Showing posts from February, 2018

It Is Okay To Be Anxious But Not Worried

Being anxious before an exam is a factor that can certainly influence a child's performance. Five years ago, I posted on this blog a piece about test anxiety.
Test Anxieties: A Barrier to Learning Assessment Back in Chicago, when I was a teaching assistant in General Chemistry, the professor used the word "party" whenever referring to an exam inside the classroom. With every exam, the professor also added humorous cartoons on the first page. The purpose is to somehow relieve test anxiety which significantly impairs a student's academic performance. Taking an exam seriously and preparing for it is good. However, worrying about an exam needlessly with particular emphasis on scores as measures of success or failure is harmful. This is test anxiety. With education reforms, tests serve as measures of learning outcomes. Test scores are sought to gauge whether a given educational reform is working or not. With higher stakes, greater attention is given to scores in these test…

What Student Activism Must Accomplish

When education works, we can see it. Some say activism is part of education. It is, provided that the experience leads to a greater understanding of how a society functions, what challenges are to be faced, and how actions or protests can become effective for progressive change. In 1986, the Philippines witnessed a dramatic change in government. It was the defense secretary and one of Marcos' generals who first led the withdrawal of support for the old strongman of the country. The duo then received the protection of the public as protesters began to flood a major roadway in Manila. More than thirty years later, protests are still held. This time, they are voicing once again, against multiple issues. The number of issues, however, cannot hide what is really in the mind of the leaders of the protest, removal of the current president. Activism in the Philippines, sadly, has always been cast as a quest for power. In this light, student activism becomes not a part of good education, b…

Student Activism in the United States and in the Philippines

Even the late night shows here in the United States are in awe. Student activists from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The discussions on gun-control legislation do not appear to fade as quickly as previous times. At this point, it seems that teenagers are no longer going to sit down and tolerate the deaf ears of their politicians. Hundreds of miles away, here in Virginia, students from the middle school my son attends have also staged a walkout. My son's principal, Maria Eck, writes in an email addressed to the parents of middleschoolers:
About 40 of our students walked out at in honor of the 17 victims from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Staff members directed them to exit the front of the building and stand by the flagpole. Students exited and reentered the building in an orderly fashion and were outside for 17 minutes before returning to class.

FCPS (Fairfax County Public Schools) respects the rights of our students to engage in peaceful pro…

Teacher-Student Relationship

Showing a special handshake for each of her 20 students, Mueller Elementary school teacher, Ms. Jerusha Willenborg, finds herself in a viral video. Making that connection especially for a white teacher with minority students can indeed bring positive emotions from any viewer of the video. We all remember those teachers we had in grade school that made us comfortable, safe and confident. These teachers provide a climate in which we can regard the classroom as a second home. Research is clear on how important a teacher-student relationship is to a child's social and emotional development. The effect on academic outcomes is less clear but there is no doubt regarding the impact of a teacher on how we begin to view ourselves and school. How a young child copes with the social challenges inside a classroom is definitely linked to the quality of the relationship that child has with his or her teacher.

In a recent study, Rucinski and coworkers find that "Higher child-reported relatio…

The Personality of a Teacher

Values and character are indeed caught and not taught. Teachers as models inside the classroom influence how students view themselves. Students feel supported when the teacher shows tolerance, energy and care. Students can also feel positive about themselves when they receive compassion, acceptance and confidence. Teachers are humans. Each one has a personality. We remember teachers who are kind and caring. Teachers who are strict are equally memorable. Derrick Meador at ThoughtCo. lists the following traits as helpful for teachers and students: adaptability, conscientious, creativeness, determination, empathy, forgiving, genuineness, graciousness, gregarious, grit, independence, intuitiveness, kindness, obedience,passionate, patience, reflective, resourceful, respectful, and responsible. How the personality of a teacher affects students is an important question in basic education. Recent research shows that the personality of a teacher correlates with how we view ourselves but not wi…

Direct Instruction

While people have become aware of the mistake made by the Aquino administration with regard to a mass vaccination program for Dengue, a much larger fiasco continues in the country's basic education system. The DepEd's K to 12 curriculum has always been touted as learner-centered and inquiry-based. The curriculum is now largely based on fads such as learning styles. Instead of focusing on evidence-based and proven methods of teaching, the Aquino administration has chosen to emphasize process instead of content, leaving the classroom leaderless. Aquino's education reform is both romantic and ideological but is an utter failure in evidence and efficiency.

