Le robot educateur est arrivant

European scientists are developing language-teaching machines to help five-year-olds learn a second language, reports Jacek Krywko in The Atlantic.

L2TOR (“El Tutor”) robots will use “microphones to listen, cameras to watch, and artificial neural networks that will analyze all the information that’s collected.” The project is funded by the European Union.

Designers believe the machines will be able to pick up nonverbal cues to monitor students’ boredom, confusion, happiness and sadness.

“The problem with previous generations of teaching machines was their complete lack of social intelligence,” says Stefan Kopp, a German L2TOR researcher. “Our robots will notice tears, smiles, frowns, yawns … and dynamically adjust to how a child feels.”

Designers will observe kindergarten teachers “and then program our robots to act like them,” Kopp says.

It sounds crazy to me. But a robot teacher that looks like a poodle and speaks French — well, who knows?

“New” and techy isn’t necessarily better, advises Andy Smarick on Star Wars and Education Reform. “Like the Empire and manymanymany other reform movements, today’s education reform also seems to place an outsized faith in technology.”

Social learning burns out introverted teachers

Teaching’s stress on social learning and collaboration is raising the burnout rate for introverts, writes teacher Michael Godsey in The Atlantic.

After 11 years of teaching English at a public high school, Ken Lovgren quit the profession.

Engaging in a classroom that was “so demanding in terms of social interaction” made it difficult for him to find quiet space to decompress and reflect. “The endless barrage of ‘professional learning community’ meetings left me little energy for meaningful interaction with my kids,” he told me.

Jessica Honard, author of Introversion in the Classroom: How to Avoid Burnout and Encourage Success, left classroom teaching to escape the “constant bombardment of social stimulation.”

“Collaborative overload” is a problem in the workplace, warns Harvard Business Review. “Over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more,” leaving little time to get things done.

It’s even harder for teachers, writes Godsey. After meeting with adults, they “go straight to the classroom, where they feel increasing pressure to facilitate social learning activities and promote the current trend of collaborative education.”

There’s no time to think.

College kids spend 1/5 of class time on devices

College students spend one-fifth of class time on “digital distractions,” according to a national survey published in the Journal of Media Education. All but 3 percent of those surveyed admitted to texting, emailing, looking at social media, surfing the web and playing games in class.

The average student uses devices in class for “non-class purposes” 11.43 times a day, say University of Nebraska researchers. That’s up from 10.93 in their first survey in 2013.

“About 63 percent of surveyed students said they do so to stay connected, but an equally large share of students said they are attempting to fight boredom,” notes Inside Higher Ed.  “Even though students agreed that checking their devices could harm their academic performance, a majority of students (about 58 percent) described it as only a ‘little’ distraction.”

Ninety percent of students say devices shouldn’t be banned.

The Disney Princess panic

Ariel is mute through most of The Little Mermaid.

Ariel is mute through most of The Little Mermaid.

Princesses get fewer lines than their princes in most new Disney movies, according to a new research study reported in the Washington Post. Sidekicks tend to be male too.

Female characters spoke more than males in classics such as Snow White and Cinderella, but that reversed with The Little Mermaid, in which Ariel trades her voice for the chance to live as a human and woo her prince.

“In the five Disney princess movies that followed, the women speak even less,” the study found. “On average in those films, men have three times as many lines as women.”

In Brave, Merida is a talkative archer working out her mother issues.

In Brave, Merida is a talkative archery-loving princess working out her mother issues.

Don’t panic, advises Carrie Lukas on Acculturated. Tangled and Brave both featured empowered — and talkative — princesses. Males, including Olaf the snowman, have more lines in Frozen, but who thinks that movie tells kids that males rule?

Instead of sleeping beauties, these movies send “messages of female achievement, independence, and strength,” writes Lukas. “These princesses are going on adventures, taking action, and rescuing themselves and each other, rather than just waiting to be saved by princes.”

If a kid is gay, what can a teacher say?

Hawaii may ban teachers, counselors and psychologists from trying to change a child’s sexual orientation, reports the Washington Times.

California, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia have banned therapists from using “conversion therapy” to persuade teens to reject their homosexuality. “A bill introduced in Congress would ban conversion therapy nationwide,” reports The Atlantic. “In April, President Obama called for an end to these therapies for gay youth.”

In the '90s, My So-Called Life included Rickie Vasquez, a gay teen who liked to use the girls' restroom to put on make-up.

In 1994, My So-Called Life introduced Rickie Vasquez, a gay teen who liked to use the girls’ restroom to put on make-up.

“Really, it’s a subtle form of child abuse,” said Camaron Miyamoto, the director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Student Services at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Republican Rep. Bob McDermott said parents have a right to choose treatment for children who are questioning their sexuality, but called for the state Department of Education to bar teachers from counseling minors about sexual orientation.

The state can regulate what topics of discussion are appropriate for public school teachers on the job, but the proposed law goes much farther to infringe free-speech rights, writes Scott Shackford on Reason‘s Hit & Run. It appears to regulate private school teachers and “a teacher engaged in private matters on his or her own time.”

Censoring speech can backfire, he warns. Only two years ago, conservative state legislators tried to pass laws that forbid teachers and educators from discussing homosexuality with students for fear teachers would tell kids it’s OK to be gay.

Barbie puts on a few pounds

For years, Barbie’s come in different skin tones and hair styles. Now, little girls can play with a “curvy” (overweight) doll, as well as petite and tall models, reports Eliana Dockterman in  Time.

That’s supposed to help girls develop realistic expectations of what the human body looks like. “We believe we have a responsibility to girls and parents to reflect a broader view of beauty,” said Evelyn Mazzocco, a Mattel senior vice president and global general manager of Barbie, in a statement.

Will Pudgy Ken be next?

However, Mattel’s tests showed little girls are not leading the fat acceptance movement, writes Dockterman She visited Mattel’s testing center, where a six-year-old girl gave the new Curvy Barbie a voice.

“Hello, I’m a fat person, fat, fat, fat,”

. . . When an adult comes into the room and asks her if she sees a difference between the dolls’ bodies, she modifies her language. “This one’s a little chubbier,” she says.

. . .  A shy 7-year-old refuses to say the word fat to describe the doll, instead spelling it out, “F, a, t.”

“I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” she says a little desperately.

“We see it a lot. The adult leaves the room and they undress the curvy Barbie and snicker a little bit,” says Tania Missad, who runs the research team for Mattel’s girls portfolio.

Most of the girls Dockterman observed chose their favorite doll based on hair, she writes. “A curvy, blue-haired doll that many girls dub Katy Perry is by far the most popular. But when asked which doll is Barbie, the girls invariably point to a blonde.”

Though she’s a billion-dollar brand, Barbie has been losing market share, writes Dockterman. “Hasbro won the Disney Princess business away from Mattel, just as Elsa from the film Frozen dethroned Barbie as the most popular girl’s toy.”

Elsa is thin — but “she comes with a backstory of strength and sisterhood.” And she’s got her own movie.

A perfect score


Cedrick Argueta, right, is congratulated by his calculus teacher, Anthony Yom, left. Photo: Al Seib, Los Angeles Times

Of 302,531 students who took the Advanced Placement Calculus exam last year, only twelve earned a perfect score, reports the Los Angeles Times. Cedrick Argueta, the son of a Salvadoran maintenance worker and a Filipina vocational nurse, was one of them.

At Lincoln High in a heavily Latino neighborhood of Los Angeles, students shouted, “Ced-rick! Ced-rick!” when Principal Jose Torres announced his score, reports the Times.

Math has always just made sense to him, he said. He appreciates the creativity of it, the different methods you can take to solve a problem.

“There’s also some beauty in it being absolute,” Cedrick said. “There’s always a right answer.”

He credits “everybody else that helped me along the way.”

Both parents are immigrants. His father, Marcos, never attended high school. His mother, Lilian, said that she told Cedrick and his younger sister to finish their homework and to “read, read, read.”

His math teacher, Anthony Yom, says all of his AP Calculus students have passed the exam for three years running. Last year, 17 of 21 earned a 5, the highest score.

