Archive forJanuary, 2011

Headline fail

On the New York Times website, the most popular article right now is called, “To really learn, quit studying and take a test.”

The gist of the article is that taking a test helps people remember information better than creating a concept map. It seems to suggest that those hippie educators who believe in concept mapping should stop complaining about standardized testing, since it helps people “really learn.”

Not so fast, says Dan Styer, from Wakeman, Ohio, in the comments section:

It is important to note that the “test” involved in this study is not a graded test, nor a multiple-choice SAT-type test, but an ungraded “free-form essay”. The title of the article should be “To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Write an Essay”.

Indeed, the “test” is described thusly:

The final group took a “retrieval practice” test. Without the passage in front of them, they wrote what they remembered in a free-form essay for 10 minutes. Then they reread the passage and took another retrieval practice test.

Let’s be careful about what lessons we learn about “testing” from this study.

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I am co-teaching a course in educational technology this spring and would love some suggestions.

The context: 35 students. About two thirds teach at High Tech High schools and the rest teach at other schools in San Diego. 2 are taking the course online from the Bay Area. These students are getting their preliminary teaching credential in all manner of subjects while teaching (mostly) full time in a classroom. The students are kind-of first year teachers, but many have experiences as college instructors, as private school teachers, or in other educational roles. The class is in March and is 4 sessions of 3 hours each. I co-taught a 9 week long methods course to this cohort of students in the fall.

Some givens: We will ask the students for feedback on what they are interested in learning. We will have opportunities for student choice.

Please add suggestions in the comments around the following topics, or anything else.

1. Exemplars. If you have seen great syllabi, class websites, or student work-products that are great models, please point me in that direction. The funny and smart Matt Dunleavy from Radford University shared his syllabus with me. Others?

2. Goals. Ed schools are often critiqued for being all about abstract theories and for not providing teachers with practical advice for their classroom. At the High Tech High Graduate School of Education, we aim to strike the right balance of the how and the why. “Put-it-to-practice,” coined by Melissa Daniels, is a strategy we often use where the “homework” for the course is to try something out in your classroom and report back on how it went. I know that many teachers are always eager for the “how,” something “that helps me in my classroom tomorrow,” so that is certainly a goal. I also think that there is something to the idea of exploring the “why,” as in what arguments are educational technologists making about the nature of teaching and learning and how might technology help us transform our understanding of this? This is quite fuzzy for me, so suggestions about goals are appreciated.

3. Readings. Any books or articles you think would be particularly useful for our students?

4. Activities/tools. Any particular tools or activities that you think would be essential to “cover?” For example, I am thinking about having students make a short stop animation film so that they might then have their own students make their own films. This seems like an intriguing student product in which students can really explain their thinking. I need to make my own first to see how do-able this is and how long it would take.

All thoughts appreciated!

Update: I am on the losing side of a battle with spam, so I’ve turned off the comments section after one month after a post. So if you have advice or ideas, email me. You can probably find out my address easily enough.

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Presentation feedback forms

I very much enjoyed observing presentations at High Tech High North County last week. There were so many things that I thought their staff had gotten right, but I wanted to write here a little about the feedback forms for presenters, both from other students and from adult panelists.

I have sat in on so many student presentations over the years, and sometimes I find myself spending most of my time trying to comprehend the byzantine rubric that the teacher has created (and I’ve created a few overly elaborate such rubrics myself). I think that it *might* be a good idea to co-create with students a more complicated rubric that attempts to handle every possible aspect of the presentation or project [although I’ve written more here about my suspicion of rubrics].

One thing I found myself feeling quite strongly during the presentations last week was how much better it felt as an outside panelist to get a simple, elegant feedback form to fill out.  “Complex structures beget simple behaviors and simple structures beget complex behaviors” might sound like a cliche, but I think it really applies here. When I’m in that space of trying to figure out what the complex rubric is after, I usually end up just circling a bunch of numbers and writing “nice job” at the end, unable to write anything more meaningful with my mind exhausted from rubric overload.

The presentation feedback form created by faculty at HTH North County explained to me what the faculty is looking for, it asked simple questions that are good practice (e.g. “What strikes you about this presentation?”), and it encouraged me to be “kind, specific, and helpful” which implies being hard on the content (and panelists forget to do this sometimes) as well as soft on the person (and panelists forget to do this sometimes too).

The other form that I saw was what I heard referred to as a “kish” form, short for “kind, specific, and helpful.” This was a form that all the other students filled out while watching the presentations. One of the things that most struck me about the presentations was the thoughtful questions that students asked after the presentation (e.g. “What steps are you going to take to ensure that you follow through on your goals next time?”). I was dropping into different classrooms for short periods of time, so I didn’t see all of the audience preparation at the event, but I felt myself getting anxious when I didn’t see more explicit audience preparation before each presentation. Nonetheless, it clearly happened at some point, because audience participation was great.

Two other notes:

1. The audience for each presentation was a mix of students from every grade level. I think this raised the stakes of the presentations and made for more interesting presentations for everyone.

2. At the end of every presentation, after hearing questions and comments from other students and panelists, the faculty met alone with the presenting student (and their parents if possible) in the hallway. A great protocol that I saw involved the teacher asking the student how it went and what could have been better, asking the parent the same questions, and only then giving the student feedback from the teachers. This little detail really improved the quality of the whole experience.

Kudos to HTHNC students and faculty  for their work on these presentations!

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HTHNC senior/education budha

I saw so much fantastic stuff today at HTH North County for their POLs. One of their seniors was speaking in koans – it was totally awesome. Two quotes, live-tweeted from POLs:
“The key to groupwork is being assertive without being aggressive.”
“In earlier projects, we were encouraged to make the projects our own. In our senior project, we were allowed to own the project.”

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