"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, May 24, 2017

Islamic Terror in the Philippines

For someone who is thousands of miles away from what has transpired in the Philippines, I am clearly clueless of what is actually happening. In contrast, I have a much better grasp of what occurred in Manchester. For Marawi City in the island of Mindanao, there are tons of misinformation. With the reported clashes between an Islamic terrorist group called the Maute group and government forces, it has become evident that a major news source in the Philippines, is also a source of fake news.

Above copied from Google's cache of Inquirer's Facebook page
The above photos turned out to be those of a different bombimg accident that happened several years ago. The Reuters' report yesterday was much less sensational:
Five Philippine soldiers were wounded on Tuesday in a clash when they raided an apartment where Islamic State-linked militants were hiding in a city on the southern island of Mindanao, the army said.
The focus of the raid was about 15 militants belonging to the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State in the Middle East. The fighting was still going on by nightfall...
...Officials urged residents to avoid spreading rumors that rebels has seized a hospital....
Back in Novermber, the Maute group seized Butig, a town in Lanao del Sur, the same province to which Marawi City belongs. And in January, government forces staged aerial strikes in the same area with the hope of killing Maute's leader, Isnilon Hapilon. The most recent clash is likewise an effort to capture Hapilon.

The latest news from Reuters is the following:

Maute fighters did indeed take over some parts of the city and the military is reporting that there are snipers and booby traps, hampering army operations. And amidst the violence, President Duterte has declared martial law on the whole island of Mindanao. Duterte's response should not really be seen as especially harsh. Soldiers have been deployed in cities in the United Kingdom following the suicide bombing in Manchester. And what happened in Marawi City is so much more audacious: A terrorist group is openly clashing with government troops.

With fake news and lack of information, it is not easy to discern fully what is really happening in Mindanao. I am fortunate that I have a friend on Facebook who is also a former classmate in high school, Alfonso Corpuz. He currently teaches in Iligan which borders the province of Lanao del Sur. The following was his response when I asked him what he knew after I shared with him what Reuters was reporting:
We are pretty sure of the news we get because of texts and streams from citizens of Marawi. They are complaining of LACK OF MEDIA COVERAGE and if any it is so short and passing. Marawi City is in blackout, fire is burning, one house after another by ISIS-Maute group. Friends text us of the Hospital capture and eventual release. Army is controlling the entrance and exit in the city perimeters. There's truth in the news but it lacks details. We know the details, they know the story or at least part of it. The hospital was not completely taken over.
Today, Alfonso also shares his thoughts regarding the declaration of martial law:

I guess his comment can be directed to Victoria Garchitorena, a known critic of President Duterte:

Declaring martial law, however, is clearly defined in the Philippine Constitution:
The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. Within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person or in writing to the Congress. The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President. Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.
The Congress, if not in session, shall, within twenty-four hours following such proclamation or suspension, convene in accordance with its rules without any need of a call.
The Supreme Court may review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision thereon within thirty days from its filing.
A state of martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution, nor supplant the functioning of the civil courts or legislative assemblies, nor authorize the conferment of jurisdiction on military courts and agencies over civilians where civil courts are able to function, nor automatically suspend the privilege of the writ.
The suspension of the privilege of the writ shall apply only to persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in or directly connected with the invasion. During the suspension of the privilege of the writ, any person thus arrested or detained shall be judicially charged within three days, otherwise he shall be released.
There is Islamic terror in the Philippines, yet oligarchs are much more eager to sow partisanship instead of unity against terrorism. What government officials need to be reminded of is the fact that the Constitution of the Philippines is still in place. Not upholding the supreme law of the land gives birth to terrorism. There is a reason why these terrorists are burning schools.

School burned by terrorist group Maute
The terrorists apparently attacked a hospital as well. Islamic terror in the Philippines is similar to what is happening in other countries in terms of violence and casualties. There is, however, one big difference between Manchester and Marawi City. While the bomber grew up in Britain, his parents were from Libya. Islamic terror in the Philippines comes from Mindanao itself. Terrorists in the Philippines are not only fighting against the national government, they are also fighting to win the hearts of the people of Mindanao. Terrorists win the hearts of the people when the government fails to respond to the people's basic needs. Communities become safe havens for terrorists when the national government fails to protect the rights of the people in these communities. Indeed, martial law is now necessary to bring order to Mindanao. But to bring peace, the government must uphold its own Constitution. One clear obligation that the Constitution places on the national government is to bring quality education and health care to the people of Mindanao.


After I have posted this on my blog, I have seen images that seem to suggest that since Marawi City is such a small city compared to the island of Mindanao, declaring martial law over all of Mindanao is an exaggerated response. Well, Manchester is also a small city in the United Kingdom, yet the bombing there has prompted the government to declare a Critical Terror level which involves deployment of soldiers on the streets of Britain.

Is this an overblown response as well?

Above copied from The Telegraph

Monday, May 22, 2017

Activating Inappropriate Existing Knowledge

Nicole McNeil of the Department of Psychology at Notre Dame published a paper in Child Development about ten years ago entitled "Limitations to Teaching Children 2 + 2 = 4: Typical Arithmetic Problems". She offers a different title on a version of this article at Notre Dame: "Don't Teach Children 2 + 2". Of course, it is widely known that arithmetic fluency correlates with good performance in algebra. For instance, a study involving about 200 undergraduate students concludes "computational fluency had the strongest effect on algebra achievement". So, why should we not teach children arithmetic? This recommendation is actually more about how knowledge can sometimes hinder learning.

