Showing posts from 2020

It Is Not Math and Reading

While we focus our attention on math and reading scores, we have become unaware of a deeper problem in our educational system. What we have neglected is not a simple superficial list of good manners and right conduct. Deep in our hearts, we adults are teaching our children exactly the opposite of what humanity craves for at the moment. Instead of serving as beacons for empathy and kindness, we simply rekindle the flame of bias and phony sanctimony. Four years ago, Cory Turner at nprEd summed up what we were missing: "Bias isn't just a police problem, it's a preschool problem".

Research has shown convincingly that preschool teachers are more likely to expect bad behavior from a child who is an African American boy. Not surprising, black children are over-represented in school disciplinary measures. We indeed teach our young very well. Racism is alive and well. And we really need not look further. It is in our schools. Advanced academic programs confer privilege on thos…

Could the Philippines Afford a Year Without School?

Philippines president Duterte recently stated that he will not allow schools to be opened this coming school year without a vaccine against the novel corona virus. Of course, without a vaccine in sight for at least 18 months from now, this suggests that schools may be closed for the entire school year. Distance learning is likewise not feasible since a large number of students do not have access to laptops and the internet. So, perhaps, the Philippines can use this time to reboot its educational system. After all, the past years have shown that basic education in the Philippines has been failing miserably.

The COVID-19 situation in the Philippines, like in most countries in the globe, does not look promising. Testing is obviously not widely available in the Philippines so it is not known how widespread COVID-19 really is. As of today, less than 0.3 percent of the population have been tested and about 5 percent of those who have been tested turned positive. This is certainly much better…

Are Children Being Left Behind?

Achievement gaps already exist even before school closures due to COVID-19. With online learning, it is our obligation to check if these gaps are increasing. With great likelihood, learning is probably even more skewed at this point. The data are not yet available but schools at this point may already have rough numbers on attendance and participation. My son's algebra class may provide a brief glimpse of the current situation. He is currently enrolled in Algebra I in a middle school where only about one in four students is enrolled in this course. Here is an update I have just received from his teacher.

During the first couple of weeks, just with this class, the average score is less than fifty percent. During the past week, the class average has reached 90%. My son is ahead in this class since we have been working on these topics before the county's online learning commenced. The first two topics are foundational work on solving quadratic equations while vertical motion is a…

With Schools Closed, What Are Children Doing Online?

In place of the traditional classroom, children are now keeping in touch with their teacher and classmates through online meetings via either Zoom, Google Meet, or Blackboard Collaborate. In addition to outdoor activities like biking, hiking or skateboarding, children still find additional time to explore and experience social media. The following is another guest post from my daughter. It is another article that she wrote for her school's newspaper. It is about TikTok.

What is TikTok? TikTok is an app for people to learn and post. Some of you may know that TikTok has dances. But that is just one part of it, there are many other things to do on TikTok, for example, comedy, art, and sports. TikTok is a way to express yourself with a post. TikTok can be for ages 10 and older. But if you are not 12 or older there are minor changes, your account would be private, and you would not be able to see some videos.
What do you do on TikTok?   TikTok can be used for a lot of things. TikTok can be…

The Coronavirus: Playing Your Part

The following is a guest post from my 10-year old daughter, Amelia. This is an article she wrote for her school's newspaper where she also acts as one of the editors.

Whatisavalidwaytohelpothers,andyourself,withthecoronavirus?Well,thatiswhatIwillbetalkingabout.There aremany ways to help yourself, and others, but the most important one, in my opinion, is washing hands, because it is great at preventing the coronavirus. Here are more ways to keep safe and helpothers.
Wearing Masks Masks are something that we need. But I should inform you, it does not protect you from others. The reason why our Governor and other government officials are recommending masks is because most people who have the coronavirus don’t showsymptoms.Thatiswhyeveryoneshouldwearamask.Becauseyoucouldhavethevirusatthisvery second andnoteven know! So, to be clear, the mask is not there to protect you, it is there to protect others if they do not have the coronavirus. You see, the virus travels through moisture in the a…

Can We Now Open Schools?

