Low-tech ‘duet’ blends video, teaching

Combining science and math videos by experts and active learning sessions led by the classroom teacher has made MIT BLOSSOMS “one of the most exciting and effective” blended learning ideas, writes Annie Murphy Paul on Slate.

There are no adaptive algorithms and no personalization. All it takes technologically is “an old television and VCR.”

Concord-Carlisle, Mass., teacher Sandra Haupt co-teaches with the Blossoms lesson “The Power of Exponentials, Big and Small."Sandra Haupt, a teacher in Concord-Carlisle, Massachusetts, co-teaches with the Blossoms lesson “The Power of Exponentials, Big and Small.” – Photo by M. Scott Brauer/Courtesy of MIT Blossoms

Richard Larson, a professor of engineering systems at MIT, got the idea from a teacher in rural China. She played a video of a science lesson for a few minutes, then taught an interactive lesson, then showed a few more minutes of the video.

Back in the U.S., Larson began creating “science and math videos that were designed to be interrupted, to be complemented by active learning sessions conducted by a classroom teacher,” writes Paul.

Larson himself starred in the first video, a lesson on triangles, random numbers, and probability that featured the professor sawing a yardstick into pieces. Today there are more than a hundred lessons available free on the BLOSSOMS website, covering topics in mathematics, engineering, physics, biology, and chemistry, all taught by experts in their fields.

Each lesson offers a series of brief video segments, plus a teacher’s guide to the classroom active-learning sessions. A lesson about mathematical models in epidemiology, for example, intersperses video segments explaining how infectious diseases are spread and controlled with role-playing exercises in which students see for themselves (via classmates who don red, green, or blue-colored hats) how taking preventive measures reduces the risk of contracting illness.

The lessons are now used in schools all over the U.S. and countries all over the world, including China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil.

BLOSSOMS is “teacher-centric,” notes Paul. The video and classroom teachers are “sages on the stage.”

Unlike other blended learning models, instruction isn’t self-paced. Students work as a team.

The “teaching duet” doesn’t threaten teachers, writes Paul. “Ed-tech enthusiasts who think they can do an end run around teachers will find that teachers are still the ultimate arbiters of what’s welcome in their classrooms: Witness the interactive ‘Smart Boards’ introduced with such fanfare into America’s schools, now functioning as so many expensive bulletin boards.”

U.S. schools rank low in innovation

U.S. schools are below average in innovation, according to an international report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Denmark, Indonesia and high-scoring South Korea are the most innovative, according to the study. 

“Innovation led to improved math scores for eighth-graders, a narrowing of the achievement gap and happier teachers,” researchers concluded.

U.S. innovation centered around more use of test data, external evaluation of secondary school classrooms and parental involvement, the report found.

Teaching innovations included requiring secondary science students to explain and elaborate on their answers and to observe and describe natural phenomena.

Primary teachers offered more individualized reading instruction and were more likely to ask students to interpret texts and explain their math answers.

Math and science teachers were more likely to ask students to relate what they’d learned in class to their daily life.

Poland have moved into the top ranks in school performance, writes Marc Tucker. He looks at what changed in Poland, which now outscores the U.S.

Completion, default rates can be misleading

Commonly used college quality measures, such as graduation rates and loan defaults, are inadequate and sometimes misleading.

Pretty or smart?

Verizon’s viral Inspire Her Mind ad is based on dubious facts and the dubious idea that girliness is the enemy of “pretty brilliant” in math, science and engineering, says Christina Hoff Sommers, the Factual Feminist.

That dad telling his daughter not to handle a starfish may know that 61 percent of marine biology majors are female. Maybe he wants her to consider a unisex field, such as chemistry.

High hopes, long odds

Ninety-five percent of low-income students who take the ACT want to go to college, reports The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: Students from Low-Income Families. That’s higher than the rate for all students who take the ACT. 

However, low-income students (defined as a family income under $36,000) are less likely to take a strong college-prep curriculum in high school. Only 20 percent meet at least three of the four college readiness benchmarks set by ACT.  Only 59 percent of low-income students who take the ACT go directly from high school to college. That compares to 71 percent of all ACT test-takers.

Colleges are using “predictive analytics” to advise high-risk students, writes Libby Nelson on Vox. The goal is to raise “dismal graduation rates.”

Is flunking a course the sign of a bad semester, or the harbinger of much worse to come? Is a student with a 2.3 GPA going to be fine — “C’s get degrees,” after all — or a future dropout in the making?

But what if the numbers show some students have little chance of success?

Studies show teachers expend more time and attention with students they know will succeed; will professors neglect students data shows are likely to fail? States are under pressure to improve their graduation rates; if they can identify the students least likely to graduate, will it be too tempting to shut them out rather than admit them and help them through?