Jean Stockard and coworkers have published a meta-analysis of fifty years worth of research on Direct Instruction. The results are crystal clear. From over 300 studies, substantial positive results are obtained for a style of teaching called Direct Instruction. The method is found to be effective across races, genders, socio…

A Person with a Gun Can Kill and a Person with an Automatic Gun Can Kill More

Sound bites capture us because of our emotions. Statements whether logical or illogical become effective only when the message is delivered in a succinct, easy to remember, and personalized manner. For instance, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.", was a very catchy statement made by the National Rifle Association president Wayne Lapierre a week after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Yesterday was Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday, yet, before the day was over, another mass shooting happened in a high school in Parkland, Florida. My family would often spend weeks in this "safe and beautiful" city of Parkland. This massacre occurred close to home. President Trump, in his first public address after the shooting, promised only to tackle "mental issues. Indeed, Lapierre's words could not be drowned. Years ago, Lapierre said, "How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to…

Raising Interest and Learning in the Sciences

Back in high school, we were required to participate in science fairs. We formed groups and attempted to discover something new. Our school was a science high school so we really took great pride in engaging in district, regional and national science competitions. One year, I was a member of a group that proposed to use bamboo both as a reaction vessel and catalyst for the formation of either ethanol or methane gas.  Experiences such as taking part in a science fair takes a considerable amount of time and effort. It is only reasonable then to ask if these exercises actually contribute to science learning. Recent evidence from research shows that these activities may also lead to a decline in scientific knowledge.

Using data from thousands of 6th and 8th grade students in the United States, Liu and Schunn from the University of Pittsburgh find that these extracurricular science activities do raise interest in science but unfortunately, these negatively correlate with learning:


Achievement Gaps in Elementary Mathematics

Children from low income families do poorly in standardized math exams. Children who are either Hispanic or Black in the United States also do poorly compared to Asian Americans and Whites. There is an achievement gap that can be traced to race and socioeconomic status. The Integration Project at the Center for New York City Affairs has now provided us a tool to see these gaps for its 220,000 pupils in grades 3-5 in one graph:

On the vertical scale of the axis are the scores in the 2016 State math test (a score of 3 means the student is performing at grade level), and on the horizontal scale are the estimated income of the student's family. We see mostly purple and orange (Asians and Whites) with both high math scores and high family income. Blacks and Hispanics, represented by yellow and green circles are mostly in the lower left side of the graph characterized by low scores and low family income. Students that belong to the same school are represented in the above graph by circl…

The Debate on Dengvaxia Among Scientists

While there was a debate on Dengvaxia between the Philippines' Public Attorney's Office and the group called Doctors for Public Welfare, scientists from the University of the Philippines (UP) were arguing with scientists from Sanofi, the maker of Dengvaxia, in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. Antonio Dans and coworkers from UP Manila, the Asia-Pacific Center for Evidence-Based Healthcare, and McMaster University in Canada criticized the Dengvaxia clinical trials. They wrote, "The selective reporting and inappropriate subgroup claims mask the potential harm of dengue mass vaccination programs." Sanofi scientists maintained that the subgroup analysis was justified. Not convinced with Sanofi's response, Dans et al. wrote another comment where they stated:
"The failure to recognize the signals of harm in the Hadinegoro article has, through a publicly funded vaccination program in the Philippines, put around 830,000 schoolchildren potentially at risk, given …

When Our Perceptions Are Wrong....

