Girls outscore boys on engineering test

Eighth-grade girls outperformed boys on the first national test of technological literacy, reports Education Week. The Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) exam, part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), was designed to measure problem-solving skills rather than knowledge.

Technology and engineering are stressed at Girls' Middle School, a private school in Palo Alto, CA.

Technology and engineering are stressed at Girls’ Middle School, a private school in Palo Alto, CA.

Overall, 43 percent of students tested as proficient or advanced.

The largest gaps were the familiar ones: Black, Latino, low-income and urban students did significantly worse.

Students were given “a series of virtual scenarios aimed at testing their problem-solving abilities and their ability to use information about technology and engineering to develop solutions,” writes Jackie Zubrzycki.

There was no evidence that the gap in scores was due to girls’ reading ability, said Peggy Carr, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

As they take the test, students work through multistep scenarios that range from creating a historically accurate museum exhibit about a drought to developing safe bike lanes in a city. Students are provided with background knowledge about the topics before they are asked to answer questions about them: One of the scenarios included a background video about iguanas before students were asked to design an ideal iguana habitat.

. . . on a task related to designing a bike lane, 76 percent of students successfully identified components of a safe bike lane, the first step; 64 percent were able to identify potential adjustments to a sample set of bike lanes to make them safer by, for instance, expanding the lanes; 45 percent were able to successfully redesign the route using an interactive tool. But a smaller portion, 11 percent, could explain the rationale behind the route that they chose.

NAEP plans similar scenario-based tasks on other exams, starting with social studies or history.

Nearly two-thirds of test-takers said they’d learned about solving problems and fixing things at home rather than at school.

When I grew up, girls weren’t supposed to fix things and my father believed that Jews couldn’t fix things, so I didn’t learn much about how things work. Other than magic! I do have good problem-solving skills — if background knowledge is not required.

Take a look at the TEL task video and see if you think this is a useful way to measure technical and engineering skills.

Popular ed tech is not disruptive — or effective

The most popular digital learning tools fit into existing classrooms without “disrupting” traditional ways of teaching, reports Benjamin Herold in Ed Week.

The most popular digital learning tools are the least effective, an SRI analysis found.

The most popular digital learning tools are the least effective, an SRI analysis found.

These tools may have little or no effect on student learning, warns an analysis by SRI’s Center for Technology in Learning. In fact, the most popular tools were the least effective and the most effective tools had the fewest users, researchers found.

SRI studied “complete online courses, peer-support platforms, and predictive analytics tools” funded by the Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenge, reports Herold. “Most had no statistically significant impact on student outcomes,” the Gates-funded follow-up concluded.

Products that scaled most rapidly shared three factors:

. . . a promise of cost savings for schools, no requirements for face-to-face training, and an ability to be easily integrated into existing teaching and learning practices.

“To create an education technology tool that can have an impact, but also be adopted in many classrooms, requires thinking about supports for teachers, resources for instruction, and rethinking the way time is used within schools,” said Barbara Means, the director of the Center for Technology in Learning.

Comprehensive technology interventions are more effective, SRI found. They’re also less common.

Only a few large, more established companies have the resources and capacity to develop such products, then wait out K-12 schools’ glacial purchasing cycles. And some of the higher-profile initiatives, such as the complete K-12 digital curriculum that Pearson sold to the Los Angeles Unified district, turned into major flops.

K-12 educators often try to use technology products and services from multiple sources, said Sara Allan, the deputy director of K-12 programs at the Gates Foundation.

That’s difficult to do well, writes Herold. Schools may “end up with a hodgepodge in which the effectiveness of any one tool is limited by the confusion in the broader ecosystem.”

Smartphones, slow students

Do Smartphones Help or Hurt Students’ Academic Achievement?  asks Paul Barnwell, who teaches English at a Louisville high school, in The Atlantic.