. . .  The American ethos of college-going rests on “if you can dream it, you can become it.” But when we can pinpoint the students least likely to succeed, what will happen to them?

Many students rely on “magical thinking,” writes Nelson. “From kindergarten through high school graduation, students are steeped in a can-do spirit. Believe in yourself. Reach for the stars. Never give up.”

Students will say an F on a midterm “isn’t a real F,” says Linda McMillin, a provost at Susquehanna University. Professors can use data to persuade them to get real.

“Ninety-eight percent of people who got this grade in this class were not able to change it. Tell me how you’re the exception. Let’s get real here, and let’s think about how we move you into another major that really aligns with your strengths and with your passions and gets you through in four years.”

“This is not a tool to highlight to students that they’re in trouble or can’t make it, says John Nicklow, provost at Southern Illinois University. “It’s an awareness tool to make them aware that now’s the time to buckle down.”

Perhaps middle-school and high school counselors should be armed with predictive analytics. The time to get real and buckle down occurs much earlier.

Choice creates ‘the big sort’

Choice has expanded dramatically in Chicago, report Linda Lutton and Brendan Metzger for WBEZ. Most parents choose between an array of district-run and charter high schools.  That’s led to The Big Sort:  High-performing students go to the district’s selective “test-in” high schools,  average students choose schools with other average students and the low performers cluster in very low-performing schools.

Here an interactive chart.

Many of the district-run new and specialty schools are allowed to screen out low achievers. Charters can’t do that, but the application process can discourage unmotivated parents. Noble, the city’s largest charter network, has agreed to let parents submit applications without attending information sessions and to make it clear that submitting an essay is optional.

In tough neighborhoods, the weakest students and those with the least savvy parents end up in comprehensive high schools.

Middle-class students and high performers have been avoiding some Chicago high schools for decades, concede Lutton and Metzger.  Students know which schools are for which students.

“If you get straight As and you do really good on testing, the school you’ll probably get accepted into is Northside, Walter Payton, Whitney Young,” says (Lane Tech) freshman Amber Hunt.

What about the B students? “Schools with IB programs sometimes take solid Bs,” says Amber. “Charter schools are kind of like if you’re average, or slightly below average.”

Students who do poorly in grammar school go to neighborhood schools, students say.

Lane Tech students enjoy attending school with high achievers. “It raises the standards a lot,” says freshman Paradise Cosey. Another freshman says this is the first year since fifth grade that classmates haven’t asked to copy her work.

(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
Kadeesha Williams wanted to go to Marine Military Academy, where 48 percent of ninth graders score above average. She ended up at Marshall, where 14 percent come in above the district’s average.

 

WBEZ also looks at Marshall Metropolitan High School, where 86 percent of ninth graders score below the district average. Some can’t read.

Kadeesha Williams, who’ll be a sophomore in the fall, wanted to go to Marine Military Academy, a district-run school nearby, “but my mom, she lost the paperwork.” Her mother claims the school lost Kadeesha’s test scores.

Kadeesha likes Marshall because the teachers are so helpful. The school is focused on helping struggling students.

But for many students Marshall is “a school of last resort,” says teacher James Dorrell. “They try to enroll in charter schools or selective enrollments, and once they can’t get in, they would come here.”

Dorrell says after a re-staffing and infusion of money in 2010, Marshall is hugely improved. . . . Freshmen have double periods of English and math. Many take reading — a subject other high schools don’t even offer.

But test scores remain low and more students drop out than earn a diploma.

What works for small high schools

Personalization, high expectations and dedicated, flexible teachers are essential to the success of New York City’s most effective small high schools, report NYU’s Research Alliance.

“Small schools of choice” (SSCs) have improved graduation rates, according to previous research.

School themes, such as law, the environment or sports careers, didn’t play a factor in success, the study concluded. Some students were attracted to the theme, but “it can be a turnoff to others who wind up in the school because of the whims of the high school placement process,” notes SchoolBook.

Many of the success strategies can be used in schools of any size, researchers said.

Downsizing hits community colleges

After the recession spiked enrollment and funding, community colleges are cutting courses and faculty in response to declining enrollment.

‘College for all’ includes job training

College is the path to a good job, but that includes going to community college to train for skilled blue-collar jobs that offer a path to the middle class.

Test: Which cell plan is best?

PBS NewsHour looks at an international exam that asks students to apply their reading, math and science skills to real-life situations, reports John Merrow. “For example, they may be asked to analyze different cell phone plans to figure out which is the best deal.”

How many adults could do that?