Teaching requires knowledge of where students are. Students do not enter a classroom with a blank mind. The same is true for everyone - we all have knowledge - we have our own perceptions. Unfortunately, some of these perceptions do not agree with reality. Wrong perceptions can make us arrive at incorrect conclusions. When an erroneous perception is made as a premise, we can really be misguided. Take, for instance, how much we perceive ourselves as connected by technology. All over the world, people actually overestimate our connectedness. We are not all on Facebook and not everyone has a smartphone. On these two, Facebook membership and smartphone ownership, people in the Philippines are found to be near the top in terms of overestimating how connected they are by technology. Filipinos think that out of every 100 individuals aged 13 and up, 87 have a Facebook account. That is so far from the actual number, 38. For smartphones, Filipinos have the impression that 86% have smartphones. …

Books Are Children's Windows and Mirrors

Books tell us about ourselves and books tell us of the world we live in. The Education Department in South Africa was brought to court in 2012 for its failure to deliver textbooks to schools in its Limpopo province. In his ruling, Judge Neil Tuchten of the North Gauteng High Court stated, "Textbooks have been part of the stock in trade of the educator for centuries. There is something special about a book. It has a very long life, far longer than that of the individual reader. It is a low technology device. It is accessible to anyone who can read the language in which it has been written. During the hours of daylight it can be read without any other supporting technology at all. It needs no maintenance except the occasional strip of adhesive tape." Research has long shown that textbooks are correlated with academic achievement. The availability of textbooks is found to be especially crucial in developing countries. In the 70's, the World Bank found that textbooks in the …

Aquino Administration Defied Experts' Advice on Dengue

A group of physicians and scientists not long ago have expressed concern regarding the Philippines' handling of the Dengvaxia fiasco. The confusion apparently is leading to a disturbing refusal to other proven life-saving vaccines. The problem of course stems from the fact that those who are responsible have not been held accountable. As a result, people think of the dengvaxia fiasco as bad medicine when in reality, it is really a case of incompetent and irresponsible politics. More than a month ago, Reuters reporters already found that the "Philippines did defy experts' advice in pursuing dengue immunization program".

Reuters shared the following excerpts from the recommendation made by the experts at the Philippines' own Formulary Executive Council (FEC):

“Based on the available scientific evidence presented to the Council, there is still a need to establish long-term safety, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness,”"Dengvaxia should be introduced through smal…

20% Funeral Discount for Teachers

The importance of the teaching profession is self-evident. Nonetheless, how society treats its teachers can still debase the profession. While research is clear on what uplifts teachers, there are still some individuals who seem adamant with their own ideas. Unfortunately, these individuals are usually politicians or policy makers. Here is one idea from the Philippines Senate: "20% Funeral Discount to public school teachers who died on account of work-related sickness and injuries". This is not "fake news". It is unbelievable, but it is true. A bill providing a discount (not totally free) on funeral expenses (and only for those who died in action) to public school teachers has been proposed in the Philippines Senate:

Perhaps, the Philippines Senate has finally realized that with the ways teachers are treated in the Philippines, the chances of dying in action have become high.

And I am impressed with the polite response from teachers:

Merlina Hernando-Malipot of Man…

How Activism Leads to a Popular Reform

We stage protests primarily to win support. It is then useful to look at how effective our actions are in swaying public opinion. With regard to teachers' strikes, this question was raised in a previous post on this blog, Should Teachers in the Philippines Go On Mass Leave:
Teachers' strikes are not purely driven by the interests of the teachers. When teachers are overworked and underpaid, such conditions will take a great toll on students' learning outcomes. Poor working conditions can adversely affect student learning in the classrooms. Teachers go on strike to raise awareness and alert the public of something seriously wrong about public school education. Strikes always happen when there are problems already in school. For this reason, it is quite difficult to address the question of whether teachers' strikes harm learning. Furthermore, when strikes do help teachers get their demands met, these may be solutions to the schools' problems and can therefore affect t…