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.

Your child is not special

Your Child Is Not Special writes J.P. Fugler, a speech and debate teacher in Texas. The straight A’s mean nothing.

He had a perfect GPA once because he avoided classes that might be difficult. When he got a 70 in the required keyboarding class — his family didn’t have a computer at home — he asked the teacher if he could come in early or late to practice.

Every day for six weeks, he practiced before and after school. “I went from being the slowest typist in the class to the fastest,” Fugler writes.”My grade skyrocketed to a 100.”

That doesn’t happen today. Blame for a low grade “is shifting from the student to the teacher,” he writes.

Parents think their special child deserves success. Hard work is for those other kids who aren’t gifted.

Flugler requires freshmen to study Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative and understand Greek philosophy.

For the first time in their lives, some struggle in my classroom. Encountering a new feeling of inadequacy, they panic. Then, panic turns to blame. There is no introspection or attempt to change behaviors that led to failure. Parents take up the fight.

Children can fail “now or later,” writes Fluger. Now is better. Later, the stakes will be higher.

Mastery grading: Learn it now or later

Ohio Gov. John Kasich wants to pilot “competency-based education“– aka mastery grading or standards-based education — writes Jessica Poiner on Ohio Gadfly.

New Hampshire is the national leader in competency-based education. In Ohio, it’s being tried at Metro Early College School and MC²STEM high school, as well as the Pickerington school district.

Mastery grading assesses how well a student has learned specific skills and concepts. It doesn’t count homework completion, daily assignments, class participation or tests on multiple standards.

. . . Instead of interpreting what Tyrone’s B in algebra means, Tyrone and his parents know that he understands polynomials at 97 percent mastery and two-variable equations at 90 percent mastery; but he has trouble with inequalities and the quadratic equation, where his mastery hovers at 65 percent.

. . .  let’s imagine that Tyrone needs additional help to master the quadratic equation. This extra help can take multiple forms: Tyrone could log in to Khan Academy. He could receive one-on-one tutoring from his teacher during or outside of class. Or he could work in a group of similarly struggling students to complete a project on the real-life applications of quadratic equations. . . . After receiving remediation for the material he hasn’t mastered, Tyrone retakes the assessment. If he achieves mastery, he moves on (say, to exponents and factoring). If he doesn’t achieve mastery, he receives more support.

Providing all that support — and designing advanced work for fast-moving students will require more from administrators and teachers, writes Poiner. Teachers will need time to plan and share ideas and resources. They’ll need to use technology.

Teachers can leverage online resource-sharing hubs, including sites that boast lessons written by effective teachers. There are applications that make tracking mastery data easy, allowing teachers to focus on planning instead of tracking. The rise of blended learning and adaptive models makes effective, personalized remediation real without asking teachers to build a system from scratch on their own.

Some think master grading sets students up for failure by denying “points for showing up, points for being on time, points for homework completion, points for participation, points for extra credit.”

Diligence should be tracked separately, Poiner argues. The hard-working, well-behaved kid who hasn’t learned how to solve a quadratic equation, understand DNA or write a persuasive essay needs a chance to learn those skills — not a worthless diploma and a future of frustration.

Standards-based grading can give parents much more information, writes Matt Collette on Slate. He reports on a Brooklyn middle school. Via a “continuously updated online grade book . . . students are rated on more than 70 different skills, such as the ability to write persuasively, determine the main idea of a passage, or multiply fractions. . . . Students need to demonstrate proficiency three separate times—through homework, on a quiz, or through some other means—to be considered proficient.”

Teacher: Core tests set kids up to fail

Common Core tests set kids up to fail, argues Jennifer Rickert, a sixth-grade teacher in New York, on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet.

The “New York State Testing Program’s Educator Guide to the 2015 Grade 6 Common Core English Language Arts Test” describes expectations that are way too high, writes Rickert.

At 11 and 12 years old, her students have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical situations, she writes, citing Piaget’s theories.

Yet in the guide, it states that students will “evaluate intricate arguments.”

In addition, “students will need to make hard choices between fully correct and plausible, but incorrect answers that are designed specifically to determine whether students have comprehended the entire passage.”  This is not developmentally appropriate for my students . . .

Students will read passages from texts such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which include “controversial ideas and language some may find provocative.”

Is "Tom Sawyer" too "provocative" for sixth graders?

Is “Tom Sawyer” too “provocative” for sixth graders?

Children shouldn’t be subjected to “provocative language” in sixth grade, Rickert believes. In addition, sixth graders won’t be able to understand these readings because they don’t study the history till seventh or eighth grade.

Some readings will be at the eleventh-grade level. Presumably that’s to challenge the very good readers. Rickert sees it as a plot to humiliate everyone else.

I read, and loved, Tom Sawyer in elementary school.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn made a big impression on me when I was in sixth grade. I also read lots of U.S. history and historical novels, so I had the context to understand what I was reading.

