Showing posts from February, 2017

No Homework Policy

In the General Chemistry class that I teach there is homework. I do find that homework is one place where technology can really help. My class currently subscribes to Sapling Learning. For each chapter, there is a set of about 20 problems and students generally have a week to finish these problems. The platform allows me to monitor each student's progress and anticipate difficulties students may be facing with the course material. The problems are not repetitive as each one has been chosen to focus on an important aspect or point within the chapter. The homework also offers an interactive learning experience as it provides hints and explanations. This can indeed benefit learning. After all, educational psychologists have demonstrated that practice problem solving and distributed practice are the most effective learning techniques.
For homework to be effective, it has to be done right. For instance, when students try to finish their homework an hour before the deadline, it defeats…

We Forget What Threatens Us

We do not like stress and our mind seems preconditioned to erase memories of events that threaten how we look at ourselves. We naturally defend against anything that seems menacing to our ego. Our goal as always is to find comfort and satisfaction with who we think we are. Learning therefore becomes difficult when the challenges rise to a level that places our high self-esteem in peril. During these times, our brain may actually work against our own learning as it forces us to forget some of the things we might have just learned. Stress and a high academic self-concept can indeed combine to help us forget what our mind thinks is humiliating or just challenging. As a result, we cannot learn because of our pride and fear. A paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology demonstrates that this forced forgetting does happen in education. Undergraduate students enrolled in a multivariable calculus show diminished performance during stress if these students are als…

Death Penalty to Chemists

Browsing through my Facebook feed this morning, I came across a post made by a chemistry professor at the Ateneo de Manila University. The post touched on a proposed bill that would bring back the death penalty in the Philippines. Similar to the war on drugs, the reimposition of the death penalty seemed to cater to a natural propensity to take drastic actions when facing a crisis. The previous Aquino adminsitration had allowed a dramatic increase in crime rates. The Philippines Statistics authority, for instance, shared the following data, "For the entire 2014, the total number of reported crimes was 1.2 million, up from 1 million in 2013. In 2012, only 218,000 crimes were reported." This increase in the crime rate had been quickly attributed to widespread drug abuse instead of a weak police force, crumbling judicial system, widespread poverty, and failing basic education. Ignoring the root causes of crime, lawmakers had simply leaped off the walls of reason as they tried to…

How We Misunderstand Inquiry Based Learning

Inquiry-based learning is of course the foundation of doctoral work. One learns strategies not just content as one formulates new and important questions, collects data and makes observations to answer these questions, and in the process, advances human knowledge. For this reason, success in graduate school is weakly correlated with an undergraduate's academic record or scores in standardized exams. Inquiry-based learning requires a great deal of motivation, discipline and independence. Obviously, inquiry-based learning when mentioned as part of basic education is not exactly how a doctoral student works on his or her dissertation. Nonetheless, inquiry-based learning in either elementary or secondary education still requires motivation, discipline and independence. And similar to graduate school, one would expect that doing well in inquiry based-learning is often not correlated with a child's current academic performance.

Inquiry-based instruction is often found as a common mo…

How And Why We Track Students

Every morning a group of children leaves the School-Age Child Center at Mason Crest Elementary School to attend classes at another school, Belvedere Elementary, which offers Advanced Academics as well as an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. For a child, it must be cool to be seen boarding that bus. but a brochure from the Fairfax County regarding the Advanced Academics Program seems to try as much as possible to correct that perception. It says: "We Label Services, Not Children".

Still, getting into an advanced program does not stop a child or even a child's parent from thinking of being "smarter than others". Labeling services and not the children may actually sound good, but in a recent study in Germany scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, looking at what happens after schooling shows what really counts in a child's self-concept, the certificate.

The certificate given to a student in Germany after finishing …

United States Basic Education Falling Behind Other Countries

Headlines are often composed to capture people's attention, sometimes without faithfulness to the truth. Reading the entire article is usually necessary to extract what is real and what is simply sensational. And when we read, we frequently look for confirmation of our prejudgments. Thus, it is not surprising that even with real news, we tend to gravitate towards the fake pieces of an article. For instance, it is so much easier to believe that schools in the United States for both elementary and high school education are falling behind school systems in other countries. After all, one can easily reach this conclusion by simply looking at one number, the average score of American students in an international standardized exam.