Yom, 35, said he treats his students like a sports team. They’d stay after school, practicing problem solving for three or four extra hours, and they’d come on weekends. On test day, they wore matching blue T-shirts sporting their names, “like they’re wearing jerseys to the game,” Yom said.

Cedrick also earned perfect scores on the science and math sections of the ACT, he said. He’s taking four more AP exams this year, including Calculus BC.

He hopes to earn a scholarship to Cal Tech to study engineering.

GED lowers the bar

Pass rates are way, way down on the new GED — and fewer people are taking the high school equivalency test. So the GED Testing Service is lowering the pass score from 150 to 145, reports NPR.

High school dropouts study for the GED exam in Dayton, Ohio.

Dropouts study for the GED in Dayton, Ohio.

The computerized exam, which replaced the old test in 2014, is aligned, so they say, with Common Core standards that are supposed to measure “career and college readiness.”

That’s a high bar for high school dropouts.

Now, the testing service says a score of 150 is higher than many high school graduates could earn. Earning 165 or higher certifies readiness for college-level work without remediation.

In addition to being harder, the new GED is more expensive. Test-takers have to pass all four sections at one time.

The GED had a near monopoly on high school equivalency certification, reports NPR.  Now 21 states have adopted alternative tests, such as the TASC and HiSET.

New math, old math: Who needs math?

Common Core math isn’t really new math, writes A.K. Whitney in The Atlantic. One hundred years ago, reformers argued for teaching all students — not just the smartest — to understand and apply math. In The Reorganization of Mathematics in Secondary Education, they backed algebra for all to teach “habits of thought and of action.”

However, progressive educators, followers of Dewey, pushed back, arguing that most Americans don’t need to understand math.

William Heard Kilpatrick, a very influential professor at Columbia University Teachers College, “set his sights on reforming math education, making it less about building the intellect and more about whether it was needed for everyday living,” writes Whitney.

Advanced math should be offered only to students with interest, talent and plans for engineering or science careers, Kilpatrick’s committee argued in a 1920 report, The Problem of Mathematics in Secondary EducationMost students could make do with arithmetic.

In 1922, 40 percent of U.S. students took algebra; that dropped to 30 percent by 1934. Twenty-three percent took geometry in 1922, but only 17 percent in 1934.

When progressive ideas about math fell out of favor, “deeper understanding didn’t quite catch on either,” writes Whitney.

Math was taught for understanding before the Common Core, responds Barry Garelick in a comment. Parents who object to how Common Core is being implemented have valid concerns, he writes.

I was in kindergarten when Sputnik went up and U.S. complacency crashed. We heard a lot about what “Ivan” could do that we kids couldn’t. That led to “new math” in the ’60s, which was all about understanding. It confused people too.

Don’t blame Common Core for lousy textbooks

Textbook publishers are using Common Core standards to sell second-rate books, charges a Project Veritas video. It features quotes from a Houghton Mifflin employee (now fired), who says, “You don’t think that educational publishing companies are in it for the kids, do you? No, it’s all about the money.”

Publishers have been selling lousy textbooks — at a profit — long before the Common Core era, writes Kevin Mahnken on a Fordham blog.

Common Core, which was adopted in most states, kicked off a one-time shopping spree, he writes.

Dubiously “Common Core-aligned” materials started materializing in 2010—right as the standards were first being implemented, with nowhere near enough time for the publishers to have adequately fitted them to new classroom curricula. And pretty soon, we heard reports of texts that just recycled the old, rigor-free dross in new packaging, paid for by hundreds of millions of dollars in public contractsSome ugly scams followed, which were occasionally settled in the courts.

However, districts don’t need to buy from the big publishers, Mahnken writes. New curriculum providers such as “Core Knowledge, Great Minds, and Expeditionary Learning have developed legitimately standards-based materials for states at a steep discount.” Some units are open-sourced.

There are new rating tools from third parties such as EdReports. “It’s now easier than ever to search textbooks, compare them against one another, and select the one that teaches the standards best.”

Dianne Barrow, also quoted saying she “hates kids,” told the Washington Post her quotes had been heavily edited and taken out of context. She believes that Common Core will improve education by creating consistent academic expectations. And the bit about hating kids was a joke.