Thursday, May 24, 2018

Kinda Hip (But Preachy) Education Videos

Here are some videos that are intended to inspire.

Did You Know 4.0 (2009) inspired a series of Did You Know videos including Did You Know-The Future (2010), Did You Know 2016, Did You Know 2017, and Did You Know 2018.

A Vision of K-12 Students Today (2007) is supposed to "... inspire teachers to use technology in engaging ways...."

I'm not a Luddite, but I reject the idea that teachers need to follow every technological fad. I also have solid research on my side when I say that providing instruction in the format that a learner chooses is not necessarily better for the learner ("Another Nail in the Coffin for Learning Styles..."). Yes, teachers need to evolve and use technology appropriately. They also need to understand their students and the ways they use technology. That said, it is a foolish teacher who tries to pander to their students' every whim.

Education Today and Tomorrow has interesting tidbits. In some ways, it doesn't seem that different from the previous video, but I like it far better. It seems less preachy and more inspiring.

Good teaching is about relationships and growth and passion. It's not about competing with an XBox.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Aspects of Effective Teacher Professional Development

A CPRE Policy Brief Scaling Up Instructional Improvement Through Teacher Professional Development: Insights From the Local Systemic Change Initiative highlights several key insights into what it takes for teacher PD to be effective. Specifically, administrators and PD developers need to understand ... 
... the importance of content-based PD, aligned with curriculum and assessment, focused on student learning, sustained over time, with collaboration among teachers, and administrative support.
Let's dig into some details:

Content-based, curriculum-aligned: As adult learners, every teacher needs to see how the PD will connect directly to their job. Don't make teachers figure out how the PD helps them be better teachers of their specific courses.

Assessment-aligned, focused on student learning: I group these because PD should focus on what students DO. Teachers cover content, but that doesn't always mean that students can do what you want them to do. 

Sustained over time: PD shouldn't be delivered for two days once a year. It needs to be sustained throughout the year. This also ties to curriculum alignment. If fractions is a second semester topic, then provide PD that supports teachers as they are preparing to teach fractions -- not 6 months ahead of time.

With teacher collaboration: Teaching can be a solitary activity, and many teachers are the only people in their school teaching a particular course or grade. Still, all teachers benefit from having a community with whom they can share questions, strategies, struggles, and successes.

Technology can help, especially with the last two items. Synchronous and asynchronous online instruction can help PD happen through the school year without disrupting schedules, and tools such as Twitter and discussion forums can help teachers benefit from rich communities of practice.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Teaching Teachers: Preparing for a New Prep

As our local schools go through their annual staff planning, I think back to my teaching days, and worry for any teacher with a brand new prep who will be given a book, a syllabus, and little else. Schools and content providers need to think about how to prepare teachers for success in courses they haven't taught before.

Teaching a course is like driving across the United States. The standard curriculum defines the overall journey, but the details are up to the teacher. As a teacher, I needed guidance but flexibility. If you handed me a 200-page document in August that described a course in depth, it would have been too much and too little. It would have been overwhelming to digest all at once, but wouldn't have given me enough granular guidance that could have helped once the course was underway.

Every teacher needs to understand the journey at a high level before she starts planning for the year, and then needs more detail along the way. All of this could be done with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous content that provide consistency, coherence, support, and logistical flexibility.

Course Overview

Ideally, teachers should start getting a grasp of the big picture by the end of the previous school year, but certainly at least a month before reporting for duty in the Fall.
  1. The Big Ideas: What are the major concepts? What ideas and connections are at the center of what students need to know? There should probably be fewer than 10 of these.
  2. Major Activities/Work: What are the (no more than 7) most important specific things you expect students to do? 
    • Dissect a frog.
    • Read A Midsummer Night's Dream.
    • Prove the Intermediate Value Theorem.
    • Write a 10-page paper explaining the branches of the US federal government.
  3. Learning goals for the year with some sort of taxonomy to help make sense of it all.
  4. Technology: What is the role of technology in the course?
  5. Resources: What resources can you point teachers to? Scope & sequence(s), Instructional strategies, textbooks, how-to guides, lesson plans, communities.
Ideally, I would also have each teacher take a version of the same summative test(s) that their students will take. This should be self-graded and not shared with anyone else, but the experience would help teachers understand the goal.

Unit Preparation

As the year progresses, the teacher will need to plan each unit (generally spanning a few weeks of instruction). This is like figuring out how to get from Mt. Rushmore to Yellowstone Park as you work your way across the US. As the teacher plans, she will need guidance and resources that are specific to each unit.
  1. Content overview. Even an experienced teacher could benefit from support to deepen their knowledge and clarify what is and isn't in this course. 
  2. Prerequisite knowledge and skills. Research and common sense both indicate that prerequisites shouldn't be taught all at once during the first month of school. Each foundational topic should be taught just before it's needed.
  3. Curriculum/pacing guide
  4. Other resources: 
    • instructional strategies
    • lesson plans
    • formative assessment

The glue that can hold all this together is a collaboration strategy that helps each teacher find a support system. Twitter, blogs, asynchronous discussion groups, and collaborative document spaces would help teachers learn, share, and innovate continuously. The same collaboration structures would give administrators, curriculum developers, and PD developers insight into what is and isn't working, and who is struggling or excelling.

This approach will ensure that PD is aligned to curriculum, focused on student learning, sustained over time, and supported by collaboration (all of which are critical attributes of effective PD). This will help teachers and students own and enjoy the journey as they hit all the right destinations along the way.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Metacognition: Expert Learners Can Be Made

Here is a summary of a presentation by Marsha Lovett Teaching Metacognition.

