Free textbooks?

Emblazoning their social media posts with #GoOpen, teachers, principals, advocacy organizations and trade groups rallied behind what the department described as “high-quality, openly-licensed educational resources” for K-12 schools. Worth noting: These books and materials are free.

“Openly licensed educational resources can increase equity by providing all students, regardless of zip code, access to high quality learning materials that have the most up-to-date and relevant content,” acting U.S. Education Secretary John King said in a statement.

Read the article here.

Try Some PISA Questions …

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. Try your hand at some of the questions here. Some of them might surprise you. Are we preparing our students for these kinds of tests?

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You can’t just cherry-pick data and choose what is true about the world and what isn’t.

Promoting his new show StarTalk, Neil deGrasse Tyson said:

So what does it mean to complain about what politicians do? We should complain about what the electorate does. I’m an educator, so I see it as one of my duties, especially as a science educator, to alert people of what science is and how it works. About what it means for there to be an objective truth that we would then act upon.

Yes! Read the entire interview.

Accidentally On Purpose

As a traveling educational consultant, I plan learning sessions for adults who (for the most part) I’ve never met and develop learning goals for teams based on (for the most part) a phone conversation or two. It’s challenging and results in frequent surprises when I actually meet groups face-to-face.

I recently worked with teams in a large county-wide district where the charge was to work with K-6 curriculum developers on the UbD process of identifying learning goals and developing transfer tasks. This is a group that has received significant PD on Understanding by Design and have already spent months identifying priority standards and considering next steps.

A departing administrator decided at the last minute to include a group of secondary folks who had zero PD on the process and little information about why they were sitting in on the elementary work sessions. After Day 1, I quickly realized the need for a re-design to provide a purpose for their attendance (as well as accomplish the original goal for the elementary team). The sessions became a modified fishbowl so that the newcomers could learn from the working teams.

The original sessions were structured for learning and working — and fortunately, this enabled a quick redesign. In the end, feedback from the secondary folks  indicated that there was, indeed, high value in their sitting in with the elementary teams:

  • I used to think that my content was all I needed to teach, now I think I need to use everyone’s content
  • I used to think outside of the box inside of my classroom, now I know I need to think beyond my classroom
  • I used to think good assessments assessed many standards, now I think good assessments assess many contents
  • I used to think my secondary assessments were more difficult to create, now I think that pre-K assessments are incredibly difficult to create
  • I used to think the work I did was more important than elementary school, now I know how deep the elementary teachers build the foundation of learning
  • I used to think that we were doing an adequate job, now I think we need a whole new mindset
  • I used to think that in order to assess my students I had to be an expert in my content, now I think I need to be an expert in all contents
  • I used to think my ELA content was most important (if they don’t know what a simile is, where are they going in life?), but now I know that we are really supporting all the other content areas
  • I used to think that I was preparing my students for the next level, now I think I am so narrow minded
  • I used to think that our system prepared students for their future, now I think we can do so much better with a more global view
  • I used to think middle schools had to teach foundational skills, now I wonder why we aren’t raising the bar
  • I used to think it was a really bad idea to bring secondary folks in with the elementary teachers, now I think it was a really good idea (based on the feedback you gave/asking challenging questions) and the vision of the process

To quote Eisenhower: Plans are useless, but planning is essential.

Arguing against “coding for all”

Nathaniel Calhoun writes:

If I have the attention of a classroom of young, poorly educated, low-income citizens of the world for three hours a week over the next six months, what is the absolute most important thing that I can teach them?

I’m a pragmatist, so I might rephrase that question: Is there anything I could teach this class of students that will actually confer an advantage upon them, which helps them to become more secure and better able to meet their needs and those of their families?

I think there is. But it isn’t trying to anticipate what professional skills will be in demand four years later.

This is an interesting and cogent argument against the “coding for all” movement. In the end, I believe it’s most important to teach problem identification and solution skills using content that resonates with the learner. If that’s learning to code, fine. But it might not be …

Full article here.

Thanks @yonkeltron!

Ultimately school only cares if it meets some curriculum standard that can be measured …

From a high school student:

“…apparently my job is to shut up and study hard. If I’m so inclined, I can go out for a sport or join a club, but my schoolwork should trump all. I’m not supposed to contribute anything noteworthy to the world, but instead lay low and consume it until after I’ve graduated. Sure, adults applaud when we do something great outside of school. But ultimately school only cares if it meets some curriculum standard that can be measured. Oh, and it has to be the one we are studying right now, and it has to be part of an assignment that’s going in the gradebook. If not, I don’t get credit and therefore it’s a waste of my time.”

Educators take note! Read the entire post here.

