Through the Education Lens

Something's Gotta Give

CJ Westerberg, September 24, 2012 10:43 PM


Image:  Diane Keaton, Something's Gotta Give, film credit

Most students do end up in the trap of running from deadline to deadline,
only focusing on whatever is "due" next
and prioritizing tasks by grade impact.
-Ian Beatty

What stays, what goes, and what we're missing in education

by C.J. Westerberg

In the very watchable video below, Paulo Blikstein, Assistant Professor at Stanford University School of Education challenges us about the issue of WHAT we have to give up teaching in our schools in order to make room for other things that have become more important.  He also attempts to show us why we need to do this (in the 10 minutes these venues typically allow).

What students need to know and learn has been a topic of great debate especially as it relates to technology, Common Core standards, and overall 21st Century learning (or whatever cooler name one wants to use).  Blikstein connects how the "what" we need to learn has changed because of the "why", how the issues of purpose and context have to become far more front and center in the national conversation about education for a good reason. Students are generally primed to "understand" how and why education matters, which usually gets reduced to two words - college and job (ethereal concepts especially in the earlier years).  They aren't making the connection that learning helps them do stuff, that it can help them create things that can positively impact their world and the people around them. No wonder why so many students are "getting good" at school, but not excited about learning, or are just tuning out from school, physically or mentally.

" . . . not looking how technology is something magical,
but how technology and science as a tool
to improve the lives of others."
7:45 mark- FabLab@School - Paulo Blikstein

Bilkstein helps us imagine the "What if?" scenario where every student wakes up, goes to school, and actually creates  - especially something that can make a positive difference - a concept as compelling for the individual as it is collectively.  He makes his point early on about how by making something, you may be learning more "content" than expected by comparing an elementary student drawing vs. one from an top-tier university, which is an issue that often becomes a question of heated debate with constructivist (hands-on) learning vs. memorization of information and "knowledge" - as in does one absorb knowledge, make it, or both - you see where it can get tricky.

Continuing on this theme of CORE, technology, and relevance, Thomas Petra, founder of Real World Math, seems to tie it all together in a response to the question,"In your 20 years as an educator, has technology increased your teaching ability?  If so, are there measurable indicators you use to assess this?" posed by Jac de Haan in an insightful interview from "Technology with Intention."  An excerpt:

Technology makes my instruction multidimensional. Math instruction typically has students playing a passive role in learning, but with technology I was able to create lessons where they are active participants. Instead of disseminating information, I can create environments where students construct their own knowledge.

Technological benefits are not easily measured by conventional assessments. I find that technology boosts higher level thinking skills that the standardized tests don't measure and it helps to build positive student attitudes towards mathematics. I still relate my content to the CORE standards but I feel it goes beyond that.
When asked how he uses technology beyond some essential websites like Google Earth, Petra  teaches "math students how to use SketchUp to make models of polyhedrons and 3D buildings."  He thinks it is "a great tool for project-based learning activities. It incorporates measurement, modeling, photography, and plenty of opportunities for problem solving. We modeled over 30 buildings of a community center together."

For a different yet related perspective on this topic comes from Ian Beatty, physics teacher, who shares his "work in progress" in the post, "taking the plunge into standards-based grading".  An excerpt:

So I'm committed:  I've begun teaching Physics 291 (Intro physics 1 w/Calculus) using a pure standards-based grading (SBG) approach. I still lay awake at night wondering what kind of train wreck this might be headed for, but it's too late to turn back now. The fact that my enrollment is far higher than in past years for this course - full, at 60 students - doesn't help.
After sharing his initial lessons learned (for educators), he coincidentally wraps up with:

The other big question, of course, is whether students really will do the work -reading, workbook, homework, etc. -- without having those be graded. Most students do end up in the trap of running from deadline to deadline, only focusing on whatever is "due" next and prioritizing tasks by grade impact.

Guess that last line is the elephant in the room.  What do you think? 
Don't forget to check out video below!
Related The Daily Riff:
10 Steps for Smarter Schools with Dennis Littky - Big Picture Learning

Dan Meyer:  An Amazing Time for Math in this Country

Crossing the Math Chasm

The Day I Abolished Grading

Hacking School Ratings and Student Assessments - Consortium Schools- inquiry-based learning

Visions of Math:  What Content Should we Teach?  High Tech High

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