There is a great emphasis on social distancing when it comes to controlling the spread of the novel corona virus. What is baffling is that we often see photos depicting proper social distancing in open spaces, on a sidewalk, for instance, near the entrance of a store. A study in Japan, not yet peer reviewed, states, "The odds that a primary case transmitted COVID-19 in a closed environment was 18.7 times greater compared to an open-air environment (95% confidence interval [CI]: 6.0, 57.9)". Another study, also not yet peer reviewed, concludes, "All identified outbreaks of three or more cases occurred in an indoor environment, which confirms that sharing indoor space is a major SARS-CoV-2 infection risk." With this is  mind, opening schools presents a great risk. An indoor environment like a school not only confines air, but also provides places or objects touched by many individuals. Schools, however, have reopened in Denmark. How can Denmark afford the risk?

One c…

Infection and Testing Rates for COVID-19

There is no denying that our current picture of COVID-19 cases is grossly incomplete. We are not performing mass testing. Only those that meet a number of criteria are tested. Data from the Diamond Princess cruise ship indicate that half of the individuals who tested positive for corona virus are asymptomatic. Therefore, the large number of individuals not exhibiting symptoms combined with the lack of testing will surely lead to an under counting of infections. The confirmed cases will be much lower than the actual number. What should also be considered is that as we look at our daily reports, we must keep in mind that we are in fact looking at significantly delayed reports. We will miss the rapid growth and peak in cases. We will likewise miss the time the infection rate starts to drop. The following graph from Worldometer for the state of Virginia demonstrates this analysis based on the work by the IHME COVID-19 health service utilization forecasting team:

The number of daily tests …

Uncertainty in Data and Trends

We are certainly going through an unusual time. What we know and what we can learn during this time requires that we recognize the circumstances we are presently facing plus the uncertainty in all of what we observe. Science is often tedious and time-consuming. Before an article gets published in a peer-reviewed journal, it often takes months. On the other hand, both social media  and 24/7 news broadcasting are operating at light speed. It is not surprising then to hear and read so many conflicting stories. And most of the time, we often miss the fact that we are actually just reading an opinion. Opinions are not necessarily false. The difference lies in how one can extend and apply something that is visibly true for oneself to others. Schools are forced to take distance learning during this pandemic. Whether this is good or bad for learning can be a matter of opinion. However, to apply a finding universally, one must apply statistics.

Our students are currently in distance learning n…

We Could Be Doing Something "Immoral"

Former Mason Crest Elementary School principal Brian Butler shared with me an article by Catherine Lough in TES that relates an opinion made by education professor Dylan William. William basically describes the current curriculum in England as designed for the fastest learners such that at the end of the school year, one in five students might be able to digest it while the rest would not. William further characterizes this as logically consistent but immoral. Facing a content-heavy curriculum, there is no more time and space left for either assessment or feedback. As schools have gone into distance learning, this issue becomes even more relevant. Fairfax county, for instance, has continued to send learning packets to its students. Homes have already received five weekly packets. These packets may appear useful at first glance, but without feedback from teachers, all of these may just end up as busy work. With most teachers unable to see any of the work, if children are actually readi…

As We Approach the End of the School Year

I gave my last lecture this semester via Zoom yesterday morning. With a large class, I did not really have a chance to see all of my students' faces on one screen. After teaching this class since the beginning of the Fall semester, it was difficult to say "farewell" given the circumstances. My students were mostly aspiring to become physicians. Did I actually prepare them for the Medical College Admission Test specifically, its Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section? Did I provide them with the skills they need for next year's Organic Chemistry course? It was not straightforward to answer these questions when all of us were learning at the same time, and perhaps, for the first time, how to cope with a pandemic. Lessons on resilience and self-discipline were simultaneous with lessons on coordination compounds of the transition metals. We covered the chemistry and physics behind climate change while our planet was in a dramatic pause in its use…

