$1.1 million to test ‘galvanic’ bracelets

The Gates Foundation is spending $1.1 million to test “galvanic skin response” bracelets that measure students’ engagement in lessons, writes Valerie Strauss on Answer Sheet. Clemson and the National Center on Time and Learning will research the idea’s feasibility.

Strauss sees it as a “nutty” waste of money that could be spent on books, teachers and librarians.

Is it foolish? Let’s say research shows that students learn more in the X state than when their bracelets record Z’s. Teachers could analyze the high-X and high-Z portions of their lessons to figure out how to reach students more effectively. Of course, the idea could be a dud. Maybe too many students X up or Z out for reasons that have nothing to do with learning. But we don’t know that yet.

Interactive robot keeps students engaged

robot can monitor students’ engagement and modify its teaching to keep students focused, reports New Scientist.

University of Wisconsin researchers programmed a Wakamaru humanoid robot to tell students a story , one on one, while using a sensor to track brain signals.

During this story the robot raised its voice or used arm gestures to regain the student’s attention if the EEG levels dipped. These included pointing at itself or towards the listener — or using its arms to indicate a high mountain, for example.

Two other groups were tested but the robot either gave no cues, or sprinkled them randomly throughout the storytelling.

Asked about the story, the interactive robot’s students answered an average of 9 out of 14 questions correctly,  compared with just 6.3 when the robot gave no cues.

Common Core rap

Common Core Essential Standards change how we teach, rap a group of STEM teachers in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The teachers don’t seem all that happy to be “reassigned to the pep squad,” notes Missouri Education Watchdog, which speculates it’s a professional development must-do.

Here’s the lyrics:

Chorus: Focus on student engagement
Practices communication
Relevant data, yes
Common Core Essential Standards change how we teach

No longer can a teacher be the sage on the stage
Common Core Essential Standards change how we teach
Become the guide on the side the students to engage
Common Core Essential Standards change how we teach
The other verses contain these points:

No list of algorithms to memorize
Graphing calculators and real world ties

A variety of problems, problem solving strategies
Complex texts and technologies

Hands-on inquiry with questions to promote
Analysis of data, not answers by rote

Clear and concise, rubrics (whole)* guide
students will improve the quality of work with pride

* hard to understand in the video

So, up until now, teachers haven’t tried to engage students, pose real-world problems or use relevant data? But once the new standards go into effect, they will.

In the comments, Barry Garelick notes that the new Common Core math standards, which the teachers see as cutting edge, have been criticized for being too traditional.

Business majors study less, work more

Undergrads study for 15 hours a week, on average, but engineering majors hit the books for 19 hours, while business and social science majors average only 14 hours of study. However, business majors average 16 hours a week in paid work, more than other majors, concludes this year’s National Survey of Student Engagement, known as Nessie.

For the first time, the survey asked about learning strategies, generating some disappointing results, the report says. More than 85 percent of students take careful notes during class, but only half discuss effective studying habits with faculty members or classmates. Two-thirds of students stay focused while reading course materials; only half frequently write summaries of their readings.

Online students report greater use of different learning strategies, according to the report, which says that “it would be beneficial for institutions to actively encourage students to become skilled at a broader range of strategies.”

Critics say Nessie’s questions are too vague to generate useful information.

 

Maybe parents aren’t dopes

Parents strongly prefer schools of choice, even when tests show only modest benefits, writes Rick Hess. Some think parents are “dopes.” Maybe parents know their kids are benefiting in other ways.

Directly relevant here is the intriguing new National Bureau of Economic Research paper School Choice, School Quality and Postsecondary Attainment (pdf). What economists David Deming, Justine Hastings, Tom Kane, and Doug Staiger find is that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS) open-enrollment initiative, which launched in 2001, yielded surprisingly substantial long-term gains for the participating students. They were able to track the results for nearly 20,000 students after high school graduation, and reported that students who won the lottery to attend a school outside their own neighborhood were more likely “to graduate from high school, attend a four-year college, and earn a bachelor’s degree. They are twice as likely to earn a degree from an elite university.” The researchers found no evidence of “cream skimming,” and noted that lottery winners closed nearly a quarter of the black-white difference in college completion.

Raising test scores aren’t the only way a school can help students, Hess writes.

Maybe parents who express high levels of satisfaction with choice see that their kids are better behaved and more focused, disciplined and academically engaged.

Maybe not. “But it seems as viable as the ‘parents are dopes’ hypothesis.”

Extra boost from extra-curriculars?

Extra-curriculars are valuable, but how valuable? June Kronholz looks at the debate on Education Next.

With school districts struggling to keep their noses above choppy budget waters and voters howling about taxes, should schools really be funding ping-pong and trading-card clubs? Swim teams, swing dancing, moot court, powder-puff football? Latino unions, gay-straight alliances, the Future Business Leaders of America, the French Honors Society, the jazz band, the knitting club?

. . . There’s not a straight line between the crochet club and the Ivy League. But a growing body of research says there is a link between afterschool activities and graduating from high school, going to college, and becoming a responsible citizen.

Most high school students participate in sports, band, theater, clubs or other activities.  Active students do considerably better academically than the disengaged. But is it cause or effect?

Some researchers argue that involvement helps students succeed by increasing their time with adult role models and making school more engaging, Kronholz writes.

