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Showing posts from April, 2020

We Could Be Doing Something "Immoral"

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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?

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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

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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…

"Academic Content Is Secondary to Thinking Skills"

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In a pandemic like the one the world is currently facing, these are the words of Maine's education chief: "Academic Content Is Secondary to Thinking Skills". From a learning packet my son received this week, he was asked to write 5 things he feel thankful for during these times. My son wrote: (1) The privilege of having loving and caring parents, (2) Having a safe environment around me, (3) The opportunity to continue learning, (4) Having a skateboard to keep myself entertained during "spring break", and (5) Having a sister to give me company. These things my son wrote reiterate what the Maine's education chief is trying to tell parents. Pender Makin, Maine's education commissioner, reminds us first to prioritize. In this respect, it is important for all of us to see that there are still good things that remain. Our relationships remain. It is only through a correct prioritization that we can navigate through this crisis.



In the health sector, protectiv…

First Day of Distance Learning in Fairfax County

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After four weeks of schools being closed in our county, children are now starting their first day of distance learning. First, the sites seem working. Both of my children have been able to check their emails and login to sites their teachers have provided. In middle school, there is no synchronous learning yet, but my son saw at least a score of emails from his teachers. His teachers are also available during virtual office hours this week. In elementary school, my daughter is about to participate in a synchronous session on Blackboard with her teachers. The children are both excited and anxious. This is certainly a new chapter in their education.






I guessed I spoke too soon. Minutes before 9:00, the Blackboard site of the Fairfax County Public Schools was down. Anyway, the fifth thing that my son Alex wrote as something he was thankful for during these difficult times is "having a sister to give him company".

Communication is the most important element in distance learning. …

"Just Let The Teachers Teach!"

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"Just let the teachers teach!" is a comment I received after posting on Facebook that the Blackboard site of Fairfax County Public Schools is unreachable at the moment. Well, it has been for more than three hours now. Right now, we see opinions like "COVID-19 Exposes Significant Gaps in our Education System" by Javaid Siddiqi in Morning Consult and "Dear School Districts, It’s Not the Access" by Jacalyn. These articles are useful as both remind us of the various challenges our children face at home while they struggle to continue their learning. The fact that schools are also having difficulty delivering lessons and even schedules to students is another major problem on the other side of the equation. One significant gap in education is that schools are not prepared for continuity in learning in a case like the COVID-19 pandemic. The first important point in any continuity plan is how to maintain communication. 
Hopefully, Fairfax county and other school …

The "Coronavirus Slide" in Education

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The Philippines is now currently contemplating what to do as schools in that country are scheduled to begin this coming June. In our county, the school district has just embarked on a distance learning plan with mailing costs expected to be around 4 million dollars. This estimate apparently includes only K-8 students. With the corona virus resulting in a decrease in air pollution, cutting down trees for these learning packets seems doing the exact opposite. While educators worry about the loss in learning time, one thing is certain with the economy badly hurt in this pandemic. Budgets are going to be cut. There is certainly less spending and therefore resources in the next school year. Socioeconomic gaps in learning will rise as not every child can access distance learning. The question remains as in any policy: Are we making things worse?

EdWeek research center conducted a survey of school district leaders across the United States back in March. Superintendents were asked what they we…

COVID-19 on a World Map

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We have seen the difference between linear and logarithmic plots. A logarithmic plot tells us whether something is growing exponentially. The steeper the logarithmic plot, the faster the growth rate is. With COVID-19, seeing where in the world most cases, most tests, and most deaths are, provides us with additional information. Eugene Chen  at Darkhorse Analytics, has provided us with an online tool that can take your data and can generate a map - in seconds. The site is MapinSeconds.com. With this tool, we can easily map COVID-19 data. The number of deaths is obviously a clear measurement of how severe a disease is. The following shows a map with the number of deaths per million people. The United States, countries in Europe, and Iran are hardest-hit.  


The number of deaths do correlate with the number of confirmed cases as shown in the following figure.

With number of cases, the rate of testing is important. As former US president Barack Obama says on a Facebook post. Testing is im…

COVID-19 Trends

Sorting is useful when working with data. It could reveal trends. I used to do this when I was in grade school. I was going through a World Atlas at one time and was ranking countries according to area and population. I even collected all the mountains with their respective altitude. Of course, at that time, all I knew was whether numbers were larger or smaller. All those digits did not mean so much except that some were large, and some were small. With the data on COVID-19, one cannot escape the fact that each number is a person. And in this case, some of these numbers are telling us a very sad story. Still, there are trends and from these, we may still learn a thing or two.

The following tables are obtained from data provided by Worldometer.

The obvious ranking is by number of cases. The United States of America is on top.

CountryCasesUSA356,414Spain135,032Italy132,547Germany101,558France98,010China81,708Iran60,500UK51,608Turkey30,217Switzerland21,652Belgium20,814Netherlands18,803Can…