McNeil, in a much more recent work with other researchers, highlights the importance of understanding math equivalence, that is, appreciating what an equal sign really entails. To assess how well a student understand math equivalence, questions like the one shown below can be used:

67 + 84 = _?_ + 83

Finding the answer to the above does not require simply performing an arithmetic operation. It is not just adding 67 and 84 since the sum, 151, is not the correct answer. The correct answer is 68. Providing 151 as the answer by young children illustrates one of the challenges children face in studying math equivalence. In addition, they often miss where the equal sign is. For instance, in 3 + 9 + 5 = 6 + _, students sometimes give 23 (which is 3 + 9 + 5 + 6) as the answer. These mistakes suggest that children are unable to leave the simple problems they have encountered when learning arithmetic. It does seem that children are stuck on one specific type of problem: Doing one mathematical operation to get to the answer. 

McNeil's older paper provides insights on why children may have this particular challenge. By performing two experiments, in which one group of students are taught math equivalence while another group is taught arithmetic as an additional lesson on top of math equivalence, McNeil demonstrates that tapping into existing knowledge that is quite narrow compared to what one is learning is detrimental. Children who are given arithmetic exercises in between lessons on math equivalence perform poorly in the math equivalence tests than those who are not given arithmetic problems to practice or review.

This reminds me of something I posted on this blog years ago:

"If we do not think spirally, why do we have to learn or teach spirally? And this is what makes it so difficult. There are many right words in the quote and the right intentions. But, as long as the fundamentals are wrong, the pedagogy behind the spiral approach is not viable.
Concepts - classes - are not organized in a single hierarchy. Rather there is a web of related classes in which a variety of hierarchies can be distinguished. Recognizing individual hierarchies is as important as discerning relationships between the classes. But spirals?"
Figure and caption taken from http://www.cut-the-knot.org/Mset99/examples.shtml

"American schools follow a "spiral curriculum" in mathematics; that is, they spend such a substantial proportion of time on review each year that only limited progress can be made with new material…. American students who perform poorly in arithmetic are subject to a special form of the spiral curriculum, which might be termed the circular curriculum": they repeat arithmetic over and over until they stop studying math" (Gamoran, 2001, p. 138)"

Gamoran, A. (2001). Beyond curriculum wars: Content and understanding in mathematics. In T. Loveless, Ed., The Great Curriculum Debate, pp. 134-162. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Textbook Plague in the Philippines

In Fairfax county, public schools do not use textbooks in elementary. The same goes for middle school. Instead, teachers use resources that are either available on the internet, or handouts that can be easily reproduced with a copying machine. Working with this type of learning materials obviously avoids textbooks that are too expensive to correct if they are found erroneous. Mistakes can be easily addressed with materials that are digital and originals can be corrected before placing them on a Xerox machine. With the new K to 12 curriculum and mother-tongue based education in the Philippines, a need for new learning materials automatically follows. The Department of Education in the Philippines has performed very poorly in this task. First, the Department has continued with contracts on textbooks that are no longer aligned with the new curriculum. Second, the new textbooks designed for the new curriculum have been poorly written, proofread and edited. Perhaps, it is a blessing that some schools have yet to receive some of these textbooks.

With regard to textbook problems in the Philippines, there is currently a petition online to recall some textbooks in the Philippines:

Visit Change.org  to sign this petition

Learning materials in basic education require a thoughtful preparation. It is obvious that education policy makers in the Philippines have not taken the task of providing learning materials for students seriously. The problems are not confined to books in the Ilokano language. The problems are everywhere. I am reposting here something I have posted on this blog on several occasions. These problems have been plaguing the Philippines for so many years:

Textbooks and Learning Materials

Outside the classroom, textbooks are often the only resource to which all students can have access. A teacher can only be available during class time or office hours, but a textbook is within reach twenty four hours, seven days a week. Textbooks likewise guide teachers on what to teach. Good textbooks are rich with exercises and problems. Working through these activities is an effective way of studying. Even with the obvious and significant role textbooks play in learning, it is still important to measure their impact on education. Like teachers, classrooms and other resources, textbooks come with costs. It is helpful then to weigh the costs and benefits of using textbooks especially when resources are very limited. A carefully controlled experiment designed to yield this information is not easy to perform. Why would a group of students or their parents agree not to use a textbook just to inform us on how important textbooks are? In fact, people realize how important textbooks are that some have taken the responsibility of producing them for poor children. An example is the story of Zakes Ncanywa:

Above copied from the Mail & Guardian
Fortunately, one may still find real situations in poor countries where such comparison can be roughly made. In Honduras, there are currently two school systems in rural areas for the years following primary education. Centro de Educación Básica (CEB) is most common and is not really that different from public schools in urban areas. A second system called Sistema de Aprendizaje Tutorial (SAT) is managed by a non-government organization, and focuses more on providing learning materials (textbooks) and training teachers on how to use these books. The two systems have other differences but the key here seems to be the use of textbooks. Textbooks are required in SAT schools while these remain optional in CEB. A study published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis captures this scenario and reports the following:

95% of students in SAT have textbooks compared to 58% in CEB schools. To help visualize how much 0.2 of a standard deviation is, here is a paragraph from Stanford's Eric A. Hanushek:

Amazingly, it is equivalent to the effects of having a good teacher as opposed to having an instructor who is simply average. The annual cost per pupil in a Honduras' CEB school to support teachers' wages is about $300. The annual additional cost per pupil for the required textbooks in an SAT school is about $30, only 10 percent of the cost of a teacher.

In the Philippines, it may seem that Joy Rizal is writing endlessly about textbook problems in the Philippines. The following are just samples of Rizal's articles posted on this blog:
Sep 05, 2013
by Joy Rizal As I reported before we have had a lot of issues regarding the DepEd Malabalay City
school district of Bukidnon, not delivering any of the promised second grade material for our children
to use in their classes.

Nov 10, 2014
The following are photos of exam questions posted by Joy Rizal on Facebook: Looking at the above,
a student cannot really tell which is grammatically correct: "Which set of numbers" or "Which set of number".
This maybe ...

