New tech, same old curriculum

Philadelphia has opened a Microsoft-designed School of the Future iin a poor, black neighborhood, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The school will have few books but laptops for all, plasma screens, smart cards that open lockers, sinks that turn on automatically and teachers hand-picked by the principal.

And the same, old “project-based” curriculum, notes D-Ed Reckoning, who predicts it will end in tears.

A Reuters story quotes the principal:

Traditional education is obsolete and fails to teach students the skills of problem-solving, critical thinking and effective communication, which they need to succeed in the 21st century, principal Shirley Grover said in an interview.

“It’s not about memorizing certain algebraic equations and then regurgitating them in a test,” Grover said. “It’s about thinking how math might be used to solve a quality-of-water problem or how it might be used to determine whether or not we are safe in Philadelphia from the avian flu.”

This is the “worst and most mindless same old crap,” writes Right Wing Prof.

Of course, what this brain-dead principal misses — what all educrats who spout the “higher level thinking” line miss — is that you can’t do those things until you’ve memorized those algebraic equations and regurgitated them on a test. What part of that is so hard for these idiots to understand? Oh but wait, because the students are really drinking the kool-aid:

D-Ed Reckoning piles on in a second post.

Here’s the part I don’t understand. If the kids were really developing super higher-order thinking brains with these new-fangled progressive teaching techniques why are they unable to use those super brains to solve algebraic equations on a simplistic multiple choice exam? Why are they unable to higher-order think their way to the correct answers on lower-order basic skills exams?

I like one thing about the principal’s attitude: She claims no excuses will be made if students don’t learn. The school has the resources, she says. But it’s possible to waste resources. In fact, it’s common. What matters is what’s written on those interactive white boards.

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Comments

  1. “It’s not about memorizing certain algebraic equations and then regurgitating them in a test,” Grover said. “It’s about thinking how math might be used”…somehow, the people who learned algebra the old-fashioned way managed to *use* their knowledge of math to do things like build bridges, dams, ships, airplanes, and spacecraft.

    “Progressive” educators seem to believe that if something in more than 5 minutes old, it must be of no value.

  2. Indigo Warrior says:

    I too am pessimistic. First of all, the school is a top-down Gatesian solution of the same order as coin-operated shoe-shine machines for a population that lacks shoes (or lacks the type of shoes than need shining).

    And as everyone else must have said, the curriculum and instructional content matter more than the technology. Very few of these street kids are destined for an academic or professional career. This could be an opportunity to combine high technology with vocational studies. Emphasize micro-computer maintenance rather than engineering, for example.

    Making the school book and paper free is a step in the right direction, but for different reasons than intended. Books are easy to steal or vandalize. So is computer equipment – but it can be more easily “hardened” against vandalism. (see next message)

  3. “It’s not about memorizing certain algebraic equations and then regurgitating them in a test,” Grover said

    I have studied algebra and never heard of memorizing algebraic equations. You can solve equations, but why would you memorize them? I also remember that algebra was chock-full of problem solving — those nasty word problems that couldn’t be solved without “critical thinking” (sharp analytical thinking). I would also like to know how this brain-dead principal would propose algebra be used to protect against avian flu. This principal is clueless like so many educationists who mindlessly parrot educationist phrases which sound impressive but turn out to be vacuous.

  4. Indigo Warrior says:

    A laptop for every child. (They will be traded in for computerized tablets soon.)

    Replace the fragile easily-lost-or-stolen laptops with desktops embedded in titanium desks, with kevlar touch panel keyboards (just wipe off the graffiti, food and drug residue, blood and other body fluids that are bound to accumulate at the end of the day)

    Smart cards that track student movement throughout the school.

    Replace smart cards with passwords, or have fingerprint / retina pattern sensors on all equipment. And instead of using cards to track student movement, use video cameras which will also deter vandalism and bullying.

    Virtual teaching assistants.
    Software that will allow parents to track students’ progress from home.

    Good idea, assuming that parents are around, and they have a computer at home, know how to operate it, and care about students’ progress.

    Lockers that open with the swipe of a smart card.

    Again, a keyboard for passwords, or better yet a fingerprint sensor.

    A fully wireless building.

    That could cut out sabotage of wires.

    Virtually no textbooks.

    Good … eliminates expensive and vulnerable textbooks, but the alternative must be less vulnerable.

