Change without reform

After all the education reforms, what’s really changed in classrooms? Not a whole lot, writes Larry Cuban in his new book, Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change Without Reform in American Education.

Cuban looks at a 1:1 laptop program in a Bay Area high school in 1998-99 and 2008-10,   writes Mark Bauerlein in an Education Next review.  The project started with generous federal and state grants and funding from Silicon Valley donors, Cuban writes. Teachers were enthusiastic. But problems soon emerged.

The principal who’d spearheaded the idea left just as it was getting started; the school went through four principals from 1998 to 2010. Faculty turnover was high too and some teachers made little use of technology. Those who did rarely changed their teaching.

The school’s test scores fell, pressuring teachers to focus on test prep.

“Connections between student achievement and teacher and student use of laptops are, at best, indirect and, at worst, nonexistent,” Cuban concludes.

It’s not just a problem with digital learning, Cuban writes. Changes in governance, school size, curriculum, and organization “have had few effects on classroom practices and, consequently, students’ academic outcomes,” he concludes.

Encouraging teachers to collaborate and easing test-based accountability might change inside-the-box teaching for the better, Cuban suggests. But he makes no claim to have the answers, Bauerlein writes.

iPads that work

After writing about the iPad disaster in Los Angeles Unified, Hechinger’s Anya Kamenetz talked to a Chicago teacher who’s using iPads to help students succeed.

When the iPad first came out in 2010, Jennie Magiera made fun of her friends for buying them: “Nice job–you got a giant iPhone that can’t make phone calls!!”  But when a grant bought iPads for her fourth and fifth grade class, the teacher quickly found a path to transforming her teaching and learning practice. While tests are only one measurement of success, she went from having just one student out of 15 “exceed” on state tests in fourth grade, to having 10 “exceed” the next year.

Magiera is now the digital learning coordinator of the Academy of Urban School Leadership, a network of 29 public (non-charter) schools serving low-income students. She’s seen technology reveal hidden talents.

A disruptive, low-scoring student used “screencasting” to create a video explaining his math strategy.

“The answer was 15 cents and he wrote $16. . . . when I go into his screencast video, it was 60 seconds of the best math I’ve ever seen as a math teacher.”

The student had arrived at the wrong answer because of a tiny mistake, but he had devised his own original path through the problem, using his knowledge of fractions to create a system of proportions, a concept he wouldn’t be introduced to for another year or two. “He solved it completely on his own, narrated it beautifully, had the most amazing thought process.”  From watching this one minute of video, Magiera got insights into this student’s math skills that she hadn’t learned from having him in the classroom for over a year.

When the student rewatched his video, he caught his mistake.

She saw his reactions go from defiance (“lady, I already did it for you once, you want me to watch it now?”) to pride (“yeah! I got that!”) to dismay (“Oh my god, I messed that up! I can’t believe it! I was so close,”). And finally he asked her, “Can I do it again?”

Another student was afraid to speak up in class. Magiera used the iPads to let students participate in a text-based chat as part of the class discussion. The shy student was “the best in the conversation . . .  thriving and flourishing in a community of thought.”

Toddlers turn from TV to tech

Toddlers are using technology but turning away from TV, according to a national survey. Thirty-eight percent of children under age 2 have used a mobile device, up from 11 percent two years ago, according to Common Sense Media, reports the San Jose Mercury News. At the same, young children are spending less time watching TV.

Three-quarters of children ages 0 to 8 have access to mobile devices such as smart phones, tablet computers and iPod Touches, the survey found. The proportion of young children using the devices nearly doubled, from 38 percent two years ago to 72 percent, and average duration of use tripled from 5 minutes to 15 minutes daily.

Children up to age 8 average nearly two hours a day in front of video screens. That’s 21 minutes less than they did two years ago, according to Common Sense Media.

Half, or 57 minutes, of screen time is spent watching TV, a drop of 9 minutes a day from two years ago. Of TV time, one-third is spent watching prerecorded programs on a DVR. Ten minutes a day is spent playing video games, down by 4 minutes from two years ago.

Children are more likely to watch educational programs on TV than on smart phones, the survey found.

A third of children have televisions in their bedrooms. Lower-income families were more likely to have a TV on all the time compared to than higher-income and better-educated families.

Where there is still a gap between the rich and poor in ownership of mobile devices, it is narrowing. Among poor families — those earning less than $30,000 a year — access to smart phones increased from 27 percent to 51 percent in two years, while tablet ownership went from 2 percent to 20 percent.

Yet Common Sense pointed out an “app gap,” partly because only 46 percent of lower-income families have access to high-speed Internet, and therefore have less access to downloadable educational programs.

There’s also a huge reading gap. About half of parents said they read to their children under 2 ever day; a quarter read every week. One fifth never read to their children under 2.

80% of college students text in class

Eighty percent of college students text in class, according to a survey by Barney McCoy, a University of Nebraska professor.

More than 60 percent say they’re distracted by using digital devices; even more say other people’s use is distracting.