Nov 07, 2013
The title as well as the main body of this post comes from Joy Rizal. Joy worries that with the
incompetence and corruption within DepEd and the rallying cause of improving basic education,
DepEd can well serve as an ...

Oct 20, 2014
Can DepEd Deliver Anything on Time? by Joy Rizal. It seems the ONLY things that DepEd has the
ability to keep and insure will happen on time, according to schedule, are breaks and holidays.
According to the official DepEd ...

Seeing how significant textbooks are in basic education, one should in fact wonder why the Department of Education in the Philippines fails miserably in this area. The poor performance in providing textbooks to students in the Philippines is truly a testament of how much or how little attention the government pays to improving the education of its youth. In this area, there is no question. The Philippines' DepEd is totally incompetent.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Farewell and Best Wishes to a Great School Principal

"Great leaders don't set out to be a leader, they set out to make a difference. It's never about the role, it's always about the goal." -Lisa Haisha.

I received a message today from the principal of Mason Crest Elementary School, Brian Butler. He would be leaving Mason Crest to join the Office of School Support, helping other principals and school administrators in his new role. Mr. Butler in his message did assure parents that Mason Crest would not "miss a beat" in his absence. He did make a difference in the school. His leadership was not so much about being a boss, but on how the school strove to serve each and every student under his guidance. Advocating and working hard to create a professional learning community was his focus. His eforts were towards ensuring that Mason Crest was a school that truly took student learning seriously. His leadership was indeed transformative. Nonetheless, my daughter was not happy to hear of his departure. Neither was I. Of course, I told my daughter that Mason Crest would still continue to have the same team of staff and teachers. Mason Crest would continue to be the same school where every student, every teacher, and every staff would be valued. Mr. Butler worked hard to create a community of learners and that was not going to vanish in an instant.

My daughter and her school principal, Brian Butler
Mr. Butler's commitment to "education for all" would continue at Mason Crest for he had helped create a team of lifelong learners. This team would carry the same vision. Without doubt, such direction would continue, "All means all". Thank you and Godspeed, Mr. Butler.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

We Need to Listen to Non-Filipinos Regarding Slavery

Back in 2008, a classroom inside Georgetown's Medical Center witnessed the gathering of some of the brightest Filipinos in the world. It was the 28th Annual Meeting of the Philippine American Academy of Science and Engineering. The meeting, mostly composed of talks given by Filipino scientists and engineers, had two guest speeches. The first one was given by Nobel laureate John C. Mather, "From the Big Bang to the Nobel Prize and on to the James Webb Space Telescope", and a second one was delivered by Georgetown University professor of sociology and anthropology, William McDonald. McDonald's talk was entitled, "Filipinos in the Age of Migration". McDonald's presentation was at least as disquieting as the recent article from the Atlantic, A Story of Modern Slavery in America. At that time, it was perplexing me to hear a talk during a scientific meeting from a Westerner that dealt with our people's moral issues. Six years later, McDonald wrote an essay in Organized Crime, Corruption and Crime Prevention. In that essay, he stated, "Immigrants are usually victimized by their own kind." Looking back, there was indeed a reason for McDonald to give that talk in our scientific meeting.

We, Filipinos, seem to use "culture" often as an excuse. Even in basic education, former secretary Luistro concocted the idea that science and math are not universal:
"... If we look at the old education system, a lot of the subjects included are very alien to Filipinos, especially the sciences and math. I think that’s why in the past several years, we have rated very low in those two subjects, science and math. I think the old curriculum was not really enmeshed with essential elements of the Filipino culture. We have to ask the question: How does a Filipino naturally think?"
And in this particular case of modern slavery, a Filipino magazine's reaction sums up what most Filipinos felt after reading comments from Westerners regarding the essay, A Story of Modern Slavery in America.

Above copied from Scout

Worth noting is the fact that after the above article was posted, it was soon revised "to reinforce the fact that the author and Scout don’t condone the Filipino culture of indentured/forced servitude in any way." The first comment on this post, however, makes it clear what the Scout's article is really about:

Ashley Tugade Tucker
I'm Filipino and think that your assertion that "we get it" is completely counterintuitive. If you actually cared about the moral issue here, you'd welcome the dialogue and support to make sure there aren't more Lolas. YOU aren't helping the issue by making the moral outrage of "non-Filipinos" the problem, not the systemic and culturally accepted abuse of domestic servants. To be clear, I am not part of whatever "we" thinks that the Atlantic article should not inspire a moral stand against modern day slavery. Not sure if this is just click-bait for Scout or your ego, but this article strikes me as woefully misguided. Filipinos should be criticized for this part of their culture. You defending it as cultural (yes, by sheilding it, you are) it simply shows how big of a problem this is. And you who make excuses, those complacent like you, and those who watched Lola take the abuse are part of the problem. You don't have to raise the belt to hurt Lola... actually, it looks like you just had to type an article on Scout. Way to bring the discussion away from the Lolas.

Months ago before the Atlantic's article, Mong Palatino posted in Global Voices the following:

Above copied from Global Voices

One of the placards above says "Stop over charging agency fees". These migrants not only have to leave their families behind and work as domestic workers abroad, but are also required to pay exorbitant fees to agencies in their home countries. Palatino cites in the above article a study that claims that there are about 9000 individuals treated as slaves in Singapore, but the numbers from the Philippines are much more disconcerting:

Above copied from The Global Slavery Index

In the specific report on the Philippines, the following is stated:
Modern slavery exists in the Philippines in all its forms, however the issue of forced labour for Filipinos working abroad is a significant concern. The most recent survey on OFWs by the Philippine Statistics Authority suggests that one in every two Filipino women working abroad is unskilled, and employed as a domestic worker, cleaner, or in the service sector.[1] These sectors represent some of the highest industry risks for modern slavery. Walk Free survey data revealed that roughly 69% of those reporting exploitation experienced the abuse within the domestic labour sector. Within those that reported forced labour, 25% reported that it occurred overseas, whereas 75% occurred domestically, suggesting that modern slavery is a serious concern not just for OFWs but also within the Philippines itself.
In a comment on the previous post on this blog, Masters and Slaves Among Us, I was told (in all caps), "PLEASE DO NOT EXPOUSE THAT SLAVERY IS ALIVE AND WELL IN THE PHILIPPINES." I then gave a simple response, "Slavery is alive and well in the Philippines." The above report supports this notion.

