Lively minds

What makes a mind come alive? Part three of A Year at Mission Hill looks at how teachers at the Boston K-8 “pilot” school plan curriculum to engage their students.

‘Deep learning’

Teachers are looking for ways to engage students in “deep learning,” reports John Tulenko on PBS.

At King Middle School in Portland, Maine, science teacher Peter Hill’s eighth graders started a four-month study of energy  by building robots. They’ll finish by designing an energy device that could help people somewhere in the world.

Gallup: As students age, they disengage

The longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become, reports Gallup.

Seventy-six percent of fifth graders who participated in a student poll said they’re engaged with school. By middle school that fell to 61 percent of students. Only 44 percent of high school students were engaged.


Explanations for the burn out range from “our overzealous focus on standardized testing and curricula to our lack of experiential and project-based learning pathways for students — not to mention the lack of pathways for students who will not and do not want to go on to college,” Gallup concludes.

$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.”