Lovett outlines three steps for teaching students metacognition:

Step 1: Teach students that the ability to learn is not a fixed quantity

Step 2: Teach students how to set goals and plan to meet them.

Step 3: Give students opportunities to practice self-monitoring and adapting.

The first step has been embraced in recent years thanks to Carol Dweck's work. The last two steps need more attention. We need to help every student be a great student. This isn't really about executive functioning (though that's important as well); it's about helping students think about how they learn so they can get better at learning.

Note that an important aspect of this is providing students with good information about what actually works for them. This isn't about perceived learning styles. This is about turning students into informed self-aware learners.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Education and Business Revisited

A while ago, I wrote Education and Business: A Tough Combo.

What's changed since then? Not much, actually. I think that technology and business are still a tough combo.

About all that's changed is how much I've seen. A few years ago, I had an epiphany about the nature of customers and users. Most people probably figured it out way before I did, but....

Few (hopefully none) of Alpo's users are customers and vice versa. Similarly, edtech companies need to think hard about who their customers are (who will write the checks) and who their users are. For many edtech companies, the customers are schools or school districts, while the users are teachers and/or students. Every company needs to think hard about these groups and design a product and messaging that resonate with each.

Snehal Patel (whom I met while he was selling Sokikom) seems to have learned this as well. What I Learned From Building and Exiting 2 Companies (Part 1) seems pretty on-point. He's been pretty darn successful at this difficult intersection of business and education, and it's great that he's willing to share his lessons learned.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Personalized Learning Is Like a Clean Bedroom

When I ask my daughter if her bedroom is clean, I need to be really specific. To her, "clean room" means one thing, to my wife it's a bit different, and I have yet another take. Same words; different meanings.

Personalized learning is the same way.

On the COBIS blog, Tim Oates wrote Individualised learning, personalised learning - just where did it come from and what does it mean?, which brings up some important points. His closing really resonates:
"... we need to refine concepts of ‘personalisation’ so that we know which forms are good, and which forms are problematic. If we fail to do this, ‘personalisation’ runs the risk of increasing, not decreasing inequalities, and bogging teachers down in intensive, unproductive activities."
So true (it's British, which explains the "s" instead of "z" in "personalised learning"). The article 'Pupils trapped by personalised learning' goes into more depth with Mr. Oates.

I confronted the different meanings of "personalized learning" when I tweeted (my handle is @pabloreston) a link to the EdSurge article Million-Dollar Advice: The High Cost and Limited Return on Personalized Learning Consulting. My tweet kicked off a dialog with another user who had different ideas about what "personalized learning" implies. Here are three ways in which personalized learning can vary among implementations.

Frequency of Technology Use
  • Low: No technology is used.
  • Medium: Technology is used, but for no more than 60% of instruction/student work.
  • High: Technology is used just about daily and for more than 60% of instruction/student work. 
Teacher Control of Technology
  • Low: Technology drives instruction/activities algorithmically based on student performance.
  • Medium: Technology provides options the teacher vets/organizes with little or no algorithmic support.
  • High: Teacher creates/curates their own stuff or excludes technology altogether.
Diversity of Student Pacing
  • Low: Students are on the same topic every day, and may be given limited choices within each topic.
  • Medium: Students are generally on the same unit (about 2-weeks long?), but progress through the unit at their own pace (perhaps informed by formative assessment data).
  • High: Students are all over the place depending on how each works through the universe of the course content.
This simple structure gives us 27 different possible definitions of "personalized learning," and I'm pretty sure that each of the 27 is being used somewhere. I'm also pretty sure that some of these are generally more effective than others, and I hope that Mr. Oates will help shine a light on this.

If anyone starts discussing personalized learning with you, ask what "personalized learning" means to them. If their answer doesn't clarify all three of these dimensions, then drill down explicitly. Clarifying the definition can prevent needless debate or stir up necessary discussion.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Khan Revisited

A while ago, I wrote The Wrath of Khan (one of my favorite blog post titles).

What's changed since then? Quite a bit. First of all, Khan Academy (KA) is now the 400-lb gorilla of the free online instructional video space. Everyone knows them. I have spoken to several educators who have built courses that rely on heavy, daily doses of KA, but I also know others who seem to use Khan as an epithet. At times, it seems that KA is a bit of a pedagogical Rorschach test: How you view KA can say quite a bit about who you are as an educator.

My earlier post went into some of my concerns about KA, so what about some of the positives?
  1. KA's integrated assessments help students see their progress. 
  2. All of their content is free, pretty comprehensive, and generally fairly solid. 
  3. One really interesting thing Khan has done is partnering with the folks at The College Board to provide customized SAT practice. They even have solid data that indicate the practice helps students raise their scores. Free SAT prep that actually shows improvement! Every HS student should be using this.
Khan isn't perfect, and can be over relied upon, but they are providing valuable services for free, and that's pretty great.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Brace Yourselves

So... it's been a while, eh? Family issues and job changes conspired to pull me away from this blog, but I think I'm back.

I just had lunch with a friend of a friend who is thinking about her next career adventure. She's an IT marketing person who has been thinking about education, so our mutual friend suggested she talk with me.

As we ate some Persian kabobs, I blathered for about an hour and a half. I'm sure she's now convinced to go back to her day job and forget about edtech, but I was energized. Talking about research-driven learning practices and the ways technology can help (or hurt) has me percolating again. I came back to The Dungeon (my basement office), logged in to the blog, and cleaned up a few posts. They should start coming out a couple times a week. As usual, they will mostly focus on education, training, learning science research, and how technology fits in.

Merit and Diversity in College Admissions

The recent Supreme Court ruling against race-conscious university admissions has everyone thinking about racism, privilege, equity, merit, ...