Human rights are universal and we should not use neither culture nor history as an excuse. Slavery is a crime. Slavery requires action, not just tears or emotions. We need to acknowledge fully that slavery is wrong, no "ifs', "ands", or "buts". And, "yes", we need to listen to non-Filipinos regarding slavery.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Masters and Slaves Among Us

One evening I spent in the house of my PhD mentor, her husband brought this topic to our conversation. He spent a few years in the Philippines and one of the things that made him very uncomfortable was the number of domestic helpers some households had in the Philippines. He talked about it with a profound sense of contempt and aversion. I spent years being educated in a Jesuit institution advertising itself as a school that shaped men and women for others yet I never heard a single lecture that pointed out one of the greatest ills of Philippine society. The parking lots during my college days were often full of cars with chauffers spending their entire day waiting as my classmates went through their classes. I had long been in the midst of masters and slaves. I had received a doctorate degree in chemistry and had learned quantum mechanics but my mentor's husband was still lecturing me that evening on slavery.

After reading about the Atlantic's piece, "A Story of Slavery in Modern America", I knew some of my collegues here at Georgetown University would ask me about it.

Above copied from The Atlantic

I wanted to echo one of the comments I saw on Facebook from
Jennah Martens-Forrester:
This entire article wreaks of entitlement and someone who never really learned their lesson. Like those who believe in "good" slave owners who "treated their slaves like family" (/barf). This piece is a disgusting piece of propaganda meant to show the dilemma of "the benevolent slave owner" and to make the author's position seem oh so sympathetic. I'm over this kind of narrative. He didn't care enough to actually do more than the minimum to assuage his guilt.
The Philippines is a country molded by centuries of colonialism. With independence and since the country was largely agricultural, some families became powerful by virtue of the lands they were able to claim ownership after the colonizers had left. Those who had lands became masters and those who did not became slaves. This was the past and yet the situation had not really changed that much. For this reason, the comment above, in my opinion, must be really taken seriously. The lessons of slavery are not really that difficult to learn. But most of us do not understand slavery for one reason. We often fail to see what it has done to a person. The profound destruction of a person who has been enslaved always escapes our attention so we usually end up not seeing how much we really need to do to make amends.

The Facebook comment also had the following to say:
He didn't "offer her freedom" (at the age of 70 after his mother was dead), because it was never his to offer. He and his family stole it, and he continued to benefit from it, while refusing to ever face the just consequences of his part in it.
Sadly, this comment comes from someone who lives in Canada. Most comments I have seen describe the Atlantic article as a "beautiful story". Patricia Cofield seems to have the same impression as she writes a reply to Martens-Forrester's post:
Thank you for this post. This thread is so sympathetic to him as a slave owner.
This is not a beautiful story. It should bring shame to all of us in the Philippines. I have Filipino friends who are on Facebook who say that the article brings tears, yet I have never seen a single condemnation.

Slavery is alive and well in the Philippines. It is not surprising why there are warlords and private armies even in the urban areas. Technology may be replacing manual labor and some slaves are becoming free. Sadly, one should ask, "free for what?" There are no reparations for slavery in the Philippines. The system right at the very beginning remains tilted to favor the privileged. The basic education of a child in the Philippines is frequently decided by the socioeconomic status of one's parents. We do not understand slavery. This is why it is likewise difficult for us to appreciate the importance of equity in basic education.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Adaptive Tests

Writing an exam for a class needs to be thoughtful. First, we would like the test to be precise in measuring learning outcomes. A student's score after all can be easily influenced by how the student feels about the exam. Both motivation and engagement in an assessment are important in order to gauge properly learning outcomes. Of course, in my class at Georgetown, most students take exams very seriously. And in one exam I recently gave, a student even realized that the questions were progressing from one to the next. It was a series of questions regarding how to arrange atoms in an octahedral arragement.

First, I asked how many ways can we arrange two "three of a kind" in an octahedral fashion. There are two:

Two ways of arranging two "three of a kind (three shaded and three unshaded)
in an octahedral geometry
The next question dealt with three symmetric paired objects that are linked.

Two ways of arranging three symmetric, paired and linked objects
in an octahedral geometry 
There are also two ways because the above two are not superimposable on each other. These are like our hands, there is a right and a left, which are mirror images of each other but are not the same. The third question then combines the above two, three paired, linked, but asymmetric objects.

Four ways of arranging three paired, linked, but asymmetric objects
in an octahedral geometry
In chemistry, molecules that are made up of the same type and number of atoms are called isomers. Isomers that have the same bonding between atoms and only differ in the three-dimensional arrangement of the atoms are called stereoisomers. All of the above figures depict stereoisomers. The first question deals with geometric isomers while the second one involves enantiomers. Enantiomers are mirror images of each other.

Even if you cannot follow the chemistry, it may be inferred that the first question is probing whether a student knows how to draw geometric isomers while the second one focuses on enantiomers, and the last one is a combination. How a student responds to this question can inform a teacher of what the student currently understands. The set of questions is complete in terms of testing this concept. It is not repetitive, and is placed in the right order.