It Is Not Just Having No Internet Access

We already know that a home that is better equipped with both resources and information contributes to academic achievement gaps based on socio-economic status (Chmielewski, 2019, The Global Increase in the Socioeconomic Achievement Gap, 1964 to 2015. American Sociological Review, 84(3), 517–544.). The gap arises not just because of tangible resources such as access to technology but also from intangible factors such as time and environment. On top of these, a parent's education is a significant factor and even with a parent who has a college education, that parent may not be available. Thus, simply providing laptops and internet access may not be enough to ensure equity in distance learning. Achievement gaps are problematic since these lead to bigger challenges for instruction inside a classroom when children return to normal schooling.

With COVID-19, the Philippines faces a daunting task with the new school year. A government agency in the country has recently recommended to mov…

What Should We Do When Schools Are Closed?

Answering this question requires us to realize what is both important and doable in these circumstances. I am both a parent and a professor so I have some experience in pedagogy. Not every parent has this background but most parents have spent some time inside a classroom. This pandemic can indeed be challenging for continuity in learning for one reason: How we communicate. We could all push our children to learn. That is easy. We simply play "cop": Force our children to do schoolwork. This is not what good teachers do inside their classrooms. Good teachers invite their students to learn. It is not by force but by encouragement. And encouragement requires feedback. Feedback, of course, involves a clear assessment of learning. Children like anyone given a task need to know if they are accomplishing something. It is this part where every child still needs his or her teacher at school. And we should not be assigning work on which we cannot provide feedback. This cannot be busy …

FCPS Needs To Be Reminded What Education Is

Before we plan to teach any child, we must plan first how to reach that child. This is one important piece in education yet Fairfax County administrators especially its superintendent have seem to have forgotten what education entails. Learning packets were sent. We now have three weeks worth of lessons. Yet, Fairfax county is failing miserably in connecting teachers with students. My daughter and ten other children were waiting this morning to see their teacher. Children are in need of communication. What their parents get instead is a note from the superintendent talking about retaining a law firm and appointing yet another bureaucratic council of businessmen to help the county in its distance learning. These are not educators. These are not teachers who really feel the yearning for learning from their students. We are wasting time, energy and money on things that do not really matter. What we need is to first reach the children. Children are reaching out.

Since we already have less…

With COVID-19, What Should the Philippines DepEd do?

Summer sessions at Georgetown University are now scheduled to be only online. Students enrolled in the General Chemistry laboratory are going to use commercially available laboratory kits so that they can do the experiments at home. COVID-19 has certainly forced us to do something different in education. We still however hope that schools will reopen in the Fall when the new school year begins. The Philippines faces a bigger problem since its school year starts in June. It is likely that measures are still necessary at that time to contain the spread of the novel corona virus. Thus, there is that huge question: What should the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines do?

Apparently, delaying school opening is not on the table. The reason why school cannot start on a later date is the very warm temperature during the months of April and May. Schools in the Philippines are not built for hot weather. There is no airconditioning. Thus, plans like using television and radio broad…

A Lesson on Moving Average

Three days ago, there was a sudden jump in the number of serious/critical cases of COVID-19 across the globe. The reason was Brazil just started reporting this number and more than 6000 was added to the world tally in one day. Anomalies like this make it difficult to see the trend. To help in detecting a trend, a moving average is quite useful. This procedure smooths daily numbers such that we no longer see dramatic drops or increases. With this tool, a trend becomes much more visible. That trend is: We are very likely at an apex in both COVID-19 cases and deaths. Of course, this is not true for all countries. Italy, for instance, is already past the apex. Italy reached its apex for cases sometime in the end of March.

Italy reached an apex in COVID-19 deaths in the first week of April.

New York has also reached an apex on both cases and deaths. On cases, it was about a week ago.

On deaths, we have a similar picture.

Virginia is probably at the apex this week.

The entire globe seems to…