Climate Affects Basic Education

Every year I teach general Chemistry, I spent a couple of lectures on greenhouse gases and climate change. This time, as in other years I highlight the fact that the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere continues to rise. And it has been above 400 ppm for several years now. 400 ppm maybe seen as a tipping point, but one thing is clear, carbon dioxide levels will be at least this high in the coming years. Human activity has caused this and unfortunately, even with reduced emissions, neither a drop in carbon dioxide level nor global mean temperature will occur. We must be prepared then for what climate change entails. Even basic education is not immune to global warming.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (USA), Heather Randell and Clark Gray show that warmer temperatures correlate with fewer years of schooling in Southeast Asia:

These are the predicted years of schooling among children aged 12 to 16 as a function of the temperature a child…

Teaching Math and the Plasticity of the Brain

Jo Boaler and her student, Tanya Lamar, recently made the following statement on Time magazine:  "A number of different studies have shown that when students are given the freedom to think in ways that make sense to them, learning disabilities are no longer a barrier to mathematical achievement. Yet many teachers have not been trained to teach in this way." This is quite a lofty statement and yet, it is difficult to find research supporting this generalization. Accepting this statement actually means that the only reason why students with disabilities are not doing well in math is the teacher. There are correct and wrong answers in mathematics and in the sciences, there are fruitful and unproductive approaches to understanding nature. For this reason, both math and science require a combination of procedural fluency and conceptual understanding.

Take for instance the addition of fractions. Without the correct procedure and an understanding of fractions, one may simply add th…

Table of Hope

"This painting reveals a story of greater hunger than a plate of rice could satisfy. What these children are starved for is love." - Joey Velasco

Today is Holy Thursday. This is a repost of Table of Hope: A Reflection.

This song was written in New York City Of rich man, preacher, and slave If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee, They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.
                                                                           - Woody Guthrie

Are We Using Formative Assessments Correctly?

Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam start with the argument that formative assessments can easily raise learning achievement inside our schools' classrooms. The learning that can happen inside a classroom is driven by what students and teachers do, and if what they do is informed, their efforts can be more deliberate and hence, more effective. Thus, no one can really argue against the importance of formative assessments. The problem lies on how faithful we are with regard to what formative assessments do entail. Thus, we need to be reminded here with the definition provided by Black and William: "We use the general term assessment to refer to all those activities undertaken by teachers - and by their students in assessing themselves that provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities. Such assessment becomes truly formative only when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet student needs." It is only formative if we indee…

Inclusive Education

I am starting this post with two quotes. The first one comes from 92 governments and 25 international organizations. This is part of the Salamanca statement: "We believe and proclaim that every child has a fundamental right to education , and must be given the opportunity to achieve and maintain an acceptable level of learning." This is inspiring. The second one comes from a former principal, Brian Butler: "...this process of measuring students based on how far they are from the norm and then sorting and labeling into bins of “gifted, high, low, special” only produce ways of seeing and acting that discriminate and privilege some students in the expense of others...." And Brian Butler is correct when he adds, "I actually don’t blame parents as much as I blame our profession because many of us are ok with sorting and selecting and we reinforce this belief." This sorting is not only unfair but is likewise ineffective based on evidence from research. As schoo…

Why We Need to Pay Attention to Our Priorities

Communities have plenty of needs and most are urgent. Knowing the difference between what is truly necessary and what is expendable is easier said than done. That is why our values often shape our priorities. And in education, our foremost duty is to provide opportunities for learning to all students. Equity and social justice must guide our priorities. With the under-representation of Blacks, Hispanics and low-income children in advanced academic programs, it may seem logical to have in place in each school accountability and direction. It may seem straightforward to see that only with a full-time personnel can a school truly address equity in advanced academics. It is clearly a need of great and urgent significance. In a larger scheme, however, this need can easily fade. Commenting on a recent budget hearing in our county, candidate for board chairman, Alicia Pierhoples writes, "17,000 low-income children are eligible for pre-K in FCPS but the Board has only added 36 new pre-K …

When We Choose What We Cite

This evening, the advisory committee for advanced academic programs in Fairfax county will finalize its recommendations. For about a year, this committee has listened to presentations, has viewed some relevant data, and has seen some primary literature. Nonetheless, with just one meeting each month, it is unlikely that the committee has seen everything that needs to be considered to make recommendations. Moreover, as in any group, there are "knowledge brokers" and oftentimes, instead of drawing policies or recommendations from research-based evidence, policy-based evidence becomes the choice. Unlike in chemistry or in other physical sciences, in education, we often choose what we cite. Our meetings therefore simply become echo chambers and the public could suffer from not knowing the truth.

The introduction of the new K-12 curriculum in the Philippines is an excellent example. In A critique of some commentaries on the Philippine K-12 program, Flor Lacanilao lamented "..…