One thing this set of questions does not do, however, is to adjust to the student's responses. For example, if a student cannot answer correctly either one of the first two questions, there is really no point in asking the third one. This cannot be easily done with "pen and paper" exams, but can be easily implemented in a computer-based exam in which a student's progress is monitored and the flow of questions is then tailored to how the student is doing. This is called computer-adaptive testing.

Recent research has shown that computer-adaptive testing comes with significant benefits. In a paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Martin and Lazendic report:
These findings (a) confirm that computer-adaptive testing yields greater achievement measurement precision, (b) suggest some positive test-relevant motivation and engagement effects from computer-adaptive testing, (c) counter claims that computer-adaptive testing reduces students’ test-relevant motivation, engagement, and subjective experience, and (d) suggest positive computer-adaptive testing effects for older students at a developmental stage when they are typically less motivated and engaged.
Students in public schools in the state of Virginia are currently preparing for their Standards of Learning (SOL) exams. It is a good thing that some of the SOL exams are now computer-adaptive. When students are motivated and engaged, these assessments can become more meaningful.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Fidget Spinners or Exercise?

Toys that allow a child to move their fingers are believed to be soothing. Since fidget spinners are quite popular, having one does not make a child stand out. Not being the odd person, of course, makes it quite an attractive intervention. The problem is that these toys are quite distracting so some schools have in fact banned their use inside classrooms. More importantly, there are no studies out there that have specifically looked at these toys. Instead, there are quite a number of studies that demonstrate that exercise, which includes gross motor activity, helps children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A meta-analysis of studies on effects of physical activity on ADHD published last year, for instance, shows a significant effect (g = 0.627) on both executive function and motor skills. A similar review done recently also shows that physical cardio exercise (an exercise that "raises the heart rate, stimulates perspiration, and makes one out of breath") benefits children with ADHD. In fact, in one study, an effect size of 0.90 has been observed. There is much less evidence supporting non-cardio exercise (meditation, yoga, tai-chi, as examples).

My son loves to play soccer. He always looks forward to recess as an opportunity to play with his friends.

Exercise, of course, is not only good for children with ADHD, but for all children. For this reason, we need to keep reminding ourselves that recess during which children can play is a very important part of basic education. We should not take away recess simply to give more room for reading and math. Taking away recess as a form of disciplinary action is likewise wrong. This is no different from taking away food from our children as a punishment. Children need physical activity.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

What the "Yellowtards" Do Not See, but the Masses Do

Supporters of the previous administration have earned the nickname "Yellowtards" because of their leaders' penchant for this color. Based on a survey by the Social Weather Stations, the current president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, is still enjoying a seventy five percent satisfaction rating, in spite of the international media being dead set on discrediting Duterte. On the other hand, the vice president and voice of the "Yellowtards", Leni Robredo, receives only fifty three percent. There seems to be a huge disconnect between the two groups.

There has always been a huge gap between policy makers and the masses in the Philippines. The current basic education curriculum, for instance, is basically unknown to the masses. And to some of the common people who are knowledgeable about the curriculum, DepEd's K to 12 is not a good idea. The masses may have a different way of seeing things. After all, their children are the ones who are studying in these public schools. With regard to drug abuse and violence, their communities are the ones experiencing the evils of methamphetamine. To these people, the evidence is clear, the use of shabu leads to increased criminal behavior.

Why there is a huge gap between the "Yellowtards" and the masses, I believe, is captured in this post by Sass Rogando Sasot on Facebook:

Duterte is seen differently by the masses. "Instead of violently dispersing the farmers, President Duterte went to them and be with his people." That sentence captures what the masses see differently in Duterte. Unlike the previous administration, the masses see Duterte as one of them. An article published by the Inquirer months before Duterte being elected as president demonstrates this.

Above copied from The Inquirer
Duterte was described as a leader with a simple lifestyle:
As mayor, Duterte said he earns more than enough to support a simple lifestyle. “Salary plus allowances as mayor should be enough,” he added.
If he ever becomes the country’s president, he would never be jailed for pocketing government money, the mayor said.
“Perhaps [for] genocide and murder,” he added, generating laughter from the crowd.
"Yellowtards" can not see this, but the masses do and they see Duterte as one of them. After all, there was a time that Duterte also thought that DepEd's K to 12 was wrong:

Above copied from the Business Mirror
The masses often feel powerless. Seeing someone they can easily relate to at the top can make a big difference.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Segregation Under A Different Name

Back in the early eighties, I was selected among rising senior high school students in the Philippines to spend a summer in the Ateneo de Manila University. The current Senate President of the Philippines, Aquilino Pimentel III, was in that summer class as well. At the end of that summer school, we all watched a play called "Kaharian ng Araw" (Kingdom of the Sun). The story was about a journey of two friends, Ponce and Paolo, both wanting to reach the famed and legendary kingdom but for different reasons. Ponce's desire was to be on top, to be number one. Paolo, on the other hand, simply wanted to support and accompany his friend. To reach the Kingdom of the Sun, one must pass through three other Kingdoms, the Kingdom of Rain, the Kingdom of Wind, and the Kingdom of Darkness. And in every step, one must give up something dear. Ponce had to give up Paolo near the end to enter the Kingdom of the Sun. Upon entering his long sought prize, Ponce realized that the Kingdom of the Sun was in fact empty. After all, to be on top, to be number one, means being alone.

