U.S. adults lag in numeracy, literacy

U.S. adults are dumber than the average human, proclaims the New York Post. A new international study doesn’t quite say that. But it’s not great news.

art“In math, reading and problem solving using technology – all skills considered critical for global competitiveness and economic strength – American adults scored below the international average,” the Post reports.

Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and other countries scored higher than the United States in all three areas on the test, reports the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Americans ranked 16 out of 23 industrialized countries in literacy and 21 out of 23 in numeracy. In a new test of “problem solving in technology rich environments,” the U.S. ranked 17 out of 19. Respondents were tested on activities such as calculating mileage reimbursement due to a salesman, sorting email and comparing food expiration dates on grocery store tags.

American baby boomers outperformed people of the same age overseas, reports the Wall Street JournalYounger Americans lagged behind their international peers “in some cases by significant margins.”

The results show that the U.S. has lost the edge it held over the rest of the industrial world over the course of baby boomers’ work lives, said Joseph Fuller, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School who studies competitiveness. “We had a lead and we blew it,” he said, adding that the generation of workers who have fallen behind their peers would have a difficult time catching up.

“We have a substantial percentage of the work force that does not have the basic aptitude to continue to learn and to make the most out of new technologies,” Mr. Fuller said. “That manifests itself in lower rates of productivity growth, and it’s productivity growth that drives real wage growth.”

Workers in Spain and Italy posted the lowest scores.

Old tech

Today’s kids learn to use 1980′s technology, via YouTube.

Living like it’s 1986

Blair McMillan wanted to go outside to kick a ball to his five-year-old son, but Trey didn’t want to leave dad’s iPad. Blair and girlfriend Morgan banned all post-1986 technology from their home for a year, reports the Toronto Sun. Both parents were born in 1986.

No computers, no tablets, no smart phones, no fancy coffee machines, no Internet, no cable, and – from the point of view of many tech-dependent folks – no life.

“We’re parenting our kids the same way we were parented for a year just to see what it’s like,” Blair said.

Trey and his 2-year-old brother play Super Mario on an old-school Nintendo in the basement.

Blair went through cellphone withdrawal. “I could almost feel my pocket vibrating.”

Morgan uses a computer at work. At home, she reads books. “We’re just closer, there’s more talking,” she said.

On the down side, Blair and the boys all have mullets.

Goodnight iPad

In Goodnight iPad, Ann Droyd (possibly a pseudonym) adapts the children’s classic for a new generation that has trouble disconnecting.

MOOC mania may be slowing

MOOC mania may be slowing. Even boosters of massive open online courses wonder if they’re just a fad. So far, few MOOC students are applying for college credit, in part because many already have earned degrees.

How will technology change higher education? Instead of listening to lectures, students could learn in personalized online environments.

Teachers vs. bad research, evidence-free fads

Tom Bennett’s new book, Teacher Proof: Why Research in Education Doesn’t Always Mean What it Claims, and What You Can Do about It, is the work of “one pissed off teacher,” writes cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham.

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Bennett, who’s taught in Britain for 10 years, feels cheated of the time he’s spent in training sessions urged to adopt some “evidence-free theory” and cheated of respect as “researchers with no classroom experience presume to tell him his job, and blame him (or his students) if their magic beans don’t grow a beanstalk.” Researchers are actively getting in his way, to the extent “their cockamamie ideas infect districts and schools,” Bennett believes.

Social sciences aspire to the precision of the “hard” sciences but are just “walking around in mother’s heels and pearls,” he charges.

His advice: “Researchers need to take a good long look in the mirror; media outlets need to be less gullible and  teachers should appear to comply with the district’s latest lunacy, but once the door closes stick to the basics.”

Willingham writes:

This section offers a merciless, overdue, and often funny skewering of speculative ideas in education: multiple intelligences, Brain Gym, group work, emotional intelligence, 21st century skills, technology in education, learning styles, learning through games. Bennett has a unerring eye for the two key problems in these fads: in some cases, the proposed “solutions” are pure theory, sprouting from bad (or absent) science (eg., learning styles, Brain Gym); others are perfectly sensible ideas transmogrified into terrible practice when people become too dogmatic about their application  (group learning, technology).

In addition, schools of education should raise their standards for education research, writes Willingham.

Another new book, The Anti-education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning by Arizona State Professor James Paul Gee is disappointing, writes Willingham. “There is very little solid advice here about how to change education.”

New technology, same old teaching

Schools aren’t getting much bang for millions of technology bucks, concludes the Center for American Progress. Education leaders buy the latest technology — whiteboards, laptops, e-readers — without thinking through how digital devices will help meet learning goals.