The headline maybe valid. US students currently rank 40th out of 73 countries in an international math exam. Thus, US basic education is indeed falling behind. But there is really so much about education that it cannot be captured by a single number. And in t…

Learning to Avoid Fake News

A lawmaker in California has recently introduced a bill that requires teaching Grade 7-12 students how to tell fake news from real news. The proposed bill states "The Instructional Quality Commission shall develop, and the state board shall adopt, revised curriculum standards and frameworks for English language arts, mathematics, history-social science, and science that incorporate civic online reasoning. For purposes of this section, “civic online reasoning” means the ability to judge the credibility and quality of information found on Internet Web sites, including social media." How does one teach "civic online reasoning"? This is actually challenging because we are often gullible for news we would like to see. We always gravitate towards finding support for our own biases and prejudices. The Associated Press quotes a teacher from North Carolina, Bill Ferriter, who offers this advice, "encourage students to first use common sense to question whether a story …

Promotion or Retention?

Richard DuFour states clearly that "the purpose of our school is to ensure all students learn at high levels". The purpose of education is learning and not competition yet we often compare students against each other instead of focusing on each student's progress. As a result, when a student fails to meet the standards we think is appropriate for a given age, we agonize on whether to promote or retain without even considering the fact that learning takes time and the amount of time varies naturally from one child to another. We frequently equate the speed a child learns with smartness in spite of knowing that a child's background greatly influences a child's performance in school. Thus, when a child fails, we do not even consider the possibility that failure often means requiring more time, allowing a child to grow. In fact, the National Association of School Psychologists has long stated its position regarding retention: "Given the frequent use of the ineff…

A Tribute to Richard DuFour

Richard DuFour's tenure as head of Stevenson High School in Illnois is uniquely marked with multiple National Blue Ribbon School awards. His life is a true example of actions speaking louder than words. His message for school reform is simple: Work together and make education a reality for all. All means all, no exceptions. I have not met DuFour in person, but with a few words on an email to the principal of the school my children currently attend, he showed his unrelenting encouragement and support for people who care about basic education: "The blog by your parent could have been written by a Michael Fullan or John Hattie. Incredibly impressive." That meant a lot coming from someone who had not only brought great things to a school or a school district, but had also inspired so many education leaders like our principal at Mason Crest Elementary School.

I am reposting the article that DuFour commented on. This article in so many ways demonstrates his legacy as the schoo…

Military Training in Basic Education

I went through military training during my high school and college years in the Philippines. Presidential Decree 1706 signed by Ferdinand Marcos made national service an educational requirement. The requirement was removed in 2002, but recently, current Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte announced his intention to make military training mandatory again.

The Defense Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, was quoted in the news as stating that military training in schools "instills patriotism, love of country, moral and spiritual values, respect for human rights and adherence to Constitution." Of course, Lorenzana did not offer any evidence to support his statement, because if he did, he would find that research actually says otherwise.

Here is a finding from Germany:

Military Training and Personality Trait Development Does the Military Make the Man, or Does the Man Make the Military? Joshua J. Jackson, Felix Thoemmes, Kathrin Jonkmann, Oliver L├╝dtke, Ulrich Trautwein First Published J…

Teaching Children in the Philippines about Space Missions

It is not straightforward to measure how much this blog affects Philippine basic education. Seeing that the Supreme Court has not even issued a ruling regarding K to 12 is of course disheartening. There is no doubt that this blog is read in the Philippines. I could only hope that its main messages of the importance of equity in schools and the effects of poverty on education are getting through. This week, I heard from someone in the United States who apparently has noticed this blog. That person is Jason Getz, who currently serves as Community Relations Director for the Challenger Center. On Challenger Center's website, this is their primary activity: "Challenger Center transports students to a cutting edge Mission Control room and a high-tech Space Station. Whether their mission is flying to the Moon, intercepting a comet, visiting Mars, or studying the Earth from the International Space Station, students see classroom lessons brought to life in the engaging, dynamic, simul…

Autistic Children Have the Right to a Quality Basic Education

Article XIII of  the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that education is a basic right. In mentioning education, the treaty explicitly defines education as "enabling a person to participate effectively in a free society". Before the US Supreme Court is a case involving an autistic child. Emma Brown of the Washington Postsummarizes the case in one question: "...whether public schools owe disabled children “some” educational benefit — which courts have determined to mean just-above-trivial progress — or whether students legally deserve something more: a substantial, “meaningful” benefit."

After US president Donald Trump announced his nominee for the Supreme Court, Tenth Circuit Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, the above case becomes even more important. Gorsuch is a member of the panel that ruled in favor of a school district against parents who were asking for help for their autistic child. In that ruling, Gorsuch's panel wrote:
We s…