Showing posts from July, 2013

To Loop or Not to Loop: Evidence Based versus Anecdotes

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

On Classroom and Textbook Shortages

"Let us move on to education. Our goal is to raise the quality of learning that our children undertake, so that once they finish their schooling, they can seize the opportunities now opening up in society: accomplished. We have finally erased the backlog we inherited in books and chairs, and if Secretary Armin Luistro continues to demonstrate true grit, even the backlog we inherited in classrooms will also be erased this year. And there is even more good news: Now, we also have the ability to prepare for the additional needs that the implementation of the K to 12 program will require."
-President Aquino, SONA 2013, English translation,

On Classrooms:

On Textbooks:

Most textbooks in public schools obsolete--teachersManila Bulletin – Sun, Jun 16, 2013

Public school teachers said yesterday aside from the late delivery of learning packages especially for Grades 2 and 8 students as part of…

Lessons and Myths on Basic Education

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

Stories Add Spice

In a previous post in this blog, "State of the Heart", reasons for storytelling by Pamela Brown Rutledge in "The Psychological Power of Storytelling" (also posted in Psychology Today) were highlighted:
Stories have always been a primal form of communication. Stories are about collaboration and connection. Stories are how we think. Stories provide order. Stories are how we are wired. Stories are the pathway to engaging our right brain and triggering our imagination. 
Daniel Willingham recently brought to attention recent evidence supporting the notion that storytelling does help in boosting learning outcomes. Willingham's "Storify: Make science tell a story" shared the findings of Arya and Maul (The role of the scientific discovery narrative in middle school science education: An experimental study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 1022-1032.) Willingham shared excerpts from passages regarding Galileo's use of the  telescope to illustrate the …

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

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

A Public School in Annandale

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

Science High Schools

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

Character Education Inside the Classroom

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

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


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

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

DepEd: K to 12 to help ease unemploymentBy Helen Flores(The Philippine Star) | Updated June 10, 2013 - 12:00am MANILA, Philippines - High school  graduates under the K to 12 program can find employment or start their own livelihood because they will be trained in vocational and technical skills, according to the Department of Education (DepEd). Education Secretary Armin Luistro said the additional two years in high school are intended to further hone the skills and talents of students for their chosen career path – in arts, sports, technical vocational and entrepreneurship – or tertiary education to help ease unemployment in the country. “It is expected to give graduates better choices in the field of work or further education,” Luistro said.
On the other hand, Vencer Crisostomo wrote the following article in the Philippine Online Chronicles, stating…

Shortages, Lack of Budget Still Afflict Public School System

Despite government claims that it has been increasing the budget for education, still the public school system is hardly coping with the shortages, and state universities and colleges have been raising tuition, thereby making tertiary education inaccessible for the poor.
MANILA – The administration of President Benigno Aquino III said that the Philippines has “undergone a radical transformation” in the past three years. But for public school teachers, that transformation did not solve the problems besetting the ailing public school system.

The National Achievement Test in the Philippines

There is information to be gained from data. Tests in schools can be informative. Scores of students provide a quick glimpse of the current state of education. Thus, it is useful to have these numbers. These numbers may not tell everything in detail with high accuracy. Nevertheless, test results allow for a useful perspective. The National Achievement Test administered by the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines, a set of standardized tests addressing the major subjects taught in school, is an example. These tests are given to Grade 3 where students are assessed in both English and Filipino (These two subjects comprise two thirds of the exam) and Math and Science (These two account for the remaining one third). A different set of tests is given to Grade 6 pupils where each of the following 5 subjects is assigned 40 items: (Science, Math, English, Filipino and Social Studies). Another set is administered to fourth year high school students (This is currently the last year…

Judging the Quality of Information

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

The Third Elementary Education Project

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

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

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

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

by Dean Bocobo
Copied from Philippine Commentary 2013 with permission

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

When Schools Divide ....

Baker and coworkers in their report to the National Research Council in 2008, "Adequacy Estimates and the Implications of Common Standards for the Cost of Instruction", cite an evidence-based study in Arkansas that quotes the increase in resources required by schools with students predominantly coming from poor families. In this study, schools that cater primarily to economically disadvantaged children cost 22.5 percent more than schools with no poor children. Arkansas reports the lowest estimate. Minnesota, for example, arrives at 167.9 percent. Looking at the various numbers coming from the states, it appears that the increase in costs is somewhat inversely proportional to the baseline cost estimate. Minnesota expects to spend more on poor children because the state is spending less on each student ($4900) to begin with while Arkansas' baseline number is already much higher ($6100). Nevertheless, even with dissimilar numbers, one trend is quite clear, schools with stud…

Adding Tests to Enhance Learning

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

The recent emergence and popularity of online educational resources brings with it challenges for educators to optimize the dissemination of online content. Here we provide evidence that points toward a solution for the dif´Čüculty that students frequently report in sustai…

Learning and the "Testing Effect": Research Inside Classrooms

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

"Operating in the Dark"

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

Parenting and Basic Education

Parents and caregivers are children's first teachers. What happens inside a child's home contributes to a child's education. Homes, daycare centers, and preschools provide the environment and experience to a child in the early years. Even after a child enters formal schooling, the home still exerts a significant influence on a child's education. Since parents are the children's first teachers, it begs the question of whether a parent's educational attainment is crucial for the next generation to succeed. Do parents need a high educational attainment in order for their children to achieve the same. My father did not finish high school. My mother finished an elementary teachers' program. Together, my parents made it clear to me at the very beginning how important education was. When I made it to the star section on my third year at the Manila Science High School, my father was very happy. My father felt at that time that I was already guaranteed to finish hi…

Reading: On-Screen Versus In-Print

Alex Reichert, a recent graduate from UCLA enumerates the benefits of reading in a blog article on the Huffington Post, "The Reasons I Became an Avid Reader":
Improve your brain functionDiscover an untapped passion lurking in your soulBuild your vocabularyRelieve stressLearn how to eloquently and articulately organize and express thoughtsIncrease reading comprehension skillsLearn about the worldLearn about human natureLearn from historyReusability The above is a personal list but I am sure a majority would agree that reading is indeed very important. With technology apparently disrupting education and paving better routes for learning, it is disconcerting to read a recent report from the National Literacy Trust in UK, "Children’s on-screen reading overtakes reading in print". At first glance at the title, one gets the impression that technology is indeed revolutionizing learning as children are now reading more from screens rather than books. But the details are tro…

Early Learning

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

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says that early childhood education, although long recognized as a critical component of …

Young Children Can Learn Math through the Arts?

Math and science are both human endeavors. We see both in our everyday lives. And yes, young children likewise do. Counting steps while dancing, recognizing shapes in art work, playing with colors - these are activities that offer great opportunities for young minds to begin exploring mathematics and the sciences. It is during these early years that children develop their interests and desires. The brain of a child is built to learn and grow. Exposure to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) during the early childhood years equips a young child with the path towards developing a positive attitude towards these disciplines.
The music and arts are ways by which we express ourselves. It starts as early as finger painting or working on a coloring book. While a child begins to master a language, he or she likewise explores other means. In these early works of art, a child begins to create, think and communicate. Children even begin to work with each other a…

Music and Reading

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

An Elementary School in Pictures

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

Pagpapadighay, pagpapaligo at pagbibihis sa sanggol...

Digital and Distraction

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

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

What US College Students Think About Online Learning

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

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

How to Make a Case for Online Learning

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

Natural Way of Learning?

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

Cursive Handwriting, No Longer Necessary?

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