“Most students bring a mini-supercomputer to school every day, a device with vast potential for learning,” he writes. However, “using phones for learning requires students to synthesize information and stay focused on a lesson or a discussion.” For some students, phones are a distraction, not a help.

Technology “has the potential to shrink achievement gaps,” writes Rob Redies, a Fern Creek High chemistry teacher, in an email. However, “I am actually seeing the opposite take place within my classroom.”

Barnwell has had success getting students to edit each other’s writing “using cloud-based word processing on their phones,” he writes. “I’ve also heard and read about other educators using phones for exciting applications: connecting students to content experts via social media, recording practice presentations, and creating ‘how-to’ videos for science experiments.”

However, his high school, which has many students reading below grade level, is struggling to use smartphones for learning. “I see students using cellphones and earbuds as a way to disengage with their peers,” said Fern Creek Principal Nathan Meyer. “The isolation squanders opportunities for students to learn to engage and communicate with empathy.”

“We find that mobile phone bans have very different effects on different types of students,” concludes a recent study on phone access and the achievement gap. “Banning mobile phones improves outcomes for the low-achieving students … the most, and has no significant impact on high achievers.”

Students are addicted to their phones, writes a Montana teacher in Ed Week.

No bells, many choices

In a Forensic Science class, students learn from police department forensic investigator Ryan Andrews how to calculate the angle of impact of individual bloodstains and use strings to determine the area the bloodstains would have originated.

Forensic investigator Ryan Andrews shows students how to calculate the angle of impact of bloodstains.

Salt Lake City’s Innovations Early College High School uses personalized learning to put teenagers in charge of their education, I discovered in a visit last fall. My story is now up on Education Next.

There are no bells at Salt Lake City’s Innovations Early College High School, and no traditional “classes.” Students show up when they like, putting in six and a half hours at school between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Working with a mentor teacher, students set their own goals and move through self-paced online lessons. They can take more time when they need it or move ahead quickly when they show mastery.

Innovations, a district school, not a charter, is located on a community college campus, so it’s easy for students who qualify to take college classes. It also shares space with the district’s career-tech center, so students can take vocational classes in subjects ranging from web design and emergency medicine to cosmetology.

It seems very loosey-goosey, but mentors monitor students’ progress closely to make sure they’re on track for graduation.

Tech tools tranform art education

AP Art History teachers are using “high-resolution digital images, immersive technology, and multimedia textbooks” to expose students to art works they’d never get to see face to face, reports Ed Week.

Personalized ed raises privacy concerns

Digital software can personalize instruction for students working at different levels and speeds. But fears about the privacy and security of students’ personal information are on the rise, reports PBS NewsHour.

At Miami’s iPrep Academy, Nicole Rasmuson teaches math, using “smart” software that analyzes mistakes, tracks how long a student takes to answer and checks for understanding, reports John Tulenko.

The software uses student data to customize lessons. “It’ll ask them, what are your interests?” says the teacher. “And so, in the word problems, it’ll — if one kid’s really interested in food, it’ll talk about cookies and that kind of stuff. It’ll even ask them, what are your friends’ names? And then it’ll put their friends’ names in the problems, too.”

Does it matter if software remembers that Jayden struggled with fractions, Maya likes soccer and Kim’s best friend in third grade was Jamie?

Dropouts need not apply in Silicon Valley

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed. But don’t believe that high-tech companies care more about “the caliber of your code” than your college degree, writes Lauren Weber in the Wall Street Journal.

High-tech companies — especially those in Silicon Valley — are more likely to demand a college degree for software developers than other employers, according to a Burning Glass Technologies survey.

In 95 percent of tech-sector job ads that specify a credential, the employer wants a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“Some firms are experimenting with ‘blind hiring‘ processes—designed to judge job applicants purely based on work samples rather than resumes,” writes Weber. However, that’s the exception.

Via Eduwonk.

Middle-school kids win start-up contest

Venture students present their idea at a start-up accelerator contest.

