges. In a General Chemistry class, seeing students working through problems at the end of a chapter means that learning is not confined inside a classroom. It goes beyond and students can really learn from each other.

ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is celebrating Collaborative Learning Week.

Collaborative learning, however, does not happen without effort. It is not magic. After all, our physical chemistry professor was not working with a class who were strangers to each other. My classmates and I have know each other for years since we were simply a small group at the Ateneo tucked away in a building just for chemistry. Group work came naturally.

Kevin Scott provides the following advice for collaborative learning at ASCD.

As a former teacher, a parent, and a lifelong student, I would say the keys to a positive collaborative learning experience are the following:
1. Be Flexible—You never know when you’ll need to think on your feet.
2. Provide Support—But remember, support isn’t steering them directly to the answer.
3. Treat the Situation Like a Piece of Art—It’s a delicate balance that needs to be thoughtful for everyone.
4. Stay Positive—As cliché as that sounds, you will hear complaints, and the best advice may be to lead by example and take an empathetic approach.
5. Maintain a Fun Factor—Sometimes a little competition can be a great motivator. Keep it upbeat and fun for all. It’s amazing how certain students will shine when they’re having a good time with a project or task, and you’ll have a great time watching it happen!
ASCD also provides various resources for collaborative learning:
Effectively Differentiate Your Instruction: By differentiating instruction and content to meet the needs of every learner, your classroom will naturally lend itself to student collaboration. Use these resources to help you differentiate materials.
Prepare Group Work Instead of Individual Work: Instead of repeating the same  individual assignments week after week, take a look at your curriculum and identify opportunities for students to work together. The resources below are helpful to carry out a successful group work strategy.
Structure Your Teaching for Better Engagement: Collaborative learning works best with solid, engaging instruction. Reflect on your teaching practices with the resources below.
  • Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom
In addition to encouraging collaborative learning, it’s always a good idea to consider every aspect of teacher effectiveness. For more on this topic, visit ASCD’s Teacher Effectiveness Resource Portal.