Design Literacy

What if there were a basic literacy, beyond reading, writing, and arithmetics that we missed, or that wasn’t really necessary until this moment in our history? What if that new literacy were MORE important than STEM education to the future of our children? Or if it helped rationalize STEM and SEL (social, emotional, learning) in a way that organized these two, at times mutually exclusive, threads of critical thinking? What if other countries were figuring it out and America was caught fighting over educational approaches mired in philosophies and patterns suited for the 1900s instead of the 21st century and missed the boat entirely? What if it fostered thinking so that kids could grow up to be critical, creative, collaborative, and resilient? What if you did something about it before it’s too late?

This TED talk is critical for educators:

On Remembering

I have hotly debated the merits of memorization with fellow educators and I have vehemently questioned the value of knowing the state capitals (my favorite example of knowledge useful only when playing trivia games down at the pub). In the Age of Google, the argument seems ridiculous – if for some reason I actually needed to know the capital of South Dakota*, I can look it up within seconds on my phone. Why memorize?

I recently read Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. A participatory journalist, Foer delved into the geeky world of memory competitions and does a nice job describing the cultural history and scientific research into human memory. It’s a good read, much like an in-depth magazine article, and certainly a compelling story (Foer trains for and competes in the US and World Memory Championships).

As an educator, I was particularly interested in the ramifications for teaching … and I have revised my opinion regarding memorization. I still don’t think the state capitals are worth committing to permanency, but I can appreciate the merits of some memorization. Foer writes:

“A valid criticism of … mnemonics is that they are a form of decontextualized knowledge. They are superficial, the epitome of learning without understanding. This is education by PowerPoint, or worse, CliffsNotes. What can an [the mnemonics device of an] image of Lenin and Stalin the bathroom really tell you about communist economics? But [Raemon] Matthews’s point is that you’ve got to start somewhere, and you might as well start by installing in student’s minds the sorts of memories that are least likely to be forgotten.

When information goes “in one ear and out the other,” it’s often because it doesn’t have anything to stick to. This is something I was personally confronted with not long ago, when I had the opportunity to visit shanghai for three days while reporting an article. Somehow I had managed to scoot through two decades of schooling without ever learning even the most basic facts about Chinese history. I’d never learned the difference between Ming and Qing, or even that Kublai Khan was actually a real person. I spent my time in Shanghai roving around the city like any good tourist, visiting museums, trying to get a superficial grasp of Chinese history and culture. But my experience of the place was severely impoverished. There was so much I didn’t take in, so much I was unable to appreciate, because I didn’t have the basic facts to fasten other facts to. It wasn’t just that I didn’t know, it was I didn’t have the ability to learn … This [is the ]paradox – it takes knowledge to gain knowledge …

Of course, the goal of education is not merely to cram a bunch of facts into students’ heads; it’s to lead them to understand those facts. Nobody would agree with that more than [teacher] Raemon Matthews, “I want thinkers, not just people who can repeat what I tell them,” he says. But even if facts don’t by themselves lead to understanding, you can’t have understanding without facts. And crucially, the more you know, the easier it is to know more. Memory is like a spiderweb that catches new information. The more it catches, the bigger it grows. And the bigger it grows, the more it catches …

It goes without saying that intelligence is much, much more than mere memory (there are savants who remember much bud understand little, just as surely as there are forgetful old professors who remember little but understand much), but memory and intelligence do seem to go hand in hand, like a muscular frame and an athletic disposition. There’s a feedback loop between the two. The more tightly any new piece of information can be embedded into the web of information we already know, the more likely it is to be remembered. People who have more associations to hang their memories on are more likely to remember new things, which in turn means they will know more, and be able to learn more. The more we remember, the better we are at processing the world. And the better we are at processing the world, the more we can remember about it.”

Certainly something to think about …

*Pierre. I had to look it up – although forced to memorize the state capitals in elementary school, seems I’ve forgotten them over the past 30+ years.

The Skills Gap

Excerpts from Mike Rowe’s Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

I believe we need a national PR Campaign for Skilled Labor. A big one. Something that addresses the widening skills gap head on, and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce.

Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it’s getting wider …

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel …

In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a “good job” into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber – if you can find one – is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both …

The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work.

It’s worth reading the entire speech here.

1000 Scientists in 1000 Days

1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days, a program that Scientific American is now launching as part of its Change the Equation initiatives … aims to make it easier for scientists and teachers to connect. The idea is simple. We seek scientists who are willing to volunteer to advise on curricula, answer a classroom’s questions, or visit a school—for instance, to do a lab or to talk about what you do. How much you choose to participate will be up to you.

Check it out at Scientific American here.