Across the nation, we found that many schools were using technology in the same way that they have always used technology; students are using drill and practice programs to hone basic skills. Students are passively watching videos and DVDs. Too many students do not have access to hands-on science projects.

. . . schools are not using technology to do things differently.

Technology may be widening the digital divide, the report warns. In many schools, “students from disadvantaged backgrounds are being given the least engaging, least promising technology-facilitated learning opportunities.”

School leaders lack “the tools and incentives needed to connect spending to outcomes and reorganize programs in ways that take full advantage of school technology,” the report finds. No state is looking at technology return on investment.

 As policymakers and other stakeholders invest billions of dollars in school technology each year, we should be asking ourselves: Are these investments the best use of our limited dollars? Is technology allowing us to do things that we do not—or cannot—already do? How are we ensuring that students have the skills that they need to succeed?

In some cases, technology is improving learning and widening access to courses, CAP concludes. Technology has the potential to “kickstart the process of leveraging new reforms and learning strategies.” But, so far, it’s usually an add-on to the same old, same old.

President Obama’s ConnectED proposal would revamp the federal E-rate program to fund high-speed Internet access at 99 percent of schools within five years.

The Leading Education by Advancing Digital, or LEAD, commission has released a plan to expand digital learning, reports Education Week. Updating school wiring to support high-speed Internet is #1. In addition, LEAD recommends putting digital devices in the hands of all students by 2020, accelerating the adoption of digital curricula, investing in technology-rich schools of innovation and giving teachers training and support to use technology effectively.

Technology aids disabled students

Technology is helping high school students with learning disabilities take “middle college” courses.

The promise of iPads for special ed

Technology can free special education students from worksheets, writes Anya Kamenetz in The promise of iPads for special ed on the Hechinger Report.

When Neil Virani walked into his middle school special education classroom at Mulholland Middle School, part of the LA Unified School district, three years ago, he encountered a roomful of students with a range of cognitive, emotional and physical challenges. But the most toxic problem they had to combat was the low expectations from the school system they’d been in since kindergarten. “All they had was coloring books and watercolors. They were not working on any academic aspects of the curriculum,” he says. “When I saw a [previous] teacher had written of  a student, “they don’t require ELA writing instruction because they’re never going to manipulate a writing device,’ I said, before I met him, this kid is going to write.”

Today, not only are most of his students reading and discussing stories, producing sophisticated written essays, and scoring proficient in math, they are drawing mind maps to organize their thoughts, building catapults in class to demonstrate physics principles learned from the game Angry Birds, and shooting and editing video documentaries of their experiences, which they storyboard in advance with cartoons.

The iPad and its wide range of apps has enabled students to meet the “highest possible realistic expectations,”  the teacher says.

A student who has control over only one finger was unable to write with a $15,000 assistive technology chair. One involuntary movement would erase what he’d typed. After an hour with a $500 iPad, he wrote his name for the first time.

The iPad has changed his students’ thinking, says Virani. “They believe in themselves; they can do what anyone else can do.”

Tech-distracted students study — for 2 minutes

Asked to “study something important,” students stayed on task for two minutes before they “began responding to arriving texts or checking their Facebook feed,” reports a study, published in the May issue of Computers in Human Behavior by Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills. The middle, high school and college students spent only 65 percent of the 15-minute observation period doing their schoolwork.

“We were amazed at how frequently they multitasked, even though they knew someone was watching,” Rosen says. “It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices,” adding, “It was kind of scary, actually.”

Media multitasking while learning means less learning, writes Annie Murphy Paul on the Hechinger Report.

. . .  evidence from psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience suggests that when students multitask while doing schoolwork, their learning is far spottier and shallower than if the work had their full attention. They understand and remember less, and they have greater difficulty transferring their learning to new contexts. So detrimental is this practice that some researchers are proposing that a new prerequisite for academic and even professional success—the new marshmallow test of self-discipline—is the ability to resist a blinking inbox or a buzzing phone.

In “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds,” a 2010 survey, almost a third of those surveyed said that when they were doing homework, “most of the time” they were also watching TV, texting, listening to music, or using some other medium.

College students are used to texting, emailing and surfing the web in class. Eighty percent of college students admit to texting in class.

Young people think they can do two challenging tasks at once, but they’re “deluded,” says David Meyer, a University of Michigan psychology professor. “Listening to a lecture while texting, or doing homework and being on Facebook—each of these tasks is very demanding, and each of them uses the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.”

He adds,“There’s nothing magical about the brains of so-called ‘digital natives’ that keeps them from suffering the inefficiencies of multitasking. They may like to do it, they may even be addicted to it, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s far better to focus on one task from start to finish.”