I was reminded of this play by a post recently made by my children's principal, Brian Butler, on Facebook:
The Superiority Mindset 
We were never given the right by our creator to feel superior to other people.
-Iyanla Vanzant

..."I contend that the time, scholarship, effort, and resources put forth to address the achievement gap were doomed to fail from their inception because there are people with a superiority mindset who have a vested interest in being defined as superior to others, and they will seek to protect it! This hardened set of belief systems creates the foundation for fundamentalist behavior in school!"
This excerpt is from Anthony Muhammad's book Overcoming the Achievement Gap Trap, 2015, p.63
As a parent, we all want the best for our children. What is best can come in two different flavors:

What we choose defines how we feel about ourselves and others. Unfortunately, what Anthony Muhammad describes as hardened set of beliefs is part of educational systems worldwide. For instance, in the Philippines, I wrote the following in a previous post, DepEd K to 12 vs. Education for All:
In elementary schools, pupils who are just entering Grade 1 are taking an exam called "School Readiness Assessment". There are 45 questions in the exam and the passing score is 36 correctly answered. The students who passed are then taken to the next test, a qualifying exam administered by the education program supervisor in science. And only if 35 pupils pass these exams, would the school have a special science class for these selected students. This is not "Education for All". Why are we doing this to our six year old children? It goes straight against what basic education is. Equity is key in basic education. Can we imagine doing this for character education? That is, requiring students to pass a qualifying exam at the beginning to see if they can be taught right from wrong. How about mathematics? The answer, of course, is no. It is then clear that science is not viewed as a basic field of education. On the other hand, as Catholics, we are quick to tell our children about the mystery of three persons in one God. Children need not take a qualifying exam to hear this lesson.
In Fairfax county, Virginia, advanced academics programs are also available in primary schools.  Gaps already exist in kindergarten based on income and race. It is therefore not surprising that by the time children reach high school, the top high school in Fairfax county no longer matches the demographics of the communities served by this school:

Above copied from
The Connection to Your Community
My daughter who is currently in second grade just qualified for the Advanced Academics Program in Fairfax county. She can go to a different school and join other children who have records of high academic performance. She feels quite proud of this achievement. My daughter at the moment also dreams of becoming a public school teacher so that she can help kids. I therefore think staying in her current school where teachers work as teams and every child is cherished is more in line with the type of education I want my daughter to receive. Fortunately, she also has good friends in her current school which make it easier to convince her to stay. As parents, we always want the best for our children. We can only hope that we do know what is best for them.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Educating the "Whole Child"

In 2006, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) issued the following call to educators, policy-makers and parents:
"We call on communities—educators, parents, businesses, health and social service providers, arts professionals, recreation leaders, and policymakers at all levels—to forge a new compact with our young people to ensure their whole and healthy development. We ask communities to redefine learning to focus on the whole person. We ask schools and communities to lay aside perennial battles for resources and instead align those resources in support of the whole child. Policy, practice, and resources must be aligned to support not only academic learning for each child, but also the experiences that encourage development of a whole child—one who is knowledgeable, healthy, motivated, and engaged."
It is indeed ideal and soundly attractive but educating a "whole child" is a tough call. First and foremost, it requires "whole" educators. ASCD knows very well that this call requires a total overhaul of the educational system. More than ten years later, the success of a school is still measured by scores in math and literacy. A chapter in a recent report, The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects, focuses for instance on how various curricula in preschool affects a child's performance only in math and literacy:

JADE MARCUS JENKINS AND GREG J. DUNCAN. Do Pre-Kindergarten Curricula Matter?
A Chapter in The Current State of Scientific Knowledgeon Pre-Kindergarten Effects

Jenkins and Duncan wrote, "Despite the widespread use of whole-child curricula, existing evidence appears to indicate that they are no more effective at boosting school readiness than the assortment of activities that early childhood education centers develop on their own." They even added, "Taken by themselves, whole-child curricula have not been shown to boost children’s skills in either socioemotional or academic domains." The verdict from evidence-based research is indeed crushing.

The problem, in my opinion, is not "whole education". The problem lies in how freely we call a curriculum a "whole-child curriculum". Even the Department of Education in the Philippines touts its new K-12 curriculum as holistic:
Multispecialist- K to 12 education gears for the holistic development of learners. In developing the whole child, various learnings and experiences must be integrated. For this, teachers must be multispecialist, that is, they must be knowledgeable not only in the subject area they are teaching but in other areas as well so that they can help the learner build up what they gain in classrooms and outside the school and make sense of what was learned.
At least, what is required from teachers to deliver such a curriculum is well spelled out above. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that the above is simply wishful thinking. The curriculum matters. DepEd K to 12 curriculum is not of high quality. Curricular implementation matters. With this, learning resources can make a difference. And lastly, teachers do matter.  Educating the "whole child" means that teachers "must be knowledgeable not only in the subject area they are teaching but in other areas as well..." Unfortunately, as the staff of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/ The World Bank says in a report on Basic Education in the Philippines
"With the exception of English at the elementary level, the average elementary or high school teacher could answer fewer than half of the questions on the subject content tests correctly. Since these tests are closely aligned with the curriculum, the results suggest that teachers face significant challenges in teaching a considerable portion of the current curriculum."

Sunday, May 7, 2017

"Learning About Vertebrates and Invertebrates"

My son who is in fifth grade is currently studying the differences between plant and animal cells. He is also learning about the backbone that distinguishes vertebrates from invertebrates. During a recent playdate, he and his friend were watching a Youtube video by DeMaio and his pals Iguana Greg and the Macho Crab. The kids are too old for Thomas the train, yet this video still seemed to capture their attention. They were both engaged as they listened to an iguana speaking with a peculiar accent and a crab with an attitude. Of course, after watching the video one could not stop saying "Iguana Greg".

Putting a human face on nonhumans (anthromorphism) is often used when teaching young children. Whether such addition of human characteristics on nonhumans helps learning has been examined in a research work scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology. This recent study actually involves students in college and high school and the conclusions are quite remarkable. Learning outcomes are improved by as much as one standard deviation for both retention of material as well as transfer. The following is an example of two figures employed in this study, one is given human characteristics and personalized while the other is not.