When college students look back on high school, they remember extracurriculars and sports, not academics, says Tony Wagner, codirector of the Change Leadership Group at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

The takeaway, Wagner said, is that extracurriculars “teach a lot of the skills you need as an adult: time management, leadership, self-discipline, and persistence for doing work that isn’t extrinsically motivated.” That dovetails with Wagner’s academic work, which defines the “skills of the future” as including adaptability, leading by influence, and initiative.

“Kids who have a significant involvement in an extracurricular activity have a capacity for focus, self-discipline, and time management that I see lacking in kids who just went through school focused on their GPA,” he told me.

I was as managing editor of the school newspaper, editor of the literary magazine and copy writer for the yearbook. (You may sense a pattern.)

A moron with a computer is still a moron

A Moron with a Computer Is Still a Moron writes David P. Goldman on Pajamas Media, in response to the New York Times story, In the Classroom of the Future, Stagnant Scores.

Chinese parents are buying their children pianos, violins and music lessons, while “New Age nerds” try “to keep kids “engaged” with video games.

It is the antithesis of education, which begins with discipline and extended concentration span.

Technology is transformational when it’s designed into schools, not layered on top of the same old stuff, writes Tom Vander Ark on Getting Smart. “The story of this decade is that personal digital learning will change the world.”

 

 

High hopes for technology, few results

Schools are spending on technology with no evidence it helps children learn, writes the New York Times. Arizona’s Kyrene School District is considered a national model for high-tech classrooms:

Amy Furman, a seventh-grade English teacher here, roams among 31 students sitting at their desks or in clumps on the floor. They’re studying Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” — but not in any traditional way.

In this technology-centric classroom, students are bent over laptops, some blogging or building Facebook pages from the perspective of Shakespeare’s characters. One student compiles a song list from the Internet, picking a tune by the rapper Kanye West to express the emotions of Shakespeare’s lovelorn Silvius.

. . . Classrooms are decked out with laptops, big interactive screens and software that drills students on every basic subject. Under a ballot initiative approved in 2005, the district has invested roughly $33 million in such technologies.

But “scores in reading and math have stagnated in Kyrene, even as statewide scores have risen,” the Times reports.

Research hasn’t shown that adding technology improves performance.

Larry Cuban, an education professor emeritus at Stanford University, said the research did not justify big investments by districts.

“There is insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period,” he said. “There is no body of evidence that shows a trend line.”

Karen Cator, a former Apple exec who now runs the office of educational technology in the U.S.  Department of Education, said technology is “great” even if scores don’t rise.

“Test scores are the same, but look at all the other things students are doing: learning to use the Internet to research, learning to organize their work, learning to use professional writing tools, learning to collaborate with others.”

The National Education Technology Plan released by the White House last year calls for bringing “state-of-the art technology into learning to enable, motivate and inspire all students.”

But there’s no link between computer-inspired engagement and learning, said Randy Yerrick, associate dean of educational technology at the University of Buffalo. “Engagement” is a “fluffy” term, Yerrick said.

Professor Cuban agreed. “There is very little valid and reliable research that shows the engagement causes or leads to higher academic achievement,” he said.

Furthermore, computers can be fun without being educational.

Xavier Diaz, 6, sits quietly, chair pulled close to his Dell laptop, playing “Alien Addition.” In this math arcade game, Xavier controls a pod at the bottom of the screen that shoots at spaceships falling from the sky. Inside each ship is a pair of numbers. Xavier’s goal is to shoot only the spaceship with numbers that are the sum of the number inside his pod.

But Xavier is just shooting every target in sight. Over and over. Periodically, the game gives him a message: “Try again.” He tries again.

His teacher believes he’s learning to think quickly, but he’s not really thinking at all.

As the district seeks more technology funding, it’s also raising class sizes and stinting on copy paper, construction paper, pencils and other supplies. The tech director spent $500,000 to replace projectors whose bulbs were dimming, sometimes making it necessary to turn out the lights to get a crisp image.  “My projector works just fine,” teacher Erin Kirchoff told the Times. “Give me Kleenex, Kleenex, Kleenex!”

Here’s the Times’ discussion with Cator, Cuban and others: What will school look like in 10 years?

What will a digital school look like in five years? Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise discusses technology as a “force multiplier” on Hechinger Report.

$100 to go to school for 5 weeks

To combat truancy in Camden, New Jersey, 66 students will get $100 if they come to school for five weeks and attend after-school sessions three days a week. Students will get $100 on Sept. 30 “if they attend most anti-truancy sessions and school days.”  Most?

A $63,000 grant — which expires in five weeks — will fund the program. (Someone must be making a lot more than $100.) The program was organized in a hurry: Only 25 percent of students enrolled are chronically truant; the rest are borderline truant or attending school regularly but doing poorly.

(Ramona) Pearson-Hunter who has been in charge of the district’s truancy efforts for the last year said some of the truants cite boredom.

“We know we have to keep them active,” she said, adding that she suggests students ask teachers for extra-credit activities to remain engaged.

They’re bored because they don’t have enough assignments? Or is it possible they’re bored because they don’t understand the classwork?

After Sept. 30, the students will be asked to promise to attend regularly.

On the other coast: Told to pull up his sagging pants, a San Francisco student became belligerent, according to his teacher, who called the police. The student was not arrested.

Does engagement = learning?

College students who feel “engaged” with professors, classmates and campus activities may not learn any more or be more likely to graduate.