    Plasma screens & Plasma Boards.

    Heavily protected with plexiglass and kevlar.

    Ceiling projectors.

    Ditto, if possible.

    Interactive white boards.

    Ditto, if possible.

    Classroom furniture is on wheels to allow for group work in varying configurations.

    IMO, the ghetto population has too much of a group/hive mentality. I would rather use cubicles to encourage individualism.

    Students will be required to apply to at least one college.

    How about students wanting to be there, and are not coerced into attending in any way? I also hope that this school will acquire a reputation of being a geeky, “acting white” school – thus attracting real students and keeping out the thugs.

    A later start. School will begin at 9:15 a.m., acting on research that says teens think better a little later in the day.

    That may work … also conduct classes on-line so that students have a chance to take some of them from home (if they have a good computer and net connection.)

    Photovoltaic panels in the windows and roof will convert sunlight into electricity.

    Few of the students will understand and appreciate this. But if it makes the school more energy-efficient, go for it.

    The building also will catch rainwater and convert it for non-potable uses, such as toilet and boiler water.

    Ditto.

    The school also has established partnerships with local universities.

    Teachers were hand-picked by the principal.

    “They have those sinks that you just put your hands like that and the water comes out.”

    An inaccessible mechanism is also harder to vandalize.

    “Mirrors for girls.”

    Irrelevant.

    “Toilets flush by themselves. It’s all just so nice.”

    And prevents vandalism by fouling. Naturally these toilets are valve-type rather than tank-type.

  5. photoncourier wrote:

    “Progressive” educators seem to believe that if something in more than 5 minutes old, it must be of no value.

    Oh hardly. They’re all still enraptured with whole word and that’s a bunch more then 5 minutes old. No, what enraptures progressive educators are ideas that are inherently resistant to assignment of responsibility.

    Take the aforementioned “critical thinking” skills. What’s the measure of successfully teaching critical thinking skills? Is there some method of discriminating between effective teachers successfully teaching critical thinking skills and ineffective teachers botching the job? Suprise! No!

    Take a look at any “progressive” edu-fad and the common element is inherent resistance to assignment of responsibility.

    Joanne Jacobs wrote:

    I like one thing about the principal’s attitude: She claims no excuses will be made if students don’t learn.

    Where?

    I read through the Reuter’s story and the Philly.com story a couple of times and missed that.

    The reason I ask is that I’d like to know what the principal has put at risk if students don’t learn. Will she go back to the private school principalship in Milan, Italy? Commit sepuku in the teacher’s lounge? Return her salary, reimburse the school district for expense account and medical insurance claims and enter a convent?

    Other then that question, I’m not going to bother teeing off on this story. The hallmarks of disaster are written all over it, visible to anyone who isn’t dazzled by the advent of card-swipe student lockers.

  6. Instructivist writes: I have studied algebra and never heard of memorizing algebraic equations.

    ummm quadratic equation? difference of squares? rate/time/distance problems? all of which are worth knowing for application and use of math in the real world.

  7. “ummm quadratic equation? difference of squares? rate/time/distance problems? all of which are worth knowing for application and use of math in the real world.”

    I thought these are formulas. But it true, there is a quadratic equation and a quadratic formula. Two different things.

  8. They have those sinks that you just put your hands like that and the water comes out.”

    “Mirrors for girls.”

    “Toilets flush by themselves. It’s all just so nice.”

    Yes, but the boys bathrooms stalls still dont have any doors on them.

  9. “Yes, but the boys bathrooms stalls still dont have any doors on them.”

    And I’m sure no couches or chaises longues, or whatever women have in their restrooms.

  10. “It’s not about memorizing certain algebraic equations and then regurgitating them in a test,” Grover said. “It’s about thinking how math might be used to solve a quality-of-water problem or how it might be used to determine whether or not we are safe in Philadelphia from the avian flu.”

    I’d like to see the person who can ever get to using math to solve real-world problems without memorizing – learning thousands of things by rote. Any child who has to figure for herself what 8 times 7 is, every time, will never do anything useful with math.

  11. Wayne Martin says:

    > I’d like to see the person who can ever get to
    > using math to solve real-world problems without
    > memorizing – learning thousands of things by rote. > Any child who has to figure for herself what 8
    > times 7 is, every time, will never do anything
    > useful with math.

    Yup .. that’s absolutely right.