Toddlers and tablets

Long before they start kindergarten, American children are playing with education tech at home, writes Alex Hernandez in Toddlers and Tablets on Education Next. At the iTunes store, “9 of the top 10 paid education apps are designed for small children, ages four and up.”

Touchscreens are the most intuitive interfaces ever created for small children. I still remember the weekend morning in 2008 when our 18-month-old padded into our bedroom, grabbed his mom’s new iPhone off the nightstand, turned on his favorite song, and began pawing through photos.

. . . Leading app developer Duck Duck Moose believed it was designing for four- and five-year-olds when it noticed two-year-olds using its math apps. Dragonbox, an algebra program for children eight and up was being used by five- and six-year-olds. No one informed these kids that they weren’t ready for higher-level math.

Children do incredible things when they are free to explore and learn.

Parents are dubious about young children using technology, Hernandez concedes. He thinks tablets are seen as too expensive for grubby-fingered preschoolers. There’s also a backlash against excess screen time. Education apps should supplement, not replace, hands-on play, Hernandez writes.

App creators shouldn’t just try to teach pre-academic skills, such as categorizing objects or recognizing letter sounds.

 . . . research suggests that children’s ability to pay attention and control their impulses (i.e., executive functions) are better predictors of future academic success than IQ. Children’s ability to manage their attention, emotions, and behaviors; learn appropriate ways to interact with others; and be creative are equally, if not more, important but often harder to target than pre-academic skills.

But not impossible. App maker Kidaptive recently released a turn-taking game in which children paint pictures alongside two animated characters. Children using the app must literally sit and wait for the animated characters to complete their turns before resuming their own painting (defying many conventions of good game design). The metrics don’t lie. Kids are being patient and taking turns.

The best new apps will develop preschoolers’ executive function, creativity, number sense and phonemic awareness, Hernandez predicts. Schools may be slow to use these games. Parents already are buying them.

Teens learn to code an app — and sell it

GenTech NYC teaches New York City teenagers to design, code and sell mobile apps in a summer program.

U.S. adults lag in numeracy, literacy

U.S. adults are dumber than the average human, proclaims the New York Post. A new international study doesn’t quite say that. But it’s not great news.

art“In math, reading and problem solving using technology – all skills considered critical for global competitiveness and economic strength – American adults scored below the international average,” the Post reports.

Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and other countries scored higher than the United States in all three areas on the test, reports the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Americans ranked 16 out of 23 industrialized countries in literacy and 21 out of 23 in numeracy. In a new test of “problem solving in technology rich environments,” the U.S. ranked 17 out of 19. Respondents were tested on activities such as calculating mileage reimbursement due to a salesman, sorting email and comparing food expiration dates on grocery store tags.

American baby boomers outperformed people of the same age overseas, reports the Wall Street JournalYounger Americans lagged behind their international peers “in some cases by significant margins.”

The results show that the U.S. has lost the edge it held over the rest of the industrial world over the course of baby boomers’ work lives, said Joseph Fuller, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School who studies competitiveness. “We had a lead and we blew it,” he said, adding that the generation of workers who have fallen behind their peers would have a difficult time catching up.

“We have a substantial percentage of the work force that does not have the basic aptitude to continue to learn and to make the most out of new technologies,” Mr. Fuller said. “That manifests itself in lower rates of productivity growth, and it’s productivity growth that drives real wage growth.”

Workers in Spain and Italy posted the lowest scores.

$1 billion for iPads, 1 week to hack security

Beautiful Morris smiles as she works on her new iPad, provided by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Beautiful Morris smiles as she works on her new iPad, provided by the Los Angeles Unified School District. — Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Unified is spending $1 billion to give iPads to every student. It took one week for high school students to hack through security so they could visit unapproved sites, reports the Los Angeles Times.Officials halted home use of the Apple tablets until further notice.The hacking “prompted questions about overall preparations for the $1-billion tablet initiative, notes the Times. For example, school officials haven’t decided whether parents will be liable if a $700 laptop is lost or damaged.

Learning on the go

Smart phones, tablets and other connected devices can improve learning dramatically, writes Brookings scholar Darrell West in Mobile Learning: Transforming Education, Engaging Students, and Improving Outcomes.

Most school districts can’t afford to give every student a personal computer, but most young people already have phones, West points out.

District monitors students’ social media posts

In hopes of preventing violence, drug abuse, bullying and suicide, a suburban Los Angeles school district is monitoring middle and high school students’ social media posts, reports CNN.

Glendale is paying $40,500 to Geo Listening to track middle and high school students’ posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

When the idea was piloted last spring, monitoring identified a suicidal student. “We were able to save a life,” said Superintendent Richard Sheehan.

Recently, a student posted a photo of what appeared to be a gun, but turned out to be fake, Sheehan said.

“We had to educate the student on the dangers” of posting such photos, Sheehan said. “He was a good kid. … It had a good ending.”

Geo Listening sends a daily report to principals on which students’ comments could be causes for concern.

A 12-year-old Florida girl committed suicide after months of bullying on social media, her mother says.