Can 4-year-olds play their way to algebra?

Greg Toppo’s The Game Believes in You argues that digital gaming can “make our kids smarter.” But Toppo hopes gaming “is not the Next Big Thing” in education,, he said at a Fordham event. “Because the Next Big Thing in education always sucks. It always fails. I hope it’s the Next Small Thing, and it just keeps going under the radar. Keep it away from the real rule-makers.”

“Many educational fads start out as compelling insights, then collapse beneath the weight of enthusiasts’ cheers and the hucksters’ attempts to cash in,” adds Robert Pondiscio.

Preschooler can learn algebra by playing a game called DragonBox, writes Toppo on the Hechinger Report.

But inventor Jean-Baptiste Huynh, a Vietnamese Frenchman living in Oslo (who taught math in Spain), says the game is about “speed and imagination,” not algebra.

“Mathematics is creativity. It’s play,” says Huynh. It’s asking “what if?”

In his game, a box arrives with a baby dragon inside. The dragon must be alone before it will eat. Players must figure out what to do.

The game board is divided into two sides, with your little dragon-in-a-box on one side. On both sides are “cards”—random images of lizards, horned beetles, deep-sea fish, and angry tomatoes. . . . To win each level, you must touch and tap and drag the cards to get rid of all of those on the dragon’s side. Once you do, he noisily eats everything that remains on the other side and the level is done.

. . . On level 12, one of the animal cards has mysteriously been replaced by a little black “a.” Five levels later, there’s a “c.” Finally, on level 18, the little wooden dragon box is momentarily replaced by a floating letter “x.” You’re doing proto-algebra. It’s been about three minutes since you downloaded the game.

. . . Addition, multiplication, division, fractions—all of them appear, without fanfare or explanation. By game’s end, at level 100, you’ve moved seamlessly, baby step by baby step, from a cute baby dragon eating a spiky two-headed lizard, to this: “2 over x plus d over e equals b over x,” which you solve, fearlessly and perhaps even a bit impatiently, in exactly 14 steps. You are 4 years old.

Here’s a video:

Liz Kolb has advice for teachers on how to “gamify” the classroom.

Students must play the game to stay in college

Playing an online game designed to “challenge the cultural norms that help sexual violence flourish”  is now required for all Cal State Northridge students, report Scott Ott and David Steinberg on PJ Media. Students who don’t play Agent of Change will not be allowed to register for fall classes.

Sims-style characters act out scenarios, helping users “see the connections between these power-based violations, how these problems affect their lives, and what they can do to challenge the cultural norms that help sexual violence flourish,” according to the web site.

Students who give the approved response (“Sex with someone too drunk to consent is sexual assault”) go on the “green path.”

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Slightly wrong responses (“girls need to realize” that “it’s normal for guys to want sex”) lead to the yellow path, where the player will be guided toward enlightenment.  Serena says: “I guess I see what you mean. I just wish you would think about it more.”

Wrong answers (“I’m sick of guys being blamed when girls act stupid”) lead to the orange path, where the player will be corrected more strongly. Serena says:  “A girl should be able to get drunk, flirt and act stupid at a party without getting raped.”

“Agent of Change is designed specifically to allow you to track as much or as little of your students’ action as you desire,” university officials are told.

Those orange-pathers better watch out.

“I don’t know if people will really be truthful,” Brandon Alvarez, a theater major told Cal Northridge’s Sundial. “Some of the scenarios are pretty obvious about the answers that they want you to choose.”

The game’s producers believe “various ‘oppressions,’ and not individual decisions to engage in criminal activity, are the root cause of sexual violence,” write Ott and Steinberg. That’s  “a political viewpoint  . . . which now must be regurgitated by the entire CSUN undergraduate community.”

In this scene, a character explains why drunken Scott is responsible for his actions (he has a “PhD in drinking”) but drunken Jill is not. What about an inexperienced male who has sex with a more experienced female after both have been drinking?

Via Darren.

All About That Base (No Acid)

Here’s All About That Base (No Acid):

Abolish 12th grade to pay for pre-K

Four-year-olds are eager to learn, while 18-year-olds are bored with school, writes Andrew Rotherham in U.S. News. So why not abolish 12th grade and use the money to pay for universal pre-K

“While the research isn’t as robust as some advocates claim, there is nonetheless a strong case for ensuring that all 4-year-olds have access to high-quality pre-K experiences,” he writes.

But it won’t be effective if it’s just glorified day care. To start with, we’d have to pay pre-K teachers like teachers — not babysitters. That will take “tens of billions of dollars.”

Rotherham doesn’t want to send the average student to college a year early.

“For most the senior year could be used for gap year activities, remedial and preparatory classes, athletics, vocational training, internships or national service,” he writes.

That would cost money, but “there would be more sources of public and private revenue to pay” the costs.

Many students with college aspirations don’t have the reading, writing and — especially — math skills they’ll need to pass college classes. Would they do better with a year of remediation instead of a standard 12th-grade curriculum? Maybe.

A “gap year” might benefit students whose parents can pay for travel or set them up in internships. But disadvantaged students are more likely to spend a year flipping burgers — if they can get an entry-level job at all. And those who step off the college track may never get back on.