A team of Minneapolis middle-schoolers won a contest to sell a start-up idea, beating 10 adult teams, reports Beth Hawkins on Education Post.

The students attend Venture Academy, a three-year-old charter middle school that promotes entrepreneurship and includes a “maker space” where students can tinker.

Venture enrolls “a cross-section of the Twin Cities’ most disadvantaged youth: 45 percent Latino, 35 percent Black, 10 percent Native American and 10 percent white,” writes Hawkins. “More than 90 percent live in poverty, 28 percent are learning English and one-fourth are in special education.”

Students “design their own learning plans,” combining “hands-on experiences and online curricula,” she writes. “Last year its students, many of whom start out years behind, made more growth than all but one Minneapolis school serving the same grades.”

Teach girls to be imperfect


While boys are jumping off the monkey bars, most girls are taught to avoid risk, writes Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani on Medium. Girls do well in school, but aren’t prepared to tackle challenges that require trying, failing and persevering.

When psychologist Carol Dweck gave fifth graders a too-difficult assignment, bright girls were quick to give up, while bright boys “were more likely to redouble their efforts,” says Saujani. The higher a girl’s IQ, the more quickly she gave up.

An HP report found that men will apply for a job if they meet only 60% of the qualifications. But women? Women will apply only if they meet 100% of the qualifications. 100%!

Learning to code teaches bravery, she writes. “Coding is an endless process of trial and error, trying to get the right command in the right place.”

During the first lesson, a young girl will . . .  say she does not know what code to write. The teacher will look at her screen and she’ll see a blank text editor. . . . If she presses “UNDO” a few times, she’ll see that her student wrote code and deleted it. The student tried. She came close. But she didn’t get it exactly right. Instead of showing the progress that she made, she’d rather show nothing at all. Perfection or bust!

. . . My friend Lev Brie, who teaches intro to Java at Columbia University, tells a story about his office hours with computer science students. The guys who are struggling with an assignment will come in and say “Professor, there’s something wrong with my code.” The girls will come in and say, “Professor, there’s something wrong with me.”

“Failing well” enables girls to develop confidence and resilience, writes Rachel Simmons in a review of Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure.

Education disrupted?


Students Fiona (left) and Lina do a lesson on their iPad Minis at the first AltSchool in San Francisco. Photo: Michael Short, San Francisco Chronicle

AltSchool is opening very tiny, very expensive private schools in the San Francisco area and New York City to “disrupt education,” writes Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker. 

The venture-capital-funded K-8 microschools, founded by a former Google exec, use technology to personalize learning.

A girl in the class was completing an offline task—reading a book about polar bears. A boy lay on his stomach on the carpeted floor, headphones on, using a Web site called BrainPOP to learn how to calculate the perimeters of basic shapes. “Two out of five!” he shouted . . .

Two girls sat together, laptops before them, using Google Images to scroll through pictures of seals for a social-studies assignment; occasionally, they paused to compare notes. Every so often, a student spoke with the teacher, a young woman in jeans and a loose top, her iPhone tucked under her thigh as she sat on the carpet. One girl had been using her laptop to research castles—an area of sustained interest. She and the teacher discussed princesses and castles, and whether they always went together. “That’s a good question,” the teacher said, and then asked, “Does America have princesses?”

Teachers use an app to communicate with parents. “A network of audio and video recorders captures “every word, action, and interaction, for potential analysis,” writes Mead.

Parents pay $30,000 a year. If their kids do well, is it the school?

The Silicon Valley-based Summit charter network personalizes learning for a wide range of students — many from low-income and working-class families. The schools are free to parents and operate on a modest budget. That’s a lot more disruptive.

Facebook engineers have helped the school develop its Personalized Learning Plan platform, which is being made “available, for free, to schools nationwide,” reports the Los Angeles Times. Summit is helping 19 district-run and charters schools access “teacher training, mentoring guidance and the software.”