Above copied from
Anthropomorphism in Decorative Pictures: Benefit or Harm for Learning?
Schneider, Sascha; Nebel, Steve; Beege, Maik; Rey, Günter Daniel
Journal of Educational Psychology, Apr 27 , 2017, .http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000207
Students provided with personalized lessons score higher in both retention and transfer tests, and are more positively motivated. Anthromorphism does increase cognitive load by introducing additional materials but this seems to be outweighed by an increase in positive emotions. My son and his friend do have to remember in addition Iguana Greg and Macho Crab, but in exchange, the concept of invertebrates versus vertebrates is much more easily retained.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Which School Should My Children Attend?

In our neighborhood, we are assigned to a public school for elementary, middle school, and high school. So, there is really no choice when it comes to sending one's child to a public school. Of course, we can always enroll our child in a private school. In fact, one of the teachers in the daycare my son attended when he was a toddler recommended a private school. Her reason was children in public schools were more likely to be bullies. My son started formal schooling in a Catholic school and surprisingly, he was not able to make friends and there were several times that I even witnessed another child being unkind to my son. My son is now studying in a public elementary school, Mason Crest Elementary School, where every child is treated as a celebrity.

This is the last year my son is studying at Mason Crest. Next September, he will be entering middle school. I have a daughter who is also studying in the same school but she is also scheduled to transfer to another school after qualifying for the Advanced Academics Program in Fairfax county. I can therefore only wish that my children find a second home in the schools they will attend this coming Fall.

Bullying is truly a scourge in schools. It is heartening to see that even the karate school my children attend, we spend quite some time to address bullying.

Bullying comes in different flavors. There is physical which is quite obvious but there are also varieties that are purely verbal and subtle ones that can hurt a child emotionally. And in this digital age, there is likewise cyber-bullying. However, bullying does not happen everywhere and does not affect everyone. Thus, it is useful to examine what factors correlate with the number of instances of bullying in schools. These factors can be divided into two: characteristics of the child and characteristics of the school. Such study has been made by Fink and coworkers in more than 500 primary schools in England. The following are the child factors that they find correlate with being bullied:

  1. The child is poor.
  2. The child is black.
  3. The child has disabilities.
Children who are deprived, children who are African, and children who require special education are much more likely to be bullied. The authors find that bullying incidents increase with an increasing percentage of children from poor families enrolled in a school. But the only school factor that appears to be independent of child factors is school climate. In this study, the operational definition of school climate is as follows:

school climate, frequently operationalised as the extent to which students on average feel connected to their school and have positive perceptions of school (and their teachers).
It is no surprise then why Mason Crest Elementary School, the school my kids consider as their second home, goes to great lengths just to make their students feel like celebrities.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Children in Religious Countries Do Not Perform Well in Science

Religion and science are often in conflict especially when a literal reading of religious text is employed. Take creation versus evolution, for instance. Thus, it is therefore not surprising to see students from countries dominated by religion to score lower in international standardized exams in science. This, in fact, is one of the findings made by a study that looks into the correlation between students' scores in both PISA and TIMSS, and the degree of religiosity of the students' country.

Using data from a survey that measures a country's religiosity and scores in the science sections of either PISA or TIMSS, a negative correlation is seen:

Above copied from
Stoet, G., & Geary, D.C., Students in countries with higher levels of religiosity perform lower in science and mathematics, Intelligence (2017)

The correlation seems to stand the test of time. Acknowledging conflicts that exist between science and religion, one may be quick to conclude the mechanism behind this correlation. Science goes against the beliefs of both students and teachers so it is only expected that science will not be diligently taught in schools. Since both PISA and TIMSS have a math section, scores in mathematics can also be examined to see if there exists a correlation between math performance and religiosity. Apparently there is likewise a negative correlation:

Above copied from
Stoet, G., & Geary, D.C., Students in countries with higher levels of religiosity perform lower in science and mathematics, Intelligence (2017)

The above, although almost identical to the results for science scores, is distinct and important. Mathematics is really neutral when it comes to religious beliefs. Thus, the mechanism behind both correlations cannot be due to the conflicts between a student's belief and the subject. What the authors suggest based on additional data is instructional time. In countries where religion is emphasized, students spend a significant amount of time in religious education. Since time is finite, this means less time spent on math and science. Instructional time is indeed important.

There is in addition, another factor that correlates with religiosity and is negatively related to learning outsomes in the math and the sciences, and that factor is poverty. After all, Karl Marx regarded religion as the opiate of the poor. Thus, poverty might as well the main factor in all of these correlations.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

"Teach Your Parents Well"

"Teach Your Children" was a song written by Graham Nash while I was growing up. The second part, "Teach your parents well,Their children's hell will slowly go by, and feed them on your dreams. The one they pick's the one you'll know by", had always impressed me although it was just simply a repeat of the first part with parents and children exchanging places. The message was quite clear to me. We were all in this together and amidst our struggles, we should always be kind and tolerant with others and with ourselves. But since the song starts with "teach", the song for me now takes a different meaning when it comes to basic education.