School closures help most students

Closing a low-performing school is painful, but most displaced students find better alternatives, according to a Fordham report, School Closures and Student Achievement.unnamed-1

The study looks at 198 school closures — 120 district-run schools and 78 charters — in Ohio’s eight biggest cities from 2006 to 2012. Most of the 22,722 students affected were low-income, low-achieving and minority students in third through eighth grade.

Three years after closure of their district school,  displaced students had gained 49 additional days of learning in reading and 34 additional days in math, researchers estimated.
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Students who had attended a closed charter school gained 46 additional days in math but did not make significant gains in reading.

Those who moved to higher-quality schools did even better.

Schools try ‘standing desks’

Standing DesksNew desks are designed for students to stand at Vallecito Elementary.

Sitting still no longer is a challenge at an elementary school north of San Francisco. With funding from parents, four classrooms at Vallecito Elementary are equipped with “standing desks.” The desks come equipped with a swinging foot stand, called a “fidget bar.”

“It allows for the students to really kind of wiggle, but their mind and focus is still on me,” Gina Roberts, a fourth-grade teacher, told KPIX 5.

Students given standing desks stay “on task” 12 percent more than sitters, according to a Texas A&M study. In the study, students in grades two through four had the option of sitting on a stool or standing.

Student engagement was monitored by actions such as answering a question, raising a hand, or participating in discussion, while off-task behaviors included talking out of turn.

One of the researchers, Professor Mark Benden is co-founder of a start-up, Stand2Learn, which sells standing desks and stools. “He became interested in the standing desks as a way to reduce childhood obesity” and relieve spinal stress, reports Campus Technology.

History, civics, geography: Huh?

www.usnewsMost eighth graders don’t know much about U.S. history, civics and geography reports the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Only 18 percent tested as proficient or better in history, 23 percent in civics and 27 percent in geography. About half of students scored at the basic level. The rest did even worse.

The good news is that scores are no worse than in 2010, when the test was last given.

NAEP tested a representative sample of eighth graders in 2014.

Only 45 percent could interpret time differences using an atlas with time zones, notes AP.

Only about a third knew that “the government of the United States should be a democracy” is a political belief shared by most people in the U.S.

While most students said their social studies classes used textbooks, the percentage is falling. More are reading primary sources, such as letters and other historic documents, and viewing online presentations.

Core exams replace college placement tests

Scoring “college ready” on a Common Core-aligned test will mean something for students in some states, writes Lindsay Tepe on EdCentral.

Nearly 200 colleges and universities in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington will use the Smarter Balanced test’s “college ready” designation to place first-year students in college-level courses. The Core-aligned exam will replace placement tests such as Accuplacer or COMPASS.

Several colleges, including Illinois’ community college system, will use PARCC scores to decide who is ready for college-level courses.

At community colleges and non-flagship universities, placement tests steer many students to non-credit, remedial coursework. Few who start at the remedial level go on to complete a degree. Research shows some would do just as well (or no worse) in college-level courses, writes Tepe.

Delaware, where more than half of high school graduates end up in remedial courses and fail them at an alarming rate, this new route to college-level courses could make a big difference for students. Those who score a 3 or higher on Smarter Balanced who are planning to attend the University of Delaware or Delaware State University (remediation rates of 18 and 81 percent, respectively) will proceed directly into classes that will contribute toward their chosen degrees.

How many students who did poorly on the placement test would have done well on SBAC or PARCC? I’m guessing not many. (Delaware taxpayers fund a state university where four out of five students are unprepared?)

By the way, the new euphemism for remedial courses is “pre-college” courses.

All about that test

YouTube is filled with teachers parodying pop music to motivate their students for test taking. Harvest Elementary teachers went all out in All About That Test.

Reading comprehension can’t be taught

WillinghamCover_HiResCan reading comprehension be taught?  The short answer is “no,” writes Dan Willingham, author of Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do, in the Washington Post.

Spending a little time on reading comprehension strategies is OK, writes Willingham, a cognitive scientist at the University of Virginia. But more than a little practice is too much.

Readers need to tie ideas together via inferences to understand what they read, he writes. For example:

“We’re not going on that vacation to Miami after all. My wife could get only get vacation time in July.”

To understand the meaning, it’s not enough to understand each sentence on its own; you must understand that the second statement is causally related to the first (time off only in July caused the cancellation of the Miami vacation) and the causal connection requires some prior knowledge of Miami (that it’s uncomfortably hot in summer) and of people’s preferences when they take vacation.

Reading Comprehension Strategies (RCS) such as summarizing or drawing a graphic organizer (idea web) are meant to help students tie ideas together. Sometimes, readers are told to “notice whether or not the text makes sense” or “activate prior knowledge” of the subject.

But ther are no “all-purpose instructions about how to connect sentences, other than to say ‘sentences must connect’,” writes Willingham.

A little RCS reminds students to check for understanding, but it’s a “trick” rather than “something that builds a skill,” he writes. More than a little time practicing reading strategies is a waste of time.