Piaget is not a reliable guide to what children can learn, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham in a critique of the “developmentally appropriate” concept.

Mythbusters: Wonder and failure

Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters teaches through wonder and failure, writes Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.

Hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman “have subjected nearly 1,000 cultural legends, historical myths, and internet rumors to the crucible of the scientific method,” she writes.

Her 11-year-old son, Finn is a big fan. The show has kindled his “sense of wonder about the cool stuff that exists out in the world,” she writes.

Each episode starts with a question:

Can eating pop rocks and soda cause your stomach to explode? Is running better than walking for keeping dry in the rain? Can you bounce a laser off the moon? Can an unamplified human voice shatter a wine glass?

As Savage and Hyneman explore these questions, they dive deep into the background knowledge required to understand the problem at hand. Consequently, they have taught my sons physics, geometry, chemistry, astronomy, biology, and history.

In a live show for the Behind the Myths tour, Savage ran a video of “favorite explosions and catastrophic failures” from over the years.  It was a “montage of exploding water heaters, cement trucks, and cannons made out of trees, complete with custom-made Dolby sound.”

In his teens, Savage became obsessed with juggling, he told the audience.

I used to practice juggling for hours in my upstairs bedroom, and the sound of me dropping the balls over and over again—thump-thump-thump, thump-thump-thump—as they hit the ground was the sound of my teenage years. I spent entire afternoons practicing tricks that just would not work. But as I slept, and my brain fermented on them overnight, the next morning they would suddenly work. I thought I was just learning how to juggle, but I wasn’t. I was learning how to learn.

That thump-thump-thump? That wasn’t the sounds of failure. That was the sound of learning.

“Play is simply a process of running experiments,” he said. “We do things because they are fun. And remember …” He paused, allowing the audience to complete his sentence: the classic Mythbusters catchphrase. “The difference between screwing around and science is writing it down!” audience members shouted, chanting along with Savage.

Overprotective parents raise ‘lazy’ teens

Overinvolved parents are raising “lazy,” unmotivated teen-age boys, writes therapist Adam Price in the Wall Street Journal.

Parents complain their children — especially their sons — aren’t achieving their “potential.” His practice is seeing more “college students, home for a year because when the parents, tutors, coaches and, yes, therapists were no longer around, they failed.”

It’s hard to be motivated by someone else’s goals. Teens crave autonomy, Price writes. Many parents won’t let their children make their own decisions and live with the consequences.

. . . the lack of motivation is not the root problem: For many children, it is the lack of accountability. Parents remove that when they try to protect their children from suffering in the future by doing everything possible to make them successful today

He suggests parents stop telling their kids they’re smart or too “special” to take out the garbage. Set limits. Don’t “saddle children with unrealistic expectations.”

City College was ‘too big to fail’

City College of San Francisco has dodged an accreditation commission’s closure order and won two more years to improve. With 77,000 students, City College was “too big to fail,” writes Kevin Carey.

Elite rejection

Don’t despair if you didn’t get into an elite college, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni advises 12th-graders. It doesn’t mean you’re less capable or worthy.

It may mean only that you lacked the patronage that some of them had, or that you played the game less single-mindedly, taking fewer SAT courses and failing to massage your biography with the same zeal.

A friend of mine in Africa told me recently about a center for orphans there that a rich American couple financed in part to give their own teenage children an exotic charity to visit occasionally and mine for college-application essays: admissions bait. That’s the degree of cunning that comes into this frenzy.

Dumb luck plays an important role too. Top colleges get many, many applicants who are very well qualified. They could decide by dart board and get a great bunch of students.

I was rejected by Radcliffe (girls didn’t apply to Harvard then) and wait-listed by Yale. It was the first time I’d ever tried and failed. It hurt, even though I got into Stanford. Being rejected turned out to be great practice for job hunting and life.

Let your kids fail

The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success

Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg. Her new book, The Up Side of Down advocates “learning to fail better.” That includes taking on challenges and being ready “to pick ourselves up as quickly as possible and move on when things don’t work out.”

After a book talk, a 10th-grade girl said she understood about “trying new things, and hard things,” but she couldn’t risk it. “I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?” 

High school shouldn’t be about perfection, writes McArdle.

If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you? If you can’t afford to risk anything less than perfection at the age of 15, then for heaven’s sake, when is going to be the right time?

Now is when this kid should be learning to dream big dreams and dare greatly. Now is when she should be making mistakes and figuring out how to recover from them. Instead, we’re telling one of our best and brightest to focus all her talent on coloring within the lines.

Too many achievers are trying to get into a small number of elite colleges, writes McArdle. Upper-middle-class parents are pushing their children “harder than ever — micromanaging their lives.”

James Dyson: ‘Failures are interesting’


Dyson at a workshop with students.

Inventor James Dyson built 5,127 prototypes before completing his first bagless vacuum, notes Science Friday. “My life and my day are full of failures,” he says. “Failures are interesting.”