This new meaning comes with the realization that basic education does involve not only the children but also their parents. Poverty profoundly affects education. Clearly, addressing this challenge needs to include the family. Such an approach obviously requires more resources, more effort, and more time. Not addressing the two generations, however, can certainly lead to an unfinished job or short-lived positive outcomes. The county of Tulsa in Oklahama seems to have found the right combination in its Career Advance program. This program works under an umbrella of programs that help both children and their parents.
Community Action Project of Tulsa County (CAP Tulsa) specifically focuses on a two-generation approach that aims not only to prepare young children for future success in school but also their parents through programs designed to increase parenting skills, employability and earning potential. Our goal is that children enter school prepared for success, families create a nurturing and secure environment for their children and that families are connected to one another.
CAP Tulsa teaches children. CAP Tulsa teaches parents. The Career Advance program specifically provides training in health services to parents while their young children attend a preschool program.
■■ CareerAdvance®, developed and run by the Community Action Project of Tulsa County (CAP Tulsa), is a model two-generation intervention that pairs early childhood education for children with career pathway training in the health care sector for parents.
■■ CareerAdvance® recruits parents from high quality Head Start centers and offers career ladders through certification programs in the healthcare field at no cost to families. Additional elements include career coaching, small peer learning groups, financial incentives for parents’ educational progress, and wraparound early care and education for children.
The financial incentives are indeed attractive, up to $3000 a year for good attendance and meeting both grade and credit requirements. Does the program work? Findings made by researchers from Northwestern University, Columbia University, New York University, The University of Texas at Austin, and Oklahoma State University - Tulsa show that it does.

The children are attending school:

Above copied from
P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Teresa Eckrich Sommer, Terri J. Sabol, Elise Chor, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Christopher King, and Amanda Morris.WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF PAIRING HEAD START SERVICES FOR CHILDREN WITH CAREER PATHWAY TRAINING FOR PARENTS?
March 2017
And the parents are on their way to a new career in the healthcare sector:

Above copied from
P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Teresa Eckrich Sommer, Terri J. Sabol, Elise Chor, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Christopher King, and Amanda Morris.WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF PAIRING HEAD START SERVICES FOR CHILDREN WITH CAREER PATHWAY TRAINING FOR PARENTS?
March 2017
Eckrich Sommer, one of the authors, emphasizes in an interview the importance of the whole package. Providing quality preschool and child care is obviously a good first step, but the fact that families are grouped and are working together also make a significant difference.

We all go through hell but we could work together....

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Icy Sea

My seven-year old daughter was watching me last night as I was preparing for this morning's lecture. This lecture is the first part of a series on carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. I always end my General Chemistry course with this topic and this year, it is timely to highlight the most recent report from the Arctic Council. The changes in snow, sea ice, and permafrost are undeniable. But my daughter had a different idea. She wanted to be a part of the lecture and decided to write a short story that I could then share with my students. So last night, she wrote a short story called "The Icy Sea":

The Icy Sea
Amelia de Dios

Long, long ago in the sea, there lived a mermaid. Her name was Tara. She was a kind girl. Not so far away, there lived a wizard named Addison and she can make things cold. One day, Addison was so bored. She has not made anything cold yet so she decided one of the worst plans ever. She was going to freeze the sea! When Tara heard about what was going to happen she was so sad. Tara cried. Then her mother came and she said the only way to stop it was to eat a whole hotdog! Tara did not like hotdogs, but she wanted to save her family so she went to K mart and got a hotdog and ate it all up. Addison was never seen forever and Tara lived happily ever after.
The End

My daughter was indeed looking at the slides I was making for my lecture. I was planning to show after all the decreasing amount of sea ice in the Arctic region. Of course, my problem was that it seemed mermaids are more than happy not to see ice in the seas. Mermaids are not polar bears after all. A warming arctic can indeed be beneficial for those who are looking forward to less ice and warmer weather. But as The Economist points out, "Commercial opportunities are vastly outweighed by damage to the climate". Polar bears are real while mermaids are not.

Above copied from The Economist
Still, my daughter provided me with a bridge between human activity and climate change. Although seemingly out of place, eating hotdogs, or eating meat and any processed food, can actually bring greater changes to the environment than eating grains or tubers. Wendee Holtcamp seems to think so:

Above copied from The Daily Climate

So, it does make sense for Tara to eat a whole hot dog to prevent the seas from freezing. Needless to say, I did start my lecture this morning with my daughter's story. And it was well received. I am reminded of a previous post on this blog, State of the Heart, in which I quoted Peter Gruber from Psychology Today:
PowerPoint presentations may be powered by state-of-the-art technology. But reams of data rarely engage people to move them to action. Stories, on the other hand, are state-of-the-heart technology—they connect us to others. They provide emotional transportation, moving people to take action on your cause because they can very quickly come to psychologically identify with the characters in a narrative or share an experience—courtesy of the images evoked in the telling.
The story of my daughter brought life to my lecture. It provided the first spark. So we could then focus and get more from the stories people at the Arctic are telling us....

A changing environment - Snow, water, ice and permafrost in the Arctic (short version) from AMAP on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Screen Time and Toddlers

In a previous post on this blog, Do Computers Affect the Social Development of Our Children, a working paper by Fairlie and Kalil has been highlighted. Their findings show that computers do not negatively impact a child's social development. Children who use computers are equally likely (sometimes even more) to interact with others face to face. For younger children, there remains a concern on whether screen time is bad or good. There are obviously benefits to introduce young children to the use of technology. The question is whether there is a price to pay. Screen time right before bedtime is already known to affect sleep. The blue light from the screen interferes with the normal clock that our body uses to induce sleep. Now, there is a study that screen time in general during the day is correlated with less sleep time at night.

The study, published in Nature, comes from a survey of more than 700 families in the United Kingdom. Their findings is summarized as follows: "Every additional hour of tablet use was associated with 15.6 minutes less total sleep (on average, 26.4 minutes less of night-time sleep and 10.8 minutes more of daytime sleep)." Unlike television, screen time on smart devices actually increases the amount of naps during the day. These are the effects on children under the age of three in this survey. No correlation is found between screen time and the number of awakenings at night.

The authors, however, are quick to note that in a previous study they made on this same group of children, the use of touchscreen devices is found to correlate with early development of fine motor skills:

Clearly, a balance is needed so that young children benefit from screen time without its possible deleterious effects. The authors conclude, "Together, our findings emphasize the need for a more in-depth understanding of how to maximize benefits and minimize negative consequences of this modern technology."